Said one of my Twitter friends the other day. Many have been yelling the same thing for the last several months. Nowadays, lots of people are tweeting weird things about Merrick Garland.
“Why is this taking so long?”
I think I can explain.
In 1993, the law office I worked in was at 52 Duane Street. Diagonally across the street was the Southern District federal courthouse.
After the first bombing of the World Trade Center, several conspirators, including Sheik Rahman (a/k/a the Blind Sheik,) were tried in that courthouse.
There was some low-grade public anxiety about whether the courthouse might be attacked during those trials. Concrete blocks were placed around the courthouse’s periphery, to deter potential truck bombers.
During all those trials, we who worked at 52 Duane came to the office every day, left every night and occasionally entered the federal courthouse to do legal things. The courthouse was never attacked.
I remember the street being shut down once so the bomb squad could check out an abandoned bag. I got to see the bomb robot, which was really cool. The bag turned out to be an abandoned bag with nothing much in it.
When Kevin Duffy, the judge who presided over those trials, died, I wrote about the time I encountered him. The link is the longish version of the tale, only part of which is pertinent here.
During one of those trials, I had to file a motion in Duffy’s chambers on a state court case. While I was at his secretary’s desk, Duffy came out of his office. He was a broad, tall man, maybe 6′ 5″ or so, with an unfriendly face. He asked me something along the lines of “Who the hell are you and what are you doing in my chambers?” and I responded.
He was an intimidating guy and I sensed he used that against smaller people. Like me. Although I was 5′ 7″, not small for a woman, I was small next to Duffy. Moreover, he was apparently on his way back downstairs to the courtroom and was accompanied by a couple of armed U.S. Marshals.
The whole incident was over in a minute or so. I left the chambers and pressed the down button on the elevator. I was joined by Judge Duffy and his U.S. Marshals. All of us got into the same elevator. No one spoke. They got out before I did.
Kevin Duffy, one tough judge presiding over several trials each with one non-American defendant accused of terrorist acts, was given protection for ten years.
A decade later, our law office had moved westward and had expanded in size and personnel. A need grew for an administrative plan to keep all our cases and everyone working on them on the same page. Literally.
So I wrote a case management system. There were four columns: (1) stage of case and procedures; (2) specific steps at that stage; (3) lawyers’ roles; and (4) assistants’ roles.
I kept a copy; I’m looking at it now. It is spread out in landscape format on 14″ sheets and runs 13 pages, with two more pages summarizing our filing system. It was designed for a small defense and civil rights firm, but many of the steps we took in pursuing our cases are, I’m quite sure, applicable to a prosecutor’s office.
I have a choice here. Either I can give you the multiple steps each case must take (which might cause your eyes to glaze over) or you can trust my experience: accumulating every piece of information necessary to prosecute a case takes many, many months and a number of people. (I remember previously mentioning when we finally, after maybe a year of demands, got discovery in one wrongful death lawsuit against Nassau County. I cited the 42 storage boxes of discovery documents that filled our conference room and had to be logged in, page by page. Thousands of documents, for a case with one plaintiff’s small family and a few defendants.)
At this time there are reportedly over 600 people indicted for the attack on the Capitol. A few days ago, I saw that one legal pundit suggested there could eventually be over 2000 — and that is only for the mob that attacked the Capitol, not for any higher officials who participated and/or incited the assault.
All of us who are following the workings and aftermath of the Trump administration are awed by the level of open corruption, open criminality, open defiance of law and the Constitution. How many individuals can we name whom we — the non-lawyer but law lovers population — feel must be investigated, subpoenaed, prosecuted?
How many laws have been broken? And by how many people? And how many ugly details and potential defendants are newly exposed almost daily by Congressional committees and the media?
Take this article by the Times’ Katie Brenner, published two days ago and updated yesterday: “Report Cites New Details of Trump Pressure on Justice Dept. Over Election:A Senate panel fleshed out how Donald Trump pursued his plan to install a loyalist as acting attorney general to pursue unfounded reports of fraud.”
I read it thoroughly, shaking my head in a sort of horror. The numbers of people, the numbers of acts…the numbers. And those numbers concern only the Trumpists’ egregious efforts to sabotage the election.
Every one of those people represents a potential defendant in a federal case. But each person’s actions, as far as the law goes, must be investigated individually. And every piece of paper, every document connected with those people and those actions must be collected, logged in, studied word for word and evaluated for breach of our laws.
That’s a lot more than 42 storage boxes’ worth of paper.
It’ll take time.
Trump and his cabal did deep damage to our country and its laws. A number of historians and journalists have mentioned Watergate and Nixon as a predecessor, but every one of them has had to conclude no one, no president, no administration has ever been so thoroughly sociopathic, destructive and irresponsible as Trump.
This case is massive and sui generis. The numbers of the potential criminals, the numbers of broken laws, the incited violence and the distressing number of people willing to commit violence; and the political heights from which those people offended us…well, it’s never happened before, not in this country.
Among the profound considerations the Department of Justice must be concerned with are making sure every indictment is backed and backed again with precise evidence of whom it indicts and for what; how to announce the indictments, how to make the arrests; managing the inevitable widescreen perp walks of so many of the highest-level American officials accused of crimes against the Constitution; and covering the self-proclaimed insurrectionist groups so that any violent outbursts can be preempted.
If a tough guy like Judge Kevin Duffy had armed guards for ten years during and after he tried a couple of alien terrorists who were not popular figures in this country, the DOJ has to plan in advance the protection for many, many federal judges and prosecutors who will be trying a huge number of cases against a huge number of prominent people.
That’s why this is taking so long.