When JPMorgan Chase agreed to a settlement now valued at $9 billion with the Department of Justice, for its role in the “subprime” mortgage securities scandal that helped trigger the U.S. financial crisis, most Americans assumed that justice was done.
But they hadn’t yet heard of Alayne Fleischmann, a Canadian securities lawyer formerly employed by the bank, who had provided some of the key evidence used in negotiating the settlement. Fleischmann’s involvement in the case was a closely held secret until she went public this year in an article written by journalist Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone. She said the DOJ settlement in effect enabled her former employer to avoid criminal charges.
As Fleischmann tells TCR Deputy Managing Editor Graham Kates in an interview, her decision to reveal her whistleblowing role was prompted by what she believed was an expensive cover-up orchestrated by the offices of Attorney General Eric Holder and JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon. She determined the public had a right to know the whole story, whether or not the upper echelons of power wanted that information to come out.
Her courage and determination won the admiration of TCR readers and staff, who selected the Canadian as the Criminal Justice Newsmaker of 2014. “It took guts for her to bring her insights to light,” commented TCR staffer Ricardo Martinez in his original nomination of Fleischmann. Reader Leonard Battle, who chose both Fleischmann and another newsmaker on our list, Prof. Samuel Gross of the National Registry of Exonerations (see below), agreed.
Such examples of civic courage, Battle wrote, have “the potential to shift the paradigm of criminal justice for the nation.”
LESLIE MCSPADDEN AND MICHAEL BROWN SR.
Another form of civic coverage was singled out by TCR readers, who named Leslie McSpadden and Michael Brown Sr., the parents of the 18-year-old killed by a police bullet in Ferguson, Mo. on August 9, as a very close second choice for top newsmaker of 2014.
The death of Michael Brown, Jr., an African American—and the subsequent decision by a St. Louis County Grand Jury not to indict Darren Wilson, the white officer who shot him—was TCR readers’ choice of the top criminal justice story of 2014. But several readers said the actions of his parents, who used the tragedy of their son’s death to campaign for changes in police practices across the country, also merited special notice.
“Gracious with the media, they consistently called for calm and peaceful protests in memory of their son,” noted TCR ContributIng Editor David Krajicek, adding that their actions in response to his death “reframed the national dialogue on race and justice.” Reader Jacqueline Craig-Bey singled out in particular the Browns call for legislation that would require all police to carry cameras to record their actions—a call that was heard by President Barack Obama, who subsequently announced a program to equip more than 50,000 officers around the country with the so-called body-cams.
The impact of Ferguson spurred other newsmaker suggestions as well. Gregory Lee, for example, nominated St. Louis County prosecutor Robert McCulloch, in recognition of his decision to make public the grand jury proceedings. “Despite tremendous political pressure,” wrote Lee. “(McCulloch) sought to bring the truth and evidence out for the public to view and decide for themselves.” Looking at it from a different perspective, TCR Contributor Joe Domanick considered the entire “St. Louis County Criminal justice System” the real newsmaker since, as he put it, it was the combined response to the Brown shooting from authorities that turned the story into a paradigm-changing event in the U.S.
In a similar vein, TCR contributing editor Katti Gray argued, “If a place can be a person of the year, I think Ferguson should be on the list.” Gray wrote that the combination of the slaying of an ‘obviously complicated young man…the cops’ remorseless self-defense, and demonizing of a ‘hulking’ kid…ignited long-simmering rage against police profiling (and) political disenfranchisement.”
SAMUEL R. GROSS
Samuel R. Gross, the Thomas and Mabel Long Professor of Law at the University of Michigan Law School, and editor of the National Registry of Exonerations, was tied for second place in TCR readers’ choices of newsmaker of the year. “If not for Sam Gross and his colleagues, we would have no basis for a criminal justice movement against the rampant unlawfulness of state prosecutors in their perverted pursuit of injustice who lie at the core of the ‘broken system,'” commented reader David Gross (no relation).
Here are some of the other newsmakers singled out this year for special attention:
Attorney-General Eric Holder, for his work on reducing sentences for federal drug offenders. As contributing editor David Krajicek wrote, “America’s first black attorney general, after years of cautious performance in office, suddenly finds his voice as his tenure entered its twilight.” (Holder was also readers’ second choice for top newsmaker in 2013.)
New York City Police Commissioner Bill Bratton, reappointed this year after stints in private life and head of the Los Angeles Police Department, who is overseeing the NYPD’s complicated changes from its stop, question and frisk strategy. At least one reader, Terry O’Neill, of the Constantine Institute, cast a dissenting vote, saying he was skeptical of Bratton’s capacity to create real change at this stage of his career; he argued that Bratton ‘has become too much of a brand to reinvent himself as an innovator.”
Another reader, intriguingly, nominated America’s incarcerated population, as “the human face of a myriad of sentencing and other criminal justice policies that the country has decided have gone too far.”
One final note: our list of top criminal justice newsmakers (and the top stories of 2014 published last week) make clear that despite the seriousness of our challenges, our nation has the skills, the ability and the knowledge to address them—even if reasonable people may differ on the solutions.
That’s also a reason why we continue to take pride in The Crime Report, as a unique national networking service and news provider that serves the nation’s criminal justice community in all of its complex dimensions—practitioners, scholars, policymakers, journalists, students, advocates and the informed public. In many ways, TCR readers themselves—in their conscientious search for solutions, best practices and innovations in their own fields—are the genuine “newsmakers” of 2014.
We wish you continued success in that mission in 2015!
– The Staff of TCR.