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Thursday, February 18, 2010

Criminal Defense Lawyer Shelnutt Hits Back At His Prosecutors Under Hyde Amendment

Georgia criminal defense lawyer Mark Shelnutt is fighting back against some federal prosecutors and, as he alleges, a "rogue" government investigator.   Shelnutt was prosecuted on and acquitted of money laundering charges arising from his acceptance of legal fees from the proceeds of criminal activity.   Shelnutt is using the Hyde Amendment to sue the federal government for recovery of about $225,000 in legal fees for his defense.   Shelnutt claims prosecutors and investigators fabricated evidence against him in the course of a criminal investigation and prosecution.
 
Crime, Politics and Policy has covered both the Shelnutt and Ben Kuehne prosecutions (charges against Kuehne have been dropped) as examples of the federal government pursuing defense attorneys who are either apparently too good at their profession for their own good, or -- as is more likely -- who are prominent enough to make an appealing, newsworthy and hence potentially career-defining target for an ambitious, morally atavistic prosecutor looking to make a name (and career) for himself/herself and is eager to ruin someone who is much more accomplished in pursuit of sheer ambition. 
 
In bad economic times, the "big law firms" make few partners.   In some cases, very prominent East Coast firms made no partners in 2009.   As the traditional model of work-ten-years-make-partner dissolves, alternatives such as making a name for oneself in government service arise as a way to bypass the traditional (and low probability) firm lockstep process for rising to partner.   It is generally accepted that we are in the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression; in some professions, there has been a paradigm shift which has caused the erosion or eradication of economic models of doing business and the traditional law firm model may be one casualty.   Hence, these unprecedented "hard times" are sparking a wave of new prosecutorial ambition, rooted in economic uncertainty, which threatens the "accomplished" within certain industries -- i.e., the entrepreneurial or meritocratic class -- with reputational and financial ruin and loss of one's freedom as ambitious, atavistic and financially-desperate prosecutors aim for their one chance to "make it" with a career-definiing bust.   Arguably, with such a mentality on the rise, the threat to freedom and Constitutional rights of the class of "achievers" within society has never been greater. 


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