Twenty years ago, Jack Kevorkian went on trial for the first time for assisted suicide charges in Wayne County Circuit Court. In one sense, it was the best of all the Kevorkian trials.
The prosecutor, Tim Kenny, who now is a judge himself, fought hard but clean. The case was heard by a no-nonsense judge, Thomas Jackson, who was respected by both sides.
Kevorkian and his attorney, the flamboyant Geoffrey Fieger, pushed the envelope a bit, but not enough to turn the trial into a circus. Kevorkian was clearly guilty – he admitted to breaking the law.
But the jury refused to convict him. Why? Some of them later told me the dead man was suffering hopelessly, wanted to die, and they thought his fate should be his choice.
Wayne County Prosecutor John O’Hair realized that further Kevorkian prosecutions would be a waste of time. But his counterpart in Oakland County, Prosecutor Richard Thompson, wouldn’t admit it. So he charged Jack Kevorkian again. Four times.
The county spent thousands bringing in expert witnesses at taxpayers’ expense. Fieger brought in others. Everyone grandstanded. Juries listened, deliberated…and acquitted Kevorkian, every time.
Then, when the next primary election rolled around, Prosecutor Thompson was challenged by a young unknown named Dave Gorcyca. Gorcyca had one simple slogan: If elected, he would stop wasting taxpayer money on the fruitless prosecutions. When the votes were counted, he won easily.
I’ve been thinking about those Kevorkian trials, ever since the current same-sex marriage and adoption trial got underway in federal district court in Detroit. In a time of scarcity, when other prosecutors lack basic resources, Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette has been mounting a highly-expensive, full-court press in an effort to try and prevent the court from finding two things: That same-sex couples should be allowed to adopt children, and marry if they please.
Evidence indicates Schuette is on the wrong side of history on marriage, and that this is a poor case on which to fight same-sex adoption. Everybody concedes that nurses April DeBoer and Jayne Rowse have taken fine care of their three special needs children.
Additionally, there’s clearly been a dramatic change in the last few years in attitudes towards same-sex marriage. Now, you can argue that just because something is popular doesn’t make it right. But the marriage issue is not going to be settled by this case or in this state.
Similar cases like this are being argued all over the country, and the U.S. Supreme Court is certain to make the final decision. At most, this case will be bundled with several others.
Which means Schuette doesn’t have to tie up major prosecutorial resources, both human and financial. He would be perfectly justified in arguing that Michigan voters passed a constitutional amendment outlawing same-sex marriage – and that this is a matter that should be left up to the states.
But instead, he has behaved as if he represented the state’s social conservatives alone.
I’d suggest our attorney general, who is clearly politically ambitious, might want to have a chat with old Dick Thompson, who today works at an obscure Christian law center.
That would be a conversation I would love to overhear.