Worthy's double-talk

Wayne County Prosecutor has strong words about perjury … for some, not all

Here at the Hits, we wonder from time to time if politicians might possess some genetic mutation that causes them to be completely immune to a characteristic the rest of us are subject to. We're talking about the ability to feel a sense of shame, and the ease with which some officeholders separate themselves from it.

What brought this to the forefront of our thoughts was an odd bit of coincidental jurisprudence that occurred in Wayne County last week.

Around the same time Prosecutor Kym Worthy took to her pedestal and again trumpeted her abhorrence of perjury, the state bar association's Attorney Discipline Board was announcing that one of Worthy's former top deputies, Karen Plants, had been disbarred for the role she played in allowing perjured testimony to be presented to a jury seven years ago.

Talk about hypocrisy of the highest order!

Worthy's show of outrage accompanied the arrest of Detroit defense attorney David Dunn, who is accused of conspiring with one of his clients to get witnesses to perjure themselves in an upcoming murder trial.

Arrested in dramatic fashion in court as television cameras rolled, Dunn has had the book thrown at him by Worthy's office. Charged with two counts of interfering with a witness, two counts of obstruction of justice, two counts of inciting or procuring perjury and two counts of solicitation to commit a felony, Dunn — who has pleaded not guilty to the charges — faces the possibility of spending the rest of his life in prison if convicted.

"Mr. Dunn's alleged behavior is a poison arrow to the heart of the criminal justice system," Worthy said in a statement.

Worthy made similarly high-minded statements regarding the sanctity of truth in court when she was nailing former Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick for lying under oath.

But when it comes to someone on her own staff deliberately using lies to taint the justice system, Worthy's intense pursuit of wrongdoers disappears.

Back in 2005, in an attempt to put Alexander Aceval behind bars for his alleged role in a major cocaine trafficking operation, Plants — then head of the drug unit in the Wayne County prosecutor's office — knowingly allowed police officers to present perjured testimony to a jury.

Plants informed the judge of the problem, as well as her superiors. She defended the action by saying that the lying was needed to protect the identity of a confidential informant.

Although Plants' bosses knew what she had done, Worthy's office took no action. Even when attorneys for Aceval uncovered evidence of Plants' crime in sealed court records, the county's chief law enforcement officer appeared to condone what was a clearly illegal act. When Aceval eventually pleaded guilty, Worthy tried to make the case the confession somehow vindicated what Plants did.

Instead of being immediately dismissed and prosecuted when her crime was disclosed, Plants was allowed to remain on the job for months, with pay. She was also able to keep her position long enough to retire. And it took years before she was held accountable for her actions.

Even then, it wasn't Worthy who sought justice, but rather the state attorney general who brought charges against Plants. It took six years for Plants to be held accountable for her crime. In 2011, she pleaded guilty to obstructing justice and was sentenced to six months in jail.

The state bar initially suspended her license to practice law for two years. Last week it was announced that she was being disbarred. Part of the reason given for increasing the severity of her penalty was that, as a prosecutor, she is duty-bound not to obtain convictions but, rather, to see that justice is done.

Plants failed to do that, and paid a heavy price for her transgression.

We agree with Worthy when she says that perjury is like an arrow to the heart of our justice system. But her words would carry significantly more weight if she weren't guilty of shamelessly talking out of both sides of her mouth when she says it.