America has long been known as a litigious society, its people just itching to haul somebody into court. This is not necessarily a bad thing, as settling matters at trial seems preferable to dueling with pistols or “necktie parties” in the woods. The courts have declared the right to sue inherent in the first amendment, and the fairest judge I ever knew told me never to sign that right away. But we don’t need show trials to publicize repellent behavior, and two current proceedings strike me as complete wastes of taxpayers’ money – because smarminess, however destructive, is not crime. The prosecutions of John Edwards, the politician, and Roger Clemens, the pitcher, have cost millions of dollars, and the testimony at each seems more appropriate to daytime television than a court of law.
Since taking steroids was not a crime when Clemens played baseball, he is being tried for perjury; and Edwards’ verdict will turn on whether the money Bunny Mellon and Fred Baron funneled to him violated the campaign finance law or was simply to cover up his creepy behavior. We’ll never know, since Ms. Mellon is 101 and Mr. Baron is dead. In any event, that seems a distinction without a difference.
Meanwhile, a trial of huge significance began yesterday at The Hague, where Ratko Mladic, the “Butcher of Bosnia,” is charged with war crimes and genocide. The United States led the effort to bring prosecute those crimes after World War II, although the Bush administration subsequently refused to recognize the court’s jurisdiction.
It seems almost criminal that we waste millions on Edwards and Clemons when real and appalling crimes are being prosecuted at The Hague.