In 1984, I was 33 years old. I was arrogant, judgmental, narcissistic and very full of myself. I was not as interested in justice as I was in winning. To borrow a phrase from Al Pacino in the movie “And Justice for All,” “Winning became everything.” ….
Had I been more inquisitive, perhaps the evidence would have come to light years ago. But I wasn’t, and my inaction contributed to the miscarriage of justice in this matter. . . .
My mindset was wrong and blinded me to my purpose of seeking justice, rather than obtaining a conviction of a person who I believed to be guilty. I did not hide evidence, I simply did not seriously consider that sufficient information may have been out there that could have led to a different conclusion. And that omission is on me.
- Marty Stroud – March 2015 – Apology to Glenn Ford and to the justice system
Although we may have “second chances,” none of us can undo what has already been done. All of our actions and inactions have consequences – whether immediately or decades from now – that cannot be re-spooled.
Law students learn (hopefully) early on that the law provides remedies which, for the most part, merely substitute for what has been lost whether limbs, rights, freedoms, or life. And in some cases, there are wrongs that simply cannot be remedied. Sometimes, the best we can offer is an apology. The apology offered by prosecutor Marty Shroud to Glenn Ford is sincere; the author proffers no excuses and takes full responsibility for his own acts and omissions – and we should expect no less. I hope Mr. Shroud’s apology reminds those of us in legal education to pay attention to the mindset of our students and to challenge as well as guide them to better develop their professional consciences, mindful of the potential for causing lasting harm and their larger obligation to the legal system.
As educators, the first challenge is to admit when we ourselves are wrong, that we don’t have all of the answers, that the premises upon which we make our arguments can be flawed or judgmental, and that we don’t know everything. The second challenge is to help our law students learn the same. And, law school makes this challenge profoundly difficult for law students. Think about it. Nearly everything depends on “doing well” relative to others in law school – on performance and achievement by mastering content. Many law school and career opportunities depend on doing better than the next person. In a time of “personal truth” and “confirmation bias,” pushing students to take a sincere personal inventory can seem nearly impossible. In a more practical sense, teaching students how to admit mistakes and to take responsibility for those mistakes is difficult. I’m pretty sure there’s no grading rubric or assessment with columns for “makes mistakes,” or “admits to those mistakes” in the larger profession- and life-sense. And, while assigned reflective pieces may encourage students toward more honest personal assessment, those types of assignments are generally not in the mainstream podium classes.
A further impediment to meeting these challenges is what seems to me to be an almost embedded professional cultural insistence that admitting mistakes is a sign of weakness – as though only those who are never wrong are strong. This apology, however, is a singular example of potential change. The apology was forthright; it was both personal and made to the general public at a time when the public is particularly critical of our legal system. As a teacher, I hope my students are able to learn from this letter and remain mindful of the potential for inattentiveness, hubris, and the resulting harm not only to others, but to our entire justice system when we lose sight of the larger picture.
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