Opinion

Starr hasn’t changed his stripes

FamilyCrime, Law and JusticePoliticsLocal GovernmentJuneauJustice SystemHealth

In his glowing profile of Kenneth Starr, Jim Newton says:

"Starr is neither monster nor prude. ... he speaks most eloquently on the notions of service and compassion. ... Today, he describes himself as 'an encourager and a facilitator,' referring to that role as 'perhaps my calling.' "

Maybe so. As you probably know, earlier this year Starr was the lead attorney for the Juneau schools in successfully arguing Morse v. Frederick, the notorious "Bong Hits 4 Jesus" case, before the Supreme Court.

For an enlightening summary of the case prior to the Supreme Court appearance, I'd recommend this story in the Anchorage Daily News:

Frederick's move — and the school's stern response — had more impacts than he ever imagined. The incident gave way to his suspension from school, several arrests by Juneau police, a lawsuit against the city settled in his favor, the loss of his father's job and, eventually, the departure of father and son from Alaska and the United States. . . .Arguing for free on behalf of the Juneau School Board is Kenneth Starr, the former independent prosecutor whose investigation led to the impeachment of President Clinton. . . .

Reading the whole story, and a number of others, it's apparent that this kid, at this time in his life, was a jerk. But does being a jerk justify destroying said jerk, along with the jerk's family? They were in a small-town environment, in a remote place. When all of the powers that be are brought down upon you in a clear vendetta, who ya gonna call?

I realize that Kenneth Starr was not part of the figurative lynch mob that drove these people out of town. But whose side did he choose?

Here are some of his statements to the Supreme Court:

MR. STARR: Let me be very specific. This case is ultimately about drugs and other illegal substances....JUSTICE SCALIA: This banner was interpreted as meaning smoke pot, no?MR. STARR: It was interpreted — exactly, yes. It was interpreted as an encouragement of the drug culture....JUSTICE STEVENS: And so we're focusing on the message and that's the whole crux of the case.MR. STARR: That's why this case is here because of the message."

The "message" was gibberish, plain and simple — but not to Mr. Starr.

This case is a classic example of the late Felix Frankfurter's dictum: "It is a fair summary of history to say that the safeguards of liberty have been forged in controversies involving not very nice people." Only in this case, I wouldn't say that liberty has been safeguarded.

Here's another instance where Mr. Starr has toiled for the righteous:

"Blackwater for a time retained Kenneth W. Starr, the former Whitewater independent counsel, and Fred F. Fielding, who is now the White House counsel, to help handle suits filed by the families of slain Blackwater employees."

I'm glad you had a pleasant interview. I'm sure Mr. Starr is "genial, reflective and easygoing, lighthearted even."

What do you suppose Bertram Gross was trying to tell us?

Ed Mirmak is retired.

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