If you lost a cherished piece of jewelry, whom would you want to find it – a butcher, a baker, a candlestick maker or a lawyer?
Most likely the lawyer. Jokes about the law profession notwithstanding, the best lawyers embody a respected professionalism and, more importantly, a firm knowledge of the law. That implies a firm knowledge of right and wrong.
But here’s what happened to one cherished piece of jewelry.
In 2013, Jane Prater of Thomson lost a $10,500 diamond ring. It was found, in the parking lot of the Cracker Barrel in Evans, by Alexia Davis, an attorney in the Augusta public defender’s office.
And she kept it.
After a couple of days, Davis took the ring to a jeweler to have it appraised. While at the jeweler, she chatted with a uniformed Richmond County deputy, but didn’t mention the ring.
Davis kept the ring for almost two weeks, until the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office released the restaurant’s surveillance video, hoping someone could identify the people at the scene. Another public defender in the video was identified by name, but investigators were led to Davis, who said she found the ring – but initially refused to give officers a formal statement.
Further prying by another investigator got enough facts from Davis to file a felony charge: theft of stolen or mislaid property.
Bear this in mind: None of the investigators’ findings were proved false. Davis found the ring, kept it, had it appraised and kept sitting on it until widely disseminated video essentially shamed her into coming forward.
And now the justice system has refused to prosecute.
Augusta Judicial Circuit District Attorney Ashley Wright recused herself from the case because of conflict of interest, so it was transferred to Middle Judicial Circuit D.A. Hayward Altman.
His decision Thursday? Case dismissed.
“She was remorseful for all the errors in judgment she had made,” he said. “She didn’t get any special treatment.”
Looking at the undisputed facts of the case, how does this decision not exude the glaring sheen of professional courtesy – of the judicial system taking care of its own?
Two sentences in Davis’ apology letter to the ring owner are particularly revealing. The
italics are ours:
“The good thing from all of this is that I have learned a valuable lesson about finding other people’s belongings, and so have other people,” Davis wrote. “Turning it in to the sheriff’s office rather than holding on to it until someone came forward would have alleviated this whole situation.”
Regarding Davis’ claim of learning “a valuable lesson”: She’s just now learning this? A law-school graduate in her early 30s? There are kindergarten playgrounds filled with younger people who better grasp the basic concepts of property rights.
And she can’t claim unfamiliarity with the specific charge she faced. She has represented clients in two cases on that identical charge of theft of stolen or mislaid property.
Davis came forward to give the ring to authorities only after the restaurant video had been splashed all over the news and social media, and the fate of the lost ring could no longer be called into question.
“Had she taken the simplest, most obvious steps to get the ring back to the owner, it would have been successful,” sheriff’s Investigator T.R. Digsby said. “Instead, she did nothing.”
As for Davis’ conclusion that turning the ring over to deputies “would have alleviated” the situation: Notice she didn’t say that turning it in was “the right thing to do,” or “what I should have done in the first place.” Davis is wrongfully, shamelessly couching the incident as an inconvenience to her. That doesn’t convincingly sound as if Davis is, in Altman’s words, “remorseful.”
Today, Davis still is in the public defender’s office.
For heaven’s sake, why?
She flouted one of the very laws she swore to uphold, and soiled her ethics by hanging onto property that wasn’t hers. At the very least, her law license should be suspended.
Every citizen should be held to the same standard of accountability before the law. That’s why, dating to the 15th century, depictions of Lady Justice show her blindfolded. It represents objectivity. The lady shouldn’t be allowed to peek under the blindfold to wink at a select few – especially lawyers who should know better than anyone about the law and what constitutes its violation.