Originally created 06/27/04

A test of facts, not a fight

It seems that whenever someone prominent is indicted, he or she vows to "fight the charges."

It has become admirable in the public's eyes to be combative and defiant. It shows fortitude and conviction - that is, a deeply held belief in one's innocence.

Or some such nonsense.

Spare us.

You know what? We're tired of public officials and celebrities who "vow to fight the charges" against them.

And - strange as it may seem, coming from a newspaper - we're tired of having such cases tried in the media.

It is becoming legend these days that lawyers for celebrities and politicians who are charged with crimes consider it their jobs to win two cases - one of them in the court, the other in the court of public opinion.

Augusta's powerful former state Senate Majority Leader Charles Walker is the latest.

Fresh on the heels of having been the subject of a 142-count indictment for mail fraud, conspiracy and filing false tax returns, Walker was feted at a fund-raiser here Thursday at which he - surprise! - vowed to fight the charges.

Judging from the overflow crowd that came to the Julian Smith Casino to boost Walker's chances of regaining the Senate seat he lost in 2002, there are plenty of folks right here in River City anxious to sop up that kind of sauciness. And they have every right to do so.

You have to wonder, though, how much of a public service these kinds of public servants are providing with their "Who are you going to believe - me or your lying eyes?" approach.

Rather than "fight" such charges - in vague, angry public ventings, with high-powered lawyers and such - wouldn't it be nice if a public official merely promised to "answer the charges"?

Rather than characterize evidence that hasn't even yet been presented in court, why not just promise that it will all come out in the wash, good or bad - and, heaven forbid, actually admit when it's bad?

Good grief, anyone arriving from Mars who heard only defense attorneys' versions on television would conclude that no one on Earth has ever done anything wrong.

The difference between "fighting" the charges and "answering" them is simple: The former is issuing emotional platitudes; the latter is presenting facts that prove guilt or innocence.

This is why the judicial system is so deliberative, why it often takes so long to bring someone to trial. The system insists on evidence, not emotion.

The government didn't call Charles Walker names and slap him with a gauntlet and challenge him to a duel. Federal investigators and prosecutors put together a string of allegations that a federal grand jury considered and decided needed to be aired in court.

Certainly it's a challenge for Walker to explain where the government is wrong when it says he cheated advertisers of his Augusta Focus newspaper, siphoned off political contributions for personal use and stole thousands from his own charity football event.

But this isn't a boxing match. It's not a fight. It's a test of facts.

The winner isn't the one who's the loudest.

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