“Cheating is as American as a rotten apple pie. According to the Josephson Institute of Ethics biennial studies of the behavior of American youth, two-thirds of students admit cheating on at least one test in the past year. Yet nearly everyone, 93 percent, claims to be satisfied with their personal ethics and character. In another study last year, the institute found that half of teenagers 17 and under believe lying and cheating are necessary to succeed. High school students who cheated at least twice on exams are three times more likely as adults to lie to customers in business transactions”. (Jackson, 2010) America clearly has a crisis with integrity.
Integrity can be defined in many ways; but it comes down to being honest with yourself and others, no matter the consequences. Integrity is important to me because it shows who a person is at the core. Integrity is important in the criminal justice system because it is the crux of the judicial system. My mom began talking to me about “integrity” from the time I was a young boy.
The definition of integrity that I have known, grown-up with, and believe to be true, is that integrity is doing the right thing when no one is looking. It means being honest, sincere, authentic and having good character, no matter the cost. Completing a job the right way, when no one is watching, is integrity. Keeping your word and following through with promises, when no one will check-up, is integrity. Being able to admit wrongdoings, accept criticism and make improvements without pride, is integrity. Whether a human being sees what you have or have not done, God is always watching and knows whether you are acting with integrity.
The Bible talks about “integrity” from the beginning. “Integrity” in Hebrew is used thirty times in the Bible (Orr, 1515). The translation of “integrity” into Hebrew is “tom” or “tummah”. The meaning of these translations is “simplicity”, “soundness”, “completeness”, “perfection” or “upright”. The Hebrew word for “integrity” is used several times throughout the Old Testament of the Bible (Orr, 1515). In Job 1:8, God is confirming the godliness and integrity of his faithful servant, Job: “And the
Lord said to Satan, ‘Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil? He still holds fast his integrity, although you incited me against him to destroy him without reason’”. In Proverbs 11:3, we are reminded that those who display integrity will be guided on a straight path, but he who cannot distinguish right from wrong will be destroyed: “The integrity of the upright guides them, but the unfaithful are destroyed by their duplicity”. In Proverbs 10:9, we are reminded that he who walks with nothing concealed will have nothing to fear, but he who walks in sin will be found out: “The man of integrity walks securely, but he who takes crooked paths will be found out”.
The Biblical definition of integrity is comparable to that of Webster’s Dictionary. Webster’s Dictionary has three different, yet similar, definitions for integrity: 1) firm adherence to a code of especially moral or artistic values: INCORRUPTIBILITY, 2) an unimpaired condition: SOUNDNESS, and 3) the quality or state of being undivided: COMPLETELENSS (Merriam-Webster, 2016).
The legal definition of “integrity” is less similar, but still exemplifies the same idea. According to The Law Dictionary, it is the “soundness of moral principle and character, as shown by one person dealing with others in the making and performance of contracts, and fidelity and honesty in the discharge of trusts” it is synonymous with “probity,” “honesty,” and “uprightness” (Garner, 2014).
Regardless of which definition I choose to embrace, integrity is something that I take very seriously and that is extremely important to me. Integrity is important to me because it is the way people show who they really are. There is congruity between how a person behaves (who they appear to be on the outside) and who they are on the inside. If one behaves in an honest, genuine and righteous manner, odds are, he is a man of integrity. It is very difficult to “fake” integrity. The person who seeks to be a man of integrity will naturally lean toward such behaviors and he who does not, will not likely care about such characteristics and will have difficulty exhibiting same.
Integrity is an important characteristic for those who work in the criminal justice system. It is the backbone of the judicial system. Without honesty, “integrity and accountability in the criminal justice system there will never be true reform” (Saady, 2018). By the end of 2018, over 2,000 people had been exonerated from criminal convictions since 1989. The majority of these people were put behind bars because of unlawful behavior of witnesses, law enforcement, the government or the courts (Saady). Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for law enforcement and court officials to behave in an illegal fashion to make sure a potentially innocent person ends up in jail. Even if they are caught, the justice system tends to be lenient with corrupt police officers. Most of the corrupt officers or corrupt officials, who are sentenced, are sentenced to less time than those who are falsely convicted. According to the Mullen Commission in 1994, “Perjury is perhaps the most widespread form of police wrongdoing facing today’s criminal justice system” (Saady, 2018). However, nearly twenty-five years later, we are seeing something that goes beyond the level of perjury. We are seeing police planting and tainting evidence, prosecutors “buying” informants in the prisons and judges selling kids down the system for monetary kickbacks.
In February, 2018, two Baltimore Gun Trace Task Force law enforcement officers were convicted of robbery, racketeering and conspiracy. They reportedly stole cash, resold confiscated narcotics, put GPS trackers on the cars of their robbery targets and lied under oath. The two admitted to crimes of the like stretching over a ten year period. They testified that their supervisor told them to carry BB guns in case they needed to plant weapons. They conspired with a corrupt bondsman and occasionally posed as federal agents when performing arrests. The immoral and unethical behavior of the eight officers involved called into question nearly 125 cases; all of the cases were dropped. Debbie Katz Levi, head of special litigation for Baltimore’s Office of the Public Defender said, “Beyond the sheer credibility issues that should have been raised at the time, given how embedded their crimes were in their police work, all cases involving these officers are tainted” (Staff, 2018). The acting Police Commissioner, Darryl DeSousa created the Corruption Investigation Unit after this major bust of internal corruption. DeSousa said, “We recognize that this indictment and subsequent trial uncovered some of the most egregious and despicable acts ever perpetrated in law enforcement” (Staff, 2018). David Harris is a professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law who researches police behavior. He said, “[He’d] be willing to bet that lots of people – not just one or two – but a number of people knew that there was something stinking and rotten about this unit. And they just chose to look the other way” (Staff, 2018).
Looking the other way is not what FBI Director James Comey did with his handling of the investigation of Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server. Clinton’s use of the private email server for government emails was, at best, lacking integrity. The Democratic Party and Hillary Clinton blamed Comey for her loss of the 2016 election. James Comey has a book coming out, “A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies and Leadership”. In the book, he recalls meeting with Obama in the Oval Office in November 2016. Obama says to him, ‘“I picked you to be FBI director because of your integrity and your ability”’… ‘“I want you to know that nothing has happened in the last year to change my view”’ (Choi, 2018).
Positively or negatively, the views and agendas of governing authorities severely impact the lives of citizens. When judges lack integrity, the criminal justice system greatly suffers. Louis Brandeis said, “Our government…teaches the whole people by its example. If the government becomes the lawbreaker, it breeds contempt for law; it invites every man to become a law unto himself; it invites anarchy.” In February, 2018, a Texas state district court judge was arrested for allegedly accepting $6,000 in cash bribes. Rodolfo “Rudy” Delgado is accused of accepting bribes from an attorney in exchange for favorable judicial decisions. The cases he interfered with involved federal funding, so the charges are even more serious. He allegedly accepted three separate bribes in exchange for releasing three different clients on bond with pending cases. Delgado has had two continuances and was recently denied a second attempt to change the venue of his trial. The new trial date has not yet been set.
While it is unusual for officials to break the law to keep people out of jail, it is more common for scandalous acts to occur while putting people in jail, prison or detention. That is what happened in a Pennsylvania, Luzerne County juvenile courtroom. ‘“The judge’s whim is all that mattered in that courtroom”’,according to Marsha Levick, the legal director of the Juvenile Law Center in Philadelphia. ‘“The law was basically irrelevant”’ (Urbina, 2009). Judge Mark A. Ciavarella Jr. and Judge Michael T. Conahan are known for the “Kids for Cash” scandal. It was the biggest legal scandal in state history. They were involved in a scheme which sent thousands of juveniles to two private detention centers in exchange for $2.6 million in kickbacks, with which they bought homes, cars and yachts for themselves. While the two judges were living it up in their second homes in Florida, the more than 2,500 juveniles who went before them were not so fortunate. Luzerne County became infamous for imposing heavy sentences for minor infractions and first time offenders. Ciavarella also had a habit of not telling juveniles about their right to have an attorney. The number of juveniles he sent to placement more than doubled between 2001 and 2002; this was around the time Ciavarella and Conahan developed their kickback plan. This trend continued through 2007 and was more than double the Pennsylvania state average (Urbina, 2009). State auditors began to notice the monthly billing for detention centers was the same month after month for the county. The amount typically fluctuates as the number of placements fluctuates. The judges also started to struggle to hide the large amounts of money they were getting from the facilities, and they were eventually found out. Between the two, they were charged with racketeering, fraud, money laundering, extortion, bribery and federal tax violations. Ciavarella was sentenced to 28 years in federal prison and Conahan was sentenced to 17.5. The Supreme Court ordered the records of hundreds of juveniles sentenced by Ciavarella be cleaned.
Money is often a motivator for corruption and judicial misconduct. “…America’s courts are failing to check themselves…Judicial legitimacy derives directly from judicial restraining and integrity. And when the courts fail to police themselves, the cries of judges lamenting the intervention of other branches rings hollow” (Sample, 2018). John Grisham’s 2008 best seller, “The Appeal”, was a dark tale of justice for sale. It was based on the true story of judicial dishonesty in West Virginia. It tells about a political underworld and undisclosed funds where litigants spend millions choosing the judges who would decide their cases. In 2018, West Virginia’s House of Delegates did something which had never been done; they voted to impeach all four Supreme Court Justices for inappropriate and lavish spending of taxpayer money. One of the judges spent $500,278.23 in taxpayer money renovating her office. The same judge sold a $1.3 million jet, through her husband, to an attorney trying a multimillion case before her. The deal was never disclosed and she did not recuse herself from the case. In a different scenario, West Virginia Chief-Justice was found by the US Supreme Court to have unconstitutionally deprived a litigant of due process. The judge overturned a $50 million guilty verdict against a coal industry executive. He was seen with the coal executive in the Riviera while he was presiding over the case. James Sample, a professor of law at Maurice A Deane School of Law at Hofstra University reminds us that, “…courts and judges, be they elected or appointed, do not always adhere to the highest standards of ethics and integrity” (Sample, 2018).
There are several ways to define integrity, but they all come down to good character, being upright and moral. “Although the legal and ethical definitions of right are the antithesis of each other, most writers use them as synonyms. They confuse power with goodness, and mistake law for justice.” (Spreading, 1923, p. 158).Integrity is important to me because it shows who I am at my core. I read a quote by columnist Bill Vaughan that strangely, I agree with: “A real patriot is the fellow who gets a parking ticket and rejoices that the system works.” Integrity is important in the criminal justice system so that the system works as it was designed. “…without sustained attention to systemic and preemptive tenets of judicial ethics, books like “The Appeal” will reside on the non-fiction shelf. Such circumstances would be a loss not for the left; not for the right; but for all who believe in the ideals of America” (Sample, 2018).
- Choi, D. (2018, April 12). James Comey reportedly shared a heartfelt moment with Obama that nearly left him in tears. Retrieved from Business Insider: https://www.businessinsider.com/james-comey-and-obama-conversation-election-2018-4
- Department of Justice. (2018, February 5). Texas Judge Arrested and Charged With Bribery. Retrieved from Justice News: https://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/texas-judge-arrested-and-charged-bribery
- Garner, B. A. (2014). Black’s Law Dictionary. Thomas West. Retrieved from The Law Dictionary: https://thelawdictionary.org/integrity/
- Jackson, D. Z. (2010, May 29). America’s crisis of integrity. Retrieved from Boston.com: http://archive.boston.com/bostonglobe/editorial_opinion/oped/articles/2010/05/29/americas_crisis_of_integrity/
- Merriam-Webster. (2016). Merriam-Websters Dictionary. Martinsburg: Quad Graphics.
- Orr, J. (1515). International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. Bible Study Tools. Retrieved from https://www.biblestudytools.com/dictionary/integrity/
- Saady, B. (2018). Fighting Corruption in the U.S. Criminal Justice System. The American Conservative.
- Sample, J. (2018, August 16). West Virginia’s high court corruption just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to big money’s judicial influence. Retrieved from NBC News: https://www.nbcnews.com/think/opinion/west-virginia-s-high-court-corruption-just-tip-iceberg-when-ncna901301
- Spreading, C. T. (1923). Freedom and Its Fundamentals. Los Angeles: Libertarian Publishing Company.
- Staff, C. (2018, February 13). 2 ex-Baltimore officers convicted in police corruption scandal. Retrieved from CBS News: https://www.cbsnews.com/news/2-ex-baltimore-officers-convicted-in-police-corruption-scandal/
- Urbina, I. (2009, March 27). Despite Red Flags About Judges, a Kickback Scheme Flourished. Retrieved from The New York Times: https://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/28/us/28judges.html
- Zazueta-Castro, L. (2019, February 13). Gov’t opposes Delgado’s motion to change trial venue. Retrieved from Valley Star: https://www.valleymorningstar.com/news/local_news/gov-t-opposes-delgado-s-motion-to-change-trial-venue/article_7bd7f7b0-2fdf-11e9-a37c-0b24635e62f2.html