In the next installment of our "River of Corruption" series I'll have some unflattering things to say about the Grand Rapids bar. So, that gives me all the more reason to highlight one of the good attorneys in this neck of the woods: John A. Smietanka.
John served as U.S. Attorney for West Michigan during the Reagan and Bush administrations. He was also a nominee to the bench of the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals and twice a candidate for attorney general of Michigan. It's our misfortune we didn't elect him, because we would have had a real crimefighter in that office after nearly four decades of politicized schlock-law under Frank Kelly. However, our misfortune was the good fortune for one man in dire need of justice.
Last Friday Larry Souter was released by the U.S. District Court from a Michigan prison where he was serving a 30- to 60-year sentence for second-degree murder. In 1992 Mr. Souter was convicted in Newaygo County of murdering Kristy Ringler in 1979. John and his associate Anne Buckleitner won Mr. Souter his freedom after a long struggle to expose the faultiness of the evidence against him. The day was finally won when a witness came forward with compelling proof that the unfortunate Ms. Ringler had not been murdered but was killed in a hit-and-run accident by a now-dead Tennessee man.
There's a lot of rot in the legal profession and the courts these days. A guild of self-interest has arisen to protect lawyers and judges from the consequences of their mistakes -- and even misconduct. This guild has subordinated the pursuit of justice for the glory of the brass ring; failing that, a quest for wealth that is unseemingly for men and women who make money only by taking money. That is why John's dedication to Mr. Souter's cause, especially through the dimmest days, is worthy of notice and our respect.
[A note, dear readers. In the interest of full disclosure, I've known John for ten years now. He has helped me and my family with some tough problems that have rankled the players here in town. So, even without his advocacy of Mr. Souter's freedom, I would still know John to be a man of justice.]