- The Washington Times - Friday, July 4, 2003

A good jury can be hard to find. At least that’s the opinion of sniper suspect John Muhammad’s lawyers, who want to temporarily block a book about the shootings by former Montgomery County Police Chief Charles Moose. It’s their contention that the opinions of jurors could be tainted by information in the chief’s memoirs. The book is scheduled to be released Sept. 15; Mr. Muhammad’s trial begins Oct. 14. We do not intend on joining the mob that is trying to strongarm a committed public servant into giving up his time in the spotlight.

The events surrounding Chief Moose’s book controversy are rather straightforward. He had originally planned to write it while still in charge of the suburban Maryland police force. The usual — and legitimate — howls about conflict-of-interest followed, and a Montgomery County ethics panel ruled that the chief could not do the book and continue to undertake his official duties at the same time. While there was no specific clause in his contract pertaining to book deals, he was required to obtain permission for outside income from the panel. The problem was solved when Chief Moose resigned, though media attention still made his use of official information for personal profit as problematic. In the meantime, the county has tried to guarantee itself a cut of the eventual profits. Much of this opposition comes off as mere greed or jealousy.

The charge that Chief Moose might leak sensitive information to generate attention for a book tour is purely speculative. Besides, no one knows if the book will even contain any secrets. We certainly do not condone any kind of judicial review to determine whether a book can be published or not. The manhunt across the region was so public that it is unlikely much has been left uncovered. It’s also a joke for Mr. Muhammad’s legal team to blame a cop for the media frenzy that is sure to surround the trial. This excitement will be caused by the randomness of innocents getting gunned down on the highway, not a book.

It is true that Chief Moose was not a successful police chief, particularly under fire. The capture of the two suspects resulted from their own phone calls to authorities, and not the Moose investigation. His decision to wait 24 hours to announce the profiles of the suspects is also questionable, especially after he had erroneously trumpeted that the snipers were white and distracted the search with incorrect information about a white van. But these issues have nothing to do with his right to write his memoirs, which could help him explain his well-publicized failures.

Bestsellers occur when the right topic hits the shelves at the right time. Chief Moose has the right to test the market. Public servants writing memoirs about their official duties are nothing new. Public servants should use good judgment and appeal to their consciences when going public with their experiences, but public pressure should not bar publication of a work which the law allows.

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