111019Tavris2March 5, 2012

“DURHAM — Tracey Cline could not admit she was wrong….”

Thus begins J. Andrew Curliss’s latest behavioral analysis of Durham County’s latest disgraced district attorney.

Coincidentally, Curliss cites a book I’ve been reading to better understand the rigidly wrongheaded behavior of the Little Rascals prosecutors.

Carol Tavris, a Los Angeles social psychologist who has researched and written about the behavior and decision-making of prosecutors, said studies show the human brain, when sorting out conflicting beliefs and actions, will engage in a powerful act known as ‘self-justification.’

“It can keep people from admitting they are wrong and can be more powerful and more dangerous than an explicit lie, she said in an interview and in a 2007 book she co-authored, ‘Mistakes Were Made (But Not By Me)’…

“Self-justification is especially concerning in the justice system, Tavris said, because authorities often view themselves as ‘good guys’ doing the ‘right thing’….

“ ‘It’s really, really, really hard to face the reality that you screwed up,’ she said. ‘When we have a view of ourselves as good, competent, ethical, honest people and we are now confronted with evidence that we did something that was incompetent, unethical, immoral or harmful, we have two choices. We can ’fess up – say, “Oh, my God, look at this evidence, what did I do? How can I make amends?” – or, we deny.’ ”

Here’s a recent public ’fessing up that could be a model for errant prosecutors: “I want to express my sincere regret and apology…. It was a terrible mistake, and we knew it was wrong while we were doing it. Instead of getting caught up in it, I should have stopped it.”

Alas, it comes not from Cline – or from H. P. Williams Jr., Bill Hart or Nancy Lamb – but from the NFL coach who oversaw the “bounty” system for disabling opposing players.