Petition To Fire Aaron Swartz' Prosecutor Reaches Goal

Early Tuesday morning, the petition to the U.S. Administration to fire Carmen Ortiz reached the prerequisite 25,000 signatures. Carmen Ortiz was the prosecutor that drove the prosecution against Aaron Swartz, which many mean contributed or led to his tragic suicide. The U.S. Administration, by its own rules, must now take the petition seriously and respond to it.

The United States Administration has a means for citizens to directly petition them – 25,000 citizens need to sign a petition for the administration to act on it. Acting on it doesn’t necessarily mean agreeing and complying, but it does mean that every petition that reaches this goal is taken seriously enough to respond to it – in action, words, or both.

Early Tuesday morning, a petition to fire Carmen Ortiz reached the prerequisite 25,000 signatures – as of this writing, it stands at 28,157 signatures. Carmen Ortiz was the prosecutor that led the draconian case against Aaron Swartz, who was generally regarded as a prodigy fighting for civil liberties and net liberty. The petition states that prosecutor Ortiz’ overreaching, draconian, and disproportionate prosecution is a danger to life and liberty:

A prosecutor who does not understand proportionality and who regularly uses the threat of unjust and overreaching charges to extort plea bargains from defendants regardless of their guilt is a danger to the life and liberty of anyone who might cross her path.

It remains to be seen whether the administration will act on the petition, but we can’t recall a previous successful petition being directly aimed at a named official in this manner, which does require a bit of afterthought.

Further, it’s arguable that if the U.S. Administration doesn’t react on what has happened and lets the actions of the prosecutor’s office go unsanctioned, it sends a strong message that might makes right. That will eventually lead to vigilante retaliation – and we’d be surprised if several branches of Anonymous haven’t already gone to town trying to dig up anything they can get on Cortiz, to strike back with any kind of skeleton previously hidden deep in closets.

Overall, there is a feeling that Aaron Swartz’ death has to mark the beginning of a change. This petition could be a ticket and an opportunity for the administration to begin such a change, if nothing else, just by firing an overreaching prosecutor. That would be a symbolic action that would still send a message, albeit a weak one, but it would go a long way for many. In contrast, a nonaction from the administration would be a signal that vigilante justice is the only remaining option, which would be unfortunate on many levels.

There is also an ongoing petition to fire assistant U.S. Attorney Steve Heymann, also connected with the events that led to the tragic suicide of prodigy Aaron Swartz. That petition has yet to reach its goal.

Rick Falkvinge

Rick is the founder of the first Pirate Party and a low-altitude motorcycle pilot. He lives on Alexanderplatz in Berlin, Germany, roasts his own coffee, and as of right now (2019-2020) is taking a little break.


  1. Ninja

    If they are fired they’ll only be replaced by new faces that’ll do more of the same. Obama had many with his “Yes, we can” mantra and in the end his Govt is just a sad continuation and “improvement” (in a very negative and offensive way) from Bush.

    The system is well geared and running. It’ll remain that way till the masses wake up and act.

    1. Rick Falkvinge

      The problem is, and has been, that there hasn’t been any risk to one’s career associated with exercising the might-makes-right attitude from office.

      If somebody’s career gets (rightly) wrecked from this kind of behavior, it sends a message that there’s at least some risk involved, and that will make several prosecutors think twice.


      1. Ninja

        Then we get to the revolving door that is politics in the US. Let us remember of Chris Dodd. Former politician that was quite helpful towards the MAFIAA and is now sitting at the top o MPAA. People can be replaced Rick. There are far more interests and powers behind this than we can possibly fathom (at least from where I stand, I imagine you have seen quite the rotten politics already).

        Would you as a prosecutor think twice in doing the wrong thing and risking your career if you had millions waiting you when you left your attorney job? My question is: How do you fix this system? It is obvious to me that we need a revolution be it bloody or peaceful. For that the masses are needed but people would rather anesthetize themselves with crap entertainment and sensationalist ‘news’ of what really does not matter once you get past your apathy and ignore reality. It’s much less painful. And once you start talking about this kind of issue they brand you an annoying person, geek, some funny guy/girl.

        To quote Robert Crumb: “Though I might be very fond of particular individuals, humanity in general fills me with contempt and despair.” (note that I don’t necessarily agree with his way of thinking). I do see light in the end. Once they are abused enough, people will rise and act.

        1. Some Dude

          Which is why we should be investing our efforts in changing the laws the empowered these individuals rather than attacking the individuals.

          Sure, we punish these two…. they move on and are replaced with younger, brasher prosecutors who haven’t learned these lessons.

          Far better to work towards improving the laws on the books, fixing the sentencing guidelines and other things that will have a lasting effect.

      2. ER

        You are aware, that you are following exactly “their” policy?

    2. Jan Zawadzki

      I’d love to see the resignation of MITs president as well. This would not have been possible without MIT’s active assistance, apparently in contravention to their stated policies.

      1. Kliment

        Except the current MIT president was not there at the time the charges happened, two years ago. He has appointed the likely most reliable person to investigate this case, have a look at this email that was sent to everyone at MIT:

  2. Jean Chicoine

    @ Ninja: “I do see light in the end. Once they are abused enough, people will rise and act.”
    That’s the ticket. An abused society always reaches a point where its people can’t take it anymore, and mayhem ensue, for the better or for the worse.

  3. RolandL

    I think the US should reconsider their plea bargain system. It rewards lazy prosecutors who should be gathering evidence to get a conviction but instead take the easy way and bully their victims into signing plea bargains. The beauty of those plea bargains, at least for the prosecutors, is that there is no need for any type of evidence as long as you can intimidate somebody into signing them.

    1. A.nonymous

      This! This! This!

      Philip Greenspun posted the following very interesting paper this morning. Well worth reading:

  4. passstab

    “It remains to be seen whether the administration will act on the petition, but we can’t recall a previous successful petition being directly aimed at a named official in this manner, which does require a bit of afterthought.”

    that site has NEVER changed the Obama administrations position on ANYTHING
    is the list of “featured” responses that is to say those are the BEST responses they’ve given
    the closest thing i see to policy change is the release of the beer recipe

    the site is a waste of taxpayer money

    please don’t run any more articles legitimizing it

    1. Aelius Blythe

      Expecting names on a paper to change an administrations position – and then calling it a waste when it “fails” – shows a gross misunderstanding of the massive amount of real world work and time and effort actually required to make change.

      A petition isn’t a way to get the administration to roll over. A petition isn’t a way to avoid a fight. A petition isn’t a short cut around the hard work and time and effort of activism. A petition serves as a flashpoint, a succinct, articulated statement of rage that would otherwise fizzle into frustrated apathy. (“There’s nothing we can do!”) Even if the petition itself does nothing, that statement can rally allies, educate voters and potential voters, and incite non-activists to activism, and light a fire under anyone who may have otherwise sat at home feeling helpless. A petition paves the way for the REAL hard work of making change.

      Look at other pieces of paper that people signed their names to. The Declaration of Independence didn’t do shit by itself. It was not the paper, but the fight that followed it that actually achieved the goals intended by the writing of the paper. But the Declaration was a statement that articulated intent and rallied people to the necessary action. Without real action, it was nothing more than wishful thinking.

      As far as THIS petition goes, you are right that it may not demonstrate or incite real change. But it demonstrates awareness, education, and outrage, and a will to act. Not everyone who signed it is a technologist or an activist or even remotely close to Aaron’s work. They are people who heard the news, were outraged by it enough to put their name publicly to a statement. It’s their friends. It’s their followers. It’s their grandma on Facebook. . . Without that awareness, there is no hope for change. Without that awareness, the slide back in to hopeless apathy is all too easy. It’s not the petition that does the work, it’s the outrage of citizens, voters, activists, would be activists, future politicians, budding journalists, aspiring lawyers. . . it is THEY that do the work. And that is never a waste.

      1. jeff

        Well said, I’ve been hearing way to much fatalism of late in regards to change in our goverment. Its nice to see someone who so clearly understands the importance of speaking out before revolution is necessary. Although in that regards I do fear that these rallying cries will be drowned out until its to late, but with out them there is no hope.

      2. Anonymous

        Well said. Thank you.

  5. Dondilly

    I see Ortiz’s husband is on twitter criticizing posters reaction towards his wife.

    Like it is the public’s fault he had the poor judgement to marry a power crazed narcicist void of any empathy.

    More importantly in an attempt to defend her, he refers to the offer of a plea bargain, ‘6 months is not 35 years’. It is a claim that misses the point. Plea bargains are illegal in many countries outside the USA for very good reason.

    In the usa, plea bargains are used to circumvent due process. Many sentences are disproportionate to the offence with the sole intention of illiciting a plea. In this manner, most cases are rarely tested in court and many innocent people or poor end up with criminal records. Frequently when an fbi case does go to court it collapses.

    1. Ian Farquhar

      The issue of plea bargains (or plea agreements in some other jurisdictions) is deeply problematic. They are fundamentally an unjust concept from almost every rational viewpoint, but without them most courts would grind to a halt and accused people would wait years for trial. That is also deeply unjust.

      So why do they exist? Well, in the jurisdiction I am writing from, plea agreements are responded to 60-80% of the time, saving massive amount of expensive court time. Although so many politicians like to portray themselves as “law and order”, they seem strangely unwilling to fund the apparatuses of justice…

      And that’s the fundamental issue. There is such pressure on the offices of public prosecutors to minimize court costs. In some cases, plea agreements also prevent the victims from having to appear in court, although that is a double-edged sword.

      Is it legitimate for DPP’s to care? Dubious. Is it realistic? Probably. Two problems occur, and both must be managed:

      1. The usage of massively over-blown charges – as may have happened in this case – to force a plea agreement. Even if the accused is legitimately guilty, this is unjust.
      2. The provision if massive discounts on a legitimately sized sentence, in the hope the accused will settle. This actually has two sides:
      (a) if the accused is legitimately innocent, but choose to settle as a lower-risk exercise, that is a terrible outcome
      (b) if they are guilty, but settle because it gives them a massive sentence benefit, then that’s also unjust, especially to the victim

      In reality, a plea agreement should be a fixed, small reduction (10-20% maximum) on a realistic sentence justified by an impartial public prosecutor.

      Or fund the court system appropriately, and get rid of plea agreements entirely.

  6. anonymous

    it looks like being terrorist in Afghanistan is better than a real hacker in America.
    country ruled by fools for fools

    1. Some Dude

      You’re right … being the target of massive, guided ordinance and the most highly trained killing machine in the history of mankind in a country where practically nobody is literate and there is no healthcare is way better than being threatened by a prosecutor with WORDS in one of the most advanced and civil societies in the world.

      Unfortunately, because Aaron killed himself, we’ll never know whether or not these asshole prosecutors could have even convinced a jury and a judge to actually convict him, let alone secure a half-century prison sentence.

  7. Larry Price

    As the author of the petition; I apologise for the grammatical infelicities of the first paragraph, they’re the result of a mis-edit that should not have made it into the final copy.

    It is important that we hold our government officials accountable for their actions; even when, as in this case they are not illegal, merely immoral.

    Your posting brings up the fact that the US currently has a two tiered justice system that has one set of rules for the elite and well-connected and another for ordinary folk. This unfortunate betrayal of American ideals must come to an end.

  8. Dondilly

    I have to agree, a petition will get nowhere.

    G W Bush once said the constitution was ‘just a piece of paper’ . Borne out by the fact that since the bankers started running the country in 1913 with the federal reserve. That piece of paper has been shredded and like federal reserve bank notes, no longer worth the paper it is written on. So what hope is there for a petition?

    1. Anon


  9. Ian Farquhar

    Sadly, what I think they’ll take from this (and the SOPA protests) is “don’t poke the bear… er, the Internet”.

    If it happens, this will have some positive outcomes, in moderating some of the obnoxious proposals from rent-seeking organizations like the MPAA/RIAA.

    On the other hand, it will completely miss the larger problem, which is the US’s “broken by design” legal system. A system which has politicized and popularized justice, where even the appearance of fairness and due process is seen as a weakness, where bullying and intimidation are endemic, and where being a “tough-on crime attorney” is seen as a meal ticket into mid-level political office.

    And let’s not forget the cozy and corrupt linkage where those same mid-level politicians have largely outsourced prisons into a for-profit industry, and the US has one of the largest prison populations in the world. Whose election campaigns do those large companies fund? Why, the same prosecutors who have been filling their prisons for years. And the money goes round and round and round.

    This is a classical systemic corruption, which were the things which made Aaron Swartz so upset, it seems.


  10. Francisco George (@paco229)

    This could be the reason why as from today petitions registered with “We the People” must reach 100,000 signatures instead of the previous 25,000.

    “AS OF JANUARY 15, 2013:

    To cross the first threshold and be searchable within, a petition must reach 150 signatures within 30 days.

    To cross the second threshold and require a response, a petition must reach 100,000 signatures within 30 days.”

    Anyway I created one that ask for an explanation as why the US Secret Service took over Aaron Swartz’s investigation 2 days before his arrest and who ordered the Service to get involved in this investigation

    You can find the petition I made to the White House here

    So please help so we can get an oficial answer to this uncommon move.

    Francisco George
    Press Officer to PP-ES

  11. Anonymous

    i read where her husband is now condemning Aaron’s family for their insinuations. to me, that makes it look all the more that she is guilty. on top of that, he states that a deal for 6 months jail time was offered. why would anyone want to go to prison, accepting a plea-deal over something like this, when the main players had refused to push charges? it was only the prosecutors that insisted on pressing forward with the prosecution. her and Heymann need to be booted out of office and disbarred for good. those associated with them need severe reprimands. unless there is strong action taken against these people, there is no dissuader and it will happen again. it also shows just how warped the US justice system is, where winning means more than justice, and jailing someone for sharing is a greater crime than murder (35 years in jail was on the cards here!!)

  12. Silver Fang

    If an act doesn’t harm someone or deprive them of their property, it isn’t a crime.

  13. steelneck

    Just a tip for you Rick. You wrote “fighting for civil liberties and net liberty”, i suggest that you skip the last part and only use “civil liberties”. Why? Because when both are used it implies that the net is some other strange world that can have, or has, another set of liberties. Quite the opposite from what i know you want.

  14. Anonymous

    just to update a little, from what i read elsewhere.
    the government website has now increased the requirement for new petitions to 100,000 sigs before acting (just makes it easier for the US government to ignore the petitions!)
    the husband of the prosecutor has removed his obviously bias comments after being totally obliterated in the responses
    this has gone to the US senate now, with one senator proposing changes as a starting point, to the bill used against Aaron and others calling for an investigation into how he was allowed to be so persecuted, threatened with such punishment, that far exceeded real, serious crimes like murder!
    we all know how ridiculous the power the entertainment industries have been given by stupid, unthinking politicians and governments. that needs to stop, needs to be taken away from them and never be given back under any circumstances! what is needed more than anything is for justice to return and i mean true justice, not the pretend justice that gives the rich and powerful the right to everything while taking away all rights from the rest of people. that is the way of centuries ago and why things changed. everyone was made ‘equal under the law’. that has all but disappeared and has to be brought back again before we return to the ‘Dark Ages’ of, eg, killing people for poaching, simply because they are trying to feed themselves!

  15. Byte

    “That will eventually lead to vigilante retaliation”

    Just search the news for reports that various US government agencies are purchasing or putting out tenders to purchase 10s of thousands up to 100s of thousands hollow point bullets. It’s always for “training” and our friends at the MSM leave it at that, but training what for? And why hollow points which rip out large pars of your body?

  16. Imaskar

    Ortiz also claims they were just following “the standard procedure” as if his death if a tragic event and “hey, we’re just doing our ob here”.

    Same kind of excuse some of the Nazis used during the Nuremberg Trials, with similar consequences (resulting in a death of a human being).
    That assumes they have to do their duty no matter the consequences even it means that someone dies because of it(at least some of the accused during Nuremberg Trials were facing death themselves if they disobeyed an order) .
    If she’s not guilty of anything particular, then the procedure itself is, and as a conscientious (just assuming here) human being she should have thought of possible consequences of her actions. But after all, she just admits being a tool of the corrupt system and will be forgiven.

  17. […] Petition To Fire Aaron Swartz Prosecutor Reaches Goal […]

  18. Anonymous

    Carmen Ortiz is the supervisor of Stephen Heymann, who is the actual prosecutor ( the guy who is on the phone to Swartz’s lawyer, insisting on jail time and a felony conviction). Both petiions, the one to fire Ortiz and the one to fire Heymann, have passed their goal of 25,000 signatures. The Ortiz petition has 52,678 signatures and the Heymann petition has 26,074 signatures. The White House must now respond to both petitions, which will likely be done with a single official statement covering both petitions.

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