Sign now, get the US Attorney who hounded Aaron Swartz fired

Assistant U.S. Attorney Steve Heymann is the boss of Carmen Ortiz, and the man primarily responsible for the over-the-top, vindictive prosecution of Aaron Swartz. A petition to get him fired has until Monday to collect 25,000 signatures. Here's some notes from Taren, Aaron's partner:

Heymann saw Aaron as a scalp he could take. He thought he could lock Aaron up, get high-profile press coverage, and win high-fives from his fellow prosecutors in the lunchroom. Aaron was a way of reviving Heymann’s fading career. Heymann had no interest in an honest assessment of whether Aaron deserved any of the hell he was being put through.

I believe that Heymann is guilty of prosecutorial misconduct on several levels, but I can’t prove it until we have a proper investigation. Among other things, many of the court documents that Aaron’s lawyers have access to that would help make that case are currently under protective order. Not, to be clear, to protect Aaron — Aaron’s family and I want the documents to be public. It’s the prosecutors whose interest is served by keeping the documents secret.

I also suspect there may be other documents we don’t have that, if subpeonaed, could help us show that Heymann was bending or even breaking the rules in his vicious quest to make an example out of Aaron.

For all these reasons, we need an investigation in order to understand better how personally involved Carmen Ortiz was in Heymann’s actions. Several members of Congress are pushing for answers from the DOJ.

But there is another critical front: this petition. In the aftermath of Aaron’s death, supporters started two petitions on, the official website of the White House. One was for Carmen Ortiz, Heymann’s boss, to be fired. That petition has already surpassed the required 25,000* signature threshold, which means that the White House must respond to it publicly. The other is for Steve Heymann to be fired. It is hovering at around 11,000 signatures as of this writing, and the deadline is Monday.

We need this petition to get to 25,000* signatures by Monday, February 11. Please sign it right now, and share it with everyone you know. Even if Heymann is not fired in direct response to this petition, the White House’s responsibility to respond to it will open up crucial fronts in the investigation as to what went so terribly, terribly wrong with our justice system in Aaron’s case...

Heymann and Ortiz wanted to make an example out of Aaron. Instead, we as a society must make an example out of Heymann and Ortiz. Prosecutors must understand that they have moral responsibilities. They cannot simply hide behind the phrase “prosecutorial discretion” to justify any decision. Their actions have consequences, and they must be held accountable to them.

Fire Assistant U.S. Attorney Steve Heymann.


  1. I’ve signed both petitions, but the response is going to be something like this: Why We Can’t Comment. Since it has been a month and the White House hasn’t done anything, unless the Congressional hearings pull up enough dirt, Carmen Ortiz will probably continue in her post until at least November (when the President can easily nominate someone else). Stephen Heymann is probably even harder to fire since he wasn’t politically appointed. I don’t have a lot of hope that anything is going to be done very soon.

    1. If this petition ends up simply being a permanent stain on his reputation that can be referred to in future evaluations or runs for various offices, it’s still something.

  2. There needs to be a correction.  An Assistant is, by their very title, not the boss of the person who has their title without the Assistant part.  

  3. I’m Canadian and can’t sign this, so I tried to spread the word a bit to American friends on Facebook. I wish I had been lucky enough to know Aaron. After his death I went and inhaled most of his blog. He was an amazing person. We need minds like his to build a better future for ourselves… his loss was tragic and even worse, avoidable. Ortiz and Heymann deserve to lose their jobs at the very least. Best of luck getting a response from the White House.

  4. So is Heymann the boss of Ortiz or is Ortiz the boss of Heymann?  Your blurb has it one way but the quote has it the other way.

  5. Quick question — how many of these whitehouse petitions that have exceeded the signature threshold have produced any tangible outcomes whatsoever? Can anyone point to a single government policy change that has ever come from these petitions?

  6. This could set a dangerous precedent where prosecutors fear that if they aggressively seek completely disproportionate sentences against well-liked people for doing things that are only very tenuously wrong to begin with, then all those people will have to do is kill themselves and suddenly the prosecutor might be in trouble!

    Think of the chill this could send through prosecutors.  They may have to stick to seeking completely disproportionate sentences against people who are unknown or cared for by only their families and immediate friends.

    1. The problem is they will always have that fear in the back of their mind, “What if this isn’t a little person I’m squashing here?  What if it’s someone who matters?”

      My God, it would be like having to play Russian Roulette at work every day!

    2. then all those people will have to do is kill themselves

      You phrase it as though killing one’s self is a triviality.  Do you really mean to imply that?

  7. Disturbingly, Carmen Ortiz was one of the frequent names bandied about as a potential contender for John Kerry’s senate seat. None of the political horserace articles noted her involvement in the Schwartz prosecution, while the anger directed at her job as US Attorney fails to take into account her political ambitions.

    It’s important that we remember her later when she runs for public office.

    1. The only consolation I have so far is the likelihood that Ms. Ortiz is now “radioactive” politically around Boston and Massachusetts. No one with any ethics or sense will have anything to do with her.

      If she runs for office … any office … it will only validate what many, many people around Boston have long thought of her: she’s out to advance her career at any cost. Inspector Jaevert would be right at home working with her.

  8. Get busy and sign the petition!

    I just created my account and signed it.

    10, 898 signatures to go.

    Get on it and pass the word!


  9. Signed…just as I signed the previous one.  This is not an isolated case: Ms. Ortiz has made a specialty of this type of malevolent “law enforcement.” 

    That she is STILL in office is something that must be remedied. That Heymann is still there is a complete outrage. If they had any honor, they would resign.  

    As if.

  10. So you’re demanding an investigation, but before that you want the guy fired?

    So you’re asserting their was misconduct, without evidence, and want a guy to lose his job and his health insurance because you don’t like what happened?

    Why don’t we just have a petition to do an investigation?

    Why fire this guy before we know all the facts?

    It’s ironic that we have a mob with online petitions rather than pitchforks who want to punish someone without a trial over how they were trying to carry out a trial.

    Nerds need to grow up.  

    1.  I guess you’ll never get it. The clincher was calling everyone (us) “nerds”. I guess you’d include Aaron in that group. So much for expectations of truth and justice from you…

    2. I’m assuming, when you say “nerds” you mean people who are capable of following the events around this story and what led to it.

      I don’t believe this petition is childish.

  11. First, you’re not getting anybody fired with a petition. And second, you’re going after the wrong damn target anyway. The problem isn’t that “Somebody hounded my friend Aaron to death.” The problem is that this is standard behavior by prosecutors in all criminal accusations. They habitually use vague and overlapping laws to lard on the charges and try to pressure a confession. But those people don’t have powerful friends to seek revenge for them. Lawyer Orin Kerr writes extensively about it here:

    This kind of activity is retrograde bullshit for a simple reason — it does not teach prosecutors to avoid this sort of behavior. It teaches them to avoid it when dealing with individuals with powerful and important friends, to treat prominent people differently than ordinary citizens. Even if unsuccessful, you’ve succeeded in taking a legal system that already has two tiers of defendants and made it worse.

    1. This.

      The problem here isn’t that Heymann and Ortiz violated the standards of their profession.  The problem is that they didn’t.  I’d love to see all sorts of nasty things happen to those two.  But however loathsome they are, two individuals don’t make a systemic problem, and getting rid of them won’t fix it.

      But I’m still signing the petition :)

  12. I plan to sign, but wonder if we might not get a lot farther by taking the same route that led to victory against SOPA — that is, hounding our individual representatives through all available communication channels and, in firm but non-abusive language, demanding *they* do something. 

    Even people outside the USA could take an equivalent step by contacting their various reps and asking them to make public statements condemning both the prosecution’s behavior and that, as somebody above noted, that it’s evidently now SOP here in the US.  It’s one thing for citizens around the world to be disgusted; when the people making decisions start complaining, however…

    Also, just as a side note, I hope you plan to address the long (smear) article on Swartz over in the “tech” area of in some manner.  (At least, it struck me as being a smear piece; maybe you’ll feel differently.)

  13. i was afraid to sign…and that is why i signed BOTH petitions. I don’t care anymore if it wakes anyone up…i did it because what happened to Aaron Swartz was wrong. Aaron Swartz’s death was the last straw. I won’t let
    myself be a coward…Aaron Swartz was brave.

  14. Friday, Feb. 8, 2013 

    Signatures needed by February 11, 2013 to reach goal of 25,000:

    857 signatures

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