WHEN witnesses in a court of law swear to tell "the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth," the principal motive for honesty is the possibility that they'll be charged with a crime if they lie.
That's why we find it bizarre that the executive director of the Lucas County Republican Party is not being prosecuted for perjury, even though she took the witness stand in Common Pleas Court on Monday and told a bald-faced lie about her criminal record.
When asked whether she had ever been convicted of a felony, the GOP operative, Joanne Wack, answered "no," which she and at least some others in the courtroom knew was untrue. But instead of being left open to a perjury charge, Ms. Wack was allowed a second chance to tell the truth.
This time, she admitted having been convicted of grand larceny in New York state in 1994. Her excuse for lying: "It's an embarrassing part of my past. I don't see any bearing on what we're discussing here today."
The issue in the civil case before Judge J. Ronald Bowman was Ms. Wack's credibility in having signed a sworn affidavit used to obtain a court order removing 27 associates of Republican insurgent Jon Stainbrook from the GOP central committee.
The fact that Ms. Wack lied about her criminal record, even if she did later recant, confirms her lack of credibility. But allowing her to escape a perjury charge for the falsehood, as the Lucas County Prosecutor's office indicates, only serves to sully respect for the courts and will encourage more forswearing by witnesses who believe they can get away with it.
The prosecutors, we believe, are falling into the trap of countenancing the act of lying because it has become such a routine part of daily life and the political process. They should reconsider their inclination not to pursue perjury charges against Ms. Wack.
Otherwise, what will prevent witnesses in future proceedings from concluding that the worst penalty they face if they are caught lying in a Lucas County court is no penalty at all but merely the opportunity for what amounts to a do-over in their testimony?
Lies do matter, especially when they are intended to deceive a court proceeding. In this case, the lying witness cannot claim poor memory, confusion, mistakes, or any of the other factors that mitigate a perjury charge.
Lies diminish respect for the legal system, which is why we believe Joanne Wack should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.