A petition to “fire” Boston Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen Heymann for his prosecution of Aaron Swartz garnered the necessary signatures Saturday requiring the White House to respond.
As of Saturday evening, the petition had 25,200 signatures — just over the 25,000 threshold prompting a White House response. The petition had stalled at around 10,000 signatures until the late Internet activist’s girlfriend, Taren Stinebrickner-Kauffman, made an appeal on her personal blog on Feb. 7 for more signatures.
The signature threshold was met just two days before a Feb. 11 deadline.
While there is little chance Heymann will actually lose his job because of the petition, a White House response will help keep alive the debate over prosecution tactics in Swartz’s case and more generally.
Swartz committed suicide Jan. 11 while negotiating with the Massachusetts U.S. Attorney’s office about resolving charges he unlawfully downloaded massive numbers of academic papers from the online database JSTOR.
U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz, who leads the office, has said Swartz was offered a plea deal requiring around six months in prison in exchange for Swartz pleading guilty. Swartz’s family and supporters, however, have said the pressure of facing up to 35 years in prison if he didn’t accept the plea deal and lost at trial drove him to suicide. (The online magazine Slate published a recent indepth profile of Swartz here.)
A similar petition to remove Ortiz from office has 52,000 signatures and has met the threshhold for a White House response.
The White House petitions are designed to allow citizens to engage with government and draw attention to their grievances, though the process carries no weight of law.