Saturday, October 31, 2009
Monday, September 07, 2009
On several occasions, I found myself putting down my book -- The Innocent Man by John Grisham -- and shaking my head, declaring that the story was just too outlandish. Who would ever believe such a ridiculous tale, I mumbled? If this had been a novel, it certainly would have been panned for being unbelievable.
Yet the miscarriage of justice not only happened, it was compounded over and over during the course of the history of this case that spanned almost a dozen years.
The Innocent Man is Grisham's version of Truman Capote's In Cold Blood. As noted in the Washington Post review:
Many wild and crazy things take place in the 15 novels John Grisham has published about the law and those who play fast and loose with it, but, as he says, "not in my most creative moment could I conjure up a story as rich and as layered" as the one he tells in The Innocent Man. It is nonfiction, a detailed examination of the story of Ronald Keith Williamson, who was wrongfully convicted of a murder in 1988 and who was saved from death by lethal injection only through the intervention of men and women who believed in his innocence and were able to obtain the DNA report that cleared him.I decided to read Grisham's book after following the Troy Davis case, the Georgia man whose conviction for killing a policemen has been called into question. See Death is Final. In fact, the Supreme Court recently took the unusual step of ordering a hearing into Davis' Claims of Innocence.
Like me, Hilde of wrongful-convictions just finished the book and our opinion of the book is similar:
The book tells the story of Ron Williamson of tiny Ada, Oklahoma. A washed-up minor league baseball player with delusions of grandeur, Williamson was a somewhat unpleasant character who is eventually convicted of murder and sentenced to death because of shoddy police work, tunnel vision, lackluster defense counsel, forensic fraud, and the abject failure of the court to ensure a fair trail. The book could read as a Cliff’s Notes guide to wrongful convictions if it could be boiled down to 10 pages, but that would do it an injustice.Death penalty proponents argue that the system is fair and prevents an innocent person being put to death. However, cases like Williamson's make a mockery of those claims. Another case was detailed in the current issue of the New Yorker, where it is likely that the man put to death for a fire that killed his children was not arson, as had been claimed by the "experts" who testified at trial. See Cameron Todd Willingham, Texas, and the death penalty.
The book’s reputation proceeds it, and it lives up to every word of the praise that has been heaped on it since it was published three years ago. “Meticulously researched,” is a common refrain among reviewers, and they’re dead on. I found it hard to believe, at times, that Grisham was intricately describing reality – dozens of interviews, thousands of pages of documents – rather than crafting a world of his own: his creation is so complete as to be completely engulfing.
Unfortunately, despite the so-called presumption of innocence in a criminal case, many of those involved in the criminal justice system do not share that belief. Too often, "gut feelings" and biases are involved in the process. The arrogant and dogmatic personality of many prosecutors and officers does not allow them to deviate from the course they are following once they have focused on a suspect, despite indications to the contrary. Naturally, this generalization does not apply across the spectrum, but it happens often enough to be a serious problem -- especially when liberty and life is at stake. As Hilde observes:
And so continues the portrait of America’s criminal justice system that Grisham paints: full of unintentional yet overwhelming absurdity, laced with vengeance, spite, dehumanization, and utterly confusing and overwhelming for whomever should become ensnarled in the maelstrom.Except for the cruel & hard-hearted, such as some of the very characters that were involved in the prosecution of the case highlighted in the book, this true story of a wrongful conviction in a small town in Oklahoma should be used to establish that the death penalty is too risky for a civilized nation to use. Last I checked, the US is still on the list of civilized countries.
From a summary of the book at speech at University of Virginia School of Law, Author John Grisham Finds Troubled Story Behind “Innocent Man”.
Nineteenth on Grisham’s list of publications, the book aligns with Grisham’s well-known theme of legal drama but takes one major detour from his past work: it is nonfiction. The project forced Grisham to take a hard look at a troubled system in which the consequences of a lost court case are all too real.
“Even if you support the death penalty, you cannot support the death penalty system as it stands in the U.S.,” Grisham said. “My one hope is that people realize this system we have is simply too unfair to continue.”
As Jonathan Yardley said in his Washington Post piece:
The bizarre twists and turns of this case are exceeded only by the calculated efforts by law-enforcement officers to warp and abuse the law to their own ends. Perhaps it really was the passionate conviction of the cops and the prosecutor that Williamson and Fritz murdered Debbie Carter, but what they did to win their convictions made a mockery of justice. They ignored clear evidence of Williamson's mental incompetence, they suppressed a tape recording that probably would have cleared Williamson, they sought out and employed snitches. The convictions they got were wrongful in the moral as well as the legal sense of the word, but, as Grisham says, "until the system is fixed, it could happen to anyone."For more on Dennis Fritz, who was wrongfully convicted with Ron Williamson, see Barbara's Journey Toward Justice.
Sunday, September 06, 2009
Saturday, September 05, 2009
If at first you don't succeed, try, try again. Of course, this maxim wasn't necessarily meant to apply as a litigation strategy, but apparently Roy Pearson didn't quite make the connection.
Pearson was an ALJ in DC, who first sued his dry cleaners over a lost pair of pants, then sued over the job he lost because he sued over the pair of pants. I've followed his saga for some time, gleefully chronicling his tale of legal woes. See Never Can Say Goodbye.
As Lowering the Bar explains the latest loss, in Judge Who Lost Pants Loses Another Suit:
It seems that our old friend Roy L. Pearson, Jr., he of the $65 million pants, has recovered sufficiently from losing that case to get on with losing another one. This one was a wrongful-termination lawsuit against the District of Columbia, his former boss (Chief Administrative Law Judge Tyrone Butler), and other alleged miscreants.As the Boston Globe reports, Judge who sued over lost pants loses bid to keep job:
A federal judge has thrown out a lawsuit brought by Roy L. Pearson Jr., the former District of Columbia judge whose previous $54 million lawsuit against a dry-cleaning business generated international headlines.
Pearson filed the later suit in May 2008, alleging that the District of Columbia government broke the law in refusing to reappoint him to a 10-year term as an administrative law judge. The decision came after news reports about Pearson’s lawsuit against Custom Cleaners, which he said had misplaced a pair of his pants.
The district’s Commission on Selection and Tenure of Administrative Law Judges cited Pearson’s temperament and prudence on the bench in not giving him the job.
Once again, Pearson was left holding his pants. The Court rejected his retaliation claim:
In a 37-page opinion issued last Thursday, US District Judge Ellen S. Huvelle rejected all of Pearson’s arguments. She called Pearson’s lawsuit against Custom Cleaners a “personal vendetta.’’No wrongful termination here, said the Judge, The Pants Lawsuit: Still Not Over:
But the federal court was not buying it. Retaliation claims are only viable where an employee has been disciplined or fired for so-called "protected speech." To succeed in his case, Pearson would have to show that his speech (the pants lawsuit) involved a matter of public concern. The fact that he sued in part to compel enforcement of D.C.'s consumer-protection laws (going so far as to characterize himself as a "private attorney general" for doing so) did not impress the judge.Looks like we won't have Pearson around to mock for much longer. But there's always someone new to fill the spot.
Speaking of lawyers behaving badly, a receptionist has sued her former law firm -- an employment law firm -- claiming that they wouldn't let her take a potty break. Her revenge: she wants to relieve the firm of some money for not letting her relieve herself. Claiming that she was fired for complaining about the lack of breaks, she's asking for $1.59M in damages, no less.
As the Washington Business Journal reports, Former receptionist sues Littler Mendelson over bathroom breaks:
I think the best comment about the case came from Above the Law:
Enter Rebecca Landrith, the now-former receptionist in the McLean office of employment law giant Littler Mendelson PC.
According to the July 27 lawsuit the receptionist filed — with no help from a lawyer — Littler provided no substitute receptionist, and “had no consistent policy or procedure as to when or how Landrith could take a restroom break.”
Need we go on? Oh, if we must. “Impromptu requests” for cover by employees — like attorneys — elicited mostly resentment and condescension, she alleges.
On two separate occasions, Landrith claims, she had to “wet her pants” at the desk because nobody would, well, relieve her.
The incidents caused Landrith depression, stress, anxiety and helplessness — ergo, her claim for $1.59 million for intentional infliction of emotional distress.
Littler is one of the leading employment law defense firms in the country. It's really not surprising that a firm well-known for 'defend[ing] many of the world's leading corporations' told this lady to leave before she dripped anything on the stationery.I think this one may be known as the case of the Potty Potty.
Thursday, September 03, 2009
Once again, my continual refrain that Scranton is the center of the universe proves true.
As I noted before, during the recent Presidential election, almost all of the candidates visited the Electric City or touted their ties to Scranton, from Hillary Clinton to Joe Biden. Even Obama enlisted hometown boy, Senator Bob Casey, to his side early in the campaign and made several stops there with Casey by his side.
Now that the election has receded, Scranton has still managed to stay in the news for one thing or another. The latest newsworthy item is former Bishop Joseph Martino, who recently resigned after an 8 year reign of terror in the town, as I noted the other day. See Exit, Stage Right.
One of the LLWL gang returned today from a Cape Cod vacation and mentioned that she heard the news of Martino's giving up his throne while she was at the Cape. The news traveled far and wide.
Likewise, Time Magazine has also featured the story of Martino's sudden departure from the diocese of Scranton in its latest issue. They have an interesting take on what caused Martino to suddenly step down, Bishop Martino: Too Outspoken on Abortion for Vatican?:
For suddenly departing politicians and CEOs, the standard line is to "spend time with family." Now the Catholic Church may have its own version of this unconvincing, stock answer. On Aug. 31, Joseph Martino, the controversial bishop from Scranton, Pa., stunned longtime church watchers by announcing that he was resigning his post because of problems with insomnia and fatigue.Time suggests that Martino's constant castigation of pro-life Scrantonian Senator Casey may have been the deciding factor in the Vatican ditching Martino, particularly since the jabs were related to Casey's support of President Obama. As the piece observes:
The Catholic leader, who has gained national prominence for his outspoken pro-life advocacy and aggressive criticism of pro-choice Democratic politicians, is still more than a decade away from reaching the church's automatic retirement age of 75. Martino's abrupt resignation, along with the fact that he was not reassigned to another position within the church, has some church insiders suggesting that the highly unusual move was far from voluntary — and quite possibly the work of a Vatican that has been decidedly less openly critical of the Obama Administration.
Whether Martino is leaving willingly or not, his departure means that one very vocal critic of the Administration has lost his bully pulpit.
Building bridges has also been the public posture of the Vatican when it comes to the Obama Administration. The Vatican remained silent on Notre Dame's decision to invite Obama to speak. And although Pope Benedict XVI expressed his disappointment with Obama's support for abortion rights when the two met in July, a Vatican spokesman went out of his way to state that the Holy Father was "very impressed" by the Democratic President.With the substantial shortage of priests in the Church these days, it has to be pretty extreme for the Vatican to permit a priest to step aside for other than a very good reason. Of course, I'm glad he's gone, whatever the reason. Friends & family have long reported that the Bishop was deeply dividing the membership within the diocese. At least now the parishioners in Scranton can now begin the healing process.
Wednesday, September 02, 2009
It doesn't surprise me that a recent poll . . . showed that the majority of Americans are confused when it comes to what's actually in health care reform legislation. Who can blame them? The mainstream media is spending their time glorifying political he said she said and shining a spotlight on the organized efforts by a lobbyist firm to disrupt townhalls. Maybe if they'd educate the public about what is actually in health care reform legislation the poll would yield different results. That said, I do believe most Americans would agree on one thing, our health care system does not work well unless you're rich AND healthy until the day you die.
From Sardine at Eschaton
Monday, August 31, 2009
Shrouded by the same mystery that has surrounded his tenure, Bishop Joseph Martino has resigned as Bishop of the Diocese of Scranton after a 6 year reign of terror. See Scranton's Bishop Martino stepping down.
Rumors of his departure have been rampant for some time, but the official word from Rome came this morning. Vatican accepts Bishop Martino's resignation. As the Scranton Times reported over the week-end:
Bishop Martino's resignation at the age of 63 is unusual – it comes more than a decade before the age, 75, at which bishops must submit their resignations under canon law – and caps six years of a tumultuous tenure as head of the 11-county diocese.
Sources in the diocese say the bishop stepped down because of health reasons.
Today, Martino cited his reasons for his early retirement -- by quoting from the lyrics of Kenny Rogers' song, The Gambler, “You have to know when to hold them, know when to fold them." he then aptly added, "And I think it's time to move on." In other words, as noted by Whispers in the Loggia, Calming the Waves:
Bishop Joseph Martino admitted to the assembled media that 'there has not been a clear consensus regarding [his] pastoral initiatives or way of governance' of the 350,000-member diocese following parish and school closings which, however necessary due to changing demographics, caused considerable controversy in the 11-county church.
The 63 year-old prelate said that the difficulties led to bouts of insomnia and a weakened immune system which, having taken a toll on his physical vigor, led him to submit his resignation to Pope Benedict in June, nearly a year after he first mentioned to his metropolitan that 'moving on' might be the best plan for himself and the diocese.
Of course, his critics (and there are legions of those) believe that "health reasons" is just a cover for the fact that he got the boot by the pontiff for his heavy-handed administration of the diocese. With the reign of Martino, who knows what the truth is. And with the closed world of the Catholic Church, who knows if we'll ever find out. Turns out that he tendered his resignation in June, which was accepted by the Pope in July. However, it was only disclosed after the rumors started when Martino was seen moving out of the Scranton rectory that is the home to the Bishop of Scranton.
Yet, one thing is for sure -- the resignation is very unusual. In fact, according to Clerical Whispers, "The Vatican statement it noted that the pope had accepted the resignation under a provision of church law in which a bishop due to illness or "some other grave reason, has become unsuited" to carry out his duties." So much so that, as Rocco Palmo of Whispers in the Loggia notes, Sede Vacante: "Today's move is just the third time this decade that a Stateside red-hat has been called in to oversee a local church amid emergency circumstances."
At the helm of one of the nation's most staunch, reliable bastions of Catholicism, while the kind, bookish cleric's fierce advocacy for the pro-life cause has won him fervent admiration from church conservatives nationwide, the quarter-million member Scranton church has been roiled since Martino's 2003 arrival by swaths of contentious parish and school closings, strained relations with the presbyterate, a perceived indifference to the media, clashes over the diocese's de-recognition of the local union for Catholic high school teachers (a move upheld by the Vatican) and, most famously, a steady stream of statements on politics, parades and public officials which served to draw lines in the sand in the socially conservative, heavily-Democratic area, home to both the revered Casey clan and, in his boyhood, Vice-President Joe Biden.
No doubt, Martino was brought to Scranton to handle a difficult job, to oversee the consolidation and closure of various schools and Churches in this diocese with a dwindling number of parishioners and priests. No one would have been loved after implementing those difficult changes, especially in a city as traditional as Scranton and its surrounding towns. While Martino was brought to town to be the henchman, to chop the excess, he just didn't need to be such an aloof, dictatorial in his carrying out his mandate. A bit of compassion -- need I say, empathy, would have perhaps made parishioners feel that the Church understood their pain, instead of looking like they frankly didn't give a damn.
In an excellent essay on the reign & departure of Martino, David Gibson of Politics Daily observes, Scranton Bishop Joseph Martino, Biden's Nemesis, Resigns Under Cloud:
As Gibson concludes:
But church insiders say Martino had also worn out his welcome with his brother bishops and the Vatican. So his resignation may be further evidence that the U.S. hierarchy is divided between moderate voices and a more strident conservative minority that is struggling in the wake of Obama's success with Catholic voters.
* * * *
The chief cause of Martino's local problems was his controversial plan in 2007 to close and consolidate Catholic schools in the diocese, which have been struggling with declining attendance, and declining donations. Closing schools is never popular, yet the need to do something is a harsh fact of life for many bishops, especially in the Northeast. But Martino's peremptory style did not help matters, and growing protests were followed by still steeper declines in church attendance and donations, a dropoff clearly exacerbated by the recession, which has ravaged the Scranton area. Then in February of this year, Martino announced that he was closing 91 of the diocese's 209 parishes, cutting the number of Catholic churches in this storied Catholic community by almost half.
But it was the presidential campaign last year that brought Martino to national prominence, and seemed to bring out the more volatile aspects of his personality.
In September, as Biden was barnstorming Pennsylvania -- the vice-president was born and baptized Catholic in Scranton before moving to Delaware later in life -- Martino declared that Biden would be denied communion if he tried to receive at a church in the Scranton diocese. "I will be truly vigilant on this point," Martino said. It was a step not even Biden's own bishop in Delaware would take.
Then in October, Martino had priests read a letter during all Sunday masses in the diocese telling Catholics that voting for a pro-choice politician was equivalent to endorsing "homicide."
* * * *But it was an event in late October last year, on the eve of the presidential vote, as religious rhetoric was growing white-hot, that may have pushed Martino over the line in the eyes of many.
A parish was holding a regular voter-education forum on the election, featuring discussion of a document, "Faithful Citizenship," the election guide endorsed almost unanimously by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, or USCCB. Martino showed up at the parish hall unannounced, causing a stir. Then he took the microphone and proceeded to critique the organizers for not using his own letter on abortion as the basis of the discussion.
When a nun at the forum reminded Martino about the document of the enitre bishops conference Martino responded, "No USCCB document is relevant in this diocese. The USCCB doesn't speak for me," Martino declared. "The only relevant document ... is my letter. There is one teacher in this diocese, and these points are not debatable."
It was a bizarre episode and one that not only capped Martino's reputation as a divisive figure, but also seemed to set him against his other bishops -- a stance that may have been the ultimate cause of his downfall.
Whatever the ins and outs of the internal church maneuvering, the upshot is that a leading voice in the anti-Obama wing of the church hierarchy has been silenced while both Obama and Biden continue to take center stage.And I can certainly say Amen to that.
Sunday, August 30, 2009
It's that time again. Time for our daughter to head back to college. We came to South Florida on Thursday, visited my brother & his family for a few days and my daughter moved into her dorm yesterday.
Last year was a difficult transition for us all, with our daughter starting college in Miami. As I noted back then, she had never been away from home much, so the idea of leaving home was both exciting and terrifying for her. This year, not so much. There was still a little trepidation on her part because she had such a good summer, so having to leave friends and family to go so far away caused some angst. It didn't help that a few of her close friends transferred to schools in or around Philly. On our end, it's also been a little easier and harder. Her summer job (selling kitchen knives, no less) ended up being a wonderful experience for her and we saw her mature and gain confidence in herself as she honed her sales skills. We had a good summer together, so it's sad to see summer end and her leave. On the other hand, it's easier to say good-bye, knowing she's better able to handle herself on her own.
While we were here, we got to see (sort of) the Discovery shuttle launch the other night. We headed outside at midnight, to see the sky light up after the launch and hear the lift off -- even though we're almost 2 hours away. That was an unexpected treat.
I'm also staying a few extra days to hang out, while my husband left for a trip to NYC with his brother & brother-in-law to see an Earth, Wind & Fire & Chicago concert and then head to the US Open tomorrow. Before the concert, he's having dinner with EWF -- our brother-in-law, who's from LA, knows a few of the musicians in the group. If I'm nice, my daughter will let me take her shopping for a few forgotten items and take her to lunch.