Saturday, October 31, 2009

Happy Halloween

"Rambling Rogue"
Gone . . .
But not forgotten!!

* * *
Trick or Treat,
You betcha!!

Monday, September 07, 2009

Cartoon of the Day

Signe Cartoons, Philadelphia Daily News

Presumed Guilty

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.

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.
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.

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.

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.”

From a summary of the book at speech at University of Virginia School of Law, Author John Grisham Finds Troubled Story Behind “Innocent Man”.

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.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

The Persistent Pant-a-Loon Pearson

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:

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.

I think the best comment about the case came from Above the Law:
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

As the World Turns

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.

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.
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:
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.

Cartoon of the Day

David Fitzsimmons, Arizona Daily Star

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Quote of the Day

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

Cartoon of the Day

Pat Bagley, The Salt Lake Tribune

Exit, Stage Right

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."

I've written about Martino many times, observing his antagonistic, combative, hostile style. Some of the highlights are chronicled in In Scranton, the Curtain Falls:

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:

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.
As Gibson concludes:
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

Go South, Young Woman

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.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Cartoon of the Day

David Horsey, Seattle Post Intelligencer

Both Sides Now

Like Judy Collins, Robert Simels could say that he's looked at life from both sides now. He's gone from criminal lawyer to criminal. The prominent New York criminal defense lawyer was convicted of plotting to kill witnesses last week. N.Y. Defense Attorney Found Guilty of Bribery, Attempted Witness Tampering:

Attorney Robert Simels was convicted Thursday of 12 felony counts -- including bribery of a witness, attempted witness tampering and conspiracy to commit witness tampering -- stemming from his efforts to prevent potential witnesses from testifying against his client, Guyanese drug-smuggler Shaheed "Roger" Khan.

Simels was acquitted of only the least-serious charge against him, making a false statement to a corrections officer in order to visit an inmate.

* * * *

"The defendants' crimes were an affront to the criminal justice system," Eastern District U.S. Attorney Benton J. Campbell said in a written statement Thursday. "This case demonstrates that those who seek to use their license to practice law as license to commit crimes will be brought to justice."

When Simels was indicted last September, he ranked among the city's better-known defense attorneys, with a roster of clients that had included mobster Henry Hill (of "GoodFellas" fame), drug-trafficker Kenneth "Supreme" McGriff and former New York Jet Mark Gastineau.
As Jonathan Turley explained, Two New York Criminal Defense Attorneys Convicted of Witness Tampering:
Simels is a former prosecutor who often appeared on Fox and CNN as a legal expert. The charges stem from his representation of Shaheed (Roger) Khan, a major cocaine trafficker from Guyana. He was convicted of tampering with eight witnesses and both Simels and Khan were convicted of possessing illegal eavesdropping equipment.

Much of the trial focused on Simels taped statements boasting to a gang member. He is heard saying such things as planning to “neutralize,” “eliminate” and “destroy” a government witness against Khan. Simels insisted that he was just talking “street” to a lowlife (who proved to be a government informant): “Guyana is a Third World country. They sometimes speak in a very unappealing fashion, so I spoke down in a manner he would appreciate.”

On his website, Simels tell prospective clients: “I have been providing personalized legal services to individual and corporate clients in criminal and civil matters for more than 30 years. My exceptional success as a litigator has earned me a renowned reputation in the legal community.” Prosecutors insist that it became a bit too personalized in this case and crossed over into criminal acts.
It's more than a truism to say that lawyers like to win. From my days practicing as a young lawyer at a large firm, I can recall the senior attorneys preaching a "scorched earth" view of litigation. That is, in order to be a really good attorney, it wasn't enough just to win. You had to destroy your opponent as well.

And I also spent some time in the DA's office, where I experienced the "win at all costs" mentality of many prosecutors first hand. This personality trait is not left behind when moving over to criminal defense work. The case of Robert Simels may be an extreme example of the line crossing that sometimes results. See Judge rips 'dark side' of attorney Simels in murder plot conviction to protect drug lord client.

Stony Olsen of Law Crossing humorously explains the difficulties and perils of crossing the line when zealous advocacy, in When Zealous Advocacy Goes Too Far:
It's important to be zealously engaged on behalf of your client. But there are lines that no attorney should ever cross. Sometimes the ethical decisions are hard. . . .

But sometimes the ethics are completely clear. It's just too bad that Robert Simels didn't think so. Simels was once a Special Assistant Attorney General for New York's Special Prosecutor Office, and thereafter he went into criminal defense.

And in that defense practice, he managed to represent some real winners. Simels claims, for example, to have represented mobster Henry Hill, whose story was retold in the movie GoodFellas. Simels also represented another drug kingpin who is now in prison for life without parole and, according to the IRS, once targeted rapper 50 Cent.

But this time Simels went too far. He was representing one Shaheed Kahn, who was facing charges of cocaine trafficking. Or rather, he was representing Kahn until the federal government arrested him on September 10th, 2008, on charges of witness tampering. Apparently, wiretaps have Simels urging various witnesses against Kahn to be ''eliminated'' or ''neutralized.''

* * * *
Now, my memory of professional responsibility in law school is admittedly a bit hazy. But, I do think that arranging to eliminate witnesses against your client is against the rules. Of course, with the kind of trouble Simels is in, I imagine his law license being yanked is the least of his worries.

Still, in case other attorneys are reading this, let me warn you that witness tampering and trying to eliminate the other side's case against your client will not be looked on favorably — not by the bar or by the authorities. So don't do it!
And like most lawyers, Simels certainly didn't help himself when he ended up taking the stand in his defense during the trial. In another instance of seeing both sides now, the former defense attorney who was known for killer cross-examinations, was crushed when he himself was on the stand. As the NY Daily News noted, Robert Simels, lawyer who defended drug kingpins, convicted of plotting to kill witnesses:

At one point, Simels' became so combative on the stand that Judge John Gleeson ordered the jury out of the courtroom and chided Simels.

"Your career is at stake, your liberty is at stake . . . but I'm not going to allow this to continue," Gleeson said. "I'm going to step on you in front of the jury, and it's not going to help your case."

The final experience of both sides now will come with when the prison door closes.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

A Claim of Innocence

Surprising. Shocking. Highly Unusual. Extraordinary. Stunning. Those are some of the reactions (the last one's mine) to the Supreme Court's recent decision in the Troy Davis case.

As the NYTimes reports, Supreme Court Orders New Look at Death Row Case:

The Supreme Court on Monday ordered a federal trial court in Georgia to consider the case of Troy Davis, who is on death row in state prison there for the 1989 murder of an off-duty police officer.

* * * *

The Supreme Court’s decision was unsigned, only a paragraph long and in a number of respects highly unusual. It instructed the trial court to “receive testimony and make findings of fact” about whether new evidence clearly established Mr. Davis’s innocence. Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who joined the court this month, did not participate.
See also, U.S. Supreme Court orders new hearing for Troy Davis.

The SCOTUSblog explains the unusual nature of the decision, Hearing on innocence claim ordered:
The action was highly unusual, because Davis had filed what is called an original writ of habeas corpus — that is, a plea for his release, filed directly in the Supreme Court rather than in lower courts. Such claims rarely succeed. Justice Scalia noted in his dissent that the Court had not taken a similar step “in nearly 50 years.”

The action also was unusual because the Court normally does not take actions of this significance during its summer recess. The case had been ready for the Justices’ consideration near the end of their past Term, in late June, but they simply took no action at that time. There was no word on why the Court took it up again at this time, rather than waiting until a new Term had opened. The length of the two opinions released Monday, however, may have taken some time to prepare, especially with most of the Justices traveling during the summer recess.
Considering the implications of this move by the Court, the LATimes notes, Supreme Court orders new hearing for Georgia death row inmate:
In a surprising move that could indicate a more liberal stance toward death penalty appeals, the Supreme Court on Monday granted a new day in court for a Georgia death row inmate whose two-decade legal saga gained international attention after seven trial witnesses recanted their testimony against him.

The court's order was the first of its kind in nearly 50 years. The recantations have helped Troy Anthony Davis, 40, earn powerful allies in the court of public opinion, including Pope Benedict XVI and President Carter.

Davis' attorney considered the petition a long shot, but the Supreme Court instructed a federal district court to hold a hearing to determine whether Davis' innocence could be established by evidence that wasn't available in his 1991 state trial.

"The substantial risk of putting an innocent man to death clearly provides an adequate justification for holding an evidentiary hearing," Justice John Paul Stevens wrote in concurring with the order.

* * * *
Legal experts were taken aback by the rare move, which came during the court's typically sleepy summer recess. A number of experts said it could indicate that the federal justice system may be loosening its conservative position toward death penalty appeals.

Federal court rulings in recent years had been making it harder for inmates to win writs of habeas corpus, or pleas for their release. Congress also raised the bar in 1996 with the Anti-terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, passed in the wake of the Oklahoma City bombing.
I have followed the Troy Davis case for some time. After his last appeal was denied by the court of appeals in Atlanta, I did not have much hope for success in further avenues of appeal. As I said then, We Remain Unpersuaded: "Unfortunately, the news is not surprising. Even when the court granted the appeal, I noted in Hold On, that 'the remaining hurdles that Troy Davis still faces are still overwhelming. Although there is much evidence that brings his conviction into question, even getting approval to hold a hearing where such testimony would be considered is difficult. The legal standard that must be met before a hearing would be permitted is exceedingly stringent.'" With the number of conservative members on the Supreme Court, I would have expected that Davis' claim would have been denied. Luckily, I was wrong.

Of course, the decision of the Court was not unanimous. The NYTimes observed:
The decision set off a sharp debate between Justices John Paul Stevens and Antonin Scalia about Supreme Court procedure, the reach of a federal law meant to limit death row appeals and the proper treatment of claims of innocence.

“The substantial risk of putting an innocent man to death,” Justice Stevens wrote in a concurrence joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen G. Breyer, “clearly provides an adequate justification for holding an evidentiary hearing.”

Justice Scalia, in a dissent joined by Justice Clarence Thomas, said the hearing would be “a fool’s errand,” because Mr. Davis’s factual claims were “a sure loser.”

He went on to say that the federal courts would be powerless to assist Mr. Davis even if he could categorically establish his innocence.

“This court has never held,” Justice Scalia wrote, “that the Constitution forbids the execution of a convicted defendant who had a full and fair trial but is later able to convince a habeas court that he is ‘actually’ innocent.”
See also, Split Supreme Court Orders Review of Death Row Inmate's Claims That Witnesses Recanted Testimony.

Scalia & Thomas epitomize the problems of having Justices without empathy on the court. Thankfully, that was not ultimately found to be a bar for Justice Sotomayor. These two compassion-less conservatives would defer to the jury's decision on guilt -- even in a death penalty case -- despite the myriad cases where a wrongful conviction have later been established. See Two Readings of Scalia. While I understand the need to have finality in court proceeding, the considerations are obviously different when death is the penalty. As I noted before, in Hold On:
And yet, when a life is at stake, it is unconscionable to impose a standard that impairs the ability to get at the truth. I am somewhat heartened by the fact that the Court of Appeals requested that the parties address the question whether a person who may be able to establish innocence may nonetheless be denied an opportunity to establish his innocence because of a procedural requirement.

In other words, are we as a society willing to permit an innocent man to die merely to satisfy some legal rule that may prevent the truth from ever being discovered? And if so, what does that say about us?
Josh Patashnik of the Plank echoes this sentiment in The Troy Davis Case and Standards of Review:

But the problem is that . . . we generally don't think that level of certainty should be sufficient to put people to death. And this is a conflict between the way we think about the death penalty and the way the federal court system works in death penalty cases under AEDPA. Out of necessity, appellate courts grant immense deference to the factual findings of a trial court. You can't constantly be relitigating complex factual matters on appeal; the system would grind to a halt. Ordinarily, we're willing to tolerate the possibility that the trier of fact might have made a mistake, in order to provide some finality and preserve scarce judicial resources. In death penalty cases, for obvious reasons, people are inclined to throw such prudent procedural niceties out the window and say that the question of factual guilt or innocence should always be on the table in an equitable fashion, whether in state court or on habeas review in federal court, without stacking the deck in favor of the jury's verdict. But the system isn't set up that way.

Ultimately, the Davis case demonstrates the problems with the current law itself. In Preventing Another Troy Davis, Adam Server explains:
In the aftermath of the Supreme Court's decision to send consideration of Troy Davis' habeas case back to a federal court in Georgia for review, its worth reconsidering the law that made Davis' journey so harrowing in the first place. Despite the mountain of exculpatory evidence that emerged in the aftermath of his conviction (recanting witnesses, allegations of police coercion) and the weakness of the initial case (zero physical evidence) Davis' appeals were denied time again on legal technicalities arising from provisions in the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996, which limited habeas petitions from prisoners sentenced to death in most circumstances.

* * * *
In this case though, what the law did was prevent a potentially innocent man from obtaining habeas relief in a case where he almost certainly deserved it. I understand the government's interest in preventing frivolous appeals from the convicted in capitol cases, but it's not in the interest of the government or society to execute the innocent, no matter what Antonin Scalia says. It's worth revisiting the habeas provisions of this law and seeing whether it can't be amended to make sure something like this doesn't happen again. Constitutional concerns about AEDPA also aren't new, even if the law has been upheld by the Supreme Court in the past.

Into Each Life A Little Rain Must Fall

The rains last night had the toads falling from the skies, or so it seemed in our back yard.

My daughter & I sat on our porch swing during the rain & lightening storm and noticed that the tree frogs were merrily wandering around the backyard after being washed out of the trees. So she tiptoed through the rain drops and scooped up a few of the frogs.

The rainy summer has also left a few other visitors behind.

It seems to have also caused some alien matter to sprout in the yard.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Magic of Home

As I observed on Twitter:

Who says you can't go home again? Weekend in Scranton. Yummy lunch @ Pappas Pizza & dinner @ Savory Maza. My Italian/Lebanese sides happy.

We spent a long week-end in Scranton, where we had a 50th anniversary party for my husband's parents. My parents are also home from Florida for the summer, so I got to visit with them as well. A family-filled week-end (and, as always, some good eats).

A perfectly timed Week-end Journal piece in last week's Philadelphia Inquirer selected Scranton as a destination point, The magic of Scranton, which provided a chuckle for the family and friends from the area.

Calling downtown compact -- about 6 square blocks, in the article may be accurate, but doesn't truly reflect what that downtown was like when I was growing up. Back in the "good old days" (or at least my memories of them), downtown was a vibrant place to be. My high school was on the edge of town, so we went downtown every day after school. To the Charlamont Restaurant at the Globe Store, for brownie a la mode, to Coney Island (mentioned in the piece) for hot dogs, shopping at the Globe and the Scranton Dry Goods Store -- as well as the Army/Navy Store -- believe it or not -- in my hippie days. Those were the days, my friend.

Because the party was held at the Scranton Hilton, I drove my daughter around center city, pointing out various points of interest from my youth. She insisted that it was the first time that she had been downtown (which I find hard to believe), and observed that it was nicer than she expected. I also have to admit that I was amazed at the revival of the downtown in the past few years. My old high school, Central, is now home to a college. The train station and courthouse have been renovated and look fabulous.

As the Inky notes of Scranton:

Mary Ann Moran Savakinus, director of the Lackawanna Historical Society, gives us the city's history in a nutshell:

"The industrial boom was fueled by the holy trinity of iron, rail, and coal." In 1847, brothers Selden T. and George W. Scranton were the first to mass-produce iron rails in America. Their iron-manufacturing business was short-lived, but coal stayed hot. With local fields containing 85 percent of the world's anthracite coal, the family shifted to railroading to transport those "black diamonds" around the country.

By 1900, Scranton had grown into the 38th-largest city in the country, with a population of more than 100,000, and families such as the Scrantons had joined the so-called robber barons of the era.

But the city's story is not just about the wealthy. Industrial growth required labor, and immigrants poured into the city to fill the jobs. The Irish and the Welsh were among the earliest arrivals, followed by Eastern Europeans and Italians.

"Having mined anthracite coal in their native country, the Welsh were a perfect match for the Pennsylvania mines," Moran Savakinus says. "Back then, Scranton had the largest Welsh population outside of Wales itself."

After World War II, coal was displaced by cheaper fuels - oil and natural gas - and the city's fortunes faded.

Its fortunes faded and many of its inhabitants migrated elsewhere (Philly has lots of them). However, like the "hardscrabble" people of Scranton, the city manages to survive, and thrive in its own way.

And, it's nice to know that you can go home again. At least once in a while, for a visit.

(Photos via Scranton Design)

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Me, Myself & I

Not seeing the "good for business" angle here, is how Brian Beutler of TPM describes it, Whole Foods CEO Slams Health Reform, Angering Liberal Pro-Reform Whole Foods Customers:

Here's a thought: If you own a major supermarket chain that caters to a great deal of liberal-minded people with money, don't rail against the evils of health care reform in the Wall Street Journal.

Unfortunately, that advice comes a few hours too late for Whole Foods CEO John Mackey, who did just that.
Unbelievably, Whole Food's John Mackey penned an op-ed piece for the Wall Street Journal that dissed health care reform, with an 8-point free market counter proposal guaranteed to "fix" our health care woes. The Whole Foods Alternative to ObamaCare. Revealing his true philosophy (who gives a hoot about the other guy), he argues:

Many promoters of health-care reform believe that people have an intrinsic ethical right to health care—to equal access to doctors, medicines and hospitals. While all of us empathize with those who are sick, how can we say that all people have more of an intrinsic right to health care than they have to food or shelter?

Health care is a service that we all need, but just like food and shelter it is best provided through voluntary and mutually beneficial market exchanges. A careful reading of both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution will not reveal any intrinsic right to health care, food or shelter. That’s because there isn’t any. This “right” has never existed in America.

The reaction was swift. As the LATimes notes, Whole Foods is in a whole lot of trouble:
I am torn between disgust with and admiration for John Mackey, the ceo of Whole Foods Market. In an Op-Ed published in the Wall Street Journal, the organic food guru takes a swipe at universal health care as proposed by the Dems and gives his recommendations for reform.

* * * *

Translation: "We wouldn't be in this mess if you people would just shop at my stores!"

And how does Mackey suggest we pay for health care for those whiners without insurance who pretend they can't afford Whole Paycheck? This part is delicous:

Make it easier for individuals to make a voluntary, tax-deductible donation to help the millions of people who have no insurance and aren't covered by Medicare, Medicaid or the State Children's Health Insurance Program.

That's right, pass the hat!

So where does my admiration come in? Well, if nothing else, he's a man of his convictions. He puts principles over profit. Because hordes of yoga mat-toting, wheatgrass drinking progressives -- you know, the ones who made him rich and keep Whole Foods afloat -- are livid.
See also, Ellis Weiner, Half-Assed From Whole Foods, for a point by point analysis of Mackey's piece.

Mackey reminds me of Richard Hayne, the owner of Philly-based Urban Outfitters, whose business is targeted toward trendy and liberal customers. Both then gleefully use that money to support conservative causes. I'm sure that these men get additional satisfaction, knowing that they are able to take the money from the pockets of liberals to advance goals that would be anathema to liberals.

Not surprisingly, the liberals who spend their money at Whole Foods have taken action, by proposing a boycott. As reported in All Spin Zone, Whole Foods Boycott Picks Up Steam:
Whole Foods has always marketed itself to a fairly educated and financially secure customer base. This is why they can successfully sell healthy (and primarily organic) foods, at a higher cost. The company has also fostered the image that it has an altruistic streak in supporting progressive causes.

With a single op-ed in an uber conservative national newspaper, this wholesome image has been blown to bits. In the course of writing 1,165 words, CEO Mackey has caused more potential damage to the Whole Foods corporate image than an e-coli outbreak in the meat room.

In fact, the company has already issued an apology of sorts. Whole Foods freaks out over CEO's anti-Obama health care op ed. However, weak as it is, I'm not sure that the explanation/apology will quell those liberal masses.

I would certainly support a boycott, but I already don't shop at that over-priced vanity store.

Cartoon of the Day

Joel Pett, Lexington Herald-Leader

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Cartoon of the Day

John Cole, TheTimes-Tribune

The Dream Team

I truly can't think of a better team for the 2012 GOP Presidential race. I just can't decide whether it should be Santorum/Palin or Palin/Santorum.

Politco was the first to report that our very own former PA Senator, Rick Santorum, may be dreaming about Presidential elections future. As noted in Santorum dips toes in 2012 Iowa waters:

Add former Sen. Rick Santorum to the list of potential 2012 Republican presidential candidates.

POLITICO has learned Santorum will visit first-in-the-nation Iowa this fall for a series of appearances before the sort of conservative activists who dominate the state GOP’s key presidential caucuses.

The Pennsylvanian, who lost his 2006 re-election bid, will visit Iowa on October 1st, appearing on a Des Moines radio talk show and speaking to a luncheon and workshop of Iowa’s Right to Life group before heading east to Dubuque, where he’ll headline a fundraiser for the conservative America’s Future Fund PAC and then speak about the future of the GOP to a public audience in the Mississippi River city.

“Your voice becomes more amplified when you go to a place like Iowa or New Hampshire,” Santorum explained in an interview Tuesday about the visit.

Like other potential White House aspirants, he insisted it was too early to consider a presidential run. But he acknowledged that he was interested in taking a higher profile in the party.
Who would have thought? As Gort42 explained, in Santorum for President: "Our former junior Senator and Virginia resident is going to Iowa which always starts Presidential speculation about any politician."

Of course, First Read tries to dampen my enthusiasm, by asking: "Can a guy who lost Pennsylvania -- a battleground state -- by almost 60%-40% be a presidential contender?" Luckily for us, facts have never managed to get in Santorum's way before, so I think we'll have little to fear in that regard.

Echoing my thoughts exactly, Steven Reynolds writes, Santorum/Palin in 2012!:
Politico has this great news. What a dream ticket, a man, Rick Santorum, who suffered an historic defeat in his reelection campaign for Senate in Pennsylvania (and is also a noun), and a woman, Sarah Palin, who quit her elected responsibilities as Governor of Alaska.
After thinking about it, I suppose it would have to be Santorum/Palin & not the other way around. After all, the conservatives and evangelicals who comprise the Republican party these days believe that a woman is always subservient to a man. So, keep smiling Sarah, but I'm afraid you'll get the second place prize again.

And finally, putting it all in its proper perspective, Sarah K. Smith observes, Rick Santorum For President:
Oh, happy day! It looked like the slate of 2012 Republican candidates was going to be as dull as last night's warmed-over unsalted meatloaf: an unappetizing blend of clueless, chunky slobs who think that "titillating" is something you can get arrested for.

Fortunately, there's a new entrant in the mix: former Pennsylvania senator and full-time nutball Rick Santorum. The man who promised the world wall-to-wall man-on-dog sex if gay marriage were ever legalized, and who furthermore predicted dramatic terror attacks on the United States "before November" of 2007 or 2008 (nobody's sure, not even Rick) and failed to deliver on either pledge is now gearing up to disappoint the world one more time.

He's going to Iowa! And everybody knows that the only reason for any politician, current or former, to visit such a godforsaken state is to launch a doomed presidential bid.

* * * *
If the world needs one thing right now, it's the amplified voice of Rick Santorum -- which is sure to drown out all those pesky fiscal and social moderates who the top Republican brass seem to think have the best chance at defeating President Obama in 2012.

Santorum minces no words when it comes to displaying his pathological brand of nuttiness.

And that is why, in three and a half short years, he'll be sworn in as President of the United States.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Cartoon of the Day

John Darkow, The Columbia Daily Tribune

The Truth Behind the Madness

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Reform Madness - White Minority
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political HumorSpinal Tap Performance

The other day, I wrote about my concerns about the Mad Mob that has appeared on the political scene, with its vitriolic, violent tirades, see Mob Rule. The Daily Show's Larry Wilmore provides some insight into its origins and puts it all in perspective.

Or, as Atrios put it:
Nobody could've predicted that electing a black man president would drive this country completely fucking insane.
Says it all.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Mob Rule

During the reign of George W. Bush, there was always the hope that, as bad as things were (and they were bad), things would improve with a new Administration, if a Democrat were elected. However, despite the hope that ushered in the era of Obama, I'm now concerned that there are forces out there that are bound and determined to bring him (and the Democratic Party) down, even if it means destroying the country itself in the process.

As much as liberals hated Bush, there was never this obsessive, violent element that pervaded the political atmosphere, as is the case now. In fact, it's the next step in what used to be called the Clinton Derangement Syndrome. Unfortunately, it's been elevated to a new level. The intensity of the destructive impulse is frightening.

Paul Krugman describes the phenomenon, in The Town Hall Mob:

There’s a famous Norman Rockwell painting titled “Freedom of Speech,” depicting an idealized American town meeting. The painting, part of a series illustrating F.D.R.’s “Four Freedoms,” shows an ordinary citizen expressing an unpopular opinion. His neighbors obviously don’t like what he’s saying, but they’re letting him speak his mind.

That’s a far cry from what has been happening at recent town halls, where angry protesters — some of them, with no apparent sense of irony, shouting “This is America!” — have been drowning out, and in some cases threatening, members of Congress trying to talk about health reform.

Some commentators have tried to play down the mob aspect of these scenes, likening the campaign against health reform to the campaign against Social Security privatization back in 2005. But there’s no comparison. I’ve gone through many news reports from 2005, and while anti-privatization activists were sometimes raucous and rude, I can’t find any examples of congressmen shouted down, congressmen hanged in effigy, congressmen surrounded and followed by taunting crowds.

And I can’t find any counterpart to the death threats at least one congressman has received.
Krugman then asks the question that keeps appearing over & over -- what's it all about -- what is making these people so ugly and angry? His view:

That is, the driving force behind the town hall mobs is probably the same cultural and racial anxiety that’s behind the “birther” movement, which denies Mr. Obama’s citizenship. Senator Dick Durbin has suggested that the birthers and the health care protesters are one and the same; we don’t know how many of the protesters are birthers, but it wouldn’t be surprising if it’s a substantial fraction.

And cynical political operators are exploiting that anxiety to further the economic interests of their backers.

Does this sound familiar? It should: it’s a strategy that has played a central role in American politics ever since Richard Nixon realized that he could advance Republican fortunes by appealing to the racial fears of working-class whites.
Responding to a reader's inquiry about the depth of anger that emanates from the wingnuts about an issue such as health care reform, Steve Benen provides his answer, in What are they so mad about:

So why are far-right activists so apoplectic? Why would people who stand to benefit from health care reform literally take to the streets and threaten violence in opposition to legislation that will help them and their families? President Obama supports an approach to health care reform that emphasizes competition and choice, doesn't increase the deficit, and wouldn't raise middle class taxes ... and conservatives are comparing the plan to the Nazi Holocaust?

B.A.'s confusion is understandable. I don't get it, either.

It's probably a mistake to lump all opponents of reform in together; different groups are fighting with different motivations. I tend to see them in five different groups:

* The Greedy: There's a fairly small group of people who profit handsomely from the broken status quo. Regular Americans are getting screwed by the system, but The Greedy are getting rich. Reform puts their profits at risk, so they're fighting back to protect their livelihood.

* The Partisans: If President Obama does what many presidents have failed trying to do, it will likely make him more popular and make his presidency successful. The Partisans care more about Republican gains than the national well being, so they're fighting to prevent a major Democratic victory because it would be a major Democratic victory.

* The Tin-Foil Hats: If reform passes, the government will kill their grandparents, create "death panels," lavish benefits on illegal immigrants, and mandate that ACORN volunteers live in your basement. The Tin-Foil Hats have active imaginations, and believe their own ridiculous conspiracy theories. They'll benefit from reform, but the voices in their head discourage them from believing it.

* The Dupes: Probably the largest group in opposition to reform, The Dupes tend to believe what The Greedy, The Partisans, and The Tin-Foil Hats have told them. When confronted with accurate information, The Dupes suspect the media, Democrats, and their lying eyes aren't to be trusted. After all, Sean Hannity wouldn't lie to them, would he? Like The Tin-Foil hats, The Dupes stand to benefit from reform, but are skeptical because they don't know who's telling the truth and who isn't.

* The Wonks: The smallest of the groups, The Wonks are conservatives who actually care about substantive policy details, have read the proposals, and believe there are better ways to improve the system. The Greedy, The Partisans, The Tin-Foil Hats, and The Dupes tend to ignore The Wonks, which is a shame.

James Zogby also provides insight into the psyche of the mob and his view on its source, in Danger on the Right:
There is a social movement stirring on the far right of American politics and it bodes ill for our future.

It is, in the classic sense, a movement, not an organization, with no coherent structure, no creed or litmus test for membership. Rather, it represents disparate currents, born of transformative developments and traumatic events that have impacted the US in recent decades.

* * * *

If the individuals involved in these currents have anything in common, it is that they are angry and alienated and have identified "government" as a source of their problems and, therefore, as a target of their wrath.

Behind all of this discontent, of course, are real problems. The economic crisis in America did not just begin with the collapse of the financial sector in the fall of 2008. For years now, the US economy has undergone a steady transformation. The loss of our manufacturing base has resulted in dramatic social dislocation evidenced by the collapse of many once prosperous and stable communities. As factories closed, not only were jobs lost and economic security threatened, but people were forced to move, neighborhoods died and families were at risk.

* * * *

And so here we are in the midst of a hot summer, with "birthers" fulminating about Obama's "foreignness," angry mobs breaking up town meetings, and polling numbers showing a deepening partisan divide across the nation.

All the while these events are unfolding, analysts and commentators are spending endless hours of airtime observing and pointing accusing fingers, without making an effort to understand how this came to be and where it can go. Some conservatives are surely at fault for thinking they can simply exploit this anger, turning it on and then off, at will. And some liberals, too, are at fault for dismissing the anger they see, suggesting that it is simply manufactured and artificial and, therefore, can be ignored.

I am reminded of similar developments that occurred in 1919 at the beginning of the "Red Scare." Then too, a national movement, fueled by fears of immigration, economic dislocation and wartime anti-foreign bigotry was exploited by some, ignored by others, until it got out of control, with lethal consequences.

If we are not careful and understanding, and if we do not start now, both to address this troubling anger and alienation, and to hold accountable those who are stoking the embers of discontent, we could end up in the throes of a full-fledged nativist siege that could tear apart the fabric of our nation.
And finally, in a recent appearance on the Rachel Maddow Show, Frank Schaeffer provides a warning about the coded call for politically motivated violence:

As often as it's now being observed and commented on, the degree of concern that is being voiced is universally the same -- that we are on the verge of a violent outbreak that could have seriously destructive consequences for the country. And yet, the fringe element of the Republican Party cannot -- or will not -- take steps to stop the siren call.

Friday, August 07, 2009

No Ham Sandwich

A New York Judge famously joked that a prosecutor could persuade a Grand Jury to indict a ham sandwich.

That's because the DA decides which evidence to present to the grand jury (and what is not presented). The Prosecutor decides which witnesses to call, and which questions to ask -- or not to ask. And then there's the fact that defense lawyers are not permitted in the grand jury room, so there is no cross-examination or way to point out any flaws in the government's presentation.

The result is as carefully orchestrated as opening night on Broadway, with the closing act carefully calculated to reach the desired result. If the DA wants an indictment, she will get one.

Unfortunately, that Judge didn't know Philly's Lynn Abraham -- at least when it comes to prosecuting cops.

Lynne Abraham, the long time DA of Philadelphia, has been called a "tough cookie" over the years and was crowned the Deadliest DA a few years ago because she's so fond of the death penalty. See Lynne Abraham: for better or worse, an institution in Philadelphia.

Yet she's also notorious for her failure to aggressively prosecute police brutality cases.

In the latest example of that, unlike the ham sandwich, she wasn't able to get the Grand Jury to indict the police in an egregious police beating case. As the Inky reports, Grand jury exonerates Phila. police in beating video:

To Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey, then newly arrived in Philadelphia, last year's news video of police officers beating three suspects was a black eye for the department.

In the days after May 5, 2008, when police stopped a fleeing car and arrested the three men, the Fox29 news helicopter video was telecast locally, nationally, and internationally. Ramsey took prompt action, firing four officers and disciplining four others.

Yesterday, a Philadelphia grand jury vindicated the officers who arrested Dwayne Dyches, Brian Hall, and Pete Hopkins. The grand jury recommended that no criminal charges be filed and decided that the officers used only the force necessary to subdue three men they had reason to believe were armed and had just fired into a crowd, wounding three others.

"The video, in fact, did not speak for itself," District Attorney Lynne M. Abraham said in announcing the grand jury report.

"We found that the design of the force applied by the police was helpful rather than hurtful," the grand jury report concluded.

"The kicks and blows, in other words, were aimed not to inflict injury, but to facilitate quick and safe arrests. We found that the kind of force administered was completely consistent with police training and guidelines and the laws of the commonwealth."

When I heard the news that the Grand Jury declined to prosecute, it was just what I expected from Abraham. There was no doubt in the outcome in my mind. Likewise, if things had been reversed -- the victims had attacked the police -- she would have aggressively pursued them, with an array of charges.

And once again, Abraham's propensity to take a dive for the police is being questioned. As observed in Cops-D.A. ties questioned:

Close ties between the Philadelphia Police Department and the District Attorney's Office, which presided over a grand jury investigation into a police beating caught on tape, have led some to question the jury's findings.

The D.A.'s office announced yesterday that a grand jury found that a group of police officers did not commit a crime while trying to subdue three shooting suspects last year.

Now, some, including attorney Paul Messing, who specializes in civil rights litigation including cases related to police misconduct, are asking whether the grand jury was unduly influenced by the D.A.

Lucky Abraham will be retiring soon. Unfortunately, it's not soon enough.