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New Candidate for LA County Sheriff Soon to Jump into Race to Oppose Baca

July 29th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon



A new candidate is expected to be announcing his or her candidacy
for the office of LA County Sheriff in approximately two to three weeks, according to sources.

This prospective challenger intending to try to unseat Sheriff Lee Baca, (who will be running for a 5th term in 2014) has reportedly already met with veteran political consultants and others experienced in high profile So Cal political campaigns. At least one veteran consultant is said to have formally signed on to the soon-to-launch bid.

Experts have estimated that it could take approximately $5 million in campaign dollars to be competative against a well-known and well-funded incumbent, like Baca, who was first sworn in to the office of sheriff in December of 1998, and who, despite the ongoing criminal investigations by the FBI into wrongdoing in the department under his watch, is still expected to be a formidable candidate.

Former LASD undersheriff Paul Tanaka is also expected to enter the race, an expectation that was further fueled over the weekend by an LA Times story suggesting that Hollywood studio exec Ryan Kavanaugh was the object of a criminal investigation by the sheriff’s department in retaliation for the Kavanaugh’s reported support for Tanaka’s as-yet-unannounced bid for sheriff.

Retired LASD lieutenant, Patrick Gomez entered the race against Sheriff Baca in mid May. Gomez, who has unsuccessfully challenged Baca before, in 1998 and in 2002, campaigned previously on—among other issues—problems with the treatment of the mentally ill in the LA County Jails, an issue that has heated up of late, due to discussions over new jail construction, and the still ongoing federal probes into deputy on inmate abuse. Little known LAPD Detective Lou Vince has also declared his candidacy.

Earlier in the year, there was word that Long Beach Chief of Police Jim McDonnell (who was also formerly 2nd in command at the LAPD under Bill Bratton) was planning to challenge Baca for sheriff. When he decided against his possible candidacy in June, both the LA Times and other editorial boards expressed dismay that McDonnell was bowing out, considering him a potentially formidable challenger.

The advent of another serious candidate on the horizon is expected to spark much interest among LASD watchers, many of whom contend that Baca is vulnerable if a strong challenger can amass the war chest necessary for a competative campaign.

Meanwhile, on NBC’s Sunday interview show, the So Cal ACLU’s head attorney, Mark Rosenbaum called in harsh terms for Sheriff Baca to be removed for his part in the jail brutality scandal.

While on ABC 7′s Newsmakers, U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte was on talking about the wild card in the whole matter—namely the spectre of criminal indictments. He offered no hints as to when such indictments might come, how many there will be, and high up they will go. But, without saying so directly, Briotte strongly implied that there would indeed be criminal indictments.

Posted in 2014 election, elections, LASD, Sheriff Lee Baca | 157 Comments »

Marijuana Arrests by Race…..Mike Feuer Picks All Star Transition Team… and the DWP’s Brian D’Arcy Sends His Love

June 5th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon


(click to enlarge)


NEW REPORT SHOWS CRAZY RACIAL DISPARITIES IN ARRESTS FOR MARIJUANA POSSESSION

Dylan Matthews of the Washington Post’s Wonkblog reviews the ACLU’s very comprehensive report on the black/whire marijuana arrest discrepancy.

The results are startling.

Overall, over the last decade, blacks and whites use marijuana at around the same rates, with blacks edging out whites by a few percentage points, except among the 18-25 year olds, where the ratio flips and young whites smoke a few percentage points more weed than young blacks.

It likely won’t be a surprise for most of you to find out that blacks are arrested for marijuana possession more often than whites, despite the similar usage numbers of the two racial groups.

But how much more often? Take a look.

The ACLU report (and the diagrams at WaPo) also looked at cities and counties that had the greatest descrepancy. (Yes, in LA County the ratio is out of whack, but it’s nothing when compared to, say, Cook County, IL or New York, NY, or Clark County, NV.

Click here to see the rest of WaPo’s startling charts and here for the underlying ACLU report.

The New York Times’ Ian Urbina also reports well on the ACLU report. Here are some clips from Urbina’s story:

Black Americans were nearly four times as likely as whites to be arrested on charges of marijuana possession in 2010, even though the two groups used the drug at similar rates, according to new federal data.

This disparity had grown steadily from a decade before, and in some states, including Iowa, Minnesota and Illinois, blacks were around eight times as likely to be arrested.

During the same period, public attitudes toward marijuana softened and a number of states decriminalized its use. But about half of all drug arrests in 2011 were on marijuana-related charges, roughly the same portion as in 2010.

Advocates for the legalization of marijuana have criticized the Obama administration for having vocally opposed state legalization efforts and for taking a more aggressive approach than the Bush administration in closing medical marijuana dispensaries and prosecuting their owners in some states, especially Montana and California.

Time to legalize, people!


CITY ATTORNEY-ELECT MIKE FEUER PICKS AN ALLSTAR TRANSITION TEAM

On Tuesday, newly-elected City Attorney-to-be Mike Feuer announced his transition team. It’s a long, varied and very impressive list (which you can read in its entirety here: City Attorney-Elect Mike Feuer’s Transition Team)

Here are some quick examples of the kind of folks who’re on the team (three of whom were part of the Citizens Commission on Jails Violence):

Lourdes Baird, who served as U.S. District Court Judge and U.S. Attorney for the Central District of California (and was on the Jails Commission).
Erwin Chemerinsky, who is the Dean and Distinguished Professor of Law at University of California, Irvine School of Law and formerly served as Chair of the Elected Los Angeles City Charter Reform Commission.
Miriam Krinsky, The executive director of the Jails Commission, who is also a lecturer at the UCLA School of Public Policy and is the former President of the Los Angeles County Bar and former President of the Los Angeles City Ethics Commission.
Stewart Kwoh, who is the founding President and Executive Director of the Asian Pacific American Legal Center and is a past President of the Los Angeles City Human Relations Commission.
Jorja Leap is a Professor at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs and also serves as the Director of the UCLA Health and Social Justice Partnership; known for her research and writing focuses on gangs, community health and social justice
Carlos Moreno, (another Jails Commission member) who served as California Supreme Court Justice and Deputy Los Angeles City Attorney.
Ira Reiner, who served as Los Angeles City Attorney and Los Angeles County District Attorney.
Connie Rice, who co-founded the Advancement Project and was the Co-Director of the Los Angeles office of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.
John Van de Kamp, who served as California Attorney General, Los Angeles County District Attorney and Federal Public Defender.


THE DWP’S BRIAN D’ARCY TALKS TO LA TIMES’ PATT MORRISON ABOUT WHY HE FLIPPED OFF LA WEEKLY’S GENE MADDAUS AND OTHER WAYS THAT EVERYONE ELSE IS WRONG & HE’S RIGHT

Interviews with utilities union guys aren’t usually part of our mission, but this one in which the stellar Patt Morrison corrals and questions DWP union powerbroker, Brian D’Arcy, is…. irresistible.

Here are two clips—one from the very beginning of the interview and one from the very end—to give you an idea of why you need to read the whole fabulous thing:

Sometimes L.A. politics seem like patty-cake, but when Brian D’Arcy gets in the game, the game gets serious. He’s a third-generation union man, and the union he heads, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 18, is the DWP’s biggest and a huge player at City Hall. In some quarters, the IBEW’s DWP contracts — worth as much as six figures — are a symbol of overweening union power. The political action committee he co-chairs and the IBEW supports, Working Californians, cobbled together the largest amount spent on behalf of Wendy Greuel’s mayoral bid, about $4 million. The IBEW isn’t crying “uncle.” D’Arcy has zest for the fray and one gear: forward.

First things first: John Shallman, Wendy Greuel’s campaign consultant, has said your union’s support became “damaging to the campaign.”

That doesn’t surprise me — the guy who’s directly responsible for the tone-deaf campaign she ran. What else would he say? The hit on her was, somehow, she was the DWP candidate. [Voters] merged the employer and the union. It could have been deflected. They never did, and they ran a crappy campaign. The larger message is that some people will do anything to get elected — the same people [Garcetti's camp] who wanted our endorsement all of a sudden turn it into a pejorative.

Why the antipathy toward public unions like yours?

If you sell the idea that if others are dragged down then somehow you are elevated — I find it offensive. Does it help somebody if my members make less? They are 22% of the [DWP] budget. DWP union workers could take zero [pay] and it isn’t going to fix the city budget. The right-wing apparatchik has decided workers are the enemy, and we represent them….

And our personal favorite of all the Q & A exchanges…

Did you really flip off LA Weekly writer Gene Maddaus from your office window?

[His expression says, "Of course."] My entire staff is out walking precincts, I’m here with the [staff] women downstairs, and he scared them. On most days I’d pick up my bat and walk downstairs and say, “Get out of here,” but that’s what he wanted. My assistant [told him], “You have to leave, this is not a public building.” He refused, like a jackass, so she called the police. I did flip him off — he was jumping up and down like my Labradoodle at the back door.

Posted in City Attorney, elections, Marijuana laws, race, racial justice | No Comments »

Undersheriff Paul Tanaka Speaks Out Against Baca Again, This Time on KABC, Monday at 11PM

May 20th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon


KABC 7′s David Ono sat down with Undersheriff Paul Tanaka for a long on camera interview,
highlights from which will air in a special news segment at 11 pm Monday night on KABC 7.

Ono and his producers had hoped to get Sheriff Lee Baca to sit down for the same news segment since, in addition to responding to some critical questions about his own actions in the department, it is our understanding that Mr. Tanaka spent much of the interview, in essence, pulling the pins on grenades and lobbing them at the sheriff.

Unfortunately, Baca was not persuaded to come on camera, but sent LASD spokesman Steve Whitmore to answer questions in his place.

We don’t yet know what parts of the raw interview are included in the segment (which we hear will run around 4 plus minutes) and what remains in outtakes. But we’ll let you know if we learn more before the broadcast.

In the meantime, fire up your TiVos, ladies and gentlemen.


AND IN OTHER NEWS….

ILLINOIS TO BECOME NEXT STATE TO LEGALIZE MEDICAL MARIJUANA IF GOVERNOR SIGNS BILL

A bill that would legalize medical marijuana in the state of Illinois was passed by their state senate after an approval from the Illinois House last month. It is not clear whether or not Governor Pat Quinn will sign the bill, but he sounds positively disposed.

What makes this bill interesting is that it sets out a tight regulatory scheme for sales of medical weed, unlike California, which legalized medical marijuana in 1996 with one of our messy ballot initiatives, and then applied some modest regulations in 2003, with SB 420. However, since then, neither the state legislature, nor municipalities like Los Angeles, managed to wrestle into being any decent regulations. As a consequence our med marijuana situation is something of a mess.

Monique Garcia reports for the Chicago Tribune on the state’s likely new law. Here’s a clip:

….The proposal would create a four-year trial program in which doctors could prescribe patients no more than 2.5 ounces of marijuana every two weeks. To qualify, patients must have one of 42 serious or chronic conditions — including cancer, multiple sclerosis or HIV — and an established relationship with a doctor.

Patients would undergo fingerprinting and a criminal background check and would be banned from using marijuana in public and around minors. Patients also could not legally grow marijuana, and they would have to buy it from one of 60 dispensing centers across Illinois. The state would license 22 growers.

The measure drew strong opposition from the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police and the Illinois Sheriffs’ Association, which sent a letter to the governor and lawmakers warning the proposal would not stop medical marijuana card holders from driving while under the influence. They suggested blood and urine testing be included in the legislation to allow police to determine whether card holders had marijuana in their system while driving.

Haine argued the law has safeguards to prevent that, including designating on a driver’s license whether they use medical marijuana.


AND…WHILE WE’RE ON THE SUBJECT, A RUNDOWN OF THE MED MARIJUANA REGULATIONS SCHEMES ON TUESDAY’S BALLOT

It would be nice, of course, if the members of the LA City Council would bother to do their jobs and come up with a sensible scheme themselves to regulate LA’s pot dispensaries, rather than abrogate their collective responsibilities with these measures on Tuesday’s ballot.

Rick Orlov of the Daily News has the details.

While there are three marijuana measures on the ballot - Proposition D, Ordinance E and Ordinance F – there are only two active campaigns now, as the main supporters of E decided to throw their backing behind D.

Prop. D would cap the number of dispensaries at 135, the ones that were open and egistered with the city before a moratorium was created in 2007. It would impose a 6 percent tax on sales of marijuana. The current rate is 5 percent. D was crafted by the City Council to allow a finite number of dispensaries after its effort to have an outright ban on the clinics was challenged with an initiative.
Ordinance F has no cap and is backed by clinics that would be excluded under D. It also requires testing of the marijuana dispensed at the facilities, background checks on employees and auditing of their operations. It also places a tax of 6 percent on marijuana sold.

Ordinance E caps the number at 135, but has no tax increase and fewer other restrictions.

Voters have a fourth option, Councilman Bernard Parks said. They can reject all three proposals and allow the City Council to decide the issue.

But some supporters of medical marijuana think that, rather than allow them to operate unchecked, it would spell bad news for their future.

“If all the measures are defeated, it will be viewed, I think, as giving the City Council a free hand to do what they have shown they already want to do – just ban all dispensaries outright,” said political consultant Garry South, who is handling the F campaign.


A-A-AAND BACK ON THE HOMEFRONT…DENNIS ROMERO OF THE LA WEEKLY REPORTS THAT FRUSTRATED VOTERS ARE tending to lean toward Measure D, which is the most restrictive of the three. Read his rundown here.


BEYOND BRADY: DO THE RULES FOR PROSECUTORS FAVOR JUSTICE? OR MUST WE TAKE A SECOND LOOK?

In an editorial in Sunday’s NY Times, the Times discusses what has become an increasingly obvious problem in the justice system, where too many prosecutors seem to forget that the job of the district attorney is to seek justice, not to win at all costs.

Here’s a clip:

Fifty years ago, in the landmark case Brady v. Maryland, the Supreme Court laid down a fundamental principle about the duty of prosecutors — to seek justice in fair trials, not merely to win convictions by any means. The court said that due process required prosecutors to disclose to criminal defendants any exculpatory evidence they asked for that was likely to affect a conviction or sentence.

It might seem obvious that prosecutors with any sense of fairness would inform a defendant’s lawyer of evidence that could be favorable to the defendant’s case. But in fact, this principle, known as the Brady rule, has been restricted by subsequent rulings of the court and has been severely weakened by a near complete lack of punishment for prosecutors who flout the rule. The court has also declined to require the disclosure of such evidence during negotiations in plea bargains, which account for about 95 percent of cases.

It is impossible to know how often prosecutors violate Brady since this type of misconduct, by definition, involves concealment. But there is good reason to believe that violations are widespread. Hundreds of convictions have been reversed because of prosecutorial suppression of evidence. In many cases, the exculpatory evidence surfaces only on appeal of a conviction, and often comes to light because other aspects of the prosecution are rife with error.

The 2011 case of John Thompson is particularly instructive — as an example of atrocious prosecutorial misconduct and of the Supreme Court’s refusal to hold the prosecutor accountable. Mr. Thompson spent 14 years on death row for a murder he did not commit. He was exonerated when an investigator found that lawyers in the New Orleans district attorney’s office had kept secret more than a dozen pieces of evidence that cast doubt on Mr. Thompson’s guilt, even destroying some. Yet the Supreme Court’s conservative majority overturned a $14 million jury award to Mr. Thompson, ruling that the prosecutor’s office had not shown a pattern of “deliberate indifference” to constitutional rights. Outrageous breaches of due process rights in such cases show that the Brady rule — which seems essentially voluntary in some places — is simply insufficient to ensure justice.

Read the whole thing.


PHOTO OF PAUL TANAKA by Scott Harms/Los Angeles County, via Zev Yaroslavsky’s blog. (The Photoshopping is, of course, ours.)

Posted in elections, jail, LA County Jail, LASD, Medical Marijuana, Prosecutors, Sheriff Lee Baca | 25 Comments »

The Collateral Cost of CA’s Big Cuts to Mental-Health, LASD and Civilian Oversight…and More

May 6th, 2013 by Taylor Walker


EDITOR’S NOTE:
After a few months hiatus, Taylor Walker is back posting at WLA. And we’re delighted to have her!

(Matt Fleischer is working on some new WLA stories so you’ll be seeing him back here shortly, as well.)



THE AFFECT OF CA’S HUGE MENTAL HEALTH CUTS ON INCARCERATION

Amid all the kerfuffle last week over the interview with You-Know-Who, we missed a few important stories, most notable among them was a Mother Jones feature on cutting mental-health funding across the US, and the collateral affect on crime and incarceration. California was ranked among the highest budget-cutters with an alarming 21% cut over the last three years. The unintended consequences of those cuts that Mother Jones outlines should cause every policy maker to take note.

Here are some of the highlights:

California ($3,612.8 million in 2009 to $2,848 million in 2012, -21.2 percent): Inmates with severe mental illness often wait three to six months for a state psychiatric hospital bed. In 2007, 19 percent of state prisoners were mentally ill. By 2012, 25 percent were.

[SNIP]

For every $2,000 to $3,000 per year spent on treating the mentally ill, $50,000 is saved on incarceration costs.

Prisoners with mental illness cost the nation an average of nearly $9 billion a year.

In 1955, there was one psychiatric bed for every 300 Americans. In 2010, there was one psychiatric bed for every 7,100 Americans—the same ratio as in 1850.


LASD PERMANENT CIVILIAN OVERSIGHT PANEL

In 1992, the Kolts Commission recommended that a civilian oversight panel be established for the LA Sheriff’s Dept. In an Op-ed for the LA Times, civil rights attorney R. Samuel Paz points out that two decades—and a few more recommendations—later, there is still no permanent civilian oversight. The LAPD has the police commission; the LASD has nothing equivalent.

Here are some clips from Paz’s essay.

The Kolts Commission then, just as the jails commission now, rejected the sheriff’s argument that civilian oversight was unnecessary because, as an elected official, he was accountable to the public. The commission noted: “Indeed, we know of no major metropolitan police department in the United States which is not subject to some civilian oversight — except the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.”

[SNIP]

The jails commission found the present oversight systems ineffective and inadequate. L.A. County Special Counsel Merrick Bobb’s frequent reports on systemic problems and the necessary reforms to fix them were ignored by the sheriff and lacked any enforcement mechanism or follow-up capability. The oversight by the Office of Independent Review, which was created in 2001 to monitor use-of-force and misconduct investigations, was found to be ineffective, ignored or changed by management. It also has been hampered by Sheriff’s Department officials withholding key documents on use of force in jails, in violation of the understanding that the Office of Independent Review was to have “unfettered access” to records. The ombudsman, which the jails commission described as the “clearinghouse for public complaints,” was found to be woefully inadequate in identifying patterns in complaints by civilians.


MILLION DOLLAR DETAINEE

The Pentagon spends an astronomical $900,000 on each Guantanamo detainee per year. Eek and egad! Surely this money can be put to better use elsewhere?

Reuters has the story. Here’s a clip:

The Pentagon estimates it spends about $150 million each year to operate the prison and military court system at the U.S. Naval Base in Cuba, which was set up 11 years ago to house foreign terrorism suspects. With 166 inmates currently in custody, that amounts to an annual cost of $903,614 per prisoner.

By comparison, super-maximum security prisons in the United States spend about $60,000 to $70,000 at most to house their inmates, analysts say. And the average cost across all federal prisons is about $30,000, they say.


LAPD INTERNAL AFFAIRS CHANGE-UP

LAPD Chief Charlie Beck is reassigning three deputy chiefs, including the head of Internal Affairs, Deputy Chief Mark Perez, to bring in “fresh perspective” to that bureau. It is not yet clear what the tweaking means regarding the department’s discipline policy, but we’ll keep an eye on it.

LA Times’ Joel Rubin has the story. Here are some clips:

Perez’s departure from the Professional Standards Bureau, which investigates officers accused of misconduct, is certain to raise some eyebrows within the department. Appointed to the post in 2006 by Beck’s predecessor, William J. Bratton, Perez moved the department away from its traditional approach to disciplining officers that was centered on giving officers incrementally harsher punishments for repeat offenses.

Instead, Perez put in place a system that, as he frequently said, emphasized “strategy over penalty.”

[SNIP]

In a brief interview, Beck said he is not looking for McCarthy to dismantle the current discipline system. Except in extreme instances in which he wants the officers fired, Beck said, “I still believe in using methods that reform behavior instead of punish it.”


REGISTER! VOTE!

By the way, today, May 6th, is the cut-off to register to vote in the Los Angeles mayoral runoff on May 21st. Go register! Quick! You can fill out the online application here.

Posted in Charlie Beck, elections, LAPD, Los Angeles Mayor, Sheriff Lee Baca | 6 Comments »

ELECTIONS: National Eyes on LA’s School Board Races…The Howls About Outsider Money…How to Choose a Mayor….PLUS Some Non-Election News

March 5th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon


NATIONALLY, ALL EYES ARE ON LAUSD’S SCHOOL BOARD RACES

It’s big enough news that even the NY Times was driven to report on LA’s school board contests.

Here’s a clip from the NY Times’ Jennifer Medina’s story:

On Tuesday, voters in Los Angeles will go to the polls for a mayoral primary. But much of the attention will also be on the three races for the school board, a battle that involves the mayor, the teachers’ union and a host of advocates from across the country — including New York City’s billionaire mayor — who have poured millions of dollars into the races.

The outcome of the political fight for the school board seats will have a profound impact on the direction of the nation’s second-largest school district. But the clash has also become a sort of test case for those who want to overhaul public education, weakening the power of the teachers’ union, pushing for more charter schools and changing the way teachers are hired and fired.

After years of pressing to take power away from local school boards, some advocates have directed their money and attention directly to school boards in the hope that they will support their causes, as unions have done in the past.

Last month, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg of New York City donated $1 million to a coalition formed by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa of Los Angeles to help elect candidates who will support the current superintendent and the policy changes he has promoted. Students First, a national advocacy organization created by Michelle A. Rhee, the former schools chancellor in Washington, donated $250,000 to the same cause.

(As we mentioned last Friday, we generally support the reform candidates—especially Kate Anderson.)


TWO LAUSD BOARD MEMBERS TALK ABOUT THE INSIDERS V. OUTSIDERS DONATIONS FALLACY

In an Op Ed for the Daily News, LAUSD board members Marlene Canter and Yolie Flores about the controversy over the out-of-state money coming in for the school board race.

Canter and Flores make the point that, for years, UTLA—LA’s teachers’ union--poured big buk into school board races, where the union stood to gain specific to gain by having “their” people on the board . Now, they write, the playing field has been leveled (or even tilted the opposite direction) by school reform groups and the unions are crying foul.:

Here’s a clip from their Op Ed:

Recently, there has been much talk regarding the “outside groups” who are trying to influence the LAUSD school board elections. But, as former board members with a total of 12 combined years of service, we know first hand the pressures facing LAUSD board members and candidates for the board. Both of us fought for significant changes at LAUSD, and we felt firsthand the strength of the powerful forces that are out to preserve the status quo.

When people with no vested, personal interest in the outcome try to help elect reform-minded candidates, they are branded as “outsiders” who are trying to “buy elections.” This is perplexing. These individuals have a longstanding interest in closing the opportunity gap for poor kids and kids of color, and improving educational achievement for all students.

Personally, they stand to gain exactly nothing if the candidates they are supporting get elected. They’re willing to put their money where their mouth is when it comes to improving education, and their participation is critical for leveling the playing field and keeping these school board races competitive. Yet, when “insiders” who do have a vested, personal interest in the outcome contribute significant funding, this is somehow seen as more acceptable…


JIM NEWTON LISTS WHAT TO LOOK FOR WHEN VOTING FOR MAYOR

Book author, and LA Times’ roving columnist, Jim Newton, is a very smart cookie, and he’s written an interesting column about the field of candidates running for mayor that flies in the face of what has become conventional wisdom—namely that the front five—or front three, really, Wendy Greuel, Erick Garcetti, and Jan Perry—are basically tepid, light-middle weights who have inspired the public to doze off.

It’s a stronger field than conventional wisdom would have you believe, Newton writes.

Here are some clips from Newton’s story:

This is a stronger field than people tend to think. All five of the leading candidates are smart and committed. Three already hold public office and have accomplished some important things while serving; the other two bring new ideas and insights. And they all seem to be driven by the opportunity to lead rather than by the prospect of skimming or doling out jobs and contracts to friends.

Still, as usual, the minutiae of the campaign has tended to swallow up big ideas, leaving instead a pile of cliches that obscure more than they illuminate.

[SNIP]

One reason the campaign has been so banal is that the leading contenders aren’t really all that far apart on the issues. So how should you make up your mind? Here are some suggestions for what qualities to look for in a mayor.

And then he lists qualities of courage, judgement and tenacity, creativity and personality—with examples of just exactly what he’s talking about.

A good read, and a good list of ideas to help you decide, if you haven’t already.


EDITOR’S NOTE:

NEON TOMMY WILL HAVE LIVELY ELECTIONS COVERAGE ALL DAY!

Annenberg’s Neon Tommy will be bringing their own smart and energetic brand of coverage to Tuesday’s races all through the day. So, consider keeping NeonTommy open from morning on as we all wait for returns.



AND IN OTHER NEWS…..

THE NEWTON TRAGEDY BRINGS ON A SWING BACK TO ZERO TOLERANCE & STRING OF SILLY AND SAD SUSPENSIONS

Education News rounds up a spate of the new and sadly foolish suspensions.

Here’s a clip:

On Jan. 10, five-year-old Madison Guarna unwittingly committed a “terroristic threat” while waiting in line for the afternoon school bus.

During a discussion of butterflies, ladybugs and “kitty cats,” the kindergartner told her friends she was going to shoot them and herself with her Hello Kitty bubble gun, which was not in the girl’s possession at the time.

[SNIP]

Since the Newtown tragedy, at least 15 students have been suspended from school – or threatened with suspension – for dubious reasons.

Just last week, a seven-year-old Baltimore student was given a two-day suspension for “biting his breakfast pastry into a shape that his teacher thought looked like a gun,” reports The Daily Mail.

Six of those suspensions were given to elementary students who made “gun gestures” with their fingers.

A Pennsylvania fifth-grader was “threatened with arrest after she mistakenly brought a ‘paper gun’ to school,” reports PrisonPlanet.com.

[SNIP]

A 10-year-old Virginia boy was taken into police custody and fingerprinted after he showed “a toy gun with an orange tip” to a friend. He was charged with “brandishing a weapon,” and now he has “a juvenile record and a probation officer,” reports the Washington Post.

And in Colorado, seven-year-old Alex Evans was reportedly suspended from school for “throwing” an imaginary grenade into an imaginary box, which resulted in an imaginary explosion.

The Sandy Hook shootings may be the reason for school leaders’ heightened sensitivity to all things gun-related, but it’s the “zero tolerance” policies put in place by local school boards that often require administrators to hand down these absurd discipline decisions.


HOWEVER SOME NEW SCHOOL SAFETY MEASURES BEING INTRODUCED IN SACRAMENTO ARE STRANGELY…..SENSIBLE.

In the face of the vexing news about outbreaks of zero tolerance craziness, there is some good news. Michael Gardiner at the San Diego Union reports that school safety measures that, post-Newtown being introduced in Sacramento. Here’s a clip:

California lawmakers have introduced nearly two dozen school safety measures that have been largely overshadowed by the more divisive debate on gun control.

The emerging campus security bills involve: inside door locks, panic alarms, mental health services, school safety plans and funding for other prevention programs.

A similar story has unfolded in Washington where Congress remains in conflict over regulating assault weapons, background checks and the size of ammunition magazines. But there is movement on other proposals to secure schools.

“The bottom line is it’s got to get done and it’s got to get done right,” said Marc Egan, who tracks federal school safety issues for the National Education Association.

The general consensus on both coasts is it will take a comprehensive approach to prevent a repeat of the tragedy that occurred at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. just days before Christmas….

Posted in Charter Schools, children and adolescents, Education, elections, Los Angeles Mayor, School to Prison Pipeline, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | No Comments »

“Don’t Elect me!” Two LA Newspapers Call for Candidates to Answer Lee Baca’s Challenge….and More

March 4th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon



As we prepare to cast our votes in LA’s mayoral race and other local contests,
let us turn briefly to another election that will take place a bit over a year from now, the race for Los Angeles County Sheriff.

When Sheriff Lee Baca was asked during his testimony last spring before the Citzens’ Commission on Jail Violence just how the commission—or anybody for that matter—could hold the sheriff accountable, Baca replied without so much as taking an extra breath:

“Don’t elect me.

Baca, who was first sworn in to the office of sheriff in 1998, will be running for his 5th four-year term in 2014,

In the last few days, the city’s two biggest newspapers—the LA Times and the Daily News—ran editorials that said very directly that they hoped Long Beach Chief of Police Jim McDonnell—and perhaps some other serious contenders—would step up officially to answer the sheriff’s challenge.

For instance, here’s what the LA Times editorial board wrote a few days after Baca was—jawdroppingly—named Sheriff of the Year, by the National Sheriff’s Association:

[The NSA] director of operations says Baca has been an “exemplary” sheriff, providing educational opportunities for jail inmates and reaching out to religious groups in the community, while also keeping crime in the county low.

Everybody’s entitled to his own opinion. Which is exactly why we were pleased to learn recently that Long Beach Police Chief Jim McDonnell is considering challenging Baca in next year’s election. McDonnell is the former second in command at the Los Angeles Police Department under Chief William J. Bratton, and he served on the county commission that recently criticized Baca. If he were to run, he would be Baca’s first credible challenger since he was elected 15 years ago. Baca ran unopposed in 2010.

While it’s still far too early for this page to endorse any candidate, we would be pleased to see a real race in which Baca’s strengths and shortcomings could be seriously considered by voters. We hope McDonnell will be the first of many qualified candidates to enter the race.

Late on Friday, the Daily News editorial board opined in stronger terms still:


Here are some clips:

And we thought the Awards Season silliness was over.
On the stiletto heels of the Golden Globes, Grammys and Oscars, the National Sheriffs’ Association just named the winner of its big annual award. How big an upset is it? Imagine if “John Carter” had won Best Picture.

The organization announced Monday that the 2013 honoree for national Sheriff of the Year is — the envelope, please — Los Angeles County’s own Leroy D. “Lee” Baca.

Wow, how bad a year did every other sheriff in the United States have?

[SNIP]

But L.A. County residents who think back to Baca’s headlines over the past year probably will think first of his failure to stop or accept responsibility for an inmate-abuse scandal involving sheriff’s deputies, and allegations that deputies harassed minorities in the Antelope Valley.

That’s only one reason the public has questioned Baca’s leadership and this space looks forward to the 15-year incumbent receiving a re-election challenge in 2014 from Long Beach Police Chief Jim McDonnell.

Baca will officially receive the Sheriff of the Year award on June 23 at the NSA’s annual conference in Charlotte, N.C. In the spirit of the moment, Baca can at least make like Jennifer Lawrence and trip on his way to the podium.

Given the way he responded to the jail-abuse allegations, he might be the first award-winner to begin his speech, “I’d like to blame all the little people …”


SAN FRANCISCO D.A. GEORGE GASCON HOPES THAT SF SENTENCING REFORM CAN BE A MODEL FOR THE STATE

As a former LAPD Assistant Chief, and former Chief of Police for both Mesa, Arizona and San Francisco, SF DA George Gascon is not unfamiliar with the realities of crime and law enforcement. Yet as DA, he’s gone to bat for a sentencing reform commission for SF County, and now in a new publication called Justice in California, sponsored by the Rosenberg Boundation, Gascon writes of the importance of sentencing reform and how he hopes that that San Francisco’s commission can serve as a model for the state.

Here’s a clip from Gascon’s essay in which he talks about sentencing and other ways that prosecutors can push for productive reform:

Most criminal law is developed legislatively through the political process, with mandatory minimum sentences and sentence enhancement laws changing every year. Often, this process is influenced by political reactions to high-profile cases or attempts to be “tough on crime.”

The challenge of politically driven sentencing schemes is that the resulting hodgepodge of criminal laws is largely disconnected from the most effective strategies to prevent or reduce crime. If, for example, reducing recidivism were a major goal of the development and design of sentencing schemes, they would look very different than they do now.

Other states are using nonpartisan governmental entities, called sentencing commissions, to assess existing sentencing schemes and propose alternate approaches. Several of these commissions have succeeded at revamping major penal code sections and bringing consistency and clarity to the jurisdictions’ approach to sentencing.

In San Francisco, the District Attorney’s office led an effort to establish the first county-level sentencing commission in California, with the explicit purpose of assessing the impact on recidivism of current approaches to sentencing.

Our commission can serve as a model for other state and local efforts. While the commission is not empowered to change state law, it will be able to make recommendations and build consensus among criminal justice agencies, service agencies, victims, and other stakeholders about the most effective strategies to reduce recidivism among various categories of offenders and offenses. By holding these important discussions in a public forum, the commission can demystify sentencing laws and practices.

Read on. There’s more.


NEW YORK’S PUBLIC UNIVERSITIES PAY EXECUTIVES AND FACULTY STARS LARGE BONUSES AND HEALTHY EXIT PACKAGES WHILE HIKING STUDENT TUITIONS

The New York Times has this story about controversial big payouts for NYU faculty stars as they go out the door, which makes one wonder if California’s state colleges and universities have similar golden parachute strategies.

Here’s a clip from the report by the NY Times’ Ariel Kaminer:

New York University attracts figures of international stature with the promise that the university is a rewarding place to work. Less well known is how rewarding it can be to leave.

That fact came into view after President Obama nominated Jacob J. Lew, a former executive vice president of N.Y.U., to lead the Treasury Department. (The Senate confirmed his nomination last week.) In 2006, the university acknowledged, it awarded him a $685,000 bonus as he was leaving to take a position at Citigroup, an unusual payment for someone who was leaving voluntarily, especially at a nonprofit institution.

But Mr. Lew is not the only one who received a sizable parting gift.

According to an N.Y.U. tax return, Dr. Harold S. Koplewicz, a psychiatrist who had served as an executive at N.Y.U. Medical Center and founded N.Y.U.’s Child Study Center, received a payment of $1,230,000 in the 2009-10 fiscal year, around the time he left to found the Child Mind Institute, a competing organization.

The documents describe that payment as severance, something that is most commonly given when an employee is forced out of a job….

Posted in elections, LASD, Sheriff Lee Baca | 13 Comments »

Mayor…City Attorney…City Controller…School Board – Some Help in Deciding

March 1st, 2013 by Celeste Fremon


WitnessLA isn’t offering any endorsements at the moment.
(Okay, maybe one little endorsement. But we’ll get to in a minute.)

Instead, we have linked to some of the more interesting and informative articles, interviews, mini-debates and what not that we thought you might find helpful as you make your decisions:



FIRST AN OVERVIEW: SO WHO REALLY HAS THE POWER IN LA ANYWAY?

Obviously, everyone knows in general what the Mayor does, and the City Council Members, and the City Attorney. But, past the generalities, a great many of us don’t have a really firm grasp on the details of who has control over what in Los Angeles.

With this in mind, LA Magazine has put together a handy GUIDE TO POWER IN LA that explains…well….everything (or nearly so.)

We highly recommend taking a look.


WHO’S GOT WHAT ELECTIONS $$$ AND WHERE DID THE MONEY COME FROM?

KCET has a great Who’s Funding Whom Database, which you can find here.

And here’s a rundown about how to get the most out of the database.


MAYOR

Warren Olney interviews the top 5 mayoral hopefuls—and the interviews are particularly good. Here’s the link, but scroll down, for each interview.

And for individual takes on the candidates:
KPCC’s Frank Stoltze looks at Eric Garcetti and asks if the candidate is tough enough to do what needs to be done as mayor.

Gene Maddeus writes about Wendy Greuel, whom he portrays as a down-to-earth, no-nonsense fix-it woman—with strong union support, namely by the DWP’s powerful workers union, IBEW Local 18—whose backing some voters find worrisome.

UPDATE: Greuel moved to counter that fear on Thursday when she told the Daily News that there would be no DWP raises if LA has a deficit.

Dakota Smith at the Daily News looks at Jan Perry and wonders if she’s too beholden to business groups.

Similarly the LA Times’ Jim Newton wonders if Eric Garcetti is too beholden to the teachers’ union.

In terms of endorsements, the Daily News thinks Wendy Greuel is strong and gutsy enough to take on “stubborn interests”—the unions and others—who “would make L.A. proud as the first woman to lead the nation’s second most populous city.”

The Los Angeles Times goes for Eric Garcetti, whom it says is the candidate with the most potential to “rise to the occasion…” and “the power to inspire.” “He could be just what Los Angeles needs.”


CITY ATTORNEY

While we aren’t endorsing anyone, we do have a strong anti-endorsement. Here it is: ABC—anybody but Carmen. Incumbent Carmen Trutanich has good points, but the negatives greatly outweigh the positives. We went into more detail when Mr. Trutanich ran for District Attorney.

If you’d like a good one-stop-shopping destination that allows you to get a broad strokes idea of the three main candidates—Mike Fuerer, Greg Smith, and Carmen Trutanich—we recommend the on air debate, again, with Warren Olney.

We think it is fascinatingly character revealing for all three of the candidates. For some in a good way. For others, not so much.


CITY CONTROLLER

Once more we refer you to the on-air debate between the candidates with Warren Olney on Which Way LA?

As for sorting out the candidates for voting purposes: LA City Counsel member, Dennis Zine, is the best known and, as such, has a long list of endorsements from unions and elected officials. However persons like former City Controller Laura Chick—and the LA Times, the Daily News, La Opinion, the Daily Breeze and others—are going for Ron Galperin.

Not endorsing, just sayin’…


SCHOOL BOARD

For years, the teachers’ unions have poured gobs of money into the coffers of certain school board candidates whom they could then count on to vote the unions’ direction on any reform issue that the union didn’t like. And true to form, the unions’ presence is being felt in this year’s race too.

But the school board races that are up for a vote in Tuesday’s election have featured a new and muscular funding stream. The money comes from what is collectively known as the school reform movement—a coalition that does not think reform can take place if board members are forever hogtied by unions who put their own interests ahead of those of LA’s kids, with year upon year of demonstrably disastrous results. As a consequence, the the national reform movement has come up with its own big bucks, with some of the money even coming from outside the state. (Not surprisingly, the latter fact has caused controversy.)

Here’s what Education Week has on the matter.

So whom does one vote for in light of all this competing campaign funding?

Well, here’s what the Daily News has to say on the subject.

And here is the LA Times’ list of School Board endorsements.

(You will note both papers’ LAUSD board endorsements are exactly the same.)

The Daily News goes on to explain how it selected its three choices and why it thinks this school board election is of real importance:

What’s at stake is more than just three faces on the Los Angeles Unified School District Board of Education. The result could either confirm the slow move toward innovation and reform in the nation’s second-largest school district. Or it could reverse the course, destroying the few steps the district has taken in recent years to shake up the old, failing education structure.

For that reason, these races have attracted an astonishing amount of money – $4 million so far – as the unions and reform groups battle it out. How this election goes next week could well decide the fate of education reform in the city, state and nation.

That’s why we are strongly encouraging voters in the three districts - 2, 4, and 6 – to go to the polls and strike a victory for the students by choosing these three people:

Monica Garcia in District 2…Kate Anderson in District 4…Monica Ratcliff in District 6

We agree—most particularly about the choice of Kate Anderson. And, we don’t think the Daily News is overstating its case when it talks about how important this election is to LA’s educational future, and probably to the state’s.

So, yes, that’s an endorsement.

(Oh, and one more thing: Vote NO on Measure A.


NOTE: For more on LA’s schools, and education issues—including Tuesday’s board race—-start reading the lively, smart, and very tuned in LA School report.


BUT WHATEVER YOUR CHOICE….PLEASE VOTE ON TUESDAY, MARCH 5.

Posted in City Attorney, City Budget, City Controller, Education, elections, LA city government, LAUSD | 2 Comments »

Long Beach Police Chief Jim McDonnell is Contemplating Running for LA Sheriff

February 6th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon


LONG BEACH CHIEF JIM MCDONNELL IS CONTEMPLATING A RUN FOR LOS ANGELES COUNTY SHERIFF

We’ve known this was a possibility for a while, but the LA Times broke the official news that Long Beach Police Chief Jim McDonnell is considering throwing his hat into the ring for Los Angeles County Sheriff.

McDonnell, who was the former Assistant Chief of the LAPD under Bill Bratton, and was one of those short listed to be chief, says he has not yet decided, but that he is seriously considering the run.

When at the LAPD, McDonnell was extremely well liked by the rank and file, had excellent relationships with both city leaders, and in his outreach to diverse community groups, and was an idea guy. It was McDonnell’s detailed blueprint for community policing and related organizational changes that Bill Bratton used successfully to help reform the LAPD when it was sorely in need of reform.

We’ll have much more on McDonnell if he indeed decides to run, but in the meantime, suffice it to say that he’s considered by those who know him with whom we’ve spoken in past weeks, to be a very bright, savvy, highly-respected, exceptionally ethical guy. Now, here’s a clip from Robert Faturechi and Jack Leonard’s LA Times story that broke the news:

Since Lee Baca became Los Angeles County sheriff 15 years ago, defeating an incumbent who died days before the vote, he has never faced a serious challenge for reelection to one of California’s top law enforcement jobs.

But after a series of scandals and federal investigations targeting the department, that might be changing.

Long Beach Police Chief Jim McDonnell said Monday that he was considering a run against Baca next year. McDonnell’s public exploration suggests potential political vulnerabilities amid nearly two years of bad headlines, experts said.

McDonnell, who served as second in command to Los Angeles Police Chief William J. Bratton before moving to Long Beach, would be the most formidable challenger Baca has yet to face. He was on a county commission that recently excoriated Baca’s leadership, depicting him as a disengaged and uninformed manager who failed to stop jailhouse abuse and would have been fired in the private sector.

In an interview, McDonnell said he could offer “a fresh look” at the agency and reforms that “would make a big difference for … the image of the department.” He declined to discuss Baca’s record, saying he wanted to speak to the sheriff first. But as a member of the commission, McDonnell had harsh words for Baca’s stewardship of the agency.

Tracy Manzer at the Long Beach Telegram also has a story on McDonnell’s announcement. It seems that while his Long Beach colleagues would be loathe to lose McDonnell, they are rooting for him, should he decide make the LA County run.

Here’s a clip from her story:

McDonnell said changes could be made throughout the Sheriff’s Department.

“They are a large agency, the challenges that they are facing are immense,” McDonnell said. “It’s certainly an opportunity for someone with fresh eyes to come in and modify, to make some changes for the department and the community it serves,” McDonnell said.

Though he is still discussing the possibility with his family, the decision will likely have to be made within the next month, McDonnell said.

“My goal, if I do decide to run, is to consider working here as chief of Long Beach and working weekends and nights on campaigning.”

No matter where he works, McDonnell added, he will remain a resident of Long Beach.

“It’s where we’ve raised our daughters, it’s our home,” he said.

McDonnell served 30 years with the LAPD, rising to second-in-command under former LAPD Chief Bill Bratton. He took over Long Beach Police Department in March 2010.

Many of the officers in McDonnell’s command ranks said they were aware McDonnell was thinking about the move, but nearly as many of the rank-and-file were surprised by the news Tuesday. The reaction was overwhelmingly positive, with officers working in patrol and detective divisions saying they understand why McDonnell would want a shot at the single largest sheriff’s department in the country, though it would be a loss for Long Beach.

“I’m honored that that’s the reaction and encouraged by it. We have a great organization here,” McDonnell said. “I would put this team up against any as far as what they contribute to the community from a public safety standpoint.”

Posted in elections, LASD, Sheriff Lee Baca | 16 Comments »

Baca Reportedly Hires LASD’s New Head of Custody & New LASD Memo Causes Concern.

February 6th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon


BACA HIRES A CUSTODY CHIEF?

Sheriff Lee Baca has reportedly chosen Terri McDonald, up until recently the Undersecretary of the California Department of Corrections (CDCR) to be his new Assistant Sheriff in charge of custody. The creation of this post to be filled by a custody expert from outside the department was among the main recommendations made by the Citizens Commission on Jail Violence.

(UPDATE: The selection of McDonald has not yet been officially announced. But LASD spokesman Steve Whitmore has confirmed that McDonald is indeed the sheriff’s choice, that the deal has been made. “She’s excited,” he said. “The board has until February 15 to object, and then it’s a done deal. She has a great resume. And, in addition to her decades of custody experience, she’s a subject matter expert on AB109 since she worked with the governor when it was being written.”

Baca launched the search for a custody head very shortly after the commission delivered its findings at it is to his credit that he has followed through so quickly.

A look at McDonald’s background shows she has had a 24-year career in state government that started as a correctional officer, so she is familiar with the workings of a paramilitary organization and comfortable with the chain of command.

I’ve only done preliminary checking around, but her reputation with CDCR-watchers I spoke with is, thus far, good. “She’s smart, moral, and works very, very hard,” said one. “Incredibly hard working,” agreed another, “and very effective at implementing programs.”

More on McDonald as we learn it.


SHERIFF’S DEPARTMENT SENDS OUT “MANUAL REVISION” NOTICE REGARDING WEB COMMUNICATIONS THAT IS MAKING DEPARTMENT MEMBERS UNEASY

WitnessLA has obtained a revision to the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department manual (see below) that sets down policies regarding conduct on the internet. The memo announcing the changes has reportedly causing many LASD personnel worry that they will be sanctioned for anonymous postings in the comments sections of news sites like WitnessLA, LA Weekly or the Los Angeles Times, if those comments are critical of the sheriff’s department or members of its command staff.

Here are the new sections in question:

3-01/000.10 PROFESSIONAL CONDUCT
All Department members shall be held accountable for their utterances, writings, conduct,
and visual representations,including electronic and web-based communications, when
they conflict with Our Core Values, Our Mission, or Our Creed and personnel can
reasonably be identified as Department members. Personnel who cause undue
embarrassment or damage the reputation of and/or erode the public’s confidence in the
Department shall be deemed to have violated this policy.
Unit commanders shall ensure copies of Our Mission, Our Core Values, and Our Creed
are clearly and prominently displayed and maintained in the public lobbies of all Sheriff’s
Department facilities.

Unit Commanders shall ensure copies of Our Mission, Our Core Values, and Our Creed
are clearly and prominently displayed and maintained within a high-traffic work area in all
Sheriff’s Department’s facilities (e.g., briefing room) for viewing by assigned personnel.

3-01/000.15 ELECTRONIC AND WEB-BASED COMMUNICATIONS
Electronic and web-based communications include any medium used to deliver
information electronically or digitally. Examples of electronic and web-based
communications include, but are not limited to, websites, “smart” phone technologies, text
messaging, Nixle, electronic mail (email) and “social media” sites such Facebook,
Myspace, Pinterest, and Twitter; photo sharing websites such as Flickr; video sharing
websites such as YouTube; and/or any other similar electronic or digital delivery system.
“Social media” includes any electronic medium where users may create, share, and view
user-generated content, including uploading or downloading videos or still photographs,
blogs, video blogs, podcasts, or instant messages, or online social networking content.

We talked to LASD spokesman Steve Whitmore about the new rules and he said there was nothing to worry about. “This is by no stretch an attempt to abridge anybody’s First Amendment rights,” Whitmore said. “It’s just to say, ‘Be careful. It’s the wild, wild west out there.’ I mean most people are anonymous anyway when they post comments—and there’s nothing wrong with that,” he said. “At least people believe they’re anonymous.”

Mostly, said Whitmore, “it’s just a reminder that you represent the entire agency, so behave accordingly.”


Posted in CDCR, elections, Free Speech, jail, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, LASD, Sheriff Lee Baca | 5 Comments »

Three-Strikes Reform, Former Inmates & The Joy of the Right to Vote

November 7th, 2012 by Celeste Fremon


Norman Williams, who is in the photo above, was voting for the first time when the picture was snapped.
Williams is a former 3-striker who was sentenced to life in prison for a third strike of petty theft. (He stole a floor jack out of a tow truck.) Williams’s other two strikes were not as minor as jacking a jack. But nor did they signal he was a man who so threatened public safety that he needed to be removed from our midst forever and post haste, as the 3-strikes law—passed in 1994– had dictated.

As the NY Times reported in 2010:

In 1982, Williams burglarized an apartment that was being fumigated: he was hapless enough to be robbed at gunpoint on his way out, and later he helped the police recover the stolen property. In 1992, he stole two hand drills and some other tools from an art studio attached to a house; the owner confronted him, and he dropped everything and fled

Fortunately for Williams, in 2005 when Los Angeles DA Steve Cooley had instructed his office to look for 3-strikes cases for whom a 25-to-life sentence clearly didn’t fit, they found Williams, and the Stanford 3-strikes Project at Stanford Law School subsequently agreed to take him on as a client and eventually gained his release.

And so it was that he cast his first vote on Tuesday, and thus was able to vote YES on Proposition 36, the state ballot measure to reform the over-broad law that had once put him behind bars for life. (As it happens, the Stanford 3-Strikes Project co-sponsored the measure.)

On Tuesday night, Prop 36 passed handily, gaining support in both conservative and liberal California counties.


I don’t know Williams personally, but I do know Wil Lopez, a bright, personable man and a former inmate who is now on staff for Homeboy Industries. While not a three-striker, on Tuesday Lopez was another joy-filled first time voter who marked his ballot for Prop 36 with a strong sense of purpose.

Here’s what Lopez wrote about the matter on Facebook on Monday of this week.

“I remember being in the ASU [Administrative Segregation Unit] in Corcoran state prison in 2005 and my cell mate from El monte was telling me how he had received a third strike for possession of burglary tools, which were regular tools in his car, and now he’s sentenced to life. I sat there and said I wish people would change the laws by voting. Wow, it’s been over five years and I never thought this day will come but I can honestly say I’m doing my part. I’m voting tomorrow, first time in my life, I’m f***ing voting tomorrow. Please, friends, go out and vote. Help make a change.”

Above is a photo of a euphoric Lopez taken on Tuesday after his own voting experience.


Luis Aguilar is another man I know who, like Lopez, was never a 3-striker himself, but who, through his own stints in prison, got to know people who were.

“Some guys deserved to be there, but for other guys I saw, it was just a waste of taxpayers’ money,” Luis told me when he called on Tuesday night from his job site to ask if I knew how the various ballot propositions were faring. Aguilar is former gang member who is now married with a family and a good union career working massive construction projects for LA County. Luis works the night shift so he and his wife had voted before he left for the job. He was relieved when I told him it looked like 36 was winning.

“I had this cellie one time when I was locked up who got struck out for stealing three pairs of Levis from Sears,” he said. “His other strikes weren’t nothing violent either. He was just an addict, and when he was using he did stupid stuff.”

Luis first voted in 2004 when he was still on parole and I was writing a series of articles for the LA Weekly about him and his family during his first year out of prison. I remember the seriousness with which he took his newly acquired enfranchisement then, a seriousness that appeared now to have only deepened—as demonstrated when he called multiple times to ask for updates.

He was most interested in Prop. 36, but wanted to know about rest too, especially the union-hobbling Prop. 32 (He was against it), and Prop. 30, Gov. Brown’s sales tax raise to benefit education, which Luis strongly favored. “I voted against everything else that the voting pamphlet said would cost the state more money,” he said. “But on 30 I voted yes, because schools are important.”

In terms of candidates, he voted a straight Democratic ticket, Luis said. “The only time I didn’t look at parties was for DA, then I voted for the lady—I don’t remember her name…”

“Jackie Lacey.”

“Yeah. That’s right. Because I liked the way she talked better than the guy, who looked like he mostly wanted to show he was all tough.”

Luis rang me for the last time Tuesday night just as Obama was beginning his victory speech. He said the radio in the county truck he was driving was broken. I told him CNN had just called a victory for Prop 36, then put him on speaker phone so he could hear the president talk. We listened silently for the duration:

….I believe we can keep the promise of our founders, the idea that if you’re willing to work hard, it doesn’t matter who you are or where you come from or what you look like or where you love. It doesn’t matter whether you’re black or white or Hispanic or Asian or Native American or young or old or rich or poor, able, disabled, gay or straight, you can make it here in America if you’re willing to try.

I believe we can seize this future together because we are not as divided as our politics suggests. We’re not as cynical as the pundits believe. We are greater than the sum of our individual ambitions…

“He was good, right?” Luis asked when Obama had finished and the pundits were beginning their commentary.

I took the phone off speaker and put it back to my ear, muting the TV as I did so. “I thought he was really good,” I said.

There was a pause.

“It feels good to vote,” I said, “It matters.”

“Yep,” he replied. And with that I heard his county-issued walkie-talkie squawk in the background. He thanked me for my help, and he had to go.

Posted in 2012 Election, crime and punishment, criminal justice, elections, Homeboy Industries, Propositions, Sentencing | No Comments »

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