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4 LA County Sheriff’s Deputies Suspect of Theft and Bribe Taking…CA Poor Often Given Cut Rate Legal Defense, Report Finds….Will There Be Fed Indictments for former LASD Top Brass?…& LA Press Club Award to Charlie Hebdo

January 13th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon



FOUR LA SHERIFF’S DEPARTMENT MEMBERS INVESTIGATED FOR THEFT AND BRIBERY ALLEGATIONS

Four members of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department have been relieved of duty without pay pending the outcome of a criminal investigation into reports that the four engaged in a scheme of thefts and bribes regarding towed vehicles or vehicles about to be towed.

According to a statement released by the LASD on Monday morning, the department became aware in December 2014 of evidence that three deputy sheriffs and a parking control officer were implicated in individual incidents of theft from towed vehicles or accepting cash from vehicle owners to avoid towing and impounding of their vehicles. All four of the department members relieved of duty worked out of Century Station located in Lynwood.

As of now, department investigators do not believe that any additional personnel were involved in the alleged theft and bribery.

“As a law enforcement organization, it is imperative that we earn the public’s trust each day,” Sheriff Jim McDonnell said in an email that went to all department members. “Acts such as those described above tarnish the badge all of us wear and erode the confidence the public has in law enforcement.

“We will respond swiftly and resolutely whenever acts of this nature come to our attention,” McDonnell continued. “We must demonstrate to the public and to our own Department family that conduct which violates the public trust will not be tolerated. In doing so we also reaffirm that the vast majority of our personnel perform their duties in an exemplary manner.”

The department is pointing to the announcement of the investigation as evidence of a new policy of transparency.

Those department members—working and retired—we spoke with about the matter on Monday said they appreciated the strategy.

“It sets a good tone,” said one retired LASD lieutenant. “It says the department is no longer going to tolerate this kind of nonsense.”

(Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department badge and patch photo above by Jaime Lopez, LASD)


ARE SOME OF CALIFORNIA’S POOREST CRIMINAL DEFENDANTS GETTING A CUT RATE DEFENSE?

In the 1963 landmark SCOTUS decision of Gideon v. Wainwright, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the assistance of counsel for a defendant who could not afford to hire a lawyer was a fundamental right under the United States Constitution. The court’s ruling specified that such legal assistance applied to the preparation for trial as well as the trial itself.

According to a new report by the California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice, more and more of the state’s counties are cutting funds formerly allocated to provide lawyers for those in need of counsel—and many defendants are getting inadequate “cut-rate” representation as a consequence.

Karen de Sá of the San Jose Mercury News has more on the story. Here are some clips:

Counties are increasingly hiring legal firms that offer cut-rate representation by failing to spend money on investigators or experts that are needed for adequate defense, said the report issued by the California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice, created to examine ways to guard against wrongful convictions.

“This is like a cancer within the system of providing indigent defense, and it’s spreading,” said Gerald Uelmen, executive director of the so-called Fair Commission, calling the spread of low-bid, flat-fee private firms “a race to the bottom.”

Traditional public defenders in the pay of the various California counties are generally okay, said the report.

But lawyers who are paid a flat fee for representation, the report said, may be tempted to cut corners on pretrial preparation and avoid going to trial to save time and money.

As a solution, commissioners recommend that the state Legislature establish a body to oversee the way counties provide representation to criminal defendants, and also recommend a law to ensure that funding for experts and investigators is separate from the fee paid to the lawyers in publicly funded cases.

The Fair Administration of Justice Commission report cited research by California Western School of Law Professor Larry Benner, who found that inadequate investigation is a recurring problem in cases in which convictions were overturned because of poor representation….

The new California-based report reflects other dismal reports outlining a national crisis in indigent defense that prevents a growing number of Americans from getting adequate legal representation when they most urgently need it.


ARE FEDERAL PROSECUTORS GUNNING FOR BACA AND TANAKA WITH NEW GRAND JURY SUBPOENAS?

For the last month or so we’d been hearing that various current or former members of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department had received subpoenas to appear in front of a federal grand jury, as part of an ongoing investigation into the events that resulted in the conviction of seven LASD members for obstruction of justice last year.

Moreover, several of those who were asked to appear were among the seven former department members who have already been convicted. Since all seven contended that the actions that led to their convictions were the result of orders that originated at the LASD’s highest echelon—namely from Baca and Tanaka—there has been much speculation that federal prosecutors are now hoping to indict some of those very former department higher ups.

Over the weekend, the LA Times’ Cindy Chang reported on the matter of the new grandjury subpoenas.

She wrote:

The questioning has focused partly on meetings where then-Sheriff Lee Baca and his No. 2, Paul Tanaka, discussed how to deal with the discovery of a cellphone provided to a county jail inmate by the FBI. In addition to the convicted officials, some current Sheriff’s Department officials have also received grand jury subpoenas.

Many in the Sheriff’s Department believe that low-ranking officials took the fall for following orders from Tanaka and Baca. Now, with the convening of the grand jury, it appears that prosecutors are attempting to target more sheriff’s officials after convicting seven last year for obstructing justice.

Of the seven, Gregory Thompson, a former lieutenant, and two ex-deputies, Gerard Smith and Mickey Manzo, are known to have testified before the grand jury in December, according to a source.

Brian Moriguchi, president of the L.A. County Professional Peace Officers Assn. (PPOA), the union that represents sheriff’s department supervisors, said that he knows of at least one more grand jury subpoena related to the obstruction of justice issue. But, he said, he has heard credible reports of still more such subpoenas.

So will there be new indictments?

When LASD Captain Tom Carey testified at the trials of the seven last year, he admitted that he was the subject of an ongoing federal criminal investigation. And, as WLA has previously reported, Carey was relieved of duty in December pending the result of an internal departmental investigation.

Tanaka also admitted last year to knowing he was the subject of a federal criminal probe.

Yet, despite much pestering on the part of reporters, WLA included, federal prosecutors and a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s office have repeatedly declined to comment on the possibility—or lack thereof—of more indictments, and will say only that the investigation is ongoing.

Still, the new grand jury hearings have fueled new rounds of speculation.

“Of course, many of us hope the government is going to reach higher than those who have already been convicted,” Moriguchi said. “But in the end all we can do is speculate. It’s hopeful speculation, but it’s speculation, nonetheless.”

NOTE: Chang’s story has more that you’ll likely find interesting, so be sure to read the whole thing.


LA PRESS CLUB 2015 AWARD FOR COURAGE & INTEGRITY IN JOURNALISM TO GO TO CHARLIE HEBDO

The Los Angeles Press Club announced on Monday that its 2015 Daniel Pearl Award for Courage and Integrity in Journalism will go to Charlie Hebdo.

“We are deeply honored. Of course, we’ll accept, said Gerard Biard, Editor-in-Chief of Charlie Hebdo.

“No act of terrorism can stop freedom of speech. Giving the Daniel Pearl Award to Charlie Hebdo is a strong message to that effect,” said LA Press Club President Robert Kovacik of NBC LA.

Since 2002, the Los Angeles Press Club in conjunction with Judea and Ruth Pearl, the parents of Wall Street Journal journalist Daniel Pearl—who was kidnapped in 2002 by Pakistani militants and later murdered by Al-Qaeda’s Khalid Sheikh Mohammed—have handed out the award to those who have displayed unusual courage in reporting.

Past recipients have included Richard Engel, the NBC correspondent who covered multiple mid east wars on the front lines, before being abducted in Syria in 2012, and Anna Politkovskaya, the Russian journalist/author who became famous for her reporting on the conflict in Chechnya, who was murdered in 2006 in the elevator outside her apartment in what was widely viewed as an ordered assassination to prevent her latest deeply reported story from being published.

The 2015 award will be presented by Judea and Ruth Pearl at a gala awards dinner held at the Biltmore hotel in Los Angeles on Sunday, June 28th.

In the meantime, Charlie Hebdo’s first cover since the murderous attack on its Paris offices that killed 12 people, will feature a tearful prophet Mohammed holding a sign that reads “Je suis Charlie.” The magazine’s headline says “All is forgiven.”

The magazine, which will go on sale on Wednesday, will reportedly print as many as record 3 million copies in 16 languages, instead of its usual 60,000.

The cover cartoon, which you can see below, was drawn by the weekly’s cartoonist Luz, who survived the massacre because he was late arriving at the office.

(Click on the Charlie Hebdo cover image to enlarge it.)

Posted in art and culture, FBI, Free Speech, Freedom of Information, Future of Journalism, Jim McDonnell, LA County Jail, LASD, media, Paul Tanaka, Sheriff Lee Baca, The Feds | 19 Comments »

Standing With Charlie Hebdo

January 8th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon


As certainly everyone reading this knows by now, gunmen attacked the offices of well-known French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo on Wednesday morning in Paris, killing 12 people, including the magazine’s editor and four celebrated cartoonists—one of them 76-years-old, another 80—along with two police officers who rushed to attempt to protect the publication’s staff.

It was not the first time that the magazine had been attacked. In 2011, the Charlie Hebdo offices were firebombed because of cartoon images they had printed depicting the Prophet Mohammed in less than flattering terms. Yet, in keeping with the irreverent ethic that had guided the publication since its founding in the 1960s, the Charlie Hebdo staff didn’t back off an iota. Instead, six days after the bombing, the magazine’s cover featured a drawing of one of its male cartoonists kissing what appeared to be a bearded Muslim man under the headline that translates as, “Love is Stronger Than Hate.”

Comedy shouldn’t be an act of courage, said Jon Stewart when he talked about the magazine massacre on his Wednesday night show. For the men and women of Charlie Hebdo, of course, it was.

Repeatedly.


Artwork at top of page by WitnessLA. Magazine cover from Charlie Hebdo.

Posted in art and culture, Free Speech, Future of Journalism | No Comments »

Attorney Fights for Justice and Mercy…When Arrests by Police Replace School Discipline….Analyzing Crime Reporting in America

October 21st, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


In the often disheartening world of criminal justice reform, Bryan Stevenson is deservedly a superstar.

Stevenson is a defense attorney who graduated from Harvard Law School, and founded the Equal Justice Initiative, a non-profit legal practice dedicated to defending the poor, the wrongly condemned, children who have been tried as adults, and others who have been most abandoned by the nation’s legal system. One of his first cases was that of Walter McMillian, a young man who was on death row for a notorious murder he insisted he didn’t commit.

Stevenson is also a law professor at NYU, the winner of a McArthur genius grant, and has argued six cases before the Supreme Court—two of which are of exceptional significance: He’s the guy who made possible the May 2010 Supreme Court ruling stating that it is unconstitutional to sentence kids to life without parole if they have not committed murder. Then Stevenson came back again two years later and, in June 2012, won the ruling that prohibits mandatory life for juveniles.

Now he’s written a book about his experiences with the justice system called Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption. It is being released on Tuesday, October 21, and is already generating a lot of enthusiasm.

Stevenson was on the Daily Show at the end of last week talking about the book and about justice in general. (See video above and extended interview here).

Then on Monday of this week, he was interviewed by Terry Gross on NPR’s Fresh Air.

Here are some clips from Fresh Air’s write-up about the show:

In one of his most famous cases, Stevenson helped exonerate a man on death row. Walter McMillian was convicted of killing 18-year-old Ronda Morrison, who was found under a clothing rack at a dry cleaner in Monroeville, Ala., in 1986. Three witnesses testified against McMillian, while six witnesses, who were black, testified that he was at a church fish fry at the time of the crime. McMillian was found guilty and held on death row for six years.

Stevenson decided to take on the case to defend McMillian, but a judge tried to talk him out of it.

“I think everyone knew that the evidence against Mr. McMillian was pretty contrived,” Stevenson says. “The police couldn’t solve the crime and there was so much pressure on the police and the prosecutor on the system of justice to make an arrest that they just felt like they had to get somebody convicted. …

“It was a pretty clear situation where everyone just wanted to forget about this man, let him get executed so everybody could move on. [There was] a lot of passion, a lot of anger in the community about [Morrison's] death, and I think there was great resistance to someone coming in and fighting for the condemned person who had been accused and convicted.”

But with Stevenson’s representation, McMillian was exonerated in 1993. McMillian was eventually freed, but not without scars of being on death row. He died last year.

“This is one of the few cases I’ve worked on where I got bomb threats and death threats because we were fighting to free this man who was so clearly innocent,” Stevenson says. “It reveals this disconnect that I’m so concerned about when I think about our criminal justice system.”

Yet the interview—which you can listen to here—is about much, much more.

So is Stevenson’s book, Just Mercy, as is made clear by this review by Ted Conover who wrote about the book for the New York Times Sunday Book Review.

(Conover is the author of the highly regarded “Newjack: Guarding Sing-Sing,” and other nonfiction books)

Here are some brief clips from Conover’s review:

Unfairness in the Justice system is a major theme of our age. DNA analysis exposes false convictions, it seems, on a weekly basis. The predominance of racial minorities in jails and prisons suggests systemic bias. Sentencing guidelines born of the war on drugs look increasingly draconian. Studies cast doubt on the accuracy of eyewitness testimony. Even the states that still kill people appear to have forgotten how; lately executions have been botched to horrific effect.

This news reaches citizens in articles and television spots about mistreated individuals. But “Just Mercy,” a memoir, aggregates and personalizes the struggle against injustice in the story of one activist lawyer.

[SNIP]

The message of this book, hammered home by dramatic examples of one man’s refusal to sit quietly and countenance horror, is that evil can be overcome, a difference can be made. “Just Mercy” will make you upset and it will make you hopeful. The day I finished it, I happened to read in a newspaper that one in 10 people exonerated of crimes in recent years had pleaded guilty at trial. The justice system had them over a log, and copping a plea had been their only hope. Bryan Stevenson has been angry about this for years, and we are all the better for it.

NPR has an excerpt from Stevenson’s Just Mercy here.


WHAT HAPPENS WHEN ARRESTS OF TEENAGERS REPLACE SCHOOL DISCIPLINE

According to the U.S. Education Department’s Office of Civil Rights, 260,000 students were turned over to law enforcement by schools in 2012 (the year with most-recent available data). According to the same report, 92,000 students were subject to school-related arrests that year.

Now that the most punitive policies of the last few decades are slowly being reconsidered, it is hoped that those arrest numbers will start coming down and that school police will be used for campus safety, not as a universal response to student misbehavior.

On Monday, the Wall Street Journal ran an extensively reported and excellent story by Gary Fields and John R. Emshwiller on the matter of using law enforcement for school discipline.

Here are some clips:

A generation ago, schoolchildren caught fighting in the corridors, sassing a teacher or skipping class might have ended up in detention. Today, there’s a good chance they will end up in police custody.

Stephen Perry, now 18 years old, was trying to avoid a water balloon fight in 2013 when he was swept up by police at his Wake County, N.C., high school; he revealed he had a small pocketknife and was charged with weapons possession. Rashe France was a 12-year-old seventh-grader when he was arrested in Southaven, Miss., charged with disturbing the peace on school property after a minor hallway altercation.

In Texas, a student got a misdemeanor ticket for wearing too much perfume. In Wisconsin, a teen was charged with theft after sharing the chicken nuggets from a classmate’s meal—the classmate was on lunch assistance and sharing it meant the teen had violated the law, authorities said. In Florida, a student conducted a science experiment before the authorization of her teacher; when it went awry she received a felony weapons charge.

Over the past 20 years, prompted by changing police tactics and a zero-tolerance attitude toward small crimes, authorities have made more than a quarter of a billion arrests, the Federal Bureau of Investigation estimates. Nearly one out of every three American adults are on file in the FBI’s master criminal database.

This arrest wave, in many ways, starts at school. Concern by parents and school officials over drug use and a spate of shootings prompted a rapid buildup of police officers on campus and led to school administrators referring minor infractions to local authorities. That has turned traditional school discipline, memorialized in Hollywood coming-of-age movies such as “The Breakfast Club,” into something that looks more like the adult criminal-justice system.

At school, talking back or disrupting class can be called disorderly conduct, and a fight can lead to assault and battery charges, said Judith Browne Dianis, executive director of the Advancement Project, a national civil-rights group examining discipline procedures around the country. Some of these encounters with police lead to criminal records—different laws for juveniles apply across states and municipalities, and some jurisdictions treat children as young as 16 as adults. In some states, for example, a fistfight can mean a suspension while in North Carolina a simple affray, as it is called, can mean adult court for a 16-year-old.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t end there.

Brushes with the criminal justice system go hand in hand with other negative factors. A study last year of Chicago public schools by a University of Texas and a Harvard researcher found the high-school graduation rate for children with arrest records was 26%, compared with 64% for those without. The study estimated about one-quarter of the juveniles arrested in Chicago annually were arrested in school.

Research by the University of South Carolina based on a multiyear U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics survey, performed at the request of The Wall Street Journal, found those arrested as juveniles and not convicted were likely to earn less money by the time they were 25 than their counterparts. The study didn’t break out school arrests.

Another consequence: Arrest records, even when charges are dropped, often trail youngsters into adulthood. Records, especially for teenagers tried as adults, have become more accessible on the Internet, but are often incomplete or inaccurate. Employers, banks, college admissions officers and landlords, among others, routinely check records online.

Retired California juvenile court judge Leonard Edwards said the widespread assumption arrest records for juveniles are sealed is incorrect. The former judge, now a consultant with the Center for Families, Children and the Courts, an arm of the state court system, said his research indicates only 10% of juveniles nationally know they must request records be closed or removed.

But that process is complicated and varies from state to state. Even terms like expungement and annulment carry different meanings depending on the state. The process usually requires a lawyer to maneuver the rules and to file requests through courts.

“Our good-hearted belief that kids are going to get a fair shake even if they screwed up is an illusion,” Judge Edwards said.


CRIME REPORTING IN AMERICA: WE’VE GOT A LOT OF IT, BUT IS IT….GOOD?

“If it bleeds, it leads,” is the trope that has long guided a large portion of contemporary news gathering. As a consequence, while the news business continues to struggle to maintain comprehensive news coverage with diminished staffing, there is no shortage of crime reporting.

But, while there is quantity, is there quality? The John Jay Center on Media, Crime and Justice decided to find out. To do so, they conducted a content analysis of six U.S. newspapers over a four week period in March 2014. The study—which looked at the Detroit Free Press, the El Paso Times, the Indianapolis Star, the Camden (N.J.) the Courier-Post, the Naperville (Ill.) Sun and the Flint (Mi.) Journal—resulted in a report that was just released.

As it turned out, researchers Debora Wenger and Dr. Rocky Dailey found that quantity did not necessarily equal quality. In fact, the majority of the crime stories Wenger and Dailey analyzed lean strongly toward “just the facts, ma’am,” and offered little or nothing in the way of context or depth. Yet when it came to perceptions about crime in the city or state, the researchers noted that the news sources covered, the papers’ crime stories were very influential in shaping opinions, including those of lawmakers.

The Crime Report has more on what the study found. Here is a clip from their story:

What may be more surprising is how often stories rely on a single source. About 65 percent of the crime and justice stories overall referenced just one source of information.

At the Camden paper, for example, 84 percent of stories had one reported source, as did 55 percent of those published in The Indianapolis Star.

At every publication in the study, law enforcement officers were the most commonly cited sources by a wide margin, with court representatives, including judges and prosecutors, coming in a distant second. Fox agrees this heavy reliance on the official point of view is one of long standing.

News media tends to take the official side, the prosecution side – this doesn’t surprise me – when a case emerges in the news, that’s often the only side available to the reporter,” said James Alan Fox, a criminologist at Northeastern University in Boston.

Eric Dick, breaking news editor at the Star, told researchers the newspaper likes to add more points of view to stories whenever possible; but for every enterprise story, there are undoubtedly many more briefs.

“I think there are three factors involved. One is the amount of crime: information is readily available that rises to the threshold you need to do a story, but you wouldn’t be able to develop all of them,” Dick said.

The authors of the study said more research could further “quantify whether there is more or less crime coverage occurring in today’s daily metropolitan newspapers than in the past.”

Pointing out that, according to a 2011 survey by the Pew Research Journalism Project, 66 percent of U.S. adults say they follow crime news—with only weather, breaking news and politics garnering more interest—they said such research was “a critical tool for editors, journalists and policymakers” at a time when the criminal justice system was the focus of intense national debate.

“It is imperative that the audience gets the most contextualized and well-sourced coverage possible,” Wenger and Dailey wrote.


Posted in Civil Rights, crime and punishment, criminal justice, Education, Future of Journalism, Innocence, race, race and class, School to Prison Pipeline, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | 3 Comments »

Sex Trafficked Boys Overlooked as Victims….Trials for Sheriff’s Department Members Indicted for Hiding Federal Informant Schedules for May…..Pulitzers…and More

April 15th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


SEXUALLY TRAFFICKED BOYS ARE SEEN AS VICTIMS LESS OFTEN

It is heartening that kids who are involved in sex trafficking are now being seen—for the most part anyway—as victims to be protected and helped, rather than lawbreakers subject to arrest.

Unfortunately, this understanding that kids are the victims in the equation does not apply equally to both genders, writes Yu Sun Chin in his reports for the Juvenile Justice Exchange.

According to Chin, although boys represent over 50 percent of the kids commercially trafficked for sex in the U.S., they are still too often seen as perpetrators not victims by law enforcement.

Here’s a clip:

For years, the sex trade was ‘their’ problem, a heinous part of culture in poorer nations. But attention here to sex trafficking has slowly increased in recent years with the reauthorization of the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act and other federal state laws.

Still, males remain a largely invisible population within the dialogue on sex trafficking. According to a 2008 study by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, in fact, boys comprised about 50 percent of sexually exploited children in a sample study done in New York, with most being domestic victims.

However, the percentage of male victims may be higher due to the underreported and subversive nature of the crime, said Summer Ghias, program specialist for the Chicago-based International Organization for Adolescents.

“We’re conditioned as a community to identify female victims more readily,” she said, “because that has been the more prominent focus of the anti-trafficking movement.”

Despite these high percentages of commercially sexually exploited boys, a 2013 study by ECPAT-USA indicates that boys and young men are rarely identified as people arrested for prostitution or rescued as human trafficking victims, and are arrested more for petty crimes such as shoplifting.

Experts say that the law enforcement’s attitudes toward male victims are still weighed down by gender biases in trafficking discourse, which pins females as victims and males as perpetrators. Therefore, male victims in custody often fall through the cracks of services that could be offered to help them because they are not properly assessed for sexual exploitation.


THOSE INDICTED FOR THE HIDING OF FEDERAL INFORMANT ANTHONY BROWN WILL BEGIN TRIAL IN MAY SAYS JUDGE

In a hearing on Monday afternoon, Federal Judge Percy Anderson ordered that trials begin in mid-May for LA Sheriff’s Department defendants charged for their alleged part in the hiding of FBI informant Anthony Brown.

At the same hearing, Anderson agreed to grant a motion to sever the trial of Deputy James Sexton from that of the six other defendants (lieutenants Greg Thompson and Stephen Leavins, plus two sergeants, Scott Craig and Maricella Long., and deputies Gerard Smith, Mickey Manzo.)

As expected, Anderson denied a list of other motions brought by attorneys representing Sexton and several of the others, including motions to dismiss charges. (WLA reported on some of the motions filed by defendants here and here.)

As the cases speed toward trial, the main question that hangs in the air is whether the U.S. Attorneys Office will eventually indict any of the higher-ups who are said to have ordered the hiding of Brown, or if only those allegedly following those orders (including whistleblower Sexton, who will now be tried separately from the other six) will be threatened with prison terms and felony records.


KPCC INTERVIEWS PAUL TANAKA

KPCC’s Frank Stoltze interviews Paul Tanaka as part of Stoltze’s continuing series on the LASD Sheriff’s candidates for KPCC.

Here’s a clip:

Early on, Tanaka had little interest in being a cop. It’s hard to imagine now, but the buttoned-down Tanaka once wore a ponytail. “A lot of people had long hair back in the 1970s,” he explains.

He also adhered to the cultural rules in his strict Japanese-American household in Gardena, earning a black belt in Aikito and respecting his parent’s wishes.

“In an Asian family, you’re going to be a doctor or an attorney or a CPA,” says Tanaka, sporting a dark suit and tie on a recent afternoon at his campaign headquarters in Torrance.

He was an “A” student, studying accounting at Loyola Marymount University and holding down two jobs — one as a janitor, one making sports trophies — when his life changed. He spent a day on patrol with a sheriff’s deputy as part of a class and fell in love with policing.

It took years for Tanaka’s father to fully accept his eldest son’s decision. The young man had to adjust too:”One of the more traumatizing things was I had to do was cut my hair.”

Early in his career, Tanaka says he faced racial epithets in a mostly white department. He ignored most, chalking it up to ignorance. Over the years, the certified public accountant gained a reputation as detail-oriented — a commander who knew more about your job than you did.

Tanaka grew close to Baca, who eventually appointed him undersheriff. Tanaka became the heir apparent. The jail violence scandal that surfaced three years ago changed all of that.

Did he know about deputy abuse of inmates when he ran the jails from 2005-07? Tanaka claimed ignorance to the Citizens Commission on Jail Violence.

“It was never brought to my attention,” he said in his testimony.

What about violent deputy cliques inside Men’s Central Jail?

“That was never, ever mentioned as a problem,” he said.


CANDIDATES FOR LA COUNTY SHERIFF CONTINUE TO UP THE ANTE WITH EACH OTHER IN DEBATE MONDAY

All seven candidates for the office of LA County Sheriff squared off again on Monday night. KNBC 4 reports on some fiery moments.

Last Monday night’s mistaken fatal shooting by sheriff’s deputies of aspiring television producer, 30-year-old John Winkler, during a hostage stand-off, could not help but provide an emotional backdrop for the debate, some of those present reported.


THE PULITZER PRIZES EVOLVE

Much is rightly being made over the fact that one of this year’s Pulitzer Prizes for journalism was awarded jointly to the Guardian US and the Washington Post for their coverage of the Edward Snowden/NSA revelations.

It is also notable, however, that the Pulitzer for Investigative Reporting went—not to any conventional news outlet—but to reporter Chris Hamby who writes for the Center for Public Integrity, an independent, non-profit news site that is one of many throughout the U.S. (WitnessLA included) that have filled in the gaps left as traditional news organizations cut back their coverage, often leaving vital issues underreported.

Both prizes are cheering signs.

EDITOR’S NOTE: While we’re on the subject of Pulitzers, I happen to heartily approve of the Pulitzer judges’ choice of Donna Tartt’s deliciously Dickensian novel The Goldfinch as the winner for the prize in Fiction.


And, speaking of literary prizes, here are the winners of the Los Angeles Times Book Prizes, announced this past Friday night.

(I was on the judging panel for the Current Interest Prize and my fellow judges and I are very proud of our winner—Sheri Fink for Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital—as well as all five of our finalists.)

Posted in 2014 election, American artists, American voices, FBI, Future of Journalism, juvenile justice, LA County Jail, LASD, Paul Tanaka, U.S. Attorney, writers and writing | 29 Comments »

Jittery Talk at LAT Book Fest About Koch Bros. Bidding for LA Times…How CA Can Get Back Control of its Prisons….and More News

April 22nd, 2013 by Celeste Fremon


NY TIMES REPORTS KOCH BROTHERS MAY BE FRONT RUNNERS IN BIDDING TO BUY LA TIMES

On Sunday the USC Campus was gloriously packed with tens of thousands of Lit Lovers as the yearly LA Times Festival of Books entered its second event-jammed day.

However in the “green room” area where author/panelists and LA Times staffers gathered before and after their respective events, amid the upbeat book chatter there were grim conversations about the report by Amy Chozick in the NY Times that politically conservative billionaires Charles and David Koch may be the front runners among suitors to buy the LA Times.

The article suggested that the Koch brothers may have an edge on some of the other would-be buyers like, say, Austin Beutner, who only want to buy the Los Angeles Times and not the rest of the Tribune Corp’s stable of newspapers, whereas the Koches will reportedly bid on the whole shebang. This could be crucial, as the Tribune Corp would reportedly prefer to sell the whole bunch, not piecemeal, paper by paper.

In March the Hilel Aron of the LA Weekly broke the story that the Koch siblings were strongly rumored to be potential bidders.

Here’s a clip from the NY Times story:

Other than financing a few fringe libertarian publications, the Kochs have mostly avoided media investments. Now, Koch Industries, the sprawling private company of which Charles G. Koch serves as chairman and chief executive, is exploring a bid to buy the Tribune Company’s eight regional newspapers, including The Los Angeles Times, The Chicago Tribune, The Baltimore Sun, The Orlando Sentinel and The Hartford Courant.

By early May, the Tribune Company is expected to send financial data to serious suitors in what will be among the largest sales of newspapers by circulation in the country. Koch Industries is among those interested, said several people with direct knowledge of the sale who spoke on the condition they not be named. Tribune emerged from bankruptcy on Dec. 31 and has hired JPMorgan Chase and Evercore Partners to sell its print properties.

The papers, valued at roughly $623 million, would be a financially diminutive deal for Koch Industries, the energy and manufacturing conglomerate based in Wichita, Kan., with annual revenue of about $115 billion.

Politically, however, the papers could serve as a broader platform for the Kochs’ laissez-faire ideas. The Los Angeles Times is the fourth-largest paper in the country, and The Tribune is No. 9, and others are in several battleground states, including two of the largest newspapers in Florida, The Orlando Sentinel and The Sun Sentinel in Fort Lauderdale. A deal could include Hoy, the second-largest Spanish-language daily newspaper, which speaks to the pivotal Hispanic demographic.

One person who attended the Aspen seminar who spoke on the condition of anonymity described the strategy as follows: “It was never ‘How do we destroy the other side?’ ”

“It was ‘How do we make sure our voice is being heard?’ ”

(BIG SNIP]

“So far, they haven’t seemed to be particularly enthusiastic about the role of the free press,” Ms. Mayer said in an e-mail, “but hopefully, if they become newspaper publishers, they’ll embrace it with a bit more enthusiasm.”

A Democratic political operative who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said he admired how over decades the brothers have assembled a complex political infrastructure that supports their agenda. A media company seems like a logical next step.

This person said, “If they get some bad press that Darth Vader is buying Tribune, they don’t care.”

Alarming X a zillion.


CALIFORNIA WANTS ITS PRISONS BACK

The NY Times also reports on the issue of whether or not the State of California has done enough to justify taking the state’s prisons out of federal receivership. Near the end of the story, criminal Justice expert Barry Krisberg explains what he thinks it will take.

Here’s the relevant clip from Norimitsu Onishi’s story:

Barry Krisberg, a law professor at the University of California, Berkeley, and an expert on California’s prisons who testified in the 2011 Supreme Court case, said it was unlikely the state would succeed in its appeals because of that 2011 ruling.

“He can’t win these cases,” Mr. Krisberg said, referring to the governor. “In my view, it’s nearly impossible to go to the same Supreme Court and within a year ask them the same question.”

Instead of looking only to realignment, Mr. Krisberg said, the state must consider the politically difficult option of shortening sentences for good behavior, a policy that previous governors have carried out without an increase in crime.

“If they were to restore good-time credits for the people who are doing everything we’re asking of them in prison, they could get these numbers,” he said, referring to the 137.5 percent goal.


CHIEF CHARLIE BECK GIVES “SOUTHLAND” APPEARANCE MONEY TO HOMEBOY INDUSTRY

This story is a small but sweet one. (And we could use sweet stories right now.)

TMZ reports:

Beck did a cameo for “Southland” recently … and got a check for more than a grand. The Chief could have spent the cash on scores of donuts … but decided there was a worthier cause — he’s donating the money to Homeboy Industries…..

Turns out Beck has another cause celeb … he and some of his boys in blue are lobbying for the return of “Southland” — which is currently on the bubble.

NOTE TO TMZ: We are grateful to you for nosing out this cool little story, but we could have done without the condescending donut cliché. (Just sayin’.)


DENNIS ZINE SAYS, IF ELECTED, CITY CONTROLLER HE WOULD AUDIT THE LAPD’S RISK MANAGEMENT SECTION TO FIND OUT WHY SO MANY OFFICERS ARE INVOLVED IN LAWSUITS (DOESN’T MENTION OWN SEX HARASSMENT LAWSUIT)

Here’s a clip from the story by the LA Times Catherine Saillant:

As he campaigns to become the city’s next controller, Councilman Dennis Zine said his first job in office would be to audit the Los Angeles Police Department’s risk management division to find out why so many officers are involved in lawsuits.

The city has spent as much as $50 million on legal settlements in recent years on cases it could have avoided if commanders did a better job supervising officers, says Zine, a former LAPD motorcycle officer who faces lawyer Ron Galperin in a May 21 runoff election.

What Zine doesn’t mention is a sexual harassment lawsuit brought by a female officer claiming that as a police sergeant he made inappropriate sexual advances during a 1997 business trip to Canada. Zine said that the two were dating and that the officer made up or exaggerated her claims….

Whatever the situation with Zine’s own lawsuit, an audit of this nature never hurts, and needn’t be adversarial. In fact, we’d like to see one for the LASD as well.


PS: THE LAPD OFFICERS ACCUSED OF PERJURY WERE AQUITTED

This happened last week, but it bears mentioning. The Daily News’ Eric Hartley has the story. Here’s a clip:

A jury acquitted a Los Angeles police officer and a fired former officer Friday of charges they lied under oath about witnessing a drunken driver.

Lawyers for Craig Allen and Phil Walters admitted the two were wrong when they said they had seen a woman blow through two stop signs and pulled her over. In fact, other LAPD officers had stopped the woman, then called Allen and Walters to the scene to administer sobriety tests.

But the defense attorneys said the two officers made honest mistakes and had no reason to risk their careers by lying about a routine traffic stop.

“We’re all extremely relieved that this nightmare is over,” Walters’ lawyer, Joel Isaacson, said Friday afternoon. “Officer Walters had faith in the system, but it’s a scary situation to go through. ”

The two were charged with perjury and filing a false report, both felonies.

The LAPD fired Allen, now 40, before criminal charges were filed. His lawyer, Bill Seki, said Allen is “praying that he gets his job back” and will ask the department to reconsider the firing.

Walters, 58 and a 23-year veteran, still faces a departmental trial called a Board of Rights that could result in his being cleared, punished or fired. He has been relieved of his police powers and is not being paid, an LAPD spokesman said.

Here’s the back story (scroll to the bottom of the post).

Posted in CDCR, Charlie Beck, Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), Future of Journalism, Homeboy Industries, LAPD, LASD, Los Angeles Times, media, prison | 14 Comments »

Public Records Act at Risk, Anti-Bullying Program Slammed as Gay Plot, Juvie LWOP from 2 POVs

October 15th, 2012 by Celeste Fremon



A CALIF JUDGE’S DECISION THREATENS THE PUBLIC RECORDS ACT

The LA Times’ Jim Newton has a column that is an absolutely essential read —unless you trust every single one of our government agencies and public officials to scrupulously and without fail behave in a right and good and true manner all of the time.

The column relates the experience of Tim Crews, the editor/publisher of the Sacramento Valley Mirror, a twice weekly newspaper that serves Glenn County. Evidently Crews believed that the local school district had used public funds to improperly influence an election. So to look further into the matter, he attempted to obtain certain documents under the Public Records Act, which is what most reporters would do under the same circumstances. The district predictably dragged its feet. Eventually, the paper and the district wound up in court over some of the documentation, and the judge decided against Crews.

Now here’s where the whole thing gets worrisome. Here are some clips from Newton’s column that explain the heart of the matter:

Up to that point, the case was fairly unremarkable, one of thousands of disputed but ultimately resolved Public Records Act requests that wind their way through public agencies and courts every year. But then the judge in Crews’ case, Peter Twede, did something extraordinary: He concluded that Crews’ request had been frivolous, and he ordered Crews to pay not only his own legal bills but those of the school district. For the privilege of obtaining documents that were his legal right to have, Crews was ordered to pay more than $100,000, an amount later reduced to $56,000.

If the judgment stands — Crews has appealed — it would have a devastating effect on the newspaper, which only has about 2,800 paid subscribers. “It would wipe us out,” Crews told me last week.

It would do more than that. If upheld by the appellate courts, the judgment would radically alter the contours of the Public Records Act in California. Imagine if every time citizens asked for records under the act, they faced the possibility of having to bear not only their own legal expenses but also those that the agency might run up defending itself. Who could afford such risk?

The consequences of Crews’ case are so far-reaching that a number of organizations have come to his defense, including the First Amendment Coalition (on whose board I serve without compensation). William T. Bagley, who wrote California’s public records law while in the Assembly in the late 1960s, has also filed an amicus brief in support of the editor.

[BIG SNIP]

All that is reason enough to be troubled by the action of the judge in the Crews case. But the potential damage to the public extends well beyond Glenn County and even beyond the Public Records Act itself.

If upheld, this ruling would fundamentally reorient the relationship between the people of California and those who represent them. It would require members of the public to put themselves at risk to learn about their own government. It would recast government agencies and elected officials as immune from public scrutiny rather than accountable through that scrutiny.

As the Public Records Act itself states: “The people of this state do not yield their sovereignty to the agencies which serve them.” For that reason alone, Crews deserves to win and his paper to survive.

This issue has direct application to such things as the reporting that WitnessLA has been doing on the Los Angeles Sheriff’s department. Take Matt Fleischer’s recent story about Pay-to-Play in the LASD: without the donations information and other documentation obtained through the Public Records Act, that story and others like it, could not have existed.

And because WLA and other smaller publications like it—and private individuals, for that matter—are operating without the benefit of big staffs and big budgets (and funds set aside for just such legal issues), the threat of having to pay tens of thousands in legal bills if a judge happens to whimsically decide that a government agency doesn’t have to fork over certain paperwork, cannot help to have a cooling effect. Plus, it gives public agencies who’d like to withhold documents for less than stellar reasons a nasty little tool to use against pesky reporters and members of the public who try to hold them accountable, but who don’t have deep pockets.

In any case, stay tuned. We’ll let you know when we know more.


ANTI-BULLYING PROGRAM DEEMED GAY-PROMOTING PLOT”

First the good news: 77 LA County Schools are participating in Mix It Up at Lunch Day, the most schools of any area of the nation. Mix It Up at Lunch Day, which will take place October 30, is a national pro-tolerance, anti-bullying school program that was started over a decade ago by the Teaching Tolerance project of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Here’s how their website explains it:

In our surveys, students have identified the cafeteria as the place where divisions are most clearly drawn. So on one day – October 30 this school year – we ask students to move out of their comfort zones and connect with someone new over lunch. It’s a simple act with profound implications. Studies have shown that interactions across group lines can help reduce prejudice. When students interact with those who are different from them, biases and misperceptions can fall away.

.

Around 2500 schools participate nationally

But then here’s the bad news: A conservative evangelical group called American Family Association, has whipped itself into a frenzy over Mix-It-Up-at Lunch Day, which it calls a “nationwide push to promote the homosexual lifestyle in public schools.”

Naturally AFA has told its followers to inform school administrators that they will be keeping their kids home on Oct. 30 in the hope of getting schools to cancel all this ghastly Mixing-it-up.

According to a New York Times story by Kim Severson, after the AFA began pressuring, 200 schools cancelled the program,. Here’s a clip from Severson’s story:

The program, started 11 years ago by the Southern Poverty Law Center and now in more than 2,500 schools, was intended as a way to break up cliques and prevent bullying.

But this year, the American Family Association, a conservative evangelical group, has called the project “a nationwide push to promote the homosexual lifestyle in public schools” and is urging parents to keep their children home from school on Oct. 30, the day most of the schools plan to participate this year.

The charges, raised in an e-mail to supporters earlier this month, have caused a handful of schools to cancel this year’s event and has caught organizers off guard.

“I was surprised that they completely lied about what Mix It Up Day is,” said Maureen Costello, the director of the center’s Teaching Tolerance project, which organizes the program. “It was a cynical, fear-mongering tactic.”


WHEN KILLERs ARE KIDS, A CASE FROM THE POV OF A VICTIM’S FAMILY

Sunday’s NY Times features a story by Ethan Bronner that looks at a case in which a 15-year-old boy killed his 15-year-old girlfriend who was pregnant with his child. The article explores the point of view of the once-young killer and also looks at the tragedy from the perspective of the sister of the victim, each of whom could be affected by the SCOTUS decision handed down this past June that found the mandatory sentencing of juvenile murderers to term of Life without the possiblity of parole to be unconstitutional. To be clear, the Suprmes didn’t find Juvie LWOP to be cruel and unusual as a whole, only the mandatory handing down of the sentence without considering the individual killer and his or her circumstances, state of mind, et al.

The decision, which is being treated as retroactive by some states, could mean that a lot of LWOP cases will be reconsidered to see if there should have been an examination of the murderer’s actions, background and circumstances, rather than having a sentence simply applied automatically.

Here’s a clip from the story, which talks about how painful opening such cases could be for families of the victims.

“I go over it pretty much every night,” said Mr. Bailey, now 34, sitting in his brown jumpsuit here at the Fayette State Correctional Institution in western Pennsylvania, where he is serving a sentence of life without parole for first-degree murder. “I don’t want to make excuses. It’s a horrible act I committed. But as you get older, your conscience and insight develop. I’m not the same person.”

Every night, Bobbi Jamriska tries to avoid going over that same event. Ms. Jamriska, Kristina’s sister, was a 22-year-old out for a drink with friends when she got the news. Ten months later, their inconsolable mother died of complications from pneumonia. Weeks later, their grandmother died.

“During that year, I buried four generations of my family,” Ms. Jamriska said at the dining room table of her Pittsburgh house, taking note of her sister’s unborn child. “This wrecked my whole life. It completely changed the person I was.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: I found it a bit distressing that the reporter wrote that the Supremes outlawed Juvenile LWOP altogether and no editor managed to catch the fairly large error, which would seem to be something one might fact check if one is writing about the affect of the freaking case. The story is still worth reading, but really, New York times.


Posted in Education, Freedom of Information, Future of Journalism, journalism, juvenile justice, LGBT, LWOP Kids, media | 7 Comments »

Laurie Winer on Sam Zell and the Dismantling of the LA Times

November 11th, 2011 by Celeste Fremon


Former LA Times theater critic, Laurie Winer, has ostensibly written a review of James O’Shea’s book,
The Deal From Hell: How Moguls and Wall Street Plundered Great American Newspapers, in which he chronicles real estate tycoon Sam Zell’s raping and pillaging of the Tribune Corp. in general and of the Los Angeles Times in specific.

But really, Winer has done something that is far better and more informative than a mere review: She has recapitulated for us—in a releavingly graspable way— the catastrophe for newspapers that was/is Sam Zell, and the events leading up to his wrecking ball tenure that made Zell’s takeover possible. Into all of this, Winer has interwoven her own front row remembrances and observations. We get to feel what it was like to watch the madness close up.

Winer’s essay/review appears in the Los Angeles Review of Books. For any of us who care about journalism, it’s a BIG must read.

Here’s an emblematic clip:

…Zell addressed the staff of the Orlando Sentinel, one of the Tribune newspapers, on January 31, 2008, which was the first time most of the journalists in the Tribune family got to see the man himself. As part of a whistle-stop tour of his new properties, Zell took visible delight in showing off his iconoclastic style to a new industry that, before now, had not had the pleasure. He was primed and ready for his close-up. He took the stage and stood at a lectern, a leprechaun-sized, wizened, bald man with a white goatee and gravelly voice.

According to Zell, “the eleventh commandment is Thou shalt not take oneself seriously.” His public posture was combative but laced with impish mischief; the gleam in his eye suggested he enjoyed being challenged. This may have misled Orlando Sentinel photographer Sara Fajardo, or perhaps she had seen the new employee handbook rewritten on orders of Zell. One of its entries read: “Question authority and push back if you do not like the answer. You will earn respect, and not get into trouble for asking tough questions.”

In any event, there Zell is in Orlando, telling his staff about the necessity of making money, how that would be our top priority going forward. Fajardo did what none of us attempted with Mark Willes; she stood up and asked her new boss about his view on “the role journalism plays in the community, because we’re not the Pennysaver, we’re a newspaper.” Zell placed both hands on the podium and bent his elbows, as if he wanted to push it forward. “I want to make enough money so that I can afford you,” he said, his irritation mounting. “It’s really that simple. You need to in effect help me by being a journalist that focuses on what our readers want and that therefore generates more revenue.” Fajardo immediately broke in, “But what readers want are puppy dogs,” she said, as the courage drains from her voice. “We also need to inform the community.” Zell cut her off, his right hand gesticulating forcefully. “I’m sorry but you’re giving me the classic, what I would call, journalistic arrogance, by deciding that puppies don’t count. … What I’m interested in is how can we generate additional interest in our products and additional revenue so we can make our product better and better and hopefully we get to the point where our revenue is so significant that we can do puppies and Iraq. Okay?”

The audience, some of whom applauded, might have been momentarily perplexed by Zell’s concept: That, like a kid who must endure being “grounded” before he can go to parties again, a newspaper would have to sell its very soul so that, at some undetermined point in the future, it might be allowed to go back to being a newspaper again. If anyone was busy contemplating the conundrum of Zell’s argument, he might have missed the day’s dramatic high point, which occurred when Fajardo turned around to sit back down. Zell had two more words for her. They were: “Fuck you.”

Fortunately, it lives on YouTube.

I watched the video of this event over and over. What mesmerized me was the sight of a man so unprepared for his come-to-Jesus moment that he had no idea it had arrived. Where Murdoch had his ducks in place in a formation that any dictator might envy, Zell had only his anger at everyone who had ever criticized him, who had ever doubted that accumulating wealth, by itself, was proof of ethics, intelligence, or general marvelousness.

Now read the rest. Immediately, if possible.

Posted in American voices, Future of Journalism, Los Angeles Times, writers and writing | No Comments »

Monday Must Reads

August 8th, 2011 by Celeste Fremon



Raging Against the LA Times Book Section cuts, an upbeat story about helping Foster Car kids get to college, a seemingly unnecessary court decision, a weird move by the City Attorney….and more.


RAGING AGAINST THE CUTS: TOM LUTZ CALLS THE LA TIMES BOOK REVIEW “FREELANCER” LAYOFFS FOR WHAT THEY ARE

It literature is important to you at all. Read this, damn it! Here’s a clip:

The Los Angeles Times proudly announced last week that it was as dedicated as ever to book coverage — “we have not changed our commitment,” said Vice President of Communications Nancy Sullivan. Sullivan was speaking to Publishers Weekly’s Wendy Werris, explaining that a new round of layoffs in the section and the cutting loose of the book section’s freelancers was not to be taken as a sign of what it clearly was: a further contraction of the section’s purview.

“Freelancers” in this case means not just those of us who have written the occasional review for the Times over the years but the new class of non-employees, the many people who used to be on staff and were laid off before being rehired as freelancers, like Susan Salter Reynolds; book columnists Reynolds, Richard Rayner, and Sonja Bolle were among those let go. Reynolds is a prime example of the new class of the gradually dis-employed: she has been writing succinct, insightful reviews for the Times for the last 23 years, usually three pieces a week, although often adding a fourth or even fifth in the form of a more in-depth review or feature (she is a woman who clearly does not sleep). For the first 21 of those years she was a staff writer, but for the last two she’s been a freelancer. The difference was a deep cut in pay, the loss of health insurance and a retirement plan, and the outsourcing of her office to her own house. The workload remained the same.


BREAKING THE CURSE OF FOSTER CARE TO HELP KIDS IN THE “SYSTEM” GET TO COLLEGE

This story by Martha Groves of the LA Times will both break your heart and give you hope. Here’s how it opens:

For foster children, the prospect of ever completing college is remote: 24% of the general population will someday wear a university cap and gown, but fewer than 3% of all foster children ever earn a degree.

But a privately funded pilot program at UCLA hopes to improve the odds.

The First Star UCLA Bruin Guardian Scholars Summer Academy is a 5 1/2-week program that sponsors and fundraisers hope will one day develop into a year-round boarding school for college-bound foster children in Los Angeles County.

On Friday, 14-year-old Thalia and 23 other foster youth celebrated their “graduation” from the program’s first session.

The incoming ninth-grader brushed up on math, wrote poetry, learned to meditate and visited Disneyland, Universal Studios and a Nickelodeon TV set. In the bargain, Thalia and the other participants each got a laptop computer, a flip cam — and four University of California college credits.

“This program took me to another place,” Thalia said….

Read the rest here.


SO WHAT REALLY IS THE CONNECTION BETWEEN HOT WEATHER AND VIOLENCE?

Wired Magazine takes a look at what science has to say about rising temperatures and rising crime stats and how one may or may not affect the other.


A HIGHLY POLITICAL (AND POSSIBLY ILLEGAL) MOVE BY CITY ATTORNEY CARMEN TRUTANICH?

The LA Times’ Jack Leonard reports on Carmen Trutanich’s $2 million check caper and DA Steve Cooley’s reaction.


DEAD PEOPLE CAN’T BE SUED FOR PUNITIVE DAMAGES

Okay, this probably doesn’t rise to the level of a Must Read. Rather it is an interesting oddity that the Iowa Supreme Court got dragooned into having to render a ruling on this seemingly obvious issue. The Des Moines Register has the story. Here’s how it opens:

The Iowa Supreme Court Friday affirmed a long-standing prohibition on winning punitive damages from dead people and issued a two-month suspension to a Des Moines lawyer with a track record of mishandling clients’ money.

In the case of Estate of Johnny Vajgrt vs. Bill Ernst, justices ruled 6-1 to affirm a Marshall County court ruling that blocked Ernst from obtaining more than $2,300 from the estate of Vajgrt.

The case involved a 2005 incident where Vajgrt sought and received permission from Ernst, a neighbor, to enter onto Ernst’s land and remove a fallen tree near the confluence of Burnett Creek and the Iowa River. Vajgrt removed both the tree, which he feared would serve as a dam and cause flooding on his land, and roughly 40 other live trees on Ernst’s property.

Vajgrt died in 2008, nearly five months before Ernst sued to recover damages for the diminished value of his property. A district court judge awarded $57.50 per tree but refused to grant punitive damages because Vajgrt had died….

Read the rest here.

Posted in Foster Care, Future of Journalism, Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles writers, Must Reads, writers and writing | 1 Comment »

Crazy Prosecutions, Lawyers Using Facebook & More

February 27th, 2011 by Celeste Fremon


SUPREMES CONSIDER WHETHER BLOGGERS ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR THEIR WORDS (AND CAN BE SUED FOR DEFAMATION)

Uh, yeah. Of course they can be and should be. And it’s time the issue was addressed.

UPI has the story.

A high-profile defamation suit by a former U.S. Department of Agriculture official against a prominent conservative blogger may test the role of libel laws in the brave new world of the Internet, as one newspaper writer suggests.

Or it may be just an opportunity to reinforce the notion, shocking and strange as it may seem, that bloggers should actually be held legally accountable for the truth of what they say — like trained journalists.

The case in the District of Columbia Superior Court involves former USDA official Shirley Sherrod and conservative blogger Andrew Breitbart, who posted a video online purporting to show Sherrod’s prejudice against whites as she addressed the NAACP in Atlanta.

Sherrod was forced out of her job, but the NAACP released a full video of the speech showing the portion posted online was taken out of context. Sherrod was actually making the case that all people need to be helped, regardless of color.

Of course if bloggers are eligible to be sued successfully for defamation, then they should also be eligible to be protected by journalist shield laws.

I’m just sayin’.


LA’S RANK AND FILE CITY WORKERS AIM TO TELL MAYOR AND CITY COUNCIL WHERE THE BUDGET CUTS ARE HIDING

On Sunday, a group of city employees who are fighting being furloughed ” sent out an informational press release, which they stated was” a direct effort to bring to public light, the true cause of the City’s budget crisis…”

The group listed a bunch of areas the city could look to for additional funds rather than laying off city workers (like, say, themselves.) This list includes things like collecting those half a billion in back taxes that the city is owed and a similar amount uncollected fees.

The group includes employees from the Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA), the Department of Transportation, Department of General Services and Department of Public Works. They have, they said, made this move apart from their unions.


AN ADVOCATE FOR “JURY NULLIFICATION” IS INDICTED FOR JURY TAMPERING

File this under Prosecutors Gone Wild. Benjamin Weiser for the NY Times has the story.

Julian P. Heicklen sat silent and unresponsive as his bail hearing began one day recently in federal court in Manhattan; his eyes were closed, his head slumped forward.

“Mr. Heicklen?” the magistrate judge, Ronald L. Ellis, asked. “Mr. Heicklen? Is Mr. Heicklen awake?”

“I believe he is, your honor,” a prosecutor, Rebecca Mermelstein, said. “I think he’s choosing not to respond but is certainly capable of doing so.”

There was, in fact, nothing wrong with Mr. Heicklen, 78, who eventually opened his eyes and told the judge, “I’m exercising my Fifth Amendment right to remain silent.”

Indeed, it was not his silence that landed Mr. Heicklen, a retired Pennsylvania State University chemistry professor, in court; it was what he had been doing outside the federal courthouse at 500 Pearl Street.

Since 2009, Mr. Heicklen has stood there and at courthouse entrances elsewhere and handed out pamphlets encouraging jurors to ignore the law if they disagree with it, and to render verdicts based on conscience.

That concept, called jury nullification, is highly controversial, and courts are hostile to it. But federal prosecutors have now taken the unusual step of having Mr. Heicklen indicted on a charge that his distributing of such pamphlets at the courthouse entrance violates a law against jury tampering.

Since Mr. Heicklen didn’t target any particular jurors or in any way try to influence the outcome of any particular case, the jury tampering charge seems a bit of a stretch. (cough) firstamendmentviolation (cough, cough)

In fact it seems that Heicklen didn’t even give his leaflets specifically to jurors but to random people going in and out of the court building, hoping to hit some jury members among those he approached.

If you read the rest of the story you’ll see that Heicklen is something of a character. But fortunately for many of us, being quirky isn’t, as yet, a federal offense.


FACEBOOK AND JURIES

It seems that Facebook is being used by attorneys—both defense and prosecutors—to determine whether or not individuals are suitable for jury placements. The Wall Street Journal has the story. Here’s a clip:

Prosecution and defense lawyers are scouring the site for personal details about members of the jury pool that could signal which side they might sympathize with during a trial. They consider what potential jurors watch on television, their interests and hobbies, and how religious they are.

Josh Marquis, district attorney of Clatsop County in Oregon, did background searches on Facebook to help pick a jury for a penalty trial last summer to determine if a convicted murderer should get the death penalty. He was looking for clues on how potential jurors might feel about the defendant, a man who killed a couple as a teenager in 1988. The jury imposed the death penalty.

Jury consultant Amber Yearwood in San Francisco found that one potential juror in a product-liability case last year held strident opinions on a host of issues, and dispensed unsolicited medical and sex advice. “Often juries offer opinionated people like that the perfect opportunity to wield their influence,” said Ms. Yearwood. The prospective juror was bounced….

Posted in crime and punishment, criminal justice, Freedom of Information, Future of Journalism | No Comments »

WikiLeaks, Assange, Public Bloodlust & a Few Sane Voices

December 10th, 2010 by Celeste Fremon



The hysterical reactions by seemingly sane people on the topic of WikiLeaks
and Julian Assange grow ever more deeply disheartening.


But there are, fortunately, a few people talking sense
, among them Ron Paul and Tom Hayden, two men who would find themselves at opposite ends of many questions. But on this crucial issue they agree. Similarly, Salon’s lawyer/columnist Glenn Greenwald finds a kindred spirit on the matter on former Bush administration lawyer, Jack Goldsmith:

LYING IS NOT PATRIOTIC


Texas Congressman Ron Paul spoke on the floor of the House of Representatives on Friday
where he passionately defended Julian Assange and WikiLeaks.

Here’s a clip from reporting by the Atlantic Wire:

“Why is the hostility directed at Assange, the publisher, and not at our governments failure to protect classified information?” asked Paul. He went on to compare WikiLeaks to the Pentagon Papers, explaining how both exposed American wars that were based on “lies.” He also asked his colleagues which events caused more deaths, “Lying us into war, or the release of the WikiLeaks papers?”

At the end of his speech, Paul asked his listeners 9 questions, which are as follows:

Number 1: Do the America People deserve know the truth regarding the ongoing wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen?

Number 2: Could a larger question be how can an army private access so much secret information?

Number 3: Why is the hostility directed at Assange, the publisher, and not at our governments failure to protect classified information?

Number 4: Are we getting our moneys worth of the 80 Billion dollars per year spent on intelligence gathering?

Number 5: Which has resulted in the greatest number of deaths: lying us into war or Wikileaks revelations or the release of the Pentagon Papers?

Number 6: If Assange can be convicted of a crime for publishing information that he did not steal, what does this say about the future of the first amendment and the independence of the internet?

Number 7: Could it be that the real reason for the near universal attacks on Wikileaks is more about secretly maintaining a seriously flawed foreign policy of empire than it is about national security?

Number 8: Is there not a huge difference between releasing secret information to help the enemy in a time of declared war, which is treason, and the releasing of information to expose our government lies that promote secret wars, death and corruption?

Number 9: Was it not once considered patriotic to stand up to our government when it is wrong?

Thomas Jefferson had it right when he advised ‘Let the eyes of vigilance never be closed’


THE LYNCH MOB MOMENT

Tom Hayden is just as impassioned as Paul, although his approach is calmer. Here is a clip from the analytical essay that he sent out to friends on Wednesday about what he calls The Lynch Mob Moment.

We know that conservatives are extremists for order, but why have so many liberals lost their minds and joined the frenzy over Julian Assange and WikiLeaks? As the secrets of power are unmasked, there is a growing bipartisan demand that Julian Assange must die.

Once-liberal Democrat Bob Beckel said on FOX, “there’s only one way to do it: illegally shoot the son-of-a-bitch.” Center-liberal legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin said on CNN that Assange is “absurd”, “ridiculous”, “delusional”, and “well beyond sympathy of anyone”. The Washington Times called for treating him as an “enemy combatant”; Rep. Peter King of the Homeland Security Committee who wants him prosecuted as a terrorist; and of course, Sarah Palin wants Assange “pursued with the same urgency we pursue al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders”, or a wolf in Alaska.

This is a lynch-mob moment, when the bloodlust runs over. We have this mad overreaction many times since the witch-burnings and Jim Crow, including the Palmer Raids of the 1920s, the McCarthy purges of the 1950s, the Nixon-era conspiracy trials, the Watergate break-ins, and the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq after 9/11.

Most Americans now know that those frenzied periods of scapegoating did nothing for our security, which instead damaged our democracy and left in their wake a secretive National Security State.

There is wisdom in expecting calmer heads to prevail in the WikiLeaks matter, but what can be done when the calmer heads are going nuts or hiding in silence?

Do the frothing pundits remember that we have a legal system in which the accused is entitled to due process, legal representation and the right to a defense? The first obligation of our threatened elected officials, bureaucrats and pundits is to calm down.

Hayden acknowledges that wholesale release of the WikiLeaks documents could do damage:

I can understand the reasonable questions that reasonable people have about this case. It is clearly illegal to release and distribute the 15,652 documents stamped as “secret.” Why should underground whistleblowers have the unlimited right to release those documents? There is a risk that some individuals might be harmed by the release. There is a concern that ordinary diplomatic business might be interrupted.

But he also reminds us what we have thus far gotten from Julian Assange and WikiLeaks:

1. WikiLeaks disclosed 390,136 classified documents about the Iraq War and 76,607 about Afghanistan so far. No one died as a result of these disclosures, one of which revealed another 15,000 civilian casualties in Iraq which had not been acknowledged or reported before;

2. Fragmentary orders [FRAGO] 242 and 039 instructed American troops not to investigate torture in Iraq conducted by America’s allies;

3. The CIA operates a secret army of 3,000 in Afghanistan;

4. A secret US Task Force 373 is assigned to nighttime hunter-killer raids in Afghanistan;

5. The US ambassador in Kabul says it is impossible to fix corruption when our ally is the corrupt entity;

6. One Afghan minister alone carried $52 million out of the country;

7. US Special Forces operate in Pakistan without public acknowledgment, apparently in violation of that country’s sovereignty;

8. America’s ally, Pakistan, is the chief protector of the Taliban in Afghanistan.

9. Following secret U.S air strikes against suspected al-Qaeda militants, Yeme’s President Ali Abdullah Saleh told General David Petraeus, “We’ll continue saying the bombs are ours, not yours.”

10. U.S. government contractor DynCorp threw a party for Afghan security recruits featuring trafficked boys as the entertainment. Bacha bazi is the Afghan tradition of “boy play” where young boys are dressed up in women’s clothing, forced to dance for leering men, and then sold for sex to the highest bidder. DynCorp has been previously linked to child sex trafficking charges.


CORRECTING THE MEDIA FALSEHOODS

Salon’s Glenn Greenwald (who also happens to be an attorney trained in Constitutional law) has been stalking the absurd inaccuracies put out by major media outlets—like, for example, Time magazine— when they report on the ongoing WikiLeaks story.

Read and grow angry.


IF ASSANGE IS GUILTY WHAT ABOUT THE NY TIMES? WHAT ABOUT BOB WOODWARD?

On Friday, former Bush administration lawyer, Jack Goldsmith, posted 7 “thoughts” on the matter of WikiLeaks. They are all worth reading, but here are the first three:

* I find myself agreeing with those who think Assange is being unduly vilified. I certainly do not support or like his disclosure of secrets that harm U.S. national security or foreign policy interests. But as all the hand-wringing over the 1917 Espionage Act shows, it is not obvious what law he has violated. It is also important to remember, to paraphrase Justice Stewart in the Pentagon Papers, that the responsibility for these disclosures lies firmly with the institution empowered to keep them secret: the Executive branch. The Executive was unconscionably lax in allowing Bradley Manning to have access to all these secrets and to exfiltrate them so easily.

* I do not understand why so much ire is directed at Assange and so little at the New York Times. What if there were no wikileaks and Manning had simply given the Lady Gaga CD to the Times? Presumably the Times would eventually have published most of the same information, with a few redactions, for all the world to see. Would our reaction to that have been more subdued than our reaction now to Assange? If so, why? If not, why is our reaction so subdued when the Times receives and publishes the information from Bradley through Assange the intermediary? Finally, in 2005-2006, the Times disclosed information about important but fragile government surveillance programs. There is no way to know, but I would bet that these disclosures were more harmful to national security than the wikileaks disclosures. There was outcry over the Times’ surveillance disclosures, but nothing compared to the outcry over wikileaks. Why the difference? Because of quantity? Because Assange is not a U.S. citizen? Because he has a philosophy more menacing than “freedom of the press”? Because he is not a journalist? Because he has a bad motive?

* In Obama’s Wars, Bob Woodward, with the obvious assistance of many top Obama administration officials, disclosed many details about top secret programs, code names, documents, meetings, and the like. I have a hard time squaring the anger the government is directing toward wikileaks with its top officials openly violating classification rules and opportunistically revealing without authorization top secret information….

Posted in Civil Liberties, Civil Rights, Free Speech, Freedom of Information, Future of Journalism | 6 Comments »

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