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LA Supes Finally Approve 2 Foster Care Fixes….Can SF’s Community Court Halt the Revolving Door?….NYC Bans Solitary for Inmates Under 21….More on the “End of Gangs…..and the Pain of Losing Al Martinez

January 14th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon


It looks like those two new members added to the LA County Board of Supervisors have changed the mix enough to make a big difference when it comes to social issues. (Let’s hope it continues.)

To wit: On Tuesday, the board added two important–-and long-stalled—safeguards to the child welfare system.

The LA Times’ Garrett Therolf has the story. Here’s a clip:

After a year of stalled efforts to address breakdowns in Los Angeles County’s child protection system, the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday adopted two key recommendations of a blue ribbon commission established in the aftermath of a beating death of an 8-year-old Palmdale boy.

In what is believed to be the nation’s first program, the board voted unanimously to pair public health nurses with social workers to investigate every allegation of abuse involving children younger than 2, an age group identified as being the most at risk of fatalities from mistreatment.

The public health nurses will help medical and child welfare workers evaluate children and determine whether they are in danger of abuse or need immediate medical attention. Deploying the additional personnel is expected to cost $8 million annually.

Supervisors said they hope the nurses will help connect families with needed child healthcare and keep families together when appropriate. Initially, the nurses will be added to two child welfare offices serving areas in and around South Los Angeles.

Lack of adequate medical evaluations have been tied to some child fatalities in recent years. In 2008, 2-year-old Isabel Garcia starved to death — two months after social workers visited her and wrote that she appeared healthy, despite the toddler’s sharp weight loss.

The board also moved forward with a recommendation to ensure that children are taken to specialized county medical clinics for health screenings when a nurse in the field deems it medically necessary. The clinics are equipped with sophisticated equipment and staff trained to detect and document child abuse. To accommodate the increased health screening, the county is spending $2 million on additional clinic staff.

“The time is now to move on the blue ribbon commission’s recommendations. The protection and well-being of children in our care should always be top priority,” said Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who co-sponsored the motion with Supervisor Sheila Kuehl.

Now if the board will keep up the good work and move on the rest of the Blue Ribbon Committee’s recommendations, most notabley the hiring of a child welfare czar.

(cough) Judge Michael Nash (cough, cough)


With a U.S. incarceration rate that increased more than seven-fold between 1980 to 2010, and national recidivism rates at 67.8 percent (and far higher for drug offenders), some of the nation’s more forward-looking communities have been turning to alternative forms of justice such as community courts as a means to stop the revolving door that keeps many low-level offenders cycling in and out of jail or prison.

But do such strategies work?

Community courts have many of the same purposes as regular criminal courts: reducing crime, protecting public safety, and ensuring due process. But unlike most criminal courts, community courts are particularly focused on improving outcomes for offenders by addressing some of the key factors that often underlie certain kinds of criminal behavior—-things like mental and emotional health issues, unemployment, substance abuse, and an unstable home situation.

With such variables in mind, the community courts attempt to match services—not just sanctions—with offenders.

The first community court opened its doors in the U.S. in 1991, in New York City. Now there are more than three dozen such courts in the nation.

California’s two main community courts are located in Orange County and in San Francisco.

San Francisco’s community court, which is known as the Community Justice Center (or CJC), opened in 2009 in the Tenderloin.

Those involved with the court believed from the beginning that they were seeing a drop in recidivism among the CJC’s clients. But were they really?

“Success can be hard to measure in community courts,” writes the Christian Science Monitor’s Henry Gass in a story that looks at the emerging national trend. “The most common criticism leveled against the community court system is that it is often unable to prevent relapses into criminal behavior….”

As a consequence, he writes, “criminal-justice researchers are trying to put together solid statistical evidence of how community courts are performing.”

With this in mind, the RAND corporation decided to take a statistical look at whether or not the CJC really cut the likelihood of returning to the criminal justice system.

RAND researchers analyzed approximately 10,000 cases involving 6,000 defendants that the court heard from its opening in March 2009, through December 2013. When matching the CJC offenders with a control population, they did their best to compare apples with apples, by looking at those who committed similar offenses in the same general geographic area, but before CJC opened. They also looked at those who committed similar offenses after CJC came along in 2009 but who, for some reason, didn’t get funnelled to community court.

The results were published in late 2014 and they were extremely encouraging. They showed that those tried in SF’s Community Justice Center were 8.9 to 10.3 percent less likely to be rearrested within a year than those non-CJC offenders tried in convention court. Over time, the stats got even better. It turned out that the likelihood of not being rearrested rose the longer the CJC people were out. Whereas for those tried in regular courts, the opposite was true; they were more likely to reoffend as time passed.

So why did SF community court system work? One of the study’s authors, Jesse Sussell, said that he and his co-author, Beau Kilmer, weren’t 100 percent sure how to answer that question.

“Policymakers in the United States are aware of the enormous potential gains to be had from reducing recidivism,” he wrote in a paper for Social Policy Research Associates. “They also know that the status quo approach for handling offenders has done a poor job of preventing re-offense…”

But as to why CJC having a better effect?

“We still don’t know precisely why the San Francisco CJC appears to reduce recidivism,” Sussell admitted. But he thought the fact that the program wasn’t a one size fits all system might have something to do with it. “The CJC itself is really a collection of interventions,” he said. “A suite of services,”—some to address addiction, others to address homelessness and other situational problems, and so on.

The court was also speedy, Sussell noted. “Community court participants are also ordered to report to the court much sooner following initial arrest (about one week) than are offenders processed by the traditional court (a month or more).”

Bottom line, the RAND researchers found the study’s results to be very promising, but they’d like to now drill down a bit and look at “the relative contributions of these different program components.”

Sounds fine to us.


In a move that startled many, members of New York City’s board of corrections voted on Tuesday—7-0—to eliminate the use of solitary confinement for all inmates 21 and younger, a move that it is hoped would place the city’s long-troubled Rikers Island complex at the forefront of national jail reform efforts.

Los Angeles County has yet to come close to such a sweeping decision—although in the last few years it has greatly reduced its dependence on solitary confinement in response to a raft of public criticism by juvenile justice advocates.

Michael Winerip and Michael Schwirtz have the story for the New York Times on Tuesday’s policy change.

Here’s a clip:

The policy change was a stark turnaround by the administration of Mayor Bill de Blasio [whose corrections guy supported the surprise move], which recently eliminated the use of solitary confinement for 16- and 17-year-olds but, backed by the powerful correction officers union, had resisted curtailing the practice more broadly.

Even the most innovative jails in the country punish disruptive inmates over age 18 with solitary confinement, said Christine Herrman, director of the Segregation Reduction Project at the Vera Institute of Justice. “I’ve never heard of anything like that happening anywhere else,” she said, referring to the New York City plan. “It would definitely be an innovation.”

The Correction Department has faced repeated criticism over the past year after revelations of horrific brutality and neglect of inmates at Rikers, the country’s second-largest jail system. Preet Bharara, the United States attorney for the Southern District of New York, is suing the city over the treatment of adolescent inmates at the jail complex.


A large body of scientific research indicates that solitary confinement is particularly damaging to adolescents and young adults because their brains are still developing. Prolonged isolation in solitary cells can worsen mental illness and in some cases cause it, studies have shown.

Inmates in solitary confinement at Rikers are locked in their cells for 23 hours a day, with one hour of recreation, which they spend by themselves in a small caged area outdoors. A report published in August by Mr. Bharara’s office described the use of solitary cells for young people at Rikers as “excessive and inappropriate.” Inmates can be locked away for weeks and months and, in some cases, even over a year.

As of Jan. 9, according to recently released city data, there were 497 inmates between ages 19 and 21 at Rikers, with 103 of them held in solitary confinement.

“The majority of inmates in the 18- to 21-year-old cohort are young men of color whom we presume innocent under our laws because they are awaiting trial,” said Bryanne Hamill, one of the board’s strongest voices for eliminating solitary for young inmates. “The evidence showed that solitary confinement will not improve their future behavior, but will reliably convert anger and frustration today into rage and violence tomorrow.”

The president of NYC’s 9,000-member correction officers’ union, Norman Seabrook, said the plan would endanger correction officers by leading to more inmate attacks. Seabrook told the NYT that he planned sue the board for every guard assaulted.


For those of you who were interested in the discussion that resulted from Sam Quinones’ story for Pacific Standard magazine, provocatively titled “The End of Gangs,” you’ll likely enjoy listening to the podcast of Monday’s Deadline LA on KPFK, featuring Barbara Osborn and Howard Blume interviewing Quinones about whether or not the gangs are disappearing from LA’s streets and, if so, why.

As you may remember, Quinones’ story is thought-provoking and deeply reported, but also controversial.

For instance, we still find his analysis far too law-enforcement centric. And it has made gang experts nuts that, in discussing the gangs’ lessened grip on day to day life in our urban neighborhoods, his story completely left out the essential role played by non-profit programs that offer jobs and other crucial support to former gang members, plus the powerful effect of grassroots community involvement, along with a host of other factors that have contributed to the drop in gang crime.

Yet, all that said, Osborn and Blume ask some great questions. And Quinones’ highly informed answers having to do with the measurable successes gained by policing “smarter, not harder,” along with the LAPD’s brass enlightened move some years ago to treat the most violence-afflicted communities they police as partners, not adversaries—and other intriguing topics regarding the world of cops and gangs—are very much worth your time.

So, listen. Okay? Okay.


Al Martinez, LA’s glorious storyteller, our city’s bard, as the Huntington Library called him, our deeply humanistic, gloriously poetic and wildly funny chronicler of the zillion extraordinary and ordinary facets of life in Southern California, has left us.

Martinez died Monday at West Hills Hospital of congestive heart failure, said his wife, Joanne, when she called LA Observed’s Kevin Roderick, for whom Al wrote his last columns. He was 85 and had been suffering from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Al wrote for the LA Times for 38 years—most notably as a columnist—before stupid management decisions forced him out during the worst of the Times’ staff purges, first once, then again. (After panicking at the furious response from readers, the Times rehired him after the first push out in 2007.)

Yet, the ongoing demand for his unique voice was such that Martinez easily placed his columns elsewhere after he parted with the Times, LA Observed being his last home.

He also wrote a string of non-fiction books, a novel and, since this is LA, after all, he wrote occasionally for television, when it suited him.

The LAT’s Valerie Nelson has a lovely obit on Martinez, and Roderick writes about his friend and columnist here, plus Al’s longtime friend and colleague, Bill Boyarsky writes his own tribute, “The Storyteller Exits.”

PS: Al settled himself and his family in Topanga Canyon when he moved to Southern California in the early 1970s. Thus, we who also make Topanga our home always felt that LA’s fabulously gifted teller-of-stories belonged to us personally. We understood we couldn’t keep him forever. Yet, losing him still seems unimaginable.

Posted in crime and punishment, criminal justice, gender, law enforcement, Life in general, Los Angeles writers, Police, Public Health, race, race and class, racial justice, School to Prison Pipeline, solitary, Violence Prevention, writers and writing, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | 9 Comments »

Class for Incarcerated Teen Dads, Status-Offending Girls and Trauma, and “Holistic” Indigent Defense

April 1st, 2014 by Taylor Walker


A prison class in California, called the “Baby Elmo Program,” teaches incarcerated teenage fathers how to be parents, and helps them build relationships with their young children, with help from Elmo videos. While still in the early stages, the program has been implemented in Sacramento, Fresno, Santa Barbara, San Bernardino, and Orange County, and program leaders held a conference in Los Angeles last week with corrections officials statewide.

KPCC’s Shirley Jahad has the story. Here’s a small clip:

Originally named “A Parenting Intervention for Incarcerated Teen Parents,” the program was later dubbed the “Baby Elmo Program” by its teenage participants, referring to the Sesame Street teaching tools it uses. According to the program’s manager, the key message they try to pass on to troubled young fathers is the importance of making personal contact with their children. “The only way you are going to develop a relationship with your child is not through abstract courses or a strict program,” said Ben Richeda, who runs the program. “It’s really going to be ‘I know the food my child likes. I know what makes him smile. I know makes her laugh when she comes in the room.’” Richeda says the goal is to teach the parenting skills in order to break the cycle of abuse and neglect that can lead to a path of delinquency.


Girls are more likely than boys to be arrested for status offenses (age-related crimes, like truancy, running away, violating curfew laws, or possessing alcohol or tobacco), and the numbers are on the rise, according to the Coalition for Juvenile Justice.

In an op-ed for Youth Today, Jeannette Pai-Espinosa, president of The National Crittenton Foundation, says the numbers are important, but don’t tell the whole story. She says that these status offenses that often earn a young girl a reputation as a “bad girl” are often coping mechanisms for underlying childhood trauma. And when these girls get thrown into the juvenile justice system for things like running away from a turbulent home, or self-medicating with alcohol, they are not receiving the help they need to become successful adults.

Here’s a clip:

According to the Coalition for Juvenile Justice’s issue brief, Girls, Status Offenses and The Need For A Less Punitive and More Empowering Approach, a disproportionate number of the status offenses petitioned in the courts every year are brought against girls. Between 1995 and 2009, the number of petitioned cases for curfew violations for girls grew by 23 percent vs. only 1 percent for boys. The number of petitioned cases for liquor law violations for girls grew by 41 percent vs. only 6 percent for boys.

Simply put, behaviors such as skipping school, running away, breaking curfew and possession or use of alcohol places girls at increased risk of entering the juvenile justice system. Girls entering the system because they are detained for a status offense often fall deeper into the system rather than getting the support they need to change their lives.

What the numbers fail to reveal is the story behind the statistics. As the president of The National Crittenton Foundation, I have had the great privilege to get to know many of the faces behind the data — girls and young women who were involved with Crittenton agencies because they were referred by juvenile justice or child welfare systems. While their stories are as diverse as they are, the most common shared narrative for the girls served by Crittenton agencies is that their early lives have been shaped for them by abuse, neglect, violence, addiction, family dysfunction and the betrayal of their trust by the very people whose job it was to love and protect them.

Victimization of girls typically precedes their involvement with the system. Up to 73 percent of the girls in the juvenile justice system have histories of physical and sexual violence. A study of 319 girls in the juvenile justice system in Florida found that 64 percent reported past abuse, including 37 percent reporting abuse by a parent; 55 percent reporting abuse by someone other than a parent; and 27 percent reporting both types of abuse.


What the statistics also don’t tell us is how girls cope with the dangerous, damaging and traumatic circumstances in their lives. In fact, their “adaptive coping behaviors,” including running away from homes where violence is prevalent, self medication with drugs and alcohol, truancy and unruly behavior, are the very same behaviors that put them at risk of entering the juvenile justice system because they are detained for a status offence. In other words, we criminalize them for coping behaviors that are actually signs of strength and resiliency against the abuse and neglect they have experienced. What is the result? A system that fails to help the girls get the help they need to recover from the abuse and neglect they experienced long before they entered the system.

Pai-Espinosa also gives five ways to address the problem:

- Promote universal assessment for girls and boys involved in the juvenile justice system to better understand their exposure to violence, abuse and neglect.

- Advocate that girls in or at risk of entering the juvenile justice system receive gender-responsive, trauma-informed services to heal from the violence and abuse they have experienced.

- Push for the reauthorization of the Juvenile Justice Delinquency Prevention Act, with a focus on preventing detention for status offenses and the importance of gender responsive and trauma informed services

- Support HR 4123, Prohibiting the Detention of Youth for Status Offenses Act, introduced recently by Representative Tony Cardenas (D-Calif.) and

- Endorse and advance the important work of organizations like the Coalition for Juvenile Justice and the National Standards for the Care of Youth Charged with Status Offenses.

Over the weekend, the LA Times had an editorial in support of HR 4123. Here are some clips:

It is unjust to lock up minors for offenses that wouldn’t be offenses at all if the “perpetrators” were only a few years older. The practice is costly, and ineffective as well. Substantial research has shown that incarcerating teenagers for these non-criminal actions doesn’t deter them from committing the same offenses again once they’re released; quite the opposite. After being housed with true juvenile criminals, they are more likely to commit real offenses…

Legislation by Rep. Tony Cardenas (D-Los Angeles) would ban the incarceration of status offenders across the country, requiring states to find more useful ways of handling these cases. HR 4123 doesn’t eliminate penalties for status offenses, just the harsh discipline of lockup. Offenders could still be penalized in various ways, including required community service or Saturday classes to catch up in school. That, combined with counseling and other services for offenders and their families, would be fairer, more productive and almost certainly less expensive than having them do time.


“Holistic” indigent defense—in which a team of attorneys, social workers, and other advocates work together to provide much-needed services to defendants who can’t afford to hire a lawyer—is building momentum in the Bay Area. The approach aims to keep people from reoffending, and may help ease overcrowding in California prisons (although there’s not yet much data on the effectiveness of “holistic” defense against recidivism).

The San Jose Mercury News’ Tracey Kaplan has the story. Here’s a clip:

Born partly out of a conference in the late 1990s at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, holistic defense in its most elaborate form uses teams of criminal, civil and family defense lawyers, social workers, parent advocates, investigators and community organizers to address the needs — legal and otherwise — of defendants who can’t afford their own lawyers.

The idea is to keep people from coming back into the criminal justice system — thus save taxpayers money — by limiting the consequences that can arise from even a misdemeanor arrest, such as deportation and the breakup of families, loss of a job, revocation of an employment license or eviction from public housing.

“An arrest is never just an arrest — it can explode someone’s life,” said Robin Steinberg, founder of the Bronx Defenders, the nonprofit agency of public defenders leading the holistic defense movement. “Even when you get the not-guilty verdict, you don’t hug them and send them into the night. That’s when the work begins.”

From Rhode Island to Texas, and to Alameda, Contra Costa and San Francisco counties, the general principle has started to catch on, especially the notion of teaming social workers with lawyers.

However, some supporters say holistic defense faces a major obstacle — lack of funding for even basic services, and not just in poor parts of the country such as the South.

“Can the Bronx Defenders’ model be replicated across the country?” said Mark Stephens, chief public defender in Knoxville, Tenn., who attended the original Harvard conference. Though he supports holistic defense and has eight social workers on his staff, he said, “I don’t see it happening.”

Hard data is still scarce on whether the approach keeps people from reoffending. But some public defenders say California must innovate because a federal court order forcing it to reduce prison overcrowding prevents the system from merely locking people up.

Posted in gender, juvenile justice, prison, Public Defender, Reentry, Trauma | No Comments »

LA Boy Scouts Group Says Allow Gay Leaders, Delaware Legalizes Gay Marriage, Equality for Trans Youth…and More

May 9th, 2013 by Taylor Walker


The W. LA County branch of the Boy Scouts of America is calling for the organization to both execute an offered proposal to lift the ban on gay scouts and also allow gay adults to be troop leaders.

Reuter’s Alex Dobuzinskis has the story. Here’s how it opens:

The council, which represents more than 14,000 scouts and ranks as the nation’s 14th-largest scouting chapter, called for the Texas-based youth organization to go further by welcoming gays into the ranks of its adult volunteers as well.

In issuing its declaration on Tuesday urging a “true and authentic inclusion policy,” the Los Angeles group joined at least two branches in New York state that have pushed for allowing gays to work as troop leaders or staff members.

The Boy Scouts of America holds its annual national meeting on May 23 in Texas, where a resolution will be voted on that would end the century-old group’s policy denying membership to youths on the basis of sexual orientation.


On Tuesday, Delaware’s state Senate voted to make DE the eleventh state to legalize gay marriage. (Way to go, Delaware!)

Here’s a clip from the Associated Press:

Less than an hour after the Senate’s 12-9 vote, Democratic Gov. Jack Markell signed the measure into law.

“I do not intend to make any of you wait one moment longer,” a smiling Markell told about 200 jubilant supporters who erupted in cheers and applause following the Senate vote.


AB 1266, a bill in California Legislature introduced by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, would allow transgender kids to participate in sex-segregated school sports and activities regardless of the sex listed on the student’s records. Passage of AB 1266 would be a huge step in the direction toward equal opportunities for trans youth who already face plenty of hardships and discrimination in school, as it is.

NY Times’ Ian Lovett has the story. Here’s a clip:

Over the last decade, the International Olympic Committee and the National Collegiate Athletic Association have adopted regulations for athletes who were born male but now consider themselves females and want to play on women’s teams.

And now, high schools are beginning to take on the issue as well, as a small but growing number students who identify themselves as transgender have begun demanding access to the same school activities, like interscholastic sports, that other students enjoy.

More than half a dozen states, from Washington to Massachusetts, have adopted rules to allow transgender students to compete on teams that correspond with their gender identities rather than the sex listed on their school records. Half a dozen more states are considering similar regulations. And a bill in the Legislature would make California the first to specifically guarantee by law that transgender students like Tony are allowed to play school sports.

“Transgender students deserve equal access to everything in public education, including sports,” said Tom Ammiano, the state assemblyman sponsoring the bill. “You can’t discriminate just because you’re uncomfortable with a young man transitioning to become a young woman.”


Firearm-related crimes have seen a significant decrease over the last two decades, but most Americans are under the impression that gun crimes have increased since 1993 with only 12% of those surveyed aware of the decrease, according to a report released Tuesday by the Pew Research Center. Another Tuesday report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics says that the number of gun-related homicides dropped 39% from 1993 to 2011.

LA Times’ Emily Alpert has the story. Here’s a clip:

It’s unclear whether media coverage is driving the misconception that such violence is up. The mass shootings in Newtown, Conn., and Aurora, Colo., were among the news stories most closely watched by Americans last year, Pew found. Crime has also been a growing focus for national newscasts and morning network shows in the past five years but has become less common on local television news.

“It’s hard to know what’s going on there,” said D’Vera Cohn, senior writer at the Pew Research Center. Women, people of color and the elderly were more likely to believe that gun crime was up than men, younger adults or white people. The center plans to examine crime issues more closely later this year.

Photo by Douglas Muth through Wikimedia Commons.

Posted in children and adolescents, gender, guns, LGBT | No Comments »

LASD Lieutenant Sues Department Commander for Sexual Harassment & More

April 2nd, 2013 by Celeste Fremon

Angela Walton, a lieutenant who is quite literally a poster girl for the Los Angeles Sheriff’s department,
has filed what has the potential to be a messy sexual harassment lawsuit against Commander Joseph Fennell who, for the last couple of years, has been one of Sheriff Lee Baca’s cluster of rising stars charged with helping to reform the department’s troubled jails.

Walton, 44, is a bright, attractive supervisor who is featured on various department recruitment posters and billboards and who was one of the highest scoring females when she took the necessary exams to promote to the rank of lieutenent.

Fennell was one of the five supervisors handpicked in the fall of 2011 by Sheriff Lee Baca for his Commander Management Task Force, a sort of super group sent into the department’s scandal-plagued custody division to “effect positive change within the Los Angeles County jail system.”

The lawsuit comes just a few months after the news that a female deputy had filed charges of “sexual coercion” against three department higher ups, one a chief already retired, another a captain forced into a quick retirement, the third also a captain, is sidelined as he waits for the results of LASD’s internal investigation into the matter.

Now there is Walton’s complaint against Fennell, which alleges that, for the last four years, Fennell has “harassed, stalked, threatened and retaliated against” Walton, who was under his command.

The filing—which WitnessLA has obtained—states that Fennell, who was Walton’s supervisor during the four year period in question,” required sexual conduct as a condition of advancement” and engaged in a “lurid pattern of unwanted sexual conduct” toward Walton.

And, indeed, some lurid descriptions of agressive sexual overtures follow.

Walton’s attorney, Okorie Okorocha, stated categorically that Walton “declined every overture,” from Fennell. He also said that Walton will present cell-phone texts that support her charges, as well as the testimony by friends who witnessed some of the alleged incidents.

Fennell is reportedly gathering his own line up of friends and other support for his defense.

According to Okorocha, Walton became the most undone about the alleged unwanted and coercive attention when, two years ago, she was transferred by Fennell to work at Pitchess Detention Center in Castaic during a time when her father was dying of cancer and she had requested,, for this period, to stay closer to her home on the Westside of LA. Instead, Okorocha said, his client was punitively transferred for some “freeway therapy” because she again declined to cooperate sexually. “It was a critical time for her,” he said. “And she was really upset.” (Walton’s father has since died.)

The complaint further states that “Fennell repeatedly demanded sex” from Walton, and threatened her with loss of promotions if she ever disclosed his actions toward her, because Fennell’s wife “would wring his neck in his sleep” if she ever heard about the attentions he was paying to the attractive woman who worked for him.

Fennell, obviously, is married. Walton is not. (She is divorced.)

Following the filing of the lawsuit, the sheriff’s department has launched an internal affairs investigation, according to department spokesman Steve Whitmore. “It will get to the bottom of the allegations.”

Fennell, who declined to speak to WLA, said through Whitmore that he is “looking forward to the IA investigation that will show that the lawsuit is not grounded in fact.”

You can read the legal filing here: walton v. lasd

EDITOR’S NOTE: Updated with small factual corrections at 2 pm, April 2.


This Op Ed for the San Francisco Chronicle by Dr. Anthony Iton, senior vice president at the California Endowment, deserves a read—and some consideration.

Dr. Iton’s idea doesn’t try to take away anybody’s guns. His proposal simply treats gun violence like the public health problem it truly is.

Here’s a clip from the center of the essay, but read the whole thing (Then let’s talk about it):

…In too many communities, bullets leave a wide wake of shattered lives. Children grow up without fathers. Young men are put in wheelchairs. Kids are afraid to walk down to school or play in a park. A toxic stress pervades these neighborhoods. A recent Johns Hopkins report stated that deaths and injuries from guns resulted in at least $32 billion in medical costs and lost productivity.

Gun violence is a public health problem. It wasn’t that long ago that we faced a similar public health problem with tobacco. A comprehensive approach that included tobacco taxes, clean air laws, telephone “quit” lines for smokers, media and restricting sales to minors, has driven smoking rates down and decreased emphysema and lung cancer deaths. By helping fund many important public health investments, tobacco now pays for some of the societal harms it has caused.

We must do the same with ammunition. It’s time that the sales of ammunition foot part of the bill for the havoc bullets wreak across our state. A recent Field poll confirms that a majority of Californians support imposing higher taxes on the sale of ammunition with the proceeds going to violence prevention programs.

The tax would work like the one on cigarettes. When someone buys rounds of ammunition, a tax would be added to their bill that would go to pay for youth development programs, including sports, arts and mentorship programs for at-risk youth. These are proven programs to prevent violence.
The tax would do two important things:

First, fewer bullets would be sold in distressed neighborhoods. Guns are relatively cheap to buy and there are a lot of them out there. But bullets are like gas for guns. The tax would help empty the tank.

Second, the tax would provide much-needed funding to address the root causes of violence. Violence flares when young people feel they don’t have options and lack control over their lives. Studies consistently show that violence can be reduced if young people have relationships with caring adults. opportunities to develop their talents, and constructive ways to get involved in their communities, the three core elements of youth development.

The ammunition tax would fund places like Youth Uprising in East Oakland. They get kids involved in music, art, sports and entrepreneurship. Over three quarters of young people surveyed there said they have long-term and educational career plans because of Youth Uprising. There are countless organizations like Youth Uprising throughout our state, many of them underfunded.

Posted in gender, LASD | 35 Comments »

WINTER WOMEN: Finding “Non-Traditional” Employment for LA County’s Women in Need of Jobs

March 19th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon

Most every weekday in a parking lot in Long Beach, clusters of LA women,
ranging in ages from 18 to over 50, are learning to become skilled at the use of power tools, training to be certified in clean up of hazardous materials (HAZWOPER), grasping the skills necessary for certification to work in confined spaces. Some also become proficient in operating a fork lift.

These are “WINTER women.” The classes and apprenticeships they are taking part in are provided by WINTER Inc., which stands for Women In Non Traditional Employment Roles. More specifically, Winter is a non-profit economic development agency that was started in 1996 by a group of tradeswomen who wanted help economically disadvantaged women with employment. Now Winter trains and certifies 40 or 50 women a year in construction and related professional fields

Then Winter helps the women find jobs in those fields.

Some of the Winter Women are on probation or parole. Many have been referred by judges. Others have just heard about the program and need help getting a job that pays decently.

Like construction.

“It’s hard work so we also help them condition themselves,” said Mary Mercado, one of Winter’s program directors. Not everybody makes it through the program, she said. But those who do make it are ready to take on a new career in an environment that used to be reserved for men.


I learned about Winter Women from my friend Frances Aguilar, a former gang member, now married and the mother of seven kids—eight with her step daughter. (You can read more about Frances here and here.)

Frances is a bright, talented, hard-working woman who had a horror-show upbringing, followed by a string of scarringly unwise choices. Yet, while Frances has long-ago turned her life around, finding reasonably paying work in this economy, with her background, is anything but easy. She was thrilled, therefore, to hear about Winter Women.

“It’s great! For one thing, I’m getting a certificate to be an OSHA inspector!” she told me, her excitement spilling through the phone line.


Right now a lot of LA women, like Frances, urgently need the kind of leg up to employment that Winter Women provides.

In December 2012, in Los Angeles, the unemployment rate for women 20 years and older jumped from 7 percent to 7.3% in a single month, while men’s numbers remained the same at 7.2.

For the county’s harder to employ women—women without special training or who have been out of work for a while, or worse, those who have a felony conviction on their records, as many of the Winter Women do—then matters become even bleaker.

In addition, many of the economically distressed women who are out of work, are single parents heading households, thus people who need to at least aspire to jobs that pay well enough to support their kids.

Matters are not helped by the fact that the gender wage gap for all women nationally, widened in 2012, rather than lessening.


Of course, for both men and women California’s jobs situation is complicated. With 9.9 percent unemployed statewide, California is now depressingly tied with Rhode Island for the nation’s worst unemployment rate according to figures released on Monday.

But along with this bad news, there is also the very good news that, despite its unemployment numbers, the state is actually a leader in job growth. Naturally, these new jobs are being created at a faster clip are in some professions than others.

The construction industry is one of those that is seeing the most growth, with more than 7,000 construction jobs added in California from December to January.

Unfortunately, as Mercado said, construction is not a profession that has traditionally employed a lot of women.

Or as Winter’s website puts it: “Women are dramatically underrepresented in areas where employment opportunities are plentiful and wages are livable.”

Winter Women is doing its best to change all that—one training class at a time


In addition to training women, Winter also trains “at risk” girls from ages 16 to 24, helping them to graduate from high school or get their GEDs while they are being instructed and mentored in professional skills, similar to those of the women are attaining, in Winter’s Rosie the Riveter Youth Program-–named for the cultural icon who represented the American women who worked in factories during World War II.


As is usually the case with non-profits like Winter, they are always looking for donations and funding. (If you’re interested go here.)

Also, on Thursday the 21st of March, Winter is having its yearly gala fundraiser at the Maya Hotel in Long Beach, from 6:00pm-8:30pm. Tickets are $125 per person. And everyone—from trainees to supporters and fans—is asked to wear 1940′s dressy attire—in other words, fabulous garb from of the Rosie the Riveter era.

Should you wish to attend, call: 213-749-3970

(Last time I talked to Frances, she was looking for the ideal 1940′s floor-length gown for Thursday night. I have no doubt about the fact that she found it.)

Posted in Education, Employment, gender, women's issues, Youth at Risk | No Comments »

50 Years of Gideon—the Case That Created the Right to Public Defense…Plus Failing Our Girls in the Juvie Justice System… & More $$ for the LASD

March 18th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon


We have all heard the text of the Miranda warning recited in films and on episodic TV shows at least a zillion times:

You have the right to remain silent.
Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law.
You have the right to an attorney.
If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed for you.

What most of us don’t know or don’t remember is the fact that the last line—the thing about a lawyer being provided for those who can’t afford one—is a right that is only half a century old.

Monday, March 18, marks the 50th anniversary of the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case Gideon v. Wainwright, which guarantees the right to counsel for criminal defendants in state courts who
cannot afford an attorney.

But, despite this remarkable Supreme Court decision that changed American legal history, and despite the hard work of many dedicated public defenders, the system, say experts, is close to broken, with overloaded public defenders often able to spend little more than 3 hours on a clients entire case.

The AP’s Mark Sherman has a story on the topic. Here’s a clip:

….So that was the promise of Gideon — that a competent lawyer for the defense would stand on an equal footing with prosecutors, and that justice would prevail, at least in theory.

A half-century later, there are parts of the country where “it is better to be rich and guilty than poor and innocent,” said Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and a former prosecutor. Leahy said court-appointed lawyers often are underpaid and can be “inexperienced, inept, uninterested or worse.”

Regardless of guilt or innocence, few of those accused of crimes are rich, while 80 percent say they are too poor to afford a lawyer.

People who work in the criminal justice system have become numb to the problems, creating a culture of low expectations, said Jonathan Rapping, a veteran public defender who has worked in Washington, D.C., Atlanta and New Orleans.

Rapping remembers walking into a courtroom in New Orleans for the first time for a client’s initial appearance before a judge. Several defendants in jump suits were shackled together in one part of the courtroom. The judge moved briskly through charges against each of the men, with a lawyer speaking up for each one.

Then he called a name and there was no lawyer present. The defendant piped up. “The guy said he hadn’t seen a lawyer since he was locked up 70 days ago. And no one in the courtroom was shocked. No one was surprised,” Rapping said.

A new award-winning documentary called “Gideon’s Army” gives a visceral feeling for the problem, and the idealism of some of the young public defenders who are trying to make a difference, despite the odds.


The juvenile justice system was—and in most ways still is—-designed for boys. And that’s a problem.

Yes, boys greatly outnumber girls in the justice system but girls’ numbers have been growing. Between 1991 and 2003, girls’ detentions rose by 98 percent, compared to a 29 percent increase in boys’

More recently, as the number of juvenile arrests has dropped in the U.S., the drop is far bigger for boys than for girls. (In 2010, boys’ arrests had decreased by 26.5 percent since 2001, while girls’ arrests had decreased by only 15.5 percent.)

Girls come into detention facilities for different reasons and with different needs from those of their male counterparts, and yet they are often treated with a cookie cutter sameness.

For instance, 19 percent of boys in juvenile detention facilities had tried to commit suicide, while 44 percent of girls had.

In terms of physical abuse, the split was 22 percent boys, 42 percent girls.

And 8 percent of boys admitted to being sexually abused; 35 percent of girls had been sexually abused.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to differences—and the needs they suggest.

The Sunday LA Times has a story by Anna Gorman on the subject. And it is an important topic that we’ll continue to return to over the next year.

Here’s a clip from Gorman’s report:

Latrice lifts the sleeve of her gray sweatshirt to reveal small, dark lines — scars from slicing her forearm over and over to drown out pain from years of sexual abuse. She says she was an alcoholic, dropped out of school in the eighth grade and got pregnant at 16.

Now 18, she is in Los Angeles County’s juvenile justice system because she violated probation. Latrice says she has been locked up more than 20 times in four years. Petite and talkative, she has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and takes antidepressants.

Her health issues — and those of about 9,400 girls in juvenile detention centers around the nation — are serious and complex. Many of the girls don’t have regular doctors, so their physical and emotional problems often go undiagnosed and untreated. That continues when they enter a system that was designed for boys and has been slow to adapt to girls.

“Their health needs are different; they are more severe and more complicated than boys’,” said Catherine Gallagher, a George Mason University professor and an expert in juvenile justice. “They come in underserved…. They remain underserved.”

More than one-third of girls in custody nationwide have a history of sexual abuse, compared with 8% of boys. Girls also have had more physical abuse, suicide attempts and drug-related problems, according to the federal Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. Few juvenile justice centers have shown they meet minimum healthcare standards, and girls are less likely than boys to get the care they need.

Both the Atlantic Monthly and NPR did good stories —both by reporter Jenny Gold—on the needs of girls that are worth reading and/or listening.

Here, also is one of the studies from the Department of Justice with some of the facts and figures.


Christina Villacorte of the Daily News has the story:

With the inmate population steadily increasing, Sheriff Lee Baca will ask the Board of Supervisors Tuesday to study replacing the dilapidated and violence-plagued Men’s Central Jail with a $932.8-million high-tech facility, and consider relying more on electronic monitoring devices and other alternatives to incarceration.

The proposal at this stage is to hire a contractor to prepare a conceptual design and environmental impact review.

In a letter to the board, Baca and county chief executive officer William Fujioka said it was “critical” to begin the process of replacing the aging MCJ with a more efficient facility that would hold high-security and medical inmates.

The proposed new jail would be built on the site of the half-century-old MCJ in downtown Los Angeles. It is envisioned to house up to 3,500 high-security and medical inmates in two towers.

Baca and County CEO are also scheduled to ask for $22 million in order to restore adequate patrols in the county’s unincorporated areas. (So what happened to that independent audit that was going to be done on the department’s budget to find out where the money was going. Here’s that story—also from Villacorte at the DN.

Posted in Courts, crime and punishment, criminal justice, gender, juvenile justice | No Comments »

Obama, the Inaugural Address, Gay Rights & Other Social Justice Issues

January 22nd, 2013 by Celeste Fremon

There is a lot of news that is worth your attention this week: a significant new report with implications about California’s probationers and parolees.
..some action on LA County probation’s use of solitary confinement for kids…additional LASD news….and more. But we’ll get to those issues tomorrow, and in coming days.

Today we are pausing to focus on Monday’s inauguration as it relates to a couple of the social justice topics that we discuss here at WitnessLA.

With that in mind, here are some stories, essays, and op eds that attempt to decode the import of the president’s speech, specifically, and the inauguration, in general:

(Here’s the text of Obama’s inaugural address, in case you need it for reference.)


Well, Richard Socarides of the New Yorker thinks so, and makes his case.

Here’s a clip from his essay:

No one anticipated it, but President Barack Obama used the occasion of his second Inaugural Address to give what was perhaps the most important gay-rights speech in American history. Inaugural Addresses are, by their definition, important and defining occasions, when Presidents set the tone and direction for the coming four years. President Obama used the occasion to make the first direct reference to gay-rights in an Inaugural Address, and he did so with a power and forthrightness we have not heard before, even from him.

About two-thirds of the way into the speech, Obama referred to Stonewall, a gay bar where, in 1969, a police raid provoked a riot, in the same sentence as Seneca Falls and Selma—thus comparing the women’s and African-American civil-rights movements to the gay-rights struggle. Had he stopped there, it would have been historic—particularly coming from the first African-American President—but, in keeping with the tradition of politicians who refer to gay-rights obliquely or with code words, stopping short of directness.

But the President continued:

Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law—for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well.

Not only was this a call to end discrimination, but an unambiguous argument for the recognition of same-sex marriage across the country. For a President who announced his support for marriage equality less than a year ago, after more reluctance (and suggestions about what could be left to the states) than many would have liked, this was a bold declaration….


NY Times columnist, Frank Bruni, comments on the difference between Obama’s first inauguration and Monday’s when it comes to gay rights. Here’s a clip:

Seneca Falls, Selma, Stonewall. The alliteration of that litany made it seem obvious and inevitable, a bit of poetry just there for the taking. Just waiting to happen.

But it has waited a long time. And President Obama’s use of it in his speech on Monday — his grouping of those three places and moments in one grand and musical sentence — was bold and beautiful and something to hear. It spoke volumes about the progress that gay Americans have made over the four years between his first inauguration and this one, his second. It also spoke volumes about the progress that continues to elude us.

“We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths — that all of us are created equal — is the star that guides us still, just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls and Selma and Stonewall,” the president said, taking a rapt country on a riveting trip to key theaters in the struggle for liberty and justice for all.

Seneca Falls is a New York town where, in 1848, the women’s suffrage movement gathered momentum. Selma is an Alabama city where, in 1965, marchers amassed, blood was shed and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. stood his ground against the unconscionable oppression of black Americans.

And Stonewall? This was the surprise inclusion, separating Obama’s oratory and presidency from his predecessors’ diction and deeds. It alludes to a gay bar in Manhattan that, in 1969, was raided by police, who subjected patrons to a bullying they knew too well. After the raid came riots, and after the riots came a more determined quest by L.G.B.T. Americans for the dignity they had long been denied.

The causes of gay Americans and black Americans haven’t always existed in perfect harmony, and that context is critical for appreciating Obama’s reference to Stonewall alongside Selma. Blacks have sometimes questioned gays’ use of “civil rights” to describe their own movement, and have noted that the historical experiences of the two groups aren’t at all identical. Obama moved beyond that, focusing on the shared aspirations of all minorities. It was a big-hearted, deliberate, compelling decision.

He went on, seconds later, to explicitly mention “gay” Americans, saying a word never before uttered in inaugural remarks. What shocked me most about that was how un-shocking it was.


In this LA Times Op Ed, Ken Dilanian and David G. Savage of the paper’s Washington Bureau, discuss the possible policy shifts the speech suggests—particularly when it comes to the stand the administration may or may not take with regard to the gay rights matters coming soon before the Supreme Court. Here’s a clip from their story:

“….Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law,” he continued, “for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well.”

The passage “was definitely one of those moments that took your breath away,” said Adam DeRosa, president of the Lesbian and Gay Band Assn., whose 215 members later marched past the president in the inaugural parade. “We understand the historical significance of it. What political significance it has remains to be seen.”

Obama, who only last spring hesitated to declare his public support for gay marriage, soon will have to decide whether his administration will take the potentially huge step of arguing before the Supreme Court that gay marriage is an equal right under the Constitution.

The court will soon review two cases, one of them involving California’s Proposition 8, the ballot measure that limited marriage to unions between a man and a woman. Gay rights lawyers have asked the Supreme Court to declare the ballot measure unconstitutional, potentially striking down the laws of 41 states.

To several legal scholars, Obama’s equating of Selma and Stonewall strongly implied he is prepared to side with gay rights activists. But doing so would mark a sudden departure from the caution with which he has typically approached most issues….


Theodore Olson, the former George W. Bush administration solicitor general and lawyer for the gay couples challenging Proposition 8, said the president sounded ready to back a constitutional right to gay marriage.

“I was very gratified to hear the president state in clear and unambiguous language that our gay and lesbian citizens must be treated equally under the law,” Olson said, “and that their loving relationships must be treated equally as well. That can only mean one thing: equality under the Constitution.”

Evan Wolfson, president and founder of New York-based Freedom to Marry, noted in an interview that Obama’s speech “was an inaugural address, not a legal brief, and we will see over the next several weeks exactly what positions the Justice Department takes.”

“I am confident the president knows that the Constitution requires equality in the freedom to marry,” he added…


“We do not believe that in this country, freedom is reserved for the lucky, or happiness for the few.”

Doug Berman over at Sentencing, Law and Policy wants to know if Obama’s clemency record will match his inaugural rhetoric.

Here’s a clip:

Blogging four years ago during the last day in which a US President took the oath of office, I commented in this post about the tendency of chief executives to invoke great rhetoric and wax poetic about freedom and liberty in America despite our country’s recent record of locking up a record number of persons in jails and prisons. I also asked in this follow-up post on the same day whether it was too early to start demanding President Obama use his clemency power to live up to our country’s traditional commitment to personal freedom and liberty.

Sadly, as P.S. Ruckman effectively documents and highlights in this new post, President Obama’s first-term record on the clemency front is at once disgraceful and disgusting:

Barack Obama’s first term has come to an end and we are now ready to report that his four-years as president represent the least merciful term for any modern president (Democrat or Republican) and, quite possibly, the least merciful in the entire history of the United States (see footnote below).

This is, of course, an incredible distinction for a president who repeatedly notes that America is a place where people get “second chances,” from a president who complained bitterly about overly-harsh sentences given to criminal defendants simply because they were African-American, and from a president who promised us “hope and change.”


The Atlantic’s James Fallows points out that, in addition to the significance of the paragraphs in the president’s speech on gay rights, gender equality, et al, the other significant section is the one that comes earlier in the speech, and contains this:

“For history tells us that while these truths may be self-evident, they’ve never been self-executing; that while freedom is a gift from God, it must be secured by His people here on Earth. The patriots of 1776 did not fight to replace the tyranny of a king with the privileges of a few or the rule of a mob. They gave to us a republic, a government of, and by, and for the people, entrusting each generation to keep safe our founding creed.”

In other words, for whatever it is worth, POTUS intends the speech as more than rhetorical; it is a specific call to action.

Fallows says he has ” no illusion, delusion, allusion, or even dog-whistle conceptions that this speech will change the partisan power-balance affecting passage of anything Obama mentioned, from climate legislation to reforming immigration law.”

And yet, Fallows’ colleague Ta-Nehisi Coates suggests in his reflections on the speech:

Obama’s speech is different. To some extent it exposes people to new ideas. But to a greater extent, perhaps, it shows how movements which only a few years ago were thought to be on the run have, in at least one major party, carried the day. This is not a small thing.

For details, one presumes we should stay tuned for the State of the Union address in February.

AND NOW….back to our regularly scheduled programming

PS: While Beyonce and the others were wonderful to see and hear at the inauguration, for me it was that lovely, unnamed soprano who—along with the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir surrounding her—truly blew the doors off the joint.

Posted in Civil Liberties, Civil Rights, crime and punishment, gender, immigration, LGBT, Obama, Sentencing, Supreme Court | 1 Comment »

Abusive Spousal Support….Realignment Panic…& the GOP on Criminal Justice

November 11th, 2011 by Celeste Fremon


What is this judge thinking? ABC news has the report. Here are the details:

She was forced to have sex with him, and now she’s being forced to pay his bills.

Crystal Harris of Carlsbad, Calif., had been financially supporting her unemployed, abusive husband Shawn Harris for years. But after he sexually assaulted her in 2008, she took him to court.

The jury heard a damning audiotape of the attack secretly recorded by Crystal Harris, and her husband was convicted of forced oral copulation.

Even so, in 2010, the year their divorce became finalized, he requested spousal support. The judge awarded him $1,000 a month, and also asked Crystal Harris to pay $47,000 of her ex-husband’s legal fees from the divorce proceedings.


Sheriff Baca says the County’s Jails could be full in a month, so some prisoners may serve half sentences. He also said he will look at community-based alternatives to incarceration for some offenders (a strategy that other states have employed successfully, and CA should have embraced years ago).

The LA Times Andrew Blankstein and Robert Faturechi have the story.

Here’s a clip:

The state’s new prison law, which establishes a practice known as realignment, is expected to send as many as 8,000 offenders who would normally go to state prisons into the L.A. County Jail system in the next year.

Currently, defendants awaiting trial account for 70% of the jail population, but Sheriff Lee Baca said that might need to drop to 50%. The department is studying a major expansion of its electronic monitoring and home detention programs to keep track of inmates who are released.

Baca said the department is also developing a new risk-assessment system designed to better identify which inmates are the best candidates to leave the jails.

Additionally, the department is looking at ways to channel more offenders into education and substance abuse programs rather than jail.

In the panic over releasing inmates, did anyone notice the small, interesting fact embedded in this story: namely that 70 percent of those in jail are not there because of convictions, but because they are awaiting trial. And a big chunk of the folks who make up that 70 percent are locked up, not because they’re a hideous threat to public safety or a ghastly flight risk, but simply because they don’t have the money or the collateral to make bail. In other words, the issue isn’t so much criminogenic as it is fiscal.

So-o-oooo, instead, of keeping all those economically-challenged folks in the county lock-up, for those who qualify, we could use electronic monitoring or some related ATI (alternatives to incarceration) system, which other jurisdictions have been employing with good results. (But, hell, why be logical and forward thinking when hysteria is SO much more fun!)


Steve Yoder writing for the Crime Report suggests that some Republicans have come farther on sentencing reform and other criminal justice reforms than Democrats.

Here’s a clip:

To understand the distance that the Republican Party has traveled on criminal justice, observe the record of Texas’ longest-serving governor.

In 2001, just after Rick Perry assumed the job, he vetoed a bill that would have ended the practice of arresting those suspected of class C misdemeanors—fine-only crimes that don’t require jail time, such as traffic offenses.

But fast-forward to 2007. That year, he signed a law allowing police officers to issue citations instead of making arrests for certain class A and B misdemeanors, including marijuana possession. Perry’s reversal came about in part because the state faced a projected shortfall of 17,000 inmate beds.

In Texas and other red states, formerly law-and-order GOP lawmakers are taking the lead in reforming criminal justice systems.

In other words, yes, California’s Democratic legislature does lag behind Rick Perry’s Texas (among other states) in terms of many criminal justice reforms. Explain that one, Sacramento!

Not that the public, the press and the local officials are any better: Just notice the ongoing freakout that realignment is causing. (See above.) I mean, realignment may force us to have to back into some much-needed sentencing and pre-trial systems reform. OMG!!! The horror!!!

Posted in Courts, criminal justice, families, gender, LA County Jail, Sentencing, Sheriff Lee Baca | No Comments »

Controller Wendy Gets Down With LA Women for Some Candid Chatting

August 5th, 2011 by Celeste Fremon

On Thursday, July 28, LA City Controller Wendy Greuel hosted
the fourth of what she calls her Women’s Dialogues. This “Dialogue” took place downtown in the City Council chambers, and involved a bunch of surprisingly forthright (and often funny) conversation.

Each one of these women’s gatherings is themed. Last Thursday the theme was Women and the Law, and it featured Attorney General Kamala Harris, along with Rachel Moran, the Dean of the UCLA School of Law (who was reportedly on Jerry Brown’s short list for the California Supreme Court), Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Teresa Sanchez-Gordon, plus three heavy hitter women attorneys—Carla Christofferson of O’Melveny & Myers, Los Angeles office, Kaylynn L. Kim, Terra Imperium Global Advisors, and Areva Martin of Martin & Martin.

The whole notion of organizing these women’s chat sessions is not unique to Greuel. Former Controller Laura Chick began the practice with her own similar gender-specific events.

But Greuel has continued it with gusto, reaching out to women in various professions for get-togethers in which a panel of powerhouse females from a particular profession answer questions lobbed by Wendy, and by the wide variety of women who have come to participate as audience members.

The women in last Thursday’s audience included lawyers (of course), LAPD officers, staffers from the mayor’s and the city attorney’s offices, a gaggle of couple of extremely bright pre-law undergrads from USC, and at least one other judge.

indeed, the women leaders in the room were, by no means, limited to the panel; I ran into former LAPD Inspector General Nicole Bershon (recently turned Court Commissioner) who told me how really glad she was to able to make it to the event, a sentiment that most I talked to echoed.

A big part of the appeal was the candidness of the Q’s and A’s, a process that Greuel was unusually skilled at facilitating. For example, in addition to the expected “How did you get where you are and what obstacles did you face?” questions, at some point she asked the panelists how they dealt with the “are you tough enough” issue—noting (and I am paraphrasing here) that if a woman was perceived as being the wrong kind of tough she got labeled…..the B- word.

When necessary Greuel pushed her panelists until she got good answers. Yet very little pushing was required. The panelists themselves worked hard to be candid. Carla Christofferson the very pregnant, 44-year old bombshell blond who is the managing partner from O’Melveny said with a deadpan expression that when men begin questioning her toughness, “…the fact that can tell them I bow hunt and kill things, gives me an advantage.” Then Christofferson added in a more serious tone, “We all have things in our personal narrative that we can use, that can help us.”

At one point the exchange got informatively girly as the women talked about the intricacies of their wardrobe and accessory choices. Most advocated for less tamped down styles that flaunted some kind of personal expression. For example, Ariva Martin wore a blazingly yellow dress and said she favored red footwear. UCLA dean Rachel Moran, had on large, very pretty and decidedly unbusiness-y rhinestone earrings and Judge Sanchez-Gordon wore platform heels that were on the refreshingly racy side.

“And see,” said one woman afterward, “what you should or shouldn’t wear to be taken seriously is the kind of thing that every woman I know thinks about but nobody ever talks about.”

Another thing that no one mentioned overtly was the fact that, since Wendy Greuel has declared herself to running for mayor when Villaraigosa terms out, the good will that she is gathering by organizing women’s events like this one cannot help but be to her advantage.

Yet watching Controller Wendy Greuel’s delight in getting smart women to talk to each other about the some of the rarely mentioned textures of their respective lives strongly suggested that any political advantages Greuel happens to gain from these sessions is very well earned.

You can watch the Women in Law dialogue at City View here. (Look to your right and choose the top Women’s Dialogue Series.)

Posted in City Controller, gender | No Comments »

Bummed Out: The Complicated Politics of Rear Views

November 20th, 2008 by Celeste Fremon


Alright. Let’s begin at the beginning. The whole kerfuffle started on Tuesday
when my pal Erin Aubry Kaplan caused something of a stir with the cover story she wrote for Salon. The article, you see, was about Michelle Obama’s…um….well… her butt.

Here are some clips:

“…..There is a certain freedom in the moment – as in, we are all now free from wondering when or if we’ll ever get a black president. Congratulations to all of us for being around to settle the question.

But what really thrills me, what really feels liberating in a very personal way, is the official new prominence of Michelle Obama. Barack’s better half not only has stature but is statuesque. She has coruscating intelligence, beauty, style and — drumroll, please — a butt. (Yes, you read that right: I’m going to talk about the first lady’s butt.)


Lord knows, it’s time the butt got some respect. Ever since slavery, it’s been both vilified and fetishized as the most singular of all black female features, more unsettling than dark skin and full lips, the thing that marked black women as uncouth and not quite ready for civilization (of course, it also made them mighty attractive to white men, which further stoked fears of miscegenation that lay at the heart of legal and social segregation). In modern times, the butt has demarcated class and stature among black society itself. Emphasizing it or not separates dignified black women from ho’s, party girls from professionals, hip-hop from serious. (Black women are not the only ones with protruding behinds, by the way, but they’re certainly considered its source. How many gluteally endowed nonblack women have been derided for having a black ass? Well, Hillary, for one.)

But Michelle is bringing those two falsely divided minds together in a single presentation — finally, unity for the real world!

The rest is a happy and appreciative hallelujah written with a lovely sense of exuberance and humor. It is also an intelligent essay on issues of body image, race and women, all done with a light touch. Erin is and always has been a good writer. And this kind of political-meets-the-highly-personal is where she particularly excels.

At least that’s what I thought when I read it.

To say that not all Salon’s readers had such an upbeat reaction would be to understate the matter considerably.

Many in the crowd were quite aghast.

“This article was stupid, vapid, and demeaning and not even funny, nor ironic in any sense of the word,” wrote an outraged reader in what turned out to be one of the tamest of the comments.

But the angry response to Erin’s boo-tay bantering did not limit itself to Salon.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in gender, Obama | 30 Comments »