Tuesday, October 21, 2014
street news, views and stories of justice and injustice
Follow me on Twitter

Search WitnessLA:

Recent Posts

Categories

Archives

Meta

How Appealing


Fed Judge Rules CA Death Penalty Unconstitutional

July 16th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon



U.S. District Judge Cormac J. Carney
ruled on Wednesday that California’s death penalty process is so absurdly long and drawn out—and ultimately arbitrary as a result—that it violates the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibiting cruel and unusual punishment.

In his ruling Carney wrote:

“….the dysfunctional administration of California’s death penalty system has resulted, and will continue to result, in an inordinate and unpredictable period of delay preceding their actual execution. Indeed, for most, systemic delay has made their execution so unlikely that the death sentence carefully and deliberately imposed by the jury has been quietly transformed into one no rational jury or legislature could ever impose: life in prison, with the remote possibility of death.

As for the random few who actually are executed, Carney wrote, “they will have languished for so long on Death Row that their execution will serve no retributive or deterrent purpose and will be arbitrary.”

Carney, who was appointed by former President George W. Bush, overturned the death sentence of Ernest Dewayne Jones, a man sentenced to death in 1995 for the rape and murder of his girlfriend’s mother.

The judge noted that more than 900 people have received a death sentence in California since 1978, yet only 13 have been executed.

The ruling will likely be appealed by the state to the 9th Circuit and could go as far as the US Supreme Court. Some legal scholars are already betting that the Supremes will not side with Carney, and likely that is true, given the leanings of the present court. Yet, a full reading of Carney’s ruling (which you can find here) is interesting, in terms of the SCOTUS precedents he cites.

Another intriguing part of Carney’s findings is his flat contention that the interminable delays in arriving at a decision as to whether someone sentenced to death in the state of California is to be executed, are caused entirely by the state, not the inmate:

Most Death Row inmates wait between three and five years for counsel to be appointed for their direct appeal. After the issues are briefed on direct appeal, another two to three years are spent waiting for oral argument to be scheduled before the California Supreme Court. On state habeas review, far from meeting the ideal goal of appointing state habeas counsel shortly after the death verdict, at least eight to ten years elapse between the death verdict and appointment of habeas counsel. When that counsel is appointed by the State, investigation of potential claims is hampered by underfunding, which in turn slows down the federal habeas review process…..” And so it goes.

And just to be clear, Carney is in no way arguing against the appeal process, which he sees as essential—-because “…as the American tradition of law has long recognized, death is a punishment different in kind from any other”—-but to its utter dysfunction in California.

Ultimately, Judge Carney concludes:

Inordinate and unpredictable delay has resulted in a death penalty system in which very few of the hundreds of individuals sentenced to death have been, or even will be, executed by the State. IIt has resulted in a system in which arbitrary factors, rather than legitimate ones like the nature of the crime or the date of the death sentence, determine whether an individual will actually be executed. And it has resulted in a system that serves no penological purpose. Such a system is unconstitutional.

As mentioned above, this ruling will most likely be appealed to the 9th Circuit. (Kamala Harris is reportedly reviewing the ruling.) Carney did not, however, issue a statewide order with his ruling, but only overturned Jones’ death sentence, converting it to life without the possibility of parole.

Executions in California have been on hold since February 2006, when federal Judge Jeremy Fogel, then of San Jose, ruled that unsolved problems with the state’s lethal injection procedures, along with poor staff training, meant that the condemned were exposed to a botched and extremely painful execution, which was in violation of the Eighth Amendment.

Posted in Death Penalty, How Appealing | 1 Comment »

After Brief Sunshine, Darkness Again at LA Family Court….Mental Retardation and the Death Penalty…Alabama’s Women’s Prison Problem….& More

March 4th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


FAMILY COURT, WHERE FOSTER CARE CASES ARE DECIDED, IS CLOSED TO PRESS AGAIN IN AN APPELLATE COURT RULING MONDAY

On Monday, in a 2-1 decision, a California appeals court closed off press access to LA’s Juvenile Dependency hearings—aka where foster care cases are decided—in all but a few instances.

The ruling came more than two years after Judge Michael Nash, the presiding judge of the county’s juvenile court, issued a blanket order opening the long-shuttered court system to the press, on January 31, 2012.

In Nash’s original order, there was a fail safe system to further ensure that kids were protected. The way it worked was simple: if there was clear evidence that media presence would be harmful to the children involved in any given case, the press would be excluded. Otherwise, they would be allowed—very carefully—in.

Those who objected to the blanket order seemed to envision crowds of insensitive reporters storming the hearing rooms, but in fact very, very few reporters showed any interest.

Those few who did show up, seemed to tread very carefully and took pains to protect the privacy of the kids involved in any case they were covering.

After all, the point of opening the courts in the first place was to shed some light on a secretive system that is, in so many ways, terribly broken.

According to the appellate ruling, however, in one particularly difficult case in February 2012, the attorney of a fifteen-year-old girl—who was the eldest of five children siblings involved—objected to press presence in behalf of her client, who had allegedly been badly assaulted by her dad.

An LA Times attorney, who was present with a Times reporter, pushed back against the objection.

A lengthy legal battle ensued, and Monday’s ruling was the result.

In reading the court’s opinion, it is unclear why the LA Times chose to go to the mat on this one case, where there was such a virulent objection. It is also unclear whether it was really the 15-year-old girl who objected or merely her attorney.

In any case, whatever the individual motives of the adults, the result is that the press is once again excluded from child dependency court. Thus a much-needed check-and-balance to the functioning of LA’s foster care system in its dealings with our county’s most vulnerable kids….is no more. Which is very, very unfortunate.

The LA Times Garrett Therolf has written a story about the decision too, and reports that Judge Nash said Monday he would soon issue a new order complying with the appellate court decision and laying out a new procedure for journalists and members of the public seeking access to dependency hearings.

(This is very good news.)

“Over the last two years, I’m somewhat disappointed that there were not [more] visits to the court by the media. Other than that, I think the old order went well,” Nash said.

POST SCRIPT: A hat tip to the Chronicle of Social Change for alerting us to the fact that the ruling had come down.


WHEN IT COMES TO THE DEATH PENALTY WHO IS MENTALLY DISABLED?

In 2002 the U.S.Supreme Court ruled that those suffering from mental retardation should be excluded from execution. However, in the case known as Atkins v. Virginia, the court failed to actually set down guidelines to help determine exactly what amounted to the kind of mental disability that the justices intended with their ruling.

On Monday, March 3, SCOTUS heard a case that may force the Supremes to lay down such guidelines—or leave the matter to the states.

The excellent Irwin Chemerinsky, Dean of the UC Irvine School of Law explains the case and what it could mean for the issue in an essay for the ABA Journal.

Here’s a clip:

Freddie Lee Hall was tried and convicted for a murder that occurred in 1978. At a hearing on whether to impose the death penalty, Hall’s lawyers presented evidence that he is mentally retarded. His teachers had identified his mental disabilities and labeled him “mentally retarded.” Doctors who examined him concluded that Hall was “extremely impaired psychiatrically, neurologically and intellectually,” that he showed signs of “serious brain impairment,” and that he “is probably incapable of even the most … basic living skills which incorporate math and reading.” On intelligence tests, his IQ measured at 60, 76, 79, and 80, all in the range of being mentally retarded. Nonetheless, the Florida trial court sentenced him to death.

In 2001, Florida enacted a statute that prohibits the execution of persons with mental retardation. The law defines mental retardation as “significantly sub-average general intellectual functioning” as measured by a “performance that is two or more standard deviations from the mean score on a standardized intelligence test specified in the rules.” In 2007, the Florida Supreme Court interpreted this law to mean that only those with an I.Q. score of 70 or below qualify as mentally retarded. Cherry v. State.

In 2009, a hearing was held on whether Hall was mentally retarded. An expert testified that he had administered an IQ test to Hall–the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale-III–and Hall scored 71. Another expert testified that Hall’s IQ was 73. The trial court concluded that Hall could be executed by Florida because his IQ was above 70.

Florida is one of 10 states with laws that define mental retardation solely based on whether a person has an IQ score of 70 or lower. Two other states set a cutoff of an IQ of 75 or lower. The question before the Supreme Court is whether this approach to defining who is mentally retarded is consistent with the Eighth Amendment.

This is an issue that the Supreme Court has avoided since its 2002 decision in Atkins v. Virginia, which held that the “mentally retarded should be categorically excluded from execution.”

Read the rest here.

And for NPR, Nina Totenberg also has an explanatory story on the Monday’s case.

AND….Lyle Denniston at SCOTUSBlog has a terrific and prognosticative analysis of the Supremes attitudes as they heard the case on Monday morning.

Here’s a clip:

If a state, trying to make it simple to decide who can be given a death sentence, opts for a choice that looks arbitrary, it is likely to have a difficult time in a Supreme Court that worries about the chances of error. That was demonstrated anew on Monday, when Florida found itself in deep Eighth Amendment trouble with a rule that anyone with an IQ above 70 can be executed if convicted of murder.

A quite definite majority of the Justices — perhaps, notably, including Justice Anthony M. Kennedy — left little doubt that Florida and six other states will not be allowed to maintain an automatic test-score-based cutoff for those who could qualify as mentally retarded and thus can escape the death penalty.

Kennedy’s role is central because he has most often led the Court in narrowing the category of those eligible to be executed, to take account of reduced capacity to be held responsible for their criminal behavior. He was among the most active in questioning Florida’s approach to mental retardation among those on death row. And, on Monday, he added in some strongly implied criticism of a system that allows some inmates to remain on death row for decades….


HOW WILL ALABAMA HANDLE ITS CRISIS IN ITS WOMEN’S PRISONS?

Investigative reports into conditions at Alabama’s Tutwiler prison for women have described a damning situation in which “officers have raped, beaten and harassed women inside the aging prison here for at least 18 years,” writes Kim Severson for the NY Times.

An official in the civil rights division of the U.S. Department of Justice points to “a very strong case of constitutional violations.”

There is a toxic, highly sexualized environment that has been met with “deliberate indifference on the part of prison officials and prison management,” said Jocelyn Samuels, the acting DOJ assistant attorney general for civil rights, of Tutwiler.

Yet, in Severson’s straight-talking story she reports that it is unclear if the state’s elected officials have the political will to actually solve the mess in which conditions are allegedly substandard and sex is a traded commodity.

Here’s a clip:

“No one wants to be soft on crime, but the way we’re doing this is just stupid,” Mr. Ward said.

Still, in many corners of Alabama, a state where political prominence is often tied to how much a candidate disparages criminals, the appetite for change remains minimal.

The Legislature is in the middle of its budget session, working over a document from Gov. Robert Bentley that includes $389 million for the state’s prisons. That is about $7 million less than last year’s budget.

The Department of Corrections argues that it needs $42 million more than it had last year. Alabama prisons are running at almost double capacity, and staffing is dangerously low, said Kim T. Thomas, the department’s commissioner. He said he would use about $21 million of his request to give corrections officers a 10 percent raise and hire about 100 officers.

The odds of approval for that much new money are not great, but they are better this year than they have been in a long while, said Stephen Stetson, a policy analyst with Arise Citizens’ Policy Project, a liberal policy group.

Even so, “for the average legislator, it’s still, ‘These bodies don’t matter,’ ” he said.

For some of the prisoners’ accounts, read the rest.


THE STORY OF THE FOUR PRISON GANGSTERS WHO LAUNCHED A 30,000 INMATE HUNGER STRIKE FROM PELICAN BAY’S SHU

I wondered when someone would tell this story and now reporter Benjamin Wallace-Wells has written a very smart account for New York Magazine. (But why did it take an out-of-state media outlet to publish it?)

In any case, this is a well-reported, intelligently-written story that neither advocates nor judges. We didn’t want you to miss it

Here’re some clips:

In July 8 of last year, a 50-year-old man named Todd Ashker, an inmate at California’s Pelican Bay State Prison, began a hunger strike. He had compiled a list of demands, but the essential one was that the policy that dictated the terms of his imprisonment be abolished. Ashker was housed in Pelican Bay’s Security Housing Unit, the most restrictive prison unit in California and a place of extreme isolation. Convicts stay in their cells 23 hours a day and leave only to exercise in a concrete room, alone; their meals are fed into their cell through a slot. Other than an awareness that they are staring at the same blank wall as seven other men kept in their “pod,” they are completely alone. Ashker has been there since 1990; in his view, he has been subject to nearly a quarter-­century of continuous torture. “I have not had a normal face-to-face conversation with another human being in 23 years,” he told me recently, speaking from the other side of a thick plate of glass.

The sheer length of time inmates spend here has made Pelican Bay a novel experiment in social control. The California prison system allows any confirmed gang member to be kept in the SHU indefinitely, with a review of his status only every six years. (Prisoners who kill a guard or another inmate, by contrast, are given a five-year term in the SHU.) This policy has filled Pelican Bay with men considered the most influential and dangerous gang leaders in California. Ashker, allegedly a senior member of the Aryan Brotherhood, had for years shared a pod with Sitawa Jamaa, allegedly the minister of education of the Black Guerrilla Family, and Arturo Castellanos, allegedly an important leader of the Mexican Mafia. In the next pod over was Antonio Guillen, allegedly one of three “generals” of Nuestra Familia. According to the state, these men have spent much of their lives running rival, racially aligned criminal organizations dedicated, often, to killing one another. But over a period of years, through an elaborate and extremely patient series of conversations yelled across the pod and through the concrete walls of the exercise room, the four men had formed a political alliance. They had a shared interest in protesting the conditions of their confinement and, eventually, a shared strategy. They became collaborators.

[BIG SNIP]

[UC Santa Cruz professor Craig] Haney visited Pelican Bay three years after it opened and surveyed 100 SHU inmates as an expert consultant to a prisoner lawsuit challenging the unit’s constitutionality. On his first day at the prison, the psychologist saw such florid psychosis that he called the attorneys and urged them to emphasize the confinement of the mentally ill. Once Haney began his interviews, he found serious psychological disturbances in nearly every prisoner. More than 70 percent exhibited symptoms of “impending nervous breakdown”; more than 40 percent suffered from hallucinations; 27 percent had suicidal thoughts. Haney noticed something subtler, too: A pervasive asociality, a distancing. More than three-quarters of the prisoners exhibited symptoms of social withdrawal. Even longtime prisoners reported feeling a profound loss of control when they entered the SHU, in part because they weren’t sure whether they’d ever be released. Many reported waking up with a rolling, nonspecific anxiety. The SHU “hovers on the edge of what is humanly tolerable,” wrote Thelton Henderson, the federal judge who decided the prisoner lawsuit in 1995. You can sense a vast uncertainty in that first word, hovers. The judge ordered major reforms—the seriously mentally ill, for instance, could no longer be housed there—but he let the SHU stand.

That was more than 18 years ago. Some of the same prisoners are still there. Haney returned to Pelican Bay last year, for a ­follow-up study, and found that these ­patterns of self-isolation had deepened. Many inmates had discouraged family members from visiting, and some seemed to consider all social interactions a nuisance. “They have systematically extinguished all of the social skills they need to survive,” Haney says. Those inmates who do comparatively well tend to replace the social networks outside the SHU with those within it—which, in a society composed of alleged gang members, often means gangs. “In isolation,” he says, “gang activity is the only contact that is possible; it is the only loyalty that is possible; it is the only connection that is possible.”

Read the whole, if you have the time. Clipping this story doesn’t do it justice.

Posted in CDCR, criminal justice, Death Penalty, Foster Care, How Appealing, Human rights, prison, prison policy, solitary, Supreme Court | No Comments »

Don’t Close Child Dependency Court…Lee Baca’s Approval Rating… Baca Uses the “B” Word: Bitter…..”Circle It!” Don’t Suspend Say TX Students….Graduation & Crime & Money

December 20th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon


PLEASE DON’T CLOSE CHILD DEPENDENCY COURT. JUST DON’T DO IT!

On Wednesday there was a hearing in front of the 2nd Circuit Court of appeals that is to determine whether or not the order issued by Judge Robert Nash in January 2012 to finally open Los Angeles County’s child dependency courts to the press under certain controlled circumstances was legal.

These are the courtrooms where foster care cases are heard, that have too long been secretive and disastrously short of sunlight.

The LA Times editorial board asks the 2nd Circuit to leave the situation as is. As does Christie Renick for the Chronicle of Social Change.

Here’s a clip from what the Times had to say, with which we strongly agree:

Has openness perfected the Dependency Courts? No. But parents who felt their cases were being rushed through by overburdened lawyers and social workers have expressed relief to have outside eyes present; lawyers who complained of judges delaying cases have welcomed coverage that creates a disincentive to dawdle; judges say coverage has focused attention on questionable lawyering. Meanwhile, the tentative ruling cites no instance in which any child has been harmed by the presence of reporters.

This is an important work in progress; the appellate court should not end it. If it tries, the Legislature should pass a bill keeping the courts in Los Angeles open or, even better, extending the principle of Nash’s order to the entire state.

We’ll let you know when we learn more.


IS LEE BACA’S APPROVAL RATING DIVING? A CHALLENGER’S TAKES A POLL

Early Wednesday morning Los Angeles County Sheriff’s candidate and Lee Baca challenger Bob Olmsted released a poll that showed that incumbent Baca’s approval ratings could be in the midst of a bad slide.

The poll was a live telephone survey of 406 likely June 2014 voters in LA County conducted December 16th – 17th 2013. Olmsted’s campaign paid for the survey.

Gene Maddaus of the LA Weekly got the fastest story up on the matter. Here’s a clip:

Sheriff Lee Baca has had a rough couple of years, but it’s gotten really bad in the last two weeks, ever since federal prosecutors brought corruption charges against 18 of his deputies.

Baca is up for re-election next year, and the unending scandals have taken a toll on his approval ratings. That’s according to a new poll released today by one of Baca’s opponents.

The survey shows that Baca’s favorability rating has plunged in the last two years, and a majority of likely voters now disapprove of Baca’s handling of his job. Not a good sign for the 71-year-old lawman.

[SNIP]

As with any internal poll, take it with a grain of salt.

With that, the results:

Baca (job approval)

Positive: 34%
Negative: 52%

Baca (favorability):

Favorable: 41%
Unfavorable: 33%

His favorability rating has declined sharply since the fall of 2011, according to another poll the Weekly obtained last month.

Baca (2011 favorability)
Favorable: 66%
Unfavorable: 23%

That’s a 35-point drop in his net favorability rating in the last two years.

As Maddaus said, one should take insider polls with a dash of good sel de mer. Plus the sheriff has a big powerful political machine plus nearly two decades worth of popularity that one would be unwise to discount.

Yet, there is without a doubt blood in the water.


BACA FINALLY TALKS & CALLS HIS OPPONENTS “BITTER & A QUITTER”,

After not meeting with the press for months, Sheriff Lee Baca has emerged from his bat cave to speak with reporters a number of times in the last week. On Wednesday he met with KCAL 9′s Dave Lopez.

Be sure to watch the video, which includes a change of clothes on the part of the sheriff so that he could speak about the election legally—AKA out of uniform.

After talking about what he describes as his utter non-involvement with the FOS—Friends of the Sheriff—hiring program, he did his clothes change and chatted emphatically about his campaign.

Here’ a bit of what he said:

“My job right now is to explain my side of the story,” he said. “Leaders do not ever not have problems or controversy.”

Baca’s two opponents, Robert Olmsted and Paul Tanaka, are one-time assistant sheriffs who were once part of his inner circle. [Actually that isn't accurate, but whatever]

Without mentioning the men by name, he referred to both of them Thursday.

“My opponents – one is bitter and one is actually a quitter and bitter. And so here you’ve got another one who is bitter but should have been a quitter,” he said.

Okay, I count three in that statement. One bitter, one a quitter, and “one who is bitter but should have been a quitter.’

Who’s the third guy, sheriff? Just asking.

NOTE: ABC-7 has a story on the Friends of the Sheriff issue, that is worth checking out as well.


“CIRCLE IT!” SAN ANTONIO, TX, SCHOOL USES INNOVATIVE STRATEGY TO SUCCESSFULLY REDUCE SUSPENSIONS

The term “circling it” has become an important part of the vernacular at Ed White Middle School in San Antonio, Texas.

Jim Forsyth at WOAI Radio has the story. Here’s a clip:

Marilyn Armour of the University of Texas School of Social Work calls it ‘Restorative Discipline’ and he says it has resulted in a staggering 84% decrease in suspensions at White, which previously had some of the highest discipline rates in the entire district.

“What’s happening here is really an effort to change the whole climate,” she told 1200 WOAI’s Michael Board. “Not just change the kids’ behavior.”

She says Restorative Discipline is a student based way of convincing kids to behave properly. When a child acts out, rather than an immediate trip to the principal’s office, in school suspension, or other traditional tactic, the students, counselors, teachers ‘talk out’ the issues in what are called ‘restorative circles.’

“When kids begin to get skills beyond the fighting, it gives them options they haven’t had before,” Armour said.

She says many examples of sixth and seventh graders engaging in disruptive behavior is frequently borne of frustration, the students want to be heard, and they want to be considered to have a role in their discipline and the activities they engage in. She says this process allows the student to talk out their problems, with an eye toward reducing bullying, truancy, and disruptive behavior…


STUDY SAYS H.S. GRADUATION PREVENTS CRIME AND SAVES $$

A recent report draws a correlation between graduation rates and entry into the criminal justice system—and then does the math. Obviously one cannot draw a straight line of cause and effect, but the relationship is there, and the study is worth noting.

Isabelle Dills of the Napa Valley Register has the story. Here’s a clip:

strong>Among all 50 states, California would save the most money — $2.4 billion in crime costs — if the male high school graduation rate increased by 5 percent, according to a recent report from the Alliance for Excellent Education.

The report, “Saving Futures, Saving Dollars: The Impact of Education on Crime Reduction and Earnings,” examines research that links lower levels of education with higher rates of arrests and incarceration.

[SNIP]

There is an indirect correlation between educational attainment and arrest and incarceration rates, particularly among males, the report found. According to the most recent data from the U.S. Bureau of Justice, 56 percent of federal inmates, 67 percent of inmates in state prisons, and 69 percent of inmates in local jails did not complete high school. Additionally, the number of incarcerated individuals without a high school diploma is increasing over time.

“Dropping out of school does not automatically result in a life of crime, but high school dropouts are far more likely than high school graduates to be arrested or incarcerated,” Wise said.

The report found that increasing the male graduation rate would decrease crime nationwide. According to the report, annual incidences of assault would decrease by nearly 60,000, larceny by more than 37,000, motor vehicle theft by more than 31,000 and burglaries by more than 17,000.

It would also prevent nearly 1,300 murders, more than 3,800 occurrences of rape and more than 1,500 robberies, according to the Alliance for Excellent Education.

Posted in crime and punishment, criminal justice, DCFS, Education, How Appealing, LA County Jail, LASD, Restorative Justice, School to Prison Pipeline, Sheriff Lee Baca, Youth at Risk, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | 40 Comments »

An “Epidemic” of Brady Violations…ATF Agents Behaving Badly…. Fed Judges Now Add Solitary to CA Prison Talks

December 16th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon



CHIEF JUDGE KOZINSKI FOR THE 9TH CIRCUIT SEZ THERE IS AN EPIDEMIC OF PROSECUTORIAL MISCONDUCT

The Huffington Post’s Radley Balko (one of our favorite criminal justice journalists and the author of The Rise of the Warrior Cop) reports on the series of statements by 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Chief Justice Alex Kozinski—and what is behind Kozenski’s blistering fury. Here’s a clip:

The dissent by Alex Kozinski, chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, from a decision not to rehear U.S. v. Olsen starts off with a bang:

There is an epidemic of Brady violations abroad in the land. Only judges can put a stop to it.

Brady, of course, is shorthand for the Supreme Court decision that requires prosecutors to turn over exculpatory evidence to defense attorneys. In Olsen, a ruling from a three-judge 9th Circuit panel in January detailed extensive questionable conduct on the part of the prosecutor, Assistant U.S. Attorney Earl Hicks (*see clarification below), who works for the Office of the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Washington. (Kozinski’s opinion this week doesn’t name Hicks, nor do most press accounts of the decision, but I will. These prosecutors need to be identified by name.)

[BIG SNIP]

The U.S. Department of Justice is stingy when it comes to releasing information about disciplining federal prosecutors for misconduct, but it seems unlikely Hicks will face any real sanction. Recent media investigations have found that such discipline is rare. Even in cases involving high-profile, egregious misconduct, like the prosecution of the late U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens, prosecutors can usually duck any serious sanction. In the Stevens case, the DOJ imposed light suspensions on the offending prosecutors, and even those were later overturned by an administrative law judge. (You could make a strong argument that federal prosecutors have more protections against professional sanction than criminal defendants do against violations of their constitutional rights by federal prosecutors.)

Offenbecher says it’s unlikely that he’ll file a complaint against Hicks. That isn’t uncommon, either. Defense attorneys have to work with prosecutors on behalf of other clients, including negotiating favorable plea bargains. Putting yourself in the cross-hairs of a U.S. attorney’s office can make it very difficult to be an effective advocate. That’s a lot of risk to take on, especially if it’s unlikely that anything will actually come of the complaint.


FEDERAL ATF AGENTS PAY TROUBLED 19 YEAR OLD TO GET JOINT SMOKING SQUID TATTOO….AND WORSE

This story falls into the please-tell-us-you’re-kidding category.

The Atlantic Monthly’s Coner Friedersdorf and Andrew Cohen draw attention to an astonishing, and largely ignored story broken by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel about the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms’s alleged use of a string of mentally disabled locals in a number of US cities to drum up business for their various stings, later arresting the people they’d used.

And then the ATF’s behavior really got crazy.

Here’s a clip:

Lately infamous for the “Fast and Furious” gun-walking scandal, the ATF now has the dubious distinction of bankrolling even-more-questionable behavior, which my colleague Andrew Cohen details here. The newspaper leads its latest investigative article with a headline-friendly anecdote about Aaron Key, a mentally disabled 19-year-old who started hanging out with the guys who ran a smoke shop near his house, taking them for friends. As it turns out, they were undercover ATF agents. And they paid the troubled teen and a friend $150 apiece to tattoo the fake shop’s emblem on their necks.

But digging into the story, it’s evident that undercover employees were engaged in far more objectionable behavior.

In cities around the United States, the ATF set up fake stores—often but not always pawn shops—set up surveillance cameras, conducted lots of illegal business over many months, and arrested various customers at the end of the sting. Normally federal law-enforcement agencies don’t set up operations guaranteed to mostly snare low-level individual criminals operating at the local level.

Questionable resource allocation aside, the really shocking parts of this scandal involve what happened at the neighborhood level as several of these stores were being operated. Just take a look at the newspaper’s bullet-point summary….

To find the summary, click here. And for the whole series, go here.


FEDERAL JUDGES ADD THE ISSUE OF SOLITARY CONFINEMENT TO THE CALIFORNIA PRISON NEGOTIATIONS

As the mandated negotiations continue to try to nail down a long-term plan that will lower California’s prison population, as ordered by the US Supremes, a new element has found its way into the talks, reports the LA Times’ Paige St. John. Here’s a clip from St. John’s story:

Federal judges considering California’s request for more time to reduce prison crowding have asked the state in turn to limit how long some mentally ill prisoners spend in solitary confinement.

U.S. District Judge Lawrence Karlton on Wednesday said he had accepted a state offer to limit the time severely mentally ill prisoners who have committed no rules violations can be held in isolation to 30 days. Hours later, he and the other two judges issued an order extending negotiations to Jan. 10, and pushing the state’s deadline to reduce crowding to April 18.

Karlton is holding hearings on the treatment of mentally ill inmates and also sits on the federal three-judge panel that ordered California to reduce prison overcrowding.

California has been ordered to remove 7,000 inmates from state prisons, reductions that judges say are needed to remedy unconstitutionally dangerous conditions, including inadequate medical and mental health care. In Wednesday’s order, the judges said they expect no further extension in the talks, “absent extraordinary circumstances,” but that does not preclude additional delays in the actual crowding deadline.

[SNIP]

Transcripts of courtroom hearings show the talks took a twist after Thanksgiving, when Karlton said he was concerned about some 230 mentally ill prisoners currently housed in isolation cells, though they have committed no infraction. State prison officials say they are there for their own protection, or while awaiting space in a mental health unit.

Karlton said he told the other federal judges “that as far as I was concerned” the state’s request for an extension to reduce prison overcrowding should not be granted as long as those mentally ill inmates were being held in isolation units.

Lawyers for California made it clear that the state is eager to address the judge’s concerns about solitary confinement. Transcripts show that at one point last week, state officials were rushing documents to the judge for review. At another, they offered to produce Corrections Secretary Jeffrey Beard to speak with Karlton. The judge said he was told Brown’s office responded that it “understood the nature of the problem” and promised a quick remedy….

Posted in CDCR, Courts, crime and punishment, Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), guns, How Appealing, law enforcement, solitary | No Comments »

Judge Refuses LA Deputies Union Attempt to Bar LA Times Use of LASD Background Screenings

September 11th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon



The LA Times scored a victory in court for the First Amendment on Tuesday
after ALADS—The Association for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs—filed an emergency motion to prevent an LA Times reporter from publishing information from department members’ background screenings.

One presumes that most of the screenings are a part of the hiring process. And while there are some privacy issues to consider, since the Times and others have reported on possible irregularities in the LASD’s screening and hiring process that may have, in certain instances, allowed people into the department who are not suited for law enforcement, it is understandable that a Times reporter would consider the screening material important.

The LAT’s Victoria Kim has the story. Here’s a clip:

The Assn. for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs filed an emergency motion against The Times and a Times reporter Tuesday morning, alleging that the reporter unlawfully possessed background investigation files containing personal information of about 500 deputies.

Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Joanne O’Donnell denied the union’s motion, writing that the union failed to present “the evidence most critical to the showing of irreparable harm or immediate danger.”

“The court declines to issue [an order] imposing a prior restraint on defendants’ free speech based on the speculative hearsay testimony of anonymous witnesses,” she wrote.

Attorneys for The Times had argued that prior restraint, or restricting speech before publication, was a grave infringement of the 1st Amendment. The attorneys said prior restraint has been considered unconstitutional by courts except in extraordinary circumstances such as troop movements in wartime or to “suppress … information that would set in motion a nuclear holocaust.”

[SNIP]

The newspaper’s attorneys also wrote that the union had no basis for seeking an emergency order, noting that The Times has published other stories based on information from employment records in the past.

The Times has reported since last October on the department’s hiring of employees who had personal ties to top officials or Sheriff Lee Baca despite histories of violence and brushes with the law.

In August, the Sheriff’s Department announced in a news release that it had launched a criminal investigation into an apparent leak of personnel information to a Times reporter….

Posted in How Appealing, LASD, Los Angeles Times | 46 Comments »

DOMA Unconstitutional! ….Prop. 8 Dismissed for Lack of Standing……Also The Supremes on Voting Rights…..A Young Father’s Parental Rights.

June 26th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon

The New Yorker has a photo of Edie Windsor learning of the decision.

MAIN PART OF DOMA IS STRUCK DOWN, RULED UNCONSTITUTIONAL IN 5/4 RULING…..PROP 8 APPEAL SENT BACK TO STATE FOR LACK OF STANDING

DOMA is found unconstitutional as a deprivation of the equal liberty of persons that is protected by the Fifth Amendment. “DOMA singles out a class of persons deemed by a State entitled ot recognition and protection to enhance their own liberty.”

“DOMA’s principal effect is to identify and make unequal a subset of state-sanctioned marriages,” writes Justice Kennedy, writing for the majority.

Here’s a link to the DOMA opinion.

And this is from the live blogging at SCOTUSBlog:

“What this means, in plain terms,” writes Amy Howe of SCOTUSBLOG, which has been live-blogging the rulings, “is that same-sex couples who are legally married will be entitled to equal treatment under federal law– with regard to, for example, income taxes and Social Security benefits.”

Adam Liptak of the NY Times writes this:

Married gay and lesbian couples are entitled to federal benefits, the Supreme Court ruled on Wednesday in a major victory for the gay rights movement.

In a second decision, the court declined to say whether there is a constitutional right to same-sex marriage. Instead, the justices said that a case concerning California’s ban on same-sex marriage, Proposition 8, was not properly before them. Because officials in California had declined to appeal a trial court’s decision against them and because the proponents of Proposition 8 were not entitled to step into the state’s shoes to appeal from the decision, the court said, it was powerless to issue a decision.

The ruling leaves in place laws banning same-sex marriage around the nation. Its consequences for California were not immediately clear, but many legal analysts say that same-sex marriages there are likely to resume in a matter of weeks.


SUPREMES SEND PROP 8 CASE, HOLLINGSWORTH V. PERRY, BACK TO STATE FOR LACK OF STANDING

Here’s the Prop 8 ruling.

Here’s the plain English version from the NY Times:

In the California case, the court ruled that opponents of same-sex marriage did not have standing to appeal a a lower-court ruling that overturned California’s ban. The Supreme Court’s ruling appears to remove legal obstacles to same-sex couples marrying in the state, but the court did not issue a broad ruling likely to affect other states.

Here’s Greg Stohr at Bloomberg:

A divided U.S. Supreme Court gave a victory to the gay-rights movement, striking down a federal law that denies benefits to same-sex married couples and potentially clearing the way for weddings to resume in California.

The court stopped short of declaring a constitutional right for gays to marry, or even ruling directly on California’s voter-approved ban, as the justices considered the issue for the first time.

The decisions in the two cases sustain the momentum that has grown behind same-sex marriage over the past decade. With a 5-4 procedural ruling in the California case, the court reinstated a trial judge’s order allowing at least some gay marriages there. And by invalidating part of the U.S. Defense of Marriage Act by a different 5-4 majority, the court rejected many of the justifications for treating same-sex and heterosexual couples differently.

Interestingly, the decision on Prop 8 features a different 5/4 configuration with Roberts writing for the majority.

Here’s David Savage of the LA Times:

“We have never before upheld the standing of a private party to defend the constitutionality of a state statute when state officials have chosen not to,” he said. “We decline to do so for the first time here.”

Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Antonin Scalia and Elena Kagan joined [Roberts] to form the majority.

The court’s action, while not a sweeping ruling, sends the case back to California, where state and federal judges and the state’s top officials have said same-sex marriage is a matter of equal rights.

Okay, that’s it for the moment. Lots of good national coverage. This is an excellent day for equal rights in the nation.




PROVISION OF VOTING RIGHTS ACT GUTTED BY SUPRIME COURT DECISION

The web and my email box are loaded with angry expert opinions and cries of anguish over Tuesday morning’s Supreme Court ruling on a key provision of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

Garrett Epps from the Atlantic writes about the dispiriting decision in appropriately blistering terms:

“Hubris is a fit word for today’s demolition of the [Voting Rights Act],” Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote in her dissent from the 5-4 decision in Shelby County v. Holder, announced Monday.

She nailed it.

The decision invalidated the requirement of “preclearance” of voting changes by states and jurisdictions with particularly bad records of racial discrimination. (My colleague Andrew Cohen looks at the practical effect of this decision on voting rights.) But beyond that, it illustrates the absolute contempt that the Supreme Court’s conservative majority harbors toward what is, after all, the central branch of our federal government: Congress, elected by the people and charged with exercising “all legislative powers” granted by the Constitution.

A brief reading of the Constitution reveals how seriously the Framers took the idea of congressional centrality. An even briefer glance at the Fifteenth Amendment shows that the Framers of that measure trusted Congress, not courts, with setting national policy against racial discrimination in voting.

Not this Court, which Monday invalidated Section Four of the Voting Rights Act — not on the grounds that it hasn’t worked; not even on the grounds that it won’t work; but on the grounds that the Court didn’t think Congress did as good a job as it could have.

In an opinion by Chief Justice John G. Roberts, the five conservatives (Roberts, Antonin Scalia, Anthony M. Kennedy, Clarence Thomas, and Samuel A. Alito) brushed aside a measure they explicitly agreed was (1) needed when originally enacted (2) dramatically successful since enacted and (3) reauthorized by Congress four times over 40 years, each time with a detailed legislative process and with careful adjustment to its terms.

To understand the success of the VRA, we must briefly review how it works. The act as a whole forbids certain kinds of manipulation of voting laws to exclude or dilute minority votes. The “coverage formula” provision in sections 4 designate certain sections of the country, on the basis of history, as being the most flagrant offenders of the Fifteenth Amendment’s command that “[t]he right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” Under Section 5, those jurisdictions had to get preapproval from the Justice Department or from a federal court before they could change their voting procedures at all. The reason was that previous voting-rights laws had been neutralized when the Deep South jurisdictions invented new ways not covered by the laws of blocking black voters. This time, the state would have to justify its restrictions, rather than forcing the government and citizens to go to court each time a new stratagem appeared.

[BIG SNIP]

The Fifteenth Amendment makes clear that states have no “reserved power” over violations of the right to vote “by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” These are transferred from state authority to federal prohibition. And Congress, not the courts, is to enforce that prohibition “by appropriate legislation.”

In other words, the majority’s limits on Congress’s power do not flow from the text, history, or structure of the Constitution; as Ginsburg’s dissent persuasively shows, they do not flow from the Court’s earlier precedent either. They flow from a sense by five justices (none of whom has ever served a day in legislative office) that Congress, on the whole, can’t do as good a job at anything as they can.

This is hubris indeed. Today it has damaged the ability of citizens to use the ballot to call their rulers to account. But that damage is only a part of a hole slowly widening in the fabric of constitutional congressional authority. There’s no reason to believe that this majority does not intend further unraveling in the near future.


SUPREMES RULE FOR BABY VERONICA’S ADOPTIVE FAMILY NOT NATIVE AMERICAN FATHER AND FAMILY

This Solomonic/halving-the-baby decision is a heartbreaker however you look at it.

Dan Frosch and Timothy Williams write about the ruling for the New York Times. Here’s a clip:

An American Indian child being raised by her biological father should not have been taken from her adoptive parents, the Supreme Court ruled Tuesday, saying that a federal law devised to keep Indian families together did not apply in the case.

The 5-to-4 decision, which reversed a ruling by the South Carolina Supreme Court, found that the case represented an exception to the 1978 Indian Child Welfare Act, a federal law that made it more difficult for American Indian children to be removed from their families. That landmark legislation effectively ended the practice of taking Indian children from their homes and placing them in boarding schools and foster care.

The court’s majority held Tuesday that the case, Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl, No. 12-399, did not involve removing a child from an Indian home because the girl’s father had relinquished his parental rights before the girl’s birth and her biological mother had agreed to allow the South Carolina couple to adopt the girl.

Four months after the child’s birth, the father, Dusten Brown, a member of the Cherokee tribe, changed his mind and sought custody of his daughter. He said he had not realized that his former fiancée was going to put the child up for adoption.

The girl was in the process of being legally adopted by Matt and Melanie Capobianco, a white couple who raised her for 27 months before South Carolina courts ruled in favor of Mr. Brown. The child, now nearly 4, has been living with Mr. Brown in Oklahoma for the past year and a half. The state courts found that both the Capobianco family and Mr. Brown had provided the girl with safe, loving homes.

The Baby Veronica case, named for the girl at the center of the dispute, has stirred powerful emotional responses from child welfare groups, adoptive parents and Indian tribes, all of whom have sought a clearer legal standard of how the Indian Child Welfare Act should be applied when it appears to conflict with state law.


Posted in children and adolescents, How Appealing, LGBT, race, race and class, racial justice, Supreme Court | 1 Comment »

Waiting 4 SCOTUS On Prop. 8 & DOMA…..Oakland Commits to Ambitious School Reform……2 Sad & Notable Deaths…

June 20th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon


HOW WILL THE SUPREMES RULE ON GAY MARRIAGE? WILL THEY BE BRILLIANTLY GAME-CHANGING OR DINOSAURISHLY GHASTLY? OR SOMETHING IN BETWEEN? HERE’S ONE RUMOR-LADEN SPECULATION

While we wait for the Supreme Court’s rulings on the two gay rights cases, California’s Prop 8 and DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act) the speculation and the worry about the various possible decisions, and combinations of decisions, is starting to rev up again.

One story we recommend is by UCLA law school prof and Constitutional expert, Adam Winkler, writing for the New Republic. Yes, the essay is a bit in the “What if truly horrible things happened?!!” vein, but it’s smart and thoughtful, and worth your time. Here’s a clip:

Ever since the Supreme Court heard two major gay rights cases in March, the conventional wisdom among court-watchers is that we’re likely to see a split decision. The Court, according to most experts, will probably strike down the Defense of Marriage Act and issue a narrow ruling, perhaps on procedural grounds, on the California Proposition 8 same-sex marriage case. That outcome would be an incremental but important step forward in the progress of gay civil rights. Although gay marriage would not yet be recognized as a fundamental right, the Court would establish that the federal government can’t deny gay couples that are already lawfully married access to federal benefits, like social security or spousal tax exemptions.

Yet what if the Court doesn’t strike down DOMA? This past weekend, I visited Washington, D.C., and spoke to well-placed lawyers about the prospects for DOMA. Surprisingly, I heard speculation that the Court would defy the conventional wisdom on DOMA. No one said the Court was likely to endorse the law. But there was serious concern that the Court would do in the DOMA case exactly what the conventional wisdom says the justices will do in the Proposition 8 case: avoid a definitive ruling by deciding the case on procedural grounds. If the speculation is true, the DOMA case could end up a major setback for the gay rights movement. And it could put the Obama administration on a crash course toward a constitutional crisis.

[BIG SNIP]

Now rumors about pending Supreme Court decisions should be taken with a whole shaker full of salt. The Court, known as the tightest ship in Washington, rarely leaks. Yet last term’s rumors that Chief Justice John Roberts had changed his vote in the Obamacare case at the last minute were borne out. Especially given the enormous stakes in the DOMA case, perhaps it’s time to consider what might happen if the justices were to kick the case without a final ruling on the merits of DOMA’s constitutionality.

The scuttlebutt focuses on the conservative justices…

And…..to find out the rest of the juicy gossip and mad speculation, you’ll have to click over to the New Republic.

PS: Adam Winkler was one of my esteemed panelists at this year’s LA Times Festival of Books so I can personally attest to his general smart-osity and stellar analytical abilities.


OAKLAND EMBRACES PROMISING SCHOOL REFORM MODEL TO ADDRESS INTERGENERATIONAL PROBLEMS STUDENTS FACE IN THE VIOLENT AND COMPLICATED CITY

The Oakland Unified School District has committed to an ambitious plan to implement full-service “community schools,” equipped with staff trained to support students’ social, emotional and health needs, as well as their academic growth.

The Center for Investigative Reporting has a large story on what Oakland is attempting. Here’s a clip that will give you an idea of what they’re up to. But for those interested in school reform and strategies to shatter the so-called school to prison pipeline, you’ll want to read the whole thing.

…..Enrollment in traditional Oakland public schools has plummeted by more than 16,000 students since 2000, according to district officials, as foreclosures have forced families out of the city and charter schools have siphoned off students. During the same period, the district has cycled through six superintendents and narrowly avoided bankruptcy only through a state takeover that ended in 2009.

Now, under growing public pressure to improve student safety and achievement, the district is attempting to reinvent itself by turning its 87 schools – including Fremont – into what are known as “full-service community schools,” equipped with staff trained to support students’ social, emotional and health needs, as well as their academic growth.

The concept is one that has been around for decades but is now gaining traction in districts across the U.S. as other reform efforts run up against problems related to poverty. The embracing of community schools is a stark shift from the “no-excuses” movement, which held that schools should be able to push all students to success no matter what their background. That idea dominated education reform for much of the past decade.

Community schools are just the opposite. At its core, the concept represents an explicit acknowledgement that problems with a child’s home life must be addressed to help the student succeed academically.

“There’s actually a lot of agreement that we need to work on both improving schools and addressing poverty,” said Michael Petrilli, executive vice president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a conservative education think tank based in Ohio and Washington, D.C. “Particularly, as reformers get into the work of trying to run schools and make the system work better, they see in black and white just how important addressing the larger social problems is.”

Marty Blank, director of the nonprofit Coalition for Community Schools, which connects organizations and school districts doing community school work, estimates that at least 50 school districts around the country are launching similar initiatives. Chicago is home to more than 175 community schools. Portland, Ore., has 67 and Tulsa, Okla., 31. New York City, with the nation’s largest school system, has 21 community schools, and that number might grow soon, depending on this year’s mayoral election; the United Federation of Teachers is pushing for the city’s next mayor to adopt the strategy….

And where is LAUSD on this kind of sweeping reform?

Well, I guess it is weirdly encouraging that LA Schools have committed $30 million to buy nearly every kid in the district an iPad. But such wonderful learning tools require the practical and philosophical infrastructure to go with them. We believe Superintendent John Deasy is attempting to move in that direction. However the district as a whole has yet to even vaguely contemplate the kind of game changing commitment that we’re seeing in Oakland.


MICHAEL HASTINGS: MAKING NOISE AMID THE SILENCE

Fearless journalist Michael Hastings died in terrible fireball of a car wreck at approximately 4:25 a.m. on Tuesday, in the 600 block of North Highland Avenue. Hastings, 33, was the guy who did that 2010 interview/profile with General Stanley McChrystal for Rolling Stone, “The Runaway General,” which resulted in the general resigning his post as the supreme commander of the U.S.-led war effort in Afghanistan, after McChrystal and his staff openly talked smack about the foreign policy team in the Obama White House.

Yet, Hastings was not a sensationalist, as he was sometimes portrayed by detractors following that news blasting profile, according to colleagues—and those of us who read his work carefully—he was someone who wanted to write stories that mattered, stories without spin, stories that were fearless, stories that illuminated. Stories that were true.

Moreover, Hastings had earned the right to pursue those stories. He wasn’t the guy who showed up on scene with the spiffy, newly bought flak jacket. He’d paid dues. As Rolling Stone reports in its obituary:

For Hastings, “…there was no romance to America’s misbegotten wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. He had felt the horror of war first-hand: While covering the Iraq war for Newsweek in early 2007, his then-fianceé, an aide worker, was killed in a Baghdad car bombing…..

As Jon Lee Anderson wrote of Hastings on Wednesday in the New Yorker, we will miss “….his readiness to make noise amid agreed silences.”

Robin Abcarian at the LA Times has a good essay on Hastings titled “The Importance of Not Following the Rules.” Indeed.


LOSING JAMES GANDOLFINI

He was, friends and colleagues all agree, an enormously likable and gentle man. He was also a startlingly fine actor who left behind him an array of wonderfully-crafted characters. One of those characters was…indelible.


Posted in American voices, Civil Liberties, Civil Rights, Education, How Appealing, LGBT, Life in general, School to Prison Pipeline, Supreme Court, writers and writing, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | 1 Comment »

LASD to Appeal $1.1 Million Judgement ….and other stories

April 1st, 2013 by Celeste Fremon


THE LASD WILL APPEAL RECENT HIGH $$ JUDGEMENT IN CASE OF DEPUTY SHOOTING OF PALMDALE TEENAGER WITH TOY GUN

Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department Spokesman Steve Whitmore said the department now plans to appeal the recent $1.1 million judgement that a jury awarded 19-year-old William Fetters, who was shot by Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputy, Scott Sorrow, four years ago.

The award, which amounted to $1,127,600, included reembursement for medical bills, plus damages for pain and suffering. [Go here for our previous report on the case.]

On on May 10, 2009, Fetters—then 15-years-old—was riding his bike with his brother and friends, playing “cops and robbers,” on a residential street in Palmdale, when Sorrow said he saw the boy waving what he said he believed was a real gun.

The “gun” was, in fact, a toy cap gun . But, according to Whitmore, it was minus the orange tip that representational-looking toy firearms are required to have, thus making it look real when seen quickly.

[WLA obtained the photo above of Fetters' actual toy gun, taken at the scene.]

According to Fetters, he was riding his bike down the street toward a local baseball diamond, pretending to “shoot” back and forth with his brother and friends as they went. As the boys rode, Sorrow approached in his LASD patrol car and barked at Fetters to get off his bike and drop the gun. Scared, Fetters said he dropped the toy gun instantly, and tried to get off the bike, but the deputy shot him anyway.

Sorrow testified to the contrary that Fetters was brandishing what appeared to be a real gun, which he did not drop at all, but instead pointed it at the patrol car causing the deputy to fear for his life and that of his partner. As a consequence, he fired a single shot at Fetters.

The jury believed Fetters’ version of events.

According to Whitmore, after the incident, Fetters was convicted of the misdemeanor charge of pointing a firearm at deputies. “And, don’t forget, both our internal affairs investigation and the OIR [Office of Independent Review] found the deputy’s actions within department policy.”

Whitmore added, “This is not how anyone wants an encounter with a teenager to end.”

Whitmore also noted that the judge in the Fetters case excluded Fetters’ misdemeanor conviction from coming into court, thus the jury was unaware of it.

By the same token, the jury did not hear of another Palmdale incident also involving Deputy Sorrow that occurred in August 26, 2009, three months after the shooting of Fetters. This second incident resulted in Sorrow and two other deputies being sued by a local apartment manager, Noel Bender, for assault and battery, and civil rights violations. [See this Daily News story for additional details on that lawsuit.]

In the Bender case, the jury also decided in the plaintiff’s favor, awarding Bender $581,000 for “false arrest, battery, Civil Rights violations and intentional infliction of emotional distress,” after acquiting the other two deputies but finding that Sorrow had acted “with malice.”

In Fetters’ case, the jury could not decide whether or not Sorrow had acted “with malice,” thus that part of the matter will be retried later this month, according to Fetters’ attorney, Bradley Gage, who also represented Bender.


LA TIMES URGES “PAY THE DORNER AWARDS”

In an editorial on Sunday, the LA Times editorial board explained why reneging on the $1 million in awards offered for the capture of Christopher Dorner is a very bad idea.

WLA agrees. Here’s a clip:

….some of those who pledged reward money are interpreting the matter as one of contract and are looking for loopholes to withdraw their support. The city of Riverside, for instance, declared that “because the conditions were not met, there will not be a payment of a reward by the city.” That’s penny wise and pound foolish, not to mention a cavalier disregard of public safety. Officials should realize that it will undermine the efficacy of future reward offers if the public senses that the game is rigged. In an effort to save itself a few dollars in this instance, Riverside and others may end up paying dearly in the future when residents, told that a reward is on the table, decide to let police handle it themselves because the money may not be forthcoming.

[BIG SNIP]

Finally, there is this dystopian alternative to consider: If public agencies offer rewards for arrest or conviction and then withhold them in cases in which a suspect dies, they have, in effect, created a financial incentive for police to kill suspects rather than arrest them. That’s a troubling bit of motivation.


HOW MUCH DOES RACIAL BIAS FEED THE “SCHOOL TO PRISON PIPELINE?’

The Christian Science Monitor adds a new and disturbing story to the growing body of evidence that, not only are zero tolerence school discipline policies ineffective and damaging to overall student well-being but, statistically speaking, they are gravely biased when it comes to race.

Here’s a clip from the story by Stacy Teicher Khadaroo, which draws from extensive data gathered by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR).

Two students set off fire alarms in the same school district. One of them, an African-American kindergartner, is suspended for five days; the other, a white ninth-grader, is suspended for one day.

•An African-American high-schooler is suspended for a day for using a cellphone and an iPod in class. In the same school, a white student with a similar disciplinary history gets detention for using headphones.

•Two middle-schoolers push each other; the white student receives a three-day, in-school suspension, while the native American student is arrested and suspended, out of school, for 10 days.

Civil rights groups have been saying for years that school discipline is not meted out fairly, citing examples like these reported last year from around the country by the US Department of Education.

[SNIP]

Data from 72,000 American public schools in the 2009-10 school year, for example, show that while African-Americans make up 18 percent of the students in this large sample, they account for 46 percent of students suspended more than once, 39 percent of students expelled, and 36 percent of students arrested on campus.

White students, by contrast, represent 29 percent of multiple suspensions and 33 percent of expulsions – but 51 percent of the students.

[BIG SNIP]

Many people might assume the racial breakdown of discipline simply reflects higher rates of misbehavior by some groups of students, perhaps explained by factors such as poverty.

Research has shown that’s not an adequate explanation. “There’s quite a bit of literature that supports the finding that it’s not just about kids behaving badly,” says Russell Skiba, a professor at Indiana University in Bloomington and an expert on school violence and discipline.

His recent study of discipline data in one Midwestern state found that even after controlling for types of student behavior and poverty, African-Americans still had 1.5 times higher rates of suspension or expulsion than whites did….

I’m just scratching the surface with the clips. There’s lots and lots more to the story so

read the rest here.

Posted in How Appealing, LAUSD | 2 Comments »

Will TX Hold a Prosecutor Accountable? …..Can Local CA Gov’ts Legally Ban Med Pot Dispensaries? ….and a Look at Mental Illness & Lock-Up

February 5th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon



TEXAS USES AN ARCANE LAW TO POSSIBLY—JUST POSSIBLY—HOLD ACCOUNTABLE A PROMINENT FORMER PROSECUTOR, NOW A JUDGE, FOR OBSCURING AND WITHHOLDING EVIDENCE THAT LIKELY WOULD HAVE KEPT AN INNOCENT MAN FROM GOING TO PRISON FOR 25 YEARS

The LA Times’ Molly Hennessy Fiske drew our attention to this story with her write-up
that runs on Tuesday. Here’s a clip:

In emotional testimony Monday, a Texas man told a judge how it felt spending 25 years in prison for a murder he did not commit.

“Brutal,” Michael Morton said. “But after a couple decades, I got used to it.”

Morton, 58, who grew up in Los Angeles, was convicted in the 1986 beating death of his wife, Christine, at their home. He was exonerated and released almost a year and a half ago after DNA tests confirmed his innocence. Another man has since been charged in connection with the killing.

Now the man who prosecuted Morton, Williamson County District Judge Ken Anderson, faces an unprecedented “court of inquiry” about 30 miles north of Austin in which a judge will decide whether the then-district attorney lied and concealed evidence that could have cleared Morton.

It is the first time the state has convened such a hearing for prosecutorial misconduct. Although part of Texas law since 1965, the court of inquiry has typically been used to consider allegations against elected officials. Some hope this week’s hearing will lead to a greater examination of alleged misconduct by prosecutors not just in Texas, but nationwide.

However, it is Texas Monthly’s Pamela Colloff whose reporting we must follow on this story. Last fall, Colloff wrote a stunning two-part series on Morton and his case.

Now she is following the unusual court proceedings examining the actions of former prosecutor Ken Anderson.

She writes:

Starting on Monday, Anderson will be the subject of a “court of inquiry,” an arcane legal procedure unique to Texas that can be used to investigate wrongdoing, most often on the part of state officials. It has never been used before to probe allegations of prosecutorial misconduct. The unprecedented legal proceeding will try to determine whether Anderson withheld critical evidence from Michael’s defense attorneys which would have helped Michael prove his innocence more than a quarter-century ago.

Anderson is now a state district judge. That a former prosecutor, much less a sitting judge, will face such intense scrutiny is remarkable. Prosecutorial misconduct rarely results in even disciplinary action from the Texas bar. But if the presiding judge in the court of inquiry finds probable cause to believe that Anderson broke the law, he will face criminal charges and a warrant will be issued for his arrest….

It is not just that prosecutors are rarely held accountable in Texas; they are rarely held accountable anywhere. If a surgeon is careless in an operation and thus paralyzes you, there are legal remedies. But if a prosecutor deliberately withholds crucial evidence that would almost certainly have cleared you, and instead your family is shattered, your young son is raised by someone else, and you go to prison for life, lose 25 years, then by wonderful luck you are released through work by the Innocence Project —there is no legal way to hold the prosecutor to answer.

However, this week in Texas, perhaps there is a way. If so, perhaps, as Molly Hennessy-Fiske suggested, it will have resonance beyond the lone star state’s boundaries.


IS IT LEGAL FOR CALIFORNIA’S LOCAL MUNICIPALITIES TO BAN MEDICAL MARIJUANA DISPENSARIES? THE CALIFORNIA SUPREMES WILL DECIDE

This article by the always excellent Howard Mintz, Legal Affairs guy for the San Jose Mercury News, lays out this interesting issue in lively and informative terms. Here’s a big clip from the story’s opening:

California’s experiment with medical marijuana has sparked a hazy version of the old Not-in-My-Backyard syndrome.

From Hollister to Antioch, from Scotts Valley to Petaluma, from Seaside to Moraga, city after city has banned medical marijuana dispensaries, sending a message that even the sickest of patients must go elsewhere for that state-permitted dose of prescribed medical weed.

But on Tuesday, this fear-and-loathing approach to outlawing medical pot providers will face an unprecedented test in the California Supreme Court. The seven justices are to hear arguments on whether local governments can ban the dispensaries in view of the state’s 1996 voter-approved law legalizing pot for medical use.

The case involves the Inland Empire Patients Health and Wellness Center, which more than two years ago sued to block Riverside’s dispensary ban, arguing that cities and counties cannot bar activities legal in California. A state appeals court sided with Riverside, and now the Supreme Court, faced with similar legal tangles across the state, has jumped into the fray.

The stakes are high in California’s ongoing struggle pitting medical marijuana advocates against cities worried about problems associated with some of the dispensaries, such as lax control over the distribution of a drug that remains illegal under federal law.

“The Riverside case is a fascinating example of our ‘laboratories of democracy’ in action,” said Julie Nice, a aw professor at the University of San Francisco, where the Supreme Court will hear the arguments. “It illustrates the difficulties created when each level of government … stakes out a different regulatory position on a controversial subject….”

Read more here. And naturally, we’ll be keeping an eye out for the Cal Supremes’ ruling on this question.


TOO MANY MENTALLY ILL IN STATE AND COUNTY LOCK-UPS

One topic on which justice reform advocates, custody experts and county sheriffs tend to agree, is that a large portion of those incarcerated in California’s jails and prisons are mentally ill, and that this is not a good thing. Put more plainly, in most cases, jails and prisons are the most costly and the least effective places for the mentally ill to be.

As we look at reforming our budget-draining and problem-plagued incarceration systems in ways that balance public safety and basic justice, one of the areas that requires a hard look is the intersection between jails and prisons and mental illness.

Monday’s Huffington Post’s Alana Horowitz has a good overview of the issue. Here are some clips from her story:

….A 2006 study by the Bureau of Justice Statistics found that over half of all jail and prison inmates have mental health issues; an estimated 1.25 million suffered from mental illness, over four times the number in 1998. Research suggests that people with mental illness are overrepresented in the criminal justice system by rates of two to four times the normal population. The severity of these illnesses vary, but advocates say that one factor remains steady: with proper treatment, many of these incarcerations could have been avoided.

“Most people [with mental illness] by far are incarcerated because of very minor crimes that are preventable,” says Bob Bernstein, the Executive Director of the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law. “People are homeless for reasons that shouldn’t occur, people don’t have basic treatment for reasons that shouldn’t occur and they get into trouble because of crimes of survival.”

Bernstein blames these high rates on a lack of community mental health services. In the past three years, $4.35 billion in funding for mental health services has been cut from state budgets across the nation, according to a recent report. Because of the cuts, treatment centers have had to trim services and turn away patients.

State hospitals have also been forced to reduce services. A report by the Treatment Advocacy Center even found that there are more people with severe mental illness in prisons and jails than in hospitals.

[SNIP]

Once people with mental illness are incarcerated, Bazleon’s Bernstein says, it becomes a tough cycle to break.

“Most people are there for minor crimes but then they deteriorate,” he explains. “They can’t follow the rules there and so they stay a long time, and they become difficult to release.”

According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics report, most inmates with mental illness don’t receive treatment while in prison.

Patti Jones’ nephew Tony Lester was sent to state prison in Tucson, Ariz., for aggravated assault. Like Armando Cruz, Lester heard voices. He told his aunt that before he was incarcerated, he had only heard two voices. After he was admitted, there were seven.

Lester was diagnosed with schizophrenia. He was prescribed medication but didn’t always take it while in prison, Jones said. Lester was placed among the general prison population with little treatment available.

His symptoms grew worse….


Posted in How Appealing, Innocence, Marijuana laws, Medical Marijuana, Mental Illness, prison, prison policy, Prosecutors | No Comments »

Oakland May Hire Bratton, the Good & Bad News From Foster Care, Nobel Laureate Slams Failed War on Drugs…and Death Row Lawyers Screw Up

January 8th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon


OAKLAND WILL VOTE ON CONTROVERSIAL CHOICE TO HIRE BILL BRATTON TO HELP ITS TROUBLED POLICE DEPARTMENT

Next week, the Oakland City Council will vote on whether or not to pay former LA Police Chief Bill Bratton $250K to help it straighten out its problem-ridden PD, a possibility that has triggered a storm of controversy among Oaklanders—which is fascinating for us Bratton-experienced folks in LA to watch.

Here, for example, are a few of the pros and cons of bringing Bratton to Oakland that are being discussed:

The East Bay Express points out that Bratton is likely to recommend some version of CompStat for Oakland, the data driven strategy which the UN-data-savvy OPD could use as it seeks to lower its spiking crime rate that claimed 131 lives in 2012.

The Express also notes that Bratton favors geographic policing, putting more officers in hot zones, plus some version of community policing to bolster better relationships with crime-ridden neighborhoods.

Oh, yeah, and Oakland has a lousy clearance rate for crimes. Bratton likes good clearance rates—all of which the Express views at the “pros.”

In terms of “cons,” Express worries that Bratton will bring in the kind of stop-and-frisk policy, which has drawn a raft of criticism (and accompanying lawsuits) in NYC.

We think this is unlikely, since Bratton’s savvy enough to realize that such a policy would enrage Oakland residents. Moreover, the OPD has too few officers (600) to pull it off anyway, even if Bratton wanted to (which he won’t)..

Tammerlin Drummond of the Oakland Tribune points out that even if Bratton has great ideas, he’s just a consultant so cannot actually put any policies in place without the cooperation of Oakland’s notoriously quarrelsome political structure. (Good point.)

The bay area’s Indymedia is the most critical of the proposed Bratton hire, basically painting Bill as the “Supercop” antichrist who ruined New York and LA. To wit:

Bratton-style policing has proven over and over to cause more long-term damage than not, to atomize and antagonize poor people and people of color, and to ignore creative, community-led solutions.

We disagree. In Los Angeles, relationships between the cops and the city’s poorest communities actually improved under Bratton who, while not perfect, was refreshingly unafraid to talk about race during his LA tenure. (But such pesky facts ruin the drama, we realize.)

In any case, if Oakland does indeed hire Bratton, it will be interesting to see how it plays out.


LA TIMES JIM NEWTON SEES A SMALL BIT OF GOOD NEWS IN THE FIRST YEAR OF NEWEST DCFS CHIEF

Thank goodness for the work of LA Times columnist Jim Newton, who in the past year has turned his reportorial light on LA’s embattled foster care system, whenever he can.

For instance, in this week’s column, Newton looks at the hope-producing attitude of the latest in a string of “new” heads of LA’s troubled Department of Child and Family Services (DCFS), a guy named Phillip Browning. Newton also acknowledges how complicated the whole thing is and how, even with the best of intentions, things can go terribly wrong.

Here’s a clip from the column:

One profoundly important shift has been Browning’s approach to children. In recent years, the department has stressed the importance of keeping families together whenever possible. Browning argues that a child’s safety should trump all other concerns, even when it means taking children from their parents.

“If we think the child is safe, we leave the child with the biological parents,” he explained in the soft Southern accent that causes some to underestimate his toughness. “Sometimes, of course, that’s just not possible.”

Browning’s more stringent approach has meant an increase in the number of children removed from their homes. Last year, the agency filed 14,785 petitions, most of them in connection with detaining children, an increase from 13,481 the year before. What that means in raw terms is that the county last year removed a child from his or her home more than 200 times a week on average.

The hope is that children are protected once they’re under the county’s care, but the sad truth is that they face a capricious future. Some land with capable foster families, and perhaps will be adopted. Some are returned home to families that have recovered from the initial incident and will go on to raise them well. Others, however, are shuttled from one foster home or group facility to another, and grow up without any sense of coherent, dependable family. Some are physically or sexually abused. Some die….


NOBEL LAUREATE IN ECONOMICS EXPLAINS WHY IT’S TIME TO FACE UP TO THE TERRIBLE COSTS OF THE LOST WAR ON DRUGS.

Over the weekend, the conservative-leaning WSJ ran a strongly worded essay by Nobel laureate in economics, Gary Becker, and economics law prof, Kevin Murphy, stating unequivocally that the war on drugs is “a failed experiment,” and “the human cost has become too high,” and that it’s time to decriminalize.

Here’s a clip:

President Richard Nixon declared a “war on drugs” in 1971. The expectation then was that drug trafficking in the United States could be greatly reduced in a short time through federal policing—and yet the war on drugs continues to this day. The cost has been large in terms of lives, money and the well-being of many Americans, especially the poor and less educated. By most accounts, the gains from the war have been modest at best.

The direct monetary cost to American taxpayers of the war on drugs includes spending on police, the court personnel used to try drug users and traffickers, and the guards and other resources spent on imprisoning and punishing those convicted of drug offenses. Total current spending is estimated at over $40 billion a year.

These costs don’t include many other harmful effects of the war on drugs that are difficult to quantify. For example, over the past 40 years the fraction of students who have dropped out of American high schools has remained large, at about 25%. Dropout rates are not high for middle-class white children, but they are very high for black and Hispanic children living in poor neighborhoods. Many factors explain the high dropout rates, especially bad schools and weak family support. But another important factor in inner-city neighborhoods is the temptation to drop out of school in order to profit from the drug trade.

After that, Becker and Murphy do a cost/benefit analysis that is fascinating, so read on.


WHEN DEATH ROW LAWYERS SCREW UP, IT’S THE CLIENTS WHO TAKE THE HITS

In Tuesday’s NY Times Adam Liptak has a story filled with cautionary tales about lawyers disastrously screwing up in death row cases and the horrifying unwillingness of appeals courts to remedy the situations.

Here’s a clip from the opening:

Twice in recent years, the Supreme Court rebuked the federal appeals court in Atlanta for its rigid attitude toward filing deadlines in capital cases. The appeals court does not seem to be listening.

A few days after Christmas, a divided three-judge panel of the court ruled that Ronald B. Smith, a death row inmate in Alabama, could not pursue a challenge to his conviction and sentence because he had not “properly filed” a document by a certain deadline.

As it happens, there is no dispute that the document was filed on time. But it was not “properly filed,” the majority said, because Mr. Smith’s lawyer did not at the same time pay the $154 filing fee or file a motion to establish something also not in dispute — that his client was indigent.

Nor did the majority place much weight on the fact that the lawyer himself was on probation for public intoxication and addicted to crystal methamphetamine while he was being less than punctilious. In the months that followed, the lawyer would be charged with drug possession, declare bankruptcy and commit suicide.

Mr. Smith is almost surely guilty of murdering a convenience store clerk in 1994 in Huntsville, Ala. But it is not clear that he deserves to die for his crime.

His jury, by a vote of seven to five, determined that the murder did not warrant the death penalty, recommending instead that Mr. Smith be sentenced to life in prison….

Read on.


Posted in Bill Bratton, How Appealing, War on Drugs | No Comments »

« Previous Entries