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HACLA Banditry, Race & Pardons, Deputy Assaults, & Kids Pay for Parents’ Sins

December 5th, 2011 by Celeste Fremon

SO CAL CONNECTED EXPOSES OUTRAGEOUS HOUSING AUTHORITY CORRUPTION, HEAD GUY IS OUSTED—AND WALKS AWAY WITH $1.2 MILLION

This is just incredible.

Earlier this year, investigations by KCET’S So Cal Connected exposed corruption and fraud at the Los Angeles Housing Authority—or HACLA—the agency responsible for providing shelter for the city’s poorest residents, and for overseeing LA’s Federal public housing projects. Then this past week, the show broadcast a whole new round of investigations into the shocking level of waste and abuse of tax payer money by top managers at the agency..

So Cal Connected’s investigation, plus audits by City Controller Wendy Gruel, resulted in the ouster of HACLA head guy Rudolf Montiel. However, it turns out that, instead of being sanctioned, Montiel was given a $1.2 million departure package by the HACLA board, reports the LA Times.

KCET has an interactive database here that allows you to check out the HACLA managers’ thousands of dollars worth of dinners, gifts and “employee incentives.”

There’s lots more to this story, so stay tuned.


PRESIDENTIAL PARDON’S: YOU’RE WA-A-A-AAAY MORE LIKELY TO GET ONE IF YOU’RE WHITE—AND WELL CONNECTED

Dafna Lindzer and Jennifer LaFleur of ProPublica did this important 2-part series that it co-published with the Washington Post

Here’s how Part 1 opens:

White criminals seeking presidential pardons over the past decade have been nearly four times as likely to succeed as minorities, a ProPublica examination has found.

Blacks have had the poorest chance of receiving the president’s ultimate act of mercy, according to an analysis of previously unreleased records and related data.

Current and former officials at the White House and Justice Department said they were surprised and dismayed by the racial disparities, which persist even when factors such as the type of crime and sentence are considered.

“I’m just astounded by those numbers,” said Roger Adams, who served as head of the Justice Department’s pardons office from 1998 to 2008. He said he could think of nothing in the office’s practices that would have skewed the recommendations. “I can recall several African Americans getting pardons.”

The review of applications for pardons is conducted almost entirely in secret, with the government releasing scant information about those it rejects.

ProPublica’s review examined what happened after President George W. Bush decided at the beginning of his first term to rely almost entirely on the recommendations made by career lawyers in the Office of the Pardon Attorney.

The office was given wide latitude to apply subjective standards, including judgments about the “attitude” and the marital and financial stability of applicants. No two pardon cases match up perfectly, but records reveal repeated instances in which white applicants won pardons with transgressions on their records similar to those of blacks and other minorities who were denied.

And here’s Part 2, a fascinating piece which tracks the circuitous process of trying to get a pardon for a well-connected, well-off guy who eventually did get the 12th pardon of George W. Bush’s presidency.

ProPublica’s editors write that this is “the kind of journalism that demands action.” Yep.


WHEN LOS ANGELES SHERIFF’S DEPUTIES ASSAULT INMATES, THEY MAY GET FIRED, BUT THEIR CASES OFTEN DON’T GET PASSED ALONG TO THE DA’S OFFICE FOR PROSECUTION

The LA Times’ Jack Leonard and Robert Faturechi, who have been covering the jail abuse scandal for the Times, report that the “L.A. County Sheriff’s Department does not always share with prosecutors the results of investigations of possible inmate abuse.”

Here’s a clip:

Even as a sergeant shouted, “Stop hitting him! Stop hitting him!,” Deputy Marcos Stout continued punching an inmate in the head. Then, with the inmate on the concrete floor, Stout landed his knee on the man’s skull.

Lawyers for the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department described the deputy’s actions as “callous and brutal behavior toward a helpless and unresisting person.”

Though Stout’s excessive force was egregious enough to get him fired, prosecutors did not charge him with a crime — but not because they concluded that the violence wasn’t criminal, according to interviews. They never knew about it.

In several cases in recent years, deputies who were disciplined or even fired for abusing inmates escaped criminal scrutiny because Sheriff’s Department officials chose not to give the evidence to the district attorney’s office, opting to handle the cases internally.

Law enforcement experts interviewed by the Los Angeles Times said the department should routinely conduct criminal investigations of brutality claims and forward the results to prosecutors to determine whether criminal charges should be filed.

“Just because you’re part of the Sheriff’s Department doesn’t mean you can commit battery with impunity,” said Dennis Kenney, a former Florida police officer and current professor studying police use of force at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York.


U.S. CITIZEN FLORIDA STUDENTS ARE REFUSED INSTATE COLLEGE TUITION PRICES IF THEY CANNOT PROVE THEIR PARENTS ARE LEGAL IMMIGRANTS

This story by NYTimes Opinionator contributor Linda Greenhouse truly falls into the You’ve-Got-To-Be-Kidding category.

Here’s how it opens:

In the current race to the bottom to see which state can provide the most degraded and dehumanizing environment for undocumented immigrants, Arizona and Alabama have grabbed the headlines. But largely unnoticed, it is Florida, home to nearly one million Cuban refugees and their descendants, that has come up with perhaps the most bizarre and pointless anti-immigrant policy of all.

Beginning last year, the state’s higher education authorities have been treating American citizens born in the United States, including graduates of Florida high schools who have spent their entire lives in the state, as non-residents for tuition purposes if they can’t demonstrate that their parents are in the country legally.

Yes, you read that correctly – although when I first came upon a description of the policy a few weeks ago, I was sure that I had misunderstood something. It’s a basic tenet of equal protection law that the government can’t single out citizens for disfavored treatment without a good reason. The Supreme Court is serious about this, even ruling unanimously a decade ago that an Illinois village violated an individual homeowner’s 14th Amendment right to equal protection by demanding from her a bigger easement than it required of her neighbors as the price of connecting her home to the municipal water supply.

A few feet of land more or less may not have made a life-changing difference to the plaintiff in that case. But consider the difference between in-state and non-resident tuition at the University of Florida: $5,700 a year versus $27,936. The disparity is similar at the state’s community colleges, although the price tags are lower. It is the difference between a college education and none.

It seems grossly unfair, as the Supreme Court acknowledged 30 years ago in Plyler v. Doe when it held that Texas could not deprive undocumented children of a free public K-through-12 education, to blame children for the wrongdoing of their parents. Unfair and, as Justice Lewis F. Powell Jr. observed in his concurring opinion, socially self-destructive, in creating a permanent underclass of uneducated people.

Posted in immigration, jail, journalism, LA County Jail, Must Reads | No Comments »

Heartbreak: “Restrepo” Co-Director Tim Hetherington Killed Covering Libya

April 20th, 2011 by Celeste Fremon

“In it’s desire to sanitize war, society dehumanizes it….I’ve come to realize the war machine is, in fact, very human. Take a group of young men, train them together, put them on the side of a mountain and they will kill and be killed for each other.”

– Tim Hetherington, November 2010

The brave and brilliant photojournalist Tim Hetherington, who co-directed with Sebastian Junger the profoundly affecting and deeply humanizing war documentary, “Restrepo,” about U.S. soldiers in the Korengal Valley of Afghanistan, was killed Tuesday in Misrata, Libya.

This is terrible, terrible news.

Here are the details from Reuters.

Photojournalist Tim Hetherington, the co-director of Oscar-nominated war documentary “Restrepo,” died in the besieged Libyan town of Misrata on Wednesday, doctors said.

Getty photographer Chris Hondros was in critical condition in intensive care, doctors at the hospital where he was being treated said. He had suffered brain injuries.

The photographers were among a group caught by mortar fire on Tripoli Street, the main thoroughfare leading into the center of Misrata, the only major rebel-held town in western Libya and besieged by Muammar Gaddafi’s forces for more than seven weeks.

“It was quiet and we were trying to get away and then a mortar landed and we heard explosions,” Spanish photographer Guillermo Cervera said.


UPDATE: Chris Hondros has died of his injuries. Hondros was a finalist for the Pulitzer in 2004 for his photos of conflict in Liberia, and got the Robert Capa Gold Medal for photography in 2005 (among others) for this amazing set of images.


This is from the Human Rights Watch statement:

Hetherington was a brilliant photographer and videographer who covered many of the world’s most critical human rights stories: conflicts in Liberia, Afghanistan, Darfur, and now Libya. In every assignment, he demonstrated a remarkable sensitivity to his subjects, a tender insight into their human ordeals, and a keen sense of how visual imagery could be used to effect positive social change.

“Tim Hetherington was much more than a war reporter,” said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. “He had an extraordinary talent for documenting, in compassionate and beautiful imagery, the human stories behind the headlines. We are saddened by his death and extend our deepest condolences to his family and countless friends.”

Roth reiterated Human Rights Watch’s call on the Libyan government to cease unlawful attacks against civilian areas in Misrata.

Hetherington lived in Monrovia, Liberia for eight years during the brutal civil war that engulfed Liberia and neighboring countries. The film that Hetherington co-directed, “Liberia: An Uncivil War,” and his book, “Long Story Bit by Bit: Liberia Retold,” did more than any other body of work to tell the complete story of the conflict, focusing on individual Liberians and allowing them to tell their own stories in their own words.

And here’s Hetherington in his own words in an OpEd from last year.

Posted in journalism, War | No Comments »

Teaching Gay History, Angry Judges & More

April 20th, 2011 by Celeste Fremon



CALIFORNIA STATE SENATE PASSED BILL TO REQUIRE TEACHING GAY HISTORY IN SCHOOLS

The AP gets this story exactly right:

California conservatives were outraged in 1966 when the state Board of Education adopted a new junior high school history textbook. The book’s inclusive treatment of the civil rights movement and influential black Americans would indoctrinate students, undermine religious values and politicize the curriculum, they said.

Forty-five years later, gay rights advocates say similar arguments are being advanced to defeat a bill that would make the state the first to require the teaching of gay history in public schools. The California Senate approved the landmark measure last week, but it needs to clear the Democrat-controlled Assembly and Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk.

Yet the debate about what children should learn about sexual orientation mirrors earlier disputes over whether groups such as 20th Century German immigrants, women, Muslims and Jews would have a place for their heroes and heartbreaks in the history books.

The AP points out that, right now, California requires schools to teach about women, African Americans, Mexican Americans, entrepreneurs, Asian Americans, European Americans, American Indians and labor.

Advocates point to studies that suggest that bullying dramatically decreases in schools where gay history is added to the curriculum.


STUDY SUGGESTS THAT NORTH CAROLINA SHOULD REPEAL THE DEATH PENALTY

A new study by an Appalachian State University professor finds that the state’s death is expensive, ineffective and racially biased—and should therefore be repealed.

The Winston-Salem Journal has the story. Here’s a clip.

The study was done by Matthew Robinson, a professor of government and justice studies. Robinson analyzed data from more than 20 studies on the death penalty and released his findings Monday at a news conference in Raleigh.

“In the past six years, three states have abolished the death penalty: Illinois, New Mexico and New Jersey,” Robinson said in an interview after the news conference. “They did it for the same reason. They found racial bias, they found it to be costly, they found it to be ineffective and a threat to innocent people.”

Robinson said the studies he looked at were remarkably consistent in their conclusions — that the death penalty doesn’t deter crime, is racially biased and has led to people being wrongfully convicted.


TOUGH LOVE JUDGE FIGHTS BACK, THREATENS IRA GLASS WITH LAWSUIT

A few weeks ago the radio show This American Life profiled a Georgia drug court program that, in the words of the producers, ” we believe is run differently from every other drug court in the country, doing some things that are contrary to the very philosophy of drug court. The result? People with offenses that would get minimal or no sentences elsewhere sometimes end up in the system five to ten years.”

The show, called Very Tough Love, reported by TAL’s host, Ira Glass was an excellent and very affecting piece of journalism that was very critical of Judge Amanda Williams who presides over the court and seemed, by all accounts, to misuse her power as a jurist.

Judge Williams didn’t take very kindly to Glass’s criticism and was very vocal about her displeasure. First she released a press release about her vexation. Now, most recently, through her lawyer, Williams has publicly accused Glass of libel, plus has threatened a lawsuit.

Listen to the story here. Then read the letter from Williams and company, and Ira Glass’s response.

Posted in Antonio Villaraigosa, Death Penalty, journalism, LGBT, media, Must Reads | No Comments »

Post Fireworks Round-Up

July 6th, 2010 by Celeste Fremon



Later this week, I’ll have a new story on the mess that is LA County probation
and some additional information on the circumstances surrounding the heartbreaking death of Zac Champommier.

But for now, here’s a round-up of weekend news that I thought you’d find of interest.


IF DEATH ROW INMATE TROY DAVIS PROVES HIS INNOCENCE, THEN WHAT?

Last summer the U.S. Supreme Court granted Georgia death row inmate, Troy Davis, a new hearing before a federal judge in which Davis and his attorneys would be able to to try to prove Davis’s innocence of the 1989 murder of an Atlanta police officer. [Back story on Davis's case here.] It is, as the AP points out, “a chance afforded no American facing execution in nearly half a century.”

But the AP also discusses the fact that it isn’t at all clear what is to happen even if Davis and company persuade the judge that Davis didn’t do the crime.

Some experts say the judge could order a new trial. Others say the judge could make a recommendation to the Supreme Court that Davis be freed from prison. There’s also a possibility the judge could find Davis innocent, yet rule he’s powerless to spare Davis’ life.

“There is some ambiguity,” said John H. Blume, a Cornell Law School professor who specializes in death penalty appeals. “Whenever you’ve got something this new, that hasn’t happened all these years, you’re really making your best guess.”

Read the rest.


REASON # 4598 WHY SO MANY PEOPLE ARE GOING ELSEWHERE FOR NEWS OTHER THAN TO THE MAINSTREAM MEDIA

For weeks, I have found myself in a state of quietly growing rage at the way the so-called journalism establishment has taken endless snide little potshots (and some not-so-little shots) at Michael Hastings and his scoop-of-the-season Rolling Stone article, “The Runaway General,” in which then-General Stanley McChrystal and his aides made the smart-mouthed remarks that cost the general his job.

And so who did the ever vigilant Washington press corps attack after the release of excellent Hastings article? Why Hastings of course.

Thus it was relief to read Eric Alterman’s scathing round-up of nearly all the instances of what Rolling Stone’s Matt Tabbai had earlier and accurately described as Hysterical Backstabbing Jealous Hackfest 2010!

Here’s a representative clip:

But almost as impressive as the article itself—and, of course, the commotion it caused in the administration’s Afghan policy resulting in McChrystal’s firing and his replacement by Gen. David Petraeus—has been the Washington journalistic establishment’s reaction to it. Reporter after reporter has complained that by accurately reporting what McChyrstal and his aides said in explicitly on-the-record conversations to a reporter with a tape recorder and/or notepad in his hand, Hastings has violated the tenets of professional journalism. (A few of the reporters did this, it should be added, after stealing his work for their own websites.)

And about that work-stealing issue that Alter mentions: I flagged it at the time, but was astonished to find that few others seemed to notice. Here’s what Alterman says on that matter:

The other decidedly comical aspect of the journalistic establishment’s reaction to the piece they so disdain was the eagerness a few of them showed in trying to steal it. Not only did website after website post the highlights of the general’s shocking quotes before Rolling Stone did, but two of them—Politico and Time—stole it outright, posting the results of months of research and tens of thousands of dollars of investment on their own sites without even bothering to ask permission from the people responsible for them.

Asked by an NPR reporter whether this behavior “cros[ed] a line,” Bill Grueskin, who is dean of academic affairs at the Columbia University School of Journalism, replied, “I think they crossed the line in the same way that a bank robber who goes into a bank and takes money out of the cashier’s drawer crosses a line.” New York Times media reporter David Carr titled his column on the controversy “Heedlessly Hijacking Content,” and termed it “a clear violation of copyright and professional practice, and it amounted to taking money out of a competitor’s pocket.”

And do keep in mind that these people who excoriated Hastings (but thought nothing of stealing his work), are the same folks who regularly beat their breasts about the icky “non-professionalism” of bloggers.

Right. Sure. Whatever you say, boss.


A YEAR OUT OF PRISON BRUCE LISKER MEETS WITH ONE OF HIS JURORS

On LA Observed, Photojournalist Iris Schneider has been doing an occasional and quite wonderful series on Bruce Lisker, who was released from prison nearly a year ago after serving 24 years for murdering his mother, Dora Lisker. Monday Schneider posted her latest installment in which she accompanied Lisker when he met with Lorraine Maxwell, one of the twelve jury members who convicted him when he was 17-years-old of the 1983 murder.

Earlier installments are here, here and here.


THE LA TIMES GETS AERIAL EXPERT’S REPORT THAT CONTRADICTS OFFICIAL ACCOUNT OF HOW THE STATION FIRE MIGHT HAVE BEEN STOPPED

The LA Times’ Paul Pringle has gotten his hands on a very credible report that suggest that the official account of the way the disastrous Station Fire was handled may be troublingly inaccurate.


OBAMA TELLS CONGRESS: HANDS OFF FEDERAL RACE TO THE TOP FUNDS

The NY Times editorial board rightly approves of Obama’s threat to veto any spending bill that slashes money from his Race-to-the-Top school reform program. Find the cuts elsewhere people.


CLAY SHIRKY EXPLAINS WHY THE (INTERNET) KIDS ARE ALRIGHT

If you don’t recognize the name of web prognosticator/author/astonishingly fine thinker Clay Shirky, suffice it to say that, if you are interested in the whole Future of News thingy, he’s the guy you want to read. He has a brand new book out, Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age, which is already selling at a rapid clip.

To get a glimpse of what’s inside, read his essay in Saturday’s Wall Street Journal titled “Does the Internet Make You Smarter?

Or better yet, read the interview in the Guardian in which the self-described techno-luddite interviewer admits she finds herself hanging on Shirky’s every word.

Posted in crime and punishment, criminal justice, Death Penalty, journalism, media, Supreme Court | 1 Comment »

Wednesday’s Fresh Picks

April 14th, 2010 by Celeste Fremon

CSU-STANISLAS-STUDENTS


CSU STUDENTS GO DUMPSTER DIVING AND FIND SHREDS OF PALIN CONTRACT CONTROVERSY…

It all started on Friday when some enterprising political science students from the California State University at Stanislaus decided to poke around in a trash bin outside the university’s administration building, and found some shredded documents and something that appeared to be a contract. They fished the rest of the documents out and discovered that six pages out of a nine-page document were still intact and, indeed, appeared to be some kind of speaker’s contract. The speaker—while not named— was coming from Anchorage Alaska on June 25, the date that Sarah Palin was set to show up on campus for a $500 a plate dinner being put on by the CSU Stanislaus Foundation.

Those six pages spelled out all kinds of fun details of what the speaker required—from flex straws for water to a diagram showing how furniture should be arranged for the post-speaking photo shoot with audience members. (The Sacramento Bee has most of that.)

The find was relevant because, for the past month, there had been a on campus about Palin’s appearance, what she was being paid, and where the proceeds of the night were going. And, in response to inquiries on the subject, both university officials and foundation administrators had been extremely non-disclosing.

The biggest kerfuffle was about whether or not the public had the right to see any relevant speaker’s contract for an event such as this one being held on the campus of a public university. In response to a Public Records Act request, CSUS officials reportedly claimed there was no contract anyway, which is what led students to go dumpster diving. Et voila!

The divers turned their finds over to State Senator Leeland Yee, and a joint press conference was held early on Tuesday featuring Yee and students Alicia Lewis, and Ashli Brigg, now cleaned up and wearing heels. By afternoon the docs were handed over to Attorney General Jerry Brown who has launched an investigation.

The San Francisco Chronicle (among others) has reported on the unfolding story here and here.

“This is not about Sarah Palin,” Brown said in the statement his office put out Tuesday. “She has every right to speak at a university event, and schools should strive to bring to campus a broad range of speakers. The issues are public disclosure and financial accountability in organizations embedded in state-run universities. We’re not saying any allegation is true, but we owe it to the taxpayers to thoroughly check out every serious allegation.”

Yee likened the whole thing to a mini-Watergate-–which overstates the matter’s importance by about 1000 degrees. But it is nonetheless an intriguing story to follow, in part because of the pro-active student participation, but also because it has implications that, as Brown said, go to the heart of what our public universities do and do not owe us in terms of information and accountability.


AND WHILE WE’RE ON THE SUBJECT OF SMART STUDENTS, BILL BOYARSKY PROFILES USC’S NEON TOMMY FOR TRUTHDIG

Respected LA journalist Bill Boyarsky looks at how Annenberg’s student-run digital publication, Neon Tommy, is filling some of the gaps left by traditional media and finds himself heartened by young reporters’ and editors’ “nothing can stop me” attitude.

Here’s how Boyarsky’s column opens:

My search for the I.F. Stone of the 21st century took me to the campus of the University of Southern California and the highly energized office of the Web-based news operation Neon Tommy, sponsored by USC’s Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism.

The university, long shackled with a reputation for conservatism, might be considered an odd place to look for a potential successor to Stone, a crusading liberal journalist ostracized by the mainstream media during the Cold War who nevertheless broke major stories in his own I.F. Stone’s Weekly. But USC is changing. And even the old conservative USC produced progressives such as my personal hero, Carey McWilliams, who was editor of The Nation from 1955 to 1975. Truthdig’s editor, Robert Scheer, is on the Annenberg faculty.

I wanted to talk to some of the Neon Tommy staff because I think that the salvation of journalism rests with young people who are talented, ambitious, intelligent, obsessive and crazy enough to jump into what is rapidly becoming a low-paying, insecure business. As Alan Mutter said of young journalists in his Reflections of a Newsosaur blog, “The starving-artist lifestyle may be colorful and appealing for a while, but it gets old fast if you are bunking on a friend’s sofa, living under the same roof you did in junior high and lying awake at night wondering how you are going to repay your staggering five-figure student loan.

Read the rest. It’s hope producing.


ARIZONA PASSES STRICTEST IMMIGRATION LAW IN NATION, TURNING COPS INTO ICE AGENTS

And not all law enforcement is thrilled. The LA Times has the story. Here are the first few ‘graphs.

Arizona lawmakers on Tuesday approved what foes and supporters agree is the toughest measure in the country against illegal immigrants, directing local police to determine whether people are in the country legally.

The measure, long sought by opponents of illegal immigration, passed 35 to 21 in the state House of Representatives.

The state Senate passed a similar measure earlier this year, and Republican Gov. Jan Brewer is expected to sign the bill.

The bill’s author, State Sen. Russell Pearce, said it simply “takes the handcuffs off of law enforcement and lets them do their job.”

But police were deeply divided on the matter, with police unions backing it but the state police chief’s association opposing the bill, contending it could erode trust with immigrants who could be potential witnesses.

Immigrant rights groups were horrified, and contended that Arizona would be transformed into a police state.

Sheriff Joe Arpaio must be ecstatic.


AVERAGE PEOPLE TURN TO SOCIAL MEDIA TO DODGE DRUG WAR VIOLENCE

The Houston Chronicle reports—almost offhandedly at the end of a news article—that in the ever escalating Mexican drug gang battles that have, in many cases, frozen traditional media in the area, people are turning to social media to communicate news and dangers. (Chapeau tip to Grits for Breakfast for flagging this piece.)

Here’s the relevant clip:

With the traditional media gagged by gangster threats and officials’ desire to downplay events, common citizens have largely taken to reporting on the violence on their own though You Tube, Twitter and blog postings.

State and local officials first blamed such “social networks” for fueling unfounded fear.

But Reynosa officials started twittering in late February about gunbattles and other “risky situations.” And the official Web site of Tamaulipas state, of which Reynosa is the largest city, has begun carrying news about such clashes.

“It could be a gunshot, it could be a grenade, it could be a threat,” Triana, who directs Reynosa’s Twitter efforts, said of what merits a tweeted alarm. “We are just trying to advise people so they don’t run risks.”


Photo by Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press

Posted in crime and punishment, Gangs, immigration, journalism, media | 50 Comments »

Short Takes: Jails, the 2nd Amendment…and the National Enquirer

February 19th, 2010 by Celeste Fremon

National-Enquirer

JUDGE DENIES DEPUTY UNION REQUEST TO STOP RELEASES FROM OC JAIL

Okay, Superior Court Judge Steven Perk has declined to buckle under to the OC Deputies’ union’s law suit asking for a temporary restraining order to keep the OC sheriff from letting any more inmates out from the jail early in response the the state’s corrections reform law that kicked in Jan 1. But the judge said he would revisit the thoroughly bollixed up issue in mid March. For her part, the OC Sheriff has been applying the law retroactively, even though anybody with a grasp of logic who read the law could see that this was not its intention—as California Attorney General Jerry Brown has stated with admirable succinctness.

As should be evident by now, I’m for the parole revisions and the new provisions that allow prisoners—both in prison and in jails—to earn a few days or weeks off their sentences by engaging in productive and rehabilitative programs. Such programs are statistically likely to decrease inmates likelihood of reoffending,. And, by the way, the amount shaved off their sentences is comparatively minimal.

But I do not see any reason why we have to start dumping people out of jails by the hundreds, freaking everyone out, when the law says to do no such thing. If for no other reason, its a lousy PR move.

Here’s what Jerry wrote on the retroactivity issue.. It’s a little long to paste the best of it here, so you’ll have to click through.

To make matters more bizarre,
some of the crafters of the law are saying that they never meant it to apply to jails. (Well, Assembly Majority Leader Alberto Torrico, if you didn’t want your law—good ol’ SB 3X 18 —to apply to jails, then it might have been wiser not to have written into it the words, “This bill would also revise the time credits for certain prisoners confined or committed to a county jail or other specified facilities, as provided.”

The Wave has an informative take on the quarrel.

And the LA Times Andrew Blankstein and Richard Winton have more of the details on the judge’s decision:

A judge on Thursday denied a request by the union representing Orange County deputies to end the early release of jail inmates but signaled that the decision would not be the last word on the issue, setting a hearing for further arguments next month.

In turning down the bid to temporarily block the releases, Superior Court Judge Steven Perk noted that Sheriff Sandra Hutchens has the final say in choosing how to address the new state law that went into effect Jan. 25.

The judge set a hearing for March 12 on arguments for a preliminary injunction.

The law reformulated good behavior credits for state prison inmates, accelerating their release. But it also has caused confusion among local law enforcement officials, many of whom have been advised by county counsels to release inmates early, an interpretation that was backed up this week by Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown.


SPEAKING OF THE CONSTITUTION: THE SUPREMES WILL HEAR A 2ND AMENDMENT HAND GUN BAN CASE NEXT MONTH

The Wall Street Journal has this in Friday’s paper about the upcomng case the Supreme court will hear regarding the ban on handguns in Chicago and Oark Park, Ills.

The WSJ reports that the case has brought together a surprising mix of allies on the left and the right. Not a bad thing.

(Now if we could just have a similar left/right collaboration in Congress Over something. Anything.)



NATIONAL ENQUIRER OFFICIALLY IN THE RUNNING FOR PULITZER

As well they should be. Yes, there are ethical issues caused by their policy of paying sources. But they should still be in the running for their reporting on John Edwards. Speaking personally, I don’t think they deserve to win. But I do believe they should be shortlisted.

The Huffington Post (which is getting WAY too celebrity driven of late) has the story:

The Pulitzer Prize Board has officially accepted The National Enquirer’s submissions for breaking the John Edwards scandal, according to sources close to the Board. In a historic move, the Pulitzer Board conceded that the self-proclaimed tabloid is qualified to compete with mainstream news outlets for journalism’s most prestigious prize. The Enquirer is in the running for the Pulitzer in two categories: “Investigative Reporting” and “National News Reporting” for The National Enquirer staff.

[SNIP]

Before The Enquirer submitted its nomination, the Pulitzer’s long-time administrator Sig Gissler attempted to pre-empt this campaign by telling reporters that the tabloid is not eligible due to various technicalities. Gissler, however, showed great humility and fairness by reading The Enquirer’s submission and admitting that the paper is eligible to compete. Gissler has given The National Enquirer the legitimacy it long deserved for breaking a political scandal of national significance.

The National Enquirer single-handedly broke the stories about Edwards’ affair with a campaign staffer, their out-of-wedlock child, the expensive cover-up and the federal grand jury investigation of possible misappropriation of campaign funds. During the 2008 presidential campaign, the other reporters covering Edwards’ campaign did little if anything to follow up on the published stories in The Enquirer.


Posted in Civil Liberties, Courts, Future of Journalism, journalism, Social Justice Shorts | 1 Comment »

Dear James O’Keefe, About Your J-School Application….

January 26th, 2010 by Celeste Fremon

James-O'Keefe

My dear Mr. O’Keefe,

Your message explaining why you will miss your scheduled interview with us has, I believe, demonstrated yet another reason why we feel you cannot help but benefit from obtaining our Master’s Degree in Journalism. While we admire your go-getter spirit (love the pimp outfit you used for the ACORN sting), we feel sure your native talents would shine brighter if burnished by the rigorous kind of critical thinking we encourage.

For instance, regarding this most recent unpleasantness, had you been matriculating through our program, our professors would have uniformly advised you against (allegedly) committing a felony that carries with it a 10-year prison jolt. We understand that you were after what certainly sounded like an intriguing story. But our profs would have brainstormed with you to find another route to getting the information you sought. (See, for example, our 2-credit FOIA Lab.)

Speaking personally, I always firmly advise my students not to do anything that will get them either arrested or shot at. And, if unsure about the aforementioned, I tell them to simply avoid acts that will stand in the way of their future Supreme Court confirmations. And really, as I’m sure you now agree, those are handy little, easy-to-remember rules to fall back on in a pinch….


From CBS:


O’Keefe and three others — including the son of an acting U.S. Attorney,
are accused of trying to manipulate the phones in Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu’s office in New Orleans. According to an release from the United States Attorney’s Office, witnesses say O’Keefe was in Landrieu’s office when two co-conspirators came in “dressed in blue denim pants, a blue work shirt, a light green fluorescent vest, a tool belt and a construction-style hard hat” and pretended to be there to repair the phones. (Here’s the affidavit.)

O’Keefe allegedly filmed the men handling the main reception-area phone in the senator’s office with a cell-phone camera. The faux-repairmen, who are believed to have been attempting to tap the phones, then asked for access to the telephone closet to work on the main telephone system; asked for identification after being directed there, they said they had left their credentials in their vehicle.

The four men — O’Keefe, the two fake telephone repairman, and another alleged co-conspirator — are now “charged in a criminal complaint with entering federal property under false pretenses for the purpose of committing a felony, announced the United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Louisiana.” They could face up to ten years in prison and a fine of $250,000.

Posted in crime and punishment, jail, journalism, media | 44 Comments »

Bruce Lisker: Justice Finally (Maybe) Done….After 24 Years

August 7th, 2009 by Celeste Fremon

bruce-lisker-2000

In the spring of 2005, the LA Times published a piece by Matt Lait and Scott Glover,
in which they pulled apart the pieces of a murder case from 1983 in which a then-17-year old young man named Bruce Lisker was convicted of the beating and stabbing death of his mother, Dorka Lisker, in a bloody scene at the family’s Sherman Oaks home. Lisker was tried and convicted as an adult, and sentenced to life in prison in 1985.

Initial doubts about the case had come to light when an LAPD Internal Affairs sergeant
named Jim Gavin responded to an ethics complaint about the main officer on the Lisker case, Det. Andrew Monsue. The more Gavin looked into things, the more he began to believe that what he was looking at was no simple misstatement by an officer, but a rush to judgment in a murder investigation that might have the wrong person in prison.

However, his bosses at IA, then headed by Michael Berkow, thought Gavin was overstepping his bounds and told him to cease and desist.

He mostly did so—but handed over some of what he’d found to Lisker’s lawyer.

By weird coincidence, I talked to Gavin in 2004 during the period he was investigating the Lisker matter. I had called him for an unrelated reason, but he mentioned he had this other case that troubled him. At the time, I was involved in a year long newspaper series and (foolishly) reasoned that I couldn’t take on another big story, so didn’t press him on the Lisker issue.

But Glover and Lait heard about the case through their own sources and did take it on—and they brought it all the way home.

The result was a truly excellent work of reporting
and writing accomplished by the team over 7 months. Glover and Lait’s work is a large part of what may allow Bruce Lisker to walk out of prison after 24 years..

Here’s the link to the original story.
(It is really, really worth reading.)

And here’s what happened today, as reported by the LA Times.

A federal judge on Friday overturned the conviction of a San Fernando Valley man serving a life prison sentence for the 1983 murder of his mother, ruling that he must either be retried or set free.

U.S. District Judge Virginia A. Phillips concluded that Bruce Lisker, 44, was convicted on “false evidence” and that his attorney — now a court commissioner — failed to adequately represent him.

The judge’s findings mirrored those of a seven-month Times investigation published in 2005, which raised questions about key elements of the prosecution’s case against Lisker and exposed the LAPD’s investigation into the slaying of his 66-year-old mother as sloppy and incomplete.

It is unclear whether or not the district attorney will appeal, refile….or just let it go.

Read the rest here.

Posted in journalism, LAPD | 29 Comments »

Bill Did It. Kim Jong-il pardons Euna Lee & Laura Ling -UPDATED

August 4th, 2009 by Celeste Fremon

bill-laura-and-euna

Here’s the LA Times.

Here’s the NY Times.

And my smart pal Kevin Roderick already has a full, link-filled chronology of Lee and Ling’s ordeal up on LA Observed.

This is wonderful news!

Good slideshow at Huff Post.

(Is it me, or does Lil’ Kim look bizarrely ‘shopped, as my techie son would put it, into all but one of the photos? Oh, nevermind. Go, Bill!!!)

*****************************************************************************************************************

WEDNESDAY EARLY A.M. UPDATE:

It is about 3 a.m. Wednesday. Laura Ling and Euna Lee are scheduled to arrive at Hangar 25 at the Bob Hope Airport in about an hour.

This morning’s New York Times details how both Clintons
—Hillary and Bill—had a role in the women’s release.

They also say that, out of a list of possible negotiators, that the Koreans picked Bill. Clinton had been slated to go to North Korea before the end of his own presidency, but other international issues pressed, and he never made it. Therefore this trip was looked on as a sort of completion of that interrupted presidential visit.

According to the Washington Post, Bill was not the Obama administration’s first choice for the job.

North Korea rejected the administration’s first choice for the trip — former vice president Al Gore, who co-founded the television channel that employs the journalists — and Bill Clinton left the United States only after North Korea provided assurances that the reporters would be released, the sources said.

The WaPo also had an interesting insight about how the White House managed to give the trip a sort of back door official status, which would please the North Koreans, while simultaneously truthfully denying that the trip had official status.

No government officials appeared to be aboard Clinton’s plane, but the nature of the delegation gave the mission a quasi-official status. It included John Podesta, Clinton’s White House chief of staff, who served as chief of Obama’s transition team and is president of the Center for American Progress. Also seen in photos released by the Korean media were David Straub, a former head of the Korea desk at the State Department who is now at Stanford University; longtime Clinton aide Douglas J. Band; and Justin Cooper, who has worked with the William J. Clinton Foundation.

Listen. Whatever worked. I think we’re all just glad that our local girls are nearly home. (And will be home by the time most of you wake up, have your coffee, and read this.)

Statements made by Lee and Ling’s very relieved and happy family members are posted at Lauraandeuna.com

*********************************************************************************************************

Photo by Zhang Binyang/Xinhua, via Reuters

Posted in international issues, International politics, journalism | 47 Comments »

Driven (Partly) Sane by Congestion Pricing

June 12th, 2009 by

la

    Ugly Secret: They never were free

If it were up to me, trucks and solo drivers would be banned from all L.A. freeways during rush hour. Carpools would not be two people; they would be a driver and at least two passengers. Buses would be free for all. Fares would be low for light-rail and subways. We would be happy to pay higher taxes because the 20,000 premature deaths blamed every year on air pollution would drop.

Believe it or not, we’re headed there–slowly, and in very small steps. For the next couple weeks, the public will be weighing in on a congestion pricing program that will allow solo drivers to pay to drive in carpool lanes on stretches of the I-110 and I-10. Ladies and gentlemen, you can deal with it. The revolution has not begun.

Of course, foes abound. I suspect that L.A. Times’ columnist Tim Rutten represents the thinking of many people as he tried to tear apart the plan this week. He was not particularly well-informed and chose either to ignore important elements that address low-income drivers, public transit, the environment and health benefits, or maybe he didn’t read the entire plan. But fully weigh his views, particularly his demeaning example of a fictional mom working downtown who is rushing to care for her sick child at a Westside daycare. Here’s his column.

Make sure you read this overwrought line about the poor mom:

A society that can rationalize the imposition of such pain doesn’t need to worry over how to define equity; it needs to worry about its soul.

Note to Rutten: Rework the soul scold after doing some research on ultrafine particle pollution and learning how millions of microscopic specks that can fit on a nailhead find their way into lungs, hearts and brains of Los Angeles residents. These particles contribute to the respiratory ills that sicken and kill thousands every year. No society can allow this to continue.

Rutten’s screed got the attention of the public affairs department at Metro. Score one for Marc Littman and Rick Jager. They posted a response to Rutten’s shallow and misleading arguments on Metro’s Web site today.

They shot down his arguments by addressing the full range of alternatives offered by the program:

This program provides the single mother with additional choices, some of which may be preferable to her. Through the $200 million in transit improvements along with the creation of the ExpressLanes, one new choice would be to take better and more reliable transit to avoid the highway traffic. Another choice based on the program would be to enter the toll lanes and save essential time. That choice could be made easier if she uses credits that she has built up by using transit, an element we’re including in the program specifically for lower-income commuters.

Mr. Rutten seems to suggest single moms will have difficulty making decisions when facing traffic congestion. Single moms respond every day to changing circumstances and choices that are far more complex. Traffic doesn’t have to be like the weather. We may not be able to transform it altogether, but we can have choices to make it better — for everyone. That’s the point of this program.

Pick a side, any side, and show up at a public hearing, starting Saturday. Here’s the schedule.

Posted in environment, Government, health care, journalism, Los Angeles Times, transportation | 15 Comments »

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