Wednesday, October 22, 2014
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Judge Slams State With Restraining Order Over Jefferson High’s Scheduling Mess…Powerful Prosecutors…and More

October 9th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon



Alameda County Superior Court Judge George Hernandez Jr. has taken a good look
at the mess that is occurring at LA’s Thomas Jefferson High School, and he is furious.

Here’s the deal: Due to a hideously malfunctioning computer system, Jefferson High—which has been one of LA County’s most troubled high schools off and on for years now— fell into morass of scheduling dysfunction before this school year began in August. Kids were assigned to incorrect classes—in many cases courses they’d already taken. Or worse they were given pretend classes that weren’t classes at all, hours called “Service” periods, or “College Class” or “Adult Class”—each of which turned out, incredibly to provide no instruction. In still other cases, kids were even simply sent home because no classes—even the faux courses—-were available.

Now here we are in October and, according to Judge Hernandez, the debacle is showing no sign of getting straightened out.

As it happens, Jefferson High was already one of nine “high-need schools” named in a class action lawsuit, Cruz v. California, filed this past spring by Public Counsel and the So Cal ACLU (with pro bono support from the law firms Carlton Fields Jorden Burt and Arnold & Porter LLP).

Cruz v. California challenges “California’s failure to provide meaningful learning time to students” of these nine schools.

Thus, thankfully, when the scheduling crisis erupted, there was already a legal instrument in place to address it.

All this brings us to the very unhappy Judge Hernandez who issued a tersely-worded temporary restraining order on Wednesday demanding that, no later than next Tuesday, Oct. 14, the state and LAUSD must come up with a viable plan to get kids back in appropriate classes, and then have the plan and the needed resources in place by no later than November 3.

“Absent such intervention,” wrote the judge, “there is a significant likelihood that Jefferson students will continue to endure chaos and disruption due to ongoing scheduling issues and low morale, will not have the opportunity to enroll in courses needed to graduate or qualify for college admission, will fail courses or receive poor grades due circumstances beyond their control (including the scheduling fiasco and lack of remedial resources) and, as a result, will be less equipped to succeed in life, in the job market, and (if they are able to gain admission) in college.”

The judge wrote a lot more in that vein about the harm he believed had been done to Jefferson’s students who, he noted, were “disproportionately low income, minority, first generation students, foster children and/or English learners.”

(Here’s a link to the order itself.)

Attorneys representing the plaintiffs praised the judge’s speedy action, but slammed California’s Department of Education for its inattention.

“The State stood by for months while students at Jefferson sat in classes they had already passed, made copies instead of learning math, and were sent home midway through the school day,” said Kathryn Eidmann, staff attorney at Public Counsel. “Students, parents, and teachers deserve better. Today’s ruling recognizes that the State must ensure that all California students have a chance to graduate, attend college, and succeed.”

David Sapp, staff attorney at the So Cal ACLU, added that although the situation at Jefferson is extreme, “it’s also typical of students at schools that have been ignored by the state for too long. We need a new attitude from our state leaders that all students deserve the same opportunity to learn,” he said.

Indeed.


HOW PROSECUTORS CAME TO HAVE SO MUCH POWER

“The prosecutor has more control over life, liberty and reputation than any other person in America,” said then U.S. Attorney General Robert Jackson, in 1940.

In the intervening 74 years, prosecutors have gotten more powerful not less, with almost nothing in the way of legal consequences to rein in those prosecutors who choose to misuse their power.

The Economist Magazine has a good story that explores the matter of prosecutorial power.

Here are some clips:

Cameron Todd Willingham was accused of murdering his daughters in 1991 by setting fire to the family house. The main evidence against him was a forensic report on the fire, later shown to be bunk, and the testimony of a jailhouse informant who claimed to have heard him confess. He was executed in 2004.

The snitch who sent him to his death had been told that robbery charges pending against him would be reduced to a lesser offence if he co-operated. After the trial the prosecutor denied that any such deal had been struck, but a handwritten note discovered last year by the Innocence Project, a pressure group, suggests otherwise. In taped interviews, extracts of which were published by the Washington Post, the informant said he lied in court in return for efforts by the prosecutor to secure a reduced sentence and—-amazingly—-financial support from a local rancher.

A study by Northwestern University Law School’s Centre on Wrongful Convictions found that 46% of documented wrongful capital convictions between 1973 and 2004 could be traced to false testimony by snitches—making them the leading cause of wrongful convictions in death-penalty cases. The Innocence Project keeps a database of Americans convicted of serious crimes but then exonerated by DNA evidence. Of the 318 it lists, 57 involved informants—and 30 of the convicted had entered a guilty plea.

[LARGE SNIP]

It is not clear how often prosecutors themselves break the rules. According to a report by the Project on Government Oversight, an investigative outfit, compiled from data obtained from freedom of information requests, an internal-affairs office at the Department of Justice identified more than 650 instances of prosecutors violating the profession’s rules and ethical standards between 2002 and 2013. More than 400 of these were “at the more severe end of the scale”. The Justice Department argues that this level of misconduct is modest given the thousands of cases it handles.

Judge Kozinski worries, however, that there is “an epidemic” of Brady violations—when exculpatory evidence is hidden from defence lawyers by prosecutors. For example, in 2008 Ted Stevens, a senator from Alaska, was found guilty of corruption eight days before an election, which he narrowly lost. Afterwards, prosecutors were found to have withheld evidence that might have helped the defence. Mr Stevens’s conviction was vacated, but he died in a plane crash in 2010.

Prosecutors enjoy strong protections against criminal sanction and private litigation. Even in egregious cases, punishments are often little more than a slap on the wrist. Mr Stevens’s prosecutors, for example, were suspended from their jobs for 15 to 40 days, a penalty that was overturned on procedural grounds. Ken Anderson, a prosecutor who hid the existence of a bloody bandana that linked someone other than the defendant to a 1986 murder, was convicted of withholding evidence in 2013 but spent only five days behind bars—one for every five years served by the convicted defendant, Michael Morton.

Disquiet over prosecutorial power is growing. Several states now require third-party corroboration of a co-operator’s version of events or have barred testimony by co-operators with drug or mental-health problems. Judge Rakoff proposes two reforms: scrapping mandatory-minimum sentences and reducing the prosecutor’s role in plea-bargaining—for instance by bringing in a magistrate judge to act as a broker. He nevertheless sees the use of co-operators as a “necessary evil”, though many other countries frown upon it.

Prosecutors’ groups have urged Mr Holder not to push for softer mandatory-minimum sentences, arguing that these “are a critical tool in persuading defendants to co-operate”. Some defend the status quo on grounds of pragmatism: without co-operation deals and plea bargains, they argue, the system would buckle under the weight of extra trials. This week Jerry Brown, California’s governor, vetoed a bill that would have allowed judges to inform juries if prosecutors knowingly withhold exculpatory evidence.


WHY ARE SO MANY WOMEN IN PRISON IN AMERICA? IT’S THE DRUG WAR, STUPID!

I turns out that nearly a third of the women who are incarcerated worldwide, are locked up in U.S. jails or prisons according to the International Center for Prison Studies. (Of course, given our overall incarceration rate per capita, that should not be surprising.)

The Huffington Post’s Nina Bahadur has more on the story. Here’s a clip:

So, why does America imprison so many women? Mandatory sentencing minimums have led to prison overcrowding in general. An estimated two-thirds of women incarcerated in federal prisons are serving time for nonviolent, drug-related crimes.

Female prisoners are disproportionately women of color, and one study suggests that 44 percent of female prisoners in the U.S. don’t have a high school diploma or GED. Incarcerating women also plays a huge role in breaking up families — 64 percent of female state prisoners lived with and cared for their minor children before their imprisonment.

Posted in Education, Innocence, LAUSD, prison policy, Prosecutors, Sentencing | 2 Comments »

$20 Million to Mental Illness Diversion, Gov. Brown’s Veto of Prosecutorial Misconduct Bill, Too Few LASD Patrol Cars In Unincorporated LA, and Rikers’ Ban On Solitary for Kids

October 2nd, 2014 by Taylor Walker

SUPES SET ASIDE $20 TO KEEP MENTALLY ILL OUT OF JAIL AND IN TREATMENT

On Tuesday, the LA County Board of Supervisors voted to allocate $20 million for keeping the mentally ill out of lock-up, and steering them into treatment and other tailored services, instead. The money is being earmarked for diversion programs pending LA DA Jackie Lacey’s upcoming recommendations for how to best divert mentally ill offenders.

The Supes made this decision earlier than expected, having previously said they would wait to vote on this issue until Lacey presented her report later in the fall. (Backstory on the issue—here.)

Supe. Ridley-Thomas has more about the board’s important decision on his website. Here’s a clip:

“Unnecessarily jailing people with mental illness is not only expensive, because they can be treated for a fraction of the cost using community-based programs, but it is also harsh and insensitive, and dare I say, inhumane,” [Ridley-Thomas] said. “Having an untreated mental illness should not be a crime.”

The County of Los Angeles has been under a Memorandum of Agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice since 2002 and could face a consent decree because the jails were not designed to accommodate or deliver treatment to inmates with severe mental illnesses.

Today, the Board of Supervisors joined with District Attorney Jackie Lacey, County mental and public health departments and the Sheriff’s Department as a financial partner committed to diversion. In 2015, the board will vote on whether to build a $2 billion jail. By setting aside $20 million in a separate fund pending receipt of the District Attorney’s report, the Board has expressed a commitment to righting this wrong.


RADLEY BALKO ON GOV. BROWN’S VETO OF IMPORTANT BILL AGAINST PROSECUTORIAL MISCONDUCT

Yesterday, we linked to a number of good and important bills Gov. Jerry Brown signed this week, but the governor did also veto a significant criminal justice reform bill aimed at curbing prosecutorial misconduct, and thus, wrongful convictions.

AB 885 would have given judges the ability to tell juries when prosecutors intentionally withhold exculpatory evidence from the defense. (While it is “arguably illegal,” as the Washington Post’s Radley Balko says, there is not much in the way of accountability to keep prosecutors from withholding evidence.) Some prosecutors had even supported the bill.

Balko has the rundown on why Brown’s veto was troubling. Here’s a clip:

This year, the state legislature again passed a bill aimed at reining in wrongful convictions, this time by allowing judges to inform juries when prosecutors have been caught intentionally withholding exculpatory evidence, which is already a breach of ethics and arguably illegal. It was modest reform that even some state prosecutors supported. Yet Gov. Brown vetoed it. The watchdog site The Open File, picks apart Brown’s justification.

Brown based his veto on two claims: first, that “Under current law, judges have an array of remedies at their disposal if a discovery violation comes to light at trial”, and, second, that the bill “would be a sharp departure from current practice that looks to the judiciary to decide how juries should be instructed.”

The first claim ignores the very problem that the bill was designed to remedy by suggesting that the present regime of prosecutorial accountability is perfectly sufficient, when the evidence, not only in California, but across the country continues to mount that too many prosecutors have for too long violated their constitutional and ethical duties as public officials.

The second claim is, if possible, even stranger. In fact, one could be forgiven for thinking Brown’s office hadn’t read the bill. To say that an amendment to the penal code which vests discretion in judges is a “sharp departure” from the practice of allowing “the judiciary to decide how juries should be instructed,” is, frankly, bizarre. But not arbitrary. It bespeaks a broader truth at work here: when unchecked authority detects even the hint that its prerogatives are being questioned, its reaction is frequently hysterical. It goes “ballistic” as Assemblyman Ammiano suggested. And when impunity is threatened, reason goes out the window. Minor reforms are seen as existential threats.

Which, of course, carries through into something broader still. A national, racialized hysteria over crime that has for decades now fogged the public mind to the enormous human cost of over prosecution and over sentencing.

Jerry Brown had an opportunity to take one baby step toward slowing the rate of this damage. Alas, the Democratic Governor of perhaps the most reliably Democratic state in the union couldn’t summon the courage. His party’s capitulation to the law-and-order agenda is apparently too deeply woven into his political identity. And so he has left it to others to start burning off some of that fog.

It isn’t as if prosecutor misconduct is nonexistent in California. A 2010 study by the Northern California Innocence Project found 707 instances of prosecutorial misconduct in California courts between 1997 and 2009. And those were merely cases where misconduct had been found by appellate courts. The study also found that over that same period, just 10 state prosecutors were disciplined by the California State Bar. A follow-up study the following year documented 102 cases of misconduct found by California judges in 2010 alone, including 31 in Los Angeles County. In a ruling last December, Judge Alex Kozinski of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit — which includes California — decried an “epidemic” of Brady violations in America. (“Brady” is shorthand for the Supreme Court decision requiring prosecutors to turn over exculpatory evidence.)

Balko goes on to give quite a few specific instances of prosecutorial misconduct in California, so do go read the rest.


LASD DOESN’T SEND ENOUGH PATROL CARS OUT TO UNINCORPORATED AREAS, SAYS SUPE. MOLINA

LA County Supervisor Gloria Molina’s office found that the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Dept. has been failing to send out the agreed upon number of patrol cars to unincorporated areas like East Los Angeles. The shortages were especially predominant on weekends, when there are generally more calls from people needing help. Molina’s office also found that the department sometimes increased the number of patrol cars during the week to offset the weekend deficit.

In light of the findings, the Supes have decided to hold $12 million in funding for new hires (to lower response times in unincorporated areas) until the department solves it’s scheduling problem.

The LA Times’ Abbey Sewell has more on the issue. Here’s a clip:

“I just wanted to get what I was paying for,” Molina said in an interview. “You see the high crime rates in these areas, and the patrol cars weren’t there.”

At the supervisors’ meeting Tuesday, a contrite Assistant Sheriff Michael Rothans acknowledged that there was a problem with weekend staffing, which he said he had only learned about recently. But he said the department had taken measures to alter a scheduling practice that had put more deputies on patrol during quieter weekdays — a situation that he said stemmed in part from a freeze on overtime, which was lifted in July.

In an effort to improve response times, supervisors agreed to set aside $12.4 million to increase the number of deputies patrolling unincorporated areas. But they decided to hold the money until sheriff’s officials verify that they have fixed scheduling practices that have led to more deputies being deployed during weekdays than on busy weekend nights.

The additional funding would add 67 deputies to the unincorporated areas, as a move toward restoring staffing to pre-recession levels. An additional 56 positions could be added next year.

A study of sheriff’s response times around the county found that those for both routine and emergency calls had grown worse in some unincorporated areas from 2010 to 2013. In East Los Angeles, the average time to respond to emergency calls remained 4.3 minutes — one of the best in the county’s unincorporated areas — but response time for routine calls had increased from 58.4 to 68.4 minutes. In unincorporated areas around Malibu, emergency response times increased from 9.8 to 10.8 minutes and routine calls from 34.5 minutes to 42.2 minutes.


THE SIGNIFICANCE OF NYC DEPT. OF CORRECTION’S BAN ON SOLITARY CONFINEMENT FOR 16 AND 17-YEAR-OLDS

In August, a federal investigation found that teenagers at the notorious Rikers Island prison in New York were subjected to excessive and unchecked use of force by guards, violence from other inmates, and overuse of solitary confinement as punishment.

This week, the New York City Dept. of Correction has announced it will eliminate the solitary confinement of juveniles at Rikers by the end of 2014.

The Center for Investigative Reporting Trey Bundy and Daffodil Altan explain the importance of this reform and what it might mean for other jurisdictions that are still putting kids in isolation. Here are some clips:

We know little about how many young inmates get placed in solitary, why and for how long.

This is what Juan Méndez, the United Nations’ special rapporteur on torture, called “a chaos of information.” Juvenile solitary confinement is torture, he said, and no one knows how common it is.

Because most U.S. facilities are not required to track or report their use of isolation for juveniles, the practice has flourished in the shadows. And because no federal laws prohibit isolating teenagers indefinitely for 23 hours a day, young inmates can spend months alone in their cells without anyone outside their facilities noticing.

[SNIP]

Many facilities suppress information and close their doors to scrutiny.

New York City Councilman Daniel Dromm sponsored a recently passed bill requiring corrections officials to report detailed data about who is held in solitary, why and for how long, after officials refused to provide him with data he requested. His legislation could be a model for other jurisdictions seeking the access and information required to understand what is happening to teenagers in local facilities.

CIR made dozens of requests to visit the isolation units in facilities that hold juveniles across the country, but only one, in Santa Cruz, California, opened its doors and talked openly about efforts to reduce the use of solitary confinement. Officials at the Santa Cruz County Juvenile Hall have kept isolation data for years, tracking a decline in the practice so drastic that officials from jurisdictions all over the country travel to California to see how they did it.

[SNIP]

Now that Rikers Island, the nation’s second-largest jail, is saying it will ban juvenile solitary confinement, it’s possible that other jurisdictions will follow suit.
A growing chorus of mental health experts claims that isolating teenagers makes them more violent, and more relationship-based and trauma-informed approaches to managing teens will lead to safer facilities and safer streets.

Although Rikers Island officials have been privy to such perspectives for years, it took months of media scrutiny and a federal investigation for them to acknowledge the damage their practices have caused and commit to changing them. The question now is whether others will voluntarily work to find new ways to manage troubled teens, like officials did in Santa Cruz, or whether they will wait for government probes and media attention.

Posted in Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), jail, juvenile justice, LASD, Mental Illness, Prosecutors, solitary | 2 Comments »

$3M Proposal to Give Legal Aid to Unaccompanied Immigrant Kids, the Problem of Prosecutorial Abuse, Social Workers to Get Criminal History of Foster Providers, and CA Attorney General Appealing Death Penalty Ruling

August 22nd, 2014 by Taylor Walker

GOV. BROWN AND LAWMAKERS’ $3 MILLION LEGISLATIVE PROPOSAL TO PROVIDE LEGAL REPRESENTATION TO UNACCOMPANIED IMMIGRANT KIDS

On Tuesday, Governor Jerry Brown and state lawmakers announced a proposal to allocate $3 million to non-profits providing legal aid to unaccompanied children in immigration court proceedings who are otherwise left to navigate the court system alone.

The LA Times’ Melanie Mason has the story. Here’s a clip:

“Helping these young people navigate our legal system is the decent thing to do and it’s consistent with the progressive spirit of California,” Brown said in a statement.

The legislative proposal would give $3 million to qualified nonprofit organizations that provide legal assistance to unaccompanied minors. There are an estimated 3,900 Central American children currently in the state who have come to the country without a parent or other relative.

“These kids face a daunting immigration process and any failures in our justice system that lead to deportation can be a death sentence,” said Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg.

Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins (D-San Diego) and members of the Latino Caucus paid a visit this summer to a temporary detention center in Ventura County where some children were being housed. Atkins said that visit was a catalyst for the legislative action.

“We all came away with a feeling that these kids needed our support — that it was about their safety, their due process, the ability to look beyond bigger political considerations and deal with a humanitarian crisis,” she said.


$10 MIL SETTLEMENT TO WRONGFULLY CONVICTED MAN DOES NOT ADDRESS THE PROBLEM OF UNCHECKED PROSECUTORIAL MISCONDUCT

New York City will pay a $10 million settlement to Jabbar Collins who was wrongfully convicted of murder for which he spent 15 years in prison.

Collins’ battle with the city also helped to bring down Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes, whose top aide Michael Vecchione prosecuted Collins, allegedly withholding evidence and coercing witnesses to win a conviction. Collins and his lawyer, Joel Rudin, exposed extensive prosecutorial misconduct emanating from the DA’s office.

In an editorial co-published with the NY Daily News, ProPublica’s Joe Sexton says Collins’ win does not mean that the system worked: Vecchione paid no consequences for misconduct, and it’s likely that he never will. Instead, tax payers will foot the bill for Vecchione’s misdeeds in the Collins case. Prosecutorial misconduct goes largely unchecked, thanks, in part, to laws protecting prosecutors from liability. Here’s a clip:

So many shortcomings spotlighted by the Collins case remain unresolved.

Michael Vecchione, the prosecutor who gained a murder conviction against Collins in the 1990s and who was later accused of having committed an array of misconduct in the case, has to date faced no sanction.

And history suggests he won’t. He even managed to cash out a couple hundred days of vacation as he quietly left the Brooklyn district attorney’s office last year.

The taxpayers who paid for those vacation days are now on the hook for $10 million more, footing the bill for Collins’ wrongful conviction.

The lack of consequences for Vecchione — who was accused by Collins and his lawyer of intimidating witnesses, suborning perjury and lying about it all for years while Collins sat in prison — get at larger problems with the system of prosecutorial oversight.

Two federal judges ultimately came to damning conclusions about Vecchione’s conduct. They upbraided him in open court. But there’s no evidence they reported him to the state disciplinary committees appointed to investigate complaints of attorney misconduct.

The fact that it is not clear whether any state panel charged with policing attorneys has or will take up Vecchione’s history underscores what many have complained about for years: The state’s disciplinary system operates almost entirely in secret. Its rare disciplining of prosecutors, then, often remains unknown to the public, including the men and women later facing those prosecutors in court.

The system offers the innocent and the damaged only one meaningful recourse for exposing prosecutorial misconduct: a civil lawsuit. But such suits require years of expensive effort, and, of course, are only even theoretically available to those who have managed to win their freedom.


SOCIAL WORKERS GAIN MORE ACCESS TO CRIMINAL HISTORY OF FOSTER PARENTS AND PROVIDERS TO KEEP KIDS SAFE

On Thursday, Gov. Jerry Brown signed an important bill, SB 1136, to allow social workers to access foster care parents and providers criminal history data before placing kids in their care. Foster care providers have to receive a criminal record clearance or exemption from the state, according to existing law.

To help them better protect vulnerable foster kids, social workers will now be able to see if (and why) parents or providers have received a suspension, probation, or a revoked license.

The LA Times’ Garrett Therolf has more on the bill. Here’s a clip:

The legislation, SB 1136, comes in response to Times reports documenting instances when children were harmed and taxpayer money was allegedly misspent by people with criminal backgrounds who had been granted special waivers from the state to receive foster children.

In the past, county social workers, who have the responsibility to place at-risk children in safe homes, were unable to view criminal records of foster parents or workers at agencies that help find and train foster families.

The law takes effect on Jan. 1.


CALIFORNIA AG KAMALA HARRIS TO APPEAL RULING AGAINST CALIFORNIA DEATH PENALTY

California Attorney General Kamala Harris has decided to appeal a federal judge’s ruling against California’s death penalty.

U.S. District Court Judge Cormac J. Carney ruled last month that delays keeping inmates on death row for decades amounts to cruel and unusual punishment.

Here’s what AG Harris had to say about her decision: “I am appealing the court’s decision because it is not supported by the law, and it undermines important protections that our courts provide to defendants. This flawed ruling requires appellate review.”

KPCC’s Nathan McIntire has the story.

Posted in DCFS, Death Penalty, Foster Care, immigration, Prosecutors | 1 Comment »

Big Problems With Idaho’s Private Prison…. A New Sheriff Candidate Debate!….CA Needs Sentencing Reform…Out of Control Prosecutors…..& Paul Tanaka Has a Plan – UPDATED

March 11th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


FEDS INVESTIGATE AWFUL PRIVATE IDAHO PRISON (ARE YOU LISTENING CALIFORNIA??)

The FBI has launched an investigation into Idaho’s largest and most violent prison, a for profit facility run by the private prison behemoth, Corrections Corporation of America—or CCA. The chronically understaffed prison has a reputation for being so out of control that inmates reportedly call it “Gladiator School.”

The facility got bad enough under CCA’s management that, in January of this year, Idaho decided to take back oversight of the place.

And now the FBI is stepping in.

It is sobering to note that California also contracts with CCA. Right now they house approximately 8000 of our state’s inmates, with that number scheduled to rise, making us CCA’s second largest customer.

Rebecca Boone of the Associated Press has the story on this latest CCA scandal Here’s a clip:

The Nashville, Tenn.-based CCA has operated Idaho’s largest prison for more than a decade, but last year, CCA officials acknowledged it had understaffed the Idaho Correctional Center by thousands of hours in violation of the state contract. CCA also said employees falsified reports to cover up the vacancies. The announcement came after an Associated Press investigation showed CCA sometimes listed guards as working 48 hours straight to meet minimum staffing requirements.

[BIG SNIP]

The understaffing has been the subject of federal lawsuits and a contempt of court action against CCA. The ACLU sued on behalf of inmates at the Idaho Correctional Center in 2010, saying the facility was so violent that inmates called it “Gladiator School” and that understaffing contributed to the high levels of violence there.

In 2012, a Boise law firm sued on behalf of inmates contending that CCA had ceded control to prison gangs so that they could understaff the prison and save money on employee wages, and that the understaffing led to an attack by one prison gang on another group of inmates that left some of them badly injured.

The Department of Justice requested a copy of a forensic audit done for the Idaho Department of Correction earlier this year. That audit showed that CCA understaffed the prison by as much as 26,000 hours in 2012 alone; CCA is strongly contesting those findings. CCA’s Owen has said the company believes the audit overestimates the staffing issues by more than a third.


VAN NUYS HOSTS FIRST SHERIFF’S CANDIDATE’S DEBATE ON WED. NIGHT, MARCH 12

The debate will take place this Wednesday night starting at 7:00 pm.

It will be held at the Van Nuys Civic Center, at 6262 Van Nuys Blvd., on the ground floor of the building.

The only candidates for LA County Sheriff who are, at the moment, not coming are Assistant Sheriff Jim Hellmold and former undersheriff Paul Tanaka.

Perhaps that will change. Let us hope so.

UPDATE: Paul Tanaka is now confirmed and, with luck, they’ll also get Hellmold. (Note to Jim: Call these people back. Now!)

PS: THIS NEWLY ANNOUNCED VAN NUYS DEBATE IS DIFFERENT FROM THE ACLU/LEAGUE OF WOMEN VOTORS DEBATE that will take place next week on March 20. We’ll remind you again when we’re closer to the date.


CALIFORNIA NEEDS A SENTENCING COMMISSION SEZ THE NY TIMES

We may have modified our Three Strikes statute, and that’s a welcome step, but California still has a great many laws on the books that are not in the best interest of public safety, and which have much to do with why we have been struggling with overcrowded prisons.

The NY Times weighs in on the topic of our need for sentencing reform.

Here’s a clip:

California should move quickly to set up a commission. Over the past few decades, the federal government and about one-third of the states, from Alabama to Washington, have established commissions to address overcrowding and other issues. By using data-based assessments of who is more or less likely to re-offend, they help correctional systems both protect public safety and save money. A 2010 report by the California state auditor estimated that the longer sentences imposed under the three-strikes law will cost the state an additional $19.2 billion.

As important as reducing prison populations is making sure that people don’t go right back in. That will require postprison programs focusing on jobs, housing, and treatment for drug addiction and mental illness. California has budgeted for this as part of a statewide reform initiative, but the money needs to be spent wisely. (A report by the Legislative Analyst’s Office criticized Gov. Jerry Brown’s plan to move prisoners to county jails and private prisons. It said the state should focus on longer-term solutions, like reducing sentences for some crimes and diverting more offenders away from prison.)

Governor Brown, who has thwarted meaningful reform in the past, has begun to show some openness to change — for example, in signing off on parole releases at a far higher rate than any governor in decades…


PROSECUTORS SHOULD FOLLOW THE LAW? A NOVEL CONCEPT?

It is fairly well established that American prosecutors have too much power, and too little accountability.

A 2009 study that looked at the primary causes for wrongful convictions overturned based on DNA evidence found that prosecutorial misconduct was a factor in from 36% to 42% of the convictions. And what happens to those prosecutors whose shaving of the legal dice has resulted in someone doing time for something he or she didn’t do?

For the most part, nothing.

Finally, however, a few judges in various areas of the country are starting to speak out against prosecutorial misconduct. Last year, Alex Kozinski of California’s 9th Circuit did so memorably.

Radley Balko writes for the Washington Post about other judges who have also spoken up—basically saying that prosecutors have to abide by the law.

And how have prosecutors reacted to this criticism? Not well, writes Balko.

Here’s a clip:

….Late last year, South Carolina State Supreme Court Justice Donald Beatty joined Kozinski. At a state solicitors’ convention in Myrtle Beach, Beatty cautioned that prosecutors in the state have been “getting away with too much for too long.” He added, “The court will no longer overlook unethical conduct, such as witness tampering, selective and retaliatory prosecutions, perjury and suppression of evidence. You better follow the rules or we are coming after you and will make an example. The pendulum has been swinging in the wrong direction for too long and now it’s going in the other direction. Your bar licenses will be in jeopardy. We will take your license.”

You’d think that there’s little here with which a conscientious prosecutor could quarrel. At most, a prosecutor might argue that Beatty exaggerated the extent of misconduct in South Carolina. (I don’t know if that’s true, only that that’s a conceivable response.) But that prosecutors shouldn’t suborn perjury, shouldn’t retaliate against political opponents, shouldn’t suppress evidence, and that those who do should be disciplined — these don’t seem like controversial things to say. If most prosecutors are following the rules, you’d think they’d have little to fear, and in fact would want their rogue colleagues identified and sanctioned.

The state’s prosecutors didn’t see it that way.


CANDIDATE FOR SHERIFF PAUL TANAKA RELEASES HIS “POSITIVE VISION” FOR THE LASD

On Monday, former undersheriff Paul Tanaka released his eight topic plan for “changing the direction of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department.

The plan divides its recommendations into eight categories: executive staff, accountability, transparency, budget, officer training, patrol, jail operations and crime.

Among its notable points, Tanaka pledges “100% cooperative effort with the Inspector General.” If elected, he also intends to “establish a promotional testing process, which will ensure that only the highest qualified employees are considered – based on experience, knowledge and effort,”

There’s lots more so read the details here.

Posted in 2014 election, Innocence, Paul Tanaka, prison, prison policy, Prosecutors, Sentencing | 12 Comments »

The First Debate Between Sheriff’s Candidates, Rikers Island & Solitary, San Diego Prosecutors Admit to Cheating, Raising $$ for the Sheriff’s Campaigns… & More

March 6th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


THE ACLU AND THE LEAGUE OF WOMAN VOTERS ANNOUNCE FIRST BIG DEBATE BETWEEN CANDIDATES FOR LA COUNTY SHERIFF, MARCH 20

The first of two debates between the seven men who each hope to be elected LA County sheriff will take place on Thursday, March 20, from 6:30 pm to 9:30 at the Mercado La Paloma, at 355 Grand Street, LA.

(There will be a second debate in the Santa Monica area on Thursday, April 24. Don’t worry. We’ll remind you as the date gets closer.)

The debates are organized and sponsored by the Southern California ACLU and others, and moderated by the League of Women voters.

(It could get crowded, so an RSVP online here is recommended.)

This is the first wide open election for LA County Sheriff in….well….a very, very long time. (The ACLU points out that more Catholic Popes have been selected in the last 80 years than there have been different LA sheriffs.)

We are therefore grateful for these debates that will allow LA County voters to become better informed about their choices.

Happily, all seven candidates have agreed to participate in the debates. This includes: Patrick Gomez, Jim Hellmold, Jim McDonnell, Bob Olmsted, Todd Rogers, Paul Tanaka, Lou Vince

Other debate sponsors are: Dignity Now, The Black Community & Labor Alliance, Justice Not Jails and The Los Angeles Regional Reentry Program


TEENAGERS & SOLITARY ON RIKERS ISLAND

On any given day, around 100 teenagers may be found in solitary confinement at New York’s Riker’s Island. Because Rikers is a jail, not a prison, many of the 400 to 800 16 and 17 years housed inside its walls are there are awaiting trial and are only locked up because they can’t afford bail, writes Trey Bundy for the Center for Investigative Reporting.

CIR has put together an excellent and disturbing multimedia report on the use of solitary on teenagers at Rikers and how the practice stresses adolescents mentally and emotionally sometimes to breaking. Here’s a clip:

There’s not much inside “the box.” Cinder block walls rise up and close in. There’s a bunk, a sink, a toilet and a metal door with a small mesh window. Food comes through a slot. Sometimes, mice and roaches scamper through.

Teenagers kept in the box sometimes hallucinate and throw fits. They splash urine around or smear their blood and shit on the walls. The concrete room gets so hot in the summertime that the floor and walls sweat.

Ismael Nazario’s longest stretch in the box lasted four months. He paced a lot, talking to himself and choking back tears and rage. He tried to block out the screaming of the teenage boys in other jail cells in his unit, but he couldn’t. Sometimes, he would stand at the door of his tiny cell and yell.

“You just get angry with hearing people constantly hollering all day,” he says. “There’s so many people that have been in that cell and screamed on that same gate, it smells like a bunch of breath and drool.”

Nazario is one of hundreds of teenagers sent in recent years to solitary confinement at Rikers Island, the massive jail complex in the middle of New York City’s East River. Teenagers at Rikers call solitary confinement the box: 23 hours a day in a 6-by-8-foot cell.

“There came a time when I cried when I was on Rikers Island, in the box, when I was there by myself,” Nazario says. “There’s times, you know, sometimes you need a good cry.”


SAN DIEGO PROSECUTORS ADMIT TO CHEATING: THE “HOLY SHIT” FACTOR

The Atlantic Monthly’s Andrew Cohen writes about a recent instance when prosecutors in San Diego admitted to cheating. This is a distinctly good news/bad news kind of story—since the admission was so appallingly unusual.

Here’s a clip:

The story of a prosecutor doing an honorable thing, a courageous thing, should not be a news story. It should happen every day. But too often prosecutors do not act honorably. Too often they make mistakes and do not admit them. Too often they cheat, at trial or afterward on appeal, in their zealous attempt to secure or to defend a conviction. And too often our nation’s judges are unable or unwilling to identify these instances to bring a measure of justice to the wrongfully convicted.

So the story of Laura Duffy, the prosecutor, and John Maloney, the wrongfully convicted man, is inspirational. Not because Duffy acted professionally throughout this case—she and her colleagues surely did not. Not because prosecutors promptly acknowledged their error and quickly moved to correct it—they didn’t. But because in the end they did do the right thing.

What we have here, then, is the public acknowledgment by a prosecutor that an injustice was done in a pending case. More than that, we have a glimmer of the process by which this reckoning occurred. This is no small thing. One longtime defense attorney, who has evaluated countless trials including many in which prosecutors engaged in the type of official misconduct we see here, emailed back “Holy Shit” when I wrote to him about the results of this case. That gives you a sense of how remarkable United States v. Maloney turned out to be….

Read the rest.


MORE SHERIFF’S ELECTION NEWS: “INDEPENDENT EXPENDITURE COMMITTEE” IS FORMED FOR SHERIFF’S CANDIDATE JIM MCDONNELL

We know that the seven candidates are each engaged in the difficult but necessary task of fundraising for their respective campaigns.

Jim Hellmold had a big fundraiser on Feb 23 at the Pacific Palms Resort.

Paul Tanaka tweeted photos of volunteers working the phone banks at his headquarters, and hit the fundraising trail over the weekend.

Bob Olmsted is having a fundraiser on March 15.

Todd Rogers just had his fundraiser over the weekend.

Jim McDonnell has a high ticket event planned for tonight.

Pat Gomez asks you to call his campaign office to participate in one of his small private fundraisers.

Lou Vince has taken to social media to ask for donations.

AS OF LAST WEEK, HOWEVER, JIM MCDONNELL will get the benefit of a fundraising committee called an “Independent Expenditure Committee.”

As its name suggests, an Independent Expenditure Committee can’t raise money at the request of a campaign or candidate, or coordinate with a campaign committee.

But on its own, it can raise and spend money in behalf of a candidate. The IEC that has joined together for fundraising purposes in McDonnell’s behalf, includes such members as LA City Council persons Mitchell Englander, Herb Wesson, Nury Martinez, Felipe Fuentes, & Tom LaBonge, former LA mayor Richard Riordan, former chairs of both the Republican and Democratic party in California…plus Supervisor Don Knabe and others.

There may also be other IECs fund raising for other candidates. But this is the first one we’ve seen.

As the election heats up, there may be more.


IS NEW YORK A MODEL FOR FIXING CALIFORNIA’S PRISONS?

Steven E. F. Brown of San Francisco Business Times writes about law professor Jonathan Simon’s claim that California’s eyes should be on NY. Here’s a clip:

Law professor Jonathan Simon at the University of California, Berkeley pointed to prison reforms in the Empire State as a model that should be followed here in the Golden State.

Simon, who teaches an undergraduate course on prisons, wrote on UC Berkeley’s official blog that although New York has a long history of “bad penal policy choices,” it also tends to fix those bad choices more quickly than other states, particularly California.

Even as California Gov. Jerry Brown spars with the federal government over court-ordered changes to the state’s prisons, which are badly overcrowded, New York has moved away from automatic sentencing that overfilled its prisons.

Here’s a link to Simon’s whole essay.


Posted in 2014 election, ACLU, LASD, prison, prison policy, Prosecutors | 40 Comments »

Report Says Stop Locking Kids Up for “Status” Offenses….Bratton Named NYPD Commissioner…Why Defendants Accept Plea Bargains….& More

December 6th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon


NEW REPORT SAYS THAT LOCKING KIDS UP FOR “STATUS” OFFENSES DOES NOT HELP, BUT DOES DAMAGE—AND MUST STOP

A new report released this week by the Coalition for Juvenile Justice, calls for an end to detention for kids who have only committed what are known as status offenses. For those unfamiliar with the term, a status offense is conduct that would not be a crime if committed by an adult—things like truancy, running away, violating curfew laws, or possessing alcohol or tobacco.

The report, which also outlines a set of proposed National Standards for the treatment of status offenders, points to research showing that: ‘…. status offense behaviors are often the result of unmet child and family needs, and that pushing these youth into the juvenile justice system worsens individual and community outcomes.”

You can find the full report here. It contains the proposed National Standards, which have already been endorsed by groups such as the national PTA, the Youth Law Center and more.


BILL BRATTON: THE ONCE AND FUTURE NYPD CHIEF

On Thursday, William J. Bratton was named Police Commissioner for New York City—for the second time Bill Bratton was first hired as the NYPD Chief in 1994, when crime was up and the city was a dangerous mess.

In between his last stint in New York and the new one for which he was just appointed by Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio, Bratton has, of course, served as the Chief of the LAPD.

In 2002, Boston-raised Bratton took on the position as LA’s top cop at a time when the department was reeling from the Rampart scandal along with the imposition of a federal consent decree. The morale of the department’s rank and file was in the toilet, and the LA communities that were most likely to need police presence harbored a deep distrust and anger toward the force theoretically charged with keeping them safe.

By the time Bratton left in 2009, while the LAPD still had challenges, it was fundamentally changed, as was the attitude of the communities it served. Where there had once been animus, there was relationship.

It will be interesting to see what Bratton brings to New York, the second time around, when the city has been torn by the effect of the existing regime’s stop-and-frisk policies, a version of which BB helped introduce during his first tenure in the 1990s.

At WLA, we were glad to hear of Bratton’s appointment, and are rooting for him.

The NY Times J. David Goodman has a nice, long article on the selection of Bratton, for those looking for more on the topic.

Also, Jack Leonard, Tina Susman, and Joel Rubin of the LA Times have an interesting story about how Bratton courted some of the LAPD’s harshest critics before he arrived in town in an effort to understand the fear and fury directed at the city’s police by so many of LA’s residents.

Here’s a clip:

Weeks before he was selected to be chief of the Los Angeles Police Department, Bill Bratton was already at work, making the rounds among the city’s black leaders.

One of his calls was to John W. Mack, then president of the Los Angeles Urban League and a man who viewed the LAPD as “an occupation force in our community” prone to “brutality and racism.”

The men met for two hours in Mack’s office. Bratton mostly listened as Mack explained the chasm of distrust and hostility that defined relations between the city’s police and minority communities.

“I told him he had a big mountain to climb because there was a lot of anger and outrage,” Mack said.

Bratton’s seven years leading the LAPD was marked by aggressive, data-driven policing and a significant drop in crime.

But less heralded were his overtures to minority communities and courtship of some of the department’s harshest critics. He took over a department still reeling from racial tensions and the Rampart corruption scandal. When he left, he had succeeded in transforming Mack and other skeptics not just into supporters but partners in his drive to reduce crime.


A NEW REPORT LOOKS AT WHY SO MANY DRUG DEFENDANTS PLEAD GUILTY

Although guaranteed by the Constitution the right to a jury trial, 97 percent of all drug defendants take a plea bargain rather than risk a trial.

In a 126-page report released Thursday by Human Rights Watch, researchers looked at why so many defendants plead guilty, including those who are actually innocent.

Here’s a clip from the press release that accompanied the report:

Federal prosecutors routinely threaten extraordinarily severe prison sentences to coerce drug defendants into waiving their right to trial and pleading guilty, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. In the rare cases in which defendants insist on going to trial, prosecutors make good on their threats. Federal drug offenders convicted after trial receive sentences on average three times as long as those who accept a plea bargain, according to new statistics developed by Human Rights Watch.

An Offer You Can’t Refuse: How US Federal Prosecutors Force Drug Defendants to Plead Guilty,details how prosecutors throughout the United States extract guilty pleas from federal drug defendants by charging or threatening to charge them with offenses carrying harsh mandatory sentences and by seeking additional mandatory increases to those sentences. Prosecutors offer defendants a much lower sentence in exchange for pleading guilty. Since drug defendants rarely prevail at trial, it is not surprising that 97 percent of them decide to plead guilty.

“Prosecutors give drug defendants a so-called choice – in the most egregious cases, the choice can be to plead guilty to 10 years, or risk life without parole by going to trial,” said Jamie Fellner, senior advisor to the US Program at Human Rights Watch and author of the report. “Prosecutors make offers few drug defendants can refuse. This is coercion pure and simple.”


AN ELOQUENT PLEA FOR A COP KILLER TO STAY BEHIND BARS

On Thursday, the Los Angeles Police Protective League has predictably (and rightly) opposed the parole of Voltaire Williams, one of the conspirators in the 1985 murder of LAPD Detective Thomas Williams in front of his six-year-old son whom the detective was picking up at daycare.

Detective Williams was reportedly targeted because he was a witness in a criminal case against the killers’ confederate. The killers allegedly figured—do away with the witness, do away with the problem.

It is the motive, rather than the victim, that another letter in the matter of Williams parole primarily addresses. The second letter is written by Riverside Police Chief Sergio Diaz who prior to going to Riverside, spent 33 years on the LAPD, his last post as Deputy Chief.

Diaz’ letter is worth your time to read as it explains eloquently why this particular decision about this particular parole is important.

You can find the letter here: Voltaire Williams Parole ltr-12022013094536 (2)

Posted in Bill Bratton, juvenile justice, LA County Jail, LAPD, Prosecutors, Sentencing | No Comments »

Unchecked Prosecutorial Misconduct, DCFS Blue Ribbon Commission Convenes, CA Prisons Chief Meeting with Hunger Strike Advocates

August 2nd, 2013 by Taylor Walker

FAULTY SYSTEM PROTECTS PROSECUTORS FROM ACCOUNTABILITY, AND LEAVES DEFENDANTS VULNERABLE TO PROSECUTORIAL MALFEASANCE

Laws meant to protect prosecutors from civil liability, along with a “conviction culture”—in which winning cases leads to promotions, better pay, and bigger firms—have created the perfect environment for unchecked prosecutorial misconduct with little fear of consequences, legal or professional, writes the Huffington Post’s Radley Balko. The fact that there’s little or no consequence for misconduct can and does lead to innocent people sitting for years in jails, prisons, and on death row.

Balko has an important piece on the issue. It’s a particularly lengthy article, but well-worth the read. Here are some clips:

Some questions seem particularly prone to set John Thompson off. Here’s one he gets a lot: Have the prosecutors who sent him to death row ever apologized?

“Sorry? For what?” says Thompson. The 49-year-old is lean, almost skinny. He wears jeans, a T-shirt and running shoes and sports a thin mustache and soul patch, both stippled with gray. “You tell me that. Tell me what the hell would they be sorry for. They tried to kill me. To apologize would mean they’re admitting the system is broken.” His voice has been gradually increasing in volume. He’s nearly yelling now. “That everyone around them is broken. It’s the same motherfucking system that’s protecting them.”

[SNIP]

The wrongly convicted often show remarkable grace and humility. It’s inspiring to see, if a little difficult to understand; even after years or decades in prison, exonerees are typically marked by an absence of bitterness.

Not Thompson, but you can hardly blame him. Even among outrageous false conviction stories, his tale is particularly brutal. He was wrongly convicted not once, but twice — separately — for a carjacking and a murder. He spent 18 years at the Louisiana State Penitentiary, 14 of them on death row. His death warrant was signed eight times. When his attorneys finally found the evidence that cleared him — evidence his prosecutors had known about for years — he was weeks away from execution.

But what most enrages Thompson — and what drives his activism today — is that in the end, there was no accountability. His case produced a surfeit of prosecutorial malfeasance, from incompetence, to poor training, to a culture of conviction that included both willfully ignoring evidence that could have led to his exoneration, to blatantly withholding it. Yet the only attorney ever disciplined in his case was a former prosecutor who eventually aided in Thompson’s defense.

“This isn’t about bad men, though they were most assuredly bad men,” Thompson says. “It’s about a system that is void of integrity. Mistakes can happen. But if you don’t do anything to stop them from happening again, you can’t keep calling them mistakes.”

[SNIP]

Prosecutors and their advocates say complete and absolute immunity from civil liability is critical to the performance of their jobs. They argue that self-regulation and professional sanctions from state bar associations are sufficient to deter misconduct. Yet there’s little evidence that state bar associations are doing anything to police prosecutors, and numerous studies have shown that those who misbehave are rarely if ever professionally disciplined.

And in a culture where racking up convictions tends to win prosecutors promotions, elevation to higher office and high-paying gigs with white-shoe law firms, civil liberties activists and advocates for criminal justice reform worry there’s no countervailing force to hold overzealous prosecutors to their ethical obligations.

In the end, one of the most powerful positions in public service — a position that carries with it the authority not only to ruin lives, but in many cases the power to end them — is one of the positions most shielded from liability and accountability. And the freedom to push ahead free of consequences has created a zealous conviction culture.

[SNIP]

Thompson was up against a prosecutorial climate that critics had long claimed valued convictions over all else, one that saw a death sentence as the profession’s brass ring. The New York Times reported in 2003 that prosecutors in Louisiana often threw parties after winning death sentences. They gave one another informal awards for murder convictions, including plaques with hypodermic needles bearing the names of the convicted. In Jefferson Parish, just outside of New Orleans, some wore neckties decorated with images of nooses or the Grim Reaper.

One of Thompson’s prosecutors, Assistant District Attorney James Williams, told the the Los Angeles Times in 2007, “There was no thrill for me unless there was a chance for the death penalty.”

Williams kept a replica electric chair on his desk. “It was hooked up to a battery, so you’d get a little jolt when you touched it,” recalls Michael Banks, one of Thompson’s attorneys. In 1995, Williams posed with this mini-execution chair in Esquire magazine. On the chair’s headboard, he had affixed the photos of the five men he had sent to death row, including Thompson. Of those five, two would later be exonerated and two more would have their sentences commuted.


BLUE RIBBON DCFS COMMISSION HOLDS FIRST MEETING

The LA County Board of Supervisors-established Blue Ribbon Commission on Child Protection held its first meeting Thursday and appointed former head of Department of Child and Family Services David Sanders as chairman of the Commission. The newly-formed group will have six months to address the deep-seated dysfunction within DCFS.

LA Daily News’ Christina Villacorte has the story. Here’s a clip:

“The focus is not to generate yet another report but to move forward with the business of reforms,” county Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas told the Commission on Child Protection. “We have a moral obligation, in my view, to stand up for the most vulnerable among us.”

The commission voted Thursday to elect David Sanders as chairman. Currently the executive vice president for systems improvement at Casey Family Services, the nation’s largest foundation for providing and improving foster care, Sanders previously served as director of DCFS and is the only head in recent years who left without being forced out.

The commission — 10 members appointed by the Board of Supervisors — has a six-month deadline to wade through hundreds of child-protection recommendations made over the decades to DCFS and other agencies and determine why many of those reforms have not been implemented.


CALIFORNIA PRISONER HUNGER STRIKE UPDATE: PRISON CHIEF MEETS WITH ADVOCATES FOR “DISCUSSION”

California Prisons Chief Jeffrey Beard will meet today, Friday, with advocates of prisoners who have now been on hunger strike for 26 days to discuss the advocates concerns.

KPCC’s Julie Small has the story. Here’s a clip:

“It’s getting to be a very critical time,” said Carol Strickman, an attorney on the mediation team for the hunger strike leaders.

Strickman said the group asked to meet with Corrections Secretary Jeff Beard this week, before inmates suffer further harm.

“We’re hoping that it means that the Secretary is recognizing the gravity of the situation,” Strickman said. “And [that he's] willing to have a conversation with part of our team to see if there’s a way we can come to some reasonable solution.”

But Corrections department spokeswoman Deborah Hoffman issued a statement describing the meeting as a “discussion” only: “Secretary Beard wants to ensure he hears the advocates’ concerns and that they understand the various changes that have been taken place in the Security Housing Units over the past two years.”

Posted in CDCR, DCFS, Death Penalty, Foster Care, Innocence, LA County Board of Supervisors, prison, Prosecutors | 1 Comment »

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

May 20th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon


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

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

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

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

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


AND IN OTHER NEWS….

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Rick Orlov of the Daily News has the details.

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

Here’s a clip:

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

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

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

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

Read the whole thing.


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

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

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 »

40 Years of Roe…..Coroner Says Man Killed by Deputies Shot in Back….Controversy Over Restitution for Victims of Child Porn…..3 Strikers Getting Out Face Challenges

January 28th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon


40 YEARS OF ROE V. WADE MARKED WITH RALLIES AND COUNTER RALLIES IN SF AND ELSEWHERE

THere were rallies marking the 40′s anniversary of Roe v. Wade all over the county this past weekend. Matthai Kuruvila from the San Francisco Chron has an account of the rally and counter rally in San Francisco. Here’s a clip:

The account of the events in San Francicso. Abortion activists on each side of the issue converged on San Francisco Saturday, creating parallel universes testifying to what 40 years of reproductive rights have wrought.

At Justin Herman Plaza, pro-choice activists danced and spoke about liberating women from the horror of back alley abortions conducted by coat hanger-wielding quacks.

Before legal abortions, what might happen to you “was a terror in the back of your mind,” said Chris Malfatti, 64, of San Francisco, who knew someone who lost her fertility to an illegal abortion.

Katheryn Smith of Politico covered the events in DC.


RELEASE OF CORONER’S REPORT FUELS CONTROVERSY OVER CULVER CITY MAN SHOT MULTIPLE TIMES BY DEPUTIES

The newly released autopsy report on the shooting death by sheriff’s deputies of Jose De La Trinidad shows that De La Trinidad was shot 7 times, all from the rear, five of the shots striking the Culver City father in the back.

The LA Times Wesley Lowery has more on the story. Here’s a clip:

A Culver City man who was fatally shot by Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies after a pursuit in November was struck by bullets five times in the back and once each in the right hip and right forearm, also from behind, according to an autopsy report obtained by The Times.

Jose de la Trinidad, a 36-year-old father of two, was killed Nov. 10 by deputies who believed he was reaching for a weapon after a pursuit. But a witness to the shooting said De la Trinidad, who was unarmed, was complying with deputies and had his hands above his head when he was shot.

Multiple law enforcement agencies are investigating the shooting.

De la Trinidad was shot five times in the upper and lower back, according to the Los Angeles County coroner’s report dated Nov. 13. The report describes four of those wounds as fatal. He was also shot in the right forearm and right hip, with both shots entering from behind, the report found.

“Here’s a man who complied, did what he was supposed to, and was gunned down by trigger-happy deputies,” said Arnoldo Casillas, the family’s attorney, who provided a copy of the autopsy report to The Times. He said he planned to sue the Sheriff’s Department…


THE PRICE OF A STOLEN CHILDHOOD

In a deeply affecting story for this week’s New York Times Magazine Emily Bazelon writes about two young women with the first names of Nicole and Amy who, as children, were sexually abused, with their rapes recorded on video and distributed to thousands of men. In the cases of Nicole and Amy, however,the court has ruled that they can both obtain monetary restitution from those who downloaded the videos of them to mitigate the harm that was done to them. Bazelon’s article explores, among other things, if financial restitution actually helps victims of child pornography.

Here’s a clip:

The detective spread out the photographs on the kitchen table, in front of Nicole, on a December morning in 2006. She was 17, but in the pictures, she saw the face of her 10-year-old self, a half-grown girl wearing make-up. The bodies in the images were broken up by pixelation, but Nicole could see the outline of her father, forcing himself on her. Her mother, sitting next to her, burst into sobs.

The detective spoke gently, but he had brutal news: the pictures had been downloaded onto thousands of computers via file-sharing services around the world. They were among the most widely circulated child pornography on the Internet. Also online were video clips, similarly notorious, in which Nicole spoke words her father had scripted for her, sometimes at the behest of other men. For years, investigators in the United States, Canada and Europe had been trying to identify the girl in the images.

Nicole’s parents split up when she was a toddler, and she grew up living with her mother and stepfather and visiting her father, a former policeman, every other weekend at his apartment in a suburban town in the Pacific Northwest. He started showing her child pornography when she was about 9, telling her that it was normal for fathers and daughters to “play games” like in the pictures. Soon after, he started forcing her to perform oral sex and raping her, dressing her in tight clothes and sometimes binding her with ropes. When she turned 12, she told him to stop, but he used threats and intimidation to continue the abuse for about a year. He said that if she told anyone what he’d done, everyone would hate her for letting him. He said that her mother would no longer love her.

Nicole (who asked me to use her middle name to protect her privacy) knew her father had a tripod set up in his bedroom. She asked if he’d ever shown the pictures to anyone. He said no, and she believed him. “It was all so hidden,” she told me. “And he knew how to lie. He taught me to do it. He said: ‘You look them straight in the eye. You make your shoulders square. You breathe normally.’ ”

When she was 16, Nicole told her mother, in a burst of tears, what had been going on at her father’s house. Her father was arrested for child rape. The police asked Nicole whether he took pictures. She said yes, but that she didn’t think he showed them to anyone…..

The idea of the kind of restitution Bazelon’s story describes is not without controversy. It seems that, as terrible as such crimes are, creating tough laws that don’t also capture in their net the wrong people along with the predators, can be challenging, as Jennifer Bleyer of Slate points out.


THREE STRIKERS NEWLY RELEASED FACE A MULTITUDE OF CHALLENGES, OFTEN WITH NO HELP

Tracey Kaplan at the Contra Costa News has the story. Here’s a clip:

In an unforeseen consequence of easing the state’s tough Three Strikes Law, many inmates who have won early release are hitting the streets with up to only $200 in prison “gate money” and the clothes on their backs.

These former lifers are not eligible for parole and thus will not get the guidance and services they need to help them succeed on the outside, such as access to employment opportunities, vocational training and drug rehabilitation.

The lack of oversight and assistance for this first wave of “strikers” alarms both proponents and opponents of the revised Three Strikes Law — as well as the inmates themselves.

“I feel like the Terminator, showing up in a different time zone completely naked, with nothing,” said Greg Wilks, 48, a San Jose man who is poised to be released after serving more than 13 years of a 27-years-to-life sentence for stealing laptops from Cisco, where he secretly lived in a vacant office while working as a temp in shipping and receiving.

[SNIP]

“We want these people to succeed,” said Michael Romano, director of Stanford’s Three Strikes Project. “We don’t want them committing crimes and creating more victims.”

Proponents say the main reason they didn’t foresee the situation is that the rules regarding parole changed significantly — after officials had already approved the ballot language for Proposition 36.

Under California’s realignment of its criminal justice system, the role of supervising most nonviolent offenders is shifting in stages from the state to county probation officers. But neither the realignment statute nor the Three Strikes Law made provisions for monitoring released strikers.

Romano said the issue is now being litigated in Los Angeles County, where a prosecutor claims strikers should be supervised by probation officers. But even if they are, he said, many counties lack the resources to help the mostly male population of former lifers make a successful transition….



Photo of San Francisco rally for 40 years of Roe v. Wade by Christine Duong

Posted in Child sexual abuse, crime and punishment, criminal justice, Human rights, LASD, Life in general, Prosecutors, Reentry, Sentencing, women's issues | 1 Comment »

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