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2 More Dorner Stories …Does Baca Play Favorites With Concealed Weapon Permits?….Foster Care & More Dead Kids….Gun Advocates & Death Threats

February 15th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon


“We’ve got a cemetery of ghosts from LAPD’s past raised by this tragic—beyond tragic— catastrophe,” said civil rights attorney Connie Rice, when she and LAPD expert, Joe Domanick, associate director of the Center on Media Crime and Justice, and author of the definitive history of the LAPD, “To Protect and to Serve,” were interviewed by Madeleine Brand on KCET’s So Cal Connected about what the Dorner nightmare means for the LAPD going forward.

Both Rice and Domanick have looked into the LAPD deeply over the years, and thus have much to add to the developing conversation. Here’s the link.


Gene Maddeus at the LA Weekly reports, based on documents obtained by the Weekly through the public records act, that Sheriff Lee Baca approves very few concealed weapons permits but those he does approve are likely to be for his friends and/or his donors.

Here’s a clip from the story:

The L.A. County Sheriff’s Department is known in gun-rights circles for being stingy with concealed-weapons permits. Sheriff Lee Baca has total discretion over who is allowed to get a permit, and he hasn’t given out many.

As of May 2012, only 341 people had been granted them, according to sheriff’s records. Compare that with the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department, which had 1,754 permit holders in 2011, despite a population of just 2 million people to L.A.’s 10 million. The Kern County Sheriff granted even more, with 3,564 permit holders in a population of 800,000 people.

In L.A. County, records show, most of the permits go to judges and reserve deputies. But there is another group that seems to have better luck than most in obtaining permits: friends of Lee Baca. Those who’ve given the sheriff gifts or donated to his campaign are disproportionately represented on the roster of permit holders.

Chuck Michel, a gun-rights attorney who has pushed for greater access to concealed-weapons permits, says practices in many “anti-gun” jurisdictions are “corrupted by favoritism and cronyism.”

Michel had not looked in depth at L.A. County’s practices, but the Weekly did. Last year, the Weekly filed a public records request for all 341 active concealed-weapons permits granted by the Sheriff’s Department — as well as a list of the 123 people who applied for concealed weapons over an 18-month period but were denied….

And here’s where you can find the list of permit holders that the Weekly acquired.


The LA Times Joel Rubin and Andrew Blankstein have the best story I’ve read thus far on the ongoing question of whether the San Bernardino Sheriff’s Department SWAT team deliberately set fire to the cabin where Dorner was barricaded.

The department has said no, then declined to comment on the matter further. But based on the Times’ and other reporting this seems a bit disingenuous. Whether or not it was the stated intent, it was the all but guaranteed outcome after sending in seven highly incendiary tear gas devices into a mountain cabin.

Rubin and Blankstein find expert opinions on both sides of the question of whether the move was justified. In the end, however, one is left with the picture of an extremely difficult and deadly situation with no perfect choices after Dorner did not respond, except with gunfire, to repeated calls to surrender.


Jason Song and Garrett Therolf report for the LA Times. Here’s a clip:

A stifling bureaucracy and inept workforce have crippled Los Angeles County’s child protective agency, resulting in a system that allowed children to remain in unsafe homes, sometimes to die at the hands of their caretakers, according to a confidential county report.

The investigation, conducted by an independent counsel for the Board of Supervisors, looked at 15 recent child deaths and a torture case. In all but two instances, investigators found that casework errors began with the agency’s first contact with the children and contributed to their deaths.

The report is the harshest assessment of the Department of Children and Family Services in recent memory, echoing complaints from child advocates that the county has rejected for years.

Investigators largely blamed the department’s problems on its decision to place its least experienced social workers in its most crucial job: assessing dangers to children. Many of those workers — facing a total of 160,000 child abuse hot line calls each year — are “just ‘doing their time,’” according to the report.

Supervisors are poorly qualified and often disregard policy, creating a situation akin to “the blind leading the blind,” with workers rarely held accountable for “egregious” errors, the report said.

The result has been deaths that might have been prevented had social workers taken basic steps to assess the risks.

Here’s a link to the report that the LA Times obtained.

In short, this is an agency in need of an overhaul. We very much hope that Philip Browning, the newest DCFS chief who came on just as the report was being completed, is up to the task of making the “wholesale changes” the report recommends. Browning was picked because he’s known as a solid nuts and bolts guy capable of turning things around.

He cautions that this will not be a quick fix.

No kidding.


On Thursday, State Senator Leeland Yee, held a press conference to announce an extremely chilling threat against his life. Rather than paraphrase, let me quote from his statement on the matter:

Four weeks ago, I received an email to my Senate account detailing a very explicit threat on my life. The author of the email specifically stated that if I did not cease our legislative efforts to stop gun violence that he would assassinate me in or around the Capitol. He stated that he was a trained sniper and his email detailed certain weapons he possessed.

This threat was unlike any other I had ever received. It was not a racist rant on my ethnicity or culture, but instead it was very deliberate and specific. As a psychologist, I was deeply concerned by the calculating nature of this email.

My Chief of Staff immediately forwarded the email to the Senate Sergeant at Arms and the CHP to investigate.

As you know, law enforcement made an arrest on Tuesday and executed a search warrant of the suspect’s home in which they found illegal weapons and bomb-making materials. I have no other details regarding this case and all such questions should be directed to the CHP.

With that said, I want to make it crystal clear – these threats and any others will not deter me and my colleagues from addressing the critical issues surrounding gun violence. This case is very troubling and only further demonstrates the need to address this epidemic.

The San Francisco Chron has more on the story.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Because of the nature of what I’ve reported on over the years, I’ve gotten more than my share of angry letters and the occasional not-so-veiled threat. But nothing approached the flood of hatred and genuinely scary threats I got back the spring of 2000 for an essay I wrote for MSNBC (where I was, at the time, a regular columnist) about my experience bringing my then-fourteen year old son to the so-called Million Mom March for gun control.



Rick Orlov of the Daily News has the story. Here’s a clip:

Los Angeles residents apply to buy 200 guns a day, an alarming number making it difficult to get weapons off the street, City Attorney Carmen Trutanich said in a preliminary report on gun purchases in Los Angeles.

“With Angelenos buying an average of nearly 200 firearms every day, thousands every month and tens of thousands every year, I will do everything in my power to keep guns out of the hands of people interested only in destroying the lives of children, families and police officers,” Trutanich, who is in a close re-election race, said in a written statement.

The results are based on letters his office began sending out in December during the 10-day waiting period for people buying guns. The letters reminds gun owners to keep the weapons safe and report when weapons are lost or stolen.

If we can stop just one person from buying a gun who is prohibited from possessing a weapon, or stop someone from buying guns for felons or the mentally ill, then perhaps we have also stopped another senseless tragedy,” the letter said.

The letters were sent out as a follow-up to a study by the RAND Corp. that said 50 percent of people will voluntarily comply with local laws if they are informed of the requirements.

Our intent was to make them aware of the laws and what they have to do under the law,” Trutanich said in an interview. “Our purpose was to get more compliance.”

Posted in Foster Care, guns, LAPD, LASD, race, racial justice, Sheriff Lee Baca, State government, State politics | 17 Comments »

Shutting Down CA’s Juvie Prisons, SCOTUS Ethics, a Needed Clemency & More

January 23rd, 2011 by Celeste Fremon


The short answer is YES. They’re preposterously expensive and they’re a mess that seems immune to fundamental reform.

However, shutting them down must be done wisely or it will simply result in more kids being tried as adults and so shoved instead into the adult prison system, as the Bakersfield Californian points out in an editorial.

The plan doesn’t appear to provide clear safeguards that would keep juveniles convicted of lesser crimes out of adult prisons. What if the counties, deep in their own budget problems, can’t accommodate them? Will these kids end up in adult facilities? Will counties lean toward prosecuting more youth offenders as adults to avoid having to house them? Will they be tempted to not prosecute them at all?

The NY Times also looks at some of the disagreement on the issue:

Joaquin E. DiazDeLeon, a former Fresno gang member, spent two years inside California’s juvenile prison system. What he found there, he said, was no better than the streets he came from.

Instead of rehabilitating young offenders, he said, correctional officers spent most of their time separating rival gangs. Violence was so pervasive, he said, that he kept his gang affiliation just to protect himself.

“Basically you’re being thrown in a box and expected to change,” said Mr. DiazDeLeon, 21, now a student at City College of San Francisco.

Gov. Jerry Brown’s recent proposal to eliminate California’s Division of Juvenile Justice was billed as a way to cut $242 million from the state budget. It was also the culmination of a decade-long effort to shut the state’s troubled youth prison system, which for years has been plagued by violence, abuse and decaying facilities.


The LA Times’ Kim Geiger has this head-shaker of a story. Here’s the opening:

Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas failed to report his wife’s income from a conservative think tank on financial disclosure forms for at least five years, the watchdog group Common Cause said Friday.

Between 2003 and 2007, Virginia Thomas, a longtime conservative activist, earned $686,589 from the Heritage Foundation, according to a Common Cause review of the foundation’s IRS records. Thomas failed to note the income in his Supreme Court financial disclosure forms for those years, instead checking a box labeled “none” where “spousal noninvestment income” would be disclosed.

Common Cause also says that Ginny Thomas was paid a salary in 2009 by a group called Liberty Central. But again in 2009, Justice Thomas checked the “NONE” box.

“Without disclosure, the public and litigants appearing before the court do not have adequate information to assess potential conflicts of interest, and disclosure is needed to promote the public’s interest in open, honest and accountable government,” Common Cause President Bob Edgar wrote in a letter to the Judicial Conference of the United States.

Do we think this is an oversight? Nope. Not really. One year maybe. But six? Although it’s admittedly hard to know what exactly Thomas was thinking with such a bone-headed move.


Lisa Ruth, at the not normally bleeding-heart-liberal Washington Times, asks—quite rightly—why President Obama hasn’t given clemency to Hamedah Hasan, the mother and grandmother whose case typifies the nation’s War on Drugs sentencing madness.

Ruth writes that presidential commutations are rare, but that sometimes justice demands them:

One stand-out in the more than 3,000 requests for Presidential commutation is Hamedah Hasan, a mother and grandmother serving her 17th year of a 27 year federal prison sentence for non-violent crack cocaine conviction. She has no prior criminal record.

In 1991, Ms. Hasan was arrested for conspiracy to distribute crack cocaine, after three other known drug traffickers implicated her as the “manager” of the conspiracy to sell 5.9 kilograms of crack cocaine. They received lighter sentences for their cooperation with authorities. Police never found any drugs on Ms. Hasan, nor did they find any drugs in her house. Despite repeated stake-outs, they did not observe her selling, using, or possessing drugs of any kind.

Mandatory federal sentencing guidelines put Ms. Hasan in jail for life. The requirements at the time included a 100:1 ratio for crack cocaine to regular cocaine. In other words, if you had one gram of crack, your punishment was equal to having 100 grams of cocaine.

Changes in the Sentencing Guidelines later reduced her sentence to 27 years.

Ms. Hasan has applied for Presidential commutation of her sentence, and has received an outpouring of support.

The ACLU now represents Ms. Hasan due to the strength of her argument. The application included more than 50 letters of support from community leaders, prison chaplains, advocates, friends and family.

One letter is from the federal judge who sentenced Ms. Hasan, the Honorable Richard G. Kopf, U.S. District of Nebraska. Part of his letter reads:

“…I can say, without equivocation, that Ms. Hasan is deserving of the President’s mercy. I have never supported such a request in the past, and I doubt that I will support another one in the future. That said, in this unique case, justice truly cries out for relief.”


The Guardian has the story. As you read the clip below, remind yourself that Manning has been kept in solitary confinement for six months—although he has yet to be convicted of anything at all.

Supporters of Bradley Manning, the army private suspected of leaking confidential documents to WikiLeaks, were thwarted in an attempt to deliver a petition protesting his treatment when US Marines took a sudden interest in traffic law.

David House, a friend of Manning’s, and Jane Hamsher, founder of the Firedoglake blog, were stopped by guards at the Quantico Marine Corp base in Virginia where Manning is being held, on Sunday when House planned to make a regular visit to see Manning.

The pair also wanted to deliver a petition with 42,000 signatures protesting at the conditions Manning is being held under, including solitary confinement and round-the-clock watch which his lawyers describe as unfair and abusive.

But despite having visited the base to see Manning on several previous occasions, yesterday the pair were stopped by military police and Hamsher’s car impounded after guards found the vehicle’s license plates had expired and Hamsher was unable to produce insurance papers.

After nearly two hours the pair were released – but too late to see Manning during the military brig’s visiting hours, denying the prisoner of his sole weekly respite from solitary confinement.

Posted in California budget, CDCR, crime and punishment, juvenile justice, State government, State politics, Supreme Court | 1 Comment »

Schwarzenegger, Estaban Nunez, Michael Duc Ta and the Double Standard

January 18th, 2011 by Celeste Fremon

Now that we have had some time to reflect further
on outgoing governor Arnold Schwarznegger’s reduced sentence for Estaban Nunez, the son of his business ally, former Assembly Speaker, Fabian Nunez, the whole thing looks far worse, not better.

On Sunday, the LA Times’ Jack Nolan examined the issue in a story about the 29 inmates in the last year alone who had served lengthy prison sentences, who were deemed appropriately punished and rehabilitated by the notoriously hard core California parole board that they were granted parole.

However, none of those 29 inmates were actually released because Arnold spiked their parole, countermanding the decision by the board (a group that has never been known for its warm and fuzzy liberalism).

Here’s a clip:

They, like former state Assembly Speaker Fabian Nuñez’s son Esteban, participated in crimes that left a victim dead but did not deliver the fatal blows.

And like the younger Nuñez, 11 of those inmates had no previous criminal record, according to orders from the governor’s office in 2009, the most recent year for which records are publicly available.

Among the reasons Schwarzenegger frequently gave for reversing the parole board — a panel appointed by his office and dominated by former police and corrections officers — was that the victim had been killed over something “trivial.”

In addition, the offender had demonstrated “callous disregard for human suffering,” often by fleeing the scene and leaving the victim to die, as Nuñez did after he and his friends drunkenly attacked a group of strangers on a San Diego street in 2008 after being denied entrance to a fraternity party.

Schwarzenegger laid out circumstances strikingly similar to those of the Nuñez case in a June 2009 order overturning the parole board’s decision to free Sieu Ngo, who had served 16 years for his role in a gang assault at Fullerton High School.

Like Nuñez , Ngo was 19 at the time of his crime. It was September 1992 when he and four friends chased and beat a rival gang member, Angel Gonzalez. During the attack, one of Ngo’s accomplices pulled a gun and shot Gonzalez once in the back, killing him. And like Nuñez, Ngo then hopped in a car with the others and hit the road.

In the Nuñez case, the politician’s son had stabbed one victim in the stomach while a friend fatally stabbed another in the heart. Then they drove to Sacramento and threw their knives in a river. Ngo’s group drove to Washington state, where they were arrested a month and a half later, according to Schwarzenegger’s order.

Schwarzenegger acknowledged that Ngo, who is serving 16 years to life, had maintained “supportive relationships with family and friends” during his time in prison and had a job offer waiting for him if he got out. But the former governor argued that Ngo still failed to take full responsibility for his actions, a trait he had demonstrated after the attack by fleeing to another state, Schwarzenegger wrote.

Eighteen months after ordering Ngo to stay in prison, Schwarzenegger cut Nuñez’s sentence by more than half, from 16 years to seven. Nuñez had served six months at the time and would not have been eligible for parole until roughly 2023….

(Read the rest here.)

The people in Dolan’s story suggest a stark inconsistency in Schwarzenneger’s policy.

Yet in all the cases he mentioned someone was murdered.

But what about the California kids tried as adults and given lengthy sentences for crimes in which no one died, no one was seriously hurt, and in which they were not the prime participant in the first place? What about those cases?

Why were those young inmates not as deserving as Estaban Nunez?


In 2000, Michael Duc Ta was a bright, 16-year-old who tested in the highly gifted range but was also a boy with problems, mostly due to a lousy home life. According to court records, Ta often clashed with his dad, a Vietnamese immigrant who reportedly smacked Ta’s mom around on a regular basis, and then smacked his son whenever Ta tried to intervene. Things got bad enough that Ta ran away several times, and once tried suicide. He also got himself expelled from school on two separate occasions for bouts of acting out—the first time, from elementary school for setting off a stink bomb. The second expulsion, years later, was for fighting, and caused Ta to be transferred to Valle Lindo, a continuation high school in El Monte that was loaded with gang members. As with most continuation schools in LA County, Valle Lindo’s students were an edgy group that tended to Balkanize along racial lines: Latino’s hung with Latino’s, Anglos with Anglos and so on. Ta hung out mostly with other Asian students, many of whom happened to be gang affiliated.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in crime and punishment, criminal justice, juvenile justice, State government, State politics | 6 Comments »

Lying Politicians, Immigration Grandstanding & Organ Donation

April 30th, 2010 by Celeste Fremon

Okay, here are the videos from Thursday’s The Filter. As I said earlier, I was on with former city council member, Jack Weiss, who—in addition to cultural commentator Amy Alkon—is my favorite partner when I do a segment of the show.

We discussed the topics I’ve listed below.


So do we care that Meg Whitman lied about her townhall meeting ad? Steve Poizner wants us to. He has a video out pointing to Whitman’s entirely mendaciously “spontaneous” meeting.

However Poizner had his own bout of truthiness spotlighted this week on This American Life in which Ira Glass spent a long segment pointing out that Poizner’s new book about a semester spent teaching at a San Jose high school, Pleasant Valley High—a book that is figuring prominently in his campaign—was riddled with statements that are “obviously and provably untrue.”

And indeed a bit of follow-up fact checking bears this out. So why should we care? Glass tells us exactly why:

….”So many of the political discussions in our country seem so disconnected from reality. Every year there are egregious examples of politicians and commentators who believe if they repeat some non-fact over and over, it becomes true.”

And we’re sick of it. We really, really are.


Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is in favor of Los Angeles boycotting Arizona in order to protest the state’s new draconian immigration law.

(As of Thursday, the West Hollywood City Council i
s also talking about suspending all official travel to the state.)

Yes, of course, it’s a hideous, impractical, national soul-damaging law and it will be challenged in the courts, successfully, I believe. But do we really want to punish everybody in the state in order to express our displeasure with the Arizona legislature? Do I, for instance, decide not to buy Arizona writer Chuck Bowden’s new book in order to protest a law that he passionately opposes too? Or is this just so much political grandstanding?

All this and more on immigration plus a look at NY’s new proposed law pertaining to organ donation.

Posted in elections, immigration, State politics, The Filter | 40 Comments »

Gun Rights, the Supremes and What it Means to CA – UPDATED

March 1st, 2010 by Celeste Fremon


Today, Tuesday, the US Supreme Court will take up another landmark case
with regard to the issue of gun rights.

Otis McDonald v. City of Chicago challenges Chicago’s citywide ban on the possession of handguns.

UPDATE: It appears that the justices are leaning toward really doing the no-kidding landmark thingy with this one. Here’s the LA Times take by David Savage. And here’s Adam Liptak for the NY Times on today’s hearing.

The court has posted a transcript of the hearing here.

Now for background, here’s how the folks at the Christian Science Monitor’s editorial pages explain the core of the case, and how it relates to the Supreme Court’s 2008 Heller decision that opened the door to this new case to begin with:

…Must Chicago and other locales drop their ban on handguns just as the justices forced Washington, D.C., to do two years ago?

If the high court decides yes, then state and local gun regulations across the nation could be shot full of holes. That’s why it’s so important for the justices to clarify not only where the “right to keep and bear arms” applies jurisdictionally, but how fundamental a right it is.

Is the Second Amendment right akin to First Amendment rights to free speech and the free practice of religion, which carry few restrictions? Or is it somehow a lesser right, subject to greater regulation?

This question is related to the case at hand – McDonald v. the City of Chicago — but it is not the issue immediately before the justices. What the plaintiff in the Chicago case wants to know is whether people living outside federal enclaves such as Washington, D.C., also have the individual right to own a gun for self-defense.

In the 2008 landmark case of the District of Columbia v. Heller, the justices ruled for the first time that gun ownership is an individual right — not just a right for militias. They overthrew Washington’s handgun ban, which was similar to Chicago’s, and allowed Richard Heller to have a gun in his home for self-defense. But the justices didn’t say whether this right extends beyond federal jurisdictions.

Many Chicago residents fear, including Chicago mayor, Richard Daley, that striking down the decades old ban will simply enable the city’s already healthy illegal gun trade to flourish with less hindrance, thus meaning more deaths from gun violence.

Those who want the ban overturned contend that allowing law-abiding citizens to legally arm themselves will improve safety, not the reverse.

Lawrence Hurley of the Daily Journal, has an excellent explanatory piece on how the new case could impact California—and how, Attorney General (and gubernatorial candidate) Jerry Brown (among others) views the subject.

Since the Daily Journal is hidden behind a paywall, Hurley has kindly allowed me to post the article for you below:

U.S. SUPREME COURT • Mar. 01, 2010
California Attorneys Weigh In on Guns

By Lawrence Hurley,Daily Journal Staff Writer

WASHINGTON – Reflecting strong California interest in a major gun rights case before the U.S. Supreme Court, lawyers from the state have been heavily involved on both sides as this week’s oral argument approaches.

The court will hear arguments Tuesday as to whether the Second Amendment right of individuals to own firearms can be applied to state laws and regulations via the 14th Amendment. McDonald v. Chicago, 08-1521.

Of 52 amicus briefs in the closely watched case, California-based lawyers filed 11. Another two were filed by Washington-based lawyers on behalf of clients from California.

Although the latest case before the high court is out of Chicago, it closely mirrors one currently before the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals concerning Alameda County’s gun show ban that prevents such events from being held on county-owned land.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Civil Liberties, State politics, Supreme Court | 19 Comments »

Correcting Corrections

January 8th, 2010 by Celeste Fremon



(Short answer: No.)

In his State of the State speech on Wednesday (Schwarzenegger’s last) the governor was impassioned about wishing to spend more on higher education that we do on prisons, which is very laudable.

However, there is one surefire way to cut the corrections budget in order to free up money for our CSUs and UCs: When we send people to prison, we need to do what is necessary to insure that, when they get out, they don’t come back again. We’ve got a 70 plus percent recidivism rate in the state. Imagine if we could cut that by a third; what a fiscal difference that would make!

We also need sentencing reform. (Just yesterday, one of my lawyer friends told me about the case she’d witnessed earlier in the week in which two women who were sentenced to 32 months in prison for stealing what was, at the most, $25 worth of pillowcases from Walmart. Lock them up, sure. But for more than 2 years? Not smart. )

But is the governor proposing any such reforms? Nope.

He’s got another way to reverse the corrections v. college budget problem. He wants to privatize the California prison system.

This is…how to put it?… a truly hideous idea. Think a profit-driven Blackwater running the state’s lock ups. (Do we really want to actively incentivize NOT rehabilitating prisoners?)

Here and here you’ll find some of what happened when federal immigration facilities got privatized.

State Assemblyman Ted Lieu has it right:

Religious institutions across the board condemn private prisons as both inhumane and ineffective. The Presbyterian Church USA stated that “Since the goal of for-profit private prisons is earning a profit for their shareholders, there is a basic and fundamental conflict with the concept of rehabilitation as the ultimate goal of the prison system . . . for-profit private prisons should be abolished.” Catholic Bishops in a resolution stated that “We bishops question whether private, for-profit corporations can effectively run prisons. The profit motive may lead to reduced efforts to change behavior, treat substance abuse, and offer skills necessary for reintegration into the community.

Private prisons are also dangerous, both to prisoners and to the public. In 2003 a report by Grassroots Leadership detailed a range of failures by CCA, [Corrections Corp of America] a for-profit private prison company, including: failure to provide adequate medical care to prisoners; failure to control violence in its prisons; and escapes.

Legislators are, thankfully, skeptical. (And the union—the CCPOA—is aghast. For once I agree with them)


Last year three detainees being held in the U.S. prison at Bagram Air Base 40 miles north of Kabul, Afghanistan, challenged whether the Habeas rights accorded prisoners in Guantanamo should extend to other prisons where the U.S. is holding captives. In response, Judge John Bates of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia ruled in favor of the detainees whose circumstances, he said, justified access to U.S. courts to challenge their ongoing detention. The Justice Department appealed the ruling, and the appellate case came to court this week.

Thus on Thursday, three judges of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit struggled to parse out what was really meant by the Boumediene decision, which in 2008 granted Habeas rights to those held Guantanamo.

SCOTUSBlog has one good analysis of the parsing that is taking place.

Then the story in Friday’s WaPo describes the decided uneasiness with which the three judges are grappling with the lower court’s decision.

And if you still want more,
the Blog of the Legal Times has a nicely pithy take on Thursday’s arguments.


On Wednesday, two young men, Steven Menendez, 17, and Jose Garcia, 19, were given sentences of 50 to life for the 2007 murder of 16-year-old Danny Saavedra, who was playing basketball when he was shot. Menendez and Garcia were 14 and 16 years old when they got into a car with a 26-year-old gang member who did the shooting. Menendez and Garcia have always contended they had no idea that the gangster was up to until the firing began, that he told them the group would “go look for girls.”

The Youth Justice Coalition and some other juvenile advocacy groups have been following Menendez and Garcia’s case very closely, and were very disheartened by the sentencing.

The mother of the murdered boy feels justice was served.

The LA Times Molly Hennessy-Fisk has written a short but well-balanced story that points beyond itself to the question of whether we are really better off for handing out such long sentences to juveniles offenders such as Menendez and Garcia.


And in what is far and away my favorite legal decision of the week, on Thursday a panel for the 2nd Circuit opined about what constitutes a “significant romantic relationship.” The case had to do with a condition of parole for a middle-aged guy with no previous record of domestic violence, sexual offenses, or anything related, who had been labeled a sex offender when in the course of an unrelated arrest for some financial shenanigans, cops found among the guy’s porn collection, three DVDs of child porn. (Okay, so, yeah, that does certainly legally qualify him as a sex offender.)

The problem came when, as a condition of his parole, the guy, whose name is Lamont Reeves, was required if he entered into a “significant romantic relationship,” to notify the object of his affections about the nature of his offense.

Mr. Reeves appealed that portion of his parole conditions. The 2nd Circuit judges sided with Reeves, and mentioned both Jane Austin’s Mansfield Park and the film, “He’s Just Not That Into You,” among other works to make their collective point. To wit:

We easily conclude that people of common intelligence (or, for that matter, of high intelligence) would find it impossible to agree on the proper application of a release condition triggered by entry into a “significant romantic relationship.” What makes a relationship “romantic,” let alone “significant” in its romantic depth, can be the subject of endless debate that varies across generations, regions, and genders. For some, it would involve the exchange of gifts such as flowers or chocolates; for others, it would depend on acts of physical intimacy; and for still others, all of these elements could be present yet the relationship, without a promise of exclusivity, would not be “significant.” The history of romance is replete with precisely these blurred lines and misunderstandings. See, e.g., Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, The Marriage of Figaro (1786); Jane Austen, Mansfield Park (Thomas Egerton, 1814); When Harry Met Sally (Columbia Pictures 1989); He’s Just Not That Into You (Flower Films 2009).

Well said, 2nd Circuit! (The full opinion may be found here.)

(Thanks to the always wonderful Howard Bashman at How Appealing for the legal and literary discovery.)

Posted in California budget, juvenile justice, prison policy, State government, State politics | 33 Comments »

Tuesday’s Social Justice Shorts

December 8th, 2009 by Celeste Fremon


On Wednesday, December 9, Representatives George Miller (D-CA) and Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) plan to introduce a bill that prevents the misuse of restraint and seclusion on school kids. (Miller is the chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee. McMorris Rodgers is a member of the Committee.)

One would imagine that such a bill as this one would not be necessary in this day and age. But one would be wrong.

It seems that, unlike with hospitals, and like facilities that receive federal funding, there are currently no federal policies that provide guidelines as to how restraint and seclusion can be used in schools, and the state laws are ridiculously uneven.

As a consequence, there have been reports of horrific cases of adults sitting on kids who are face down until they have stopped breathing, adults placing mentally disabled kids in closets for extended periods of time, in certain cases with fatal results, and on and on.

(The video above shows the Congressional testimony of a mother named Toni Price about once such incident. Price’s account is dignified, clear and heartbreaking.)

A look at the report
on the matter from the US General Accounting Office is quite sobering.

Anyway, this is a bipartisan bill. Take a look.

The video above is of one mother’s testimony at a Congressional hearing on the issue this past spring.


Evidently on Sunday night, a gun-wielding robber who jacked $70 from a Christmas tree salesman apologized to his victim saying, “Times are tough,” according to the LA Times.

I know several young able bodied men who are about to apply for General Relief because, despite daily searches for any kind of work they can find nothing, and they need some way to put food in the house but do not want to turn to the same desperate strategy as the gunman.

I got a call from one of them last night. He does not want a government hand out, he said. “But what can I do?” he asked me. I had no answer.


On Monday, the Supreme Court agreed to take a case which pits issues of religious freedom against a college’s policy of nondiscrimination. Moreover, the case has views of two circuit courts at odds with each other, one of them California’s beloved and sometimes notorious 9th Circuit.

The Christian Science Monitor has a very thorough write up. Here’s a clip:

The Christian Legal Society (CLS) at the Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco was stripped of its registered student organization status at the college because it refused to allow gay and lesbian students to become voting members or officers of the group.

Under the Hastings nondiscrimination policy, student organizations must allow fellow students to join and potentially seek leadership positions in any organization without regard to their status or beliefs….

Starting in the 2004-2005 academic year, the CLS required prospective members to sign a statement of Christian faith. The statement includes a pledge that the undersigned student trusts in “Jesus Christ as my savior.”

Prospective members must express belief in several religious tenets, including “one God, eternally existent in three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” The statement includes a pledge of belief in the virgin birth, eternal life, Jesus’ resurrection, a divinely created heaven and earth, and that the Bible is the inspired word of God.

In addition, the national Christian Legal Society developed a policy position stating its view of biblical principles of sexual morality. The position, adopted by the Hastings chapter, said that “unrepentant participation in or advocacy of a sexually immoral lifestyle” was inconsistent with the group’s statement of faith and would disqualify an individual from membership.

Great case! Morally complex and legally ambiguous. Go Supremes!


And Speaking of the Supreme Court…based on another case that went before the court on Monday, it looks quite possible that the nation’s Miranda warning may get rewritten. The case—Florida v. Powell—concerns one Kevin Dwayne Powell who did not understand, even after the warning was given, that he could have an attorney with him during questioning—as that fact is not really spelled out.

(Although if Mr. Powell had watched a little more episodic television, surely he would have known his rights a bit better.)

As the AP explains the rest.


This isn’t really a social justice issue at all, it’s a literary issue. But if you care about such things, the new posthumous piece of fiction by David Foster Wallace in the upcoming issue of the New Yorker, is a reminder why so many of us are, more than a year later, so devastated that Wallace could seem to find no way out of his personal psychic pain other than to silence it in the most permanent of manners.

Still and all, no matter how bittersweet, another encounter with DFW’s huge and humane talent is utterly thrilling.

The New Yorker published short story is an excerpt from The Pale King, the unfinished novel he was working on before he committed suicide in September 2008.

Posted in children and adolescents, Civil Liberties, Courts, crime and punishment, criminal justice, Education, LGBT, Social Justice Shorts, State politics, Supreme Court | 15 Comments »

LA Townhall Meeting to Push for a Constitutional Convention

July 7th, 2009 by Celeste Fremon


Although there have been certain thoughtful people
warning against the idea, the push for a constitutional convention seems to be hitting critical mass.

Next Saturday there will be a townhall meeting at USC to discuss what such a convention should look like. (Similar events will be held in Santa Monica, Thousand Oaks, Silicon Valley and San Francisco.)

The day features, plenty of kleig light names on the day’s panels. (Although some names are marked tentative.)

The list of organizations thus far co-sponsoring and/or partnering for the event includes: the Asian American Action Fund, the City Project, Common Cause, Mexican American Political Association (MAPA), National Alliance of Latin American and Caribbean Communities (NALACC), the New America Foundation, the USC Bedrosian Center, the United Chambers of Commerce San Fernando Valley & Region, and the USC Unruh Institute, the Courage Campaign and the Bay Area Council.

I’m going. Wouldn’t miss it.

Here’s what the Economist said back in May about the probability and necessity of of a California constitutional remake.

And here’s what Gray Davis said on Monday on NPR.

Posted in California budget, State government, State politics | 4 Comments »

State Parks, Summer School….and Inflammatory Rhetoric

June 3rd, 2009 by Celeste Fremon



There were committee hearings yesterday on Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s plans to close 223 of California’s State Park, Beaches and Recreation Areas, with the park gates being padlocked as soon as Labor day. Those proposing the closure say that shuttering the parks could save $70 million in park costs through June 30, 2010, plus an additional $143.4 million during the 2010-2011 fiscal year.

(Look at the list. It’s pretty startling. Morro Bay. Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park. Parts of Lake Tahoe. Malibu Creek, Point Mugu, the Humboldt Redwoods, the Anza-Borrego Desert and the Salton Sea—plus 215 more.)

According to park advocates, however, in addition to the ghastly loss to the state’s sense of well being that park closures represent, shutting down the state’s parks may be fuzzy-headed thinking from a fiscal perspective too.

Annually, 80 million people visit California’s State Parks and, in addition to paying park fees and the like, those visitors also mean substantial amounts of money to the surrounding economies.

The Sierra Sun, which covers the region
that includes parks in such areas as Truckee and Tahoe, reports:

In a survey done in 2002, state parks brought $6.5 billion in revenue to private businesses across the state from tourism, said Pam Armas, California State Parks Sierra District Superintendent, and the Truckee-Tahoe area is particularly influenced by park visitors.

And according to the SF Chronicle:

[Elizabeth Goldstein, president of the California State Parks Foundation] said that, for every dollar spent, the state parks generate $2.35 in tax revenue from economic activity in the local communities surrounding the parks. That means the state could potentially see a [LARGE] reduction in revenue by closing the parks.

In this morning’s editorial, the LA Times points out that closing the parks may not just be loss of revenue, park shutdowns may cost the state big bucks in terms collateral damage and unexpected payouts.

Closing parks doesn’t mean that people won’t use them. It means that law-abiding people won’t use them. Among those who will: meth lab operators, marijuana farmers, the homeless, taggers, poachers, rogue mountain bikers and off-roaders, as well as just plain campers who think the rules don’t apply to their personal visits. Wildfire danger would increase from illegal, unsupervised campfires, sparks from off-road vehicles and drug operations. The cost of a single catastrophic fire could wipe out most of the savings from closing parks. Crime could turn the parks into expensive public nuisances.


Though details haven’t been worked out,
so far the proposal calls for putting up to 220 parks on “caretaker” status, which means turning off the water and power, boarding up the windows and sending regional patrols in every now and then to look for damage that needs immediate attention. This isn’t a workable scenario. Imagine trying to “close” the 600,000-acre Anza-Borrego Desert State Park in San Diego County.

Like any homeowner who moves but has a legal responsibility to keep the vacant property in decent order, the state cannot simply lock the gates of state parks and walk away. Nor is this a long-term solution to the state’s budget crisis. Californians expect to see these treasured resources reopened within a couple of years, and they must be maintained with that in mind, not as potential lots for the auction block. The state is hurting badly, but it is not for sale.

Math is your friend, people!



Another worthwhile LAT Op Ed is by Gisselle Acevedo, president and chief executive of Para Los Niños. She writes from personal experience about how, slashing the district’s summer school programs means that many parents will be “forced to choose between feeding their children or protecting their children. ”



Somewhat contradicting yesterday’s unpleasantly lecture-laden LA Times editorial about how those of us pro-choice people should just chill on the subject of inflammatory anti abortion rhetoric, Times columnist Tim Rutten comes down rather differently on the subject. Here’s how he ends his column:

….It’s fair to wonder whether any of those who have rhetorically insisted that voluntarily terminating a pregnancy and shooting an abortion provider are equally murder, or that a Planned Parenthood clinic and Auschwitz are in any fashion analogous, now are willing to entertain the possibility that verbal extremism — however effective as argument — has consequences.

In the American debate over abortion, the extravagance of the moral argument and the intemperance of its expression have had consequences — and we have the graves to prove it.

Posted in California budget, environment, State government, State politics | 55 Comments »

California on the Chopping Block: Is There A Way Out?

May 28th, 2009 by Celeste Fremon


Is it me? Or does Arnold Schwarzenegger sound really vengeful?
I get the feeling that, after last week’s vote, if he had the necessary Old Testament power, he would smite us all.

The LA Times reported that just before the governor delivered his blood-drenched new budget proposal to California’s lawmakers, he said he will be giving voters what they want, having “heard the message of the people”

If cornered he would no doubt say otherwise, but I don’t think Arnold means that in a nice way.

Here’s how the San Jose Mercury News reported the slaughterhouse to come:

Faced with a ballooning deficit and a clear signal that voters won’t pay more to fix it,
California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger released a budget plan Tuesday that would eliminate welfare, drop 1 million poor children from health insurance, cut off new grants for college students and shut down 80 percent of state parks.

In a state that long has prided itself on its social safety net, it could well go down in history as the most drastic reduction in social programs ever. And billions in further cuts will be unveiled later this week.

The governor’s proposal to whack an additional $5.5 billion
from state programs stunned even longtime Capitol-watchers with its blunt force. Ending cash assistance for 1.3 million impoverished state residents, for example, would make California the only state with no welfare program.

“Every single first-world nation has a safety net program for children,” said Will Lightbourne, Santa Clara County’s social services director. “This would return us to the era of Dickens — you’d have to go back to the 19th century to find a comparable proposal.”

All this, and Arnold also proposes cutting all rehabilitative programs within the state’s prisons. Drug treatment, educational classes, anything that might help an inmate once he or she is paroled. Gone. Chopped. Vanished. (This in a state with a 70 percent recidivism rate.)

What to do?


Posted in Economy, State government, State politics | 27 Comments »

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