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WitnessLA on “Which Way LA?” Wednesday Night Talking Union Big Bucks Power Plays….& More

April 2nd, 2014 by Celeste Fremon

I’m on Which Way LA? with Warren Olney Wednesday night at about 7 pm on KCRW FM.

If you didn’t listen in real time you can click on the podcast here. It’s a five minute or so segment about the fight for power going on at the LA County Sheriff deputies’ union, ALADS. As we mentioned below, it’s a very high stakes game that could materially affect the race for sheriff, since ALADS has $2.5 million in campaign PAC money, a million or more of which could be thrown behind one candidate for sheriff in the primary election.

In a seven person race, that much money could—and likely would—change the outcome.



AND…IF YOU’D LIKE TO SEE AN INTRIGUING NEW PLAY FOR A GOOD CAUSE TRY: PLACAS, THE MOST DANGEROUS TATTOO

Thursday through Sunday, April 3-6 you can see a promising new play, Placas, the Most Dangerous Tattoo, by Paul S. Flores, starring Ric Salinas of Culture Clash and inspired by events in the life of Alex Sanchez, founder of Homies Unidos.

If you attend on Thursday night April 3, the performance will in fact benefit Homies Unidos.

On Saturday, there’ll be a pre-performance conversation with Father Greg Boyle and Alex Sanchez.

Here’s where you can find out more.

Posted in 2014 election, LASD, Paul Tanaka, unions | 10 Comments »

Opposing Factions in LASD Deputy Union Mud Wrestle for Power with Big $$$ at Stake

April 2nd, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


ALADS—THE LASD DEPUTY UNION—IS IN THE MIDST OF A HUGE TUG OF WAR WITH THE FATE OF $2.5 MILLION IN CAMPAIGN PAC MONEY AT STAKE

Two factions on the board of directors of the large, wealthy and powerful LASD Deputies union—ALADS (Assn. for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs )—are at war with each other for control of the union.

One of the things at issue in the tug of war for control of the 7200 member organization, is oversight of the reportedly more than $2.5 million in campaign PAC money that could be parcelled out with significant effect to a candidate or candidates in the upcoming races for LA County Supervisor and for Sheriff.

Most watching the melee believe that it is the selection of the sheriff of Los Angeles County that that could be materially affected by who comes out on top.

It is after all the board of the directors that has the last word on where the treasure chest of PAC money goes.

In other words, this little internecine struggle is potentially a very high stakes game.

In one of the skirmishes last week, one faction claiming to represent the union filed suit against two members of the opposing faction for alleged “abuse of fiduciary responsibility” and for the “misappropriation” of $100,000 of ALADS funds.

The two who were being sued, responded by having one of their attorneys send a letter on ALADS letterhead to the Bureau of Labor and Compliance of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, maintaining that their faction had legal control of the organization, and that it was the lawsuit-weilding group that had illegally grabbed union funds to hire its lawyers.

Are you confused yet?

Okay, let’s back up a bit.


THE BACK STORY—-OR AT LEAST SOME OF IT

You may remember that when we last visited the bizarre warren of high drama and bad behavior that the ALADS board has become, the two factions were just beginning to wrestle for power.

One faction is led by the current board president Armando Macias— who, as it happens, is reportedly not legally able to serve as board president, according the ALADs bylaws.

It seems that Macias did not attend enough of certain meetings that he was required to attend to hold office, so was removed from his position as president by the other group last month. But he declined to make a graceful exit, and instead has hired a lawyer—or possibly several lawyers—to support his legitimacy.

He is joined in his quest by legally elected Vice President Bruce Nance—plus two others.

The second faction—namely the one opposing Macias—appears to be led by the former board president, Floyd Hayhurst, who is also legally hampered since he has retired and thus is no longer a county employee. This means, although he may serve on the board, he may not vote. Hayhurst is reported to be voting anyway.

In other words, neither of these factions seems to have a firm grip on the legal high ground.

Nevertheless, most of the rest of the seven-member ALADS board has lined up behind one or the other of the combatants— Macias or Hayhurst—-with much bitter squabbling and legal postering the result.

To add to the mix, Hayhurst (the former ALADS Prez) appears to be angling to be appointed by the board as executive director of the organization, a powerful position which, at the moment, is vacant—-and which also might conceivably give him access to the sought after ALADS PAC money.

Hayhurst is reported to be a longtime supporter of former undersheriff Paul Tanaka, who is running for sheriff, and who has been actively angling for union PAC money for a long time (as we wrote about here)

It is not clear whom Macias supports (rumors abound on that matter), although VP Bruce Nance has declared himself to be opposed to Tanaka’s candidacy.

It’s important to note that, although last month, the union’s political committee chose not endorse or to give any money to candidates for sheriff until after the primary (as we reported here), the board of directors has the power to override that decision.


LAWSUIT FILED AGAINST UNION PREZ & VICE PREZ FOR ALLEGEDLY SNATCHING $100K IN UNION FUNDS TO HIRE LAWYER (OR LAWYERS)

To bring you up to date, according to the lawsuit, (which you’ll find attached below), ousted board president Macias, and board VP Nance, requested, but originally were blocked from acquiring, $100,000 in board funds to pay the attorney that they have hired to get Macias reinstated as president, which frankly sounds like a losing battle.

The two insist that they have the authorization to request and receive the funds as they are acting in the board’s interest. Since approximately 50 percent of the voting board (Hayhurst’s group) seems to think otherwise, this seems like a questionable legal position.

Of course, it’s no more questionable than Hayhurst and Company filing a lawsuit against Macias and Nance, and claiming they are doing so in behalf of all of ALADS (and reportedly using ALADS funds to pay their lawyers).

Not to be outdone, when Macias and Nance could not get anyone to write them a $100,000 check out of the union’s general fund, despite much reported hectoring and pestering, they managed to snatch the $100K out of the union’s campaign fund—namely the very same PAC money that one or more sheriff’s candidates would like to get their personal mitts on.

As we mentioned before, the matter of a sheriff’s candidate receiving some of the campaign bucks is thought to be the point of this power struggle.

(For more on the lawsuit, I recommend that you read the complaint itself, starting about midway on Page 3 to the top of Page 12.)

Here’s the complaint: ALADS Lawsuit 4-27-2014

And for more of the Macias/Nance perspective, read the letter from Macias’ attorney Steve Ipsen (a former LA prosecutor who now presents himself as “general counsel” for ALADS), which you may find here: Dept. of Labor Letter

Did I mention that each of these factions now has competing ALADS websites?

Here’s the Macias & Co. website.

And here’s the Hayhurst group’s site.

Members of the ALADS rank and file with whom we spoke seemed generally dismayed with all the squabbling. “With these clowns fighting, we all lose,” said one LASD deputy.

Law enforcement experts outside the organization suggest that the ALADS struggle is yet another symptom of the problems in the sheriff’s department that continue to emerge.

“To be honest, I think it’s one more thing shows the depth of dysfunction,” said one non-LASD law enforcement source. “It’s sad because it hurts all the good deputies who are just trying to do their jobs.”

Posted in 2014 election, LASD, Paul Tanaka, unions | 51 Comments »

LA County Sheriff’s Deputies Union Will Not Endorse a Candidate Until After the Primary

March 17th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


We have learned from multiple sources inside the Association for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs
, the powerful union that represents LASD’s deputies, that they will not be endorsing any candidate for the sheriff’s race until after the primary election in June.

The importance of an endorsement by the deputies’ union—which is commonly known as ALADS—goes well beyond the vote of confidence that an endorsement conveys. In most cases, it also means that the chosen candidate also receives a sizable campaign donation.

And how large a donation are we talking about?

According to sources close to the endorsement process, a candidate for public office—especially a candidate for the office of Los Angeles County Sheriff—could potentially receive between $1 million to $2.5 million for his or her campaign coffers.

In other words, ALADS could plunk down a pile of cash big enough to be a game changer.

The endorsement process for the office of sheriff began on February 19 at a special ALADS forum where six out of the seven candidates for the LASD’s top job gave their pitches and fielded questions.

After the forum, the deputies had just under two weeks to cast their ballots for the candidate they thought the union ought to support.

In order to trigger an automatic endorsement, one candidate has to get at least 50 percent of the rank-and-file’s vote.

For some years it was thought that undersheriff Paul Tanaka was nearly a lock for the ALADS endorsement, along with a healthy chunk of their campaign money. [Here is WLA's coverage on the issue of Tanaka an the union money.]

But when on March 10, the ALADS Political Endorsement Committee tabulated the the 890 votes cast by union members, no single candidate received the needed 50 percent.

(Only about 12 percent of the more than 7200 deputy membership usually votes.)

Some committee members were surprised to find that department outsider Long Beach police chief Jim McDonnell took first place in the straw poll, especially considering that Paul Tanaka had produced such a large and enthusiastic group of supporters at the candidates’ forum, and seemed to be lobbying the hardest for the campaign money.

The details of the vote count was as follows:

Jim McDonnell – 203
Paul Tanaka – 184
Bob Olmsted – 168
Todd Rogers – 163
Jim Hellmold – 144
Pat Gomez – 26
Lou Vince – 2

Even without a majority, the endorsement committee could conceivably have voted to give an endorsement anyway—to whomever they deemed the best choice, (subject to approval of the ALADS board of directors). But the committee members decided not to do so.


POWER STRUGGLE AT THE UNION

Meanwhile, in related news, a power struggle among the union’s board members has resulted in ALADS’ board president being replaced four times in the past week or so. (It may be five times by the time you read this. We’re losing count.)

This game of musical chairs among union executives was first reported by the LA Times last week, after the union issued an announcement stating that the board had removed ALADS president, Armando Macias, because Macias had not attended the requisite number of a certain kind of union meetings, as required in the ALADS’ by-laws.

But then Macias, who had replaced, former ALADS president, Floyd Hayhurst, evidently arrived at a meeting mid-week and declared that he was indeed the legal president and proceeded to run the meeting.

On Friday, however, the Macias-ousting part of the board issued another statement announcing that yet another board member, Don Steck, was taking over as the interim president.

Then on Sunday the Macias supporters among the seven-person board released a new statement saying that Macias was the legal president, and would remain in office.

That spin of the merry-go-round is very unlikely to be the last, sources tell us.

We only mention the matter because there has reportedly been some speculation among ALADS members that one or the other of these factions might be hoping to steer a large portion of the ALADS campaign endorsement money to the candidate of their choice, despite last week’s decision by the union’s Political Endorsement Committee. When it comes to endorsements, the board makes the final decision.

Posted in LASD, Paul Tanaka, unions | 47 Comments »

DSM 5 Worries Attorneys…..Deportation By Association…The New World of Bi-Partisan Sentencing Reform…..and More

May 15th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon



CHANGES IN THE OFFICIAL DEFINITION OF MENTAL DISABILITY WORRIES DEFENSE LAWYERS

The newest revision of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders—the DSM 5-–AKA the bible of psychiatric conditions, published by the American Psychiatric Association, will be released later this month.

Among its changes and updates, the DSM 5 has revised the definition for what it considers to indicate intellectual disability (mental retardation)—a development that has a lot of defense lawyers worried because of its implications in sentencing, particularly when it comes to capital punishment.

Reuters’ Elizabeth Diltz has the story. Here are some clips:

The fifth edition of the book since it was first published in 1952, or DSM-V, is due to be released May 22. Already it has prompted concern from death penalty lawyers because of the change in the way the manual defines mental illness, or intellectual disability, the new name given in DSM-V.

Earlier editions of the DSM defined mental retardation as an IQ score below 70 accompanied by an inability to meet certain developmental norms, such as bathing regularly or maintaining work. Based on that IQ benchmark, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Atkins v. Virginia in 2002 that it is illegal to execute a mentally handicapped person.

But the editors of DSM-V have dropped the 70 IQ score as an indicator of mental retardation and instead recommend that clinicians consider IQ scores while analyzing an individual’s behavior to determine if he or she meets the developmental standards.

Clinically speaking, most consider the change to be a welcome one. Intellectual ability is not even remotely a cut-and-dried matter, as anyone who has worked in or around the mentally disabled can describe. The nature and range of human intelligence is more complex than that which can be measured with such conventional tools as IQ tests.

However, courts tend to like firm definitions, bright lines on that ground that separate this from that, all of which concerns defense lawyers.

However, according to Reuters, some of those who were responsible for the DSM 5′s revisions are hoping the courts will embrace the new complexity, rather than using it as a cudgel.

James Harris, the founding director of the Developmental Neuropsychiatry Program at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and a member of the DSM-V work group, said the criteria focus on three areas of adaptive functioning: academic, social and practical.

Looking at a death row inmate’s social adaptive area, an expert can examine how gullibility may have led the inmate into a crime, which could support a claim of mental retardation, Harris said in an email.

“We believe that we are providing the courts with a more fine-grained means to consider adaptive functioning more comprehensively and more meaningfully,” Harris said.


KNOW A GANG MEMBER, BE DEPORTED

As the bipartisan immigration reform put forth by the so-called Gang of 8 begins its journey through the congressional process, those who are less-than-friendly toward the reform are seizing the moment to tack on a string of poison pill amendments to the original bill.

One of the most loathsome of these is an amendment proposed by Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), which would mandate the deportation of anyone who appears in either a gang database or in a gang injunction.

WLA has written before about the dangers of being falsely named in an injunction, and of the impossibility of getting off CAL GANG, California’s gang database, once you’ve been put on.

Tuesday’s LA Times editorial board has a short but excellent editorial about the creepy Grassley Amendment (penned by the very smart Sandra Hernandez).

Here are a couple of clips:

The Senate Judiciary Committee is just beginning its markup of the bipartisan immigration bill, but already opponents and supporters of the sweeping legislation are fighting over which immigrants should be allowed to legalize their status and which should be deported.

[SNIP]

Keeping immigrants from legalizing their status because of accusations, rather than convictions, is unjust. Gang databases and injunctions are useful but imperfect tools with a troubled history. Individuals can find themselves on those lists because of such factors as tattoos, style of dress or identification by an informant. Moreover, critics say individuals who may not be in a gang but have relatives or friends who are can end up in the databases. That’s guilt by association.

Those placed on such lists often face a near-impossible task when they try to remove their names. Just consider Orange County Dist. Atty. Tony Rackauckas’ appalling tactics in trying to secure an injunction against 115 alleged members of the Orange Varrio Cypress gang. Dozens of them went to court to challenge the designation. However, they never got a chance to present their case because prosecutors dropped their names from the list before a judge could rule

The violence prevention program Homies Unidos, is among those youth advocate groups that oppose this amendment. Here’s what they had to say:

This kind of dragnet approach targets the wrong people and risks deporting and separating from their families individuals who are not gang members. Young people living in “bad” neighborhoods will certainly be vulnerable. Moreover, these provisions do not adequately protect people who have left gangs and have stable and productive lives.

These proposals impose guilt by association and collective punishment by targeting people not for their own individual culpable conduct, but for their associations with groups considered to be dangerous. For example, this provision could impact a person who resides with or associates with a family member known to be in a gang or lives in a neighborhood where there is a high concentration of gangs…


ONCE OBSTRUCTIVE REPUBLICANS NOW LEAD ON SENTENCING REFORM IN HOUSE JUDICIARY COMMITTEE

More cheers for the Right on Crime group that is increasingly providing leadership on many criminal justice issues.

In this week’s Congressional Quarterly, for instance, the CQ’s John Gramlich notes the following:

Congressional Democrats have argued for years that too many low-level drug offenders are locked away in federal prisons and that mandatory-sentencing laws disproportionately harm minorities and tie judges’ hands. Lately, they have been joined in those criticisms by Sen. Rand Paul, a tea-party-backed Republican with White House aspirations.

“I think the Republican Party could grow more if we had a little bit more of a compassionate outlook,” the Kentuckian says.

Paul is emblematic of a quiet but unmistakable shift among conservatives in Congress when it comes to criminal justice. Not only are Republicans engaging in a serious debate about relaxing federal criminal penalties — an idea that was once anathema to lawmakers who worried that their next campaign opponent would label them “soft on crime” — they are leading the discussion.

The House Judiciary Committee, which has poured cold water on Democratic priorities since Republicans regained control of the chamber in 2010, last week created a bipartisan, 10-member task force that will conduct a six-month analysis of the estimated 4,500 crimes on the federal books. (Story, p. 848)

The task force will examine “overcriminalization” in the federal justice system and evaluate what Judiciary Chairman Robert W. Goodlatte calls an “ever-increasing labyrinth” of criminal penalties, some of them for relatively minor crimes in which perpetrators may not have realized they were breaking the law. The Virginia Republican cited the example of an 11-year-old girl who “saved a baby woodpecker from the family cat” but received a $535 fine because of a federal law banning the possession of a migratory bird.

The panel will be led by law-and-order Wisconsin Republican Jim Sensenbrenner and Virginia Democrat Robert C. Scott, an outspoken critic of more-contentious criminal policies such as mandatory minimum sentencing, which the task force will also evaluate. A diverse range of groups endorses the effort, including the American Civil Liberties Union, the Heritage Foundation and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce….


LA UNIONS MARCH ON TUESDAY TO PROTEST POSSIBLE SALE OF LA TIMES TO KOCH BROTHERS

Members of the County Federation of Labor and others marched on Tuesday to protest the rumored possible sale of parts or all of the Tribune Co., including the LA Times, to the company owned by the conservative Koch siblings.

Here’s what Rory Carroll of the Guardian said about the march:

Unions, activists and artists held a rally on Tuesday, to protest the possible sale of the Los Angeles Times to the Koch brothers, warning that such a sale would turn one of the US’s great newspapers into a right-wing mouthpiece.

Hundreds gathered outside the downtown Los Angeles office of Oaktree Capital Management, the largest shareholder in Tribune Co, which owns the LA Times, to deter it from making such a deal. Some carried signs saying “No Koch Hate in LA”.

“The idea that the LA Times could be taken over by right-wing radical extremists just boggles the mind,” said Glen Arnodo, staff director of the LA County Federation of Labor, as protestors prepared to picket. “It’s impossible to believe with their brand of extremism that there would be any objectivity whatsoever.”

Musician Ry Cooder reportedly even wrote a song about the matter, with which he serenaded the crowd.

Posted in District Attorney, Gangs, immigration, Los Angeles Times, unions | 3 Comments »

Icky Power Struggle at LA County Probation Continues: Now the Supes Wade In—But Not Together

February 20th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon


FOUR—NOT FIVE—SUPERVISORS WRITE A LETTER

Okay, when we last left the cheery topic of LA County Probation, the county’s probation-chief-eating union heads, and the agency’s head guy, Chief Jerry Powers, were engaging in a spitting match via the medium of dueling letters to the board of supervisors, all of which we covered here.

Now WitnessLA has acquired a brand new letter that the Supes have written back to the unions telling them, in essence, to get a grip and cooperate with Chief Powers.

However, while four of the Supervisors signed the letter, Mark Ridley-Scott did not. But we’ll get to that part of the story in a minute.

(Here’s a copy of the letter: Letter from Supervisors to Unions )


AGAIN, THE BACK STORY

To refresh your memories about the cause of the spitting match: Powers was complaining to the board at a Supes’ meeting last month, that—due to restrictions imposed by existing contracts with the four probation workers’ unions—-he couldn’t hire the needed number of probation officers to fill 248 still-open slots that must be filled to handle the additional parolees who, because to the provisions of AB109—AKA realignment—are daily landing on the County’s probation case loads for supervision, rather than in the care of state parole.

In response to Powers’ public complaints, the unions wrote a rather nasty letter to the Supes in which they expressed their “collective outrage,” and accused Powers of causing “a public safety crisis” to “circumvent our union contracts.’ Powers complaints were nonsense, the union people said (although their language was not anywhere near as friendly as mine). There were plenty of trained and experienced probation employees ready and willing to be promoted into those AB109 positions.

There is reportedly only one problem with that POV: with a few exceptions, most of those who would be appropriate—from a civil service perspective—for those promotions, are working in the county’s deeply troubled juvenile probation camps, which are understaffed to begin with, and assuredly cannot afford to lose any trained and competent personnel.


THE NOT-SO-FAR-AWAY BAD OLD DAYS

It’s important to recall that LA County’s probation camps are a bare three years away from the scandal-a-week days when they had personnel written about in the LA Times for goading kids into engaging in “gladiator fights’— a sort of LA County juvenile probation Fight Club. AND during that same 2010 period another 18 staffers were charged, according to the Office of Independent Review’s Michael Gennaco, with crimes including cruelty to a child, sex with a minor, prostitution, assault with a deadly weapon, resisting an officer and battery. (Sadly, I have only named a few of the that year’s horrors.)

While the camps and the halls have improved at least marginally since then, according to the report by federal monitors last fall, there is a depressingly long way to go. To be specific, the feds report that the camps still have staff that can’t manage to stop slamming kids against walls, making young probationers assume stress positions as punishment, can’t keep kids reasonably safe from aggressively pounding each other, and can’t keep adequate track of what kid is being given what medication and has received what mental health services.

In our own digging around, we’ve heard even worse reports of staff misconduct.

Yet, as we said, it’s better than it was. Thus the camps cannot afford to have any of their frail progress threatened.

(EDITOR’S NOTE: Please allow me to make it clear—as always—that there are many wonderful, dedicated, honorable, talented people who work for LA County probation, people who give way more than they are asked to do on a daily basis. Some are people I know personally. But it is not their good work that is at issue here.)


THE STAFFING ISSUE

Of course, the staffing issue wouldn’t be a problem if Powers could replace some of those staffers promoted out of the youth camps and into the AB109 positions with nice bright-eyed and bushy-tailed applicants with master’s degrees and an affinity for kids—even law-breaking kids. That’s what Santa Clara County Probation does to staff their much lauded juvenile facility, the James Ranch (where kids are helped, rather than slammed against walls). But, according to union rules, the positions must only be filled from within, usually by the next people in the food chain, who are, by definition, less experienced and less trained, and who may or may not have a talent for working with youth.

To add to it all, as we mentioned before, the camps are already understaffed—a problem caused, in part, by the fact that an insane number of those working for probation are not actually….you know….working. According to last year’s report on the agency by the Office of Independent review, 400 of the agency’s 5,630 employees are on some type of medical leave, “Another 353 employees are … on modified duty.” I’ll do the math for you. That means more than 13 percent of Probation’s workforce are not, at least at the count last year, on the job full time—or at all.


THE BOARD WADES IN

To get past this depressing, multi-directional logjam, Powers would like to have the option of hiring some people for the AB 109 positions from the outside—like say laid off parole officers. The unions replied that hell will freeze over first, or words to that affect. Powers then responded by writing his own outraged letter to the Supervisors.

Union supporters further reacted by, behind closed, accusing Powers of being a union busting carpetbagger who’s made no effort to get along with the collective bargaining units, has no commitment to LA, and only took the job to up his retirement rate.

At the same time, Powers supporters called the union leaders power-hungry thugs who make running a functional department all but impossible.

And so, finally, the board waded into this melee with its letter, which was at least some kind of positive move.

“The Board wanted and needed to make it clear that if the union had a beef it was with the Board and not with Jerry Powers,” Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky wrote to me in an email. “We brought Jerry in to turn this very troubled department around, and he is doing exactly what the Board has asked him to do. The Board majority is committed to fixing the Department from within through assertive and urgent reform, but to be successful, the department head must have the authority to make the necessary changes.”

Well, yes. It stands to reason that someone has to hold the tiller of the ship; otherwise it will simply continue to run aground.

As we’ve observed earlier, Powers— while frankly less visionary in his outlook than we would like) —seems, at least, determined to clean up the place and make it behave with a modicum of professionalism. For instance, last year Powers got rid of some of the worst of the agency’s supply of bad apples, resulting in the arrest of around 40 department employees this year—which was more than either of the two previous administrations managed to do. (Yes, you read right: 40 employees arrested.)


SO WHY NOT SIGN THE LETTER?

Since the board’s letter to the union heads seemed like a positive move in the face of a bad situation, I asked Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas why he’d chosen not to sign it.

I knew that Ridley-Thomas is considered, by his critics, to be perhaps too beholden to the unions, which contributed heavily to his election campaign, and thus be reluctant to criticize them. On the other hand, no other supervisor’s office has been more active in pushing for intelligent reform in the county’s juvenile probation facilities. Moreover, he has repeatedly called for the Department of Justice to come in and slap probation with a federal consent decree, which would, by definition, trump a host of union rules and objections.

“I’m concerned that a battle between labor and management portents a set of problems I hope we can avoid,” he said when I broached the question. “I think a more constructive role for the board is to challenge both the Chief Probation Officer and the bargaining units to work out a way to work together for the good of the youngsters in those camps and halls. To pick one side over the other does not facilitate consensus.”

Ridley-Thomas also said that he believes a first step would be to look for a clear statement of mission, and a set of “deliverables” from Powers—specifically having to do with a plan to reduce recidivism among the AB109 adult probationers, and to articulate “a mission that is fundamentally tied to rehabilitation” regarding the juvenile facilities.

“Both sides have to get back to a mission that they can agree upon before we can move forward. And they both have a obligation to find a way to work together. To me, nothing else is acceptable.”


SO WHERE DOES THAT LEAVE US?

We at WitnessLA are definitely for some kind of aspirational goal setting at LA County Probation. Otherwise it seems like we’re left solely with a law enforcement agency, and not a particularly interesting law enforcement agency, but one whose highest calling is to prevent further crimes and/or misbehavior—by either its probationers or, frankly, its staff.

So where are we, exactly? Will the supes letter promote forward movement by giving Chief Powers the backing he needs to lead the department out of its newest morass, as Zev Yaroslavsky hopes? Or will it simply further the fight, as Ridley-Thomas fears?

And how do we get Powers and company to come up with some kind of achievable 10-point plan—or whatever—that places rehabilitation, and lowering recidivism rates at the top of the list of goals. You know, where are our “deliverables?”


THESE AND OTHER QUESTIONS REMAIN

So stay tuned.



AND IN OTHER NEWS….LASD UNDERSHERIFF PAUL TANAKA SAYS THE ENTIRELY WEIRD STORY OF CAMBODIA-SHIPPED BULLET-PROOF VESTS IS MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING

Sandy Mazza at the Daily News has the story. Here’s a clip:

A Los Angeles County supervisor is seeking a “rigorous” re-examination of a decade-old issue in which the city of Gardena acted as an intermediary for the Sheriff’s Department to sell ballistic vests to Cambodia.

The sale was scrutinized at least twice in the past 10 years because it was so unusual but, despite appearing convoluted, nothing illegal or improper was found.

This week, after recent news reports again questioned the transaction, Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas called for another audit of the purchase.

Former Sheriff’s Department Assistant Sheriff Larry Waldie negotiated the sale, according to Undersheriff Paul Tanaka, who is the current mayor of Gardena.

At the time, Cambodia was rebuilding its country and police force following Khmer Rouge communist party rule, Tanaka said. The Cambodian foreign consulate asked Waldie if it could purchase 473 ballistic vests that the department would not use because they were either expired or used, he said.

Tanaka was in his second year as a Gardena city councilman and was also the sheriff’s chief of administrative services. Waldie asked for his help because he didn’t believe Los Angeles County could sell directly to a foreign country, he said.


FORMER STATE SENATOR GLORIA ROMERO SAYS OPEN UP POLICE DISCIPLINE RECORDS

Romero’s Op-Ed ran in the OC Register. Here’s how it opens.

Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck channeled a significant public policy implication from Christopher Dorner’s murderous rampage when he announced he would reopen the investigation into Dorner’s 2009 firing from LAPD. Beck’s words were haunting: “I hear the ghosts of the past of the Los Angeles Police Department. I hear that people think that maybe there is something to what he says, and I want to put that to rest.”

To do that will mean that the Legislature must revisit the damaging 2006 California Supreme Court decision in Copley Press Inc. v. Superior Court of San Diego. On a technicality, the court all but cemented secretive police operations. Ultimately, information on misconduct under color of authority – and any resulting discipline – must be a matter of public record.

I know this issue firsthand. In 2007 I introduced Senate Bill 1019, written to rectify the harm of the Copley decision and restore public access to information, which had been California’s practice for decades.

The Copley Press, then the publisher of the San Diego Union-Tribune, sued over the decision of the San Diego County Civil Service Commission to close the hearing of a county sheriff’s deputy appealing a termination notice. The commission also refused to explain why the deputy was fired.

After the Copley decision, police discipline records throughout California that had previously been open to the public, including LAPD boards of rights hearings, were sealed. Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office bowed to the political pressure of the police lobby and mandated full closure of hearings. Los Angeles was left with, for all intents and purposes, a police force that dealt with its own members in secret.


FROM JUVENILE PRISON TO JUVENILE JUSTICE LAWYER

This story by Meredith May in the San Francisco Chronicle is a redemptive delight.

A group of incarcerated teenage boys at the O.H. Close Youth Correctional Facility in Stockton slouch in plastic orange chairs, arms crossed, scowling at their tie-clad visitor, whose lecture will eat into their TV time.

Francis “Frankie” Guzman, a 32-year-old lawyer and recipient of a prestigious Soros Justice Fellowship to advocate for juvenile justice, gets right to the point.

“How many of you read ‘Lord of the Flies’? It’s like that in here, right? But which one of you is leading? Do you really want to follow that guy?”

Guzman speaks like he knows what he’s talking about, and the boys, ages 14 to 17, take notice. There’s a perceptible shift as they sit up a little straighter.

Guzman knows exactly what it’s like to wear khaki pants every day and sleep in a cell. When he was 15, he and a friend stole a car and robbed a liquor store at gunpoint in Southern California, resulting in six years behind bars inside the California Youth Authority.

It was the culmination of a childhood defined by tragedy in East Oxnard, an enclave of farmworkers and day laborers where gangs, family and community had blended together over the generations, blurring the lines between loyalty to the street and to the self.

“Kids don’t make smart decisions,” Guzman said. “But ultimately, you are not the worst thing you have done. The weakest thing I did made me the strongest person I am today.”

Read on!


AN INSANE INCIDENT WITH A TEN-YEAR OLD AND A SQUIRT GUN

Donna St. George at the Washington Post has the story of the 10-year-old arrested for his toy gun on the school bus.


MIDDLE SCHOOL BOOBIES BRACELET CASE GETS A SECOND HEARING BY COURT OF APPEALS

We are very pleased to note that the Boobies Bracelet case gets another hearing Wednesday! This time by the entire 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals.

Maybe the court, like me, simply is amused by writing it: (Boobies Bracelet, Boobies Bracelet, Boobies Bracelet. Ahem, sorry.) Nah. More likely, the court is concerned with the First Amendement issues the case represents.

Anyway, rather than having me explain the case, read the story for yourself here at The Daily Call with a story by Peter Hall.


Posted in children and adolescents, juvenile justice, LA County Board of Supervisors, Probation, unions | 7 Comments »

Probation Chief Jerry Powers and 4 Probation Unions Get into A Very Ugly Battle

February 6th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon



BACK ROOM TUG OF WAR BREAKS INTO THE OPEN

It all started when LA County Probation Chief Jerry Powers reported to the County Board of Supervisors at their meeting two weeks ago that he was having a bit of trouble hiring the 470 new probation officers required to fill the expanded staffing needs caused by AB109—AKA prison realignment.

The board had approved the 470 new hires in question some months ago and now, all this time later, Powers said he had only hired 222 of the 470 deemed necessary to oversee the influx of newly released inmates who, due to the AB109 restructuring, would be handed over to county probation rather than state parole (which would have had them in the past).

Much of the reason he had not filled the remaining 248 jobs, explained Powers, was that he was hogtied (my word not his) by a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the employees’ unions that restricted him from hiring the people he needed to hire.

In the simplest of terms, according to union rules, he was required to fill the positions by reaching down into the existing probation work force only. He could not hire new people from the outside, unless pretty much all those on the inside had turned him down for the jobs. Powers said he had already hired 222 out of the existing pool of probation staffers. To continue to hire only from the ranks, meant he had to do one of two things: He could promote people into the jobs who were not really experienced enough to handle the complexities of the AB109 population, many of whom had serious mental and emotional problems, substance addictions and, all too often, violent pasts. Alternately, if he moved some of the better trained peopled into the AB109 slots, this meant, in most cases, he was yanking much needed experienced staff out of the juvenile probation camps, which was its own kind of disaster.

He said he had around 25 more people “in the pipeline” who were ready to be promoted, had taken their tests, done their interviews, and would be moved into the AB109 slots, but after that, things would be more difficult.


ROBBING PETER TO PAY PAUL—PROBATION STYLE

Powers had a point when he suggested that snatching the best and most experienced people from the probation camps to solve his AB109 staffing problem is a seriously awful idea.

For most of the decade before AB109 became the story du jour, probation’s main source of lawsuits, horrors and media scandal was its juvenile camps.

As we reported last October, the county’s juvenile probation camps, while not rife with the same level of ghastly staff behavior that brought the feds in 2006, are still, by and large, not places you would send a kid you cared about and expect him or her to be….you know….helped.

However, in the last four years, at least most of the camp staff who are supposed to be trained in things like what to do if a kid displays suicidality, and how to get kids to do what you need them to do without slamming them into walls or dousing them with pepper spray, have indeed received the proper training.

Therefore to fill the AB109 positions by raiding the staffs of the already woefully understaffed camps (which are still under federal oversight), and then, in turn, fill the suddenly vacant camp positions by promoting other less-experienced staffers from the juvenile halls or elsewhere, and back fill those positions with…still less experienced recruits-….Let’s just say it’s a really, really un-swell plan.

Chief Jerry Powers basically said as much in the Supervisor’s meeting of January 22.

Powers also mentioned that there would be advantages to hiring at least some qualified people from the outside who were already experienced with the AB109 population—like, say, the parole officers who were being laid off due to cutbacks at the state level.

“We’re going to have to work with our labor friends on a work-around, frankly, to be able to accelerate filling some of these positions,” said Powers.

It would understate matters in the extreme to say that the heads of the four probation unions were not terribly enthusiastic about Power’s “work-around” thingy—particularly Ralph Miller, the president of the biggest, baddest of the four fraternal organizations, Local 685, the LA County Probation Officers Union.


“A PUBLIC SAFETY CRISIS”

To express their displeasure, the unions struck back with a furious and more-than-just-vaguely threatening letter addressed to the Supes (which WitnessLA has obtained) in which they accused Powers of “creating a public safety crisis—perhaps intentionally to try to circumvent our labor contracts—by failing to properly staff the critical AB109 program...” They also said that, due to Powers’ actions, they feared that one day a little girl was going to be killed by one of the evil and violent AB109 probationers—or words to that effect.

(To be clear, at the Supers meeting on February 22, it was Gloria Molina who first advanced the vision of the imaginary little girl who was going to be killed because of realignment, but the union energetically embraced the idea in their letter.)

The letter closed with a threat that Powers needed to either get with the program…or else.

(I’m paraphrasing, of course. You can read the letter yourself here: Union Board Letter)

Since the unions had a great deal to do with getting rid of the last probation chief, Donald Blevins, the threat had teeth.

The clear implication of the letter was: we’re not pushing for you to be fired….YET.


POWERS REPLIES

This week, Chief Powers shot back with his own seven-page letter to the supervisors-(which WLA has also obtained).

Powers called the unions’ allegations that he’d perhaps intentionally “created a public safety crisis” to try to get around the labor conflicts…” reprehensible, and called the union out on “personal attacks and threats.”

“The letter is long on hyperbole and short on solutions,” Powers wrote, “other than confirming that the unions want to do business the way they always have. It has been successful for the union and apparently, in their view, it must mean it is successful for the department…..”

He would continue to work with the union, Powers said, but as probation chief, he must address “the broader picture of departmental operations as they related not only to my employees, but to those under our responsibility, and to the safety of our communities….”

There’s much, much more, but that last is the heart of the matter. While LA County Probation has many good, devoted and capable employees, they also have truly lousy ones, people who should never in a million years be working with kids.

At least two administrations in a row—maybe more—did nothing about this toxic mess. Powers, while not perfect (and frankly less visionary in his outlook than we would like), seems determined to clean up the place and make it functional, so it can serve the needs of the people it’s supposed to serve—not merely the desires of the unions.

Let us hope the board of supervisors supports him in this endeavor.

Then maybe the visionary-thing can come after.

Posted in juvenile justice, LA County Board of Supervisors, Probation, unions | 10 Comments »

The WitnessLA November 2012 Elections Endorsements

November 2nd, 2012 by Celeste Fremon


With voting day looming on Tuesday,
a quickie rundown of our thoughts and recommendations.


THE BALLOT PROPOSITIONS


30 – YES! Jerry Brown’s must-pass initiative is a desperately needed budget patch providing funds for California’s educational system—both K-12 and higher education—while also funneling fiscal aid to other crucial state programs.

Prop 30 looked like it would pass easily, mainly because most Californian’s understand that our schools and other essential programs are in need of $$$, and the governor has devised the least painful way to raise the necessary bucks.

Unfortunately, wealthy Californian Molly Munger muddied the water by floating a competative ballot proposition (Prop. 38) then, along with her brother, using tens of millions of her own money to blast voters with TV ads designed to shake confidence in 30, in the hope of getting voters to embrace 38. Now, while 38 looks unlikely to pass, it has managed to erode just enough of Prop. 30′s support to put it in serious jeopardy.

So here’s the deal: Not only should you vote for Prop 30, but you should threaten, cajole, emotionally blackmail everyone you know, are related to, or pass randomly on the street into voting for it. Otherwise, we’re in for some dark days in terms of public education. (Not to put too fine a point on the matter.)


31 – NO. A messy and badly conceived attempt to reform the way the state legislature behaves. Heaven knows some serious reform is needed, but this ain’t it. Prop 31 will cut money from schools and other vital programs and create a pile of bureaucracy. Read what the Courage Campaign has to say here.

Even CA’s conservative newspapers are fleeing from this badly written item.


32: NO WITH EXTREME PREJUDICE – If you loved Citizen’s United then you’re going to adore Prop 32. Listen, many of us are furious when certain unions (cough) CCPOA, prison guards (cough, cough) swing their weight around to ill effect. But this proposed law is a union-hating, Koch Brother’s special that pretends to rein in corporate campaign spending and special interests. Instead, it favors big corporate interests and hobbles everybody else.

For a humorous (and kinda scary) look at Prop 32 supporters read our own Matt Fleischer’s account of what he heard when he parachuted in behind the lines of Prop. 32 central—namely the Lincoln Club.


33: NO! – This creepy little piece of work is auto insurance bait and switch that is the baby of Mercury Insurance founder George Joseph, and does not have your and my best interests at heart. Run!


34: YES – Replaces the death penalty in California with life without the possibility of parole.

I’ll let Jeanne Woodford (the former head of the CDCR and former Warden of San Quentin who oversaw four executions), plus my friend Frankie Carrillo speak on the topic, as they each are uniquely qualified to do so.


35: NO – The sex trafficking and slavery initiative is extremely well meant but is a morass of unintended consequences. Yes, of course, we must do everything possible to take the predators it targets off the streets and put them behind bars. But this problematically-structured law, the project of former Facebook privacy officer, Chris Kelly (who would like to ride this law into the office of CA Attorney General), causes more problems than it solves—sadly.

The good news is that it opens the dialogue on this pressing issue, where victims remain tragically unprotected.


36: YES – Reforms 3-Strikes so that bad guys get put away, and the people who don’t need to be the guests of the state for the rest of their lives (on our tab) don’t. Even LA DA Steve Cooley & SF DA George Gascon like this prop that fixes the flaws in a well-intentioned but overbroad law.


37: YES– Requires that genetically engineered foods (GMOs) be labeled before being sold in California.. The LA Times is against it. We disagree.

The issue is not whether GMOs are good or harmful. Many likely are not, and may have great benefit. The point is that, as a consumer, I’d like the right to know what’s in my food and whether or not the items I buy contain GMOs. Wouldn’t you?

Alice Waters of Chez Panisse and some of the most famous chefs in America are in favor of GMO labeling.

So is the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations.

Monsanto, Dupont, Pepsico and Dow are not and have thrown upwards of 40 million to try to persuade you that their opinion is the righteous one.

For a lengthier and highly informed counter-opinion to that expressed by the LAT and some of the other CA papers that are urging a NO vote, read what NY Times food writer Mark Bittman has to say about Prop. 37—and the missinformation put out by its mega-buck-funded opposition.

You also might want to read this also from the NY Times, by Michael Pollan (one of the gurus of the food movement, and author of the Omnivore’s Dilemma, among other food-related books)

Oh, yeah, and if you don’t believe those guys, you might want to see what Bill Moyers has to say on the topic.


38: NO/YES.or WHATEVER. This prop, which has set itself up as the alternative to Jerry Brown’s Prop 30, is a scheme to raise some taxes in order to fund the state’s ailing public school system. The prop, as mentioned above, has been almost exclusively funded by wealthy civil rights attorney Molly Munger. Munger is the co-head of the Advancement Project, along with the excellent Connie Rice, and we really, really like Munger for that, and for her many other accomplishments as a lawyer and an advocate. However, we are extremely vexed at her I-know-better-than-all-of-them-Sac’to-fools-do attitude in this instance, which could mean that neither prop passes, and that California schools suffer terribly as a result.

Karin Klien, the editorial board writer for education lays the matter out perfectly:

Proposition 30 is a superior measure on several fronts. It would avoid trigger cuts that would cause immediate and drastic harm to schools, which would probably be forced to cut the school year by up to three weeks, as well as $250 million in cuts to the University of California and an equal amount to the California State University system.

Beyond that, one aspect of Proposition 30 that has been little noticed is that it also provides money for community colleges; right now, more than 200,000 students at those colleges cannot find a seat in a single class, let alone enough courses or the courses they need to graduate. There’s little point to rescuing only K-12 schools when the graduates would have nowhere to go.

Polls suggest that Prop 38 doesn’t have a chance. And, yet, Munger’s ads and those of her conservative brother, wrongly claiming, as Klien writes, “…’politicians’ would get their hands on money intended for schools..” are still running. The non-passage of 30, once a sure thing until the Mungers threw tens of millions at the issue, is now hanging by a thread.

So vote for 38, don’t vote for it. Just make sure you vote for Prop. 30.


39: YES – Would remove a tax break that mainly benefits multistate companies based outside of California, a tax loophole that has actually encouraged these companies to take their jobs out of state. As KCET points out, Prop 39 would level the playing field by making multistate companies play by the same rules as companies that employ Californians, and would produce an extra $1 billion for the state coffers.

That’s the short version. If you want more, KCET has the details.


40: YES - Basically re-approves California’s newly redrawn state Senate districts. Every major newspaper in the state, whether conservative leaning or liberal leaning, urges a YES vote. A few disgruntled politicians urge otherwise, but most of them have quietly gone away.



THE RACES:

In terms of candidates, we favor Janice Hahn, Howard Berman, Julie Brownley, Henry Waxman, if you’re in an area where they are on the ballot.

FOR DISTRICT ATTORNEY…..

We firmly recommend Jackie Lacey.

Look: Alan Jackson is a skilled prosecutor, but he does not appear to have the temperament or the experience to manage the District Attorney’s office effectively. During the campaign, he has consistently tailored his message to the crowd, rather than giving us a clear idea of what his policies would be, if elected.

Lacey is more conservative than we would like, but she’s a listener, and has already appeared to grow in the course of the campaign. In short, she’s up to the job now and we believe would become stronger and better, while in office.

For more, read the very smart LA Times endorsement that I’m guessing was written by our pal Rob Greene.


OH, YEAH, AND FOR THE OFFICE OF PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES, WE RECOMMEND: Barak Obama.

(But you probably knew that.)


In any case, whatever and whomever you vote for: PLEASE VOTE


Posted in CCPOA, Civil Liberties, crime and punishment, CTA, District Attorney, Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), elections, Innocence, Presidential race, Propositions, Springsteen, unions | 8 Comments »

UTLA Blocks LAUSD’s Hopes for Race to the Top $$…The Advantages of NOT Locking Up Kids…AND Brain Surgery & the Storm (One Sandy Story)

October 31st, 2012 by Celeste Fremon


WANT FEDERAL $$$ FOR LA SCHOOLS? TOUGH, SAYS THE LA TEACHER’S UNION

The Los Angeles Unified School District hoped to get $40 million in federal Race to the Top grant money with a 150-page grant application that envisioned a rigorous program designed to help 9th graders who didn’t have enough credits to move up to 10th grade, which has become a problem of depressing proportions at the district.

However the application required a sign-off from the LA’s teachers union.

And the UTLA higher ups declined to put their collective signatures on the dotted line. (The actual rank and file teachers were not consulted about their opinion in the matter.)

The deadline for the application’s submission was originally this week, but has now been extended because of the storm. (No one seems to know the date of the new deadline.)

UTLA Prez Warren Fletcher says his union’s objection to the grant ap is that the federal RTTT grant will leave the district holding the bag fiscally for some of the future costs of the program.

LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy says this objection is nonsense—or words to that effect.

Most observers figure the real reason is something having to do with the union’s aversion to teacher evaluations, although Fletcher says otherwise.

This is not the first time a teachers union has spiked California’s chances for Race bucks.

According to reform advocates, the primary reason that California missed out on Race to the Top. grants for two years running in the past was due to a similar lack of enthusiasm (which some have called pig-headed obstructiveness) on the part of the statewide union, the California Teachers Association.

Tammy Abdollah for KPCC and Howard Blume for the LA Times and Hillel Aron at the LA School Report all have more.

Here’s a clip from Abdollah’s story:

Citing long-term budget concerns, the union for schoolteachers in the Los Angeles Unified School District has refused to sign off on the district’s Race to the Top grant application, effectively taking the nation’s second-largest school district out of the running for $40 million in federal funds.

L.A. Unified Superintendent John Deasy, sounding deflated, said Tuesday morning that the district had tried to work with United Teachers Los Angeles and couldn’t understand why no deal was reached.

“They gave a number of different reasons and every single reason they gave we accommodated,” Deasy said.

Initial concerns about ongoing discussions to meet a Dec. 4 court-imposed deadline for a new teacher evaluation system were addressed by the district. The Race to the Top competition requires districts to adopt an evaluation system that incorporates student test scores. Deasy said L.A. Unified provided the union with a legal assurance that plans for Race to the Top would be treated separately from negotiations.

But UTLA President Warren Fletcher said “a big part of the problem” was the cost.

L.A. Unified’s 150-page application proposes a $43.3 million budget for reforms that would require $3.3 million in funds outside of the $40 million government award. Deasy said union officials were informed that the additional money would have been granted through philanthropy.

But Fletcher said it wasn’t just about the money for the grant right now that was the problem.

“When you sign on to a Race to the Top grant, you make commitments that go on long beyond the four-year period of the grant itself,” Fletcher said.

Vexing.


NEW JERSEY EXPERIMENT SHOWS ITS BETTER NOT TO LOCK UP JUVENILE DEFENDANTS

In a multi-part series, the Philadelphia Enquirer tells about a new report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation that shows, among other things, how New Jersey found that, except for the most serious cases, kids who ran afoul of the law were less likely to reoffend if they were given some kind of alternative sanction that did not involve lock-up.

Here’s their report that ran Wednesday:

For years, New Jersey sent juveniles awaiting trial to county detention centers, locking them up even for minor crimes. But a new report on juvenile justice reform shows that there is another, more effective, alternative that saves taxpayer money and protects society.
The number of juveniles jailed across New Jersey has declined by more than half since the state started a program eight years ago to divert them to other options, according to the Kids Count Special Report.

Funded by a $200,000 grant from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the program has been implemented in 16 counties. Similar programs have been adopted in other states. The results in New Jersey are staggering. Last year, there were 4,093 juveniles admitted to county detention centers, compared with 10,191 before the program began in 2004.

For young defendants not considered a threat to public safety, the program changed the misguided focus of solely locking them up to allowing alternatives, such as electronic monitoring and home visits. They also receive job training, counseling, and other services more in line with the intent of juvenile justice – giving youths a second chance.

Providing compelling evidence that some youths are good candidates for rehabilitation, the report found that only 3 percent of participants committed another crime while in the program.

According to the report released by Advocates for Children of New Jersey, youths detained are more likely to commit another crime, more likely to have trouble in school, and more likely to have difficulty finding a job.

In a continuation of a disturbing trend, minority youths still make up the majority of those being locked up – about 89 percent. But that mirrors national statistics that must be addressed.

With fewer juveniles held in lockup facilities, some counties, including Gloucester, were able to close their detention centers. Across the state, $16 million a year has been saved as a result.

New Jersey’s laudable efforts should be replicated elsewhere to help prevent so many of today’s youthful offenders from becoming tomorrow’s adult criminals.

Here’s one of the earlier parts to the story.


A 17-YEAR-OLD-GIRL WAS ABOUT TO HAVE A SECOND BOUT OF COMPLEX SURGERY—AND THEN THE STORM HIT

It is just one of the many stories that will continue to unfurl from this still ongoing catastrophe, but the snapshot of fear, coping and caring by the New Yorker’s David Remnick is worth reading. Here’s how it opens;

Virginia Rossano is seventeen years old and has been suffering from epileptic seizures since she was six. She and her family live north of Boston. After consulting with Orrin Devinsky, a renowned neurologist and epilepsy specialist at the N.Y.U. Langone Medical Center, the Rossanos decided to pursue a surgical course for their daughter. Virginia and her mother, Cathy, came to N.Y.U. last week, and on Thursday Virginia underwent a craniotomy. Surgeons removed skull tissue and connected electrodes to the brain to monitor her brain functions. The next step was to wean Virginia from her medications and induce a seizure. Doctors could then locate the source of the seizures and remove the offending tissue. “Dr. Devinsky said that surgery could be a home run for us,” Cathy Rossano told me.

Then came Hurricane Sandy.

Virginia’s first surgery was a success. While she and her mother waited, word came that the ominous storm approaching New York would be powerful beyond prediction. Doctors and nurses started discharging patients from the Langone Medical Center, in the East Thirties, near the East River. Hundreds of patients were sent home or to other facilities. But many of the sickest and most fragile patients—some of them infants—stayed in the hospital. What no one had counted on was that when the power failed all over downtown Manhattan on Monday night, so, too, did the hospital’s backup generator. Now everyone would have to be evacuated, and in terrifying conditions.

“It was incredibly frightening for the patients,” said Alyson Silverberg, a nurse practitioner at N.Y.U. “There were babies that had to be evacuated down nine flights. We had to do their breathing manually for some of them.” One of the patients that was evacuated was Kenneth Langone, the chairman of the hospital, who is suffering from pneumonia. Langone gave N.Y.U. Langone Medical Center two hundred million dollars in 2008….

Read on.


Posted in Education, LAUSD, Life in general, unions, UTLA | No Comments »

Prop. 8 Heads for SCOTUS, Lawsuit Challenges LAUSD Teacher Protections…and More

June 6th, 2012 by Taylor Walker


PROP 8 CASE MAKES IT PAST 9TH CIRCUIT (AGAIN)

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals denied an appeal on the February ruling that California’s Prop 8 was a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause. This follows a ruling against DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act) by the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals. Both cases are key milestones in the battle for gay rights and are advancing toward a SCOTUS decision next year.

Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick has a particularly interesting take on the story. Here’s how it opens:

Last week a three-judge panel of the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals found a central provision of the federal Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional. This morning, the entire 9th Circuit Court of Appeals refused to disturb a ruling by a panel of that court that Proposition 8—California’s anti gay marriage initiative—also violated the Constitution. Both cases represent big wins for the gay rights movement. And both appeals now turn to the Supreme Court for ultimate answers. The two cases are on parallel tracks to get to the court next fall, to be briefed and argued next spring, and to be decided by next June. The question now becomes which appeal the court will hear, and why.

It’s important to emphasize that the two appeals raise different issues. The DOMA case out of Massachusetts challenged the federal law denying federal marriage benefits to gay couples. It doesn’t implicate the right to marry per se but how states define marriage, thereby affecting whether gay couples receive the same federal benefits as heterosexual couples. The Prop 8 case, on the other hand, was filed by opponents of the statewide referendum banning same-sex marriage. Judge Vaughn Walker struck that law down in 2010. It was then deemed unconstitutional on more limited grounds by a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals last winter. Both cases have been handcrafted to mirror the analysis in the Supreme Court’s 1996 decision in Romer v. Evans, authored by Justice Anthony Kennedy, which struck down a Colorado constitutional amendment that did away with state laws protecting homosexuals.

LA Times’ Maura Dolan also reports on the issue.


LAWSUIT AGAINST LAUSD’S TEACHER PROTECTIONS

A lawsuit against LAUSD and California officials claims teacher protections are a violation of kids’ constitutional rights to an equal education. The lawsuit, Vergara v. California, has the potential to change LAUSD’s hiring and firing policies, to be now based on teacher seniority, not competency.

KPCC’s Adolpho Guzman-Lopez has the story. Here’s a clip:

“Our California constitution says every child has a fundamental right to education that will prepare them for society, prepare them to be effective participants in democracy and the economy,” Olson said.

The lawsuit argues that access to such an education depends on a student’s race and wealth. It blames an unspecified number of grossly ineffective teachers who disproportionately teach in predominately poor Latino and African-American neighborhoods. The suit targets laws that it claims protect these teachers.

One gives teachers permanent employment after a year and a half on the job. Three others grant teachers greater protections against dismissal than other public employees. Another state law orders that school districts lay off teachers starting with the least senior ones, not the least effective.


REPORTER EXPLAINS BROKEN LOUISIANA PRISON SYSTEM

Recently, WitnessLA posted about New Orleans Times-Picayune’s Cindy Chang’s expose on Louisiana’s prison system. NPR Air Talk’s Terry Gross interviewed Cindy on the investigative series and what makes Louisiana the prison capital of the world.

It’s absolutely worth listening to. Here’s a clip:

Conditions at the [for profit] rural sheriffs’ prisons differ remarkably from those in larger state institutions, says Chang.

“They’re usually dormitories, and there’s typically 80 or 90 women or men sleeping in a large room in bunk beds,” she says. “And the difference is that people are just lounging around that dorm. They will literally sit there day after day, year after year, until their sentence is over. Whereas in a state prison, which is where most states house almost all of their inmates, you’re busy whether you like it or not — you have a job or you take classes or you’re learning a trade that will help you get a job when you get out.”

Each inmate is worth $24.39 a day in state money. Housing the inmates cheaply and providing few services means there’s more money left over for the sheriff’s department, says Chang.

“It’s kind of a vicious cycle,” she says. “If you can reduce the prison population, then hopefully you’ll have more money to give the ones who are in the system more help. [But] the Sheriff’s Association is one of the most powerful lobbies in the state. And they’ve consistently opposed any change that would reduce the prison population.”


Photo by Beck Diefenbach for REUTERS.


EDITOR’S ELECTIONS NOTE: As you may have seen, at 1:30 a.m., with 25 percent of the vote tallied, the surprise in the DA’s race is that Jackie Lacey is leading with 31 percent of the early returns, Alan Jackson and Carmen Trutanich battling for second, with 24 and 23 percent, respectively.

We’ll know more in a few hours.


UPDATE: In a surprising upset, Lacey, with 32 percent, easily won the first slot in the runoff, with Alan Jackson still appearing to take the second slot, Trutanich, running a close third. The results are still unofficial although 100 percent of the districts have reported.

Posted in Education, LAUSD, LGBT, prison, prison policy, Supreme Court, unions | No Comments »

Hot New School Reform Book Blames Unions Solely & Misses Mark

August 22nd, 2011 by Celeste Fremon


Like many who are sickened by low graduation rates and sub-basement test scores,
I have been outraged at the way the teachers’ unions–both LA’s and the statewide union (and those in a lot of other states)—have been unforgivably obstructive when it comes to school reform.

Thus I was excited when I saw that Class Warfare: Inside the Fight to Fix America’s Schools by Steven Brill, was featured on the cover of the NY York Times Book Review, knowing that it would bring a lot of buyers to what promised to be an important book on the utterly essential topic of what is standing in the way of fixing the nation’s schools.

But it was with a sinking heart that I finished the review by smart cookie writer Sara Mosle, who was also clearly excited by Brill’s book—until she read it.

Mosle’s disappointment is obvious as she points out Brill’s unwillingness to include pesky facts and inconvenient complexities that don’t support his one-villain thesis.

Here’s how the review opens:

Steven Brill is a graduate of Yale Law School and the founder of Court TV, and in his new book, “Class Warfare,” he brings a sharp legal mind to the world of education reform. Like a dogged prosecutor, he mounts a zealous case against America’s teachers’ unions. From more than 200 interviews, he collects the testimony of idealistic educators, charter school founders, policy gurus, crusading school superintendents and billionaire philanthropists. Through their vivid vignettes, which he pieces together in short chapters with titles like “ ‘Colorado Says Half of You Won’t Graduate’ ” and “A Shriek on Park Avenue,” Brill conveys the epiphanies, setbacks and triumphs of a national reform movement.

Some of his subjects, like Wendy Kopp of Teach for America, are by now household names; others, like Jon Schnur, an adviser to the Clinton and Obama administrations, are more obscure. But in Brill’s telling, they have all come, over some two decades, to distrust or denounce the unions and to promote the same small set of reforms: increasing the number of charter schools and evaluating and improving teacher quality through merit pay and other measures that rely heavily on student test scores.

Throughout, Brill reminds us he’s just an objective reporter. Disinterested, however, is not how he comes across. He recounts an educator’s motto to “teach like your hair’s on fire.” For most of the book, Brill writes like his hair is on fire. His sympathies clearly lie with the unions’ most adamant critics, like Michelle Rhee, the controversial former superintendent of the District of Columbia public schools, and Joel Klein, the combative ex-chancellor of the New York City system.

I say this as someone whom Brill might pick for a jury pool. I taught for three years in New York as a charter member of Teach for America and had my own run-ins with the union. (An article I wrote, which praised Kopp’s then-­fledgling organization and made some of the same criticisms Brill does, angered my union representative.) This fall, my daughter will be attending public school, and I’ll be teaching at a private, reform-­minded urban academy in New Jersey…..

For those who are interested in school reform there is no question that Class Warfare is a must read. However, judging by what Mosle has written—which seems to ring sadly true—reading it may make many of us wish that Brill’s book was a better, less choir-preaching read.

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