New Sheriff Halts Civilian Deputy Program, the Plight of LA’s Juvenile Indigent Defense, Entrepreneurial Education for Prisoners, and the Loss of Philip Seymour HoffmanFebruary 3rd, 2014 by Taylor Walker
INTERIM SHERIFF SCOTT SUSPENDS CONTROVERSIAL FIELD DEPUTY PROGRAM
Interim Sheriff John Scott suspended the “field deputy” (or civilian aide) program on his first day as sheriff, and just one day after an ABC7 investigation raised questions about the duties—or seeming lack thereof—of Michael Yamaki, one of three highly paid field deputies who retired with Lee Baca. (A previous ABC7 investigation found an illegal marijuana dispensary was operating on a commercial property owned by another of the civilian deputies, Bishop Edward Turner, who was subsequently asked to retire by Lee Baca.)
Sheriff Scott’s decision was a strong move that signals he will likely be a refreshingly proactive sheriff in departmental reform. The suspension will be effective for the duration of Scott’s term (until December, unless someone is elected in the June primary).
This story also demonstrates the importance of reporting, in that ABC7’s two reports—on Bishop Turner and on Yamaki—focused a light on this little-publicized program that has cost the county of Los Angeles more than $501 thousand a year in salary alone (not counting such deputy perks as a county car and cell phone).
ABC7 has the update on the on-going field deputy saga. Here are a couple of clips:
On his first day as interim sheriff, John Scott is suspending the civilian field deputy program and launching an official inquiry into possible misuse of county funds following an Eyewitness News investigation.
“There are concerns, so Sheriff Scott needs time, and that’s why he has the inquiry being conducted, so that he knows where he’s going to take it from here,” said L.A. Sheriff’s Captain Mike Parker.
The news comes one day after an Eyewitness News investigation raised questions about the $171,000 salary of retiring Field Deputy Michael Yamaki.
Yamaki was a senior civilian advisor to former Sheriff Lee Baca. Yamaki had no sheriff’s department office, no phone line, and appeared to spend work days at the exclusive Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades. Yamaki is also a longtime friend of Baca and loaned him $20,000 in his first campaign for sheriff. Eyewitness News filed a Public Records Act request asking for Yamaki’s work calendars and a description of his job. We were told that neither of those things exists.
In response to the investigation, LA County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas said that an audit of the sheriff’s department may be in order, as well as term limits for the sheriff’s position.
“It may be necessary for us to order an audit of the sheriff’s department and have independent eyes look at some of these very serious internal matters,” said Ridley-Thomas.
Thomas says major changes to the position of sheriff itself may be needed.
“There’s a big debate as to whether or not this should be an elected office in the first place,” he said.
Ridley-Thomas says if the sheriff remains an elected position, the supervisors should look at potential term limits.
By the way, here is a video of Sheriff John Scott’s swearing in—in case you missed it—in which he states his intentions to “restore respect” to the department.
(And, the new spokesman for both the LASD and sheriff is Captain Michael Parker, whose face you’ll undoubtedly see on camera a lot more.)
LA COUNTY BOARD OF SUPERVISORS TO CONSIDER YOUTH INDIGENT DEFENSE MOTION
Panel attorneys are assigned to youth defendants who cannot be represented by a public defender (about 11,000 in LA County), due to conflict of interest. (For instance, if two kids are charged with committing a crime together, the public defender’s office can only represent one of the defendants.)
LA’s panel attorneys receive a flat rate of about $350 for the duration of a case, no matter how long it takes. The set fee means that there is no financial incentive to provide young defendants with quality representation.
On Tuesday, the LA County Board of Supervisors will be considering a motion to conduct an analysis of the current juvenile indigent defense system, including how the attorneys are compensated.
In an op-ed for the Huffington Post, Carol Chodroff, a juvenile policy attorney and former public defender, urges the Board of Supervisors to pass the motion. Here’s a clip:
Los Angeles has one of the largest juvenile justice systems in the world, processing approximately 20,000 youths annually. About 11,000 of these youths are ineligible for representation by the public defender because of a conflict of interest. They are represented instead by appointed panel attorneys who receive a flat fee of approximately $350 for the life of a case, regardless of its complexity.
This perverse compensative scheme penalizes panel attorneys for doing the work required to zealously represent youthful clients. The resulting arbitrary and disparate treatment of children in the Los Angeles juvenile delinquency system is destructive, expensive, and unconstitutional.
As any young person who has been through the juvenile justice system can attest, the quality of representation he or she receives is critical. Children in the justice system need trained attorneys who can obtain crucial records and advocate for children’s medical, educational, mental health, social, and emotional needs. These same attorneys must also protect children’s constitutional rights by interviewing the child, employing investigators, having expert witnesses appointed, objecting to inadmissible evidence at adjudicatory hearings, advocating for the least restrictive alternative at disposition, and pressing, at every stage, for the child’s expressed interests.
Public defenders are prepared to provide such quality representation. They are carefully vetted, receive extensive training, rewarded for zealous representation, and held to clear standards.
Not surprisingly, the data demonstrate public defenders are more active in the courtroom, and more likely to file motions, have expert witnesses appointed, and request release and dismissal of their juvenile clients’ cases than contract panel attorneys, who are financially penalized for hard work and not subject to any specialized training requirements.
The current inequitable system leads to less favorable outcomes for youth represented by panel attorneys, and can have dire consequences for youth, at disposition and afterwards.
The U.S. Department of Justice has found that when contract systems are created for the purpose of containing costs, they pose significant risks to the quality of representation and the integrity of the criminal justice system.
Gerald Uelman, executive director of California’s Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice, has called the spread of low-bid, flat-fee representation “a race to the bottom.”
GIVING PRISONERS TOOLS TO HELP THEM SUCCEED ON THE OUTSIDE: ENTREPRENEURIAL EDUCATION AND FINANCIAL GUIDANCE
Steve Mariotti, founder of a non-profit entrepreneurial program for at-risk young people—the National Foundation for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE)—had 1,000 out-of-print copies of the NFTE’s guide to starting a business. Mariotti decided to donate them to the NY Dept. of Corrections.
That first donation started a decades-long correspondence between NFTE and incarcerated men all over the country. Thousands of letters poured in from inmates inspired by the guide and eager to use their newfound knowledge to fulfill dreams of starting their own businesses and non-profits to help others and support their families.
In a piece for the Huffington Post, Mariotti asks if entrepreneurial and financial education would change the futures these men face when they are released. Here are some clips:
At first, the letters came in intermittently, one or two every week. Some came directly from inmates responding to the donated books, others through ITEM (Inmates Teaching Entrepreneurship and Mentoring). ITEM, a program I co-founded in 2004 with Joe Robinson, trained inmates in the basics of financial literacy. Joe’s genius wasn’t just to teach inmates how to start and run their own businesses, but to strategically help them re-engage with their family, particularly their children. When a man is released he is given around $40 and a bus ticket to the city in which he was arrested. Because 70 percent of men released from prison will be locked up again within two years, this program was paramount.
Now, the letters come almost every day, and NFTE has since received over 10,000 letters from men in prison. Yet, these letters are more than just requests for more books on entrepreneurship, or notes of thanks for the donations. They express a hopefulness inspired by their newfound knowledge of entrepreneurship, and offer us a rare chance to hear directly from men whose lives have been stunted by incarceration.
About five months ago, I enlisted the help of my friends Victor and Meredith, professionals with invaluable experience working within women’s prisons. Together, we read over 500 letters received from 2009 to 2013. Meredith and Victor then selected 70 letters that gave special insight into the roots of American male imprisonment.
The findings were both fascinating and depressing. Ultimately, the letters confirm what we already suspected about the pathways to prison: a life of poverty, drug-related crimes, and unstable home environments. What was most notable, however, was their relationship with education. These histories did not mention mentorship, or a powerful — let alone consistent — engagement with education. As an educator and advocate for at-risk youth, I was particularly struck by their various expressions of detachment from and discouragement with the education system.
Within the pages of these letters, they disclose their immense will to learn, and their natural talents as entrepreneurs. Some are passionate to start nonprofits for youth who that they worry may fall prey similar channels of confinement. Most profound, however, is their eagerness to learn more and their hopefulness to become a productive part of society — where they can share and carry out their visions and give back to their communities.
GOODBYE, PHILIP SEYMOUR HOFFMAN: 1967-2014
On Sunday, the world lost arguably one of the most brilliant and infinitely versatile actors of our time. Philip Seymour Hoffman played an impressive 63 roles during his too-short, 23-year career, according to IMDB.
The Atlantic’s Derek Thompson calls Hoffman “the greatest actor of his generation.” (I agree.) Here are a couple of clips:
Famous deaths invite hyperbole. The news that Philip Seymour Hoffman was discovered dead today in an apartment bathroom, with a syringe sticking out of his arm, seems like an occasion to overreact with some exaggerated summary of his career—something like “most talented and kaleidoscopic actor of his time.”
Except, in this case, the compliment isn’t hyperbolic at all. It’s just an accurate description, as true yesterday as it is today. And the competition isn’t even that close.
It’s not clear that there were roles Philip Seymour Hoffman could not do. He had so many lives within him—and more, undiscovered and unseen. Those are the lives, aside from his own, we’ve now lost. “For me, acting is torturous,” Hoffman told the New York Times in 2008, “and it’s torturous because you know it’s a beautiful thing. I was young once, and I said, That’s beautiful and I want that. Wanting it is easy, but trying to be great—well, that’s absolutely torturous.”
Here are a couple of scenes from Hoffman’s prolific career:
As Lester Bangs in Cameron Crow’s Almost Famous…
And two from his transcendent performance as Truman Capote…