Friday, June 22, 2007
Giuliani: The Law and Order Candidate
Wonkette: Let’s hear it for today’s living proof of a thousand ghetto conspiracy theories: South Carolina state treasurer Thomas Ravenel (R-Whitey) has been indicted by a grand jury for running a crack-cocaine distribution business. Oh, and “alleged” coke-dealer Ravenel is, obviously, South Carolina chairman of Rudy Giuliani’s presidential campaign.
You remember Rudy: the guy who wants to do to America what his cops did to Abner Louima.
So let's see, that's Duke Cunningham pled out, Jack Abramoff pled out, Former White House Aide Claude Allen pled out, Scooter Libby convicted, David Safavian convicted, Bob Ney convicted, Bob Taft convicted, DeLay still under indictment, Dusty Foggo indicted, and that's just the major players...a fuller list here.
And on the Dem side we have...William Jefferson, Indicted.
Sandy Berger, pled to misdemeanor.
Thursday, June 21, 2007
The Unicorn in the Courtroom
When people find out about my “day job” practicing law, they usually assume that I write legal thrillers. “Oh, like John Grisham,” is what I usually hear. Well, I wouldn’t turn down an advance the size of Grisham’s, that’s for sure, but I don’t write that much about trials and lawyers and such, which puzzles some people. After all, you’re supposed to write what you know, right?
The thing is, most legal fiction drives me up the wall because of all the things that occur that I know would never, ever happen in a real court of law or in actual practice. I know, it’s fiction, and you’re supposed to suspend your disbelief, but seeing someone blatantly violate procedure for dramatic effect is like having a unicorn walk into the courtroom. That sudden “Whaaaa?” takes me right out of the story.
And don’t even get me started on lawyer TV shows. I find myself leaping up, yelling “OBJECT, YOU MORON!” at the hapless lawyer sitting there looking like a stunned bunny while the hero or heroine walks all over him.
There’s really not that much witty repartee going on in the courtroom, and damned little drama. Most of the time, both sides and the judge know ahead of time how it’s going to play out, thanks to a process called “discovery”, during which both sides have to exchange documents, witness lists and other information in their possession. (Violation of the discovery rules is one of the main things that got Durham District Attorney Mike Nifong disbarred).
But the thing that makes me craziest in most legal thrillers is the cliché that every client is innocent. I mean, I love Ed McBain’s work, but when I came to a passage in one of his books featuring criminal lawyer Matthew Hope, a passage in which McBain stated that Hope only took on clients “he knew were innocent,” I literally threw the book across the room. Apparently, Matthew Hope Esq, is not fond of eating regularly, because if you only took on clients you knew were innocent, you’d go hungry a lot.
The most common question asked of attorneys in the criminal law area is “how can you defend people you know are guilty?” At the risk of sounding Clintonian here, the question is really based upon a misunderstanding as to what the words “defend” and “guilty” really mean.
Most people assume that criminal defense is like in books or on TV, where every lawyer only has one case at a time, every case is tried (usually within 45 minutes of the crime taking place) and that every trial’s about whether the guy at the Defendant’s table is the one who did the deed. Cases with what we call a SODDI (Some Other Dude Did It) defense actually make up a very small part of your trial load. Most of the time, everyone including you is pretty doggone sure that the person sitting next to you is the perpetrator. In cases like that, you’re often arguing about what the Defendant actually did, and what crime, if any, those actions constitute.
Example: There was this guy, let’s call him Danny. Danny was a long-haired redneck boy from up in the hard-scrabble northern part of the county. He was, by accounts of everyone who knew him, a pretty good guy, if a little wild. He was 19 years old, had a good job working construction, a pretty girlfriend, and a new Camaro. He’d had a couple of traffic tickets, a weed-based misdemeanor or two, but no history of violence. But, like most young men in his social circle, Danny had a gun. One Friday night, Danny was hanging out with his best buddy, a guy he’d grown up with, a guy who was like a brother to him. They were with a bunch of other people hanging around the Stop and Go convenience store. Danny and Best Buddy were splitting a bottle of Mexican tequila, the kind with the worm at the bottom. Now the legend is, if you eat the tequila worm, you’ll get really, really high. Well, before they knew it, the tequila was gone, and so was the worm. They started the kind of good natured back and forth that young guys get into some times: ‘Hey you sumbitch, that worm was mine, I’ll kick your ass for that!” “You ain’t gonna do shit,” etc. The people around the car all agree they were both laughing, mock punching, just screwing around. Then Danny pulled his pistol from beneath the seat and started waving it, still laughing.
The gun went off and blew Best Buddy’s brains all over the passenger side window.
The cops came and Danny was charged with first degree murder. The D.A. tut-tutted over how awful it was to "shoot a man over the worm in a tequila bottle."
Now, first degree murder, punishable by death or life without parole, requires premeditation and deliberation. Danny had no intention of shooting Best Buddy. He didn’t set out that night planning to shoot him. In fact, he was devastated by what he’d done. He sat in the office of the attorney I was clerking for and cried like a child. “I never meant to hurt nobody,” he said, over and over, and everybody who was there at the scene of the crime agreed.
So “defending” Danny didn’t mean proving he didn’t do it. He was guilty of something, but he wasn’t guilty of first degree murder. My boss argued, successfully, that what Danny was actually guilty of was involuntary manslaughter which, stripped of legal verbiage, means “the Defendant was doing something monumentally stupid and someone got killed.” The difference for Danny was five years instead of life. He pled to involuntary, did his five years, and hasn’t been in trouble since. In fact, he’s a deacon in his church. He hasn’t touched a drop of alcohol since that night.
Other times, “defending the guilty” means arguing for alternatives to prison. Sometimes, a probationary sentence involves getting your strung-out, drug addicted client into rehab, and sometimes it takes. Not often, but enough. And if a defendant is employed, probation with restitution gives the victim a chance to get their money back.
So while there are some great stories out there in actual law practice, very few of them are the type you’d read in a mystery novel.
All that said, a few people do manage to do it right. Margaret Maron, for example, has a number of scenes that absolutely nail the details of small town law practice (probably because she did some of her research with the Chief District Court Judge in my district). George V. Higgins' Kennedy for the Defense gets into the mind of a criminal lawyer, with its blend of idealism and cynicism, better than just about anyone (although he does have that annoying "only one client at a time" cliche going).
And for some reason, it doesn't bother me so much if it's played for laughs. Night Court didn't piss me off like Law and Order does. Although, ironically, the losers and loonies of Night Court seem closer to the real people you see some days in District Court.
Wednesday, June 20, 2007
Clenis Envy: A Theory
Wingnuts Unhinged Yet Again (UPDATED)
But one thing I do like about Hillary is her ability to drive right wingers completely over the edge into babbling dementia. Take this blog entry from Wisconsin Law Professor Ann Althouse: Bill says 'No onion rings?' and Hillary responds 'I'm looking out for ya.' Now, the script says onion rings, because that's what the Sopranos were eating in that final scene, but I doubt if any blogger will disagree with my assertion that, coming from Bill Clinton, the 'O' of an onion ring is a vagina symbol. Hillary says no to that, driving the symbolism home. She's 'looking out' all right, vigilant over her husband, denying him the sustenance he craves."
Dear God, the woman is utterly demented.
For the record, this blogger DOES disagree that the onion ring is a vagina symbol. If your lady parts are brown with a flaky crust, you need to see a doctor, stat.
UPDATE: Gotta love this from Althouse's followup post:
I'm saying outright: Come on, everybody, into the vortex. And in they hop. It's an anti-Althousiana fest. I love it!
Translation: I'm not a nutcase, I'm an attention whore! I say stupid stuff so you'll bash me and I can play the martyr! And you've all fallen for it! HAHAHAHAHAAAAA!
The lady sure does know how to bring the crazy.
Tuesday, June 19, 2007
Letters, Oh We Get Letters, The So F'ing What? Edition
Dusty Rhoades' June 10 column was truly amazing. I have followed Dusty's columns and recognize his disappointment in the ethics and character of President Clinton.
Clinton on the brain, still. Will this obsession with the Clenis never end?
I would like to request a definition of the words "lie" and "lying," as perceived by Mr. Rhoades.
Lying: What Scooter Libby was convicted of.
Lie: What Scooter Libby was convicted of telling.
I would also appreciate it if he would quote one lie spoken by President Bush.
Soon as you tell me where in the column I specifically attributed a lie to President Bush. I'll wait.
Valerie Plame was the "smokin' hot CIA WMD" specialist whom the taxpayers paid enough to buy a Jaguar convertible.
So? You think Scooter Libby drove a Moped to work?
Why was her husband needed in the first place, and how much did that cost?
Ask the CIA. They sent him. And who cares, anyway?
The British never changed their opinion.
So? The Bushistas did. Read the column again.
Little children learn that calling other people names does not improve the character or ethics of the people they wish to idolize.
I suppose that's true. Again, so?
I'm A Moron--And I VOTE!
When they held a referendum in the little town of Potter, New York, to determine if one of the town's restaurants, which already sold beer in its attached convenience store, could sell brewskis in the restaurant itself, well, hijinks ensued:
State alcoholic beverage control laws require that whenever a town wants to expand the way it sells alcohol, it must ask voters five questions — “stupid questions,” according to the town supervisor, Leonard Lisenbee, a retired federal game warden who has been in office six years and who characterized the state-mandated wording as post-Prohibition-era legalese.
The questions, requiring more than 300 words, ask whether alcohol should be allowed in a variety of settings, including a hotel and, separately, a “summer hotel.” “Shall any person be authorized to sell alcoholic beverages at retail to be consumed on premises licensed pursuant to the provisions of Section 64 of the Alcoholic Beverage Control Law?” was the relevant one to the Hitchin’ Rail. But there was also “Shall any person be authorized to sell alcoholic beverages at retail, not to be consumed on the premises, where sold in the town of Potter?” which relates to stores like the Federal Hollow.
“I read it and I couldn’t understand it, and I’ve got a college education,” Mr. Lisenbee said. “When voters get confused, they vote no.”
And they did.And so, the town of Potter brought back Prohibition.
The voters said no to all five questions, not only keeping the Hitchin’ Rail’s restaurant from serving beer and wine, but also blocking both stores from selling it, upon the expiration of their current licenses. Which means that on July 1, when the Federal’s license expires, the closest six-pack available for purchase will be in a town 10 miles away.
Monday, June 18, 2007
Pigs Get Wings
(I confess, I laughed.)
Oh, Boy, More Sopranos
HOLLYWOOD - Rocker Steve Perry refused to let The Sopranos creator David Chase use his classic song “Don't Stop Believin'” in the Mob show's final scene until he knew the fate of the drama's leading characters.
The ex-Journey frontman kept Chase waiting until three days before the long-awaited finale aired on Sunday.
Perry is a huge Sopranos fan and feared his 1981 rock anthem would be remembered as the soundtrack to the death of James Gandolfini's character Tony Soprano--until Chase assured him that wouldn't be the case.
Sunday, June 17, 2007
Court Rules Against Presidents Making People Disappear
When are they going to learn?
Once again, the Bush administration has been handed a stinging defeat in its quest to establish the president's power to lock people up indefinitely without trial or even without charging them with anything.
In a 2-1 vote, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri, a Qatari residing in the U.S. when arrested, could not be detained indefinitely by the military without charges. "The president," Judge Diana Gibbon Motz wrote, "lacks power to order the military to seize and indefinitely detain al-Marri. Duh."
OK, she didn't actually say "Duh." But she should have.
Of course, the so-called "liberal" media had to announce the decision with moronic headlines like this one over an Associated Press story: "Court Rules in Favor of Enemy Combatant."
How about something more accurate, like "Court Rules Against Unlimited Presidential Power?" Which is pretty much what it's about.
Al-Marri was awaiting trial for multiple crimes, including credit card fraud and lying to the FBI, when Bush signed an order, on his sole authority, that he'd "determined for the United States of America that Al-Marri is an enemy combatant," among other things.
The wheels of justice came to a screeching halt as Al-Marri was suddenly placed under the jurisdiction not of the Justice Department, but of the Pentagon, and whisked off to a Naval brig in Charleston, S.C., where he sat for four years without trial and without being charged with anything.
It wasn't until a year later that he was even accused of any specific act in aid of any enemy. And even then, all that was filed was a "declaration" by the "director of a Joint Terrorism Task Force" that claimed, without providing any backup or sources whatsoever, that Al-Marri had met Osama bin Ladin, had trained in Afghanistan, had "saved information about jihad" on his laptop computer, and committed other acts.
"Sez who?" Al-Marri asked. "Mind your own beeswax," said the government. Again, I'm paraphrasing here.
Sorry, the court said. Not good enough. "We refuse to recognize a claim to power that would so alter the constitutional foundations of our republic," the majority opinion reads. "Military control cannot subsume the rights of civilians."
And before the usual flock starts bleating in panic about "turning terrorists loose," they should read this portion of the opinion: "This does not mean that al-Marri must be set free. Like others accused of terrorist acts in this country, from the Oklahoma City bombers to the surviving conspirator of the Sept. 11 attacks, Al-Marri can be returned to civilian prosecutors, tried on criminal charges, and if convicted, punished severely."
Doggone right. Hey, if the guy's been doing what he's accused of, namely working for al-Qaeda, I don't want him turned loose, either. I want him tried, convicted and socked into jail.
But what I really don't want is for the president -- any president -- to have the power to just wave his magic pen, chant the words "enemy combatant," and make someone disappear. As the opinion says, "to sanction such presidential authority to order the military to seize and indefinitely detain civilians, even if the president calls them 'enemy combatants,' would have disastrous consequences for the Constitution -- and the country."
Let me be crystal clear here. I'm not against the idea of seizing enemy combatants. I just don't want the sole power to decide who's to be seized to be vested in one person, Republican, Democrat, or whatever.
The American system of checks and balances has worked pretty well throughout this country's long history. It's gotten us through worse wars than this one, including the Cold War, where we knew the people who hated our guts had more nukes than any bunch of raggedy terrorists could dream of having. The rule of law has experienced some hiccups and needed some corrections along the way, but there's no need to chuck it all and go running to embrace Big Brother.
Remember, Dubbya insists that the unchecked and unreviewable power to order the military to seize and detain civilians is an inherent power of the presidency. If it becomes accepted law, we're stuck with it, whoever is in the White House.
I've asked this before and I'll ask it again: Would you give the power that President Bush claims to Hillary Clinton? Oh, you think that President Clinton, or President Obama, can't happen? Two years ago, you never dreamed the Republicans would be the minority party in Congress again.
You give the power to make people disappear to King George, you give it to his successors, for as long as they want it. And they'll always want it.