Wednesday, November 28, 2012

A quiet win

Sometimes in the law, the real win comes in not having your case heard. When you win at the Court of Appeals, you really don't want the Supreme Court to grant review of the case. Even if you're pretty sure the Supremes will see it the same way and you'll still win, it just delays the relief to the client and means the police or prosecutors might keep doing the wrong thing for a while longer, which means there might be a defendant somewhere who will fall through the cracks and have the wrong thing stick to his case.

So it's really not a bad thing that the United States Supreme Court this week declined to review a case out of Illinois that challenged that state's broadly-written eavesdropping law. The law makes it a felony, punishable by up to 15 years, to record someone without that person's permission. Now, lots of states have laws against recording a person without that person's permission. But most states also have an exception for recording a person who does not have a reasonable expectation of privacy. Which is why it's perfectly legal to photograph or video record random people on the street. The purpose of the eavesdropping laws is to protect people who think they're engaging in private behavior, like personal conversations or, you know, bedroom stuff.

The Illinois law, though, does not have any such exception. Which has made it the perfect state to fall at the center of the fight over citizens recording the actions of cops. In this era of smart phones, it's become common for bystanders to arrests to break out that phone and record the incident. Sadly, it has also become somewhat common for cops to challenge those bystanders, harass them, arrest them, delete the footage, etc.  In most states, the camera operator has a pretty solid defense by arguing that police officers acting in their official capacity don't have a reasonable expectation of privacy. How can they? They have to fill out reports of everything. They have to expect to testify about arrests, the statements made and the actions taken during them.

In the Illinois case SCOTUS declined to review, the ACLU filed suit, claiming a First Amendment right to record police, so fortunately no bad conviction is involved. The ACLU wanted to launch a government accountability program and wanted assurance that its employees wouldn't be arrested. The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with the ACLU that we the people get to gather information on our government officials. And now SCOTUS has let that ruling stand by declining to take the case.

For the ACLU and residents of Illinois who were facing prosecution under this application of the eavesdropping law, this cert denial is a good thing. And it means that the only federal appellate case law out there affirms citizens' rights to record the police. But this probably won't be the last we hear of this issue. In that sense, it would have been nice for SCOTUS to take cert and provide a little finality. But then again, they ruled flag burning couldn't be outlawed over 20 years ago and we still hear about occasional flag desecration prosecutions, so maybe we'll still hear about cops arresting citizens for recording arrests for years to come. Let's just hope not in Illinois.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Oh, Greta

When I watch Greta Van Susteren now, I cringe at the thought that I used to respect her. Way back in the old days when she and Roger Cossack had that show, Burden of Proof, on CNN, I thought she was great. A knowledgeable lawyer. Thoughtful. Way smarter than Roger.

But now she is utterly unwatchable. Between her girl crush on the ridiculous Sarah Palin and her tolerance for the biggest buffoon on the planet, Donald Trump, she lost most of her credibility. The last of it left when she started buying wholesale into the silly Fox News party line on stories instead of choosing for herself what stories to cover.

And she's a Scientologist. Oy.

Umm, Your Honor, you really can't do that

I found this story on one of my atheist social networking sites last week and have been meaning to write about it, but between the holiday and the hideous weekend thing, I haven't gotten around to it yet. So now here goes.

In Oklahoma, a state court judge ordered a young defendant to attend church once a week for 10 years as part of his probation plan. The 17 year-old defendant had been convicted of a vehicular manslaughter charge. Because of his status as a youthful offender, the judge had more discretion to fashion a unique sentence. The judge added the condition because he thinks "church is important." The judge further said, "I think Jesus can help anybody." It's not clear whether he made that statement at the sentencing hearing or when being interviewed later.

I rather hope I need not explain what the obvious potential problems with that condition are. This did not come to the public's attention because of any objection by the defendant, though. Rather, it was the American Civil Liberties Union that objected. The ACLU lacks standing to object to the defendant's sentence itself, so they raised the issue in the context of an ethical complaint against the judge.*

This topic is one that I'm a little conflicted on. It shouldn't be a surprise to anyone to know that I am a big fan of creative punishments that don't rely on incarceration. I want judges to look for ways to make probation work, especially for young offenders. I want probation to be a way for offenders to connect with their communities, which will help them find a better path in life and not re-offend. Call me a Pollyanna if you will, but I believe our response to crime should be much more rehabilitative than it is in this incarceration-crazy atmosphere.

But, I'm also an atheist and don't appreciate the way religiosity can dominate in some public spheres. Just this week, our local paper has been running a series of stories about the prevalence of prayers at public meetings, for example. Yes, I know it doesn't hurt me to sit quietly for a minute, but it does irk me just how much of my life has been spent in those quiet minutes imposed on me by others when I'd rather just get to work already. If I were ever convicted of a DUI (I don't expect that to happen, btw, just a hypothetical), I would be the defendant who would object to a condition that I attend AA meetings. And I would prevail. I could be required to participate in some kind of alcohol counseling, but I could not be required against my will to participate specifically in AA because of the religious content of its message. (This link provides links to some of the case law on the AA topic.)

So it is with these conflicting views that I come to this: if this defendant were my client and he agrees with the probation condition, truly doesn't object, truly finds it beneficial and something he wants to do, I would agree to it. Heck,  I would zealously advocate for that condition if that was what my client wanted. But if my client were like me, I would object to the condition. Even strenuously object. And I would do my level best to make sure the judge didn't engage in vindictive sentencing by saying, "All right, it's prison for you, then." That, to me, is where the real danger comes in with this kind of sentencing condition. That a defendant will not feel like he can object to it, will fear that objecting will lead to the court changing its mind about probation and imposing prison instead. Can we be sure that the defendant is truly, freely, wholeheartedly agreeing to the condition rather than feeling coerced? If a judge thinks it can impose this condition, it stands to reason that a defendant has no clue the judge can't.

What most sticks out to me about this particular Oklahoma case is that the judge suggests that he truly does not understand that he can't require this probation condition whenever he wants. Someone who is regularly sentencing defendants in criminal matters shouldn't be that unaware of the limitations the Constitution imposes on him. I hope this judge has now learned that lesson and will be more careful in future sentencings. But I hope he won't give up on attempts to be creative in sentencings, especially when youthful offenders are involved. There are other ways a court can require a defendant to participate in his community that won't run afoul of the First Amendment.

*I'll be curious to see how the ethics case comes out. I don't have any sense of how such a complaint against a judge in Oklahoma might be treated. I doubt there would be any serious consequences for the judge. Though it does seem to me that complete ignorance of the First Amendment is kind of a problem for a judge.

Monday, November 26, 2012

The insanity defense

If you are my age or older, you most likely remember where you were when President Reagan was shot. I was in 2nd grade, Mrs. Teegarden's class, and I recall the teachers all being hushed and serious while all three 2nd grade classes were brought together and allowed to watch movies (The Lorax, as I recall) instead of having our normal math and reading lessons. I remember learning a little about that one guy who got hurt the worst (though I couldn't have told you his name was James Brady or predicted how famous his wife would become in the gun control movement). I also remember wondering who Jodie Foster was and why this crazy guy thought that shooting the President would somehow win her over. But as with the effect on the gun control debate, I had no idea how significant this shooting and the sad case of John Hinckley, Jr. would be in the discussion of how to treat those mentally ill individuals who cause harm to others.

Hinckley was not convicted of crimes in the 1981 shooting, but was found not guilty by reason of insanity. To this day, he remains committed to a psychiatric facility, though he does now earn the occasional day or weekend pass. To me, this seems an entirely acceptable resolution to the sad, strange attempted assassination committed by a delusional man with serious mental health issues. But to a lot of people, the result was an insult. After that verdict, legislatures around the country started thinking about ways to change the law so that people couldn't "get off" on insanity pleas.

The ripple effects of the Hinckley case are still being felt today. Literally today, as the United States Supreme Court today ruled on a petition for cert out of Idaho. In the debate about what, if anything, to change in response to the Hinckley outcry, a couple of states went so far as to abandon the insanity defense entirely, including Idaho. My state, Kansas, is one of the others to have completely abandoned the old, standard insanity defense, though Kansas is less severe than Idaho. In Kansas, a defendant can argue that she suffered from a mental disease or defect that prevented her from forming the requisite criminal intent. It's something. It basically means that to be found not guilty of stabbing a person to death, the defendant has to think she was cutting cabbage, but it's more than Idaho offers. Under Idaho law, "a defendant's mental condition "shall not be a defense to any charge of criminal conduct." John Delling, who suffers from acute paranoid schizophrenia, asked the US Supreme Court to consider whether Idaho's lack of an insanity defense is unconstitutional. On appeal from his conviction for two counts of murder, Delling argued that due process entitled him to present an insanity defense. Today, SCOTUS denied that cert petition. (Three justices did dissent from that denial, though.)

I can't say I'm surprised or even that disappointed. I don't think we'd get a good ruling on this issue from the current court. I'm just overall disheartened that this is even an issue. I'm tired of having to fight the wrong-headed view that "mental illness is no excuse." I'm frustrated with the way we have criminalized mental illness in this country. Mental illness actually is an excuse and insanity should always be a defense. Anyone who says otherwise can't have much experience with someone suffering profound mental illness. They can't have met someone who just can't stop the voices or who sees squirrels in the bathroom or who sees people climbing out of walls. They can't have known someone who cannot distinguish between what is real and what is not.

We would never say someone with bronchitis should just control the coughing. We would not think it was that person's fault if he couldn't. No, we'd be smart enough to get that even with cough syrup, someone with bronchitis is gonna cough. (I happen to know a little about this. And, man, when my body wants to cough, there isn't anything in this world I can do to stop it.) But somehow, when the disease is in the brain, all of a sudden, people insist that the sick person really ought to know better, ought to be able to control the disease, ought to be treated like a criminal if she can't. It's so illogical, it makes my head spin.

The Hinckley court got it absolutely right. The state of Idaho has got it absolutely dead wrong. I wish I could come up with the magic explanation, the right sequence of words that would make the anti-insanity defense folks get it. But since the tide doesn't seem to be turning back toward compassion for those with mental illnesses and the public still seems inclined to believe mental illness is no excuse for criminal behavior, I guess for tonight I'll look on the bright side: at least with this cert denial, we won't get really bad law from the current Supreme Court.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

How many times are ridiculous things going to happen to me, leaving me and others shaking our heads thinking, "Surely, Sarah's luck has got to change soon?" before we all just come to accept that, no, my luck is really never going to change?

For crying out loud, this is gettin' to be ri-god-damn-diculous.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Skimp now... well, you know the rest

I have never understood the mindset of people who will do anything to save a buck now, without regard to the consequences. I'm not talking about people who truly can't afford anything but the cheapest option but people who have the resources to make different choices but steadfastly refuse to spend a nickel they don't have to.

Take shoes as an example. Some people balk at the idea of spending money on shoes when you can buy shoes cheaply at big box stores. I've done both. And let me assure you, the expensive shoes last a lot longer. So if the expensive shoes last for years but I have to replace the cheap ones every few months, am I really saving any money by buying the cheap ones? Buy better windows and your utility bills will be lower. Buy better building materials and you won't have to do as much maintenance.

Sometimes, refusing to spend money now just costs you a whole lot more down the road. Like refusing to fund early childhood development programs like Head Start. Refusing to pay for school breakfast and lunch programs. Refusing to fund public schools and state universities. Sure, you'll save those bucks now, but what are you costing yourself in the long run? It may be tempting to save your pennies and not pay for an oil change now, but you'll be damn sorry when your engine seizes , leaving you carless and with a repair bill in the thousands.

If we don't pay for things like Head Start, public schools, and those nutritional programs, what are we costing ourselves? Well, eventually we'll be paying for high school drop-outs on public assistance. And we'll be paying to deal with crimes and punishments. Why spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to incarcerate a young man when we maybe could have avoided those costs by spending tens of thousands of dollars to help him achieve success in school, which might well have kept him from committing a crime in the first place? (Why am I including lunch and breakfast programs? Check out some of the research on the correlation between childhood nutrition and success in schools.)

Likewise, skimping money on indigent defense now may feel good, may feel efficient. But in the long run, it will cost the taxpayers a whole lot more. If you refuse to pay appointed counsel a livable amount, if you refuse to pay salaried public defenders as much as you pay prosecutors, and if you overload them with so many cases they can't name all their clients, you're going to get poor performances from attorneys. And when you get poor performances from attorneys, all sorts of bad things can happen. You can wind up wrongly convicting innocent people when you have an exhausted, overworked attorney who doesn't have the training, the time, and the resources to find the holes in the state's case. You can wind up having to do the whole trial again when a court realizes that the defense attorney's performance was so poor, it prejudiced the defendant's right to a fair trial. So all that skimping and penny-counting can wind up costing a whole lot more in the end.

Being smart and efficient with money and other resources requires something more than "don't spend, don't spend, don't spend!" Doing it right the first time, whether it be educating a child or decorating your house or trying to convict an alleged murderer, is the most cost effective thing you can do. It boggles the mind that people don't get that.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Defending Kim K

Kim Kardashian made news this weekend. Not for some outfit she wore or club she went to or anything like that. She got a lot of attention for a couple of tweets she posted about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I guess she should have known that saying anything about that situation might get her attention and put her in the middle of all sorts of spiraling debates as people can get pretty heated on that topic.

But then I saw what her tweets were. She first wrote that she was praying for everyone in Israel. And then she wrote that she was praying for everyone in Palestine.

And for this she had to remove the tweets and issue an apology. For praying for people. She didn't express an opinion about the conflict. Didn't say she wanted one side to prevail. Just said she was praying for people on both sides. Generally suggesting she wishes them well, wants peace, doesn't want people to die. And somehow this generated controversy.

Isn't that a pretty sad statement? That there are people who can get mad that someone would have the nerve to pray for people on both sides of a conflict? I, for one, am offended that people were offended. There are good and decent and innocent people on both sides. And it's good to want none of them to get hurt or suffer. But, heck, I don't even want the bad people on either side to get hurt. I think it's ok to root for that, too. It's not ok to be mad at someone for rooting for that. Sheesh, that's not something anyone should ever have to defend.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

My Benghazi rant

For days now, my frustration about the Benghazi thing has been growing. At first, I was more confused than anything. As I learned more, I became irritated. Gradually, that irritation turned to a slow, burning rage and today, that rage is exploding. I am beyond fed up with this nonsense.

Do I mean that I'm fed up with the supposed incompetence and alleged cover-up of the Obama administration? Sorry, but no, Fox News and John McCain, I am not buying what you're selling. I am fed up with you and your kind ranting and raving, claiming that this tragedy is the biggest scandal ever to hit the White House. Bigger even than Watergate.

Holy hell, people, have you lost all sense of perspective? Rational thought? Did you all really learn absolutely nothing from the election that happened just last week? Foolishly I, like others, hoped that maybe the Party of No, the members of Congress whose sole, acknowledged goal for the last 4 years was to make Obama a one-term president, would actually start acting like grown-ups. That they might put away the almost reflexive need to complain about every single thing this President has ever said or done. That they might stop just flat making stuff up.

But, clearly that is not the case. At least not this week. And, yes, it would appear that some Congressional Republicans really have gone so far down the rabbit hole of hating the President that they have no idea which side is up now.

Thursday, at a Congressional hearing on the Benghazi attack, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), suggested that Bengazi is worse than Watergate. Think about that for a minute. That a terrorist attack on a consulate in a war-torn nation is worse than the President conspiring to commit multiple felonies. Really? I mean, REALLY? You don't see anything, anything at all, wrong with comparing not having all the answers to what happened in a chaotic situation in the first days and weeks afterwards to knowingly and intentionally committing burglary? If you can't see what's ridiculous about that statement, you have no credibility. Although, if you can see it but make it anyway hoping to score some political points, you don't have any credibility, either. Basically, just making that statement is conclusive proof that you have no credibility.

Now can we take a minute to focus on Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham and their insane and completely baseless (otherwise known as untrue) attacks on UN Ambassador Susan Rice. They say she's not very bright, incompetent, and up to her eyeballs in Benghazi. (This from the man who nominated Sarah Palin for VP and from two men who confirmed Condoleeza Rice for Sec. of State after she presided over the massive intelligence failures that led to the Iraq war.) Because on the Sunday after the attack, she was a convenient representative for the administration to send on the morning show circuit. She repeatedly said it was an emerging situation and she was only relaying the best information available at present. And she also very clearly said not that it was a spontaneous attack, but that a spontaneous demonstration started and that quickly extremist militant types showed up with hardcore weaponry that clearly separated them from protesters. Sens. McCain and Graham should be ashamed of themselves for so outrageously lying about her level of involvement and her statements themselves. And then there's my favorite tidbit: while McCain was grandstanding Wednesday about how Susan Rice's possible nomination for Secretary of State will never go anywhere if he has anything to say about it because the Benghazi thing was just too outrageous and we had to get to the bottom of it, he was missing a briefing about the Benghazi thing. Which kinda lends support for the idea that getting to the bottom of Benghazi isn't really what McCain is in this for. He's just a bitter old man who still can't stand the fact that he lost the presidency to that one and is hell bent on opposing him, no matter what.

Fox News and the few Congressional Republicans who are going hog wild with this fairly minor incident need to stop. What happened in Benghazi was a tragedy. Obviously, the death of 4 Americans dedicated to foreign service is terrible. People are right to ask questions about what exactly happened and why. People are right to try to learn from this situation to figure out what lessons we can apply to try to improve the situation for our diplomats in the future. But we can't get to any of that with all of this fake noise and outrage that is completely overblown.

This was hardly the first ever attack on one of our embassies or consulates. The Iran hostage situation was a pretty big one. The bombing in Beirut that killed over 200 Americans. The 1998 bombings in Kenya and Tanzania. Plus any number of lesser known incidents. These things happen and will always be a threat no matter what precautions we take.

Working in foreign service has always had the potential for danger. And yet there has always been the tension of providing security details in such a way that it doesn't interfere with the mission by creating a barrier between the diplomatic personnel and the country they're supposed to be forging relationships with. We have changed security standards since that 1983 Beirut bombing. Perhaps the Benghazi attack will yield more security standards. But perhaps, also, there is some point where we have to realize we really can't account for every risk, that some kind of trouble will always find its way through to our diplomats because it's just the nature of the beast. We can do our level best to keep them all safe, but we can't reasonably expect 100% success on that.

One question making the rounds now about Benghazi is why there wasn't more security in place. After all, Ambassador Stevens had raised alarms and asked for more security. It was a trouble spot and there had been lots of security issues throughout the year. It's a fair question and it should be addressed. But let's not pretend that requests for more resources don't occur at pretty much every level of government on a nearly daily basis. Some requests are granted; some are denied. There is never enough money or resources for everyone to get everything that they want or need. And sometimes it's awfully difficult to discern what is merely a want and what is a need. Sure, we can now see in hindsight that more security for our diplomatic personnel in Libya might have been a good idea. But that doesn't necessarily mean the decision not to increase security was a bad one or the wrong one.

And, of course, the State Department doesn't make security decisions all on its own. Congress has to provide the funding. So perhaps Congressmen who have voted more than once to cut spending for embassy security shouldn't now be so outraged that more security wasn't provided. You should hold hearings and consider whether more embassy security should be offered around the world. But you shouldn't pretend that you don't have something to do with those security decisions. Yes, I'm looking at you Darrell Issa and Jason Chaffetz.

Which brings me to another point. The CIA was heavily involved in Libya. One of the two compounds involved on the night of the actual attack might have been a CIA base of some kind. This might help explain why some intelligence personnel were not in a hurry to give firm answers, or were even ok with focusing on the video theory, in the initial days after the attack. Because there might have been real security issues with divulging too much information to the American public. (Like Issa and Chaffetz did when they outed CIA operatives.)

In a criminal case, it is hardly unusual for police to withhold information from the public, even sometimes put out deliberately false information, if they think it will help them nab their suspect or keep their informants safe. No one blinks at this. Mightn't the President, the State Department, and/or the CIA want to do the same thing in particular situations? But people throughout the administration were as soon as the morning of September 12 stating that the weaponry involved made it clear that the attack was perpetrated by someone other than, or at least in addition to, spontaneous mobsters. (Despite the insistence by Fox News that the administration blamed it on a protest for up to two weeks after the attack.) Not being able to say definitively within days or even weeks if it was premeditated, a planned attack, whether it was a terrorist organization or militants isn't a sign of incompetence or a cover-up. It's either the completely normal uncertainty in the immediate aftermath of a chaotic situation. Or it might also be indicative of an unwillingness to say too much that might compromise security. Perhaps the American public isn't actually entitled to all the answers if those answers will endanger covert operatives.

So, yeah, maybe there were some wrong initial assessments or some hesitant ones. And maybe not everyone was on the same page or had the same information. So the hell what? That's normal. It's not the first time that has happened and it won't be the last. It's not some epic failure that should end careers and lead to impeachments. It's not even a debacle. It's not something people should try to elevate to the level of one of the biggest scandals ever to hit the White House. It's not a scandal at all. It's a tragic incident. Maybe it could have been avoided. Maybe different decisions could have been made. We should definitely investigate it to see if things could have been done differently. Just like other reasonable organizations study their mistakes and failures so they can learn for the next time. But can we please stop for the love of pete pretending like it's this big, huge, unprecedented, unparalleled thing of epic proportions? It just isn't.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Here comes the free stuff! Woot!

You know what, Mitt, Rush, BillO, you're right. I did vote for President Obama for all the stuff and the gifts he was offering me.

I couldn't turn down the gift of knowing I will be able to get health insurance despite pre-existing conditions should I someday have to change health insurers.

I couldn't turn down my free PBS and NPR. Girlfriend's gotta have her Downton Abbey! (Along with the probing news programs like Frontline and the educational programming for children, etc.)

I couldn't say no to the gift of a President who accepts science and facts.

I couldn't turn down the promise of nominees to the Supreme Court who think that when the equal protection clause promises all citizens shall receive equal protection under the law, it doesn't exclude gays and women because that isn't what the men who wrote the clause 150 years ago meant.

And most importantly, I couldn't say no to the gift of personal autonomy. The promise of a president who wouldn't put me in a binder and think he's responding to my needs if he lets me leave the office at 5 every night so I can go home and cook for my family. And who wouldn't pander to the hardcore anti-abortion lobby to the extent of backing legislation that would declare a zygote that happens to be inside me matters more than I do. Seems like an awful lot of women couldn't say no to that gift.

I have to say, though, I'm pretty disappointed I couldn't also get a laptop out of the deal. I could really use a new laptop. But the gifts and free stuff I got will do.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

We have a bathroom fairy

There is a very odd phenomenon in the women's bathroom at my office. (I suspect the are also odd and unpleasant things going on in the men's bathroom, but fortunately that is outside my realm of experience.)

Or office bathroom is slowly being transformed into the bathroom at a 3-star hotel that wants a 4th star. Or a home bathroom. The counter is being taken over by personal products. It started with a harmless, unremarkable bottle of lotion. That seems a reasonable item to have in a bathroom, especially in the dry winter months when hands can get rough and cracked. But it didn't stop there.

Next, there were emery boards and nail buffers. (I must say I would prefer not to find emery boards in the actual stalls...) Then we got those wooden stick things used on nail cuticles. A bottle of hair spray. Then a second bottle of hair spray. A box with q-tips, cotton balls, and wipes. Oh, and feminine hygiene products, of course.

I thought that my bathroom counter was full.

A colleague and I have been monitoring this phenomenon and taking bets on what will show up next. We should have tweezers. And mouth wash. Definitely dental floss (that I would actually appreciate and maybe use because broccoli doesn't wait until I'm at home to get stuck in my teeth). Anti-frizz serum because it's not just our hands that need moisture. An eyelash curler, a hair dryer.

Ooh, ponytail holders! I can't tell you how many times I've been at work and hated my hair but not had a clip or a barrette or a bobby pin or a ponytail holder.

So bathroom fairy, if you're reading this, start with the ponytail holders. That is tops on my wish list. But I'm not kidding about the eyelash curler, either...

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Leave the poor kid alone, already!

I would like to propose a hard and fast rule. Fourteen-year-olds should be off-limits to paparazzi. Photogs should not be allowed to stalk and shoot minors. Celebrity gossip sites and magazines should not publish photos of minors. Especially when the story is that the minor has been removed from her home and placed in the guardianship of an adult sibling due to allegations of abuse by the minor's mother.

This rule should apply even when the teenager in question is on a popular, award-winning television show. Some might argue she perhaps asked for being in the public eye (or did the allegedly abusive overbearing stage mom from whose custody the teen has been removed ask for it?). But, seriously. She's fourteen. Anyone who really wants to see photos of her now to document her reaction to this stressful life event ought to be ashamed.

Look, I admit I'm pretty guilty of reading celebrity gossip sites. I check them daily. But when I go to my gossip sites looking for my Robsten news or updates on Katie Holmes' new single life or because I just have to know exactly when and why Selena dumped Justin, I really don't want to see stories about a young teenager going through such a difficult time. In fact, I think it's pretty appalling that a case involving the intervention of a state social services agency and removal of a kid from a home is public knowledge. I definitely do NOT want to see photos of this teen now walking down the street with her new guardian. Leave the poor girl alone!

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Badly done, California

As you might suspect if you know me, I was pretty psyched last night. All the Senate races I had hope for went the way I wanted. Even better as I really didn't expect the woman to win in North Dakota. That jerk Joe Walsh in Illinois rightly lost his House seat to the Iraqi war vet who lost both her legs. Her veteran status isn't why she deserved to win, though. The complete jerk things Walsh said about her are why he so thoroughly deserved to lose. And it looks like the equally despicable Allen West in Florida has lost his House seat. Sadly, we're still stuck with Michele Bachmann, but I had resigned myself to that. Marriage equality winning in all 4 states that voted on it definitely helped me get over the Bachmann win. And I take special joy in Tammy Baldwin's Wisconsin Senate win because I got to vote for her in her first Congressional race, when Madison voters made her the first open lesbian in Congress. I think it's fabulous that she will now be the first openly gay person to the Senate.

And as you all know, or can guess, I was quite pleased that the President won re-election.

For someone who has always followed politics as closely as I have and whose values and views have always been decidedly liberal, it was a pretty good night.

But, there is a but. And it's a pretty big but. There was one vote I cared about more than all the others (well, except the presidency). One result that would have induced the biggest joyful crying jag ever. California voters had the chance to do something big. They got to vote on the death penalty. Straight up and down popular vote on whether the state would abolish the death penalty.

The state of California is drowning in debt. The state is broken. It is crushed by an unworkable taxation process and an unwieldy (and costly) voter referendum system. The state can't afford its schools, its prisons, its courts. Prisons are so overcrowded, federal courts have stepped in to demand solutions, even if that solution is the premature release of inmates. Meanwhile, the state has over 700 inmates on death row and none of them are anywhere close to execution. Litigating these cases takes forever, in large part because the state can't find enough lawyers to represent all these capital defendants. And there are other procedural problems that have to be resolved with the method of execution. The bottom line being that these people aren't going to be executed, but they're right now an endless drain on the state's limited criminal justice resources.

The voters of California could have put an end to all of this ridiculousness. Could have saved themselves somewhere around $100 million a year. And could have saved over 700 lives in the process.

By the time President Obama spoke last night (after 1 am), only 20% of the vote totals were in, so I had to go to bed not knowing how that would turn out. So it was only late this morning that I saw the awful news that the repeal effort had failed. The voters of California chose vengeance. They chose vengeance over fiscal responsibility, emotion over logic, anger over rationality.

It breaks my heart.

Monday, November 5, 2012

The woes of a public defender

I have long had a wish list of things that I would love to improve about my house. Like fixing that cracked wall, rebuilding the stairs and removing the living room carpet, replacing the dishwasher with one that actually washes the dishes. And then there's the whole sloping floor in the kitchen thing, which doesn't seem to be getting any better on its own, but is just part of the charm of owning a home that's over 100 years old. Right?

But now there's something fairly major and important that needs to be fixed. Unlike the foundation that I fixed 4 years ago ($5,000) and the siding/paint job of 3 years ago ($5,000), this job can't just be paid out of pocket 'cause I'm fresh out. Turns out when you write large checks, that money doesn't just magically regenerate in your account. Huh.

And then there's my car, which pretty desperately needs new tires and brakes and quite probably some work on the suspension system as well. Oy. And then there's the student loans and the mortgage and the electricity and heat and water...

Which all leads to the big question: why oh why did I have to be a public defender? Why did I have to be one of the bleeding-heart liberal do-gooder types who puts doing a job she loves ahead of financial security? This trait seems awfully connected to the trait that made me want to buy an ancient house rather than some new construction that wouldn't have so many issues and might even have an HOA to address some of them. Public defenders are naturally pretty anti-authoritarian, so we don't take well to busybody neighbors telling us how short our grass must be or what colors we can put on our homes.

I couldn't have been some civil lawyer who can charge $400 an hour. Or a transactional lawyer or a trust lawyer. Someone who can just take on as many clients as necessary, adding new ones when some big bill comes up. No, I had to take a salaried job as a lowly state employee with no opportunity for raises or bonuses or taking on outside work if money gets tight. Because it's the work I believe in, finances be damned.

If I were the lovably neurotic heroine in a Sophie Kinsella novel (please allow me the courtesy of believing that my neuroses are lovable), I would fit about now have some fabulous meet-cute incident with a ridiculously attractive and remarkably single multi-millionaire. But real life doesn't work like that. So I will continue to be a devoted public defender who can never, ever gain financial security but can't stomach the thought of taking any other kind of job. My house may well fall down around my ears, but at least I will still have my soul.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad
Blog Designed by : NW Designs