Wednesday, April 29, 2009

I swear

Justice Scalia apparently thinks the entire country is divided into two parts: the big, bad city and nice, wholesome Pleasantville. And never the twain shall meet in his mind.

"We doubt, to begin with, that small-town broadcasters run a heightened risk of liability for indecent utterances. In programming that they originate, their down-home local guests probably employ vulgarity less than big-city folks; and small-town stations generally cannot afford or cannot attract foul-mouthed glitteratae from Hollywood." FCC v. Fox Television Stations, Inc., p.24

(In case you're wondering, this is the single swear word case, where Fox was fined because Bono dropped an f-bomb during a live telecast.)

Huh?? I mean, WTF? If I had been drinking coffee when I read that, I would have spit it. Does he seriously think that people who don't live in the big, bad cities don't swear? All I can say is F*** that S***. I call a big, steaming pile of male cow manure on that one.

This man is one of a very select group. He is one of 9 people who set an awful lot of the rules the rest of us have to live with. And he has no idea what real life in this country is really like. It's not just Hollywood glitterati who swear. Even small-town rubes can drop the f-bomb once in a while. Even nice, happy heartlanders can call people a-holes and b*tches. He can't seriously think otherwise. Can he?

And who uses terms like "down-home"?

My new soundtrack for life: Queen's "Under Pressure"

I think I need to implement a morning check list, to avoid any more mornings of abandoning the car pool because I've left something major at home. (So far, I've at least always been fully dressed, so that's good.)

Why so forgetful of late? I've been under a lot of pressure lately. (That's a Queen song you're hearing in your head, not Vanilla Ice.) First, there was that major project that had to be finished two weeks ago. There's a bit more to the project that will be finished this afternoon. So that's one thing down.

But more importantly, my biggest case ever is in full go mode right now. It's the sort of case that you feel you'll never get through. No matter how much work I do on it, I still feel like there's that much more work to be done. I've been thinking about or working on this case all day, every day. I've skipped family birthdays. I've skipped knitting club. I've deeply disappointed my dog. I haven't eaten very well, I haven't slept well, and I haven't gotten any exercise in. I'm so in the middle of it right now that I can't see an end. I can't even find the tunnel, let alone see any light at the end of it. The phrase "soul-crushing" has sprung to mind more than once in the past few weeks. I'm a little excited that I found 10 minutes to sit quietly on my couch this morning, but I'm still thinking about all the better ways I could be using these spare minutes. (Maddie is looking at me reproachfully; I think I know how she thinks I should be using this time.)

Even after this case is over, it will probably take me a while to normalize. There will be all the other work that hasn't even been looked at to address. But sometime around July, I might just be leveling back out. Here's hoping I make it until then.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

I learned to drive the old-fashioned way - my parents taught me. I remember getting my learner's permit at 14. I wore a red sweater because my mother told me the background was blue. Too bad for me the background for the learner's permit was red. That was not my best photo.

Most of my early driving lessons took place in the biggest park in town. It had a nice, big parking lot that was usually pretty vacant, and a little, windy park road that is maybe a quarter of a mile long. Top speed on that road should be about 20 mph. That road had a curve that I just couldn't master. If I wanted to stay within my lane, I had to slow down to about 10. I felt like I was never going to get it. Well, of course I did get it, and as a big girl driver, I can handle curves without slowing down to single digits.

Today, I took the scenic route home. (In a sad repeat from last week, I had to drive myself because I left my purse at home. I don't think I have ever forgotten my purse before!) It's a pretty curvy road. As I took a big curve without slowing down - not recklessly, just controlled - the image of 14 year-old me trying so hard to figure out that curve came to mind. I hadn't thought about that in years, but today I remembered how I struggled to hit that curve in Cico Park and how frustrating that was to 14 year-old me. I just wanted to be a cool grown-up already, one who could handle whatever curves life threw at her.

I'm pretty sure 14 year-old me would think 30-something me is a badass.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Aren't these guys a little young for mid-life crises?

In 1993, a Pennsylvania high-school football game ended in a tie. Now, the teams involved in that game want to go back and settle the score. The two teams, Easton and Phillipsburg, were major rivals so leaving the field on a tie stung for the guys playing. (Back in 1993, high schools didn't play overtime, so if the score was tied at the end of regulation, that's how the game ended.)

Gatorade decided to sponsor a replay of the game so a winner could finally be declared. Maybe it's just a silly stunt by a bunch of men who want to recapture their lost youth. But there have been some definite benefits to the participants. The teams, now made up of men in their 30s, have been practicing for the past several weeks. As a result, many of the guys have lost weight and improved their health. One guy was even able to stop taking high blood pressure medication.

In 1993, Easton was heavily favored to win the game, but perhaps the march of years have been kinder to Phillipsburg. Phillipsburg won today's replay 27-12.

So the guys from Phillipsburg are probably glad they went through with the replay.
1) Why are cruise ships so much better at fending off pirate attacks than cargo ships? Oh, and why are cruise ships continuing to sail off the coast of Somalia? It's understandable that cargo ships would continue to use the gulf on the northern edge of Africa. But cruise ships don't actually have to get from the Indian Ocean to the Atlantic or vice versa. Cruise ships can go wherever they want. If I were in charge of a cruise line that had regularly offered cruises through the Gulf of Aden, I think I might be re-routing my cruises these days.

2) I wonder how many people this weekend are feeling lethargic, nauseated, and experience a loss of appetite. In all this mention of the potential for a swine flu pandemic, it's easy for the paranoid and hypochondriacs among us to imagine they are suffering flu-like symptoms. I'm guessing. I don't personally know anyone who would be so silly as to think she could have the swine flu. Nope. No one in this house.

3) Microsoft Word is a bad, bad program. WordPerfect is the far superior program. I was forced to switch to Word after years of enjoying the ease of WP. Word is not easy. It is not user-friendly. It certainly does not defer to the formatting choices I make; instead, it imposes itself on me and makes me want to tear my hair out when I can't convince it that I want things my way. I think Word just might be the most despicable software on the planet.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Retail therapy

Sometimes, you just need a little thing to make your day brighter. Like a new pair of jeans. I'm kind of a jean whore. (And a shoe whore, but that's a different blog post.) Need a quick pick me up? Go buy a new pair of jeans. If you stick to Old Navy, it's a pretty cheap form of retail therapy. (Please, Old Navy, don't go out of business!) But with my recent complete lack of running, trying on jeans is more likely to be a traumatic experience, so I hadn't even thought I would go shopping.

Instead, my afternoon was going to be all about work. But before getting down to work, I had to walk downtown to buy a cup of coffee and pick up a sandwich for lunch. I went to the closet to dig out my weekend jeans. These are the oldest jeans I have right now. They are my absolute fall-backs. They're so soft and comfortably worn-in. They never threaten not to fit. And no matter how in or out of shape I am, they always make me look good. They're magic.

But I didn't find them. Instead, I found a pair of jeans I didn't recognize. I looked at the label. Old Navy flares. Hmm. They must have been my skinny jeans. But no, those are in a drawer, safely tucked away because I know I can't quite get those on right now. Maybe they were my other skinny jeans (the ones I can still sort of wear, but make me look like a muffin top), but they didn't look like quite the right color. And those aren't flares.

So I tried them on. Definitely not either pair of skinny jeans. Button and button hole came together with no complaints. Not too tight. The flare is really quite nice. But I have no memory of these jeans. I couldn't remember buying them. Couldn't remember ever wearing them. So these are just like brand new jeans, but without the expense and without the pain of trying them on in a dressing room.

I guess this is what they mean by going shopping in your closet. Wonder what else I'll find...

Friday, April 24, 2009

Furloughs: Don't think of it as a pay cut - it's a tax cut!

The Speaker of the Kansas House of Representatives, Mike O'Neal, decided to take a run at earning the most despicable person on the planet award. He must have read my blog this morning, seen that I declared the winner to be Dick Cheney, and gotten jealous. Well, Mr. Speaker, you have certainly staked your claim to the title today.

The Kansas budget for fy 2010 does not look good. Current budget shortfall estimates are in the $328 million range. Mr. Speaker announced today that he would consider a furlough plan for state employees before any other options, including revenue increases. Which is just a nice, fancy way of saying he'd much rather give state employees a pay cut before even considering any tax increase of any kind.

You can call it whatever euphemism you want, but it's a pay cut. Of course, it doesn't do anything to cut the work load, so an awful lot of already over-worked state employees would just be expected to do all the same work and provide all the same services, but for less pay. I've also seen rumblings that more costs of employee benefits might be passed off to employees, which also translates into a pay cut. Did I mention that Kansas state employee benefits rank dead last in the country? Out of 50 states, we come in 50th in the benefits we provide our state employees, so definitely, we should cut them back even further.

If you're not from Kansas, you might be wondering how exactly we got into this budget pickle we're in. You might be thinking this is just part of this whole, crazy, nationwide economic meltdown. But that's not quite it. Our budget collapse goes back much further than that. From 1995-2005, our Republican-led legislature went on a tax-cutting frenzy. In that decade, businesses have received an estimated $6.7 billion in tax cuts. They've also had their unemployment compensation contributions reduced by $6.1 billion. Now, again, I'm no math expert, but I'm pretty sure $328 million is just a fraction of $6.7 BILLION. So you've given away billions of dollars of state revenue in that decade and now that the state is practically bankrupt as a result (continually cutting off your sources of revenue will eventually lead to you running out of money, after all), you want the state's employees to pay the bill for your reckless, decade-long tax-cutting spree.

Yep. Rather than roll back any of those tax cuts to businesses, or reinstate some business taxes that have been entirely repealed, Mr. Speaker would much rather close the budget gap by taking more money away from the already woefully underpaid state employees. Gotta love those family values. Business before people.

At least if I'm making less money, I won't have to pay quite as much in income taxes.

Ok, so it's still not quite Dick Cheney bad, but I will declare Mr. Speaker O'Neal to be the most despicable person in Kansas.

He can stop pleading his case now; I'm convinced

Dick Cheney is the most despicable person on the planet. And a sore loser.

That is all.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

A capital idea!

Most of the regulars around here ought to be able to write this post for me.

Boy faces capital murder charge in baby's death

A 12-year-old suspended from school for fighting killed a 10-month-old baby by throwing him to the floor at a home where several young children were unsupervised, officials say. Link

You know I think this is absurd. In Texas, a 12 year-old can't be charged as an adult under any circumstances. Nowhere in the nation can anyone be sentenced to death unless s/he is at least 18 at the time of the crime. So what on earth is the purpose of charging a 12 year-old with capital murder? Is it just a really stern finger-wagging? Boy, you bad, bad kid, you did such a bad thing, we would kill you if we could.

I can't help but note that today is Take Your Kid to Work Day. The recommended age range for participating children is 8-18. I would guess lots of 12 year-olds took part. I wonder how many 12 year-olds went to work in the Harris County District Attorney's Office or in the court today. I wonder what those 12 year-olds thought when they saw the adults in that court system accusing a 12 year-old of a crime worthy of the death penalty. I wonder how the parents taking those 12 year-olds to work answered their questions.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

While watching NBA playoffs on TNT (lots of Jayhawks in the playoffs this year), I just saw a preview of the new season of "Raising the Bar". The bad news: Mark-Paul Gosselaar has cut his hair. He's all clean-cut and preppy looking. Not at all an unkempt public defender. He looks more like a prosecutor now. Bummer. I really liked the long hair.

How presumptuous of that silly defendant to plead not guilty

Heard on a national morning television show (discussing the Craigslist killing in Boston):

Reporter: "The big question now is why he did it."

Well, I'm glad that we have, after only a few days of investigation, settled the question of guilt. A defendant was arrested 3 days ago. Clearly that settles it. Why wait for the state to prove to a jury beyond a reasonable doubt that he did in fact commit the crime? Really, why bother with that tedious step at all. We all know he must have done it if the police would arrest him and the D.A. would charge him. It's so much more convenient that we are left only to wonder why he did it. And now the D.A. is detailing all of the clear-cut evidence against the guy. On national television. Glad to see he's taking his ethical duty not to try his case in the media seriously.

Not a single use of the word alleged. No pretense of still holding out the belief that the defendant has not been proven guilty of anything. Not even the reporter is wasting any breath on the presumption of innocence. I've long known the presumption of innocence is dead, but it's dismaying to be reminded that no one even bothers to fake it anymore.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Slip-sliding away

I don't want to live in a country that strip-searches 13 year-old girls. The Supreme Court heard arguments today in a case involving a 13 year-old girl who was told by school administrators to strip down to her underwear. She was then instructed to hold her bra and her underwear away from her body so the two female staff members could see that she did not have any pills hidden. I have not yet read the full transcript of the argument, but I'm concerned from what I have read that the court members are a little too unwilling to put limits on what kinds of searches schools can conduct.

I don't think it's ever appropriate for school faculty members to subject a student to this kind of search. I'll make it a bright line. Certainly, I'd much rather have the bright line rule be schools can never strip search students than the other bright line of no limits on strip searches.

More importantly, though, I'm very concerned that we are raising the next generation to think searches are acceptable. Kids are told they can be searched by school personnel at any time. Most schools now have a police liaison officer on staff or on call. Drug tests are becoming the norm for kids who want to participate in sports or extracurricular activities. Of course, there's wiretapping and the Patriot Act, too. And here in Kansas, we have a federal judge telling kids evidence shouldn't be suppressed even if it was obtained illegally. (The kids subjected to that speech were the winners of the Constitution Bee. Because those kids obviously understand their rights too well, so we need to get at them before they start trying to protect those rights.)

So when these kids grow up, they might not think it's such a big deal if cops want to search their cars or ask them a few questions. I'm an old fogey, though. I still don't think it's ok. I think evidence obtained in illegal searches should be inadmissible in court. I'm not comfortable with drug testing kids. And I'm not ok with strip searching 13 year-old girls.

But if I can't cheat, how can I win?

Yesterday, the United States Supreme Court agreed to hear a case posing the question of when, if ever, a prosecutor can be sued in civil court for fabricating testimony and using that false testimony in court to wrongly convict a defendant. Scotusblog has a write-up of the case. Two defendants spent 25 years in prison, despite the fact that prosecutors hid stronger evidence against another suspect and coached witnesses to lie on the stand. The two defendants, now freed, have filed a lawsuit against the County Attorney and his deputy who were responsible for the convictions.

The lower court held the lawsuit could proceed, rejecting the prosecutors' claims that they are immune from civil liability for their actions. Prosecutors have absolute immunity from actions they commit when they are functioning as advocates for the state. Absolute immunity as previously defined by the Supreme Court has its limits, though. The plaintiffs in this case have argued that absolute immunity should not extend to actions taken outside of their advocacy roles. The question for the Supremes to decide now is whether the prosecutors in this case shed their immunity.

Prosecutors wail and moan and complain that opening them up to civil liability for doing things like fabricating evidence will hamstring them from doing their jobs. "Oh no," they cry, "how ever will we feel safe and comfortable enough to do our jobs and keep the people safe from the bad guys if we're worried about being held to account for our failures after the fact?" They fear they won't be able to do their jobs if they can be sued for falsifying evidence.

Their "woe is us" cries are falling on deaf ears with me. We're supposed to worry that prosecutors won't be able to do their jobs if they can't fabricate evidence without fear of civil lawsuits? Let's be clear: fabricating evidence is not part of the job. I frankly don't want any lawyer who doesn't know that to be prosecuting criminal cases. Or possessing a law license. So, since fabricating evidence isn't properly part of the job description for prosecutors, it really shouldn't be a problem if prosecutors can be sued if they fabricate evidence.

Prosecutorial immunity is fine. I have no problem with saying that honest civil servants, who perform their jobs in good faith, should not be held civilly liable for making mistakes. But there is no good faith way to fabricate evidence. There is no good faith way to suborn perjury. These things are illegal. Prosecutors should not be immune from the consequences of illegal conduct.

When prosecutors knowingly and intentionally break the law to procure convictions, they shouldn't be allowed to hide behind some cloak of governmental immunity. I think that's a fair rule. And I don't have any sympathy for prosecutors who feel this simple rule would make it difficult for them to do their jobs. It's pretty easy, really, to figure out how to avoid losing immunity: don't make shit up and don't get your witnesses to lie.

Here's hoping the US Supreme Court sees things as simply and clearly as I do.

Monday, April 20, 2009


All right, my fellow Kansans, here is important information that you need to have:

Home wine shipments are now legal! Really. Here's the proof. Gov. Sebelius signed the legislation that allows us (of drinking age) to have up to 12 cases of wine shipped to our homes each year. This delights me.

A year and a half ago, I was on vacation in California. My friends and I spent a lovely hour tasting wine at a vineyard. I tasted several wines that I wanted to buy, but I had flown. I inquired about having wine shipped home. I knew that state law had recently been amended to allow me to have wine shipped to a liquor store, but the winery was skittish because for so long Kansas didn't allow any wine shipments to private buyers. The salesman wasn't comfortable taking my word for it that the law was on my side. So, I was stuck buying only the wine I could fit in my suitcase. (Happily, my two bottles made it home unbroken.)

This summer when I go back to California, there won't be any problem. If I find a great little winery that I just love, I can have as much as I want shipped home. Straight to my house! (I guarantee I won't want more than 12 cases.) I will just make sure to print out a copy of the statute.

Hate the sin, love the sinner

In the comments section of an online newspaper today, a commenter defended those attorneys who represent really bad guys by assuring the readers that we defense attorneys probably despise our clients. I can't think of a comment that could have made me crazier. The comment implied that we defenders really aren't such bad people. We might be bad people if we liked our clients, but, of course, we don't.

Well, anonymous commenter, I personally don't need you to defend me if that's the defense I'm going to get. Contrary to popular opinion, I don't despise my clients. I don't hate them. My skin doesn't crawl when I sit next to them or talk to them.

The truth is I generally like my clients. Yes, the rapists, the murderers, the child sex offenders, the dope sellers, the robbers and thieves. I like them. They're not monsters; they're just people. In many cases, they are people who have done terrible, even monstrous, things. In most cases, they are deeply flawed people who have done bad things. And I still like them. The few I haven't liked, it hasn't had anything to do with the crimes they were charged with.

People are so much more than the one or two worst things they've ever done. Even if those worst things are murder. Even murderers love their mothers and enjoy watching sports or reading books. I hardly see it as a character-flaw on my part that I can recognize and connect with the humanity in my clients. It probably makes me better able to do my job well. It's harder to zealously advocate for people you despise. But I get the feeling that online commenter would think better of me if I could find it in myself to hate my clients.

Off on the wrong foot

This morning, I woke up to the realization that I had forgotten to submit my time sheet last Friday. I only have to do time sheets when I actually take time off, so I tend to forget to do them on those Fridays when I actually have taken time. At least I remembered to do it today.

Then I get halfway to meeting my car pool this morning when I realized my phone was still sitting on my kitchen table, where I had left it charging. Ok, it sucks that I wouldn't be able to read my blogs on the ride to work, but I really will survive. I had my ipod and a book, so surely I could still zone out the people around me.

Then I turned on my ipod to see the battery is pretty low. My ipod cord was sitting uselessly in my other purse in my mudroom. Hrmph. But still, not that big a problem because I had enough juice to get me to work and I usually don't need the ipod by the time we leave work to head home. I don't hate the world and its inhabitants at 5 p.m.

So I was settled in on the van, waiting for departure time, listening to my ipod and reading my book when I realized what else was still sitting uselessly in my other purse: my flash drive. Double hrmph. There's no coming back from that. That flash drive has the most current version of everything I'm working on. There's not much point in going to work without it.

So I had to ditch the carpool. I am afraid there was some huffing and maybe a muttered swear word. Now I have to drive myself to work, which means even with my phone in my possession, I can't read my blogs on the drive to work. And it doesn't really matter if I have my ipod cord. But at least I'll have my flash drive by the time I get to work.

I hope this isn't an indicator of how the week will go. It's got to get better, right?

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Bad news for Troy Davis

Once again, Troy Davis has lost an appeal. Sigh. Here is the first blog post I ever wrote about Troy Davis' case if you aren't familiar with the details. By a 2-1 vote, a 3 judge panel of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected his petition for a new trial. Davis' request for a new trial was on a claim of actual innocence. The Court did graciously stay Davis' execution for another 30 days so he could file a petition to the U.S. Supreme Court. I assume that petition will get him nowhere.

I find this very depressing. This particular case seems to be to be the poster child for why we shouldn't have a death penalty. So many people say that they're ok with the death penalty in those cases where guilt is "certain." Where there's DNA evidence or eyewitnesses or video or a confession. But this case highlights the cold, hard reality of criminal cases. As in most cases, there isn't any DNA evidence or fingerprints or other magical "CSI"-style physical evidence that definitively proves guilt. Eyewitnesses are one of the leading contributors to wrongful convictions. Troy Davis' case is a perfect example of how criminal cases really work. The degree of certainty that people claim they want just doesn't exist in most cases. It doesn't exist in Davis' case.

But, hey, a jury once upon a time found him guilty, so let's kill him anyway. Sigh.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Missouri public defenders between a rock and a hard place

A Missouri appeals court has said that the state's overburdened public defender officers can't refuse to take new cases due to caseloads. Link A state regulation had allowed offices throughout the state to decline new cases until caseload levels decreased. But the appeals court found that regulation was contrary to state law that requires the appointment of attorneys for indigent defendants.

Well, sure. All indigent defendants need to have attorneys appointed to represent them. But if the staff attorneys in Jefferson City or Columbia are completely swamped with cases, those offices ought to be able to say they can't handle any more cases. The solution can't be just to require those offices to take the cases. That's not a solution at all. There really is a finite number of cases that any public defender office can handle at any given time while still providing the effective assistance of counsel promised by the 6th Amendment. By not allowing the pd offices to turn down cases, the courts are practically forcing attorneys to violate either their ethical obligations to their clients or a court order. Either the state needs to pony up the money to hire more staff attorneys or counties need to pay for private contract attorneys to handle the overflow cases.

According to the article, Missouri ranks 49th in per capita spending on indigent defense. I think it's time for Missouri to work on raising its ranking a few spots.

What ever happened to great expectations?

I've been reading a lot of case law recently. Reading that many criminal cases in a short period of time is really depressing. Appellate courts overlook a lot of trial errors. A lot. It's discouraging to read case after case after case in which the appellate courts find error, but declare it to be harmless. In essence, they're saying, "we know mistakes were made, but we're ok with the outcome so we're not going to do anything about it."

It's so frustrating. What incentive is there for trial courts to avoid mistakes if they know the appellate courts will just declare those mistakes too insignificant to warrant a re-trial? The answer is none, which is why we see the same mistakes happening over and over. Prosecutors make the same improper arguments because they know they can get away with it. Judges take short cuts because appellate courts don't smack them down for not following all the rules.

But we have all these rules and procedures for a reason. And if we don't apply them properly, if we make mistakes, we shouldn't have faith in the outcome, should we? If you were doing a math problem and realized you'd made a mistake, you'd go back and re-figure the answer. Just last night, I had my taxes all done and realized I'd made a math error. I didn't think the IRS would be ok with me just saying, "Eh, I'm still ok with my outcome, so I'm not going to fix it." (The error was not in the IRS' favor.) Just like I'm not ok with realizing just how many mistakes are made and tolerated every day in our criminal courtrooms. I'm not confident that all of those errors really are harmless. I don't trust the outcomes of flawed trials. I certainly think that when taken as a whole, they reveal a system that isn't working nearly as well as we like to pretend.

Here's my thought, courts: if you stop tolerating mistakes, maybe the judges and prosecutors and even the defense attorneys will stop making mistakes! Or at least they'll cut down on them. But if we continue to allow sloppy trials, we'll continue to get sloppy trials. That seems fairly obvious to me.

Remember the movie "Stand and Deliver"? Jaime Escalante teaches calculus to students in the worst part of L.A. Other teachers question him when he says he wants to get them ready for the AP test. The principal told him the students couldn't handle it. Jaime replied, "People rise to the level of expectation we set for them." I agree wholeheartedly. If we expected better trials with fewer mistakes, we'd get them. How do we show that we expect better? By not declaring trial error after trial error to be harmless. Overturn convictions and make district courts re-do trials to get them right. The criminal justice system just needs to have the guts to set the bar higher.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Three Things

1) Phil Spector is guilty of 2nd degree murder. From what I've read of the facts, it seems like pretty impressive defense lawyering that they got a hung jury the first time around. Even 30 hours of deliberation this time around is kinda within the zone of victory. (As defense attorneys, we lose a lot, so to maintain sanity, we have to expand our idea of winning to include anything within the zone of victory.)

2) The White House Easter Egg Roll happened today. (Easter was yesterday, but ok.) This administration invited 100 families of same-sex couples. The tide is definitely turning.

3) By now, the grandson from "The Princess Bride" would be a grown-up. In light of recent events, I am guessing he would no longer glibly declare, "Murdered by pirates is good." These pirates are nothing like the Dread Pirate Roberts. They are not dashing and heroic and they are most definitely not really the good guy.

Sunday, April 12, 2009


Gideon tagged me, so far be it from me to ignore THE guru of public defender blogs. So while I've been busily working all weekend, I've also been perfecting my list of things that are insanely popular but really suck. You know, the things that everyone claims they like.

1) Harry Potter - Sorry folks, but you've made JK Rowling a billionaire for writing a not-so-great children's book about a boy wizard. I'm convinced peer pressure is the real reason most of you read the books. It really is ok to admit that you're just not interested.

2)Rushing the court/field - Yes, winning is great, but it seems like every college sporting event involves idiot fans rushing the court or field after the game. Act like you've won a game before and expect to win one again, fans. (And once we've put an end to the stupid court-rushing, can we also address the "overrated" chant? It's beyond idiotic to claim that the highly-regarded team your team is beating wasn't really that good.)

3) Ever-longer prison sentences - No one wants to appear soft on crime so no one ever proposes or supports bills that would reduce prison sentences or provide for punishments other than prison. But secretly, we all know that our incarceration numbers in the US are out of control and aren't really doing anything to improve safety or decrease crime rates.

I kinda wanted to add democracy to my list, but I left it off. (Democracy sounds great until we get stuck with 8 years of Bush...) I won't officially tag anyone, but feel free to come up with your own lists.

Same time, next year

Every spring, I have a big project due. It's a project that could easily be largely done in advance. I know from one April to the next that I have this project to work on. And yet every April, I find myself in the same position: frantically working to complete the project. I could have had it mostly done by now with just a little work each week. But that wouldn't be the me thing to do. That would be far too sensible and organized, two traits I do not possess. So instead, I'm sitting here on Sunday, typing and reading and feeling rushed.

I swear, next year will be different! (If I were you, I wouldn't believe me, either.)

Friday, April 10, 2009

You'll never brush your teeth the same again!

I have seen a commercial for what will surely be the next "it" item, after the snuggie. It's the Touch 'n Brush. It will revolutionize the way you brush your teeth! It holds any size toothpaste! Just attach it to your bathroom wall, insert your toothpaste, and it will always dispense the paste with no mess, no fuss, no endless squeezing and rolling of the tube.

Phew! Because I've been really consumed with worries about how to dispense my toothpaste. I've been staying up late, unable to sleep, because I can't get the image of toothpaste globs landing on my bathroom vanity out of my head. I really don't know how I've made it to my 30s without this fool-proof invention.

I would love to meet the people who invent items like this. Maybe they just have some minor annoyance in their lives or have a parent who suffers from arthritis or something. So they tinker around in the garage for a few hours one night and come up with some little fix. Then their friends hear about it and think it's really clever. So they go back into the garage to streamline the thing a little, so the friends can have one, too. Then someone gets the idea that they could totally sell this item. But finding the investor to make mass production and sale of an item has to be like finding lightning in a bottle. I wonder how many such inventions never see the light of day. What revolutionary, life-changing items are still just sitting in someone's garage, waiting for that lightning strike?
I really don't understand some of PETA's methods. Sometimes they take their positions to such ridiculous extremes, they just turn themselves into a caricature. Like this. They want 80s pop band The Pet Shop Boys, who have just released a new album, to change their name. Really? How is this worth their time, effort, and resources? By engaging in this kind of silly public request, they just take away credibility from their more substantive efforts to actually protect animals.

I don't agree with a lot of their positions (I love my steak, for example), but I do think they have the potential to do good on issues like puppy mills, treatment of animals used in entertainment, etc. When they waste their time on silly things like this, though, they just make it easier for people to laugh them off when they address those serious issues.

Because no one thinks the name of a pop group really has any impact whatsoever on the treatment of animals. Rational people get this, so by not getting it, PETA makes themselves seem like irrational whack-jobs.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Ghost Dad?

This story disturbed me, so I thought I'd share it. This 21 year-old man died. Unmarried. His mother got a judge to allow her to collect sperm from his corpse so she could find a surrogate and someday have a grandchild. My first thought was this seems weird and creepy.

But then my lawyer brain kicked in. I took two classes in law school that touched on the issues presented in this case: Family Law and a Bioethics class. Beyond the basics like property and trusts and estates. Obviously his mother was his next of kin so gets to decide what to do with his body: organ donation, form of burial. I'm assuming at 21, he hadn't prepared any legal documents indicating his wishes for his remains.

This seems like more than just an inheritance/property issue, though. She is looking to create a child without her son's authorization. Maybe the law should require some kind of clear evidence that this young man not only did intend to father a child someday, but further that he would still have wanted a child to be created in this way. It just seems a big leap for this mother to say that because her 21 year-old son had expressed a desire to have kids in that mythical some day, he would still want some surrogate to have his child now that he wouldn't be around to father that child. I just don't think a guy should be turned into a sperm donor without his expressed consent.

Would it make any difference if she just wanted to donate his sperm anonymously to a sperm bank? That would be more in line with traditional organ donation: using his remains to help people who otherwise might not be able to have children. To me that seems different from the mother using a surrogate to produce a grandchild. There's a difference between letting others become parents and turning the now dead man into a parent himself.

I'm still turning this interesting legal issue over in my head. Anyone else have a thought?

Life Without Parole: It's not just for adults!

A CNN headline grabbed my attention this morning: "Teens locked up for life without a second chance."

According to the Equal Justice Initiative, there are currently 73 persons serving live without parole (LWOP) sentences in the US for crimes that were committed when the offenders were only 13 or 14. I know I am a broken record on this issue, but this is just wrong. The headline just says it all. We are allowing 13 year-olds to be thrown behind bars with no hope for ever getting out, no chance for rehabilitation or redemption. It's nuts.

I know of hardened murderers, grown adults who intentionally shot people in the head, who at least have a hope of sleeping in a real bed again someday.

The lead story in the CNN piece presents a very different kind of "murder". A 14 year-old boy was engaging in silly, dangerous, horseplay with his 17 year-old step-brother. It began with blow darts and ended with the 17 year-old having been stabbed by a knife twice. Obviously incredibly stupid and reckless behavior, maybe even intentional in the end, but a far cry from the sort of premeditated, intentional homicide that usually results in a LWOP sentence. And certainly it is a prime case for at least holding out the hope that the offending boy (14!) can still become a productive member of society.

What does it say about us as a society that we are willing to treat kids like this? Nothing good. 13 and 14 year-olds are not adults. They're idiots. We all know this because we were all 13 once. We don't let kids do all sorts of things because we know they can't really appreciate or handle the consequences. We know they have terrible judgment and no ability to see the long-term. Drinking, smoking, sex, voting, movies, entering contracts. We know they would make bad choices, choices they would one day regret, so we just take the choices away from them. How can we reconcile all of that with allowing for kids so young to be sentenced to prison for the rest of their natural lives, with no chance for anything else? We can't. It's ludicrous.

Of course some teens need to be punished, even imprisoned, for their actions. I'd probably go for a lot shorter detention or prison terms for teenagers than most people (big surprise), but can't we at least all agree that there's no harm in at least leaving open the possibility that a 13 year-old defendant might one day live outside a prison? I'm not asking the crazy, over-the-top, tough on crime crowd to give up too much. All I'm asking (in this particular post) is that we do away with Life Without Parole for 13 and 14 year-olds. That's really not asking a lot.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

You can't just shoot people

Here is one case in which I am happy to see charges filed.

Texas cop indicted in baseball player's shooting

A grand jury in Texas has indicted a white Houston police officer in the New Year's Eve shooting of an aspiring baseball player who is black. Story

Robbie Tolan is the son of a retired major league baseball player. He lives in a nice neighborhood in suburban Houston. At about 2:00 a.m., he was driving home in his nice SUV. Police thought the SUV was stolen. Why, I don't know. It's hard to imagine that they had any better reason for thinking the car was stolen other than it was too nice a car in too nice a neighborhood. No black man could be driving such a nice car in that neighborhood at that hour if he wasn't committing a crime. Please let's not pretend that kind of racial profiling doesn't happen.

The police forced Tolan to the ground. He was on his stomach on the driveway with an officer standing over him when he was shot. One explanation for the shooting I have read is that Tolan's mother was on the porch and was pushed by another officer. Tolan then lifted his head to see if his mother was ok when he was shot in the back. Clearly posing a tremendous threat, this concerned son on his own driveway.

The officer is charged with aggravated assault by a public servant. The maximum sentence is life, which seems pretty excessive to me so I assume that's not a likely outcome for a non-fatal shooting. I am not a big fan of long prison sentences, so I don't need this officer to spend a lot of time behind bars. But I do need him to be held accountable.

Because what he did was wrong. You can't just shoot people. Even cops. You can't just shoot people. Robbie Tolan was minding his own business, driving home from a late night drive-thru run. He was accosted by cops when he parked his car on his own driveway. And then he got shot. In the back. While he was lying face down on the ground. All of us should be glad that the cop who pulled the trigger is going to face criminal charges because none of us should want our police officers feeling free to treat us like they treated Robbie Tolan.

Having a badge shouldn't mean you get to shoot people like that. I'm glad to see a DA and a grand jury that agree with me.

Minnesota: State of Confusion

Remember that Minnesota Senate race? Well, Coleman is still not crying uncle. Franken's lead is 312 votes after the latest round of adjustments and recounts. Coleman apparently has every intention of taking his fight to the Minnesota Supreme Court, according to this article. But if I'm reading that article right, Coleman's remaining points of contention could only provide a vote swing of 100 votes. Which wouldn't change the outcome, right? I mean, I'm no math expert (though I did win my school district's 5th grade math bee), but 312 is more than 100.

So if the potential vote swing left out there for Coleman to attack is less than the vote margin, what is the point of continuing to contest the result? In the meantime, his state has been left without full representation in the Senate. After this many months and no change on the leaderboard, maybe it's time for Coleman to pack it up. It's not going to help the state he (allegedly) wants to serve by continuing a futile fight.

And, yes, I would say exactly the same thing if the roles were reversed.

Survivor: Baskervilles

I love this story.

Dog eats baby goats, survives on remote island

A plucky pooch, separated from its owners when she fell overboard in choppy waters, swam five miles to an island, surviving on a diet of wild goats for four months until miraculously being reunited with her family.

It's so very "Incredible Journey". This dog is truly a survivor. Swimming five miles for a human would be a struggle, but for a dog? I have a hard time picturing my dog making it five feet without panicking. According to her owners, Sophie wasn't any less of a pampered house dog than mine is. But somehow she made it. They describe her as becoming ferocious in the wild, eluding rangers who were trying to trap her for months. But when she was finally trapped and reunited with her people, the ferocious dog turned right back into her loving self. She was wiggling and whimpering as soon as she saw them and nearly bowled them over when her kennel door was opened. We know how happy our dogs are to see us when we come home after being at the store for an hour, so we can only imagine what a reunion after four months must be like.

We've all been reading lots of bad news about the economy and mass shootings, so it's nice to read a heart-warming story with a happy ending.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Official Report: Case K17360073E

A crime was committed in my living room today. The evidence was undeniable. It was a blatant theft, accompanied by a criminal damage to property count. Warning: the crime scene photo is graphic.

My wannabe cop's mind went through the list of the usual suspects (a mouse, SO, my Uncle Yahooti) before landing on the one I wanted to bring in for questioning.

The suspect did not want to answer my questions.

We must all remember that the suspect has rights. She is presumed to be innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law. She has no obligation to prove her innocence; rather the state must provide the evidence of her guilt. And she has the right to remain silent, meaning she can refuse to answer any questions. We are obligated not to draw any inference of guilt from her refusal to discuss the matter with me.

All that being said, the suspect is guilty as sin. I am confident that DNA testing on the evidence would conclusively link the suspect to the crime. In my mind, this case has been solved. I believe I will be able to convince the suspect to enter a plea. Unfortunately, I believe the sentencing judge will be lenient. The suspect will probably not suffer any consequences of her bad behavior. The suspect is highly likely to reoffend if confronted with the opportunity.

Play Ball!

The baseball season starts tonight. I'm not really in a baseball mood, though. Right now, it's 38 degrees out, gray, dreary, and windy. Hardly ideal baseball weather. Tomorrow has the potential to be even chillier. On the Royals home opener, the projected high is only 60. It's supposed to be sunny, but still, 60 isn't all that warm when sitting in a ball park for 3 hours.

I really want to be excited about the beginning of baseball season. I have hopes that my Royals could actually be successful this season. Baseball is the first sport I ever followed, my first love if you will. But it's really hard to get into a baseball mood when I have to wear socks and a warm coat.

The Boys of Summer are really supposed to bring that warm weather with them when they migrate north at the end of spring training. Here's hoping the Royals bring the heat soon.

UPDATE: The Royals were scheduled to start their season tomorrow against the White Sox in Chicago. The game has already been postponed to Tuesday out of fear of bad weather, with 2-4 inches of snow predicted. Come on!

Friday, April 3, 2009

Tale of an Iowa Marriage

My parents met 47 years ago while they were both graduate students in Wisconsin. My father, seeking a Ph.D. in history, had grown up in a cosmopolitan household that moved from Kansas City to Virginia to the Upper East Side. My mother, pursuing a Masters in Russian, was the only child of a newspaper editor from Iowa.

They married in a small ceremony in my grandparents' house in Iowa. Only 20 people or so attended, including all 4 of their grandmothers. The young couple moved to the DC area where my father taught history and my mother worked as a Russian translator for the federal government. (She still can't tell us what exactly she did.)

They had two beautiful, intelligent, fascinating daughters. (Ok, maybe I'm bragging there, but I'm also saying nice things about my sister!) They lived for a while in Boston before settling in Kansas. My mother stopped working at a job, instead spending her time on political activism and child-rearing. My father changed jobs several times, never quite finding the thing that made him happy (until he became a tour director about 15 years ago).

My parents made it through tight financial times, the difficult teen years of an emotional daughter (not me), a year of living apart when my dad got a job in a different town right before my sister started her senior year of high school, and the strain of putting two daughters through private colleges. (Yes, my parents paid for my college. I will be forever grateful and I will return the favor by footing the bill for any child of mine to go wherever s/he wants.)

My parents had some tough times, probably mostly due to finances and my dad's career dissatisfaction. In later years, my grandmother confided to me that she once thought my parents wouldn't make it. But they did. And now they are enjoying retirement and travel. I cannot imagine either of them succeeding at marriage with anyone else.

After all they have endured in the last 45 years, I am supposed to believe that a ruling today by the Iowa Supreme Court poses the real threat to their marriage?

Well, I can happily inform you that the reports of a threat to my parents' marriage have been greatly exaggerated. Their marriage certificate is still intact. They have not suddenly fallen out of love. And they do not feel any bit less married today than they did yesterday. Believe me, if my parents could survive my sister's teen years, they can survive anything.

In fact, I think they both feel a little better about that long-ago issued piece of paper because now they can look at it and know that ANY two people in Iowa who love each other and want to commit their lives to each other can get that same piece of paper with the same blessing from the state that they received 45 years ago. Recognizing the rights of a marginalized group reaffirms the rights of the rest of us. And recognizing love in a previously-shunned form reaffirms love in all its forms. By affirming marriage for all today, the Iowa Supreme Court affirmed my parents' marriage. For that, I say thank you, Court.

What these two people have built over the past 4 decades, let no expansion of rights tear asunder.

It's only a matter of time

I know the Vermont governor has promised to veto the bill, but it's always nice to wake up to news that people have taken steps to recognize the inherent worth of a previously marginalized segment of society. The Vermont House yesterday passed a bill allowing same sex marriage.

We're getting there. Way too slowly, but surely.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009


The long Project Runway delay is over! The lawsuit is settled. The 6th season, already over and finished, will air this summer on Lifetime. It will seem weird to watch one of my silly "reality" shows on a network other than Bravo, but I'll get over it. I'm just very excited that I will finally be able to welcome the delightful Tim Gunn back into my living room. Not literally. Although if you're reading this, Mr. Gunn, and you are ever in the Kansas area, you have a standing invitation to join me in my living room.

What's good for Senator Stevens ought to be good for my guys, too

In several of my cases, the state has failed to turn over witness interviews or exculpatory information (which they are required to do; it's called a Brady violation if they don't), but not once has the state asked a court to dismiss my client's charges as a result. Ted Stevens is far luckier.

There were hints all throughout the former Senator's trial that the prosecution was committing misconduct. The judge held the prosecutors in contempt at one point. So it was no surprise to hear from an FBI whistle-blower that evidence had been withheld from the defense. Stevens' convictions should be overturned for this violation. And I've certainly argued that egregious prosecutorial misconduct should result in a dismissal of charges, so I would applaud that result in this case.

But I've never gotten the prosecutor to agree that a conviction should be overturned when the state has failed to turn over evidence to the defense. More defendants, and not just the former Senators of the world, should get this kind of relief from the state after Brady violations have been uncovered. It's unacceptable that individual prosecutors still try to withhold evidence and hope they'll get away with it, but it's nice to see at least one instance of that individual's office stepping up and acknowledging a defendant is entitled to relief due to the misconduct.

I am so done with this

There are still lots of retired military officers urging President Obama and Congress not to overturn the military's offensive, ridiculous, and discriminatory "don't ask, don't tell" policy. More than 1,000 retired officers signed a statement declaring that passage of a bill allowing gays to serve openly in the military would "undermine recruiting and retention, impact leadership at all levels, have adverse effects on the willingness of parents who lend their sons and daughters to military service, and eventually break the All-Volunteer Force."

In the statement, they also strongly supported the principle that "homosexuality is incompatible with military service" and warned that repeal of current law could jeopardize morale and "unit cohesion."

I call bullsh*t.

I'm done compromising. I'm done being nice about this issue. I'm done trying to persuade anyone who honestly believes this mean-spirited crap. There is no reasoning with these people. It is intolerable that we still allow an agency of the federal government to refuse employment to people based on their sexual orientation. If we wait for the people who sign off on statements like this one to come around, well, this nation's gays and lesbians who want to serve their country will have to wait far too long. Seems to me like many of these retired officers just aren't comfortable being around gays and lesbians, which is a lousy reason for tolerating discrimination.

The only solution is just to force the military to stop discriminating. I promise the military will survive.
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