Sunday, June 28, 2009


I have been trying to work today, but instead had been giving in to feeling like a failure as a lawyer, as a housekeeper, as a dog mom, and pretty much in every other way possible. It didn't help that the US men's soccer team, who started off with a stellar first half, allowed Brazil to score 3 goals in the second half (really 4) to lose the game.

But then, I did a little channel surfing and found "My Cousin Vinny." Y'all know that when that movie is on, I have to watch. I came in just about the time that Vinny blew the prelim, Stanley decided to go with the public defender, and Vinny was basically feeling like a failure as a lawyer, a fiancee, and in every other way possible. But then Vinny finds his mojo and wins his case.

So I'm finding my mojo. If Vinny can win his case as a first-timer, surely I, with all my experience, can win mine. Especially since I have better suits.

Something the Mighty Mendit can't fix

Billy Mays, tv pitchman extraordinaire, has died. Guess now we'll get to find out if Orange Glo, OxiClean, and other products really can sell themselves. Let's be honest: we all found his enthusiasm for these products a little catching, didn't we? I'm a secure enough person to admit I have a bottle of OxiClean in my house. I don't use it in all the ways he suggested, and I've never been quite as excited about it as he could get, but it's a good cleaning product to have in one's repertoire.

I think my favorite Billy Mays commercials were his self-spoof bit for ESPN. ESPN has a computer service, ESPN360, that sports addicts can subscribe to so they can watch live sporting events from their computers. The ad was laugh-out-loud funny (at least, I laughed out loud the first time I saw it), with Mays demonstrating exactly how the programming got to the computer monitor by following the cable that ran from the wall into the back of the CPU. I appreciated that he could poke a little fun at his energetic tv persona.

I can admit I'll miss the guy. He made commercial breaks more entertaining, just by the sheer force of his personality. Television advertising will not be the same. I really hope this doesn't mean we'll have to see more of the ShamWow guy. That guy's annoying.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Ah, google

Someone found my blog recently by conducting this google search:

"mass public hangings in the 40s"

Huh. I can't really explain how that particular google search led anyone to my blog, as I have never blogged about mass public hangings in the 40s. But now that I've used the exact phrase mass public hangings in the 40s in this post, I guess I should be at the top of the page the next time anyone conducts that search.

Pick me up

We all need little pick-me-ups now and again. Obviously, I have been feeling the pressure of the soul-crushing workload and so can always use a little something to make me smile these days.

Last night, it came in the form of a text message from SO's sister:

"I miss you, Sarah. From K."

K is SO's niece. Guess I've been skipping some family get togethers lately (though I did make K's dance recital). It's kind of nice to be missed by an 8 year-old.
Sent via BlackBerry by AT&T

Thursday, June 25, 2009

SCOTUS had a good case day

That's like a good hair day, but with law, not locks. First, there was the confrontation case, which I wrote about here.

Then, there was the strip search case about the 13 year-old girl who was forced to pull her underwear and bra away from her body to demonstrate to school officials that she did not have contraband medications hidden. (She did not.) 8 of 9 Justices rightly found that search was unreasonable and violated her 4th Amendment right. The hold-out was Justice Thomas; I think it's best not to dwell on his dissent.

After argument, a lot of court observers, myself included, were pretty dismayed at how unconcerned the majority of the justices seemed to be about what was done to the girl. Justice Ginsburg, alone, expressed any real outrage about the excessiveness of the search that was based on nothing but the accusation of a classmate who had been caught red-handed with pills. Justice Ginsburg took the unusual step of discussing that case in an interview afterwards. She cited that oral argument as evidence that the court desperately needed to add another female justice. I'm sure she was pleased to realize she wasn't alone on this case in the end. (But we still need more female justices.)

Today can't make up for some of the bad decisions the Court has issued this term (I'm looking at you, Kansas v. Ventris), but it helps. Good day, SCOTUS.

Confrontation 5, Convenience 4

All the way back in November, I wrote about a case pending before the U.S. Supreme Court, Melendez-Diaz v. Massachusetts. Back then, I wrote that I thought the case was a no-brainer. The state of Massachusetts had convicted Mr. Melendez-Diaz of possessing and selling cocaine. At trial, though, the state did not produce any lab analyst to testify that the white, powdered substance found in the defendant's possession was in fact cocaine. Instead, they presented a certified affidavit from the crime lab. Mr. Melendez-Diaz objected, arguing that his right to confrontation was being violated by the state's refusal to call the lab analyst to testify in person about the testing and results.

The argument, which took place in November, left me a bit nervous. The state's argument boiled down to a logistical argument: it would place too great a burden on states if they actually had to produce witnesses at trial. Yes, yes, it certainly would be easier for states if they could just convict defendants based on pieces of paper without having to comply with those pesky constitutionally-protected trial rights. I mean, really, sometimes these uppity criminal defendants act like the Bill of Rights was enacted to protect their rights against having the state run roughshod over them. That was my take on the state's argument and I was distressed that the argument wasn't laughed out of court. I was still confident, though, that the court would ultimately see things my way. The issue was, after all, a no-brainer.

Today, 8 long months argument argument, SCOTUS finally issued a decision. I was partially vindicated as the defendant won. Justice Scalia (who has written some good 6th Amendment opinions) wrote the majority opinion. His holding is pretty simple and straightforward. Any lawyer wanting to cite the case would have no difficulty finding a pinpoint cite. There are also some very nice lines for defenders to quote. He also took some time to acknowledge the report of the National Academy of Sciences that was so critical of the nation's forensic crime labs. I very much appreciated that recognition by the Court that forensic evidence is often subjective and very, very fallible.

But, ultimately, I still find the decision disheartening. 4 Supreme Court Justices would have sided with the state of Massachusetts. 4 Supreme Court Justices would have denied defendant's the right to confront those lab analysts. Because it would be too logistically difficult for states. Because defendants could always subpoena the witnesses themselves if they really wanted to. And because, really, what is there to cross-examine about scientific data? (Read my previous post if you want to know what is so wrong with that last one.)

So it was only by the barest of margins that Melendez-Diaz won the right to confront his accuser, as in the guy who says the stuff he had was cocaine. My no-brainer of a position won by one measly vote. I want to focus on the positive, that the right position did prevail. But I am disturbed more than I can say by the fact that 44% of the Supreme Court evidently has no brain.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Just say no to tolerating prison rape

It's common, and by some even considered funny, to make cracks about criminals the public doesn't like getting what they "deserve" in prison, courtesy of cellmate Bubba. It always makes me nauseated to read comments to online articles along those lines. Prison rape is a real problem. No one deserves to be violated in that way, no matter how heinous his or her crime. Anyone who can be proven to have committed rape should be prosecuted, especially prison guards who take advantage of a vulnerable population. Prison rape is certainly nothing to be laughed at.

So this headline caught my eye yesterday:

States could lose money over prison rapes

States receiving federal money for prisons could see their funding cut if they fail to adopt measures to reduce sexual violence in correctional facilities nationwide, a federal report said.Link

The federal report found that not enough is being done to prevent rapes in prison or to prosecute the offenders. So this is a good development. Money does talk, so perhaps prisons around the country will finally be inclined to address the very real problem. But one line in the article that caught my attention suggested that prisons should adopt a zero tolerance policy as one part of a strategy to lower the number of prison rapes. Huh?? Don't we as a society (in theory, anyway) ALREADY have a zero tolerance policy when it comes to rape? Here's hoping this threat to withhold money encourages corrections departments nationwide to remember that all rape is criminal, even if it's committed by Bubba against that really perverted child molester.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Limping to the end

Oh, the joys of being a public defender. Especially as the fiscal year ends. Every year, funds run out, or come close. We get memos or e-mails that we can't order any new office supplies until July 1. So we're low on pens and post-it notes and legal pads. Then we get the notice that we're running out of paper, so we have to start rationing our copying and printing. It's kind of hard to be a lawyer without paper. A lot of what we do is produce documents, which usually have to be copied multiple times. (Multiple copies for the court, a copy or two for opposing counsel, a copy for the client, and, of course, a copy for the file.) Maybe that means I can take the next week off. Or I'll just read cases on the computer and not print out rough drafts of my documents. I don't need to make edits by hand. And I'll hold off on writing as many client letters as I can.

But come July 1, I will be a printing fool.

UnReality TV

Last night on "Raising the Bar", I got to live out a little fantasy fulfillment. Jerry Kellerman (played by Zack Morris) pulled not one but two stunts in the courtroom. The first was to point out to the judge that his rigid application of courtroom rules was unfair. The second was to make a point while arguing a motion. Fortunately for Jerry, he made his point in both situations, got his way, and did not suffer any consequences, except a bit of a tongue-lashing from his boss. But there were no repercussions from the judge. In fact, the judge seemed to gain respect for Jerry.

If only. We've seen other scenes of t.v. or movie lawyers acting out in court like that. Most memorable to me was Bobby on "The Practice" once walking to the wall and pounding his head into it to show how frustrated he was with ruling after ruling by the court that seemed designed only to screw the defendant. I have had those moments. I suspect most defenders have. We've all had times when we wanted to respond in a way that is less dignified than befits a courtroom. We have all been on the losing end of rulings so ludicrous, the only appropriate response would have been, "I call bullshit on that ruling, your honor."

But I don't work in the suspended reality jurisdiction that Jerry Kellerman does. In the real world, I've never had the nerve to try something outrageous, no matter how outrageous the court's view of things was. I can't afford a contempt fine and I definitely cannot handle any time in jail. I don't want to deal with the stress of a disciplinary action, especially one initiated by a judge's complaint. Instead, I am stuck living vicariously through Jerry. And occasionally putting myself to sleep by imagining the tirades I would unleash on judges if I ever decided to leave the real world.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The soul-crushing workload has been wearing me down. I think perhaps it wouldn't have crushed me quite so thoroughly if I weren't also lonely for friends. I love this town, but I've never quite found a best friend here. Lots of good friends, great friends. And, of course, SO, who is the person closest to me. But I don't have the sure thing friend-wise. Not the one that I know will factor into weekend plans. Not the one that I know will go with me to see that new movie. Not the one who might just pop over to my house on a Thursday night to chat when SO is hanging out with his closest friends.

But, for the next four days, this won't be a problem. By this time tomorrow night, I will have 3 of my bestest friends around. It's been way too long since I have seen them. Yay for bestest friends.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009


It's easy for celebrities to claim they're members of "Red Sox Nation" or Yankees fans. There is plenty of cache attached to attending Lakers games. But you don't hear of too many famous Royals fans or Chiefs fans. Even the greatest tradition in college basketball doesn't have much celebrity support.

Except for Paul Rudd. He's a local boy gone movie star, but he hasn't stopped rooting for his hometown teams. He even wore a KU hat in Clueless.

So I salute you, Paul Rudd, Royals Fan. It takes a special kind of loyalty to love our boys in blue as we do.
Sent via BlackBerry by AT&T

Monday, June 15, 2009

By popular demand

The story of how I won $1,000 and became the most popular girl in 8th grade for a day.

In the fall of 1986, the new phone books were distributed throughout the Kansas City metro area. Q104, the top 40 radio station, had put a ticket on the last page of each of those phone books. The tickets had 6 digit numbers on them. For the next year, Q104 used those tickets as the basis for their daily giveaways. They would call out a number at specific times throughout the day. If they called the number from your phone book, you had 10 minutes to call in and claim your prize.

Now, being a 13 year-old girl, I was smack in the middle of Q104's target audience. No demographic drives pop music as much as young teenage girls. So I listened to Q104 religiously. And in that way that only 13 year-old girls can manage, I knew everything about the ticket contest. I memorized our ticket number the very day the new phone book showed up on our doorstep. I knew exactly what times the djs would call out new numbers every day. I knew the noon giveaway was the lame lunch or two-liter of pop. I knew the 5:30 usually involved tickets to concerts or Worlds of Fun. And I knew the 7:00 a.m. was the money slot. I made sure to arrange my daily routines so I was listening to the radio at the right times as often as possible. Somehow, I didn't worry myself with the odds of winning. I just felt sure that if I listened as often as possible, I would one day hear my number.

And then one morning, it happened. I was up, showered, and dressed in my black cords with a black sweater (it seems like a Sarah thing to remember, what outfit I was wearing) when it was time for the morning giveaway. I didn't have any socks or shoes on yet, though. I sat back on my bed and waited. The woman dj read out the number that morning. "12 34 56" My first thought was, "Oh, well" because it wasn't my number. And then, I repeated it in my head. See, I had memorized the number as "123 456". It took that extra second or two for it to sink in that the sequence of numbers she had said really was right. I'm sure I shrieked as loudly as any 13 year-old girl ever did, but there was nobody in the house to come running.

I ran into my parents room and frantically started dialing the radio station's phone number (which, of course, I had long since memorized just in case). I only had 10 minutes to call in and I was terrified that I wouldn't be able to get through. It felt like forever, but in reality was probably only a minute or two of constant redialing before I finally did hear a voice. When someone finally did answer the phone, I was stunned to hear Mike in the Morning. It never occurred to me to think that I would actually get to talk to my beloved Mike in the Morning! All of a sudden, I wasn't just hysterical at the prospect of winning $1,000, but I was a star-struck teenager with a huge crush, too. It's a wonder I managed to get any words out, but somehow, I did squeak out a very shaky, "I think you called my number." Fortunately, Mike in the Morning was an old pro at handling phone calls from nervous prospective winners and crushing 13 year-old girls. He had me repeat the number of my ticket and confirmed that I was, in fact, right. I could finally breathe again.

Except, I had another panic moment when Mike in the Morning, understandably questioning whether I was old enough to be reliable, asked to speak to my mom. But she wasn't home. She had gone over to the Allan's house to take their garbage out and feed their cat. I was again gripped with terror that I would be denied my winnings. I feared that they would get impatient waiting or think I was just pranking them and hang up. (Somewhere in the back of my pre-lawyer brain, I was already laying out my case that they couldn't deny me because I had, in fact, called in within the allotted time.) I ran next door and got to the driveway just as Mom had hit the button on the garage door opener. She didn't know what to think when the first thing she saw was my little feet, still with no socks or shoes, dancing around on the driveway. I'm not sure if I was hopping around because it was winter and I was barefoot or just because I was about to win $1,000. She didn't really understand what was going on, but I was able to convey that it was critical that she come talk to the people on the phone. Thankfully, the radio station had not hung up. She spoke to them, checked the phone book and confirmed the number, and I got my grand.

The radio station used my mom saying, "Well, we sure can use the money!" as part of their promos for the giveaway for quite a while. I'm not gonna lie - that always irked me a little. I was the one who'd called! My parents briefly flirted with the idea that the whole family should split the money or that we should use it to pay for a trip or something like that. I didn't say anything, but after about 20 minutes of discussion, my mom, dad, and sister all finally came to their senses and realized that I should get all the money. Phew!

Some equally obsessive 13 year-old girls had also been listening to the radio that morning, so they heard my big win, which is how it got all over school.

The guys on the bus all wanted me to buy a Honda Spree. I was tempted, mostly by the idea that maybe Jeremy Holland would want to ride on it with me, but in the end, I opted to use my money differently.

I gave $200 to my sister as a graduation present. She was about to graduate high school and head off to college. I bought myself a bike. It was a beautiful, shiny, purple 10-speed, way nicer than my old bike. I also spent about $100 on a fabulous outfit from ESPRIT. (You knew I would have bought clothes or shoes, right?) It was a dark purple skirt and top with geometric shapes in bright colors all over it. I wore it with a chunky, black belt, black ankle boots, and the shirt collar standing up. I felt like the most fashionable bad-ass in that outfit. (Bear, it's the outfit I wore in my 9th grade yearbook photo.) The rest (about $450) went into a savings account that eventually became my first money market account, which I cashed out, to the tune of $2200, when I graduated from college.

So that's my big story. I think if we all only get to win something once in a lifetime, it's pretty good to get that win when you're 13. $1,000 seems like a LOT more money when you're 13. And anything good that happens is more exciting at 13. It's still one of the most exciting things that's ever happened to me.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

They like me! They really, really like me!

I have become the most popular person on the block. Neighbors who have barely acknowledged me in the 3 years that I have lived in this house are now introducing themselves. They are walking down the alley when they see me come home so they can ask me about the house. They are all in love with the new color. I guess we now know that they all thought my house was the dud of the block, the embarrassing one, dragging all their property values down. But now I have gone from ugly duckling to swan with the best-looking house, so now they all like me.

It's like I'm reliving the day I won $1,000 in 8th grade. I was not popular, but I was known because many of us had gone to school together since kindergarten. Most days, I wasn't on the school radar. But the morning I won $1,000 on the radio, everyone in school wanted to talk to me. They all wanted to know how I was going to spend the money and what Mike in the Morning said to me and when I would get the check. My teachers all heard about it so my big win was discussed in most of my classes. I really liked being the center of attention for that one day. By the next morning, people had stopped talking about it and by the time I actually got the check, nobody cared or even remembered. So, I wonder how long it will be before all my neighbors stop caring that I prettied-up my house and go back to remembering that I don't mow my lawn much and I don't do any landscaping and my driveway is a cracked, weedy mess. But for now, I'm enjoying being the most popular person on the block.

Except yesterday evening, I caught a guy taking pictures of my house. (Maddie is very useful in this way -- nobody can stand out front without her alerting me.) When he saw me at the front door, he came up to me and complimented me on the house. He asked me where I came up with the color combination (Sherwin-Williams suggested the green and cream colors as the accent and trim colors for this red). Then he handed me his card and asked me to e-mail him the exact color names because he wants to paint his house in the exact same colors. I guess I might as well send him the information because I can't stop him from painting his house red. I just hope everyone remembers my house is the original and his is the copycat.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Rachel would be so disappointed

Two very sweet, earnest young women came to my door this evening. Between their innocent smiles, their long, un-styled hair, and their floor-length floral dresses, their mission was obvious. They handed me a brochure from their church, the local evangelical-style Baptist church. They were not interested in talking with me or proselytizing to me; they simply wanted to invite me to their church. Well, maybe they wanted to proselytize a little bit because they did point out that the little pamphlet listed Bible verses that I could use to determine if I am bound for heaven. (I am not.) I thanked them and they were on their way.

Only after I closed the door did it occur to me: it was the perfect opportunity for me to use my new favorite thing, the Godless Huzzah. I totally blew it.

Can you tell the difference between the criminal and the guy who is profoundly mentally disabled?

Apparently the criminal justice system can't.

Teen with 47 IQ gets 100 years in sex abuse case

A teenager who has profound mental disabilities was sentenced to 100 years in prison after pleading guilty to charges in a sex abuse case involving his 6-year-old neighbor.Link

This is a travesty. And a tragedy. This 18 year-old boy was caught fondling a 6 year-old boy. That is the only detail the article provides on the specific facts of the "crime". The young man plead guilty to 5 counts and a jury decided his sentence. It was the judge's choice to stack all the sentences to add up to the 100 year prison term. At least the judge had the decency to say that neither he nor the jury liked the outcome, but they didn't know what else to do.

That's a pretty sad statement. We know that locking this poor guy up in prison for the rest of his life isn't really fair, but gee, we don't know what else to do. We don't know how to deal with this guy and we're just too lazy to figure it out. After all, we're not the ones who will have to live with all the killers and rapists for the next 60 or 70 years.

This boy has no business in prison. He probably shouldn't even be convicted of a crime. I have a hard time imagining that he had any criminal intent or any idea what he was really doing. He is a child in a man's body, which is how he came to be in his current predicament. To him, I would wager he doesn't see any difference between himself and that 6 year-old kid. But as an 18 year-old, he's also got raging hormones and he probably doesn't have any idea what to do with them. It would appear that the able-minded adults responsible for him also don't have a clue.

I understand that providing an adequate arrangement for this young man might be difficult. He probably requires a lot of supervision and a lot of attention. Maybe he doesn't have parents who can, or care to, dedicate the kind of time he needs. But shouldn't someone somewhere at least try? There has to be some kind of group home or facility that can meet his needs far better than an adult prison can. Warehousing him in a prison for the rest of his life is unacceptable. The fact that we're unwilling to come up with a better solution is something we should all be ashamed of. It's lazy. Hell, it's immoral. We shouldn't treat an incompetent, developmentally disabled teen as a criminal.

Ta Da!

and After:

Now you have proof. I have the prettiest house in the neighborhood. (Those bushes will be removed soon and replaced by pretty perennials.)

Wednesday, June 10, 2009


Rachel Maddow is my favorite. While discussing the Sotomayor confirmation hearing schedule, she wrapped up by noting that some Christian group had performed a blessing on the room where the hearings will be held. Ana Marie Cox said she thought that was just fine, as long as people also would not get uptight about a Buddhist blessing or a Muslim blessing or etc. Basically, Ana Marie said, she is all for people blessing each other.

Rachel Maddow interjected that she would like to offer her own form of blessing: a Godless Huzzah.

This could be a very useful expressions. There are lots of situations that are tricky verbally for the atheists. I won't say "God bless you" and I won't offer or agree to pray for you. It's not because I don't want the best for you or I don't want to do all in my power to help you through whatever is prompting the prayer request. It's just that I don't believe in god, so a blessing would be pointless from me and a prayer would not actually express my hopes for you. I have often wondered how I could express well-wishes or a blessing. Now I know.

So from now on, whenever you need a blessing or want prayers or kind thoughts, please know that all my best will come to you in the form of the Godless Huzzah.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

All about me

Molly over at The Lovin' Spoonful has tagged me for an award. Thanks, Molly!

So to show my appreciation (and to procrastinate just a tad), here goes. 10 things about me you may not know.

1. I have 6 2008 KU National Championship t-shirts, 1 hoodie, and 1 hat. And a bumper sticker.

2. My first car was a red Saturn named Scarlett, after Scarlett O'Hara.

3. Every year, I get up at 8 a.m. on the Saturday and Sunday of the final weekend of Wimbledon to watch the men's and women's singles. To honor the All England Lawn & Tennis Club, I always prepare myself a bowl of strawberries and cream to eat as I watch the finals.

4. I had a long-term relationship with Pete Sampras for most of my 20s. He was not aware of this relationship, though he did once look in my direction when I cheered him on in the 5th set against Greg Rusedski in the 3rd round at the 2002 US Open. Clearly, my cheering him on helped him to win that tournament and retire on top.

5. I collect mini-bats from baseball stadiums. It started with me buying a mini-bat when I was at a stadium other than Kauffman Stadium. Then I decided to buy a mini-bat at every stadium I go to. Over the years, though, both my dad and one of my best friends, who travels a lot, have added to the collection. I've also got a couple of specialty bats, commemorating George Brett (greatest 3rd baseman ever) and the Negro Leagues. I am up to 14 mini-bats. (If any of my blogging friends ever come across an old Montreal mini-bat, I would pay handsomely.)

6. When my sister and I were kids, we wrote parodies of the Star Wars trilogy. We thought they were brilliant. They were named "Scar Warts", "The Umpire Strikes Out", and "Return of the Judo". See, I told you: brilliant. I played Princess Playa Organ. In the 3rd play, I was taken hostage by the evil Gingerbread Hut (convincingly played by our Barbie Dream House). I finally freed myself from the Hut's clutches by burning it.

7. In 3rd grade, the school play was about George Washington. For some reason, George had cheerleaders. We were sort of like the Greek chorus, popping up to comment on the action from time to time. We would chant out his name: G-E-O-R-G-E Wash-ing-ton. I was the first "G" and I am the only part of the cheer that is audible on the video. I may have been small, but I was loud.

8. In high school forensics, I performed a Duet Act with my friend Mary. She played the devil and I played a crazy woman. We received a disturbing number of comments that we were the most perfectly-cast DA the judges had ever seen.

9. I don't really love chocolate. The fastest way to my heart is with cheesecake. Or the ginger biscuit, vanilla custard, fresh berry, and whipped cream dessert at that one steakhouse in Minneapolis.

10. Yo quiero Taco Bell. Seriously. I probably eat there once or twice a week.
So the Women's Health Care Services, Inc. clinic in Wichita is officially closed. I kind of wondered if that wouldn't be the outcome from Dr. Tiller's murder. I knew very little about the structure of that clinic, its ownership, how many other doctors practiced there, etc. I guess I was just resigned to the idea that no one else could ever really fill Dr. Tiller's shoes.

But even though I had already thought this outcome was likely and knew that no one would take over the unique services only Dr. Tiller provided, I am still saddened to realize that the person who murdered the doctor really would get exactly what he wanted. This is how they're winning, the bad guys, the extremists, the terrorists, and the Operation Rescue types. They've harassed and protested and badgered so many doctors out of providing services. It hardly matters if abortion is legal if there is no one to provide the service.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Don't ever call me an agent for the state

The most appalling thing the U.S. Supreme Court has ever done (well, aside from Dred Scott and Plessy v. Ferguson and Koramatsu and probably some others I'm not thinking of right now) is say that Batson v. Kentucky applies to criminal defendants.

For the non-criminal lawyers among you, in Batson v. Kentucky, the Supremes ruled that the state could not strike black prospective jurors just for being black. (They would later also rule that the state could not strike female jurors just for being female.) Because the prosecutor is a governmental agent, it would violate the constitution for a prosecutor to deny a juror the right to be on a jury based on his/her race.

Now, this was kind of a big deal because DAs offices throughout the nation had manuals instructing trial prosecutors to get all the blacks or minorities off of juries. In the pre-Batson days, in a lot of courthouses throughout the nation (especially the south), black persons never saw the inside of a jury box. So I'm ok with Batson. I think it's a good ruling in principle. It doesn't actually have any teeth whatsoever and a prosecutor doesn't need to say much to show a "race-neutral" reason for striking the juror, but at least they have to state a reason. They have to think about it.

Prosecutors really hated Batson. So soon after Batson came down, they started to complain that defendants were using their strikes to discriminate, too. And that's not fair! After all, according to the Batson court, the right involved here was the right of the prospective jurors. Those prospective jurors had a constitutional right not to be discriminated against based on race or sex. So after a few years, the US Supreme Court issued another opinion, Georgia v. McCollum. In that case, the damn court came up with the most tortured logic I have ever read to conclude that defense counsel also couldn't strike jurors based on race or sex.

Maybe at first blush, that seems fair enough. What's good for the goose and all that. But it's so very wrong. Because the constitution protects people against discrimination by the STATE. If it's not state action, a victim of discrimination has not suffered any harm to a constitutional right. Someone, anyone, please tell me who is less an agent of the state than a criminal defendant? When a criminal defendant acts in a courtroom, it makes a mockery of his plight to suggest that he acts as an agent of the state.

Every time I have to deal with this reverse Batson nonsense, I just want to tear my hair out. Defense attorneys should not have to defend their peremptory strikes of jurors. We shouldn't have to prove that we don't have some discriminatory motive. Because we don't represent the state.

I'm in the mood to kick a little ass

Now, as you all know, I have been saddled with a soul-crushing workload for a month or two now. The end is nearing. Today, I am feeling pretty good about the major parts I have left to finish of this massive case. I have a handle on it right now. I maybe even feel like I'm starting to rock it a little bit.

I don't promise I will continue to feel this way (in fact, I think we can all safely assume that I will have at least one more big bout of feeling completely overwhelmed and incompetent as a lawyer before this whole thing is through), but I'm going with the "rockin' it" feeling for now.

Perhaps adding to my general can-do feeling is the fact that my house is thisclose to being done. I know I promised pictures, but the shutters probably aren't going up today because the paint is taking too long to dry. It's awfully humid today. So you may just have to wait until tomorrow. But at least the doors are done so the awful is-it-burgundy-or-rose-or-mauve-or-pink color is finally gone. And the ceiling of the carport was done when I got home, along with a promise to throw in the garage (which I had foolishly said initially that I would do myself) for only a few hundred more. Given that I have no time to devote to painting that garage right now and I really, really don't want to see that icky blue any longer than necessary, I jumped at that price.

And the other good thing today is the season premier of "Raising the Bar." What public defender doesn't love a t.v. show all about dedicated public defenders? And what woman who was a teenager in the late 80s doesn't love a show that brings Zack Morris, er, I mean Mark-Paul Gosselaar to television? The main character, Jerry Kellerman, and I have a lot in common (well, a little less this season, since he cut his hair). He, like I, can't have drinks at the bar after work with his DA buddies without yelling at them about the way they go about their jobs or the way they watch their fellow prosecutors go about their jobs without chastising them. I am always that p.d. whenever I hang out socially with prosecutors.

So now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to check on the progress of the doors (being painted as I type) and then I'm going to get back to rocking my case.

Oh, and points to anyone who can identify the movie from which I stole this blot post title.

Thursday, June 4, 2009


This morning, my house was blue, with some patches of primer and one test wall of the new color. It was a bright, light blue. It was all right, but it was not my choice.

This evening, when I got home from work, the blue was gone. In its place was the wonderful, fabulous, exciting new color all of my own choosing. It looks good. So good. Gorgeous, even. I clapped my hands. I hopped up and down like a little kid. I may have done a little dance. I had a lovely bonding moment with my neighbor. I walked all the way around the block just so I could figure out all the spots where my house can be seen through trees and around other houses. My house is the prettiest house on the block now.

I'm sure some people were a little unsure about my color choice, but I promise you, I was right.

But you have to wait for the proof. He still has to finish the trim work, the door, and the shutters. No pictures until it's entirely done.

When did "pretty sound" become synonymous with "I hate America"?

President Obama described the Arabic call to prayer at sunset as one of the prettiest sounds on earth. I have found a couple of right-wing nutjob blogs that I read as sort of my barometer for crazy. (I would share a link, but they are seriously crazy and I don't want them finding me.) This innocuous statement by the president has got people on one blog calling for revolution. I'm not kidding. The mere fact that he thinks the call to prayer sounds pretty has some people (about 5 or 6 actual commenters) fearing for our country and plotting revolution.

Well, I share their fear for our country. I did not know any of our population was so unhinged that they would think revolution is necessary because our president identified a sound as pleasing to the ear.

This reminds me of a misunderstanding my sister and I once had while on the phone. I was watching Wimbledon while we chatted, so she turned to the tennis as well. At the end of most points, the spectators clap.

I remarked, "I love that sound."

My sister rebuked me. "That's an awfully arrogant thing to say!"

I was taken aback by that unfounded accusation. It took me a few seconds to realize that she thought I had meant I loved hearing applause when it was for me. But all I had meant was that the sound of 12,000 people politely clapping was a very pleasing sound to my ear. It was a soothing sound, not harsh or jarring. Especially at Wimbledon. There is something about the acoustics at that particular tennis stadium that gives the genteel clap a soft edge. It is simply a sound I like to hear. Happily, once I explained this, my sister no longer thought I was arrogant. Maybe a little weird, but not arrogant.

I certainly didn't take Obama's statement to mean that he is a closet Muslim, hell-bent on destroying this country, converting us all to Islam, and killing the infidels who resist. I think he just meant what I meant about the clapping: the call to prayer is a pretty sound. Isn't it ok for the president to think it's a pretty sound? Are we really such enemies with all of the Islamic world that anyone who says any kind word about the religion or its people is a threat to our national security? Seems a little nutty to me.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Is something the matter with Kansas? Or are we pretty normal?

This headline on MSNBC caught my eye tonight:

Kansas is deadly epicenter in abortion debate
Mass protests, lawsuits and killing of doctor keep issue on front lines

I can personally attest that the abortion issue seems to have been front and center in all the time I have lived in Kansas. In high school, I was co-founder of a (small) group of students calling ourselves Students for Choice. We testified before a state senate subcommittee on the issue of parental notification. (We even made the evening news!) My friends went to Wichita in the summer of 1991 to act as escorts at Dr. Tiller's clinic. (My father had heart surgery that summer, so I stayed home to take care of him, or I would have gone, too.)

I moved back to Kansas in 2001. Since then, abortion has never been far from the front page because of Phill (yes, he really does spell it that way) Kline's election to the office of Attorney General in 2002. Once in office, he relentlessly pursued investigations into Dr. Tiller and the Planned Parenthood clinic in the Kansas City suburbs. There has been almost constant litigation since, including at least 2 (3?) cases before the Kansas Supreme Court. Kline's single-minded focus on abortion became the major issue in his re-election campaign in 2006. (That and his tenuous grasp on the professional rules of conduct.) But even when we the people ran him out of office in 2006, he somehow landed on his feet as the District Attorney with jurisdiction over the Planned Parenthood clinic. So the madness continued. And the silly charges that Kline filed against Dr. Tiller managed to stick around until a jury finally took all of about 20 minutes to acquit the doctor this spring. And, of course, with Sunday's awful incident, every major newspaper in Kansas has at least 3 stories daily about Dr. Tiller's murder.

So seeing this article on MSNBC made me wonder: do we in Kansas have a skewed perception of how big the abortion fight is? Are stories about abortion regularly in the news in, say, Michigan or Washington or New Hampshire? I know that it is a hotly contested issue everywhere, with deeply-held beliefs on both sides. I guess I'm just wondering if we really have been subjected to a more ever-present, in-your-face type debate here in this state.

Oh happy day

There are a few nights of the year that stand out as being special. There's Christmas Eve, filled with family and warmth and love. There's the Super Bowl with all its junk food and commercials and beer. There's the NCAA basketball championship game (made all the more special if your team wins, I can assure you). There's July 4th with the massive fireworks displays.

I think Sonic's Free Root Beer Float night has to go on that list. We stumbled on it the first time, not knowing about free float night. We went to get food. Before we'd even ordered, a carhop came up to the window and handed over 2 root beer floats. Instantly, we were happy. Free ice cream has to be one of the most reliable smile-inducements in the world.

Tonight is Free Root Beer Float night. They're going until midnight. If you have a Sonic near you, hop in the car and head on over. I got mine and it was yummy. I've still got 3 hours; I might have to head on over to one (or 3) of the other Sonics in town.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

I think I know what you mean...

I think the U.S. Supreme Court has gotten a little sloppy in its opinion-writing of late. Today, I had to cite two recent cases. I know the holdings of these cases. I've read them both, I've read commentary on them. I know what they stand for. In my written issue, I had already presented the two cases with a clear, concise statement of the holding. All I needed to do was add in the pinpoint cite. (That's the specific page number of the case that contains support for what I have written.)

In both of these cases, I couldn't find a pinpoint cite. I could not find a clear statement of the holding. For one case, I had to cite a range of 4 pages. From reading the full four pages, one can clearly see that the court found the statements to be testimonial. But they never actually wrote that sentence! It would have been so easy. Like this, court: The statements were testimonial. See? Four words. Easy.

The second case was even worse. My pinpoint cite would have looked like a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure cite. First, go to page 3, then read the second paragraph of page 7, which directs you back to page 6, and then finally the last sentence of page 9. When you put it all together in that order, it becomes clear that the holding of the case is exactly what I say it is. I was able to condense the central holding of the case into one sentence. Why couldn't the court?

If I were Queen of the Court, I would make it a rule that each controlling opinion must have an introductory or concluding paragraph that clearly sets out the holding of the case. Such a rule would eliminate any confusion about what the actual holding of a case is. All the lower courts throughout the land would know exactly what you meant. And it would really help out all the lawyers who are required to provide pinpoint cites in their motions and briefs!

Do Not Disturb

We are all people on the go. We have things to do and people to see. Most of us spend a good deal of time each week away from home. And nature doesn't stop calling just because we're far away from the comfort and privacy of our own personal bathrooms. When we spend 9 hours a day at work, we're going to have to use the bathroom there. The public bathroom, available to all. And since it's at work, it's a pretty good bet we're gonna run into someone we know when we go.

While we are both standing there at the mirror washing our hands or making sure our teeth are debris-free after lunch, we can engage in pleasant chit-chat. We can say a quick "hey" as you're going in and I'm coming out. Maybe even have a short exchange if we haven't seen each other yet that day. Sometimes the bathroom can be the perfect place for passing on the latest juicy office gossip.

But the second that stall door closes behind me, all that must stop. I want to engage in the suspension of disbelief. I want to believe that there is a cone of silence covering my completely and totally private stall. I want to delude myself into thinking I am in my own, private bathroom with no one else around.

I need to pretend that you can't hear the strange sounds emanating from my body and that the occasional unpleasant smell accompanying those sounds exists only to me. In turn, I will pretend that I do not hear you ripping the wrapper off a tampon or that I am totally unaware that you have, for whatever personal reason, had to tear off a second wad of toilet paper. I definitely want to forget that you can stand on the other side of my stall door, look through the crack between the door and the wall, and see just how much my thighs spread on the toilet seat.

We do some awful stuff in the bathroom. It's the kind of stuff that is so intensely private, we hide it from our spouses and our mothers (once we reach a certain age). So I would really like to pretend that there isn't someone sitting just 2 feet away from me while I'm doing it. But the cone of silence doesn't work when people try to talk to me while I'm in my stall. So, please, respect the cone. Don't talk to me. Pretend I'm not there, just as I am pretending you're not there. And definitely do not tap my foot! (That one's for you, FH.)

I will be more than happy to talk to you as soon as I am standing at the sink, washing my hands.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Bill O'Reilly is a coward

Bill O'Reilly knew that people would suggest his over-the-top rhetoric about Dr. Tiller fueled hatred of the man and kept national attention on him, which surely made the doctor a bigger target. He knew that he wanted to reject those suggestions out of hand in his smug O'Reilly way. But he is also the king of spin, so he knew he wanted to set it up to make himself look as reasonable and rational as possible.

So he had two guests on in his first segment to discuss the murder. His guests: Kris Kobach and Brian Russell. If you're from around here, you know all about right wing nutjob Kobach. Well, Russell isn't any better. He's a pro-life guy who regularly shills himself out to the panel type news shows on CNN, FOX, and Headline News. So O'Reilly got two guys who agree with him on abortion, specifically Tiller's late-term practice, and got them both to state unequivocally that, of course, Bill O bears no responsibility for Tiller's death. Kobach even obliged him enough to speak out about the doctor in an extreme way such that Bill O could reign him in, thereby making himself look oh so moderate and fact-driven. Yeah, sure, Bill. None of that was spin.

If Bill O really feels so very sure he bears no responsibility, why was he too afraid to have someone who doesn't share his views on abortion come on to his show? I'm sticking with it's because he's a coward who doesn't really want to have to defend himself or have an honest discussion about whether his inflammatory rhetoric contributes to an atmosphere of violence.

Just for the record, Bill, Keith Olbermann's lead guest was Andrew Sullivan, noted conservative and pro-lifer.
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