Tuesday, July 28, 2009

DADT update

There's some movement in the effort to repeal "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." The Senate Armed Services Committee will hold hearings in the fall. With supporters in Congress, I hope it won't take the president too much longer to find his way towards ending this discriminatory policy. You did promise, Sir.

Doing a big thing badly

Remember those juvenile defendants who were railroaded by the two corrupt judges? I previously wrote about it here and here.

Now, many of the affected juveniles may lose the ability to seek redress before they're even able to establish if they were affected. According to this story in the New York Times, the state Supreme Court ruled in May that the juvenile records of the kids who appeared before these judges should be destroyed. It's certainly not unusual to seal or expunge juvenile records, so this is just the most extreme way of making sure those records don't resurface.

But if the records are destroyed, there won't be any transcripts to show that defendants weren't informed of their rights to counsel. There won't be any documents to show they went unrepresented. Basically, all of the evidence these potential plaintiffs would need pursue lawsuits for the violation of their constitutional rights. Expunging the records won't undo the time they wrongly spent in juvenile detention. I'm sure a lot of these juveniles came out of their court experiences feeling like they had been screwed, but got very little sympathy for those views. Having proof could be invaluable for their own peace of mind as they grow into adulthood. The benefits to keeping these records around a little longer until the affected defendants can decide if they want to do something far outweigh the benefits to destroying the records and putting these matters to rest permanently.

Last week, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court amended its order to protect the records of the roughly 400 former juvenile defendants who are now represented by counsel, but there are as many as 6,100 others whose records are set to be destroyed. It's not clear if those other 6000 defendants are even yet aware that their rights may have been violated.

The cynical part of me can't help but wonder if maybe the Pennsylvania court isn't a little too eager to destroy these files and the evidence so that they won't have to see the scope of the corruption that went on in their state. I understand the desire to protect those juveniles by making sure no one will ever see the records of their cases, but I hope the Court will amend its order again to give all the other potential plaintiffs a little more time to decide if they want to pursue a civil rights case. It's hardly protecting those kids by destroying the evidence that they were wronged.

I'm sure there are many in Pennsylvania who just want to come up with some final solution to this scandal so they can say it's all done. But I think it's really important that they take the time to lift off the covers and really look at what went on. Those who don't study and learn from their mistakes are doomed to repeat them. So, come on, PA. Take the time to do this thing right.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Crossing the Bar

The bar exam is the final culmination of three years of intense study. It's the final pressure-cooker. The bar exam graders don't care what kind of grades you made in law school. They don't care if you ever made high grade in a class or graduated with honors. If you don't do well on those two days, you don't get to practice law for at least 6 months. It's kind of a big deal.

(Unless you went to Wisconsin or Marquette and intend to practice in that great state. Then, you don't have to take the test at all. Unless you are an idiot like me and waste that glorious diploma privilege by accepting a job in one of the other 49 states.)

Just getting to take the test is a trek in and of itself. You have to provide character references, which for the fine state of Kansas meant 3 people to sign affidavits and 10 people to respond to inquiries if asked. Those 10 people had to have known you for at least 4 years and could not be relatives. It's harder than you might think, especially at the conclusion of law school. I had moved to Madison for law school, so most of the people I knew in my daily life, I had known for considerably less than 4 years. (Thank you to all my annex friends for helping out on that!) You have to track down every address you lived at for the last 10 years, including the address of that one apartment you lived in that summer after freshman year of college. You have to report every job you've had and every traffic ticket you got.

I still remember the day I put my bar application in the mail, certified and overnight. The paranoia of a 3L applying for the bar knows no bounds. From that day in March until the day you check in on the first day of the test, I think most of us secretly worry that something will go wrong and we won't be allowed to sit. In my case, the sticking point was my law school transcripts. I had a perfectly good letter from the Dean, verifying that I had graduated. I also had the certified transcripts for my first 5 semesters. But Kansas was threatening not to let me sit for the exam if I couldn't provide a final, certified transcript before the exam and Wisconsin Law School said they'd produce a transcript when they damn well wanted to. It was stressful for me, but, as you might have guessed from the fact that I'm a licensed attorney, it all worked out ok.

But I sure would have liked to have the support of a governor.

This poor woman paid her application fee with a check. It evidently didn't bounce. And she spoke to someone at the bar board who said it was ok. But now they say they only take credit cards so she can't take the exam. I hope the Governator's words do the trick and she's allowed to take the exam. Otherwise, hers might becomes the story that fuels the paranoia of bar applicants for years to come.

UPDATE: They're letting her take the exam and will decide later if the technical glitch in her application should prevent her from being licensed should she pass the exam. That may be even worse. It would be rough not to get to take the exam, but taking the exam, passing, and then finding out it doesn't count would be so much worse than failing.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Jury Dis-service

People don't want to serve on juries. That much is clear. We always hear about how the only people who serve on juries are the ones who are too stupid to get out of jury duty. A friend of mine once asked me what she should say to get out of jury duty. (I will not name names, but I know she reads this blog on occasion.) Heck, even I would find serving on some juries to be a pretty major inconvenience. No one wants to spend weeks (or months...) away from their regular lives.

But even knowing all of this, I still can't help but shake my head in amusement at how obvious some prospective jurors are in their determination not to spend a second longer than necessary in that courthouse. A panel of 12 is brought to the jury box to begin the voir dire process. To begin, the judge asks them each to introduce themselves, name, occupation, family type stuff. Some stick to the script, but an awful lot take that very first opportunity to worm their way out of service.

"Hi, I'm Joan. I'm 35 and a stay-at-home mom to two beautiful little girls. And I just can't imagine how, as a mother, I could listen to the details of this case."

So Joan doesn't have much of an excuse, but she really doesn't want to sit on this jury and wants us all to know it right off the bat.

"I'm Steve. 45. I run my own landscaping business and I'm booked solid for the next two months, but if I'm not there, there won't be a supervisor to run those job sites so I'll lose all that money."

Steve doesn't care much about the greater justice system or this particular defendant. He may not even be opposed to serving on a jury some day, as long as it's on his terms. And, really, it's kind of hard to argue with him if it's May or June.

"I've read all about this case and I think he's guilty. (Long, expectant pause) Oh, yeah, and my name is Beth."

Beth probably doesn't know squat about the case but has heard that these are the magic words for getting to go home early. Sadly for her, Beth will learn that the lawyers and judge running voir dire can tell what she's up to.

Then there's always the kitchen sink juror. The one who throws in every possible excuse.

"I'm Mike. I'm 45. I work at the university. All of my friends are cops. I have a [daughter or son] the same age as the victim in this case. Oh, and my child went to the 3rd grade with the victim. And this is the busiest time of the month at my work and no one else is trained to do what I do so no one can cover for me. And I have sciatica. And my dog went to obedience school with the defense lawyer's neighbor's dog."

Mike, you are not fooling anyone. None of you are fooling anyone. And not one of you said the magic words that got you sent on your merry way. And, no, I'm not going to tell you what they are. Sorry. But I did get a nice chuckle out of watching you all try.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009


1) Actual line in a transcript I read today:

HOLY CRAP!! I'm missing something here!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

That was not spoken by the judge or any of the lawyers. No, that was the editorial comment of the court reporter, who evidently had a brain cramp and forgot to start taking notes as soon as the court came back from recess. While I appreciate the court reporter acknowledging her mistake, I do think she might have found a more professional way to state it. I don't think she could have found a funnier way, though.

2) I have a weird body for fitting jeans. Banana Republic jeans don't work on me. I can only wear one cut of Old Navy Jeans. I spent the afternoon of July 11th trying on every pair of jeans I could find in this town and came away empty-handed (and feeling wretched about myself). But, Gap jeans have always worked for me. Every style. Trouser jeans. Essential fit. Long and lean. (Especially long and lean.) You are my go-to jean store. So I am very troubled by reports that the company is on the verge of collapse, reports that seem quite reliable after my recent experiences. The local Gap has almost no jeans and the website does not have a single pair of jeans in my size. Please, Gap, get your act together. I won't have anywhere to get jeans if you fail.

3) Yesterday's celebration of my wirelessness was premature. It worked just fine all evening. I took my laptop to bed and played around while watching Sex and the City, which is my dream last hour before bed. But this morning when the computer and I woke up, the wireless was gone and would not come back. I tried some new things. I then cracked and called the tech support line. After an incredibly frustrating 50 minutes, in which nothing came close to being solved and my internet connection seemed permanently lost via that router, I finally told the guy I was just going to return the router to the store and buy a different brand. (Thank you, Best Buy, for your generous return/exchange policy.) I swear, the tech support guy knows less about computers than I do and had nothing at all useful to suggest. What a waste of my time. So I uninstalled the router's software and went to Best Buy. When I came home with the new router, there was a brief period of frustration as the stupid installation cd wouldn't work on my computer because it only operates on 32-bit Vista but my computer has 64-bit Vista. Grr. So I had to do the slightly more laborious manual setup. But once I did all the setup, my computer connected to my new, secured network right away. I am now wireless with no sign of trouble. I guess tomorrow morning will be the real test.

Look Ma, no wires!

Computers are such strange little beasts. Last Thursday, I brought home my shiny new laptop and my spanking new wireless router, eager to disconnect from all the cables and cords overpowering my living room. As you might recall from the blue screen of death phase last fall, my old laptop had a corrupt wireless device, so I just stuck with dsl on that one. It's never been that big a deal as I'm usually sitting on my couch and my laptop was set up to hover in that area. But every once in a while, I wanted to be able to take my computer up to the bedroom, which was kind of a hassle if I had to take not just the laptop, but the modem and all the cords. That and the ethernet cable had an annoying tendency to pop out, so I was constantly having to reconnect.

Nothing went as smoothly as I'd hoped, though, once I got all my new toys home. I couldn't get the wireless to communicate with the computer, even though my computer recognized my network and its excellent signal strength. I bought a new modem to see if that was the problem. (It wasn't.) I tinkered and futzed a lot over the weekend, to no avail. I got offers of help from multiple people, including the IT guy at work. This evening, while waiting for IT guy, I decided to go ahead with some software updates. The connection manager program that installed with the wireless router wanted me to get an update that would improve my wireless home audio stability. So I started the download. While that was downloading, IT guy e-mailed to say tomorrow would work better for him.

Once the download was complete, I installed the new version of the connection manager. Then I thought, what the hell, I'll just try to go wireless one more time. And it worked. No waiting, no error message, no failure to communicate. It just worked. I guess my wireless home audio really was unstable.

So now I'm wireless. I'm free, liberated, and, as soon as I get around to it, I can get all those darn phone lines and power cords out of my living room. The next time I post, I just may be blogging from the comfort of my double pillow-top bed!

Monday, July 20, 2009

Technically speaking...

Technicality: something technical; especially, a detail meaningful only to a specialist.

Technical: 1a: having special and usually practical knowledge especially of a mechanical or scientific subject technical consultant b: marked by or characteristic of specialization (technical language) 2 a: of or relating to a particular subject

We hear people complain about criminal defendants getting off on "technicalities", so let's at least think about what that really means. First, let's keep in mind that in most cases, when you hear about a defendant having a conviction overturned on appeal (on a "technicality"), that just means that the defendant will get a new trial at which all those pesky "technical" rules will be followed.

Now, if a "technicality" is a detail meaningful only to a specialist, I guess that means that things like due process, search warrants, the right against self-incrimination, the right to effective assistance of counsel, the right to a speedy trial by a jury, and the right against cruel and unusual punishment are details that are not meaningful to the majority of the public. Instead, those technical details must only be meaningful to lawyers. Ok, so maybe the general public really isn't interested in the technical requirements of the 4th, 5th, and 6th Amendments. I sincerely hope that's not the case, but maybe I just have to accept that's so.
And maybe the general public doesn't care about the ins and outs of how we instruct juries, what evidence is and is not admitted at trial, etc.

But even then, even if all those constitutional and statutory requirements can properly be labeled "technicalities", why does that mean there's somehow something invalid about a defendant receiving some form of relief when one of those "technicalities" is violated in his case? When I hire an electrician to do work at my house, she has to pay attention to a whole lot of technical details that mean nothing to me because I don't understand them. But when the city inspector comes and finds a problem with one of those "technicalities", I sure as hell expect the electrician to redo the work. Otherwise, I might worry about my house burning down.

So, maybe the reasons why some criminal defendants get new trials or even get off completely don't seem meaningful to the general public, but maybe the general public should consider that the lawyers and judges involved in the case do care about those technical details and do understand why they matter so much. And that, like with the electrical wiring in houses, it's important when we do make a mistake with one of those technical details that we go back and redo the work. A house won't burn down if we don't, but the wrong person may get convicted or the government may violate more and more of our rights.

I'm still not willing to concede that the rights guaranteed in the Bill of Rights are "technicalities" instead of matters of tremendous meaning and importance to all of us. But even if they are just technical details that aren't meaningful to most people, that doesn't mean the detailed rules we lawyers insist on following in criminal trials aren't significant. Nowhere in the definition of "technical" or "technicality" will you find the words "trivial" or "unimportant."

See no evil, hear no evil

Back in February, I wrote about two corrupt federal judges who pled guilty in connection with a years' long scheme of railroading juveniles. They were accepting kickbacks from the corporations that ran the state's juvenile detention facilities in exchange for sending an inordinate number of juvenile defendants to those facilities. Many of the kids were never even informed of their right to an attorney. At the time, I was not willing to let all of the court personnel, particularly the prosecutors, who took part in these sham cases, off the hook for standing by without question or complaint.

The defense attorneys attempting to sort out the mess agree with me, arguing that the prosecutors had an obligation to report the judges' conduct. Or, sheesh, at least to inform a few of those kids that they could have lawyers if they wanted.

But District Attorney Jackie Musto Carroll won't accept any responsibility for herself or her office.

Carroll said prosecutors acted in good faith and were under no responsibility to challenge the judge's actions. She called the allegation of prosecutorial misconduct "completely meritless and baseless," pointing out there is no contention that prosecutors were aware of the kickback scheme.

Well, true, Carroll, no one is claiming any prosecutors knew about the kickbacks. But you and your underlings did know that an awful lot of juvenile defendants weren't represented in court. As far as the abnormal sentences, perhaps the DA's office can hide behind the claim that they just thought these were two hanging judges. But there's really no way to claim they didn't notice the denial of 6th Amendment rights to hundreds of defendants.

I'm pretty unimpressed by Ms. Carroll's denial that her office had any role in this fiasco. When a judge is routinely running roughshod over defendants in your presence, in violation of the Constitution, I say you do have an obligation to challenge those violations. As a defense attorney, I'm obligated to challenge the judge when I think she's wrong. Otherwise, my client won't be able to raise that issue on appeal. So there's nothing unprofessional or unseemly about challenging a judge's rulings in court. In fact, it's expected and required. There is, though, something unprofessional and entirely unseemly about a prosecutor's office thinking that respecting the Constitutional rights of the defendants they charge isn't part of the job description.

I guess D.A. Carroll hasn't learned that lesson yet. I hope the courts governing the cases affected by the kickback scheme will make sure the District Attorney's office learns the lesson the hard way.


I go back to work today after a 5 day weekend. In that time, I finished 2 books, played lots with my new toy (which still won't connect to my wireless router), did some cleaning (though not nearly enough), and planted perennials in front of my house (to replace the ugly bushes I'd ripped out weeks ago).

Now I have to go back to work and do the kinds of things I did before the soul-crushing workload became so soul-crushing. I should remember how to be just a regular lawyer with normal-sized cases. I did that for years before my recent rough patch. I'm just not really sure where to start.

The good news is that now that the soul-crushing workload has been completed, I can see that my soul is not in fact crushed. Bruised a little, perhaps, but not crushed. And nothing one 5 day weekend of doing only whatever the hell I wanted couldn't fix.

So now, back to work and the next case. I do think I'd prefer to stick with the smaller, more garden-variety murder cases for a while, though. I'd hate to risk permanent crush damage.
Sent via BlackBerry by AT&T

Thursday, July 16, 2009

I'm writing this from my shiny new laptop. It's lovely (and fully paid for!). The new keyboard is very friendly to my sad little wrists. The new touchpad doesn't have that annoying scratch my old one has. The new clicker bar is taking some getting used to and the graphics on Spider Solitaire are a tad annoying, but those are my only complaints about the new computer.

My big frustration, though, is with my newly-purchased wireless router. It will not allow me to go wireless! I guess this router/computer combo does not understand that the whole "wireless" thing means that the internet connection is supposed to work even after I unplug the internet cord. I wish my home came with an IT person who could come find the problem and fix it. Hell, I wish my home came with a yard boy and a maid and a chef, too.

It's a good thing I have 3 more days of weekend to figure this out.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Now what?

It's over. Done. The massive project, the soul-crushing workload. Just like that. It has been the major focus of my work for the last two years. It has been a major stresser for the past six months. It has consumed my every waking moment (and seriously cut into my non-waking moments) for the past two months. And now it's over.

I'm having a hard time this morning wrapping my brain around the idea that I have NO work to do on this particular case. I should have something to do. How could there not be some idea to research on Westlaw or a case to read or a transcript to flip through or a motion to review? But there is not one thing left.

So today, I am at home, as I will be for the rest of the week. I think you can guess that someone (the little red-head stealing my remote at the top of this page) is pretty happy about this week's plans. I slept until 11, so this 5 day weekend is off to a great start! I'm sure I will walk downtown a lot over the next few days, for coffee, for shopping, for lunch, and just for the dog. I may finally get around to planting some new plants in front of my house. I might get some reading done or watch some of my dvds. On Thursday, I should get to pick up my new computer, so I can play with that. I'll go to a Royals game and a wedding over the weekend.

Then maybe by Monday, I'll be ready to go back to work and figure out how to be a lawyer without the daily grind of this case. I used to know how to do that, so I'm confident I can re-learn.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Confirmed: this process is fixed

Senator Jeff Sessions is going to "try" to give Sonia Sotomayor a fair hearing in her confirmation process. Well, that's big of him. That's your job, Senator. To give the president's nominees a fair hearing. To screen them, meet with them, ask them questions, hear their answers, all BEFORE you decide to reject the nominee. You wouldn't want to pre-judge the issue based on your own political biases (you know, that she's the nominee of a Democratic president while you're a Republican) instead of waiting to hear all the evidence and judge the case on its merits.

I have a sneaking suspicion, though, that Sen. Sessions (and probably a few others) aren't all that interested in hearing the real evidence of Judge Sotomayor's record. They just want to assert as loudly as possible that she is just another lawless, irresponsible, activist liberal judge who doesn't follow the Constitution, but follows her heart to come up with whatever result feels right to her in any given case. If they succeed in saying it enough, the evidence of her actual judicial record be damned, then they can automatically discredit any ruling of hers they might disagree with someday.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

My Saturday to do list

So far today, I have gone down to the Farmer's Market, where I got some lovely blackberries and a basil plant. Maddie got to tag along, so she has had her exercise for the day.

Soon I will be headed to Home Depot to pick out some plants to put in my front yard. In a fit about 3 weeks ago, after the painting of my house was all done, I pulled out the nasty, ugly bushes that were my front landscaping. I hated those bushes. But I haven't had time to really think about what to put in their place. So today, I will look and perhaps even buy.

Then I might wander downtown to pick out a new pair of jeans to wear to the bachelorette party I am going to tonight.

Do you notice what is NOT on my to do list? That's right, boys and girls. Sarah will not be doing one lick of work on this fine Saturday. I will not think about my case. I will not look up one thing on Westlaw. I will not make any notes to myself. And I can do all my fun things without feeling the least bit guilty about not doing work. (For the past month or two, any spare time I spent doing something other than work was slightly spoiled by the nagging sense that I should be working.) The soul-crushing workload is no longer soul-crushing. It is, in fact, almost completely done. And what little remains for me to do on it can wait until Sunday.

So yay, Saturday!

Monday, July 6, 2009

Sarah's life in the last week

work work work work coffee work work work work work Kraft Mac & Cheese work work work nap work work throw orange squeaky ball work work work Wimbledon work work work work yell at poor dog for barking work work work more coffee work work work Taco Bell work work work feel bad about yelling at and not playing with poor dog work work work web surfing on possibility of coffee IV work work work cry work work work work cherry coke zero work work work splash of Jack added to cherry coke zero work work work give dog away for afternoon work workwork panic work work cry about giving dog away work workwork realize problem that was source of panic is not a problem work work work epiphany work work realize epiphany is a load of crap work work work

That pretty much sums it up.

One more week to go. Next Tuesday, around 5:00, it'll all be done. And I'm going to get rip-roaring drunk. Unless I fall asleep before I get to the bar. And then I'm taking 3 days off. I may have other piles of work to catch up on, but they can wait until the following Monday. Cleaning my kitchen cannot.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Securing the Blessings of Liberty

Preamble to the United States Constitution
We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

First Amendment

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Fourth Amendment
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Fifth Amendment
No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

Sixth Amendment
In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district where in the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence.

Eighth Amendment
Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.

"I believe there are more instances of the abridgment of the freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments of those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations." James Madison, Speech in the Virginia Convention, June 16, 1788

And, of course, the Declaration of Independence.

These are the words that stir me to action, have always stirred me. I was always a Constitutional era history junkie. In high school, I knew the Constitution almost by heart. I would have told you James Madison was my hero (with a nod to John Marshall and Thurgood Marshall). I took every constitutional law class I could in college, where I majored in political science, with an emphasis on American political theory.

I have always said the flag doesn't do much for me. It's just a piece of fabric. And I have to admit, I really hate the song "God Bless America". But if they displayed the Bill of Rights or read from the Declaration of Independence at every sporting event, I would happily rise and place my hand over my heart. Those words are the way to my patriotic heart.

So, what better job is there for a Constitution-lovin' fool than Public Defender? How else could I go to work every day with the purpose of defending the Constitution? I get to go to work every day and give effect to those glorious words and I get to protect those rights for which revolutionaries fought and died. I get to protect all citizens against abuses of government, like the imprisonment of government critics, entries by government into citizens' homes, the falsifying of affidavits to convict persons for political reasons, the denial of liberty without due process of law. I don't see myself as just a lawyer; I see myself as continuing the mission begun by those who fought the revolution and drafted the Bill of Rights. I do my best to keep the government honest against those gradual and silent encroachments James Madison warned us about.

I give you, then, a new way to look at the public defender. Not as a lazy lawyer, a public pretender, or someone who couldn't get a "real" law job. Look at this public defender as this: a true patriot.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Being mean is not a crime - it's just mean

It's only been 7 months since Lori Drew was convicted by a jury of 3 misdemeanor counts of accessing a computer without authorization. This is the Myspace hoax case from Missouri where a 13 year-old girl committed suicide after being virtually dumped by a boy she had met online. Of course, the "boy" turned out to be a middle-aged woman, mother of the girl's former friend, and the woman's assistant. Remember that the state prosecutors in Missouri looked into the case but determined that even though they heartily disapproved of what Drew had done, her behavior did not actually violate any criminal statute.

So federal prosecutors swooped in and charged her with these cyber crimes that were written to criminalize various types of computer hacking. But the feds argued that because Drew made up a fake profile on Myspace, thereby violating the Myspace terms of service, she had illegally accessed the Myspace servers. It was a reckless, dangerous prosecution aimed only at punishing this one woman but that could potentially have had wide-spread consequences. The plain truth is that most of us probably violate the terms of service of many of the websites we visit, often without really realizing it. That conduct is not what the statutes Lori Drew was charged under were designed to criminalize.

Many people who followed the case believed all along that the judge always knew the prosecution could not result in conviction but was reluctant to have to bear the brunt of public anger if he let this cyber-bully off. So when the defense filed motions to dismiss, he hemmed and hawed. He let it go to a jury verdict. Then, when the verdicts finally came down last November, he took the defense motions for dismissal and judgment notwithstanding the verdict under advisement. It is totally within a judge's authority to set aside a jury's guilty verdict and enter his/her own judgment of acquittal. It seemed clear that Judge Wu knew he really did have to do this, but he just didn't want to.

Well, he finally set aside those convictions today. At least tentatively. (Seriously, Judge Wu, make a firm decision and stick with it! Stop pussy-footing around.)

This is the right thing to do. Judge Wu is absolutely correct to interpret the statute to exclude violating a website's terms of service. Lori Drew's conduct, while reprehensible and mean, was simply not criminal. The girl's parents can sue her in civil court. That was always the only court that ever should have had anything to do with this case.

So I applaud Judge Wu's decision. Tentatively. I'll save my full applause until he puts his decision in writing.
As another reminder that merely being charged with a crime is a major problem, I have been checking out some of the websites that offer criminal background information. These websites offer some free information, but mostly they offer a paid service. The free information I found was enough to convince me that particular website is reckless and irresponsible with its criminal background "information".

As a test, I looked up individuals that I knew had been wrongly charged with some serious charges. In one case, the complaining witness has since been charged with crimes for fabricating the charges against an innocent man. The details of her story proved impossible and she was ultimately caught on tape admitting that she had made it all up in an extortion effort. The fake charges were dismissed with prejudice, which is a big deal in law world because that means the charge is completely done and cannot be revived. Usually, a charge is dismissed without prejudice, so when the judge dismisses with prejudice, it's a true exoneration of the defendant or a total condemnation of the state's actions. In this particular case, it was truly an exoneration.

And yet, according to this website that offers free criminal background information, this individual has 4 very serious charges outstanding. There is a spot in their records for a disposition of the case, but in this case, the records indicate the charges are "not disposed". The website also kindly offers the source of the information. If you click on the link, a pop-up box appears that says if you object to the information listed here, take it up with the source. But, no, the website doesn't offer the contact information for any of those sources.

So this website trolls county clerk's offices for charging information, but we now know they are not following up. If they were, they would have either removed this man's record altogether or they would at least have indicated the charges were dismissed. But as it is, well-meaning people who want to check up on this man will find out about these serious allegations without any idea of how false those allegations were.

Just one more reminder that police and prosecutors need to be very careful with their charging decisions. These things can follow even innocent, exonerated people for a long, long time.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

The Ledge

There is not enough money in this world to get me to climb on to one of those balconies at the Sears Tower. Have you seen them? Glass boxes that jut out from the building on the 103rd floor. Little observation booths, made entirely of glass. There's nothing between you and the ground below except for a floor of glass that's an inch and a half thick.

Just looking at other people standing on them gives me the chills. I'm not sure I would even get out of the elevator on the floor with those balconies, that's how far away from them I want to stay. (See, wind currents in these tall, tall buildings can be funny things, so what if some weird gust of wind blew me on to one of those ledges? It's really safest just to avoid the 103rd floor entirely.)

How about you? Would you have the nerve to step out onto that glass floor 103 stories up? Or will you be joining me in Chickenville?

Don't Ask, Just Tell

I never expected to agree with everything President Obama did or said, but there is one way in which I have been highly disappointed. He promised to repeal Don't Ask, Don't Tell. Now, he's claiming he doesn't have the power. The Commander in Chief doesn't have the executive authority to issue an order that gays can serve in the military? I'm not really buying that.

Today I learned that Defense Secretary Robert Gates is outlining ways to make Don't Ask, Don't Tell more "humane" by enforcing it selectively.

Mr. President, Mr. Secretary, I have to call BS on that. There is no way to make a ridiculously, blatantly discriminatory policy "humane". Discrimination can never be humane.

I get the idea that maybe they're just trying to ease the military into accepting openly-gay service members. But it's crap. We can't just coddle the people who hold discriminatory views and hold their hands until they get over their prejudice, all the while allowing them to continue discriminating because they're just not quite ready to be fair and open-minded yet. Discriminating against gays simply because they're gay is wrong and it needs to stop, whether the military likes it or not.

It's time for someone with power to stand up and say it that plainly. It's time for the Commander in Chief to, you know, command. I'm looking at you, President Obama.
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