Sunday, January 31, 2010

Why I do this to myself

A week and a half ago, I wrote about how torturous the writing process can be for me.  At the time, I was deep in the middle of brief-writing.  The part where you can't see the end, where you feel like you have no issues, where you can't imagine you'll ever get it done, let alone done in a way that you'll be able to face the court ever again.  When I'm in that place, I think I'm just the worst lawyer ever and that I should just chuck it all to become a go-go dancer.

But when I wrote that last post, and when I'm in the middle of brief-writing, I always forget how great it can feel when it all comes together.  It doesn't always happen (some issues are just dogs), but for some issues, it can be pretty glorious.  There comes that moment like when you get to the end of a jigsaw puzzle and all of a sudden, you can see exactly how all the remaining pieces fit in.  All the parts you've been fiddling with for weeks just seem so obvious now.  And there's always that one piece that just looks all wrong and like it can't possibly even belong to this puzzle.  But then at the end, you realize how integral that piece always was.

I had that feeling this week (which is good as I have a deadline).  The issue I'd been brainstorming on for months, with sentences and paragraphs and ideas I'd been mulling and editing and moving around, all just fell perfectly into place.  And so this is why I do this to myself: because sometimes at the end of the process, I can come away feeling pretty damn proud of the end result.  Best of all, I can believe that my clients will see how much of my leisure time, how much of my energy, how much of my heart and soul went into their cases.  For their sakes, I want to win all of their cases.  But more than that, I want them all to know that someone was willing to give that much of herself on their behalf.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

We rock

So I was perusing an internet comment board this afternoon.  (I know, I know.  Stay away, those internet message boards are filled with crazies.  Nothing good comes from reading, etc.  I know.  Meryl's staging an intervention, but in the meantime, I learn interesting things about the general populace.)

Anyway, I found this comment on an article about a capital murder case:

The Constitution does a lot to protect fools, the undeserving, and pieces of human trash.

Reading that made me grin.  I felt all warm and fuzzy inside.  And I said with pride, "Hell, yeah, it does!"

I'm willing to wager that's not the reaction the writer was expecting.  Based on context, I'm fairly confident the writer wrote those words with a rueful shake of the head and a sense of outrage that the Constitution does protect those folks.  I suspect the writer would think it not such a bad thing if we added an asterisk to the Bill of Rights indicating these rights do not apply to fools, the undeserving, and pieces of human trash.

But, me, I think it's awesome.  (Yes, I'm a lawyer with an extensive vocabulary and that is the word I choose.)  It's easy to respect the rights of the pretty people, the popular ones, the charming folk, the nice guys.  No one's going to run roughshod over Mr. Rogers' rights.  We probably don't need a Constitution to protect the Prom Queen.  It's the assholes we need to write the rules for.  It's harder to treat them well, to be fair to them, to refrain from punching them.  So 200-some years ago, we wrote a contract with ourselves to make sure we would always respect the rights of the worst among us.  

It's easy to treat the good people well.  But the true measure of our character is how we treat the bad ones.  We choose to treat them fairly and with respect.  And I think it's awesome.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Why 20 year-olds should not be multi-millionaire Grammy winners

Taylor Swift is really just a sweet, young, hopeful, naive girl with Princess dreams.  And now, thanks to the pre-teen girl crowd and a bunch of songs that are catchy, even if they're rather simplistic and not all that well sung, she has Princess money, too.  So soon, she will have her very own Princess castle.  And in true blond, long-locked Princess fashion, that castle will be up in a tower.  (Why is Rapunzel always blond?)

She's renovating her luxury penthouse in a luxury apartment building in Nashville and it seems she shares her decorating sense with her pre-teen fans.  She's installing a human-sized birdcage that you get to by climbing up a spiral staircase that sits in the moat pond that surrounds the fireplace.  Inside the pond will be the stepping stone to the fireplace.  I'm not making this up, but I won't be said if Yahoo! music news did.  It sounds kind of like she expects the accessories to dance, the animals to talk, and the Persian carpets to fly.

Taylor, here is my offer to you.  You're a grown-up woman with grown-up cash and you deserve a grown-up Princess castle.  For the tiny, small, miniscule, wee fee of $1 million, I will decorate your home for you.  I will make it tasteful and elegant and chic and age-appropriate and truly fit for a real, life, 21st century princess.  But the moat and the birdcage have to go.  Deal?

UPDATE: Ok, you can keep the birdcage, but only if you cage John Mayer and keep him there until he learns to be less of a dog when it comes to women.

Monday, January 25, 2010

More legislative idiocy

When a defendant is sentenced to probation in Kansas, the judge states what the underlying prison term is.  This is the amount of time the defendant will serve if he violates his probation.  This number is largely established by statute, with only some room for the district court to go down.  But, often that is stated several months to a year or more before the eventual revocation.  By that time, the defendant's circumstances may have changed in such a way that his best interests would be served by actually spending some lesser amount of time in prison.  Or the probation violation may be something minor, not necessarily warranting the full prison term originally ordered.  So the probation revocation statute currently allows the judge to impose a lesser sentence at that revocation hearing, without as many restrictions as exist at the initial sentencing stage.  Seems like a pretty reasonable provision to me, allowing a little more discretion for a judge in the highly-discretionary realm of probation and probation revocations.

But I should have known that a reasonable, discretionary, defendant-friendly sentencing provision would be the target of some tough-on-crime legislator.  A very dedicated colleague of mine keeps a close eye on criminal law proposals floating around the statehouse each session.  She sends out frequent e-mails to keep the rest of her criminal defense buddies up-to-date on proposals.  (H/t to her if she reads this.)  Today's e-mail included HB 2489 which would "fix" this statute to take away the trial court's ability to impose a lesser sentence upon revocation.

Sigh.  This state is broke.  Really, really broke.  We've slashed our budget over and over and over.  We've cut all services to the bone and are looking at having to cut again.  (This is not the time to rant about the need to increase revenue, but, really Legislature, we need to increase revenue!)  Just last week, the Department of Corrections was publicly discussing the dire straits they're facing.  So, yes, this is definitely the time to propose legislation that would cost money.  Because every additional month a defendant has to serve in prison costs lots of money.  It's a great idea to be adding more inmates with longer sentences to the state's stressed prison system.  Not to mention expending legislative resources to deal with this proposal, resources that could be focused on more pressing needs (like increasing revenue!).

And, of course, there's no benefit to be had from this proposed legislation.  Longer prison sentences don't actually make us safer, especially not for the sort of first-time or low-level offenders who are placed on probation.  The judge at revocation is in a much better position to decide what prison sentence is really best for the defendant at that time.  It makes tremendous sense to allow the judge the discretion to revisit the sentence he or she initially ordered in case that sentence is actually higher than the judge now feels is appropriate.

So, we could stick with the current statute that saves money and prison space and allows the revoking judge the greatest amount of flexibility to deal with the defendant's circumstances at the time of revocation.  Or we could change the law, which would cost money we don't have and would require judges to be clairvoyant when setting the underlying prison terms for probationers knowing there won't be any opportunity to reassess that term in the future. 

Just like with the death penalty debate, this proposal is more about grand-standing than about sensible, cost-effective crime and sentencing policy.

Sunday, January 24, 2010


As I wrote the other day, I'm the most ADD brief writer around.  I write a sentence before I get off on some freaky tangent.  Here are the things that are distracting me today:

1) Bejeweled Blitz on my iPhone.  Each game is only 1 minute long, so how is it possible to waste so much time on it?

2) Brett Favre and Peyton Manning.  I would really enjoy watching the two of them go against each other in the Super Bowl.  But Brett just can't help himself from throwing interceptions, can he?

3) An 18-pound cocker spaniel can be a bigger presence in a house than you might think.  It's rather hard to type on a laptop when said cocker spaniel believes she should have dibs on the lap.  So I've tried to put the laptop in front of me, but she gets very annoyed when I try to type over her.

4) Very interesting goings-on on our local newspaper comments section today.  One of the most prolific, and annoying, commenters got kicked off the website, causing much speculation and gossip.  Such fun.

Well, I guess I can now cross #2 off that list.  (Except now I can start the speculation about whether Brett will come back next season or whether he will really and truly retire this time.)  And as for #3, she seems fairly content curled up on the back cushion of the couch for now, so I can type freely.  So now I only have to keep myself away from #1 and #4.  And whatever new think I find to distract myself.

But I have managed to get some decent work done today in spite of myself.

Friday, January 22, 2010

The death penalty just won't die

This week, the Kansas Senate Judiciary Committee held hearings on a bill to abolish the death penalty.  The idea was first floated last year as a cost-savings measure.  The Kansas budget is in disastrous straits because our revenues have completely bottomed-out after a decade of reckless tax cuts and exemptions met up with the recession.  Last year, the bill made it out of committee, but then got sent to an advisory council for research.

I am not optimistic about this bill's chances.  Well, let me say I am hopeful (I'm always hopeful that abolition will win out in the end), but realistically, I know it's not likely to go anywhere.  One of the influential senators on this committee, the one who had a lot to do with last year's bill getting sent off to researchland, just today introduced a bill that would increase prison sentences for anyone convicted of selling illegal drugs to children or pregnant women.  So clearly that guy isn't interested in taking a sensible, cost-effective approach to crime; he's only interested in grandstanding.  And supporting the death penalty is tailor-made for those who want to grandstand.  In fact, this very afternoon, that senator was quoted as saying that "the bill is not going to make it through the process this year."

I attended the first day of hearings.  The testimony from abolition proponents went well enough with no obvious resistance from the senators.  Until the end, that is.  When one of the senators asked if there weren't some way to save money by imposing speedy trial and speedy appeal limits.  Doh.  Clearly this senator was thinking he'd rather give up due process than state-sponsored killing.  A professor who has studied the death penalty for 30 years gave a great answer, explaining that we don't impose the death penalty in DisneyWorld, so no, we can't fast pass people.  But I didn't sense that the answer was getting through.  Certainly the people on the street are eager to just get executions over with without all those pesky appeals, so why should state senators be any different?

Yesterday, the testimony was half in favor of abolition and half in opposition.  Speaking in favor of abolition was a father whose daughter was murdered in the Oklahoma City bombing.  He told the committee that Timothy McVeigh's execution did nothing to bring him any peace.  I'm sure people are respectful when he speaks, but I don't get the sense that his voice as the family member of a murder victim receives the type of response the angry, vengeful family members do.  This man is not alone, as a member of Murder Victims' Families for Reconciliation.  But his comments to the committee simply did not get the airplay that the other side received.  Because once the other side started, public sympathy was definitely on their side.

Yesterday, we heard from a series of family members from two of the ugliest cases in Kansas memory, the kinds of cases that are always on the tip of people's tongues when we try to talk about the death penalty.  "Not until we kill those guys!" they cry.  "Hell, no, we can't abolish the death penalty.  We need to speed it up.  It's an outrage that those guys are still breathing."  Nobody seems to care much how family members on the other side feel because it simply isn't as sexy as bloodlust.

Once we get sucked into the sex appeal of bloodlust, the fight is over.  We can't seem to get the public over the idea that crime policy shouldn't be decided based on feelings and passions and the desire for revenge.  It should be based on what is truly in the best interests of society in terms of cost, safety, and crime prevention.  If we could ever get past the emotion to look at this thing rationally, we might get people to see that the death penalty is about the worst policy for promoting those interests.  Law enforcement will tell you that the death penalty is lowest on their list of ideas for fighting crime.  But people don't want to hear that because it just feels so darn good to fantasize about skinning killers and boiling them in oil and putting them to death as slowly and painfully as possible.  I don't get it because most of the comments on public message boards about the death penalty turn my stomach, but lots of people seem on board with that line of thinking.

And so the abolition bill is most likely dead before it even began.  Because no one wants to have a sensible, rational discussion of crime policy.  No one wants to acknowledge the fiscal reality that the death penalty is killing our budget for very little benefit.  We expend massive resources on a relatively small percentage of murder cases.  (Sorry, but we really can't kill all those who kill.  Pursuing that broad application of the death penalty would probably make the bank bailout look like a small expenditure.)  The death penalty bankrupted the Georgia public defender system because the state just had to seek death for Brian Nichols, the courthouse shooter, even though he offered to save millions of dollars by pleading to a life sentence.  I would hope the state regretted its choice to go for the jugular, and squander millions, once the jury came back with a life sentence.

Connecticut doesn't appear to have learned Georgia's lesson as just this week it is embarking on the capital trial to end all Connecticut capital trials.  The case is horrible, heinous, awful, all the trigger words you can think of, so the state just won't rest until the two killers are sentenced to death.  And the surviving family member has been vocal about his need to see the two monsters suffer the same fate his beloved wife and daughters did.  So they will begin a trial where the jury selection portion alone is expected to take several months, even though both defendants are willing to plead to life.  Millions more wasted when the goals of society, to incapacitate the perpetrators of this admittedly awful crime, could be achieved tomorrow.

And none of that even mentions the continuing racial disparity in imposition of death sentences.  Or the jurisdictional disparities.  Or the myriad other ways in which those who are sentenced to death are arbitrarily and capriciously separated out from those who are not.  But we'll never get to any of that until people can have a rational discussion instead of one driven by a passion for vengeance.  I wish I knew when that time would come.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

It's going to be legend- wait for it...


TV Guide is reporting that Neil Patrick Harris is likely to guest star on Glee!  I am fairly certain my head will explode from that confluence of awesomeness.  Regular readers will remember that I kinda like HIMYM and believe NPH is the best thing on television.  But you may not be aware of my love affair with Glee.  What's not to love about high school misfits who get slushies thrown on them but still keep the song in their hearts?  If NPH does indeed sing and dance with the kids of William McKinley High, I will definitely have to suit up for the occasion.

Why do I do this to myself?

Writing is a rather torturous process for me.  Rather unfortunate as the bulk of my job is writing.  You might think that after years of expressing my ideas and arguments in writing, I might have honed a process for my writing.  But I haven't.  After all these years, the process of me writing a legal brief is still something resembling my dog trying to find just the right spot outside.  She paces, she sniffs around, she wanders into the neighbor's yard, she gets distracted by the appearance of a squirrel or the sound of a car, and then she winds up squatting pretty much exactly where she started.  I'm guessing that's how I come across when I am deep into brief-writing mode.  Oh, sometimes the words flow from the sheer force of my indignation. But more often than not, it's a one sentence, or sometimes one word, at a time thing.

I write a sentence, then I play a game.  I look up a case on westlaw, then I move on to the local paper's website.  I write another partial sentence, get stumped on a particular word or turn of phrase, and so give up, going to refill my water cup instead.  Anyone watching me would think I was just some nutty nut girl who's nuts.*  They would think I had the attention span of a gnat, needed medications, or was just the biggest procrastinator ever. Well, I'm all of those things, but I think I'm also a pretty good legal writer in the end.  It's just I take a windy, maddening path to the end.

Because throughout all my nutty fits and starts, these words and thoughts and ideas are constantly roiling around in my head.  I'm thinking about it in the shower, I'm mentally conducting the oral argument while I drive to work, and those games are just a mindless activity for my hands while I'm searching for exactly the right wording to impress upon the court just why they should care about the errors committed in my client's case.  The whole argument, the facts I want to pull out, the explanation of prejudice, are all right there, always threatening to bubble over into proper paragraphs.  It's just the process of getting them to actually bubble over that is so aggravating.  Translating my clear thoughts into the written word shouldn't seem that difficult, but somehow it is.  It doesn't help that I'm a perfectionist and don't like to commit a sentence to paper until I am completely satisfied with it.  Or that  I feel  the weight of my client's world on my shoulders, knowing that I have to strike just the right balance of logic and passion and persuasion to get him the relief he wants.  I wish those paragraphs I can visualize so clearly in my mind would jump, fully-formed like Athena, out of my head and onto my computer screen.  But, alas, they never do. 

Sometimes, I force myself just to start typing stream of consciousness.  And sometimes I go the old-fashioned route: pen and paper.  A good flowy pen can help the words flow.  Sometimes, I just lie in the big, comfy chair in my office.  More than once, the exact right phrase has occurred to me just as I was drifting off to sleep.  Which means I have to jump up and find a computer or a pen so I can write it down before it gets lost again. 

It's a ridiculous process that frustrates me more than I can say.  And yet, it's my process.  I can't seem to change it, and my results over the years would suggest there's really no need to tinker.  When I'm done with a brief, I invariably think it's awful, a loser, that I've screwed my client by being such a terrible lawyer, etc.  Nothing good could possibly have come out of the laborious way I write briefs, I think.  I can't bear to look at it again for months.  I dread oral argument prep, knowing that I will have to confront my awful written advocacy.  But, equally invariably, I do re-read that brief before argument and realize it's not so terrible after all.  In fact, sometimes I even think that issue I've been embarrassed about for months is actually pretty darn winnable.  So why couldn't I just write the damn thing in the first place and save myself all the misery?

In case you couldn't guess, I am currently deep into brief-writing mode right now.  I guess I can add "writing rambling, fluffy blog posts" to the list of silly things I do in between writing one or two sentences.

*That's a quote from one of my favorite t.v. shows.  Anyone know it?

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

It made me sad today when I read that Edgar Allen Poe's grave went unvisited on this, his 201st birthday.  The mystery man (woman?) in his dark coat and hat and his white scarf was a no-show.  He didn't leave his 3 roses and half bottle of cognac.  And no note to explain his absence.

Is the visitor sick?  Dead?  Did he lose interest in the game?  Or did he lose his job and/or savings in the recession and just couldn't afford the pilgrimmage? 

Or perhaps this was the plan all along: for the mystery visitor to slip away from this ritual as unannounced as he slipped into it.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Dear Santa

I really appreciate your attempt to give me exactly what I asked for for Christmas and I don't want to sound at all ungrateful, but I think we've had a little communication problem. See, when I told you I really wanted to spend some time in the Phog this winter, I wasn't referring to the freaky weather phenomenon that shrouds everything in gray mist and is often associated with gothic mysteries. I meant The Phog. As in Phog Allen Fieldhouse, home to the greatest tradition in college basketball history. Guess I should have been more specific.

So if you could take the unnerving fog away and get me those basketball tickets, I would really appreciate it. Thanks.

A spooked Jayhawk fan

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Monday, January 11, 2010

What part of confrontation don't you understand?

Back in June, the U.S. Supreme Court issued an important decision on the scope of the Confrontation Clause.  The Court, in a disturbingly close decision, held that prosecutors could not just put on a lab report to show that the stuff in the defendant's possession was cocaine.  Instead, the state actually had to call the lab analyst to the stand because the defendant had a Sixth Amendment right to confront that accuser.  Before the argument, I called that decision a no-brainer and after the decision came out, I bemoaned the fact that the decision was only 5-4 in favor of confrontation over convenience.

Today, the Court heard arguments in an off-shoot case, Briscoe v. Virginia, to work out some of the details of exactly how states have to handle calling all these lab analysts.  Virginia had a statute putting the burden on the defendant to demand the presence of the lab analyst at trial.  The question for the court, then, was whether states could satisfy the Confrontation Clause with "notice and demand" statutes.  Such statutes allow the state to give notice to the defense that they intend to use a certified lab report in lieu of live testimony, and then put the burden on the defendant to object and demand the analyst's presence.  Some states go further and require the defendant herself to call the witness if the defendant wants to question the witness under oath. 

Today's argument was supposed to focus on those details.  But some watchers thought (in the case of defenders, feared) that the Court might take the opportunity to overrule that June decision and retreat from the clear protection of the right to confront.  Certainly, the state of Virginia and the 20 some other states who filed an amicus brief hoped the Court would reconsider.  Because, gee, it's just so hard and expensive and burdensome to have to provide every defendant the opportunity to confront his accusers.  If we go down that road, of course, states might also think that it's too much trouble to require police officers and detectives to testify in person so they'll want to just put on police reports.  And why mess with the actual eyewitness, who has other places to be after all, when states can just put on the signed photo line-up.  But the state of Virginia and its friends aren't asking the Court to go that far; they just want the Court to pretty please not make them produce lab analysts at trial.  Kind of like a teenager two days into her grounding, asking her parents to reconsider because having her stuck at home all the time is more annoying than Mom and Dad had expected.  
Legal news coverage leading up to today's argument suggested that the Court might really overrule itself, which would be almost unheard of.  After reading today's argument transcript, I think those court watchers thinking Melendez-Diaz could be overruled just a few months after it was issued were off-base.  Instead, I suspect we'll get a decision saying that "notice and demand" statutes are ok.  I'm a little unsure of whether the Court will give the ok to statutes that allow the defendant to call the witness without requiring the state to call the witness first, though I'm optimistic they'll do what I think is right and say the state really does have to call its witnesses to present live, in-court testimony.

But I can't help but fret that the Court still doesn't see this issue as plainly as I do.  Justice Sotomayor asked a telling question on this point, showing that some on the court might be struggling with how to craft a workable rule.  She asked the state's attorney, "How do we articulate a rule, or do we need to, that would take care of the fears of your adversary that trials would become trials by affidavit, that prosecutors will choose to put all witnesses on -- by videotape, by affidavit, by deposition, whatever mode they choose except bringing them into court -- and forcing defendants to call the witnesses?  What rule would we announce in this case that would avoid -- what constitutional construction of the Confrontation Clause would we issue that would protect against that?"

Umm, with due respect, your honor, we have a rule.  It's clear and simple and concise.  It's the Confrontation Clause: defendants have the right to confront their accusers.  How we do that is we make the state call its damn witnesses to the stand at trial.  Those witnesses provide their testimony in open court in front of a jury.  And then the defense gets to cross-examine those witnesses.  See how easy that is?

In my view, it's so simple and obvious.  I'll say it before, and I'll say it again: it's a no-brainer.  The analysts who run the intoxilyzer or do the DNA testing or say the white powder is cocaine are accusers and defendants have an absolute right to confront them, meaning cross-examine them, in court.  Which means the state has to present those live witnesses in court.  It really should be that simple.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

In which pissing someone off kinda cheers me up

On Friday, two co-workers and I started happy hour a little early.  (Sure, they're friends, too, but I wanted it to be clear that they're also public defenders.)  Perhaps understandably, the waiter mistook us for teachers, because who else begins happy hour at 3:30?  (We did not leave work early; our office officially closed early that day.)  I can see how public defenders and public school teachers could give off similar vibes.  And we probably discuss our clients/students in similar exasperated-but-loving ways.

Then, both my co-workers suggested that I do not give off much of a public defender vibe.  At least not as much as some others do.  I'm not gonna lie; I was a little offended.  It's that I'm too well put together, they said.  I'm not shabby enough.  Ok, well that's true.  I have nicer suits than a public defender probably should.  And I have great shoes.  But, still, how do I not just ooze "public defender"?  I'm as hard core as they come.  I'm the truest of the true believers.  I've got the biggest attitude and the loudest mouth.  Don't I?  I'm the one who, Jerry Kellerman-like, can't be trusted to socialize after work with prosecutors because I can't leave the adversarial process at the office.  So hearing that I don't give off that vite let me feeling a little shaken.  I'm nothing if I'm not a public defender.  So if people don't get "public defender" vibe from me, they must get nothing.  I've been beaten down by the cold and the piles of snow everywhere and the return of the soul-crushing workload.  I was perfectly ready to feel crushed to hear that my public defender aura was only in my head.

But then Saturday night dinner came around.  And let me assure you, I've still got it.  I may not dress like a public defender, but boy, howdy, do I talk like one.  And there is no public defender in the region who can piss people off as thoroughly and unrepentantly as I can.  At a fancy restaurant, celebrating a friend's birthday, no less.  I drove half the table away for a smoke break, and I still didn't apologize.  Ok, maybe I should learn to tone down the anti-prosecutor, anti-cop, anti-politicians-who-are-endlessly-tough-(meaning-thoughtless)-on-crime rhetoric.  And I probably shouldn't be proud of pissing off another friend of the birthday boy.  And I certainly don't mean to imply that public defenders are all boorish folks who swear like sailors.  But I'm like that.  I kind of liked being the p.d. that all the other p.d.s had to keep an eye on to make sure I didn't get into a bar fight.  (Which only ever really came close once, and, honestly, I'm too much of a bleeding heart liberal wannabe pacifist to actually hit anyone.)  So it was kind of nice to know that I still had it, that I could still piss people off that quickly without even trying.  And, really, it was partly her fault, too.  Don't defiantly tell me you're ok with keeping the death penalty if you aren't prepared for me to respond with equal defiance.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Catching up

I have been very behind of late.  You who still read here know I haven't had much of anything useful or interesting to say.  Basically, I've been grousing about the weather, while really dealing with a major life change that I wasn't really looking forward  to.  I don't handle change well.  My Google Reader was largely being ignored, with well over 500 unread posts.  Lots of possible blog topics went  un-commented-on.

But I think I'm getting back to normal.  My Reader is down under 300 (and I really did read the majority of those other 300).  I can't exactly write blog posts about all of the things I've been thinking about, but here are some small points and highlights.

1) The Shawnee County Jail (Kansas) has spent a pretty penny on psychotropic drugs for its inmates.  According to the article, 16% of the jail's inmates have some mental illness.  While a high incidence of mental illness in the county jail population is no surprise to any criminal defense attorney, I would have to quibble with that number.  There is no way only 16% of the jail population is mentally ill.  There have to be more who just haven't been recognized or diagnosed.  Lacking a good response to mental illness, we as a nation have more and more resorted to treating those who suffer from mental illnesses as criminals.  At least we're footing the bill to provide some of them with medications that might help alleviate their symptoms.

2)  We've all seen reports that violent crime rates might actually be dropping.  But Suzanne Reisman, who writes at and Campaign for Unshaved Snatch (CUSS) and Other Rants, points out that rates of domestic violence are actually skyrocketing.  Difficult economic times make for stressful times on the home front.

3) 36% of sex crimes against juveniles are committed by juveniles.  According to the study's author, only about 10% of those "offenders" show signs of pedophilia.  More often than not, these are just kids fooling around with other kids, or experimenting, or not recognizing boundaries.  Kinda makes you wonder whether the federal Adam Walsh Act, which strong-arms states into making everyone 14 and older who commits a "serious sex offense" register as a sex offender, is such a great idea.  Because almost every sex offense that involves someone under 13 is a "serious sex offense".  Maybe, just maybe, early and appropriate sex education really is a better response to juveniles engaging in inappropriate sexual behaviors.

4) I have checked the 15-day forecast at least 4 times today.  It still projects 34 degrees for Sunday, January 10, and a string of 40-degree days starting on the 14th.  I can make it until the 10th.  Really,  I can.

5) Oh, and my plummy office walls really are divine.

No answer is better than the wrong answer

Those of us who were waiting for the US Supreme Court to tell prosecutors they could be sued in civil court for fabricating evidence to gain convictions against innocent defendants will have to wait a little longer.  I wrote about this case from Iowa back in November.  Two men were trying to sue the Iowa prosecutors who had told the key witness against them what to say at trial.  It was all a lie and 20 years later, the two guys were exonerated, so the two guys wanted the prosecutors to have to compensate them.  Not an unreasonable request, if you ask me.  The prosecutors claimed absolute immunity, arguing that they should not be able to face civil liability for any actions they undertook as part of their official prosecutorial duties.  Allowing prosecutors to be sued for fabricating evidence would have a chilling effect on prosecutors who might not feel free to do their jobs, they claimed with a straight face.

The argument left me (and others like me, I hope) scratching my head as to how fabricating evidence could possibly be considered a legitimate prosecutorial function.  If prosecutors think that's properly a part of the job, well, I want them to be chilled.  Reading the transcript of that oral argument left me worried that we wouldn't get such a clear answer from the Supreme Court, who seemed a little too worried about constraining prosecutors.  (Once again, I have to scratch my head as I ponder who the hell doesn't want to constrain prosecutors in this way?  I want to give them every disincentive possible to make sure they don't FABRICATE EVIDENCE!!!)

But now we may never know how the Supremes were going to come down on this obvious, no-brainer of a question because the parties today agreed to dismiss the case.  In the world of civil lawsuits, settlement negotiations are possible at any point in the litigation.  It's certainly not unusual here for civil cases on appeal to get settled before the appellate court hears argument.  And this case was a civil case.  But settlements are highly unusual in the criminal world.  I only have personal knowledge of one criminal case that was settled while the appeal was pending.  So for me, as a follower of criminal cases, it's a tad unsettling not to have the interesting legal question answered by the court.  The Dread Pirate Roberts would tell me to get used to disappointment.  Certainly, I would rather have no official court answer at all than the wrong one.  (The wrong answer would be that prosecutors have absolute immunity from civil suit because when they fabricate evidence and use it at trial to convict an innocent defendant, that defendant ought to be able to sue them in court for everything those crooked SOBs have.)

I'm sure these two wronged men wouldn't have settled without receiving some concession.  ($12 million between the two of them according to the press release.)  And it's really not their job to set good precedent for the rest of the nation.  Perhaps their attorneys had the same pessimistic view of that argument that I did, in which case settling now is a good call.  Still, I can't help but wish that the answer that seems so very obvious to me won't just be answered the way I think it should be now.  Instead, prosecutors around the nation might still think they can fabricate evidence and use it at trial to convict innocent defendants without fear of reprisal.

Sunday, January 3, 2010


I have found a new way to torture myself.  I can't stop checking the 15 day forecast on the local newspaper.  Originally, it showed that the thaw would begin on January 9 with days in the 40s following.  Then, the thaw got pushed back to the 14th, with highs leveling out in the 30s and no sign of a 40 anywhere.  Then, the forecast again predicted thawing temperatures would hit around the 9th, with days in the high 20s before then.  And the 40s returned soon after.  But now, the 15 day forecast has pushed the thaw temperatures to January 13th.  No 40s anywhere.  And nothing above 20 for at least another week.

I can't take it anymore.  I need the thaw and I need it now.  I will go crazy if I have to drive down my ice-rink alley one more time.  I can't handle our unplowed, and unnavigable, commuter parking lot.  I hate coming back inside from taking my dog out with snow up to my calves on my pants.  The snow and cold have pushed all intelligent thoughts from my brain. 

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Forecast: looking up

The end of one year and the beginning of another are normally not a good time for me.  As the year ends, and as I accumulate Christmas gifts, I always get so overwhelmed by all the things I haven't done.  The books I haven't read, the dvds I haven't watched, the places I haven't gone, the food I haven't cooked.  I can't ever seem to focus on the accomplishments of an outgoing year.  Adding new Christmas books and dvds and food appliances only adds to this stress.  (But let's be clear: I love getting gifts so please don't stop giving them!)  I start every new year feeling such pressure not to let this year get away from me, too.

Add to my stress this year the fact that work is very intense right now.  And we got an actual blizzard on Christmas Eve/day.  While I would ordinarily have enjoyed a big snow fall, this one is very un-Kansas-like.  A week later, the snow is all still here.  And the forecast still doesn't project us to get above 25 degrees until next weekend.  So the snow and all its accompanying inconveniences are not going anywhere.  It's enough to make any normally-exuberant creature curl up in a ball.  Maddie has become a very clingy lapdog instead of her usual playful self.  I think she's in hibernation-mode.  I know I have been. 

Of course, when I lived in Minnesota and Wisconsin, we had snow cover almost continuously from November to March.  And I remember a famous stretch when the temperature did not get above 0 for 3 solid weeks.  I am not exaggerating.  So it's not like I can't handle this stuff.  But it's not supposed to be like that in Kansas.  Here we get snow, and it melts within 4 days.  I've gotten rather used to that.  Combined with my usual end-of-the-year funk, the weather has made me grumpy and frustrated and sad.  And very reluctant to go anywhere or do anything.

But then last night, SO and I were straightening up the living room before a friend came over.  He found a piece of junk mail I had somehow overlooked.  It was a coupon from my beloved Noodles & Company.  For a free bowl.  No ifs, ands, or buts.  No strings attached.  How had I missed that? 

So I hatched a plan to force myself out of the house and maybe get over the hump of my funk.  I decided to treat myself to The Gap and Noodles.  At The Gap, I got the sweater I wanted for $16.99 and two pair of jeans.  But one of those jeans was entirely free!  (On their buy 3, get one free plan.  Apparently, I had already bought two pair of jeans in the last year.  Perhaps I buy too many jeans.)  And the sweater rang up at only $11.99!  And my impulse buy of a very cute hand-knit sweater wasn't really its marked sale price of $54.99, but was $32! 

Mood much improved, I headed to Noodles for my free lunch.  I had to find a free parking space, though, as I had absolutely no change on me or in my car so I couldn't plug a meter.  There's one little free lot right by Noodles, but it is usually packed.  I tried it, anyway, and came upon a car that was pulling out just as I pulled in.  Whoo-hoo!

So to recap.  I've been in a major, depressive funk.  Spending $100 at The Gap to get a free pair of jeans, a free bowl of noodles, and rock star free parking seems to be all it took to make me feel better.  I must be a more shallow, materialistic person than I realized.  Or maybe I just wasn't as depressed as I was acting.

Friday, January 1, 2010

I'm not one for new years resolutions, but I have one this morning.  I hereby resolve that I will never, ever again do a shot of tequila after drinking three glasses of prosecco.  What follows is not pretty.

I suppose I could resolve to build my savings or to eat better or to run another half-marathon or to keep my house cleaner or to rededicate time to volunteering or any number of other things that would reflect a higher level of introspection or interest in improving myself and the world around me.  But those kinds of resolutions usually just serve to make me feel bad about myself and I usually crumble under the pressure. 

This resolution, though, is one I can stick with.  The next time someone presents me with a shot of tequila after midnight and much sparkling wine, I will remember how I felt at 2:30 a.m. on January 1, 2010, and I will say, "Thanks, but hell no!"
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