Sunday, October 30, 2011

Halloween is still growing on me

Remember my Halloween story from last year? It's here, so you can refresh your memory. So this year, I decided to wear my stunning red dress and when people asked me, I would tell them, "I dressed up for Halloween." And let me tell you, I don't think I'm being immodest or egotistical when I say that dress looks pretty good on me. When I tried it on at the department store, random strangers told me it looked like that dress was made for me. It just hugs all the right parts and is such a great color on me. Red truly is my color. (As you might have guessed if you saw the pictures of my house...)

So I went to my friends' house for their chili cook-off. Then we headed to Brookside in Kansas City for some live music. We got to the bar about an hour before the band came on, so we had plenty of time to get to know the people around us, including a half-hearted Dracula, a full-hearted leprechaun (guy) wearing a bright green dress (who knew there were cross-dressing leprechauns?), and a tall, cute, built guy wearing an orange-ish sweater and calling himself a pumpkin. They initially approached the two women we were standing near but were not with. We eventually got pulled in and before we knew it, Pumpkin was the only one left really talking to my two friends and me. He was oh so tall and really quite adorable, but oh so young. He kept making me guess his age. I perked up quite a bit when he said he was 29 because 29 isn't so bad. It's definitely within the divide by half and add 7 rule. But it was a lie. He was really 24. Sigh. 26 is the cut-off for me. (Yes, I'm 38 and I'm not the least bit ashamed.) I told him my age, but I'm not entirely sure he believed me. People often don't.

Then Dracula, the leprechaun, and Pumpkin-boy had to leave. Pumpkin looked bummed, but he was not driving, so had to follow the crowd. He asked for my number before he left. Not my much younger friends or the tutu-wearing sorority girls. Mine. Even knowing I was old enough to be his Teen Mom.  And, oh yeah, I gave it.

Now, he'll probably never call. (They usually don't). And I probably wouldn't answer if he did. (He is 24, after all.) But none of that matters. Because a 24 year-old hottie asked for my number. I call this Halloween a raging success.

Oh, and I get to go to Monday Night Football tomorrow, too.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Where oh where did people get the idea that death penalty defense attorneys are making boatloads of money on death penalty cases? You see it all the time (if you're nutty like me and read comments on online news sites, especially) that members of the general public will complain about these lawyers who intentionally delay death penalty cases so they can stay on the gravy train. Because there is so much money in representing death row inmates.

Let me make something really clear. There's not a whole lot of money in death penalty defense. Yes, the lawyers make a living, but no one's getting rich doing this work. The vast majority of death row inmates don't have millions of dollars lying around to pay private counsel, so the lawyers are public defenders or appointed attorneys paid a pittance per hour by the state or county. Or they are do-gooder non-profit attorneys who get paid by agencies relying on donations. Or they are big firm attorneys doing pro bono work. All of these attorneys could be making a heck of a lot more money in some other area of the law.

There are lots of reasons why people come to do death penalty work, but money is not one of them.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Rant of the day

You know how to make an appellate defender's head explode? Mention that there's a pending motion on the central evidentiary issue to the case that needs to be taken up right now and then go off the record to discuss it! And never again mention that motion for the rest of the trial!


Do you see what the problem is for me? If I don't have a recorded argument, I don't have an appellate issue. I have no idea what the arguments were, what specific points of testimony were at issue, and what the court's ruling was. It is absolutely infuriating.

There is no excuse for not having a record of every single thing that is said in court. Every. Single. Word. Here is what my rule would be: If the judge is involved in a conversation, it needs to be recorded. I don't care if it's just a scheduling matter. Those scheduling issues can matter quite a bit. I once had an issue where I very much wanted to know why it was that the particular witness wasn't called because I very possibly could have had an issue if it had been handled one specific way, but because a year later, the parties involved couldn't remember exactly how it went, I couldn't do anything about it.

I also don't care if you think you can have the conversation in chambers off the record and then come back and make the record later. The record made later is never adequate as far as I'm concerned. It's never in the level of detail that the real argument was. Given that a defendant's argument can be procedurally defaulted if the trial level argument didn't include the key word or phrase, it's really troubling for the appellate attorney to get only a recap of the argument rather than the full thing.

So record everything. EVERYTHING! Or my exploded brain matter might just get all over you.

And on a slightly related, but not really, side note: Can we please, please, please abandon the system that allows a court reporter to consider my client's trial record to be his/her intellectual property? It offends me to the core of my being. And paying court reporters by the number of pages they produce is a bad system that needs to go. My most recent transcript was done by a CR who made every sentence its own paragraph.

This made the transcript much longer.
So he could get paid more.
Since he gets paid by the page.
Oh, and it's really tough to read.

It's a good thing I had pumpkin beer and apple cobbler at home this evening, because by the end of the day, I was pretty darn aggravated.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

If it's happening in Kansas, it must be nuts, right?

Admit it, you kind of think that, don't you? All anyone in the nation ever hears about Kansas is we're the backwards state who did away with evolution in the state science standards. (No one ever mentions how the population rose up against those loons on the state school board and voted every single one of them out the very next chance we got, replacing them with normal people who restored the standards.) We're the home of that wacky, awful Westboro Baptist Church. (It's a "church" of about 50 people all from one family and the rest of Kansas pretty much hates them. We ignore them; it's the rest of you outside of this state who are giving them attention.)

And now it's all over the national news that Topeka, Kansas has now made it legal to commit domestic battery. According to msnbc, "In cash-strapped Topeka, domestic abuse not  illegal."  Makes for a flashy headline and elicits gasps, but it's not true. Domestic battery is still a crime in Topeka. Did everyone get that? Let me write it again, just in case.

Domestic battery is still a crime in Topeka.

Never stopped being one. The city of Topeka had a redundant municipal ordinance, as they do for many misdemeanors. It's standard practice for cities to have municipal ordinances that mirror state misdemeanor statutes. Where there is a redundant municipal ordinance, the District Attorney can turn over prosecution of those offenses to the city prosecutor's office, which the Shawnee County DA did for all redundant misdemeanors in the city of Topeka, a move the DA said was required by budget cuts. (Outside Topeka city limits, the DA's office retained responsibility for all misdemeanor prosecutions.) The city of Topeka balked, pointing out that having to prosecute all those misdemeanors would surpass their budgetary limits. The city pointed specifically to domestic battery cases because those cases a) constitute the largest single block of misdemeanors involved and b) require treatment resources the city doesn't have. So to force those prosecutions back to the DA's office, the city repealed the redundant municipal ordinance.

The territorial pissing match that is going on between the city of Topeka and Shawnee County is frustrating to watch. Neither the city prosecutor's office nor the DA's office really has the resources they should have to function at optimal levels. When budgets get cut and cut and cut, something has to give. It is highly unfortunate that this city vs. county budget dispute has centered around domestic battery, when it could have been DUI or marijuana possession or shoplifting. Of course the city probably picked domestic battery as the center point of the dispute precisely because it would be the most likely to generate controversy.

But it is more unfortunate that the real issue here is being lost in hyperbole and untrue headlines. It's more fun to rail against a city putting its stamp of approval on beating your spouse. It's more interesting to talk about this being a move in the ongoing "war on women." It's more glamorous to weep and wail and gnash teeth than to focus on the real issue here which is what services do we want to receive from our city, county, state, and federal governments and how much of our money are we willing to pay up to ensure those services are provided. Clearly the people of Topeka and Shawnee County need to have this discussion. They may need to think about finding some new direction for the County Commission and the City Council who sets budgets. The citizens of Kansas may need to think about what sort of money we want our local governments to get from the state budget. We probably all need to really think about how much we want to keep chasing more and more and more cuts. Budget cuts and tax cuts are bleeding this state's vital services dry. But we won't get to any of that discussion if we're all caught up in this red herring complaint that domestic battery is now legal in Topeka. It isn't.

In conclusion, domestic battery is most definitely a crime in Topeka, just as it is in every inch of the state of Kansas. But it can't magically get prosecuted if we don't fund the prosecutors' offices.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Oh, Montel Williams. I never really judged you terribly harshly for your television show. I even rather liked you once you became a vocal advocate for MS (a cause close to my heart). Until you started pitching payday loans on t.v. Having worked at the consumer law clinic in law school, I have seen just how much damage those loans can do. Shame on you for participating in the financial shenanigans.


I don't hate football anymore.

My Chiefs have won 2 straight and are looking much better. (And did y'all see that wicked awesome catch Dwayne Bowe made for a touchdown yesterday?!)

My K-State Wildcats are undefeated and ranked again.

I just might stick with this football thing for a few more weekends.

Monday, October 3, 2011

The Amanda Knox case: it's just not that hard

So the Amanda Knox (and Raffaele Sollecito) case might now, mercifully, be over. The appellate court in Italy today overturned her conviction for murder, as well as her former boyfriend's. You'd have to live under a rock not to have heard about that by now. But let's be clear about what the jury found. The jury found affirmatively that these two did not commit the crimes. The jury didn't just acquit them, the jury absolved them. I feel like that tidbit is getting lost in the news coverage. This wasn't just a finding that the evidence was insufficient.

And yet, sadly, these two will probably have to live with a cloud of suspicion for the rest of their lives. This is evident from the commentary on television and the comments online. So many people are still clinging to the idea that they probably had something to do with it or know something or in some vague, amorphous way are still worthy of suspicion. Legal experts on CNN and Fox News both seem to have missed the significance of the jury designation that they did not commit the act. Bill O'Reilly and his judge were both shamefully unaware of the facts of the case but were both still unabashedly proclaiming their certainty that she was involved somehow.

Even more infuriating, people everywhere are bemoaning the fact that we will never know what happened to Meredith Kercher. Which to me might be the most maddening legacy of this case: that a crime so basic, a case so easily solvable, was turned into this muddled mess. That so many people are now so convinced that there is more to this case than there really is. But there is not. Let me posit a theory, and when reading this, try to put aside the insanity that surrounded the accusations against Amanda and Raffaele.

Young woman comes home after a night at her boyfriend's. Finds a few things amiss, so brings the boyfriend over to share her concerns. There are a few drops of blood in the bathroom. Upon inspection, they find a broken window in a bedroom. But nothing is obviously missing. The one roommate who was supposed to be there overnight is not answering knocks on her door, which is locked, or answering her phone. The boyfriend goes outside to see if he can see into that bedroom through the window. Throughout all of this, the girl and her boyfriend are calling the other roommate, the boyfriend's sister (a cop). Eventually, the reality of the situation sinks in and they call the police.

Once police arrive, the bedroom door is opened and the roommate's body discovered. Police secure the scene and begin the painstaking process of evidence collection. They find footprints, fingerprints, and handprints throughout the murder room and the hallway. They also note money missing from the dead woman's purse.

Eventually, the fingerprints lead to a match of a man known to local police. He has been breaking into houses and offices lately. And he is known to carry a knife. The man is caught in another country through the help of a friend, who gets the man to admit having been at the house when the murder occurred, though he was on the toilet when the real killer came in and killed the victim. He also cryptically tells the friend he can't come back. But he is extradited back and DNA testing reveals that his DNA is all over the crime scene. Sadly, his DNA is also inside the victim. And the shoes he is wearing match the bloody footprints in the hallway.

Honestly, is this case hard? Is there even any question? These are the facts of the Meredith Kercher murder. These are the facts of the crime Amanda and Raffaele were convicted of. These facts, which point so clearly and exclusively at one man, were somehow obscured, distorted, even overlooked, in favor of a fantasy.

Here is what happened. Rudy Guede broke into the girls' apartment through Filomena's bedroom window, using the metal grate on the window below hers as a ladder. He rifled through her room before going to the bathroom. It was a holiday weekend, so he may well have thought the girls would all be gone for the weekend. But while he was on the toilet, Meredith came home. We know Rudy used the toilet because he didn't flush, possibly so as not to create a noise to alert Meredith. Somehow, there was a confrontation. Rudy took out the knife he carried with him (as he had done when another home-owner caught him in a burglary some weeks prior). Perhaps he tried to get his way out of it by trying to seduce her. The fact that his DNA (not semen) was found inside her vagina certainly indicates there was some kind of sexual attack. And then he slit her throat. As many first-time killers do, he covered her with a comforter and then tried to figure out what on earth to do next. He set the knife down on the bed, he found money in her purse, he took her cell phones, picked up the shoe that had come off in the attack, and left her room, locking the door behind him. He went into the bathroom to try to clean up and then fled out the front door. At some point he threw Meredith's cell phones into a yard some blocks away.

This is the scenario supported by the evidence. This is the straight-forward answer that should have been reached by the investigation. But from day one, a prosecutor decided he didn't like the way Amanda looked. She was odd. There was something off about her. So the simple, clear case was turned into a wild, crazy conspiracy, with desperate attempts by the police to create evidence against Amanda and Raffaele, with lots of character assassination being done in the tabloid press just to be safe. The first judge bought it hook, line, and sinker, and brought a jury along with him.

Happily, today, a second jury finally saw through the prosecution's shenanigans. Amanda is on her way home and Raffaele is probably already in his family's home. I can only hope that they will both be able to move forward from this point in their lives, though we know from the DNA exoneration cases that it can be harder than people realize to return to life after exoneration.

As for the rest of us, I hope that we will all do a better job in the future of letting the evidence lead us to the solution rather than picking our solution first and mangling the evidence to fit that solution.

And let there be no mistake about it: Meredith Kercher's killer has been found. He has been convicted and he is serving a 16 year sentence. His name is Rudy Guede. And his guilt is the clear, simple, obvious solution to this very basic, garden-variety burglary/murder case.

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