Liptak’s Cheap Shot

They set up a special room at Mohunk Mountain House, where I was staying when the Senate confirmation hearing was being held. There was a television, a big one for the time at 36 inches, at the front of the room, and chairs jammed everywhere. Each held a butt. That’s how interested people were to hear Anita Hill talk about coke cans, pubic hairs and Clarence Thomas, a black man appointed to the Supreme Court of the United States of America.

There were strong positions taken about whether he was unfit because of his alleged dealings with Hill, but my thought was that we could find something a whole lot better, smarter, to be one of the Nine comprising an entire branch of government.  It wasn’t good enough that maybe he didn’t sexually harass Hill. Weren’t we entitled to a better choice altogether?

So from the start, I was no fan.  Today, he’s still my second least favorite justice, a close eighth to Sam Alito, who I hear is a fun guy to hang with in a bar.

And yet, Adam Liptak’s article outraged me. Liptak sits in one of the most important seats in media, the New York Times’ Supreme Court correspondent. He may not be the most knowledgeable pundit on the law, but his voice is one of the loudest because his soapbox is bigger than anyone else’s. That’s an awesome responsibility because he need only whisper, just hint, to make his point. Continue reading

Spreading The Lie: The Ferguson Effect

There aren’t always two sides to every story. Oftentimes, it’s false equivalencies masquerading as “fair and balanced,” and when it’s coupled with a cool descriptor, writers just can’t bear to think hard enough to resist the urge to run with it. Not even writers at the New York Times.

Cities across the nation are seeing a startling rise in murders after years of declines, and few places have witnessed a shift as precipitous as this city. With the summer not yet over, 104 people have been killed this year — after 86 homicides in all of 2014.

The city would be Milwaukee. Then there’s St. Louis, which is almost Ferguson (as in Michael Brown). Increases in murders are happening elsewhere as well. Baltimore (as in Freddie Gray) and others as well. Startling? Perhaps. But also useful.

Law enforcement experts say disparate factors are at play in different cities, though no one is claiming to know for sure why murder rates are climbing. Some officials say intense national scrutiny of the use of force by the police has made officers less aggressive and emboldened criminals,

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Don’t Stand Too Close To [Me]

Kimberly Bracken, a 30-year-old Pittsburgh woman, failed to see a problem with her standing about 50 feet away from cops doing cop stuff.  After all, if one has a right to record police in action, does that not also encompass a right to observe, even if the iPhone isn’t cranking?

Ms. Bracken was cited for stopping to watch the arrest of an armed juvenile who had been chased to a parking lot outside Allegheny General Hospital. Police said in a non-traffic citation that she refused six orders from an officer to leave the area where police were searching for two suspects.

For some reason, the inclusion of “six orders” gives the impression that the police were really, really serious.  If it was only three times, that would be one thing, but six times? They mean business.

She testified Thursday that a number of police were on the scene, and a suspect was already secured on the ground when she rode past on her bicycle. Ms. Bracken said she guessed she was 50 feet away when she stopped to watch. When an officer told her to leave, she did not.

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The Unforgiven

There are two abiding beliefs that would, if one bothered to think about it, defy political dogma and yet embody it.  The first is that a person, convicted of a crime, will be punished and, once he has completed his punishment, has “paid his dues to society.”  In other words, he gets to start again with a clean slate to rejoin society as a productive, law-abiding member.

The other is that public safety trumps individual desires, a primary duty of government to be accomplished at the expense of individual rights. This is a core tension in the Constitution, which protects individual civil rights from the tyranny of the majority, while giving the government the police power to regulate society for the welfare of the masses.

If seen from a distance, the police power is paramount up to the point where it touches the individual rights secured.  Up close, the edges look frayed.

In Amherst County, Virginia, a new trick has been enacted that implicates both of these concerns in a disturbing way. Via Eugene Volokh: Continue reading

Walking With A Purpose in Des Moines

There are a laundry list of excuses, easily uttered and proved only by our innate trust in the truthfulness of a police officer’s.  They range from reaching toward his waistband to the grand-daddy of meaninglessness, the furtive gesture. But in Des Moines, a new one has just been added to the list: walking with a purpose.

Des Moines Officer Vanessa Miller will not face charges after a grand jury looked at her shooting of Ryan Bolinger, 28. Miller shot Bolinger from her car after he approached her car by “walking with a purpose.” Miller had chased Bolinger after he got out of his car earlier and began dancing.

Dancing in the street isn’t an entirely new concept, though it flies better in Haight Ashbury than Iowa, where it’s indicative of something very wrong. People in Iowa must not dance in the street much, giving rise to the need for immediate police intervention with a heavy dose of fear of violence.  It must have been some dance.

After he stopped, Miller said he got out of his car and was walking “with a purpose” toward her car and she concluded that she was being threatened. So she fired through the window of her car and killed him.

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Deputy Darren Goforth: No Motive, So What?

Harris County Deputy Sheriff Darren Goforth was pumping gas into his cruiser when someone from behind shot and killed him.  Sheriff Ron Hickman called it an unprovoked execution.

Harris County Sheriff Ron Hickman told reporters Goforth “was literally gunned down” in what seemed to be “an unprovoked execution style killing of a police officer.”

This is a fair description of a terrible murder.  They quickly found a suspect.

The Harris County Sheriff’s Department announced that “routine research” led investigators to Miles. His arrest came after an intense manhunt overnight.

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Explaining The Law of Cop Killing, Well-Intended and Wrong

In many respects, it’s far easier to deal with an article that is wildly off-base when it comes to excusing the killing of unarmed citizens by police than it is to address an article that tries so very hard to get it right, to discuss the law, and despite good intentions, just doesn’t get it.

Jason Lee Steorts, the managing editor of National Review, wrote an article for the Atlantic.  And he just doesn’t get it.

Whether a person is dangerous, and how dangerous he is, is rarely easy to determine. Combine that uncertainty with a low tolerance for risk on the part of both officers and the use-of-force laws that govern their actions, and the result is speculative police killings: cases in which people are made to forfeit their lives on the basis of little more than guesswork about what they might do.

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An Epidemic Too Far?

It’s been less than inspirational to see Mario’s little boy, Andy, trying desperately to keep up with California’s Governor Brown in trying to pander to the tough-on-crime and neo-feminists at the same time.  Why can’t New York be leader on the road to perdition, Andy?  Oh right, because someone has to tip you off as to which progressive concerns are at the top of today’s agenda.

But in his rush to prove Berkeley isn’t the center of the universe of crazy, did New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, in his excess of zeal to win the hurt hearts of neo-feminists, take it a step too far?

A law signed by Governor Andrew Cuomo last month allocates $4.5 million for what officials have said is a first-in-the-nation police unit that will train college officials and local police units to respond better to sexual assaults on campus.

The law, which has been touted as the most progressive in the country, also requires all colleges in the state to implement a uniform definition of affirmative consent, distribute a students’ bill of rights and adopt a policy that grants victims immunity for drug and alcohol violations.

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Legal Tech Never Learns

Who said this?

Likewise, technology can now drive and facilitate business development in a way it previously hasn’t – using data analytics to help firms best position themselves in a hyper-competitive environment.

A.  A Y Combinator alumnus.

B. A successful entrepreneur in the legal space.

C. A person in charge of legal news and commentary.

D. A lawyer.

E.  All of the above.

It was David Perla, the president of Bloomberg BNA Legal. Continue reading

A Verdict of Acquittal, Twisted

Before the day was out, the acquittal of the senior at St. Paul’s school of the charge of rape was “explained” by Mark Joseph Stern at the Slate XX Factor. No, Stern is not a lawyer. No, Stern has never tried a case, never debriefed a jury after a verdict. No, Stern is not responsible for having any substantive knowledge of the subject of his post, but that doesn’t preclude him from punditry.

This is America, and anyone on with a soapbox is entitled to tell others about things they know nothing about.

I avoided using the name of the male senior, because after the verdict, should he be acquitted, he would remain innocent and should be able to go through the rest of his life without the taint of this charge. It was, of course, silly of me. After all, his name was smeared across the media, and he will forever be known for this charge.  That was under the best of circumstances.

The name of his accuser, on the other hand, is a closely-held secret. Purported victims shouldn’t be tainted. Fair enough. Neither should the innocent accused, which is every accused until they’re convicted, but nobody gives a damn. Continue reading

Whatever, Waco

There are two surprising bits in this story from the Waco Trib.

A visiting judge ruled Monday that authorities had sufficient probable cause to arrest a pistol-packing chaplain for the Bandidos motorcycle group.

Lawrence Yager, a 65-year-old minister from Buda who said he is chaplain for the Bandidos and two veterans groups, at his Monday examining trial challenged the authority under which he was arrested after the May 17 Twin Peaks shootout.

The first is that the Bandidos motorcycle club has a chaplain.  It’s not so much that the club may indulge, on rare occasion, in activities that could possibly be considered contrary to religious teachings. Motorcycle clubs can do that sometimes.  Especially when the club picked the name “Bandidos” to capture its essence.

It’s that, well, the devotion to the deity of choice is really kinda sweet.  And perhaps, given some of the things they are accused of doing, it’s a wise choice to keep a channel to the lord as close at hand as possible. Continue reading

Bazelon Forfeits Her Credibility (Update)

Among the very small world of established and credible legal pundits, three women stood at the pinnacle:  Linda Greenhouse, Dahlia Lithwick and Emily Bazelon. They earned their cred from years of hard work, honest writing and legal acumen. But like any other pundit, regardless of gender, their credibility is at risk when they trade off their politics for their integrity. Today is Bazelon’s turn to fall.

The case is a difficult one, still on trial and hotly contested, dealing with terrible allegations of rape at the private prep school, St. Paul’s.  The alleged victim says she was raped by a senior.  The senior denies they engaged in sex. Bazelon will have none of it.

The dispute is a familiar-enough scenario for a rape case. But the fact that it has gone to court is also relatively unusual for a reason that may seem surprising: Labrie’s guilt or innocence hinges on the question of consent. This is much less common than you might assume — in fact, in many states, Labrie probably would not face felony charges of sexual assault at all. (Emphasis added.)

This premise, upon which the balance of her commentary relies, is not merely wrong, but a deliberate distortion, a lie if you will.  As already noted, consent has nothing whatsoever to do with anything in this trial. He testified that he did not have sex with her, consent or not. Continue reading