Passports Of The Damned (Update)

It already passed the House. And the Senate.  It’s now in conference committee, working out the kinks between the two, before it goes to President Obama for his signature. And had it not been for the careful eyes of David Post at Volokh Conspiracy, it might have slipped through unnoticed until havoc was wreaked.

The name of the law gives away the problem.  It’s called the International Megan’s Law, drawing upon the rape and murder of Megan Kanka to create all manner of restrictions for sex offenders, to protect the children.  This iteration is marketed to the public as the solution to human sex trafficking and sexual tourism, both horrible and offensive crimes with the proviso that they mean what they say, as opposed to the use of sex trafficking as a euphemism for all manner of prostitution, including the voluntary decision of women to be sex workers.

Elizabeth Nolan Brown explains what this law does:

Dubbed “International Megan’s Law,” the measure—sponsored by Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.)—says the secretary of state must impart a “visual designation” in “a conspicuous location” on the passports of all “covered sex offenders.” Covered sex offenders include anyone whose victim was a minor.

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The Sophisticated Client Wants A Legal Curmudgeon

Sy Syms used a brilliant marketing tag to sell his shmatas:

An educated consumer is our best customer.

The message made a point, while flattering those customers sophisticated enough to buy from Sy.  Sophisticated consumers would no longer pay higher than necessary mark-ups on clothing, and that it wasn’t a sign that you were cheap if you shopped at Syms, but that you were savvy. Brilliant.

Peter Macmillan, a cognitive psychologist specializing in legal expertise, turns his attention toward one of my favorite words, curmudgeon.  Most people use it as a pejorative, as in the old man screaming at the kidz to “get off my lawn.” Macmillan gets the joke. Continue reading

Empty Gestures And Powerful Messages

When President Obama announced that he was “banning” solitary confinement for juveniles, advocates and supporters cheered. Those familiar with the federal system chuckled and made jokes. Mine was along the order of, “and both juveniles thank him.” Why so unappreciative? Don’t we feel passionately that solitary confinement is horribly destructive, dangerous, and particularly egregious when used against kids?

The reason is that there are, as of the December 26th update to the federal prison population, a grand total of 26 inmates under the age of 18 out of a total census of 195,893 (as of January 28, 2016, as the totals are updated once a week).  Of the 26 juveniles, most are there because they’re Native American, and the feds have jurisdiction over crime on reservations.

In fact, the Federal Government has unique jurisdiction over crimes in Indian Country and the most serious crimes committed on reservations tend to be prosecuted in federal court. As a result, most federal juveniles are Native American. Typically, federal juvenile offenders have committed violent offenses and have a history of responding to interventions and preventive measures in the community unfavorably.

And even so, the grand total is 26. Maybe less of a joke than “both,” but still a joke. It’s not that there aren’t kids in the system, but in state systems, not federal, and President Obama has no say over their treatment. Continue reading

If You Have Nothing To Hide

Trigger Warning: Schadenfreude ahead.

Anonymous hacked the Fraternal Order of Police.  Tell me there isn’t a smirk on your face.  The dump is being offered online by CTHULHU, who says he’s in the UK and, well, isn’t particularly concerned about the fury of irate cops.

Today I released some files from the Fraternal Order of Police, allegedly the largest union-type body in the US representing sworn-in police officers. Since then, many groups have shared it over social media and other means, for which I thank all who have donated their bandwidth to seed the files over the torrent.

I haven’t downloaded the dump, nor read it, nor really given a damn about what it offers.  Others will sift through it, and if there is anything in there that comes as a surprise, it will no doubt be subject to huge scrutiny and criticism. Given the reaction by some cops, it’s likely that there will be stuff in there to bring a twinkle to someone’s eye.

Note to irritated members of law enforcement
Don’t bother with legal threats or trying to get UK law enforcement to seek revenge. This is me playing nice.
If you want to go nuclear with me, feel free to do so, but trust me when I say you might want to think long and hard before you do. Continue reading

The Rest Of Your Unnatural Life

Philosophical arguments about the virtue of sentences tend to be fruitless efforts, as everyone gets bogged down in their own bias. We keep insisting our bias is right, and never make much headway against the other guy’s bias, who is simultaneously trying desperately to get us to see why his bias is right.  It’s a waste of time.

But Jennifer Lackey, a Northwestern philosophy prof, does a remarkably good job at giving some hard reasons why a sentence of imprisonment “for the rest of your natural life” is a really bad idea.  Life without parole, as Jeff Gamso calls it, is the slow death sentence. And, unlike the fast death penalty (which isn’t really fast), a sentence of life without possibility of parole is meted out without the fanfare of a good execution, so it often escapes notice and scrutiny.

Many types of arguments have been leveled against natural life sentences. Economic ones focus on the ballooning costs of mass incarceration and the toll this takes on government budgets, especially as the age and medical expenses of prisoners rapidly increase. Legal ones ask whether such sentences are cruel and unusual and therefore violate the Eighth Amendment, particularly for juveniles. Social arguments ask whether natural life sentences discourage reform by providing no incentive for rehabilitation. Moral concerns are grounded in the dignity and rights of prisoners, while psychological objections call attention to the myriad causes of deviant behavior and their responsiveness to appropriate treatment.

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The Parsimonious Judge Jack Weinstein

The opinion is 98 pages. I didn’t download it. I didn’t read it. It will be reversed, as it was last time.  But EDNY Senior Judge Jack Weinstein isn’t going to let that stop him from applying the parsimony clause of 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a), which provides:

The court shall impose a sentence sufficient, but not greater than necessary, to comply with the purposes set forth in paragraph (2) of this subsection.

The emphasis is mine. And Judge Weinstein’s.  The Second Circuit can try its best to smack Judge Weinstein for his refusal to impose a sentence that meets their demands of harshness, but they can’t touch him.  He’s got life tenure, and he’ll never be tapped for the Supreme Court.

If you think a 98-page decision is long, it’s way shorter than the 400-page decision he issued last time, plus a 9-page rejoinder to the circuit’s reversal.  After the last reversal, the question was raised whether this was a demonstration of judicial courage or abdication of responsibility. Continue reading

The Meaning Of Job

My father tells the story of his return from Europe at the end of World War II.  My grandfather gave him a hearty handshake and told him he was welcome to stay with him for at least a week, after which it was time to find a home of his own.  The week was to give my father the chance to find a job.

He returned from Germany a grown man, having done as his country asked of him and his beliefs demanded, and it was now time to rejoin civil society as a responsible adult. The meant he had to work, earn a living, support himself and establish his life.  He appreciated his father’s generosity of a week’s cover.

A lawyer friend of mine, whose name I won’t reveal because he asked me not to, forwarded an email to me sent by his former associate. She came recommended by her law school placement office as smart and interested in his niche practice area. He interviewed her and concurred. He gave her a job. Her first job.

She was awful. It wasn’t for lack of intelligence, or even legal knowledge. It was that she couldn’t produce work. His law office was like every other small firm that does litigation. There are slow times, then an emergency requiring work be done now.  When a motion is needed now, it means work has to be done now. Good work. Hard work. Now. Continue reading

Because It’s Pimptastic, And I’m An Admiral

A baby lawyer called me a “sarcastic, dismissive asshole” in the comments yesterday. I wasn’t offended and I didn’t deny it. It’s one of the good things about growing old, in contrast to the bad things like discovering painful body parts you never realized you had.  You live through ties getting wider, then thinner, then going away and coming back. You live through hemlines going down, then up, then sideways and asymmetrical, a horrible look.

A penthouse apartment in Chicago has come on the market that hasn’t been touched since the 1970s.  I can well remember when the style was all the rage, when kitchen appliances were either Harvest Gold or Avocado Green, or out of fashion. Today, stainless steel is the preferred look. Back then, industrial would have been horribly unfashionable.

What this means is that fashions change. When I visited Graceland, which remains today as it was when Elvis left the building, I wondered what young people saw in the green shag carpet on the ceiling. Did they laugh at its ridiculousness? Do they not realize that today’s fashions are just as ridiculous, but theirs?

Graceland Continue reading

All For One, And None For The Monkey

About twenty years ago, a woman came up to me as I was walking into a school board meeting, to enlist my support for her neighborhood’s quest to save an unused elementary school from being sold and the land developed.  Wasn’t open space important? Wasn’t it better to have a park than houses? Didn’t it add to the quality of life?

Well sure. In a vacuum. And to her quality of life. But not to mine or anyone else’s in the school district who didn’t live in her neighborhood. And certainly not to the children who attended school in the district, or the taxpayers who supported the district, which needed funds to pay for the gold-plated pencils parents demanded for their poor, beloved babies in a district that already levied outrageous taxes. So many problems, on all ends, that needed fixing, but of all of them, the woman’s desire for a pocket park for her neighborhood was the least of them.

That’s when it became clear that the empathy card, when overplayed, could be a disaster. It’s not about people whose rights were lost to the tyranny of the majority, but people who made a very empathetic argument for why their personal interests were worthy of the allocation of scarce resources. It wasn’t that her arguments weren’t valid, but that society can’t accommodate everyone’s personal desires, and that meant someone wasn’t going to get what they want.

The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals thinks a monkey named Naruto deserves to enjoy the same rights as a human being. Is a monkey not as worthy of rights as a person? Do they not feel pain, love, happiness? Perhaps, but when animals get rights, we don’t get to slaughter and eat them. Continue reading

Grieving Dr. Rosalind Griffin

It’s not exactly the newest game in town, as the cognoscenti have long appreciated the fact that lawyers are subject to professional oversight and discipline, and there is no downside to making a complaint against a lawyer. Any flaming asshole can do it.  The worst that happens is you get a nice lawyerly letter telling you that you’re a moron.

But a doc who does medical exams for insurance companies, which are humorously called “I.M.E.s,” for “independent” medical exams because insurance companies have better lobbies than plaintiff’s lawyers, has decided to use the grievance process to go after Michigan lawyer Steven Gursten for outing her.  Via Turk:

Now comes before us today one Dr. Rosalind Griffin, a Michigan psychiatrist, with a different tactic: Filing a grievance against lawyer Steven Gursten for blogging about a medical-legal exam that she did on one of his clients.

Gursten was so ticked off at Dr. Griffin, that he wrote about her.

And what did Griffin do that so offended Gursten? Glad you asked. Continue reading

How Feminist Dogma Creates More Girl-Crime

The scam was pretty good, as scams go.  A 15-year-old was used as bait on Backpages to lure the sort of twisted guy who wanted a young girl, only to be met by a guy with an Airsoft gun, who robbed him, including forcing him to go to the ATM to empty his bank account.  After all, there is a good chance the robbery victim wouldn’t go crying to the cops that he was there to commit a crime of his own, right?

Yet, the scheme was revealed and the perps were caught and prosecuted, including the 15-year-old girl.  That’s where the tears started flowing.

On Facebook, Latesha Clay looks like any other 15-year-old girl. Her hair pulled back into a ponytail, she wears mostly sweats and sneakers in blurry selfies taken with friends and her many siblings.

But on Jan. 11, Clay’s life took a drastic turn when she was sentenced to prison for up to 20 years. Her crime? The teen was the bait in a series of Backpage escort ads designed to lure men into a robbery scheme.

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Elizabeth Warren And The New Fearmongering

While Michael Dukakis was stuck in a photo op with an ill-fitted helmet, the opposition trotted out Willie Horton. Fear kicked Dukakis’ butt, and George H.W. Bush became the nation’s 41st president. Fear works.

But given that the usual tough-on-crime fearmongering of the past isn’t in vogue at the moment, with neither street crime nor terrorism playing well in Peoria, it’s tough to find a bogeyman scary enough to light a fire under the faithful and generate enough fear and loathing to make people give a damn.  Enter Elizabeth Warren, Senator from Massachusetts and former Harvard prawf, as attack dog of the downtrodden.

In a single year, in case after case, across many sectors of the economy, federal agencies caught big companies breaking the law — defrauding taxpayers, covering up deadly safety problems, even precipitating the financial collapse in 2008 — and let them off the hook with barely a slap on the wrist. Often, companies paid meager fines, which some will try to write off as a tax deduction.

Curious that the metaphor has gone from “slap on the wrist” to “barely a slap on the wrist.”  Perhaps Warren should be writing a letter to former AG Eric Holder about what the hell he was thinking. And what constitutes a “meager fine” is a relative thing, since many of us would struggle to pay off a few hundred million and find it slightly greater than “meager.” Continue reading