Author Archives: Chris Seaton

Seaton: An Unrung School Shooting Issue

As fall begins and kids start their trek back to school, an issue lingers in the back of everyone’s mind. Is there going to be another school shooting? If so how bad will it be?

The previous nightmarish year of gun violence in schools was horrendous, and the horror of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida is still fresh on many parents’ minds. Some students from that very school used their anguish to lobby for gun reform. Others are just concerned about getting back to class.

During a heated debate over the subject, G.C. Hutson, a mediator colleague of mine, posed a rather interesting theory over the cause of so much gun violence in schools: what if social media was part of the problem? Continue reading

Seaton: Billy Ray’s Barbaric Demise

A man named Billy Ray Irick died this week in Tennessee. Irick’s passing was no surprise to those familiar with him, as he’d been sentenced to die by a jury for the brutal rape and murder of a seven-year-old girl back in 1986. What’s surprising is the blind eye turned to Irick’s execution method: a three drug lethal injection that potentially tortured Irick for up to 18 minutes.

Tennessee’s lethal injection procedure involves administration of three drugs: midazolam, which is supposed to act as a sedative rendering the subject unable to feel pain, vecuronium bromide, a muscle relaxer, and a final dose of compound potassium chloride which stops the heart. Adopted in January, the procedure sounds, in theory, as if it’s a humane way to end someone’s life.

But it’s only theoretically humane because there’s a chance midazolam doesn’t work as well as people expect. In fact, there’s enough of a concern over the efficacy of midazolam that several death row inmates are in a class action lawsuit claiming the midazolam lethal injection protocol constitutes cruel and unusual punishment. Continue reading

Seaton: Four Years A Rapist

Ninety minutes. That’s half a football game, and the amount of time it took a jury to declare former Tennessee Volunteer football players A.J. Johnson and Michael Williams not guilty of rape. The verdict lifted a nearly four-year cloud of rape accusations off the duo.

Johnson and Williams’ story plays out like so many encounters on college campuses. The two star football players got blisteringly drunk at a college party and met up with two young women. The combination of hormones and liquid courage morphed into remorse the next day, with a Title IX coordinator letting the pair know it was okay to call their regret “rape.”

It came as no surprise when the Knox County District Attorney’s Office decided to indict Johnson and Williams on charges of aggravated rape. The University of Tennessee was already under scrutiny for how it handled sexual assault claims, and it would be unthinkable to let two star athletes walk away from rape accusations. Continue reading

Debate: Maybe Civility Wouldn’t Hurt

Ed. Note: After two prominent intellectuals, a New York Times reporter and an award winning British media personality failed to debate the question ,“Be it Resolved: What You Call Political Correctness, I Call Progress,” former Fault Lines contributors Chris Seaton and Mario Machado attempted to succeed where four others failed. Bellow Chris’ argument.

Those who know me or read me work realize I’m no fan of political correctness. I abhor the idea of “trigger warnings” in academic syllabi. The notion that my children will be taught growing up there’s more than two genders is absurd to me. And I find it ridiculously infantile that at the start of each semester, college professors must ask students, “What is your preferred set of pronouns?”

Despite all this, today I write in defense of political correctness because it has brought us some degree of meaningful change, despite what the Perry Van Ness* polo-shirt-wearing crowd might think.

Political correctness leveled the playing field for the better when it came to groups like women, people of color and LGBTQIAAP2** individuals. It means that as much as we hate to admit it, men know it’s not okay to call a female colleague in the workplace “sugar tits” in passing. Heterosexual men and women march in the streets during Pride celebrations with people who love differently than them. Continue reading

Seaton: A Penny For Your Court-Appointed Attorney Thoughts

Even a blind squirrel finds a nut on occasion, and sometimes people are wrong. I am willing to admit my prior criticisms of the General Assembly, backed by the words of no less a luminary than Task Force Chairman William Koch, were somewhat unfounded. The Tennessee General Assembly decided this month if they dangled a little extra money in front of the trench lawyers, all of their problems would go away.

[Tennessee’s] FY 2018/19 state budget includes an additional $9.7 million in recurring funding for indigent representation reform. On April 19, 2018, the Tennessee Senate and House of Representatives approved the budget. On May 21, 2018, Gov. Haslam signed the appropriations bill. The funding becomes available July 1, 2018.

What this $9.7 million reoccurring appropriation does is raise the rates of compensation for court-appointed attorneys to a flat $50 per hour. It also increases the caps on the amount of money attorneys can get in given cases. Continue reading

Seaton: More Hollow Promises For Tennessee’s Indigent Defense Waltz

Adherence to the Constitution requires adequate funding. It isn’t satisfied by pretending to care. Either you will honor the Constitution by funding indigent defense, or you will fail the people of this State, but you will no longer trick them by putting on a show.

—My statement to the Tennessee Indigent Defense Task Force on May 20, 2016.

If you ask just about any current member of the General Assembly, they will tell you that the annual appropriation to fund indigent defense representation programs is among the least popular appropriation they make every year. In fact, many legislators lean toward cutting this appropriation…I mention this only to help you understand that there is no chance…that the General Assembly will agree to appropriate more money to fund the current system. Thus, any proposal to increase the current appropriation…to represent indigent criminal defendants is and will continue to be dead on arrival.

—Task Force Chairman William Koch, Letter, February 10, 2016. (Emphasis mine)

Tennessee continues its waltz around indigent defense funding with more ham-fisted “recommendations” that do nothing to solve a key problem. Lawyers with experience are turning from indigent representation in droves, and no “recommendations” from the Volunteer State’s Supremes can fix that. Continue reading

Debate: Abolish All Gender Prefential Laws For True Equality

Ed. Note: Chris Seaton challenged me to a debate, following the Boy Scouts of America allowing girls to join and changing its name to Scouts BSA. Was this the end of gender distinction? Were they truly just a social construct? I argued the negative and Chris argues the affirmative:

Third wave intersectional feminism* slew another public monster when it managed to sever the terms “Boy” and “Scouts.” The institution wasn’t necessarily an issue. Rather, it was one more nail to the church door of the third wave feminist thesis** that boys and girls don’t have any fundamental differences. Gender*** is an irrelevant social construct.

If we are to accept this premise, then I submit we take the bold leap and abolish all gender preferential laws. Equality means we take away the regulations designed to benefit or deter a particular gender and level the playing field completely. Continue reading

Seaton: Judge Rosemarie’s Baby Advocacy

Judges are not “fierce advocates,” despite the wishes of New York Times’ copy editors. Judges are, ideally, impartial, using their authority to apply the law. Ingham County Court Judge Rosemarie Aquilina conveniently abandoned that role by prioritizing the feelings of the “sister survivors.” whom former U.S. Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar sexually assaulted, over Michigan’s charge to jurists regarding the avoidance of judicial impropriety.

A judge should respect and observe the law. At all times, the conduct and manner of a judge should promote public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary. Without regard to a person’s race, gender, or other protected personal characteristic, a judge should treat every person fairly, with courtesy and respect.

Nassar’s sentencing hearing is a clear example of a judge straying from promoting the public’s trust in a fair and impartial judiciary. Let’s begin with Judge Aquilina’s decision allowing over one hundred and sixty victim impact statements across seven days.  Continue reading

Seaton: When Smartphones Kill

Yale Law professor Stephen Carter counsels his first year students with the following wisdom: never support a law you aren’t willing to kill to enforce. Apparently Timothy J. Farnum, a Colorado area doctor, is ready to kill if it means retailers don’t sell smartphones to minors.

“One of my sons, I took [his smartphone] away, and it was a pretty dramatic, very violent outburst,” said Dr. Timothy J. Farnum, a father of five who is an anesthesiologist by training. “He was very addicted to this little machine. It kind of scared me, and that’s really how it started.”

By “it,” Dr. Farnum means “Parents Against Underage Smartphones,” his 501(c)(4) political action group dedicated to stopping smartphones from reaching the hands of preteen children. The group’s mission, according to their website, is stemming the tide of “easy nonstop internet access for children disguised as progress.” Continue reading

Seaton: Ten Questions Every Criminal Defense Lawyer Should Ask On The First Date

Dating is really hard, especially when you’re a criminal defense lawyer. We’re usually busy saving lives and keeping people out of jail, so there’s precious little time to find the man/woman/non-binary-gender-fluid person of your dreams.

People outside the trenches are having problems with dating too. It’s such a problem that people are writing advice articles about it from all perspectives. Don’t fret! It’s time criminal defense lawyers got their own dating tips. After all, we’re called counselors for a reason.

1) Do you pay your bills on time or up front and in full? Continue reading