Author Archives: Chris Seaton

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

Debate: People Power! Non-Lawyers Can And Should Be Judges

Ed. Note: Following a so-very-Tennessee story about the decisions made by a non-lawyer “judicial commissioner,” the question was posed for debate between Chris Seaton and David Meyer-Lindenberg: Should non-lawyers hold judicial positions? This is Chris’ argument.

People charged with crimes or sued civilly have to go before a judge who will hear their case. Because these are legal matters, involving laws, the average person might expect the person wearing the black robe had trainng and experience as a lawyer. In fourteen states, that idea doesn’t hold up, as non-lawyer judges preside over many cases, including criminal trials.

Take a deep breath before you start impersonating a blue-haired gender-studies major and screech “Sixth Amendment! Due Process! Fundamental Fairness!” Having non-lawyer judges is a good thing, and the judiciary doesn’t need only lawyers in its ranks.

First, the idea of a non-lawyer judge is an American ideal almost as old as the nation. In 1831, Alexis de Tocqueville* praised the American “justice of the peace.” Continue reading

Seaton: When Public Defenders Call Bullshit

If you are a State Supreme Court Justice issuing a press release on which areas of indigent representation reform the state’s highest court intends to back, it’s easy to shrug off calls of “bullshit” from the private bar. When the Public Defenders, the first line of defense for the poor in the state call bullshit, you might want to rethink your stance.

“The devil’s in the details,” Tennessee District Public Defenders Conference Executive Patrick Frogge said in an interview last week. “I’m glad the Supreme Court is taking some actions. The recommendations they’ve made in their press release share a common theme of steering more cases to public defenders. I’m not sure the recommendations carry with them a commiserate increase in the number of public defenders.” (Emphasis added.)

Frogge is correct in his analysis. The Tennessee Supremes want the public defenders’ offices to take on more cases. They don’t want to actually fund those offices or adequately staff them. They want the public defenders to take every case possible.

Mark Stephens, the head of Knox County’s public defender office, cut Chief Justice Bivins’ press release, and the work of the task force, straight to the bone. Continue reading

Seaton: Tennessee Supreme Court Fails The Public On Indigent Representation

Tennessee has an indigent representation problem. No less an authority than Justice Sharon Lee knows this. That’s why untold sums of taxpayer dollars were thrown at an “Indigent Representation Task Force,” which rambled across the state listening to aggrieved attorneys and citizens.

That task force, after nearly two years’ work, issued a series of recommendations on how to fix the indigent representation problem. When the recommendations were formally announced, attorneys across the state rejoiced. They were solid, responsible reforms to the current system that would fulfill the mandate of Gideon v. Wainwright. The justice system wouldn’t be a drawn out Tennessee Waltz, it would actually resemble justice.

Current Chief Justice Jeff Bivins understands there are major problems with the current system. He was happy enough to tell the world in a press release on October 3.

The task force confirmed what many of us already suspected: The system needs major [reforms.]

Continue reading