Friday, June 5, 2009

Sonia Sotomayor

Some of our Republican friends are quite upset by Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor's comment about a "wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences" being able, "more often than not to reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn't lived that life." Of course, she has already indicated that this was a poor choice of words, a recanting of sorts. And our boy Newt has done has own recanting of sorts about his "racist" comment, too. But, as usual, I fail to grasp why this is such a big deal.

Before you get your bowels in an uproar, I am not saying women are better than men, or Latinos are better than Anglos. What I am saying is that Ms. Sotomayor merely stated what we all feel in our heart of hearts. We all believe that our life experiences, shaped by our cultural background and experiences, qualify us far more than any one else on the planet to make brilliant decisions and conclusions. Perception is reality, as McLuhan once said. Everyone views life through the lens of our lifetime. We don't see how someone how has not been shaped by the forces that shaped us could possibly reach the brilliant, fair and equitable decisions that we do. It is simply impossible. In this regard, the nominee is just another frail human being, albeit one with a little more power and public eye than most of us.

So should such a comment disqualify Ms. Sotomayor? Have we become so politically correct that such a human statement means that you are not qualified to become a Supreme Court Justice? Is it even wrong? Don't we want our Judges to bring to the table the fullness of their life experiences? Of course, we need to guard against someone who life experiences produce a prejudice, which I guess is the argument being made by the neo-conservatives here, but there is nothing in Sotomayor's record of rulings to indicate that.

There has been for many years a dangerous trend in politics to weed out anyone with flaws. Someone that falls short of an unattainable ideal. Flawed people often grow as a result of mistakes, life experiences, and failures. Perhaps they even become better people. As a result of this trend against the less than ideal, I fear we are in great danger of no longer producing giants. And make no mistake about it, there were once giants that guided this country. Today, they would be weeded out. FDR--crippled adulteror, Lincoln--odd looking manic depressive, Teddy Roosevelt--too earthy, too opinionated, Sam Austin--drunken failure, Washington and Jefferson--slaveholders for God's sake!

You can have your list of vanilla middle of the road candidates. As for me, let me have some flawed humans, like those above, that bring it all, good and bad to the table. Maybe we'll see a giant again.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Why the Legislature is Broken

For the past several weeks, our wonderful Legislature has been at an impasse over the State's budget. As we near the July 1 deadline for passing a budget, there seems to be no movement. Of course, I have come to expect very little from our Legislature in terms of leadership and statesmanship, and they have continued to meet my low expectations.

The real problem is they have no incentive to fix the problem. No one runs against an incumbent anymore. They have no real threat of being kicked out of their cushy part-time job. Because of this, they are free to respond to their real constituencies. These can be special interest groups, lobbyists, the Governor, or whomever. This invulnerability allows them to posture with impunity. They can draw lines in the sand and call it integrity, when it is in fact showmanship. The legislature bows to their real masters, who are, for the most part, no longer the voters.

As a Democrat, my thinking is the Republicans are following the orders of Hailey the Hutt. I am sure my Republican friends say the Democrats are in the thrall of the Speaker, or perhaps the Black Caucus. It doesn't matter. No one is living this job for life unless they want to, barring scandal, the only thing that they fear. Of course, even then, they bow out and are not voted out. But clearly, fixable problems are not getting fixed.

Think about it. If you and I were in a room, or say 4 or 5 of us, and we were faced with this problem, we'd be having beers together by 5:00 tonight. House and Senate leaders are at odds over how much to tax hospitals to help pay for Medicaid. There is going to be some tax, so we meet, look at the two figures and start splitting the difference until we hit a number. Problem solved and I've got the first round at Happy Hour. Another sticking point is a plan supported by Gov. Haley Barbour and Senate Republicans to reserve $60 million in federal stimulus funds to protect the state against possible lower revenues in future years. The Democrats aren't sure that the money can be so reserved (it is for stimulating, after all) and want to spend it to help the State. Again, it is an all or nothing negotiating stance. Real people, who have better things to do than waste time, would work a compromise, like, I don't know, spend some and reserve some. It is called compromise, after all, and like a T-shirt I once saw said, "this ain't rocket surgery".

But these fine public servants don't see it that way. And since we are never going to vote them out, they can continue to play hardball, to the detriment of the working stiffs of the State. It's a cozy little club and a good time away from home for them.

What's the solution? Draft the Legislature. Set up a lottery, have all adults register and pick numbers. Everyone serves a two year, three year, four year, whatever term. After that you're done. Not enough time to line your pockets, and maybe an incentive to do the right thing. No need to worry about former legislators becoming lobbyists, because the guys and gals they knew are gone, and so is their influence. Of course, these guys would also have no worries about getting kicked out, but at least we would know they were going on a date certain. The mechanics of passing the laws, etc. would be handled by staff. If you are worried about those staff members becoming too powerful, limit their employment too.

See, it's all solvable. I think I'll work on the Middle East next. Let's see, where did I put Obama's phone number?

Carrying your Internet cloud with you

I am currently using a wonderful little device obtained from my local Verizon carrier for my Internet needs when I am away from a line. This little card-like device is called a MiFi 2200. (Cute play on words for WiFi, eh?) It is a little bigger than a credit card and about 3 or 4 times as thick. What it does is connect you to the Internet anywhere you can get a Verizon signal. Previously, I had a plug in device that served the same function.

So why switch over? One of the beauties of this device is it broadcasts its signal for a range of about 30 feet, and it supports up to 5 users at one time. You do not have to plug it in, like the older device, just cut it on. So you and others can use it at the same time. Great for collaborating with others, or for use at the house when your cable connection is on the fritz, as it is at my house. Security is provided using the concept of "security by proximity". For another user to log on, in addition to being close enough, they have to use the log-in password, which is printed on your MiFi card. If you don't give it to them, they can't get on. If you move away, they can't get on. You are in control of usage.

The other thing I like is the portability. I can have the card in my coat pocket, computer case, etc. and as long as it is on, I am in business. I don't have to plug it into my computer, although I can. So you can be discrete, if you desire.

The device costs $150.00, with a contract, of course. You get a $50.00 rebate. If you are a current user of the old device, the cost is $100.00, with the same $50 rebate. Subscription plans have two options, with two amounts of data. Choose the bigger one, for about $65 or so per month, which was what I was paying for the old card. As a bonus, as an old card user, I get unlimited data. Love the grandfather clause!

If you travel much, and use the internet connections in airports, coffee shops, etc., this device can pay for itself very quickly. I also enjoy the piece of mind knowing I can get on even when the cable or T1 line is on the blink.

Two big thumbs up from me for the MiFi 2200 by Verizon.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Updated Irony

As we sit here awaiting a verdict in Jackson Mayor Frank Melton's trial, here's little more on the irony of Frank sitting next to attorney Cynthia Stewart, who is representing Melton's co-defendant in this federal trial. You will recall the last post was a little vague about the details of Frank going after Cynthia when she was defending accused individuals such as himself.

Well, thanks to astute reader and Google power searcher Rogen Chhabra, here are the details, refreshed now in my mind by this AP article:

RESTRAINING ORDER SOUGHT AGAINST MBN CHIEF JACKSON ( AP ) - An attorney who claims she is being harassed by state Bureau of Narcotics Director Frank Melton for representing an alleged gang member wants federal court protection from arrest, court documents show. Melton has publicly said he planned to arrest a Jackson attorney in connection with the recent drug-related gang arrests. On Monday, he declined to say whether Cynthia Stewart was that lawyer or on what charges the lawyer would be arrested. Stewart filed her motion last Thursday in U.S. District Judge William Barbour's court. In the motion, Stewart says Melton is using the threat of arrest to harass and intimidate her and interfere with her representing Marcell Martin. Stewart "is facing irreparable harm from the threat of imminent arrest, business interruptions and damages to her reputation and good will," according to the motion. Barbour has ordered a hearing on the motion for Friday. "None of the other people we put in jail had a restraining order," Melton said in an interview with The Associated Press. "It seems like the rules change when you get to a certain level." Messages left at Stewart's office Monday were not returned. Martin, 27, was one of 15 people recently arrested by narcotics agents for allegedly running a drug operation in downtown Jackson. He was charged with cocaine distribution and being a convicted felon in possession of a firearm. Melton said the lawyer he was targeting took the statement of a man who had been kidnapped and beaten by alleged gang members who were attempting to force him to claim weapons seized in the arrests. Melton said the man was in protective custody. In a sworn affidavit dated Aug. 19, Stewart said she took statements from three witnesses after the arrests, one of whom answered questions concerning seized firearms. She said her activities were under the normal practice of the law. MBN agents during the arrests seized two .357 Magnum handguns, a .32-caliber revolver, two SKS assault rifles, a .308-caliber rifle, marijuana and several rounds of ammunition, according to the search warrant.

So then MBN chief Melton was trying to get Ms. Stewart arrested for doing her job as a good attorney and now rolling over and playing dead for the new sheriff in town. I am afraid this story illustrates, again, Melton's "end justifies the means" attitude toward crime fighting and pretty much anything Melton wants to do. "I'm putting these criminals away. Why would anyone oppose that? I don't need no stinkin' trial or pesky Constitution." He is genuinely amazed that he can't do whatever pops into his head at the moment. Reminds me of a certain Texan recently retired from government service.

A few final irony thoughts. Cynthia went where when Frank was acting the fool? Federal Court. Which is now the scene of more Melton troubles. And although the two defendants have somewhat diverent intrests and defenses in this matter, I understand that Cynthia is doing the heavy lifting as far as jury instructions are concerned, so her skill is helping the dude who went after her for exhibiting that same skill and diligence for others.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

A Little Bit of Irony

Here's another thought on the Melton trial, this one having nothing to do with tactics, trial procedure, etc.

It is just that I am struck by the incredible irony of Mayor Frank Melton and attorney Cynthia Stewart sitting side-by-side at the defendant's table cordially working together (at least until the interests of Cynthia's client and Mr. Melton diverge), all as peaceful and serene as could be. But I recall back in the beginning of Mayor Melton's term of office how he went after Cynthia Stewart simply because she was doing a good job of representing some of her criminal clients. These were individuals that Frank had already convicted in his mind, and wanted them to be punished forthwith. Cynthia, unfortunately for Frank's sense of justice, keep bringing up that pesky Constitution, due process, and other things that really gnaw at dictators. Rights of the accused!! Frank ain't gonna like that!

I have unsuccessfully tried to run a Google search on this to give you some more specific facts, because as I age, my memory gets less and less specific, but I have been unsuccessful. Nonetheless, Frank was causing Cynthia all sorts of problems, and some serious concerns, as I recall. It was one of the early clues that Frank did not believe in the rule of law but only in the rule of Frank

It all worked itself out eventually. But now, as Frank and Cynthia sit at the defense table, and his bodyguard is represented by Cynthia, I cannot help but be struck by this little bit of irony. Not quite as ironic as if he hired Cynthia, but this isn't a novel or short story, it is real life.

More hubris and client control

Of course, this week, our thoughts turn to Jackson, Mississippi Mayor Frank Melton and his federal trial. Frank, as you're aware, is being tried in federal court for violating the civil rights of the owner of an alleged "crackhouse" that he had young men damage with sledgehammers and the like.

One thing that has struck me is the fact that Melton still doesn't "get it" as far as the seriousness of this matter. Having beaten a state charge, and skated through on everything else, he still seems to feel that City of Jackson is his own personal fiefdom. Most recently, Frank luckily drew only an admonishment from Federal Judge Jordan regarding possible witness tampering. It seems that there were some subpoenas that were being copied to be served upon witnesses. Franks attorney, Johnny Reeves, told Frank to wait until subpoenas were copied and then have the Jackson Police Department serve them. Frank, according to the Clarion ledger, stated that "he didn't have time to wait.", and snatched the subpoenas and let the courtroom.

Later, it was revealed that he personally delivered at least one of these subpoenas to a potential witness, and stayed in his house longer than the owner of the house wanted him. Although the judge did not find that Mayor Melton had intimidated or tampered with this witness, it could've gone the other way.

Of course, this all could've been prevented if Johnny had followed the sage advice and/or example of Edward Bennett Williams, the late, great criminal trial attorney from Washington, DC. Mr. Williams, in his long and colorful career, represented all sorts of criminals, included Frank Costello, the model for "The Godfather". Williams had one absolute non-breakable rule-he was in charge of the case, not the client. It didn't matter how rich the client was, or how powerful he was in criminal circles, or how famous, or any of those things. Williams made sure from the onset of the hiring of him and his firm that he made the decisions, he was in control, and if you did not like it, he would leave but there would not be any situation where the client was running the case or making the decisions. Had Williams been Melton's attorney and Melton tried that sort of self-important behavior, Williams would have grabbed him by the scruff of the neck, sat his butt down, and given him a lecture reinforcing the rule in Melton's mind. Either that, or Williams would've stormed out of the courtroom telling Melton where what he could do with his case and where he could put it.

Melton has gone this far in life with a good deal of ego and the unchecked belief that he is always right. While it allowed him to succeed on many levels, it has not been a model for good government. We need look no further than the recent disaster known as the Bush administration, which was also led by someone who didn't think he ever made mistakes and was always right. This combination is tragic in government; it is a recipe for disaster in a criminal defense trial.

So what have we learned? The lawyer has to be in control of the client. If you are in awe of your client, or you haven't been paid enough and think you can get some more of you are nice to him, or you desire known as a nice guy, you may be in trouble. If any of these reasons, or any others, cause you to lose control, as a lawyer, of the situation, no good can come of it.

Friday, January 9, 2009

I'm not sure if this qualifies as opposed a legal issue, but since (a) the story involved a lawyer and since (b) this is my blog, I'm going to tell you this tale in any event.

Our vignette takes place back in the 1950s. My friend "William" was a young Navy man, an Ensign, stationed stateside during the Korean War. Being a young man about town, he had arranged a date with an Admiral's daughter to go to some fancy cotillion ball. Of course, the young lady was justifiably excited, got a new dress, etc. Unfortunately, our hero took drunk that night and fail to show up.

Well, the daughter cried all night to her mother, and the mother got on her husband's case the better part of the next day. Having no one in the family he could vent upon, the Admiral had to look elsewhere. The upshot was our young Ensign got new marching orders. He was told that he was being transferred to an active duty post over in Korea. He was going to be in an area that was receiving the most military action and on a ship of that had reported the highest amount of casualties.

Being the dutiful son, Bill called his mom and told her about his transfer and how he wouldn't be able to come home to visit for a while. His momma, justifiably upset, pondered what to do. Somehow, this widow living in a small backwoods town in Mississippi managed to work the phone system to such an extent that she was eventually directly connected to Senator James Eastland, senior senator from Mississippi. At this time, Senator Eastland was at the height of his power in the Senate. He commanded the Senate Judiciary committee, and his compadre, Senator Stennis, the Armed Services Committee. Senator Eastland had a great deal of power in Washington, and was not afraid to use it.

As related to me, and since Mama said "Senator, little Billie is being sent to Korea. They're shooting people over there." To which the Senator replied, "Don't you worry about a thing, ma'am. We'll take care of it."

Lo and behold as our young incident was crossing the tarmac to board his plane to Korea, he was accosted by another naval man. After confirming that he was indeed our ensign, this officer handed William a new set of orders. Instead of reporting to Korea, he was in fact to report to Washington, DC for his duty. While billeted in our nation's capital, his sole duty consisted of reporting once a week the Senator's office and letting them know that he was okay. After this visit, someone from the Senator's office would then call his widowed Mama and report that they had in fact seen her little Billie that day and he was doing just fine. Thus our hero waited out the Korean War.

Although William and Senator Eastland's political views clashed dramatically, Sebastian dutifully voted each and every opportunity he could for Senator Eastland. As I have said on many occasions, you have to admire a man who once bought, stays bought. I say this non-judgementally, as I'm sure that in the same position I would've voted for the Senator each and every time also.