Monday, December 15, 2008

Attorney sentenced to three years for working with wiretapper Pellicano

KPCC News In Brief
November 24, 2008
An attorney convicted in a high-profile Hollywood wiretapping case landed a three-year federal prison sentence today.

Details from KPCC’s Cheryl Devall:

Private investigator Anthony Pellicano used to brag about his star-studded clientele. He used unconventional methods to dig dirt on and intimidate potential adversaries of celebrities, including action star Sylvester Stallone and comedian Chris Rock.

In August a federal jury convicted Pellicano and lawyer Terry Christensen of conspiring to wiretap the phone calls of the former wife of billionaire developer Kirk Kerkorian in a dispute over paternity and child support. Christensen said little during his sentencing hearing, except to refer to a written statement in which he expressed remorse for having done business with Pellicano.

The judge sentenced Christensen to three years in prison, three years probation and a quarter-million dollar fine. He’s free on $100,000 bond pending an appeal. Pellicano’s scheduled for sentencing next month. He may face prison time for a separate wiretapping and racketeering conviction.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Don Siegelman case: political prosecution by Bush justice department?

Questions Linger About Siegelman Prosecution
by Kathy Lohr
National Public Radio
All Things Considered
Dec. 13, 2008

A federal appeals court heard arguments this week in the case of former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman. Siegelman, a Democrat, was convicted of corruption and bribery and served nine months in prison. But the appeals court ordered his release earlier this year after it found substantial questions with his case. Siegelman argues that the prosecution was a politically motivated attack, and Congress is looking into the case.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

"We were running a guilty-plea factory" --public defender Anne Moore

Anna McHugh accidentally caused public defender Anne Moore to becoome a whistleblower

Young producer hits gold with public defender documentary
by Mike Janssen
May 22, 2000

...McHugh started following [public defender Anne Moore] through the complex workings of Nevada County [California] justice--Moore's office, courtrooms, the district attorney's office—all the while meeting people who couldn't afford a lawyer and felt cheated by the legal system. Watching Moore struggle with her huge caseload and the pressures of public work deeply affected McHugh...

"Clients were just so emotionally charged. The public defenders were so stressed out. The atmosphere really got to me."

...Anne Moore, a former schoolteacher and activist for tenants' rights who entered public defense with a strong sense of duty. She was also the first woman hired in her office's 24-year history.

...McHugh says. "I got the sense that she was the exception, rather than the rule, of public defenders."

By the time she met McHugh, Moore had reached the end of her rope as a public defender. The huge caseloads and limited time were stressing her out. And she was increasingly troubled by problems in her office.

"We were running a guilty plea factory," Moore says. She alleges that in 1998, only one of hundreds of cases in her office ever went to trial. She also claims that an ex-cop on probation interviewed clients as a way of fulfilling his work release requirements, and that staff relations were rocky.

...After months of dissenting internally, Moore took her concerns to the county board of supervisors, which eventually publicized a critical evaluation of the public defenders' office. In the end, reports emerged that supported some of her allegations, and the head public defender was fired. Moore, who no longer works for the office, claims she also was fired as a result of her actions, but county officials say she resigned.

Though Moore already knew the problems in her office all too well, it took McHugh's straightforward approach to inspire her to blow the whistle...

"I could see that the person that I was could not tolerate the wrongdoing that I was part of, and that I thought I was someone who stood up for the rights of those who were traditionally underrepresented. ... I saw a person who needed to put my ethical obligations and my ideals above my career, and above security."

News of Moore's whistle-blowing shocked McHugh. "I didn't really quite know how to respond," she says. "I didn't quite feel like I had done anything in particular. I must have touched a nerve somewhere, stumbling around in the dark."

Public defender and judge ignore crushingly obvious mistaken identity

With new US Attorney, it's a good time to be a white-collar criminal in San Diego

Voice of San Diego
Without Lam, U.S. Attorney's Office Takes Different Tack
Dec. 2, 2008

..."There's been a precipitous decline in white-collar investigations and prosecutions over the last two years," said Michael Attanasio...

[Carole] Lam's tenure turned out to be glory days for the FBI's financial crime squads, for federal prosecutors working major frauds and for dream-team defense attorneys whose clients made headlines around the country.

When Karen Hewitt took over 22 months ago, controversy raged over what was perceived by some as politically motivated firings of Lam and seven other U.S. attorneys around the country...

Lam, a healthcare fraud specialist, had branded herself a champion of these high-impact corporate and public corruption cases. As for border crime, she bypassed the small players and went after leaders of large drug- and human-smuggling rings and corrupt border officials.

[Blogger's note: good call, Carole.]

...Criminal prosecutions in fiscal 2008, Hewitt's first full year in office, have increased 54 percent since Carol Lam's first year in office, fiscal 2003, according to the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, which monitors federal prosecution statistics. Comparing the same five-year period, immigration cases in the Southern District of California are up 88 percent.

[Blogger's note: The higher the prosecution rate, the more likely it is than innocent people are being charged. I'll bet the conviction rate has gone down for those who are brought to trial. I'll also bet that not many cases actually go to trial. If Hewitt charges everybody who gets scooped up by over-eager agents, then underpaid public defenders can't afford to defend them properly, and advise even their innocent clients to accept plea-bargains.]

Also during that span, prosecutions of white-collar cases referred by the San Diego FBI are down 74 percent, from 78 cases in 2003 to 18 cases in 2008, the lowest level in two decades. And public corruption cases are down 71 percent, from seven cases to two. Under Lam, the number of such cases had reached the highest levels in two decades, hitting 12 in 2004, TRAC found.

"She's very aware of the reasons her predecessor was axed," criminal defense attorney Bob Rose said of Hewitt. "I really doubt she would like that to happen to her."

...until a few weeks ago, the major frauds unit was at its lowest staffing levels in years -- a decline that began toward the end of Lam's 4.5-year tenure as resources dwindled. Four junior attorneys were assigned to the unit recently, bringing the number to about 11, lawyers in the office said. That appears to be in step with a national trend to crackdown on mortgage fraud and other financial crimes associated with the nation's economic meltdown.

Hewitt's office declined to provide statistics or answer questions, but said from 2007 to 2008, immigration cases were up 48 percent, gun cases were up 17 percent, child pornography cases were up 60 percent, and frauds were up 71 percent. Hewitt was interim U.S. attorney for eight months of fiscal 2007...

Former FBI chief Bill Gore, now the undersheriff, raved about Hewitt while introducing her as speaker at a Rotary Club meeting in October, calling her a "team player."

...the vast majority of cases prosecuted by Hewitt's troops comes from Customs and Border Protection (73 percent) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (17 percent), both part of the Department of Homeland Security. Only about 2 percent of the U.S. attorney's cases are referrals for prosecution by the San Diego FBI, according to TRAC, which analyzes Justice Department data...

The federal government reported filing 151 criminal mortgage fraud prosecutions in the first 10 months of FY 2008, 10 of which are in the Southern District of California, which includes San Diego and Imperial counties, according to data obtained by TRAC.

The 151 federal mortgage fraud prosecutions so far reported for fiscal 2008 were clustered in only 10 judicial districts, with Florida South (Miami) the most active with 69 cases, followed by Western Pennsylvania (Pittsburgh) with 26 prosecutions. San Diego was tied for third with 10, sharing that distinction with Northern Georgia.

In its analysis of the data, the TRAC report said: "Given the broad troubles now confronting the economy of the United States, and the role that mortgage fraud may have played in these problems, the relatively small number of cases in this area is somewhat surprising. For example, during the same period U.S. attorney offices criminally prosecuted 554 individuals for simple drug possession, 399 cases for environmental wildlife protection and 405 for child pornography."

...Hewitt, a Republican and avid sports fan, joined the San Diego U.S. Attorney's Office in 2000 and prosecuted civil fraud cases before Lam appointed her as third in command -- executive assistant U.S. attorney -- in 2006...

With the election of Democrat Barack Obama to the White House, Hewitt almost certainly will be stepping down, and priorities are likely to shift again with the unnamed new appointee. The position is a political appointment, and incoming presidents typically choose their own U.S. attorneys. But that process could take up to a year.

[Blogger's note: Unfortunately, Democrats often let big fish get away, just like Republicans. I would like to see the appointment of Eliot Spitzer or someone with equal courage to go after the criminals in insurance companies. And I'd like to see the US Dept of Justice do something more important than going after prostitutes.]

Hewitt apparently prefers to put little guys in jail, burdening the taxpayers and contributing the United States reputation as having the highest percentage of incarcerated population in the world. It's not hard to get someone to plead guilty when their exhausted lawyer doesn't have time to work on the case. You end up with lots of guilty pleas, often from innocent people who fear more years in jail if they don't plead guilty.]

...the additional cases under Hewitt have had a significant impact on workload for the U.S. District Court, the clerk's office, court-appointed defense lawyers and the jails and prisons.

Federal Defenders of San Diego Inc. has been forced to increase the number of staff lawyers by 25 percent in the last year to handle the caseload. "There've been points in the year when everybody's been just absolutely under water," said Reuben C. Cahn, executive director. "Everyone can work 80 hours a week for a couple months at a time but they just can't do it longer than that without the quality of work eroding or without burning out. It's been a very difficult year for us."

Cahn said the numbers tell the story. His office handled 892 immigration cases in FY 2006, then 1,240 in 2007 when Hewitt first took over, and 1,660 in 2008. "That's essentially doubled in two years," he said.

So, the prominent white-collar defense lawyers are doing a lot of civil cases now. There have been no new high-profile corruption cases like Cunningham, who is serving more than eight years in prison.

An Office of the Inspector General report has concluded that Lam's firing, while mishandled, did not appear to be an effort by the Bush Administration to derail Lam's pursuit of Cunningham and spinoff cases targeting GOP colleagues. Her firing was about failing to prosecute border crimes, a Justice Department priority, the report said...

[Blogger's note: There's obviously no need for meddling. The Bush Administration hired Hewitt because they were confident she would do exactly what they wanted.]

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Should judges be elected or appointed?

Wanted: better judgment, fewer crowd-pleasers and lickspittles
Nov 20th 2008
The Economist

Should judges be elected or appointed? In the case of international courts, this age-old conundrum has a new twist

BARACK OBAMA wasn’t the only person selected by American voters this month. They also cast ballots for thousands of state-court judges, after expensive, rancorous campaigns. No other nation in the world chooses judges by this stirringly democratic method, as Sandra Day O’Connor—the first woman to sit on the Supreme Court—has noted. In her view, that is because most countries know “you’re not going to get fair and impartial judges that way.”...

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Lawyers investigated in Detroit $8.4-million whistle-blower lawsuit settlement secret agreement

City attorney cleared of wrongdoing in Free Press records request
October 28, 2008

City of Detroit lawyer Ellen Ha won’t face professional misconduct charges for her handling of Free Press’s public records requests that revealed the existence of a secret side agreement to last year’s $8.4-million settlement of a police whistle-blower lawsuit and eventually brought down Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick.

“The Attorney Grievance Commission determined that the evidence reviewed did not warrant further action by the commission,” it said in a one-page letter dated Monday to Ha. She received the letter today.

...Ha told the Free Press and a Wayne County judge after last year’s $8.4-million whistle-blower lawsuit settlement that she was unaware of any secret agreement. But documents the judge later released in a Free Press freedom of information lawsuit showed the mayor’s lawyers had created a secret side agreement to conceal the existence of text messages showing that Kilpatrick and his former chief of staff, Christine Beatty, had lied at the whistle-blower trial.

Ha later testified at Kilpatrick’s removal hearing that she had been kept in the dark about the confidential agreement and said such agreements are improper because the public is entitled to know the details of settlements involving public funds.

Deputy State Treasurer Valdemar Washington, then a Flint lawyer who was called in to help facilitate a settlement of the whistle-blower suit, was cleared in the grievance commission investigation in September.

The commission is investigating other lawyers involved in the secret settlement and its aftermath. They are Kilpatrick, who was a lawyer until he surrendered his law license when he pled guilty to obstruction of justice charges; Samuel McCargo, who represented Kilpatrick in the whistle-blower suit; Assistant City Attorney Valerie Colbert-Osamuede, who represented the city; John Johnson, then-head of the Law Department; Wilson Colepand II of Detroit, a private lawyer who represented the city; William Mitchell III of Southfield, who went to the city’s text messaging provider to find out why the messages hadn’t been destroyed; and Michael Stefani and law partner Frank Rivers, of Royal Oak, who represented the cops.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Judge says Ted Stevens prosecutor signaled witness on stand

I hope there won't be too many people that fall off their chairs in shock when they read this story.

Washington Post
An Angry Judge at Stevens Trial
10/ 7/2008
by Derek Kravitz

The surprises keep coming at the corruption trial of Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens.

U.S. District Court Judge Emmet G. Sullivan admonished Anchorage attorney Robert Bundy after the judge thought he saw him signaling to his client, Bill Allen, on the witness stand yesterday. Sullivan threatened to hold Bundy in contempt and called Bundy's gestures "borderline obstruction of justice," according to the Anchorage Daily News.

Bundy did not appear in court today, thinking he would not be welcome, said his law partner, Creighton Magid. "He is torn up about this," said Magid, who also said Bundy "vehemently denies" making any signals to Allen, according to The Associated Press.

Allen, the government's star witness against Stevens, is making his second trip to the witness stand as the trial enters its third week. (Roll Call notes that by cooperating with federal authorities, he is allowed to keep millions that he had earned from the sale of his Anchorage oil firm, Veco Corp.)

Yesterday, jurors heard secretly-recorded phone calls (transcript) between Stevens and Allen. Stevens, 84, is accused of hiding improper gifts he received from Allen, including home improvements to the tune of $250,000.

On the tapes (and in between the occasional four-letter word, the health tips and the heartfelt I-love-you's from Allen) Stevens tells his fishing and drinking buddy that he's confident he's done nothing wrong -- but also says he's worried about possible jail time.

"These guys can't really hurt us," he says in one phone call, referring to government prosecutors. "They're not going to shoot us. Hell, the worst that can happen to us is that we run up a bunch of legal fees, and might lose and might have to pay a fine and might have to serve a little time in jail -- I hope to Christ it never gets to that -- and I don't think it will. I'm developing the attitude that I don't think I did anything wrong so I'm going to go right through my life and keep doing what I think is right."...

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Did a judge-prosecutor romance taint Texas murder trial?

I don't think the outcome of this case would necessarily have been different if the judge had recused herself. But I do think she was wrong not to recuse herself.

Defendant faces execution Sept. 10
By Warren Richey
The Christian Science Monitor
September 8, 2008 edition

...The lawyer for a death-row inmate says he is trying to break a "conspiracy of silence" in Texas over whether the district attorney and the judge who presided over his client's 1990 capital murder trial were having a secret romantic relationship.

The inmate, Charles Dean Hood, is scheduled to be executed on Wednesday.

A Texas judge has ordered a hearing into the issue on Monday morning. The judge has also ordered the former judge and former district attorney to be prepared to answer questions under oath about their alleged affair and potentially surrender any documentary evidence of a relationship.

The unusual twists and turns in the Hood case are attracting national attention and adding fuel to an already-heated debate over capital punishment in Texas...

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Attorney Bradley Marshall tries to intimidate Seattle Blogger

Apparently a lot of lawyers think that bloggers are easy to intimidate. I also have had the honor of having an eminent lawyer (actually, a whole firm of them) try to intimidate me into silence.

Lawyer Tries to Intimidate Seattle Blogger

From Hominid Views: People, politics, science and whatnot
July 31, 2008

What is this world coming to when a high-powered attorney to sports stars (and a now-deceased famous talk-radio host) goes on the attack against a lowly blogger?

You see, Bradley Marshall, attorney extraordinaire (well… if you don’t count the recent 18 month suspension of his license) just sent a letter to Seattle liberal blogger and journalist (and friend of mine) Michael Hood at Blatherwatch requesting that Michael yank some old blog posts and cease writing about him.

Michael is certainly not the first blogger to get such requests, but it must be quite the honor for Michael to get a letter from a lawyer of such stature...

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Terrific idea: hire Justice Department employees based on merit

Perhaps the people given jobs in the Justice Department because they could be counted on to serve the interests of the right-wing Republican Party will now be joined by people who will get their jobs based on their merit.

Illegally Rejected Justice Dept. Applicants May Get Another Look

By Carrie Johnson
Washington Post Staff Writer
August 12, 2008

"Job applicants who were rejected by the Justice Department because of improper political considerations will be urged to apply for open positions, Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey told an audience yesterday.

"Mukasey said the hiring system at Justice had broken down and that department leaders had failed to supervise the behavior "of those who did wrong." But the attorney general stopped short of agreeing to weed out lawyers and immigration judges who won their jobs based on faulty criteria..."

Saturday, July 5, 2008

The Supreme Court goofs; it need to fix its error

I've long wondered why prosecutors and judges are so reluctant to admit they make mistakes. If it's because they think they'll lose credibility, they should think again. Someone who admits it when they make a mistake has more credibility than someone who doesn't.

Washington Post editorial
July 5, 2008

WHEN A NEWSPAPER gets its facts wrong, it's supposed to publish a correction, and, if someone's reputation has been harmed, a retraction and apology. It can be embarrassing, but the occasional taste of crow probably does more good than harm to the media's credibility.

But what if the Supreme Court not only blows a key fact but also bases its ruling, in part, on that error? There was quite a goof in the court's 5 to 4 decision on June 25 banning the death penalty for those who rape children. The majority determined that capital punishment for child rape was unconstitutional, in part because a national consensus had formed against it... Actually, only two years ago, Congress enacted a death penalty for soldiers who commit child rape, as part of an update to the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ).

Irony of ironies: The court has cast doubt on the constitutionality of an act of Congress based on the erroneous claim that the statute did not exist.

...only after a legal blogger, Col. Dwight H. Sullivan, had pointed out the mistake did a newspaper, the New York Times, take note...

Friday, June 27, 2008

"The Insider" lawyer sentenced to five years for trying to bribe a judge

The thing that bothers me about this case is that I suspect it's the tip of an iceberg. Something must have made these people think that judges could be bribed. The sentencing judge noted that Scruggs picked the wrong judge to try to bribe. But how many times had he picked a judge who willingly accepted a bribe?

Attorney Gets 5 Years in Bribery Case

Richard "Dickie" Scruggs, who became one of the wealthiest civil lawsuit attorneys in the country by taking on tobacco, asbestos and insurance companies, was sentenced Friday to five years in prison for conspiring to bribe a judge.

U.S. District Judge Neal Biggers Jr. called Scruggs' conduct "reprehensible" and fined him $250,000, plus the cost of his incarceration...

Richard "Dickie" Scruggs, an attorney who gained wealth and fame through a series of high-profile and successful cases against corporate America, was sentenced Friday to five years in prison...

The judge said that after reviewing evidence in the case, including secretly recorded conversations, "it made me think perhaps this was not the first time you did this because you did it so easily. And there is evidence before the court that you have done it before."

Scruggs gained fame in the 1990s by using a corporate insider against tobacco companies in lawsuits that resulted in a $206 billion settlement. That case was portrayed in the 1999 film "The Insider."

...Scruggs initially denied wrongdoing. But in March, Scruggs and former law partner Sidney Backstrom pleaded guilty to conspiring to bribe Lafayette County Circuit Court Judge Henry Lackey with $50,000...

Scruggs' son, Zach Scruggs, pleaded guilty to misprision of a felony, meaning he knew a crime was committed but didn't report it. He is to be sentenced next week...

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Remembering Wenatchee: Washington's version of the Dale Akiki case

Jury finds city, county negligent in child sex ring case
Couple awarded $3 million

Wednesday, August 1, 2001


A Spokane County jury yesterday found the city of Wenatchee and Douglas County negligent in the now-discredited 1994-1995 Wenatchee child sex ring investigations, awarding $3 million to a couple who had been wrongly accused in the inquiry.

In the first test of a landmark state Supreme Court decision in September that ruled police can be sued for conducting negligent child-abuse investigations, Honnah and Jonathan Sims were awarded the money after a three-week civil trial before Superior Court Judge Michael Donohue...

The jury, which deliberated all day Monday and most of yesterday, also found that both the city and county were negligent in the investigations of East Wenatchee pastor Roby Roberson and his wife, Connie, key figures accused in the case.

...The jury also found that Wenatchee's investigation of Donna Rodriguez was negligent but decided against a monetary award.

The Robersons and Honnah Sims, who had been a Sunday school teacher at Roberson's church, were acquitted of child rape and molestation charges in 1995. Charges against Rodriguez, a parishioner in the church, were dismissed in 1996 when four of her five accusers recanted.

Two children who made most of the accusations -- tales of mass sex rings involving dozens of children and adults operating out of Roberson's church -- were under foster care and living in Perez's home.
..."To me the closure point was actually 1998. With ...everybody being freed from jail. Finally our character and reputations were restored and these people (police and prosecutors) were exposed."

In 1994 and 1995, Perez and Child Protective Services caseworkers initiated a series of investigations in Wenatchee that resulted in 43 people charged with 27,726 counts of child rape and molestation against 60 children.

Roberson came under investigation in 1995 after he began criticizing Perez's investigations and the arrests of two parishioners, Harold and Idella Everett, a poor, developmentally disabled couple. The Everetts, parents to the two foster children making accusations while living under in Perez's supervision, served five years in prison before they were released when their case was overturned in September 1998...

All 18 people convicted in the investigations he initiated have since been released, their convictions overturned or agreements made to plead guilty to lesser and usually unrelated charges.

In February 1998, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer published "The Power to Harm," a series of articles exploring the conduct of police, lawyers, social workers and others involved in the investigations.

...Perez's investigations began to unravel amid evidence of bungling by police and prosecutors, conflicts of interest involving a judge, and inept defense counsel.

No free speech in Singapore; thank goodness judges can't do this in the US

This case reminds me that the founders of the United States bequeathed a tremendous gift to those of us who live in this country. Thanks to Harvard University's Citizen Media Law Project, those who wish to erode our freedoms are not able to attack in secret. Here is CMLP's report on what happens to those who speak out against judges in Singapore:

Singapore v. Nair
Posted June 18th, 2008 by Arthur Bright
Threat type: CriminalDate: 05/31/2008
Subject Area(s): Criminal, Libel
Party Issuing Threat:
Party Receiving Threat:
Gopalan Nair
Type of Threatening Party:
Type of Threatened Party:

Gopalan Nair, a U.S. citizen who blogs from Fremont, California, was arrested in Singapore for publishing insulting comments on his blog, Singapore Dissident, and in an email about two Singaporean judges.

In May 2008, Nair, a former Singapore lawyer, attended a hearing in a defamation suit brought against members of the opposition Singapore Democratic Party by Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore's first prime minister, and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Lee Kuan Yew's son. On May 29, Nair wrote in his blog that the trial judge, Belinda Ang, "prostitut[ed] herself during the entire proceedings, by being nothing more than an employee of Mr. Lee Kuan Yew and his son and carrying out their orders." In another blog entry, Nair also challenged the government to prosecute him, writing, "I am now within your jurisdiction.... What are you going to do about it?"

On May 31, Singaporean police arrested Nair for insulting Ang in an email, a crime under Section 13D (1)(a) of the Miscellaneous Offences (Public Order & Nuisance) Act. Nair was jailed until June 5, when he was released on bail. On June 12, the police filed a second charge against Nair under Section 228 of Singapore's Penal Code, which criminalizes "[i]ntentional insult or interruption to a public servant sitting in any stage of a judicial proceeding," for comments in an email he allegedly sent to Judge Lai Siu Chiu in March 2006. On June 16, the police amended the original charge against Nair to also fall under Section 228 of the Penal Code and to specify that the offense was written in Nair's blog, not in an email.

If convicted, Nair faces a fine of 5,000 Singapore dollars and up to one year in jail. Nair has said he will fight the charges.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Kids better not criticize this Indiana principal

State of Indiana v. A.B.
Posted June 6th, 2008 by Matt C. Sanchez
Threat type: Criminal
Date: 03/02/2006
Subject Area(s): Free Speech, Identity, Student Speech
PartiesParty Issuing Threat:
State of Indiana
Party Receiving Threat:
A.B. (a minor)
Type of Threatening Party:
Type of Threatened Party:
Location of Party:
Location of Party:
Verdict (defendant)

The State of Indiana filed a delinquency petition against a Greencastle Middle School student who had posted derogatory and "vulgar" criticism of the school's anti-body-piercing policy on the social networking site MySpace. The student, referred to in court documents as A.B., critized administrators and created a publicly accessible group entitled "Fuck Mr. Gobert and GC Schools." The state's claims included harassment and identity deception, the latter arising from A.B.'s creation of a fake MySpace account for Gobert, the principal of Greencastle Middle School.

On June 27, 2006, the juvenile court declared A.B. a "delinquent child" and placed her on nine months probation. The court found that A.B.'s MySpace postings, if committed by an adult, would constitute the criminal offense of harassment. A.B. appealed, and the Court of Appeals of Indiana reversed the juvenile court's decision. The appeals court concluded that A.B.'s postings were political speech protected by the Indiana Constitution and that her conviction for harassment thus contravened her right to speak.

On May 13, 2008, the Indiana Supreme Court declined to adopt the appeals court's rationale and instead reversed the juvenile court on another ground. The court ruled that the dilenquency finding could not stand because the state had failed to prove the statutory elements of criminal harasssment. Specifically, the court determined that the state had not shown beyond a reasonable doubt that A.B. posted with the intent "to harass, annoy, or alarm" Gobert with "no intent of legitimate communication." It found that certain comments were not actionable because A.B. had posted them on her personal MySpace page, to which Gobert did not have access. With regard to other comments on the pubicly accessible group page, the court held that she had posted the comments as a legitimate expression of her anger and criticism of Gobert and the school, rather than with an intent to harass, annoy, or alarm.

Legal opinions for sale; those who control San Diego schools pay millions of tax dollars for them

At last, someone with a high profile has spoken out about character and integrity among lawyers. I have done this, but the unethical lawyers at Stutz Artiano Shinoff & Holtz that I have written about believe that they can intimidate me into silence.

San Diego County Office of Education has continued to cover up Daniel Shinoff and Stutz law firm's criminal actions on behalf of school district officials. SDCOE-JPA executive director Diane Crosier (above photo), not the board, controls the legal representation of SDCOE and most county schools.

Fortune Magazine has published a great article on the subject:

Fortune Magazine
May 30, 2008
Blowing the whistle on unethical lawyers
By Roger Parloff, senior editor

"In August 2001, when in-house accountant Sherron Watkins warned Enron CEO Ken Lay that the company might "implode in a wave of accounting scandals," Lay asked the firm's regular law firm, Vinson & Elkins, to do a "preliminary investigation." Though V&E had worked on the very transactions Watkins was questioning, it took the assignment and reported back on Oct. 15 that there was no cause for concern. About a month and a half later Enron filed for bankruptcy, having, in fact, imploded in a wave of accounting scandals.

"When V&E was summoned before a congressional committee to account for the breathtaking shallowness of its probe, it produced a letter blessing its performance from one of the nation's most highly credentialed experts on legal ethics: Charles Wolfram of Cornell University Law School. Wolfram opined that it is "customary and appropriate" for a company to conduct a "preliminary investigation" before undertaking a "full-scale" one, and that the firm had not violated conflict-of-interest rules because Watkins had raised "business and accounting" issues, not issues regarding V&E's "own legal services."

"In a forthcoming Stanford Law Review article titled "The Market for Bad Legal Advice," Columbia Law School professor William Simon cites Wolfram's opinion as just one example of patently bad advice offered in exchange for lucrative compensation by academics whom he contends are becoming "enablers of pernicious... practices."

"...Simon isn't talking only about V&E and Enron. He cites the example of lawyers at another law firm who "gave hundreds of opinions to taxpayers to the effect that bizarrely complex and economically substanceless transactions... were acceptable ways to reduce taxes. Some of them were virtually copies of transactions that the IRS had specifically condemned."

"Or of Department of Justice luminaries advising that "various statutory and international law constraints on the President in the 'war on terror' were un-constitutional or otherwise not binding" in opinions that "exaggerated the authority for the conclusions and omitted inconsistent arguments and precedent."

"Simon's article seeks not just to diagnose the problem but also to prescribe and administer remedies. The most controversial will surely be the measure he calls "shaming." That process consists of having other academic ethics experts - like Simon - write law review articles brutally critiquing the opinions that their colleagues have offered while under retainer. This, he believes, will help deter the delivery of bad advice.

"Like most ethics experts contacted for this article, New York University School of Law's Stephen Gillers declines to share his thoughts on the ethics disputes that Simon discusses, observing that he socializes with all the experts named, including Simon. But he does venture this: Simon's article is "unique in my 30 years as a law teacher. It's unique for law professors to so aggressively criticize the behavior of other law professors - not their intellectual positions. This is about character and integrity..."

Monday, May 26, 2008

Lawyers Keep 26-Year Secret

If I had been in the shoes of these two lawyers who kept the secret of Alton Logan's innocence, I believe I would have come forward with the truth, and risked being disbarred. But then, I'm not a lawyer. I think 90% of lawyers have lost their sense of right and wrong, which is why our justice system so frequently helps the guilty and punishes the innocent.

26-Year Secret Kept Innocent Man In Prison
May 25, 2008
60 Minutes (CBS)
Lawyers Keep 26-Year Secret

...This is a story about an innocent man who languished in prison for 26 years while two attorneys who knew he was innocent stayed silent...

Alton Logan was convicted of killing a security guard at a McDonald's in Chicago in 1982. Police arrested him after a tip and got three eyewitnesses to identify him. Logan, his mother and brother all testified he was at home asleep when the murder occurred. But a jury found him guilty of first degree murder...

Alton Logan's story cuts to the core of America's justice system.

Simon met Alton Logan in prison, where he's spent almost half of his life.

Asked if he still counts the months and days, Logan told Simon, "There’s no need to count the months and the days. Just count the years."

Logan said that during the first five or six years he was "consumed" by anger. "Then I come to the realization that 'Why be angry over something you can't control?'"

Logan, who maintains he didn't commit the murder, thought they were "crazy" when he was arrested for the crime.

Attorneys Dale Coventry and Jamie Kunz knew Logan had good reason to think that, because they knew he was innocent. And they knew that because their client, Andrew Wilson, who they were defending for killing two policemen, confessed to them that he had also killed the security guard at McDonald's - the crime Logan was charged with.

"We got information that Wilson was the guy and not Alton Logan. So we went over to the jail immediately almost and said, 'Is that true? Was that you?' And he said, 'Yep it was me,'" Kunz recalled.

"He just about hugged himself and smiled. I mean he was kind of gleeful about it...

"How did you interpret that response?" Simon asked.

"That it was true and that he was tickled pink," Kunz said.

"He was pleased that the wrong guy had been charged...

"Well, ...we have to maintain client confidentiality, just as a priest would or a doctor would...

Asked if they contemplated doing something about it, Coventry told Simon, "We wrote out an affidavit. We made an affidavit that we had gotten information through privileged sources, that Alton Logan was not in fact guilty of killing the officer, that in fact somebody else did it..."

"But the minute he was not sentenced to death, the minute he was sentenced to life in prison, you decided to do nothing?" Simon asked.

"Yes," Kunz said. "I can't explain it. I don't know why that made the difference but I know it did."

"There is no difference between life in prison and a death penalty. None whatsoever. Both are a sentence of death," Logan told Simon...

(CBS) "What did you do to see if there might be some loophole to get everyone out of this fix?" Simon asked the attorneys.

"I researched the ethics of attorney-client privilege as much as I could. I contacted people who are involved in making those determinations. I know Jamie did the same thing," Coventry said.

"I could not figure out a way, and still cannot figure out a way, how we could have done anything to help Alton Logan that would not have put Andrew Wilson in jeopardy of another capital case," Kunz added.

"Couldn’t you have leaked it to somebody? To a reporter, to an administrator, to the governor, to somebody?" Simon asked.

"The only thing we could have leaked is that Andrew Wilson confessed to us. And how could we leak that to anybody without putting him in jeopardy?" Kunz replied. "It may cause us to lose some sleep. But, but I lose more sleep if I put Andrew Wilson’s neck in the in the noose."

"He was guilty and Logan was not. So, yes his head should be in the noose. And Logan should go free. It's perfectly obvious to somebody who isn’t a lawyer," Simon pointed out. "Andrew Wilson was guilty, was he not?"

"Yes. And that's up to the system to decide. It's not up to me as his lawyer to decide that he was guilty and so he should be punished and Logan should go free," Kunz said.

"Do you think you might have been disbarred for doing that, for violating attorney-client privilege?" Simon asked.

"I don't think I considered that as much as I considered my responsibility to my client. I was very concerned to protect him," Coventry explained.

"But here is a case where two men, you two were caught up in this bind. And chose to let a man rot away in jail," Simon remarked.

"In terms of my conscience, my conscience is that I did the right thing. Do I feel bad about Logan? Absolutely I feel bad about Logan," Coventry admitted.

The attorneys say they were so tormented over Logan's imprisonment that they convinced Wilson to let them reveal that Wilson was the real killer after Wilson's death. Late last year, Wilson died. The two attorneys finally took their affidavit out of the lockbox, and they called Logan's lawyer, pubic defender Harold Winston.

Winston had already been trying to get Logan a new trial. He'd found two eyewitnesses who swore Logan was not the killer. Now, with Kunz and Coventry's affidavit, he thinks Logan will finally go free.

[Blogger's note: From what I've seen and read over the years, prosecutors hate to admit they've prosecuted an innocent person. More often than not, they prefer to let the innocent rot in jail.]

"...Everything that was dear to me is gone," Logan, who missed his mother's funeral, told Simon.

His brothers Eugene and Tony told 60 Minutes they've shared Alton's pain, and they always knew that he was no killer. "My brother ain’t got the nature to do nothin' like that in his soul. He ain’t gonna take nobody else's life. We weren't raised like that," Tony said.

"Your brother is 54 now. Can he start again at the age of 54?" Simon asked...

But Alton Logan is still behind bars. "They are quick to convict but they are slow to correct they mistakes," he said...

This is what Alton Logan meant when he said they are slow to correct mistakes:

Marine Wife Murder Case Still Active
Cox Communications

(San Diego, CA) -- A judge ruled he still has the authority to completely dismiss the case of Cynthia Sommer who was found guilty of killing her husband and spent a few years in jail, but later had the charges dismissed "without Prejudice". Judge John Einhorn says he may dismiss the case "with prejudice" which means the case could not be re filed, "without" means the prosecution could re file murder charges against Sommers who was alleged to have poisoned her husband in 2002.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

CTA lawyer Beverly Tucker violated the law to cover up her own crimes, but still touts free speech rights

Head CTA counsel Beverly Tucker used all her power and influence to cover up CTA wrongdoing against a teacher in Chula Vista Elementary School District. She has used this same power to deprive teachers all across California of their rights. But these were teachers without political influence.

Ms. Tucker takes a completely different tack when a teacher has political support. Below is an example of this from a story on CTA's website. Tucker's attitude would have been quite different if the teacher had tried to publish information about CTA's wrongdoing:

"Andrew Nolan was ousted from his post as student newspaper adviser at College Park High School in Pleasant Hill last June when the publication ran stories that made administrators unhappy. Topics included student fights, discipline problems on campus, broken computers, the High School Exit Exam and a job-shadowing program that some students considered ineffective.

"Nolan, a member of the Mount Diablo Education Association (MDEA), has been reassigned to teach English.

"When he first accepted the role of newspaper adviser, he told the principal he planned to encourage students to tackle “real issues” much like a community newspaper, and there was no objection. Students, he says, did a good job journalistically.

“They put their hearts and souls into it to make it the best paper it could be,” says Nolan. “Students started reading it for the first time. It used to be delivered and kids would just walk by on their way to lunch. But soon kids were clamoring for copies.”

"When he was first told of his reassignment, administrators said the reason was that his “talents could be better put to use teaching core curriculum.” However, a school district spokesperson later told a local newspaper that Nolan was reassigned because the student newspaper did not include the viewpoints of administrators. Nolan finds that ironic, since students often asked administrators for quotes and received a “no comment” response.

"CTA plans to file a lawsuit against the district alleging that Nolan’s First Amendment rights were violated when he was removed from his position, says CTA Chief Counsel Beverly Tucker.

"Quietly accepting the principal’s decision was not an option, says Nolan. “What kind of role model would I be for students if I just rolled over on this one? That wouldn’t be teaching them anything. And they deserve better than that.”

Link to full article.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Greg Cox fails to address question of how Steve Castaneda case was initiated, and the investigation of Cheryl Cox wasn't.

Bob Castaneda, the brother of Chula Vista Councilman Steve Castaneda, raised important questions about the two prosecutions carried out by the San Diego District Attorney's Public Integrity Unit.

Bonnie Dumanis appointed Peter O'Toole to bring in two political opponents of Chula Vista mayor Cheryl Cox for questioning. Both of them were charged with lying during these odd investigations. How did these investigations get initiated? Why were two men prosecuted for felony perjury even though the investigations uncovered no crimes?

Why has a complaint about Cheryl Cox and her agents been ignored by this "Public Integrity Unit"?

Supervisor Greg Cox has written a letter that does absolutely nothing to answer the questions that have been raised. Of course Cox protests that he has done nothing wrong. But how will he restore the credibility of the District Attorney's office? He makes no effort to do so.

Here is a comparison of the letters by Bob Castaneda and Greg Cox.

The question remains: was the PIU tipster a friend of Cheryl and Greg Cox?

The answer seems sort of obvious, doesn't it?

Monday, May 5, 2008

Does the justice system work for non-lawyers?

City System Ranks Among Worst in Nation
Oversight Policies Are 'Designed to Shut Out the Public,' Group Behind Study Says

By Paul Duggan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, May 6, 2008

A group that advocates making the nation's justice system more user-friendly for non-lawyers said in a report yesterday that the District's procedures for holding judges accountable to the public are among the worst in the country.

The study, by the nonprofit group Help Abolish Legal Tyranny (HALT), did not examine specific cases of wrongdoing by judges. Researchers graded the court systems in all states and the District on their rules for judicial conduct and ethics and their procedures for sanctioning violators.

"The District of Columbia's system of judicial oversight is one of the most secretive in the country," HALT's senior counsel, Suzanne M. Blonder, said in a statement. "In an era that embraces principles of sunshine and transparency, it's shameful that the system of monitoring some of our most powerful government officials is designed to shut out the public."

On the group's Judicial Accountability 2008 Report Card, no jurisdiction got an A. Washington state received a B, and Connecticut and Pennsylvania were graded B-minus. Thirty-three states were graded C-plus to C-minus. The District (grade: D) and a dozen states were ranked in the D-plus to D-minus range. Maine and Mississippi got an F. Maryland was given a C and Virginia, a D.

Based on the numerical scores used to calculate the grades for the 51 jurisdictions, the District was in a three-way tie with Delaware and Louisiana, ahead of only Maine and Mississippi. Maryland ranked 17th, and Virginia was 45th, a few rungs higher than the District.

Henry F. Schulke, special counsel to the D.C. Commission on Judicial Disabilities and Tenure, said that there were several inaccuracies in the report and that the commission, which is independent of the court system, is only abiding by federal law.

"The commission's jurisdiction, its confidentiality provisions, its financial disclosure provisions are all governed by a statute enacted by Congress," he said. "And so to the extent there are any perceived deficiencies in the process, it's not something under the control of the commission itself."

The researchers rated each jurisdiction on the degree of public access to complaints against judges; the severity of sanctions; the availability of online information about disciplinary proceedings; the percentage of non-lawyers involved in the sanctioning process; the level of financial disclosure required of judges; whether people are free to speak publicly about complaints they file; and the strictness of limits on reimbursements, compensation and honoraria for privately sponsored trips by judges.

The District got F's on public access to complaints and the severity of sanctions.

"The District is one of only three jurisdictions in the nation to delay disclosure of an ethics complaint against a judge unless and until the [D.C.] Court of Appeals orders public discipline," HALT said, adding that "the D.C. Commission on Judicial Disabilities and Tenure typically only sanctions dishonorable judges with closed-door reprimands and secret censures about which the public is never notified."

The group gave the District an F for financial disclosure and D's for online information, compensation for private trips and the involvement of non-lawyers in imposing sanctions on judges. Because complainants are not under gag orders during the disciplinary process, as they are in some jurisdictions, HALT gave the District an A in the "consumer friendliness" category.

Judge admits filing lawsuit without merit--but only after being forced to do so by the California Superior Court

I suspect that there are plenty of attorneys and judges in California who are as bad or worse than this one. The story in the article below appears to be typical of what I know of the practice of law in California. What is atypical is the apology for filing a lawsuit that had no merit.

I was introduced to the court system by Stutz, Artiano, Shinoff & Holtz, who were working with Parham & Rajcic, who may not be typical. These two firms help public school clients commit and cover-up wrongdoing. As a result of the machinations of these two firms, I got to know lawyers Deborah Garvin and Elizabeth Schulman, who may perhaps have been restrained by legal ethics in some other case, but certainly were not so restrained in mine.

Finally, I had my eyes opened by the California Teachers Association, of which I had been a big supporter, financially as well as politically, for decades. I discovered that CTA lawyers were just as ready as any of the above-mentioned attorneys to violate the law in order to gain a political advantage for the people who run the union. Head counsel Beverly Tucker and CTA executive director Carolyn Doggett turned out to be no better than Dan Shinoff.

During my odyssey in the court system, I met only one ethical lawyer. Unfortunately for me, she has gone on to bigger and better things than school district lawsuits.

For these reasons, the following story is interesting only in that it is the exception to the rule.

Most of us don't have the resources of Tom Siebel, and we will never get apologies from the attorneys and institutions who make big money and good reputations by abusing the justice system. Or maybe we will. Maybe I should file a lawsuit for malicious prosecution against Stutz law firm for its meritless defamation suit against me.

Judge Carol L. Mittlesteadt Issues Public Apology for Her Role in Lawsuit That 'Lacked Legal Basis' Against Thomas M. Siebel

PALO ALTO, Calif.,
May 1, 2008

San Mateo County Judge Carol L. Mittlesteadt has issued a public apology to Silicon Valley businessman Thomas M. Siebel, chairman of First Virtual Group, for bringing a civil lawsuit seeking financial damages from him that was determined to be without merit.

The apology is part of an agreement reached between Mittlesteadt and Mr. Siebel to settle a malicious prosecution case filed by Siebel in July 2000. In addition to her apology, Judge Mittlesteadt agreed to a financial settlement of $100,000, which Mr. Siebel will donate to the Stanford University Law School to support the study of legal ethics.

Mr. Siebel initiated the malicious prosecution case against Mittlesteadt in 2000 in response to a wrongful termination and gender discrimination claim that Mittlesteadt filed in 1996 on behalf of a former employee of Siebel Systems, Inc. Mittlesteadt filed her suit while Siebel Systems was preparing for its initial public offering, and thus was particularly vulnerable to disclosable litigation claims. Mr. Siebel prevailed in that case when the court determined that all claims against him were unfounded.

In an effort to set a precedent that would prevent similar lawsuits in the future, Mr. Siebel filed a malicious prosecution suit against Judge Mittlesteadt and her co-counsel, E. Rick Buell II. The suit stated that they had misused the legal process, in violation of the law and in violation of legal ethics, to pursue claims that they knew to be false in the hope of extracting a large financial settlement from Mr. Siebel and Siebel Systems.

Mittlesteadt attempted to block Mr. Siebel's malicious prosecution suit, claiming that he had no right to sue. The California Supreme Court disagreed in a ruling last year. The court's ruling cleared the way for Mr. Siebel's suit to proceed, and set a precedent that will make it easier for companies and individuals to pursue malicious prosecution claims and defend themselves against unfounded, economically damaging lawsuits.

"This case was a private effort at tort reform," said Mr. Siebel. "My hope is that other plaintiff's lawyers will look at this outcome and think twice before seeking to extort settlements by filing lawsuits they know have no basis in fact."

Lisa A. Rickard, President, U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform, applauded Mr. Siebel for pursuing his malicious prosecution suit against Judge Mittlesteadt.

"It is courageous people like Mr. Siebel who, by taking a stand, make it easier for individuals, small businesses and corporations to fight back against malicious lawsuits rather than be extorted into a settlement," Rickard said.

Settlement in the case was reached following arbitration by former California Supreme Court Judge Edward A. Pinelli.

In her letter of apology to Mr. Siebel, Judge Mittlesteadt said:
"I write to express my sincere regret for pursuing claims against you
that were determined to be without merit. I accept the ruling of the
California Appellate Court that the litigation contained claims for
which there was no legal foundation. I acknowledge that my actions may
have caused substantial expense and inconvenience, and damage to your
reputation and good name, for which I apologize."

Mittlesteadt originally sued Mr. Siebel in 1996. Mittlesteadt's co-counsel, E. Rick Buell II, settled with Mr. Siebel last year, apologizing for his role in the case in a letter to Mr. Siebel:

"I am writing to you to publicly express an apology for my part in
participating in the litigation captioned Christoffers v. Siebel
Systems, et. al., against you. I sincerely regret participating in this
clearly intemperate and ill-advised action, and accept the California
Supreme Court's and California Appellate Court's opinion that the
litigation contained claims for which there was no legal foundation.
Accordingly I ask that you accept my apology. I thank you for your wise
and gracious effort to put this unpleasant and unnecessary event in the
past and for allowing the parties to move on with their lives."

Mittlesteadt is now a Superior Court judge in San Mateo County, an appointment she received while Mr. Siebel's litigation was still pending.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Are Heller Ehrman lawyers exceptional? These antics are typical for Stutz law firm and Parham & Rajcic

I came across this article from October 2007 on Blogonaut. I was looking up Heller Ehrman because they were involved in an education case.

What surprises me about this article is that everyone acts surprised. This is exactly how Stutz, Artiano, Shinoff & Holtz has behaved during litigation in which I was involved.

Is hiding evidence truly unusual, or is everyone just pretending to be shocked?

From Blogonaut:

Federal Court Brings Written Charges of “Exceptional Misconduct” Against 14 Lawyers in California Qualcomm Suit, Heller Litigators Among Those Cited

A federal district court has ordered 14 California lawyers to explain why they should not be sanctioned for their “exceptional misconduct” on behalf of Qualcomm in a lawsuit that the San Diego wireless company lost. All of the lawyers subject to the order were from the Cupertino law firm of Day Casebeer Madrid & Batchelder or the Heller Ehrman law firm's offices in Menlo Park and San Diego, the San Diego Tribune is reporting.

Five additional lawyers have been drawn into the proceedings since the order was issued, so the fate of 19 attorneys rests on the outcome of an October 12, 2007, 9:30 a.m. hearing before U.S. Magistrate Barbara Major, the newspaper reports.

“I do not recall any case in which so many individual attorneys have been ordered to come before a judge in this kind of situation,” said Kenneth J. Withers, director of judicial education at The Sedona Conference, a nonprofit law and policy institute told the news service.

“Something obviously went very, very wrong here,” said George Socha, a Minnesota legal consultant who agreed with Withers that the case is highly unusual”, the Tribune reported.

The sanctions proceeding arose from a case Qualcomm filed in 2005 against rival Broadcom, which alleged the Irvine chip-maker was infringing on two patents held by Qualcomm for video compression technology. The jury took just 6 hours to reject Qualcomm’s claims, and also made advisory findings that Qualcomm improperly withheld key information that could have weakened its patents from a standards-making body and the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

To make matters worse, the existence of 21 e-mails requested by the defense in pretrial discovery did not come to light until the last day of testimony in the trial. Not good.

But it gets worse, because the 21 e-mails were inconsistent with facts that Qualcomm's lawyers presented in the case. This would possibly allow inferences that not only were the e-mails intentionally withheld, but that the case presented was less than honest. Indeed, San Diego federal Judge Rudi Brewster later described the alleged misconduct as “an organized program of litigation misconduct and concealment”, the Tribune reports.

Brewster, who presided over the patent trial, detailed the misconduct in an Aug. 6 ruling that waived Qualcomm's patents and ordered the San Diego wireless giant to pay Broadcom's attorney fees, currently estimated at $8.5 million.

Among other things, Brewster found that the Qualcomm engineers had “blatantly” lied while under oath. The judge also found that Qualcomm and its attorneys knowingly failed to produce more than 200,000 pages of e-mails, memoranda and other electronic evidence that directly contradicted the legal arguments made by Qualcomm before, during and after the trial.

Brewster referred the findings presented in his 54-page ruling to Major, who issued an order in August for the Qualcomm lawyers to explain why they should not be sanctioned for “exceptional misconduct.”

In statements filed last week, the lawyers maintained that they acted in good faith and never sought to conceal evidence from Broadcom or mislead anyone in the case...

[From The San Diego Union Tribune and The Wall Street Journal]

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Lawyers: Protectors of our freedom

Daily Kos
by mcjoan
Thu May 01, 2008 at 04:25:18 PM PDT
What day is today according to the White House? It's not "Mission Accomplished Day." It's not May Day. No, George Bush, law-breaker in chief, has declared today "Law Day."

"...The American legal system is central to protecting the rights and freedoms our Nation holds dear. The theme of this year's Law Day, "The Rule of Law: Foundation for Communities of Opportunity and Equity," recognizes the fundamental role that the rule of law plays in preserving liberty in our Nation and in all free societies. We pay tribute to the men and women in America's legal community. Through hard work and dedication to the rule of law, members of the judiciary and the legal profession help secure the rights of individuals, bring justice to our communities, and reinforce the proud traditions that make America a beacon of light for the world.

"Nearly 800 years ago, the Magna Carta placed the authority of government under the rule of law; centuries later, the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution marked tremendous advances in the march of liberty. These documents established enduring principles that guide modern democracies. Today, we are reminded of that past and look toward a hopeful future as we work to secure the liberty that is the natural right of every man, woman, and child.

"On Law Day, U.S.A., our Nation celebrates our belief in the equality of each person before God and renews our commitment to strive to bring America ever closer to its founding ideals.

"NOW, THEREFORE, I, GEORGE W. BUSH, President of the United States of America, in accordance with Public Law 87-20, as amended, do hereby proclaim May 1, 2008, as Law Day, U.S.A. I call upon all the people of the United States to observe this day with appropriate ceremonies and activities. I also call upon Government officials to display the flag of the United States in support of this national observance...."

It's almost funny, in a very dark kind

Interpreting the California Public Records Act

Vooice of San Diego
No Response on E-Mail Request

I just got word from Julie Dubick, Mayor Jerry Sanders' policy director, that the Mayor's Office won't be responding today to our challenging of their interpretation of the California Public Records Act.

Dubick had originally told me she would have a response today.

Some background: A wrongful termination suit filed this month alleges that a former top city official was fired for reporting inappropriate behavior by mayoral spokesman Fred Sainz. One of those accusations centered on an e-mail flagged by the city's computer system from Sainz to local newspaper editorial writer Bob Kittle that allegedly contained inappropriate language.

I requested that e-mail through the Public Records Act. The Mayor's Office refused to release the e-mail Monday, saying it was protected by an exemption in the law. While it didn't cite the exemption, we're assuming it's the pending litigation exemption.

Since then, we've been contacted by a bevy of attorneys (some offering to file a lawsuit pro bono on our behalf) who argue that the mayor's interpretation of the exemption is wrong.

The exemption only protects documents specifically prepared for a lawsuit, not any document that happens to be mentioned in a lawsuit, they argue. If the e-mail was public record before the lawsuit, it should be public record now, they say.

Stay tuned. Dubick didn't give me a precise date as to when the Mayor's Office might respond. I'm writing her back right now.

Wednesday, April 30 -- 5:49 pm

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Yes, Bonnie Dumanis. They're letting a convicted murderer go free.

In an effort to defend her prosecution of Cynthia Sommer, San Diego District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis wrote a few days ago:

"How could a convicted murderer suddenly walk out of jail a free woman?"
(See San Diego Union Tribune April 25, 2008 at

Sounds scary, doesn't it? The implication seems to be that a dangerous person whom Bonnie got sentenced to life in prison is now prowling the streets, a danger to us all.

No. It's Bonnie herself that seems to be the danger. She's developed a bad habit of prosecuting people for crimes they didn't commit.

DNA Frees Man After 27 Years in Prison

A Dallas man who spent more than 27 years in prison for a murder he didn't commit was freed Tuesday, after being incarcerated longer than any other wrongfully convicted U.S. inmate cleared by DNA testing.

James Lee Woodard stepped out of the courtroom and raised his arms to a throng of photographers. Supporters and other people gathered outside the court erupted in applause.

"No words can express what a tragic story yours is," state District Judge Mark Stoltz told Woodard at a brief hearing before his release.

Woodard, cleared of the 1980 murder of his girlfriend, became the 18th person in Dallas County to have his conviction cast aside. That's a figure unmatched by any county nationally, according to the Innocence Project, a New York-based legal center that specializes in overturning wrongful convictions.

"I thank God for the existence of the Innocence project," Woodard, 55, told the court. "Without that, I wouldn't be here today. I would be wasting away in prison."

Overall, 31 people have been formally exonerated through DNA testing in Texas, also a national high. That does not include Woodard and at least three others whose exonerations will not become official until Gov. Rick Perry grants pardons or the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals formally accepts the ruling of lower courts that have already recommended exoneration.

Woodard was sentenced to life in prison in July 1981 for the murder of a 21-year-old Dallas woman found sexually assaulted and strangled near the banks of the Trinity River.

He was convicted primarily on the basis of testimony from two eyewitnesses, said Natalie Roetzel, the executive director of the Innocence Project of Texas. One has since recanted in an affidavit. As for the other, "we don't believe her testimony was accurate," Roetzel said.

Like nearly all the exonorees, Woodard has maintained his innocence throughout his time in prison. But after filing six writs with an appeals court, plus two requests for DNA testing, his pleas of innocence became so repetitive and routine that "the courthouse doors were eventually closed to him and he was labeled a writ abuser," Roetzel said.

"On the first day he was arrested, he told the world he was innocent ... and nobody listened," Jeff Blackburn, chief counsel for the Innocence Project of Texas, said during Tuesday's hearing.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

After prosecuting the innocent Cynthia Sommers, Bonnie Dumanis moves ahead in her apparent quest for the Mike Nifong award

I don't understand why Bonnie Dumanis isn't investigating where the arsenic in some tissue samples came from. Dumanis is more and more exhibiting a resemblance to Paul Pfingst (who prosecuted Stephanie Crowe's 15-year-old brother), Ed Miller (who prosecuted Dale Akiki) and Mike Nifong (who prosecuted the Duke LaCrosse players). It's one thing to make a mistake. It's another to keep prosecuting an innocent person just to gain political capital as your mistakes grow from simple errors into abuse of the justice system.

How about putting Patrick O'Toole charge of finding out who put the arsenic in some of the tissue samples? He should have some time available now that a jury has found Chula Vista councilman Steve Castaneda not guilty of Dumanis's politically-motivated charges of perjury during an investigation that found no crime.

by Beth Karas, In Session correspondent
April 21, 2008

"When I interviewed Cindy Sommer at the Las Colinas Women’s Detention Facility here a week ago, neither one of us had any idea that she was spending her last days behind bars. She was a free woman four days later...

"...As I look back on the developments in her case from her conviction in January 2007 to her release last week, lessons come to mind from my years as a DA in Manhattan. A senior DA took me aside during my first year and told me to watch the old Western movie, “The Oxbow Incident,” which deeply moved him. In the movie, based on the book, three innocent men were lynched by a mob when law and order were abandoned.

"My colleague wanted me to understand the immense power of a prosecutor and the need to reign in a “rush to judgment” mentality. He emphasized that doing justice doesn’t always mean trying to secure a conviction but doing what’s right whether it’s lowering the charges or dismissing them outright.

"Sommer’s case may not have been a classic rush to judgment since there wasn’t even a criminal investigation until 15 months after Todd Sommer’s death. Moreover, Sommer wasn’t arrested until November 2005, more than three years after her husband’s death. Despite the holes in the prosecution’s case—the most glaring being no link between Sommer and arsenic—a jury of twelve San Diegans found her guilty. She was facing a sentence of life without parole.

"San Diego District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis says the system worked in Sommer’s case. When they recently found more tissue samples of her late husband, the D.A. sent them for testing at a private lab. The absence of arsenic in the tissues led to Sommer’s release last week. The most Dumanis will now say is that there is reasonable doubt. She won’t go as far as Roy Cooper in North Carolina when he declared the three former Duke lacrosse players innocent. But in the eyes of many who followed her case closely, Sommer has now been totally exonerated."

Click here for CNN link.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Who's afraid of Stutz, Artiano, Shinoff & Holtz?

Too many people are terrified of being sued. Being sued is really not so bad. I should know; I'm being sued for defamation by Stutz, Artiano, Shinoff & Holtz.

What is terrible is when people are silent about wrongdoing for fear of being sued. It seems to me that people like the partners at Stutz law firm are trying to turn every neighborhood into the kind where criminals rule the roost and witnesses are afraid to testify.

Elly Dotseth wrote a letter to Voice of San Diego on April 16, 2008 saying:

"...people in our supposedly free country have begun to keep quiet from fear of being sued or blackballed in some other way. I have recently spoken out in criticism of the way the NTC Foundation is handling leases with nonprofit arts groups, and despite the reply from the director, I stand by my criticism. If he were to sue me, though, that would really be horrific."

Here is my response to Elly:

Kudos for standing up to the McMillin/NTC Foundation, and please be assured that it is not so bad getting sued when you have nothing to hide and the big guys that are suing you have plenty to hide. You simply file an answer, then go down to the courthouse and get a deposition subpoena that has been signed by the Clerk of the Court. Make some copies, fill them out, and serve them on the people who are suing you. They filed the lawsuit, so they had better be prepared to testify under oath and produce documents. If they fail to do so, you file a motion to compel that looks something like THIS.

Former Justice official charged in Abramoff lobbying probe

Stories like this are just the tip of the iceberg, in my opinion. Too many prosecutors are politically-motivated.

By Erica Werner
April 21, 2008

WASHINGTON – A former high-ranking Justice Department official was accused Monday of criminal conflict of interest in the latest case stemming from the investigation of disgraced GOP lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

Robert Coughlin was deputy chief of staff of the Justice Department's criminal division – the same division handling the Abramoff probe – before resigning a year ago, citing personal reasons. He was due in federal court in Washington on Tuesday for a plea hearing.

Prosecutors accused Coughlin in court papers Monday of providing assistance from 2001-2003 to a lobbyist and the lobbyist's firm while receiving gifts from the firm and discussing prospective employment there.

The lobbyist isn't named but The Associated Press has previously reported that Coughlin was lobbied during the period in question by Kevin Ring, a member of Abramoff's lobbying team who also is under investigation. At the time Coughlin worked for the Justice Department's office of legislative affairs and its office of intergovernmental and public liaison, and Ring worked for Abramoff's Greenberg Traurig firm.

Coughlin talked with Ring about going to work for Greenberg, according to an attorney with knowledge of the case who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the ongoing investigation. Ring also provided Coughlin with meals and tickets to events, the AP has reported.

Attorneys for Coughlin declined comment and Ring's attorney didn't immediately return a call for comment.

The investigation of Coughlin's conduct was handled by federal prosecutors in Maryland because of his ties at Justice Department headquarters. The document filed in court Monday is known as an information and is normally filed as part of a plea deal.

Ring and Coughlin worked together for John Ashcroft when he was a Republican senator from Missouri, before he became attorney general in 2001. Ring lobbied Coughlin and other Justice Department officials on a variety of issues, including getting federal money for a jail for the Choctaw tribe.

The Justice Department probe of Abramoff and his team of lobbyists has led to convictions of a dozen people, including former Rep. Bob Ney, R-Ohio, and former Deputy Interior Secretary Steven Griles. At least one current member of Congress, Rep. John Doolittle, R-Calif., remains under investigation.

Ring worked for Doolittle, who is retiring from Congress at the end of this year, before going to work for Abramoff.

Abramoff is serving prison time for a criminal case out of Florida and has not yet been sentenced on charges of mail fraud, conspiracy and tax evasion stemming from the influence-peddling scandal in Washington.

Associated Press writers Lara Jakes Jordan and Matt Apuzzo contributed to this report.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Patrick O'Toole goes looking for a friend--and finds one!

Patrick O'Toole, head of the Public Integrity Unit in Bonnie Dumanis' San Diego District Attorney's office, has been having a hard week. He's been trying to convince a juror that when Steve Castaneda asked how much a condo would cost, that proved he intended to buy one. And that even though O'Toole didn't uncover wrongdoing during his lengthy investigation, Castaneda should be convicted of perjury FOR SAYING HE DIDN'T INTEND TO BUY A CONDO, WHICH HE, IN FACT, DID NOT BUY.

So you can see how O'Toole would be going around scouting up someone who would make him look professional.

O'Toole found Martin Garrick, R-Carlsbad, who agrees that O'Toole needs not one, but TWO, grand juries to help him find public officials who might say something he disagrees with during grand jury proceedings.

Martin Garrick is the sponsor of the two-criminal-grand-juries-for-San Diego bill, who apparently thinks that San Diego prosecutors have done such a fine job with the Public Integrity Unit and cases such as the indictment by a grand jury of the innocent 15-year-old brother of murder victim Stephanie Crowe, that we really should skip preliminary hearings more often.

After all, who needs a judge deciding if prosecutors should go to trial?

Garrick and O'Toole seem like petty, malicious versions of Don Quijote, tilting at people who oppose their favorite politicians.

They say a prosecutor can get a grand jury to indict a ham sandwich. Maybe Martin Garrick thinks there are too many ham sandwiches walking around free.

Or maybe he needs another grand jury to investigate Cheryl Cox?

Monday, February 25, 2008

If you pay me a lot of money, I won't prosecute you

In Shift, Ashcroft to Testify on Oversight Deal

John Ashcroft will discuss his work for a medical equipment company.

By Carrie Johnson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 26, 2008; Page D01

Former Attorney General John D. Ashcroft agreed last night to appear at a House hearing to discuss his lucrative arrangement overseeing a medical equipment company, averting a showdown with committee members who had planned to meet today to authorize a subpoena.

The move marks an about-face for Ashcroft, who told lawmakers earlier this month that "discussing the details of my legal responsibilities, as requested, in this pending criminal case and related ongoing criminal investigation would violate my ethical obligations."

Ashcroft, who left public service three years ago to start a private consulting firm, won the contract under a settlement the company reached with federal prosecutors in New Jersey. Under a recent government policy, companies facing criminal investigation can accept such outside supervision to avoid indictment.

Ashcroft's consulting firm stands to collect between $28 million and $52 million over 18 months for reviewing the operations of Zimmer Holdings, an Indiana company that makes replacement hips and knees. Zimmer last year settled government charges over kickbacks it allegedly provided doctors in exchange for using its products.

The deal touched off criticism in New Jersey political circles and on Capitol Hill, where leaders of the House and Senate judiciary committees directed congressional investigators to examine the increasingly popular arrangements, known as corporate monitorships. Legal scholars warn they may become instruments of political patronage that involve little if any judicial oversight.

Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-Calif.), who leads the House subcommittee on administrative law, had been preparing to hold a vote today to authorize a subpoena for Ashcroft. Sanchez's chief of staff, Michael Torra, had said he was confident the panel had enough votes to move ahead.

But yesterday evening, representatives for Ashcroft informed the committee that he would answer questions about his dealings with Zimmer.

"Mr. Ashcroft has agreed to testify voluntarily in the coming weeks on the topic of deferred prosecution agreements," Torra said. A hearing date has not been set.

Mark Corallo, a spokesman for Ashcroft, did not return calls or e-mail messages.

In a Feb. 15 letter obtained yesterday by The Washington Post, Ashcroft wrote that he hoped members of Congress would respect his qualifications to serve as a corporate monitor "despite our past policy differences and my political affiliation." Ashcroft, a Republican from Missouri, was President Bush's first attorney general. Before that, he had served as governor of Missouri, state auditor and in the U.S. Senate, where he was a longstanding member of the Judiciary Committee.

Separately, the Senate Special Committee on Aging is scheduled Wednesday to hold an oversight hearing into Zimmer and four other medical equipment companies that settled kickback allegations with New Jersey prosecutors last year.

Zimmer paid the Ashcroft Group $7.5 million between last September and January, according to information provided to the Senate Special Committee on Aging. Ashcroft and about a half-dozen senior staff members of his firm are covered under a flat $750,000 monthly payment from Zimmer. Other top lawyers affiliated with Ashcroft's consulting business are billing as much as $895 per hour under the agreement, while administrative support staff members are billing $50 to $150 per hour, Senate aides said.

Bills submitted by monitors for the other four companies involved in the settlement are less than half of what the Ashcroft group has charged, averaging a total of about $2 million each, the aides said. Zimmer is by far the largest company in the investigation, and it paid most of the financial penalties to the government under the settlement.

The Justice Department is considering whether to issue "guidance or best practices" to prosecutors around the country and is examining how monitors are selected, an agency spokesman said.

Monday, January 28, 2008

It's hard to get rid of a bad judge, but Thomas Porteous may be on the way out

Move to impeach federal judge is a rarity

by Meghan Gordon, West Bank bureau
Saturday December 22, 2007

A federal appellate court's impeachment recommendation leveled against U.S. District Judge Thomas Porteous last week ranks as such a rare occurrence that none of the 7,400 complaints filed against members of the nation's judiciary in the past decade met the same fate, according to the most recent statistics.

And if the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals' call for impeachment wends its way to the U.S. Senate without being overturned by a higher judicial panel, dropped by congressional inaction or made moot by Porteous' resignation, the trial would become just the 12th in U.S. history.

"It's quite rare for federal judges to be disciplined at all," said Stephen Gillers, a specialist in legal ethics at New York University. "It's even more rare for federal judges to be impeached or forced to resign in the face of impeachment. It has to be really bad behavior to get to that point."

A 19-judge panel of the 5th Circuit alleged that numerous ethical lapses by Porteous might constitute grounds for impeachment. The order released Thursday also stripped Porteous of his criminal and bankruptcy docket, along with any other cases involving the government.

The 5th Circuit forwarded sealed records of its secret investigation to the U.S. Judicial Conference, a 27-judge panel led by Chief Justice John Roberts and stocked with all the circuits' chief judges. The group will consider the 5th Circuit's recommendation for referral to the U.S. House of Representatives.

Never before has this higher panel of judges overturned an impeachment finding by a circuit court's judicial council, said Richard Carelli, spokesman for the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts.

The three previous impeachment recommendations against federal judges, made under the current statute enacted in 1981, were upheld and passed on to the House.

The Constitution requires a majority vote in the House before the case goes to trial in the Senate. All three recent cases to spring from judicial councils ended in impeachment convictions.

Former District Judge Harry Claiborne of Nevada was convicted of filing false tax returns in 1984 and removed from office by an impeachment trial in 1986.

Three years later, the Senate convicted then-District Judge Alcee Hastings of Florida on charges of making false statements and producing fake documents during a 1983 criminal bribery trial from which he was acquitted. He was elected to Congress in 1992 and has since won seven re-election campaigns.

In the most recent case, former District Judge Walter Nixon of Mississippi was convicted by the Senate in November 1989 on perjury charges for statements he made to a grand jury investigating the state drug prosecution of his partner's son...

Hundreds of complaints are lodged against federal judges every year. Most are written by litigants, prisoners and other members of the public, often disgruntled over an unfavorable ruling. Chief judges write a fraction of the complaints when they become aware of indiscretions in their district courts.

Of the 7,462 complaints filed in the decade that ended Sept. 30, 2006, eight required action by a judicial council, including four public reprimands and one private reprimand. None of the complaints were referred to the Judicial Conference, as Porteous' was.

Thousands of others were dismissed for being deemed frivolous, not conforming to statute or because they directly related to a decision or procedural ruling...

A review of national newspapers found a single case of judicial misconduct rising to the level of public censure since the latest round of statistics. A panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco ordered that District Judge Manuel Real be reprimanded for interfering with the bankruptcy of a probationer under his supervision.

In Porteous' order, the court briefly outlined four areas of misconduct of which a majority of the panel found substantial evidence supporting the allegations.

His and his wife's 2001 bankruptcy led the list, with the panel finding Porteous filed numerous false statements under oath, concealed assets, hid gambling losses and failed to list all creditors. The judges found he also violated bankruptcy court orders forbidding him to incur debt when he continued to take out short-term extensions of credit at casinos...

Porteous received gifts and other things of value from lawyers who had cases assigned to his court, the order says, and went so far as to dismiss a recusal request without disclosing financial relationships with an attorney on the case.

The list of alleged abuses ends by attacking the accuracy of financial disclosure statements he filed, as required, from 1994 to 2000. The order says the reports omit gifts and other valuables given to him by attorneys and significant amounts of debt.

Porteous, who presided for a decade at the 24th Judicial District Court in Gretna, was nominated by President Clinton in April 1994 and confirmed by the Senate two months later.

While Porteous awaits the Judicial Conference's review of his case, legal experts said he's lost more than just his criminal and bankruptcy dockets.

"It's obvious that this is a great diminishment of his authority and will cast doubt about any actions that he takes in the interim," said Jeffrey M. Shaman, a judicial ethicist and DePaul University professor.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

A public entity abuses courts to advance a personal agenda

The EEOC under George W. Bush hasn't done much for people whose civil rights have been violated, so it had to find something to do, right? Here's what it did.

Judge orders EEOC to pay $1 million to Pasadena law firm

Click HERE to see original article in San Diego Union Tribune.


5:40 a.m. January 25, 2006

LOS ANGELES – The U.S. Equal Opportunity Employment Commission must pay more than $1 million to a Pasadena law firm that it sued unsuccessfully last year for sexual harassment and pregnancy discrimination, a federal judge has ruled.

U.S. District Judge Dickran Tevrizian, in a ruling released Monday, found that the EEOC filed a "frivolous" lawsuit against Robert L. Reeves & Associates, which practices immigration law.

Reeves maintained that the EEOC should have known that the harassment and discrimination allegations were part of a scheme to destroy his firm by two of his former law associates, according to a statement from the law firm Ballard, Rosenberg, Golper & Savitt, which represented Reeves.

A Los Angeles Superior Court judge in 2001 ordered the associates to pay Reeves $200,000 for interfering with his business and misappropriating trade secrets, among other things, the firm said.

Tevrizian found that "either the EEOC knew it was being used as a primary weapon in (the former associates') campaign to destroy (Reeves' firm), or it maintained a studied and inexcusable ignorance of this fact."

A telephone message left at the EEOC's Los Angeles field office before business hours Wednesday was not immediately returned.