August 28, 2008
DOJ Responds to Privilege Ruling in Congress' U.S. Attorney Investigation
Congress and the Bush administration headed for a pre-election showdown Wednesday over executive privilege, with House Democrats scheduling a hearing that would put a key administration figure under oath and the Justice Department mapping a last-ditch court appeal.
Justice lawyers said they would go to court as soon as today to block a ruling by U.S. District Judge John Bates that aims to force the Bush administration to cooperate with a congressional investigation into the politically charged firing of nine U.S. attorneys in 2006, including Seattle's John McKay.
The move came as Democrats pushed ahead with that investigation, and Rep. John Conyers, Jr., D-Mich., chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said he was calling former White House counsel Harriet Miers to appear before the committee Sept. 11 to answer questions about her role in the firings.
Conyers also set a deadline of next Thursday for the administration to hand over White House documents concerning the firings and a log detailing what documents it was withholding because of security concerns and why.
Some legal experts said they doubted the Justice Department would succeed in persuading the federal appeals court in Washington to intervene in the matter.
But it was also unclear what questions Miers would choose to answer if she takes the witness chair, and that raised the possibility of further legal wrangling.
Some experts said the tug of war also seemed unlikely to be resolved before January, when the subpoenas legally expire. That would confront the new Congress with the decision whether to renew the battle.
"It is an unpredictable game at this point," said Charles Tiefer, a former House counsel who is a professor at the University of Baltimore Law School. "The Congress could win or the White House could drag it out."
Bates ruled that the administration's position that it had "absolute immunity" from being forced to honor subpoenas issued by Congress was unprecedented. He said Miers was obliged to at least show up, but did not rule on which questions she would be required to answer.
Justice Department lawyers told Bates, who was appointed by Bush, at a hearing Wednesday that they intended to ask the appeals court to overrule the judge. Justice Department lawyer Carl Nichols indicated the government would file court papers to that effect no later than today.
Read full article here. [Brooks Holland]
August 26, 2008
Lawyers Conned by Internet Scam
Atlanta securities lawyer Gregory Bartko said he is the victim of an Internet fraud scheme that is apparently targeting law firms throughout the country and the banks where lawyers have their escrow accounts.
As a result, Bartko is now a defendant in a federal suit by Wachovia Bank -- which is seeking reimbursement for nearly $200,000 that the bank wired, on Bartko's instructions, to a Korean bank on behalf of a company that had hired Bartko via the Internet.
Wachovia has also notified the State Bar of Georgia that Bartko's firm escrow account was overdrawn by more than $190,000, Bartko said.
The scheme that entangled Bartko matches one in a fraud alert issued in February by SunTrust Bank in Atlanta.
An overseas company contacts a U.S. lawyer by e-mail and retains that attorney as a settlement agent to collect a debt from a U.S. company. The U.S. company sends a settlement check to the lawyer, who deposits it into his trust account and then wires the settlement amount, minus his fee, to the "client." But the settlement check is counterfeit, and the lawyer loses the money he wired abroad.
"I'm pretty upset about it," Bartko said last week. "I got conned by someone who I thought was a client."
Bartko is not the first to have been taken in by the scam. The July issue of the California Bar Journal reported on two unnamed California attorneys, one in Long Beach and one in San Francisco, who fell for a similar Internet pitch, but their banks noticed the counterfeit checks before any money was sent abroad.
Wells Fargo Bank in San Francisco and City National Bank in Los Angeles have reported at least six other lawyers who were drawn in, according to the California Bar Journal.
Read full article here. [Brooks Holland]
August 15, 2008
Texas School District Allows Teachers to Carry Guns in School
The board of the small rural Harrold Independent School District unanimously approved the plan and parents have not objected, said the district's superintendent, David Thweatt.
School experts backed Thweatt's claim that Harrold, a system of about 110 students 150 miles northwest of Fort Worth, may be the first to let teachers bring guns to the classroom.
Thweatt said it is a matter of safety.
"We have a lock-down situation, we have cameras, but the question we had to answer is, 'What if somebody gets in? What are we going to do?" he said. "It's just common sense."
Teachers who wish to bring guns will have to be certified to carry a concealed handgun in Texas and get crisis training and permission from school officials, he said.
Read full article here. [Brooks Holland]
August 12, 2008
Man imprisoned 17 years freed after DNA test
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) -- A man who spent more than 17 years in prison on a charge of raping a girl was freed Monday after a lab re-examining cases across Ohio showed that his DNA profile didn't match evidence from the crime scene.
Robert McClendon, 52, was released by Franklin County Common Pleas Judge Charles Schneider, who cited the DNA test.
"You know, you go through times where you feel it might not happen, but you never, ever give up hope," McClendon said after his release. "You don't ever use the word, 'never happen.' It's not healthy."
Jennifer Bergeron, a lawyer with the Ohio Innocence Project, said she expects prosecutors to formally drop charges against McClendon within the next two weeks.
"To be in prison for 18 years for something you didn't do and then know you are going to walk out of court a free man, that's a lot to take in in one day," Bergeron said.
Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O'Brien said he didn't think the case would go to a new trial.
McClendon planned to go to the home of a relative in Columbus on Monday to celebrate his release at a dinner with about 50 supporters, friends and relatives, said Mark Godsey, faculty director of the Innocence Project.
McClendon said he eventually wants to get a good job, maybe start a business and, if he's needed, speak publicly about DNA testing.
"This is not just about me," he said. "I believe that there are others in prison like me, and then there are others in prison who are guilty. You've got to give it a chance to work."
Prosecutors had said McClendon took a 10-year-old relative from her backyard, blindfolded her, drove her to a house and raped her. The victim reported the rape the next day and was taken to a hospital.
McClendon, who denied raping the girl, was convicted in 1991 largely on the victim's testimony, Bergeron said. There was no physical evidence to tie him to the crime, she said.
McClendon, who was denied parole in 2007, previously was convicted in the 1970s of attempted corruption of a minor for having sex with a 15-year-old girl when he was 19. [Mark Godsey]
August 10, 2008
North Carolina improves exoneree compensation
North Carolina Gov. Mike Easley this week signed a bill greatly improving the compensation and services the state provides to the wrongfully convicted after their release. The new law, effective immediately, increases the compensation paid to the exonerated from $20,000 per year served to $50,000 per year. The maximum payment is $750,000. The new law also provides job training and free tuition to state colleges and universities.
25 states have exoneree compensation laws. What’s the law in your state? Find out here.
Pictured: Dwayne Dail served 18 years in North Carolina prison for a crime he didn't commit before his exoneration last year. He received $370,000 in compensation earlier this year, but will now be eligible for an additional $380,000. Dail was featured this week in an article on Officer.com, a news magazine for law enforcement professionals. Read the article, entitled “When the Innocent Become Victims,” here. [Mark Godsey]
July 13, 2008
State Supreme Court weighs parole for killers
By Michael Rothfeld
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
July 13, 2008
Sandra Davis Lawrence is grateful for the simple things she can do now, like pick up her grandniece from school. And she is anxious to make up for lost time, to find a career and start earning money again.
Lawrence spent 24 years in state prison for murdering her lover's wife with a gun and a potato peeler while in a jealous rage. A model inmate, she received a second chance at freedom last summer when a court ordered her released. Since then, she has reunited with family in Los Angeles and tried to re-integrate into society at age 61.
"I want to become a taxpayer," she said in a recent interview. "Everybody is trying to not pay taxes. I want to pay taxes."
But Lawrence may have to return to prison instead, if Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger can convince the California Supreme Court that she remains a threat to public safety. That she has had no problems with the law in a year of freedom is irrelevant, the governor's office said; she should not have been let out.
The court is poised in coming weeks to seal Lawrence's fate, along with that of nine other convicted murderers seeking freedom. The justices are expected to answer some difficult questions: When should a killer be set free? What are the limits, if any, on the governor's power to decide? Are such factors as an inmate's prison record and age ever more significant than a horrendous crime committed decades ago?
The state parole board had approved Lawrence's release four times since 1993, but three governors vetoed those decisions. Schwarzenegger blocked Lawrence's release twice before judges on the state Court of Appeal reversed him.
The slaying showed "an exceptionally callous disregard for human suffering," the governor wrote two years ago in denying Lawrence parole. "This was a cold, premeditated murder carried out in an especially cruel manner and committed for an incredibly petty reason."
According to the appellate court decision, Lawrence killed her victim in an explosion of fury when, after months in a love triangle, her lover told her he had changed his mind about leaving his wife. She felt betrayed and humiliated, she has said, because he had vowed to marry her.
While she was in prison, Lawrence earned two degrees, learned trades that included plumbing and data-processing, was president of the inmates' Toastmasters Club, worked as a library porter and tennis coach, co-founded a tutoring program and remained discipline-free. She apologized profusely for her crime.
The state sets up a false promise, Lawrence says. It encourages inmates to improve themselves to earn their release, then refuses to let them go.
"I was pretty successful by their standards, inside, notwithstanding the crime itself," she said. "They were talking rehabilitation. The system was talking rehabilitation. Here's a person who's rehabilitated. Now what?"
Increasingly, inmates fighting a parole process they believe is driven by tough-on-crime politics have filed petitions in court, successfully challenging the state's refusal to release them. Lawrence was one of them.
In at least 28 cases since late 2005, including hers, judges have overturned Schwarzenegger's parole denials for inmates who appeared to have reformed or who seemed too sick or elderly to pose a serious threat anymore. Some remain in prison pending appeals. [Mark Godsey]
June 26, 2008
High Court: No Death Penalty for Child Rape
In a closely divided opinion today, the Supreme Court found that while the crime of raping a child is a "revulsion" to society, it does not merit the death penalty.
Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for a 5-4 majority, found that "a death sentence for one who raped but did not kill a child, and who did not intend to assist another in killing the child, is unconstitutional."
Louisiana and five other states have laws imposing the death penalty for that crime. The ruling today overturned those laws.
The decision and a fiery dissent from the conservative justices explored the controversial moral questions society must face in addressing the topic of child rape.
Kennedy acknowledged as much, writing that such a crime "cannot be recounted in these pages in a way sufficient to capture in full the hurt and horror inflicted on the victim."
"We cannot dismiss the years of long anguish that must be endured by the victim of child rape," he wrote. But he said that capital punishment is not a "proportionate" penalty for the crime. [Mark Godsey]
June 24, 2008
Cameras to watch for crime Cincinnati police getting eyes on 120 locations
It's the first step toward a system that eventually could send real-time video to officers' in-cruiser laptops as well as instantly read license plates and run them through motor vehicle registration.Some of the cameras also might have gunshot-recognition sensors, which turn the cameras toward the direction of the shots and zoom in.Call takers and dispatchers in the 911 center, when a crime is reported, will be able to check any nearby cameras to immediately describe what they can see, while officers are still on the way
Cincinnati is following larger cities such as Chicago and New York into the crime camera business. London leads the way in sheer quantity, with 10,000 throughout the city, though some opponents doubt whether the cameras deter crime.
Chicago started its "Operation Disruption" in 2003 and continues to add more cameras. The American Civil Liberties Union there has said the cameras are OK as long as they only monitor street crime and don't violate personal privacy.
Commanders of the city's five police districts will soon recommend where the cameras should go, Capt. Jeff Butler, project supervisor, said.
He said the cameras will be put up throughout the city, not just in one or two neighborhoods.
They will be in addition to the 20 going up along Glenway Avenue by the end of October. Target Corp. paid the $183,000 for those.
Although catching homicides on video would be ideal, Butler said officials expect the cameras more often will be helpful on what he calls "the reactive end," for investigators going back to look at video taken just after a crime.
Those uses will lead to more identification and apprehension of suspects, he thinks, and the video will help prosecutors get more convictions.
There's also the possibility of using a camera to watch a problem spot.
"Say there's an officer eating his lunch in his car," he said. "Eventually, he'll be able to watch a camera that's maybe two blocks away. So if he sees something, he puts down his lunch and goes." [Mark Godsey]
June 12, 2008
Scheck speaks, raises funds for Innocence Project
Innocence Project Co-Director Barry Scheck said in a speech last night that West Virginia – and dozens of other states – were ready for bipartisan criminal justice reforms to prevent future wrongful convictions. Scheck spoke at an Innocence Project fundraiser in Charleston last night and this afternoon at a West Virginia lawyers’ conference.
We are heading into (a judicial reform) era right now," Scheck said. "The Innocence Project is something Republicans and Democrats, liberals and conservatives can both support.
"It's all about public safety and all about getting things right."
One of the events sponsors, attorney Troy Giatras, said he was proud to help the organization, which he called a worthy cause.
"It's a shame that there needs to be such an organization, but the Innocence Project does great work," Giatras said. "It helps address one of the worst nightmares a victim of the American legal system can face, being wrongfully convicted." [Mark Godsey]
June 10, 2008
French Judge Aids in San Francisco Homicide Investigation
A French judge has arrived in
San Francisco to oversee an unusual probe into the death of a French
citizen whose stabbing has puzzled police investigators for more than a
year. Police have said they are handling the June 2, 2007, death of
36-year-old Hugues de la Plaza as a possible homicide, although they
have also angered his acquaintances by suggesting he killed himself.
The chief medical examiner's office has been unable to determine what
caused the 36-year-old sound engineer's death.
A French judge has arrived in San Francisco to oversee an unusual probe into the death of a French citizen whose stabbing has puzzled police investigators for more than a year.
Police have said they are handling the June 2, 2007, death of 36-year-old Hugues de la Plaza as a possible homicide, although they have also angered his acquaintances by suggesting he killed himself. The chief medical examiner's office has been unable to determine what caused the 36-year-old sound engineer's death.
De la Plaza's body was found inside his locked apartment on Linden
Street in Hayes Valley. Police first said he may have stabbed himself
after ingesting drugs, but no bloody knife was recovered and no drugs
were found in his system. Investigators said a surveillance video that provided partial
coverage of the apartment showed de la Plaza returning home from a
nightclub early the morning he died, but no one else entering. They
theorized that he might have washed a knife after stabbing himself,
something friends dismissed as preposterous. No note was found, but de la Plaza had written on a notepad, among
other things: "Learn as if you were to live forever," and, "Live as if
you were to die tomorrow." Friends of de la Plaza, led by his ex-girlfriend Melissa Nix,
mounted a campaign and worked with de la Plaza's family in France to
persuade San Francisco police to conclude the case was indeed a
homicide. The government in Paris soon offered assistance and has had a French investigator working in San Francisco for several months. As part of France's involvement, a number of witnesses in the case
have been subpoenaed under the authority of the U.S. District Court to
appear June 17 before French Judge Brigitte Jolivet to give "testimony
of potential violations of French law, including murder." San Francisco
police will be involved in the questioning at the Hall of Justice. The French judge is more an independent investigator than a final arbiter of facts.
De la Plaza's body was found inside his locked apartment on Linden Street in Hayes Valley. Police first said he may have stabbed himself after ingesting drugs, but no bloody knife was recovered and no drugs were found in his system.
Investigators said a surveillance video that provided partial coverage of the apartment showed de la Plaza returning home from a nightclub early the morning he died, but no one else entering. They theorized that he might have washed a knife after stabbing himself, something friends dismissed as preposterous.
No note was found, but de la Plaza had written on a notepad, among other things: "Learn as if you were to live forever," and, "Live as if you were to die tomorrow."
Friends of de la Plaza, led by his ex-girlfriend Melissa Nix, mounted a campaign and worked with de la Plaza's family in France to persuade San Francisco police to conclude the case was indeed a homicide.
The government in Paris soon offered assistance and has had a French investigator working in San Francisco for several months.
As part of France's involvement, a number of witnesses in the case have been subpoenaed under the authority of the U.S. District Court to appear June 17 before French Judge Brigitte Jolivet to give "testimony of potential violations of French law, including murder." San Francisco police will be involved in the questioning at the Hall of Justice.
The French judge is more an independent investigator than a final arbiter of facts.Continue reading article here. [Brooks Holland]
May 01, 2008
D.C. Madam Supposedly Commits Suicide
From abcnews.com: Florida police are investigating the apparent suicide of a woman they believe to be the so-called D.C. Madam, who was found dead in the Florida mobile home of the madam's mother Thursday.
The madam, Deborah Jeane Palfrey, was recently convicted on federal charges stemming from operating a prostitution service in the Washington, D.C. area with a number of high-profile clients. She was scheduled to be sentenced July 24. Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]
April 15, 2008
Judge Tapped for Public Safety Chief
From clarionledger.com: Improving the state Crime Lab and naming a medical examiner will be priorities for Stephen Simpson if he's confirmed as the next commissioner of the Mississippi Department of Public Safety.
On Friday, Gov. Haley Barbour nominated Simpson, a circuit judge for Harrison, Hancock and Stone counties, for the commissioner post.
If confirmed by the Mississippi Senate, Simpson, 49, of Gulfport, will succeed George Phillips, who stepped down in December after holding the post for a little more than two years.
Barbour said Simpson will maintain "integrity and strength" in the office.
"Judge Simpson has an impressive blend of prosecutorial, judicial and correctional experience that will serve him well as commissioner of public safety," Barbour said. Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]
Lawmakers Wants to Limit FBI Access to Data
From washingtonpost.com: Bipartisan groups in Congress are pressing to place new controls on the FBI's ability to demand troves of sensitive personal information from telephone providers and credit card companies, over the opposition of agency officials who say they deserve more time to clean up past abuses.
Proposals to rein in the use of secret "national security letters" will be discussed over the next week at hearings in both chambers. The hearings stem from disclosures that the FBI had clandestinely gathered telephone, e-mail and financial records "sought for" or "relevant to" terrorism or intelligence activities without following appropriate procedures.
The Justice Department's inspector general issued reports in 2007 and earlier this year citing repeated breaches. They included shoddy FBI paperwork, improper claims about nonexistent emergencies and an insufficient link between the data requests and ongoing national security probes. Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]
April 14, 2008
Questioning Government Monitoring
washingtonpost.com: Imagine a world of streets lined with video cameras that alert authorities to any suspicious activity. A world where police officers can read the minds of potential criminals and arrest them before they commit any crimes. A world in which a suspect who lies under questioning gets nabbed immediately because his brain has given him away.
Though that may sound a lot like the plot of the 2002 movie "Minority Report," starring Tom Cruise and based on a Philip K. Dick novel, I'm not talking about science fiction here; it turns out we're not so far away from that world. But does it sound like a very safe place, or a very scary one?
It's a question I think we should be asking as the federal government invests millions of dollars in emerging technology aimed at detecting and decoding brain activity. And though government funding focuses on military uses for these new gizmos, they can and do end up in the hands of civilian law enforcement and in commercial applications. As spending continues and neurotechnology advances, that imagined world is no longer the stuff of science fiction or futuristic movies, and we postpone at our peril confronting the ethical and legal dilemmas it poses for a society that values not just personal safety but civil liberty as well.
Consider Cernium Corp.'s "Perceptrak" video surveillance and monitoring system, recently installed by Johns Hopkins University, among others. This technology grew out of a project funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency -- the central research and development organization for the Department of Defense -- to develop intelligent video analytics systems. Unlike simple video cameras monitored by security guards, Perceptrak integrates video cameras with an intelligent computer video. It uses algorithms to analyze streaming video and detect suspicious activities, such as people loitering in a secure area, a group converging or someone leaving a package unattended. Since installing Perceptrak, Johns Hopkins has reported a 25 percent reduction in crime.
But that's only the beginning. Police may soon be able to monitor suspicious brain activity from a distance as well. New neurotechnology soon may be able to detect a person who is particularly nervous, in possession of guilty knowledge or, in the more distant future, to detect a person thinking, "Only one hour until the bomb explodes." Today, the science of detecting and decoding brain activity is in its infancy. But various government agencies are funding the development of technology to detect brain activity remotely and are hoping to eventually decode what someone is thinking. Scientists, however, wildly disagree about the accuracy of brain imaging technology, what brain activity may mean and especially whether brain activity can be detected from afar.
Yet as the experts argue about the scientific limitations of remote brain detection, this chilling science fiction may already be a reality. In 2002, the Electronic Privacy Information Center reported that NASA was developing brain monitoring devices for airports and was seeking to use noninvasive sensors in passenger gates to collect the electronic signals emitted by passengers' brains. Scientists scoffed at the reports, arguing that to do what NASA was proposing required that an electroencephalogram (EEG) be physically attached to the scalp. Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]
April 11, 2008
Detainee Boycotts Trial
From LATimes.com: A Sudanese prisoner with long ties to Osama bin Laden told the war-crimes tribunal here Thursday that the Sept. 11 attacks dealt heavy blows to U.S. security and exposed the "hypocrisy" behind American claims that it stands for equality and justice.
Appearing at his arraignment, Ibrahim Ahmed Mahmoud Qosi refused to accept legal representation for his trial before the Pentagon's military commissions.
After a rambling statement, he announced that he would boycott further proceedings.
The bearded 47-year-old was the third Guantanamo defendant in the last month to call the military tribunal illegitimate and refuse to cooperate in his own defense.
"I leave in your hands the camel and its load for you to do whatever you wish," he told Air Force Lt. Col. Nancy Paul, the judge preparing for his trial on charges of conspiracy and material support for terrorism.
Qosi also accused the U.S. military of discrimination against citizens of the Third World, noting that two British detainees and an Australian charged along with him four years ago have since been released under pressure from those governments. Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]
April 03, 2008
Illinois May Monitor High Risk Restraining Orders With GPS Technology
From NPR.com: The Illinois legislature is considering a law that would allow police to monitor high-risk restraining-order subjects by using GPS technology. Harvard Law School lecturer Diane Rosenfeld, who proposed a similar bill that passed in Massachusetts last year, discusses the Illinois initiative. Listen. . . [Mark Godsey]
German Law Professor Sent to Prison for Accepting Kickbacks
From A judge has sentenced a German law professor to three years in prison for accepting kickbacks from doctoral students.
The Hannover university professor, whose identity was not revealed, confessed to accepting euro156,000 (US$240,000) to serve as a faculty adviser to 68 doctorate students between 1998 and 2005.
Court documents say an agency brokered kickback deals for him to serve as the students' adviser. Adviers can be difficult to find in German universities. Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]
April 01, 2008
LA Council Tries to Paa a 40 Hour Homicide Ban
From latimes.com: Los Angeles City Council members -- who in the past have tried with mixed results to ban gas-powered leaf blowers from backyards, lap dances from strip clubs and fast food restaurants from South Los Angeles -- plan to vote today on a 40-hour moratorium on homicide, a symbolic gesture that comes as the city has seen an uptick in killings in recent months.
If it passes, the ban would begin on Friday at 6:01 p.m. to coincide with the 40th anniversary of the assassination of civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr.
The ban, which would also apply to other forms of violence, was proposed by Los Angeles author and political commentator Earl Ofari Hutchinson, who was so alarmed by the city's recent spike in gun violence that he urged its elected leaders to make a bold statement.
"It's an educational vehicle to drive home the point that we're losing too many lives," said Hutchinson, president of the Los Angeles Urban Policy Roundtable. "If this works, then the next logical thing is: if a city like Los Angeles can go 40 hours without one homicide, then why not 40 days?"
Hutchinson hopes the nonbinding resolution will also secure the backing of the Los Angeles Unified School District board of education, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors and the state legislature. Still, some say the council should focus on more substantive solutions to the city's homicide rate -- and not waste time on symbolic gestures.
"I'm sure that the people who are doing the killing will hear that the council is calling for a moratorium and then cease and desist," said a sarcastic Joe Hicks, who once served as executive director of the city's Human Relations Commission. "It's more silliness from our wonderful City Council."
Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]
March 31, 2008
Angola 2 Finally Out of Solitary Confinement
From NPR.com: Two former Black Panthers imprisoned in Louisiana are out of solitary confinement for the first time since the 1970s. State corrections officials say Herman Wallace and Albert Woodfox were moved into a "maximum security dormitory" earlier this week. Louisiana prison officials once said the men, known as the Angola 2, would never be moved. Listen. . . [Mark Godsey]
March 18, 2008
CEO's Conviction Overturned
From NPR.com: Joseph Nacchio, the former CEO of Qwest Communications, had his conviction on insider trading overturned Monday. A federal appeals court ordered a new trial, saying the judge in the original trial improperly excluded a witness who would have testified on Naccio's behalf. Listen. . . [Mark Godsey]