Thursday, June 30, 2016

The Olympic boondoggle

If you have any delusions that the use of public money to build stadiums or host sporting events provides an economic benefit to a city or country, please take a couple of minutes to read these articles about the burning dumpster fire that is Rio de Janeiro and the Summer Olympics.

"Rio de Janeiro governor declares state of financial emergency ahead of Olympics" The Guardian (6/17/16)

"As the Olympics near. Brazil and Rio let the bad times roll," New York Times (6/25/16)

"Rio visitors greeted with 'Welcome to Hell' banner," Yahoo Sports (6/28/16)

The only folks who claim that hosting these types of events and building fancy new playgrounds for fat cat owners are the owners themselves, the organizers of the games, league officials and every local politician who has his or her hand in the fire.

As I have stated before, if these really were money-making propositions, there would be no shortage of investors willing to pony up the bucks to make them happen. The very fact that state and local governments end up picking up the tab for these expenses tells you all you need to know about whether or not they are economic engines.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Update: What's in a name?

In the spirit of throwing good money after bad, South Texas College of Law has decided to double-down and fight the lawsuit filed by UH.

I can't think of a good reason to do so - other than so much time and money has been sunk in this flight of idiocy that no one has the good sense to pull the plug on it.

Anyway, here's South Texas College of Law's response to the lawsuit.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

What's in a name?

The other day I received a letter from something called the Houston College of Law. The letter stated that Houston College of Law was the new name for South Texas College of Law (the law school I attended). The letter also contained the usual gibberish about strategic plans, mission statements and the like.

Apparently someone along the line decided that the name of the school needed to be changed. Never mind that South Texas has a sterling reputation when it comes to advocacy competitions. Gerald Treece has put together one of the best advocacy programs in the entire country.

But someone with a market research firm decided that didn't matter. And, to top it off, that firm decided that the scales of justice should be white against a red background. Hmmm. Doesn't that color scheme sound familiar?

So we are supposed to forget about 96 years of history and pretend that a law school is just as much a commodity as soda, shoes, cars and phones. Not that law schools are paragons of virtue as they have marketed their schools without a thought to what fate awaits their graduates. Apparently that federally guaranteed student loan money is just too much to ignore.

However, as Lee Corso would say "Wait just a minute!"

On Monday the Board of Regents for the University of Houston filed suit in federal court against South Texas College of Law arguing that the name and color change is a trademark infringement and designed to confuse the public and seeking an injunction to prevent the name change.

I hope UH is successful with its suit. I hope that South Texas has to crawl back downtown with its tail between its legs. Allowing a marketing firm to dictate the name of a school is beyond ridiculous and every member of the board of South Texas the participated in this process and that voted to make the name change violated their fiduciary responsibility to the students, faculty and donors. This exercise in stupidity will result in untold legal fees and expenses that would have been much better used to enhance the education of the law school's students.

The President and Dean of the law school, Donald J. Guter, should do what Roy Hodgson did after England lost to Iceland yesterday - resign.

I should probably go down and buy as much gear as I can with the new name on it because once the court rules against South Texas, all that merchandise could beome collectible - or at least be a conversation starter.

See also:

"University of Houston Law Center files suit against unranked law school," Above the Law (6/27/16)

"UH files suit over Houston law school name change" Houston Chronicle (6/27/16)

Friday, June 24, 2016

Now for something completely different

There is a new podcast I ran across on the NPR One app a couple of weeks ago. It's called Criminal and it deals with, surprisingly enough, criminal matters. But it does so with a level of sophistication. I highly recommend it.

So far I've listened to pieces on grave robbing by medical schools in the 18th and 19th centuries and a clash between the KKK and the Communist Workers' Party in the 1970's.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Why is two greater than four?

Why are we so concerned about the possibility that the Second Amendment might be restricted by legislation but we show no concern when the Nine (now Eight) Wearing Robes carve out restrictions to the Fourth, Fifth and Sixth Amendments?

This topic is nothing new to readers of this blog but, given the massacre in Orlando, it's timely once again.

Now the first thing we can do is forget about these ideas floating around that if you are on the government's "No Fly" list you shouldn't be able to buy a gun. There are no concrete criteria for being placed on that list. No one notifies you if you are placed on that list. There is no criteria for removing yourself from that list. Sure, "No fly, no buy" has a nice ring to it - but it's a nonstarter.

Besides, how many of the folks who carried out mass shootings in this country over the last decade were suspected terrorists? Would such a measure have stopped any one of those shootings? Highly doubtful. But it would allow politicians to say they did something in response to Orlando.

As I have said before, what we really need to do is address the gun culture in this country. And we can't do that without addressing racism. As the old white guard have found their numbers decreasing (and their influence over politics receding), the worship of the Second Amendment has become louder.

I suspect the reason such a stink is made over the Second Amendment is because those who held sway for so long because of the color of their skin know that the days of white power in the United States are coming to an end. They have some delusion that by holding onto their guns they can forestall the inevitable. 

They like to trot out the trope that an unarmed populace is at the mercy of its government. Let's look at that for a second. The US government has nuclear weapons, "smart bombs," jets, helicopters, ships and an arsenal of deadly machine guns and other arms at its disposal. Do you really think your shotguns, semi-automatic rifles and .45s stand a chance? Stop being deluded by Red Dawn.

You say you're worried about the slippery slope that gun regulation might bring about? What about the shredding of the Fourth Amendment? Or are you not worried about that because it only protects "them." 

And that's what this is really all about. 

One day you will wake up to find the Fourth Amendment is gone. But then we'll still have the Second Amendment. Some comfort that will be.

Friday, June 10, 2016

A common sense decision

Terrence Williams was convicted of murder for killing Amos Norwood in 1984. Mr. Williams said he did it because Mr. Norwood had abused him when he was a child. Nonetheless, the District Attorney, Ronald D. Castille, made the decision to seek the death penalty.

In 2012 a Pennsylvania Post-Conviction Relief Act (PCRA) court stayed the execution and ordered a new sentencing hearing as a result of Brady violations on the part of the prosecutor.

In 2014, the Pennsylvania State Supreme Court reinstated Mr. Williams' death sentence.

Nothing new there. Except that the chief justice was Mr. Ronald D. Castille. The same Ronald D. Castille who signed off on the death sentence almost 30 years before.

Yesterday, in Williams v. Pennsylvania, No. 15-5040 (2016),U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy was the swing vote in a 5-3 majority that decided a judge must recuse himself from ruling on a capital case in which he had a "significant personal involvement" as a prosecutor.

Makes perfect sense to me.

But the question is why did this have to go to the highest court in the land to make such a basic finding? Mr. Castille, of course, thinks the ruling is ridiculous. But it's Mr. Castille's logic (or lack thereof) that I find ridiculous.

Mr. Castille was an elected district attorney. He made the decision to seek the death penalty against Mr. Williams. He made that decision for any number of reasons. And he thought everything was kosher when the question of whether or not to reinstate the death penalty in the case came before him in his role as Chief Justice of the Pennsylvania State Supreme Court. At what point did this train run off the rails?

Mr. Castille's concern is that a good number of judges come out of the prosecutor's office and that their fingerprints are all over too many cases to keep track of. He's worried that judges will have to recuse themselves by the bucketload as a result of this opinion.

Maybe he's right.

And maybe that's not such a bad thing were it to happen.

Whether Mr. Castille wishes to admit it or not, his vote in the case in 2014 was nothing more than an affirmation of a decision he made in 1984 that someone deserved to die. He wasn't going to second-guess himself. There was no chance he would have voted against reinstating the death penalty because that would be an admission that he was wrong in the first place. I doubt seriously that any of his colleagues on the bench were going to call him out on it, either.

The conflict of interest is clear and Mr. Castille should have recused himself without being asked because of his involvement in the case at the trial court level. His failure to do so, and his insistence that he did nothing wrong or suspect, speaks volumes about his judgment, or lack thereof.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Hypocrisy 101

Last fall 24 year-old Jamar Clark was shot and killed by a Minneapolis police officer. That much is not in dispute.

In March the Hennepin (MN) County Attorney, Mike Freeman, decided not to bring charges against Mark Ringgenberg and Dustin Schwarze, the two officers involved. In justifying his decision, Mr. Freeman ignored eyewitness accounts that Mr. Clark was handcuffed at the time he was shot and killed.

Yesterday the US Attorney in Minneapolis, Andrew Luger, announced that no federal civil rights charges would be filed against either of the officers. Mr. Luger defended his decision by stating that the accounts of what happened that evening were so "deeply conflicted" that he didn't think his office could proceed under the theory that Mr. Clark was handcuffed at the time he was murdered.
"Given the lack of bruising, the lack of Mr. Clark’s DNA on the handcuffs, and the deeply conflicted testimony about whether he was handcuffed, we determined that we could not pursue this case based on a prosecution theory that Mr. Clark was handcuffed at the time that he was shot. And, in fact, we reached the conclusion, based on all of the evidence that we reviewed, that the evidence suggested that Mr. Clark was not, in fact, handcuffed when he was shot.
Our second area of focus was what happened when Mr. Clark and the two officers were on the ground. We wanted to know whether the available evidence would support a finding beyond a reasonable doubt that the officers acted in a manner that was objectively unreasonable, even if Mr. Clark was not handcuffed."
-- US Attorney Andrew Luger
Of course that reasoning does not work in reverse. How many times have you picked up a case file and found contradictions between what the arresting officer says and what eyewitnesses say?  I would ask how that worked out, but, since you're reading a case file in court, we know what happened.

How many times has a prosecutor told you that it was up to the jury to decide whether the testimony and evidence was conflicting?

The only time it matters that evidence and witness statements are "deeply conflicted" is when the person being investigated wears a badge for a living. The only time a suspect's denials are given any credence by a prosecutor is when that suspect wears a badge for a living. The only time that a person is actually presumed innocent unless proven guilty is what that person wears a badge for a living.

I don't know what the answer is. Should a local district attorney be allowed to have the last word in whether a police officer should be prosecuted for taking the life of an unarmed person? We all know that the grand jury is used to shield district attorneys from criticism. When prosecutors don't want an indictment they will tell the grand jury to do what they think is right - and then when the grand jury declines to indict, the district attorney can tell the public the decision was taken out of his hands.

And the notion that the Feds should be called in to investigate ignores the reality that federal prosecutors are just as beholden to law enforcement as local prosecutors are - not to mention that murder is a state crime in the first place.

Of course we wouldn't be having this conversation if the mainstream media and public didn't swallow the prosecutor's justifications hook, line and sinker.