Category Archives: Media incompetence/bias

Fraud Is As Fraud Does

I don’t think anyone can really tell you the point at which fraud, as a civil matter, crosses a line and becomes a criminal matter.  For that reason, all criminal fraud prosecutions are suspect, because their criminal nature is ill-defined.

But that does not by any means imply that fraud is unimportant.  At least not to us here at Lawyers on Strike.  We are of the opinion that civil cases are just as socially important and often more socially important than criminal cases.  In the fraud context we have taken the interesting position (well, it should be interesting for a lot of people but apparently it isn’t) that Wall Street corruption and perhaps some government corruption would be far better addressed by private lawsuits brought by the injured parties as opposed to criminal prosecutions conducted by the government, and that the major impediment to pursuing that remedy robustly is a corrupted judiciary which favors institutional litigants over individuals, for the most part depriving them of jury trials.  Which in turn are the only way, say, the Wall Streeters might be called to account.  Because regulatory capture, among other things.

But we must also recognize that we are pretty much alone in those views.  So alone, in fact, that there’s almost no chance any serious effort along those lines will be made.  At least not in our lifetime.

There’s a lawyer/law professor out there named William K. Black.  We like him over here even though he apparently doesn’t agree with us either, and thinks government regulation and criminal prosecutions are the solution.  Yet we keep trying to suggest our idea to him, with no response (scroll down to the first comment).

Which is too bad.

But moving on.  Unlikely though it may seem, our federal judge from Nebraska has recently tipped his hat in our direction by putting up a post featuring a well-known personal injury Plaintiff’s attorney exploring the idea that civil litigation – even personal injury litigation – has important social benefits.  And it’s worth noting how even in the title of the post the bias comes out, since Judge Kopf felt the need to acknowledge those who would call the featured lawyer “infamous” rather than simply famous.

I would call it subtle bias, but to me at least it is none-too-subtle.  And I daresay it has affected many, many rulings by Judge Kopf over the years, just as for Bill Black the only litigation he’s interested in is litigation on behalf of the government.

At some point I may go on from these anecdotal musings to describe how, in my view, there’s a loss of faith involved.  Faith in each other, in our ability to figure out the truth based upon evidence, in our rationality and capacity to be just.  And how this loss of faith engenders a kind of tyranny when it becomes widespread in a society.

But that’s too much for today.  Because football.

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Filed under financial crisis, Media incompetence/bias, Striking lawyers

Wrong

A while back an old lawyer I know was quoting an even older lawyer, to the fanciful effect that obtaining a criminal conviction is a well-nigh impossible task, what with the insuperable burden of proof – beyond a reasonable doubt – and the requirement of convincing 12 people unanimously.  The prosecution, it was concluded, should never win a case.

A sentiment contrary to observable fact, when one considers that prosecutors almost always win convictions.

Is this a problem?  Why, yes indeed it is.  There’s a fairly simple, though not entirely verifiable, statistical reality at the bottom of the criminal justice system in the United States:  the input – that is, what the relevant ‘law enforcement’ agency sends in for ‘processing’ – is correct or substantially correct about 75-80% of the time.  The whole purpose of the processing – that is, all the prosecutors, lawyers, judges, jurors, trials, appeals, post conviction collateral proceedings and so on – is to catch that other 20-25%.  All of it.

The system does a terrible job of this.  Absolutely terrible.  Abysmal.  And as a result, and other than war, this is the most immediately frightening and destructive thing the government does:  prosecuting people for crimes.

Why?  What’s wrong?

Let’s get back to that Department of Justice Grand Jury Manual thing.  You know, the guide book for federal prosecutors presenting cases to Grand Juries, not to obtain convictions but to obtain indictments, which in general must precede a conviction, which in turn are readily obtained by prosecutors, nationwide.  We talked about this before.

In 1983 the manual dealt in a rather cursory way with the “due process” problem of prosecutor misconduct in knowingly presenting perjured testimony to a Grand Jury.  It was a cursory treatment because the mostly unambiguous instruction was that indictments obtained with such testimony would be dismissed, citing the 1974 case of United States v. Basurto, 497 F.2d 781 (9th Cir., 1974):

Importance:  In Basurto, prosecutor did not become aware of perjury until after indictment (but before trial); indictment was still dismissed.

 

By 1991, though, the DOJ Grand Jury Manual said this:

A very few courts have dismissed indictments on due process grounds because of the knowing use of perjured testimony.  However, the weight of authority in this area is that dismissal, if justified at all, is only justified in flagrant cases.

 

What happened between 1983 and 1991?  Well, one thing that happened is that we elected Reagan POTUS and got Ed Meese as Attorney General.  Then we got some very prosecutor-friendly Supreme Court Justices:  O’Connor, Scalia, Kennedy.

But there’s more to it than that.  After all, had the law changed?

No.  Prosecutors don’t get to deliberately use perjury to obtain a conviction.  I suppose you could respond that no one said they couldn’t deliberately use perjury to obtain an indictment, but what are they going to do with the indictment thus obtained?  If they can’t get a conviction with it, the only thing to do is dismiss it, right?

But let’s back up a bit further, to the “due process revolution” of the Warren SCOTUS.   By most accounts the revolution had run its course by 1969, but 45 years later it remains “controversial”.  Wikipedia says so.

Why the controversy?  “Conservatives” complained about “handcuffing the police” with all the procedural rigmarole.  Did they have a point?  Yeah, maybe.

A crumb, a morsel.

Nah.  On to larger issues.  Let me get too abstract for just a moment, because at the moment I can’t think of any entertaining or creative way to express the particular thought I am thinking.

We have procedures, but the procedures are not about themselves, obviously.  They are about the “substance”.  The substance-procedure distinction is one of those large ideas.  You would think it doesn’t come up very much, but you’d be wrong.  Thus one of the most contentious areas of the law is “substantive due process” which you may notice, based on what I just wrote, is something of a contradiction in terms (Justice Scalia specifically called it an “oxymoron”) because substance can’t be procedure and vice versa, but “substantive” = substance and “process” = procedures, so substantive due process ought to prompt nothing but eye rolls, but it doesn’t.  And it shouldn’t.

Why do I say that?

The show trial courts of Stalin’s Russia followed their procedures pretty well, by many accounts.  But there was no “there”, there.  No substance.

I guess one way of putting it is that the purpose of procedures is to make the substance intelligible and orderly, but if the substance can’t be made intelligible in the first place because, say, it’s all phony made up crap then crossing all the procedural ‘t’s and dotting all the procedural ‘i’s doesn’t matter.

Or, put another way, the procedures serve the substance and are subordinate to it.  You can have substance without the procedure, but you can’t have a meaningful procedure without the substance.

So what is the real and more thoughtful objection to the Warren Court “due process revolution” – more thoughtful, that is, than saying it “handcuffed” the police?  Just this:  that it inverted the natural, rational hierarchy and made procedure superior to substance.  As I’ve said before, I’m not the only one who has pointed this out.

I recently came to Justice Scalia’s defense – not really, but it might have seemed that way – in a comment over on Turley’s blog, when another commenter was excoriating the apparent Scalia position that the execution of a factually innocent person who had received all the procedures the Constitution provided was okay with him.  But I summed it up this way:

  1. People are justified in being appalled at the idea because ultimately Scalia is wrong, and wrong in a serious matter. But it’s also a symptom of the larger problem that the justice system has been too good at abdicating its essential functions, one of the most prominent of which is to ensure the innocent are not punished. The reason a meritorious innocence claim winds up in federal court on habeas corpus in the first place is that the state courts have failed in this essential function. The idea that the federal court should just punt it back to the state that has already failed is fatuous. Somebody has to be responsible in the end, and in the end on a matter like this the federal system must act as the failsafe. That’s my opinion, probably not Scalia’s, although he wasn’t directly confronting the question there. As far as it goes, he was merely stating a fact: the SCOTUS has never ruled that the constitution forbids the execution of a ‘legally” guilty, but factually innocent person.

Everybody makes mistakes.  But it’s a special type of mistake when we refuse to recognize it as being mistaken, even when it’s obvious.

I’m bringing all this up because there was a post the other day on SJ to the (also fanciful) effect that what ails the justice system is shitty defense lawyering.  And so presumably this can be fixed by good defense lawyering, which means SHG and his friends and his spawn, if any such there be.

There may be some shitty defense lawyering out there.  That was hardly the point of the article SHG cited - which had more to do with funding indigent defense, not lamenting its poor quality - but it’s SHG’s point all the time.  Too often, really:

That’s where Jeff picks up the story, and why Jeff rightfully puts the blame on the last person standing between the government and the defendant.  Even if every other player in the system fails, the burden remains on the defense lawyer to make up for it.  Sucks, I know, and a very heavy responsibility.  It’s too much for most lawyers, which is why most lawyers have no business standing in the well of a criminal court.

 

“Jeff” didn’t single out defense lawyers for “blame”.  That’s a distortion, and overall SHG’s take on the whole thing seems a bad case of confirmation bias.

But forget the article.  The SJ post is just another variation on a very tired theme:  SHG, or lawyers like him, are the solution to what ails the system.  This is wildly implausible:  the change in the DOJ Grand Jury Manual from the 1983 version to the 1991 version; the explosion of criminal prosecutions and the US prison population; the near certainty of conviction at trial with conviction rates exceeding 95%; the vanishing trial and ‘trial tax’; the futility of appeals and post conviction remedies; the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996.

SHG probably started out practicing law right around 1983.  Does he, and more specifically his professional self-concept, bear any responsibility for these deleterious systemic developments, all of which occurred on his watch?  If he doesn’t bear at least some small share, who would?

Beyond that, is performing the same act over and over going to yield a different result?

Innocence does not matter.

Our job is only to defend.

We game the system to ‘win’, every single time.

There is no such thing as justice, or truth.

 

These are essentially a sales pitch (to potential clients), with a kernel of thoroughly impoverished pseudo-philosophy (“everything’s relative”) woven in.  So you posture this way and maybe it gets you a few clients and you do a good job for them – although most of the time that doesn’t make much difference – but the result to the system as a whole is – well, what I just told you.

Has it been worth it?  You have the occasional acquitted client, I’m sure.  How many others have been convicted who otherwise would not have been, though?  The statistics over the last 30 or so years suggest the numbers may be substantial, but ultimately that’s one of those questions we’ll never be able to really answer, but nevertheless deserves a little thought.  Maybe more than a little.

The elevation of procedure over substance leads directly to institutional and systemic incoherence.  Like war and pestilence, institutional incoherence can have short term benefits for some.  But if you’re one of those few, don’t expect admiration and respect from the much larger group of people on the receiving end.

Not that that’s the main point.  I don’t know.  Let’s see if I can drive the point home, starting with  a post from a few years ago on SJ:

True believers usually end up having problems as a criminal defense lawyer.  When people push the “factual innocence” button, they almost always miss the boat.  We don’t defend because our client’s are innocent.  We defend because they are accused.  Our job is to test the government, not to do justice…The prosecution side, including the police, exist to do justice, and justice means both substantive and procedural.  They are equally responsible for keeping innocent people out of jail as putting the guilty in.

 

That’s the familiar little ditty played over and over on SJ.  And elsewhere.  But SHG and the SJ posse are keeping some dubious company:

Investigators believe Witherspoon then raped the girl who was not conscious enough to stop the attack.  Witherspoon has hired well-known defense attorney John Parrinello to defend him.

Thursday, Parrinello revealed a potential line of defense in the case. He said prosecutors will have a hard time proving Witherspoon used Ambien to sedate the girl.

“None was found in her system,” said Parinello, “and if there were any sexual activity between the two, it was purely consensual.”

Livingston County District Attorney Tom Moran said, “Mr. Parrinello and I have totally different ethical responsibilities. Mine are to seek justice; his are to do everything humanly possible to get his client off.”

 

This is from a local Channel 13 news interview (scroll way down, about 7/8th of the way to the end, to see the actual story) dated September 30, 2004.

Notice how Moran – who’s a psychopath, by the way, but that’s another subject – is using the very same ideas – indeed the very same words – expressed by SHG to discredit another defense lawyer, and that lawyer’s case, and his client. 

Multiply 10 thousand fold, since of course Tom Moran and SHG are not the only adherents to the dogma.

It goes without saying – or should – that this whole outlook is a fairly recent affectation in the profession.  Consider this quote, dating from the 1940′s and obtained second-hand from a 1999 Fordham Law Review article:

 

The difference between the true lawyer and those men who consider the law merely a trade is that the latter seek to find ways to…violate the moral standards of society without overstepping the letter of the law, while the former look for principles.. within the limits of the spirit of the law in common moral standards.

 

Maybe that’s going too far in the other direction, but still:  we’re left with the disturbing question of how much the more recent affectation has contributed to the widepread collapse or at least demoralization of criminal defense lawyering, and the cascade of prosecution friendly developments that have characterized the criminal justice system since, oh, about 1980.

Again, probably about the same year Scott Greenfield began his legal career.

It’s a big and important question, methinks.

I won’t be posting for a while.  Busy.

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Filed under Judicial lying/cheating, Media incompetence/bias, Striking lawyers, wrongful convictions

The Unserious Approach To Ferguson – And A Serious Solution

I’m sure Eric Holder has good intentions, as far as they go. 

We’ve seen this before:  civil unrest followed by the National Guard followed by a sop from Washington, usually in the form of some high profile visit or other.  Maybe by the President.  More often the Attorney General.

On his day-long swing through the area, the attorney general was welcomed warmly at every stop.  At Drake’s Place, a soul food restaurant located a few blocks from the scene of overnight clashes, Holder went table to table offering words of encouragement to some stung by the fatal shooting and days of unrest. 

“We don’t want the world to know that’s all that’s going on here,” said Viola Murphy, mayor of the nearby Cool Valley community.

“We can make it better,” Holder told her.

 

How are you going to “make it better”, Eric?  You’ve got some kind of magic wand you wave?

We’ve said this many times:  civil unrest is an indictment of our courts and our legal profession.  Another program or edict emanating from Washington, punctuated by a media saturated visit from a high ranking official, isn’t going to accomplish jack other than maybe quelling the immediate disorder.  For now.

The serious solution, or at least one serious solution, is very simple.  Norm Pattis alluded to it the other day:

What is not written in the Constitution is the legal doctrine the courts have fallen in love with and rely upon to keep police misconduct cases from going to trial — qualified immunity. This doctrine sprung from the fertile imagination of a judiciary sick and tired of presiding over civil rights cases. It is a product of a judicial revolution no one noticed, a revolution that has effectively closed the courts to ordinary people seeking justice.

 

We at Lawyers on Strike suggested this kind of serious solution more than two years ago:

Statutes can be amended by a simple act of Congress.

So if the people of the US ever recover their gumption, they might want to browbeat their federal legislators/congress-critters into amending 42 U.S.C. 1983 to provide a few things to counteract the execrable rulings of the SCOTUS.  Such as:

1) no immunities for public officials, including judges;

2) no statute of limitations;

3) no summary judgment permitted (F.R.Civ.P Rule 56 won’t apply)

4) Make it all retroactive.

 

It bears repeating:  we have a lot of lawyers who need work.  For a long time – too long – lawyer “work” with any cache or prospect of a prosperous living has meant to become a toady and tool of the powerful against the weak:  represent the bank, the insurance company, the government.

Even so, all the unemployed and underemployed lawyers are a great untapped resource out there, and Ferguson demonstrates once again – just like the Occupy movement did – that there’s an increasingly desperate need.  What’s not to like? 

A “litigation explosion”?  Meh.  The only litigation explosion that ever actually happened was a stupefying increase in criminal prosecutions and imprisonments.  All the rest was insurance company propaganda.  We should be ashamed of ourselves for being so thoroughly duped. 

Nevertheless, however simple this serious solution is, it’s not easy.  There are a lot of conflicting and powerful interests – police unions, for example.  And as a people we don’t do difficult too well anymore.  Or at all, it sometimes seems.

There is a basic lack of discipline, I think.  Mental discipline in the first instance is required to understand what a serious solution might be.  And then personal and behavioral discipline is required to implement the serious solution.

So in the meantime there are emotionally cathartic visits by the Attorney General to the trouble spot of the day, and then when we tire of that there is Kim Kardashian.  Until the next unarmed black teenager is shot to death by a police officer at one of those odd moments that makes it a triggering event. 

The undisciplined lurch from crisis to crisis, in between long periods of indifference and indolence.  If that’s what we have become then what happened in Ferguson is just random, episodic noise, fodder for a news cycle and little else.

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Filed under Judicial lying/cheating, Media incompetence/bias, Striking lawyers, wrongful convictions

Rich Man, Poor Man

This article is actually more than a little disturbing.

The author appears to be advancing the thesis that manning up and taking responsibility for your situation in life is the key to success, while the unsuccessful are inclined towards superstition and voodoo.

But there’s an unpleasant reality hiding underneath the condescending pep-talk:  you might just as easily, or more easily, come to the conclusion from reading the article that the rich are self-satisfied, oblivious to how fortunate they have been, and prone to blaming the poor for their poverty.

Are there people who are entirely self-made millionaires, who have made their fortunes with no breaks, no help along the way from anyone?

No.  A little humility is called for, not that you’d glean that from the article.

Are there, on the other hand, people who are impoverished entirely without error in either act or omission?  A pure victim of circumstance, as Curly used to say?

This one is a little easier for me to believe in this or that case, just based on anecdotal observation.  But for the most part, I’d say the answer to this question is “no” as well.

The disturbing thing is that on the moral, and maybe psychological level, the rich and the poor are exactly the same:  both are entirely ego driven.  The rich indulge their egos by imagining they have arrived at prosperity solely because of merit; the poor spare their egos by ascribing their poverty to the cruelty of fate, or the fates if you prefer.

Neither is anywhere near to being correct.

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Filed under financial crisis, Media incompetence/bias

‘Christian’ Simpletons And The Death Penalty

Is there anything more annoying than someone making emphatic assertions that are obviously wrong? 

CNN runs an essay by a guest columnist/reverend named R. Albert Mohler, supposedly to make a Christian case for the death penalty.  It all boils down to this: 

On the one hand, the Bible clearly calls for capital punishment in the case of intentional murder.

In Genesis 9:6, God told Noah that the penalty for intentional murder should be death: “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image.”

 

What utter bullshit.  In the first place, it isn’t even clear that the quoted passage is a command so much as an observation.  In the second place, although ‘shedding of blood’ generally refers to killing, taken literally that’s not necessarily the case:  shedding blood isn’t always fatal.  The passage may not be referring to murder or the death penalty at all.

But what really makes it a poor argument from my point of view – indeed not just a poor argument but an ignorant one – is that any honest and remotely competent opinion on what the Bible says about capital punishment would have to begin by discussing the very first murder; yet that Biblical account would seem to completely rule out the death penalty.  That is, after Cain murders his brother Abel, this is the exchange between Cain and God:

Now, therefore, cursed shalt thou be upon the earth, which hath opened her mouth and received the blood of thy brother at thy hand.  When thou shalt till it, it shall not yield to thee its fruit: a fugitive and a vagabond shalt thou be upon the earth.  And Cain said to the Lord: My iniquity is greater than that I may deserve pardon.  Behold thou dost cast me out this day from the face of the earth, and I shall be hidden from thy face, and I shall be a vagabond and a fugitive on the earth: every one, therefore, that findeth me, shall kill me.  And the Lord said to him: No, it shall not be so: but whosoever shall kill Cain, shall be punished sevenfold. And the Lord set a mark upon Cain, that whosoever found him should not kill him.

 

I mean, how does anyone claiming to be knowledgeable enough to tell other Christians what they should think about the death penalty, based on the Bible, ignore this part of the Bible? 

We talk about religious subjects sometimes around here at Lawyers on Strike.  We don’t pretend to be Bible scholars, but we don’t need to be to see this particular gaping intellectual hole. 

In other words, we might quote the Bible from time to time, but we don’t thump it at anyone.

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Filed under Media incompetence/bias

Lunacy

Somehow, a new law has sailed through the legislature having as its only objective to increase the number of people sent to prison for relatively minor offenses.  To make felonies out of misdemeanors, in other words.

But maybe there’s a method to the madness. 

The “prison industrial complex” idea has always struck me as outrageous, in that it seems that it should be a fanciful rant dressed up as an argument; but at the same time disturbing, because it fits reality far better than I would like to think it possibly could:

As the prison population grows, a rising rate of incarceration feeds small and large businesses such as providers of furniture, transportation, food, clothes and medical services, construction and communication firms. Prison activists who buttress the notion of a prison industrial complex have argued that these parties have a great interest in the expansion of the prison system since their development and prosperity directly depends on the number of inmates. They liken the prison industrial complex to any industry that needs more and more raw materials, prisoners being the material.

 

The new “law” is counter to the explicit national trend – that is, on the surface we appear to be looking for ways to reduce prison populations, which every reasonable person believes have gotten out of hand – but consistent with an entrenched group of interests that frequently find favor with political institutions because of superior organization and tightly focused goals.

This so-called law is Exhibit “A” in the prison-industrial complex scenario, then.  A healthy press would be all over this, finding out who was lobbying for it and who the interested parties are.  But never mind.  We have the press we have, 1st amendment or no.

Ugh.

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Filed under financial crisis, Media incompetence/bias, wrongful convictions

Reaching For Amanda Knox

As in, a stretch.  A real reach.

The Telegraph in the UK reports that Amanda Knox was sexually involved with a cocaine dealer who knew someone else who stabbed yet someone else.

Got that?

This somehow bears upon Amanda Knox’s guilt, because….nope.  This doesn’t bear on anything relevant to Amanda Knox’s guilt, even if every word of it is true.  There are probably only a few people on the planet that can’t be linked to some kind of criminal act that way; that is, by extension several times removed. 

It’s a silly effort at a smear that shouldn’t be taken seriously by anyone.  And it’s a sign of desperation. 

By someone.

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Filed under Media incompetence/bias, wrongful convictions