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Was Robin Williams Brain Injured?

I don’t want to dwell on this, but there’s been so much noise about this latest celebrity suicide I thought there should at least be some discussion, somewhere, that might be worthwhile.  At least for some people.

It’s just my opinion, of course – although it is perhaps a bit more informed than most – but I believe that any person who exhibits symptoms of  psychological or psychiatric disturbance should be neurologically evaluated for brain injury.

Brain injuries, as we are learning from things like former NFL players who commit suicide for no apparent reason, are extremely common.  Extremely.  Very extremely.  In fact, in my opinion a significant percentage of the people reading this post have at least some limited form of brain injury.  I may have a brain injury without knowing it, and so might you.  These are scary thoughts in a way, but it’s the truth.

What happens to people with brain injuries?  Well, read a pretty good summary here.  Compare the kinds of problems brain injured people have with problems associated with various kinds of mental illness.  There’s a good deal of overlap that can be discerned immediately, but things like depression, mania, lack of impulse control, Parkinson’s should jump right out at you.

Greenfield put up a good post about mental illness in relation to the Robin Williams suicide.  But nobody that I know of has mentioned the possibile role of an undiagnosed and unknown brain injury in many aspects of Robin Williams’ personality, including his suicide.

One reason I think it’s important to mention this is that in recent years some promising treatments for brain disorders have been developed, in particular neurofeedback therapy, where it’s possible that the brain can be re-trained to function better essentially through playing a kind of video game.   This is, of course, non-invasive and non-pharmacological. 

People might not be so tempted to make harsh moral judgments, as has apparently happened surrounding Robin Williams’ death, if they realized not just that there might have been psychological or psychiatric issues, but physical brain issues over which no one has any control.

 

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Shepard’s Off The Wall ‘Warning’ Re: Mooney v. Holohan, 294 US 103 (1935)

With apologies, probably only lawyers will really understand this post.  Nevertheless, on to it.

Shepard’s is this service that’s been around for a log time helping lawyers to find cases (usually published opinions from appellate courts) dealing with a specific subject, where those cases have been cited by other cases, whether the citations are favorable or unfavorable – and very importantly, whether a case has been overruled and is no longer good law.

In recent years of course all these functions have been computerized and data-based and Shepard’s is primarily an online tool.

So recently I was checking Shepard’s for any recent developments relating to a case that’s been pretty important fodder for discussion around here for quite some time:  Mooney v. Holohan, 294 US 103 (1935).  That’s a US Supreme Court case.

And Shepards contains a warning that Mooney has been “abrogated”.  The warning then directs the reader by hyperlink to an unpublished opinion from a case in an intermediate state appeals court in Arizona – State v. Branch, decided April 17th of this year.

This unpublished opinion maintains that while under Mooney the prosecution’s knowing use of perjured or false testimony in a criminal case is a denial of due process, Mooney has been qualified to include a “materiality standard”:  that is, there is only a denial of due process of law when the perjury or false testimony affected the outcome of a criminal trial.

Two things about this.  First, it’s not true.  Mooney has never been limited or qualified, and we can hope never will be. 

But second, how can Shepard’s issue a “warning”, complete with the red stop sign symbol, that a US Supreme Court case has been “abrogated” by an unpublished opinion from an intermediate appellate court in Arizona?  State intermediate appellate courts don’t have the authority to limit or abrogate US Supreme Court precedents. 

Who is running things over there at Shepard’s?

 

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Moreland Commission – Continued

So just to drive the point home, one of the allegations of the New York Times article goes like this:

Word that the [Moreland Commission's] subpoena had been served quickly reached Mr. Cuomo’s most senior aide, Lawrence S. Schwartz. He called one of the commission’s three co-chairs, William J. Fitzpatrick, the district attorney in Syracuse.

“This is wrong,” Mr. Schwartz said, according to Mr. Fitzpatrick, whose account was corroborated by three other people told about the call at the time. He said the firm worked for the governor, and issued a simple directive:

“Pull it back.”

The subpoena was swiftly withdrawn. The panel’s chief investigator explained why in an email to the two other co-chairs later that afternoon.

“They apparently produced ads for the governor,”

 

Nothing to see here, right?

Besides, the Commission Chair William Fitzpatrick, in his three page letter, had this very detailed response to this specific allegation:

 

“Fuck you.”

 

Okay, that wasn’t really what Fitzpatrick said.  What he really said was a far more egregious gesture of contempt, something to the risible effect that he always gave a lot of thought to issuing subpoenas because that’s “serious”; and the Commission reissued the subpoena a few weeks after it was retracted; and finally, the suggestion that the Commission was interfered with by such things as, oh, the Governor’s henchman aide Schwartz telling the Commission to “pull it [the subpoena] back” was – and I quote – “absurd”.

Of course, it’s not like that kind of thing happened except for that one time, though.  Right?

 

According to a subpoena that had been prepared, investigators wanted to examine the real estate board’s political donations, its materials related to a valuable tax break for new housing, and its communications with public officials, including phone calls with lawmakers…

Whereupon Mr. Cuomo’s office stepped in to shut it down.

Mr. Schwartz, the secretary to the governor, telephoned one of the commission’s three leaders in a fury, according to four people briefed on the call. There would be no subpoena to the real estate board, he said.

Ultimately, the commission merely sent the real estate board a letter asking it to provide information voluntarily, which it did.

 

Apparently the Governor’s office got advance notice of objectionable subpoenas because the Governor had a spy lackey close associate as one of the Commission’s co-chairs.  Her name is Regina Calcaterra.

Investigators began to suspect that Ms. Calcaterra was monitoring their activities and reporting back to the governor’s office:

  

Ms. Calcaterra repeatedly pressed Ms. Perry [another investigator with the Commission] not to serve the subpoena, emails show. Yet the commission backed Ms. Perry, and on Aug. 19, she wrote to the co-chairs that she would be sharing a subpoena with them “shortly.”

 

I don’t know what is more laughable – or depressing, depending on your mood:  the Commission itself, or Fitzpatrick’s & Cuomo’s when-you’re-caught-just-deny-deny-deny defense.  Ugh.

I mean, this shows the “Commission” was just a toxic mix of tawdry skullduggery and highly dishonest political posturing by the Governor’s office.  The Feds tried to criminalize such conduct through some statute or other regarding public officials’ failure to render “honest services”, but that was held unconstitutional.  And I don’t know if criminalizing is the right way to go, or even remotely effective.  Given day to day realities of the political system in the US I’d tend to say no.  In any event, I’ve made my suggestion and that has nothing to do with putting anyone in prison.

This does not, of course, indicate that the entrenched corruption of the political class is not a serious problem; indeed I wish we could overcome this vague belief that unless the government is prosecuting someone the wrongdoing, if it exists at all, must be trivial.

Our ‘leaders’ do not so much lead us as reflect us.  We tolerate in them the kind of wrongdoing we tolerate in ourselves.  Thus we like a little bit of ruthlessness in our politicians, it seems.  Unless we’re on the receiving end personally.

We’ll improve the character of our political class when we improve our own.  Until that happens, “Moreland Commissions” are worse than a waste of time; they are a farce.

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Can This Be Right?

That over a million people – mostly Americans – have signed a petition directed to the Prime Minister of the UK declaring that the US is still a British colony?

Or is that some kind of hoax website?

 

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Having Their Way With Dawn Nguyen

Another sad chapter in the ongoing saga of the law enforcement community getting its way.

“We now know that Dawn Nguyen knowingly and intentionally bought those firearms for William Spengler, the man who was responsible for the tragedy,” said U.S. Attorney William Hochul.

Of course we know nothing of the kind.  We know what she said in the course of pleading guilty, and that if she hadn’t said that she would have had to go to trial, and if found guilty at trial she would have spent the balance of her young adult life in federal prison.

This was a plea of convenience.  As far as being the truth of the matter, you can read a recent 2nd circuit opinion recognizing the uncomfortable reality that innocent people plead guilty and say what they have to say in order to avoid draconian punishment here.

If you terrorize people into pleading guilty they most often will. 

There’s nothing to be happy or satisfied about in all this.  If my opinion counts for anything, the only reasonable interpretation I can see of what happened here is that the law enforcement community, far from honoring their fallen comrades, helped their murderer to posthumously, and gratuitously, injure another person.  And that would be my opinion even if Dawn Nguyen actually did buy the guns for Spengler.

But here’s something that’s not just my opinion:  whatever Dawn Nguyen claimed in pleading guilty is only marginally more factually unreliable than jail house snitch testimony.  It should hardly be any sort of “closure” for anyone.

And if law enforcement as a group can take any satisfaction from this sordid episode where a mob relentlessly brow-beats a young woman into prison I just feel sorry for them.  Though not nearly so much as I do for her.

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Eulogy for Charles Thomas Dienes

Originally posted on JONATHAN TURLEY:

Submitted by Kimberly Dienes, guest blogger.  

Sometimes, paradoxically, the most difficult times in our lives can lead to some of the happiest occurrences and memories. Although I had heard about Jonathan Turley from my father many times, I met him at my father’s funeral. Some of you may have seen his wonderful blog about my father, Charles Thomas Dienes (http://jonathanturley.org/2014/04/24/farewell-to-tom-dienes/).   Jonathan suggested that I join his blog as a contributor and publish my eulogy for Dad.

The key message of the eulogy is this: it is not easy to love. Many words, phrases, and stories in our culture might lead you to believe it is, falling, instant, first glance, but love takes much more than effortless submission to a greater force…it is an act, and sometimes that act can be difficult. The act requires vulnerability, it requires communication, it requires thought and time. Loving can be so…

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Behind The Curve

The NYPD’s public image campaign on twitter didn’t exactly succeed.

I really hope the NYPD isn’t as bad as the anecdotal evidence suggests:

A New York Police Department campaign to burnish its image via social media instead produced a flood of pictures of police brutality and tweets critical of the force being shared at a rate of thousands an hour…The tweets included images of violence from New York’s Occupy Wall Street demonstrations, pictures of an NYPD officer pointing a gun at a dog, and an officer asleep in a subway car.

Images and tweets also referred to the fatal, controversial New York police shootings of Sean Bell in 1999 and Amadou Diallo in 1999, each of which led to criminal trials in which all the officers were acquitted.

Granted, the social media thing is a little hard to read.  You’re dealing with the people who have a strong opinion, which is not the general public.  At least not necessarily the general public. 

In any case I give credit to the department for resilience in the face of the torrent, though this might seem a bit pollyanna-ish:

After the campaign appeared to backfire, the department issued a two-sentence statement saying that it was “creating new ways to communicate effectively with the community.”

“Twitter provides an open forum for an uncensored exchange and this is an open dialogue good for our city,” the statement said.

Sure.  I feel you.

But I can’t help but wonder if this social media incident is on the cutting edge, such that the perspectives of many of the players in the system – such as we just noted with federal Judge Kopf – have a lot of catching up to do. 

But then again we also know, or at least have inferred, that there’s movement afoot.  Does change come from the top down or the bottom up?  Or is that a simplistic question anyway?  Maybe it’s just in the ether, or it’s a weltgeist

Does the future belong to the twitter community, or to Judge Kopf?  Either way, it’s an interesting time right now in the law world, n’est-ce pas?

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