Archives for the ‘Government’ Category

How Judges Disgrace the Bench

All across this country, from small counties to large cities, judges are being exposed as every bit as corruptible as the public they preside over. They are frail. They are weak. They are foolish. They are human. There are 800,000 stories in the Naked City. These are just some of them.

Isolated incidents that would normally never be noticed from state to state now come together because of the breadth of the Internet and its spontaneous dissemination of news and information. The picture it creates forever tarnishes the credibility of our courts. The fears that our justices have about attorneys destroying our courts by open criticism of our judiciary can be put to rest. The judges are doing themselves in without any help from counsel.

Let’s begin in Pennsylvania, the shocking case where two jurists were arrested for taking kickbacks from a private firm paid to run juvenile justice detention centers, compensated by the corporation each time they sent a kid into custody, whether he needed to be there or not. They pled guilty and are headed to jail. It is as disgusting a betrayal of a robe as we will ever see anywhere.

Of course, there is a United States District Judge from Texas facing federal sex crime charges, and he added to his woes by getting indicted last week for obstruction of justice as well. That is more serious than the judge in Alaska who was suspended after he decided to play a game of ex parte during a trial, passing only one of the parties’ notes to aid his litigation. And the note was not about shooting a moose from a helicopter.

There is a Texas county court judge fighting a DUI where she was pulled over for going 92 mph in a residential community. The Commission on Judicial Performance is accusing another judge of leaving work too early, too often, contending that he frequently departed the courthouse halfway through the day. Better than this groveling judge though, begging for mercy on a video cam after being pulled over for a DUI. Here is that link:

In New Jersey, a former judge has been suspended from his law practice for three months for an incident in which he allegedly told police officers who had arrested him on a drunken driving charge to “get the Vaseline out and bend over.” Is that better or worse than the retired Broward County judge who pulled citizens over at gunpoint while he was drunk ? That was years ago. I am writing now only about things which have just happened in the thirty days since I started blogging.

Of course, Broward County, Florida has created a comfortable niche for itself, populated by a battery of judges whose words and deeds this past year have been highly improvident. At least five separate county and circuit court judges have been humiliated for either inexcusably or inadvertently denigrating courthouse service personnel, gays, African Americans, and other lawyers. One was accused of taking kickbacks from an attorney for assigning him cases, another accused of snaking money from the elderly, and another went to a judicial conference sober but came home disrobed.

Meanwhile, the Mississippi Supreme Court has reprimanded a former judge for derogatory public comments he made about “white folks.” How does that compare to the NY federal bankruptcy judge who was popped for a domestic violence charge last week after slapping around his wife of 20 plus years?

In St. Petersburg, Florida an Appeals court judge resigned his seat after admitting to helping a stripper he ‘befriended’ conceal assets from judgment creditors. Well, that is a little bit better than the newly elected judge just south of Seattle who ‘befriended’ and then threatened male prostitutes, and now is being investigated by county prosecutors. In Boca Raton, a lawyer who was suspended from the practice of law managed to win a judicial seat from the jurist who had filed the disbarment proceedings against him. But the Supreme Court has barred the newly elected jurist from serving. Is this a soap opera or not?

As an embryonic blogger, my net-surfacing these past 30 days has enabled me to criss-cross the Blawgosphere the way an astronaut speedily circles around a planet. I have stumbled upon a collage of articles on popular legal blawgs and sites like the ABA Journal and, exposing these judicial foibles. Clearly, I have found lawyers too whose transgressions are outrageous and many. I have written about those too. But there are what, 500 lawyers for every judge? If the Legion of Judicial Disgraces continues at this pace, they are going to have their own comic books. It almost seems like the Obama Administration vetted judicial candidates.

The bottom line is that the judiciary is not above questioning. Behind those many colored robes are some seriously dysfunctional individuals. It thus becomes the burden of every litigator to stand their ground, make their case, and advocate zealously for their client. The judge’s duty is to be impartial, but first we must guarantee they are credible and competent. Lawyers and litigators must hold them to their tasks.

There is a denigrating joke a senior partner in a big white collar law firm about the candidates they promote for judicial office: “Well, if they can’t generate their weight in billable hours, we make them judges.” Yes, they wear robes and ought to be honored for the office they hold. Many come to the bench to crown a lifetime of achievement and honor. Still, no one should get a free ride.

Judges too must be held accountable. Apparently, around the country, some are. Not enough, I think. It is the tip of the iceberg. Sadly, from what I have seen so far, the judicial ship they are piloting is called the Titanic.

Freedom of the Press is Real National Security

The buildings that fell on September 11, 2001 in New York City took down more than steel and concrete, and stripped us of more than 3,000 lives.

The attack on the World Trade Center was a precursor to a government assault on our civil liberties. From airport scanners and metal detectors, to cameras taking your picture- as you drive innocently through an intersection to go to the dry cleaners- we have become the Surveillance States of America. No matter where we go and what we do, someone somewhere is now watching us. We have subjugated ourselves to powerful forces that can’t be trusted.

Worse than all of the invasive intrusions into our privacy, government now seems to sanction secrecy for those who are in charge and in power. Every overreaching step that law enforcement takes is justified and defended by the need for ‘national security.’ Think about it. If you oppose a law called the ‘Patriot Act,’ what does that make you? Fighting for your freedoms makes you seem traitorous. Outrageous.

It is no secret to us that our government deploys spies, or conducts clandestine operations. But what if the lawmakers become the lawbreakers? If someone working at an agency doing spying exposes the agency for doing things illegally, who is really violating the law? Who is the hero and who is the villain?

Daniel Ellsberg is a former United States military analyst who, while employed by the RAND Corporation, precipitated a national political controversy in 1971 when he released the Pentagon Papers a top-secret Pentagon study of U.S. government decision-making in relation to the Vietnam War to the media. We forget that Ellsberg was prosecuted, smeared, and harassed.

There is a 2009 documentary about the story, which led to lawsuits by the NY Times, when then attorney general John Mitchell went to court to try to stop publication of the documents. The Supreme Court eventually upheld the right of the NY Times to publish the Pentagon Papers. It is a pillar of first amendment law.

Flash forward to a Moscow airport in 2013. Why is Edward Snowden fighting for his freedom after revealing to a reporter the United States has been illegally spying on our citizens? Shouldn’t we be giving this guy a medal? Has he really put soldiers at risk?  Or has he gone to a reporter and revealed systemic and institutionalized corruption which is compromising your rights as an American citizen?

Transparency is healthy for our government. There is a reason freedom of the press is in the first amendment. It is the most important. Cover-ups are unacceptable breaches of the public trust, and we cannot stand for them at any level.

Whistleblowers play a critical constitutional role in our system of government, particularly in the area of national security. We reward people for their courage in standing up to the system, not take away their rights.

So why is Bradley Manning, a gay man in jail for providing documents to Wiki-Leaks? Did he really aid the enemy or assist you as a free citizen with a right to know the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth? Today we celebrate Martin Luther King’s letter from a Birmingham Jail. Will society so salute Bradley Manning one day?

He should not face life in jail for daring to make information accessible to the American public that the government should not have been hiding. Is the empire falling, or are our trains still running on time? His trial is a travesty of justice, with the secret lawbreakers trying to protect their secret making. The fact is we have over classified too much and declassified too little. This does not strengthen our country. It weakens us. Sunlight is a disinfectant.

We have Homeland Security, the Central Intelligence Agency, and the National Security Agency. How many Americans even know there was a secret court created by the Foreign Intelligence Service Act?  How many people know the government has asked for about 15,000 surveillance warrants from them. which judges grant 99.997% of the time. You cannot trust these entities with delivering you the truth.   These are the people that have brought you the disgrace we call Guantanamo Bay, the internment camps of the 21st century.

The IRS did more than target the Tea Party. A disproportionate number of non profits using buzz words like marijuana reform were apparently also targeted. The powers that be enforce their powers without discretion or discrimination.

These are the people secretly spying on you, maybe with drones over your shoulder, and taps on your phones, collecting your emails and monitoring your Facebook account. A healthy distrust of government is the safest way to protect national security.

A free press has a duty and an obligation to report the truth, uncover the lies, and expose secrets. One congressman has gone as far as suggesting that Glenn Greenwald, the reporter who published Edward Snowden’s story, should himself face jail. No, the truth is that a congressman who suggests such a thing should himself face expulsion from the house.

The truth is that our country is strong enough to withstand revealing tears in the emperor’s clothes, and our fabric is strong enough to expose the lies, sew together the wounds and heal the divisions. As the Billy Joel song noted, ‘we are still standing.’ We will not only survive these purported and hyped-up alleged breaches and leaks of national security; we will become stronger because of them.