Archive for the ‘Law’ Category

More weird intersections.

Thursday, December 8th, 2016

This is kind of a weird three-fer. Sort of one of those triangle intersections.

A woman bought “$23,000” worth of “Hatchimals” which I am given to understand is this year’s hot Christmas toy. (Personally, they sound stupid to me, but I am not a small child.)

…purchased 156 of the in-demand toys at an average price of $151— spending more than $23,000 — with the goal of reselling them at a further marked-up price.

Interestingly, eBay has apparently imposed limits on “Hatchimals” sales.

“I have a fortune invested, only one venue to offload them, and in only three weeks they will magically transform into useless pumpkins that will take up space in my office FOREVER, and have caused my financial ruin,” [she] wrote. “Oh, and I’ll still owe the lawyers.”

…she paid $23,595.31 to buy 156 of the toys before realizing she wouldn’t be allowed to resell them on EBay. The site only lets users post three Hatchimals auctions per week.

So why is some random woman’s attempt to profit on the backs of hard-working parents who just want to get their children a toy for Christmas interesting?

Intersection number 1: the random woman is author Sara “Water for Elephants” Gruen.

This raises questions: namely, why would Ms. Gruen, who is surely rolling in all that sweet Oprah’s Book Club and movie money, embark on this quest to profit on the backs yadda yadda? And why wouldn’t she have checked eBay polices before spending $23,000?

I don’t have an answer for the second question. As for the first, that’s intersection number 2:

On her Shopify site, Gruen wrote that the mission of her store is “to get justice for a wrongfully convicted man who was sentenced to LWOP(Life Without Parole) 23 years ago, and who has been incarcerated since.”

More:

Gruen has declined to offer any details about the man she says she’s trying to help by selling the toys. She told the Philly Voice she’s working on documentary series about the case, and that his identity will be revealed soon.

Curious. I might watch that series, if shows up anyplace I have access to, mostly because I wonder how she got involved in this case.

Edited to add: Got to remember. Always, always do the math.

She’s selling the toys, which come with an autographed copy of one of her five books, for $189 each. Batteries — for the Hatchimal — are included.

$189 times 156 is $29,484. Subtract the $23,595.31 she paid, and that leaves a gross profit of $5888.69. And that’s before the cost of the batteries, whatever she’s paying for the copies of her books (unless she just has 156 copies lying around the house), and assuming she sells all of them. (The article says she’s given four away to “needy kids”, which reduces her gross that much more.)

Doesn’t $5,000 seem like a relatively paltry amount to fund a documentary? Heck, couldn’t she have raised that on Kickstarter without the whole exploiting parents yadda yadda angle?

We don’t need no education…

Thursday, December 8th, 2016

Hoping to reduce violent confrontations during traffic stops and other encounters with police, an influential Texas senator filed a bill Wednesday to require all public high school freshmen to take a course in how to interact with law officers.

Show your children the classic Chris Rock video, “How To Not Get Your Ass Kicked By the Police”. Problem solved in five minutes. No need for a course. As a public service to those of you who have children, I’ll even embed it here for you.

I’m really about 80% serious when I say that: there’s actually a lot of really sound advice in that video.

And I wouldn’t mind a class that taught “how to interact with law officers”, but I think that should just be part of a larger class. I’d also teach how the DA’s office works and how crimes are prosecuted, how civil court works, and I’d bring in defense attorneys (maybe even someone from the ACLU) to go over what your rights as a suspect are. I almost want to say that they used to call this “Civics”.

But I’d probably teach this as part of a larger year-long class for high school students which I’ve been calling “S–t You Need To Know”. I’d also want to cover things like basic car maintenance (how to check fluid levels and change a flat), basic gun safety, strategies for avoiding being a crime victim, statistical fallacies and how to recognize them, bad science and how to recognize it…there’s a whole bunch of things that I think graduating seniors need to know, but aren’t getting taught unless they have exceptional parents.

Feel free to leave your proposed curriculum item in the comments.

On the legal beat.

Wednesday, December 7th, 2016

Travis County DA Rosemary Lehmberg, as promised, did not seek re-election. Margaret Moore is the new DA, and will take over January 3rd.

But she’s already making her mark: she’s fired 27 people.

Seventeen attorneys, 12 investigators and six administrative staff are retiring or have been told they will no longer have jobs when Moore takes over on Jan. 3. Additionally, 13 lawyers are being bumped to a lower classification and will take paycuts. And more changes may be coming. Moore told the American-Statesman on Tuesday she still has decisions to make on some administrative positions after wrapping up interviews this week.
in all, 48 people in the 238-employee agency have been affected by the moves. Twenty-seven were told their services will no longer be needed; they will not receive severance pay.

Is this good or bad? The DA’s office seems to want to spin it as “good”:

The shakeup marks the most sweeping personnel shift at the DA’s office in decades, with Moore carrying through on her campaign promise to reorganize after 40 years of a continuous administration that began with Ronnie Earle and continued with Rosemary Lehmberg.

And it isn’t unprecedented for a new DA to want their own people. See Pat Lykos. Okay, maybe that was a bad example…

But there also seem to be some possibly legitimate concerns:

District Judge Karen Sage questioned Moore’s decision to reassign a prosecutor who had been tasked with handling complex mental health cases. Others in the legal community were surprised when Moore appointed defense attorney Rickey Jones to a key mid-management position despite Jones’s two bar sanctions — one for giving questionable legal advice and another for questionable advice as well as intermingling his money with his clients’ funds held in a trust account. The sanctions were lifted in 2007.

,,,

Moore said she will reassign the attorney who prosecutes mental health cases, Michelle Hallee, which caught the attention of Judge Sage, who says the move has her “deeply concerned.” Several years ago, Sage had a hand in creating a court program for mentally ill people accused of minor crimes that decreased the time they spent in jail by 50 percent. Sage said it would be a mistake for Moore to assign mental health cases to prosecutors who are not sensitive to the needs of the defendants and are more interested in securing a conviction than creating a path for rehabilitation and reducing recidivism.

In other news, here’s an idea: why don’t we separate the crime lab from the APD? This makes a lot of sense to me: one of my ideas for criminal justice reform is to make crime labs arms of the court system itself, reporting to the judiciary, rather than arms of law enforcement. I’m sure that the vast majority of people who work in these labs remain independent, but it still looks and feels unseemly to me to have that kind of reporting relationship.

It seems like Grits agrees, though he calls for the lab to be “truly independent, as was done in Houston“.

I could live with that. They might need a new building, which probably means more bonds and more taxes, which does not excite me. But I think I could vote for that, too, as long as they put two quotes over the doorways:

Fiat justitia ruat caelum.

I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible you may be mistaken.

(See also.)

Memo from the police beat.

Friday, December 2nd, 2016

The APD officer who shot and killed a naked 17-year-old earlier this year, and who was fired by Chief Acevedo, has settled with the city.

Basically, what’s going to happen is that:

  • The arbitration process stops. So the officer won’t get his job back.
  • His firing gets reclassified as “a general discharge”. In theory, this means that he could get a job in law enforcement somewhere else. At least, according to the Statesman.
  • The fired officer gets $35,000. That seems kind of low to me, even if his lawyers aren’t getting a percentage.

Why settle, though? Well, the city may have felt like $35,000 was a cheap price to pay not to go through the hassle. And what if…

The public arbitration process would have held the fatal police shooting in the headlines for several days with hearings throughout next week. It also would have forced Mayor Steve Adler to testify in the hearing after Freeman’s attorney subpoenaed him.

So you get the mayor, you probably get Acevedo, maybe you get Chief Manley (no idea how involved he was in the decision making…

…and I hate to play the “I know more than you do” card, but I’ve heard some things through the grapevine that indicate the arbitration hearing could have gotten complicated and possibly embarrassing for some of the parties involved. The circumstances under which I heard this make me uncomfortable going into detail, but let’s just say: it seems like there was a chance (and not a “Chicago Cubs winning the World Series” chance; oh, wait, never mind) that the chief’s decision could have been overturned, and the fired officer placed back on the force.

It would have been interesting to see how that played out: does the APD need two people on pager duty? (Actually, by now, that guy would have 29 or 30 years in: he’s probably retired and collecting at least 76% of $98,000 a year, if not more and if I remember my APD pension math right.)

Art (Acevedo), damn it! watch. (#AD of a series)

Thursday, December 1st, 2016

Chief Acevedo’s last day on the job was Tuesday. Yesterday, he was officially confirmed as Houston’s police chief, and takes over today.

Before he left, Chief Acevedo did an “exit interview” with the Statesman. It is fairly short, but there’s one interesting quote that I’ll pull:

The (closure of the police) DNA lab really bothers me. I wish that we wouldn’t be here today where we’ve had to shut it down for so many months because our scientists decided to go onto an island to themselves. The lab is not reopened, and it probably won’t be open until early next year, so that’s the one thing I kind of leave undone, understanding that the work never ends.”

Why is this interesting? Well, there’s a story that came out in the past day or so. Seems like the DNA lab had a problem with a freezer that wasn’t working.

The lab subscribes to a service that is supposed to alert staff when a freezer gets too warm, but because that system failed, officials said the samples were at an improper temperature for eight days — instead of a few hours.

This is the kind of thing that could compromise the integrity of the stored evidence. So what did the lab do about it?

… they decided to keep mum. They alerted no one outside the lab — not investigators, prosecutors, defense attorneys or judges.
“If, in the future, the laboratory determines that a sample has been affected by this incident, the customer will be notified,” interim DNA technical leader Diana Morales wrote in a March 16 letter to her bosses.

That’s…not good, in my opinion. I might even go so far as to say:

Noted.

Wednesday, November 30th, 2016

The conviction of John Dwayne Bunn for the killing of Rolando Neischer, an off-duty corrections officer, has been overturned.

In 1991, Mr. Bunn, then 14, was arrested on charges of killing Rolando Neischer in the Kingsborough housing project in the Crown Heights neighborhood. According to trial testimony, two men on bicycles had approached a parked car in which Mr. Neischer was sitting with another officer, Robert E. Crosson, and ordered them to get out. A gun battle followed and Mr. Neischer was fatally wounded. Mr. Crosson, who was shot and wounded in the fight, survived and eventually identified Mr. Bunn and a second man, Rosean S. Hargrave, as the gunmen. Both men were later convicted of Mr. Neischer’s murder.

Why was the conviction overturned?

…the judge wrote that his “malfeasance in fabricating false identification evidence gravely undermines the evidence that convicted the defendants in this case.”

And who is the judge referring to here? Our old friend Louis Scarcella.

Art (Acevedo), damn it! watch. (#AC of a series)

Thursday, November 17th, 2016

I don’t think this is going to be the last one, but we may be nearing the end.

Austin police Chief Art Acevedo is expected to be named Houston’s police chief, a source told the American-Statesman early Thursday, ending a 9 ½-year tenure that has made him one of Austin’s most visible figures while presiding in a time that ushered both progress and setbacks in relations between law enforcement and the community.

I have reservations, given that this is so far just “a source” said and there’s been no official announcement. Also, if he is taking the Houston job, I may want to continue the Art watch: it isn’t like he’s going to be on the other side of the world…

If this does become official, I’ll throw an update in.

Edited to add: The HouChron is quoting Mayor Adler as making it official.

Appearing comfortable before the cameras when Austin crime made national headlines, he became a national face for Texas’ capital city and in recent years had been mentioned as a candidate to head several other law-enforcement agencies – for the head of Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, as a finalist for police chief in Dallas and San Antonio.

Yeah. I had a theory (which was poo-pooed by others) that if Clinton won, he’d be moving to some sort of government position in homeland security. I guess I wasn’t too far off after all.

Edited to add 2: official statement by the Chief. (Hattip: RoadRich.)

You’re going down in flames, you tax-fattened hyena! (#34 in a series)

Thursday, November 10th, 2016

Still on the road (somewhere between Oklahoma City and Tulsa) but I wanted to get this up:

Aaron Schock, a former Illinois  congressman whose Capitol Hill office was decorated in the style of the TV show “Downton Abbey,” and whose six-pack abs landed him on the cover of Men’s Health, was indicted Thursday on charges that he misspent government and campaign money for his personal benefit.

It’s the usual story: the money went to things like seeing da Bears, remodeling, and a 2015 Tahoe. The only thing that really distinguishes it for me is that the crooked Illinois politician (is that redundant?) is a Republican this time.

Random notes: November 9, 2016.

Wednesday, November 9th, 2016

Look, I’m not the person you should be coming to for your day-after analysis. I’m not a political pundit: there are smarter, better people (many of whom don’t work for the mass media) who can give you a more serious take on all this.

I also haven’t had time to figure out what all this means for gun politics, and if it is a net win or loss for the 2nd Amendment. I did see that California’s ballot initiative passed, which didn’t surprise me, but I haven’t been able to find results for other states. I don’t think we’ll see an attempted assault weapons ban, or an attempt to end-run the PLCAA, and I do think we will get a friendly Supreme Court justice. But again, look to other people for their takes, because I haven’t thought this all the way through.

(Edited to add: Looks like background checks passed in Nevada, too.)

(Quick ETA2: According to Weer’d, Bloomberg’s background checks lost in Maine.)

(My big thought right now: “Hmmmm. I think I can wait until National Buy an AK Day to get that AK-47, instead of trying to pick one up this weekend.” This gives me some room to maybe, possibly, pick up something less serious and more fun.)

The first part of this week has been busy, and the remainder is going to be even more so. Posts will be as time and events permit. I notice Cleveland is playing on Thursday night this week, so I’ll try to have the loser update up sometime on Friday.

I’ve been somewhat negligent on TMQ Watch updates, but part of that has been hesitation to write about TMQ and Easterbrook. At this point, it appears Easterbrook has given up on TMQ for 2016, but is hoping to return in 2017, per his Twitter feed.

The reason I’ve been hesitant to write about this is that, also according to some things he’s said on Twitter, Easterbrook has been hospitalized for a while. While we tend to give TMQ a hard time about some things, Gregg Easterbrook is not on our short list of people we wish ill to: we send him our best wishes.

I will be updating the city council/county commissioners/state reps lists, but probably not until the new people take office and have contact information posted. i think it will be January before this happens.

Obit watch: November 7, 2016.

Monday, November 7th, 2016

For the historical record: Janet Reno.

Short notes on film: October 30, 2016.

Sunday, October 30th, 2016

Since we’re talking about movies anyway, I’d like to make another recommendation. And this one won’t cost you anything.

Last Saturday, it was just Lawrence and I for movie night, and we didn’t want to burn “John Carpenter’s The Thing” with just the two of us there. We had trouble settling on something to watch. We tried “The Architects of Fear” episode of “The Outer Limits”, but neither of us could really get into the episode: it seemed too talky and too relationship oriented, and we turned it off after about 10 minutes. (Also, man, they, like, totally ripped that plot off from “Watchmen”, right?)

We tried watching David Cronenberg’s first movie, “Stereo” (which is on the Criterion disc of “Scanners”) and that was one hot pretentious mess. I think we also made it about 10 minutes into that as well.

We ended up watching, for our feature presentation, a movie I’ve been wanting to see, but which may not technically qualify for Halloween viewing. It is kind of creepy, and falls into the category of “film noir”, so if you’re willing to extend Halloween creepy to noir…(says the guy who has gone in costume as Sam Spade, complete with Maltese Falcon).

The movie in question is 1948’s “He Walked By Night” directed by some guy named Alfred L. Werker (who was supposedly either “assisted by” or “fired from the film and had it taken over by” Anthony “fired from ‘Spartacus'” Mann).

Richard Basehart – excuse me – “Richard Basehart!” – is a burglar specializing in thefts of electronics. At the start of the movie, he shoots and ends up killing a police officer, triggering a massive manhunt by the LAPD. The police lure him into a trap at one point, but he shoots his way out (leaving another police officer paralyzed). The LAPD continues to pursue him, but things are complicated by the fact that he has no criminal record, changes his methods to throw off the police, and almost seems to be one step ahead of them…like he was a former police officer or something.

(Possible spoilers ahead.)

This is often cited as a hugely influential noir film. It is a little stagey (but it was also 1948) and there’s a lot of stuff in it that feels today like clichés. (“I’m taking you off the case because you’re too close to it!”) The thing is, those weren’t clichés in 1948: this is one of the origin points for a lot of what you see in later noir films and procedurals well into today.

A very young (and very thin) Jack Webb plays a police lab technician:

(“You will believe a man can use a slide projector!”) There’s an interesting story behind that: while he was working on this movie, Webb became friends with LAPD Detective Sergeant Marty Wynn, who was working as a technical advisor on the film. One thing led to another, and, well…Webb and Wynn’s friendship and discussions ultimately led to the creation of “Dragnet” (which shares a lot of DNA with this movie.)

Even with all the staginess and talking, this is, in my opinion, a remarkably compelling movie. It is short (one hour nineteen minutes) but something is going on in almost every frame to advance the plot. And there’s also a feeling of some real stakes at play here: any of the good guys (or an innocent bystander) could get killed at any minute. As Ivan G Shreve Jr. notes in his writeup at “Thrilling Days of Yesteryear”:

The unwritten law of the men in blue is there is nothing more dangerous than a cop killer; after all, if someone is crazy enough to shoot a cop, he’s liable to inflict even more grievous injury on an innocent member of the public.

There’s also a lot of really good cinematography: the use of underlighting and shadows to convey a sense of danger and dread is top-notch. And the crime is broken somewhat by lab work (Jack Webb’s role isn’t trivial), but more so by dogged, unrelenting police footwork.

The movie is actually based on a real incident, the Erwin “Machine Gun” Walker case, and it is surprising how closely it sticks to the facts. Walker, like Basehart’s protagonist, was an electronics expert who stole to finance his experimentation. He carried around homemade nitroglycerin that he’d carefully desensitized (to make it safer to transport) had a pretty extensive arsenal (mostly stolen from military armories), experimented with making his own fake driver’s licenses and license plates, and he had worked before WWII as a police dispatcher/radio operator.

There are a few small deviations from historical fact, and one omission: Walker shot and wounded the two LAPD detectives first, the police officer he killed was a highway patrolman (not an LAPD officer), and Walker wasn’t gunned down in an LA sewer. Walker was actually captured alive and sentenced to death, though that sentence was never carried out. One thing the movie doesn’t touch on – perhaps it was too early – was that Walker was emotionally disturbed by his wartime experiences: part of the motivation for his crimes was that he wanted to build a radio-based device that would turn metal to powder, use that device to force the governments of the world to raise military pay, and thus make war “too expensive” to be fought.

You can watch “He Walked By Night” on Amazon Video, and there are several DVD editions of it. Interestingly, though, the film is in the public domain in the United States: you can also download it for free from the Internet Archive.

If you like noir films, or Jack Webb, or Richard Basehart, I recommend you do so. I think you will find this movie amply repays your investment of time and bandwidth.

Random links: October 30, 2016.

Sunday, October 30th, 2016

A handful of random links that I’ve accumulated over the past few days. Some of these are arguably appropriate for the season, some not…

By way of Lawrence, the first air hijacking.

… Midway through the third of these sessions, while airborne at 5,000 feet and sitting in the rear seat of a tandem training plane equipped with dual controls, he pulled a revolver from a trouser pocket and, without giving any warning, sent two .32 calibre bullets through Bivens’s skull. Pletch then managed to land the plane, dumped the instructor’s body in a thicket, and took off again, heading north to his home state to… well, what he intended to do was never really clear…

By way of Hognose over at the Weaponsman blog, a retrospecitve from Philly.com on a crime story I’d never heard of: 75 years ago, a spaghetti salesman and his co-conspirators murdered somewhere between 50 and 100 people with arsenic. It was your typical life insurance/double indemnity scam, distinguished perhaps only by the number of victims.

By way of Stuff from Hsoi, through Lawrence: Massad Ayoob’s latest “Ayoob Files” entry for American Handgunner is about John Daub’s shooting incident. Briefly, Mr. Daub (who instructs part-time for KR Training) shot and killed a man who kicked down the front door of his house while he was inside with his wife and kids:

Few people are able to recall how many shots they fired in self-defense when the matter goes beyond two or three rounds. John was no exception. What we have with him, however, is the rare case of a man who was a deeply trained firearms instructor becoming involved in a shooting. It’s rather like an oncologist who is diagnosed with cancer himself: an uncommon opportunity for someone heavily experienced in the thing from the outside, to experience it from the inside.

For the record: NYT obit for Jack Chick.

By way of the News@Ycombinator Twitter: ESPN lost 621,000 subscribers in one month.

So if we’re very conservative and project that ESPN continues to lose 3 million subscribers a year — well below the rate that they are currently losing subscribers — then the household numbers would look like this over the next five years:

2017: 86 million subscribers
2018: 83 million subscribers
2019: 80 million subscribers
2020: 77 million subscribers
2021: 74 million subscribers

At 74 million subscribers — Outkick’s projection for 2021 based on the past five years of subscriber losses — ESPN would be bringing in just over $6.2 billion a year in yearly subscriber fees at $7 a month. At $8 a month, assuming the subscriber costs per month keeps climbing, that’s $7.1 billion in subscriber revenue. Both of those numbers are less than the yearly rights fees cost.

On a personal note, my mother is planning to dump cable in the next few days, and I don’t even think she realizes that she’s paying $80 a year for the NFL and other crap she doesn’t watch on ESPN, and another $30 a year for the NBA (which she also doesn’t watch).

NYT obit for John Zacherle, aka “Zacherley”, one of the early TV horror movie hosts.

I didn’t grow up in the NYC/Philly area, so I never saw “Zacherley”, but the obit got me to thinking about him and Ghoulardi and all those other guys who seem to have died off or disappeared with the increasing corporatization of television. I missed this when I was young: as I’ve noted before, I was culturally deprived as a child. Also, I’m not sure we had any “horror hosts” in Houston. I do remember “Captain Harold’s Theater of the Sky”, but I don’t recall that fitting into the “horror host” genre. (Also, I would have sworn it was called “Captain Harold’s Theater of the Air” when I was growing up: is nostalgia a moron, or did the name change at some point?) This is another one of those things where I almost regret not watching those people when I was young, so that I could have grown up to be a famous horror writer with groupies and a cocaine problem, but I digress.

There is a guy on one of the nostalgia TV channels on Saturday night who seems to be trying to revive the Zacherley/Ghoulardi schtick. I don’t even know his name, but we’ve caught a few minutes of his show during movie night at Lawrence’s. The 51-year-old me says, frankly, he’s not very good. The 11-year-old boy inside me says, “Well, yeah, you think he’s not very good. But you’re a jaded 51-year-old man who is incapable of experiencing joy, and can watch things like…well, like “John Carpenter’s The Thing” anytime you feel like it. What about me? When you were my age, you would have lapped this stuff up like a thirsty man in the desert, bad puns and all!” The 51-year-old me thinks the 11-year-old me is being a little unfair with that “incapable of experiencing joy” comment, but he does have a point.

With all the old “horror hosts” dying away, and nobody seeming to replace them, who or what is fueling the imaginations of the 11-year-olds out there? What are they going to write or draw or film when they grow up? Who is educating them in the classics like “Island of Lost Souls” (about which, more, later), even if those classics are kind of chopped up?

What have we lost?