Thursday, April 24, 2008

Pre-vacation Police State bulletin

Apologies for the continued light posting. Day job, etc. Also, next week I will be on a beach in the tropics sipping pina coladas and lukewarm beer, so no posting at all. I even don't know if my phone will work down there, but I'm not taking it in any event, so don't expect blog posts, emails, phone calls, or really any communication whatsoever. Right now I'm at the point where I go to sleep considering the wording of certain contract provisions, and wake up babbling incoherent corporate-speak (as if there is any other kind).


If you haven't checked out Robert Guest's spiffy new Dallas Criminal Defense Lawyer Blog (formerly I Was The State), then you should. Robert is on the front lines fighting for freedom every day. In his case, this is not an overly dramatic way of describing what he does.

A couple of recent posts of his got my attention. First, he comments on a speed trap on I-45 in a town called Ferris. Apparently the town of Ferris (pop. 2,157) generates $720,000 of income per year in traffic tickets. While Robert comments generally on how outrageous this is, and notes that a state law prohibits ticket quotas, I was reminded of a state law passed a number of years ago which specifically prohibited a municipality from retaining any revenue from traffic tickets which exceeds 30% of its previous year's total revenue. This law was specifically aimed at preventing small towns from raising money from speed traps. (too tired to wade through The Google much, but here's a re-post (original not available) of a Houston Chronicle article which reported on this law).

So... how does Ferris legally do this? I don't know... but concerning small town policies regarding raising revenue from traffic fines, a while back I was talking to a guy who was a city council member of a small town. He told me that the city had no express policy in this regard, and no one ever overtly discussed it, but he said that when it came budget time, and the police chief came before the council to argue for his budget allocation, the city's top-level budget spreadsheet always had the line for the police department's budget immediately adjacent to the line for the revenue generated by traffic fines. My buddy told me that this was certainly no coincidence.

Second, Robert comments on the case of Henry Doke, who is fighting to prevent forfeiture to the state of some real estate property he owns. The state has determined that someone unaffiliated in any way with Mr. Doke had at some point used the property to engage in "drug activity". Under our wise and prescient civil asset forfeiture laws, this means that Mr. Doke's property is now (or soon will be) the property of the state.

Clearly this is a stupid outcome, which is a direct and foreseeable result of a stupid legislative framework. But it doesn't stop there. As I noted in a comment at The Agitator today:
Civil forfeiture can [without violating the U.S. Constitution] be used to seize property owned by people who had nothing whatsoever to do with the commission of the crime.

I wrote a law review article (not available online) on the case of Bennis v. Michigan. The ruling in this SCOTUS case states that cars (and presumably all other kinds of property, including houses) can be forfeited to the state even when the owners were not themselves engaged in the crime. In the facts of the case, the wife of an accused John was trying to prevent the forfeiture of her car in a prostitution case. The car was community property (i.e., making her half owner). [Obviously she did not participate in this crime, and had no knowledge of it, and furthermore, because the car was half-owned (i.e., owned "in common") by the husband, she had no power to limit his usage of it. (and as the opinion made clear, even if she had been the sole owner of the car it would not have prevented forfeiture)]

Needless to say, the state won, thereby adding injury to the woman’s insult. A ridiculous outcome. One of the hypotheticals arising in the case was the idea that a homeowner could lose their home to the state by virtue of one of their teenage children (or a friend of a teenage child), without the knowledge of the homeowner, being caught smoking a joint in the house. The justices opined that the judgment (and professionalism!) of prosecutors and law enforcement could be relied upon to ensure that such an injustice does not occur. Heh.

Of course, no prosecutor has yet had the temerity to take someone's house because someone smoked a joint in it. The operative word in that sentence being "yet". Because, as with all government powers, if they have it, rest assured they will -- eventually -- use it.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

A few items of possible interest:

1. Me and a buddy of mine discussed this story when it first came out, but now it's back in the news. Very brief synopsis: after an appropriations bill passes congress, but before it goes to preznit for signing, corrupt senator from Alaska somehow goes in and fracks with the wording of the bill so that one of his campaign contributors in Florida (Florida!) gets a $10M highway interchange that will benefit his business (and only his business).

2. What goes through the heads of people who would do something like this? (link via The Agitator).

3. Man with no science or medical background finds (potential) cure for cancer using wife's baking pans and some hot dogs. (no, this is not a joke.)

4. There Will Be Blood is one of the best movies I've ever seen.

5. And, somewhat relatedly, DC Park Police drink Thomas Jefferson's milkshake. See also this, which manages to work in the seemingly mandatory Footloose reference in the very first graf.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

I was not aware that Matt Drudge had taken over a major television broadcast network

Dear ABC News:

In case you haven't heard -- in the event that, despite being in the news business, you're not quite up to speed on current events -- our country is currently fighting two wars, is on the verge of a constitution crisis by virtue of the executive branch unilaterally deciding to contravene its coequal status and ignore virtually every constitutional and statutory restraint on its power, and is teetering on the edge of a disastrous economic meltdown with our currency at historic lows -- and falling -- against other world currencies and our energy costs and debt skyrocketing out of control -- in case you are not aware of these facts despite their daily appearance on front pages of newspapers across the country and the world day after day, you really should spend a bit of time investigating the matter.

Because, in light of these momentous ongoing events, your decision to spend the first 50+ minutes of tonight's presidential debate asking questions about lapel pins, pastors, bowling scores, and other nonsense, makes you, to be very charitable, appear rather foolish.


Saturday, April 12, 2008

Boalt Hall: teaching the next-gen torture lawyers

I've been reading a lot about the recently released Yoo Torture Memo. Started to write a much longer post on the subject, but as many times will happen with me, I got bogged down in a lot of minutia and ended up with nothing worth reading.

But having seen the usually politically-reticent (blogwise, anyway) Gleemonex pick up the slack with an excellent takedown of the harshly euphemistic BushAdmin mendacity concerning its torture regime, I thought I should at least say something.

Since Bush himself is thoroughly on-record as saying "We Don't Torture", it's not hard to see why he and his minions would want to keep catapulting the "harsh interrogation techniques" propaganda. But what I don't get is why the estupid news media feels it must go along and refuse to call things by their right names. I mean, sure, we can let the government get away with spending trillions of dollars fighting a war of aggression in our name, and torturing any random brown person who we might happen to grab up off the street, but must we, really, let them get away with torturing the English language?

I found one guy in this whole story who won't stand for this. His name is Christopher Edley, Jr., and he's written an opinion piece called "The Torture Memos and Academic Freedom" (emphasis mine). Mr. Edley certainly isn't going to let the BushAdmin get away with euphemizing torture, no sir!

Unfortunately, Mr. Edley happens to be the Dean of Boalt Hall, the University of California at Berkeley School of Law. And his opinion piece was written for the purpose of justifying his school's continued employment of Mr. John Yoo as a professor teaching Constitutional Law.

Monday, April 7, 2008

And so begins a rambling series of semi-coherent thoughts in which little of interest is discussed

As I note below, my paying gig is currently leaving me with little mental energy to devote to my normal reader-edification program of diatribing against state corruption, incompetence, and unchecked dominance of the citizenry. Does that sentence even make sense? I don't know, but I'm leaving it there.

So... my neighbors have seen fit to accuse me of flooding their yards. They suggest, through showing up unbidden to my door, that my swimming pool is leaking, or otherwise suffering from some large loss of water. At first, I did not dispute this as, not having paid much attention to the swimming pool or its mysterious equipment during the non-swimming months of the year, I had little idea whether it might be true.

During the superficially pleasant conversation, I maintained repeatedly -- repeatedly -- that if, indeed, something had gone awry with the pool, I would be foremost among residents of our little enclave in seeking to fix whatever problem had arisen. After all, what pool owner would stand idly by whilst his or her pool disgorged hundreds upon hundreds of gallons of water each day? But the thing is, I don't think they believed me. I came away from the conversation with the distinct impression that they believed that I was such a person; i.e., one who secretly delighted in profligately wasting tons of water, paying the resultant higher-than-normal water bills, and thereby gleefully inconveniencing all of my neighbors.

Of course, at some point in the conversation my lawyerly instincts kicked in, and I began to ask questions designed to elicit what, if any, evidence there might be which would lead anyone to believe that problem of the surplus water could be laid at my particular doorstep. No such evidence was forthcoming. My further questions reflected a somewhat more civilly expressed preoccupation with the issue of: "What? Your yard is muddy? Gee, didja notice how it's been raining, uh, like, a lot the past several days?"

Nevertheless, being a neighborly sort, I called up my pool guy. (A dude who, when he first arrived at my house last summer, on more than one occasion during his visit made a point of telling me that he "never set out to become a pool guy".) Rather than make an appointment to come out to my house and charge me money, he asked me a series of questions. First: is your pool obviously losing large amounts of water each day? No. Do you have an automatic pool filler? Yes. Is it on? Yes. How often and for how long does it fill the pool? Once every 4 days it fills the pool for 5 minutes. Ah, he says, there's your problem. You're overfilling the pool, and your overflow drain dumps right into the neighbors yard(s).

Which sounded about right to me. So I turned it off. Then I began checking each day to see if the water level went down. It didn't, but we had some heavy rain for a few days (as noted above, it's been wet around here).

But then: I checked the level every day since it last rained (Thursday night). The level of the water each time I checked was right up to the overflow drain. I checked again today at 10:30AM. Right up to the overflow drain. My pool had not lost any appreciable amount of water in at least 3 days.

I then went around to where all the mysterious pool equipment lurks. It is right on my neighbor's property line (not, in fact, one of the neighbors who had complained). And sure enough, there was pooling, standing water there. But my pool equipment wasn't running at the time, and there were no visible leaks, and then I notice that my next door neighbor has his irrigation system running, and his strip of sideyard is flooded.

This leads me to possibly conclude that my neighbor's irrigation system is causing all the extra water, not my pool and not, in fact, anything to do with me. Why, then, would my neighbors automatically assume this problem could be attributed to some malfeasance on my part? Perhaps it is my habit of not coming to the door when I don't know who the fuck is knocking at it.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Light posting

Probably all this week. Day job is interfering with my ranting hobby. (Though on the positive side, last month was the heaviest posting month ever here at Hip Hop Lawyer: average of 1+ post per day!)

If you're looking for something to read, I suggest this:

John Yoo's War Crimes. (brief ad click-through)