Friday, June 30, 2023

Oregon lawmakers look to avert constitutional crisis, increase funding for public defenders

Oregon lawmakers have assembled a $96 million plan to tackle the state’s shortage of public defenders as hundreds of Oregonians sit in jail facing criminal charges without attorneys to represent them, reported the Oregon Capital Chronicle.

A constitutional crisis lies at the heart of the problem: People facing criminal charges have the right to an attorney if they cannot afford one. They also have the right to a speedy trial. Yet 326 Oregonians lack representation while in jail awaiting trial on murder charges and other felonies because there aren’t enough public defenders to represent them, state data shows.

To address the crisis, lawmakers have a multi-pronged approach, which includes money to boost pay for public defenders, hire more attorneys and allow the state to dispatch attorneys to high-need regions. The Senate and House on Wednesday passed Senate Bill 337, which would put that plan into motion. The Senate passed the measure with a 17-8 vote, and the House passed with a 34-16 vote, both along party lines with Republicans opposed.

The proposal now goes to Gov. Tina Kotek.

The public defender crisis in Oregon is acute: The state has about 600 contracted full-time public defense attorneys, according to a 2022 report by the American Bar Association. That report found Oregon needs nearly 1,300 more. 

“Oregonians deserve justice, which isn’t possible if cases are thrown out due to lack of attorneys or defendants are forced to sit in jail for far too long without counsel,” said Sen. Floyd Prozanski, D-Eugene, and chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee.  Prozanski led a workgroup with input on the changes, which he called “meaningful reforms.”

But Michael Rees, a public defender for 22 years, said he is skeptical and disappointed with the results. Rees, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Public Defenders Local 3668, works alongside about 80 attorneys in the Metropolitan Public Defender law firm, which serves defendants in the Portland area.

Specifically, he notes the bill was changed and stripped out language for public defenders’ compensation to be comparable to what prosecutors receive.

“This tells us that the state of Oregon is not committed to indigent defense,” Rees told the Capital Chronicle. “They’re still trying to get indigent defense for the lowest dollar that they can, and the market has said that doesn’t work.”

The Oregon Public Defense Services Commission, a state agency, contracts with public defense providers throughout Oregon, including the Metropolitan Public Defender. Most attorneys who handle trial-level cases do so through state contracts, but state employees and attorneys do oversee appellate-level work. 

The state has a patchwork of public defender providers, including nonprofit organizations and private law firms. Public defender organizations face high caseloads and turnover, as attorneys often leave for more lucrative opportunities. 

Public defender changes

·         The plan approved by the Legislature would do the following: 
·         Require the presiding judge in each of Oregon’s 27 judicial districts to prepare a plan by Sept. 1 to address the crisis of unrepresented defendants. 
·         Create teams to strategically put public defenders into court systems with the most severe need.
·         Update the model for the employment of public defenders – including establishing a trial division within the commission that directly hires attorneys. The trial-level division would start initially with 17 attorneys and support staff but have a long-term mandate to expand.
·         Increase funding for training, compensation and contracting to help recruit and retain employees. 
·         Move oversight of the state commission from the judicial branch to the executive branch. This would make the agency accountable to the governor rather than the chief justice of the Oregon Supreme Court, which supporters say would increase transparency and oversight. 

To To read more CLICK HERE

Thursday, June 29, 2023

American Whitelash a book review by Bill Lueders

American Whitelash
A Changing Nation and the Cost of Progress

by Wesley Lowery
Mariner, 272 pp., $28 

A book review by Bill Lueders at Bulwark

IN THE ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS for his new book, American Whitelash, Wesley Lowery credits the author, historian, and activist Ibram X. Kendi for making “the crucial suggestion” that he expand his planned focus on white supremacist attacks to include those that were committed during the Obama administration as well as the Trump administration. And so the book begins on November 4, 2008, the day Barack Obama was elected president of the United States. 

Lowery, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who has worked for the Washington Post, CBS News, and 60 Minutes, recalls feeling, with some chagrin, that this was “a collective moment of true, unabashed hope.” Obama, in his new role as hopester-in-chief, told a throng of supporters in Chicago’s Grant Park that “America is a place where all things are possible.” Oprah Winfrey gushed, “It feels like there’s a shift in consciousness.” And the New York Times’s front-page story was headlined, “Obama: Racial Barrier Falls in Decisive Victory.”

And then Lowery lowers the boom:

So, what the hell happened? Because it’s clear, with the benefit of even a decade of historical hindsight, that the election of a black president did not usher us from the shadows of our racist past; rather it led us down a perilous path and into a decade and a half (and counting) of explicit racial thrashing. 

Just hours after Obama’s election night address, a church in Springfield, Massachusetts, was set ablaze by three white men who were angry, as one of them told police, that “blacks and Puerto Ricans would now have more rights than whites.” In Staten Island, New York, a group of white teenagers armed with a metal pipe and police baton, drove around beating up black strangers while chanting “Obama.” 

Within a week, Lowery notes, hundreds of racist incidents had been reported across the country, including cross burnings in yards. “It was as if my very presence in the White House had triggered a deep-seated panic, a sense that the natural order had been disrupted,” Obama wrote in his first presidential memoir.

There would be many more reminders during the Obama years of the staying power of racism: the police killings of unarmed black males including Oscar Grant, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, and Tamir Rice, among others; the water crisis in predominantly black Flint, Michigan; the murder of nine black worshipers by a young white supremacist in a South Carolina church; the career-destroying reaction to Colin Kaepernick’s bent knee in silent protest of police violence. 

Whatever transformative potential the election of the nation’s first black president may have held, it was not realized. And after eight years of bitterness and GOP obstruction of Obama’s agenda, the American public elected Donald Trump, who, in Lowery’s words, “explicitly played to racial discomfort of the Republican Party’s nearly all-white political base.” He quotes CNN commentator Van Jones on the night Trump was elected, using the term that made its way into the title of his book: “This was a whitelash. It was a whitelash against a changing country. It was a whitelash against a black president.”

Trump thrust open the door to fresh waves of bigotry: the ban on Muslims entering the country; the neo-Nazis marching in Charlottesville, Virginia; the pandemic that devastated many nonwhite communities with unmitigated force because of inequities in health care. And there were shocking new examples of hatred in its purest form, like the white supremacist on a light rail train in Portland who stabbed three men, two fatally, for intervening to stop his harassment of two black women. The perpetrator later told police, “I hope they all die.”

And Trump left office with an ugly reminder of how manufactured grievance could lead to violence. The events of January 6, 2021, which Lowery notes happened the day after Georgia elected its first black and first Jewish U.S. senators, have morphed into ongoing voter suppression efforts and punishment of elected officials who refused to let Trump steal an election. “To date,” he writes, “this conspiratorial movement remains among the most powerful and mobilized forces within American politics.”

The one constant during these two presidencies, as wildly divergent as they otherwise were, is that racism in America was alive and thriving.

LOWERY SAYS THE GOAL of his book is “to put human faces on the relentless cycle of violence that has defined American history—to put flesh and bone on our discussion of white supremacist terror.” He does so by taking a deep dive into six episodes of racial violence from the Obama and Trump years—four during the former and two during the latter—including the 2012 mass shooting at a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, and the 2017 white supremacist marches that turned violent in Charlottesville. All involve pulling at threads of racism that can be found woven throughout the nation’s history.

For instance, in telling the story of Marcelo Lucero, an immigrant from Ecuador who was stabbed to death on the night of November 8, 2008—just four days after Obama’s election—by a gang of teenagers on the prowl for Latinos in Patchogue, New York, Lowery looks at the long history of anti-immigrant sentiment in this nation of immigrants. He goes back to March 1891, when a vigilante mob stormed a jailhouse in New Orleans and lynched eleven Italians accused of being involved in a murder, after some of them were acquitted and before others had even been tried.

The New York Times, in an editorial, derided the victims as “sneaking and cowardly Sicilians, the descendants of bandits and assassins, who have transported to this country the lawless passions, the cut-throat practices, and the oath-bound societies of their native country.” An article in the Washington Post declared: “Last night a body of cool-headed men, lawyers, doctors, merchants, and political leaders, all persons of influence and social standing, quietly met and decided that some action must be taken, and the people’s justice, swift and sure, visited upon those who the jury had neglected to punish.” The president at the time, Teddy Roosevelt, had to say about the bloodshed, in a letter to his sister: “Personally I think it rather a good thing.”

Lowery also explores the 2017 fatal stabbing of Richard Collins III, a black ROTC graduate on the University of Maryland College Park campus, by a white supremacist. He talks to Collins’s father, Rick, who reveals that his own father was shot to death in North Carolina in 1954 after allegedly looking into a neighbor’s window. His killer was set free. The same man lost both a father and a son to racist violence.

It raises the depressing question of whether the two presidencies that Lowery focuses on are really all that exceptional. 

Consider Frazier Glenn Miller Jr.’s methodically planned 2014 shooting spree outside the Jewish Community Center in Overland Park, Kansas, in which three people were murdered. “I’m an antisemite. I hate goddamn Jews,” he told police afterward. “How many’d I get?” (All three of his victims, it turns out, were Christians, but Miller was still took proud ownership of his crime, given that he also hated “accomplices of the Jews.”) 

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Miller was raised to be a racist and an antisemite. He had been a member of the National Socialist Party of America, a Nazi group based in Raleigh, North Carolina, for several years before launching his own group, the Carolina Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, in 1980. His biases were not shaped by who was president. His whole life was full of hate. He died in prison in 2021.

IBRAM X. KENDI, IN HIS 2016 BOOK Stamped from the Beginning, makes the audacious but compelling argument that racist beliefs do not lead to but result from the ill treatment of black people. He writes: “Time and again, powerful and brilliant men and women have produced racist ideas in order to justify the racist policies of their era, in order to redirect the blame for their era’s racial disparities away from those policies and onto black people.”

Lowery picks up on this thread. 

In other words, faced with the reality that black people are mistreated and that those in power benefit from that ongoing mistreatment, it is not only easier but advantageous to blame the black people—to invent an ideological pseudoscience suggesting that black people must be inherently inferior—than it is to take the public policy steps required to correct the inequality.

The logical corollary is that bigotry can be sapped by going after its motive source: mistreatment, including racist violence. And throughout Lowery’s account are scattered signs of progress being made in that area. Killers are tried and convicted, as justice requires. Legislation to require better reporting of hate crimes stalled under Trump but was signed into law in May 2021 by President Joe Biden. Maryland’s hate crime law was expanded in 2020 after it was deemed not applicable to Collins’s killing. 

Lowery writes about the Black Lives Matter protests in Missouri after the 2014 police killing of Michael Brown, and of the “wave of change brought about by sustained activism” that followed. “Thousands of police departments reviewed their use-of-force policies and implemented body camera programs. A series of states, and some departments themselves, began publishing crucial law enforcement data that shed new light on killings by the police and incidents of alleged brutality.” 

In 2020, he recounts, Ferguson, Missouri elected its first black mayor and installed its first black chief of police; a protester named Cori Bush defeated a longtime Democratic incumbent for the right to represent Ferguson in Congress. Even with Trump in the White House, change was possible, and in some places, it appeared to be gathering momentum.

But for every gain there is a reminder of how far the nation has still to go before racial equality can be achieved. Lowery talks to Zy Bryant, who, as a 15-year-old black ninth-grader in Charlottesville, pushed for the removal of a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee from a local public park. “Let’s not forget that Robert E. Lee fought for perpetual bondage of slaves and the bigotry of the South that kept most black citizens as slaves and servants for the entirety of their lives,” she wrote in a 2016 petition that also ran as a letter to the editor. In February the following year, the city council voted 3-2 to remove the statue, prompting the epic wave of whitelash that gripped the city in August 2017, when scores of tiki-torch-carrying neo-Nazis took to the streets chanting “Jews will not replace us!”

This event, and Trump’s jaw-dropping response, has often been cited by Joe Biden as the reason he decided to run for president. The question must be asked: Have Biden’s two-and-a-half years in the White House made racism any less pervasive or corrosive? Are we better people now than we were four years ago?

Lowery is not hugely optimistic. “With the 2024 presidential election fast approaching,” he writes, “it seems almost unquestionable that the race will come accompanied by the course, thoughtless rhetoric that plays into the ongoing American Whitelash and ultimately sets off more acts of white racial terror.” He adds: “It would be nice to be able to conclude that we’ve learned a lesson from this era of American Whitelash, but it’s hard to look at the horizon and not see more horrors to come.”

One reason for this is that Americans have done such a poor job of seeing horrors in the rearview mirror.

To read more CLICK HERE

Wednesday, June 28, 2023

Maine decriminalizes prostitution--new law goes after buyers of sex not purveyors

 Maine Governor Janet Mills signed a bill into law  that partially decriminalizes prostitution in the state, reported Jurist.

Legislative Document (LD) 1435, called An Act to Reduce Commercial Sexual Exploitation, amends existing law to remove all references to prostitution. Instead, the new law criminalizes commercial sexual exploitation, which is a Class E crime carrying a maximum penalty of $1,000 and/or 180 days in jail. The new law goes on to define commercial sexual exploitation as “providing, agreeing to provide or offering to provide a pecuniary (monetary) benefit to another person to engage in a sexual act or sexual contact.” This language limits the criminalization to those who are buying the services—not those selling.

Further criminalized in the new law is commercial sexual exploitation of a minor and a person with a mental disability, which classifies these as Class C crimes carrying penalties of a fine of $5,000 and/or five years in prison.

The new law also mandates the Department of Public Safety consult with anti-trafficking and domestic violence organizations to develop an anti-sex-trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation protocol by March 1, 2024.

In 2021, Mills vetoed a similar bill that aimed to address Maine’s human trafficking problem over fears that the earlier version of the bill (LD 1592) would decriminalize prostitution wholly and “encourage the exploitation of young people.”

Currently, Nevada is the only state that allows limited legal prostitution in the US.

To read more CLICK HERE

Tuesday, June 27, 2023

Jury to decide life or death for Tree of Life mass murderer

Cecil and David Rosenthal took solace in routine — particularly their attendance at Tree of Life worship services each Saturday morning.

Though both men were in their 50s, they functioned at around a preschool level, said their sister, Diane Rosenthal. Cecil, 59 when he died, was her older brother. David, 54, was younger than her.

She was the first to testify on behalf of prosecutors in the trial against convicted synagogue shooter Robert Bowers. A jury on June 16 convicted Bowers of all 63 federal charges against him, including killing 11 worshippers in an attack on a Squirrel Hill synagogue Oct. 27, 2018. This phase of the trial is a two-part process called the penalty phase, reported the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. 

First they will determine if Bowers, 50, is eligible for the death penalty. If he is, they will decide if he should get it.

Ms. Rosenthal said neither of her brothers could read or write or tell time, but David liked wearing a watch anyway. They couldn’t process complicated situations. They could tie their shoes, she said, but not tight enough for them to stay tied.

“Whenever you saw them, you were constantly bending down to tie their shoes,” Ms. Rosenthal said.

Much of the first day of testimony focused on certain victims killed in the attack. Some were left particularly vulnerable due to their age or other conditions, prosecutors said — something Assistant U.S. Attorney Troy Rivetti said is an aggravating factor that lends itself to Bowers’ eligibility for the death penalty.

“The sheer magnitude of the crimes committed by the defendant on Oct. 27, 2018, is staggering,” Mr. Rivetti said in his opening statements.

He pointed to lead defense attorney Judy Clarke’s own admission in the opening statements in the guilty phase, in which she called the shooting “inexcusable” and “incomprehensible.”

“He murdered 11 innocent worshippers,” Mr. Rivetti said. “He killed victim after victim with his AR-15.”

In its eligibility phase opening statements, the defense offered its first glimpse of the argument they intend to make in their pitch to the jury to spare their client’s life.

Experts trained in mental health and brain imaging brought forth by the defense will show jurors evidence that the “structure and function” of their client’s brain is impaired. That impairment — its causes and effects — will help jurors understand where Bowers got his “delusional beliefs that led directly to the terrible events of Oct. 27, 2018,” said defense attorney Michael Burt.

“Hopefully what we’re going to present at this phase in the case is going to shine a greater light on how his distorted thinking came about,” he said.

To understand the impairment and all it allegedly wrought, he said, they will present the results of an electroencephalogram, or EEG, that experts say show a “strong indicator” that Bowers has epilepsy. That kind of diagnosis, Mr. Burt said, “can lead to and did lead to psychotic delusions.”

Other brain scans will show activity “consistent with someone who is schizophrenic,” he said, noting that those psychotic conditions might have persisted since childhood.

The defense team will begin calling witnesses Tuesday morning.

The government called eight witnesses, six of whom were family members of those the prosecutors called the most vulnerable of the 11 victims.

Joyce Fienberg, Rose Mallinger, Bernice and Sylvan Simon, Daniel Stein and Melvin Wax were all over the age of 70. Cecil and David Rosenthal,both had fragile X syndrome, a genetic disorder that causes intellectual and some physical disabilities.

There are three pieces to determining whether Bowers is eligible for the death penalty. One is that he was an adult at the time. The second is that he acted with a sufficient level of intent.

As to his level of intent, there are four types: he intentionally killed the victim; he intentionally inflicted serious bodily injury; he intentionally participated in an act that resulted in death; he participated in an act of violence knowing that act created a grave risk of death.

“We only have to prove one,” Mr. Rivetti said. “We will prove four.”

For the third piece in determining eligibility, jurors must agree that prosecutors proved at least one aggravating factor — for example, that Bowers targeted vulnerable victims.

Bernice Simon had undergone two knee-replacement surgeries and one hip replacement in the years before she was killed, leaving her in pain and with trouble moving around, testified her daughter, Michelle Weis. She used a cane and wore glasses.

“She couldn’t hurry,” she said.

Sylvan Simon, Ms. Weis’ father, had one hip replaced, suffered a knee injury and got shots in his eyes to treat macular degeneration. He had neck and back problems that left him unsteady and with difficulty walking.

Did he complain about the pain? Mr. Rivetti asked.

“Constantly,” Ms. Weis said with a smile.

Both were shot and killed in their usual pew. Bernice Simon was 84. Her husband was 86.

Joyce Fienberg had neuropathy in her legs and feet and couldn’t sit for long periods of time, said her son, Howard Fienberg. Her reaction time had slowed down, and it could sometimes be hard to get her attention if she was very focused on something else.

She was shot four times and found dead at the bottom of a stairwell below the Pervin Chapel where the Tree of Life worshipped. She was 75.

Despite his hearing aids, Jodi Kart said she still had to speak loudly for her father, Melvin Wax, to hear her. He was deaf in one ear and had only 50% hearing in the other, but they still spoke daily, and she visited him at his Squirrel Hill home at least once a week

He was sharp — sharp as a tack, Ms. Kart said, but he was becoming a bit forgetful and was “reaching that age where he should not have been driving. He couldn’t hear loud sounds well, and he certainly could not hear low, quiet whispers.

He was shot and killed as he peeked through two double doors in a storage hallway, unable to tell if the shooting was over and unable to hear the urgent whispers of those he was hiding with. He was 87.

Joseph Stein said his father, Dan Stein, was also losing his hearing. He had some trouble focusing, he said, and his concentration “just wasn’t as sharp” and “everything about him had slowed down.” He was found shot to death in the kitchen area off the New Light sanctuary. He was 71.

Rose Mallinger, in her 90s, was spry but slowing down, said her son, Stanley Mallinger. She’d fallen a few times, including one that led to hospitalization and a stint in rehabilitation, and so Mr. Mallinger had moved in to help care for her. He said she used a walker around the house. Outside of the house, she used a cane with one hand and held onto someone with the other.

She couldn’t hurry? Mr. Rivetti asked?

No, Mr. Mallinger said.

She was shot to death under a pew in the Pervin Chapel as she lay next to her daughter, Andrea Wedner, who survived the attack. She was 97.

Prosecutors rested for this phase of the trial around 2:45 p.m. on Monday.

To read more CLICK HERE

Monday, June 26, 2023

Mangino discusses the death penalty on Law and Crime Network

Watch my interview with Linda Kenney Baden on the Law and Crime Network discussing Florida's death penalty statute.

To watch the interview CLICK HERE

Mangino discusses the "Family Feud" murder on Court TV

 Watch my interview on Court TV discussing the Illinois trial of Timothy Bliefnick.

To watch the interview CLICK HERE

San Antonio police officers arrested for killing woman having mental health crisis

Three San Antonio police officers have been charged with murder in the fatal shooting of a woman who was experiencing what the city’s police chief said was a “mental health crisis,” reported The Associated Press.

Sgt. Alfred Flores and Officers Eleazar Alejandro and Nathaniel Villalobos were suspended without pay and later arrested on murder warrants in the shooting death of Melissa Perez, 46, when she refused police orders to come out of her apartment, Police Chief William McManus said Friday.

“The officers’ actions were not consistent with SAPD’s policy and training,” McManus said during a Friday night news conference.

“They placed themselves in a situation where they used deadly force which was not reasonable given all the circumstances as we now understand them,” McManus said.

One of the three charged officers opened fire, McManus said, after Perez first threw a glass candlestick at the officers then swung a hammer at them. All three officers then fired when Perez approached them again with the hammer, hitting her at least twice, according to McManus.

Court records do not list attorneys who could speak on behalf of the three officers.

Perez was suspected of cutting the wires to a fire alarm, a felony, at the apartment complex and was talking to fire officials about 12:30 a.m. Friday when an officer approached and tried to get her to walk toward a patrol car, McManus said.

Perez was speaking to a fire department official outside the complex when an unidentified officer arrived and is heard on body camera video calling “hey lady, get over here,” with Perez refusing and walking away.

“It appeared that Miss Perez was having a mental health crisis,” McManus said without offering further explanation, and she then ran into her apartment.

The video then shows an officer on the patio of Perez’s apartment removing a window screen as Perez shouts “stop it” and “you ain’t got no warrant.”

An unidentified officer shouts “you’re going to get shot,” to which Perez replies “shoot me - you ain’t got no warrant.”

The sound of glass breaking is later heard followed by two volleys of gunshots.

McManus took no questions, citing ongoing investigations into the shooting by the police department’s Internal Affairs and Civil Rights divisions and the Bexar County district attorney’s Civil Rights Division.

Other officers were also at the scene, but none are expected to be charged although all will be investigated for their actions, McManus said.

“This incident will continue to be thoroughly investigated, as are all officer involved shootings,” McManus said while expressing condolences to Perez’s family.

To read more CLICK HERE

Sunday, June 25, 2023

SCOTUS continues to spiral into ethical ignominy

In early July 2008, Samuel Alito stood on a riverbank in a remote corner of Alaska. The Supreme Court justice was on vacation at a luxury fishing lodge that charged more than $1,000 a day, and after catching a king salmon nearly the size of his leg, reported ProPublica. Alito posed for a picture. To his left, a man stood beaming: Paul Singer, a hedge fund billionaire who has repeatedly asked the Supreme Court to rule in his favor in high-stakes business disputes.

Paul Singer, a hedge fund billionaire who has repeatedly asked the Supreme Court to rule in his favor in high-stakes business disputes flew Alito to Alaska on a private jet. If the justice chartered the plane himself, the cost could have exceeded $100,000 one way.

In the years that followed, Singer’s hedge fund came before the court at least 10 times in cases where his role was often covered by the legal press and mainstream media. In 2014, the court agreed to resolve a key issue in a decade-long battle between Singer’s hedge fund and the nation of Argentina. Alito did not recuse himself from the case and voted with the 7-1 majority in Singer’s favor. The hedge fund was ultimately paid $2.4 billion.

Alito did not report the 2008 fishing trip on his annual financial disclosures. By failing to disclose the private jet flight Singer provided, Alito appears to have violated a federal law that requires justices to disclose most gifts, according to ethics law experts.

Experts said they could not identify an instance of a justice ruling on a case after receiving an expensive gift paid for by one of the parties.

“If you were good friends, what were you doing ruling on his case?” said Charles Geyh, an Indiana University law professor and leading expert on recusals. “And if you weren’t good friends, what were you doing accepting this?” referring to the flight on the private jet.

Justices are almost entirely left to police themselves on ethical issues, with few restrictions on what gifts they can accept. When a potential conflict arises, the sole arbiter of whether a justice should step away from a case is the justice him or herself.

ProPublica’s investigation sheds new light on how luxury travel has given prominent political donors — including one who has had cases before the Supreme Court — intimate access to the most powerful judges in the country. Another wealthy businessman provided expensive vacations to two members of the high court, ProPublica found. On his Alaska trip, Alito stayed at a commercial fishing lodge owned by this businessman, who was also a major conservative donor. Three years before, that same businessman flew Justice Antonin Scalia, who died in 2016, on a private jet to Alaska and paid the bill for his stay.

Such trips would be unheard of for the vast majority of federal workers, who are generally barred from taking even modest gifts.

Leonard Leo, the longtime leader of the conservative Federalist Society, attended and helped organize the Alaska fishing vacation. Leo invited Singer to join, according to a person familiar with the trip, and asked Singer if he and Alito could fly on the billionaire’s jet. Leo had recently played an important role in the justice’s confirmation to the court. Singer and the lodge owner were both major donors to Leo’s political groups.

ProPublica’s examination of Alito’s and Scalia’s travel drew on trip planning emails, Alaska fishing licenses, and interviews with dozens of people including private jet pilots, fishing guides, former high-level employees of both Singer and the lodge owner, and other guests on the trips.

ProPublica sent Alito a list of detailed questions last week, and on Tuesday, the Supreme Court’s head spokeswoman told ProPublica that Alito would not be commenting. Several hours later, The Wall Street Journal published an op-ed by Alito responding to ProPublica’s questions about the trip.

Alito said that when Singer’s companies came before the court, the justice was unaware of the billionaire’s connection to the cases. He said he recalled speaking to Singer on “no more than a handful of occasions,” and they never discussed Singer’s business or issues before the court.

Alito said that he was invited to fly on Singer’s plane shortly before the trip and that the seat “​​would have otherwise been vacant.” He defended his failure to report the trip to the public, writing that justices “commonly interpreted” the disclosure requirements to not include “accommodations and transportation for social events.”

In a statement, a spokesperson for Singer told ProPublica that Singer didn’t organize the trip and that he wasn’t aware Alito would be attending when he accepted the invitation. Singer “never discussed his business interests” with the justice, the spokesperson said, adding that at the time of trip, neither Singer nor his companies had “any pending matters before the Supreme Court, nor could Mr. Singer have anticipated in 2008 that a subsequent matter would arise that would merit Supreme Court review.”

Leo did not respond to questions about his organizing the trip but said in a statement that he “would never presume to tell” Alito and Scalia “what to do.”

To read more CLICK HERE


Saturday, June 24, 2023

Idaho judge allows cameras in the courtroom for Kohberger proceedings

Idaho murder suspect Bryan Kohbeger’s motion to exclude cameras from the courtroom has been denied by an Idaho Court. Kohberger's attorney argued that "audio/visual coverage has become material for news outlets and social media accounts to espouse their unfounded opinions."

Kohberger, a Washington State University graduate student, is accused of murdering four University of Idaho students in their campus apartment. The case has garnered national attention.

Latah County Judge John C. Judge (that’s right his name is Judge) ruled that the “Court is faced with a difficult task of ensuring the proceeding are open to the public while safeguarding Kohberger’s right to a fair trial.”

Judge Judge said he may revisit the issue as the case proceeds. The order is below:

Friday, June 23, 2023

In Tennessee significant relationship between lynchings and death sentences for blacks

 As the Tennessee Department of Correction develops new lethal injection protocols and prepares to resume executions, the Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC) released a deeply researched report that documents the historical role of racial discrimination and racial terror in Tennessee’s death penalty and details how that history continues to influence the administration of capital punishment.

“The government has a responsibility to treat people of all races equally. As Tennessee considers resuming executions, now is a good time to examine whether the state is meeting that responsibility when it imposes the most severe criminal punishment,” said Tiana Herring, DPIC’s Data Storyteller and the lead author of the report. Tennessee’s history informs today’s practices.

Tennessee was the site of more than 500 lynchings, according to Tennesseans for Historical Justice, and a nationwide study of death sentences between 1989 and 2017 found a significant statistical relationship between a state’s history of lynching and the number of death sentences given to Black defendants. As the report states, “State House Representative Paul Sherrell’s suggestion to allow executions by hanging people on trees earlier this year shows the continued relevance of history.”

The report documents that Tennessee prosecutors are more likely to seek the death penalty, and juries are more likely to impose it, when the victim is white. Of all death sentences imposed in the state since 1972, 74% have involved white victims. The race-ofvictim effect can also be seen in other aspects of the criminal legal system; for example, between 2013 and 2021, 29% of homicides of Black victims in the state went unsolved, compared to 11% of homicides of white victims.

The report highlights how white officials were often complicit when lynchings and other forms of white mob violence occurred. In a not uncommon example: in 1893, a 19-year-old Black man named Lee Walker who was accused of attempting to rape a white woman was lynched after the sheriff ordered his deputies to stand aside when the mob entered the jail. The jailer then gave the mob the key to his cell. As the report states, “Lynchers operated without fear in Tennessee as local authorities regularly refused to investigate lynchings. Law enforcement often concluded that deceased lynching victims had been killed by unknown parties, despite photographic and other evidence proving otherwise.” “Nothing can change the fact that racial violence and discrimination are part of Tennessee’s history. But studying the past can help us understand why racial disparities continue today, especially in our death penalty system, and inform future decisions,” said Robin Maher, DPIC’s Executive Director.

To read more CLICK HERE

Tuesday, June 20, 2023

One Minneapolis police sergeant made $390,000 last year

Of the roughly 780 total employees of the Minneapolis Police Department, 70% made six figures in 2022— surpassing the year before, when 466 employees made at least $100,000. The DOJ just recently cited the department's history of racism and brutality, reported the Minnesota Reformer. 

Thirty-nine MPD employees — mostly cops and a few forensic scientists — made more than $200,000, with one sergeant making nearly $400,000. Nearly 500 made between $100,000 and $200,000 last year, according to an analysis of salary data from a public records request. 

Minneapolis Police Sgt. Stephen McBride was the department’s top earner in 2022, earning over $390,000 — more than three times his base salary. He and two other sergeants and an officer logged so much overtime that they surpassed MPD Chief Brian O’Hara’s annual salary of $271,721. 

Minneapolis teachers, by comparison, make about $78,000 annually.

The eye-popping police salaries are mostly due to spiking overtime. After overtime costs hit $12.9 million in 2022, the department has already racked up $9.1 million in overtime costs as of June 3 — not even halfway through this year. 

Last fall, the department began paying double time — rather than the traditional time-and-a-half — for “critical staffing overtime.” An MPD spokesman said that has been a factor in increasing overtime since it’s often used to cover gaps in staffing. 

To read more CLICK HERE

Monday, June 19, 2023

SCOTUS: Federal judges have discretion to impose concurrent or consecutive sentences

In a recent slip opinion, the US Supreme Court declared that a federal sentencing law gives district courts discretion to impose either concurrent or consecutive sentences for certain drug-related crimes. The case is an appeal from the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, reported Jurist.

Justice Ketanji Brown authored the unanimous opinion. The Court ruled that 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(1)(D)(ii)‘s ban on concurrent sentences does not apply to offenses under 18 U.S.C. § 924(j) and that district courts have discretion to run sentences under them consecutively or concurrently. The Court noted that (j) does not mention or incorporate the penalties in (c). Additionally, the Court noted that combining the subsections would set them on a “collision course.” The Court vacated the judgment of the appeals court and remanded the case for further proceedings.

The petitioner was convicted in district court for his role in a drug-related murder and conspiring to distribute drugs. The district court held that it did not have discretion to make his sentences consecutive or concurrent because of § 924(c)(1)(D)(ii)’s bar. The appeals court affirmed this decision.

To read more CLICK HERE

Saturday, June 17, 2023

DOJ: Racism, excessive force and unconstitutional practices by Minneapolis police

The Justice Department said on that the Minneapolis police routinely discriminated against Black and Native American people, used deadly force without justification and trampled the First Amendment rights of protesters and journalists — damning findings that grew out of a multiyear investigation and may lead to a court-enforced overhaul, reported The New York Times.

The federal review was touched off by the murder of George Floyd, a Black man, by a Minneapolis officer in 2020, a crime that led to protests and unrest across the country. But the Justice Department’s scathing 89-page report looked well beyond that killing, describing a police force impervious to accountability whose officers beat, shot and detained people unjustly and patrolled without the trust of residents.

Attorney General Merrick B. Garland, speaking at a news conference in Minneapolis, said Mr. Floyd’s “death has had an irrevocable impact on the Minneapolis community, on our country and around the world,” and that “the patterns and practices we observed made what happened to George Floyd possible.”

The murder of Mr. Floyd, who was captured on video saying “I can’t breathe” while he was pinned to the ground by Officer Derek Chauvin, focused international attention on the Minneapolis Police Department. But to many people in the city, where protesters had complained for years about police excesses, Mr. Floyd’s death, as horrifying as it was, was not entirely surprising. The Justice Department investigators described “numerous incidents in which officers responded to a person’s statement that they could not breathe with a version of, ‘You can breathe; you’re talking right now.’”

The Justice Department’s report was almost uniformly critical, painting a disturbing portrait of a dysfunctional law enforcement agency where illegal conduct was common, racism was pervasive and misconduct was tolerated.

In many cases, investigators found, officers fired weapons without assessing the threat they faced; used neck restraints even in interactions that did not lead to an arrest; and used their Tasers, sometimes without warning, on pedestrians and drivers who had committed minor offenses or no offense at all.

The patterns and practices we observed made what happened to George Floyd possible. We found that M.P.D. and the City of Minneapolis engages in a pattern or practice of using excessive force, unlawfully discriminating against Black and Native American people in enforcement activities, violating the rights of people engaged in protected speech and discriminating against people with behavioral disabilities and responding to them — when responding to them in crisis. We found that the Minneapolis Police Department routinely uses excessive force, often when no force is necessary, including unjust, deadly force and unreasonable use of Tasers. M.P.D. officers discharged firearms at people without assessing whether the person presents any threat, let alone a threat that would justify deadly force. We also found that M.P.D. officers routinely disregard the safety of people in their custody. Our review found numerous incidents in which M.P.D. officers responded to a person’s statement that they could not breathe with a version of “You can breathe. You’re talking right now.” Based on our review of the data, M.P.D. officers stop, search and then use force against people who are Black and Native American at disproportionate rates. We found several incidents in which M.P.D. officers were not held accountable for racist conduct until there was a public outcry.

 “This is not a secret,” said Bridgette Stewart, a lifelong Minnesotan who is Black and who has regularly spent time at the site of Mr. Floyd’s murder. “This is something that’s been going on in Minnesota for many, many, many, many years — longer than I’ve been alive.”

Minneapolis officials appeared at the news conference alongside the attorney general on Friday, and promised to negotiate with the Justice Department to reach an overhaul agreement, known as a consent decree, that would be monitored in federal court and would force specific changes to the Police Department. Similar consent decrees have followed federal investigations of police misconduct in other American cities, including BaltimoreCleveland and New Orleans.

To read more CLICK HERE

Friday, June 16, 2023

After 39 years one of Florida's longest serving death row inmates is executed

The 13th Execution of 2023

A Florida man, Duane Owen, was executed on June 15, 2023 for killing a 14-year-old babysitter and a 38-year-old mother of two in separate attacks months apart in 1984 while children were sleeping in the homes he targeted, reported The Associated Press.

Duane Owen was pronounced dead at 6:14 p.m. after a lethal injection at Florida State Prison, according to Gov. Ron DeSantis’ office. One of Florida’s longest-held death row inmates, Owen was 23 at the time of the attacks and 62 when he was executed.

Owen declined to make a final statement. The procedure began at 6:01 p.m., with Owen’s arms twitching and his breathing becoming heavier as the sedative took effect. The warden made sure Owen was unconscious before before lethal drugs were administered.

Owen was sentenced to death for the March 24, 1984, rape and fatal stabbing of Karen Slattery, 14, and for the rape and deadly hammer attack two months later on Georgianna Worden, 38. Both killings occurred in Palm Beach County.

Authorities said Owen attacked two other women in Palm Beach County who survived. All four attacks occurred just before and after Owen’s 23rd birthday. Of the more than 290 people on Florida’s death row, Owen was one of the longest held there.

Besides his death sentences, he also had received six life sentences.

Several family members of the victims witnessed the execution. No one in the witness room spoke, but after the execution, Slattery’s younger sister, Debbi Johnson, who sat in the front row, called Owen a coward.

“He didn’t open his eyes,” Johnson said. “I know because I looked at them.”

Johnson, who works as a deputy in the Florida Keys, was 10 years old when her sister died.

“With this rain today, I was really hoping I was going to see a rainbow,” Johnson said. “Because that’s what my mom always said, ‘Whenever you see a rainbow, that’s Karen smiling down on us.’ There’s no rainbow, but the rain will stop, and she’ll come through in her own way.”

Johnson said closure is a myth, but justice is real.

“The state of Florida said he was supposed to die by lethal injection, and that is exactly what happened today,” Johnson said. “He served his sentence. The end.”

It was Florida’s fourth execution this year after a hiatus in which there were none since 2019. Gov. DeSantis, a Republican, signed each of the death warrants in the months before announcing he was running for president.

Slattery was repeatedly stabbed and raped in a home in Delray Beach while two children in her care were sleeping. The children weren’t harmed during the attack.

Two months later, in May 1984, Worden was sleeping in her Boca Raton home when Owen struck her several times with a hammer and raped her, according to court records. One of Worden’s children found her body the next morning while getting ready for school, according to the record.

Delray Beach and Boca Raton are both about 50 miles (80 kilometers) north of Miami, in Palm Beach County.

Owen’s lawyers had argued that he shouldn’t be executed on grounds of insanity. The state Supreme Court rejected his latest appeal last week and the U.S. Supreme Court rejected it Wednesday.

Owen’s lawyers had also argued that he was schizophrenic and suffered from delusions.

Prosecutors had argued that while Owen had mental health issues, nothing would preclude his being executed because he was aware it was punishment for his crimes. Psychiatrists for the state testified that Owen’s schizophrenia was an act that he discussed when being evaluated, but he otherwise showed no signs of the illness.

And while the defense had argued Owen had dementia and gender dysphoria, psychiatrists for the state said Owen had a good memory, didn’t appear to present himself as female and that gender dysphoria doesn’t make people more aggressive or cause delusional thinking. They said instead that Owen was sexually sadistic, according to court records.

To read more CLICK HERE

Thursday, June 15, 2023

Mangino joins Nancy Grace to discuss brutal murder of second grade teacher

Join me and Nancy Grace on Crime Stories with Nancy Grace as we discuss 24-year-old Rita Curran who was found violently murdered in her apartment. The second grade teacher had recently moved out of her parents' home to share an apartment with  three other roommates. Curran was working over the summer break as a maid while taking graduate courses.

To listen to the interview CLICK HERE

During pandemic guns and ammo flew off shelves 'as much a run on guns as on toilet paper'

In November 2019, just as a novel virus began circulating in Wuhan, China, the United States entered year four of the so-called “Trump Slump,” a sustained decline in domestic firearm sales that began after the 2016 election, precipitating several bankruptcies and much hand-wringing among industry executives, according to The New Republic. The slump wouldn’t last much longer. Amid Covid lockdowns, a looming recession, and an ambient feeling of social collapse, demand for guns skyrocketed. In late March, when the Trump administration announced that it would allow gun stores to remain open as “essential” businesses, guns and ammo flew off shelves, resulting in, as one Los Angeles legislator told The New York Times, “as much a run on guns as on toilet paper.”

Over the course of 2020, more firearms were sold than during any year on record, and the surge continued well into 2022, bucking the usual boom-and-bust cycle that the industry has seen for decades. By year three of the pandemic, nearly one in five U.S. households had purchased a firearm, according to one measure. Many did so for the first time. Gun lovers, ran a Vice headline, were claiming “a huge ‘I told you so’ moment.” 

The Covid buying spree arrived at the tail end of a half-century development in American politics: the steady movement of guns to the red-hot core of the political right. By the end of Obama’s second presidential term, gun possession was a more reliable voting indicator than race, class, gender, and age, and support for gun rights better predicted party affiliation than views on any other single issue. Gun advertisers, stoking the political fires, found themselves “addicted to conspiracy-theory-fueled political partisanship,” as one former gun exec put it in a 2022 Atlantic essay. Over the past decade, and with predictably deadly results, lethal weapons became an unnerving and ubiquitous sight at political protests around the country, as right-wing fantasies of political violence and celebrations of armed vigilantism reached new heights.

Studies of American gun culture have often focused on the top-down influence of large organizations, such as gun manufacturers or the National Rifle Association. But these accounts only tell one part of the story. Sociologist Jennifer Carlson argues that we would learn just as much by examining how gun enthusiasts have constructed a political style from the ground up. During the febrile spring and summer of 2020, Carlson conducted remote interviews with 50 gun sellers in two red states (Arizona and Florida) and two blue ones (California and Michigan). She wanted to know how these dealers experienced the dramatic uptick in firearm sales and consequent expansion of their normal clientele against the backdrop of the pandemic, the summer’s racial justice uprisings, and the presidential election.

The book-length product of these interviews, Merchants of the Right, treats gun sellers as “merchants not just of guns but also of gun culture.” The stores they preside over serve as spaces like “nineteenth-century coffeehouses and salons,” where political conversation and conversion abound (perhaps over a cup of Black Rifle joe). In a year of Black Lives Matter, Covid, and the 2020 election, gun sellers furthered a culture of armored individualism, unhinged conspiracism, and extreme partisanship. The gun-buying surge of 2020, in Carlson’s sobering portrait, is both a culmination of these tendencies and harbinger of a perilous, illiberal future. 

To read more CLICK HERE


Wednesday, June 14, 2023

SCOTUS may agree to decide protection from an abuser v. the right to a gun

A federal court ruled that a federal law that makes it a crime for people subject to domestic-violence orders to possess guns violated the Second Amendment, reported The New York Times.

Next week, the U.S. Supreme Court is set to consider whether to hear an appeal of that decision, which applied a history-based test to rule that the government was powerless to disarm an abuser under the domestic-violence law. The chances that the justices will agree to hear the case are good.

The case started in 2019, when Zackey Rahimi assaulted his girlfriend and threatened to shoot her if she told anyone, leading her to obtain a restraining order. The order suspended Mr. Rahimi’s handgun license and prohibited him from possessing firearms.

Mr. Rahimi defied the order in flagrant fashion, according to court records.

He threatened a different woman with a gun, leading to charges of assault with a deadly weapon. Then, in the space of two months, he opened fire in public five times.

Upset about a social media post from someone to whom he had sold drugs, for instance, he shot an AR-15 rifle into his former client’s home. When a fast-food restaurant declined a friend’s credit card, he fired several bullets into the air.

The shootings led to a search warrant of Mr. Rahimi’s home, which uncovered weapons, and he was charged with violating the federal law.

After a judge rejected his Second Amendment challenge to the law, he pleaded guilty and was sentenced to more than six years in prison. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit at first affirmed his conviction in a short decision, rejecting the argument that the law violated the Second Amendment in a footnote.

But the appeals reversed course after the Supreme Court issued a decision last June establishing a new test to decide whether gun control laws are constitutional, one focused on history.

Under that test, a unanimous three-judge panel of the Fifth Circuit ruled, the law prohibiting people subject to domestic-violence orders from possessing firearms violated the Second Amendment because there was no historical support for it.

Next week, almost a year to the day after the Supreme Court announced the new approach in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen, the justices are set to meet to discuss whether to hear the Biden administration’s appeal. The court often hears appeals of decisions holding federal laws unconstitutional.

The case, United States v. Rahimi, No. 22-915, would give the court a chance to explore the scope of its new test, which requires the government to identify historical analogues to justify laws limiting Second Amendment rights.

As a general matter, Justice Clarence Thomas wrote in his majority opinion in Bruen, the Second Amendment protects the rights of “an ordinary, law-abiding citizen.” And there is, the Biden administration told the justices in the new case, “strong historical evidence supporting the general principle that the government may disarm dangerous individuals.”

But the Fifth Circuit rejected a variety of old laws identified by the government as possible analogues, saying they did not sufficiently resemble the one concerning domestic-violence orders. Many of them, Judge Cory T. Wilson wrote for the panel, “disarmed classes of people considered to be dangerous, specifically including those unwilling to take an oath of allegiance, slaves and Native Americans.” That was different, he wrote, from domestic-violence orders, which make case-by-case judgments about a particular individual’s dangerousness.

Lawyers for the administration questioned that distinction. “It would be bizarre,” they wrote, “if legislatures could disarm dangerous individuals based on categorical presumptions, but not based on individualized judicial findings after notice and a hearing.”

Judge Wilson, who was appointed by President Donald J. Trump, wrote that the government’s insistence that it can disarm people who are not law-abiding “admits to no true limiting principle.”

 “Could speeders be stripped of their right to keep and bear arms?” he asked. “Political nonconformists? People who do not recycle or drive an electric vehicle?”

Judge Wilson conceded that the challenged law “embodies salutary policy goals meant to protect vulnerable people in our society.” But he said the approach required by the Bruen decision did not allow courts to weigh the benefits of the law against its burdens. What was important, he wrote, quoting that decision, was that “our ancestors would never have accepted” the law on domestic-violence orders.

Judge James C. Ho, who was also appointed by Mr. Trump, issued a concurring opinion saying there were better ways to protect victims of domestic abuse.

“Those who commit violence, including domestic violence,” he wrote, “shouldn’t just be disarmed — they should be detained, prosecuted, convicted and incarcerated. And that’s exactly why we have a criminal justice system — to punish criminals and disable them from engaging in further crimes.”

But Judge Ho said domestic-violence orders were products of the civil justice system and were subject to abuse.

“Scholars and judges have expressed alarm that civil protective orders are too often misused as a tactical device in divorce proceedings — and issued without any actual threat of danger,” he wrote. “That makes it difficult to justify” the law Mr. Rahimi challenged “as a measure to disarm dangerous individuals.”

In a brief urging the Supreme Court to deny review, lawyers for Mr. Rahimi said domestic violence was not a new phenomenon. “The founders could have adopted a complete ban on firearms to combat intimate-partner violence,” their brief said. “They didn’t.”

To read more CLICK HERE