Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Judiciary. Bought? Definitely Paid For.

First, a disclosure. I'm a lawyer.

That out of the way, I've always thought that it is a bad idea to elect judges. To me the concept of a judiciary presupposes impartiality with respect to the issues that will come before it. (The minute I let out that I am a lawyer, I start writing like one.) People running for a non-judicial governmental position, campaign by telling voters what they propose to do with respect to issues that they will face. Judges would be violating ethical rules if they announced ahead of time how they will rule on an issue in the future.

Bad executives, legislators, commissioners, etc. are remedied by defeat at the polls. Bad judges face appellate review and, if really bad, impeachment.

All that said, election of judges here in Georgia has led to what appears to be a blatant attempt to "buy" a seat on Georgia's Supreme Court.

Carol Hunstein is a current member of the Court. She has a long history as a lawyer and a judge at trial and appellate levels. In a recent poll of the Georgia Bar she was rated as "qualified" or "well qualified" by more than 95% of the respondants who said they had enough knowledge to express an opinion.

Her challenger is Mike Wiggins. He has never served as a judge. Though judicial races in Georgia are officially non-partisan, Mr. Wiggins is campaigning on his Republican credentials. In the poll mentioned above he was rated qualified or well qualified by 23% of the respondants who said they had enough knowledge to express an opinion.

I'll be voting for Hunstein; but, that is not the point of this post.

Hunstein has raised about $770,000.00, mostly from lawyers. Why so much? Wiggins has raised only about $170,000.00, mostly from corporations. Georgia has $5,000.00 limit on campaign contributions; but, it does not limit spending by people or organizations which are not controlled by the candidate. Wiggins is the uncontrolling beneficiary of at least $394,000.00 being spent by the "Safety & Prosperity Coalition" whose donors are insurance, medical and business groups and companies in favor of their version of "tort reform." Better yet, "American Justice Partnership", an affilliate of the National Association of Manufacturers, is spending $1.3 million on advertising for him. Who gave that money? We won't ever know because the law does not require the American Justice Partnership to disclose its donors.

Someone is going to buy a seat (whether or not they get what they are paying for) on the Georgia Supreme Court. My group, the lawyers? Or big corporations? The loser is sure to be the citizens of Georgia.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Fascination and Fear

Our fascination with and fear of homosexuality is in the news again following the recent New Jersey Supreme Court opinion which directs the New Jersy Legislature to pass legislation providing for marriage or "civil union" rights for gays and lesbians.

Try as I may, I can't figure out why so many people have such a problem with two men or two women being attracted to each other and demonstrating it.

President Bush in reaction to the Opinion said that marriage was “a union between a man and a woman....I believe it’s a sacred institution that is critical to the health of our society and the well-being of families, and it must be defended."

Assuming that hetrosexual marriage is paramount to the well-being of America, how does homosexual marriage or allowance for civil unions damage it? If a marriage is in trouble, I very much doubt but that the cause is two men or women shacking up down the street, muchless a law that says that the men and women shacking up is legal. I don't see legalizing these relationships sending people in droves away from attraction to the opposite sex with a resultant decline in marriage rates.

Let's move on to the family issue and assume that kids are better off with a father and mother in the house rather than the alternatives of just a father, just a mother or two fathers or mothers. (As an aside, if that is the case, divorce, being "harmful to a sacred institution," should be outlawed and women giving birth out of wedlock should be forced to marry.) Is a kid harmed any more by living with two dads or two moms than with a single parent of either sex?

The answer to that can only be yes if you view homosexuality as evil and exposure to it as harmful.

That brings us to what I think is the underlying reason that so many fear gays. "My God says it is sinful. He isn't using lightning bolts much these days, so I have to use government to enforce his will." My opinion, without facts or objective analysis: I don't think he needs our help to punish sinners and I don't think government is very effective at it either (think scarlet letters and Prohibition).

Bumper Sticker

I saw this bumper sticker yesterday:

Where are we going and why are we in this basket?

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Stay Which Course?

The New York Times reported today that President Bush will no longer use the phrase "stay the course" in connection with the United States' presence in Iraq.

The President is quoted as saying "Stay the course means keeping doing what you're doing....My attitude is, don't do what you're doing if it's not working: change....Stay the course also means don't leave before the job is done. And that's - we're going to get the job done in Iraq. And it's important that we do get the job done in Iraq."


Exegesis aside, the problem with Iraq is we have never bothered to define nouns. What job? What course?

Without revisiting the debate about why we invaded Iraq at length, I recall that we wanted to divest Sadaam Hussein of his WMDs and end his support of terrorism. Thus, the goal was to capture Sadaam. Then we could hunt down the weapons and the terrorists. We've done that. Sadaam rails at his enemies, past and present, from the courtroom dock, incapable of supporting international or homegrown terrorism. Whatever WMDs were in Iraq are gone. What was not considered and what is now not being effectively dealt with is what to do with Iraq after we got Sadaam.

So again, what is the job; and, having defined the job, what is the course that will complete the job? I suspect that President Bush doesn't know and I know that I and a lot of people in the United States don't know.

For awhile the job seemed to be to establish a stable Iraqi government. The course was to establish a constitution, elect representatives, train troups and police and turn over governing and security to the representatives, troops and police. The constitution and government are in place but ineffective. The troops and police are in place but in "control" in two of eighteen provinces. Violence is on the rise throughout Iraq as ethnic and religious factions escalate attacks on each other and us. What to do?

Well we'll leave the job the same, we'll just change the course (we won't call it that, we'll just do it). We won't "cut and run." We'll set up a flexible timetable, not for withdrawal, but for the Iraqis to get their act together. We'll set "milestones." We'll create "benchmarks." Ah, we'll make the job the Iraqi's responsibility. When they fail, and as we measure such things, they will, it won't be our fault. Look at all the time, money and lives we invested (or wasted, depending on your viewpoint). We couldn't have done more for them.

When the dust settles and a totalitarian government (or maybe three) is in place, again, in Iraq, where will we be? Fighting WMDs in North Korea. Fighting terrorists, again, in Afganistan. Rattling sabers at Iran for supporting the bad guys and maybe thinking about moving into the power void.

One last thought, fighting terrorism is necessary. How the fight is planned and carried out is crucial. I hope the next President knows what the job is and plots a course to accomplish it without years of misspent time, money and lives.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Stupid is ...

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Alito, at a recent event, bemoaned the passing of the days of the lonely leafleteer and the rise of the Internet: " 'This is not just like somebody handing out a leaflet in the past, where a small number of people can see this [in his view, inaccurate reporting on the Court].... It changes what it means to be a judge. It certainly changes the attractiveness of a judicial career.' " Gosh darn that First Amendment in the Internet era. Mere citizens daring to lessen his enjoyment of his life-time appointment by using a medium that actually allows unfettered distribution of news.

Justice Scalia at the same seminar said " '[i]t so happens that everything that is stupid is not not unconstitutional.' " Nah, he couldn't have been talking about his colleague.

Quotes from an article by John Heilprin, AP, published in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, October 22, 2006.

Friday, October 20, 2006

To 's or Not To 's

Clicking the title of this post will take you to a great piece of satire in Legal Times.

I side with Justice Thomas for probably the first time ever.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Walls and History

Most mornings I stop at a convenience store for coffee on the way to work. Most times I am there it seems that every casual laborer in Northeast Atlanta is there too.

These workers usually have paint stained clothes or boots that have obviously often walked a construction site or suburban lawn. They arrive and leave in pickup trucks, vans or packed six or seven in aging cars. Or, they stand and sit in clusters just outside the bounds of the store's parking lot, waiting for contractors, landscapers and homeowners to hire them for the day.

They live packed in apartments, again, six or seven sharing the rent.

They are for the most part Hispanic, or in Atlanta, its perjorative synonym, Mexican. They aren't U.S. citizens. Their green cards are the product of the underground economy. They don't file tax returns or pay employment taxes (actually, some do pay into the tax systems by withholding, they just don't collect benefits). But, from what I can see in Atlanta, and what I understand to be true in other parts of the Country, they are the mainstay of the construction, landscaping and farming industries.

It is said that good fences make good neighbors. Should they be "walled" out as suggested by many politicians and pundits? China, France and East Germany have tried it to keep their neighbors at bay or their citizens in their places (ok, the French used big bumps in a line). Over time the neighbors came anyway and the citizens left, over, under and through the walls.

A local talk show host illustrates his call for a wall by this analogy: If your house has a torn screen, do you spend your time trying to round up the bugs that are in the house, or do you fix the screen first? It seems to me that there are several flaws in the host's argument and his analogy.

Walls aren't screens. They don't keep people out, or in, over time if there is freedom or opportunity on the other side. Ask the Chinese, French and East Germans.

People aren't bugs. Bugs aren't entering the house for a reason. They are flying around and wander through the opening in the screen. They would be just as happy to have stayed out doors, or having entered the house, go back outside (you've seen a bee banging its head against the window trying to reach the outside). Conversely, people see, or hear about, what is over the wall. They consciously plan to make their way over, under or through, and plan to stay. When caught, they do it again.

Also ignored in the wall argument is the fact that we have somewhere in the neighborhood of eight to twelve million people living in this country illegally. They have no plans to leave and if thrown out, will do their damnedest to get back in. More importantly, the politicians and pundits have no plan and no desire to to keep them out or get rid of them in the first place. Note that Congress recently voted to build 700 miles of wall but conveniently forgot to fund the construction.

So what to do? Arguing about "amnesty," "guest workers," or "illegal aliens or immigrants" accomplishes nothing. Call them what you will. But do call them. Register them. Throw out those with criminal records. After registration, throw out those that commit a crime. Prosecute the companies and suburban homeowners that hire anyone without a genuine registration card. Prosecute the companies and homeowners that do not withhold income and employment taxes. You will see registration and payment of taxes. Ask the stock holders of the offshore gambling companies whose executives have been arrested if real enforcement of laws deters violation.

Implementing this system will obviate the need for a wall. People will line up at the border to register for entry. They will stop lining up when there aren't enough paying jobs to make their move worthwhile, call it a self regulating supply and demand immigration policy. Those that still try to sneak in are probably up to no good; but, we would have the resources to stop them.

Monday, October 16, 2006

All Things Law

The attached link will take you to a list of more legally oriented blogs, or in its words "blawgs," than anyone would ever want to read.


Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Monday, October 09, 2006

A Pox on Both Their Houses

I downloaded the state wide ballot today (Georgia) to begin deciding what to do come the November election.

I learned that:

Both the Democrat and Republican candidates for School Superintendent are religious conservatives and would presumably bring that orientation to the education of everyone's kids.
The Libertarian candidate wants to end elections for the Superintendent and has no educational experience.

Someone got a constitutional amendment on the ballot to recognize "the tradition of fishing and hunting" as constitutionally protected.

Farmers got a proposed amendment to end taxation on farm equipment.

There's a proposed amendment to allow the Legislature to give money received from vanity license plates to be given to non-profit organizations where "there will be a benefit to the state."

In the news:

Sonny Perdue, the incumbent Governor went to Jerry Falwell's church yesterday in Virginia, presumably courting the absentee ballot vote.

Dennis Hastert and George Bush say "Foleygate" is a Democrat plot. The Democrats say you can't equate Foleygate to Clinton's escapades because Clinton went for women who had attained the age of consent.

No big finish here. Just a strong case of political ennui.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

The Amazing Curative Power of Rehab

From Slate.com.

Test question: Political corruption, anti-Semitism and pedophilia. Compare and contrast the root causes of the crisis in the lives of Bob Ney, Mel Gibson and Mark Foley.

For extra credit: Does the fact that Patrick Kennedy blames his recent driving adventure on his fondness for painkiller drugs rather than booze mandate his exclusion from this club?


Sunday, October 01, 2006


I took up Golf late in life. Too late for it to be anymore than a usually frustrating, but often enough, on a given shot, thrilling, pastime.

When I started playing I looked at it as a replacement for pool, a game I had gotten as good at as I was going to get without playing an hour or so a day, every day. I thought the golf course was a big, unlevel pool table. I was wrong. Even on the green. Nothing is level. Nothing is straight. Even the curves (break) are not consistent. It is pool in three dimensions.

Worse, despite what some people say, it requires physical ability. Yesterday I played with a friend at what is called an executive course. No par fives and only four par fours. It is nicely suited to my lacking ability. No long shots.

About half way through, a guy, Sergio, asked if he could play with us.

Sergio is no taller than me. He speaks little English (he is a groundskeeper at the course and was able to ride out and play a few holes). He probably weighs less than me given my expanding waistline. But he is supple, he's young, damn it.

His backswing ends with his left wrist almost brushing his left ear. On his follow through, his right wrist says hello to his right ear. John Daily and Tiger Woods have nothing on him. Neither of my wrists have ever met either of my ears. I have, euphemistically, what is called a "compact" swing.

With irons, our shots went about the same distance. The difference being, his soar, mine hop. I'm Doyle Alexander (without talent). He's Ernie Els (with budding talent). Ah, to be young, damn it.

But, Sergio exemplifies what is wonderful about golf. He praised my approach shot when it came to rest close to the pin,smiling as if it was his own. I returned the favor (more easily and more often as he had more to praise, more often). His intensity spurred me to play better so as not to be embarrassed. He smiled ruefully at my pulled putt, lessening the embarrassment. I grimaced when he chunked a chip shot. He displayed perfect golf etiquette which I noticed led me and my friend to act the same.

I have met more Sergios than not at golf courses. Golf is a game of gentlemen and ladies. It takes our rougher edges and polishes them. For a few hours on a weekend morning, whether its corny to say so or not, we become a small and better community.

And, I had two birdies.