Archive for the ‘Law’ Category

Courtroom 93Illinois lawyer Rhonda Crawford used to be a law clerk for the Chief Judge of the Circuit Court of Cook County — up until she was fired in August for presiding in court wearing a judge’s robe. She did it while real life Judge Valarie Turner favorably looked on. Crawford even ruled in three traffic cases from the bench.

In denying the allegations that she wrongfully impersonated a judge, Crawford said she never claimed to be a judge. Maybe it’s just me but you might wonder if wearing a black robe and ensconcing yourself on the bench might not be just a tad misleading to someone appearing in that courtroom for a hearing? Nonetheless, Crawford went on to explain she was only “shadowing various judges . . . to see what they did and learn about the process of being a judge.”  

Moreover, since Crawford is running for elected judicial office this November her lawyer said the whole thing’s “politically motivated.” Just the same, the traffic cases were subsequently ordered reheard. And her boss, Chief Judge Timothy C. Evans, disciplined Crawford by job termination and Judge Turner by temporary suspension.

Here comes the judge — not.

Politics Law & Finance 43But despite having lost her $57,000 per year clerk’s job, things may still be looking up for Crawford. She won the primary election in March for Chicago’s 1st Judicial Subcircuit and is running unopposed. So she’s likely to prevail and thereby acquire an even better gig, one that more than triples her former law clerk’s salary with annual pay of $188,000 for a 4-year term.

Dismayed by this turn of events, this past Monday, the Chicago Tribune editorialized, “Keep the fake judge off the bench.” The newspaper’s editorial board asked voters to pay attention and write-in Maryam Ahmad rather than mark the box for Crawford.

Discipline’s creaky wheels.

Earlier this month, the Illinois Attorney Regulation and Disciplinary Commission (ARDC) also filed a three count complaint against Crawford for “dishonesty as a result of handling cases on a judge’s call while dressed in judicial robes and seated on the judge’s chair behind the bench.” Other counts included, “Criminal conduct of official misconduct and false personation of public officer” and False statements in a disciplinary investigation.”

Of course if Crawford wins the election, the disciplinary inquiry may change. The matter of the now sitting judge may instead end up before the Illinois Judicial Inquiry Board not the ARDC.

However, according to Injustice Watch, a non-partisan, non-profit journalism organization “that conducts in-depth research exposing institutional failures that obstruct justice and equality,” that process could be a protracted one. Based on its own investigation and as posted on its website, that organization concludes, “It commonly takes years to act against judges who violate the Illinois Code of Judicial Conduct, and the punishment seldom is more than a public reprimand.”

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https://openclipart.org/image/2400px/svg_to_png/6815/SteveLambert-Jamie-O-Shea-Reaching.pngAfter kicking the can around for 3 years, the State Bar of Arizona finally submitted a petition to the state supreme court that no one besides Bar insiders was asking for.

The Bar wants to amend the Oath of Admission to the Bar and the Lawyer’s Creed of Professionalism. The petition has been circulated for public comments due back October 28, 2016.

Since rule changes occur mostly under-the-radar without fanfare, revisions to the oath and creed will probably go into effect with few discouraging words.

Why the Arizona Bar felt the need to amend the oath and creed is a good question. The stated reason was a desire “to harmonize” the oath with the Arizona Loyalty Oath of Office and with a supreme court rule. As for the creed, the Bar said the proposed changes “reflect additional areas of emphasis as the result of practical experience since the creed was originally adopted.”

For the record, Arizona’s lawyer creed was adopted May 19, 1989. It’s already been amended twice, including September 19, 2003 and May 20, 2005. This latest petition will make 3 amendments.

I don’t know how many other states have enacted let alone so frequently amended their own lawyer creeds meant ostensibly to legislate professionalism and civility for a stubbornly adversarial profession.

Over 30 years ago such creeds became all the rage. State bars around the country imposed these creeds in a daunting attempt to stem the public’s falling respect for lawyers. You tell me if it’s worked. A 2014 Princeton University study found lawyers continue to rank below nearly every other profession and occupation in trustworthiness.

hug yourselfBut whether something works or not is of little import to bureaucrats invested in telling the rest of us how to act and think. Rules and systems change. Initiatives are implemented. Programs are rolled out. But little is done after to quantifiably measure or objectively evaluate whether goals are met or programs succeed. But if feel-good bromides be the music of success, then play on. Nothing tops the self-congratulation of non-achievement.

And something else you can always count on is for bureaucracies to overreach their authority. So ‘aye, there’s the rub’ with this petition. It tinkers, tampers and trespasses on public interests and lawyer rights.

I won’t get into all the objections but highlight the principal ones as follows:

Courtroom 32One proposed change to the oath adds “and laws” to “I, (state your name), do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution and laws of the State of Arizona.”

Article 6 Section 26 – Oath of office of the Arizona Constitution states judges must support the Constitution of the United States and of Arizona — but does not mention “laws.” Arguably, this is because judges sometimes overturn laws and therefore ought not be so proscribed by an Oath of Office. Relatedly, lawyers sometimes challenge certain laws as facially unconstitutional or unconstitutional as-applied. Indeed, in those circumstances lawyers argue such unconstitutional laws should not be obeyed. Consequently, lawyers, too, should not be required to swear an oath to “laws” they don’t believe are constitutional.

The petition also exchanges “unprofessional” conduct for “offensive” conduct in the creed. The proposed new language goes beyond what the court already defines as “unprofessional” conduct in ER 8.4. Misconduct.

This hints at a hidden agenda. It morphs into a brand new mandate ER 8.4’s ethical proscriptions against bias and prejudice that are actually “prejudicial to the administration of justice” and that adversely affect fitness to practice or seriously interfere with the proper and efficient operation of the judicial system. The new requirement instead goes beyond settled rule intent and interpretation. In truth, it’s an entirely new departure intruding on lawyers’ professional autonomy, freedom of speech, and freedom of association. As a consequence, it subjects lawyers to discipline for engaging in conduct that neither adversely affects the attorney’s fitness to practice law nor seriously interferes with the proper and efficient operation of the judicial system.


Dredd Scott  via Wikipedia Commons, public domain

And last, the addition of “and respectful to” to no. 11 of the creed, “I will at all times be candid with, and respectful to, the tribunal” seems to place respect to the tribunal over duty to the client or justice. As a colleague recently wrote to me after citing instances where tribunals were sorely wrong from Buck v. Bell to Dred Scott v. Sandford to Plessy v. Ferguson to Korematsu v. United States, “Lawyers have to not be afraid to criticize the government, judges and prosecutors when they are abusing their powers as well. We cannot fear discipline because we spoke truth to power.”

Absent a prejudicial effect on the administration of justice, you expect lawyers to retain free speech rights even when engaging in professional activities and especially life activities outside the practice of law. But efforts to broaden and censure lawyer speech and conduct when the prohibited speech and conduct do not have a prejudicial effect on the administration of justice threaten those rights. They raise serious First Amendment issues subject to constitutional challenge.

Not to mention that the words “and respectful to” are also void for vagueness since they are undefined. Due process requires that an enactment is void for vagueness if what it prohibits is not clearly defined. Worse yet, these words would operate to chill the exercise of First Amendment freedoms by preempting and even muzzling speech and conduct lest boundaries not clearly marked are crossed.

And even more worrisome is the probability that arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement will follow without explicit standards for those who apply them. As it is, lawyers here already opine the Arizona Bar enforces its ethical rules on an ad hoc and subjective basis. Vague terms like these only serve to compound these opinions. And they heighten attendant apprehensions of continued arbitrary and discriminatory application.

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I recently attended a seminar where a lawyer-lobbyist opined that non-lawyers should not be lobbyists. Influence peddling, it seems, should be the sole province of lawyers. Not that much explanation was given. Perhaps none was needed. After all, most in attendance were lawyers. Somewhere in the lawyer DNA is genetically grafted an exaggerated belief that “Anything you can do I can do better; I can do anything better than you.” 

Not that it’s true — especially in lobbying where cunning, connections, comprehension and experience count as much if not more than a legal education. Nevertheless, those advocating the supposed advantages of lawyer-lobbyists over nonlawyer-lobbyists also sniff that “Nonlawyer lobbyists lack a system of obligatory ethics norms akin to the Rules of Professional Conduct.” Apparently it matters little that such self-serving smugness is undercut by the likes of former lawyer-lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

File:Theodoor Rombouts - Christ Driving the Money-changers from the Temple.jpg

Bottom line, for lawyers fiercely wedded to the medieval guild’s monopoly-has-its-privileges — free market competition sucks. Or to Ben Franklin’s “nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes” — add with certitude the protectionist instincts of lawyers.

The ABA takes the lead.

Under the sheltering cover of “ponderous, backward looking, and self-preserving” bar associations, licensure was the sine qua non to supposedly protect “the uninformed public against incompetence or dishonesty.” Or at least that’s what Professor Walter Gelhorn said in “The Abuse of Occupational Licensing”  where more significantly, he also pointed out how such pretextual public protection always has “the consequence that members of the licensed group become protected against competition from newcomers.”

Ah, the joys of monopoly or as Professor Gerard Clark explains in “Monopoly Power in Defense of the Status Quo: A Critique of the ABA’s Role in the Regulation of the American Legal Profession,”

“Since its founding in 1878, the American Bar Association (ABA) has served the legal profession in two principal ways: by limiting membership in the profession, and by protecting its prerogatives. It has done so by: advocating a system of licensing backed by unauthorized practice rules; supporting and then regulating law schools and thereby diminishing the apprenticeship-clerkship route to admission; regulating the delivery of professional services through detailed professional codes; by lobbying the state and federal legislatures for favorable legislation; providing a continuous public relations campaign to put the bar in a favorable light; and supporting the growth of state bar associations that press for these prerogatives at the state and local level. The result is an outsized and comfortable profession that is costly, and inefficient. By seizing the initiative in the creation of a trade association, which simply declared itself the official voice of the bar over all aspects of the profession (although less than one-third of the 1.2 million lawyers in the United States are ABA members), and then convincing state bar authorities to accept its judgments, the ABA accomplished its goal of self-regulation through the use of monopoly power.”


Lawyer regulation to protect the public sounds good. But by regulating who can practice law, lawyers also maintain a monopoly on who provides legal services. The legal establishment accomplishes this by regulating the unauthorized practice of law (UPL) either by statute or court rule. But the rub is that bar association regulators have an inherent conflict of interest. On the one hand, they’re supposed to protect and serve the public by regulating lawyers. But at the same time, they function like trade associations promoting the legal profession’s common interests.

https://i1.wp.com/cdn.morguefile.com/imageData/public/files/m/meowzeroni/04/l/1397514359cws5o.jpgThese two purposes conflict because lawyers and the public often have different interests. When these interests conflict—such as when out-of-state lawyers or lower-cost legal services wish to compete with lawyers — lawyers use their regulatory powers to stop that competition.

Last year, for example, in the aftermath of the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling against a protectionist North Carolina Dental Board, the State Bar of North Carolina settled its suit against LegalZoom. LegalZoom is now free to offer online document services and prepaid legal services plans to North Carolinians.

Here in Arizona, examples of lawyer interests trumping public interests include the Arizona State Bar’s efforts to stop realtors in the 1960s, legal document preparers in the 1990s, and out-of-state lawyers in the 2000s from offering services in Arizona.

When it comes to access to justice, those at the temple precincts mean access to just-us.


Credits: The governors of the guild of St. Luke, Haarlem, 1675 by Jan de Bray, Wikimedia Commons, public domain; Theodoor Rombouts, Christ Driving the Money-changers from the Temple, Wikimedia Commons, public domain; other photos via Morguefile.com, no attribution required.

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“They should go get back on a ship and go back to Africa” a Florida judge allegedly observed about African-Americans to a Staff Attorney. She was reporting on the status of an order at the time. The upshot is the Hon. Mark Hulsey III, Circuit Court Judge for Florida’s 4th Judicial Circuit, presently finds himself under judicial ethics inquiry by the Florida Judicial Qualifications Commission.

A majority vote of the Commission determined there was probable cause to investigate allegations of discourtesy and condescension to staff; inappropriate language, including beratement of Staff Attorneys and purported violations of 14 canons of the Florida Code of Judicial Conduct.

Entitled to the presumption of innocence, Judge Hulsey denies all the allegations. Up for reelection, the judge also says the charges are politically motivated. Meantime, he’s been reassigned to probate court. See “Jacksonville circuit judge reassigned after complaint of racial comments, foul language” at the Florida Times-Union.

Too many expletives to count.

With respect to inappropriate language, readers with tender sensibilities might want to skip this second news item concerning the crude, obscene exchange between Georgia Superior Court Judge Bryant Durham and defendant Denver Fenton Allen. 

The back-and-forth between the judge and the defendant escalated into exchanges about parts of the anatomy, sex, threats and homophobia. The court transcript shared by law blogger Keith Lee is long, lurid and lewd. In its June 24, 2016 report, the Washington Post referred to the courtroom incident as “an extraordinary display of vulgarity — between a defendant and judge.”  See ‘You’ll find out how nasty I really am’: A judge’s seething response to a hostile defendant”

Teaching “courtroom etiquette.”

Meanwhile, in Nevada, a judge’s attempt to teach “courtroom etiquette” lost any subtlety of meaning when ‘the lesson’ entailed handcuffing Clark County public defender Zohra Bakhtary at a sentencing hearing for a defendant charged with a probation violation.

Although the judge in question lost reelection last month, the now former Las Vegas, NV Justice of the Peace Conrad Hafen remains under investigation for his alleged unorthodox approach to cultivating courtly manners. See the transcript and courtroom video here.

According to The Las Vegas Review-Journal, the 150-member Nevada Attorneys for Criminal Justice filed a complaint with the Nevada Commission on Judicial Discipline seeking sanctions. The complaint further mentioned two other cases besides that of the handcuffed public defender that they claimed demonstrated Judge Hafen’s “complete disregard for the law.” SeeDefense lawyers say Las Vegas judge ‘was wrong’ to handcuff attorney.”

CCDU Open LetterAnd also weighing in was the Clark County Defenders Union via open letter. The letter stated, in part,

“Every person accused of a crime has a constitutional right to have an attorney speak on his behalf. Public defenders exclusively represent people with little or no money: the poor. Judge Hafen silenced an attorney who was merely attempting to speak on her client’s behalf.

He violated one of our most sacred, fundamental, and constitutionally protected rights. Judge Hafen claims he handcuffed our colleague to “teach the lawyer about courtroom etiquette.” Handcuffing an attorney who is merely doing her job to teach her a lesson is simply improper and has never been done in the history of Nevada. This misguided “lesson” runs contrary to the fundamental right to counsel. That right entitles Americans to have an attorney at their side, speaking on their behalf, especially when they are facing jail. We will continue to take our lessons from the Constitution and our solemn Oath of Attorney.”

More shackled speech.

Two close-in-time occurrences don’t make a trend. But just the same, in Ohio there was another incident of shackled attorney speech. Criminal defense lawyer Andrea Burton was handcuffed, removed from an Ohio courtroom, and sentenced to 5 days in jail for refusing Youngstown Municipal Court Judge Robert Milich’s order that she remove a Black Lives Matter pin she wore to court.

Courtrooms are supposed to be viewpoint neutral according to Judge Milich who gave Burton several chances to comply before issuing his contempt order. “A judge doesn’t support either side,” Judge Milich said. “A judge is objective and tries to make sure everyone has an opportunity to have a fair hearing, and it was a situation where it was just in violation of the law.”

For her part, Burton explained, “He indicated to me he didn’t know if I was trying to seek attention from the news or whatever the case was, but that legally I wasn’t allowed to wear it and I deferred and said that I’m respecting my First Amendment right. That I’m not neutral in injustice, and to remain neutral becomes an accomplice to oppression.” She  is appealing her sentence. See “Youngstown attorney arrested for wearing ‘Black Lives Matter’ button in court.”


Credits: Photos via Morguefile license, no attribution required.

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In April, the Nevada State Bar’s Board of Governors blast emailed members a third-party confidential survey asking for their “opinion on the CLE and annual license fee exemptions currently offered to members older than 70.” The survey is apparently driven by proponents who want to eliminate that age exemption. Others want it left in place. Will the survey decide the matter? I rather doubt it. In any case, the results are supposed to be published online and/or in the Nevada Bar’s magazine.

Currently, there are 412 Nevada lawyers age 70 or older actively practicing. But those silver legal eagles better start worrying. Once the age exemption is eliminated, those 412 lawyers, representing less than 5% of Nevada’s 8,818 active lawyers, will each sustain about $1,000 in new higher annual costs to practice.


Base annual dues in Nevada are presently $450. In addition, there’s a separate yearly $40 paid to the Nevada CLE Board. This amounts to $490 in total mandatory annual fees. And with the average cost of an hour’s worth of Bar CLE at about $45 multiplied by a mandated 12 annual CLE hours — tack on another $540 to the annual tariff. Wine may improve with age — but not it seems the bottom line for Nevada’s older lawyers.

As far as the Bar’s concerned, however, the news would be positive. Assuming the 412 septuagenarian lawyers satisfy their CLE requirements through the Bar, the projected fiscal impact for the Nevada Bar will to the sunny side of potentially over $400,000 in higher annual revenues based on the infusion of new dues-payers and CLE potentially totaling $1030 in fees X 412 active senior Nevada attorneys.

Right now, millenials outnumber the 75.4 million Baby Boomers in the U.S. But the bad news for those 18 to 34 year olds is that many Boomers aren’t retiring. So as Baby Boomers, including lawyers, continue working past retirement age, it’s not surprising that mandatory bars are trending toward revoking senior lawyer age exemptions. After all, the bureaucratic maw must be fed. As Oscar Wilde said, ‘the bureaucracy expands to meet the needs of the expanding bureaucracy.’

Holidays 496Some mandatory bars like the State Bar of Arizona eliminated their age exemptions years ago. As a matter of fact, in the Grand Canyon state, aging lawyers who take retirement status still pay bar dues. The only way to stop paying is to resign in good standing or to rest in peace beneath the ground. And in Texas, on April 28, 2015, the Texas Supreme Court amended its Bar Rules to eliminate its longstanding MCLE exemption for so-called emeritus attorneys, those aged 70-years and up.

Understandably, it’s a bit unseemly to ascribe money grasping reasons to these moves. So look instead for overused policy dodges dressed up in public protection apparel to justify eliminating the age exemptions. Doddering dinosaur lawyers who fail to keep abreast of the law may pose risks to consumers is how the argument goes. But unfortunately for proponents, there’s never been proof or any empirical evidence that continuing legal education makes lawyers of any age more competent, professional or ethical.

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/3/33/A_jolly_dog.png/163px-A_jolly_dog.pngIt seems “Wisdom doesn’t automatically come with old age,” according to the late Abigail Van Buren. “Nothing does – except wrinkles. It’s true, some wines improve with age. But only if the grapes were good in the first place.”

Finally, paraphrasing Francis Bacon, “Age appears to be best in four things; old wood best to burn, old wine to drink, old friends to trust,” — and for mandatory state bars, old lawyers to tax.



(The usual disclaimers about content, availability and jurisdictional creditworthiness apply).


Ethics of blogging for lawyers

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August 11, 2016 at 10am PT / 1pm ET


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Wyoming Bar Members and Guests (registration required)

Running an Efficient Law Firm (webinar)

July 27, 2016
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Wyoming Casemaker: A Complete Guide (webinar)

August 9, 2016
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Laws, Rules and Practices Governing OSHA Activities (webinar)

August 25, 2016
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Lawyer Fitness 101 (webinar)

August 26, 2016
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Going Long on Oil and Gas: Estate Planning Tools to Maximize Mineral Interests (webinar)

October 4, 2016
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Shared Custody Arrangements in Wyoming: A Challenging (and Challenged) Proposition (webinar)

Sponsored by the Children & Family Law Section

October 19, 2016
12:00 – 1:00 p.m.
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The New Era of Proportionality (webinar)

November 11, 2016
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Credits: “Men of the Day No. 732: Caricature of Mr James Lennox Hannay. Caption read “Marlborough Street” by Spy in Vanity Fair, 22 December 1898, via Wikimedia Commons, public domain;”Am richtigen Fleck. Signiert. Öl auf Leinwand” via Wikimedia Commons, public domain; “A jolly dog,” by Currier & Ives, via Wikimedia Commons, public domain.

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https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/0/05/ErieRingBlindman%27sBluff.gifIf you’re in Nebraska family court, you might wonder why child custody and parenting time outcomes are so seemingly different throughout your state. But if you’re a shared parenting advocate like Les Veskrna, you want answers. Veskrna is a Lincoln family physician and executive director of the Children’s Rights Council of Iowa and Nebraska.

Hypothesizing that training might account for the dissimilar results, Veskrna asked Nebraska State Court Administrator Corey Steel for information about the training judges receive on custody and parenting matters. Specifically, Veskrna requested access to related judicial continuing education documents. “Looking at disparate outcomes for child custody and parenting time throughout Nebraska, it appears judicial practices are not consistent with the literature,” Veskrna explained. And he added, “A growing body of research suggests that children in divorce do best emotionally and in school when they spend meaningful time with both parents.”

Steel, however, denied the request. He contended that training information wasn’t subject to disclosure under state public records law. Moreover, he said that the records were entwined with a judge’s deliberative process and therefore, privileged. Veskrna disagreed. The Nebraska Constitution at I-13 says that “All courts must be open.” And the explicit purpose of Nebraska’s Public Records Statutes is to “guarantee that public government records are public.” Under the law, Nebraskans have “the right to obtain access to, and copies of, public records in the custody of public agencies in the state.” So in 2015, Veskrna went to court to seek an order that Steel turn over those records.

In January of this year, a Lancaster County, Nebraska District Court agreed with Veskrna and ordered the Nebraska Judicial Branch to release training documents disclosing how judges learn to adjudicate child custody disputes.

The First Amendment and public access.


Admittedly, the First Amendment does not expressly address public access. It fosters “individual self-expression.” But at the same time, it affords “the public access to discussion, debate, and the dissemination of information and ideas.” The First Amendment goes beyond protection of the press and the self-expression of individuals to prohibit government from limiting the stock of information from which members of the public may draw.” First Nat’l Bank of Boston v. Bellotti, 435 U.S. 765, 783, 98 (1978).

Arizona transparency.

Presume an interested Arizonan wants to emulate Les Veskrna and ask for judicial continuing education training records on custody and parenting matters or on any other area of law such as, for instance, handling capital cases. In Arizona, that person would discover that Evaluation materials and records generated by participants in judicial education programs such as test scores, educational assessments, practical exercise worksheets, and similar materials are closed” in accord with Arizona Supreme Court Rule 123, (13) Judicial Branch Training Materials and Records. Does this rule mean that information about how and what training judges acquire directly related to their tax-payer paid work is closed to public access? It depends — on the Court.

Politics Law & Finance 43The Court has its own public access rules to govern the maintenance and disclosure of judicial records. Arizona Supreme Court Rule 123, “Access to the Judicial Records of the State of Arizona,” controls — not Arizona Public Records Law. See London v. Broderick and Arpaio v. Davis.

And no matter that Arizona’s Constitution at Article II, Declaration of Rights, makes a similar — but not quite the same — declaration as Nebraska’s Constitution about court openness. Justice in all cases shall be administered openly,” says Section 11.

The plain meaning of a “public body” under Arizona Public Records Law should deem that state courts statutorily meet the definition as “any branch, department, board, bureau, commission, council or committee of the foregoing, and any public organization or agency, supported in whole or in part by monies from this state or any political subdivision of this state, or expending monies provided by this state or any political subdivision of this state.”


But in Arizona, the Court decides public access for itself and it decided to exempt itself from state public records law. Not that this is unusual. The view of state supreme courts elsewhere aligns with Arizona. The state supreme courts in Washington and Nevada, for example, have likewise expansively interpreted their state constitutions to declare state public records laws off-limits to their courts.

In City of Federal Way v. David Koenig, 167 Wn.2d 341(Washington 2009), the Washington Supreme Court held the state public records act does not apply to the judiciary and judicial records.

And in Nevada in Civil Rights for Seniors v. Admin. Office of the Courts, 129 Nev. Adv. Op. 80 (Nevada 2013), the Nevada Supreme Court held that considering the judiciary’s authority to manage its own affairs, it would limit the scope of the public’s access to the records maintained by the Administration of the Courts (AOC).

Unfortunately, despite constitutional, statutory and common law presumptions favoring public access, the legal establishment inclines toward reticence — if not outright opacity. Just a few months ago, for example, UCLA Professor Richard Sander’s decade-long fight to obtain test score, grade and bar exam passage information from the California State Bar was finally allowed to proceed to trial over the Bar’s ongoing objections.


Credits: Tweed and Erie Rings play blind man’s bluff with justice, Harper’s Weekly, at Wikimedia Commons, public domain; FOIA via Fort George G. Meade Public Affairs Office, Constitution monument, posted to Flickr by euthman, Wikimedia Commons, attribution generic license.


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It's A Dry Heave | by cogdogblog

This is the time of year where anywhere is better than being trapped in Satan’s boxers. Sure, we missed the 120 weather forecast on June 19th. Just the same Phoenix spent the month breaking infernal records.

And now we’re bedeviled with the glistening humidity and demonic heat of monsoon season. What a combination. But how fitting for filing the following under WHAT. THE. HELL.

  1. Utah v. Strieff: The erosion of fundamental Constitutional freedoms continues.

On Monday, June 20, 2016, a 48-year Phoenix temperature record was broken when the thermometer hit 116 by 3 pm. On the same day, the nation’s highest court further undermined the part of the Fourth Amendment that safeguards individuals from unreasonable government searches and seizures. In Utah v. Strieff, No. 14-1373, the U.S. Supreme Court weakened the “exclusionary rule.” It’s the rule that excludes evidence from trial obtained by unconstitutional police conduct.

Bill of Rights | by GruenemannThe case involved police officer Douglas Fackrell who without probable cause stopped Edward Strieff after Strieff left a South Salt Lake City house under police surveillance thanks to an anonymous drug tip. Strieff was arrested after Officer Fackrell discovered an outstanding arrest warrant for a minor traffic violation. A search of Strieff turned up methamphetamines and drug paraphernalia.

But if the stop was unlawful, shouldn’t the drugs have been excluded? Or did the existence of an outstanding arrest warrant weaken or attenuate the connection between the government’s misconduct and the discovery of the evidence?

Writing for the majority, Justice Clarence Thomas wrote that the evidence obtained was admissible “because the officer’s discovery of the arrest warrant attenuated the connection between the unlawful stop and the evidence seized incident to arrest.”

In spirited dissent, Justice Sonia Sotomayor declared:

“The Court today holds that the discovery of a warrant for an unpaid parking ticket will forgive a police officer’s violation of your Fourth Amendment rights. Do not be soothed by the opinion’s technical language: This case allows the police to stop you on the street, demand your identification, and check it for outstanding traffic warrants—even if you are doing nothing wrong. If the officer discovers a warrant for a fine you forgot to pay, courts will now excuse his illegal stop and will admit into evidence anything he happens to find by searching you after arresting you on the warrant.”

Justice Sotomayor particularly warned about the risk of “treating members of our communities as second-class citizens.”

“It is no secret,” she wrote, “that people of color are disproportionate victims of this type of scrutiny.” And she added, “. . . this case tells everyone, white and black, guilty and innocent, that an officer can verify your legal status at any time. It says that your body is subject to invasion while courts excuse the violation of your rights. It implies that you are not a citizen of a democracy but the subject of a carceral state, just waiting to be cataloged.”

Just 5 years ago, criminal defense lawyer Michael Cicchini deconstructed the ongoing erosion of our fundamental rights in Tried and Convicted. On the heels of Strieff, the bad news is that our individual rights continue being “hammered and softened by high court judicial decisions.” These rights are “intended to protect us from the vagaries of the criminal justice system” and from the “government agents” who “are easily able to bypass, and in fact destroy, our constitutional protections.” 

           2.   Brock Turner and Raul Ramirez: Racial and ethnic disparity in sentencing persists.

Unequal Justice in America | by DonkeyHotey

As though Judge Aaron Persky wasn’t facing enough opprobrium for sentencing Stanford swimmer Brock Turner to only six months in county jail for rape, The Guardian reported last month that the same Judge Persky had approved a much harsher three-year prison sentence for Salvadoran immigrant Raul Ramirez for committing a similar crime. And unlike Turner, Ramirez expressed genuine remorse and plead guilty, which should have mitigated his sentence. See “Stanford sexual assault case revealed racial bias.”

By itself the disparity in Ramirez’s sentencing is nothing unusual. It’s commonplace. It’s only newsworthy because of the light touch administered on Turner.

According to Census and Dept. of Justice analyses by the Sentencing Project, racial disparity in sentencing and incarceration is real. Indeed, research by Dr. Ashley Nellis bears out that prosecutors and judges often treat blacks and Hispanics more harshly in their charging and sentencing decisions.

“Sentencing policies, implicit racial bias, and socioeconomic inequity contribute to racial disparities at every level of the criminal justice system. Today, people of color make up 37% of the U.S. population but 67% of the prison population. Overall, African Americans are more likely than white Americans to be arrested; once arrested, they are more likely to be convicted; and once convicted, they are more likely to face stiff sentences. Black men are six times as likely to be incarcerated as white men and Hispanic men are more than twice as likely to be incarcerated as non-Hispanic white men.”



Credits: “It’s A Dry Heave,” by Alan Levine at Flickr Creative Commons Attribution; “Bill of Rights,” by John W. Schulze at Flickr Creative Commons Attribution;”Unequal Justice in America,” by DonkeyHotey at Flickr Creative Commons Attibution.

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