Tag Archives: Justice

SYNDICATED COLUMN: No Man is Above the Law — Except on College Campuses

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Freshman orientation, Columbia University, New York City, Fall 1981: Now as then, there were speeches. A blur of upperclassmen, professors and deans welcomed us, explained campus resources and laid out dos and donts. At one point, the topic of the campus drug policy came up. “You can do whatever you want in your dorm room,” we were told, “just make sure it’s OK with your roommate.” A ripple of surprise swept the audience. Several students asked for elaboration of this don’t-ask-don’t-tell policy on illegal narcotics, and were told that they’d heard correctly.

One of my friends, who grew pot plants in his window, proved the wisdom of that advice. My pal’s Born Again Christian roomie, not consulted about his grow house scheme, attacked him in what became a legendary fistfight out of a Western.

No one was arrested, though there was a stern talking-to courtesy of the R.A.

(Columbia has since changed this policy.)

The weird alternative universe of law on campus is in the headlines again due to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ announcement that the Trump Administration plans to rewrite Obama-era Title IX rules to give male students accused of rape on college campuses more rights to defend themselves.

Under a 2011 directive university administrators were advised that their institutions could lose federal education funding unless they reduce the evidentiary standard for finding a defendant student guilty of sexual misconduct from “beyond a reasonable doubt” (the same as in criminal courts, in which jurors are asked to be roughly 90% or more certain of guilt to convict) to the lower “based on the preponderance of the evidence” standard used in civil courts (50% or more).

Victims rights advocates say campus rape is an epidemic problem, that local police can’t be trusted to take rape charges seriously or prosecute them aggressively, and that the relatively friendly campus tribunals of administrators operating under the lower standard of proof mandated by Title IX are necessary to encourage victims to step forward.

Men counter that those accused of rape shouldn’t lose their rights when they step on a college campus, and that innocent defendants have been railroaded by kangaroo courts in which they’re not allowed to have a lawyer or, in some cases, to present their full defense.

DeVos referred to the bizarre case of a USC football player expelled for abusing his girlfriend even though she insists there was no abuse. This followed the news that the rape defendant in the notorious 2015 “mattress case” in which his alleged victim carried her mattress around campus and to her commencement ceremony had earned a measure of vindication earlier this year when the university paid him to settle his lawsuit and issued a statement declaring that, after years of being publicly rape-shamed in international media, he had done nothing wrong after all.

Like students at colleges and universities across the United States, I was stunned to learn that college campuses are sort of like Native American reservations: zones where the law applies theoretically but in practice is systematically ignored or enforced at significant variance to the way things go in the outside world.

The shooting of a motorist on a city street off campus by a University of Cincinnati police officer highlighted the fact that two out of three colleges have armed police forces — and that some of these campus cops are told they have the right to arrest, and even shoot, non-students in surrounding neighborhoods.

At least today’s colleges aren’t brazenly stealing land from public parks, as Columbia did in 1968 when it began construction on a gym in Manhattan’s Morningside Park. (The land grab sparked a riot and iconic student takeover of campus.)

The debunking of that big Rolling Stone piece about a supposed rape at UVA aside, it doesn’t take a statistician to grok that college campuses, with their witches’ brew of young people out on their own for the first time, minimal adult supervision and free-flowing booze set the stage for date rape as well as sexual encounters where consent appears ambiguous. The question is: should college administrators substitute for cops and district attorneys in the search for justice? Emily Yoffe’s Atlantic series on DeVos’ proposal strongly suggests no.

Yoffe portrays a system that encourages males to feel victimized by being considered guilty until proven innocent. “To ensure the safety of alleged victims of sexual assault,” she writes, “the federal government requires ‘interim measures’ —accommodations that administrators must offer the complainant before any finding of responsibility, including steps to ensure that she never has to encounter the accused… Common interim measures include moving the accused from his dormitory, limiting the places he can go on campus, forcing him to change classes, and barring him from activities. On small campuses, this can mean his life is completely circumscribed. Sometimes he is banned from campus altogether while awaiting the results of an investigation.” This is an injustice, and saying it’s necessary in order to protect victims doesn’t change that.

The New York Times recently published an op-ed that embodied the glib view of defendants’ rights au courant on college campuses. “Of course, being accused of sexual assault hurts,” wrote Nicole Bedera and Miriam Gleckman-Krut. “And there are things that we can and should do to help accused students — namely, providing them with psychological counsel.” Seriously? Men accused of rape face expulsion, felony charges (schools can refer cases to the police) and blackballing from other colleges if they apply. They need more than therapy.

It’s easy to see why colleges, and many parents of students, want to maintain their personal on-campus legal systems outside the bounds of adult law and order. 18-year-olds are legally adults but psychologically still kids, the thinking goes. Sending even serious matters like rape charges to the police can seem like a second brutalization of victims, and perhaps even unnecessarily harsh to the accused who, if innocent, may be able to assuage doubts with a simple explanation of their actions to friendly university staff members.

Though largely well-intentioned, and despite the fact that it is opposed by the despicable Donald Trump, this Title IX-based paternalism has no place in a society that purports to respect the concept of equal justice under the law. If there’s an alleged crime on a campus, students should call the cops.

The answer to nonresponsive police who disrespect victims isn’t to truncate defendants’ rights under a parallel facsimile of jurisprudence. The solution is to reform the police and the courts so that victims aren’t traumatized all over again. Let law enforcement do its job, and let educators do theirs.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall) is author of “Trump: A Graphic Biography,” an examination of the life of the Republican presidential nominee in comics form. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: How I Found Out That the Courts Are Off-Limits to the 99%

Image result for court fees expensive            I’m suing the Los Angeles Times. I’m the plaintiff. I’m the one who was wronged. The Times should be defending themselves from my accusations that they fired and libeled me as a favor to a police chief.

But this is America.

Deep-pocketed defendants like the Times — owned by a corporation with the weird name Tronc and a market capitalization in excess of $400 million — are taking advantage of America’s collapsing court system to turn justice on its head. In worn-out Trump-era America, the corruption and confusion that used to be associated with the developing world has been normalized.

If you’re a big business like Tronc, you may be the defendant on paper but you have all the advantages in court. Your money allows you to put the plaintiff on the defense. You’re equal in the eyes of the law — theoretically. But it doesn’t feel like justice when the victim has to defend himself from the criminal. It’s like that song “Lola,” in which the Kinks sang “girls will be boys and boys will be girls”; the courts system is a mixed up, muddled up, shook up world.

States like California passed anti-SLAPP laws to defend individuals with modest incomes (like me) against deep-pocketed plaintiffs (like the Times) that file frivolous lawsuits to intimidate and harass their critics. After an anti-SLAPP motion is filed, the case freezes until a judge decides whether the case is meritorious. If the judge says it’s frivolous, it’s dismissed and the poor individual defendant gets his or her attorney’s fees paid by the deep-pocked corporation plaintiff.

After I sued them for defamation and wrongful termination, the Times filed three “anti-SLAPP” motions against me. So if the judge decides I don’t have a good case, this middle-class individual plaintiff will have to pay deep-pocketed defendant Tronc’s legal fees. The Troncies want at least $300,000.

Talk about topsy-turvy! The legislature should fix this law but they won’t because there’s zero political movement in that direction. I may be the only journalist to have criticized anti-SLAPP laws in a public forum. Articles about anti-SLAPP feature nothing but praise.

There were three motions. I lost one on June 21st, against the individual Times employees and executives involved in libeling me. (I plan to appeal.) That loss prompted a parting of ways with my attorneys. What followed was a month of representing myself pro se (in California they call it in pro per).

I now have new lawyers, and we’re waiting to hear how I did arguing against ace lawyer Kelli Sager’s anti-SLAPP motions for the Times and Tronc in LA Superior Court on July 14th. It sucked. But representing myself gave me a full-immersion crash course in just how messed up the courts really are.

The big thing I learned was that poor people have zero access to justice.

Nor do the middle class.

After the June 21st debacle, a semi-retired lawyer friend advised me to file a Motion for Reconsideration, a request to the judge to take another look and perhaps realize that he made some mistakes. The law gives you 10 days to file.

My Motion for Reconsideration was one of numerous motions I would have to draft and file myself while pro se. It was incredibly expensive, wildly burdensome and so daunting I bet 99% of people without a lawyer would throw up their hands and give up.

I’m the 1%.

I’m a writer. I went to an Ivy League school; I was a history major so I’m good at research. I used to work at a bank, where I worked on legal documents so I’m familiar with legalese. So I researched what works and doesn’t work in a Motion for Reconsideration. I crafted an argument. I deployed the proper tone using the right words and phrases.

Most people, not having the necessary skills or educational attainment, wouldn’t stand a prayer of writing a legal brief like this motion. Mine may fail — but the judge might read it and take it seriously because it’s written correctly.

I called the court clerk to ask how to file my motion. She was incredibly curt and mean. I’m a New Yorker so I persisted, but I could imagine other callers being put off and forgetting the whole thing.

Schedule a date for your hearing on the court’s website, the clerk told me. Good luck! The site had an outdated interface, was loaded with arcane bureaucratic jargon and a design that’s byzantine and hard to navigate. If English is your second language, forget it.

Eventually I found the place to reserve a hearing date — where I learned about the $540 filing fee.

Payable only by credit card.

No debit cards.

No Amex.

Protracted litigation against a well-funded adversary like the Times/Tronc could easily require dozens of $540 filing fees. The poor need not apply. Most Americans don’t have that kind of money. And what about people who scrape up the dough but don’t have plastic?

$10 would be too much. $540 is frigging obscene.

I paid the fee, printed out the receipt as required, stapled it to the back of my multiple required copies of the motion and went to the Stanley Mosk Courthouse to file it. As I waited in Room 102 to have my motions stamped by a clerk, I studied the many working-class people waiting in the same line.

Here too, there is no consideration for the people. The clerk’s office is open Monday to Friday 8:30 to 4:30. Most people work during those hours. Gotta file something? You have to take time off. Parking? Expensive and far away.

I have a dream.

I dream of a court system dedicated to equal justice before the law — where anyone can file a motion, where there are no filing fees, where the courthouse is open on weekends, where you can file motions by uploading them online and there’s free parking for citizens conducting business in the people’s house.

But Tronc wouldn’t like that system.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall) is author of “Trump: A Graphic Biography,” an examination of the life of the Republican presidential nominee in comics form. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

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Got Justice? I Desperately Need Your Help.

I need a new lawyer.

A courageous lawyer in LA? They’re hard to find. When I Googled “crusading Los Angeles attorney,” all I found were obituaries. But that’s what I need — because my lawyer dumped me days before the most crucial hearing of my case.

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So if you know a great wrongful termination and/or defamation lawyer in LA or in CA and able to litigate in LA, I need to hear from you post haste. You can email me here.

In 2015 I sued the LA Times for defamation and wrongful termination. This was after they published two articles accusing me of lying in a blog post based on an audio tape they claimed to have gotten from the LAPD. In fact, the audio proved I’d told the truth — but the Times still refuses to admit they’re wrong, publish a retraction and give me back my job as a cartoonist.

Rather than do the right thing and back down, the Times hit me with three “anti-SLAPP motions” that accuses mean old me, their former $300/week cartoonist, of suppressing the First Amendment rights of sweet little LA Times, owned by a wee $416 million corporation. They want me to pay them $300,000 for their legal fees. Believe it or not, they claim in LA Superior Court that they have the right to lie and defame people because they’re a newspaper and because there’s a “public interest” in what they publish.

On June 21, the Times won the first of their three anti-SLAPP hearings, against the individual defendants: Austin Beutner, the ex-publisher who received the sketchy audio from his pal LAPD Chief Charlie Beck; reporter Paul Pringle, who pretended to investigate it; and the authors of the two libelous articles about me, Nick Goldberg and Deirdre Edgar. This can be appealed within 60 days.

I can’t get into detail about what went down with my law firm, but the basics are this: I was always super polite and nice. After our June 21 defeat, I wanted to meet with my lawyers to discuss strategy so that we didn’t get beaten again at the June 28 hearing, the main event against the LA Times and Tronc, the Times’ parent company. They said no, they didn’t have time. I asked for a more experienced litigator. They said no.

They sent me a Notice of Termination. I don’t know why.

(To any lawyer reading this and considering whether to look at my case: I’ll send you all this stuff so you can see I’m telling you the real deal.)

So here’s the deal: Unless I find a new lawyer by Friday, July 14th, I — former $300/week cartoonist — will have to appear pro se, representing myself on California’s complicated anti-SLAPP law against one of the state’s top experts in the field, a partner at a giant law firm. It will be very Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, but I’m not a lawyer.

If I get a lawyer, he or she will get a few weeks to familiarize themselves with the case.

Lawyers all over California are turning me down: not enough time, too busy, on vacation, too complicated, troublesome to take over a case from another lawyer, conflict of interest. Even so, most agree that if we can get past anti-SLAPP and get our case in front of a jury, they will rule for justice and against the LA Times, which has been corrupted by the LAPD.

I knew there would be bumps in the road when I decided to take on the LA Times and by extension the LAPD, and this is a big one. I desperately need your help.

I can’t do this alone.

P.S. People are asking about the ACLU of Southern California. They are not returning my calls or emails.

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: Two Stories the Same Day Show That the U.S. is Rotten to the Core

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Still think the United States is governed by decent people? That the system isn’t totally corrupt and obscenely unfair?

Two stories that broke April 23rd ought to wake you up.

Story 1: President Obama admitted that one of his Predator drones killed two aid workers, an American and an Italian, who were being held hostage by Al Qaeda in Pakistan. As The Guardian reports, “The lack of specificity [about the targets] suggests that despite a much-publicized 2013 policy change by Barack Obama restricting drone killings by, among other things, requiring ‘near certainty that the terrorist target is present,’ the U.S. continues to launch lethal operations without the necessity of knowing who specifically it seeks to kill, a practice that has come to be known as a ‘signature strike.'”

“Lack of specificity” is putting it mildly. According to a report by the group Reprieve, the U.S. targeted 41 “terrorists” — actually, enemies of the corrupt Yemeni and Pakistani regimes — with drones during 2014. Thanks to “lack of specificity,” a total of 1,150 people were killed. Which doesn’t even include the 41 targets, many of whom got away clean.

Obama’s hammy pretend grief was Shatner-worthy. Biting his lip in that sorry/not sorry Bill Clinton way, the president summed up mock sadness for an event that happened back in January. Come on, dude. You seriously expect us to believe you’ve been all weepy for the last three months, except for all those speeches and other public appearances in which you were, you know, laughing and cracking jokes?

Including, um, the same exact day when he pretend-sadded, when he yukked it up with the Super Bowl champion New England Patriots? “That whole story got blown a little out of proportion,” he jibed. (Cuz: “deflate-gate.”) While sad. But laughing.

So. Confusing.

I swear, the right-wing racists are right to hate him. But they hate him for totally the wrong reasons.

Anyway, what took so long for the White House to admit they killed one of our best citizens? “It took weeks to correlate [the hostages’] reported deaths with the drone strikes,” The New York Times quoted White House officials. But in his prepared remarks, Obama said “capturing these terrorists was not possible” — thus the drone strike.

How stupid does the Administration think we are?

The fact that it is possible to find out who dies in a drone fact (albeit after the fact) indicates that there is reliable intelligence coming out of the targeted areas, presumably provided by local police and military sources. If there are cops and troops there who are friendly enough to give us information, then it obviously is possible to ask them to capture the targeted individuals.

Bottom line: the U.S. government is blowing up people with drones willy-nilly, without the slightest clue who they’re blowing up. Which, as political assassinations, are illegal. And which they specifically said was what they were no longer doing. Then they have the nerve to pretend to be sad about the completely avoidable consequences of their actions. They’re disgusting and gross and ought to be locked in prison forever.

Story 2: David Petraeus, former hotshot media-darling general of the Bush and early Obama years, received a slap on the wrist — probation plus a $100,000 fine — for improperly passing on classified military documents to unauthorized people and lying about it to federal agents when they questioned him about it.

Here we go again: more proof that, in the American justice system some people fly first-class while the rest of us go coach.

In this back-asswards world, people like Petraeus who ought to be held to the highest standard because they were entrusted with immense power and responsibility, walk free while low-ranking schlubs who committed the same crime get treated like Al Capone. Private Chelsea Manning, who released warlogs documenting U.S. war crimes in Iraq to Wikileaks, rots in prison for 35 years. Edward Snowden, the 31-year-old systems administrator for a private NSA outsourcing firm who revealed that the U.S. government is reading all our emails and listening to all our phone calls, faces life in prison.

Two years probation. Meanwhile, teachers who helped their students cheat on standardized tests got seven years in prison. To Petraeus, who went to work for a hedge fund, $100,000 is a nice tip for the caddy.

Adding insanity to insult is the fact that Petraeus’ motive for endangering national security was venal: he gave the documents to his girlfriend, who wrote his authorized biography. Manning and Snowden, heroes who in a sane society would receive ticker-tape parades and presidential medals of freedom, weren’t after glory. They wanted to inform the American people about atrocities committed in their name, and about wholesale violations of their basic freedoms, including the right to privacy.

Before he was caught and while he was sharing classified info with his gf, Petraeus had the gall to hypocritically pontificate about a CIA officer who disclosed sensitive information. Unlike Petraeus, the CIA guy got coach-class justice: 30 months in prison.

“Oaths do matter,” Petraeus pompously bloviated in 2012, “and there are indeed consequences for those who believe they are above the laws that protect our fellow officers and enable American intelligence agencies to operate with the requisite degree of secrecy.”

If you’re a first-classer, the consequences are very small.

(Ted Rall, syndicated writer and the cartoonist for The Los Angeles Times, is the author of the new critically-acclaimed book “After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back As Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan.” Subscribe to Ted Rall at Beacon.)

COPYRIGHT 2015 TED RALL, DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM

 

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Know Your Level

If Bradley Manning had murdered Iraqi civilians as a soldier, he’d be a hero. Instead, he revealed proof that his superiors killed Iraqi civilians. It’s all about understanding your role in the hierarchy that keeps our society together…which we should all want for some reason.

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Hanging Around in Bangladesh

Bangladesh isn’t some crappy Third World country like the United States, where capitalists can crash the economy and get away clean – and loaded.

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A Tragic Alternative

After a LAPD officer reported a partner for kicking a homeless man, he was fired for filing a false report. Then Officer Christopher Dorner went on a rampage, shooting four people before being forced to commit suicide in a burning cabin. A tragic end, but what’s the alternative for people ground down by an unfair system?

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