Tag Archives: rights

SYNDICATED COLUMN: What Happened When I Represented Myself as My Own Lawyer

Image result for attorney pro se

For a cartoonist, I turned out to be a fairly decent lawyer. But I didn’t want to represent myself. It took two vicious lawyers to force me into that position.

One of those lawyers was mine.

I’m suing the Times because they repeatedly, knowingly and intentionally defamed me after firing me as a favor to LAPD Chief Charlie Beck, a thin-skinned pol I’d criticized in my editorial cartoons. The paper responded by turning California’s “anti-SLAPP” law, designed to protect people like me against corporations like the Times and its parent company Tronc, on its head; this $400 million corporation is accusing me — a five-figure income cartoonist — of oppressing its First Amendment rights by using my vast wealth to intimidate them.

Before my case is allowed to begin in earnest, anti-SLAPP requires a plaintiff (me) to convince a judge that, if everything I allege in my lawsuit turns out to be true, I’d likely win before a trial jury. But anti-SLAPP is as confusing as French grammar, so many judges interpret the law much more harshly than it’s actually written.

All the lawyers I talked to told me that I’d almost certainly win at trial if my case survived anti-SLAPP and made it to a jury. Ironically, getting past anti-SLAPP would be our toughest challenge.

The lawyer who took my case agreed with this assessment. But when oral arguments for the first of the Times’ three anti-SLAPPs against me took place on June 21st in LA Superior Court, his firm inexplicably assigned a junior associate, Class of 2013, to take on Kelli Sager.

Kelli Sager, who represents the Times, is a high-powered attorney with more than three decades of courtroom experience, a senior partner at Davis Tremaine Wright, an international law firm that represents giant corporations.

I liked my junior associate. She’s smart and may someday become a great lawyer. But she was no match for a shark like Kelli Sager. Sager talked over her. My lawyer let Sager get away with one brazen lie after another, either too unprepared or timid to respond. She couldn’t even answer the judge’s simple question to walk him through what happened to prompt my lawsuit.

It was a rout. Sager was eloquent and aggressive. My lawyer couldn’t begin to articulate my case, much less sway the judge. I lost that round.

Determined not to lose the all-important important hearing number two, against the Times and Tronc, I asked my law firm to meet for a strategy session. Bafflingly, they refused to confer or to send a more senior litigator to the next one. Another defeat was guaranteed.

Then my firm fired me — days before that key anti-SLAPP hearing. I had no idea that was even a thing, that that could happen.

I swear — it wasn’t me. I was professional and polite every step of the way. I have no idea why they left me hanging.

Normally in such situations, legal experts told me, the court grants a “continuance,” legalese for a delay, to give me time to look for a new attorney and allow him or her to familiarize themselves with the case. But it helps a lot if the opposing side says they’re OK with it.

A continuance is typically freely granted, even during the most ferocious legal battles. After all, you might be the one with a family emergency or whatever next time.

But Kelli Sager smelled blood. Figuring I’d be easier to defeat without legal representation, she fought ferociously against my requests for a continuance. Thus came about the following absurdity:

I found a new lawyer. But he needed a few weeks to get up to speed. True to her standard scorched-earth approach to litigation, Sager refused to grant me the courtesy of a continuance. So I was forced to rep myself in pro per (that’s what they call pro se in California) on July 14th.

My heart was pounding as I approached the plaintiff’s table, standing parallel to Sager. And I’m an experienced speaker! I’ve held my own on FoxNews. I’ve spoken to audiences of hundreds of people. I’ve hosted talk-radio shows. Yet dropping dead of a heart attack felt like a real possibility. I can’t imagine what this would feel like for someone unaccustomed to arguing in public.

The judge asked me to proceed. I nervously worked from prepared notes, explaining why my case wasn’t a “SLAPP” (a frivolous lawsuit I didn’t intend to win, filed just to harass the Times), that the anti-SLAPP law didn’t apply. I attacked the Times’ argument that their libelous articles were “privileged” (allowed) under anti-SLAPP because they were merely “reporting” on “official police records” about my 2001 jaywalking arrest.

If they’d been “reporting,” the articles would have had to follow the Times’ Ethical Guidelines, which ban anonymous sources, require careful analysis of evidence and calling subjects of criticism for comment. They didn’t come close. These weren’t news stories or even opinion pieces; they were hit jobs.

I explained that the records weren’t official at all, the LAPD denied releasing Beck’s unprovenanced audio, which differed from the official one at LAPD HQ. Much of the discussion was about legal minutiae rather than the broad strokes of what my case is about: I wrote a blog for latimes.com, the Times edited it and posted it, Chief Beck gave the Times a blank audio they said showed I’d lied about what I wrote, I had the audio cleaned up and it showed I’d told the truth, rather than issue a retraction when they found out they were wrong the Times refused to change their behavior and continued to insist I’d lied.

There’s also the big picture: if a newspaper’s parent company sells its stock to the police, and that newspaper’s publisher is a crony of the police chief who accepts awards from the police union, how can readers trust that newspaper not to suppress criticism of the police? Do Black Lives really Matter if investigations of police brutality don’t always make it to print, if writers and cartoonists have learned they can get fired and libeled if they annoy the cops?

I will soon receive a transcript of the hearing. I will post it at Rall.com.

Sager’s counterargument boiled down to: newspapers can publish anything they want, even lies, because the First Amendment protects free speech — as if libel and defamation law don’t exist.

Her defense for the Times was not that I lied. The audio makes clear that I didn’t. Her defense, the defense for a newspaper, was that the truth doesn’t matter.

Arguments ran over two hours.

On June 21st the judge ruled against my erstwhile lawyer directly from the bench.

On July 14th, I at least gave the judge something to think about. He took the matter “under consideration.”

I await his decision.

(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: Immigration Ethics 101: How to Resist Trump’s ICE Deportation Goons

Related image            The Clash sang-advised: “know your rights.” But few people do.

President Donald Trump is hell-bent on deporting millions of people, including kids who came to the U.S. so young that they’re Americans in every way but their immigration status. He even signed an executive order that would allow the arrest and deportation of fully-vetted green card holders the authorities say are suspected of any offense — including a traffic ticket.

I don’t believe in open borders. A country that doesn’t control who enters its territory hardly qualifies as a nation-state. But let’s get real about the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants in the U.S. They’re not criminals. They’re victims.

Corporations strive to keep the wages and negotiating leverage of American workers low. They’ve pressured their pet politicians — both Democrats and Republicans — to increase the labor supply with immigrants both legal (e.g. the much-abused H1B visa program) and undocumented. Illegals are powerless and scared. Business can’t get enough of them.

If you’re un- or underemployed, illegal immigrants are your comrades. Your joint struggle should be fought against your mutual enemy, the cheap and greedy employers who deploy divide-and-conquer propaganda like Trump’s.

Like the people of Nazi-occupied Europe, we will someday be judged for our actions (and inactions) in response to the Republicans’ inhumane mass deportations. But what should we do? Unlike Europeans, white Americans never developed a culture of resistance or a system of ethical standards to which decent people are expected to adhere.

First, know your rights. Even if you’re here illegally, you have rights under the Constitution. However, the police and their colleagues in Immigration and Customs Enforcement don’t want you to know that — and they’ll lie straight to your face. So get educated about the basics.

If an ICE agent comes to your door, don’t answer. They can’t come in without an arrest warrant signed by a judge. If you talk to them, the ACLU advises, don’t open the door. If you do open the door, they may ask if they can come in. Say no. If they present a warrant for your arrest, don’t physically resist. Go with them. Simply demand to speak with an attorney and declare that you will remain silent. Then shut up. Always carry contact information for an attorney with you, and memorize his or her name and phone number since a card or phone will be taken away from you in jail.

If you are here legally, spread this information to people you know who are not.

Second, don’t snitch. If you know or suspect that someone is here illegally, do not tell the authorities or anyone in contact with them. At the bare minimum, discretion requires limiting your contact with members of law enforcement and, of course, ICE agents. Talking to cops or ICE agents is always fraught but never more so than now — so ethics-minded American citizens should break off contact with anyone they suspect of working for the deportation squads.

Morality dictates that you lie to police or ICE agents if they ask you for information about an undocumented neighbor. But be aware of the risks: Trump’s mass deportation order provides for criminal penalties for Good Samaritans “who facilitate [illegals’] presence in the United States.”

Finally, if you’re a deportation thug you must quit your job. Needing to earn a living does not absolve you from accountability for wrongdoing. Death camp guards and slave catchers had bills to pay too. They could tell themselves that what they were doing to get by was lawful. But it wasn’t right — and a lot of people knew that at the time.

Consider, for example, the case of Guadalupe García de Rayos. After 22 years in the U.S. — her parents brought her to the U.S. from Mexico when she was 14 — she was arrested by ICE agents in Phoenix, who deported her in 24 hours. She left behind two U.S.-born children, both citizens. How can those ICE idiots live with themselves?

It is better to sleep under a bridge and starve to death than to participate in a mass-scale deportation program targeted at the most vulnerable members of society — and the most law-abiding (except for their presence in the U.S.). On the other hand, there is incredible power in refusing to obey an immoral order. How long would Trump’s mass deportations — or his presidency — last if thousands of police officers and ICE agents were to call press conferences and resign rather than deport an innocent family?

(Ted Rall 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: Brave New Book

Political Scientist Argues the U.S. is a Police State

The United States is a police state.

Not in danger of becoming one.

Is.

And it’s too late to restore democracy.

That’s the stark message of Andrew Kolin’s brave, lucid and important book “State Power and Democracy: Before and During the Presidency of George W. Bush.”

Kolin comes out swinging like Joe Frazier. Illusions and delusions about America as a democracy, much less one that is benevolent, don’t stand a chance.

The U.S., Kolin says, shares all the major attributes of a Third World police state: a constant state of emergency in which security always trumps civil liberties; sidestepping of laws by the government; excessive secrecy; the use of preventative detention and holding enemies of the state without filing formal charges; the manufacturing of reasons to go to war.

“The expansion of state power over the course of U.S. history came at the expense of democracy,” Kolin begins. “As state power grew, there developed a disconnect between the theory and practice of democracy in the United States. Ever-greater state power meant it became more and more absolute. This resulted in a government that directed its energies and resources toward silencing those who dared question the state’s authority.”

Some will find Kolin’s more-in-sorrow-than-in-anger deadpan delivery disconcerting or depressing. I think it refreshingly honest. Notice his use of the past tense to describe this country?

The U.S. is over. It’s always been over.

Creeping authoritarianism, Kolin says, began “not long after the end of the Revolutionary War, starting with the conquest of North America and by the start of the twentieth century, continuing with the expansionism outside of North America.”

That’s halfway down the first page.

A hundred pages in, you’ll either be stuffing rags into Molotov cocktails or slitting your wrists. You’ll definitely check the expiration date on your passport.

I was surprised to learn that Kolin is a political science professor at Hilbert College in upstate New York. His methodical walk through U.S. history and the struggle between increased state repression and popular democratic movements, a tug-and-pull in which government and its big business allies won the important battles, feels like a tight legal brief.

As Kolin argues, the fix was in from the start.

“The framers [of the U.S. Constitution] needed to establish a government that could promote and protect property, regulate the economy, create an elaborate infrastructure, and acquire native Indian lands, adhering to the policy of North American expansion, while allowing the democratic surge from below to be both expressed and contained,” Kolin writes.

Obviously, the legal status of most Americans has improved since 1789. For example, “the Abolitionists prove that political movements can disrupt repressive state policies and advance democracy.” However: “The success of the Abolitionists suggests that the government can accommodate reformism, provided its core interests [namely, to enlarge state power] remain unaffected.”

Anyone who has read Zinn or Chomsky will be familiar with the long litany of criminality and ultraviolence which expose the claim of exceptionalism as a ridiculous hoax. These are all here: the Sedition Acts, the Palmer Raids, the Red Scare, dirty deals with dictators. Where the book becomes indispensable is its last third, focusing on the Clinton, Bush and early Obama administrations. This, the author argues beyond any sane ability to disagree, is when Americans citizens lost our basic freedoms and civil liberties once and for all. Habeas corpus, an 800-year-old right held by the citizens of all Western nations, gone without so much as a broken window. A president-king who orders the execution of American citizens without a trial—nay, without evidence of wrongdoing, with barely a harshly-worded newspaper editorial to complain.

For Kolin the USA-Patriot Act, passed in haste by a cowed and cowardly Congress that hadn’t had time to read it after 9/11, marks the final end of formal democracy in the United States. If nothing else, sneak into a bookstore (if you still have one in your town) and read pages 142 to 152.

Here you will find the most thorough and clear dissection of this horrible law in print. Describing Title I, for example, Kolin explains: “Due process is not mentioned in the part that grants the president the authority to freeze assets at the start of, or even prior to an investigation [into terrorism], instead of after it is completed. All property seized can be disposed of according to the president’s wishes. There is no legal requirement to have a court order prior to a seizure, creating the possibility that mistakes may be made and, in most cases, won’t be corrected.”

Unfair confiscation may seem like a minor concern for an innocent man or woman arrested, tortured or assassinated on the order of a president. For conservatives who believe property rights are sacrosanct, however, the symbolism is unmistakable: a government that can steal your stuff with impunity is the enemy of the people.

I can imagine one logical objection to Kolin’s thesis. The government may have the right to oppress. But it is not impelled to do so. So long as government officials are well-intentioned men and women, stout of heart and full of integrity, they will refrain from abusing the rights they claim against us.

However, recent history proves that our government is not run by such individuals. And even if it were—a purely theoretical supposition—who would want to live in a nation where the difference between democracy and dictatorship relies on the whims of a coterie of elites?

Though “a glimmer of hope seemed to appear after President Obama took office,” Kolin shows how the Democratic president “merely modified police state practices.” Furthermore, the transitional nature of the brutal authoritarian tactics enacted by Bush into the next presidency indicates that they are not anomalous but structural. “The Obama Administration’s position that amnesty should be granted to those who tortured [under Bush] as well as those who authored the torture memos, itself violates national and international law; it also ensures that such policies will likely be repeated.”

Attorney General Eric Holder said: “We don’t want to criminalize policy differences.” Kolin replies: “Since when is support for a police state a policy difference?”

If you’ve somehow managed to ignore Obama’s record over the last few years, and you’re still thinking of voting for him next November, this book will change your mind.

Ted Rall is the author of “The Anti-American Manifesto.” His website is tedrall.com.)

COPYRIGHT 2011 TED RALL

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