Tuesday, March 29, 2011


Our firm is located in Portland, Oregon, a.k.a., Disneyland for the most liberal of liberals.  Fiscally conservative Portlanders are like the gay and lesbian Catholicsof the 1950s, i.e., in the closet, staying in the closet, and never coming out of the closet.

So you can only imagine that when the shit hit the fan in Wisconsin a few weeks ago (i.e., Governor Scott Walker’s proposal to limit/eradicategovernment employee’s ability to collectively bargain in an effort to reducebenefits to state employees), Portland’s fiscal conservatives kept their mouths shut. 

Nothing will make you a social pariah in Portland faster than expressing your views that, perhaps, benefits provided to government employees are ridiculous and part of the reason so many states are bankrupt.

How, you ask, does this have anything to do with today’s blog topic? Um…well…Oh! I remember my point:

I don’t know anyone on this planet, even the most fiscallyconservative, who won’t be appalled by today’s U.S. Supreme Court decisionoverturning a $14 million dollar judgment awarded to a wrongfullyconvicted/incarcerated man.

Not only was he innocent, the district attorney who prosecuted and convicted him was aware of DNA evidence proving his innocence, yet failed to provide that information to the defense – and deliberately withheld exculpatory evidence.

Honestly, I think $14 million is a steal. Because let’s be honest, if this wrongfully convicted man had been white, rich, and connected, the judgment would have been more like $14 billion and would not have been overturned. 

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Another Wrongfully Convicted Person Freed

I saw this article in the Washington Post the other day. As a criminal defense attorney, I continue to be amazed by these stories on several levels.

First, the level of technology, science, and sophistication that our society has reached continues to rise almost daily. And yet, we still have (most likely) thousands, if not more, prisoners serving extensive sentences for crimes they did not commit. How can this be? How is our criminal justice system still so flawed?

Having said that, the incredible work of the many innocence projects around the nation also amazes me. If you don't already know, the innocence project is using today's technology, usually DNA evidence, to indisputably prove that many of these convicted people are innocent and obtain their release from prison after years and years of incarceration. The toll this takes on the individual is impossible to understand unless you have lived through this yourself, or watched a loved one endure it.

However, there is also a toll on society. The costs of incarcerating these individuals in astronomical. And, that is only the beginning because when these innocent victims of our system are freed - many have rights of actions against the municipalities that put them there costing our taxpayers even more money. Or, several states have passed legislation that sets the automatic compensation due to these wrongfully convicted people. Not to be callous to the individual stories, but the taxpayers are double-paying first to incarcerate and then after they are freed! Doesn't this warrant putting a little more effort into getting it right the first time simply for economic reasons? Especially in this day and age of shrinking budgets and states on the verge of bankruptcy.

The other amazing part is that many of these individuals were convicted based on one of two things: a confession or eye-witness testimony. What we are quickly (though it should be quicker) learning is that these two seemingly sure-fire and reliable kinds of evidence used to gain convictions are actually two of the most-flawed as evidenced by what DNA is showing us. This, I believe, is the hardest pill to swallow for lay people or the uninformed. As a criminal defense attorney who has seen this first-hand and argued with these uninformed individuals, the idea that false confessions and eyewitness misidentification not only exist but are rampant is a very hard idea to accept intellectually. I do not mean to demean the uninformed, but only wish to point out the importance of educating the public on a more widespread level.

Several films have been made illustrating these issues, both fiction and documentary. These are always amazing and triumphant stories, but are full of tragedy as well. And, for every one film or innocent person exonerated, how many countless ones still remain in custody with no hope and at exorbitant societal costs?

While I know our system will never be perfect, and it beats the hell out of a lot of other societys', is it wrong to expect a little more? We certainly don't think so - do you?

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Teen Mom 2

Well, we first discussed this show in a previous post. Since then, a lot has happened. Without getting into all the nitty gritty details, suffice it to say that MTV returned with its second installment of this disturbing reality TV hit.

To remind you, the show follows a handful of teenage moms as they navigate the difficulties of real life with the added bonus of caring for a child after an unplanned teenage pregnancy. The show is actually a spin off of 16 and Pregnant.

This season, just like last season, is a series of uncomfortable scenes showing how the added responsibility of caring for a child significantly changes the lives of these young mothers. The cynic in me wonders whether the lives of these teens would be all that normal even without the babies, but that's a discussion for another time.

What, you may ask, does this have to do with a blog about lawyers and the law? Well, the legal issues these shows manifest through the lives of these young teens are limitless.

For example, similar to Season One, we have a domestic relationship that borders on abuse. Last season, it was Amber and Gary who displayed their dysfunctional and abusive relationship for all the world to see. In our previous post, we pondered whether Amber, who appeared to be the aggressor, would be prosecuted for her abusive behavior towards her baby-daddy, Gary. Turns out, she was.

In Season One, we also witnessed the prosecution of Farrah's mother, who abused her daughter, and was arrested for hitting her and, possibly, threatening her with a knife.

This season, we have Jenelle and her mother. We have already seen several instances of what could be considered criminal harrasment, at least here in Oregon. Some of their interactions border on assault and, as a criminal defense attorney, I would not be surprised to see some district attorneys try to prosecute some of these disputes as domestic assaults.

While Jenelle's behavior towards her mother is nothing but distasteful, my opinion of her is saved by the fact that her mother seems even more awful than she. And, as we all know, the apple doesn't fall far from the tree, right? Jenelle is clearly not excelling in her role as a teen mother, however, her mother is such a terrible control freak, it is almost impossible to even witness her behavior towards her daughter and how she uses the baby as silk in her web of misery - mostly against her daughter.

Now, I'm no family lawyer - I do criminal defense and personal injury, remember? - but, Janelle's mother threatens to take her to court for custody of the baby and, in so doing, forces her to voluntarily give up temporary custody of the child. Normally, and even somewhat in this case, this is a benevolent maneuver for the welfare of the child. However, here, as we see in all the episodes since, Jenelle's mother uses the custody situation against her, and does so vindictively.

Not to be outdone, in last night's episode, Jenelle steals her mother's credit cards to take her and her deadbeat boyfriend (who is strangely likable in his supporting role though he does nothing productive for the duo), on a road trip to New Jersey to see the boyfriend's older brother. WHAT IS SHE THINKING!?!??! This maneuver is a shining example of what medical science has proven about teenagers brains not functioning properly as they have not completed their judgment determinative growth - in other words, they are unable to make appropriate decisions at this age which is only exacerbated by these dysfunctional relationships and, obviously, the additional pressure of parenting an infant or toddler.

I can tell you, as an experienced criminal defense attorney, Jenelle's behavior could easily qualify as theft here in Oregon. The show does not provide the audience with just how much she rings up in credit card charges (gas and food) for this little adventure before her mother catches wind of the game and cancels the cards so its impossible to know whether this behavior would rise to the level of a felony or simply a misdemeanor. And, any criminal defense attorney could tell you, those levels vary from state to state. But, clearly, she has stolen from her mother. What is interesting, at least to this attorney audience member, is will the local district attorney attempt to prosecute Jenelle since their entire case is laid out in living color on television. I always knew that DA's had it easier than criminal defense attorneys, but this is ridiculous.

Finally, the other legally, intriguing couple this season is Kailyn and Jo. This is any normal human's worst nightmare scenario. When the season began, we learned that Kailyn was living at Jo's house out of the charity of his parents when Kailyn (for currently unknown reasons) had nowhere else to go. Then, Jo impregnated Kailyn and after she had the baby, she remained in their house. The brutal part is that when she and Jo stopped getting along, she could not escape because to leave this house would render her (and her baby) homeless. And, Jo's poor parents who are trying to do the right thing are stuck in the middle of two teen parents who no longer like each other. This is one of the more miserable human scenarios I have ever witnessed.

The legally interesting part is during a surprising moment of generosity, Jo lends Kailyn $600 to start college. Then, last night, after Kailyn reveals that she wants no part of any relationship with Jo, she is asked to leave their house. Suddenly, Kailyn's mom who has been around in previous episodes but was extremely unsupportive for unknown reasons, now offers Kailyn a place to stay for her and her child. So, Kailyn moves out, but when she tries to recover her belongings from Jo's house, he refuses until he gets his money. The unfortunate parents are stuck in the middle of this mess of trying to support their son and their grandchild. Eventually, the cops are called.

Again, I'm not a property lawyer, but the cops presumably listen to both sides of the story and eventually send Kailyn away without her stuff claiming that Jo is allowed to hold it until he gets his money back. What do the other lawyers out there think about this? What about the non-lawyers? Discuss....

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

I’m driving my husband crazy

My daughter is starting kindergarten in the fall and this milestone is wreaking havoc on my family. No, I’m not having an emotional crisis because my baby girl is growing up.  No, my husband and I are not fighting over private-versus-public school.

I’m freaking out because our neighborhood school is one of the worst in the entire district and, as a result, we are moving. The “driving my husband crazy” part relates to my calling said husband at work 20 times a day with reminders of all the things that must get done in order for us to move (i.e., “don’t forget you have to caulk the bathtub tonight.”).

To be honest, part of me feels guilty. I have these Erin Brockovich fantasies about keeping our daughter in our terrible neighborhood school and dedicating our lives to making this low-income, inner-city school the best in the entire city. After all, the more people like us, who choose to go elsewhere, the greater the chance this school will continue its ineptitude.

“We’ll show those rich, west-side, stay-at-home mommies,” I say to myself. “We’ll start a movement!”

And then reality sets in. 

The reality is that what’s best for our daughter is for us to move to a neighborhood school that consists of well-connected, educated and dedicated parents who devote a considerable amount of time raising hundreds of thousands of dollars to pay for the music, art and P.E. teachers the state no longer funds.

Which brings me to the point of this post: My parents happen to live in the neighborhood that has, hands down, the best public elementary school in the city. And in the past month, as I’ve been fretting over kindergarten, I’ve been stunned to hear dozens of my peers and colleagues tell me I should just use my parents’ address as our residence in order to get our child into this fabulous school. Apparently this is common practice. 

But it’s a practice to which my husband and I will never resort. And no, it’s not out of fear of getting caught, or getting prosecuted like this poor woman. It’s because we believe it’s wrong. That this practice further divides the haves from the have- nots.

We believe that if it’s important enough to send our child to a certain school, then we must make the sacrifice of moving. We think it’s wrong to cheat the system.

But apparently we are the minority.

So I want to know, people: What do you think? Is it okay to lie about where you live in order to ensure your child will go to a better school? Would you do it?

Do tell.