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June 2006
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Yes, Your Honor: I Can Treat This Riff-Raff Impartially

I guess Scott Vachon, a member of the Laconia School Board, didn't take high-school civics:

Stephen Goupil is serving at least 35 years in prison after being found guilty of leading a home invasion in Laconia in April 2004 and repeatedly raping a 24-year-old woman at knifepoint. He was convicted of five counts of rape and one of theft.

Goupil’s lawyer, Mark Sisti, said the trial court should have set aside the verdicts after learning that Scott Vachon, a member of the Laconia School Board, referred to defendants as “local riff raff” on a personal Web blog four days before jury selection.

Vachon also is said to have posted a statement in which he said he was frustrated to have to serve on a jury that would require him to spend time listening to defendants trying to prove they were innocent.

There's so much wrong with Vachon's attitude, that I really don't have any commentary.   I would like to get a hold of the trial transcript, however, to see whether Mr. VAchon perjured himself.  Ordinarily during jury selection, the trial court will ask the venirepersons whether there is anything they know about the defendants that might cause them to prejudge the case.  Given that Mr. Vachon considered the defendants to be "riff raff," I have a hard time understanding how he truthfully could have answered, No, when asked that question.

On the Ups-And-Downs of Life

Kevin O'Keefe, president of what seems to be a very successful company, reminds his readers his professional life wasn't always so:

I remember the day I called my wife and told her to move my car done to the ferry parking lot so GMAC wouldn't be able to find it. And every other phone call being from a credit card company expecting to get blood from a turnip.

If you're feeling a little down, remember that things always seem to get better.

Yo Denny! It's Called the "Fourth Amendment"

House Speaker Dennis Haster, while now refusing to back a crooked Louisian politician, had this to say regarding the Department of Justice's search-and-seizure policy:

"There has to be a procedure for the Justice Department to come in and start just searching any congressman's office," Hastert said on "Fox News Sunday."

Ummmm... I think there is a "procedure" DOJ follows: FBI agents investigate criminal activity.  Once they have probable cause to believe a congressperson has committed a crime, they file a warrant application.  If a neutral and detached magistrate determines there is probable cause that a legislature committed a crime, then he issues the search warrant. 

Seems like a pretty good procedure to me.  It comes directly from the Constitution, after all - something Hastert should appreciate, no?

Judge V. Jury

A recent study suggests that on balance, judges are more likely to acquit a person accused of a crime than is a jury. The results are counterintuitive to me, but that may because my intuitions are all off.

Generally, I worry that judges have seen it all before and are therefore more likely to convict. But perhaps seeing it all before makes them better able to spot a weak case by the Government. Juries often seem less than fully committed to the presumption of innocence, after all.

Here's a link describing the study. It's got me wondering. Judge v. Jury

So Long, ATLA

I resigned my position as a staff member at Gerry Spence's Trial Lawyer's College when I became persuaded that the place was chock-full of nuts. And I am not talking about the coffee.

The college won't permit prosecutors to attend. It won't permit insurance defense lawyers to attend. No, it wants only those pure of heart. Only those dedicated to the pursuit of "justice". As though there justice were a monopoly horded on only one side of a courtroom's aisle.

So I will also today tender my resignation to the American Association for Justice, formerly known as the American Trial Lawyers Association.  At its recent annual meeting, the ATLA voted to change its name. Why? It is running scared. Trial lawyers have a bad name. Justice is good. Just like Apple Pie.

I am a trial lawyer. I have represented and do represent prosecutors, police officers, persons accused of rape, state legislators, murderers, traffickers in child pornography, municipal officials, victims of police misconduct, employees, drug addicts and dealers, and pimps, prostitutes and others in trouble. And plently of other people, too. All come with needs and interests that need protection and vindication.

The trial lawyers' association is desparate to win the battle for tort reform. There is nothing wrong with our courts, they say. Big verdicts and huge fees are part of the pursuit of justice. Class action suits aren't a game, but rather a gold mine with Athena's scales measuring out fees. Changing the name to American Association for Justice is just plain silly, and desperate.

What's in a name? Not much. Unless you are a trial lawyer ashamed of your calling and afraid that someone might some day come seize your Lear Jet.

American Association for Justice? Forgive me, but I thought all members of the bar were a member of that association.

I wonder whether the folks at the trial lawyers' club will give me a refund on the unearned portion of my membership dues? Or is quantum meruit no longer justice?

Ken Lay Cheated Justice?

Opponents of the death penalty argue that requiring someone to serve life in prison is worse than death.  Death-penalty supporters snarkily respond: "Then why do prisoners spend years trying to avoid the death penalty?"  The death penalty, say its supporters, is worse than life in prison. 

How then do you explain the outrage over Ken Lay's death?  Sobriety was never attached to Ken Lay's trial and conviction, with a publication like Forbes writing

With his death from a massive heart attack on Wednesday, Ken Lay cheated justice. And then some. Not only will the Enron founder not end his days in prison, but according to legal precedent, his entire case will be erased from the records.

Ken Lay is dead.  Isn't death a worse punishment than life in prison?  Why then are even sober people like Forbes writers so outraged? 

Perhaps the editors of Forbes also oppose the death penalty. But I know from conversations with many pro-death people that they, too, were upset that Ken Lay cheated his punishment.  How is this consistent?  Shouldn't they be pleased the vile Ken Lay (who, in truth, was an innocent man) is dead?  Perhaps the religious would believe that God fulfilled his promise that "Vengeance  is mine."

Of course, the people who are both pro-death and anti-Ken Lay's death, are consistent.  They are consistent because the death penalty and imprisonment serve similar goals - vengeance.  Ultimately the need for vengeance moves all forms of criminal punishment.  Whether the state is imprisoning a man, or killing him, vengeance is king.