opinions, everybody's got one...
Saturday, February 23, 2002
contract attorney crisis worse than reported
Recently the Wilmington News Journal reported on how a shortage of budgeted funds for state-paid attorneys is resulting in long trial delays. The article says that Superior Court contracted attorneys are being paid $60 per hour and that this is less than the $100 an hour rate for federal cases and less than some attorneys charge in their private practice.
The reporter in this case missed half of the story. Some attorneys charge more than $60 per hour? Are you kidding me? The State is getting a tremendous deal at the $60 an hour rate, because there are very few attorneys in this county, if any, that charge less than $150 per hour and most are probably significantly above it.
What about the rate that is paid to the private attorneys who represent the patients at the Delaware Psychiatric Center at Superior Court mental commitment hearings? Those attorneys are paid even less. Perhaps this is one reason we have lost about half of the attorneys who practice in this arena, while the number of mental patient hearings dramatically increases every year.
But we shut those cases out of the public view along with the mental patients and their attorneys. Lock them up and shut them up. Are these attorneys paid less for this work because their clients are less important? Or are these just sub-standard attorneys? There has to be a reason, doesn?t there? Perhaps they just don?t lobby as effectively.
What is an hourly rate, anyway? Many people confuse an attorney?s hourly rate with the attorney?s salary. This is a grave miscalculation, as there is very little connection between the two.
The hourly rate is a number calculated to cover the expense of maintaining an office, paying for staff, maintaining insurance, paying taxes, buying office equipment and office supplies and a wide variety of other costs associated with running the business - yes, the business, of a law practice. And if there is anything left after the expenses are paid, the attorney may get to keep some.
What impact is there then when the State pays less than the going rate for legal services? Simply speaking, it automatically jacks up the rate that the attorneys must charge their private clients.
And what about the attorneys that Family Court pays to represent parents who don?t pay their child support when the case becomes serious enough as to merit jail time for the non-paying parent? These cases are called the Black v. Black cases, named after a Delaware Supreme Court Case with that caption. More than rumor has it that these attorneys are paid even less.
The State has admitted that the Courts are the ones who will need to resolve this problem on their own. The story reported was only the tip of the iceberg. The problem that was discussed in the News Journal isn't just confined to criminal defense cases, and it's getting worse by the day.
Friday, February 22, 2002
interview with a terrorist
On Wednesday night, I rushed off with a friend to the University of Delaware, at Clayton Hall, to listen to Peter Bergen. The place brought back some memories.
It's been a few years since a speech given by ex-president Gerald Ford. An evening filled with anecdotes about golfing with Skip O'Neil and memories of the White House (Gerald Ford once quipped, "I know my game is getting better because I'm hitting less spectators.") We amused ourselves by trying to spot secret service agents by the handguns concealed in holsters under their jackets.
Another lecture I saw there back in 1995, was Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., on the topic "Are We Turning Isolationist Again?" What was America's role in the world after the fall of the Soviet Union? A speech by Mr. Schlesinger from about the same time, on Winston Churchill, in Boston, captures some of his eloquence.
Wednesday night, the speaker was a reporter, best know for meeting in 1997 with an obscure Saudi (at the time) named Osama Bin Laden. It was refreshing to hear an eloquent viewpoint from a person unafraid to report on the shortcomings of Democrats and Republicans in recognizing the potential danger that terrorists from the Middle-East posed. Peter Bergen, terrorism analyst for CNN talked in front of more than 600 people from Delaware as part of the Global Agenda 2002 lecture series, with a theme of "Understanding International Terrorism Today."
Perhaps the chance to sit in the seat usually reserved for Paula Zahn, as questioner, was enticing for the crowd. Many people were enthusiastic to pose questions to CNN's Middle East terrorism expert Bergen. Amongst the intelligently phrased queries was one that asked about the role of Al-Jazeera in the media community in light of their holding back on releasing a video tape from Bin Laden. Bergen had begun to address that issue on February 1st, at the probing of Zahn. It appears that the student who asked that question had done some homework before attending the function.
Bergen had a number of things to say about his meeting with Bin Laden in 1997. Amongst them was that hindsight had made his interview a much larger story than he could have imagined. Bergen and a camera man secreted thousands of dollars worth of film equipment into Afghanistan shortly after the Taliban had made the taking of photographic images of people a crime. They had a guide who had some rudimentary "school-boy's" french in common with them.
They waited around in Jalalabad a couple of days before they were contacted by armed people who told them that they had to leave all of their cameras behind, in case they contained tracking devices. They weren't allowed to bring watches, and other implements that might similarly be bugged. Blindfolded with goggles, they were driven around for hours, up and down mountainous areas, and past guards who asked for passwords, at different points. Upon arriving, they were left indoors, until sometime around the middle of the night, armed men came in and searched, and interrogated them. Quietly amongst them, came a tall, thin, unimposing man who spoke softly, and allowed them to ask him questions.
You could tell from Peter Bergen's face that he would like to have that interview all over again. He didn't repeat much of the dialogue he had with Bin Laden on Wednesday, but said in an conversation with an Atlantic Magazine reporter of the interview:
We did the interview with him in 1997 on CNN, and basically no one paid any attention at all. It got a little write-up in some wire services, but it was not a big deal. Bin Laden's actions made him into a big deal. Not the media. Without the simultaneous bombings of the U.S. embassies in Africa in 1998 and the U.S. cruise missile attacks two weeks later against his terrorist training camps, no one would have noticed him.Bergen finished writing a book on Osama Bin Laden at the end of August of last year. It was scheduled for release about five or so months later. After September 11th, he was asked to update and revise the book for release to the public in mid-November. After hearing Peter Bergen's lecture, I'm interested in reading some other of his views on the subject. I might have to purchase the book online. I'm certain that the local neighborhood bookstore has probably sold out of copies to some of the other visitors to Clayton Hall on Wednesday night.
The lecture series has a number of other speakers who look like they are worth spending an evening listening to, including Barbara Bodine on March 27th, and Egypt?s ambassador to the United States, Nabil Fahmy, on April 10th, and a number of others. The series ends on Feb. 27, with Marcelle Wahba, U.S. ambassador to the United Arab Emirates. If you're in Delaware one of those nights, drop on by the University of Delaware's Clayton Hall. Maybe we'll see you in the crowd.
- William Slawski
Latvia in the 1920's and 1930's
Just what is the Office of Strategic Influence? This newly formed government agency may be out on a mission to engage in tactics of misinformation to spread propaganda. Is the spreading of untruths to combat terrorism a bad idea?
Brigadier General Simon P. Worden heads an agency that the New York Times has called an Office of shady influence.
If our government is going to invest ongoing efforts in spreading false information, maybe we are going to have to learn more about how propaganda works.
- William Slawski
Thursday, February 21, 2002
During a lecture at Princeton University on Monday, Barbara Hatch Rosenberg, (director of the Federation of American Scientists' Chemical and Biological Weapons Program) claimed that the FBI had a suspect in the anthrax mailings last year.
- William Slawski
Wednesday, February 20, 2002
supreme court actions
There are many more cases brought before the US Supreme Court every year than they have time to hear. What does the Court think about when deciding whether or not to hear a case? How is a request made to the Court? The answer to the first question is sometimes difficult to ascertain, though there's no denying that the chosen cases are interesting.. The second is easier to answer. You file a Writ of Certiorari when asking them to review a decision from a lower court. You can also try to file a Writ of Certiorari before a judgment has been filed in a case. The court has total discretion over which cases they will hear.
Recent decisions made by the Court can be found on the Slip Opinions page from the Court's web site. Orders on writs of certiorari are found on another page. Four writs were issued today (pdf), and I counted 417 being denied (I may have missed a couple).
Here's some information on a couple of the ones granted:
Eldred v. Ashcroft
The writ of certiorari raises the following questions:
The counsel of record in the case is Lawrence Lessig, and the lead plaintiff builds free web libraries based upon public domain works. A nice summation of the case can be found in the Wired article; High Court Hears Copyright Case.
John Doe v. Ronald Otte and Bruce Botelho
The impact of the original ruling in the Alaska Court of Appeals has a possible impact upon many of the states that have online registries of sex offenders.
U. S. District Court Judge H. Russel Holland issued a preliminary injunction on January 29, 2002, enjoining the state from the enforcement of the Alaska Sex Offender Registration Act against persons whose crimes were committed before August 10, 1994. This website is now limited to information about persons who committed qualifying offenses on or after August 10, 1994.
Guam was forced to remove 75 per cent of their registered profiles. The docket of the case shows that the writ was filed on November 21, 2001, and that California filed an amici curiae brief.
The Supreme Court will hear the case in the next term which begins in October. The controversy is over whether people who were convicted of crimes before the registration law went into effect should be required to register, and shown on the website registrar.
- William Slawski
Tuesday, February 19, 2002
Hatfield v. McCoy
Today's News Journal reports on a feud between Department of Transportation Secretary Nathan Hayward III and developer Frank Acierno. If you would believe Frank Acierno, he knowingly put up a 45 foot high lighted sign on state property because he thought he could work out a deal with the state. And you would also believe that Frank doesn't understand the two lighted signs that the state put up in its place that said "scofflaws note", after the state ordered Acierno's illegal sign removed.
If you believe Hayward, the scofflaw signs were in the public interest, not a personal attack from him on Acierno. If I hadn't seen the sign being removed in the middle of the night (knowing that you don't hire that many people and a crane to work late at night unless there is a problem), I wouldn't have understood the two portable "Scofflaws Note" signs that endangered our safety at that intersection for a week or so later. If the signs were in the public interest, shouldn't the public have been able to understand what they meant? Clearly, it was only the people who were privy to the problem that were the intended audience (or target?).
I don't believe either of these fellows. And without getting into a chicken or the egg analysis, I think they deserve each other. But lets try to keep it from costing the taxpayers and endangering our safety, eh?
understanding international terrorism lectures
One of the nice things about living in or near a college town is that some interesting people come to visit and lecture upon occassion. The following message is from the University of Delaware Public Relations Department:
Subject: Understanding International Terrorism Today
Would you like to meet:
All this and more will be part of the 2002 Global Agenda lecture series on "Understanding International Terrorism Today," scheduled at 7:30 p.m. on selected Wednesdays, from Feb. 20 through May 8, in Room 128 Clayton Hall. The series is free and open to the public.
Take advantage of this extraordinary opportunity to learn from practitioners of political, diplomatic and military policy and from the media who cover international terrorism.
Opening the series on Feb. 20 will be Peter Bergen, author of the current best-seller "Holy War, Inc: Inside the Secret World of Osama bin Laden" and the producer of CNN's 1997 ground-breaking interview with Osama bin Laden, who is now being hunted for organizing the Sept. 11 attacks and others. Bergen is one of the few Westerners who has actually met bin Laden. He has traveled frequently to Afghanistan, Yemen, Pakistan and Kashmir, where the al Qaeda network flourished. His topic will be "The Mind of a Terrorist."
For complete information on the series, speakers and dates, check the link from the University's home page at [www.udel.edu] or visit UDaily at [www.udel.edu/udaily].
- William Slawski
Monday, February 18, 2002
the importance of a swing vote
One of the best choices I made while in law school, was to read the Brethren the summer before my second year, when we studied constitutional law. The book, unfortunately now out of print, is an excellent introduction to the people behind some of the most important judicial cases of our time, including Roe v. Wade, Miranda, and many others. It also has the power to give its readers a good sense of how the Court functions.
Because of this book, Constitutional law was one of my favorite classes. But I may have learned more about the constitution from the book than from the class. See Movie Day at the Supreme Court ?I Know It When I See It? (pdf), for the types of insights that the book provides. Or even better, find a copy of the book somewhere, and read it, if you're interested in learning about how the Supreme Court works.
One thing The Brethren taught well was the value of a swing vote. And there may be no person in the history of the Court who has understood the role of a moderate in deciding final outcomes than Sandra Day O'Connor
The Washington Post's article The O'Connor Factor; Justice Plays Pivotal Role on High Court describes the growing popularity and influence of the Justice. It also asks a number of questions, such as whether she will retire soon, or become Chief Justice.
Delaware Justice Randy Holland (President of the American Inns of Court) was recently involved in honoring Justice O'Connor (scroll down) in Arizona for her service to the American legal community.
The time of the move to the new courthouse in New Castle County is fast approaching. This article states that the Delaware Supreme Court will also move into the Building. I had heard otherwise, and I suspect that they are wrong.
The type of story that you like to hear every once in a while tells us that Dark chocolate may help fight off heart attacks.
people who live in glass houses...
Best title for any article I've seen on the net in quite a while. After three years of labor and 42,000 bottles, "Stones Least of Worries For Glass House People," from the Moscow Times. [sorry. upon revisiting this story, I've discovered that anything older than a day on the Moscow Times English Language site requires a subscription. Some fascinating stuff there, regardless.]
who's on first
Stealing a pizza in California might no longer be the means of earning a twenty-five-year to life sentence as a third felony, in light of a Ninth Circuit decision made last week. The federal court asked for more proportionality in sentences when habitual offender statutes are used to enhance sentencing orders. Draconian measures of sentencing someone should not be based upon failed attempts to apply baseball metaphors (three strikes) to justice. Nor should they be based upon failed attempts to use the legal system to "rehabilitate" someone, when many measures aimed at rehabilitation are aspirational at best, and total failures at worst; often without sufficient funds or resources to make them successful.
- William Slawski
Sunday, February 17, 2002
around the law
The concept of family and parental rights is in a constant state of change.
In Delaware, Family Court ruled on a case in which may have the impact of expanding who may be held responsible for a child. A lesbian couple had a child through in-vitro fertilization. Now, four years later, the couple has broken up, and the custodial parent is suing the other for child support. A Family Court commissioner ruled that both should be considered mothers to the child that they chose to have together. While this will probably be reviewed upon an appeal, I think that this result is indeed in the best interests of the child involved.
In Britain, a study has been released which looks at the possible legal implications of cohabitation without marriage. One of the authors of the study opines that cohabitants should have same legal rights as married couples.
sovereign immunity in the military
Should members of the armed services be allowed to sue the military for violations of privacy? Courts have recognized the use of sovereign immunity to shield the government from lawsuits when there has been a violation of privacy related to a service person's duty in the military. However, the issue in this case stems from the unauthorized use of a flight evaluation in a book.
cloned kitty at heart of debate
The first cloned domestic pet is a kitten. One of the things I found interesting about this story is that it has the Audubon Nature Institute's Center for Research of Endangered Species pitted against the Humane Society of the United States. I can't resist the pun this story brings (sorry). New meaning for the phrase copycat?
questioned judicial nomination
The first federal judicial officer recommended by the Bush administration to get a less than favorable recommendation from the American Bar Association was confirmed this past week. One of the things that people are pointing to is that he is also a Senator's son. The American Bar Association may make recomendations to the Senate Judiciary Committee, but that doesn't always mean that they are listened to. Three of President Clinton's appointees to the federal judiciary also failed to get positive recommendations, but were confirmed.
ftc calls upon miss cleo
The Federal Trade Commission complaint was filed last Thursday after the agency received over 2,000 complaints in the last 18 months. Callers who dialed the service, which was advertised as a free reading, had their phone lines directed to a 900 number with charges of $4.99 per minute. An average reading would cost approximately $60.00. Miss Cleo wasn't a named party in the complaint. Maybe she did see this coming.
justice moving quickly
With a move to a new courthouse scheduled for later in the year, and overcrowding in Delaware's prisons, Superior Court is taking action. Over 400 cases have been set for trial in a four-week blitz, which is equivalent to 6 months worth of scheduling in previous years.
slavery in delaware
While Delaware fought on the side of the Union during the civil war, its attitudes about slavery might have been described as reflecting more those found in the southern states. Slavery was still legal in the state at the end of the war between the north and the south. The Emancipation Proclaimation only applied to Confederate states, and it wasn't until eight months after the civil war ended that slavery was declared illegal in Delaware by the passage of the 13th amendment. Why did slavery linger in the first state, and what treatment did freed slaves face in Delaware?
But Delaware's gradual liberation of slaves also worked against free blacks, Williams said. The state had one of the highest percentages of free blacks by 1800, which led to many laws restricting their rights.
An excellent discussion of the patentability of genetic material from Denise Howell of Bag and Baggage is
You Don't Own Me But I'm Your Genome - A Primer On Why Genetic Material Is patentable The links she provides for further research are also well worth following.
mention in other blogs
We recently added a few links on the main page of Delaware Law Office to some other blogs that we like to look at, and were ecstatic to see that a couple of them linked back to us.
We didn't know about the Delaware connection from Outside Counsel before our link, but the blogging going on there by William C. Altreuter was something that inspired us to put together a weblog. (thanks!)
Another inspiration to blog was an essay by Rebecca Blood, called weblogs: a history and perspective. I particularly liked the section where she describes the impact writing a blog had on her own personal life; how it caused her to focus upon and think about her interests, or as she called it, a, "journey of self-discovery and intellectual self-reliance." We started this blog for a couple of reasons. One was try to focus upon and keep track of legal issues in the world around us, and the other was to try to have fun. It was great to see her point us out as a law blog. Thank you, Rebecca, for the link and for the inspiration.
We also found ourselves linked to by John Steven in Trance Gemini where he offers intelligent commentary, mixed with a large element of fun. (thanks for the cite!)
- William Slawski