Archive for March, 2004

Ain’t That A Hole In The Boat?

Monday, March 29th, 2004

Every once in a while, a reader will send us a suggestion for something he or she deems “blogworthy.” We welcome these ideas, as we are clearly incapable of coming up with a full blog’s worth of original material. Most of the time, though, it doesn’t turn out to be something that fires us up, or other things prevent us from writing about it, or whatever. Often, we agree that it’s a neat issue that’s worth writing about, but for whatever reason we just can’t put it into words the way we would like to. Again, we appreciate all the suggestions, and we hope you understand that even if something is blogworthy, it doesn’t necessarily mean that we’re worthy of blogging it.

This all leads up to this. We got an email from a loyal reader pointing to a story and suggesting blogworthiness. In the course of writing him back and explaining why I wasn’t going to blog about it, I ended up writing more than I usually write in a regular post. So, I just decided to convert it into a post.

Our reader pointed us to this New York Times story about a federal case involving a juvenile who burned up a marina housing former President Bush’s boat. I agreed with our reader that it is blog-worthy. In fact, UNC Law Prof Eric Muller felt that way three months ago. (Without paying for the old NYT story, I can’t be sure, but apparently that was when the issue came up in the First Circuit, and the new story is about stuff happening in the district court.) (I also seem to recall that Eugene Volokh posted on this, but always have a devil of a time with his search function, so I couldn’t find the post in a timely fashion. But be advised, it’s out there somewhere.)

Anyway, I think I pretty much agree with Muller’s take that criminals have to take their victims as they find them. The example in his post was the street mugging of former colleagues of his in the U.S. Attorney’s Office, a case which was prosecuted federally. Part of my agreement on this has to do with my being a federal employee, I’m sure. But if your victims turn out to be the president — or his boat — well, tough. What’s most interesting here is that if this were purely a matter of whether it should have been prosecuted federally, it’s (virtually) a no-brainer. In most circuits, the U.S. Attorney’s certification that a juvenile case is of federal interest is an unreviewable exercise of prosecutorial discretion. (That’s the procedure — the USA has to certify it under a statute, but it simply amounts to a statement that this is a case worth their time.) And even in the circuits that allow for such review, it’s a very deferential standard. And even if it weren’t, I think you can make the argument that an arson that destroys a former president’s property creates a substantial federal interest. For one thing, we don’t want kids to do it if they think they can get off with a slap on the wrist in a state juvenile court. For another, we don’t want adults to use juveniles as pawns to do this sort of thing (even if we could always prosecute the ringleader federally, we don’t want to give him any incentive to use a patsy to do the dirty work.) Finally, we want national standards of treatment for these case, rather than Arkansas sending some kid to juvie for a few years for defacing the Clinton library while California gives a kid a parade for torching the Nixon library.

But, the twist here is that the Maine U.S. Attorney who brought the charges said that the fact that it was George Bush’s boat didn’t have anything to do with it! If that’s true, you’ve got to wonder why he brought charges at all, unless he really has a thing for arson cases or something.

Apparently, the original charging decision isn’t an issue here (perhaps because the defense recognizes it’s a loser). Instead, the challenege is over where the kid was sent (a prison in Pennsylvania). The U.S. Bureau of Prisons doesn’t operate a juvenile facility, and according to the Times story, the First Circuit said that the district judge “had not sufficiently considered the location and rehabilitative capabilities of the detention facility chosen by the government as required by federal law.”

So, even if the kid got sent to the wrong prison, it doesn’t look like the argument is going to be over whether he should be in prison at all. That ship has sailed (pun intended), and one has to wonder if the Times is trying to make this sound more sinister than it ought to be. My bottom line is that, even though my guess is that the Maine U.S. Attorney’s Office probably had better things to do, it’s not unreasonable that this was a federal case. And that means hard time. It’s sad, but them’s the breaks. It looks like the kid might be better off in a different prison, but his best bet may be applying for the first pardon issued by the current President Bush.

(This post’s title is a line from the song Ain’t That a Kick in the Head?, which Dean Martin performed in the original version of Ocean’s Eleven.)

To infinity and beyond!!!

Monday, March 22nd, 2004

No, I am not referring to President Bush’s proposed invasion of Mars (“we will not wait until Mars poses an imminent threat…”). I wanted to let our northern hemisphere readers know that for the next two weeks they will be able to see with the naked eye a fairly rare astronomical event: five planets in the western sky. For about two hours after sunset you should be able to spot Mercury, Venus, Mars, Saturn, and Jupiter. To find the planets, locate the Orion constellation and look to the right of Orion’s shoulder. The planets should line up vertically with the crescent moon. Mercury will be near the horizon (below the moon) and visible in the last light of the setting sun. Mars and Venus will both appear near, but above, the moon. Saturn and Jupiter will be visible higher in the sky.

Enjoy.

Your secrets are safe with us

Monday, March 15th, 2004

Apropos the Hillary in ’08 Kerry campaign, I wanted to let you know that BTQ has the backing of several major international leaders. However, I won’t tell you which ones. I can’t. I won’t betray confidences like that. You will just have to trust that I am not making this up for some sinister self-serving purpose. I will give you a hint, though. They aren’t Fidel, the ayatollahs, Jacques Chirac, Kim Jong-il, Saddam, or any of the other world leaders who have silently endorsed the Kerry campaign.

Fitz-Hume Chapter 4: The Legend Of The Rent Was Way Past Due

Monday, March 8th, 2004

What I am doing at work: Drafting a discovery order. The party to whom it is directed has already indicated that it will refuse to comply with the order. Nice. Nothing like that lack of personal jurisdiction over the parties to really help an ALJ control the course of litigation.

What I am doing at home: More fly tying. More running. I am going to grill steaks for dinner tonight.

What I am reading: John Gierach’s Trout Bum – This may be my favorite book of all time (certainly a top 10) and I recommend it without hesitation to fishermen and non-fishermen.

What I am watching: School of Rock on DVD – one of the best movies of 2003 and featuring one of the great rock anthems of all time, The Legend of The Rent Was Way Past Due (“I pledge allegiance to the band of Mr. Schniebly, and will not fight him for creative control…”)

What I am listening to: Essential Willie Nelson

What I am thinking about: My job search; trying to figure out how to pay my taxes

What I am not thinking about: College basketball

TMI (too much information): I was in a car wreck that was so horrific it was featured on CNN for two days. I got to ride to the hospital in an ambulance and even got to see a priest in the ER.

Monday, March 1st, 2004

The Southwest Virginia Law Blog has all the details of today’s news that the former law student accused of killing three people at the Appalachian School of Law in 2002 has agreed to plead guilty and receive six life sentences in exchange for not facing the death penalty. The shooter, a Nigerian immigrant, was known around the law school as “Peter O.” He had previously been declared mentally unfit to stand trial, but the doctors had recently changed their diagnosis after treatment. The victims were the law school Dean, a professor, and a student. Learn more about them here.

I hope this conclusion to the case brings some relief and closure to all involved. I was in law school when the killings occured, and for that and other reasons this incident has always hit home with me. It turned out that Dean Sutin was the good friend of a good friend. I later worked with someone who would have been a third-year that day had she not transferred to another school. I know some people who have had some involvement with Peter O’s case. I’m not going to make some argument about law school culture, or gun control, or some big sociological statement. The really amazing thing, though, is ASL’s response. This is the kind of thing that could have made the fledgling school close its doors. But it seems to have grown closer together, become more of a community, after the killings. I think that ASL will eventually meet its mission of training lawyers to serve an under-represented area. Anyway, my condolences to the friends and families of the victims, and good luck to everyone at ASL.