Monday, January 28, 2013

On Rye, with Mustard

It is said that a competent prosecutor could get a ham sandwich indicted by a grand jury. I believe the aphorism something of an overstatement (what, in fact, has a ham sandwich ever done to you). Nevertheless, with "probable cause" the modest standard of proof necessary for the GJ to return an indictment there are, no doubt, cases that seem solid early on but never mature into something trial worthy.

So it seems with the weekend's announcement that the Grand Jury investigating the murder of JonBenet Ramsey so many years ago recommended charges against the Ramsey parents. DA Alex Hunter refused to go forward, citing (as prosecutors do) his opinion that he would lose at trial. Law professors are now arguing Colorado statutes - whether the members of the grand jury could have reported their findings directly to the court, bypassing Hunter - but one thing is clear.


Saturday, January 26, 2013

Writing Cops - Part Two

"Fill your hand, you son of a bitch!" Rooster Cogburn (John Wayne).

Let's talk guns, but first.... I know some of this is intended to be funny (you can judge how successful I am) but people with guns have caused unbelievable tragedy. Police officers in the United States carry an array of guns and a writer needs to research the subject if they have cop characters. Just.... We may joke around about our guns, our shooting prowess and everything else but people being shot is a terrible thing. Treat that cautiously.

"I got my nine and my money and my money and my nine."

Police officers are gun people. How immersed, conversant and dedicated is a matter of degree, but we all know and respect firearms. They are tools but also confer bragging rights, engender friendly competition and sometimes break the family budget. We have:

Duty weapon - the primary sidearm an officer carries. It isn't a "piece," "rod," "hog's-leg" or any of the wonderful Hollywood expressions. If you have your cop character "Whipping out her rod" it better be to get a laugh. Most are 9mm caliber, but aficionados will swear by .45s on the theory that size matters (which is a wonderful double entendre, especially coming from a woman). Don't ever have your officer rack the slide for effect. If there isn't already a round in the chamber they are an idiot. Oh.... The bullets are carried in magazines, not clips.

Back up - a smaller pistol, hidden. Anything from a five-shot .38 to a .380 semi-auto. Detective James Carter (Chris Tucker) uses his backup in Rush Hour, idiotically disarming himself but saving the day with an especially athletic move. Me.... I'd stay away from cool moves, but having a second weapon is always a good idea.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Big Hat, No Cattle

Big boat, no paddle
Big belly, no heart.*

Lance lied.

ArmstrongOkay, bad guy. While doing the EPO, the blood doping stuff, the ' was all in the context of the times.... You shouldn't have kept lying to us, man. You could have stuck with the easy way out - "I've never tested positive." We understood that little evasion. They set up the game and you played it better than most. On a clean playing field you might have won, anyway. You didn't create the context. Roger that.

There are real victims, real people he hurt. Sportswriter Rick Reilly's decade-long defense merited more than just a "sorry about that" email. Other riders, friends, employees, people who told the truth about him and incurred his considerable wrath - "We sued a lot of people" said Lance. Sued them, it turns out, for being right. Family members who believed in him, maybe still do. Wouldn't want to be Lance and have to explain this all to his kids.

There's lots of loose talk about sponsors suing him for the money they paid him and the team. Puh-leeze. It's LPL - let's play lawyer - time. The Postal Service wants their money back because Lance was a doper. Lance breached the contract. Boo fricking hoo. Somewhere, the Post Office bean counters have figured out how much money Lance made them. I'll bet they more than broke even. Let's put that in front of a judge and watch her roll her eyes and ask USPS why they are wasting her time.

I know a number of cancer survivors who clung to his story during some pretty dark times. He told them to "stay strong" and they did. They made it through, stuck it out. Lived. Wore those silly yellow bracelets, and the scars, to tell the world that Lance believed in them when they thought they were going to die. He got them to believe, too.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Class Act

Manning/LewisRay Lewis moves on to the next round. Payton Manning moves home, but not before finding the victor in his locker room.

His daddy was a class act, his brother in NYC is.... He came up with fewer points. It doesn't mean he's a loser.

Thank you for a great year, sir.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Bye bye Miss American Pie

With apologies, this is one of the droll legal blogs in which I occasionally indulge. If discussions of the Constitution are not your cup of tea, leave now. No offense taken.

Georgetown Law Professor Louis Seidman has written a provocative op-ed in the New York Times seeming to suggest we abandon our loyalty to the Constitution. It can be read, I suppose, as an appeal to Americans to reject the words of the document for.... He doesn't really say, noting merely that other countries get along without a written statement of their principles and values. Professor Seidman cites, as law professors are inclined, a number of occasions where some branch of the government or another has either mis-represented the text, misinterpreted it or ignored it altogether. Consequently, why have it.

Reading between the lines, I assume his underlying unease resides not in the document itself, but how politicians have wielded our founders' words to meet their own ends.


The recent "discussions" about firearms is an excellent example (although Professor Seidman chose the budget negotiations as his battlefield). One need not stray very far from home to encounter absolutists on both sides of the argument. It is easy, while staring at photos of dead children, to wish away the pain with sweeping legislation banning.... Fill in the blanks. Our experience as a nation warns that mere legislative will means nothing absent both effective enforcement as well as broad support from citizens. Disarming law-abiding gun owners will never garner such support, nor should it.

Some Second Amendment sophists, on the other hand, seem to view any attempt to restrict firearms availability as a violation of God's own will. The notion of personal self-defense, in its own right foundational to our society, often is represented as so fundamental as to be bought and paid for in the blood of others.

The Constitution, however, keeps all societal interactions from being merely a show of hands. Ban guns? All in favor, say aye. In Professor Seidman's mind, the Constitution represents a roadblock to action in some cases, and an ineffective check in others. On the contrary, it represents a point around which we rally, the starting point.

Ban guns? The principle - that law-abiding citizens not only may but should possess the means with which to protect themselves - not only underlies our concept of personal protection but defines our relationship with government. An armed society is unlikely to be herded anywhere.

Can certain firearms be regulated or banned outright without offending Second Amendment principles? Most certainly. Which ones?

Two hundred twenty-four years ago the men who accepted the US Constitution as their guiding document and presented it as their gift to us had a solution.

"It's your country. This document, in part, says that you can decide these things among yourselves."

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Honor Revealed

Adversity doesn't build character, it reveals it - multiple sources.

Christmas Eve 2012, in the wee hours of the morning. West Webster (NY) volunteer firefighters Mike "Chip" Chiapperini, Tomasz Kaczowka, Theodore Scardino and Joseph Hoftsetter responded to a structure fire. Lying in wait, a gunman shot them. Chiapperini and Kaczowka were killed. Scardino and Hoftsetter suffered serious, life-threatening wounds. Off duty Greece police officer John Ritter was also wounded when he intervened. Eventually, the murderer took his own life.

Several thousand firefighters and police officers made the trip to the Rochester area to attend the services. Winter in Western New York intervened, with temperatures in the teens, fresh snow falling. Undeterred, the men and women arrived.

The unspeakable loss of two public servants, volunteers ambushed by a madman.... A community's heart ripped by the inexplicable loss of its best citizens. Beaten, overwhelmed, a society in decline? From Facebook "Prayers and Support for Webster Firefighters":

"I am firefighter from Fleming NY, me and three other members attend the funeral today. I wanted to thank the family that brought our dinner at Red Robin today. It made me feel proud to be a fire fighter. You have a strong community that you should be very proud of it! Thank you! Kristine Murphy-Clark."

"Went out to Uno's to support our fallen and injured brothers and were very surprised to learn that our bill had be taken care of by the young couple across the way. Thank you to the Buffalo Bills fan that paid for our meal!"

"Random Act of Kindness: Worked last night at Eddie O'Brien's last night and there were about 25 firemen in from the Horseheads/Elmira area eating dinner. They had come from the Webster Memorial for the two fallen from early Christmas Eve. A customer asked me if she could round up people the restaurant, table by table, and have them all clap for the firefighters and EMT's who were in the restaurant. Well, mission accomplished- it was a small gesture but a moving tribute and testament of gratitude. Honored to have been a participating witness to a small, but resonating, random act of kindness. Thank you to "the lady in booth # 2."

"I'd like to thank whoever paid for the Tim Horton's the other day, I went for coffee the other and I went to pay for my coffee the manager told me that a unknown person had paid for every ems firefighter and police officer and it was on her and I think that's simply amazing thank you whoever you are."

"Myself and a small group of fellow firefighters that made the trip up to Webster from West Sayville arrived safely back on Long Island earlier tonight. I cannot express how gracious, hospitable and compassionate those that we encountered were towards us. As we made our way to Webster after a 9 hour drive in the snow (and making a stop to assist the driver who jack knifed his... tractor trailer on I-80), we were not expecting to stay overnight. As the weather worsened, we received word that rooms were paid for by anonymous donors and waiting for us to arrive."

The FB page goes on and on. Selflessness, small gestures and emotional moments of remembrance. What was revealed?

Good men and women still band together. They give from their hearts, they reach out to each other in times of need. On a cold and snowy winter weekend Webster revealed the community it has always been - gracious, close-knit and thankful for their own first responders as well as the multitude who flocked to pay their respects.

Honorable, everyone.