Mississippi Supreme Court Upholds Pardons By Outgoing Governor, Again

May 17, 2012

MISSISSIPPI – The Mississippi Supreme Court on Thursday denied the state attorney general’s attempt to have it reconsider its assent to controversial pardons — several of them for convicted killers — issued earlier this year by outgoing Gov. Haley Barbour.

The decision was made “without comment,” court spokeswoman Beverly Pettigrew Kraft said by e-mail.

Attorney General Jim Hood has been a harsh and persistent critic of the 214 pardons and clemencies issued by Barbour in January, shortly before the governor left office.

Besides questioning whether some convicted of violent crimes should so easily walk free, he has argued some of the pardons were invalid because they did not meet a state constitutional requirement that notices be filed each day for 30 days in newspapers based where the crimes were committed.

But Mississippi courts have consistently upheld the pardons.

The state Supreme Court was among them, ruling in March that Barbour had complete power to pardon and his authority could not be challenged.

In a statement afterward, Barbour said the decision “reaffirmed more than a century of settled law in our state,” but acknowledged that his pardons have been difficult for those who themselves or had family members victimized by those who went free.

Hood, a Democrat, didn’t give up his legal fight after that decision. In a brief filed with the state’s high court later in March, he argued the case should be reheard because the “private personal rights” of the victims, as provided by the state constitution and Mississippi Crime Victims’ Bill of Rights, were violated by the pardons.

Barbour, who also is former chairman of the Republican National Committee, has said that he believes in redemption and that people deserve second chances. Most of the pardons involved convicts who had already served their time and have since been released from prison for their crimes, but four were convicted murderers who had worked as “trusties” at the governor’s mansion.

Victims’ families have denounced the former governor for not meeting with them to discuss his reasons why he would show such leniency to these men.

They included relatives of Tammy Ellis, who was gunned down by David Gatlin in 1993 as she held her 6-week-old son.

Other convicted killers who, like Gatlin, received full pardons and were named in Hood’s brief include Charles Hooker, who was convicted in a 1991 murder, and Anthony McCray, convicted in a 2001 murder.

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Dumb As Dirt Los Angeles California Deputy Sheriff Det. Anthony Shapiro Suspended After Lying In Court About Reading Miranda Rights – Charges Dropped After Officer’s Purjury Attempt – Arrest Was Filmed By Reality TV Show

May 8, 2012

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA — A reality show meant to catch would-be catch car thieves in the act landed a Los Angeles County sheriff’s detective in hot water when he allegedly lied about reading a suspect his Miranda rights.

As part of the TruTV show, undercover police officers park a car rigged with cameras along the side of the road with the keys still inside.

Then a camera crew waits nearby for someone to take the bait and try to steal the car.

But in a recent segment filmed in cooperation with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, a department detective wound up in trouble instead of the Regular Joe who took the bait.

Footage shot for the show showed suspect Keenan Alex, 28, find a Cadillac Escalade with the keys in the ignition and the engine running.

He got inside and drove off, but deputies quickly pulled him over and slapped handcuffs on him.

Detective Anthony Shapiro later said in court that he read Alex his rights before the suspect made incriminating statements.

But unedited video shows that Shapiro did not read Alex his rights, the Los Angeles Times reported.

“You watch TV. You know your rights and all that?,” the video shows Shapiro telling Alex.

Because Alex’s Miranda rights were violated on tape, prosecutors could not press charges against him in court and the case was dropped.

Shapiro has been placed on paid leave for testifying under oath that he read Alex is rights when he did not, according to department officials.

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Broke: Feds Consider Closing Federal Courthouses To Save Money – Which Would Make It Difficult Or Impossible For The Poor To Access Courts In Some Areas

March 22, 2012

LITTLE ROCK, ARKANSAS – The federal government is considering closing dozens of courtrooms, many of which are located in small, rural communities, as part of an effort to cut costs.

Documents obtained by The Associated Press show 60 federal court facilities in 29 states could be on the chopping block. Most of the courtrooms are in buildings that house other federal agencies including post offices and many are located in remote areas. Critics say closing them could make it more difficult for people to get to court proceedings.

Six of the 60 court sites that could be closed are located in Arkansas. Texas and Georgia each have five sites on the list of possible closures. Officials are even considering shuttering the location where judges hold federal court in Alaska’s capital city, Juneau.

There are 674 federal courthouses and facilities around the country, according to David Sellers, a federal courts spokesman. The 60 sites being considered for closure do not have a resident judge. Instead, judges based in larger cities travel to these smaller locations as needed.

In the documents obtained by the AP, the court facilities that could close were ranked based on a variety of categories including cost, usage and location. Of the 10 facilities that seem most likely to be eyed for closure, two are in Arkansas, two are in South Carolina, and the rest are spread out between West Virginia, North Carolina, Mississippi, Virginia, Georgia and Maryland. A facility in Beaufort, S.C., tops the list, followed by the federal court site in Parkersburg, W.V. and one in Harrison, Ark.

The court sites are not the only targets that the federal government is taking aim at in rural parts of the country. As pressure mounts to trim spending, the government has considered closing post offices and eliminating federal subsidies for carriers that serve airports in rural communities and small towns.

“The federal judiciary is going through an aggressive cost containment effort because the money Congress has provided for the operating expenses for the courts has been essentially frozen the last three years,” Sellers said in an email. He said a significant portion of those funds are used to pay rent for federal court facilities.

The practice of reviewing court facilities that don’t have a resident judge goes back to 1997, Sellers said.

A committee of the Judicial Conference of the United States, a policy-making body for the federal courts, sent the latest list to the 13 circuit judicial councils for review in February, Sellers said. They’re supposed to get back to the committee by mid-April.

The committee will then review the recommendations and forward its report to the Judicial Conference, which could decide whether to close any of the court sites at its September meeting, Sellers said.

Documents obtained by the AP show that annual operating costs and rent for the 60 facilities total more than $16 million each year, but other costs were not known. Sellers said it’s too early to speculate how much could be saved or how many jobs could be lost by the possible closures.

“It would depend on what, if any, facilities are closed, when the closure would occur, the rent on the particular facility, staff located at the facility, other needs in the circuit, as well as many other factors that vary from facility to facility,” Sellers said.

J. Leon Holmes, the chief federal judge of the Eastern District of Arkansas, argued that closing court facilities wouldn’t make a significant reduction in the federal budget.

“If the federal courts close their facilities in these places, the money will quit going from one pocket of the federal government to another pocket of the federal government, but little or no savings to the taxpayers will be seen,” Holmes wrote in a letter dated Feb. 23 and sent to local bar associations. “Instead, the taxpayers will be forced to travel longer distances to appear in court as parties, witnesses, or jurors.”

Holmes, who is based in Little Rock, specifically spoke against closing the Batesville, Ark., court site, which ranked seventh on the possible closure list.

“Travel through the mountains in this region of Arkansas is exclusively on two-lane highways,” he wrote. “Consequently, the actual driving time from one point to another is much greater than may appear in looking on a map or in calculating distances.”

Batesville, a city of 10,000, is about 70 miles from the nearest federal court in Jonesboro, but that site is also on the list. It’s about 100 miles from Batesville to Little Rock, which has the only federal courtrooms in the Eastern District of Arkansas that aren’t on the chopping block.

Holmes also said he was concerned that the possible closures would affect a relatively poor region.

“Many of the persons in the poorer and more remote areas of our state cannot easily travel to Little Rock to attend bankruptcy court or any other proceeding,” Holmes wrote.

Alaska Sen. Mark Begich also questioned the impact the possible closures in Fairbanks, Ketchikan and Juneau could have on residents who would have to drive hundreds of miles or buy a ticket to attend a court proceeding.

“It would be a disservice to Alaskans in these cities – to arbitrarily shut off their access to the federal courts,” the Democrat said in a statement Thursday.

Fred Triem, an attorney who works in Juneau and Petersburg, Alaska, said while he applauds the idea of saving money, the closures could mean hardship for people who have federal court business and no federal court.

“If you’re a poor person in Juneau, Alaska, and there’s no federal court building, then how are you going to have your bankruptcy hearing?” he asked Thursday. “Are you going to have to pay your travel to go to Anchorage when you don’t even have enough money to pay your electric bill?”

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Man Arrested For Carjacking Walks Out Of Lowell Massacusetts Courtroom In Handcuffs And Carjacked Another Car

March 17, 2012

LOWELL, MASSACHUSETTS – A day after he was arraigned on carjacking charges, a Lowell man is back behind bars after police say he escaped court in handcuffs and carjacked a second person.

Twenty-five-year-old Adriano Ortiz-Columbo managed to leave the court house after his arraignment on Thursday on charges that include carjacking, assault and battery and failure to stop for police.

Police say he walked across the street and swiped an SUV from the Autozone parking lot.

Officers tracked him down a short time later.

He was hiding underneath a trailer when they rearrested him.

Ortiz-Columbo was arraigned on a new round of charges Friday.

He is being held without bail.

Police say because of his attempted escape and other charges, he could be looking at a lengthy prison sentence.

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Defendant In Jefferson County Texas Criminal Trial Shot At Least Three People Outside Courthouse During Lunch Break – Killing Elderly Woman

March 14, 2012

JEFFERSON COUNTY, TEXAS – At least one person was killed and at least two others were injured in a shooting Wednesday at a Texas courthouse, a judge said.

The shooting occurred outside a courthouse in Jefferson County, Texas, Judge Larry Gist said.

Witnesses saw an elderly woman dead on the sidewalk in front of the courthouse, said Kevin Steele, a reporter for CNN affiliate KBMT-TV.

“There was a defendant on trial. It was break time, lunchtime, and he apparently shot three people, maybe four,” Gist told CNN.

A witness in the case against the suspect was one of those shot, said Gist, who had left the courthouse for lunch and heard shots fired from a block away.

Police shot the suspect, and the courthouse was evacuated after the shooting, Gist said.

The suspect was in police custody Wednesday afternoon, Steele told CNN.

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Bored London UK Court Clerk Busted Surfing Porn Sites During Rape Trial Pleads Guilty

February 8, 2012

LONDON, UK – A veteran London court clerk caught surfing porn sites during a rape trial said he did so “because he was bored.”

Debasish Majumder, 54, pleaded guilty to a charge of misconduct in public office and five counts of possession of indecent images, the U.K. Daily Mail newspaper reported.

The prosecution alleged Majumder viewed about 30 images between Dec. 9 and 10 during a rape trial. The judge sitting behind him said he noticed the filthy photos as the victim in the case was testifying.

“He said that he watched a lot of internet porn, he said that at work there were moments in his day that were boring and he would surf the net not to get access to sites but to get the titles of sites to use on his home computer and normally sites were blocked,” the paper quoted prosecutor Annabel Darlow as saying.

Police later found evidence of child porn at Majumder’s home, the Mail reported.

He will be sentenced later this month once his medical reports are in.

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San Francisco California Superior Court Running Out Of Money, Plans Cutbacks And Layoffs – Divorces To Now Take A Year Or Two

August 19, 2011

SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA – It takes at least six months to get a divorce in San Francisco, and now unhappy couples can add at least a year to that, thanks to planned budget cuts to the Superior Court.

Katherine Feinstein, the Superior Court’s presiding judge, gave a dire outlook to reporters at a Monday news conference, reiterating the court’s plan to lay off 200 employees and close 25 courtrooms in late September.

The budget recently approved by Gov. Jerry Brown and the Legislature sliced hundreds of millions of dollars from state courts. San Francisco is facing a $13.75 million deficit, or 15.6 percent of its operating budget.

“We’re left with one painful, unprecedented option, which is a reduction in service that is so severe that it will, for all practical purposes, dismantle our court,” Feinstein said.

Most of the effects will be felt in civil cases, where litigants can anticipate years of delays, according to Feinstein. Reduced office hours for court clerks will make filing and obtaining information more difficult. Feinstein warned of long hours waiting in line just to pay a traffic ticket, and months to get a copy of a criminal or civil court record.

While state law allows for a final decree of divorce after six months and one day, “We anticipate adding a year to that time, which obviously will leave many families in a very uncomfortable state,” Feinstein said.

The court is planning to close one of its three family law courtrooms, according to court spokeswoman Ann Donlan.

Additionally, court family law services — such as a self-help center for those who don’t have attorneys, mediation and case management by judges in contested divorces — are thinly stretched now and will likely become worse, Donlan said.

San Francisco attorney Yasmine Mehmet, a family law specialist, said the court’s planned cuts would be “devastating, really, for a lot of people.”

Divorce is often a very emotional matter, especially where children are involved, Mehmet said. Delays in contested cases will likely only make them more difficult.

“It’s going to push people to really think long and hard about whether they do or don’t want to settle,” she said.

Mehmet said more couples might turn to private judges, a quicker but more costly option.

But many might not be able to afford alternatives.

“What I think is among the most painful things is that we are the place people can come — and we are not free, but we are significantly less expensive than all the private alternative resolution services are,” Feinstein said.

aburack@sfexaminer.com

 

Anticipated court budget impacts

    Hours standing in line to pay a traffic ticket or criminal fine at the Hall of Justice
    Months to obtain criminal and civil records
    Years to resolve many civil cases, including at least a year and a half on divorce cases
    Reduced self-help services for litigants without attorneys
    Reduced hours in clerks’ offices

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