Why idiot prosecutors are successful:

Joshua Marquis, some prosecutor in Oregon writes this letter to the editor in response to my profile of Jeff Fisher in the LATM. It is a great example of why idiot prosecutors succeed as well as they do. Like so many republicans, they've mastered the art of the righteously asserted lie. And as most rhetoricians will tell you, when you're free to make up facts, it's easy to win an argument.

Here are some choice samples:

"The Blakely vs. Washington decision prohibits judges from giving anything more than a minimal sentence to felons who have been found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt"

--Uh dude, did you READ Blakely? That's just a complete fabrication.

Here's another:

"Members of the criminal defense bar are thrilled with the Blakely decision. The system is already heavily weighted toward their client, and their sole job is to get that client off the hook."

--Ah...Heavily weighted toward our clients? That's absurd. And yes our job is to get our clients off the hook--is this guy seriously implying that we should fundamentally alter the role of the defense lawyer? Oh...I know...let's make it so that if a client confesses we testify against them!! Cool, that'll work really well!! Give me a break.

And finally:

"Long after Fisher becomes rich by defending America's largest corporations, those of us who devote our lives to protecting the victims of the Blakelys and Crawfords of America will be trying to explain to a battered woman or an abused child why their assailant may walk away from court with nothing but a big smile on his or her face."

First off, Jeff did most of his work on both Blakely and Crawford pro-bono, so this is just a cheap shot. Secondly, Mr. DA, don't give me that righteous bullshit--especially delivered through a false syllogism. Like thousands of others, I've personally spent almost 15 years in the trenches of the criminal justice system, giving voice to the voiceless and teeth to the very constitution you would trample in your prison-fueled zeal. And my bet is that you've made a lot more money than I have.

Either you haven't read the decisions, or you're just mendacious in your arguments: If you've lost a case because of Crawford, one of two things is true: either the complainant doesn't want to go forward and YOU CHOOSE not to force her, or you lost the case because YOU were lazy and failed to call the witnesses relying instead on inadmissible stuff. In other words, if you lost, it was because in your prosecutorial arrogance you were so used to just getting inadmissible hearsay into evidence, that you didn't bother to do it right.

And if you didn't get the sentence you wanted...well my guess is you probably haven't been charging and submitting special informations to comply with the constitutional mandate of the US supreme court. Again--it's your arrogance that's loosing the cases--you just don't FEEL like comporting with constitutional requirements so instead of bothering, you'll just whine and lie and blame Blakely or Crawford. How about just do the work and quit whining? Or better yet--take responsibiilty yourself.

If, after either Blakely or Crawford you wind up explaining to a battered woman or an abused child why their assailant may walk awake from court smiling, and if you explain it by blaming either decision, you're not only arrogant and foolish, but incompetent as well.

It doesn't surprise me that a District Attorney would blame a nice pro-bono lawyer for correctly arguing a consitutional point. (Let's bear in mind that Fisher's arguments were accepted by the United States Supreme court and both opinions were written by none other than Antonin Scalia) and it surprises me even less that instead of just working a little harder to comport with the consitution as interpreted by the Supreme Court, a District Attorney would choose instead to whine and fib about how the ruling (rather than himself) will be to blame for his losses.

Can you imagine being prosecuted by this guy? God help the innocent residents of Astoria Oregon.

His Supreme Court Wins Won't Benefit 'Victims'

Pay to play--and then pay some more

In a perfect parable of the price of political access, this from the Times:

The New York Times > Washington > Price of Bush Inauguration Party Is Too Rich for Some


How low can we go?

Presaging the glut of year-end statistic pieces, comes this one on the murder rate:

As Murders Fall, New Tactics Are Tried Against Remainder

Politics and the criminal law...

Thanks to the republicans, it's time to completely abandon the pretense that the law is blind to the parties it judges:

"In Texas, state Republican legislative leaders and party officials are considering some maneuvers of their own in light of the investigation. One proposal would take authority for prosecuting the campaign finance case away from the Democratic district attorney in Austin and give it to the state attorney general, a Republican."

The New York Times > Washington > G.O.P. to Make Ethics Inquiries Harder to Begin


More hagiographic horseshit...

I just can’t stand it—could we suck any more desperately at the nauseating teat of prosecutorial adulation? Janet Albertson, “Woman of the Hour?” Give me a break.

Long Island: Woman of the Hour


Walking through the Met today, I wandered into a fantastic exhibition of Gilbert Stewart's portraits of early Americans. I haven't been to a museum in a while, and as I meandered through the wonderful paintings, I was flooded with resentment toward this government and our president.

Seeing the faces--stoic George Washington, or the piercing, intense portrait of 90 year old John Adams, I was struck by how far we've fallen. Ours was a country founded on religious tolerance and a belief in government for the people, not a theocracy devoted to corporate welfare at the expense of the people. To have so abdicated the principles our founding fathers held dear, and to have done so in their names, seems to me the worst sort of hypocrisy.

I have suspected (since the election of 2000) and am becoming more and more convinced that ours is a society in irrevocable decline, that the glorious vision of those great pasty-faced men will gird the history books alongside stills from desperate housewives and political loyalty oaths.

These eight years will be remembered as the beginning of the end. I'm furious at democrats for abdicating the moral high ground here. Republicans aren't conservatives: they are corpocrats. And we aren't liberals, or even progressives, the values we cherish are enshrined right there in the constitution and the federalist papers. We're the originalists. It's time to take back the title.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art - Special Exhibitions: Gilbert Stuart


Cape Fear...

Since most of my posts have been news related rather than Public Defender related, I thought I'd even the score with a recent experience shared by many PD's:

I’ve been at cocktail parties where well-groomed, well-intentioned people have asked me if I’m scared at work. They seem perplexed when I explain that I never am. They ask me, whether I’ve been afraid of clients, whether if I loose a case I’m afraid they’re going to come back, looking for me, or looking to avenge themselves on the system through me. They seem to imagine a tattooed Robert DeNiro playing the vengeful Max Cady in the movie Cape Fear.

Cape Fear of course was the film in which Cady, a recently released rapist played by DeNiro stalks his former defense attorney who, it turns out, withheld evidence that might have allowed him to win the case. It’s quite clear in the movie that DeNiro was guilty, and it is made abundantly clear that he is a bad and scary man. But, the strange thing about the movie is that once I realized that Cady, guilty, or otherwise, had actually been betrayed by his own lawyer, I was rooting for him.

Of course, I’ve had clients who I feel I have failed. They are the ones, most people would assume I’d be afraid of. Oddly, the opposite is usually the case. Cape Fear was released in 1991, two years before I lost the trial that sent Jimmy (not his real name) to jail. Jimmy and his girlfriend had every reason in the world to hate me. We’d gone to trial: I’d assumed the responsibility for getting him his life back, for defending him against horribly unjust and untrue allegations, and I’d utterly failed him. I'd walked beyond my skill and experience and because I did, I’d screwed up and grievously screwed up his life.

On April 9th With Jimmy nearing the end of his sentence, I got a letter from his girlfriend. He'd had been in jail for over a month already. Typed carefully on a sheet of ivory bond paper, here is what she wrote to me:

Dear David,

I am writing this letter on behalf of Jimmy. I know I have thanked you many times before, but I wanted to express my gratitude further.

I sincerely appreciate all the help you’ve given Jimmy, and the concern you have shown for him. As you know, the outcome of this case was devastating for both Jimmy and myself. This has been a very frustrating time for us. It is a relief to know that I can count on you to answer any questions I may have when others can’t (or won’t) I know that you must be overloaded with work, yet you always find the time to help us. There should be more people like you working within this system.

Willie was very fortunate to be appointed an attorney whose willingness and perseverance has made some differences. I hope all your clients will be as lucky as we were.


That’s what I got for utterly fucking up his life. Guess I should be scared huh?

Better filibuster

If resistance to Bush means anything anymore, it means we absolutely must filibuster these SOB's. Not compromise, Not settle, Not negotiate, but filibuster every single one of these evil bastards and the the chips fall where they may.

The New York Times > Washington > Bush to Renominate 20 Judges Whom
Democrats Have Resisted


Jeff Fisher Rocks

Jeff Fisher gets some nice ink from the National Law Journal, Just a few weeks after my profile of him ran in the LATM.

National Law Journal -- An associate rocks criminal procedure

No Mercy...

Among the tens of thousands of incarcerated New Yorkers, the Governor, this year, has found it in his heart to grant clemency to....

No one.

The New York Times > New York Region > No Inmates Will Get Clemency, Pataki Decides


How do you spell Az-hole?

R-i-g-i-d p-r-o-s-e-c-u-t-o-r....

This profile of Rick Romley, an Arizona prosecutor, nicely answers every law student's question about whether you can do more justice as a prosecutor. Of course not.

The New York Times > National > New Chapter for Prosecutor Who Went by the Book


Assisted Suicide...

Interesting that we'll prosecute someone for assisting a suicide, But when the guy who wants to end his life is on death row, we'll let him dismiss the lawyers trying to talk him out of dying.

The New York Times > New York Region > Judge Denies Public Defenders' Move to Halt Killer's Execution


Find my client guilty... Doh!

In an unfortunate decision, the Supreme Court fails to reverse a case in which the defense lawyer opted to conceed guilt to preserve his credibility in the penalty phase of a death case.

The New York Times > National > Lawyer Backed in Conceding Client's Guilt


The Decline and Fall...

What else is there to say about the Bush era than this:

Yet people who spend $800 on a bottle of Cristal do not always feel compelled to drop a dollar in Mr. Richard's jar...

The New York Times > New York Region > Standing Sentry, Armed With a Towel


Finally Someone Likes Me...

Since writing often feels like shouting into the void, I have to admit to obsessively seeking feedback. Finally a blogger in LA takes notice of my recent profile. Ken Reich in 'Take Back the Times' blogs:

"Two other articles in the L.A. Times Sunday also were, by themselves, worth the price of the paper: In the Times Magazine, David Feige told the story of young Seattle lawyer Jeffrey Fisher, who has argued two major cases before the U.S. Supreme Court and won both of them"

You like me, you really like me...

Thanks Dude.

Take Back the Times


Welcome to the Jungle

In an unusually savage indictment, Ben Weiser takes aim at the slowest judge in the land. Oddly, though I don't countenance absurd delays, I'll usually take a decent but slow judge over a quick and awful one. The hell with the rocket docket--screw the fourth circuit. Justice delayed is sometimes justice denied, but justice denied...well that's always justice denied.

The New York Times > New York Region > Judge's Decisions Draw Notice, for Being Conspicuously Late


They Fry Inmates Don't They?

Adam Liptak does a good job of exposing the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals and the Fifth Circuit as the hypocritical activists they are--especially when it comes to ignoring due process violations in southern death cases. Here are a few samples:

The two courts have been resistant to claims involving withheld evidence, lies told by prosecutors and problems in jury selection...

The consequence, some experts say, is a Texas criminal appeals court largely unleavened by general practitioners and the kind of top legal talent that fills corporate boardrooms. Indeed, seven of its nine members are former prosecutors who tend to run on tough-on-crime-platforms and, critics say, embody the court's anti-defense bent.

"No one runs for the Court of Criminal Appeals on a platform of vindicating constitutional rights," said Professor Steiker, the University of Texas law professor.

Thanks Adam.

The New York Times > National > Rulings in Texas Capital Cases Try Supreme Court's Patience


My latest piece...

My profile of Jeff Fisher, the brilliant Seattle lawyer who argued two of the most influential criminal justice cases in the US Supreme Court last term is coming out in the LA Times Magazine this weekend. Click below for a sneak peak.

The Supreme Beginner



Today's New York Times features a grotesque hagiography of Nancy Grace—self professed undefeated prosecutor and Court TV star anchor. Nancy, flacking for her new book explains that she, unlike everyone else "speaks for the victims."

First, a note of confession: Nancy Grace is indeed, as the article suggests, personable. I've been a guest on her show several times and she's utterly pleasant.

But arguing (with a straight face no less) that "no one speaks for the victims" is absurd, and even offensive. Everyone speaks for the victims--there's not a soul out there who doesn't. Sorry Nancy, when was the last time you saw a crowd outside a courtroom rooting for an acquittal. Just doesn't happen.

On a related note: My last murder case was dismissed yesterday--not on any technicality, but because my client, who was in jail for months until a righteous judge let him out, was utterly and completely innocent. The case is a nice object lesson in why Nancy and her ill-considered if popular prosecutorial zeal is so dangerous. The first ADA (who himself wasn't as much of a zealot as Nancy) hardly bothered to review the mass of material that supported my client's innocence: Let the jury figure it out seemed to be his position. The problem is, as even Nancy might admit, juries make mistakes sometimes--especially when zealous prosecutors go after them mistakenly thinking that they are just there to prosecute rather than do justice.

Mercifully, a year later a new ADA took over. This one, a thoughtful sober ex-military guy, spent an extraordinary amount of time looking over the case and concluded, rightly that my client was innocent. He then had the courage to go all the way up the chain of command and get authority to dismiss the case. Justice was done.

Nancy's preferred version: Innocent guy goes to prison for life.

The New York Times > Arts > Television > As Court TV Gets Ever Bolder, So Does Its Star


Weed hits the high court...

Dahlia Lithwick is not only an astonishingly prolific writer, and an absolutely fabulous editor (I know this first hand) but she's also hilarious. Her recent piece in Slate is a new high water mark.

Dude, Where's My Integrity? - Medical marijuana tests the Supreme Court's true love of federalism. By Dahlia Lithwick


Race and the federal guidelines

A new study by the US Sentencing Commission shows that blacks receive harsher sentences than whites, that the length of the average sentence has doubled since the guidelines were imposed, and 40 percent of federal prisioners are now Hispanics imprisoned on immigration charges. Psssst, according to the USSC, 81 percent of those absurd mandatory minimum drug sentences were handed out to black folks, just in case you confused the war on drugs with a race neutral policy.

The New York Times > National > Sentencing-Guideline Study Finds Continuing Disparities


Greenberg's Whopper

Here's an astonishing article that highlights just how far we have fallen. Ethan Greenberg, who is not a particularly awful judge, nonetheless issues a completely fraudulent ruling--and gets away with it. As it turns out, in an attempt to get a jump on Crawford, Greenberg issues a bogus (and totally politically motivated) decision saying that the complanant's call to 911 isn't testimonial under Crawford. The only problem is: the complainant didn't even make the call--turns out Greenberg issued his hasty decision without bothering to listen to the 911 tape. The complainant isn't even on it. Oops. But of course his dumb-ass pro-prosecutorial decision gets cited by prosecutors and followed by Judges eager to rule around the US Supreme Court and maintain their now untennable DV prosecutions.

"If the facts turn out to be wrong" snifs some prosecutor "I don't see how it changes much" Sure... The hell with those pesky facts.

The New York Times > New York Region > Legal Precedent Doesn't Let Facts Stand in the Way


Blue Hawaii--When liberal states get tough on crime

Here's a link to my latest Slate piece about Hawaii's scary new constitutional amendments and what they portend for all of us.

Blue Hawaii - When liberal states get tough on crime. By David Feige:


Someone at the Washington Post Cares About Indigent Defense

It's always heartening to see an editorial that takes indigent defense seriously. This one, about the fabulous Rich Goemann and his efforts to shape up indigent defense in Virginia, is worth the read just to remember what it sounds like when editorial boards actually say something nice about public defenders. "generally better than outside appointed counsel" ain't much but I'll take it.

Making the Right Real (


My Latest OpEd

In today's New York Times you can find my argument that the problem with the Guy Velella case is not that he got out of jail, but that so few others did.

The New York Times > Opinion > N.Y. Region Opinions > The City: Jail Breaks


The Bronx Defenders Bash Back

In The Price Paid for Blood on a Child, Andrea Elliott utterly fails to raise either the race or class implications of the Bronx DA's office's continuing criminalization of parenting. Elliott, who seemed to believe that the whole thing was a big mistake failed to report, for example that the DA's office (whom she glowingly praised for eventually dropping the case,) had actually asked to have Carlene and Neville jailed!

I can tell you that the lawyers of the Bronx Defender's Family Defense Unit tried like hell to explain to Elliott that there was a bigger picture here--that poor black parents have their decisions second guessed by the criminal justice system in ways that would be unthinkable were they wealthy or white. Alas, that seems a point that even supposedly intrepid Bronx beat reporters just don't want to accept.

Below is the letter to the editor from Dave Jaros and Kara Finck:

The New York Times > Opinion > Bronx Child Abuse Case


More Debt for the Supposed Fiscal Conservatives

After recovering from a chronic case of P.E.D.—post election depression—I open the papers to find that it really does just keep getting worse.

The New York Times > Washington > Senate Backs Higher Debt

The Inadequate Suitor: David Boies’s ‘Courting Justice’

If there is any enlightenment in ‘Courting Justice,’ the new book from renowned lawyer David Boies, it comes from a personal political journey rather than an unusual legal odyssey. This exhaustive and exhausting memoir, filled with Boies’ cases, culminates in a lengthy reflection on Gore v. Bush and the disputed election of 2000. Unfortunately, for the bulk of the book, despite being involved in many of the most important legal dramas of our time, Boies fails to say much of interest about courts or justice—as it turns out, he is a man too preoccupied with process to deliver real legal insights. But where the book fails as a jurisprudential document, it succeeds wonderfully as a political one. And with another election that could again hinge on the vagaries of ballot design, absentee voters, or new registrants, it is a particularly interesting time in which to step into David Boies’s world.

Boies’s world is full of high stakes trials and delicate negotiations. It’s good to be known as a super lawyer—called in to deal with some of the most complex and interesting cases of the last decade. And because of his position, Boies should be uniquely able to bring us inside the delicate machinery of the some of the major cases he’s worked on--The Yankees and Major League Baseball, The Federal Government and Microsoft, Sotheby’s and Christies. Unfortunately, these sections of the book are a lot less fun to read than they might be. Together, they feel like taking a tour of Big Ben with a guide who speaks Creole—the beauty of the clockwork and the majesty of the massive gears and levers are utterly apparent, but the tour guide is nearly incomprehensible.

Part of the problem is the style—Boies writes in such unaffected prose that sentences like “For me the settlement was a mixed blessing. We had won my client what he most wanted, we had earned our firm a multimillion dollar fee (we had taken the case on a contingency fee basis), and I was now free to meet Mary in Las Vegas for a Fourth of July Weekend.” represent the empyrean of his emotional repertoire. Even when he’s writing about asbestos litigation or a complicated international custody case, Boies seems propelled less by the high-octane fuel of justice as by the even more combustible mix of money and intellectual challenge. Boies might well be courting justice, but for most of the book, he is an unworthy suitor.

The other problem, is that in the end, Boies is a process man, albeit a deft one. He is fascinated with the mechanics of legal practice rather than the significance of legal strategy-and the two are rarely the same. For page after page and in case after case, Boies explains where a meeting took place and who called whom rather than why that call was important, regularly making the same mistake as the current president in believing that “I talk to them” is as important as what was discussed and why.

It is only in Florida that the most important element of any legal memoir — outrage -- finally emerges. But when it does, Boies is finally able to deliver the good stuff. Though an hour by hour account of who went where, and who made the decisions that left polling places open, or started and halted the recounts at various offices around the state, Boies is able to illustrate what eludes him throughout the rest of the book—his mastery of complex systems and his ability to synthesize situations in ways that move the levers of power. In other words, the reason he’s actually a great lawyer.

Unlike his other cases most of which take place over long swaths of time, Florida has a temporal compression that seems to spur Boies to write about the long nights and harrowing days in a style that is, if not quite compelling, at least engaging. Moreover, his position inside the discussions, makes the content wonderful. Eavesdropping on the Gore team’s assessments of Katherine Harris, their debates about pursuing a ‘protest’ versus a ‘contest’, and the decision about how to engage the press and how to frame the argument should be required reading for political science undergrads everywhere.

The case seems to have been a turning point for him personally as well, and it is in his experience in Florida that Boies is finally willing to take the gloves off—openly discussing his assessment of the politics of the judiciary, and the subtle but critical ways in which a series of partisan republican state officials were able to influence the timing and ultimately the outcome of a national election. It’s as if, in discussing Florida, Boies is able to drop the pretenses of the law and finally embrace the underlying realpolitik. Operating in a forum in which law and politics are inextricably linked—Boies gets excited, and this time, his breathless procedural discussions work—because as we learn, in politics process is everything. As a consequence, the Gore v. Bush chapters finally deliver real insight into the nexus between politics and justice.

For Boies, Florida is ultimately a cautionary tale about the corrupting influences of partisan politics and the corrosive effect that has on the law. This is nothing new, of course, but the personal story of Boies’ Florida apostasy works precisely because of the flaccidity of the rest of the book. And by the end of his account, the outrageous electoral theft, actually feels as bad as it was. And that, as we head into November, just might be a good thing to remember.


Sicko Texas Judge Celebrates Sentencing Someone to Life in Prison

This is what being tough on crime has become—judges who actually mock the people they sentence to die in prison. No surprise the guy took off—imagine how fair the trial he was getting must have been.

The New York Times > AP > National > Texas Judge Has Party, Sentences Fugitive

Shameless Republicans Gut Loan Program for the Poor

In yet another indication of how W(imp) only serves the rich, his stoolie's on important committees are proposing to gut the Community Reinvestment Act--one of the federal government's greatest engines of development in underserved areas. If you ain't white and rich, after all, why should you get a loan?

The New York Times > New York Region > U.S. Set to Alter Rules for Banks Lending to Poor



Or Click on the link below to send angry e-mail.
Sinclair Advertisers - Top 10

Whimpering Right-Wing Millionaire Station Owners Cowed by Own Stupidity

After their highly publicized attempt at abdicating all journalistic integrity in favor of rank partisanship got them in hot water, the imbeciles at Sinclair Broadcasting have decided to run only a part of their Anti-Kerry broadside. These right wing scum deserve nothing short of having their licenses pulled and a persistent boycott of anyone who advertises on their stations.

The New York Times > Reuters > Business > Sinclair Will Not Air Kerry Show in Entirety

Burning Bush...

A nice piece on Bush and his antipathy for science. Though I think he'll be singing a different tune when all his rich friends with homes on the coast find their pretty multi--million dollar homes submerged. I hope they remember ole, 'W' then.

The New York Times > Science > Bush vs. the Laureates: How Science Became a Partisan Issue


Brother of Unibomber...

A rare glimpse into David Kaczynski's personal crusade against the death penalty. He is a courageous committed man. We should all be so principled.

The New York Times > New York Region News


Bill O'Reilly's Caribbean Sex fantasy (I'm not kidding)

This from the sexual harassment complaint filed against Mr. no-spin zone. A close read reveals a little Latin thrown in... Now that's a Modus Operandi!

The Smoking Gun: Archive

Wimpy Judges are Scared to Follow SJC's ruling...

As usual even the outrageous detentions aren't gonna be remedied by wimpy judges terrified of public condemnation.

No one gets out.... - Local/ Regional News: Lawyers make pitch to SJC on pay for indigent defense



The lesson of Friday’s debate seems to be the even something as elemental as slavery can be twisted by the multiple malapropos machine that is President George W. Bush. The confusion came midway through the second presidential debate, held Friday night in St. Louis, in the chatty ‘town hall’ style that allows the candidates to roam around half a room (there is a line in the carpet the candidates can’t cross) answering questions posed by carefully culled ‘ordinary Americans’. “Mr. President,” Jonathan Michaelson intoned, “if there were a vacancy in the Supreme Court and you had the opportunity to fill that position today, who do you choose and why?”

Good question. We haven’t heard much yet about the Supreme Court and what might happen to our basic liberties if the respective candidates are elected. Given the age of the current court, (Only Thomas is under 65. Stevens and Rhenquist are both over 80) at least one and likely several vacancies will occur in the next four years, and given the delicate balance on the court, additional ideologues could potentially radically reshape the jurisprudence of the court for many years to come.

Michaelson’s question was fairly straightforward, but in the twisted rhetoric that passes for political discourse these days, Bush first opted to answer the question in the negative. After a little joke about not naming names, Bush first described who he wouldn’t pick—people who refuse to let school kids say ‘under god’ during the pledge of allegiance, and, in a strange reference to the Dred Scott decision, those who are pro-slavery.

Zeroing in on the principal value of a Supreme Court Justice, Bush explained that he wanted someone who is a “strict constructionist’—someone, that doesn’t allow personal opinion to enter into the decision making process. That, according to the President is what leads to cases like the pledge of allegiance, and the Dred Scott decision-- which Bush described this way: “judges years ago said that the Constitution allowed slavery because of personal property rights. That's a personal opinion; that's not what the Constitution says. The Constitution of the United States says we're all -- you know, it doesn't say that. It doesn't speak to the equality of America.”

Um, actually, no. You don’t have to read far into the constitution of the United States to find the imfamous 3/5th compromise—in fact it’s right there in Article I Section 2. You only have to read the first four sentences or so—a mere 150 words to find it—the embarrassing nod to slavery that defined slaves as three fifths of a person. As it turns out, the constitution spoke quite clearly about the equality of America—just not in words we’re particularly proud of now. It’s important to note that the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments, dealing with the abolition of slavery and equal protection under the law hadn’t been ratified when the court was called upon to decide the Scott case. And so, If anything, Dred Scott was very much a strict-constructionist decision.

As little as we like it, neither the text nor the tradition of the constitution, understood as they were in the 1850’s, support Bush’s “equality of America” rhetoric. In fact, if you were to give an interpretive test to the justices today—handing them a copy of the Constitution as it existed then—sans 13th, 14th and 15th amendments, and asked them to decide Dred Scott all over again, it is Scalia (with Thomas concurring) that would likely re-produce the reviled result Justice Taney came up with back then.

Not only did Bush get his history wrong, not only did he misunderstand the constitution, but in his invocation of the Dred Scott decision, he committed the very sin he would condemn democratic appointee’s for—imposing his own vision of America on the text of a recalcitrant document. And that, is precisely the problem.

For more interesting analysis take a look at Timothy Noah's piece in slate...


They Screw Immigrants Don't They?

Finally a tiny bit of press for the river of indigent defendents getting deported for ridiculous reasons after a generally productive life here. Another shameful aspect of the Ashcroft Justice Department/INS.

The New York Times > New York Region > When a MetroCard Led Far Out of Town


Call to action

Call to action

You've heard that Sinclair Broadcasting is ORDERING it's affiliates to air anti-kerry agit-prop? It's true. I just got this from an insider...please send e-mails to the folks listed below to stop this.

Hi David--
I just checked with my news director and unfortunately, it *is* back on the air. As of Thursday when I left work, it had been canceled but now I'm told it's back on the schedule!

Believe me, I will fight this all the way but in the mean time, please contact Sinclair and let your voice be heard.....
please send your emails to the following:

These are the "higher ups" who've made this decision. If you could do me a favor and share these emails with others who are concerned and please remember that News at Nine has NOTHING to do with this. "The Point" is produced in Baltimore and has no affiliation with our local news. It's important that we get that message out.

Talking Points Memo: by Joshua Micah Marshall: October 03, 2004 - October 09, 2004 Archives

David E. Kelley Finally Burns Out...

In a fictional Boston bar, over a generous tumbler of presumably good scotch, Denny Crane, the aging, charismatic, senior partner played brilliantly by William Shatner utters the moral premise of David E. Kelley’s new show. Dismissing the breakdown of one of his partners, Crane muses that “from time to time he’d look at himself in the mirror and ask ‘what’s the point’. I never do that.” Crane murmurs “Questions like that’ll kill you.”

Alas, even David E. Kelley can burn out. After eight seasons of ‘The Practice” Kelley, like a few of his characters, has finally spent a bit too much time around the tawdry, poorly lit, criminal courthouse. And like most legal burn-outs, his gaze has shifted from justice to money. The result is “Boston Legal,” his new show, premiering October 3rd on ABC. ‘Boston Legal,” a deeply Bush-era show, peddles fashionable stereotypes of highly paid, unscrupulous lawyers. In other words: it is the perfect vehicle with which to ride the zeitgeist.

Watching the early years of ‘The Practice’ it was clear the Kelley had found his métier. With a keen eye for the nuances of criminal procedure and a musical ear for the cadences of courtroom advocacy, ‘The Practice’ was the first, and perhaps the only television show to accurately plum the pathological depths of committed criminal defense lawyers. As the seasons progressed though, and
Kelley continued to mine the paradoxes of legal ethics—including that the criminal lawyers the public considers most vile, are often the most righteous -- the show began to loose its focus, rhythm, and, perhaps most grievously, its moral compass. Finally, in the closing season, as he ingeniously used the end of ‘The Practice’ to build the back-story of the new show, Kelley seems to have shared in the experience of so many criminal defense lawyers, emerging from ‘The Practice’, jaded, contemptuous, and greedy.

“Boston Legal,” is explores the notion that legal ethics and morality are not only not co-extensive, but in fact, fundamentally at odds. It is a show is built around disillusionment. The lawyers in Boston march around cheerfully highlighting their philandering, extortionate ways. They are engagingly sexed up and charmingly despicable: a straw firm of amoral 21st century Bonnie and Clydes, stealing from the rich, lining their own pockets, and abusing the law, all for the sheer egotistical thrill of it all.

Before the title sequence has ended, Crane has ordered damaging documents and scientific studies burned, and stabbed one of his partners in the back. Minutes later we discover he’s sleeping with a client’s wife. What’s that point of all this bad and bed behavior: Denny says it best: “You don’t ask. That’s the point.”

Everything about ‘Boston Legal’ is a rebuke to ‘The Practice’. The big name protagonists, James Spader and William Shatner (both in rare form) are big, brash, swaggering figures—a far cry from aging Eleanor, pudgy Jimmy and scowling Eugene. The lighting is crisp, clean and smart—no darkened corners or grey reflected light. “Boston Legal” exists in perpetual sunshine, while ‘The Practice’ was lit as if every beleaguered ray of sunlight had somehow managed to penetrate a windowpane caked with the grit of a thousand missed opportunities.

The other half of the dysfunctional dyad at the center of Boston Legal is Alan Shore (played gamely by James Spader). Spader—at his absolute best playing a character whose fealty is only to his deeply damaged self—is like a high-gloss Andy Sipowicz, simultaneously troubled and triumphant in a way it is disturbing to process. And between them, Crane and Shore form a perfect Machiavellian legal universe, where results trump process and conscience is a woeful liability. “You blackmailed him” a disgusted partner says to Shore. “You make it sound unsavory” Shore replies accusingly, his signature crooked smirk plastered across his face.

By exploring the well-tailored, oversexed, pathologies of handsome but unsavory characters, “Boston Legal” is sure to provide outstanding entertainment. But more than that, it is sure to tap into a deeper perception that lawyering, for all its old amusements, is now a profoundly bankrupt profession. The problem of course, is that a popular show not only reflects the zeitgeist, it creates it.

Sadly, “Boston Legal” is good television, and it is likely to succeed both as entertainment, and as a massive revenue generating machine. But if the formula lasts, and if, four years from now, resilient greed, sexual depravity, and strident amorality continue to sell, and “Boston Legal” leaps the 100 episode syndication hurdle, guarantying millions for all involved, and many times that for Mr. Kelley, we should nonetheless hope that his next project will be better. That, despite our impending sojourn in jurisprudential Sodom and Gomorrah, Kelley’s exquisite sensibility, and unstoppable creativity will eventually lead us all back to a better world--one where justice and fair dealing once again mean something, where procedural rights aren’t ridiculed as technicalities, where men and women of good character are judged by their striving not their wardrobes and one where Bobby Donnell, Eleanor Frut and Eugene Young once again, win all of their cases.


Trial and Errors: The Detroit Terrorism Case Unravels...

What makes this expose brilliant, is that it beautifully demonstrates the dangers of prosecutorial zeal, and once again puts the lie to the notion that Convertino (the lead AUSA) was a lone bad apple. Clearly, the rot in the criminal division of the justice department goes far higher--possibly all the way to the president. Let's not forget that it was Bush who, spoke approvingly of this embarrasing, disgusting prosecution.

The New York Times > National > Trial and Errors: After Convictions, the Undoing of a U.S. Terror Prosecution


Bloody Dick

Within three questions, John Edwards has taken the high ground, framed the debate, and relentlessly attacked the Vice President. It's astonishing. You gotta love trial lawyers. This is looking like the kind of rollicking debate we've been waiting for.

Federal Sentencing Guidelines are Gonners....

It seems pretty clear after yesterday's arguments in Booker and Fanfan that the guidelines are about to die a Blakely related death. As usual, Doug Berman has some great stuff on this, as well as some entertaining speculation on when the ruling comes down. (My guess is last week of October). Here's the link to Doug's always enlightening blog...

Sentencing Law and Policy


Ah Hamdi...

Yes its' true--they've got nothing on Hamdi.

This is the guy they went to the supreme court over--the one they kept in solitary for two years. As it turns out, they've got nothing on him and are letting him go rather than give him any of the dure process rights the SCOTUS insisted he had. For those of us who watch and care about this sort of thing, it reveals a level of governmental deception and callousness that it's actually hard to grasp. The decision to release him is both deeply telling and
deeply troubling--suggesting that the administration really was engaged in a power grab. Terrifying to think about what might have happened had the the Hamdi question been presented a few terms earlier when nerves were just a bit more frayed. (See e.g the Patriot act.) What a perfect object lesson in the dangers of excessive executive authority...

The New York Times > Washington > U.S., Bowing to Court, to Free 'Enemy Combatant'


Unqualified Judge Re-Nominated: Shame on democrats

A rabidly pro-prosecution judge just got re-nominated to another 14 year term despite the dramatic and unusual finding by an independent screening panel that he was unfit for the judiciary.

Welcome to 14 more years of gratuitously shattered lives…

The New York Times > New York Region > Brooklyn Democrats Back a Judge the Reform Panel Would Not


It's good to be a prosecutor

Gotta Love This: The Brooklyn DA's son--himself an Assistant District Attorney gets a skate for crashing his county owned car into an embankement. Oh did I mention the empty beer bottle in the car and the reports of earlier drinking?

I can just imagine how many of these cases Kevin Hynes has himself refused to dismiss. After all he, his daddy, and his ilk, are 'tough on crime' unless it's perpetrated by an insider--then, amazingly there's insufficient forensic evidence.

In any other context, this would be called a 'circumstantial case'. But when it's an ADA--a hallowed law enforcement official--then it's called a 'no case'.

For shame!

The New York Times > New York Region > Ex-Prosecutor Avoids Charge of Drinking


Presidential Money and the Tightwad Talking Heads...

Even with his newfound millions, Bill Clinton isn't keeping pace with the old money Bushes...
My quick search of the Federal Election Commission Reports on individual contributions has George H.W. Bush personally outspending Clinton by a 5 – 1 margin.

Here’s a quick review of which former president gave to what:

Clinton has given:

1000 bucks to

While H.W. has ponied up:

1,000 bucks to
BUSH, GEORGE W General Election
CORNYN, JOHN Texas Senate
ALLEN, GEORGE Virginia Senate

2,000 to: BUSH, GEORGE W (Primary)


Wanna know what your friends and neighbors are giving or not giving…
Individual Query - Normal Search

Meanwhile, if you were wondering whether the punditocracy put any money where their big mouths are:

AnnCoulter: A bigmouth with a lot of strong opinions, ain't given nothing to nobody…
Same with Bill O’Reilly…
Pathetic that these big talkers won’t open their own wallets.

At least Al Franken shows the courage of his convictions…he’s given the full two grand to Kerry.


Kentucky Prosecutors Allowed to Oppose Right to Vote...

'Cause you never know what mischief those ex-felons can wreak in the voting booth.

Lexington Herald-Leader | 09/07/2004 | Steps added for restoring felons' voting rights


Don't Mess With Texas

Here a judge frees a 76 year old man who confessed after being tortured...

State District Judge David Wilson, who dismissed Coney's charges, investigated and found that the sheriff of Angelina County at the time and his deputies used physical force to extract confessions, often crushing prisoners' fingers between jail cell bars. When Wilson questioned Coney, the prisoner held up two twisted and bent fingers. "I remember the sheriff well," Coney said.

CBS News | Judge Frees Man Jailed 40 Years | August 20, 2004 09:18:27

Brad's Bird Bit...

My friend Brad Klein, a brilliant man, fantastic editor, and bird enthusiast contributes this piece on the 90th anniversary of the extinction of the passenger pidgeon.

The Next Big Thing: Endangered: Show #501 (September 03, 2004)


My Latest Slate Piece...

Outlining the indigent defense crisis in Mass, and suggesting that it's about time to look at establishing an adequately funded state-wide public defender system...

Sure to piss off my new colleagues on the assigned pannel.

Public Offenders - Why criminals in Massachusetts are getting out of jail free. By David Feige

Money Maps

If you haven't seen this yet, it's worth a look...

The City Maps



To quote him--March 1st 2001--on John Kerry:
"John has worked to strengthen our military, reform public education, boost the economy and protect the environment. Business Week magazine named him one of the top pro-technology legislators and made him a member of its "Digital Dozen."




Material Witnesses and Me...(This weekend's adventures...)

It is 11:20p.m when the cell phone rings. It’s Robin. I’m sitting in a swank downtown restaurant, a half empty decaf cappuccino and mostly eaten peach crème brulee on the table in front of me. It’s been a good meal—roasted duck and delicate ravioli. ”Remember that woman I told you about” Robin’s voice is urgent. “She’s at the precinct. Not under arrest, but she’s there and they’re not letting her go”

“That’s bullshit” I say, cradling the cellphone slightly embarrassed that I’ve lapsed into my Bronxese “They gotta make a choice”. “I know” Robin says impatiently. “Karen’s been on the phone with them. “ok, and what’ya need? “ I asked half-knowing the answer. “I need you to get up there and walk her out” Robin says flatly. “Sorry””What precinct?
I ask. “4-8” she says. “Ok I’m on my way”

At first I thought I might be able to do it by phone, but after a contentious conversation with a detective, it was pretty clear that there was not going to be an easy resolution. I tried to break it easy to the cabbie I flagged down just outside the restaurant. “I know this is going to sound crazy, I said, but I’m headed under the Cross Bronx Expressway” I’ll show you where.”

Many of my friends wonder why the hell I’d trek up to the Bronx at midnight on a Friday for a client I’ve never even met before. And the reality is, that there is something fun about it—making a precinct call, is about as raw a display of commitment as one can make. It is going into the belly of the beast, and speaking truth to power. Being on the streets or being in the precincts is an even more raw experience than being in court—in court there are the moderating influences of protcol and procedure. Who stands where and what you can say are fairly circumscribed. The chances of a fistfight are minimal. Upstairs in the 48 detective squad, by contrast, sinuous muscle of law enforcement is far more naked.

And when I got there, met at the door to the squad room by the Lieutenant, I went straight into attack mode. “look” the Lieutenant said earnestly “we think she’s been threatened. She not under arrest, she’s just holding out”

“Lieutenant”, I said, “I’m gonna tell you exactly how this is gonna go... If you want to talk to her. You’re gonna call her attorney. And iiiif, her attorney is interested in talking to you, and iiiif her client has something to say to you, then iiiif it happens to be convenient for her and for her lawyer, then, you’ll be invited to sit down like normal people and have a normal conversation until such time as either her attorney or she doesn’t feel like it anymore, at which time, that interview is over. That. Is how it’s going to be from now on. Got it?"

“If she dies, it’s on your head” The main investigating detective, sitting at a desk about three feet away says to me over and over.

Are you through? "This is bullshit. and we are walking out of here now."

“Hey!” It was a huge Latino detective with a barrel chest and biceps like cantaloupes. Getting out of his chair he took two menacing steps toward me. “You’re in our house here” He nearly shouted, echoing a common cop refrain. “This is our house—don’t you dare come in here cursing—cussing at my Lieutenant. “You’re gonna come in here and talk shit to him?” “You wanna show me what a big man you are huh?” He took another step toward me “do ya?”

I look over at him dismissively. “Sit down” was all I said. “It’s late, and we have a taxi waiting”

And then turning to my new client with a courtly flourish, I offered her my bent arm-as if she were a princess in a disney flick. “C’mon darling, we’re walking out of here now” I said, as she took my arm and we turned to leave. “Always a pleasure” I said as we sailed through the door to the stairs and the exit.

Walking someone out of the precinct, getting them away from the terrifying clutches is itself a gratifying experience, and being in a situation in which sounding like Clint Eastwood makes sense—is expected even—is itself exhilarating. It is an odd form of pleasure-- to find yourself covered, with the sticky smell of spending too much time near jail cells. There is also something exhilarating about being in ‘their house’ working within a system in which they make all the rules. There is something exciting about walking into a place where everyone else has guns, armed only with a bit of legal savy and and the determination to get something done. And this was a good thing to have gotten done.

Strange really, given the the whole material witness situation. The abuse of that doctrine is absolutely chilling...
Check out what the times did on it just last week...

The New York Times > Washington > For Post-9/11 Material Witness, It Is a Terror of a Different Kind

I'm Baaack...

Sorry I've been gone so long. It's been a crazy summer. Here's a juicy little morsel: Astonishing really when you look at the lengths prosecutors will go to kill.

The New York Times > New York Region > Across New York, a Death Penalty Stuck in Limbo


The tower of babel...

There are all kinds of good reasons not to be a criminal defense attorney. We’re underpaid, unappreciated, and constantly forced to defend ourselves at cocktail parties. But until the arrest of Lynne Stewart, It had never occurred to me that we might also run the risk of being suddenly arrested and accused of engaging in a treasonous conspiracy.

Indicted along with several others , including an Arabic interpreter, Ms. Stewart, a prominent criminal defense attorney has been accused, of helping imprisoned Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman send illegal messages to his worldwide terrorist followers. She allegedly did this by speaking in English about irrelevant things while her interpreter spoke about other matters in Arabic.

It’s not a surprise that some cops and prosecutors don’t like defense lawyers. And it makes sense that their dislike of the people they prosecute regularly spills over onto the lawyers that represent them. This is especially true when someone passionately defends a particularly reviled client.

Good defense lawyers, of course, assure the legitimacy of the entire system. Not just inside some federal district courtroom, but in the larger court of public, and even world opinion. And prosecuting one the few lawyers still willing to endure the public scorn that comes with defending really unpopular people is a real mistake. It has a chilling effect on all of us. And when that prosecution is undertaken with this kind of really questionable evidence, it is a clear message to radical lawyers: Back off. Does it surprise me the John Ashcroft would go after a criminal defense lawyer? Not at all, does it disturb me? Hell yes.

There are a number of issues that the Stewart case raises—among them matters of legal interpretation, and attorney client privilege. But let’s leave aside the question of whether the justice department’s theory that pretty much any contact with anyone who turns out to be a terrorist, can be considered to have provided support for terrorism is appropriate. And let’s leave for another day the question of whether the government should ever be taping conversations between attorney’s and clients (as they did here) or whether it is appropriate to insist (as they did) that in order to see a client in prison, a lawyer has to sign a statement pledging to refrain from disseminating the client’s point of view in the press. All of these are terrifying positions. But rather than look at the abstract legal and moral problems that inhere in the case, let’s look at the vaguely absurd substance of the charges against Ms. Stewart—saying things that didn’t get translated.

Now in my years as a public defender, I’ve worked with clients who speak languages ranging from Albanian to Wolof, and I’m no stranger to using interpreters.

In fact, earlier this year, I was in a crowded jailhouse interview room trying desperately to talk to someone who only spoke Cantonese. I had an interpreter with me, so I started slowly. I explained who I was, and tried to put her at ease. Small talk is an important way to build trust. People in jail are usually cut off from their families and friends, and helping them feel connected is a significant part of what a caring lawyer does.

But, minutes later, as I tried to explain the basic nature of the charges, I found myself utterly lost. I’d say something, and then there would be a lengthy exchange between the interpreter and the client. They would nod and bicker back and forth, one seeming to correct the other, each involved in some strange debate to which I wasn’t privy. When I’d break in, the interpreter would explain “I was telling her what a felony is”. “Please just try to translate only what I say”…
“Yeah…Ok” he’d said, but then, just a few minutes later, I’d loose control again. “What doesn’t she understand?” I’d ask. And again a lengthy conversation would ensue. “Look” I said, “she just needs to understand that we are going to see a judge….” I trailed off, ignored completely by the client and the interpreter who could have been discussing politics for all I knew.

Now I don’t know if Lynne Stewart knows any more Arabic than I know Cantonese, but I can’t help wondering if this whole thing isn’t just a big tower of Babel problem. Thinking back on my case, I realize, I don’t have a clue exactly what got explained or how.

It is hard enough trying to bridge the tremendous barriers imposed by language and circumstance. The reality is, much of what I saw to clients is lost in translation. And so, it’s frightening to think that while I’m back in those cells, trying hard just to explain a simple legal concept, the government might be listening in, quietly building a case against me for unwittingly unleashing a Cantonese fatwa.


More Prosecutorial Lies...

Judge Again Cites Lies by U.S. Witnesses

The supreme irony of this case is that I can almost guarantee that proseuctors were doing their little joy dance when the feds took this guy after a stop by an NYPD detective. What makes it both so funny and so sad, is that the obviously absurd testimony--what cops have called testilying for years, would have been accepted by almost any state court judge. I'm hard pressed to think of more than a scant few who would ever, ever question a detective's credibility in a simple traffic stop case even when it's obviously crap.

Bravo for Gleeson. At least a few Federal judges have some courage. And as for the Federal prosecutors--shame on them. They knew what kind of crap they had--they knew what the testimony was going to be. They should have reemed out the detective and dismissed the case. The only wonder is that knowing they had a crap case, they didn't "clean it up" whether that's arrogance or decency I know not. I think in State DA's offices cleaning up the testimony is known as "witness preparation"--an Orwellian or Republican term for suborning perjury.


The Times Nails It...

You gotta love this headline:

Undecided Voter Is Becoming the Focus of Both Political Parties

Really? There's a shocker--call Carl Rove quick!

Here's the article just in case you feel the need to read more about this shockingly self-evident proposition...

The New York Times > Washington > Campaign 2004 > Undecided Voter Is Becoming the Focus of Both Political Parties

Judge's request for an arrest warrant infuriates cops...

The New York Times > New York Region > Judge Helps Defendant Elude a Detective Waiting in the Hall to Arrest Him

In this litle slice of criminal court life, a Judge is pilloried for basically insisting on an arrest warrant after a detective misrepresented to the court what he wanted with the defendant. It's a perfect example of how cops take umbrage at the anyone--even judges--who try to insist on doing things the right way. Cops seems to believe they should be able to do whatever they want to do and no one should be able to question them. Ever asked an officer at the scene of an arrest what was going on? Try it sometime, but go easy--you're likely to wind up arrested.

Nice to see that a judge has the backbone to do what she thinks is right, despite the preferences of the cops and prosecutors.


30 for 14 year old...

Murder sentence renews debate

Yes it's true. Geniuses that we are, we've now sentenced a 14 year old orphan girl to 30 years in prison. Damn it makes me feel good about our society.

I'm not kidding. Read for yourself--the link above sends you straight to the article in the indianapolis star. Makes you wonder just what kind of a polis indy is.


The Wilmington Journal - Article - national news

The obvious parallels between Abu-Ghraib and prison conditions in the U.S. are shaply drawn in this Wilmington Journal piece.

The sad truth is, Abu-Ghraib is vivid not only because of the hoods and electrodes, but because there was a camera...

Send a camera into Greenhaven or Pelican Bay sometime and guess what you'll find...

Moving Walls 8: A Group Photography Exhibition

As someone who just yesterday pled someone to Man. 1 and 10 years, it behoves me (and I'd suggest the rest of us) to remember just what we are sentencing people to...


The terrifying intersection of capitalism and incarceration...

The New York Times > National > Trouble in Private U.S. Jails Preceded Job Fixing Iraq's

Fox Butterfield's outstanding article on the terrifing realities of the private prison system, focusing on the suicide of Tyson Johnson. It's as awful as you'd expect. Makes you wonder yet again, why we do this to our own citizens.


About time too... - News - Youth Prison Shuttered After Decade Of Abuse Allegations

They've finally shut Tallulah--one of the worst juvenile facilities in the nation. And about time too.


A 'Blow" to a Chief Judge who Freaks and Speeds

N. Mexico governor 'disturbed' by drug arrests of state officials

How much do you love this item?

Chief Judge John Brennan arrested on drug and DWI charges after allegedly trying to elude police at a DWI checkpoint. The cops claim to have found cocaine in the car too. I wonder whether he’s a criminal term judge who has sentenced poor people to prison for cocaine possession? It’s almost Limbaughian.

Portrait of a Family Court Judge as a Confused Father

The New York Times > National > American Dreamers: A Las Vegas Juvenile Judge Finds His Test Case at Home

We are indeed a society in decline. Witness this rather poignant portrait of a seemingly aloof Las Vegas Family Court Judge confused by his own vapid, spoiled, drug addled daughter. It’s terrifying. As much for the soullessness of the suburbs as the fact that this guy deals with kids every day as a jurist. Maybe I’m wrong, but I can’t imagine that the really poor kids of vegas don’t pay for the guy’s ennui.


The Myth Of Fingerprints Redux...

Here's a great article on yet another fingerprint mix up. And for all you public defenders who have seen these sorts of mix up's, I think this will ring frighteningly true especially if you've ever tried to get a 'Do Not Arrest Letters' for a client.


Gone and Mercifully So...

Passing through Times Square recently, I noticed that that awful cop billboard is finally gone. At least I think it is, I might have been too sauced and just missed it as the cab swept through.

If you've wandered through the dizzying array of times square signage, past the glowing super-sized McDonald’s kiosk anytime in the past few months, you've seen it. The 100,000 dollar billboard behemothh that constitutess the latest salvo in the Patrolman’s Benevolent Association’s attempt to negotiate a new contract with the city—a massive billboard replete with it’s own little zipper relentlessly insisting that “NYC cops deserve better pay”.

Perched on the north side of 42nd street, just east of Eighth Avenue, the billboard stridently insists that while New York City’s Cops are “#1 in crime fighting” they are “145 in the nation in salary”. Framed by the empire state building on one side and the torch of lady liberty on the other, the ad lists the 144 police departments that ostensibly pay better than New York’s deserving finest.

As it turns out though, a police officer’s salary is almost as impenetrable as those of some corporate CEO’s. And while cops don’t get stock options, looking at a cop’s base salary can be as misleading as assuming that Louis Gerstner only earned 2 million dollars in 2001. (His actual income from IBM was over 50 times that).

So while it is true that a police officer’s starting salary is just over $39,000. That figure doesn’t include uniform allowances, holiday pay, night shift differentials, pension contributions, travel expenses, unlimited sick leave that averages nearly a month per year, generous vacation and personal time which adds more than another month a year just for rookies, and of course, overtime. And where overtime is concerned, the NYPD is a major consumer. Indeed, a number of officers are able to double their salaries on overtime alone. According to the city’s independent budget office, in the first three months of fiscal year 2004, cops racked up $125 million in overtime alone—a pace that would exceed budgeted overtime by nearly $200 million.

Of course, few of the cities 34,000 cops are rookies. Most are veterans. And, assuming that an officer has failed after 10 years, to make sergeant (base salary of $69,300) lieutenant (79,547) or Captain (103,577), he or she can still look forward to a base salary of well over $60,000--, and (between average sick leave, personal time, vacation time and paid holidays) nearly three full months of vacation each year.

And aside from the interesting question of what makes a police department #1 in “crime fighting”, the relationship between police pay and crime fighting is anything but obvious. For example, in the 2000 Fiscal year, before 9-11 made things even crazier, the city spent 237 million dollars just on police overtime--Much of it attributable to Giuliani quality of life offensives. And what did that mean in terms of crime fighting—plenty of arrests, but paradoxically, a 15 percent drop in major felony arrests, with a skyrocketing arrest rate for misdemeanor marijuana possessions—twice as many as the year before. So it may well be true that for 237 million dollars in police overtime we can crack down on the weed scourge in the city, and it may even be that this makes the NYPD #1 in crime fighting, but what the belligerent times square billboard conspicuously fails ask, is: Is it worth it?

I for one don't think so. I'd gladly trade the 1/4 billion in annual cop overtime pay for some housing for the homless, food for the hungry and books for the kids. But alas, I don't have the 100 grand necessary to post my views on a guady billboard in Times Square.


Having just won a hard fought E-bay auction for an obsolete technology, (a MIVO mailstation 100--the only thing my 90 year old grandmother will use for E-mail) I can now turn my late night concentration to feeling bad about the Slate correction.

Just hours after my little piece on fingerprints ( was posted, I got one of those little queries from the corrections page at Slate... Not surprisingly it came from someone with an .edu suffix. The very nice man pointed out that I had used the term 'modular transfer function' for 'modulation transfer function'. When the correction came in, I didn't initially understand it--I thought it was about a sourcing issue. And it was only after having sent appendix F of the IAIFIS manual off to my editor with a smug note did I realize that the guy was actually talking about a typo which I hadn't noticed before.

He was utterly right of course, and horrified, I quicky ate appropriate crow with my editor. Since it really was a typo, there was some question as to whether a correction was really necessary. Obviously, they decided that a correction had to issue (you can see it at the bottom of the piece) which, of course totally heightened my level of mortification. I also sent the corrector an apologetic note

Not that this is such a big deal, of course, but I was a bit embarrassed at having missed it. It's just not the kind of thing that looks good when you are a fairly new writer. And then just hours after the correction is posted, I get this very nice note from the corrector:

Mr. Feige,

Thank you for your note. I appreciate you writing, though it was quite
unnecessary, as I certainly have been known to miss a thing or two in
my read-overs. I most assuredly did enjoy the piece, and thank you
again for taking the time to write.

P.S. A quick google search for "modular transfer function" found 291
hits which makes me wonder if they might both be acceptable,
though "modulation transfer function" had several thousand hits.

Hmmm. I just wish he'd googled first and written to the corrections page later...


Looks like my blog is finally up and running. Of course, I got around to it just in time to actually start a homicide trial. So we'll see if I actually wind up writing anything. Don't expect much while I'm on trial...