News Roundup

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The General Assembly is gearing up for the long session, and the AOC has a new lobbyist: former Rep. Tom Murry of Morrisville will be the AOC’s “chief legal counsel for governmental affairs,” according to this News and Observer story. Murry is a Republican and an attorney, and his main priority likely will be securing more resources for the courts.

In other news:

A different perspective on European prisons. Periodically, the media runs stories about the cushy nature of some European prisons. But apparently they’re not all that way. This post at Sentencing Law & Policy reports that many European prisons are older facilities with significant crowding and repair problems. In one, inmates have no running water and “relieve themselves in a bucket that can go unemptied for 48 hours”; in another, there are “significant, easily visible vermin infestations.” One warden describes conditions at his own prison as “medieval.”

Public defender won’t be charged after bad arrest. I noted last week that a California public defender had been arrested – apparently for some variant of obstructing justice – after asking an officer not to take pictures of her client in a courthouse hallway. I also noted that it didn’t sound like obstruction to me. According to this local story, no criminal charges will be filed against the lawyer, and the attorney has filed a disciplinary complaint against the officer who arrested her.

Months before trial, Aurora theater shooting case has cost more than $5 million. Yahoo! News reports here that “[t]he criminal court case against Colorado theater gunman James Holmes has already absorbed at least $5.5 million in public monies . . . and the contentious Holmes proceeding is still months away from opening arguments.” Certainly, there’s merit to the idea of providing the fairest possible trial to both sides and sparing no expense in capital cases. But when sparing no expense means cannibalizing the budget for the rest of the justice system, hard questions need to be asked, including whether capital cases are worth the cost and whether some limits on spending may be imposed consistent with constitutional requirements.

Breaking news: new study shows that judicial selection is influenced by politics. The New York Times recently carried this story, which leads off by observing that “lawyers on average are much more liberal than the general population” but that “judges are more conservative than the average lawyer.” What could possibly explain this phenomenon? Luckily, we have a new academic study – from Harvard, no less – to tell us the answer: “that judicial selection processes are affected by politics.” You could knock me over with a feather.

You can’t argue with science! The meanest Justice of all time is . . . probably not who you think. Eric Posner blogs here about the statistical “friendliness scores” of various Justices, calculated based on the ratio of positive words to negative words in their opinions. Scalia? Not super friendly but less unfriendly than “Alito, Kennedy, Thomas, and even Breyer.” Breyer? But even he doesn’t take the crown, as the official title of Meanest Justice goes to “[a]n obscure, one-term Justice named Thomas Johnson.”

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One comment on “News Roundup

  1. Re: Aurora
    Patience runs thin for trials of this nature. Holmes was caught immediately in the aftermath of the shooting, admitted to what he’d done, left tons of evidence behind, and warned officers of a booby-trapped apartment. I expect he may have left a witness or two alive. There doesn’t seem to be much doubt he did it and, yes, I would be bounced from the jury pool rather quickly.
    All that is left to argue is whether mental illness played a part. Again, from what information is publicly available, there doesn’t seem to be much doubt that Holmes wasn’t quite right in the head. Is it enough to remove culpability for his actions? Considering his own defense attorneys offered a guilty plea in exchange for taking the death penalty off the table, I have doubts. Still, there’s something to be said for getting the ball rolling on his incarceration.
    I’m sure there are a number of survivors and victims’ families pressuring the DA’s office to not take a deal. I would say that, were I in that group, I’d keep in mind for every Charles Manson that becomes a senior citizen in prison, there are a dozen Jeff Dahmers, Albert DeSalvos, and John Geoghans who don’t. General population can be more deadly than lung cancer if you are “that guy.”

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