Category Archives: Rule of Law

The NYT, perhaps unsurprisingly, has a lawyer who can WRITE



You’ve got to read the letter that David E. McCraw, a lawyer for The New York Times, wrote in response to a letter from an attorney for Donald Trump asking the paper to retract an article that featured two women accusing Mr. Trump of touching them inappropriately years ago, and issue an apology.

No, really, you should read it. It’s not the usual legalese that gives you a headache before you get through the first sentence. It’s pretty awesome. It tells home truths, lays down a challenge and dares ’em to come on.

Click here to see the original document. Here’s the full text:

October 13, 2016


Marc E. Kasowitz, Esq.
Kasowitz, Benson, Torres & Friedman LLP
1633 Broadway
New York, NY 10019-6799

Re: Demand for Retraction

Dear Mr. Kasowitz:

I write in response to your letter of October 12, 2016 to Dean Baquet concerning your client Donald Trump, the Republican Party nominee for President of the United States. You write concerning our article “Two Women Say Donald Trump Touched Them Inappropriately” and label the article as “libel per se.” You ask that we “remove it from [our] website, and issue a full and immediate retraction and apology.” We decline to do so.

The essence of a libel claim, of course, is the protection of one’s reputation. Mr. Trump has bragged about his non-consensual sexual touching of women. He has bragged about intruding on beauty pageant contestants in their dressing rooms. He acquiesced to a radio host’s request to discuss Mr. Trump’s own daughter as a “piece of ass.” Multiple women not mentioned in our article have publicly come forward to report on Mr. Trump’s unwanted advances. Nothing in our article has had the slightest effect on the reputation that Mr. Trump, through his own words and actions, has already created for himself.

But there is a larger and much more important point here. The women quoted in our story spoke out on an issue of national importance – indeed, an issue that Mr. Trump himself discussed with the whole nation watching during Sunday night’s presidential debate. Our reporters diligently worked to confirm the women’s accounts. They provided readers with Mr. Trump’s response, including his forceful denial of the women’s reports. It would have been a disservice not just to our readers but to democracy itself to silence their voices. We did what the law allows: We published newsworthy information about a subject of deep public concern. If Mr. Trump disagrees, if he believes that American citizens had no right to hear what these women had to say and that the law of this country forces us and those who would dare to criticize him to stand silent or be punished, we welcome the opportunity to have a court set him straight.

David E. McCraw

Well said, sir.

Could we go ahead and adjudicate this now?

The Hamlet routine: to press or not to press (charges)

None of these is actually my mailbox; I just needed art to go with this...

None of these is actually my mailbox; I just needed art to go with this…

Monday morning, my wife asked me if I’d done anything with our mailbox at the house — put anything in, taken anything out, whatever. No, I hadn’t. She said she’d come home mid-morning and found it open. And two pieces of mail she had placed in it Sunday afternoon, both containing checks to pay bills, were missing.

So we speculated that maybe the postal worker had come freakishly early or something — J vaguely recalled having seen the mail truck in the neighborhood on Sunday and wondering what it was doing — and made plans to contact the folks to whom the checks were mailed to make sure they arrived.

Then, a couple of hours later, I got a call from our credit union, with whom we have that checking account. Someone we had never heard of had just been in their Irmo office trying to cash a check from us for $680.42.

One of the checks we were mailing was for $130.42. Think about it.

While I can see how someone made that change, I still don’t know how anyone managed to change what was in the TO space. The check was to Lexington County, to pay a vehicle tax, and the name it had been changed to wasn’t even close.

Anyway, the credit union refused to cash it, the person left with the check, and the teller — who remembered us from when she worked in the West Columbia branch — called me.

So since the thieves have my account number and routing number, I ran over to the main office and had the account closed.

That was just the start. We had to change a couple of direct deposits, and some automatic payments — Netflix and the like. There were the two probably-stolen checks, and an earlier payment that hadn’t gone through, so we’d have to get with all those folks and arrange to pay another way.

Yeah, I know. You’re wondering why we were putting checks into our mailbox. A lot of people have asked that the last couple of days, accompanied by “Didn’t you know…?” No, we didn’t. While everyone and his brother is mentioning it now, no one had ever mentioned it to us before — and we’d gone our entire lives without anything being stolen from our mailbox. To our knowledge.

And like most of you, we don’t send out many checks anymore, usually doing electronic transfers. But that doesn’t always work out. Rest assured, if we send out checks henceforth, we’ll follow Moscow Rules — maybe changing vehicles two or three times on the way to an official U.S. gummint mailbox.

Next step, police reports. We live in the county, so I called the sheriff’s office and gave the details over the phone. Separately — since a separate crime was attempted in that jurisdiction — the credit union contacted the Irmo PD.

Which led to a bit of a dilemma for me.

Tuesday morning, the Irmo policeman who’d taken the report called me to ask whether we wanted to press charges. Not that there was a suspect in custody or anything — the police wanted to know whether they would have a case (whether we would testify that we never wrote a check to the person in question, for instance) before devoting resources to it.

I sympathized. The police need to prioritize, I understand. But being asked this question caused me concern on two fronts, having to do with opinions I’ve long held and expressed:

  • I’m all for looking out for crime victims, but I am adamantly opposed to them making decisions about prosecution. You’ll hear people say that “The victim’s family should decide” whether to pursue the death penalty in murder cases, for instance. That’s an outrageous suggestion in my book. We don’t have police and courts to act as agents of personal vengeance for individuals. Our laws against murder and passing bad checks exist because we, as a society, don’t think people should be allowed to kill other people or steal from them — such things are disruptive to civilization. (This is related to my oft-stated opposition to abortion on demand — to me, it’s a violation of the ideal of a nation of laws and not of men to have the one most interested person on the planet have absolute power over life and death.)
  • As y’all know, I don’t think we need to be locking up people who commit nonviolent crimes. Many if not most of the women in prison, from what I’ve heard in the past, are there for trying to pass bad checks. Don’t know if that’s still true, but that’s what I used to hear.

Add to that the fact that aside from being greatly inconvenienced, I had lost nothing, thanks to the smart actions of the teller who refused to cash the check (I told her supervisor she should get a gold star for that). The credit union wasn’t out anything, either — aside from time spent on this.

So I dithered. I asked the officer if I could call him back, and promised to do so by the end of the day.

I polled people about it, and everyone I talked to said of course you want them to prosecute. Still, I did the Hamlet routine — to press or not to press?

I finally decided that I had no choice, for the simple fact that it wasn’t about us, even though it felt like it. Whoever had stolen the checks, and whoever tried to pass the forged one (which could be more than one person), might do it again. For all I know, the person or people in question might do this all the time.

And that needed to be stopped, if possible. It wasn’t about what had or hadn’t been done to us; it was about protecting the rest of society. If we didn’t follow through, additional crimes might occur. If we didn’t proceed, the social contract would fray a bit more.

You know me — once I had it framed in my mind in communitarian terms, I called the officer and asked him to proceed.

If anything else interesting happens, I’ll keep y’all posted…

By the way, what would y’all have done (I mean, besides not putting the checks in the mailbox to start with)?

The rape suspect cross-examined the victim? REALLY?

Being blind, Lady Justice missed a travesty in one of her courts Tuesday.

Being blind, Lady Justice missed a travesty in one of her courts Tuesday.

I don’t read a whole lot of crime news, because it seldom involves editorial points I want to make.

But this story sort of blew me away today:

Woman sobs on stand under questioning by alleged rapist

A woman wept on the witness stand, at times uncontrollably, as her accused serial home invader and rapist, acting as his own attorney, grilled her about what happened that morning.

Nathan Martinez, 37, confronted his accuser in a Richland County courtroom in steady but accusatory tones, asking the woman if she had in fact really been raped during a March 2014 home invasion in Forest Acres. In her testimony for the prosecution, he said, she had not said anyone kicked or hit her.

“You said that the individual used force,” Martinez charged.

The woman, who now lives out of state with her family, replied, “He used force by putting a gun in my face, by tying me up and threatening to kill me!”

It was an unusual day in court. It’s rare for defendants to represent themselves, especially in complex, violent crimes such as this week’s case….

Yeah, John. To say the least…

You hear about rape victims feeling like they’re the ones on trial, but I have never even heard of something this outrageous.

I read on to determine how such a miscarriage of justice could occur, and found this explanation:

It was only after questioning Martinez and making sure he knew he was giving up his right to an attorney that trial Judge Knox McMahon allowed him to be his own lawyer. If McMahon had refused Martinez’s request to be his own attorney with cross-examination rights, the case could be overturned on appeal….

Well, I’m sure that you, like me, are all broken up from worrying about Martinez and his rights.

Look, I’m not one of these people who goes on and on about how our system only extends rights to the accused and none to the victims, yadda-yadda. I believe in the rule of law. I believe in being innocent until proven guilty. And while I’m sympathetic, I feel like sometimes the victim’s rights movement can go a tad overboard.

But a terrible thing happened in one of our courtrooms yesterday. Even if you extend the “innocent-until-proven-guilty” thing to the point of saying “hey, maybe the guy didn’t do it” — you’re left with the fact that to this innocent woman and her innocent children, he did do it. And they were subjected to this outrage.

And I’m wondering whether there are any statutory remedies out there to make sure this never happens again…

The SC Supreme Court sides with Pascoe against Wilson

Wilson, flanked by ex-AGs Charlie Condon and Henry McMaster, during his raging presser back in March.

Wilson, flanked by ex-AGs Charlie Condon and Henry McMaster, during his raging presser back in March.

Which surprises me. I haven’t read the decision yet, but John Monk’s story doesn’t explain how the court got around the fact that you can’t call a statewide grand jury without the attorney general.

All it says is that the court has essentially ruled that, for the sake of this investigation, Pascoe is the attorney general. Huh, seems like that would surprise those involved in writing the state constitution. But hey, they’re the experts, not me.

An excerpt:

The S.C. Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that Attorney General Alan Wilson can’t stop his special prosecutor, David Pascoe, from investigating possible corruption in the General Assembly.IMG_david_pascoe

Although Wilson tried to stop Pascoe – and apparently halted Pascoe’s investigation several months ago – the Supreme Court made it clear in its Wednesday ruling that Wilson acted unlawfully in trying to keep Pascoe from continuing his probe. Pascoe was working with SLED on the investigation.

“…the Attorney General’s Office’s purported termination of Pascoe’s designation was not valid,” the Supreme Court ruled in a 4-1 opinion.

The Supreme Court’s decision means that Pascoe now is the effective acting Attorney General for the purpose of Pascoe’s General Assembly investigation – and Wilson can’t stop him from proceeding….

The Court seems to have essentially sided with the popular narrative that Alan Wilson was trying to stop an investigation into his political buddies — which I know a lot of folks accept as gospel, but which I don’t believe for a second. It seemed to me that Pascoe acted outside the law in trying to call the jury on his own — something that Wilson made it clear he was ready and willing to do for him.

Of course, Wilson didn’t do himself any good with that raging press conference — but that wouldn’t seem to change the law, just his political image.

But maybe the court ‘splained it in a way that negates my concerns. We’ll see…

What would you do to get the right to vote, if you didn’t have it?


Following up a bit on my last post, about political demonstrations and whether they’re worthwhile…

I mentioned something about having seen the film “Suffragette,” and wondered about how wise it was for those women to break shop windows as a way of persuading men that they should be allowed to vote. Seemed kind of self-defeating, to me. Like, “I’m a rational, responsible, thoughtful human being who would make a great voter because I make good decisions! And to prove it, I’m going to break that window with this rock!”

Later, I got to thinking…

Just how precious is the right to vote? It’s a biggie, no question. Very important, even though it’s a little hard to fully appreciate it in an election year such as this one. Hard to have a representative democracy without it.

Interestingly, a 1913 film about suffragettes also emphasized the rock-throwing.

Interestingly, a 1913 film about suffragettes also emphasized the rock-throwing.

But is it the most essential right? Is it the one from which all others spring? Not really, I don’t think. I think the ones entailed in the First Amendment come higher, speak more to the essence of liberty — the ones that add up to freedom of conscience.

What would I be prepared to do to get suffrage if I didn’t have it? March? I suppose so. Break windows? I don’t know about that

But I would definitely use the other rights I just mentioned. I’d write about it; I’d speak about it. I’d peaceably assemble, and petition the government for redress. And I’d be very glad that I had all of those rights, which I would see as the key to getting the others.

The question may seem silly — of course, the right to vote is essential in a representative democracy.

But if you had to choose the lesser of two weevils — would it be the last right you gave up, or are others more precious?


Krauthammer’s onto something re Comey’s motivation

comey testify


Charles Krauthammer says he thinks he understands why FBI Director Comey recommended that Hillary Clinton not be prosecuted, despite findings of illegality — and it doesn’t fit the usual GOP conspiracy theories.

In fact, it’s remarkably like what I said earlier in the week. Says Krauthammer:

The usual answer is that the Clintons are treated by a different standard. Only little people pay. They are too well-connected, too well-protected to be treated like everybody else.

Alternatively, the explanation lies with Comey: He gave in to implicit political pressure, the desire to please those in power.

Certainly plausible, but given Comey’s reputation for probity and given that he holds a 10-year appointment, I’d suggest a third line of reasoning.

When Chief Justice John Roberts used a tortured, logic-defying argument to uphold Obamacare, he was subjected to similar accusations of bad faith. My view was that, as guardian of the Supreme Court’s public standing, he thought the issue too momentous — and the implications for the country too large — to hinge on a decision of the court. Especially afterBush v. Gore, Roberts wanted to keep the court from overturning the political branches on so monumental a piece of social legislation.

I would suggest that Comey’s thinking, whether conscious or not, was similar: He did not want the FBI director to end up as the arbiter of the 2016 presidential election. If Clinton were not a presumptive presidential nominee but simply a retired secretary of state, he might well have made a different recommendation…

I think there’s something to that. This was a judgment call, and all sorts of factors go into judgments.

As I said before, there’s a point at which it is simply not in the national interest to reach back in time and use criminal statutes to punish those with whom one disagrees. Example: There are lots of folks who’ve always hated Tony Blair because of Iraq who now want to seem him prosecuted for it, just as there were Democrats who wanted to go back and prosecute people in the Bush administration once Obama took office (a proposition that Obama wisely dismissed).

Yep, I believe firmly in the rule of law, in the importance of having a country that is no respecter of persons. But in some cases, respect for the overall good of the country overrides consideration of the legal fate of an individual.

Comey had a judgment call to make, and he chose the less harmful option.

And if you don’t like it, remember that it was just a recommendation. It did not legally bind anyone. What he said was one man’s opinion (and also the unanimous opinion of those taking part in the FBI investigation — the opinions of professionals, not partisans). And I find his opinion defensible, even laudable.

Donnie Myers makes list of America’s 5 ‘deadliest prosecutors’

And it’s getting lede treatment by The Guardian, in keeping with that newspaper’s fascination with us barbarous Americans with our guns and capital punishment.


The five are profiled in a new report from Harvard Law School’s Fair Punishment Project. Titled America’s Top Five Deadliest Prosecutors, the report highlights the lion-sized role in the modern death penalty of just four men and one woman. Donnie Myers

They are: Joe Freeman Britt of Robeson County, North Carolina; Donnie Myers of Lexington, South Carolina; Bob Macy of Oklahoma County; Lynne Abraham of Philadelphia County; and Johnny Holmes of Harris County, Texas….

Myers is the only one of the five who is still in office, with plans to retire at the end of the year. The lawyer, the one with the electric chair paperweight on his desk, did not respond to the Guardian’s questions about his inclusion in the top five club of deadliest prosecutors.

He achieved 39 death sentences in the course of his 38 years in practice but labored under a 46% rate of misconduct that was later discovered. Six of his death sentences were overturned due to problems in the way he had secured a capital sentence – often involving discriminatory exclusions of jurors based on race.

The report notes that Myers once rolled a baby’s crib draped in black cloth in front of a capital jury and, crying profusely, told them that a failure to return a death sentence would be like declaring “open season on babies in Lexington County”. In another death penalty case, he referred to the black defendant as “King Kong”, a “monster”, “caveman” and “beast of burden”….

Myers, of course, will be replaced by former deputy Rick Hubbard, after Hubbard’s victory in Tuesday’s primary.

Here’s part of what Cindi wrote about Hubbard in The State‘s endorsement of him:

Mr. Hubbard doesn’t speak ill of his former boss, but he does acknowledge that there have been problems in the office. He does note that he does not share Mr. Myers’ “old-school style of doing things.” And he makes a convincing case that he would represent a clean break….

Mr. Hubbard also seems to have the deepest appreciation of the three of the moral duty of a prosecutor to seek justice regardless of public opinion, and to seek justice even when that means losing a case. As he put it, “A prosecutor’s job is to do the right thing and to do it for the right reason.” After 40 years of a win-at-any-cost solicitor, the people in Lexington, Edgefield, McCormick and Saluda counties deserve a prosecutor who is deeply committed to putting justice first, always, and who has the experience and expertise to deliver that justice in a steady, reliable way….

Which is a more precious right: freedom to travel or guns?

Note that I did not ask which is constitutionally protected. I’m asking which is more fundamental to a free people.

Whenever we talk about barring people on no-fly lists or terror watch lists from obtaining firearms, Bryan or someone else will make the point that we would then be taking away a constitutionally protected right without due process — since those travel lists maintained by law enforcement don’t involve judgments by courts.

Good point, logically and legally sound. It “is a lucid, intelligent, well thought-out objection.”

We have the freedom to put on out travel vests and go where we like, no matter how ridiculous we may look.

We have the freedom to put on our travel vests and go where we like, no matter how ridiculous we may look.

But for me, it raises another question. Which is more fundamental to our basic, everyday liberty: The freedom to travel, to go where we choose within these United States whenever we like? Or the right to bear arms?

I would think the first one is. No, it’s not plainly addressed in the Bill of Rights the way guns are, but it’s protected by the Privileges and Immunities Clause — in other words, in the actual main body of the Constitution as opposed to the afterthoughts. (And in a sense the whole Constitution was an attempt to break down barriers between states and make a more perfect union, which would include moving about freely from state to state.)

We who are not on watch lists sort of take it for granted. People in Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union did not, with their internal passports and other requirements to have the right papers to be here or there at a particular time. When I read about such things during the Cold War, I thought that difference as much as anything else illustrated the contrast between our countries. (Actually, I see that Russia, China, Iraq and Ukraine still have such systems. Huh.)

The right to bear arms is not such an essential divider between free and unfree countries — other liberal democracies don’t share this, um, “blessing” with us.

No, it doesn’t have a whole cult built up around it the way the 2nd Amendment does. But isn’t the freedom to move about even more precious than the right to go armed?

About that sit-in over guns by Democrats in the U.S. House…


Twitter photo from U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle.

This is my day for going to awards ceremonies. I’m about to go to The State to see Cindi Scoppe get the Gonzales Award.

But while I’m gone, y’all should talk amongst yourselves about the Democrats’ sit-in over guns in the U.S. House.

Here’s what the president thinks:

What do y’all think?

Response to Post series from James Flowers

I got this comment over the weekend from James Flowers, Leon Lott’s opponent for the Democratic nomination for Richland County sheriff:

Brad Warthen. You should have reached out to me before writing this article so that you would have actual facts instead of what is written in this article by the civil attorney. First of all, as a SLED agent we investigate CRIMINAL actions. This was a CIVIL deposition. My only purpose is to gather the facts and provide them to the James FlowersSolicitor. What you obviously don’t know is that the Solicitor’s office, the FBI, and the US Attorney’s office reviewed my report and had ZERO issues with the work. The Solicitor’s office made the determination that there was no criminal action on the part of the law enforcement officers not Me or SLED. Also, when 3 certified law enforcement officers that are serving 2 valid warrants have any sort of weapon pointed at them, they should by all means respond with deadly force. A real law enforcement leader stands behind and supports law enforcement officers 100% when they are right. Even if he has to be arrogant to do it. This article is nothing more than a hit piece orchestrated by an overzealous civil attorney who has a different legal standard than law enforcement does in reviewing shootings. I also noticed that you didn’t mention the unflattering second article about your friend Lott. So please do some due diligence prior to your next blog. Thank you. James Flowers.

As it happens, the last person to get on my case for not having contacted him before posting something was… Leon Lott. And he kind of had a point, from his perspective, since the point of the post he called about was to wonder aloud why the sheriff hadn’t done a certain thing. Turns out that he had an answer to the question that he wanted to share.

I will always, always be on the defensive when people say I should have contacted them before posting something. But here’s the thing, folks: This is  a commentary blog, not a primary news source. I read things, and I react to them. And invite you to react to my reactions. On the rare occasions that I have time to go out and cover an event myself, I do so. Look back — you’ll see that’s my M.O. It’s not optimal; I wish I could afford to blog full-time. But WYSIWYG.

As it is, I don’t find time to comment on as many things as I’d like to — not even close to it. I’m very straightforward with you about the basis of my comments, so you can look at what I’m looking at and challenge my conclusions. And your comments, like Mr. Flowers’, get posted as well.

In this case, I spent way more time than I usually spend on a single post because it took so long for me to read that 7,000-word Washington Post article on which it was based. As I said, I’d read that one story and the fourth piece from the series by Radley Balko (more accurately, I skimmed the fourth piece). Now that Mr. Flowers has said Lott looks bad in the second installment of the series, I’ll go read that, and share what I find. I probably won’t have time to read the third piece today, but if you get there ahead of me, please share what you find.

Oh, and I don’t plan to call Leon before sharing what I find in that second installment. The story says what it says, and that’s what I’ll be reacting to — as per usual.

Although if I can find the time later, this subject is interesting enough that I might go above and beyond (in other words, take the kind of time I did back when I got paid to do this) and give both Lott and Flowers a call. But it remains to be seen whether that will be possible between now and next Tuesday’s primary.

Maybe some of my colleagues out there in the community who still get paid to do such reporting will get to it ahead of me. Let’s hope so.

Anyway, I welcome Mr. Flowers to the conversation.

WashPost raises serious questions about SLED probes — and about Lott’s primary opponent, James Flowers

Actually, that’s a bit of an understatement. It raises loud alarms.

I regret that I failed to read any of this series from The Washington Post until our own Jeff Mobley brought it to my attention. I remember seeing a rather lurid headline about law enforcement in SC, noting that the story was very long (more than 7,000 words) and meaning to go back and read it later. I never did.

I should have.

Basically, the series reports that while South Carolina has looked pretty good for investigating officer-involved shootings in the last couple of years, those few cases don’t tell the whole story by a long shot. In fact, this series suggests that our system of having such shootings investigated by SLED (everywhere but in Richland County) looks good in theory, in practice it falls far short of providing a credible check on police.

The series begins with the horrific story of the death of Lori Jean Ellis, a 52-year-old black woman, at the hands of cops in 2008.

There was a lot in police accounts of her killing to raise questions, but none more dramatic than the weapon with which she was supposed to have fired at the officers before they fired back with deadly effect. They reported see a flash and smoke from a weapon that, based on its loud report, could only have been a high-powered rifle.

It was a pellet gun. Which means, for those not hip to such things, that it would not produce smoke, a flash or a bang. And it’s not entirely clear that she fired it at them, or even aimed it at them.

And yet the officers were never questioned about this discrepancy, a lapse that this report suggests is all too common in SLED investigations.

You might think Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott would come out looking pretty bad in these reports, since his department doesn’t even go in for the window-dressing (at least, these reports suggest it’s only window-dressing) of SLED investigations, preferring to handle such shootings internally.

But, at least in the two installments I’ve read so far, is not the case. In fact, in one case, he comes out looking better than others — as the only officer who spoke to the journalist who wrote the series, Radley Balko. (Although his comments dismissing the need for outside investigations didn’t inspire confidence.)

On the other hand, his opponent in this month’s primary looks pretty horrible.

James Flowers was the lead SLED investigator in the shooting of Lori Jean Ellis. And he showed a shocking lack of concern over the discrepancies in the officers’ account. From his deposition in a lawsuit brought by the estate of Ms. Ellis:

Phillips: So did anything prevent you, from the moment that you found out it was a mere BB gun, to say, “I want to go back and talk to this deputy . . .”

Flowers: Nothing prevented me from doing that.

James Flowers

James Flowers

Phillips: Okay. Why didn’t you go back?

Flowers: Because I didn’t feel it necessary.

Phillips: So someone telling you something that you’ve never seen before, that doesn’t compel you to maybe follow up?

Flowers: No. Not in all cases . . .

Phillips:  . . . so if I tell you something that can’t physically happen, you’re just going to take my word for it?

Flowers: See, here’s the thing. As the lead investigator for the state’s premiere law enforcement agency, it is my responsibility to put this case together. After looking at this information, I deemed that it was not necessary to interview that officer again. And that was the decision that I made….

As a police expert interviewed for the series notes,

““The arrogance here is stunning,” Downing says. “This response either reveals Flowers’s incompetence or his bias. Either way, he should not be conducting investigations of officer-involved shootings.”

You should go read the whole thing, or at least that first installment. It’s disturbing.

By the way, there are mentions in the series about legislation to make changes to such procedures in S.C. I’m unclear as I write this as to what happened to that legislation in the session that ended yesterday…

Feds to seek death penalty for Roof

BBC Roof

As you see above, some South Carolina news is leading the BBC.

Here’s John Monk’s version:

Federal prosecutors on Tuesday announced their intent to seek the death penalty against accused hate crimes Charleston church killer Dylann Roof.

“Dylann Storm Roof has expressed hatred and contempt towards African Americans, as well as other groups, as well as other groups, and his animosity towards African Americans played a role in the murders charged in the (last July’s) indictment,” the notice said.

Roof, 21, of Columbia, is white. All his victims were African American.

“Roof targeted men and women participating in a Bible-study group at the Emanuel AME Church in order to magnify the societal impact of the offenses,” the notice said.

David Bruck, one of Roof’s lawyers, said Tuesday the defense team would have no comment on the government decision….


Personally, I’m always against the death penalty. Of course, if you’re going to have one, this would seem to be the sort of case it would be designed for.

That said, and once again if you are going to have capital punishment, it seems more legitimately the province of state government, and not the feds. And certainly not for Thoughtcrime, which seems to be the federal interest in this. This is the one thing that can bring out libertarian impulses in me, especially if you’re talking about executing people for having the wrong ideas, however abhorrent.

Roof stands accused of committing a horrific, unspeakable crime upon good people who were our neighbors here in South Carolina. I think our laws, and our courts, are perfectly capable of dealing with him.

Just the facts, ma’am — please

Cindi Scoppe’s picking on my girl Nikki again, and unfortunately, she deserves it. Did you see Cindi’s column Thursday?

FOR ALL THE good she has done on several issues, Gov. Haley retains two deeply troubling flaws: her disregard for the rule of law and her disinterest in the truth….

During a visit to a Columbia prison, Gov. Haley assured an inmate that police officers aren’t “out to get you.” Because of the state’s new body camera law, she said, “every one of those officers has to wear a body camera, and the reason is, that way it’s fair to them and it’s fair to you. So if something happens, we can see it.”

That sounds like a great law. But it’s not the law the governor signed, as The Associated Press’ Seanna Adcox pointed out — and bless her for recognizing that one of the most important things a reporter can do is to tell us what the facts actually are rather than simply regurgitating what public figures say the facts are.

The law does not actually require “every one of those officers” to wear a body camera; each department gets to decide which officers wear body cameras, and it won’t necessarily be every uniformed officer who wears a gun.

The requirement does not actually kick in until the state pays for the program — projected to cost up to $21 million, or about $18 million more than it has provided so far. (Ms. Adcox noted that the Legislature passed a law 18 years ago requiring all drunken-driving arrests to be videotaped, but the state still hasn’t provided cameras for all police cars.)…

Thanks, Cindi. And thanks, Seanna. But you know, it would be nice if governor would just state the facts so that journalists don’t have to run around behind her setting things straight. I mean, they have their hands full without that.

It gets worse, by the way:

Most significantly, the law the governor signed will not actually let us see the video. The law the governor signed says body-cam videos aren’t even public records. It does require police to turn over the video to people who are arrested or who file a civil suit involving the incident recorded, but the only mechanism for obtaining that video is filing a lawsuit — or being charged with a crime. Otherwise, it’s entirely up to police to decide whether we get to see the video when an officer shoots someone….

The initial error is probably innocent enough (I suspect it felt true to the governor), although disturbing — we’d really like our governors to know what they’re signing.

But the worst part of this tale is that when given a chance to set things straight, the governor’s office did not. And about that, Cindi said:

When someone says, “The law the governor described is not the law she signed,” the correct response is not, “She’s so proud of that law.” The correct response is: “Oh, my goodness; you’re right. She is so sorry about that.”

By refusing to let her spokeswoman say that, the governor continues to make herself un-credible. And in this case, she is doing something worse: She is reducing the chance that we’ll ever get the law she told that inmate we have. The law that would be something to be really proud of.

The way to get that law is not to say it exists when it doesn’t. It’s to acknowledge that it does not exist, and to work to convince the Legislature to pass it.


Scoppe: The law tends to support AG Wilson’s position

Wilson presser

I was glad to see Cindi Scoppe’s column Sunday, in which she spelled out more clearly what I thought I knew about the Wilson/Pascoe contretemps: That as hard as it might be for the casual observer to see (particularly given Wilson’s emotional presser), the attorney general seems to be on the right side of the law in this.

As Cindi wrote:

Cindi croppedThere are three major issues here: Did Mr. Pascoe have the legal authority to initiate a State Grand Jury investigation, or did he need Mr. Wilson’s authorization? Did Mr. Wilson have the legal authority to remove Mr. Pascoe from the case? And was Mr. Wilson justified in removing Mr. Pascoe? That last question is entirely different from whether it was legal…

And as you find from reading the rest of her piece, her answers are:

  1. No, Pascoe did not have that authority; Wilson has to sign off on a State Grand Jury initiation. The law doesn’t allow the AG to delegate that, however he may recuse himself from any other involvement in a case.
  2. Yes, of course Wilson has the authority to remove Pascoe and assign someone else. The attorney general is the boss of the solicitors. As Cindi notes, “recusal is a voluntary thing, left entirely to the discretion of the prosecutor. In fact, when judges recuse themselves, it’s not uncommon for them to later unrecuse themselves.” When it comes to appointing and firing special prosecutors, recusal is neither here nor there; it does not vacate the AG’s constitutional authority.
  3. Finally, on the judgment call of removing Pascoe, Cindi is less certain — but she doesn’t doubt the purity of Wilson’s intentions: “In his mind, he had to remove Mr. Pascoe — not to stymie the investigation but to salvage it. I’m not certain that was necessary, but I believe that he believed it was.”

Personally, on that last point, it seems that Pascoe’s insubordination demanded his removal — if Wilson’s account is accurate. That is, if Pascoe did indeed refuse to meet with the AG’s office to get proper authorization for a State Grand Jury investigation, choosing instead to launch an attack on the attorney general.

But then, we’ve yet to hear Pascoe’s defense of his actions on Good Friday…

Angry, indignant AG Wilson says Pascoe chose politics over proper procedure

Wilson, backed by former attorneys generals Charlie Condon and Henry McMaster (Travis Medlock is off camera to the left)

Wilson, backed by former attorneys generals Charlie Condon and Henry McMaster (Travis Medlock is off camera to the left)

An angry, indignant Attorney General Alan Wilson, backed silently by three former attorneys general, said this afternoon that Special Prosecutor David Pascoe would have had the State Grand Jury investigation he says he wants if only he had met with Wilson’s office Friday as requested.

Instead, Wilson said, Pascoe chose to file a complaint about Wilson with the state Supreme Court, and apparently tip the media off that he had filed it.

Throughout his press availability Wednesday, Wilson insisted that a State Grand Jury investigation can only be called for by a joint request from the SLED chief and the attorney general, and the fact that he recused himself from the case does not change that requirement. (He also drew a distinction between his own voluntary recusal in “an abundance of caution” and involuntary “disqualification” by a judge.)

He said he stands ready to give that ratification for an investigation at the request of an “untainted” prosecutor — which he does not consider Pascoe to be.

“I’m here today to say that not only do I support a state grand jury investigation, but I’m here to tell you there will be a state grand jury investigation,” he said at the outset of the presser. “But it has to be done lawfully, and by someone who is not tainted.”

Wilson recounted the history of his involvement with Pascoe, going back to “the legal battle of our lives” trying to prosecute former House Speaker Bobby Harrell in 2014.

He said “Solicitor Pascoe was not my first choice, nor my second, nor my third, nor my fourth, nor my fifth…” because “The solicitors wanted no part of this case… they saw the living hell I was going through…”

“I had reservations, he said, “about Solicitor Pascoe’s temperament.” He said he was also concerned because someone related to Harrell had worked in Pascoe’s office.

In the end, he found the charges that Harrell pled to “disappointing,” but said “we were tired, and we just wanted to move on.”

As Pascoe continued investigating possible legislative corruption, Wilson said, the AG’s office had concerns about how Pascoe was conducting it a number of times, but let it pass.

When Pascoe tried to call for state grand jury involvement, “We had concerns… we wanted to fix his mistake…” So, he said, Pascoe was invited to meet with the AG’s office on Good Friday.

Pascoe declined to meet, and instead filed with the Supreme Court his petition for a writ of mandamus saying that Wilson was acting improperly.

Wilson said this document contained as “outright lie” — that he had sought to impede the investigation. He insisted that “at no time has anyone on my staff” done such a thing.

Wilson was mad about that. He was also mad that John Monk knew to show up at the court to get that petition Monday. When Wilson invited questions at the end of his statement and the first one came from John, he said he would answer the question if John would tell him how he knew the document had been filed. (Moments later, he apologized to John for being so confrontational.)

In the end, Wilson’s position is that he will ratify a request from an “untainted” prosecutor. But with Pascoe insisting Wilson can’t fire him and 5th Circuit Solicitor Dan Johnson declining to take over unless there is a definitive ruling on the matter of Pascoe’s firing, it’s unclear who that untainted prosecutor might be.

To all his critics, Wilson issued a challenge: “Keep doing what you’re doing… You do your worst, I will do my best.”

Anyway, that’s what Wilson had to say. This isn’t a complete news story until we hear from Pascoe and others. And we likely won’t know where all this is going until the Supreme Court makes a determination. For that matter, had I been in the room instead of watching this on a live feed from WIS, I’d have had some questions of people in the room.

But it was an extraordinary live performance by a very angry AG. When I find a complete video recording, I will embed it. (HERE’S THE VIDEO.)


We take one small step toward having a civilized world

Radovan Karadzic when he was arrested for "industrial crimes" in November 1984.

Radovan Karadzic when he was arrested for “industrial crimes” in November 1984.

Amid all the madness in the world today, we have this little ray of hope, a step toward a more just and civilized world:

A former Bosnian Serb leader was found guilty of genocide and other charges Thursday for his role in deadly campaigns during the Bosnian war in the 1990s, including the massacres of thousands in Srebrenica, as an international tribunal announced a long-awaited reckoning in Europe’s bloodiest chapter since World War II.

Radovan Karadzic was found guilty of 10 charges including genocide in connection with the 1995 massacre of 8,000 Muslim men and boys in the Srebrenica enclave near the close of a three-year war….

It’s a small step, very tentative and absurdly delayed. This happened more than 20 years ago, and we’ve known who was responsible from the start. Gen. Ratko Mladić has yet to stand trial.

We have a long way to go to preventing such barbarity.

Apple against our duly constituted authorities

In a Tweet on Friday, I put it as plainly as I could in 140 characters:

And since then, I’ve not seen a word that even comes close to justifying the outrageous position taken by Tim Cook. There was certainly nothing in his public letter that excused his behavior.

Probably the most outrageous part of the letter is when Cook essentially condescends to say the FBI’s intentions are no doubt quite honorable, and that Apple has cooperated with authorities (when Apple approved of how it was being asked to help), but the poor, simple creatures just don’t understand what they’re asking now. Fortunately we have the unelected wise men of Apple to countermand the requests of our duly constituted law enforcement authorities.

And I’ve seen quite a bit to confirm me in my view of the matter. Such as this piece today in the WSJ:

Apple was asked to adjust its software that wipes iPhones clean after 10 failed passwords, to enable the FBI to find the password. Prosecutors want this only for Farook’s phone, to “mitigate any perceived risk to Apple iOS software as to any other Apple device.” The local agency that employed Farook owns the phone and wants Apple’s help. “The user was made aware of his lack of privacy in the work phone while alive,” prosecutors note.Apple_Logo_Png_06

There’s no risk to encryption and the dead terrorist has no privacy rights. So what is Apple trying to protect?

The answer, according to the Justice Department, is a “business model and public brand marketing strategy.” Apple admitted as much last year in explaining to a federal court in Brooklyn, N.Y., why it refused to unlock the iPhone of a methamphetamine dealer. The company had unlocked some 70 iPhones in criminal cases since 2008, so the judge was surprised by its sudden refusal.

Apple’s lawyers explained that customers are so concerned about government access to data that compliance with court orders would “substantially tarnish the Apple brand.”…

Yeah, I bet the families of those murdered by the phone’s owner sit up nights worrying about poor ol’ Apple’s brand.

You want to improve your brand? How about not selling me a phone set to destroy all my data after 10 failed passwords?

I’ll anticipate my libertarian friends’ arguments and say you’re right — I don’t understand the technology. And maybe the fact that I don’t believe Apple when it says it can’t crack one phone without making all iPhones immediately insecure makes me an ignoramus. But I don’t believe it. And even if I did, I would consider granting Apple the power to choose which court orders it will obey to be far too high a price to pay for having an unhackable phone….

Um… Folks, choosing a president was already a weighty thing. The death of a justice did not make it more so…

Paul Krugman has it half right here:

Once upon a time, the death of a Supreme Court justice wouldn’t have brought America to the edge of constitutional crisis. But that was a different country, with a very different Republican Party. In today’s America, with today’s G.O.P., the passing of Antonin Scalia has opened the doors to chaos.

In principle, losing a justice should cause at most a mild disturbance in the national scene. After all, the court is supposed to be above politics. So when a vacancy appears, the president should simply nominate, and the Senate approve, someone highly qualified and respected by all.

In principle, losing a justice should cause at most a mild disturbance in the national scene. After all, the court is supposed to be above politics. So when a vacancy appears, the president should simply nominate, and the Senate approve, someone highly qualified and respected by all.

He’s absolutely right that there’s something seriously wrong when the whole political system goes ape over a vacancy on the Supreme Court. He is absurdly wrong in suggesting that this is somehow completely the fault of the Republicans. See “Bork as a verb” and “Clarence Thomas Supreme Court Nomination.” While the Republicans are definitely outrageously dysfunctional, and their assertion that the president shouldn’t nominate in this situation is sheer lunacy, they did not invent making a circus of the nomination process. At least, they didn’t do it alone; they had very enthusiastic help from the Democrats.

Krugman, like Bud, utterly rejects this truth: “Second, it’s really important not to engage in false symmetry: only one of our two major political parties has gone off the deep end.”

But let’s talk about the half of what Krugman said that is right.

Ever since Saturday, I’ve been seeing and hearing something… eccentric… in coverage of the death of Scalia and its aftermath.

There is this suggestion out there that now that there’s a Supreme Court vacancy, suddenly this election is serious. Now we’re going to see more money given, more heightened rhetoric, a sense on both sides that the stakes have gone up…

Say what? Um… the election of the president of the United States, in whose hands all executive authority is concentrated, is and always was a bigger deal than filling a vacancy of one-ninth of the Supreme Court.

In fact, if both parties respected the rule of law (as Mr. Krugman seems to think Democrats do), the selection of justices should not be an electoral issue at all. If presidents and senators simply looked at qualifications (as some, such as our own Lindsey Graham, still do), it would be insane to talk about the kinds of nominees a presidential candidate would put forward in partisan terms. Actually, it is insane to frame something so secularly sacrosanct in such terms. But that’s what we do now, every time…

Of COURSE President Obama should nominate Scalia replacement. That’s his job.


First, I’m sorry to hear of the death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. I’d be sorry to hear of any man’s death, but I actually kind of liked the much-criticized jurist, most of the time.

Now, to the instantaneous controversy that is always there ready to erupt and wash away any normal, human feelings we might have at such a moment…

I’ll be brief:

  • There is a vacancy on the court — right now, not next year.
  • It is the duty of the president of the United States to nominate someone to fill such a vacancy (and the Senate’s duty to consider that nomination, and vote on it).
  • Barack Obama is the president of the United States. And he will be for much longer than it ought to take to nominate and confirm a suitable justice.

There’s really nothing else to say. The president has announced his intention to do his duty. As he should.

No, I’m not crazy about having another justice who thinks Roe v. Wade shouldn’t be touched or amended. But I’m also opposed to nominating and confirming justices based on whether I somehow sense that they agree with me on this or that issue. I’m opposed to that for the same reason I’m opposed to Roe: I believe in a government of laws and not of men (and Roe flies in the face of that by allowing a single, highly interested individual to make a unilateral, irreversible decision to take human life without due process).

Republicans who don’t like the fact that Barack Obama is president should get busy electing one of their own. (Step One: Figure out how to deal with your Trump problem.)

But on the Scalia vacancy, Mr. Obama is president. Consider and vote on his nominee promptly.

Legislature elects to Supreme Court the guy who indicated how he might have ruled

Shortly after noon today, John Monk reported this:

To which I responded incredulously, “You mean, the guy who signaled how he would RULE?” John answered, “Yes that is who.”

Did you read John’s previous report about this?

Under questioning in a November hearing by Sen. Larry Martin, R-Pickens, John Few, who is now chief judge of the S.C. Court of Appeals, compared the majority’s 3-2 opinion in what’s known as the Abbeville case with a newspaper editorial.

Although Few told Martin he might personally be “appalled” that children in rural schools aren’t getting a proper public school education, according to recently released transcripts, he elaborated, “If I were writing an editorial on the subject, I might say some of the very same things the Supreme Court said in their majority opinion.”

Few continued, “But when I’m writing a judicial opinion, I’m going to center my thinking on my role as a judge within the confines that are laid out for me in the constitution of South Carolina.”

At one point, Few told Martin he wanted to “tread carefully here … because this is a hot conversation here.”

In general, judges are not supposed to say how they would rule on a given case, and Few appeared to tip-toe through Martin’s questions, avoiding giving an obviously specific answer….

And well he might. Tip-toe, I mean.

So now, the guy who indicated — not said, but indicated — to lawmakers that he’s not the kind of guy to force them to do what so many really don’t want to do (give a fair shake to kids in poor, rural districts) will be our newest Supreme Court justice.

To bend way over and be charitable, we should consider that Mr. Few seems to be widely regarded as an able jurist, and perhaps lawmakers were simply more impressed by his credentials than those of his one remaining opponent.

But in a contest that was described as “a nail-biter until the final minutes,” after which “(s)ome lawmakers who voted for Few said they did so because they perceived he was the more conservative of the two,” one can be forgiven for wondering whether their motives were… less than pure…