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Saturday, May 31, 2008

Questions at the Bar

I got a letter from the State Bar. This is only a notch below getting one from the IRS in anxiety production.

It turned out to be from the Office of Admissions. A questionnaire asking my opinion of the "moral character" of someone who has applied to the Bar.

As lawyers are an anal-retentive lot, they felt it necessary to define their terms.

"Moral character includes qualities of honesty, fairness, candor, trustworthiness, observance of fiduciary responsibility, respect for and obedience to the laws ... and respect for the rights of others and for the judicial process."

Although I’ve known this applicant and his family all of his life, I had to think long and hard about these issues. Knowing that he had been an Eagle Scout helped ... not sure if he earned the "fiduciary responsibility" merit badge, though.

Anyway, I checked the box.

That the Bar cares about these qualities in lawyers may come as a shock to anyone familiar with lawyer jokes or movies. You might think the qualifications demanded more realistic qualities:

... dissembling, ruthlessness, deception, backstabbing, greed, ability to parse the law, trampling the rights of individuals as well as the process...

Maybe the questionnaire should be part of a continuing investigation, asked say every year about every lawyer already admitted to practice.

Then I would really sweat the State Bar letters ... more than the ones from the IRS.

Anyway, good luck, Red. (See my other post about this subject.)

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Another "beautiful" mind

He tells the shrink that he’s been diagnosed as schizophrenic, schizoaffective disorder and bipolar. He’s been hospitalized several times, treated with Haldol & Prolixin. Now, he’s taking Abilify.

He also tells him that his marriage was destroyed by the FBI. They took his wife as part of a vast complex conspiracy involving Central Stargate and MK Ultra.

His codename is "The Victim" but he’s not allowed to utter that term. He’s studied remote viewing which allows him to see what others can’t. But others in his family have that power and they’ve been using it to ruin his life, including destroying his marriage. A human cyborg program, begun in Las Vegas, sent an agent to L.A. who is after him.

He’s in court because he threatened to kill a good friend because he thought he was having affairs with his ex-wife and his sister. They know he needs help but he scared them. He’s been smoking grass and it worsens his delusions.

The shrink tells his lawyer that using a mental defense is dangerous because incarceration of this kind of chronic mental patient can become indeterminate. In other words, if he is NGI, incurable, and dangerous, he could be warehoused.

His lawyer gets him through a plea after the DA agrees to take one count for probation and time served. A good deal, given the potential.

Of course, as soon as he’s out, he wants to withdraw his plea. He comes to court needing a bath. He’s got a folder with scribbled notes, arrows, boxes, attempts to make coherent thoughts connect. His affect is clearly mental, several ticks away from the usual client, whose reasoning and credibility is faulty. He is more pathetic; his buyer’s remorse is filled with more than the usual claims of coercion, misrepresentation by his appointed lawyer, his expectations.

It’s evident that he is stuck in a no-win Catch-22 (as was his lawyer). Asserting his version of the case would have been futile - he would have lost, and the result would have been to scare the court (and the D.A.) into fearing his future acting out on his paranoia. They would have envisioned headlines: "Mental Patient Freed By Court Kills ..."

But he can’t succeed on probation, either. The court has imposed a bewildering array of conditions: anger management classes, drug counseling classes, drug testing, reporting, fines, fees, restitution, keep-away orders from "victims" including family and friends.

In court, his affect - as the shrinks politely put it - is inappropriate. He can’t keep quiet, rambles, won’t directly answer questions, interrupts the judge, never accepts an outcome the way a civilized condemned defendant and contrite probationer is supposed to.

The judge properly denies his motion to withdraw his plea and orders him back on probation. He’s not satisfied, becomes agitated, makes faces and noises. The judge loses patience after her short fuse (its Friday afternoon) expires. She screams at him. Orders him to leave the court, then to be remanded. Back-up bailiffs appear, each bigger than the other, ready to pounce. The judge relents. He leaves the court.

He’ll be back.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Crimes Without Punishment

I don’t like to watch crime shows. Too much like my day job. My son has been trying to get me to watch "The Wire" or "Homicide" or any number of crime films. I demur. But on Thursday night I went out to see a movie about the most horrendous crimes in history.

The film was called "Swimming in Auschwitz." It was about six teenage girls who survived the horror to tell the story more than 60 years later. Each is now in her 80's, having spent useful, "normal" lives raising families, living in the Los Angeles area. I happen to know one of them.

Rena Drexler is the mother of a close friend, David Drexler, and grandmother of his kids, Jonathan and Justin. I’ve known them for many years. Rena celebrated her 82nd birthday on May 8, the day of the showing, and the anniversary of the date of her liberation from Auschwitz after three years of terror.

Many of those who survived what is inaccurately called "The Holocaust" (the first use of the word was to describe and unintended tragedy like a forest fire), have been reluctant to talk about their experiences, especially to their children. Many children of survivors have carried unresolved burdens of transferred guilt (and perhaps shame) as a result.

My in-laws, Morris and Esther, avoided extermination by escaping to Russia, returning to Poland after the war to find that most of their relatives were dead. Only later in their lives, under my intense cross-examination spurred by my curiosity, did they relate details that their daughters had never heard. The revelations encouraged them to join a group of children of survivors who shared their common demons.

Rena Drexler has not been reluctant to tell her story. On the contrary, she’s made it her life’s work to bear witness to the events she survived. She speaks at junior and senior high schools. What must these American teens, to whom tragedy is using up the minutes on their cell phones, think of Rena’s teen years spent in forced labor, yards and maybe days from starvation and murder? Rena promises to keep telling the story as long as she has the voice to do it.

During 1974 and 1975, Bijou and I traveled around the world. We spent a month in Israel, where we spent time with relatives and friends of her parents. I kept a journal of our time there and these are some of the entries.

17 September 1974 Tuesday Tel Aviv:
... Binem and Anja Cukier took us in with them. Binem and Bea’s father Morris were boyhood friends in Radom, Poland. In 1935, Binem, then 21, emigrated to Palestine where he had relatives. Morris stayed until the Nazis chased him to Russia. After the war, they corresponded and did so for 30 years until Morris visited Israel three years ago. Now the elderly Cukiers, though eking by in semi-retirement on inflation-slashed pensions still offer what little they have to us. Yaakov has not called today. We are being fed to the point of being stuffed on heavy Jewish food. It is impossible to say no to a woman who cooks all day for you.

Anja is a real Jewish mother, a little dynamo of energy, cooking, cleaning, always urging food on us and always with a smile, a laugh and a friendly warm heart.

On her forearm are the numbers of Auschwitz. She was a young girl when the Nazis marched into Radom. She was taken with others to be a servant for the Nazi commander. For years, she washed, cleaned, and kept her eyes open. She heard and saw unspeakable things. Later, she was taken to Auschwitz. For three months, she waited her turn for the gas chamber. But she was strong and was kept barely alive to work in the arms factory. Just when it seemed it was over, the Swedish Red Cross was allowed to take a few thousand of the sickest to Sweden by some Nazi officer who knew that judgment would come and hoped to make a gesture.

When the war ended, Binem found she was alive and said she was his wife to get her to Israel. Now she is a frail old lady with hard black eyes that peer through her thick glasses and a stomach that rejects food she cannot be sure is safe.

Two years ago she was taken to Germany to testify at the trial of the Radom Nazi commander. He had ordered 30,000 deaths. She is proud of her strength and memory.
He was sentenced to seven years in prison.

30 September Monday Jerusalem:
... We went to Yad Vashem, a memorial built as a reminder of the genocide, what the Israelis call "The Holocaust." We decided it is not an apt designation. It connotes to me a natural, rather than man made, disaster. But perhaps it is meant to be ironic.

Through my own family’s experiences, I’ve lived with the telling and retelling of the stories of that period, complete with films of the camp victims dead and barely alive, told by survivors I have known (tattoos burned into arms and hearts as proof) and have thought much about it from many angles until it became, at times, an annoying cliche, just another means for the imposition of "Jewish guilt."

Yet, walking slowly through the "museum" viewing the display of documents proving the incomprehensible, the photos, the testimony, the "tombstone" with its numbing numbers: "children: 1,500,000" ... and the familiar names: "Kirshbaum, Greenberg ..." The effect of sadness created is overwhelming and real.

It is odd but it moved me to tears as the visions of misery in Calcutta did not. Certainly that "live" experience was more "real" and perhaps more relevant because it goes on today. But somehow I felt detached from it, while this is more a part of my being. The parallel of inhumanity caused by men is there, but maybe it is unrealistic to throw them together.

As we walked out, Bea said: "My God, they really planned to kill all the Jews!" It was a shocking emotional reaction to a historical fact known but not until now felt and understood. She also observed angrily that the memorial should be in Burbank, not Israel, if it is to have impact. As usual, she hits it on the head.

When I returned to Tel Aviv in 1999, Binem was a very old man. Anja had passed the year before and he was saddened to learn that Bea had also died. We made a video of his words to bring home to his boyhood friend, Morris. As I left his little apartment, I felt low, ideas of loss and survival all mixed up in my heart.

Those thoughts resurfaced as I watched the movie, tried to imagine the elderly ladies as they might have been as teenage girls, the hours before they were tumbled into an abyss.

My thoughts get all mixed up again with ideas of loss and survival and the limits of life and memory.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Three for the road ...

I know it must be a bore to read these posts about news articles revealing the flaws in our justice system. I'm sorry about that. I am incapable of letting these things go by without notice or comment. Here's three more from the L.A. Times that you might have missed:

1. Sunday, May 4, 2008, page 1: "When a match is far from a lock." Turns out that using DNA evidence in "cold cases" to find the culprit may result in convicting the wrong person. The article contains a primer on the complex subject of statistical analysis of DNA samples drawn from a database of past criminals.

2. Tuesday, May 6, California section, page B3: "Court voids death case." Mr. Miranda spent 26 years on death row until the California Supreme Court unanimously reversed his conviction because the prosecution failed to disclose to the defense that another person confessed to the crime before the case went to trial. The main witness in the case for the prosecution had confessed in a letter that was possessed by the DA that he, not the defendant, was the killer. The letter remained in the DA file and wasn't discovered by the defense until many years later, when habeas counsel finally convinced a federal court to open the DA's file.

3. Tuesday, May 6, California section, page 1: "Thieves make off with dozens of manhole covers." This needs no explanation...