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Monday, July 14, 2008

If I ruled the world ...

If I ruled the world, it would be a far, far better place. We would have energy independence, a stable economy, universal health care, no troops in Iraq, and the Designated Hitter Rule in the National League.

This is the kind of radical change we need to have immediately.

So, first things first.

A few weeks ago, Hank Steinbrenner, the heir to the Yankees fortune, whined when his star pitcher was injured running the bases during an interleague game. He blamed the failure of the other league to adopt the DH rule. For this, he was ridiculed in the press. But the fact is, he was right.

It is time to admit that the DH rule, which is hated by old-school purists and hide-bound baseball philosophers and poets, is here to stay. It has been in effect now in the American League for more than 30 years. Although it has been rightly blamed for disrupting the legitimacy of statistical comparisons, the life blood of baseball historians, the fact is that other changes have been far more significant in diluting the numbers. Expansion, steroids, band box ballparks, artificial turf, srategies (like pitch counts, 5 day rotations, relief specialists) have also acted to skew the statistics from previous eras.

The DH rule has a positive side, which accounts for its permanence. Fans want to see more offense, and it is clear that the rule has juiced scoring. This year’s team batting stats illustrate the point. Of the 30 major league teams (16 NL, 14 AL), 9 of the first 15 are from the AL. Seven of the bottom 10 are NL teams. The best hitting pitcher in the NL, Carlos Zambrano has 1 home run and 13 RBI’s. Milton Bradley, DH for the AL Rangers, has 17 and 54, far more than all NL pitchers combined. Other DH’s include Thome, Matsui, Stairs, Ortiz, Sheffield, Floyd, sluggers whose production exists without concern for their defensive flaws.

An important benefit of the DH rule is the roster affect. NL teams typically carry 12 pitchers, AL teams 13, which results in more rested staffs. (The first 4 teams leading in pitching are from the AL.) The NL needs to carry an extra position player as pinch hitter and defensive replacements for late inning double switches, to avoid relief pitchers from batting. Without the dead number 9 spot in the order, AL managers can manipulate the bottom third of the order to be far more productive.

In the recent interleague play the AL advantage was evident. The AL won 149 games to 102, a win pctg. of .593. That is proof of dominance. The World Series is not a good measure of league dominance. In the 1940's - 1950's, the Yankees dominated in October, but the NL overall was the stronger league (due mostly to the NL’s lead in African American talent).

The NL’s refusal to adopt the DH rule is absurd. No other major sports league has such a significant disparity in rules. It is time for the purists, poets, and philosophers to admit defeat.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Winning a lost cause

"God is watching us. If we support someone we don't believe in and say he's electable, then God will make sure he's not elected and hope we do better the next time." Mort Sahl.

"Dad used to say the only causes worth fighting for were the lost causes." ("Mr. Smith Goes To Washington", Sidney Buchman).

"I’m not fighting for anything anymore, except myself. I’m the only cause I’m interested in." ("Casablanca", Philip & Julius Epstein)

What I find interesting about the Obama phenomenon is that he seems to be a leader who in tune with his times, attuned to his generation’s heartbeat, eloquently giving it voice. In my life, FDR, JFK, Reagan, Clinton all had the same power – whether they used it for good or not, it is the essence of democratic leadership.

When I became a public defender, in the late 1960's, I quickly became disabused of the romantic notion that I was fighting for a "cause". I was taught that I was there to defend individuals, not the Bill of Rights, or racial equality, or anything else. If the interests of the client demanded fighting, fine; but if it was best for the client to compromise, or even give up, that was my obligation. This was not the Clarence Darrow role; he could no longer be a model — fighting for lost causes was "noble" but was not an affordable luxury to a public defender.

Nonetheless, the fondest memory of my career was winning a case that resulted in reversal of many death verdicts. The asserted nobility of public defending lies in the pride of losing most of the time while fighting "the good fight."

In politics, I’ve supported mostly lost causes during my lifetime. McGovern, Dukakis, Mondale, Gore, Kerry. Tired of losing nobly, Bill Clinton represented a new idea: winning was more important than noble losing.

Greg’s generation seems to have found a candidate who can appeal to both impulses. Obama’s recent statements smack of "positioning."
But that’s okay, because his youthful supporters understand the concept.

When Greg was in 6th grade, we took him for an interview at a prominent private school. We sat in the admissions office squirming while the director quizzed our son. "Do you like to wear a uniform for school?" she asked him. "Yes," he said without hesitation. "Why?" "Because when I put it on I know I’m there for work."

In the car, I asked him how he came up with that answer. "I thought that was what she wanted to hear," he shrugged.

I knew then that our nation’s future was in good hands.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

The gang's all here

I recently settled one homicide case and I’ve got three more pending. They’re all in San Fernando, all involve Valley Hispanic gang members shooting at each other.

In one case, my client (not a gang member) was driving two gangster friends to get McDonald’s. On the way, the passenger saw a car belonging to a rival gangster. He told my client to speed up, and then shot into the rear of the car, narrowly missing the car seat carrying the year old infant, killing her uncle in the next seat.

In the second, my client went to a party with some homies and asked his sister to pick him up because the others were going to go cruising. His father, who was angry that his son had disobeyed him by hanging with his gangster friends, told his sister not to give him a ride. So, my client got into a truck with three others. One of the guys in the back seat testified that they drove into an enemy ‘hood and shot at some rival gang members who ran away. Some of the bullets from the .45 traveled about 40 to 50 yards away, entering the wall and window of two apartments, narrowly missing a child in a crib.

In the third, my client and two friends went to a flyer party. My client’s friend refused to be searched on entry, pulled a gun and shot a rival gang member who was standing in a crowd of partiers.

In the case I recently settled, my client and his friend stopped at an intersection and were met by a mentally challenged young man, a gang member who was probably selling drugs and was too stupid to realize they were from rival gangs. He was shot and died there.

My client had maintained his innocence for two years, in the face of two witnesses against him. One was a young man who was riding in a car that crossed the intersection at the time of the shooting. He claimed to identify my client and the other man as the ones in the shooting car. Another was my client’s former girlfriend, who claimed he "bragged" about the shooting to her. She had plenty of motive to dislike my client by the time she told the police about this supposed statement, 6 months after it made to her. She had become pregnant by him, and had been beaten up by some of his home girls, at his order, she believed.

As we neared the trial date, we discovered that the eyewitness had been recently arrested for carjacking. He claimed a gang "moniker." All this placed his credibility in doubt, so the D.A. offered a reduced plea to manslaughter — a term of about 11 years in prison instead of life. When the day for the plea arrived, my client told me that the witness, whose case as a defendant happened to be set on the same date, was placed in the same holding cell that morning. They had "talked" and the witness (now an inmate / defendant) told my client that he didn’t intend to testify. He’d been "forced" by police to testify at the preliminary hearing.

Quite upset, I told my client that in my opinion the witness who changed his testimony under these circumstances would be presumed to have been threatened to do so. Despite my client’s denials, that is how it would appear to the D.A., the judge, and a jury. BUT, I told him I would continue the case and investigate this if he wished. After hesitation, my client decided to take the deal instead.

I mention all of this because in each of these cases, the D.A.’s and police claim concern for the safety of their witnesses who testify against gang members. They have used changes in the laws to deny the defense access to identifying information, especially addresses of witnesses for as long as possible. In short, the police, prosecutors, and courts treat gang cases the way the "Patriot Act" treats terrorists, limiting traditional due process protections while at the same time demanding harsher penalties.

Gang cops and specially assigned gang unit D.A.'s have contempt for defendants, their attorneys (even if appointed by courts rather than "hired"), and for judges and laws demanding "rights" for the accused that frustrate their perception of justice. Though this frustration is sometimes justified because voluntary witnesses are hard to come by because of the age-old problems of fear, family, distrust of authority, deportation, etc., the self-righteous prosecutors pursue the end no matter the means.

Several years ago, I had a case which was dismissed by a D.A. before the preliminary hearing because he had no witnesses. He told me that he was violating his office’s policy to keep gang defendants in jail for as long as possible even if there was not enough evidence to proceed to trial by continuing it, getting past the prelim by using hearsay, offering lesser pleas. But he knew the policy was unethical, so he was dismissing the case.

This week the L.A. Times reported about a case in which police interrogated a girlfriend of a gang member accused of murder. She had refused to finger the accused, but police told the suspect that she had named him. They went so far as to fabricate a "6-pack," a photo ID folder with the suspect’s picture circled, and the girl’s signature forged underneath, in order to encourage the suspect to confess.

Courts have never had problems with police lying to suspects about "evidence" if it yields a "truthful" confession. I’ve had many cases in which the defendant confessed after police told him his fingerprints were at the scene, or that witnesses or other suspects had named him. "They fingered you, so you better tell us your side of it..."
In this case, however, the girl — who had not in fact "snitched," was murdered, apparently on the telephoned order of the accused.

Just to add to the carnage, police arrested the brother of one of the suspects as the shooter of the girl / witness and tried to get him to confess, using three more faked photo show-up folders. He eventually was exonerated — after spending 6 months in jail, when he proved he was at a Dodgers game at the time of the crime. He was awarded $320,000 in a wrongful arrest suit.

The parents of the murdered girl are suing the city, claiming that police, after lying to the suspect about her "snitching," failed to warn her of any danger.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

June in a nutshell

George Carlin & Bo Diddley died...
I settled one murder case and picked up another one....
Some tasks were completed, some put off....
Hillary & Barack claimed an uneasy alliance...
Barack crabbed to the Center....
The Supreme Court ended its term, 5-4 votes reminding us that J. Stevens is 88, Bader Ginsburg is 75....
Ron is 73. ...
Interleague baseball proved again that the AL is far superior to the NL. ... Time to admit the DH rule is here to stay.
Tiger Woods proved again that he is a god.... Kobe proved he isn’t....
Another DA on one of my cases became a judge....
Two more friends retired....
I applied for Medicare.... gulp.