bookmark_borderAppeals court made right decision in Tsarnaev case

On Friday, the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the death penalty verdict for Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. The court ruled that the judge in Tsarnaev’s trial was not thorough enough in screening potential jurors for bias, and as a result, at least two people made it onto the jury without disclosing everything that they knew, or posted on social media, about the case. Tsarnaev has never denied carrying out the bombing with his older brother, Tamerlan, and the appellate court’s decision does not affect the jury’s guilty verdict, only the death sentence. The Department of Justice will need to decide whether to accept a sentence of life in prison for Tsarnaev or whether to re-do the penalty phase of the trial.

In my opinion, this decision was the right one for a simple reason: a woman known as Juror 286, who become the forewoman of the jury, failed to disclose that she had posted online about the case 22 times. She tweeted about being “locked down” with her family during the hunt for the Tsarnaev brothers and about her sadness at the death of 8-year-old Martin Richard. Additionally, she retweeted celebratory messages after Tsarnaev’s capture, some including the ubiquitous phrase “Boston Strong” and one referring to Tsarnaev as a “piece of garbage.” The defense team asked the judge to excuse this juror for cause, but prosecutors described her tweets as “innocuous” and the judge apparently agreed.

The fact that someone was allowed onto a jury after calling the defendant a “piece of garbage” is outrageous. It would be difficult to imagine something more disqualifying, and more indicative of bias, than that. Calling someone a piece of garbage is not innocuous under any circumstances.

Making things worse, another individual, known as Juror 138, posted on Facebook that he was reporting for jury duty and repeatedly engaged with people who commented on the post throughout the day. One of the comments urged him to “play the part so u get on the jury then send him to jail where he will be taken care of” and another predicted that Tsarnaev would have “no shot in hell” if Juror 138 made it onto the jury.

Death sentences have been overturned in federal court before for far less. Triple-murderer Gary Sampson, for example, had his death sentence overturned when it was discovered that a juror failed to disclose a domestic dispute with her husband and the fact that her daughter went to jail for drugs.

Former Boston FBI director Richard DesLauriers called the Tsarnaev ruling “an unfortunate example of judicial activism and “a slap in the face” to the jurors. But it’s not judicial activism to logically apply principles of fairness and impartiality. And to be honest, anyone who calls a defendant in a criminal case a “piece of garbage” and then fails to disclose this during jury selection deserves to be slapped in the face. It’s sad that everyone has to go through another penalty trial, but when you look at things objectively, a verdict rendered by a jury whose foreperson called the defendant a “piece of garbage” is not a legitimate verdict and cannot be allowed to stand.

bookmark_borderAnti-lockdown lawsuits all around the country

Politico has a good article outlining the lawsuits that have been filed all around the country against various states’ COVID-19 lockdown orders. Here are some examples:

  • In California there have been numerous lawsuits filed against Governor Gavin Newsom for his closures of gun stores, churches, gyms, yoga studios, hair salons, and beaches, ban on protests, and the stay-at-home order in its entirety. In one example, LA County resident Samuel Armstrong sued the state, arguing (correctly, in my opinion) that the order amounts to detention without due process of law, thereby violating the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. San Francisco attorney Harmeet Dhillon, who represents the plaintiffs in several of these lawsuits, said, “We do not shut down our highways because people die in car accidents. We do not ban commerce because people die of lung disease after buying cigarettes.”
  • In Kentucky, four protesters sued Governor Andy Beshear, arguing that the state’s restrictions on protests violate the First Amendment. Another lawsuit focusing on the ban of church services was upheld by a federal court.
  • In Maine, a group of business owners sued Governor Janet Mills over her stay-at-home order.
  • In Maryland, a group of business owners, religious leaders, and state delegates sued Governor Larry Hogan, asking for a restraining order preventing enforcement of the state’s lockdown.
  • In Ohio, the 1851 Center for Constitutional Law sued Governor Mike DeWine over his closure of non-essential businesses. More recently, this organization filed another lawsuit on behalf of 35 independent gym owners, who are still not permitted to open, despite the fact that the government has begun to lift restrictions.
  • In Pennsylvania, a group of business owners sued Governor Tom Wolf over the closure of non-essential businesses in a lawsuit that made it all the way to the Supreme Court.
  • In Texas, activist and lawyer Jared Woodfill has sued Governor Greg Abbott, arguing that the state’s lockdown order violates the Texas and U.S. Constitutions. Additionally, State Attorney General Ken Paxton has threatened to sue the governments of Austin, Dallas, and San Antonio if they do not lift their strict stay-at-home measures.
  • And of course, in Wisconsin, a great victory took place this past Wednesday when the state Supreme Court struck down as “unlawful, invalid, and unenforceable” the stay-at-home order enacted by Governor Tony Evers and Department of Health Services Secretary Andrea Palm. “Where in the Constitution did the people of Wisconsin confer the authority on a single unelected cabinet secretary to compel almost 6 million people to stay at home and close their businesses and face imprisonment if they don’t comply? With no input from the legislature, without the consent of the people? Isn’t it the very definition of tyranny for one person to order people to be imprisoned for going to work among other ordinarily lawful activities?” asked Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Rebecca Bradley.

Salute to all of the plaintiffs, lawyers, and judges taking the side of freedom and individual rights.

bookmark_borderMGM should not be punished for Las Vegas shooting

Recently, MGM Resorts agreed to pay $800,000 to victims of the Las Vegas shooting. Survivors and victims’ family members had sued the company, which owns the Mandalay Bay Resort, the hotel from which gunman Stephen Paddock fired on attendees at a country music festival from his suite on the 32nd floor. According to the Washington Post, various lawsuits in the aftermath of the 2017 shooting accused MGM of negligence for “failing to monitor the gunman as he delivered guns and ammunition to his room.”

The settlement “sends a strong message to the hospitality industry that all steps necessary to prevent mass shootings must be taken,” said Muhammad S. Aziz, a lawyer representing over 1,300 victims and survivors.

Although it is completely understandable to want to do everything possible to prevent such tragedies, and to compensate their victims, the lawsuits against MGM are morally wrong and the company should not have to pay anything.

It is simply not true that all steps necessary to prevent mass shootings must be taken. It is the moral duty of every person to respect the rights of others and to refrain from harming innocent people. But no person, company, or organization has a duty to actively prevent crime. To argue that MGM had a duty to monitor Paddock and the items he was bringing to his room is to argue that hotel guests have no privacy rights. This is morally wrong. What a hotel guest does in his/her room, and which items he/she brings there, are none of the hotel’s business. It is not clear how far hotels would have to go in violating guests’ privacy rights in order to avoid lawsuits. Would they need to search all bags brought into the hotel? Would they need to require guests to go through metal detectors, or though full-body scanners, or to be strip-searched? Would they need to install cameras in all rooms to monitor everything guests do? To take the logic behind the lawsuits further, one might argue that hotels have a duty to require psychological evaluations before anyone is allowed to make a reservation. And why stop at hotels? Mass shootings have taken place at schools, movie theaters, churches, and all different types of places. Would these places need to require strip searches and psychological evaluations for everyone who enters as well?

Clearly, a world in which “all steps necessary to prevent mass shootings must be taken” is a world that no one in their right mind would want to live in. It is a world with no privacy and no freedom. Businesses and organizations should not be allowed, let alone required, to adopt policies and procedures that take away people’s privacy and freedom of movement.

“This settlement will provide fair compensation for thousands of victims and their families,” said Robert Eglet, another attorney involved in the lawsuit, according to the Washington Post.

But there is nothing fair about punishing an innocent company that did nothing wrong. Stephen Paddock is to blame for the shooting, and no one else. Because Paddock died by suicide after the shooting, it is impossible for victims to obtain financial compensation from him. And as understandable as it is to seek compensation elsewhere, one cannot simply find another person or entity to sue without regard for whether that person or entity is actually to blame for the shooting.

The lawsuits against MGM, and the resulting settlement, send the message that privacy, fairness, and individual responsibility do not matter. This is just wrong. Fundamental moral principles should not be sacrificed in the name of preventing tragedies.

bookmark_borderRest in peace, Whitey Bulger

On the morning of Tuesday, October 30, 2018, James “Whitey” Bulger’s life came to an abrupt and violent end. The day after being transferred from U.S. Penitentiary Coleman in Florida to U.S. Penitentiary Hazleton in West Virginia, he was murdered by at least two inmates, allegedly including mafia hitman Freddy Geas. The 89 year old Bulger, sitting in his wheelchair, was beaten to death with a padlock wrapped in a sock, leaving him unrecognizable.

Whitey in 1953

Prison officials had given Bulger the option of being placed in protective custody to keep him safe from potential enemies from the organized crime world, but he opted to stay in general population, where conditions were less restrictive.

Bulger’s lawyer, J.W. Carney, said, “I was proud to be appointed by the Federal Court to represent James Bulger. He was sentenced to life in prison, but as a result of decisions by the Federal Bureau of Prisons, that sentence has been changed to the death penalty.”

Whitey in 1984

His other lawyer, Hank Brennan, described how Bulger was looking forward to teaching himself how to walk again after getting out of solitary confinement.

Whitey Bulger and Chris Nilan with the Stanley Cup

Bulger had expressed his wish to be buried next to his love, Catherine Greig, and hoped to live two more years to see her released from prison. Greig stuck with Bulger throughout his life of crime and their years on the lam, receiving a 9-year sentence for helping him evade capture and refusing to testify against him.

Numerous people have expressed indifference, satisfaction, and downright jubilation at Whitey’s death. But I, for one, consider this a sad occasion. Yes, he was one of the most notorious criminals in history and had been convicted of 11 murders and numerous counts of racketeering. But no one deserves the death that Whitey suffered, especially someone too old and frail to be able to defend himself. Whether intentionally or not, someone certainly failed at their job by allowing this to happen.

Whitey was one of a kind, and there will never be another quite like him. Rest in peace.

James Joseph Bulger Jr.

September 3, 1929 – October 30, 2018

bookmark_borderFrank Salemme mob boss trial: closing arguments

Frank Salemme is 84 years old and shuffles slowly into the courtroom each morning, wearing a suit and tie and smiling and chatting with his lawyer. He looks no more intimidating than your average dapper, good-natured older gentleman. But decades ago, he was the leader of the Boston mafia, and a murder that took place during that time is the reason why he’s currently on trial in federal court.

Salemme and his co-defendant, Paul Weadick, are on trial for the murder of their one-time business partner, Steven DiSarro. The trial began last month and featured emotional testimony from DiSarro’s family members, bickering between various attorneys, f-bomb filled transcripts of mafia members talking shop, and an appearance by Whitey Bulger’s partner in crime, Stephen Flemmi. I attended the closing arguments, which took place today.

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