Friday, October 20, 2017

PUBLIC CORRUPTION PAR EXCELLENCE

   
I have always taught my students that our judges and justices, despite their personal leanings (conservative or liberal) would, in the end, let the facts and evidence of the case guide their decisions. I have been terribly wrong.

As some of you probably know, the Pryde and Peterson families, parents of the students killed at Virginia Tech, refused to settle with the state. They filed a lawsuit, not to get money, but to get people under oath and to bring the facts out into the open.

The trial was a devastating indictment of Virginia Tech. On March 14, 2012, a jury awarded the two families $4 million each. But Virginia has sovereign immunity and the judge had to reduce the award to $100,000 each.

The money was not the issue; it was never the issue. The two families wanted to get truth out and the school’s incompetence exposed.
 
Then-Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli appealed the decision to the Virginia Supreme Court, one of the most conservative state supreme courts in the nation; a court that believes there are next to no situations where a person or organization can be held responsible for someone else’s actions.

I felt the case against the school was so overpowering that even the Virginia Supreme Court could do nothing else but uphold the jury verdict. Indeed, it is not common for any Supreme Court to overturn a jury verdict. But in what appears to a politically motivated action, the Virginia Supreme Court did just that, and in an error-ridden decision that broke the law, overturned the ruling.

It is against the law for a Supreme Court justice to introduce false evidence into a case or the review of a decision. But that is exactly what Justice Cleo E. Powell did. On October 13, 2013, Justice Powell and all the Court Justices, in a unanimous decision, signed off on a decision overturning the jury verdict.

Page two of that reversal contains a critical factual error. Justice Powell wrote that on the morning of April 16, 2007, "Although officers from the Virginia Tech Police Department were the first on the scene, the Blacksburg Police Department led the investigation." That is not true.

The Virginia Tech Police Department under Chief Wendell Flinchum was in charge. There is a legal agreement between Blacksburg and the school stating, that the police department (Virginia Tech) requesting assistance will retain control of the investigation.

I have a letter from Blacksburg Police Chief Kim Crannis stating the investigation was conducted in accordance with the agreement. I have that agreement. I also have read the five volumes of the trial and both Chief Crannis and Chief Flinchum testified under oath that Chief Flinchum was in charge.

I believe Justice Powell has broken the law, obstructed justice, and violated two Canons of the Canons of Judicial Conduct for the State of Virginia. They are Canons 1 and 2.

CANON 1

JUDICIARY.

A. A JUDGE SHALL UPHOLD THE INTEGRITY AND INDEPENDENCE OF THE JUDICIARY

An independent and honorable judiciary is indispensable to justice in our society. A judge should participate in establishing, maintaining and enforcing high standards of conduct, and shall personally observe those standards so that the integrity and independence of the judiciary will be preserved. The provisions of these Canons are to be construed and applied to further that objective.
Although judges should be independent, they must comply with the law, including the provisions of these Canons. Public confidence in the impartiality of the judiciary is maintained by the adherence of each judge to this responsibility. Conversely, violation of this Canon diminishes public confidence in the judiciary and thereby does injury to the system of government under law.

I am not accusing Justice Powell of lying, but by writing a decision containing a factual error of this magnitude (involving the worst school shooting in this nation’s history), she has done irreparable harm to “an independent and honorable judiciary [which] is indispensable to justice in our society.”  She has violated Canon 1. If Justice Powell were a student in one of my classes, I would flunk her.

CANON 2

A JUDGE SHALL AVOID IMPROPRIETY AND THE APPEARANCE OF IMPROPRIETY IN ALL OF THE JUDGE'S ACTIVITIES.

A.

A judge shall respect and comply with the law and shall act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary.
It is against the law to introduce false or wrong facts into court proceedings. By wittingly or unwittingly allowing a factual error into her decision, Justice Powell has, at minimum, been complicit in the violation of the laws of the State of Virginia. This is tantamount to the impropriety of the first order and does not promote “public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary.” Furthermore, Justice Powell’s decision casts serious doubts on the integrity, thoroughness, and objectivity of the Supreme Court of Virginia. The decision should be withdrawn and the verdict of the Circuit Court of Montgomery County, Virginia should be reinstated.

WHY IMPORTANT

This error is important because, as stated above, it is against the law to introduce false evidence into any court proceeding. It is important because the Virginia Supreme Court has re-written history. The Blacksburg police chief did not have the authority to warn and lockdown the campus. Powell’s decision alters the historical record, obscuring the fact that Virginia Tech Police Chief Flinchum failed in his duties to the school, faculty, staff, and students.

I have read the five-volume transcript of the Pryde and Peterson trial proceedings and nowhere is there reference to Chief Crannis being in charge of the investigation.

Below is an example of the testimony, taken directly from the trial transcripts, stating that Virginia Tech Police Chief Wendell Flinchum was in charge of the investigation:

Virginia Tech Police Chief Wendell Flinchum's testimony that he was in charge of the investigation:

Q: I want to be clear about this, this was a Virginia Tech police investigation. Is that correct?
A: It was, yes.
Q: And you were in charge and you were responsible.
A: I was responsible, yes. ...

Blacksburg Police Chief Kimberly Crannis's testimony that Flinchum was in charge of the investigation:

Q: This was a Virginia Tech investigation, right?
A: Yes, it was.
Q: And Chief Flinchum was in charge?
A: Yes, he was.
Q: But you were providing support as you just indicated?
A: Yes, sir.
Q: The conclusion that you tentatively reached with respect to a domestic homicide that you just testified to, was that a topic of conversation between you and Chief Flinchum?
A: Yes, it was. ...

(To be continued)

Monday, October 16, 2017

MORE CORRUPT THAN I THOUGHT


“If it is not independent, it is not worthy of trust. Investigations have to have integrity and they have to have fairness. If they don’t have that, they are not dependable for anyone.”    John Dowd, Former MLB Special Council

Since Angela Dales’ murder at the Appalachian School of Law on January 16, 2002, we, as a nation, appeared to have lowered our standards so much that it is relatively easy for people with low intellect, little character, and a healthy dose of incompetence to buy the people we have put our trust in—our politicians, lawyers, and judges. When I did my research for this chapter the magnitude of the dishonesty and corruption hit me like a kick in the stomach. The situation is stunningly distressing.

VICTIMIZING THE VICTIMS

Just when you think the gun manufacturers and National Rifle Association (NRA) have sunk about as low as they can go, they come up with something even more outrageous: Make dead victims’ families pay court costs of any legal action.

The gun makers and NRA have long engaged in nefarious lobbying activity that has undercut public safety. Now they have persuaded politicians to adopt laws making the victims of gun violence pay the legal fees for challenging what appears to be their self-proclaimed, sacrosanct position above the law.

In September 2014, the Brady Center announced a lawsuit on behalf of Sandy and Lonnie Phillips, accusing Web site companies of negligence for selling weapons to the Aurora, Colorado theater shooter, James Holmes. The Phillips daughter, Jessica Ghawi, was killed in the shooting. The lawsuit charged the companies with negligence for selling weapons (including ammunition, body armor, tear gas and other equipment used in this assault) to someone as obviously unstable as Holmes. Holmes ended up killing 12 and wounding 70 others on July 20, 2012 at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado.

Senior U.S. District Judge Richard P. Matsch of the District of Colorado dismissed the Phillips’ suit against four Web sites because Colorado and federal laws shield firearms and ammunition sellers from liability based on a customer’s wrongful acts. Phillips et al. v. Lucky Gunner LLC et al., No. 14–cv–02822, 2015 WL 1499382 (D. Colo. Mar. 27, 2015).

Both federal and Colorado laws protect gun makers and sellers from being held responsible for selling arms to people who are a danger to themselves and others. Colorado, however, has taken this a step further, requiring plaintiffs to pay the court costs of the gun makers and sellers.

Lucky Gunner and Sportsman Guide (two of the companies selling to Holmes) have already filed motions for $220,000 in legal costs. According to press reports, another arms dealer, BTP Arms, wants $33,000. BTP Arms request will probably fail because the law does not cover the two tear gas grenades Holmes bought from BTP Arms, nor does the law cover the four pieces of body armor he bought from bulletproofbodyarmorhq.com.


The Phillips’ lawsuit underscores the reality that the average citizen is nearly helpless in the face of the wealth and power of the NRA, gun manufacturers, and gun sellers. The Phillips’ lawsuit is a shocking example of just how disadvantaged the average citizen is. The average citizen has virtually no recourse against the power elite—weapons manufacturers and the gun lobby.  (To be continued)

Friday, October 13, 2017

THE LONG, HARD ROAD


It has now been nearly two weeks since the terrible murders in Las Vegas and for many of the victims who survived and all the families involved, the horror continues. The closing of the deep wounds that were opened that day has not begun and will not begin for months and even years.

Some well-meaning, but unintentionally unkind individuals talk about the healing process. But there is no real healing from these shootings. There is a long, painful scaring process in which people learn to live with the reality that their child, spouse, friend, or acquaintance was murdered. It will be a long time before the scabs cover the wounds and eventually the wounds scar over. 

One of the most infuriating and feeble attempts to comfort is to say, “We know where he or she is.” No you don’t. You know nothing of the kind. All these statements do is enable the person or persons saying them to go home and sleep and feel warm and cozy. It is, in fact, one of the cruelest things anyone can say to a parent whose child has been murdered or to man or woman whose spouse has been gunned down.

Families and survivors of this gun violence do not need to be preached to—they need to be listened to.

There are parents, spouses, and friends of those killed in Las Vegas who may need a lifetime of psychological counseling. That is the case in other mass shootings.

If you really want to help, then you can begin by listening to the people who grieve. They need to talk about the person lost or permanently maimed; they need to get their minds back to the point where they can think; they need to try in some way to make sense of the new, terrible reality in which they live. 


And if you REALLY want to help, you will not only listen but speak out against the absurdity of selling automatic weapons to anyone without question; you need to push for laws to curb the power of the NRA and gun manufacturers.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

SCHOOL SHOOTINGS: HONING THE LIES


Since Angie Dales’ murder fifteen years ago at the Appalachian School of Law, a small fortune has been spent on electronic security equipment to improve school safety, giving the public a false sense of security.

In most of the school shootings I have examined it is the human factor that is the critical flaw, not the policies or the warning systems. Yes, the later two needed improvement and more needs to be done. But it was a breakdown in the decision making process on the part of one or more human beings that sealed the fate of most of the victims.  At the Appalachian School of Law, its President brushed aside calls for campus security. At Virginia Tech, the school’s President and Police Chief not only broke the school’s security policies, but they violated the basic tenets of crime scene investigation and procedures and did not warn. Everywhere I look at a school shootings it always comes back to human flaw: incompetence coupled with bad judgment.


The most notable progress I can see since Angela Dales was murdered in January of 2002, is the ability and willingness of people to obfuscate, manipulate words, and cover-up. This shell games and lies has set the stage for the most disappointing of all the revelations in the last fifteen plus years, the corruption in our legal and judicial systems. I will discuss these topics in future posts. (To be continued)

Sunday, October 8, 2017

FOR SOME, IT IS TOO LATE


Following every gun massacre, politicians say this is “not the time” to discuss the problem. Who are they kidding? It is the perfect time to discuss gun violence. If not now, then when is the time to discuss ways to curb gun violence? These same politicians never say “when” they are willing to have a serious discussion about ending the carnage. The real problem is our politicians petrified of the NRA and gun manufacturers.

For 58 people attending an open-air concert in Las Vegas it is too late. It is too late for the those wounded and killed at Virginia Tech, for the dead and injured at the Orlando nightclub, for the children and teachers and families at Sandy Hook, and for the mother of my oldest grandchild who was one of those killed at the Appalachian School of Law in Grundy, Virginia. How many more slaughters are needed until “the time is right?”

After every tragedy there is a national dialog about what happened and what needs to be done—after hurricanes, after 9/11, and after floods—but not after mass shootings. Why not? Those in positions of responsibility don’t have the backbone or decency to tell the public when the time is right for them to discuss the killing of innocent children, moviegoers, concert attendees, or people shopping in malls.

Ah, the sacrosanct second amendment and our right to own guns. Apparently the rights to life, liberty and happiness of those killed in these shootings mean nothing compared to a mentally ill person’s right to kill and maim. And, since January 2017 Congress passed legislation making it easier for people who are mentally ill to own guns—some of these people who can now legally buy automatic weapons are so ill they cannot handle their finances—they cannot write a check, but they can buy a rapid-fire weapon.

I would like someone to show me where in the Second Amendment anyone is given the right to indiscriminately kill others. All the amendments to the Constitution have limitations. The first amendment gives us freedom of speech, but I cannot slander someone or use foul language. The Second Amendment should have limitations aimed at preventing shooting rampages. And NOW is the time to talk about it.

Other countries such as Great Britain, Australia and Canada have laws and policies in place that have helped dramatically curb mass shootings. There is nothing that can prevent all of this violence from taking place. But measures have been adopted elsewhere that have drastically cut incidents of gun violence.


In medicine just because you cannot cure all ills, does not mean you stop trying—the same is true about gun violence. Just because you cannot prevent all shootings doesn’t mean you stop trying to curb their number and extent. (To be continued)