Thursday, December 31, 2020
Political Mayhem Thursday: What? A Warrant?
On Christmas morning, a 63-year-old white suicide bomber, Anthony Quinn Warner, blew up his RV in front of an AT & T switching station in Nashville. He was the only one killed, but communications in the Southeast were affected for days.
It was a strange incident. But the latest developments really have me baffled.
Apparently, the suicide bomber's girlfriend had recently told the police a straight-up truth: that this guy was building bomb's in his RV. She apparently had a pretty good description of the whole operation. This was confirmed by an attorney who said that Quinn frequently talked about making bombs.
So what did the police do? They knocked on the door. They drove by. And then they dropped it.
People I know in the law enforcement business have had a uniform response to this story: She should have told them he was a black guy growing pot in there-- then they would have gotten a warrant. Which is true, and not funny.
To get a warrant, you need either an informant with a good track record, or a new informant with corroboration. Here, the second applies. Yet, they didn't take action.
There is a larger picture here, and it is an important one. Our police forces are largely focused on answering 911 calls and arresting people for drug crimes. It's kind of what they know how to do, so they keep doing it. And, of course, it's ineffective-- there are as many drugs as ever out there, in every kind of community, and answering 911 calls rarely prevents a crime.
"Defund the police" was a dumb mantra, but "rethink the police" would be better. We need to rebuild and retask police forces so that they are more effective at preventing crime. There are ways to do that-- I've written about that a lot, as have many others-- but the first step is to consider doing things differently.
Wednesday, December 30, 2020
My Students: Charles Dolson
I'm devoting Wednesdays to profiles of my students, alternating between Baylor and St. Thomas grads.
Charles Dolson graduated from St. Thomas in 2014, and was one of my favorite people to see show up in class. So, it's good that he took most of them, including the clinic!
He came to law school with a lot of worthwhile experience. He had been a police officer up on the Red Lake Reservation (where he had spent much of his childhood), and then the Chief of Police there. (Red Lake is a "closed" reservation, meaning that all land is held in common, and there is no private land ownership). Before that, he was in the Marines, and among other tasks worked on Marine One (and, I think, closed the door on Bill Clinton's hand, which is understandable since the guy could never stop waving).
I love having people with law enforcement experience in class-- along with social workers, they have the most useful backgrounds for class discussion. And Charlie was just fun to be around, too.
After law school, he served for four years as the Executive Director of the Red Lake Band of Chippewa, and now works as an attorney for Milles Lacs Corporate Ventures. He's one of those people with a remarkable circle of friends and colleagues-- he seems to know everyone in several overlapping circles. And no doubt, they feel the same way I do: lucky to be in the same circle as him.
Tuesday, December 29, 2020
Those we've lost
Monday, December 28, 2020
I hope yours was good, however you spent it.
We should all check out Gavin's reflection on Christmas in his hometown:
The church bell rings out
It connects generations
It transports me home
Christine chimed in:
The spirit of Christmas
is gathering in my heart
The light shines brightly
And so did the Medievalist:
It is Christmas time,
Snow and frost might fill the air,
But light fills the heart.
Sunday, December 27, 2020
Sunday Reflection: The Lost Year (?)
What will 2020 turn out to be? Is it a lost year?
As I look back, it feels that way. I did not get to see the ones I love as much as I wanted. I wasn't as good a teacher as I hope to be. There were days that I felt nothing really happened. It's kind of a downer to put it all out there, actually.
But objectively, I did get a lot done. I wrote an academic article that probably is the most-read that I have ever put out there. I had two pieces in the Washington Post and another in the Atlantic. I put together a major push for clemency reform at the start of the Biden administration, and The NY Times embraced my plan in an editorial. I led a panel that studied a tough case, and played in a role in his freedom. I found that if you mix up Maple Cheerios and Grape-Nuts, it can be pretty good. I also discovered that if you put eyes on almost any gingerbread cookie, it makes the thing fascinating (or at least weird).
When I was in law school, I was fascinated by the remarkable details on the law school building and the Sterling Library nearby. Both were built in the Great Depression, a terribly grim era. And yet... these beautiful things were created, and the beauty lasted longer than the tragedy.
What, 90 years out, will 2020 have left the world beyond the tragedy and hardship?
Saturday, December 26, 2020
PBS Newshour came to my office to talk about clemency-- about halfway through this clip, which aired yesterday:
Friday, December 25, 2020
Like everything in 2020, Christmas is different this year. For me, it will be the first Christmas in over 50 years that I won't be with my parents in the house where I grew up. It's just too dangerous to be together this year.
But still it is Christmas, a holiday about hope for the world. Let's haiku about that this week.
Here, I will go first:
On the sordid Earth
Too much loneliness; but in
The heavens, a star...
Now it is your turn! Just use the 5/7/5 syllable pattern, and have some fun!
Thursday, December 24, 2020
Political Mayhem Thursday: Clemency Mayhem
As I wrote in the Waco Trib last week, being a clemency scholar is like being Santa-- for a few days a year everyone wants to talk to you, and the rest of the year you feel kind of out of place. I would add that for those few days, just like Santa, a lot of people pretend to do what you do.
Over the past two days, President Trump has released two batches of clemency grants. There are some good ones in there-- I helped Weldon Angelos craft his successful pardon petition, granted on Tuesday-- but a lot of them are sadly familiar: grants to those close to Trump and his friends and those they have vouched for. The overwhelming majority of those given relief either abused power as military contractors or immigration agents, were involved in fraud or political corruption, or received a second grant of clemency from Trump. Left behind were the 13,750 people whose petitions are sitting around somewhere in the bureaucracy of the DOJ/WH pipeline. Actually, it isn't fair to call it a "pipeline" anymore. I would call it a "swamp," but water actually flows in and out of swamps regularly.
On the good side, we are hopeful that the Biden administration will do better. The New York Times today has a staff editorial that promotes the changes I have been pushing for years (with attribution, even!). You can check out the whole thing out here-- be sure to read to the very end to get all the important stuff.
Wednesday, December 23, 2020
My Students: Dustin Benham
Dustin has positively crushed it at Tech, and is now a Full Professor. He was the Professor of the Year there for advanced-level classes in 2014. And 2016. And 2017. And 2018. And 2019. And last year, he was given Texas Tech's campus-wide Distinguished Teaching Award.
Though I didn't have much to do with it, I'm really proud of what Dustin has done. I believe in academic legacies: I am, for example, the product of Dr. Joanne Braxton's teaching, and she learned from John Blassingame, who studied under C. Vann Woodward, who met and was influenced by W.E.B. DuBois, who learned from William James, who was influenced by his godfather, Ralph Waldo Emerson (and that is just one of many lines of legacy from just one of my mentors). Who teaches us matters, but so does who we teach; there is no doubt that teaching people like Dustin and Joy Tull and Gordon Davenport at Baylor made me better as a teacher and as a person.
Tuesday, December 22, 2020
The Dad Blog
This is just your periodic reminder to check out my dad's blog-- you can find it here. It bears the very Oslerian subtitle "John Osler's Thoughts About Stuff." Which is also a highly accurate description of the blog!
In other recent mumblings, I had a piece this past Sunday in the Waco Trib about clemency. You can read that here.
Monday, December 21, 2020
The good part
When I suggested that we haiku about the good parts of 2020, it was before I watched "Recipe for Seduction," the awesome 16-minute mini-movie created by a bizarre collaboration between Kentucky Fried Chicken and the Lifetime Movie Channel. Please, please, please watch it below. And don't call me "crouton."
Have met several new neighbors:
Sense of connection grows.
I found moments of quiet,
inner peace, and joy.
than standing quiet places
seeing mystery .
Sunday, December 20, 2020
Sunday Reflection: Mercy and the Right Thing
Saturday, December 19, 2020
Some serious engineering!
Friday, December 18, 2020
Haiku Friday: What have you discovered?
Thursday, December 17, 2020
Political Mayhem Thursday: No Time for the Bold
As you might expect, I'm in contact with a lot of people who have big plans for the Biden administration-- bold, innovative plans that will hasten much-needed changes in a range of areas, especially (given the people I know) in the field of criminal law.
We do need bold, clean reform, and fast.
I don't think we are going to get that, though. I hope I am wrong. But I fear that I am right.
Bernie didn't win. Warren didn't win. Even Cory Booker didn't come close (I still don't know why he wasn't at or near the top). Democrats nominated as our presidential candidate the most centrist thinker among those competing in the primaries at a serious level. While he has chosen a racially and gender-diverse group of leaders for his administration, he has not chosen bold innovators or outsiders. He has picked, almost exclusively, veterans of the Obama and Clinton administrations.
And now that we have these experienced plodders in positions of power, they are the ones that bold ideas will be pitched to. And-- shocker-- they won't bite. That's not what they do. They might form a study group. They'll take meetings. They might adopt a minor part of a bigger plan here or there. But they are unlikely to be change agents.
Believe me, I am all for simple competence, and that in itself will be a big change in some areas of government after the anything-goes administration that will be moving out. Yes, it is way better to have competent centrists in power than fringe-element goofballs.
But... for those of us who hoped for systemic change in some areas, we probably have already lost. No one with a similar mindset will be in the inner circle of government unless there are some surprises yet to come. That means that we outsiders have no ally on the inside. And in criminal justice, it means that the chief and only advisor to the president will probably be the good old DOJ. Sigh. I mean, really-- taking a major decarceration plan to Merrick Garland is not a high-percentage shot.
But also... I might be wrong. And I will still try.
Wednesday, December 16, 2020
My Students: Sara Sommervold
I'm spending Wednesdays on the blog profiling my students, alternating between Baylor and St. Thomas-- after all, I have now spent ten years at each.
I met Sara Sommervold when she was in my first-year Criminal Law class at St. Thomas. She had good, and sometimes fascinating answers in class, and even better was the fact that she got genuinely upset at injustices when we got to them in class. I'll never forget the time I got to sentencing for acquitted conduct and she threw both hands in the air like Kermit the Frog and said "Come on!" It was, after all, exactly how I felt about the same topic.
Sara was later in my clinic and a great part of it. When we did the Trial of Jesus the very first time at St. Thomas, I sent Sara to pick up Jeanne Bishop at the airport. What I didn't realize was that I had sent the second-worst driver in America to pick up the very worst driver in America-- they both gesture constantly with both hands, something that is really disconcerting in a driver. I'm still shocked they made it back to school alive.
Sara became Jeanne's partner in the trial, vs. me and Joy Tull for the State. She was obviously skilled in the courtroom, and had a wonderful sense for timing and delivery that probably came from her background in theater.
Sara now works as the Deputy Director of the Wrongful Conviction Clinic at Northwestern Law School in Chicago, where she has developed a great reputation for organization and management. I love that when I talk to people from the clinic world there, they know about Sara, and sing her praises.
One of her colleagues at Northwestern is Laura Nirider, who (along with Barry Scheck) asked me to chair the panel to investigate the Myon Burrell case. I don't doubt that the connection was made in large part through Sara. She's like that.
And about Myon Burrell, and the kind of work that Sara now does all the time--
He was granted clemency yesterday, and walked out of prison a free man. The story is here.
Tuesday, December 15, 2020
Pardon Board Day
I have long said that the Minnesota Pardon Board runs the most interesting hearings in American law. People who want clemency appear personally before the board, which is composed of the Governor, the Attorney General, and the Chief Justice of the MN Supreme Court. Usually without a lawyer, they argue their own case, sometimes call witnesses, and then wait as the three officials talk about the case and rule, all in open court. It's bracingly transparent.
And now, in the age of COVID, it is all virtual, so you can watch at home starting at 10 AM central time today. Just go to this Facebook page: Minnesota DOC. You can read about each of the cases here by clicking on the names listed.
If you are interested in the Myon Burrell case, that will be the last one of the day-- probably between 4 and 5 central. If you can, definitely tune in....
Monday, December 14, 2020
I love the tree haiku you all sent in! Such fascinating stories in so few words....
IPLawGuy nailed a basic Christmas truth:
O cursed light string!
You work fine when I test you
But fail on the tree.
As did, in her own way, Jill Scoggins (who described something I think every year):
Unwrapping all the
ornaments is greeting my
good old friends again.
Like a tree, the Medievalist is always welcome here:
Symbol of eternal life,
Bless this home of ours.
And Christine as well:
Oh Tannebaum, please
grace our home with our branches
Festival of light.
And, of course, my dad:
When chopped off at its
ankles and dragged away still
happy to bring joy.
Tall Tenor dropped a gem:
Real trees are pretty;
Fake trees are much easier.
Both look good to me.
And Desiree's was so intriguing she got an anonymous response (in favor of colored lights):
Classy white lights or
my festive colorful lights?
That's the tree question.
Sunday, December 13, 2020
Sunday Reflection: Santa's friends are dead
Saturday, December 12, 2020
Myon Burrell: The short version
Friday, December 11, 2020
Haiku Friday: The tree
Thursday, December 10, 2020
PMT: The case for vaccinating those in prison (almost) first
Wednesday, December 09, 2020
The Burrell Report
Tuesday, December 08, 2020
Five Questions About The Pardon Power-- with answers!
Monday, December 07, 2020
Haiku of Change
It's on our minds, isn't it? Change, that is. And we got some good poems on it:
We had this from my Dad (which has been more true for some people than others):
In twenty twenty
we all learned to love at a
distance and with masks.
And one from Christine, which I 100% agree with:
This year I ordered
Happy New Year cards, something
And I liked this from the Medievalist, which gets to the core of it:
December is here,
And 2020 is ending,
Can we hope for more?
Sunday, December 06, 2020
Sunday Reflection: Advent
Saturday, December 05, 2020
The land down under
As you might expect, I'm fielding a lot of calls about clemency these days. I have been talking to the Philadelphia Inquirer, Politico, NBC, NPR, apparently (though I don't remember that one), The Washington Post (which had a fact wrong-- I have been to two meetings in the WH under Trump, not "several"), and the Buffalo News. Tuesday, people from PBS's Newshour are coming to Minneapolis to talk about things-- but that is not even the most interesting thing happening on Tuesday. More on that as we get closer.
My favorite so far, though, was talking to the Australian national TV network (ABC) about how things work here. You can see that here.
Of course, being an expert on clemency is like being Santa Claus: A few days a year, everyone wants to talk to you, and the rest of the year no one is interested.
No 1 v. No 2
Friday, December 04, 2020
Haiku Friday: The challenges of 2020
As my post yesterday pretty much laid out, 2020's been a downer for teachers. But, of course, it's been not-so-great for everyone else, either! I suspect there are as many inflections of 2020 as there are people, so let's haiku about that this week-- what 2020 has brought.
Here, I will go first:
Wait, what? It's advent?
We are now good at waiting.
Color will return?
Now it is your turn! Just use the 5/7/5 syllable pattern, and have some fun!
Thursday, December 03, 2020
PMT: The Costs of Zoom School
I do a lot of things, but mostly I'm a teacher. That means that right now I teach a mix of people in masks in seats and others on a little screen via Zoom. And it is terrible.
I've rarely been so discouraged. Teaching and learning has everything to do with connection and discussion, and that is really hard right now. The students who do remote learning simply don't do as well. They don't learn material as well, they don't perform on exercises as well, and they don't even seem to catch basic information in class, like when and how the final will be given. I've never before gotten questions asking expressly for information that I laid out explicitly in the previous class, and now it is a regular occurrence. It is baffling to have several students ask about something I just laid out clearly.
My students usually have a choice to either show up in person or Zoom in (some, of course, don't have a choice, because of illness or susceptibility to COVID). For those students who have a choice, and attend in class then switch to Zoom, you can watch in real time as their performance dives. It is disheartening.
It may be, of course, that I'm not very good at online teaching. I'm doing my best to stay engaged, vary activities, and watch the room. But if I am just bad at it, so are a lot of others-- most people I talk to say the same thing.
As does this piece in yesterday's Washington Post. It describes a school in DC where all 45 of the second graders-- every single one-- fell behind in reading when they went online. They are now six months behind, at a critical time. How can that ever be made up?
Honestly, second grade is more critical than law school, but the issues are the same. We just are not educating people as well as we used to.
In all this plays into something discussed on Tuesday-- that little kids don't often get COVID. That means that unlike law school, it is relatively safe (for the kids, not the teachers) to open elementary schools. BUT... the health of the teachers should matter, too.
What can we do going forward to make sure that we don't have an entire disadvantaged generation?
Wednesday, December 02, 2020
My Students: Joy Tull
I'm devoting Wednesdays on the blog to profiling my former students-- alternating between Baylor and UST.
Joy Tull showed up in my Criminal Practice class at Baylor ready to litigate. And, also, to critique my choice of clothes. I remember that she showed up in my office one day with the sole and express purpose of telling me that my shoes were terrible. (I still have the shoes).
She was a great student-- better than I realized at the time, as sometimes happens. I kept track of her after she graduated and went to work for a firm in Dallas. When I started to do the Trial of Jesus with Jeanne Bishop and Sara Sommervold, I brought Joy on as my trial partner and she was awesome. She knew the Bible inside and out, which helped, but mostly she is just a fierce litigator. It seemed like she was thriving.
But, she wasn't, really. The firm wasn't a place where she could really be true to herself, either in the work she did or in her identity; it was part of a series of homophobic institutions (including Baylor) that had dominated her life for too long. So she came to Minnesota for a while and hung out with Sara Sommervold and a bunch of my UST students and got away from all that.
And then she went to Chicago and became a public defender and really shook the world. It's hard to describe how good she is at the job-- she is already a legend. She won her first 20 trials (more, I think), which is shocking; prosecutors usually hold the stronger hand.
Why is she so good in court? Partly it is because she is uniquely talented. And part of it is because she is incredibly hard working. She explained it to my first years last year: she just is willing to work harder than the prosecutors.
I've had a lot of students. And of them all, Joy may be the one who makes me proudest.
Tuesday, December 01, 2020
Two Coronavirus Mysteries