Abandoned By the Bill of Rights?

Washington Times columnist Nat Hentoff thinks that’s what happened to Yaser Esam Hamdi, an American citizen arrested in Afgahnistan and now held indefinitely on American soil without access to an attorney and without having been charged. The Fourth Circuit gave its blessing, and Mr. Hentoff thinks we should be alarmed, he writes here. The Fourth Circuit’s opinion is here.

Judicial Independence Remains Under Fire

Efforts to curb judges’ independence suffered some Election Day setbacks, but supporters pledged to keep fighting against a judiciary they say has lost touch with America. The problem, critics say, is that judges too often make laws rather than interpret them. On Tuesday’s ballots, the possible solutions ranged from term limits to prison time. All failed, most by wide margins.

Judges say such efforts threaten their autonomy and some legal scholars see them as part of an organized campaign to persuade voters that judges, like legislators, governors and presidents, are policymakers who need political oversight.

The frontier of the movement was South Dakota, where voters considered allowing judges to face lawsuits or jail time for their opinions.

”People are not going to allow judges to take over this county,” said Ron Branson, who conceived the South Dakota measure and is promoting it nationwide. ”They talk about judicial independence but they’re getting involved in things they have no power to order.”

Nine out of 10 voters rejected the idea but Branson predicted it would take hold in one of several states with active chapters in the ”Jail4Judges” campaign.

Details here from the AP via the New York Times.

Abuse Trial Opens for 2nd Army Dog Handler

FORT MEADE, Md. (AP) — Close-up photos of a bloody leg are part of the government’s arsenal as it tries to convict an Army dog handler of abusing detainees at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

Sgt. Santos A. Cardona is accused of letting his tan Belgian shepherd, Duco, bite detainee Mohammed Bollendia on the leg badly enough to require stitches, according to charge sheets and investigators’ reports. Cardona also is accused of using his dog to harass and threaten another detainee, Kamel Miza’l Nayil, in violation of the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

A jury was chosen Monday for Cardona’s trial at Fort Meade, between Baltimore and Washington. Opening statements were set for Tuesday.

Cardona, 32, of Fullerton, Calif., is charged with assault, dereliction of duty, maltreatment of detainees, conspiracy to maltreat detainees and lying to investigators in late 2003 and early 2004. He faces up to 16 1/2 years in prison if convicted on all counts.

Details here from the AP via the New York Times.

A Judge Tests China’s Courts, Making History

LUOYANG, China – Judge Li Huijuan happened to be in the courthouse file room when clerks, acting on urgent orders, began searching for a ruling on a mundane case about seed prices. “I handled that case,” Judge Li told the clerks, surprised that anyone would be interested.

But within days, the Luoyang Middle Court’s discipline committee contacted her. Provincial officials had angrily complained that the ruling contained a serious political error. Faced with a conflict between national and provincial law, Judge Li had declared the provincial law invalid. In doing so, she unwittingly made legal history, setting in motion a national debate about judicial independence in China’s closed political system.

Gulf Coast Isn’t the Only Thing Left in Tatters; Bush’s Status With Blacks Takes Hit

From the political perspective of the White House, Hurricane Katrina destroyed more than an enormous swath of the Gulf Coast. The storm also appears to have damaged the carefully laid plans of Karl Rove, President Bush’s political adviser, to make inroads among black voters and expand the reach of the Republican Party for decades to come.

Many African-Americans across the country said they seethed as they watched the television pictures of the largely poor and black victims of Hurricane Katrina dying for food and water in the New Orleans Superdome and the convention center. A poll released last week by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center bore out that reaction as well as a deep racial divide: Two-thirds of African-Americans said the government’s response to the crisis would have been faster if most of the victims had been white, while 77 percent of whites disagreed.

Details here from the New York Times.

Microsoft Accuses College Student of Illegal Software Sales

Threatens to Seize His 2002 Ford Escort Over $143.50 In eBay Profit

This is too much. Kent State undergrad David Zamos enrolled in a course at the University of Akron and bought Microsoft Windows and Office XP Pro for $60 at UA’s bookstore with his student discount.

But when he got home, “he realized that he’d have to reformat his hard drive to install it. Rather than lose years of term papers and mp3s, he decided to stick with his old operating system.”

When the store wouldn’t take it back, he decided to sell the unopened software he’d bought at UA on eBay.

Microsoft found out, and came after him with both guns blazing, filing an 18-page complaint against Zamos, accusing him of unfair competition and “irreparable injury to its business reputation and goodwill.”

Unable to afford an intellectual property lawyer, and convinced that he was in the right, Zamos went to the law library and went to work.

Although he ultimately got no money from Microsoft, Zamos did get them to drop their suit and apologize. And Microsoft got some really bad PR, including what you’re reading now.

The entertaining details are here from the Cleveland Scene. (via The Obscure Store)

Bush Paints His Goals As ‘Crises’

President Bush had great success in his first term by defining crises that demanded decisive responses. Now, as he begins a second term, Bush is returning to the same tactic to accomplish three longtime conservative goals.

Warning of the need for urgent action on his Social Security plan, Bush says the “crisis is now” for a system even the most pessimistic observers say will take in more in taxes than it pays out in benefits well into the next decade. . . .

[T]his strategy helped Bush win support for the war in Iraq, tax cuts and education policies, as well as reclaim the White House. What is unclear is whether the same approach will work, given the battering to the administration’s credibility over its Iraq claims and a new Democratic campaign accusing Bush of crying wolf.

“This White House had made an art of creating crisis where a crisis does not exist,” said Senate Minority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.).

Details here from Jim VandeHei of The Washington Post.

Bush on Social Security: Overhaul or Keelhaul?

In a 40-minute news conference a day after he declared victory over Senator John Kerry, Mr. Bush said he would begin work immediately on his proposal to overhaul Social Security, one of the biggest goals in his second-term agenda.

The above is here from The New York Times.

I think a more accurate description would be Bush’s “proposal to keelhaul Social Security”:

The president’s plan would do the opposite of what Mr. Bush claims. It would weaken Social Security, hurt the economy and endanger many workers’ retirements by pushing them into unreasonable risks in the stock market. If Mr. Bush were a broker peddling stocks to low-income, uninsured, indebted individuals like many of the Americans who would be included in his plan, he would be violating rules that require brokers to recommend only suitable investments. . . .

For [the Bush administration], Social Security is primarily an ideological struggle. Social Security supports retirees by shifting income from the young to the old via taxes, and from the rich to the poor via the formula for calculating benefits. To Mr. Bush and his supporters, taxation and redistribution are anathema, and Social Security is an anticapitalist ploy to squelch initiative and growth. Those same arguments were leveled against Social Security when President Franklin Roosevelt established it in 1935, and when its constitutionality was upheld by the Supreme Court in 1937.

It’s worked well for nearly 70 years, and will for at least another 50. Don’t let the neocon ideologues steal it from you. See more here.

Judge Censured for Free Work by Accountant

A Manhattan judge has been censured by state authorities for letting her personal accountant prepare her taxes without pay during a period when she gave the accountant court-appointed jobs worth more than $21,000.

The judge, Diane A. Lebedeff, a Civil Court judge who has served as an acting Supreme Court justice since 1988, stopped being billed by her accountant, Alice Krause, in 1997, shortly after Justice Lebedeff approved Ms. Krause’s bill for serving as a legal guardian in a case before the judge, the commission said. . . .

[J]ustice Lebedeff is the fourth judge sitting in New York City to be disciplined by the commission this year, though all four investigations date back to at least last year. A fifth judge has been charged with bribery, while still another is being investigated for draining the assets of a wealthy aunt.

The New York Times reports the details here (it sounds like it really might have been an innocent oversight).

Few Chances for Lawyers to Develop Trial Skills

In legal circles, the phenomenon is so widespread that it actually has a name: the vanishing trial.

Over recent decades, the number of courtroom trials has dropped dramatically in both federal and state courts, according to numerous national studies. Because of the high cost of going to trial, fear of unpredictable jury verdicts, and other factors, many cases instead are being resolved through settlements, mediation, and arbitration, which litigants often prefer to the emotional ordeal of going to court.

But the disappearing trial has created a troubling ripple effect for the legal profession: rapidly dwindling opportunities for lawyers to hone their litigation skills, resulting in a generation of young attorneys who have rarely — if ever — stepped foot in a courtroom.

The Boston Bar Association has taken a small step to remedy that problem. Earlier this month, it expanded its “lawyer-for-the-day” program at Boston Housing Court, in which attorneys give free legal advice to tenants and landlords, to include having lawyers try cases in court. The change is designed not only to help low-income litigants, but also to let trial-starved lawyers connect with a jury, relate to a judge, and develop other trial skills mastered only through real-life practice.

From a very interesting article in The Boston Globe.