Thursday, January 28, 2010

Relevance In The Hands Of Men

I'll admit first that it is dangerous to build a cultural analysis on the content of one news article. There could be many nuanced details of the court case I'm about to discuss that aren't mentioned. Reporters frequently ignore the finer, legal points. This is how we end up with the enduring pop-cultural reference of scalding burns from McDonald's coffee as a shorthand for the evils of lawyers generally. Which is lame because there are so many BETTER cases illustrating evil within the practice. Let's turn to a great one now.

In West Palm Beach, Florida, a very bad man, a multi-millionaire, plead guilty to two state charges: procuring a minor for prostitution and solicitation. And we're talking minor as in 14, not minor as in 17 1/2 (as if that makes a difference). He served 13 months of an 18 month sentence and as part of the bargain, he agreed with the feds not to contest the accusations in the civil suits filed by his victims later.

He CAN, however, still argue that they women don't deserve the amount of money they seek in damages. Okay, um, guess that's fair. Or "fair" if I may break my own rules against scare-quote use.

Ready for the evil-lawyer bit?

The felon's attorneys fought for the right to subpoena abortion records from the women seeking to recover damages from their assailant. The judge agreed that the records could help the felon "refute the women's claims that they suffered psychological ills after being paid to give him sexually-charged massages at his Palm Beach mansion when they were as young as 14."

The judge, in a generous move, however, said the felon's lawyers couldn't go "fishing" and can only seek medical records after asking the women whether they have ever had an abortion, how many, and where. And that the records wouldn't be made public and may not be admissible during trial.

May not be admissible during trial? Then why are we . . . nevermind, besides the point. Here's the point:
But, he said, since the women claim Epstein, now 57, is responsible for their emotional distress, his attorneys can explore the impacts of other events. Medical records, Hafele said, are a better source of information than a person's memory. . . .

The abortion question has been asked to at least one of more than a dozen women who have sued Epstein in federal and state courts. Most filed lawsuits using pseudonyms.

While quizzing a woman identified as Jane Doe 4, Epstein attorneys offered a glimpse of how they intend to use abortion information. "I want you to tell the ladies and gentlemen of the jury whether or not aborting three fetuses is more traumatic than giving a man a massage in the nude?" attorney Mark Luttier asked.

Reluctantly, the woman admitted that the abortions were worse. The deposition was in a federal case which is not impacted by Hafele's decision.
Wow. Just. Wow.

I'd like to check transcripts to see if the felon's lawyers also asked the Jane Doe whether she wore a red dress during her abortion. You know, just to really wrap it up with a nice bow.

There's a staggering, if deeply troubling, elegance to this strategy. Let's look at it a bit more closely.

The defense's basic argument is this: You can't be offended to the tune of millions (or whatever damages they are seeking) if you've undergone a more severe trauma. A more severe trauma necessarily means THIS trauma must be discounted (in all the ways that word could be used in this sentence).

But they aren't looking for other traumas. Are they asking about parental or sibling deaths? Anyone Jane Doe knows been murdered? In front of her? Has she ever lost a pet? Was she ever in a traumatic car accident? Was she ever raped by anyone (else)? Kidnapped? Undergone a basic medical procedure when the anesthesia didn't work? Chased by a chain-saw-wielding maniac?

No. Jane Doe, have you had an abortion?

Let's parse further, shall we, because, brilliantly, this line of questioning works on So. Many. Levels.

Jane Doe, have you had an abortion? Because abortion, by definition is a traumatic event. How could an abortion NOT be traumatic. Multiple abortions? Most traumatic indeed.

Jane Doe, have you had an abortion? If you answer yes and you were traumatized, then we can discount this lesser trauma, right?

If you answer yes but you were not traumatized, well, then we get to run too, simultaneously fun, subtle attacks:

Jane Doe, have you had an abortion? Yes? And how traumatic was that? Not very?

Jane Doe is a liar and incredible because abortion is traumatic, for all women, at all times, period. Jane Doe's testimony should not be believed and my client owes her nothing.

Jane Doe, have you had an abortion? Yes? And how traumatic was that? Not very?

Jane Does is a cold-hearted, evil bitch of a woman who has no problem killing babies. Quite a turn-off, right, ladies and gentlemen of the jury. And frankly, not only should a cold-hearted person not be deemed credible, but if she can have an abortion and it wasn't the most traumatic thing to happen to her, then, really, was she traumatized THAT MUCH by my client?

It's a thing of beauty, this strategy.

And why any officer of the court would feel comfortable presenting it; why any judge would allow it as a relevant line of questioning; why, as a society, we would allow this to occur . . . I can't answer those whys.

This is absolutely the same as arguments citing victim's wardrobe choices or decision to have a few drinks at a party. This is the same as arguing that because the complaining party or victim presents herself as a promiscuous or sexually-free person, as someone who wears revealing clothing, etc, couldn't possibly have been THAT offended by a comment about that attire, ever, period.

This is where you end up. Ever had an abortion? Then for so many, many layered reasons, whatever sexual assault you suffer, before or after, for the remainder of your life, is a gimme because, well, because you had an abortion. Which is the worst thing to do. And only done by the worst people.

Forget MickeyD's coffee, fellow officers of the court. THIS is why people hate us. And it's a damn good reason.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Is It Worth It To Grasp The Third Rail With Both Hands?

There's been a crushing dearth of political or policy content 'round these parts lately. Oh, not for lack of my thinking about issues. Not for lack of all sorts of important state news and national events. All the juicy races about which I'd like to comment, well, not going to happen right now - except to say that it must be fabulously easy to call for massive cuts in welfare and to promise to lay-off 40,000 people when you can spend $100M trying to get yourself a new job (ahem).

But there's been something on my mind for these past thirty-something weeks. Abortion.

No, duh, not having one - just the topic of abortion. It's such a sticky thicket at the best of times but seems especially so right now. After all, what would people think about a pregnant lady's views? And if I said those views were more ardently pro-choice than ever before, would those already against abortion see my views as all the more monstrous given my current state?

Then again, if pregnancy automatically changed women's views on abortion, then it probably wouldn't be such a hot topic, right?

So here's the short version of what I've been thinking lately:

Nothing made me more ardently pro-choice than becoming pregnant and carrying my child to term (well, I hope to term, not quite there yet). Now that I know exactly what it means to be pregnant, I understand more clearly than I could've thought possible that I have NO RIGHT to require anyone else to carry a pregnancy. This shit is hard and this commitment is monumental. The moral implications of abortion are for each woman to decide and I'm happy to fight in favor of whatever laws protect her right to do so.

Also - and, importantly - it is absolutely wrong to argue, as Sarah Palin does, "the culture of life empowers women by offering them real choices." What choices are those? Best I can tell, a choice between natural child birth and an epidural and not much else.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

I Can't Help But Think That Will Would've Liked This News

"Much to the delight of young Capitol denizens working their way up the ranks, Sacto's own Capital Fellows Programs has been named the nation's No. 1 internship in career site's annual internship rankings." Click for more.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Because So Many Important People In My Life End Up Being Republican

I just received some bad news - along with anyone else who subscribes to Capitol Weekly email alerts. But this isn't about the budget or stupid political posturing or policy initiatives or anything so inconsequential.

Long time Capitol staffer Will Smith died suddenly while playing basketball at a local church.

He was 41.

He was also one of the absolute best people who did, or probably ever has, worked in the Capitol.

Our politics couldn't be farther apart. Will was the chief of staff to George Runner - pretty much as conservative as they come. I doubt Runner (either Runner, for that matter) and any of my legislator bosses ever cast the same vote on measure.

Will was on the Assembly Fellow selection committee when I interviewed for the program. And, as often happens in my life, I'm pretty sure he's the one who argued hardest for my selection as a Fellow. I wasn't really Democratic enough on my own (the taint of CMC and the Rose!). I didn't necessarily fit the categories the right way. But even before I really knew him, or before he knew me, he championed me and I don't think I can ever be grateful enough.

Even past my fellowship year, however, I saw Will often. He was a mentor to one of my best friends - the fellow in George Runner's office. I saw Will whenever I was in the Capitol. We could joke about our political differences in a way that I didn't seem to get to do much after college. He was one of a rare few who could duke it out of policy and still genuinely appreciate the other side, the people, the motivations to be there, working on problems. He got it and not enough people do.

Will was a man of great faith. That should comfort his friends and family right now - but I always find that comfort slow to arrive for me. He was so dedicate to his church, his faith, and most of all his family - his wife Anissa and their gorgeous children. I last saw them all at Cober's wedding. Will was always happy to see you. I mean, the guy was never in a bad mood. I don't know how he did it.

It's probably foolish of me to be so emotional over this. But I can't chalk it up to hormones or pregnancy exactly either. But I can attribute it in part to being keenly aware of life and family right now. Of the awesome implications of bearing a child and the sudden rush of mortality. Of realizing how lonely and difficult it would be to try to do this without a partner.

Will Smith was a great man. He will be missed by those who knew him. He should be missed by every Californian - if everyone in the Capitol had his purpose, smarts, and kindness, we'd get a lot more done.

My heart goes out to his family and those who were far closer to him than I.

You will be missed, Will. You made a difference.