Daily Archives: July 10, 2008

New Haven ID Card holders identity to remain secret

A big battle has been going on in New Haven, CT, which I’ve been remiss in addressing. It all stems from New Haven’s handing out of city IDs to any resident who wants them. The photo IDs act as a replacement for state issued id cards and licenses, allowing residents to open bank accounts, among other things.

The problem, however, is that this ID program originated as a way to protect illegal immigrants who are residents of New Haven. Protect here doesn’t mean protect them from authorities, but rather protect them from violence. Violence against illegal immigrants had been on the rise because it had become well known that they would carry large sums of cash around, being unable to open bank accounts to deposit the cash into.

New Haven, in consideration of its residents, passed this program to permit any resident to obtain an ID. Now, anti-immigration groups and one newspaper editor want the names of those issued ID cards.

On June 25, a hearing officer of the State Freedom of Information Commission denied the request to hand over the 5000 plus names. The ruling is here.

[The hearing officer] found that “the ID Card program unleashed a level of vitriol and venom aimed at City officials and illegal immigrants that was far beyond mere political disagreement or healthy civic engagement, according to testimony.”

“We met the burden of proof and look forward to moving past this so that we can continue to grow this successful program,” said Kica Matos, the city’s Community Service Administrator, in the city press statement.

Ms. Matos herself was the subject of disturbing and threatening e-mails and postings, some advocating her murder.

The city had declined to reveal the names, citing specific threats and the fear of a rise in crime against people with Spanish sounding names, regardless of their citizenship status.

Finally, yesterday, a full panel of the FOIC considered the hearing officer’s report and voted 3-1 to uphold that decision.

In the end, commissioners expressed sympathy with the argument made by the city and its expert witnesses that threats of violence against city officials and immigrants in general warranted keeping the identities of cardholders secret. The cards are not held just by immigrants, but they are designed to help immigrants integrate into city life. The cards entitle holders to access to city services like libraries and parks, and are designed as secondary documentation to help open bank accounts.

Ironically, one of the groups opposing the disclosure of the names was the state Department of Emergency Management and Homeland Security.

It should come as no surprise to you that I support their decision. While illegal immigration is a crime, there is no need to endanger the lives of people by revealing only their names.

Corpse and (grave)robbers

The story, ofcourse, is about the three yoots from Wisconsin who were charged with sexually assaulting a 20 year old girl. Problem was, she was already dead.

The Appellate Court in Wisconsin got it right (as appellate courts are wont to do) and declared that this, obviously, cannot be a crime, since the woman was not alive.

The Supreme Court of Wisconsin, in all their wisdom (as is their wont) reversed. [I guess I should be happy that this phenomenon doesn’t seem limited to CT, but I ain’t crackin’ a smile.]

The sheer stupidity of the decision itself aside, the Supreme Court once again ignored the forest for the trees (as is their fundamental birthright). I’ll let Scott explain:

But there is a deeper failing in this decision.  While the Wisconsin Supreme Court focused on the question of whether a corpse can give consent (both an absurdity by definition and facile solution when faced with a hard choice), they failed to consider the far broader ramifications of the definition of a “person”.

If the word “person” is to include corpses, it opens a wide world of criminal conduct that no one intends.  Consider the criminal liability of the anthropologist in Wisconsin, messing around with people’s bones.  A “person” can be the victim of a homicide.  A corpse cannot, at least before this decisions.  What now?

Scott is absolutely correct. Wisconsonians (please don’t correct me if that’s wrong, I don’t give a damn), prepare to be convicted of murder for killing a dead man. Does Wisconsin have the death penalty? That would be the ultimate ironic punishment. Put to death for killing a dead man.

Sometimes I wonder if these Supreme Court judges write such opinions just to give us fodder. It has to be. There can be no other rational explanation.

As to the act of necrophilia itself…eh, I don’t have an opinion either way. I mean, aren’t vampires supposed to be sexy?

A sweeping blueprint for change

After slightly over a year under the stewardship of Chief Justice Rogers, the Judical Branch is readying itself for some wholesale changes. The Public Service and Trust Commission, appointed by the Chief Justice, released a 57 page report, chronicling all that is wrong with the Judicial Branch and what is going to be done to fix it.

Some proposed changes:

Too often, the public, jurors and attorneys are unhappily surprised by what the courts do or don’t do, the study notes. Examples: the unrepresented litigant facing a housing foreclosure, the lawyer disillusioned by “arguing motions to a different judge each time” in a complex case, or jurors officiously herded from place to place, to sit and wait, without explanation. Such experiences “can lead to an overall perception of an ineffective, inconsistent and unfair judicial system.”

This part of the plan aims to increase efficiency of case management and court practices, which currently “vary from court to court, resulting in confusion and uncertainty for attorneys and litigants,” according to the report.

It also said the courts need to be more user-friendly for people without legal representation. This means more forms in “plain language,” the committee says, and more educational tools for people who represent themselves.

There are some interesting substantive proposals too:

considering the feasibility of assigning a case to a specific judge for the duration of the case;

considering the merit of judges’ specializing in certain areas of the law; for example, land use appeals, trademark, patent and mass tort litigation

This Commission received complaints and recommendations from lots of “focus groups”. They are available in this hefty pd file. The recommendations from the public defender’s office start at page 308. I have to say that I’m quite happy with how frank they are and quite alarmed and disappointed at the same time that some of these things (if not all) are going on in our courts.

The bottom line is that the Court system represents how we as a State treat our citizens. Above all, there must be an appearance of fairness and impartiality emanating from the court system. Based on my experience, and confirmed by the recommendations in that study, that is severely lacking. That is a shame, but certainly not unexpected. It is what happens when people forget what they do, why they are where they are and what the impact of their decisions and opinions will be.

In a sense, we’re not unlike lawprofs sitting in their ivory towers. We get caught up in the law and forget that the law affects real people and has real-life consequences. It wouldn’t be too bad if once in a while we all got smacked in the face with that reality. It would make us a better, more civilized and more humane society.

I can only hope that the result of this Commission and these “sweeping” changes aren’t cosmetic – like a bandage on a severed limb.

Admitting the problem is half the battle, but you never get points for winning only half.