Monthly Archives: December 2010

Representing Veterans

Good news.  The Louisiana Public Defender Board, in collaberation with the Louisiana Department of veterans Affairs, has developed a guide for public defense attorneys who represent veterans.

http://www.defensenet.org/news/Resource%20for%20PDs%20representing%20Veteran%20clients%20-%20LPDB%20Nov%202010.pdf

The guide provides information on substance abuse services, PTSD treatment, VA recovery services in mental health, transitional work experience (TWE) and Supported Employment (SE) and Depression Treatment.

My opinion? The guide is a great tool that could fairly easily be replicated in every state in the country.  Although it’s written for public defenders, the guide also helps private defense attorneys identify the resources available to assist their veteran clients.

I’m honored to represent veterans against criminal charges.  In my experience, their crimes can be traced back to an underlying PTSD issue from serving in the war.  They deserve the highest level of legal representation, and should be treated with dignity from the judges and prosecutors.  Our veterans fought for our country.

Attorneys representing veterans MUST KNOW their veteran clients may lose pension benefits if they plead to any convictions garnering 60 or more days of incarceration.  For more information, please click “Section A: General Information on Payment of Benefits After Incarceration after clicking the link below.

http://www.index.va.gov/search/va/va_search.jsp?SQ=&TT=1&QT=incarceration

To the veterans, I salute you. 🙂

In re. Personal Restraint of Steven D. Swensen

Interesting case.  WA Court of Appeals decides a judge should disqualify themself from sentencing a defendant’s case if the judge’s impartiality might be reasonably questioned, but absent evidence of actual or potential bias, an appearance of fairness claim is without merit.

http://www.courts.wa.gov/opinions/index.cfm?fa=opinions.showOpinion&filename=635654MAJ

Mr. Swenson was sentenced for several sex offenses by a judge who prosecuted him 20 years earlier on an unrelated juvenile case.  Swenson did not ask the judge to recuse herself at the sentencing hearing on the sex offenses.  Nothing in the record indicated the judge remembered Swenson.  The judge imposed the agreed recommended sentence.  Swenson did not appeal the conviction, but he later filed a Personal Restraint Petition asking for a new sentencing hearing.  he cited the Appearance of Fairness Doctrine and the Code of Judicial Conduct.

The Court of Appeals reasoned that a judge should be disqualified if their impartiality is called into question.  However, in this case there is no showing of actual or potential bias.  The mere fact that a judge prosecuted a defendant in the past does not disqualify the judge from hearing the case today.

Moreover, the Court argued there is no basis to reasonably question whether Swenson received a fair, impartial, and neutral hearing.  The record shows the judge followed the parties’ agreed sentencing recommendation and the sentencing hearing was fair and impartial.  And nothing in the record indicates that the sentencing judge was aware of her involvement as a prosecutor 20 years earlier in an unrelated juvenile case against Swenson.

My opinion?  Seems fair.  In practice, judges typically recuse themselves upon realizing they defended or prosecuted the defendant months/years ago.  However, if the judge can’t remember, and has not been reminded by the defendant of their previous involvement, then the judge has no duty to recuse themselves.  And as far as disqualifying a judge is concerned, there must be some showing that the judge was biased for or against the defendant.  It’s common sense.

Bellingham’s New Noise Ordinance: A Step In the Right Direction

On December 6, at 7:00 p.m., Bellingham City Council members will vote on the creation of entertainment districts designed to simultaneously protect musicians/venues from noise complaints and downtown residents from excessive noise.

http://www.bellinghamherald.com/2010/12/05/1753023/bellingham-noise-ordinance-for.html#ixzz17MnCExvQ

Under the ordinance, the council would officially create entertainment districts downtown and in Fairhaven.  It also would make a basic declaration recognizing that music venues “add to the vibrancy and economic vitality” of the city.  Then it directs police, in considering noise complaints, to assess the issue using various criteria like (1) time of day the complaint occurs; (2) duration and volume of sound; (3) the nature of the sound; and (4) the character of the business or industry from where the sound originates.

Members of the Bellingham Downtown Alliance for Music and Nightlife said the law contains some “very promising elements” and that it was exciting the council would be making an official declaration about the importance of music and nightlife to the city.  The group also wants the city to require landlords to disclose to potential tenants in the entertainment districts that they’d be living in an area with higher volumes of noise at later hours.

My opinion?  I live downtown.  There are three  noisy nightclubs/bars in my neighborhood.  They attract a noisy crowd, especially on the weekends.  However, I moved into this area knowing the noise existed.  Indeed, I welcomed it (if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em; if you can’t take the heat then get out of the kitchen, yadda yadda . . .).

The police and the City have cowed to the complaints of local citizens and businesses who can’t handle urban noise.  Indeed, mere months ago, Plan B Lounge closed down due to the excessive complaints of one neighbor (1!) who lived above the lounge and stated he couldn’t sleep because of the noise.  The City found in his favor and determined that Plan B must install soundproofing, and/or decrease the music.  The owners chose to leave.  Another local business bit the dust.  What a loss!  Throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

I’m in favor of the ordinance.  Police must now apply specific criteria in determining whether the noise ordinance is violated.  They can no longer make arbitrarty and capricious decisions (it’s more difficult, anyway).  Good.  Let’s make standards and apply them fairly.  Otherwise, musicians and venues will continue face Disorderly Conduct charges for merely expressing themselves.

It’s a Bad Time For Job Seekers With Criminal Records

Very insightful article from the L.A. Times.  They report on the employment challenges faced by people coming out of prison. “As difficult as the recession has been on people, it’s twice as difficult for people with a felony to make it in this economy.”

http://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-felon-jobs-20101130,0,1666991.story

The information is sobering.  As prisons are forced to reduce their inmate populations because of overcrowding and budget shortages, some economists fear that could lead many of them back to a life of crime.  Also, experts say two trends have dimmed employment prospects even more.

One is a severe contraction in industries such as manufacturing and construction that have traditionally been more open to hiring people with checkered pasts. The other is a rise in the number of former inmates looking for work, as state prisons and county jails try to reduce their inmate populations to save money.

My opinion?  Clients hire me for many reasons: to defend their rights, fight unwarranted criminal charges, and/or reach resolutions which dismiss/reduce criminal charges, and save their career from present or future calamaties caused by the criminal charges levelled against them.  Criminal history, and especially FELONY history, is extremely harmful to my clients’ present and future job prospects.  Keep this in mind when seeking private counsel.  Do you trust them to humanize you?  Will they save your job/career?  Discuss the different strategies your potential attorney will implement in working your case.  In today’s tough job market, your livelihood depends on it.