I have been thinking a lot about Judge Underhill's decision on Thursday where he ruled that the Citizens' Election Program was unconstitutional. Part his reasoning was "that the CEP is not narrowly tailored to achieving the state’s compelling interests because the state has failed to demonstrate how the public fisc is actually protected by imposing stringent qualifying criteria on minor party candidates, while permitting equally hopeless major party candidates to qualify under significantly less onerous qualifying criteria, in vastly greater numbers and at windfall funding levels."
The idea of "hopeless candidacies" particularly jumped out at me. What is the hope of candidates running for office? What is the state's interest in candidates running for office? It seems as if Judge Underhill makes a common mistake. He talks about hopelessness in terms of "electoral success". Clearly, it is in the states interest to promote competition between those most likely to succeed in terms of their probability of electoral success. However, I believe that this is looking at the electoral process way too narrowly.
I know many candidates, my wife included, who have run for state office and not been elected; who have had their campaigns labeled hopeless. However, there is a much greater hope of many candidates than simply getting elected. Candidates hope to promote involvement in the electoral process and discussions about the policies that effect the state. My wife ran as a Democrat in a district that has not elected a Democrat in nearly a century and where the Democrats had not even fielded a candidate in several election cycles. I believe that by Judge Underhill's criteria, such a campaign would have been labeled hopeless. While my wife's candidacy did not achieve electoral success, it was extremely successful in promoting involvement in the electoral process and discussions about the policies that effect the state.
I have often argued that the Citizens' Election Program should be best compared to our education budgets. Whether you are talking about fifteen million dollars during election cycles with just state legislators or fifty million dollars during elections cycles with constitutional officers, this is a small amount to pay for the education of voters on the issues, especially when compared to the education budgets of the towns and cities of Connecticut.
Yet there is a common concern between education in our public schools and education in our public elections. The state does have a keen interest in making sure that the educators, whether they be school teachers, or candidates, are most likely to succeed in their tasks.
While it may seem unfair, major party candidates, no matter how likely they are to get elected have a greater probability of promoting involvement in the electoral process and discussions about the policies that effect the state. Minor party candidates do not have that greater probability and need to be able to demonstrate that they can have an effect on electoral involvement, independent of their probability of electoral success. The mechanisms to assess this ability, based on percentage of votes for candidates of the minor party in the previous election, or the number of signatures gathered seems like a highly reasonable method for the state to determine the likely success of the candidates in promoting involvement in the electoral process and discussions about the policies that effect the state.
Here are updates on some of the stories that I've been following.
On Tuesday, the New Haven Independent which has had great coverage of this trial reported that the jury cleared Maio. From all that I've read as well as my one day at court during the hearing, if I had ended up on the jury, I would have concurred with the jury. It has been fascinating to watch not only the trial, and the news coverage, but follow some of the discussions online about the case.
About a month ago, I wrote a blog post about Anthem's request for a rate increase. In my blog post, I noted a list of notable politicians that came out in opposition to the rate increase. In spite of the numerous objections, the state insurance commissioner approved the rate hike.
Yesterday, the Attorney General's office issued a press release announcing that the Attorney General, the Healthcare Advocate, and the Insurance Committee Co-Chairs are proposing sweeping reforms of the health insurance rate hike approval process. One of the co-chairs is State Sen. Joe Crisco representing my state senate district. I have written him applauding his efforts. There is a great need for health care reform in our country. We can argue about whether the current public option plan is a good reform, whether we need a single payer method, what should be done to change aspects of interstate health insurance and so on. However, it does seem clear that there is not currently enough oversight of the health insurance industry. This proposal appears to be an important step in getting better oversight of that industry.
Some people have claimed that if we allow gay people to marry, it will destroy traditional marriages. Perhaps there is some truth to this. Now that people who have been in long term committed relationships with their same sex partners are marrying in Connecticut and other States, it seems like there are more and more high profile conservative politicians whose mixed-sex marriages are failing. While I don't believe there is any causality here, there is correlation.
Others have suggested that if you give gay people civil rights, everyone will start wanting civil rights.
I like reframing the discussion about marriage equaltiy to talking about those of use who are in mixed sex marriages. Recently, over on Communications Exchange, there was a discussion about mixed marriages. The blogger was talking about marriages between PC users and Mac users. I hopped in and talked about mixed marriages between men and women.
Public Relations and Alleged Racism at the Sheraton Kansas City Sports Complex?
Another story I've been following closely is the allegations of racism in the when the Dixwell Drill Team was evicted from the Sheraton Kansas City Sports Complex. Like the Maio case, this has stirred a lot of comments. What I thought would be most interesting would be to find the response by Starwood Hotels, which owns the Sheraton chain. Last Friday, I sent an email to their public relations department asking for additional information. I wanted to get both sides of the story. I received a brief phone call back letting me know that they had not seen the news stories that I cited but that they had been contacted by another news organization asking for details about the same time that I contacted them. They said they were investigating the incident and would get back to me. That was nearly a week ago, and I have not heard any additional information, although I have sent a followup email asking for details.
It may well be that they are simply being quiet and hoping the whole thing passes over.
I was in New York yesterday for Digiday: APPS. I hope to have some followup blog posts about this shortly. It was a great conference and I have much that I hope to write. My laptop is still crippled and I have too many things going on at the same time. Meanwhile, I've been playing Mr. Mom today and dealing with quite a few random other issues.
Today, Sonia Sotomayer was be sworn in as the first Hispanic Supreme Court Justice in the United States. I have expressed concern about her support of civil rights based on her concurrence on the Doniger case. However, one ruling is not sufficient grounds to oppose a nomination. However, it is much better than most of the reasons to support or oppose her nomination that have been discussed so far.
Some have gone so far as to suggest it would have been reasonable to block Judge Sotomayer’s nomination because in 2003 Democrats successfully filibustered the appellate court nomination of Miguel Estrada, the first time a filibuster was used against an appellate court nomination.
Yet our justice system is too important to be mired in petty tit for tat politics. The case of Kenneth Ireland is a good example. In 1989, he was convicted of the gruesome rape and murder of a Wallingford, CT woman. This week, based on DNA evidence which showed he could not have committed the crime, he has been freed.
Chris Powell, managing editor of the Journal Inquirer has written a column suggesting that this puts juries in question. Jury trials may be the worst method of determining guilt, except for all the others. So, what can be done to improve the way justice is dispensed?
One starting point is to get better coverage of trials. This includes talking about how Voir Dire done. People need a better understanding of the how juries work and what really happens during trials. I’ve tried to do a little bit of this in my blog posts about the Andrew Maio case.
In that blog post, I noted that Judge William Holden said that electronic devices, including laptops, would not be allowed in his courtroom. Based on information obtained from State Rep Mike Lawlor, chair of the judiciary committee, it appears that Judge Holden does not know the rules from the Practice Book which governs rules of court:
Sec. 1-10. Possession of Electronic Devices in Court Facilities (Amended June 29, 2007, to take effect Jan. 1, 2008.)
(a) Personal computers may be used for note taking in a courtroom. If the judicial authority finds that the use of computers is disruptive of the court proceeding, it may limit such use. No other electronic devices shall be used in a courtroom unless authorized by a judicial authority or permitted by these rules.
In the Maio case there was no such finding, or basis for such a finding. Yet even this is not the worst case of courts acting in ways that limit reporting about the courts. In 2006, a sign in New Haven Geographical Area Court 23 was modified to remove the prohibition against writing in court after a complaint was filed. The Connecticut News Junkie article, Courthouse Paints Over Ban on Writing states that “Judicial Marshal Luther Cuffee prevented a member of the public from taking notes during hearings in the courthouse.”
It isn’t just the judges that need to be looked at much more closely than is done in so many confirmation hearings. The New Haven Independent has a report about the director of operations at the State Marshall Commission asking New Haven to suspend a new city plan to save taxpayer money by lowering hefty marshal fees.. On top of this, a report in the Hartford Courant from June talked about efforts by State Representative Robert W. Megna to address what he considers illegal double billing by State Marshalls. The article talks about how well connected State Marshalls are noting,
the roster of marshals includes many with prominent, political positions or strong, political connections. The marshal who served Megna the foreclosure papers, who made $131,000 after expenses last year, is also the chairman of the North Haven Democratic Town Committee.
All of this illustrates the need for much better oversight of the Judicial branch by members of the fourth estate, both the professionals and the citizen journalists.
The case of the New Haven Police Officer accused of Fourth Degree Sexual Abuse is scheduled to start on Monday. I had been selected as a potential juror and have previously written about the Anthony Maio case my experiences with the Jury Selection Process. That post talked more about the mechanics of being empanelled and the general questions.
However, I was then questioned on the stand about my ability to present a fair and unbiased opinion in the case. The questioning, I believe, presents an interesting insight into some of the complexities of the case, as well general issues of how jury trials work in our country.
Before I get into the specifics, I should pass on a joke that a friend told me when she heard I might be on the case.
Okay, you can be on the jury
While the joke provides an amusing view on the O.J. Simpson trial, as you will see, it reflects a misunderstanding about the jury process.
It was a rainy summer morning as I headed to the New Haven Superior Courthouse for Jury Duty. I had various concerns on my mind. I would like to be on a jury; I take my civic duty seriously. However, the next day I was supposed to be heading off for vacation. I hoped that I would either get picked for a jury that would start after vacation or that I would at least fulfill my responsibility and wouldn’t have to report the next day.
In many ways, I am an unlikely jury candidate. I am self-employed and a long trial would present a significant hardship. I am a blog, and a friend of mine who is a defense lawyer said she does not like to get bloggers on her juries. With close relatives that are retired law enforcement officers and numerous other situations, I did not expect to end up on a jury.
It had been many years since I had performed my last jury duty. That was in an old court house in Stamford. The jurors were led to a dungy basement room for their orientation and to await selection. Back then, I commented about how jury duty is important and jurors should be treated with more respect.
The New Haven Superior Court House was very different. We took the juror’s elevator, specifically designed to keep jurors away from discussions in the court house halls to one of the top floors of the court house. The seating was nice as was the views. They provided coffee, but unfortunately, I could not find any decaf, so I abstained. Various people worked on their laptops or chatted on their cellphones as they awaited instructions. I had considered bringing my laptop, but had decided against it and I never did find out if there was open WiFi there.
The orientation video and the various speeches by judicial officials were quick and not annoying despite the appellation of indoctrination that a friend of mine used. The friend also had claustrophobia and the small closed in rooms for the jury ended up getting her excused. I did not find the rooms so constraining.
As I waited to be called, I placed various phone calls and got a surprising amount of work done.
The trial I was selected for was of Anthony Maio, a New Haven Police Officer accused of fourth degree sexual assault. I remembered reading about this in the New Haven Independent, although I didn’t recall a substantial amount of details.
Initially, a group of about eighteen potential jurors were lead into the court room. We were told the names of lawyers and potential witnesses and asked if we knew anyone. Many of the witnesses are expected to be police officers and one of the potential jurors was a former police commissioner who knew many of the police officers. He was asked if his knowledge of the officers would affect is ability to render a fair and impartial decision, and he said he did not believe it did. The judge explored the relationship between the commissioner and the officers and in the end decided to err on the side of caution and excuse the former police commissioner. Others spoke of minor acquaintances with various lawyers or potential witnesses but these relationships were not significant enough to warrant excusal.
The next question to the whole pool was if being on the case would result in extreme hardship. The case is scheduled to start on August 3, so it would not mess up my vacation and it is expected to only run for a week or two, so the lost consulting income could be minimized. I deliberated in my mind about whether the hardship it would produce would be extreme and I decided it would not be. A few people spoke of extreme hardship and were questioned individually. I believe they were excused, but I do not know for a fact.
With these questions out of the way, the judge then excused a few more potential jurors that he believed could not be interviewed simply because of the amount of time available for interviews. The rest of us were broken into two groups. One group was to stay and be questioned immediately. The other could leave and return after lunch. Since one of the lawyers had a conflicting court appearance at two, the return time was scheduled to be three.
I was in the second group, so I returned home and did a little bit of work. My wife was home, so I chatted briefly with her about the case, and I responded to various comments on Facebook and Twitter where I had posted bits about the first part of my jury experience.