Friday, July 31, 2009

Yahoo News: Secretary of HHS Sebelius on Health Care Reform

Op-Ed: Health reform will empower families against market constraints

By Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius

Yahoo! News: Washington, DC — For decades, Washington has talked about fixing a broken health care system. And for decades Washington failed to act – allowing the special interests to stall reform while the cracks in the system turned into crevices, then craters.

But today, we are closer than ever to the change we need. Key committees in Congress have reached a striking degree of consensus about how to control costs, guarantee coverage, and provide more choices for every American. America’s doctors and nurses have announced their support. And even hospitals, drug and insurance companies have pledged to do their part to control costs.

Change is never easy and recently, some defenders of the status quo have made themselves heard.

One Republican Senator said, “If we’re able to stop Obama on this, it will be his Waterloo. It will break him.” And a leading political strategist urged fellow Republicans to “resist the temptation” to be “constructive or, at least responsible,” and instead work to “kill” health care reform.

These opponents of change may understand how to score political points in Washington, but they don’t seem to understand the stakes for the country. The health care status quo is unacceptable and unsustainable for our families, our businesses, and our nation as a whole.

Today nearly 46 million Americans are uninsured and are one illness or accident away from losing everything. Millions more are under-insured. Since 2004, the number of under-insured families – those who pay for coverage but are unprotected against high costs – rose by 60 percent.

Even Americans with insurance find themselves paying more and getting less. In the past decade, premiums have doubled, rising three times as fast as wages and leaving families scrambling to close the gap. Last year, more than half of Americans skipped their medications or postponed medical because they couldn’t afford it.

Businesses – especially small businesses – aren’t faring much better. Skyrocketing health costs are making it even harder to compete in today’s global economy and forcing business owners to choose between staying afloat and providing health care for their workers.

At the same time, health care spending today consumes 30 percent more of state and local budgets than it did 20 years ago, forcing governments to choose between cutting services and raising taxes. And our national budget faces the same threat, with health care costs representing the single largest contributor to exploding long-term deficits.

America can’t afford to wait any longer for health care reform.

Some opponents of reform will try to scare Americans into thinking they’ll lose what they already have. Millions of Americans are happy with the coverage they have now, so let’s be clear: under any plan the Obama administration will support, if you like your health insurance you can keep your health insurance; if you like your doctor you can keep your doctor.

In fact, the real threat to what works in our system comes from doing nothing. Without action, prices will continue to spiral out of control. More Americans will not be able to afford insurance at all, and those who can will continue to pay more for less.

So what will reform actually look like?

First, to provide Americans with more affordable choices, we’ll set up a marketplace where you can compare plans and pick the one that’s right for you. None of the plans would be allowed to deny you coverage because of a pre-existing condition. And one of the options should be a public plan that would increase competition and keep private insurance companies honest.

Second, we have to align incentives for doctors and hospitals so that they’re rewarded based on the quality of care they provide, not on how many tests or procedures they prescribe.

Third, we need to move from a sickness system to a wellness system. By investing in prevention and emphasizing healthy lifestyles, we can save money while improving health.

Finally, reform must not add to our deficit over the next ten years. To that end, we have already identified hundreds of billions of dollars in savings – savings from money that’s already being spent on health care, but is funding waste and overpayments to insurance companies.

Put together, these changes will make quality, affordable coverage available to every American while bending the cost curve so that we don’t bury our children in debt. Fixing the system has never been so critical, and it has never been more squarely within our reach. Now it’s time to make reform a reality.

Kathleen Sebelius is the Secretary of Health and Human Services in President Barack Obama's Cabinet. She was the Democratic governor of the state of Kansas from 2003 to 2009.

Op-Eds by contributors do not reflect the editorial views of the Yahoo! News staff.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Fifth Circuit Asks For Help -- Can Non-Homicide "Cold Cases" Be Re-Opened?

The drama of the James Ford Seale case continues. Today the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit asked the U.S. Supreme Court to answer this question:

What statute of limitations applies to a prosecution under 18 U.S.C. Section 1201 for a kidnapping offense that occurred in 1964 but was not indicted until 2007?"

US v Seale

SCOTUSblog discusses this unusual procedure:

In a rare move, the Fifth Circuit Court on Thursday sent to the Supreme Court, with a plea for an answer, a legal question on the time allowed for federal prosecution of an old kidnapping case. The answer, the Circuit Court said, could shut down federal prosecutions of perhaps two dozen old “cold cases” involving civil rights violations.

Because the Circuit Court, sitting en banc, had divided 9-9 on the issue, it could not itself give a definitive answer. Thus, the full Circuit Court, by a 12-6 vote, opted to “certify” the question to the Supreme Court directly — a procedure that is allowed by federal law and Supreme Court Rules, but seldom is used.

* * * *

The Supreme Court, under its Rule 19, does not have to answer questions submitted to it in this way. The procedure is to put the question before the Court for a preliminary review of whether to call for briefs or argument, or to dismiss it without an answer. The Court’s Rule then goes on to spell out what happens if briefing is ordered.

The dissenting judges on the Fifth Circuit, arguing that the issue was not worth either the Circuit Court’s or the Supreme Court’s time, noted that the Supreme Court had responded to a certified question of law only four times in more than 60 years. “The likelihood of the Court’s accepting certification, based on past usage, is virtually nil,” the six dissenters argued.

The Supreme Court has not yet received the Circuit Court plea. There is no timetable for acting on it.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Here's why Leisha Pickering had to part ways with William Wright

Perusing the Hinds County Chancery Court dockets, I came across an interesting fact: William Wright represented Elizabeth Creekmore Byrd and Douglas W. Byrd in their ID divorce. Current Leisha Pickering attorney Chuck McRae checked the file out on July 7, 2009.

I've got a name on DeLaughter's replacement...

Well-placed sources are saying that state Rep. Phillip Gunn (R-Clinton) will be getting the nod from Barbour as DeLaughter's replacement.

Ripped from comments over at

This was too good not to share.

July 29th, 2009 at 1:27 pm

In response to Bayrat:

“Its Capitol Street after midnight just like it was before
21 months later at the local convenience store
Ed Peters buys a paper and a cold 6-pack of beer
The headlines read that Bobby, out of prison, is going home to there,
Ed Peters pulls back onto High Street in his new Mercedes Benz
The road goes on forever and the party never ends

LOTS of apologies to REK.

In light of DeLaughter's impending plea & removal from the bench, who's gonna get the appointment?

As some of you may know, a felony conviction prevents someone from holding a law license. A law license is required to be a circuit court judge. Ergo, DeLaughter will be removed from the bench upon, or shortly after, his guilty plea tomorrow afternoon. (Assuming his guilty plea is in fact entered and accepted by the court.)

That opens the question: Who will Barbour appoint to replace DeLaughter?

While there is no requirement that the new judge come from the area of Hinds County covered by DeLaughter's post (Clinton, Raymond, and other points in Hinds County west & south of there), for electoral purposes, it would be more practical if the new appointee lived there.

Personally, I view the seat as Hinds County Circuit Court judge as one of the most important in Mississippi, state or federal. Hinds County is the financial, medical, and governmental mecca of the state, and as a result, some of our most important legal questions arise first in its Circuit Court. Therefore, I think this issue deserves great input from the citizenry and intense consideration by Gov. Barbour.

So, who do y'all think will get the nod?

Monday, July 27, 2009

BIG find by NMC over at!

NMC's got the whole docket from the Pickering v. Pickering divorce case. I echo his thoughts regarding several odd entries, particularly the one for the Motion asking for he imposition of a sentence. I think they meant sanctions. At least I hope they did.

Have Something To Whisper in Our Ear?

We've added a new function to the blog. Down the right margin, under the comments, you'll find the "Contact Us" section. You can use this to send us information that you don't want to be published on the blog, but you'd like us to look into.

We CANNOT make an absolute promise of anonymity, but we will protect anyone's identity (if requested to do so) to the fullest extent allowed by law.

David Landrum Lectures Us On The Importance of Voting

Sid Salter has an interesting blog post about an email he received from David Landrum, businessman and former candidate for the Republican nomination for Mississippi's Third Congressional District seat. Seems that Mr. Landrum is raising money for a ballot initiative to amend the State Constitution to require voter identification.

Salter's blog quotes Landrum as saying (in part):

"The Mississippi Republican Party is hard at work to get photo voter identification on the ballot in 2010. For years, many people have been allowed to vote numerous times under different names and the deceased have been voting long after they are gone, all due to our lack of a voter identification law."

Is this the same David Landrum who lost all credibility when the voting records showed that HE HADN'T VOTED AT ALL in past elections?

And then claimed that the voting records had been tampered with?

And then didn't dispute that the records his own campaign used to "prove" he had voted were false?

Yep, I think it's the same person.

Maybe Mr. Landrum isn't the best guy to take the lead in the fight for the integrity of the election rolls in Mississippi?

I Believe The Word Is "Ingrate"

On Y'all Politics this morning, I saw that the Associated Press has a good story out about how both Governor Haley Barbour and State Senator (and possible 2010 Republican opponent to Rep. Travis Childers) Alan Nunnelee acknowledge that without President Obama's stimulus package, the State could not have put together the budget for Fiscal Year 2010 (which began July 1, 2009).

The AP's Emily Wagster Pettus writes:

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Alan Nunnelee acknowledges that without the federal largesse, lawmakers would've had even more trouble setting a budget for the fiscal year that began July 1 because state tax collections have been sluggish the past several months.

But Nunnelee -- a Tupelo Republican with congressional aspirations -- usually refers to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act by its acronym, ARRA, which he pronounces "EH-rah," sounding an awful lot like "error."

Republican Gov. Haley Barbour, no great fan of Democratic President Barack Obama, says the stimulus package is allowing Mississippi, one of the poorest states in the nation, to spend a record amount of money on some parts of government.

"It is not a sustainable budget by any stretch of the imagination, particularly for education," Barbour told reporters at the state Capitol.

* * * *

Mississippi's revenues fell about $390 million short of expectations for the fiscal year that ended June 30. The state's unemployment rate hit 9.8 percent in June, about 2 percent higher than the same month in 2008. State officials expect a slow recovery from the recession.

Barbour said that with the help of federal stimulus, Mississippi's elementary and secondary schools are receiving 7.3 percent more this fiscal year "than they have ever received in history." Community colleges are receiving 1 percent more than ever, and universities are receiving 2.5 percent more than their previous record.

"It's all coming from this one-time federal money. I think better put ... two-time federal money. We'll get it this year, we'll get it next year," the second-term governor said.

* * * *

Barbour said Mississippi's new $6 billion budget includes "500-something million dollars" from the stimulus package, with much of it directed to education and Medicaid, the government health insurance program for the needy.

My two cents: Watch next year as State Sen. Nunnelee (pronounced WANNA-BE) takes credit for record funding of education while also calling the ARRA stimulus package "socialist," "dangerous," and "a failure."

My mother had a word for folks like that: ingrate.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Not How Mississippi Wants To Be Remembered

The website Urban Dictionary has already created a new entry based on the latest Mississippi saga. Not quite how we'd like to be remembered, is it?

Sound Off on MPB at 2 TODAY

Today's a chance for YOU to speak your mind on the Pickering case or other topics.  I'll be on "A Closer Look" with Brad and company, Miss. Public Radio in just a few minutes - 2 pm.

Latest Filings in Pickering v Creekmore Byrd

The litigation in Leisha Pickering's lawsuit against Elizabeth Creekmore Byrd continued last week. Mrs. Pickering's attorneys, Oliver Diaz and Chuck McRae, have requested subpoenas for witnesses for deposition testimony. The two names recognizable to me are Charles W. Pickering, Sr., the former U.S. District Judge and U.S. Court of Appeals Judge, and Steve Seale, former Mississippi State Senator, former chief legal advisor to Senator Trent Lott, and Jackson lawyer; according to his LinkedIn page, his clients include Cellular South. As we have noted before, Ms. Creekmore Byrd is on the Board of Directors of Cellular South.

It is rather early in the lawsuit to take depositions; I would consider this a pretty aggressive strategy on the part of the Plaintiff in the case. Recall that the Complaint alleges that:

The Defendants, John and Jane Does 1-7, are named as defendants herein because they may have aided Creekmore-Byrd in her affair and to entice and tortuously interfere with the contract between Leisha Jane Pickering and Charles Willis Pickering, Jr.

It could be that these depositions are meant to identify these "John and Jane Does." But that is complete guesswork on my part.

Next week may bring even more interesting news. Stay tuned.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Erik Fleming on the Arrest of Professor Gates

My friend Erik Fleming has an interesting take on the controversy swirling regarding the arrest of Professor Gates.

I think some of the talk about whether Sgt. Crowley was racist in his actions has been imprecise. "Race prejudice" is a term that covers a broad array of beliefs, gut feelings, and actions. Those who harbor the belief that non-whites are inferior are obviously prejudiced.

But there are far more nuanced and complex interactions of the mind and heart that also fit the definition of race prejudice. "Prejudice" -- to me at least -- means a state of mind in which one assigns meaning to a factual scenario in order to avoid logical processing of those facts. It's not always a bad thing. Every morning, I walk through the bedroom doorway, because I take for granted that the open space I see with my eyes means that it is safe for me to walk through. If I had to stop and take empirical bearings every morning, I would get to the office even later than I do now.

When I'm in my car, stopped at an intersection, and see a man in a business suit, I look to see if I recognize him. If I see an African-American man in baggy pants and wearing a baseball cap sideways, I look to see if my door is locked.

Prejudice or protective instinct? The line isn't so easy to draw.

I would like to think that if I was throwing my body against the door of my house in Belhaven, and the police came by, the first thing they would do is ask, "DO you belong here? Show your ID."

Maybe Sgt. Crowley did that. If so, it isn't what Professor Gates heard. He heard, "You DON'T belong here. Show your ID."

Was Sgt. Crowley acting on the basis of his prejudice? Was Professor Gates? Perhaps they both were: the Sergeant on the basis of his years of experience dealing with street level crime, and the Professor on the basis of our years of experience with racially prejudiced treatment of minorities by our law enforcement and criminal justice system.

I understand that Kamikaze is going to be discussing this issue this Sunday at 2 pm on Mississippi Public Radio. Let's talk.

The Perfect Face

Many years ago I was told, "Jimmy, you have the perfect face . . . for radio."  I responded, "Gee thanks, Mom."

Now I have been invited by Brad "Kamikaze" Franklin to join him and other guests on "A Closer Look" on Mississippi Public Radio, this coming Sunday (July 26) from 2 until 3 pm. 

Possible topics include the Pickering cases, the arrest of Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr., and other recent news items.

Listeners can call in, and I welcome our Ipse Blogit readers to come forward and make yourselves heard!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Motion for Review in U.S.A. v. Whitfield

I got this yesterday, but didn't get a chance to post it until today. Jackson attorney Melissa Selman Martin has filed a Motion for Review of the District Court's Denial of Release Pending Appeal on behalf of former Circuit Judge John Whitfield, who was convicted along with Paul Minor and former Chancellor Wes Teel in a judicial bribery prosecution. The appeal seems to have garnered considerable attention from the 5th Circuit, which has twice asked for supplemental briefing. The language of the Motion is fairly strident, and may not rub Judge Wingate the right way. We'll see. There's a good synopsis of the Minor-Diaz-Whitfield-Teel matter at the start of the Motion, and a well-developed section on the law surrounding release pending appeal in federal cases.


This just in: White Sox starter Mark Buehrle pitched a perfect game (no hits, no walks, no errors).  The Chisox beat the defending AL Champion Tampa Bay Rays 5-0.

Few pitchers even throw nine full innings anymore.  This is one of the most difficult achievements in any sport. 

Congrats to Buehrle and the Sox!

A "rare case"

In a decision today involving a familiar cast of characters, the Mississippi Supreme Court unanimously reversed and remanded the armed robbery and aggravated assault convictions of Tomarcus Monte Fulks. At issue was testimony of a State's witness that changed from exculpatory to inculpatory at some point prior to trial. That's not new, and it's certainly not uncommon. What's uncommon is prosecutors not sharing that the testimony had changed until the day before trial, and a judge denying a continuance based on the discovery violation.

Box v. State, 437 So. 2d 19 (Miss. 1983), is (or sure as heck should be) well-known to every practitioner of criminal law in the state courts of Mississippi, be they prosecutor or defense counsel. So is Rule 9.04 of the Uniform Rules of Circuit and County Court Practice, which is based on the holding in Box. The holding in Box "obligated" the trial judge in this case "to undertake some remedial avoid manifest injustice."

The Supremes go on, in an opinion written by Justice Kitchens, to call this "precisely the sort of 'trial by ambush' that Mississippi has endeavored to outlaw," and the case itself a "rare case." Further, they proceed to take the trial judge to task. Here's an excerpt:

When a prosecutor reveals evidence on the eve of trial that should have been disclosed earlier, and when that evidence completely undercuts the defense’s theory of the case and renders most of its trial preparations worthless, then the only effective remedy is a continuance. Otherwise, the defense attorney is left with inadequate time and opportunity to investigate the newly arisen evidence, evaluate its trustworthiness, discuss its implications with his client, allow time for due consideration thereof, and, if necessary, to develop a new trial strategy. This quandary seems to have gone unrecognized by the trial judge, who treated Glenn’s new revelation merely as an impeachment opportunity for the defense.(emphasis added)

I recommend a full read of this decision, and not just for lawyers. Major kudos to Jeff Hosford for making a good record, and to Dan Hinchcliff and Leslie Lee for their appellate work.

P.S. - For those of you who were confused last year about the difference between James T. Kitchens and James W. Kitchens, this should clear it up.

The City With Soul, Or The City With Holes?

This morning, my Miata hammered a pothole the size of a crater on Pearl Street.  As I wait at the car emergency room, I hope Mayor Johnson makes street repair a priority in his new administration.  It's tough to bring commerce downtown if the main entrance from I-55 is impassible.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Court of Appeals Delivers Some Ominous News for Karen Irby

Kingfish at Jackson Jambalaya was the first to suggest that Karen Irby could be indicted for depraved-heart murder in her vehicular homicide case. She was, indeed, indicted on that charge.

Yesterday, the Mississippi Court of Appeals affirmed a life sentence on a conviction for depraved-heart murder -- in a vehicular homicide case called Nichols v. State.

That's not the first time the state appellate courts have applied Section 97-3-19(1)(b) to motor vehicle accident deaths. In Sanders v State, 942 So. 2d 156 (Miss. 2006), the Mississippi Supreme Court affirmed a conviction for depraved heart murder arising from a fatal car crash.

And in White v State, 964 So. 2d 1181 (Miss. App. 2007), the Court of Appeals affirmed a conviction on that theory where the defendant ran down a police officer (who was on foot) while trying to flee the scene.

But it can't help Mrs. Irby that even super-lawyer Jim Waide, representing Nichols, couldn't prevent a vehicular homicide from resulting in a life sentence for murder -- even though the Court noted there was no evidence of intent to kill.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Rep. Chip Pickering: Personal Conduct Is Relevant

Life teaches difficult lessons. When he spoke to the Washington Times in August 1998 about President Clinton and the Lewinsky affair, United States Representative Chip Pickering (R-MS) must not have thought that his own alleged infidelity would come to light. He told that conservative bellweather:

“I think for the good of the country and the good of his own family it would be better for him to resign. When someone puts himself forward for public office, then his personal conduct does become relevant.”

This was reported by Rachel Maddow of MSNBC. But I assume there aren't a plethora of Maddow-watchers here, so I pass it on to you here.

Tim Balducci's deposition in Eaton v. Frisby is online

The Clarion-Ledger has posted Tim Balducci's deposition in Eaton v. Frisby. I'll read it ASAP. Y'all go ahead and post your thoughts.

Kingfish delves into drama surrounding testimony in the Irby case

Kingfish over at Jackson Jambalaya has an interesting post on ADA Patrick Beasley's Motion to Preserve Testimony of Stuart Irby in State v. Karen Irby. I recommend both the post and the debate taking place in the comments below it. I haven't chimed in yet, as I've been under a mountain at work, but I will when I get some free time to examine the issue.

Mississippi Electronic Courts (MEC) goes live at midnight tonight

Mississippi Electronic Courts, or MEC, is the new electronic filing system for Mississippi Chancery and Circuit Courts. Think PACER, but for state court. It is currently operating as a pilot program in Madison County Chancery Court, but other courts will be added to the program in the near future, including Hinds County Circuit. You can register here.

The homepage for MEC is here, and the FAQ for MEC is here. And yes, the public will be able to register for a "PAMEC" account, which will allow any person to query cases and view the documents filed therein. Attorneys will have two accounts, one for PAMEC, which allows viewing of dockets and case files, and a MEC account, which will allow electronic filing.

Major kudos to the AOC, MS Supreme Court, and the Bar for working to get this done.

Is the Opera Over Yet? Who Is This Canadian Woman Whining On TV?

My evening's enjoyment of Larry King's interview with Joe Jackson was disturbed by a commercial featuring this carping, whining Canadian woman claiming that she would have died if she had stayed in Canada after being diagnosed with a brain tumor. The woman, Shona Holmes, apparently went to the Mayo Clinic in Arizona and loved the treatment there. (She might have benefited from some bariatric surgery while she was there. Oh well.)

Turns out that the word "Big" in "The Big Lie" can modify both the speaker and the message. Daily Kos quotes the Mayo Clinic's press releases on Ms. Holmes' treatment:

"Dr. Naresh Patel, neurosurgeon, diagnosed Holmes as having a Rathke's cleft cyst (RCC). The rare, fluid-filled sac grows near the pituitary gland at the base of the brain and eventually can cause hormone and vision problems. Dr. Patel joined forces with Drs. David W. Dodick, neurologist, and Michael D. Whitaker, endocrinologist, to work on Holmes' case."

As Kos points out, Rathke's Cleft Cyst "is generally very treatable through minimally invasive surgery and is NOT a “brain tumor” as both Ms Holmes and Right wing hack writers contend. It's a fluid build-up and has nothing to do with cell division as occurs in Tumors."

And anyway, Ms. Holmes, NOBODY in Congress or the Administration is proposing a "Canadian-type" single-payer system of health care. What is being discussed is a "Public Option" that will allow currently uninsured people to CHOOSE to be covered by Government-subsidized health insurance. That, my dear, is a very different thing.

A recent editorial in The New York Post (which hasn't been accused of being liberal in at least a hundred years) explains:

But we do know that in many other sectors of the economy, government and private offerings happily compete and coexist. Well-established government options are available as backstops for millions of Americans, especially those without the money to afford any alternative - without denying customers who want to pay more for different or better services the right to buy what they want.

There's the government option in schooling. All across America, local and state governments, with increasing involvement by the feds (thanks to George W. Bush and No Child Left Behind), educate young people. All told, it costs us about $1 trillion a year. That hasn't kept 10% of students from enrolling in private schools and growing numbers from being home-schooled. Is government doing a particularly good job with its dominant market share? No - but the point here is that America is pretty comfortable with the powerful, effectively mandated, public sector role.

There's the government option in security. This one, like education, is in many respects a government-imposed monopoly. Keeping people safe has long been considered the quintessential public sector duty. That hasn't stopped businesses and individuals from supplementing government security with their own private providers.

There's the government option in shipping, the post office. The USPS is a quasi-governmental agency with special privileges. But that hasn't stopped FedEx and UPS from peeling away customers by offering premium services and greater convenience. Right now, the USPS, FedEx and UPS split the overnight delivery market share with about a third apiece. Cats and dogs, living together.

There's the government option in scientific research. Government agencies dole out most of the money seeding experiments in fields from basic physics and chemistry to energy and astronomy to biology. Through the National Institutes of Health and National Science Foundation, in fact, government selects winners and losers. And by most accounts, it does a decent job.

There's the government option in travel. Amtrak has been propped up by the government for years; it competes with private sector planes and buses. Some Americans choose the train. Some choose other modes of transportation. The sky does not fall.

* * * *

There's the government option in retirement. We call it Social Security. To many elderly Americans, it's the only thing standing between them and poverty. None of this stifles private retirement plan innovation. And public-employee pension plans, run by government officials, regularly throw their weight around the private equity markets.

And, like it or not, there's already a sizeable government option at work in health care. Medicare, Medicaid and the Veterans Administration may be plagued with problems - just like, ahem, private health care - but, each in their way, do the job.

Thank you, New York Post. Not that single-payer systems are nearly as bad as Ms. Holmes thinks they are. After all, do you know any American women who have successfully delivered a newborn baby at age 60? I didn't think so.

Is the Opera over yet? Someone PLEASE tell the Fat Lady to stop singing. I want to go back to Joe Jackson trying to defend himself against the allegations of childhood abuse of Michael:

Asked about stories that he was abusive to his son as a child, Jackson said "Oh, that's a bunch of bull S. That's a bunch of bull S."

"You never physically harmed him?" King asked.

"Never. Never have. And I -- and I raised him just like you would raise your kids, you know? But harm Michael, for what? I have no reason. That's my son. I loved him and I still love him," Jackson said.

* * * *
While denying any child abuse, Joe Jackson's explanation did leave [open] the question of spanking:

"The media keep hollering about saying that I beat Michael. That's not true. You know what this beat started -- beat started in the slavery days. Where they used to beat the slaves and then they used to torture them. That's where this beating started. These slave masters, and that's where that come from. But, hey, there's a lot of people in America, Larry, a lot of people in America spank their kids, you know? They say they don't, they're lying. They're lying. Now, Michael was never beaten by me, I've never beaten at all."

Wow. Maybe Joe and Shona can hook-up. They'd be perfect together.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Five More Innocent Prisoners Freed From Death Row

The Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC) reports on the fourth and fifth exonerations of 2009. The word "exoneration" is a term of art that indicates that the State itself has decided that the prisoner in question did not, in fact, commit the homicide -- in other words, that an innocent man or woman has been held on death row.

DPIC's article gives the details on these exonerations:

The risk that innocent people could be executed remains high, as illustrated by the two most recent exonerations from death row. Ronald Kitchen was freed from prison Illinois after the state dismissed all charges against him on July 7. He had spent 13 years on death row and a total of 21 years in prison. Governor George Ryan had commuted his sentence to life in 2003, along with all other death row inmates.

Kitchen's original conviction was derived largely from a coerced confession, having been subjected to a torturous interrogation under the supervision of the notorious police Commander Jon Burge. Herman Lindsey was freed from Florida's death row on July 9 after the state Supreme Court unanimously ruled for his acquittal.

The court noted: "[T]he State failed to produce any evidence in this case placing Lindsey at the scene of the crime at the time of the murder. Indeed, we find that the evidence here is equally consistent with a reasonable hypothesis of innocence." Lindsey was convicted in 2006, clearly indicating that wrongful convictions continue to occur in capital cases.

There have now been 5 exonerations in 2009, the other three being Nathson Fields in Illinois, Paul House in Tennessee, and Daniel Moore in Alabama. Exonerations have occurred in 26 states. Since the start of 2000, there have been 51 exonerations. During that same time, there have 572 executions, indicating a disturbing error ratio. There were 4 exonerations in 2008.

Why The Pickering Relationship Matters to Us

Those who claim that the lawsuit filed by Leisha Pickering against Elizabeth Creekmore Byrd is merely a matter of private concern might consider this question: what if Rep. Chip Pickering had divorced Leisha and married Elizabeth Creekmore Byrd while he was in office? In that case, House of Representatives Rule 28 and the Ethics in Government Act of 1978 would probably have required him to report Ms. Byrd's financial holdings, to disclose to the public possible conflicts of interest. We have previously discussed one major legislative issue with ramifications for Cellular South, a company owned in part by Ms. Byrd and on which she serves as a member of the board of directors.

So if the financial holdings of a spouse are matters of public interest -- because the public has the right to evaluate their Representative's record in the light of his or her personal interests -- is it that much of a stretch to think it matters whether a Representative's romantic relationship might warrant concern?

The Temporary Restraining Order in Pickering v. Creekmore Byrd

Below, you'll find a copy of the Temporary Restraining Order filed in the alienation of affection suit filed by Leisha Pickering against former Rep. Chip Pickering's alleged paramour, Elizabeth Creekmore Byrd.

Here are my observations:

1. The order commands Leisha Pickering's former attorney, Bettie Ruth Johnson, to make a copy of the "journals and/or other documents" at issue, place them under seal, and file them personally with the Court. This would seemingly be in conflict with the order of the Madison County Chancery Court, which commanded Ms. Johnson not to give the documents to anyone.

2. Judge Coleman takes care to note that a final order has not been entered in the Pickering v. Pickering matter with respect to the documents. Could it be that Judge Coleman is giving Judge Brewer an opportunity to refine, expound upon, or constrain her bench ruling?

3. In Paragraph 2 of the TRO, Judge Coleman says the Hinds County Circuit Court "will abide by the (Madison County Chancery) order as it applies to (the Hinds County) case; however, after the final disposition of the order is entered (the Hinds County Circuit Court) will have a hearing with all parties herein for a final determination." This is a touch complicated. I read it to mean that this TRO is in place until Judge Brewer enters her written order on the documents up in Madison County. Once that's done, Judge Coleman will have a hearing at which he will decide whether or not Leisha Pickering can use the documents in the alienation of affection suit. And, by the wording of this TRO and by virtue of Chip Pickering not being a party to the alienation of affection suit, it is entirely possible that Chip Pickering won't be there to be heard. And if he's not there, who can claim any sort of interest in the documents with respect to the alienation suit?

4. We may very well wind up in a situation where Leisha Pickering can't use the documents in her divorce proceeding, but can use them in the alienation proceeding.

Thoughts? Here's the promised order:

Pickering v Byrd TRO

Friday, July 17, 2009

Following the Money in the Pickering Case

Given the rash of political sex scandals in the last two years -- or even the last two months -- it's natural for the media to focus on the more salacious aspects of the Pickering v Byrd case.

I would draw attention to the public implications instead. Consider this AP story from two years ago, discussing the little-known "Universal Service Fund," which, as I understand it, takes funds generated from a surcharge on telephone charges and, among other things, gives direct subsidies to companies providing cellular coverage in rural areas.

The story explains:

Congress ordered that consumers - including those in "rural, insular and high-cost areas" - have access to telecommunications and information services at rates comparable to those charged in urban areas. That was to be financed by a fee added to long-distance bills. The charge may only be a few dollars per month, but it adds up fast.

In 2006, the fund collected $6.6 billion, money that flows to four programs. About $1.7 billion paid for schools and libraries to connect to the Internet; two smaller funds subsidized telephone service for the poor and rural health care facilities.

The largest chunk - about $4.1 billion [in 2006] - flows to the aptly named "high cost" program, the source of the current controversy. That money is paid directly to telephone companies that do business in mostly rural areas where the cost of delivering service is high.

In the early years of the fund, subsidies went almost exclusively to old-fashioned wired phone companies - large and small - that had served rural areas for decades. To spur competition, Congress wanted to make subsidies available to other carriers.

Initially, the lure of a handout wasn't enough to attract new entrants. But the dramatic growth of the cellular telephone industry changed all that.

Wireless providers discovered that the subsidy - based on what the wired companies were getting per customer - would cover their costs and then some.

* * * *

Of the $2.45 billion that has been paid to competitive carriers from 2003 through April 2007, 75 percent of the cash went to 10 companies, according to AP's analysis.

Alltel, which recently announced the sale of the company, reported a $230 million profit in the first three months of 2007, a total boosted by the $65 million to $70 million in universal service funds the company says it receives each quarter.

"We are the largest wireless recipient of (universal service funding) because we are the largest rural carrier," company spokesman Andrew Moreau told the AP in an e-mailed response to questions.

Next on the list of recipients is AT&T Inc. with $239 million, followed by U.S. Cellular Corp. at $212 million and Mississippi's Cellular South Inc. with $156 million.

* * * *
In Mississippi, the top recipient of cash among cellular providers is Cellular South Inc., a 900-employee private company, whose executives have been prolific in their giving. Officers of the company and its corporate parent have dealt at least $142,550 in contributions to federal campaign committees, according to records.

Favorites include Mississippi Republican Rep. Charles E. "Chip" Pickering and Sen. Trent Lott. Pickering is a former member of Lott's staff and helped shape the 1996 telecommunications law, according to his congressional biography.

The "High Cost Support" Program is alive and well. See

Now, the idea of paying subsidies to companies to provide services in under-served areas makes sense to me. But is it uncomfortable to anyone else that Representative Pickering, as Vice Chair of the House Commerce Committee before his retirement, had jurisdiction over the Universal Service Fund that had paid hundreds of millions of dollars to his alleged mistress' company?

Photo of Elizabeth Creekmore Byrd

Here's a photo of Elizabeth Creekmore Byrd:

Can a Judge Forbid a Party From Showing Documents To Her Attorney?

Many people have posted regarding the motion for temporary restraining order in the Complaint filed by Leisha Pickering against Elizabeth Creekmore Byrd. The question is asked, "can a judge forbid a party from showing documents to her attorney?" It is alleged in Mrs. Pickering's Complaint that the judge in her divorce case entered such an order.

Oddly enough, we have encountered this issue before. Our research turned up the case In re ECP, 918 So. 2d 809, 826-27 (Miss. App. 2005). That was an unusual case, because ECP was the child in a custody case, and the child had her own attorney. The Chancellor in that case, Sarah Springer, ordered the attorney not to show court documents to his client ECP and not to communicate with ECP about the case. (The case was doubly unusual for us, because Judge Springer had issued, in the case we were handling, a similar gag order, although the client was not a minor. Judge Springer was ultimately defeated for re-election by ECP's attorney, Larry Primeaux of Meridian.)

The Court of Appeals made clear that such an order violated ECP's right of access to the courts, guaranteed by Article III, Sect. 25, of the Mississippi Constitution. A party must be able to communicate the facts, and show relevant documents, to his or her attorney in order to have meaningful access to the courts. Because of this, although the Chancellor claimed the order was meant to protect the child's interests, the Appeals Court said it was invalid. (That ruling was not technically "reversed" because it had been rescinded by agreement while the appeal was pending.)

Because the Pickering v Pickering file is sealed, I don't claim to know whether the order complained of in the Pickering v Creekmore-Byrd Complaint is erroneous. But if the ECP order, meant to protect a child's innocence, is unconstitutional, it is clear that there would have to be a very strong justification for such an order to be valid.

Here is the ECP case for your review:

Chip Pickering: Leisha's "At Fault"

Sid Salter has published Chip Pickering's statement in response to the alientation of affection lawsuit filed by wife, Leisha Pickering, against Elizabeth Creekmore Byrd:

"My marriage to Leisha is irreparably damaged. For the sake of our boys, I have done my best to resolve our differences amicably, fairly and privately, but without success, as Leisha refused to cooperate in any form or manner and is now on her third attorney. In June, I filed for divorce on a fault basis; previously, I had filed on the basis of irreconcilable differences because I thought that was in the best interest of our boys. Leisha’s Complaint is a reaction to my filing on fault grounds. I still believe it is in the best interest of our five (5) boys if our differences are resolved privately and before the appropriate court and not in the media. For that reason, I will not comment further."

The hook in that statement is meant to be "In June, I filed for divorce on a fault basis," leaving the impression that Mrs. Pickering has her own skeltons in the closet. It opens, however, the following interesting questions:

1. If Mr. Pickering "previously . . . filed [for divorce] on the basis of irreconcilable differences," why did he change the filing to one alleging fault?

It used to be the case that all the details of the divorce judgment had to be settled before an irreconcilable differences divorce could be granted. In those days, if the parties could not reach agreement, one or both would be required to switch to a fault ground in order to get the court to decide the unresolved issues. Mr. Pickering's statement reflects this idea: "I have done my best to resolve our differences amiably . . . but without success."

But Miss. Code Ann. Section 93-5-2(3) has been amended to provide that "If the parties are unable to agree upon adequate and sufficient provisions for the custody and maintenance of any children of that marriage or any property rights between them, they may consent to a divorce on the ground of irreconcilable differences and permit the court to decide the issues upon which they cannot agree."

So these days, the only reason for switching from a "no-fault" to a "fault" divorce is to get leverage on the other spouse.

2. I find it interesting that Mr. Pickering, rather than Ms. Byrd, has responded to the filing of a complaint against Ms. Byrd.

3. I also find it interesting that unlike Gov. Sanford, Mr. Pickering is making no statement of remorse or even equivocation regarding the scandal.

It Couldn't Have Happened To A Nicer Guy?

Long-time readers of this blog will recall our early posts about former public defender and now Lafayette County Assistant District Attorney Tom Levidiotis.

Y'all Politics reports today that Mr. Levidiotis seems to have been demoted within the District Attorney's Office.

YP explains:

"Though officials are not saying exactly what happened to cause the change (it's private and we can understand that), several in-the-know sources explain that Levidiotis had a hard time getting along with people he had to work with. Including law enforcement, defense lawyers, judges, and the local press."

Well, what do you know. It couldn't have happened to a nicer guy. And I mean that quite literally.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

CellularSouth parent company and Jackson-based lobbying firm Capitol Resources to be named as John Does in Pickering v. Creekmore-Byrd?

From Paragraph 3 of the complaint:

Creekmore-Byrd is on the Board of Directors of her family's businesses, Telepak, Inc., which owns Cellular South. These companies secured the services of Capitol Resources which is a lobbying organization. Capitol Resources has now employed Pickering and has created an office in Washington, D.C. for him.

From Paragraph 16:

The Defendants, John and Jane Does 1-7, are named as defendants herein because they may have aided Creekmore-Byrd in her affair and to entice and tortuously interfere with the contract between Leisha Jane Pickering and Charles Willis Pickering, Jr. In the event that Plaintiff determines the identity of a John or Jane Doe, then Plaintiff incorporates all of the allegations herein by reference.

Anyone thinking what I'm thinking?

And again, I'm not passing judgment on the merits of any claim Leisha Pickering has made or may make. (I feel compelled to say that repeatedly, as some readers apparently aren't bright enough to understand that without me spelling it out for them. Or even when I do.)

Mainstream media picks up the Pickering-Creekmore story

Broken here earlier today, the Leisha Pickering v. Elizabeth Creekmore-Byrd lawsuit has started grabbing headlines.

Here's a roundup:

The Clarion-Ledger (first mainstream media outlet to break the story) has 70 comments to their story so far.

TPM Muckraker promises more once they read the complaint if they find anything juicy. I'm promising them that they will.

Jackson TV station WJTV headlines "Estranged Wife Of Ex-U.S. Rep. Pickering Sues His Mistress"

WLBT: "Wife of ex-Congressman Pickering claims he had affair"

WAPT has it as their lead story.

Observations on Pickering v. Creekmore-Byrd


1. Is it "Creekmore-Byrd" or "Creekmore Byrd?"

2. It is my understanding that Judge Coleman granted the TRO this morning, and has ordered the documents (apparently a collection of Chip Pickering's "notes to self") produced to him under seal for in camera review.

3. How sordid is this mess? Judge Coleman hears the TRO this morning, but only because he's sitting in for suspended Judge Bobby DeLaughter. Judge DeLaughter, of course, stepped down as a result of the Scruggs matter, in which Trent Lott may be a witness.

4. This "C Street Complex" was apparently the place to be if you were a Congressman or Senator prone to cheating. John Ensign and Chip Pickering both allegedly lived there. Gov. Mark Sanford supposedly lived there during his time in D.C., and David Vitter was known as "David from C Street" to the prostitution ring he found himself involved with.

5. Pickering was offered appointment to a United States Senate seat. And turned it down because his girlfriend told him to.

6. Creekmore-Byrd followed the Pickering family to Colorado and rented a cabin near theirs while they were on vacation. That's insane.

7. Leisha Pickering is being represented by two former Supreme Court Justices, Chuck McRae and Oliver Diaz, Jr.

8. This is in no way a positive thing for the Pickering boys, and for their sake, needs to be resolved before it gets worse.

9. Leisha Pickering testified today that she discovered the affair when, late one night, she heard a phone buzzing in Chip Pickering's jacket pocket. (He was not wearing it at the time.) She went, retrieved the phone, and did not recognize it as his regular cell phone. She walked outside to his truck, and saw his regular phone on the charger in the interior of the truck.

Leisha Pickering v. Elizabeth Creekmore Byrd

BOMBSHELL of a complaint filed two days ago in Hinds County Circuit Court. Leisha Pickering, the estranged spouse of former Rep. Chip Pickering, has filed an alienation of affection suit against the former Congressman's alleged paramour. Former Supreme Court Justice Chuck McRae represents Leisha Pickering.

Essentially, Leisha Pickering alleges that Creekmore Byrd was a former college sweetheart of Chip's, and that Creekmore Byrd and Chip rekindled their relationship during the time Leisha and Chip were married.

And yes, Elizabeth Creekmore Byrd is from the CellularSouth Creekmore family.

Here's the complaint:

Pickering Complaint

Do Judges Decide What Is Best For Society?

Senator Kyl of Arizona's last line of questioning today made very little sense to me. He suggested to Judge Sotomayor that "a district judge decides, in Smith v. Jones, whether Smith wins or Jones wins." And he went on to say that the court of appeals decides only whether the district court was correct on that decision. He contrasted that with the notion that a judge should base his or her decision on "what is best for society."

Here's why I disagree. Most cases -- even cases involving civil lawsuits between two private parties -- involve which of two or more values (embodied in constitutional provisions, statutes or case precedent) has more priority.

Thus, when a state statute is challenged as violating equal protection of the laws, the court must decide, on the facts before it, whether the value of allowing the elected state legislature to enact public policy is trumped by the value of requiring all citizens to be treated equally. That choice is determined by established "choice-of-value" rules which provide increased scrutiny depending on the type of classification used in the state legislature's enactment.

Most value conflicts presented in litigation are not as clear cut as equal protection. In those cases, the fundamental duty of a judge is precisely to decide which of competing values at issue is more important, and therefore controls the case. That is the same as deciding "what is best for society." Every judge and justice, from Justice Douglas on the left to Justice Scalia on the right, do exactly that.

A Justice Sotomayor will do the same. And should.

Putting Their Chips On The Wrong Number?

The Republican questioning of Judge Sotomayor has been interesting, and a bit surprising. To the extent they ask about legal issues, they are focusing on affirmative action and gun control. That alternates with varying denunciations of the "wise Latina" speech.

One would have to assume that the GOP has decided to play entirely to their base: white blue-collar working people.

Is that because the Republicans fear that President Obama has made inroads into the territory of "Reagan Democrats" in places like Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Indiana?

Is it a smart strategy? Clearly, the young voters in the country are turned off by the fundamentalist "hot buttons" of homosexuality and contraception. That may explain why there are so few questions on abortion or same-sex marriage.

But by attacking Judge Sotomayor on the "wise Latina" speech and the affirmative action cases, the GOP is risking the complete alienation of Hispanic voters.

It strikes me as a risky game to play.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

JATRAN in the Sky?

Your friendly correspondent is about to board a flight at DFW Airport in Dallas.  We have just been advised that the bathroom on the plane is inoperable.  They also changed a fellow passenger's seat because his assigned seat was "broken."

It seems that air travel isn't what it used to be.  Infomercial stars die after the storage cabin collapses on his head, many stories of broken seats and similar problems, not to mention severe overbooking.

Are we about to witness the transformation of our once proud and luxurious airlines into JATRANs of the Sky? 

Is an attempt to resurrect Dr. Hayne in the works?

There are rumblings of discontent amongst our state's prosecutors concerning Forensic Medical, Inc., the outfit from Nashville that's been hired to handle the state's autopsies since the state terminated its relationship with Dr. Steven Hayne last August. The Attala County (MS) Coroner contemplated asking the Attala County Board of Supervisors to hire Dr. Hayne to perform that county's autopsies back in May, but promptly thought better of it.

Others may not have those qualms, however. This comes from the June 2009 Summary of Attorney General's Opinions:

A regional medical examiner district may employ or contract with one or more pathologists to serve as medical examiners of the district, which will perform postmortem examinations and autopsies for the counties involved. (Shivers, 6/26/2009)(#047)(OP-09-00268)

I can't find the opinion itself online, but it'd be nice to see who requested it. Are some counties looking to pool their resources to hire back Dr. Hayne?

Paul Quinn uses the dreaded "P" word; Bureau of Prisons busy

Paul Quinn reports in today's Clarion-Ledger that the Bureau of Prisons is busy bringing in the witnesses for the upcoming U.S. v. DeLaughter trial. Mr. Quinn is to be commended for mostly avoiding use of the Dreaded "P" Word.

The article raises an interesting question: will DeLaughter call Lott as a witness? I don't see how it could hurt him, unless Lott takes the 5th. If Lott testifies along the lines of his earlier statements released through his spokesman, then that tends to make it look like Scruggs was attempting to con DeLaughter via Peters.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

New Drinking Game For Sotomayor Hearings

Here's one sponsored by your local AA chapter . . .

You get to take a swig every time a Republican Senator actually asks Judge Sotomayor about her own published opinions in her 17 years as a judge.

Good luck.

DeLaughter defense taking shape

In today's Clarion-Ledger, Jerry Mitchell writes a long-ish story on DeLaughter's Friday motion blitz. The most important phrase in the entire article is a quote from one of the motions:

Durkin, however, said Friday in court records that "Peters may well have conned Scruggs"...

Ladies and gents, the defense you're going to see at trial next month is this:

Ed Peters knew DeLaughter very well. So well, in fact, that DeLaughter went to him for advice sometimes on complex cases. DeLaughter thought Peters was treating these conversations as confidential. DeLaughter had no idea that Peters was sharing info with Scruggs & Co. on this matter. (Here's where the Ed Peters con of Scruggs comes in.) Furthermore, Peters knew DeLaughter wanted the federal judgeship, and that Scruggs might hold sway with Lott on that issue. So Peters offers up his services as intermediary to Scruggs & Co., telling them that DeLaughter would sell his rulings in exchange for the judgeship. Scruggs & Co. think they've got themselves a heck of a deal. Meanwhile, Peters never indicates to DeLaughter that he's involved in the case. Peters merely asks DeLaughter about it, and DeLaughter reaches out to Peters for his thoughts on decisions. He also asks him to proof drafts of orders. Peters, meanwhile, tells Scruggs & Co. that DeLaughter's their puppet.

I'm not passing judgment on this defense, but it's what was behind my musings that Ed Peters may "fall apart" on the stand. Ed may be singing to this tune come August.


Interesting bit on "pled" vs. "pleaded"

All of my professional life, and as far back as I can remember, I've used the word "pled" as the past tense of the word "plead." The media, however, seems to prefer "pleaded." "Pleaded" has always struck my ears like nails on a chalkboard and my eyes like a gruesome autopsy photo. Further, every lawyer & judge I know uses "pled." So where did this unholy abomination "pleaded" come from?

Well, the AP Style Manual and Sir William Blackstone, apparently. I found a nice read from the Columbia Journalism Review that discusses the matter thoroughly.

Provenance of "pleaded" aside, I'm sticking with "pled." It arose from Scottish legal usage, and is at least 400 years old. The poet Edmund Spenser was fond of it(Book V, Canto IX, 395), and so am I.

How Does SHE Know?

The Associated Press is reporting that in an MSNBC interview, Liz Cheney, the daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney, said she "doesn't believe her father did anything wrong in connection with a secret CIA operation that officials have said was designed to capture and kill al-Qaida figures."

Ms. Cheney, how exactly do you know that? I know you were a former principal deputy secretary of state for Mideast affairs during George W. Bush's presidency, and are helping your dad write his memoirs. But, do you REALLY know all his secrets?

Also, AP reports:

"Cheney said she didn't think Democrats were 'up to handling national security' and that she thought they were trying to cover themselves on classified they agreed to support 'when it was politically expedient.'
'I think it does a disservice' to former CIA directors and to the intelligence community 'to politicize this issue,' said Cheney."

I've got news for you, Ms. Cheney. In our system of government, the people are sovereign. To insist that -- at a minimum -- the chairs of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees, and the House and Senate leadership, be told about CIA missions is not to "politicize" debate. It is, rather, to require accountability.

Also, don't we remember in 2004, and after, when Republicans said the Democrats couldn't be critical about national security issues precisely because the Congress had been informed about, and consented to, the Bush Administration's strategy? Well, turns out that wasn't true.

Some of us aren't surprised. Republicans named "Dick" usually turn out to be "Tricky."

So in the future, Ms. Cheney, let your dad defend himself. He hasn't been shy about talking these days. Let him come to Capitol Hill and explain for himself.

Alan Lange either misunderstands or deliberately mischaracterizes a post

Apparently, my blog entry yesterday entitled "What if Ed Peters falls apart on the stand?" was "pro-Scruggs" in the eyes of Alan Lange over at Y'all Politics:

Similar pro-Scruggs sentiments came out early on Tim Balducci (as he was the only one with contact with Lackey - by design, I might add).

I fail to see how musing that Ed Peters may (deliberately or not) be a terrible witness for the Feds is in any way "pro-Scruggs." Scruggs already pled guilty to attempting to bribe DeLaughter. How on God's green Earth would the testimony of Ed Peters at this trial matter one whit to Scruggs now?

Monday, July 13, 2009

2 New Nightspots Downtown

Downtown Jackson's revitalization continues with the addition of two new nightspots, F. Jones Corner on Farish Street and Underground 119 at 119 S. President Street. F. Jones is a blues bar, and opened to rave reviews this past weekend. Underground 119 will be a tapas restaurant with blues, jazz, classical and bluegrass music. According to JFP Daily (which I highly recommend):

The schedule may include different types of music each night for a week, alternating with a whole week of just jazz or just bluegrass.

"That's all being worked out now," (Developer Hap) Owen said.

The club will serve a menu of "high-end tapas," Owen said. Tapas, a Spanish dining tradition, consists of a wide variety of hot and cold appetizers that patrons can combine for a full meal. Seating will focus on lounge-like comfort, enticing customers to stay for the evening.

Bit by bit, piece by piece, Downtown Jackson's coming back to life.

What if Ed Peters falls apart on the stand?

This question has been bouncing around in my head for awhile now. Absent a smoking gun email, doesn't the Government's entire case rest on the word of Ed Peters? After all, neither Scruggs, nor Joey Langston, nor Balducci, nor Patterson can testify to having a conversation with DeLaughter.

I can't help but think I'd be a bit nervous if my case depended on 12 jurors passing positive judgment on the truth and veracity of Ed Peters.

Who's running for Yerger's open seat?

I've heard that the following people either are running for Yerger's seat when it opens, or are considering such a run:

Ashley Ogden - successful trial attorney; ran a close second last time; campaign website already up

Special Circuit Judge William Gowan - currently sitting as a special circuit court judge in Hinds County under the DOJ's Jackson Enforcement Team ("JET") grant

Joe Nosef - former Chief of Staff for Gov. Barbour

Wilson Carroll - former GOP candidate for Hinds County DA

Jeff Weill - current Jackson City Councilman from Ward 1

Anybody hearing anything? What are your thoughts on these names?

Friday, July 10, 2009

Kingfish Takes a Bite Out of the C of CC's Butt

You have to hand it to Kingfish of Jackson Jambalaya. Although he's more conservative than this writer (but then, who isn't?), he has a mind of his own and decides issues according to his own research and analysis, not a blinkered ideology.

Today JJ takes on the Council of Concerned Citizens, the group that State Sen. Chassaniol spoke to recently. Several local progressives and the JFP have documented and criticized the Republican Senator and her party for her willingness to appear at the C of CC's recent convention.

But Kingfish has taken the criticism to a higher level. You can read for yourself the research he has done from the C of CC's own website and blogs -- and be amazed that ANY elected official, from any party, would be willing to be associated with such tripe.

So this one's for you, Kingfish. Great job.

And for the record, I join your salute to the JJ reader who met Hef at the Mansion.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

ABA Gives Judge Sotomayor its Highest Rating: "Well Qualified" to Serve on Supreme Court

The Blog of Legal Times (BLT) reports that Judge Sonya Sotomayor of the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit has been rated "well qualified," the highest possible rating, from the American Bar Association's Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary. The committee's vote was unanimous. David Clark of the Jackson office of Bradley Arant, is one of the fifteen members of the committee.

I count David as a friend and consider him one of the best litigators in Jackson. He is well known as one of the leaders in the movement for "tort reform" in Mississippi, and was named a Legal Reform Champion by the American Tort Reform Association. Suffice it to say, he is a pro-business lawyer. I note this to respond to those who will say that the ABA is a "liberal" organization and therefore should not be considered neutral in the nomination process. It is also noteworthy that the ABA gave similar ratings to Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito when they were nominated by President Bush.

This endorsement of Judge Sotomayor should help to put to rest the stated concerns about whether she has the legal and personal skills necessary to serve as a Justice of the Supreme Court. But I doubt that the Republicans will stop their opposition to her candidacy.

Northern District US Attorney Update

The blog Main Justice has updated its interactive chart on prospective nominees for United States Attorney in the Obama Administration. The chart shows that Christi R. McCoy has been "reportedly recommended" to the President for nomination as the US Attorney in the Northern District. The box for the Southern District nominee is blank.

Jackson Jambalaya Running Poll on Favorite Local Blog

Our friends at Jackson Jambalaya are running a poll on the best local blog. Ipse Blogit is doing respectibly well for a new blog, but could do better . . . Yes, that was a hint. The poll is about halfway down the right-hand side of the screen.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Ohhhhh, I see. That's clear as a bell now, Gov. Think that'll play at the T.E.A. Parties?

In a political piece in today's Hattiesburg American, Emily Wagster-Pettus writes of an interaction she had with Gov. Barbour recently:

Governor Haley Barbour has said it so often during his first 5-1/2 years in office that he probably drawls it in his sleep: "I'm against raising anybody's taxes."

This year, the Republican signed three significant tax bills into law, and he didn't do so grudgingly. Barbour lobbied legislators for a hospital tax to help fund Medicaid and for two increases in the cigarette excise tax.


He had an answer ready last week when The Associated Press asked whether he had broken a promise.

On the hospital tax, Barbour said: "We're reinstating a tax that was collected before I was governor for many years, that the federal government decided that we were not collecting it in a legal way. For four years, I have been trying to get that restored because we need it for Medicaid. Let's remember, the hospitals offered to pay this tax. It was their idea. They wrote the law in the Fordice administration that created this. So, this is a reinstatement of a tax. It's not a tax increase."

Here's the problem with the "reinstatement" line: it ain't true. Straight from the Mississippi Hospital Association's press release (.doc file) on the matter:

MHA did devise the intergovernmental transfer (IGT) model that worked very well for Mississippi and 25 other states for over 15 years. That plan, however, was disallowed by the federal government in 2005.

The MHA-designed IGT program WAS NOT a taxation model. It was the equivalent of a Guaranteed Loan Program for the Division of Medicaid.

The current taxation model being proposed by the Governor and the Senate leadership is not, and never was, a proposal supported or designed by MHA.

Here's a link to the MHA online Press Room, which has several interesting documents on this issue.

I'd often wondered how Barbour and other GOP Legislators would explain the $210 million hospital tax at their "Taxed Enough Already" Parties. I guess they figure the people who go to them aren't smart enough to decipher the double-speak.

Just When You Thought The Right Could NOT Get Any Crazier

It seems like I've spent my whole life hearing about the National Rifle Association and the "right to bear arms." As we've discussed before on this blog, the NRA has reached it's high water mark by convincing the United States Supreme Court that the Second Amendment protects the right of individuals to carry firearms, and that the language about the need for a "militia" to protect the community did not limit the reach of the Amendment.

I don't agree, but so be it.

But now, there's a new movement, to protect the right to carry knives. No, I am not joking. You can check it out for yourself here. The "knife rights" folks are upset about new Customs regulations. Their website says:

"As you are aware, Customs is proposing to prohibit the import of assisted and one-hand opening pocket knives and in the process has so broadly re-defined what a Switchblade is under the Federal Switchblade Act, that it could cover almost all pocket knives, with potential far-reaching consequences to every knife owner. Our best bet to stop Customs in the short term is for Congress to prevent them from spending a dime to implement their proposed ruling. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Appropriations Bill will be taken up by the Senate starting on Tuesday, July 7th. We need your help NOW to rally support for an amendment to stop funding for this Customs rulemaking."

You can also get pro-knife T-shirts and other sharp stuff.

I think the right-to-knife movement has a lot going for it. They could have their own official song:

And their own official play, too.

I guess there's no limit to what shameless fundraisers will do to con cash out of terrified conservative Americans. I'm sure President Obama and Vice President Biden are rubbing their palms this minute, dreaming of the day when they have banned knives in this wonderful country of ours.

Hooray for free speech and the right-to-knife.

The Beginning of the End of Capital Punishment?

The New Orleans Times-Picayune is reporting today that in Jefferson Parish, which has sent 28 prisoners to Louisiana's death row, prosecutors and juries are slowing down the pace of capital prosecutions and sentences.

The story points out that:

"It has been five years since a Jefferson Parish jury recommended a death sentence and four years since prosecutors tried a capital case. While suspects have been indicted on capital murder charges in some high-profile homicides, prosecutors later reduced the charges to second-degree murder, which carries a mandatory life sentence. Now, one person is charged with capital murder in Jefferson Parish.

* * * *
But observers say Jefferson Parish is in line with a national trend away from capital prosecutions, which have declined 65 percent since 1999, according to the Death Penalty Information Center, a nonprofit organization in Washington.

'This is certainly not a unique response by [Jefferson Parish District Attorney] Paul Connick,' said capital punishment opponent Nick Trenticosta of the Center for Equal Justice in New Orleans, which steers death sentence appeals. 'It's a response all across America. Offices all over the country are cutting back on the death penalty.'

'Executions are down, death sentences are down, capital prosecutions are down,' said lawyer Denny Leboeuf of New Orleans, a death penalty opponent who directs the ACLU's John Adams Project in New York."

This is true in Mississippi, also. According to the website of the Mississippi State Office of Capital Defense Counsel, the last death sentence imposed in Mississippi was in November of 2007 -- twenty months ago.

Could it be that the juries of America -- even in the Deep South -- have decided that the death penalty just doesn't work, and that life imprisonment without parole is sufficient to protect the community and punish the offender, without involving the community in the death of another human being? Time will tell.

Friday, July 3, 2009

The Latest Bombshell

In a fortnight that has seen wave after wave of blockbuster news events, we now have the news that Sarah Palin is resigning as Governor of Alaska later this month, almost a year and a half early.

I assume the talking heads on the right will treat Mrs Palin as a martyr, having to quit to stop the slings and arrows of the "elitist liberal media."

On the left, there will be speculation about some scaldalous secret that is about to come to light.

It may be far simpler. As the stories linked from my post yesterday reported, the Governor was facing possible new charges under Alaska's ethics laws, for having started a group to raise money for the payment of her debts arising from the "Troopergate" investigation. The only way, it seemed, for Mrs Palin to raise those funds was as a private citizen.

And timing is important, because if Gov. Palin has any intent to challenge the incumbent Senator in the 2010 primary, she needs to pay her old debts soon and raise money for that campaign.

I very much doubt that this is the last we'll hear from Sarah Palin.

Update from Rep. Brandon Jones on budget matters

Rep. Brandon Jones sends out email updates throughout the year, and I found his latest one to be a good summary of the latest budget machinations at the Capitol. Here it is:

July 3, 2009

Dear Friends,

At midnight on Tuesday, Mississippi lawmakers shuffled out of the capitol with a $6.01 billion budget approved. It wasn’t pretty but it wasn’t Arizona, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, North Carolina, Ohio or Pennsylvania either. Those states are still scrambling to close billions of dollars in budget gaps.

As expected, Mississippi’s budget offers plenty to like and plenty to shake your head at. I’ll start with some of the high points:

The Good

Wind Pool: House Bill 32 was signed by the Governor on Tuesday and took effect on Wednesday morning. As we’ve discussed in these updates many times before, this bill authorizes an additional $20 million appropriation for the Wind Pool program. This money will be used to purchase additional reinsurance and will very likely lead to significant premium discounts. I was glad to co-sponsor this bill and think it represents a major victory for homeowners and businesses across the Gulf Coast.

Car Tags: House Bill 34 was also approved on Tuesday and represents a 4.25% legislative tag credit. This credit is lower than last year’s credit but considering the fact that a credit wasn’t included in the Governor’s original proposed budget, it represents a budget success. You can read this bill at Note that this credit will not be available until July 8. However, we have been assured that drivers will not risk receiving a ticket if their tag only recently expired.

Education: Under the education appropriation passed during the special session, schools will receive full MAEP funding, including special education and gifted programs, as well as the supplement promised to National Board Certified Teachers. This bill also authorizes the second phase of the pay raise for teachers with more than 25 years of experience. This marks the second consecutive non-election year that MAEP has been fully funded. This measure marks a major win for children and teachers.

Jackson County Crisis Intervention Center: An amendment to Senate Bill 2046 will help clear the way for a crisis intervention center to be administered by the Singing River Hospital System in Jackson County. This center will offer prevention and intervention services in an effort to provide support in times of crisis and reduce the impact of addiction and crime in our community. I presented this amendment on the floor of the House and was happy to have the entire Jackson County House delegation as co-sponsors. You can read the amendment at

The Bad

Hospital Taxes and Katrina Money We Won’t See: I’m hesitant to call the Medicaid bill “bad”. After all, it serves 20% of all Mississippians. My problem was with two poison pills in the final bill. First, the bill authorized $210 million dollars worth of hospital taxes over the next three years. As you’ve heard me say before, this tax will result in more expensive hospital visits, higher insurance rates, and significant strains on doctors, nurses, and other healthcare providers in Mississippi hospitals. That’s way too much tax in this economic climate. Second, the bill authorized a supplemental Medicaid reimbursement for hospitals most adversely impacted by Hurricane Katrina. While the hospitals in Hancock and Harrison County were included, our own Singing River Hospital System was not. That’s why Rep. Hank Zuber and I sponsored an amendment to place Singing River in line for these payments. You can read the amendment at When that amendment failed on two occasions, I couldn’t stomach voting for the bill.

The Silly

Public Service Commission: The only part of the budget left undone at the close of the special session was the budget for the Public Service Commission. The PSC regulates telecommunications, and electrical, natural gas, water and sewer utilities. It also enforces a no-call list designed to help consumers avoid unwanted telephone solicitations. The sticking point in this budget item was a request by the Commissioners for additional staff. The House agreed, the Senate agreed for a minute and then decided against the addition. I call this silly because we allowed over 100 additional staffers for all kinds of agencies during the budget process. I’m yet to hear someone articulate why, in light of all the staffing additions, our regulators at the PSC shouldn’t get the measly 11 new positions they requested. I spoke with Commissioners Bentz and Presley who were equally perplexed. Presley noted that it’ll cost about as much to have a special session over their budget as it would have to agree to these positions in the first place. That’s pretty silly.