November 2007

You are browsing the site archives for November 2007.

In February, rookie Cincinnati Police Officer Elizabeth Phillips responded to a pair of car crashes but didn’t ticket anyone. That omission annoyed her boss, so Phillips wrote a pair of tickets. The drivers were long gone, however, so she decided to forge their signatures on the ticket and throw away their copies.

This made it appear that both drivers had signed a promise to appear in court when in fact they didn’t even know they’d been cited for traffic violations. When neither one showed up on the assigned court date, the judge issued warrants for their arrest.

To the credit of the Cincinnati police, when one of the drivers complained, the department investigated and figured out what happened. Phillips was arrested for the forgery and fired from the police department.

All may not be as it seems, however. Although Phillips was arrested, the grand jury refused to indict her. That’s amazing, considering that grand juries are usually accused of being so under the prosecutor’s thumb that they’ll indict a ham sandwich. But apparently not a lying cop. Almost makes you wonder how hard the prosecutor was trying.

Phillips had another good piece of “luck.”  Even though she was arrested in May, her disciplinary hearing wasn’t until September, and she wasn’t fired until October. Conveniently for her, that was 2 weeks after her probationary period ended, which means she was covered by the police union contract. The union has brought the matter to arbitration.

I suppose it’s possible Phillips the rookie cop didn’t realize the consequences of her act. Like any bureacracy, the police department probably has a lot of red tape, and maybe she thought this was just another case of fudging some useless bit of paperwork.

Then again, given how the department seems to be covering for her after the fact, maybe Cincinnati cops do this sort of thing all the time, and she just made the mistake of doing it to someone in a position to make a fuss about it.

While we’re trying to figure that out, consider this astounding quote from the Cincinnati Enquirer story:

“I can’t think of anybody who was fired for (non-criminal) reasons whose job we haven’t gotten back,” said Kathy Harrell, president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 69, the Cincinnati police union.

Do you think Harrell realizes what she just said? Apparently, once you’re a Cincinnati police officer, the only way your job performance could be bad enough to get you fired is if you are convicted of a crime. If you just suck at being a cop, you have nothing to worry about.

I am thankful for

  • My friends and family, because they should always come first.
  • Computers, which have provided me with gainful employment for 25 years.
  • Television, for the golden age of entertainment that never seems to end.
  • The Internet, which connects me to everything in the world.
  • People who link to me, making Windypundit—at least for today—the 4199th highest ranking blog on the TTLB ecosystem and the 69,101st highest ranking blog on Technorati.  It doesn’t sound like much, but those stats put me in the top 5%, which is not too shabby.
  • Video games, for the pure escapist fun of kicking alien ass!
  • Photography, for giving me an artistic outlet I never knew I needed.
  • Cats, because they amuse me.

Random shots around the web:

  • Arrested for possession with intent to lick.
  • Police find a suspicious white powder in a residence that used to be an old sugar factory? What, oh what, could it possibly be?
  • Disabled with a war wound? Guess you’ll have to refund your signing bonus for failure to fulfill your contract.
  • Amazingly, this is an actual campaign ad for Mike Huckabee.
  • What’s the most popular topic on Conservapedia? What do conservatives really want to learn more about? Follow this link and click the screen capture to find out.

(Hat tip: Drug WarRant, von Bakel Hit&Run)

 

My old post about eminent domain abuse at International Plaza in Arlington Heights attracted a new comment a few days ago:

The center looks horrible and TARGET SHOULD HAVE GONE THERE!!! The place looks like complete dog sh**!!! I can’t believe a bunch of idiots stopped it from happening. You should all be ashamed of yourselves!!!
TARGET WILL RETURN AND I WILL SEE ALL YOU LOUD MOUTHS SHOPPING THERE!

IDIOTS!!

It’s signed “Target Man”.

Just so you don’t think this guy is some kind of lone wacko, his comment is followed nine minutes later by another post with a similar view from the same IP address but signed with a Completely Different Name!

It’s probably a sign of my desperation for content that I’m responding to this nonsense, but…

Nobody stopped Target from moving in except Target. 

What eminent domain opponents did was stop Target from stealing the property. Plaza owner Su-Chuan Hsu is a business woman, and if Target wants a store where International Plaza is, all they have to do is buy it from her at her price and buy off the tenants’ leases.

As for the condition of the mall, what do you expect? With the eminent domain proceeding hanging over the place for all these years, no one wants to lease space in the mall because they could lose their investment (the cost of moving and renovation) if Arlington Heights takes the property away. Leaseholders usually get screwed real bad by eminent domain.

Of course I’ll shop at Target if they put one there. I like Target. But the property belongs to Ms. Hsu, and she’s the only person who should get to decide how to use it.

Not sure who to vote for?  There’s an interesting presidential candidate selector quiz over at glassbooth.org.

You start by ranking the importance of the issues, which you do by distributing 20 points over 14 issues. For example, if the most important issues are health care and social security, you might give those each 5 points, and then scatter the remaining 10 points over a few other issues. Note that adding point to an issue like gun control doesn’t mean you’re in favor of gun control. It just means you have strong feelings about it one way or the other.

Once you’ve ranked the issues for the selection software, it asks you a few questions about each issue that you gave at least one point. The site then compares your values to the candidates, ranks them by similarity, and shows you the top three.

I am not too surprised by my top three:

  • 1 – Ron Paul
  • 2 – Christopher Dodd
  • 3 – Dennis Kucinich

With Mike Gravel running a close 4th place. Whackjobs, every one of them, according to the media.

I don’t know much about where Christopher Dodd, Dennis Kucinich, or Mike Gravel stand on the issues, but Ron Paul as my #1 choice seems about right. I disagree with several of his positions, but I doubt anyone else comes closer on the issues I think are most important. He’s not everything I’d want in a president, but he’s definitely off in the right direction from the rest of the pack.

The site ranks all the candidates in order of similarity to my values.  Tom Tancredo is third from the bottom, with Mitt Romney just below him.

Regular readers will be able to guess who came in dead last.

(Hat tip: Todd Zywicki)

When I think of veterans, I think of my dad.

As I understand it, my father joined the army when he was 17—I think he lied about his age—and he’s 88 now, so anything he remembers happened a long time ago. Some things about the army were very different back then, and this evening on Veteran’s Day I though I’d just share a couple of details about his pre-WWII service that struck me as interesting.

In one of his early jobs in the army, he says was the “pacesetter” when his unit would go on the march. I don’t really understand what that meant, but apparently it involved carrying one of the unit’s BARs. That’s a Browning Automatic Rifle. It’s a .30 caliber light machine gun.

Of course, a “light” machine gun is still a very heavy piece of equipment to be marching around with, especially with all the ammunition a gun like that can use. My father got the job of carrying the darned thing because he was a big farmboy who could manage the weight all day long.

The thing that gets me about it, however, is that one of my father’s roles in his unit was air defense. If they were attacked by an enemy aircraft his job was to try to shoot it down. Or at least spoil its aim.

He says he never got to try that tactic in combat, and even though it was propellers and bullets back then, not jets and smart bombs, he doesn’t seem to think it was a very good idea.

A little later on, he was with a pack artilliary unit. That means the artilliary pieces, the ammunition, and all the support equipment was pulled through the mountains of Panama by horses. His unit did have one truck.  They used it to haul food for the horses.

That’s how long ago my father, Burnett Draughn, served his country.

Random shots around the web:

  • 24: The Unaired 1994 Pilot
  • Making it illegal for bosses to be assholes is one of those ideas that sounds great after a bad day at the office, but I think it would just lead to a lot of productivity-wasting lawsuits.
  • Why federal-level plans to put more cops on the street didn’t help and won’t help.
  • “you may soon be driving on a public road, doing nothing out of the ordinary and breaking no laws, then be stopped, questioned, and if the police officer doesn’t like your answers, be forced to give him some of your blood. Ponder that for a sec.” — Radley Balko, “Bleed for the King

(Hat tip: Illinois Review)

 

The So-Called Austin Mayor blog links to a Sun Times column by Mary Mitchell about some Chicago cops who were called in to do a welfare check on 82-year-old Lillian Fletcher and ended up tasering her.

I’m not particularly willing to let cops get away with stuff, and this sounds pretty awful, but…I think the cops might have done the best they could in a difficult situation. Here’s how it all went wrong:

When Fletcher refused to open her door, police were called. Although Fletcher cracked the door, she still refused to let her visitors into the house.

But police officers wouldn’t take no for an answer and pushed their way in. Fletcher ran and got the hammer she keeps beside her bed.

A few more facts paint the whole picture: Fletcher is only about 5 feet tall but weighs 160 pounds, so she’s not exactly a frail old lady, and she has schizophrenia and dementia. The police say she became agitated and violent.

Let me put that a little differently: The officers were facing a crazy lady swinging a hammer. That could mess you up bad.

I don’t know much about policing, but I think of all the ways the cops had of stopping her—gun, riot stick, fists, tackling, pepper spray—the taser may have been the least damaging. It sounds like a tough call.

I think part of my pro-police reaction to this incident is because I don’t care for Mitchell’s viewpoint. For example:

Unfortunately, despite Fletcher’s documented mental condition, police officers — including a sergeant — resorted to the same tactics they use when they are dealing with violent criminals.

They were dealing with a violent criminal. She attacked them with a hammer. That she has a mental condition excuses her behavior as a legal matter—she stops being responsible for her behavior when she stops being in control of it—but it doesn’t change the tactical situation the officers were facing. Once they were under attack, they didn’t have a lot of choices.

On the other hand, I’m having trouble understanding why the officers entered Fletcher’s home in the first place. They were sent to do a welfare check on a woman, and she met them at the door and refused admittance. Why did the officers insist on forcing their way into the property?

I really have no clue how police are supposed to handle a welfare check, but I’d hate to think that cops could enter my home against my will just because some third party told them to check on me. I’m hoping there’s more to it than that.

However, if officers broke the law by entering Fletcher’s home, then they lost their right to self-defense, just like any other home invader. When she came at them with a hammer, their only legal option was to stop trespassing and leave.

The ethics of violent confrontations often depend on very specific facts, and those facts often get left out of newspaper accounts. I’m filling in a lot of the gaps with guesswork about what was going on, so my opinion here could change on a dime if I learn better facts.

Update: Here’s an example of how important missing facts are: According an AP wire story about the incident, when social workers came to see the woman, they saw through a window that she was swinging a hammer around, so they called the police. When the cops arrived, the landlord let them in. This suggests the police knew about her condition and were entering the home because the social workers were afraid she’d hurt herself.

These kinds of stories are less about principles or ideals or values than they are about what specific people did what specific acts. Tomorrow, another random fact could come out which swings the story the other way.

I’m having a little trouble finding time to keep up the conversation, but Scott Greenfield at Simple Justice has responded to my speculative post on why clients might prefer to hire a lawyer who refuses to represent snitches. He says some nice things about me, but his response makes it clear that I get way too much of my information about the criminal justice system from television shows.

My basic theory was that one if the reasons a client might hire a non-snitching criminal lawyer is to signal to a third party that he is not planning to snitch. The third party has to be someone who (a) doesn’t want the client to snitch, and (b) is in a position to harm the client if he suspects snitching.

In casting about for that third party, I settled on fellow gang members who might want to kill him to prevent him from snitching on them. By hiring a lawyer who doesn’t represent snitches, the client would be insuring his own safety by making it clear that he’s not taking that route to freedom.

Greenfield doesn’t dismiss my made-for-TV theory outright, but he points out a third party that is somewhat less dramatic, but who should have been much more obvious: Co-defendents. They clearly don’t want the client to snitch, and they can harm the client simply by snitching on him first.

This is an example of what economists—borrowing from game theory—call defection. In the standard scenario, if a bunch of soldiers are in a battle, any individual soldier can improve his chances of surviving by running away. But if all the soldiers run away, they will be routed by the enemy and lose badly.

A more prosaic example is littering along the highway. If I throw my empty fast-food containers out the window of my car, I will have a clean car, and the small amount of unsightly litter along all those miles of highway will cause me little grief. So, on balance, I can improve my life by littering. But if everybody litters, we’re all a lot worse off.

The co-defendent situation is a little different, however, in that a single defector can do a lot more damage. One fleeing soldier won’t lose the war, and a single litterbug won’t destroy the environment, but a single talkative co-defendent can really hurt everyone else. This sort of situation has a rather appropriate name in game theory: It’s called the prisoner’s dilemma.

The defining characteristic of the prisoner’s dilemma is that everyone is worse off when defections occur (because the prosecutor will have an easier time getting convictions) but that the best choice for any individual person is to defect regardless of what everyone else does (because the prosecutor will always go easier on someone who flips than on someone he has to convict at trial).

This particular situation differs from the classic prisoner’s dilemma in one important way that makes it especially harrowing for the people caught up in it: The order of defection matters. The first person to snitch can break the case wide open for the prosecutor by giving up everybody else. The second snitch has less to give up (the first snitch already being in the bag) and can only provide corroborating testimony. It gets worse for each successive snitch, until the last one, who has nobody else to give up.

This makes the situation devastatingly brittle for the defendents. If any defendent suspects any other defendent is about to snitch, it’s to his advantage to snitch first. This could cause a defense strategy to collapse all at once as everybody races to defect. In fact, while I was writing my previous post on this subject, Greenfield posted a good description of exactly this dynamic in a group of 26 defendents.

I don’t know how criminal cases work when there are multiple defendents, but I’m guessing that non-snitching lawyers are only one of the safeguards against what Greenfield calls “the foot-race to cooperate.”

Greenfield also discusses some other ways non-snitching lawyers affect the case, and he also addresses my prediction that non-snitching lawyers will appeal more to gangsters than white-collar criminals because gangsters have more to fear. He thinks I’m right, but for the wrong reason. It’s worth reading his post to find out why. 

On a totally different subject, Mark Bennett asks in a comment:

What does economics have to say about people who choose a lawyer who reflects their own values or their own self-image?

I’m no expert, but I think that’s a subject outside the bounds of economics.  There might be curiousity about the magnitude of the client’s preference—as indicated by the trade-offs he’s willing to make—but unless the client is trying to advertise his values to someone else (“I don’t turn on my friends when the going gets tough”), this is a matter of the client’s taste in lawyers, and economists tend to treat taste as a given.

Some of the practicing lawyers in the blogosphere are arguing about whether it’s ethical to refuse to represent clients who snitch to the government to get a better deal. On one side we have Mark Bennett, who refuses to have anything to do with snitches. His contract with his clients makes this clear in advance. Scott Greenfield at Simple Justice feels about the same way.

On the other side, Norm Pattis believes that representing snitches, unpleasant though it may be, is part of the lawyer’s job. Gideon sides with Pattis, but he also seems amused by the whole situation. He’s a public defender. He doesn’t get to choose his clients.

I find this argument fascinating. On the one hand, I’ve always admired the seriousness with which lawyers treat their ethical obligation to represent their clients, so I lean toward Norm’s view. On the other hand, the libertarian in me respects Bennett’s right to choose the terms of any contract he enters, as long as all sides agree to it.

On the third hand, the economist in me thinks both sides are missing an interesting point of common ground.

That may not seem possible. Consider Norm Pattis’s stirring defense of his point of view:

I cannot comprehend the view that cooperation is wrong. It is about the client, and the client only. … A criminal defense lawyer’s sole duty is to his client. We have no duty to do justice. The Sun rises and falls on the sole question of the client’s interest. If serving the client harms another, so be it.

But if Bennett’s way is so bad, why do people keep hiring him? One obvious answer is that his clients are just stupid, and they’re allowing him to serve his own agenda at their expense. That answer might have some merit, but what little I know about economics tells me it’s a bad answer.

For one thing, it’s too easy. Economics would be a piss-poor science if it tried to explain all puzzling human behavior by asserting that people are stupid. In fact, economists habitually assume that people are pretty smart when it comes to the things that are important to them—things like staying out of jail.

But if Bennett’s clients are so smart, why are they letting him get away with closing off certain avenues of defense? The economic answer has to be that they’re getting something in return. Since I don’t think Bennett is offering deep discounts, he must be giving them something else.

When economists find puzzles like this, there are a few standard theories that often explain what’s going on. Two of them come to mind in this situation.

First, there’s signalling, which is a way of letting other people know something about you. If you’re rich, and you want everyone to know you’re rich, you could just tell people how rich you are. But that’s not very convincing because you could be lying. If you want to send a convincing signal, you have to find one that’s hard to fake.

For that reason, a common signal of wealth is buying a lot of expensive and recognizable luxury items. This is one of the reasons doctors have their Mercedes, stockbrockers have their yachts, and gangsters have their bling.

So how does this apply to Bennett’s no-snitching principle? Well, if a member of a gang is facing a possible long sentence, the other gang members are going to get nervous. They’ll wonder if he’s going to snitch on them to get a better deal. They’ll wonder if they should kill him to prevent that.

If the arrested gang member doesn’t plan to snitch, it’s worth his life to find a way to signal his loyalty to the rest of the gang, and one way to do that is to hire a lawyer like Mark Bennett who never represents snitches.

The second related concept is commitment. That’s when you demonstrate your dedication to a course of action by closing off alternatives. Tell a girl she’s the only one for you and she might believe you, but you’ll be a lot more convincing if you tattoo her name on your chest, because that’s something you can’t do for every girl you meet.

Much of our modern business world depends on the ease with which we can make commitments. That’s what contracts do for us: They make it possible for us to convince other people that we’ll keep our promises, because if we don’t, they can get a court to force us. Total strangers will trust your commitment to paying back really large loans if you just sign some papers that allow them to take your house if you don’t.

Gangsters can’t use the court system to enforce their commitments, so they have to find other means, which brings us back to snitching. I was particularly interested to discover this bit of Mark Bennett’s client contract:

If the government offers you a deal to cooperate, I will certainly convey it to you and not pass any judgment if you choose to cooperate. But should you cooperate, I will withdraw from your case and not refund any portion of the fee you pay me.

That’s a commitment protocol: A gang member can commit to not snitching by giving a large non-refundable fee to a lawyer who never represents people who snitch. This works especially well if he doesn’t have enough cash on hand to pay another lawyer.

If that’s what’s going on here, then non-snitching lawyers like Mark Bennett are providing a valuable service to their clients by providing a way for them to convince fellow gang members that they won’t snitch. This service has little to do with actual legal representation, but it’s a valuable service nonetheless.

I don’t know if I’m right, but my theory does make a testable prediction. The ability to signal or commit to a non-snitching defense is only valuable to defendents who are part of a criminal organization that is likely to punish snitches. This should be reflected in the client mix. Non-snitching lawyers should get a lot of gangsters, while snitching lawyers should get a lot of white-collar criminals.

A few random shots:

  • New York mayor Micheal Bloomberg thinks that having illegal drugs in your system when you die undoes the heroism of an NYPD detective who was one of the first on the scene at Ground Zero.
  • Find out the salary of every single employee of the City of Chicago or Cook County.
  • Scott H. Greenfield notes that it’s “better to be gouged and fed then to not be fed at all” but then gets snarky about a bank that loans money to very poor people at 200% interest, calling it “taking advantage of the misery of others for fun and profit.” Unless the bank is preventing poor people from getting money in other ways, I don’t see how this is their fault. The problem is that people are so bad off that they need loans at 200%, not that they’re getting the loans.