August 2009

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The Ninth Circuit just decided United States v. Comprehensive Drug Testing which includes some very important new rules for seizing data on people’s computers. Or so I’m told by folks like Scott Greenfield and Orin Kerr, who understand these things far better than me.

As I understand the problem Kozinski is trying to solve, the government used to treat a search for anything on a computer as a license to rummage through all of it. This makes a certain amount of technical sense because the name of the file is merely a convention for humans: The file WeddingGuests.xls can actually contain the block-by-block sales data for your drug-dealing empire, so the police are going to want to look at it if they have a warrant for the records of a criminal enterprise.

Even the file extension that identifies the content—.mp3, .jpg, .xls, .doc—is a standard that can be bent or broken. Rename ChildPorn.jpg to 2009Q3-PandL-Newark.xls and it will look like a spreadsheet in Windows Explorer, and if you double click it, Windows will try unsuccessfully to open it with Excel. Law enforcement agencies are aware of this, so they will want to examine every file.

Once they’ve looked at a file, even if it’s not the one they’re searching for, they can’t un-look at it. Under the plain view exception to the warrant requirement, they can go ahead and use it in a criminal investigation.

In the physical world, the cops generally can’t do this so extensively. If they have a warrant to search your home for a baseball bat used as a murder weapon, they can’t search your medicine cabinet and read your checkbook. (On the other hand, if they they open your closet and see 20 kilos of cocaine, it comes in under the plain view exception, since it was reasonable for them to look in the closet.)

In the world of your computer, it’s all just data on the disk, and there’s no way to distinguish it until after they’ve oopened it up. It’s as if they had a warrant to search your house for a murder weapon, but then took the time to rummage through everything you own, and it all came in as evidence.

It’s understandable, but it’s also a problem. Lots of people these days keep their entire lives on their computer, and the Constitutional requirement that warrants must be “particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized” seems to be violated if every computer search allows police to rummage through the digital reflections of our entire lives.

The Ninth Circuit’s ruling fixes that problem in a rather extraordinary manner, as summarized by Orin Kerr:

They created a set of prophylactic rules that has the effect of banning plain view through ex ante restrictions. The Ninth Circuit took a truly remarkable step: It ordered the government to behave exactly as it would behave if the plain view exception did not exist. The court wrote out a list of ways that the government would act if there were no plain view exception, and then ordered the government to follow those rules as a condition of getting the warrant in the first place. The plain view exception is gutted by ensuring the government will never be in a position to try to offer the evidence to a court in the first place.

(Chief Judge Alex Kozinski, who wrote the opinion, has had a few problems of his own with people looking over his computer files, so maybe he’s one of those empathetic judges everyone is talking about.)

As others have pointed out, no computer search in history has ever met this standard, so things are going to get complicated for a while. Or at least until the Supreme Court reverses it, as is their way with Ninth Circuit decisions that make life too hard for law enforcement agencies.

On the other hand, I don’t think the Ninth Circuit went far enough. When law enforcement agencies search your house, they eventually leave. They may take some evidence with them, but you do get to use your house again.

But when law enforcement agencies want to search your computer, they often take it with them and keep it during the investigation. This is a problem for those of us who live our lives on the computer and make our livings from it. (Backups don’t help, since the government can and will take those too.) The government can investigate you for a white collar crime and wipe out your business by taking all your computers without ever coming close to getting a conviction.

There’s no excuse for this. A copy of the digital data on your computer is exactly as good as the original, so they only need a copy for purposes of an investigation. Taking your whole computer is either lazy or downright punitive. It’s punishment without trial.

Going even further, I’d like to see our computers recieve some of the same protections that our bodies and minds do. My computer may not be wired to my brain like some sort of cyberpunk implant, but it’s a pretty intimate part of my life. And it can only contain information and ideas, so it’s not like there are safety concerns.

I find it perverse that any communication with our lawyers is protected from government snooping, but our own personal records, notes, and diary contents are considered fair game for a government fishing trip. (Important tip to diarists: Label your diary as a “Privileged Legal Communication.” Claim it’s a timeline of events for your lawyer.)

Finally (and if you know me you’ve seen this coming) we wouldn’t have most of these problems if we didn’t criminalize so much consensual conduct. Time and again, these screwy Fourth Amendment exceptions turn up in cases without victims, where the government has to go snooping because nobody else cares that the so-called crime has occurred.

My mother died in April, I moved in with my father for a few months to take care of him until I could find a nursing home, I moved him to the nursing home, I cleaned out his apartment, and I straightened out his finances. Now my father’s died too, and I just got back from visiting his brother and sister and taking his ashes back to where he grew up in Kentucky.

I guess I just don’t have a lot of mental energy left over for blogging these days. Sorry.

On top of that, it’s the start of the busy season for my largest client, and one of my on-again-off-again clients is on again.

I’ll try to get things going again around here as soon as I recover.

Nah. Updating doesn’t go quite far enough; I really should eat a little more crow. But just a little.

Let’s try that again — and I’m going to leave the original up, for historical purposes. Bloggers — well, ones who care to do it right — don’t throw errors down the memory hole. Hence, Version 1.1.

Let’s start off by reviewing the key paragraph in our last episode:

On April 16 of 2008, Sheriff Bob Fletcher and Ramsey County Attorney Susan Gaertner filed a hundred-page petition (here’s Part 1; here’s Part 2) with District Judge Joanne Smith, requesting that the judge revoke what they called Wilson’s “conceal and carry permit”, and documenting, in great detail, each and every one of the incidents above. In detail. The petition had been written and researched by David Rossman — then a deputy assigned to Sheriff Fletcher’s gun permit unit.

Which, combined with all the other strangenesses, was more than strange enough.

This morning it got stranger. The following was posted in the comments — go look for yourself.

I represent Ms. Wilson. You are wrong on many of your facts.

In addition, the incidents of 2004 and 2007, did not involve Michelle Rae Wilson. Those incidents involved another “Michelle Wilson”. Ms. Wilson has no son named Terrance. She was not the perpetrator in those situations. I guess you should print at retraction.

All of this is wrong:

“In 2004, two neighbors accused Wilson and another son of pouring sugar in their car’s gas tank; according to police records, one said that, “Michelle Wilson threatened to blow up her house and kill her. She taunted her to go outside.” She owed Wilson $60, and couldn’t pay. Vandalism is a crime; terroristic threats are a felony.

“But Wilson was never prosecuted — SPPD Officer Kong just left a card at the house — and it all went away.

“In 2007, Nakeshia Britton, a high school classmate of Wilson’s son Terrence, got another restraining order, claiming that Wilson, her son and others had followed Britton’s school bus home, after which Wilson and her son Terrence, “came up on the porch with broken beer bottles and a bat trying to hit me… and told Edna, my foster mom, to let me come out so they can kick my retarded ass.” She said that they tried to force their way in.”

Michelle has a clean record. Her friends and neighbors love her. You wrote a very unfair and factually false piece as it pertains to her.

Thanks,

Gary Wolf
Attorney for Michelle Rae Wilson

I’m always up for correcting any facts, of course, and I have good reason to credit Mr. Wolf’s claims of this morning that the 2004 and 2007 incidents were another Michelle Wilson.

But, let’s be clear: they’re not my facts. The source for the story wasn’t my imagination — I’m just a fiction writer, by trade, and I couldn’t have made this stuff up; it’s far too weird for fiction.

The 1996 incidents, which Mr. Wolf doesn’t dispute was his client, is from sections #6 and #7 in Sheriff Fletcher’s and County Attorney Susan Gaertner’s revocation petition, and their Exhibit K and and Exhibit L, both of which were submitted to the court in support of that petition.

Somebody accused of hounding an ex for four years (and that’s what the accusation is in Exhibit K and L; I don’t know if the accusers were lying) being issued a carry permit in Ramsey County? Let’s not be silly. That wouldn’t happen unless the applicant was connected — say, by being the aunt of a Saint Paul cop.

But let’s turn to the two incidents that Mr. Wolf does — and with good reason — dispute.

The 2004 incident, which Mr. Wolf does say was some other Michelle Wilson (and he appears to be right) is also from Sheriff Fletcher’s revocation petition, in which he claims that Respondent — that’s Mr. Wolf’s client — was named as a criminal suspect, and which Sheriff Fletcher supports with his Exhibit J.

The 2007 incident, which Mr. Wolf also says was some other Michelle Wilson, is, yet again, from Sheriff Fletcher’s revocation petition, in which Sheriff Fletcher claims that Respondent — that’s still Mr. Wolf’s client — was hit by a restraining order, and which he supports by his Exhibit I.

Let’s assume — he does seem credible to me; you decide for yourself — that Mr. Wolf is right. Why — when trying to revoke (instead of to suspend, with a one-page petition citing the pending charges) a carry permit of a woman who was sitting in jail, accused of murder — did Sheriff Fletcher throw accusations about another Michelle (or Michele; and without the “Rae”) Wilson into the mix?

The reason I credit what Mr. Wolf says is that it appears that “Michelle Rae Wilson” has lived at the Iglehart address since 1996, whereas the “Michelle (or Michele) Wilson” in the 2004 and 2007 incidents lived at a Dale Street or Magnolia Avenue address. It is highly improbable Michelle Rae Wilson maintained two or three separate residences simultaneously.

Also, Mr. Wolf’s client apparently always uses her middle name in official matters. I suspect that the other Michelle (or Michele) Wilson doesn’t have a middle name. This is expressly identified as a fact on the West side of the river with a “NMN,” for “No Middle Name.” It aids in correct identification.

I can easily imagine the conversation between client and attorney concerning the background: “That’s not me; it’s someone else with most of my name,” Michelle Rae Wilson probably said.

I, and others with whom I researched this article, are humbled by the revelation from Mr. Wolf. We should have caught it in our fact-checking and it appears so obvious with 20-20 hindsight. No; we are chastened. Thank you, Mr. Wolf; no excuses; we will make sure that it doesn’t happen again.

No excuses, but here’s the explanation: we all were overwhelmed with the outrageousness of the overkill of Sheriff Fletcher’s petition to revoke, when a petition to suspend would have sufficed.

“Methinks she [don’t visualize Sheriff Fletcher in a dress; you’ll burn your retinas. JR] doth protest too much.” We, too, took the lengthy petition at face value and neglected to double-check the citations, simply because the Sheriff and the County claimed the asserted facts as true and adopted them. That’s our explanation, such as it is. Why didn’t County Attorney Susan Gaertner, Assistant County Attorney Karen A. Kugler, or the judge who signed off on Sheriff Fletcher’s petition didn’t check his homework?

I guess you’ll have to ask them; I’ll not draw any conclusions.  Yet.

And I’ll refrain from drawing any conclusion as to the Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office malice, at least at this point, when simple, bumbling incompetence provides an entirely sufficient answer, and yet another argument that somebody should always be checking out Sheriff Fletcher’s allegations, and not believing them until they’ve been reliably confirmed.

There are other good questions which still remain. Why wasn’t the 1996 restraining order enough reason for Sheriff Fletcher to deny Michelle Rae Wilson’s permit application in the first place? He’s certainly denied other applicants for less.

Why, when she was sitting in jail, did he apparently throw every accusation he could find up against the wall and see what would stick? Wasn’t the murder charge enough?

And why, after years in the Ramsey County Sheriffs Office gun unit, was David Rossman transferred to patrol after researching and writing that petition — apparently to the best of his demonstrably limited abilities?

Apparently, one of the possibilities I raised in the last episode has not panned out: the transfer was apparently not a reward for the accuracy and thoroughness of the research he did in the revocation petition. What did happen with the bumbling Deputy Rossman — and why? Is it possible that, after deciding that Rossman was too incompetent to properly shuffle paper around, Fletcher put him in a squad car with a handgun and a shotgun to do things requiring far better and sharper immediate judgment than he’d already demonstrated was lacking in his leisurely, carefully-considered one during his time in the gun permit unit?

I’d love to know the answers to these questions.

And there’s more. Me, I think it would also have been news to many of us, back in 2008, after the murder, that the accused murderer was a Saint Paul PD dog cop’s aunt, using supposedly, the gun that that same cop had given her.

Doesn’t that sound like news to you?

Ah, if only there were some enterprise locally, that hired people to look into interesting questions about public figures and public officials, then reviewed and edited their reports, and printed them daily upon some inexpensive medium for public distribution.

Instead, what we’ve got is the Pioneer Press and the Star Tribune.

Let’s start off by reviewing the key paragraph in our last episode:

On April 16 of 2008, Sheriff Bob Fletcher and Ramsey County Attorney Susan Gaertner filed a hundred-page petition (here’s Part 1; here’s Part 2) with District Judge Joanne Smith, requesting that the judge revoke what they called Wilson’s “conceal and carry permit”, and documenting, in great detail, each and every one of the incidents above. In detail. The petition had been written and researched by David Rossman — then a deputy assigned to Sheriff Fletcher’s gun permit unit.

Which, combined with all the other strangenesses, was more than strange enough.

This morning it got stranger.  The following was posted in the comments — go look for yourself.

I represent Ms. Wilson. You are wrong on many of your facts.

In addition, the incidents of 2004 and 2007, did not involve Michelle Rae Wilson. Those incidents involved another “Michelle Wilson”. Ms. Wilson has no son named Terrance. She was not the perpetrator in those situations. I guess you should print at retraction.

All of this is wrong:

“In 2004, two neighbors accused Wilson and another son of pouring sugar in their car’s gas tank; according to police records, one said that, “Michelle Wilson threatened to blow up her house and kill her. She taunted her to go outside.” She owed Wilson $60, and couldn’t pay. Vandalism is a crime; terroristic threats are a felony.

“But Wilson was never prosecuted — SPPD Officer Kong just left a card at the house — and it all went away.

“In 2007, Nakeshia Britton, a high school classmate of Wilson’s son Terrence, got another restraining order, claiming that Wilson, her son and others had followed Britton’s school bus home, after which Wilson and her son Terrence, “came up on the porch with broken beer bottles and a bat trying to hit me… and told Edna, my foster mom, to let me come out so they can kick my retarded ass.” She said that they tried to force their way in.”

Michelle has a clean record. Her friends and neighbors love her. You wrote a very unfair and factually false piece as it pertains to her.

Thanks,

Gary Wolf
Attorney for Michelle Rae Wilson

I’m always up for correcting any facts, of course, and I have no particular reason to doubt Mr. Wolf’s claims of this morning that the 2004 and 2007 incidents were another Michelle Wilson.

In fact, I think he’s right. Hence:

Addendum and digression:

Let me put that more strongly:  Oops.  I missed something.  After getting Mr. Wolf’s email this morning, and reading his comment, as reprinted above, I went back and looked again at the voluminous documentation that Sheriff Fletcher filed with the court, and went over it with my friend, David Gross, who had reviewed both the piece and the revocation petition before.

While it’s clear that the 1996 incident is Mr. Wolf’s client, Michelle Rae Wilson, it’s also clear, upon review, that the 2004 and 2007 incidents are, as he says, another Michelle Wilson, who lived at another address.  We missed that, when reviewing Sheriff Fletcher’s petition.

End of Addendum.

But, let’s be clear:  they’re not my facts.  The source for the story wasn’t my imagination — I’m just a fiction writer, by trade, and I couldn’t have made this stuff up; it’s far too weird for fiction. 

The 1996 incidents, which Mr. Wolf doesn’t dispute was his client (and, to be fair, he doesn’t admit it, either) is from sections #6 and #7 in Sheriff Fletcher’s and County Attorney Susan Gaertner’s revocation petition, and their Exhibit K and and Exhibit L, both of which were submitted to the court in support of that petition.

Somebody accused of hounding an ex for four years (and that’s what the accusation is in Exhibit K and L; I don’t know if the accusers were lying) being issued a carry permit in Ramsey County?  Let’s not be silly.  That wouldn’t happen unless the applicant was connected — say, by being the aunt of a Saint Paul cop.

But let’s turn to the two incidents that Mr. Wolf does [addendum:  accurately] dispute. 

The 2004 incident, which Mr. Wolf does say was some other Michelle Wilson (and why would he lie?  I can’t imagine a reason, and don’t think he is) is also from Sheriff Fletcher’s revocation petition, in which he claims that Respondent — that’s Mr. Wolf’s client — was named as a criminal suspect, and which Sheriff Fletcher supports with his Exhibit J.

The 2007 incident, which Mr. Wolf also says was some other Michele Wilson, is, yet again, from Sheriff Fletcher’s revocation petition, in which Sheriff Fletcher claims that Respondent — that’s still Mr. Wolf’s client — was hit by a restraining order, and which he supports by his Exhibit I.

Let’s assume — he does seem credible to me; you decide for yourself — that Mr. Wolf is right.  Why — when trying to revoke a carry permit of a woman who was sitting in jail, accused of murder — did Sheriff Fletcher throw accusations about another Michelle Wilson into the mix?

I wish I knew.  I think it’s a fascinating question.

There are others.  Why wasn’t the 1996 restraining order enough reason for Sheriff Fletcher to deny Michelle Rae Wilson’s permit application in the first place?  He’s certainly denied other applicants for less.  Why, when she was sitting in jail, did he apparently throw every accusation he could find up against the wall and see what would stick?  Wasn’t the murder charge enough?  And why, after years in the Ramsey County Sheriffs Office gun unit, was David Rossman transferred to patrol after researching and writing that petition?

Apparently, one of the possibilities I raised in the last episode has not panned out:  it was apparently not a reward for the accuracy and thoroughness of the research he did in the revocation petition.  What did happen with the bumbling Deputy Rossman, and why?  Is it possible that, after deciding that Rossman is too incompetent to properly shuffle paper around, Fletcher put him in a squad car with a handgun and a shotgun to do things requiring far better and sharper judgment than he’d already demonstrated was lacking during his time in the gun permit unit?

I’d love to know the answers to all of these questions.

And there’s more. Me, I think it would also have been news to many of us, back in 2008, after the murder, that the accused murderer was a Saint Paul PD dog cop’s aunt, using supposedly, the gun that that same cop had given her.  Doesn’t that sound like news to you?

Ah, if only there were some enterprise locally, that hired people to look into interesting questions about public figures and public officials, then reviewed and edited their reports, and printed them daily upon some inexpensive medium for public distribution.

Instead, what we’ve got is the Pioneer Press and the Star Tribune.

Really.

ir111_stromelisha_200x315.jpgFor those of you who think I’m going all Rush Limbaugh with this “feminazi” stuff: chill.  I’m talking about Elisha Strom, the now ex-wife of convicted kiddie porn felon, the loathesome Neonazi Kevin Alfred Strom. (The two of them had a falling out of some sort.  Nazis, like other people, find breaking up hard to do at times.)

That’s her, at right, in a photo from around 2003.  She is apparently as uncharming as she looks, and calling her a Feminazi is only fair, because she’s the closest thing the neonazis have to a feminist, okay? 

Okay.  Fine.  If she happens to be out walking someday and a cow falls out of a clear blue sky to squash her flat, that would be a sad thing only because it would be a waste of a good cow.  Got it.

But, alas, what she’s apparently been charged with an is, basically, blogging and photograpy. The scumbag neonazi bitch has a blog; she makes comments hostile to, and posts snapshots of some local cops. 

Well, blogging and photography aren’t a crime, and it would really be a shame — really — if all of our civil rights were further degraded because people wouldn’t support the rights of this feminazi scumbag to write and to take pictures.

So:  please support the rights of this feminazi scumbag.  It’s important that her case get coverage, and that she be acquitted of the absurd chages. 

Damn.  Well, you don’t always get the good poster boys and girls on this civil rights stuff.  Yeah, sometimes you luck out and get a real hero like Rosa Parks, or Savana Redding.

But most of the time it’s scumbags like Ernesto Miranda or Elisha Strom.

Live with it.

(h/t Scott over at SJ) <

Over at Simple Justice, Scott Greenfield has taken time off from bashing marketers to bash coupon settlements. That’s when some lawyers initiate a lawsuit against a corporation on behalf of a large number of people, and then settled for a payment that allows the corporation to send out some sort of redeemable coupon instead of cash.

In this case, it’s the Ford Explorer rollover settlement, as summarized by the WSJ Law Blog:

The AP has a story out Monday taking a sort of retrospective snapshot on the Ford Explorer rollover class-action litigation. As part of a settlement reached last year, the nearly 1 million class members covered by the lawsuit each received the opportunity to claim a coupon worth either $300 or $500 toward the purchase of a new Ford vehicle. As of June 2009, according to the piece, only 75 people had used the coupons, at a cost to Ford of $37,500. The plaintiffs’ lawyers, meanwhile, took home $25 million in fees and expenses.

Coupon settlements are a giant conflict of interest between the class-action lawyers and the people in the class.

To see why, consider a literary agent who’s charging 15% to sell a book for an author. Suppose that by putting in an extra 100 hours of work, he could get the author an extra $100,000 on the book deal. That would earn him an extra $15,000 in commission, which works out to $150 an hour. If the agent values his own time at more than $150 an hour—presumably because he could earn that much working on another author’s book—then he has no incentive to keep working. It’s to his financial benefit to take the quick deal. But then his client is out the other $85,000.

This conflict is unavoidable whenever someone earns a fraction of the value of their work. It’s why executive headhunters always push job-seekers to take the first offer, it’s why real estate agents don’t get sellers the price they want, and it’s why factory workers don’t work as hard as the factory’s owners wish they would. It’s also why lawyers working on a contingency fee are likely to settle for a smaller amount than their clients would prefer.

Coupon settlements are an especially egegious form of this problem for several reasons.

First, clients don’t get to pick their lawyers, a judge does. I’m a little vague on the process, but I don’t think the judge puts a high priority on the lawyers’ proposed fee structure.

Second, clients have no bargaining power. Even though they usually have the ability to opt out of the class, there’s nowhere else to go. By the nature of a class action, a mass lawsuit is the only effective remedy. Clients have almost no leverage to force the lawyers into a more equitable agreement. (As Scott Greenfield points out, there are people working to change that.)

Third, return business is not an issue. Some of the other examples I’ve given—such as literary agents and contingency-fee lawyers—hope to gain return business from the client and will therefore work harder on his or her behalf. Essentially, their true commission for doing well consists not only of the immediate commission, but the chance to earn future commissions. This makes them work harder for their clients. Class action lawyers have no such motivation.

The biggest problem with coupon settlements, however, is the difficulty in evaluating the value of the coupons at the time of the settlement.

It’s easy to evaluate the coupons retrospectively, once we have information about their redemption rate. In the Ford Explorer case, members of the class have so far redeemed coupons worth $37,500. I think that’s the cost of one tricked-out Ford Explorer. It’s hardly a settlement for the lawyers to be proud of. It’s probably not a settlement worth $25 million dollars either.

Even if that grows to $100,000 before all is said and done, the math is still pretty dismal: The lawyers won $25,100,000 in the lawsuit and kept $25,000,000 of it for themselves. That’s a 99.6% fee.

The math probably looked a lot different at the time of the settlement. One million class members receiving coupons worth $300 to $500 each could add up to half a billion dollars, making the $25 million legal fee seem reasonable.

I suppose there are some who would argue that it’s not the lawyers’ fault if the class members failed to take advantage of the $500 million award. The thing is, the value of the coupons depends on what you can get for them, and so far that’s just $37,500. I think an economist would regard this as the final, revealed, true value of the coupons.

Since lawyers are supposed to act in the best interests of their clients—the class members—they should also regard the revealed value to the clients as the only value that counts. I can’t see any other intellectually honest way to look at it.

It would be naive to think that no one saw this coming. I think the key is to look at who had the most information about the value of the coupons at the time of the settlement. In order, they are:

  • The class members. As the people who would receive the coupons and use them (or not), they knew more about their value than anyone, due to the fact that their behavior determines the value.
  • Ford Motors. I’m sure Ford knows its customers and understands how they behave. The automaker may make mistakes and get fooled by its customers, but it still knows them better than anyone except the customers themselves.
  • The lawyers. They spent a lot of time on this case and must have had a pretty good idea what would happen.
  • The judge. He pretty much has to take the lawyers’ word for what’s good for their clients.

Since the class members are kept from direct involvement (with a few exceptions), the most knowledgable parties are the defendant, Ford Motors, followed by the lawyers. Naturally, they got the sweetest deal. Morally (although probably not legally), the lawyers essentially colluded with Ford to betray their clients.

Reason‘s Brian Doherty raises the alarm about Justine Varney, the new head of the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division. According to a Wired article, she might be planning to go after Google.

The technology industry, she said, was coming under the sway of a dominant behemoth, one that had the potential to stifle innovation and squash its competitors. The last time the government saw a threat like this–Microsoft in the 1990s–it launched an aggressive antitrust case. But by the time of this conference, mid-June 2008, a new offender had emerged. “For me, Microsoft is so last century,” Varney said. “They are not the problem. I think we are going to continually see a problem, potentially, with Google.”

….Varney was suggesting that Google was repeating Microsoft’s expansionist behavior. Instead of dominating the desktop, Varney said, Google was starting to colonize the emerging cloud-computing industry, amassing “enormous market power” and potentially creating an ecosystem that customers would be powerless to escape.

Google is an innovative company that has made all our lives better. For almost any problem I encounter in any part of my life, the solution begins with Googling something. I guess that’s a monopoly, but it’s also good customer service.

Lawyers and economists say that things get complicated…when Google moves beyond search and into Web services like online spreadsheets and video sites. Because its search and advertising algorithms are secret, there is no way for competitors or partners to know whether Google tweaks results to direct traffic to its own properties over theirs. Enter a street address into Google’s search engine, for instance, and Google Maps tops the results. Type in “Britney Spears” and Google News comes up before People magazine or TMZ .com. (Google-owned YouTube tops the video results, above MTV and MySpace.)

Again, this is good customer service. Google is providing the answers people want.

If Google is using its search position to promote its other businesses, that could leave it open to charges of illegal bundling and leveraging–the same charges that Microsoft faced for packaging its browser onto the Windows desktop.

And the charges were just as stupid then as they are now. Not that that would stop the Justice Department and their war against winners.

Burnett Draughn, 1919 - 2009
Larger ImageBurnett Draughn, 1919 - 2009

My father, Burnett Draughn, was born in on Decoration Day, May the 30th, in 1919, somewhere near Daniel’s Branch, Kentucky. He was Joe and Melissa Draughn’s eighth child out of an eventual total of ten. My dad liked to say that he had nine brothers and sisters, and every one of them also had nine brothers and sisters.

Burnett is an unusual first name. His parents had named him after a local Baptist preacher who they must have admired. Not too long after my father was born, according to family legend, Burnett the preacher robbed the post office and took off for parts unknown.

My father grew up on a farm, where he did some horseback riding, took care of the animals, and sometimes had to go out hunting for the family’s dinner. Squirrel mostly, to hear him tell it.

He went to school in Hindman, but later he was sent to the Pine Mountain Settlement School, a boarding school founded by philanthropists to help educate poor children in the mountains of southeastern Kentucky. I suspect it was a little bit like a modern youth home, except that it was in the Appalachian mountains, and that it was considered normal to teach troubled youths such handy skills as how to blow things up with dynamite.

When he was 17 years old, my father took off and lied about his age to join the Army. A couple of years ago, I saw some paperwork from the Veteran’s Administration that still showed his birth year as 1918.

Burnett was a big farm boy and used to hard work, so the Army soon had him carrying a BAR—a Browning Automatic Rifle—which is a heavy .30 caliber machine gun. In addition to the usual reasons army units have machine guns, my father also filled the role of air defense. If they were attacked by enemy aircraft, he was supposed to try to shoot them down.

Later on, the Army found out he could ride a horse pretty good, so they sent him to a pack artillary unit in Panama, where the Army used horses to haul artilliary through the mountains. His unit did have one truck available, though. They used it to carry food for the horses.

My father mustered out and went home, only to join up again a few years later as World War II started. He was sent overseas, and I gather he arrived in Italy after the controversial landing at Anzio. Eventually he ended up with the 44th Infanty Division in France, chasing the German army through the Vosges mountains, which he remembered as being very beautiful.

(My mother once told me that my father’s unit saw the Nazi death camp at Dachau, but he’s never talked about it with me.)

After returning from the war, my father married Thelma Jean Chalk and they had a son named Burnett Lee and a daughter named Sue Jean. The marriage ended badly, and my father moved away.

In the early 1960’s, Burnett found himself in Chicago, where he met a woman named Elizabeth Kielkiewicz. They got married, and by May of 1964 they had their only child, a boy they named Mark.

Through the years, my father has held a bunch of jobs. Among other things, he’s worked as a truck driver, a salesman, and a security guard. During most of my life, however, he worked in the dockyards of various trucking companies—P.I.E., Terminal Transport, and American Freight Systems are the only ones I remember—loading and unloading trucks until he retired at the age of 67. That’s a lot of hard muscle work. I remember he had a handshake like iron.

He mostly worked the night shift, which allowed my mother to work days without leaving me alone in the house, although I can remember a period where I had an hour to myself each day. I didn’t get to see much of him, since he was rarely home for long when I got home from school.

We went on a few long driving vacations, mostly to Kentucky to visit the family—Louisville for my Aunt Mary Elizabeth, Pikeville for my Uncle Hagan and his children. I can remember long drives through the hills of Kentucky. One time we picked up a couple of hitchhikers, and another time we ran out of gas.

On one of the trips we were on a long stretch of open road, and my father decided to see how fast the car would go. He got our 1969 Plymouth Valiant up to an even 100 miles per hour. Just a few months ago, he told me that he realized this was not a smart thing to do—if one of our cheap street tires had blown, we’d all have died—but I told him it was a vivid and fun memory for me.

One summer we drove to Washington, D.C.—I remember we toured the Bureau of Printing and Engraving, the Capitol Building, the White House, and the FBI building. We were really impressed by the new subway system, which was much prettier than our own CTA. Of course, we returned home through Kentucky.

My dad enjoyed playing card games, and was something of a card sharp in his younger days. I remember long hours of he and my mother and I playing 500 Rummy around the kitchen table. He also like to play the horses occasionally, although later he switched to the state lottery.

My father was always looking to “work the angles” in any situation. This meant trying to figure out any tricks that could be pulled. He wasn’t very good at tricking other people, but he was good at spotting other people trying to trick him. I remember one afternoon as a child when I had a friend over to play one of my games that used marbles. When we were done, as my friend was getting ready to leave, my dad came over and laughingly picked him up and held him upside down. Marbles fell out of his pockets.

After he retired, my father used to like to run errands around the neighborhood, stopping to chat with everyone he ran into. For a while he used to tell all the ladies that he wanted to give them a kiss, then he’d hand them a piece of Hershey’s Kiss chocolate.

In recent years, my dad spent much of his time watching MSNBC and CSPAN. He followed politics a lot, and he was a life-long Yellow Dog Democrat: There were some Democrats he didn’t like, but I never heard him say anything nice about a Republican. When I took him to the V.A. hospital, he would always ask me to turn his wheelchair away from the portrait of George Bush in the waiting area. I’m glad he lived to see the Democrats retake the White House.

Over the years, my dad had a few important pieces of advice: Don’t buy cheap stuff because quality always pays off in the long run. Always treat every gun as if it’s loaded, and never point it at another person unless you want to kill them. Don’t let cops in the house unless they have a warrant. If you’re setting off explosives with a burning fuse and they don’t go off when you expect, wait a while before you go to check it out because the fuse may still be smoldering.

Only that first one has really proven useful.

When my mom died in April, I moved in with my dad to take care of him for a couple of months until we could find a nursing home. In May, just a few days before his 90th birthday, we took him to Norwood Crossing nursing home, located about 15 minutes from my house.

At the age of 90, he had some problems with his memory, his time sense was messed up, and he had a few crazy ideas. He wasn’t all there, but he could hold short conversations, and if the subject interested him enough, he’d remember it the next time we saw him.

During the next few weeks, he started to settle in. He was eager to take physical therapy to keep walking. He was starting to make friends with some of the other residents, and he’d sing aloud to the ladies when they wheeled him through the hall.

In mid-June, however, he suddenly got much more confused. This change in mental state happened overnight, and the concerned staff sent him to the hospital. After a bunch of tests, his doctors found a restricted blood flow to part of his brain and said he’d probably had another stroke. There was nothing to do but send him back to the nursing home.

For a while, my dad was very agitated, but he began to settle down. Then he began to get too quiet, and by last Monday he was barely about to get up the energy to speak. On Wednesday night, my wife visited him, and she told me afterward that she had a feeling he didn’t have long in this world. On Thursday, his daughter Sue called him, and he was barely able to talk. He told her he thought he was dying.

On Saturday morning he had breakfast as usual. He listened to his music for a while until the staff helped him sit up on the edge of the bed to eat lunch. Afterwards, they put him back down for a nap.

Around 3 pm one of the staff was in his room and noticed he wasn’t breathing. Burnett Draughn had passed away in his sleep.

He too will be missed.

You’ve been hearing about it:  Democratic representatives, home on the August recess, are — at least some of them — holding the traditional “town hall” meetings to hear from voters in their districts.

And some of them are hearing yelling.  Lots of yelling.

The folks on the left have a simple explanation:  this is a well-funded conspiracy, powered by gazillion dollars in donations from the health insurance gnomes who are having their most profitable year ever (even though they’re, well, not); it’s a Rovian conspiracy run by Republicans who want the poor to be sick and die.  Preferably painfully. 

The folks on the right have a simple explanation:  the peasants are revolting against an attempt by their new Insect Democrat overlords to impose a government health plan on just about everybody — sooner or later; even they admit that you get to keep your present health plan as long as you stay in your current job — except for the insect overlords themselves.

I’ve got a more nuanced explanation: Obama’s getting Alinskied. I had a brief (for me) posting on the subject a while ago; I won’t repeat it here. 

So, you want another view:  go take a look at the Rules for Radicals, and every time you see a news story on the town hall protests, watch for the rules being implemented.

Calling it Obamacare?  The bill is being written and rewritten by committees — formal and informal — in the House and Senate.  But . . .  “: Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, polarize it. Don’t try to attack abstract corporations or bureaucracies. Identify a responsible individual. Ignore attempts to shift or spread the blame.”  Rachel Maddow and Keith Olbermann rant, night after night, that it’s abstract corporations and Republican bureaucracies, sorta, that are behind this. They’re not with the Alinsky playbook; the protesters are. Rule 11

“If this government health plan is such a great idea, Senator, why doesn’t the law require you to give up your gilt-edged health plan and go with it?”  It’s actually a fair question — but it’s Rule Four:  You see a whole crowd of loud people showing up at a town hall meeting?  The Democrats aren’t used to being the recipients of mass, noisy demonstrations.  “

Make opponents live up to their own book of rules.

Obama, the Alinskyite community organizer, is being Alinskied.  And that’s gotta hurt.

Why?  Because it isn’t going to be some health care corporation exec or Republican operative who is going to be hauled out in handcuffs.  Nah.  It’ll be Bob and Alice from the neighborhood. and the narrative that it’s all an evil Rovian scheme will be just that much harder to sell when they’re the poster children for suppression of dissent.

Here’s a prediction:  you won’t see many, if any, of these town hall protesters hauled out of meetings that they’re disrupting, even though they are supposedly (and actually, in at least some cases) engaging in the sort of “disorderly conduct” that is prohibited by law.

: Whenever possible, go outside the experience of an opponent. Here you want to cause confusion, fear, and retreat.”  And lots of them are retreating — refusing to hold town hall meetings, or packing them with supporters.Rule 3

I gave Avvo Answers—Avvo’s forum for lawyers to answer questions for free—a test drive a couple weeks ago with a test question about bailing someone out, and the result was a bit confusing, but I eventually got the answer I was looking for. You can read about it all in three short posts starting here: Adventures In Avvo – Take 1.

I just got email saying my question had been answered again, but when I took a look, it wasn’t really an answer. Someone had just posted this:

hooty40

Posted about 3 hours ago.

hello my frined is in jail now and he nneds to get out now you can call me @ 251 714 xxxx

I’ve obfuscated the phone number, but the actual post has this person’s full number, ’cause, you know, how else would you get in touch with him to help?

It probably doesn’t help matters that my question gives the location as Chicago, Illinois, but the 251 area code is for southwestern Alabama. I feel bad for the poor bastard who’s depending on his pal Hooty to get him out of jail.

I decided to help out a bit. Avvo doesn’t cover Alabama, so I used FindLaw and guessed that Hooty was in Mobile (simply because it looks like the biggest city), found the first lawyer who offered free consultations and an online contact form, and copied Hooty’s pitiful cry for help into the form.

Who knows? Maybe Hooty can’t write English but he’s got enough money to afford a lawyer. It could happen.

[update, 8/19/2009 — and if you thought this was weird before, you ain’t seen nothing, yet. Check out the comments, and watch for the update, later today. JR]
The End of Carl Jackson

Maybe the 911 call was not Carl Jackson’s worst mistake.

But it was his last one; it got him killed. He would have been smarter to run, instead.

It would have been smarter not getting involved with Michelle Rae Wilson in the first place; she had a history of not playing well with others, and getting away with it.

In 1996, Wilson was hit with two restraining orders when an ex-boyfriend’s wife accused her of repeated hangup calls to her home and workplace — over a four year period; it had been going on since 1992 — and the ex-boyfriend himself asked the court to have her told to stay away. She had been, he said, leaving harassing messages, over years, demanding “closure.” The court said yes, and the orders were issued.

Two orders — the ex-boyfriend asked for one, too. Harassment is a gross misdemeanor — up to a year in prison — and the second strike is a felony.

But Wilson was never prosecuted, and it all went away.

In 2004, two neighbors accused Wilson and another son of pouring sugar in their car’s gas tank; according to police records, one said that, “Michelle Wilson threatened to blow up her house and kill her. She taunted her to go outside.” She owed Wilson $60, and couldn’t pay. Vandalism is a crime; terroristic threats are a felony.

But Wilson was never prosecuted — SPPD Officer Kong just left a card at the house — and it all went away.

In 2007, Nakeshia Britton, a high school classmate of Wilson’s son Terrence, got another restraining order, claiming that Wilson, her son and others had followed Britton’s school bus home, after which Wilson and her son Terrence, “came up on the porch with broken beer bottles and a bat trying to hit me… and told Edna, my foster mom, to let me come out so they can kick my retarded ass.” She said that they tried to force their way in.

Assault is a crime — anywhere from a misdemeanor to a multi-year felony — but Wilson was never prosecuted, and it all went away.

Just as well she didn’t use the gun that time. For Nakeshia Britton and her baby, at least.

Whatever else you can say about Michelle Rae Wilson, she didn’t let go easy. No particular reason why she should, maybe. While accusations seemed to follow her, they were never — not ever — accompanied by criminal charges, much less convictions.

Michelle Rae Wilson seemed untouchable.

When she and Jackson broke up after a brief relationship, that hadn’t changed. Jackson’s new fiancee, Chillnail Hollingsworth, wasn’t the only person who Jackson had complained to about Wilson; he’d also told a mutual friend, Fred Reman, that Wilson was harassing him at work, and leaving numerous harassing messages on his cell phone.

So it’s perhaps understandable that, on a cold, dark January day in 2008, Jackson found himself inside her home at 690 Iglehart Avenue, on a quiet block in St. Paul.

What else could he do? Complain to the authorities? Others had been here and done that, and all that had happened was a few restraining orders, and a cop’s business card left on a porch.

Maybe he didn’t have a lot of faith in paper.

She wouldn’t let go, and he wanted her to let go. And he had good reason to try to get her to leave him alone, and maybe he could talk her out of it. Or maybe he could do more? Who knows?

Maybe he hit her, maybe not; maybe she hit him. When she went to the bedroom, he shouldn’t have stayed in the living room. He didn’t even have his winter coat off; he should have headed out the door and escaped into the night.

Instead, he got on the phone with 911. He hadn’t thought it through; he didn’t open the conversation with a cry for help, but with, “How you doing this evening?” like he was getting ready to go on a date.

“My ex-girlfriend is here beating me upside the head,” he said, “and I’m trying not to hit her. I’m trying to get out of the house.”

He asked for help. He explained that she had guns in the house, and that she had threatened to kill herself, and —

Then there was shouting, and six gunshots.

And it all went quiet. The only person in the conversation was the 911 operator.

Jackson had been shot at from a distance, six times, leaving shell cases scattered between the bedroom and the living room.

He had been hit three times. One bullet had entered the right side of his chest at a thirty-degree downward angle, breaking a rib, puncturing a lung, grazing the liver to end up under the skin of his back. Another downward shot, this one at a 45 degree angle, had entered his left shoulder and ended up in his right lower back.

He might, possibly, have survived those two, despite the legendary — meaning “largely fictional” — special lethality of the no-longer-manufactured “Black Talon” bullets that had pierced his flesh.

But the other distant gunshot, the one to the forehead, also fired downward at 45 degrees, had gone far enough through his brain and was traveling fast enough to break his spine, and that would killed him all by itself.

No, it wouldn’t have taken one of those quarter-century old “Black Talon” bullets to kill him, not with a shot through the brain.

Any bullet streaking through his brain would have done it.

Jackson was dead before the Saint Paul police secured the scene, and long before SPPD K-9 Officer Robert Edwards managed to talk Wilson into coming outside and surrendering peacefully to Officers Breci and Rhoades.

It was the doggie cop who talked her out. While it’s not usual for K9 cops to talk perps out of a building, perhaps it’s understandable, in this case:

bob-edwards-rico.jpg

Officer Robert Edwards of the St. Paul Police Department, the man who talked Wilson out of the building, is the nephew of Michelle Rae Wilson.

He is also, by his own admission, the man who had provided her with the Glock pistol that killed Jackson, the one that he had given her when — despite her colorful history — she had applied for and had been issued a Minnesota Permit to Carry a Handgun by Bob Fletcher, Sheriff of Ramsey County, a permit she had held for around two years, even after the 2007 incident on Nakeshia Britton’s porch.

mrw.jpg

Michele Rae Wilson was a carry permit holder on the night that somebody in her home fired that Glock, putting three Black Talons into Carl Jackson.

She has been charged with Murder in the Second Degree in that case; she’s scheduled to go on trial this November.

And while there’s no need to have any sort of permit to keep a gun in the home, she won’t have her carry permit when she goes to court; it’s been taken away from her.

On April 16 of 2008, Sheriff Bob Fletcher and Ramsey County Attorney Susan Gaertner filed a hundred-page petition (here’s Part 1; here’s Part 2) with District Judge Joanne Smith, requesting that the judge revoke what they called Wilson’s “conceal and carry permit”, and documenting, in great detail, each and every one of the incidents above. In detail. The petition had been written and researched by David Rossman — then a deputy assigned to Sheriff Fletcher’s gun permit unit.

Yes. The Ramsey County Sheriff’s office had access to Wilson’s documented history of restraining orders and the accusations of death threats, attempted assaults, and stalking that, even before the killing, argued that she was a danger to others.

But until she allegedly killed one ex-boyfriend with the gun that her cop nephew had provided to her, there’s no evidence whatsoever that they raised a finger other than to punch the keys on their computer to print out her permit.

It was three months and three days after she allegedly shot and murdered Carl Jackson that Sheriff Fletcher’s office applied to have the St. Paul cop’s aunt’s permit revoked.

It probably wouldn’t have mattered much; she was sitting in jail, unable to raise the $250,000 bond that the court had set.

And Carl Jackson was dead.

Part Two: Permits, Numbers and Other Games

In 2003, Minnesota changed its law as to how handgun carry permits — sometimes erroneously called “Conceal and Carry” permits — are issued.

Between 1974 and 2003, permit issuance was at the almost entirely unfettered discretion of police chiefs and sheriffs.

In 2003, that changed, with the passage of the Minnesota Citizens Personal Protection Act.

Since then, with a short interregnum when the law was overturned and passed again, permits are issued to any law-abiding US citizen or permanent legal US resident who takes a certified carry class, and then passes a background check. Right now, around 65,000 Minnesotans hold such permits, issued by their local sheriffs, which enables them to carry guns — openly or concealed — in most public places, although it didn’t change much about laws involving gun possession in the home.

But the sheriffs have been left with a serious responsibility, and that’s embedded in Minnesota Statute 624.714, which spells out that a sheriff can “deny the application on the grounds that there exists a substantial likelihood that the applicant is a danger to self or the public if authorized to carry a pistol under a permit.”

And they do.

Not often — the vast majority of people who apply have perfectly fine records — but it happens, about 1% of the time, statewide.

Given Michelle Rae Wilson’s history and the fact that Sheriff Fletcher issued her a carry permit, you might think that the Ramsey County Sheriff’s office is reluctant to deny a permit application.

You would be wrong. When it comes to carry permit applications, Bob Fletcher is the Prince of Denial.

In 2006, the year that Wilson applied for and got her permit, more than 9,500 people applied across the state of Minnesota, 690 of them in her own Ramsey County.

Of those close to ten thousand applications statewide, only 177 applicants were denied.

79 of those denials were in Ramsey County — almost half of the denials in Minnesota that year, and almost all of them based on the conclusion by Sheriff Fletcher that the applicant was “dangerous to self or others.”

While the rest of the state has a denial rate very close to 1%, the 2006 Bureau of Criminal Apprehension report on the sheriffs shows that the denial rate in Sheriff Fletcher’s Ramsey county was more than ten times that of the rest of the state, and his office spent more money per application on their permit issuance/denial program than any other department — $100,000 on personnel costs alone, that year.

Their expenditures were topped only by the much larger Hennepin County, where the HCSO processed almost three times as many permits for about the same total cost.

Whatever else can be said about the RCSO permit program, it doesn’t skimp on spending money, or devoting staff to it. At least one deputy, David Rossman, was assigned fulltime to permit investigation and processing — and the RCSO takes a very hard line in permit applicants, and spends whatever it has to check them out. Most of the time. It doesn’t take much to get denied in Ramsey County.

One happily married couple was turned down by the sheriff because police had been called to their home by a neighbor, years before, over a noise complaint, and while that call had resulted in no arrest nor any prosecution — not even a citation for noise — Sheriff Fletcher decided that that one, long-ago incident made them both “a danger to self or others.”

Another was denied for being the subject of a restraining order — just like Michelle Wilson. But unlike Michelle Wilson, he had gone to court and successfully fought the restraining order, demonstrated to the judge that he was the victim of harassment, and then successfully sued his harasser for filing a false complaint. Still, Sheriff Fletcher thought that single, disproven allegation made him dangerous.

Many have been denied for a single DUI conviction, often years and years past, despite having a squeaky-clean record ever since. Sheriff Fletcher thinks that a single, ancient DUI is clear and convincing evidence that that somebody is a danger to self or others, and has denied many applicants on that basis.

He says the applicants are still a danger; courts disagree.

Attorney Marc Berris has received “at least fifteen calls” from people who have been declared by Sheriff Fletcher to be a “danger to self or others” because of a single DUI, despite having had clean records both before and ever since. He’s been retained by many denied applicants and taken at least three such single-DUI cases to court and had those denials overturned, and prevailed in other excessively-aggressive permit denial appeals, so much so that he half-seriously says that the Ramsey County Sheriffs Office has become his single best-paying client. Why? Because Minnesota Statute 624.714 provides that when a permit denial is overturned, the court must issue a judgment against the denying sheriff for “reasonable costs, including attorneys fees,” and the RCSO has been paying a lot of Marc Berris’ fees, of late. Come Christmas, he might send them a t-shirt as a thank you.

It’s not just the single-DUI cases.

Others have been denied on the basis of a single arrest where no charges were ever brought. In one of Berris’ present cases, his thirty-year-old client was labeled as dangerous by Sheriff Fletcher for having been arrested as a fourteen-year old, after having gotten into a fight in his neighborhood. Sheriff Fletcher also doesn’t like his boyhood tattoo.

In the carry permit instructor community, the perhaps exaggerated story is that in Ramsey County, people get denied for a couple of speeding tickets.

Not Michelle Rae Wilson, the aunt of Saint Paul Police Department K9 officer Robert Edwards, the man who gave her the Glock pistol that she is accused of using to murder Carl Jackson.

She got hers.

And, according to the indictment, with the gun that her nephew had given her, on January 13, 2008, she shot Carl Jackson dead in her home.

Part Three: Questions, Questions, Questions, and Some Answers

The Wilson story raises a lot of questions; others it answers.

One is easy: her carry permit didn’t have anything to do with her ability to shoot and kill Carl Jackson, if in fact she did that. You don’t need a carry permit to possess a gun in your home, or to accept it as a gift from a relative, whether or not he’s a cop.

That’s easy. It’s as easy to figure out what would have happened if she had been, in any of her previous incidents, charged with and convicted of a violent felony: she would have been legally barred from so much as possessing a gun, anywhere, even in her own home.

But that didn’t happen. You can’t be convicted without being tried, after all, and she was apparently never even arrested. There’s a saying, “you may beat the charge, but you won’t beat the ride.” Michelle Wilson, it seems, up until January 2008, beat several rides.

Here’s another easy one: the whole notion of equal treatment under the law — as embodied in the Minnesota Citizens Personal Protection Act — appears not to operate in Bob Fletcher’s Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office. Have a shouting match with your spouse, and both of you will be denied carry permits as dangerous ten years later. Be the aunt of a Saint Paul cop and you apparently have to be indicted for murder before it will be revoked.

Equal protection under the law? Not in Ramsey County.

Still, while I freely admit to being other than Bob Fletcher’s biggest fan, but it’s simply not true that by issuing her a carry permit when he had denied people with much less compelling histories that he put the murder weapon in her hand.

No, the gun — a Glock Model 17 — was given to her by her nephew, the Saint Paul police officer. And he almost certainly didn’t put it in her hand; a new Glock is sold in a nice plastic box — maybe he gift-wrapped it, too.

Whether or not it was a murder weapon will be decided by a jury of Michelle Rae Wilson’s peers.

It’s still not completely clear to me how this aunt of a Saint Paul police officer managed to escape any criminal record until being charged with murder. Murder is almost never a beginner’s crime, and what there is on the record about Wilson’s behavior is suggestive of previous criminal behavior, of stalking and harassment, of at least one death threat and in the 2007 case, of an assault.

But it’s important to remember that the public record does not contain the whole story — the multiple requests for orders of protection and the 2004 police report contain only statements of the complainants, not Wilson’s responses or explanations. All stories have at least two sides, and it’s possible that all of the people, over the years, who complained to the police and the courts about Michelle Rae Wilson were lying, or leaving out important facts.

And it’s also possible that those could be the only troubling incidents in Wilson’s history — before the death of Carl Jackson, that is.

And despite the lack of any criminal arrest, prosecution, or conviction record in Deputy Rossman’s detailed dossier, it’s not impossible that each and every one of them was fully investigated by St. Paul law enforcement, despite her status as the aunt of a Saint Paul cop, and properly determined to be of a noncriminal nature, or that the St. Paul City Attorney and the Ramsey County Attorney made a good faith decision — well, several good faith decisions, actually — not to prosecute after those investigations.

After all, such investigations are not part of the public record. Yet.

Perhaps the Saint Paul Police Department, the Saint Paul City Attorney’s office, and the Ramsey County Attorney’s office will produce statements on these matters, clarifying what is, at best, a very puzzling situation.

Other things still puzzle me. I hadn’t before thought of David Rossman, Fletcher’s deputy, as being awfully thorough, or service-oriented. Yet, when he wrote up the application for revocation of Wilson’s permit, he didn’t just document the facts around the alleged murder, and her arrest and being held in jail in lieu of a quarter million dollar’s bond. No, he went to the trouble to point out the history of the restraining order against her, in excruciating detail, complete with exhibits, of episodes reaching back years before she had applied for her carry permit, and of the 2007 incident on Nakeshia Britton’s porch.

Why throw all that in? Was it just out of a sense of completeness, or was David Rossman quietly trying to put Wilson’s history into the public domain, knowing that the revocation application would become available to anyone who asked?

I wouldn’t want to guess. I do know that some time after he filed that application, he was transferred from Sheriff Fletcher’s gun permit unit to the Ramsey County Sheriff’s patrol unit. Was that a promotion in reward for thorough police work? Just a random rotation to a new set of duties? Or something else? I don’t know.

There’s a lot that I don’t know or understand about this. For more than a year, the Wilson revocation application has been available for the asking — when my friend Mark Okern asked for it, he was promptly given it, without any fuss whatsoever.

You can look at it, too, if you’d like.

Did nobody else bother to look? That’s another mystery. There were only three local press reports on the murder — all were brief and fragmentary. Not one mentions that Officer Edwards of the Saint Paul Police Department had given Wilson the Glock she allegedly used to kill Jackson, nor the previous restraining orders; the WCCO report says simply that she was charged with murder in connection with Jackson’s death, and only a couple of dozen words more.

The metro area has two major newspapers, with national reputations, as well as several weekly ones. It has more television stations than that, each with a news department, staffed with fulltime professional journalists.

But you haven’t heard this story from any of them, but from a balding, middle-aged science fiction writer, part time carry permit trainer, and Second Amendment activist — you know: just a guy who believes in all that stuff about truth, justice, and the American Way — aided by a few friends who have been willing to run some errands, make a few phone calls, and talk and think some things out.

Why are you only hearing it from us, and only reading about this here, and now?

There’s a lot of puzzlements in this.

I’ve got another one. The Ramsey County narrative appears to be that while or after beating Jackson, Wilson went to her bedroom to retrieve her Glock, and shot Jackson from a distance. How much distance? The medical examiner’s report characterizes them as “distant,” as opposed to, I suppose, “contact” or “close range.” Deputy Rossman’s report doesn’t go into that kind of detail.

Yet all three rounds entered Jackson’s body in a sharply downward direction — one at thirty degrees, the other two at a 45 degree angle. How did this 5’7″ woman supposedly manage that?

Maybe we’ll find out on November 2. Maybe sooner. Maybe never.

Because, in Ramsey County, there is special treatment for special people.

Part Four: Special Treatment for Special People at the RCSO

Give the devil his due: Sheriff Fletcher did the right thing in moving to revoke Wilson’s permit to carry according to the explicit procedures and substance of the Minnesota Citizens Personal Protection Act of 2003; he followed the law in enforcing it. In this case.

Finally.

After the shooting, and while she was in jail.

Before then, she got a pass. It seems more than likely that the “pass” was based on “Who You Know.” And that’s corruption — a denial of equal treatment by the law to everyone else, and “special,” favorable treatment for a few.

It is also appears that Wilson received this “special person,” favorable treatment, long before she applied for the permit, and which may have affected her legal status to possess the firearm with which she shot Jackson.

Was it because the community in which she lived and acted that received less attention, care, and protection from law enforcement? Was it that her nephew is a cop? Both? Something else, as well? I don’t know.

I do know that there are special rules for special people in Ramsey County. That shouldn’t be news to you, either, with this coming on the heels of the Metropolitan Gang Strike Force debacle, whose problems were apparently centered in that same Ramsey County, under the nose of that same Sheriff Bob Fletcher, who not only turned a blind eye to them, but also helped create and perpetuate the culture that led to the Gang Strike Force disgrace, through the development of the personnel, through his Saint Paul cop buddy who he had put in charge, and kept in charge.

Let’s remember: Fletcher defended the Strike Force and his people — and, official table of organization aside, they were his people — vehemently and vociferously, and did his level best to keep that misbegotten unit going . . . and succeeded until the Hennepin County Sheriff, Richard Stanek, withdrew his people from the Strike Force. Because, it seems another Sheriffs Office had developed and allocated the personnel to the Gang Strike Force whose culture — call them “ethics,” if you will — would not only not allow them to participate, but also required them to attempt to expose the apparent corruption and not cover it up.

If it weren’t for Sheriff Stanek and Chris Omodt of his department — among others — the gang strike force would probably still be up to their old tricks, under the uncaring gaze of their defender, Sheriff Bob Fletcher. Same old wine; it would just be in a new package, but still the same thing.

That’s wrong. And surely you don’t think the last disgraceful episode of the Gang Strike Force has been played out in public, anymore than you’d think that Michelle Rae Wilson was the only cop’s relative getting special treatment from the RCSO.

Why would you think that it’s anything but special rules for special people there?

That’s not equal protection under the law. That’s not, as the saying goes, truth, justice and the American Way.

It’s wrong. And it gets people hurt, and maybe killed.

And it really must be put to a stop.

-30-

Author’s note: I’m grateful for the great help I’ve gotten in researching and writing this from Joseph Olson, David M. Gross, Marc Berris, Andrew Rothman, and Mark Okern. And from the staff at Ellegon, Inc.: Felicia G. Herman, and Judy Rosenberg. (I’m married to the former, and the latter is our older daughter.)

When Truth, Justice, and the American Way happens, it’s a team effort.

You could look it up.