Archive for the ‘law’ Category

Anyone But the Lawyer

Friday, July 9th, 2010

I was reading an article about Bill Gates (The New Bill Gates, Philosopher-King of the Nerds) which spent some time talking about the differences between scientists and engineers. And brought up that most of the government leaders in the US are lawyers. China is lead mostly by engineers. This hit home because I think we have too many lawyers in the US. Plus being a lawyer and being in the government, especially in the legislature, has always struck me as an obvious conflict of interest.

Now sure we have had some good presidents who were  lawyers. Not sure I can name one during my life time though. I think the nature of the law has changed in the last 200 years though. And not always in a good way. But lawyers do a lot of good – we need them. I even have friends who are lawyers who I respect.  I’m just not sure they (for the most part) are the problem solving, clear talking, make is simple and make it work sort of people we really need in office. Engineers on the other hand are.

In any case, I have decided that if an engineer runs for office I will vote for them. When the choice is between a lawyer and someone else I will vote for someone else. When the only choice is between lawyers I may sit it out.

Usual caveat – I may change my mind on a case by case basis. But I think as a general principle this may be a sound idea.

The Henry Louis Gates Jr Affair

Friday, July 24th, 2009

I’ve been following the issue of Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr and his arrest. BTW Why do they always have to say “Henry Louis Gates Jr?” Why not just “Henry Gates” or even “Dr. Gates” or “professor Gates?” Are their that many Professor Gates at Harvard? Any way to the big issues.

I’ve listened to interviews with both Dr Gates and the police officer who arrested him. The stories don’t completely match which is to be expected. But honestly I didn’t hear anything in the interview with the police officer that made it clear why Gates was arrested. It seems to me the officer could have given Gates his name and badge number and just left. Yelling at police officers isn’t illegal is it? I mean as long as their are no physical threats its still free speech right? SO why the need to arrest Gates? That I just don’t get.

The police arrived to investigate a robbery. Gates was upset about being a suspect. I can understand that. He assumed that it was because he was a black man. There don’t seem to be any real evidence that this was the case though. One would have to be naive to think this sort of thing doesn’t happen to white men. Oh it probably does happen to black men more than white men but I find it hard to believe that a white man would have been treated any differently up to that point. If a call came in about a burglary I would expect the police to ask anyone they found in the house to produce ID no matter what race they were.

I would also expect most people to get upset being questioned like that in their own home. Most of us though are more intimidated by men with guns and would go out of their way to avoid confrontation with the police. I was stopped for a “traffic violation” once and the officer got quite belligerent when I calmly tried to explain that there was a delayed light and that the light on my side was still green even though the light he could see was red. Frankly I was afraid for my safety and I’m a white guy. So I shut up and prepared to fight the ticket in court. Fortunately when the officer called this in the office cleared things up and I didn’t get a ticket. No apology either I might add. Yes I still harbor bad feelings about that officer. I think he acted stupidly. But getting police to admit error is very difficult.  Gates should get an apology unless there is more to the story than what I have heard from the police side but based on my own experience I see that as unlikely.

In the Gates case I think both Gates and the officer acted stupidly. I’m sure they are both really smart people and mean well but either one of them could have calmed things down before they escalated the way they did. The officer should have calmed things down because that is his job. If Gates is so smart and professional and mature he should have seen that no good was going to happen with what was going on and calmed things down. Likewise there were other police there who should have stepped in to avoid the confrontation that led to the arrest.

Speaking of acting stupidly, the President should never have made the comments he did. I don’t disagree with his opinion but I think it was unhelpful to the situation. If nothing else it hardened the stance of both individuals which is not good. Now of course neither will own up to any mistakes which is a shame.

Also it hurt his credibility with the police. Did it help him with some people? Perhaps but to what practical good. I think he should have said something like “It is a very unfortunate situation that I am disappointed to see see happen. I am happy that the charges were dropped. I’m sure a complete investigation will be done and will wait for that before making more specific comments.” Privately he could have supported his friend and he could have requested an independent Federal investigation. But to publicly state something was stupid without more information was ill advised.

You know, just because something bad happens to a black man doesn’t mean race was a factor. There actually are black/white/Hispanic/Asian/native American people who do bad things. No really. I’ve also seen white people get arrested by non-white police and don’t know of many cases where they were arrested because they were white. Though honestly having seen white students being beaten up because of their race I would not be amazed if people were arrested in some cases because they are white. But assuming race is a factor without evidence is, well, its racist.

Responsibility is Hard

Friday, June 5th, 2009

I spent three days on jury duty this week. It was an interesting and thought provoking experience. Throughout the process everyone treats jurors very seriously. One is constantly reminded of the jury being critically important to the process. Jurors are treated well. That is to say everyone shows the jury respect. There are comfortable chairs both in the jury box and the jury deliberation room. There are snacks and beverages in the deliberation room. The judge, who rules the process, speaks to the jury in respectful tones and works hard to minimize the announces of process and delays. Plus there are oaths to take which are explains and anything but mere formality. This all helps the jury to take their role seriously.

I found myself paying closer attention to testimony and discussion than I can ever remember paying in my life. It was not a strain even though the testimony was sometimes repetitious and not that interesting. It was still important. After two days of listening to testimony and evidence it was time to deliberate.

Everyone on the jury takes this deadly seriously. We are after all deciding the future of another person’s life. We don’t determine the punishment – that is the role of the judge. But the jury determines if there will be a punishment. It’s a big deal.

The jury I was on spent four hours in deliberation. Everyone wanted to be sure that they were absolutely sure of their decision. Did the prosecution prove their case? It’s a big difference between “we think they did it” and “we are sure without doubt that they did it.” No one on my jury seemed to be willing to just vote with the majority to get it over with. We reviewed evidence – pictures, videos, audio recordings. We discussed timelines and testimony. It was intense.

I mentioned that during the trial I fell asleep every night and woke up every morning thinking about the case – reviewing the evidence and testimony in my mind. I weighted what I had observed and analyzed every piece of it. The people I told about this agreed that they were doing the same things. This is responsibility and this is people working to take that responsibility seriously. It is not easy. It is not easy mentally and it is not easy emotionally. But it is what responsibility is about.

I came away from this experience feeling better about the jury process. There may have been some things I might have done differently if I had been one of the attorneys in the case. Though of course I can’t really know that. But I do believe that the jury did everything they could have and should have. That is a comforting thought.