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Project Salute

Matt Nelson has been appointed to lead the State Bar of Arizona’s Project Salute.


Death Row Cases To Move Quicker – Supreme Court

The U.S. Supreme Court  ruled in an Arizona case that a death row inmate can’t delay his case indefinitely.  In the case a mentally incompetent inmate, Ernest Gonzales, had delayed his case because an appeals court had ruled he was not competent to assist his attorneys.  Gonzales had murdered a man in front of his family in 1990.  As the years went on he refused to see his defense attorneys.  The Supreme court reversed the appeals court and said the case could proceed without the participation of the defendant.  The prosecution said the case could proceed using only court documents.  Thee are currently about 700 other cases at the same stage of appeal as Gonzales. 

Maricopa Justice Court Have Poorly Trained Judges

The only requirements to be a judge in a Justice Court is to be 18 and breathing.  No legal education is required or any type of legal testing.  One group, Community Legal Services (CLS), which provide legal services to the poor has issued a report on this lack of training.   They say that Judges are routinely violating the rules of evidence and ethic standards in eviction cases.   The rulings based on bad evidence can lead to financial ruin for some tenants.  CLS has written a letter to the presiding Judge of the Justice courts requesting help.  If you would like a copy of the letter documenting abuses please contact me and I will email it to you.

Are Blunt Objects More Common Homicide Weapons Than Rifles?


• January 3, 2013 7:47 pm

This column says so:

According to the FBI annual crime statistics, the number of murders committed annually with hammers and clubs far outnumbers the number of murders committed with a rifle…. [For instance, i]n 2005, the number of murders committed with a rifle was 445, while the number of murders committed with hammers and clubs was 605….

I’m not sure this is right, for a simple reason: The FBI statistics also include “Firearms, type not stated,” which suggests that not all rifle homicides are labeled as such in the FBI data:

Weapons 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009
Total 14,965 15,087 14,916 14,224 13,636
Total firearms: 10,158 10,225 10,129 9,528 9,146
   Handguns 7,565 7,836 7,398 6,800 6,452
   Rifles 445 438 453 380 348
   Shotguns 522 490 457 442 418
   Other guns 138 107 116 81 94
   Firearms, type not stated 1,488 1,354 1,705 1,825 1,834
Knives or cutting instruments 1,920 1,830 1,817 1,888 1,825
Blunt objects (clubs, hammers, etc.) 608 618 647 603 611
Personal weapons (hands, fists, feet, etc.) 905 841 869 875 801
Poison 9 12 10 9 6
Explosives 2 1 1 11 2
Fire 125 117 131 85 99
Narcotics 46 48 52 34 45
Drowning 20 12 12 16 8
Strangulation 118 137 134 89 121
Asphyxiation 96 106 109 87 77
Other weapons or weapons not stated 958 1,140 1,005 999 895

It thus seems that local law enforcement reports about 13-20% of all gun homicides to the FBI without indicating what the gun type is — likely because this isn’t clear to the coroner (e.g., the wound was made by a bullet that could have been fired either from a rifle or a handgun) and the crime hasn’t been solved, or perhaps just because the police department doesn’t bother to provide the gun type data even if it knows it. We don’t know what fraction of these homicides involved rifles, but it seems unlikely that the fraction is 0%. If we assume that 5% of the homicides involved rifles (following the breakdown between known handgun homicides and known rifle homicides), then blunt object homicides would still exceed rifle homicides. If it’s 20%, for instance if handgun homicides are more likely to be provably identified as such, but rifle homicides are more likely to seem ambiguous, then rifle homicides would exceed blunt object homicides.

The article briefly acknowledges the uncategorized guns problem, without noting its magnitude: “While the FBI makes is clear that some of the ‘murder by rifle’ numbers could be adjusted up slightly, when you take into account murders with non-categorized types of guns, it does not change the fact that their annual reports consistently show more lives are taken each year with these blunt objects than are taken with Feinstein’s dreaded rifle.” But the FBI’s reports don’t show this, because they don’t actually give a count of rifle murders — they give a lower bound for such murders (the cell labeled rifles) and an upper bound (the cell labeled rifles, added to the cell labeled “Firearms, type not stated”), and we don’t know exactly where the actual rifle murder count falls.

In any event, I don’t think one can say with any confidence that rifle murders are less common than blunt object murders. I’m generally skeptical of gun control proposals, whether aimed at handguns or rifles, because I think most such proposals will either have little effect on anyone, or would tend to interfere with self-defense much more than they would interfere with crime. But until we have a better sense of what the “firearms, type not stated” category means, I wouldn’t assume much about rifle murder counts.

Animal Rights Group Loses to Circus

Animal Rights Group to Pay Circus Producer $9.3 Million Settlement

Twelve years after animal rights groups sued the producer of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus over the treatment of elephants, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has agreed to pay $9.3 million to exit the case.

The settlement announced late last week ended the ASPCA’s participation in litigation against circus producer Feld Entertainment Inc. Feld also agreed to dismiss the ASPCA from a racketeering lawsuit the company is pursuing against the animal rights groups involved. In settling, the ASPCA did not admit to any wrongdoing.

The ASPCA and other animal rights groups unsuccessfully pursued claims against Feld in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia beginning in 2000, accusing the company of mistreating its Asian elephants. U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan entered a judgment against the animal rights groups in 2009 and a three-judge appellate panel upheld that ruling in October 2011. The settlement doesn’t include any other organization involved in the litigation.

“My impression is ASPCA wanted to get out of this case because they appreciate the exposure that they faced, particularly in this RICO case,” said Fulbright & Jaworski partner John Simpson, lead counsel for Feld. The settlement amount, he added, “recognizes an evaluation of the risk that they knew they had moving forward.”

In a statement, the ASPCA President and CEO Ed Sayres noted that Sullivan never ruled on the underlying allegations of elephant abuse. The group was represented by Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler.

“After more than a decade of litigating with Feld Entertainment, the ASPCA concluded that it is in the best interests of the organization to resolve this expensive, protracted litigation,” said Sayres. “We are glad to put this matter behind us so we can focus most effectively on our life-saving work, preventing cruelty and improving the welfare of animals.”

The settlement agreement (PDF) was signed December 14. The parties filed a formal stipulation of dismissal with the court on December 28.

The animal rights groups’ case came down to whether they had standing to sue. Sullivan found that the one individual plaintiff, Thomas Rider, who had worked with the elephants, wasn’t credible and had been paid to serve as a plaintiff and fact witness. Without Rider, the other plaintiffs couldn’t claim a direct injury that could be addressed by the court. The parties have been litigating over attorney fees since the summer.

Feld sued the animal rights groups in D.C. federal court in 2007, alleging violations of federal racketeering and other state laws in their pursuit of the elephant litigation. In July, Sullivan denied a motion to dismiss the case, although he did dismiss a few individual claims. Sullivan is weighing whether to allow the animal rights groups to pursue an appeal now; litigants are rarely given permission to pursue an appeal before a case has concluded.

Simpson said Feld would be open to settlement talks with the remaining parties, but that there are none at the moment. “My door is open, but I haven’t heard from them,” he said.

Maricopa County Opens New Justice Court

PHOENIX (AP) – Arizona’s most populous county is opening its 26th justice court precinct, with a ceremony scheduled Thursday to celebrate the swearing-in of Justice of the Peace Anna Huberman.

The court for Maricopa County’s new Country Meadows Justice Precinct will be housed in downtown Phoenix for the next few years.

The precinct covers a territory roughly between Interstate on the south, Dysart Road on the west, Cactus Road on the north and as far east as 59th Avenue on the west.

Why people hate lawyers

There have been many suggested responses to the Newtown massacre.  Generally, they involve more stringent gun control, improving our ability to commit mentally unstable people, and posting armed guards or police at schools.  All merit discussion, although I have no great faith that, in anything resembling a free country (and probably not a dictatorship either) any of them will work.  The occasional triumph of evil in this world is a part of life we are required to accept.

There is one suggested response, however, that merits no discussion beyond ridicule. Thus I bring you this headline from the Associated Press:  Connecticut Attorney asks to sue state after shooting  Here’s the story:

A New Haven attorney is asking permission to sue the state for $100 million on behalf of a student who survived the mass shooting at a Newtown school.

The Hartford Courant reports that attorney Irving Pinsky filed notice Thursday with Claims Commissioner J. Paul Vance Jr. The state has immunity against most lawsuits unless permission to sue is granted.

Pinsky said the 6-year-old student, identified as “Jill Doe,” was in her classroom at Sandy Hook Elementary School on Dec. 14 when “the horrific confrontation” with Adam Lanza came over the loudspeaker.

Pinsky said the student has been traumatized by the killings, and accused the state of failing to protect students from “foreseeable harm.”

The actual foreseeability of a student’s being attacked in a mass school shooting is considerably less than the foreseeability of being struck by lightning on the playground.  Maybe Mr. Pinsky should sue thunderstorms, too.