Jan 152015
 

Courthouses can be vulnerable to acts of violence because they are located in accessible and centralized locations. Courts need proper security procedures, technology, personnel and facilities to protect people, property and the integrity of the judicial process. Advocates say that while there is no one solution to all courthouse security problems, court administrators must have emergency management plans in place and be prepared to collaborate with law enforcement and emergency agencies during a crisis.

Some people believe television coverage of court proceedings, including criminal trials, would help Americans better understand this part of our judicial process. They also say broadcasting court proceedings will allow Americans to observe public trials without having to travel to the courthouse. Televised-trial opponents claim TV coverage is often shallow and preoccupied with sensationalism. They say cameras will detract from the reverence of trial proceedings.

Although the overwhelmingly vast majority of our judges are beyond reproach, there are occasional cases of judicial misconduct. Judicial misconduct occurs when a judge acts in a way that is considered unethical or violates the judge’s obligations of impartiality. These actions include prejudicial conduct, accepting bribes, obtaining special treatment for friends or relatives, maltreatment of litigants or attorneys, and violating other mandatory standards of judicial conduct. A judicial investigative committee is a panel of judges convened to investigate a judicial misconduct complaint. However, these committees are very rare. Only 18 of the nearly 1,500 judicial misconduct complaints filed in our Courts between 2004 and 2007 resulted in the formation of a judicial investigative committee.

Pending Legislations:

S.445 & H.R.953 – Courthouse Safety Act of 2013

S.405 & H.R.917 – Sunshine in the Courtroom Act of 2013

S.575 & H.R.1203- Judicial Transparency and Ethics Enhancement Act of 2013

I oppose reforming current courtroom policy and wish to defeat S.445 & H.R.953, S.405 & H.R.917 and S.575 & H.R.1203

I support carrying out a training and technical assistance program to teach employees of state, local, and tribal law enforcement agencies how to anticipate, survive, and respond to violent encounters during the course of their duties, including duties relating to security at state, county, and tribal courthouses; improving safety and security in state and local courts; giving local courts access to excess federal security equipment, including metal detectors and screening equipment, and wish to pass S.445 & H.R.953

I support authorizing the presiding judge of a U.S. appellate court or U.S. district court to permit the photographing, electronic recording, broadcasting, or televising to the public of court proceedings over which that judge presides, except when such action would constitute a violation of the due process rights of any party, and wish to pass S.405 & H.R.917

I support establishing the Office of Inspector General (OIG) for the Judicial Branch of the U.S. government, to be headed by an Inspector General appointed by the Chief Justice; requiring the OIG to: conduct investigations of alleged misconduct in the judicial branch, including the Supreme Court; conduct and supervise audits and investigations; and prevent and detect waste, fraud, and abuse, wish to pass S.575 & H.R.1203

 Posted by at 12:00 am
Jan 152015
 

Pro se, or “for oneself,” legal representation is defined as advocating on one’s own behalf before a court rather than being represented by an attorney. A defendant or plaintiff may represent themselves in any civil court proceeding or as a defendant in a criminal case. Due to the high costs of lawyers, it is estimated that only 30% of the legal problems of low-income households and 40% of those of moderate-income households are brought to the justice system. Americans now represent themselves in nearly 50% of all court cases and this number is growing. Pro se defenses are often used in family courts that involve divorce, child custody, visitation or probate. People also represent themselves when a disputed amount of money is too small to justify hiring a lawyer. In 2010, pro se litigants filed more than 25% of all court actions, including 90% of all prisoner petitions and 10% of all non-prisoner petitions, which were filed in our federal court system. Self representation supporters claim this option has historical precedent, is a personal right, and saves the poor from the expense of having to hire a lawyer. Critics claim pro se defenses should not be allowed in most court proceedings. They say that litigants who lack the skill and expertise to properly present their case puts undue strain on court resources. They claim it is difficult for a judge to conduct an impartial trial when only one party is represented by counsel without, in effect, becoming the other party’s lawyer. Many think unbundled legal services, in which a lawyer and client agree to limit the involvement of an attorney in a case, also has the potential to reduce legal costs. This option reduces the amount of time an attorney spends on a case, along with their fee. In these cases, the client is responsible for the aspects of a case an attorney is not involved with. Most consumers use unbundled services for issues related to business law, family law and estate planning. Some do-it-yourself online legal document companies also are beginning to offer these unbundled legal services.

Pending Legislation: None

I oppose reforming current self representation policy

I support identifying a legislator who will sponsor a bill to create clinics at law schools to teach unbundled legal services to students and encourage future lawyers to use this practice

 Posted by at 12:00 am
Jan 152015
 

DNA analysis of crime scene evidence can now conclusively determine if that evidence matches the person imprisoned for the crime. This evidence was not available to many wrongly-convicted people during their original trial. DNA evidence has been used to exonerate at least 18 Americans on death row -some within days of their scheduled execution. The convictions of more than 310 other inmates have also been overturned after DNA evidence was analyzed. Advocates say there are innocent people currently languishing in prison that can be helped by this technology. However, it could be some time before this help arrives as there is a backlog of 350,000 DNA samples in homicide and rape cases waiting to be examined. More than 200,000 samples collected from convicted offenders have also yet to be examined and cataloged. The FBI’s DNA database contains more than 10 million profiles of people convicted of crimes. It has been instrumental in more than 200,000 crime investigations since it became operational in 1998.

Pending Legislation:

S.822 – Justice for All Reauthorization Act of 2013

I oppose reforming current wrongful conviction policy and wish to defeat S.822

I support authorizing grant programs for the enforcement of crime victims’ rights; including DNA training and education for law enforcement officers, sexual assault forensic exams, DNA research and development, identification of missing persons and improving the quality of legal representation for indigent defendants in capital cases; providing incentives to states to establish a reasonable process for resolving claims of actual innocence; helping states defray the costs of post-conviction DNA; extending the authorization of appropriations through 2018 for the Debbie Smith DNA Backlog Grant Program, and wish to pass S.822

 Posted by at 12:00 am
Jan 152015
 

Capital punishment is permitted by our Constitution and limited under the Eighth Amendment which prohibits cruel and unusual punishment. The death penalty is used almost exclusively for aggravated murders committed by mentally competent adults. There are at least 3,035 inmates currently on Death Row and 39 people were executed in 2013. Since 1976, 34 states, the military and our federal government and have executed about 1,392 inmates who were convicted of murdering at least one person. Of those executed, 56% were white and 35% were black. This group also included 15 women. Texas is the leader in capital punishment with 518 executions during this time. Oklahoma is second with 111.

Supporters of the death penalty believe it serves justice, is a fitting punishment for murder, and allows closure for the families of crime victims. Others claim retribution, or the biblical concept of an “eye for an eye,” justifies the death penalty. Some believe capital punishment deters people from committing murder, and gives prosecutors a bargaining chip in the plea-bargain process. Many say the death penalty is an appropriate punishment because it guarantees a murderer will not kill again. Studies have found that about 8% of those on Death Row have a prior homicide conviction.

Opponents say the death penalty is cruel and unusual punishment and is unevenly administered to people without wealth, people of color and to innocent people as well. They say poor defendants and minorities receive the death penalty much more often than defendants who can afford more competent representation. Our Justice Department has reported that white defendants are more likely than black defendants to negotiate plea bargains that save them from the death penalty in federal cases. It has also been acknowledged that the legal representation of defendants in many capital cases has been inadequate. It estimated that 15% of those we have executed have been innocent. Death penalty opponents claim there are many systemic problems that result in innocent people being convicted of murder. These include mistaken identification, coerced confessions, reliance on jailhouse informants, reliance on faulty forensic testing and poor access to reliable DNA testing. At least 18 inmates on death row have been exonerated since 1973 -most after serving lengthy sentences. DNA analysis of crime scene evidence has often been the determining factor in these inmates being found innocent.

Supporters of the death penalty also use DNA testing to make the case that those now on death row have been tested, proven to be truly guilty and should therefore be executed. Some say we should halt further executions until the guilt of all death row inmates can be assured. However, death penalty opponents say no system, given human nature and frailties, could ever be devised or constructed that would work perfectly and absolutely guarantee that no innocent person is ever put to death. They recommend mandatory life sentences for criminals convicted of heinous crimes. They say that, considering legal costs and the appeals process, executing an inmate costs taxpayers millions more than a sentence of life in prison without parole. They add that capital punishment prevents justice in cases where the executed is eventually found to be innocent. Our Supreme Court has ruled the death penalty is constitutional despite the “theoretical possibility” that an innocent person might be put to death.

Due to recent voluntary drug embargoes by European manufacturers and others, most of the traditional lethal injection drugs, such as pentobarbital and sodium thiopental, are no longer available. This has led some states to experiment with unapproved and untested drug combinations in order to continue executing inmates. These states refuse to divulge the type or source of these new drugs, which have resulted in a number of botched executions in Ohio, Oklahoma and Arizona. It took 25, 43 and 100 minutes for these new drugs to kill inmates in these states, and anesthesiologists say they likely did so in great pain. Advocates claim this violates our 8th Amendment protections from cruel and unusual punishment, saying it is illegal to use unknown and untested execution drugs before their effectiveness and constitutionality can be evaluated. Some states are now considering the use of the electric chair or firing squad for executions.

Pending Legislation: None

I oppose reforming current death penalty policy

I support a moratorium on federal executions to review whether the death penalty is consistent with constitutional requirements of fairness, justice, equality and due process, and wish to identify a legislator who will reintroduce S.132 – National Death Penalty Moratorium Act of 2003 (108th Congress 2003-2004)

I support abolishing the federal death penalty and wish to identify a legislator who will reintroduce H.R.2574 – Federal Death Penalty Abolition Act of 2003 (108th Congress 2003-2004)

I support identifying a legislator who will sponsor a bill requiring prisons to disclose of the type and origin of lethal injection drugs intended to be used for execution; and prohibiting execution by means of lethal injection until this method is proven to conform to the protections provided under the Eighth Amendment.

 Posted by at 12:00 am
Jan 152015
 

In an attempt to win the War on Drugs, we enacted mandatory minimum sentencing laws in 1986. These laws, intended to reduce or eliminate illegal drug supplies, were enforced against first-time offenders. Mandatory sentencing laws require prison terms of 10 years without parole for drug convictions involving more than 11 pounds of cocaine. However, the penalty or selling only 2 ounces of crack cocaine was also 10 years. The average sentence of these first-time nonviolent drug offenders is often longer than the average sentence for rape, child molestation, bank robbery or manslaughter. These laws have filled our prisons but the War on Drugs is no closer to being won now than it was when it began in 1971. Before this law was passed, about 50,000 Americans were serving time for drug offenses. Today, there are nearly 500,000 drug offenders locked up. Our prison budget has increased more than 1,000% during this time to accommodate mandatory minimum sentences. Opponents of mandatory sentencing laws say prosecutors, by deciding how to charge and prosecute offenders, are now making sentencing decisions instead of judges. Critics claim mandatory sentencing laws have failed to decrease our nation’s illegal drug supplies and that these inmates should not be serving such long terms for nonviolent crimes. The Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 reduced the disparity between the amount of crack cocaine and powder cocaine needed to trigger federal criminal penalties. Advocates say we need further reforms including making this new law retroactive and completely eliminating the disparity between the sentences imposed for crack and powder cocaine. The Obama administration has ordered federal prosecutors to refrain from listing drug quantities in indictments for low-level drug cases and is also considering granting clemency to thousands of nonviolent drug offenders before he leaves office. Advocates say this essentially eliminates mandatory minimum sentences for the duration of the Obama administration but it does not change the law.

Pending Legislation:

H.R.2369 – Fair Sentencing Clarification Act of 2013

I oppose reforming current mandatory minimum sentencing law policy and wish to defeat H.R.2369

I support eliminating mandatory minimum sentences for federal drug-related offenses by directing a court in cases in which a sentence has not yet been imposed with respect to the application of the penalty amendments of the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 to cocaine base offenses committed prior to the enactment of such Act and impose such sentence as if such amendments were in effect on the date the offense was committed; and for the Court of Appeals to remand for resentencing consistent with such amendments such cases in which a sentence has already been imposed, if subject to a pending appeal on or after August 3, 2010; authorizing the sentencing court, in the case of a defendant who has been convicted of such an offense committed before August 3, 2010, for which a term of imprisonment has been imposed, to reduce the term of imprisonment for that crime consistent with the amendments made by that Act on motion of the defendant or the Director of the Bureau of Prisons or on its own motion, and wish to pass H.R.2369

 Posted by at 12:00 am
Jan 152015
 

Three Strikes laws are statutes enacted by our state and federal governments which require courts to impose harsher sentences on habitual offenders who are convicted of three or more serious crimes. However, there have been many different interpretations as to what is considered a serious crime. As a result, defendants with previous convictions have been given sentences of 25 years to life for such crimes as shoplifting golf clubs or stealing a slice of pizza from a child. At least 26 states now have some form of these habitual offender laws on their books. The first Three Strikes law was passed in 1993 by voters in Washington State. The following year California and the federal government passed Three Strikes laws in which a third felony conviction carried a sentence of life in prison without parole for 25 years. Advocates say that after the hype leading to the passage of these laws died down, it was soon apparent they were not bringing the results the public expected. Data shows Three Strikes laws didn’t necessarily reduce violent crime but instead put away more “criminals” for nonviolent and petty crimes. This dramatically increased our prison population. These studies show that higher incarceration rates do not necessarily lead to less crime. Researchers have found that all 19 states which reduced the number of people in prison over the past decade have also seen their crime rates decline. A 2010 report by California’s State Auditor concluded that “those now in prison under California’s Three Strikes law will cost the state $19.2 billion and that 53% of these inmates are serving a sentence for non-serious and nonviolent crimes.” Some states have ruled that Three Strikes laws are unconstitutional on the grounds they violate our 6th Amendment guarantee of trial by jury.

Pending Legislation: None

I oppose reforming current Three Strikes policy

I support identifying a legislator who will sponsor a bill prohibiting Three Strike laws

 Posted by at 12:00 am
Jan 152015
 

The 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) permits the physical and electronic surveillance of “foreign intelligence information between foreign powers and agents of foreign powers.” FISA was amended in 2008 to allow the government to conduct surveillance of “a U.S. person located outside of the U.S. with probable cause they are an agent of a foreign power.” It also provided immunity from lawsuits to telecommunication companies assisting in these investigations. FISA authorized the creation of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. The FISA court oversees requests from the FBI and other federal police agencies for surveillance warrants against those suspected of spying or plotting against us. These law enforcement requests are presented to the FISA court in national security letters (NSL). By law, NSLs can only request non-content information, such as transactional records, telephone numbers dialed, and sender or recipient email addresses. NSLs may also contain a gag order that prevents the recipients of these letters, including telecom companies and Internet service providers, from disclosing the existence of these requests. However, it has recently been revealed that the FISA Court has been signing off on domestic surveillance and data collection programs targeting law-abiding American citizens. These programs have occurred with little knowledge or input from anyone outside the White House. The court itself operates in secrecy and answers only to the Chief Justice of our Supreme Court, who also appoints all 11 judges that serve on the FISA court. Supporters of these surveillance programs say they are necessary to protect us against terrorists. Opponents claim the FISA court has overstepped the original intent of this 1978 law which contained no provision for data-mining or spying on law-abiding Americans. They say our civil liberties are being trampled without due process. They also say this court needs an adversarial process to insure impartiality in its decisions. They claim there is no one opposing law enforcement when it goes to the FISA court to request permission for a surveillance project. They call FISA “the court that never says no” and claim it should be held civilly liable for illegally intercepting the communications of law-abiding citizens.

Pending Legislation:

S.1215 – FISA Accountability and Privacy Protection Act of 2013

H.R.2586 – FISA Court Accountability Act

I oppose reforming current Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court policy and wish to defeat S.1215 and H.R.2586

I support repealing the 2008 FISA Amendments Act by advancing its sunset date to June 1, 2015; requiring law enforcement to present a statement of facts and circumstances showing reasonable grounds to believe that the records sought are relevant to an investigation; giving entities who are required to produce records or information subject to a nondisclosure order the right to challenge the order without waiting one year; removing the presumption in favor of the government to seal orders; requiring the publication of an unclassified report on the impact of these uses on the privacy of U.S. citizens; requiring the Inspector General to conduct audits of Section 215 orders, NSLs and other surveillance authorized under the Patriot Act, and wish to pass S.1215

I support allowing the leaders of the Senate and House of Representatives appoint Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court judges; requiring a 60% majority vote of FISA Court judges to pass FISC decisions; requiring pro-government decisions of the FISA Court of Review to be unanimous; requiring classified and unclassified versions of FISA Court decisions and opinions be provided to the House and Senate Intelligence and Judiciary Committees, and wish to pass H.R.2586

 Posted by at 12:00 am
Jan 152015
 

Mandatory arbitration is a private-sector alternative to the public court system in which grievances are decided by a private panel instead of a jury. Originally, arbitration was used to resolve business-to-business disputes. In the last 15 years however, it has become the method of choice for businesses to resolve disputes with customers. Consumers and employees often find they have unknowingly surrendered their right to a jury trial for any grievance that may arise once they sign a waiver -or continue to use a credit card, do business with a firm or work for one. Companies have increasingly used arbitration to keep disputes involving employees, stockholders, patients and consumers out of court. Instead of suing, consumers and employees are required to present their grievance to an arbitration panel. The members of these panels are usually selected by the company and their decisions are often final. Consumers may still need to hire an attorney to represent their interests when facing mandatory arbitration. Critics claim settlements awarded by these panels are usually much less than consumers would receive in a jury trial. Companies in virtually every industry have embraced arbitration as faster, cheaper and more efficient than litigation. It is imposed it on employees and customers as a routine and often unnoticed condition of doing business. Without realizing it, many consumers are now signing mandatory arbitration clauses in credit, telephone, car and health insurance contracts, bank loans, rental leases, agreements for babysitting, nursing homes, summer camps, house repairs and more. However, critics claim arbitration lacks the legal safeguards of our court system and warn that company panels can be tainted with conflicts of interest that might skew the case’s outcome. Industry advocates say arbitration eliminates attorney costs thereby keeping costs low for all consumers. Opponents say arbitration protects many firms from large jury verdicts, particularly from class action lawsuits, to the detriment of all consumers.

Pending Legislation:

S.878 & H.R.1844 Arbitration Fairness Act of 2013

I oppose reforming current mandatory consumer arbitration policy and wish to defeat S.878 & H.R.1844

I support eliminating mandatory arbitration clauses for consumers and allowing consumers, patients and employees to choose how to resolve a dispute after it arises – whether in court or arbitration, individually or as a member of a class action by: declaring that no pre-dispute arbitration agreement shall be valid or enforceable if it requires arbitration of an employment, consumer, antitrust, or civil rights dispute; declaring that the validity and enforceability of an agreement to arbitrate shall be determined by a court, under federal law, rather than an arbitrator, irrespective of whether the party resisting arbitration challenges the arbitration agreement specifically or in conjunction with other terms of the contract containing such agreement; exempting from this Act arbitration provisions in a contract between an employer and a labor organization or between labor organizations; denying to any such arbitration provision, however, the effect of waiving the right of an employee to seek judicial enforcement of a right arising under the U.S. Constitution, a state constitution, a federal or state statute, or related public policy, and wish to pass S.878 & H.R.1844

 Posted by at 12:00 am
Jan 152015
 

In 2013, hospitals committed 17% fewer medical errors and reduced hospital-acquired infections, bedsores and pneumonia by 9%, compared to 2010. These and other improvements in hospital safety saved 50,000 lives, $12 billion in avoidable costs, and resulted in 1.3 million fewer patients suffering a hospital-acquired condition. Some have credited Obamacare reforms with this success. However, statistics show that at least 150,000 Americans continue to die from medical malpractice each year, much of it attributed to hospital and physician errors. This is more than double the combined number of Americans killed each year by breast cancer and in automobile accidents. Between 15,000 and 19,000 malpractice lawsuits are brought against doctors each year, and more than 15 cents of each dollar spent on health care is wasted on injuries resulting from medical mistakes. However, negligent doctors are rarely reprimanded for these mistakes. Health advocates say most states do not require public disclosure of negligent doctors and the American Medical Association only disciplines doctors in cases of extreme negligence. They claim this is one reason medical malpractice insurance is so expensive. Another reason healthcare and malpractice insurance costs are so high, these advocates say, is due to the antitrust exemption granted to the insurance industry in 1945. Many say this exemption allows hospitals to engage in uncompetitive behaviors such as collusion and price fixing. They claim this lack of competition fosters inefficiency, leads to medical mistakes, and increases the cost of healthcare. However, industry advocates claim frivolous lawsuits and astronomical awards by juries are causing healthcare costs and malpractice insurance rates to skyrocket. At least half of all medical malpractice lawsuit awards exceed $1 million. They warn that our access to good healthcare and competent physicians could be endangered if malpractice insurance costs are not controlled. These costs account for about 2% of all healthcare costs but insurance premiums for many physicians and specialists are increasing.

Pending Legislation:

S.44 – MCAP Act

H.R.99 – Health Insurance Industry Antitrust Enforcement Act of 2013

I oppose reforming current medical malpractice policy and wish to defeat S.44 and H.R.99

I support imposing a 3 year statute of limitations on medical malpractice lawsuits; imposing sanctions for frivolous lawsuits; limiting non-economic malpractice damages to $250,000 with a $500,000 cap per injury; requiring proof of malicious intent to award punitive damages; prohibiting a health care provider from being named as a party in a product liability or class action lawsuit for prescribing or dispensing an FDA-approved prescription drug, biological product, or medical device for an approved indication; providing for periodic payments of future damage awards, and wish to pass S.44

I support requiring health and medical malpractice insurance insurers to be subject to our antitrust laws by: prohibiting health insurance issuers or issuers of medical malpractice insurance to engage in any form of price fixing, bid rigging, or market allocations in connection with the conduct of the business of providing health insurance coverage or coverage of medical malpractice claims or actions; amending such Act to provide that nothing in it shall modify, impair, or supersede the operation of any of the antitrust laws with respect to the business of health insurance; applies prohibitions against using unfair methods of competition to the business of health insurance without regard to whether such business is carried on for profit, and wish to pass H.R.99

 Posted by at 12:00 am