Friday, May 02, 2008

Is the case against the FLDS unraveling?

Texas authorities have canceled the arrest warrant for the Arizona man who had been suspected of physically and sexually abusing a teenage girl -- allegations that launched last month's raid on an FLDS ranch in Eldorado.
Law enforcement did not find the teenage girl or Barlow at the YFZ Ranch, owned by the polygamous Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.
The man named in the warrant, Dale E. Barlow, was never arrested and denied knowing the girl.
That's right, the entire legal justification for the raid has been yanked, and the poligamist they were supposedly seeking has never been arrested in connection with the raid. Now the next question you are asking yourself is "does that mean the whole case against the FLDS will get thrown out?" Not necessarily.

The U.S. Supreme Court created a "good faith" exception to the exclusionary rule in U.S. v. Leon. That is, if the prosecutor can prove that the Texas law enforcement officials had no reason to believe at the time of the raid that "Sarah" was some repeated prank caller in Colorado and not a 16 year old child bride in Texas, then they can still use the evidence gathered during the seizure at trial. I am sure the FLDS defense attorneys are going to file a motion and ask for a hearing (with witnesses etc.) to determine what Texas knew and when it knew it regarding "Sarah."

But even if the evidence stays in, the fact that the warrant was withdrawn and they never really went after Barlow will be used like a bludgen by defense attorneys to argue to the jury that the FLDS are being persecuted by Texas because of their religious beliefs.

bipartisan universal health care?

Amidst all of the protests all over the world yesterday over US immigration policy, the war in Iraq, remembering the Holocaust, food prices, and worker's rights, there was some good news in Washington, DC.
The [Congressional] Budget Office report, drafted with the help of the Joint Committee on Taxation, said if the [Healthy Americans Act] was passed this year, the insurance system could be set up by 2012 and fully running by 2014. And while it would cost an unspecified amount in those two transition years, it would be "roughly budget neutral" by 2014. After that, it would actually raise a little money for the government, according to the analysis, which the senators will undoubtedly use in their sales pitches to the next president and their fellow senators.
The even better news is that the sponsors include Sens. Bob Bennett (R-UT) and Bob Corker (R-TN). In fact, there are seven Democrats and seven Republicans sponsoring this bill. This bill sounds like as good a starting point on reforming our health care system--by allowing employees to keep their health care plan even if they leave their job that provided their coverage, and more importantly, the coverage would remain at the same rate they paid before. I hope the next President--Obama, McCain, or Clinton--will not be overly wedded to their campaign plan and give this one a serious chance. Of course, this hope is dependant upon these 14 senators sticking with this plan (and getting his/her colleagues to support it) even if their preferred presidential candidate doesn't win.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

round 4

It seems Republican SL County Councilman David Wilde think they have found a work around to Mayor Carroon insistance not to throw County tax dollars away.
[N]o money will actually go straight to the stadium.

Instead, the county might extend a deal that gives Sandy $300,000 a year for the Sandy Amphitheater. The county has provided that funding for several years now, but the deal was supposed to end this year.

By extending the deal, Sandy won't have to come up with that $300,000, leaving Sandy free to "shift its funds" to other projects, like the $110 million stadium for Real Salt Lake, Salt Lake County Councilman David Wilde [R] said.

"It's not money that we are giving toward the stadium," Wilde said. "We're giving money toward an amphitheater. Again, I guess there is sort of a wink and a nod saying if you guys in Sandy want to somehow rearrange your funds and somehow give it to the stadium, that's OK."

So why do this? Wilde claims it is a quid pro quo for Sandy's helping the County get more money for roads, Democratic Councilman Joe Hatch claims that the Oxbow Jail, the restaurant tax, road funding and the soccer stadium were all discussed in one big meeting but that none of these items were bartered for another. Carroon says he is trying to play nice with Sandy, to show there's no hard feelings.
Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon said his decision to extend the amphitheater funding has nothing to do with the stadium.
"We're trying to extend an olive branch out to Sandy to say maybe we don't support some of the projects you're doing, but we do overall support Sandy city," Corroon said.
And the amphitheater, which hosts multiple concerts and musicals throughout the year, fits into the county's overall vision for arts scattered across the county.
Oh and Carroon's initial assessment--that the stadium was not worth taxpayer's support--has been borne out.
A new study by the University of Utah Center of Public Policy and Administration says sports stadiums have not shown significant positive impact on local economies.

"In fact, a sports franchise has about the same scale of economic effect as a large grocery store," according to the study, which was released Wednesday.

However, quality-of-life issues may justify continued public financing, according to the study.
That is, if Larry Miller were to hold SLC hostage and says he will move the Jazz to say Oklahoma City unless the city ponies up millions for a new stadium, well then Utahns will not like their life as much if the team leaves, so a city should try to keep a team in town. But if a team is marginal, and doesn't even fill its current stadium except when someone like David Beckham or the national team comes to town, then there is no need to spend $110 million when you could spend just a few million for a Super Target in Sandy (and get more economic bang for your buck).

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

round 3

It seems SL County Mayor Peter Carroon has found another opening to stop or stall the RSL stadium.
On Monday, Mayor Peter Corroon sent Sandy's economic development director a letter saying he "would not support Salt Lake County contributing its tax increment" to the community development agency. And even if Corroon supported the CDA, he doesn't have the votes on the County Council to approve the plan.

Sandy wanted to raise $10 million through a community development agency, but that takes the cooperation of all the taxing entities in the area. And cooperation is hard to come by.

Jordan School District officials have already made it clear that they will not forgo their cut of property tax dollars for the multimillion-dollar stadium.

And the county is reluctant to open its wallet again, after the state forced Salt Lake County leaders to use hotel-room tax dollars to pay for the public infrastructure of the $110 million stadium under construction in Sandy.

"Given that the state has already used $35 million of Salt Lake County's transient room tax revenue for contribution to the soccer stadium project, I don't feel that it is in the best interest of the citizens for the county to contribute more revenue to the project," Corroon wrote in a letter Monday to Randy Sant, Sandy's economic development director.
Color me unsurprised that public entites would not want to part with tax revenue during an economic downturn for a soccer stadium for a team that might not even exist (or move) in a few years.

But don't worry, County Councilman Randy Horiuchi, friend of Delevopers and Sandy politicans, is on the case.
Horiuchi said leaders are "scrambling" and "noodling" several ideas to come up with more public funding to help the city build the stadium for Real Salt Lake.

"We will never stop discussion in trying to help this thing and make it more amenable to everyone," Horiuchi said. "We're a jurisdiction that, we want to be one that is willing to just keep our mind open. If we can help in a way that is beneficial and not hurtful to the county, I'm sure we'll look at it."
Horiuchi may find out the hard way that the public hates the stadium deal. We all know Carroon will easily be reelected this fall, but I can't say the same for Randy. "He's got game," says his campaign slogan, but whose game is he playing?

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Buttars watch your back

The political story of the day is about why Sen. Majority Leader John Valentine stripped Sen. Chris Buttars of his Judiciary Committee chairmanship but not his seat on the committee. (Sorry Brian and super obvious story)

According to Scott Sabey of the Utah Bar,
Valentine [told Sabey that he] had "taken a political hit'' for stripping Buttars of his chairmanship in February, after the senator wrote a letter chastising a judge for a ruling against [his] friend and political ally [Chris Buttars]
The Senate president feared he could lose his leadership spot if he kicked Buttars off the committee, Sabey told the [Utah Judicial Council, a] panel chaired by Supreme Court Justice Christine Durham and responsible for making policy for the judiciary.
Sabey told the council that Valentine feared that Sen. Mike Waddoups, R-Taylorsville, could beat him in a leadership election later this year if Valentine suffered any more political damage.
The bar association preferred to keep Valentine as Senate president, and was willing to give Valentine a pass on his prior commitment [to Buttars, Sabey told the council.]

In response, Valentine sounded like a drunken sailor: "My gosh," Valentine said. "There are parts of that that are accurate and parts of that that are like, 'Wow, I've never heard some of those things before.'"

Which parts are accurate, Sen. Valentine, the fear of Waddoups? Your prior commitment to Buttars? (Because Valentine just signed, along with other Senate leaders, a letter endorsing Buttars in the primary) Your sharing of Buttars's ideology? Your taking a political hit? That last one is most certainly true.
But Valentine said Monday he left Buttars on the confirmation committee because he spoke with the committee's new chairman, Sen. Greg Bell, R-Fruit Heights, and Sen. Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan, a committee member, and they agreed he should stay on.
"If I lose the presidency to anybody it's because I lose the votes and I've got more than enough votes now and I'm not worried about anything in this issue that is going to affect the run for president," Valentine said. "This is really strange."
So I guess he is suggesting that the part about Waddoups is not true. But not that he never directly says Sabey's statements were false (either in that Valentine didn't say them, or in that Valentine was not afraid of losing his leadership position). Moreover, Waddoups has run for the job the past two times, and I am sure he would like it. So I don't think we can just assume that Sabey was making stuff up to impress the Judicial Council.

The fact remains that Valentine not only knew about the inappropriate letter to a judge who ruled against Buttars's friend, but also helped Buttars write it. Why won't any reporter ask both Valentine and Buttars what changes Valentine suggested Buttars make to the letter while it was being drafted? We all know Valentine should have suggested that Buttars not write the letter at all, and given Buttars a lecture about judicial independence and the rule of law. But the question remains what was he thinking, and why did Valentine do it? Sabey's account of what Valentine told him seems at least plausible and is the only explanation I have seen about why this all happened.

Monday, April 28, 2008

legislating or litigating partisan outcomes

While Barack Obama announced his plan last week to win the general election by registering millions of people to vote, the U.S. Supreme Court one upped him today by making it harder for those he registers to be able to cast their vote.

During the Warren Court, the court built up the right to vote as a fundamental right, one that the government could not impinge upon via a law/policy without undergoing strict scrutiny. The strict scrutiny standard is the highest one the Court uses, and as a practicle matter used to mean that if there was any infringement on a right under the strict scrutiny test, the law was deemed unconstitutional.

I say used to, because the Radical Roberts Court seems to have things in reverse. Despite Indiana presenting ZERO evidence of in-person voting fraud in their state, the court in a fractured plurality opinion fashion (reminincent of the Rehnquist Court) said that the minorities, homeless, elderly, and poor that challeneged the Hoosier State's law did not meet their burden. Justices Stevens, Roberts, and Kennedy claim that a state needs to come forward with merely plausible non-discriminatory interests to justify a law effective the fundamental right to vote. The evidence they site of these non-discriminatory interests are 1) an ancedote from NYC's Tamney Hall corrupt (Democratic) machine of the post-civil war era and 2) a single case of impersonation voter fraud in 2004 Washington state governor's race (where Democrat narrowly won by a few hundred votes after a contested recount).

Notice a pattern? The two examples were of a different time and place, one of which wasn't actually evidence, but a story that might or might not be true. More importantly, both examples were those of Democrats winning under suspicious circumstances. In Indiana, ONLY Republicans voted for this law and a Republican Governor signed it into law. Those who it will disproportionately effect--the elderly, the poor, minorities, homeless, students, etc.--are all groups that vote overwhelming for Democrats. On appeal, only Republican appointed judges voted to uphold the law, and Democratic appoint judges voted to strike the law. At the Supreme Court, only one Justice appointed by a Republican president voted against the law (Souter) and the rest voted along party lines like Bush v. Gore.

Stevens, Roberts and Kennedy threw a fake bone to those challenging these photo-ID laws, claiming to leave open the possibility for as-applied challenges (meaning, this law is generally constitutional, but it is unconstitutional as applied to me because...) But they made such challenges incredibly difficult to succeeed. That is, the burden has been flipped from those proposing election laws to those opposing election laws.

Justices Scalia, Alito, and Thomas go ever further, finding it irrelevant that the challengers might be more burdened than the average voter, suggesting that the Court should ignore the poor, minority, elderly, and students and look instead only to "average" voters. Apparantly, the Court should not look at the parties before them because they are too sympathetic and might actually have been harmed by the law.

I find it very disturbing that the U.S. Supreme Court seems fine with laws and legal decisions that effectively put one political party in power over another, and the empowered party "just so happens" to be that of the person that appointed the majority of the Justices. Prof. Rick Hasen of Loyola University [LA] Law School is also disturbed. "I fear that, despite the Stevens-Kennedy-Roberts' opinion's best intentions, this opinion will be read as a green light for the enactment of more partisan election laws in an attempt to skew outcomes in close elections. It is a real disappointment from that perspective."