Category Archives: legal news

Court brings cause for concern

Oh, brother.

Donald J. Trump is predicting he could get to fill as many as four seats on the U.S. Supreme Court.

How does that grab you? I’ll tell you the unvarnished truth: It scares the ever-loving bejabbers out of me.

The president already has picked Justice Neil Gorsuch for the highest court in the land; he replaced another conservative, Antonin Scalia, who died suddenly a year ago in Texas. Justice Anthony Kennedy is reportedly considering retirement. Who’s next? Might it be Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg? Try this one on for size: Justice Sonya Sotomayor.

Trump could swing court balance

That’s four of them. Kennedy is considered a “swing vote” on the court; Ginsburg and Sotomayor are part of the so-called “liberal wing.” Ginsburg’s health reportedly has been getting more frail over the years. Sotomayor, one of the court’s younger members, suffers from Type 1 diabetes, which could inhibit her ability to continue.

What might occur? Trump will get to appoint justices who’ll swing the court so far to the right that it could scare a whole lot more Americans than just yours truly.

I don’t know about you, but I’m going to send good-health vibes to Justices Kennedy, Ginsburg and Sotomayor. We need them on the highest court in the land to maintain some semblance of balance and reason.

O.J. out of prison … what now?

Orenthal James Simpson no longer is locked up in a Nevada prison, but he’s hardly what you’d call a “free man.”

The former college and pro football star served a nine-year prison sentence on an array of charges stemming from an altercation he had with some guys over possession of some football memorabilia.

But … then there’s that other crime with which he’ll be associated until the end of time. His former wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ron Goldman were stabbed to death in 1994. Simpson was the prime suspect. Police arrested him and charged him with double murder.

What ensued next was the most overexposed, overcovered and overhyped trial of the 20th century. Jurors heard months of testimony and after four hours of deliberation, they acquitted Simpson of killing the two victims.

Oh, it doesn’t end there.

Nicole and Ron’s families — the Browns and Goldmans — filed a civil suit. Another jury ruled that Simpson was “liable” for their deaths. They awarded them $33.5 million in damages.

Then came the scrape that put The Juice behind bars.

The Browns and Goldmans have been unable to collect anything from Simpson during his time in prison. His NFL pension is protected. The Hall of Famer couldn’t work, quite obviously, while he was locked up.

O.J. gets parole

Well, now he’s out. He’s free to earn some outside income apart from his pension if he’s so inclined. The question now becomes: Will the Goldmans and the Browns renew their quest for some semblance of the cash that the jury awarded them when they found Simpson liable for the gruesome deaths?

Don’t expect them to collect all of it. And at this point, I wouldn’t even bet on them getting any of it, given Simpson’s proclivity for hiring top-drawer legal advice. I mean, his criminal defense team got him acquitted of the murders despite overwhelming circumstantial and physical evidence that he committed that hideous crime.

My own wish is that O.J. Simpson vanishes from the public stage. It’s not likely to happen, given the ubiquitous nature of social media and this guy’s lust for attention.

Another wish would be for Simpson to make good on his post-acquittal promise to search for as long as it takes to find Nicole and Ron’s killer.

Oh … wait!

Anthony Weiner … once more

So help me, I don’t know why I’m even remotely interested in Anthony Weiner.

But I am. Remotely interested, that is.

The former loudmouth New York Democratic congressman is facing a 21-month prison sentence for knowingly sending sexually explicit text messages to an underage girl.

This clown has destroyed his marriage to a brilliant political operative. He has shredded his own political career. He has made a mockery of himself and disgraced the New York congressional district voters who placed their trust in him to obey the law. Of the consequences mentioned here, I suppose the only one that gives me a mild case of regret is constituent trust he destroyed because of his shameful conduct.

Weiner is going to appeal his sentence. He ought to be thankful that’s all he got from the federal judge, Denise Cote. He could have faced a longer prison term. He’s also going to serve a three-year probationary period.

Here is now National Public Radio reported his sentencing.

Weiner made a bit of a national name for himself initially because he was such a gasbag while serving in the U.S. House of Representatives. There was a particularly bizarre moment on the House floor when congress members were debating the cost of health care for first responders. Weiner exploded in anger that some Republicans opposed spending the amount of money that Weiner wanted spent.

This guy’s “sexting” escapades eventually became part of the story involving his wife and her work with the Clinton campaign during the 2016 presidential campaign.

Whatever. He’s gone to trail. He’s been convicted. The judge has sentenced him to nearly two years in a federal lockup.

Please … now. Just go away.

Judge Robinson leaves gigantic legacy on Panhandle bench

Donald J. Trump has nominated someone to succeed a living legend among jurists in the Texas Panhandle.

It’s been slow going for the president of the United States as he has sought to make these appointments. I won’t get into the reasons for the snail’s pace in making these appointments. But the president finally made a pick for the U.S. District judgeship here in Amarillo, Texas.

Matthew Kacsmaryk is the president’s choice to become judge of the federal bench in Amarillo. I don’t know much about him, other than I understand he’s a rigid judicial conservative. According to the Texas Observer, he has worked to erode the wall separating government from organized religion.

Read the Observer story here.

U.S. District Judge Mary Lou Robinson took senior status more than a year ago. She has earned it. She’s 91 years of age. Judge Robinson served on the 7th Texas Court of Appeals and on a Potter County bench before getting the call by — get ready for this one — President Jimmy Carter in 1979 to assume a newly created federal judgeship in Amarillo.

I didn’t get to watch Robinson in action during her years on the bench. I watched her from some distance as editorial page editor of the Amarillo Globe-News.

I became quite riveted when she was handed a celebrity trial in 1997 when a group of cattle feeders sued TV talk show superstar Oprah Winfrey because of a remark she blurted out on TV about eating beef. The cattle feeders agreed to let Robinson try the case in Amarillo. Winfrey brought her talk-show crew here and videotaped her talk show at Amarillo Little Theater.

Winfrey beat back the lawsuit. She won. Judge Robinson ruled from the bench against the cattle feeders. Amarillo made the evening news all across the land.

I don’t know Robinson well. We are acquainted, certainly. We both served in the same Rotary Club for a number of years. But she isn’t the most media-friendly person I’ve ever known.

What I want to point out, though, is this: I long ago lost count of the number of county and state judicial candidates who sought the Globe-News editorial board’s endorsement and who said they wanted to pattern their behavior on the bench after Judge Mary Lou Robinson.

Judge Robinson became the gold standard for judges in this part of the world. For 38 years she issued federal court rulings with toughness and fairness. Her total judicial career spans more than 50 years.

Imagine that for a moment. Candidates for a public office that demands supreme confidence defer to one of their own who has set a standard they all want to emulate.

That is a tremendous legacy.

Firing Comey a big mistake? Yeah … do ya think?

I didn’t expect to agree with Stephen K. Bannon on anything.

But you know what? The former chief strategist for Donald John Trump Sr. said something on “60 Minutes” that makes me rethink that notion.

He said the president’s decision to fire FBI Director James Comey is the “biggest political mistake in recent political history.”

I believe Bannon is on to something.

Trump canned Comey because of the “Russia thing.” He said initially the Russia probe wasn’t a factor; Vice President Mike Pence said the same thing. Then the president blabbed to NBC News anchor Lester Holt that, yep, Russia was the reason.

Then came Robert Mueller, the former FBI director who was hired by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to become special counsel. Mueller is off and running; he has hired a crack team of legal eagles; the “Russia thing” is getting pretty damn serious.

Mueller is examining whether the Trump presidential campaign colluded with Russian computer hackers who sought to meddle in our electoral process in 2016. He is going full bore, as he should. Had the president not fired Comey, Bannon said, there would be no Mueller, no special counsel, no need for concern among Trumpkins that Mueller has smelled blood in the political water.

Bannon is a tremendously objectionable character. He is back where he came from, as editor in chief of Breitbart News. Bannon had no business in the West Wing. His political experience is just a shade greater than Donald Trump, who had none before he entered the 2016 presidential campaign. Bannon is a right-wing provocateur and political hack who once sat on the “principals committee” of the National Security Council. Then the president wised up and removed him.

However, Bannon is likely quite correct about what Trump may have done to his presidency by kicking Comey out the door and ushering in the Age of Mueller.

And isn’t it fascinating that someone who professes such admiration for Donald Trump might have given the special counsel — Mueller — an even more inviting target by talking about potentially grievous political consequences the president has delivered to himself?

DOJ shoots down another Trump lie

I cannot shake this feeling that Donald J. Trump is furious at the Department of Justice.

He selected the attorney general, Jeff Sessions, perhaps believing the AG and his team would pledge fealty to the president of the United States.

So, what does DOJ do? It files a court brief that says it can find no evidence that former President Barack Obama ordered a wiretap on Trump’s campaign office at Trump Tower in late 2016.

Do you know what that means? It means Trump’s defamatory lie was exposed for what it was — by members of the president’s own Justice Department team!

Man, the boss must be spittin’ mad, right?

Well, maybe not.

Trump keeps yapping about becoming more “presidential.” He’s going in the opposite direction. I do have one suggestion for the Man at the Top to ponder if he’s ever going to turn that “more presidential” corner: own up to your lying, prevaricating ways.

I’m not suggesting he needs to say “I’m a liar.” He can acknowledge in more fanciful language that he has been known to pop off without thinking, which is about the most charitable thing I can suggest about the wiretap lie.

It’s just that when the president’s handpicked attorney general’s Department of Justice has exposed this accusation as the lie most of us know it to be, then — to paraphrase former Vice President Joe Biden — that’s kind of a big … deal.

It requires an out-of-the-ordinary response … at least for this president it would be totally unexpected.

I will keep breathing normally, though, given we all know this president is incapable of admitting to doing a single thing wrong.

Plenty of stirring in this Randall County judge contest

A highly unusual political event appears to be shaping up in little ol’ Randall County, Texas.

It involves a trial judge who’s drawn three — count ’em, three — challengers to the seat he has occupied since 2007.

I’ve been watching county-level contests in Texas for more than three decades, first in Beaumont and then here in Amarillo. It’s a rare event when an incumbent judge who’s doing a good job on the bench gets this kind of election-year challenge.

Court at Law No. 2 Judge Ronnie Walker is the man in the hot seat. Three lawyers are running against him. I know one of the legal eagles fairly well, Stewart Werner of Amarillo; I don’t know the other two, Matt Martindale and James Abbott.

All of them are planning to run in the Republican Party primary next spring, which of course is no surprise, given that no Democrat ever runs for anything these days in Randall County — the unofficial capital of the GOP in West Texas.

I won’t pass judgment on any of the candidates — including Judge Walker. I have been out of the game officially for five years now, so my local political radar likely needs some fine-tuning.

What I have witnessed regarding local politics in two disparate regions of Texas over these many years, however, tells me there might be some issues about the incumbent that need some serious examination.

Arpaio pardon no ‘profile in courage’

Donald John Trump Sr.’s pardon of former “Sheriff Joe” Arpaio is likely to haunt the president well beyond the foreseeable future.

Trump this week pardoned the bad-ass former Maricopa County (Ariz.) sheriff who had been convicted of contempt of court; Arpaio refused to obey a federal court order to cease rounding up people he suspected of being illegal immigrants.

Arpaio disobeyed a lawful federal order, from a duly sworn federal judge. For that, the president pardoned him. His pardon speaks to Trump’s penchant for appealing to the nation’s divisiveness.

I doubt seriously that this president is going to be honored — ever! — for this callous decision.

With that … I want to look back briefly at another presidential pardon that at the time drew enormous political push back. In the four-plus decades since, though, it has been seen as a courageous act by a president seeking to bind the wounds of a nation.

President Richard Nixon resigned his office on Aug. 9, 1974. His successor, Gerald Ford, took the oath and declared that “our long national nightmare is over.”

President Ford wasn’t quite right. A month later, the new president issued the pardon that most assuredly cost him election as president in 1976.

Many years passed and President Ford’s stature grew slowly over time. Americans who were critical of the decision to pardon President Nixon began to think differently about it. I was among those who went through a change of heart.

In 2001, the John F. Kennedy Library did something quite extraordinary. It gave President Ford its annual Profile in Courage Award, honoring the president for the courage he showed in issuing the pardon, knowing the consequences it would have, but looking out only for the national good.

As the New York Times reported at the time: “Senator Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts told the audience at the John F. Kennedy Library: ‘I was one of those who spoke out against his action then. But time has a way of clarifying past events, and now we see that President Ford was right. His courage and dedication to our country made it possible for us to begin the process of healing and put the tragedy of Watergate behind us.”’

And this, also from the Times: “Mr. Ford said: ‘President Kennedy understood that courage is not something to be gauged in a poll or located in a focus group. No adviser can spin it. No historian can backdate it. For, in the age-old contest between popularity and principle, only those willing to lose for their convictions are deserving of posterity’s approval.”’

Time has allowed us to re-examine why President Ford acted as he did. Time also might provide us the same opportunity to take a fresh look at what Donald Trump has just done.

Then again, I doubt it. Seriously.

Don’t pardon ‘Sheriff Joe,’ Mr. President

Donald John Trump Sr. offered a titillating morsel for those among his political base to chew on.

He spoke Tuesday at a campaign rally in Phoenix and said former Maricopa Sheriff Joe Arpaio is “going to be just fine.” The implication is that Trump might issue a presidential pardon for “Sheriff Joe.” 

Arpaio has been convicted of ignoring a court order that demanded he stop conducting an “immigration roundup” that sought to locate illegal immigrants sneaking into the United States.

I hope the president forgoes a pardon for Arpaio. A friend of mine who happens to be a former prosecutor in Amarillo said this regarding a potential pardon for the fiery former sheriff:

“A pardon for a criminal conviction is supposed to take into account some equitable or humanitarian reason to remove the conviction. A pardon for someone who knowingly violated a federal court order and is being held in contempt is in my view worse. It sends a message that the judiciary is not to be honored. A dangerous precedent, and a slap in the face to the alleged sheriff’s victims.”

Amen to that.

Then again, the president has demonstrated already a penchant for dishonoring the judiciary … such as when he questioned whether a federal judge could adjudicate a case involving Trump University “because he’s a Mexican”; the judge, by the way, was born in Indiana to Mexican-American parents. Or when he referred to a “so-called judge” who struck down Trump’s ban on Muslims entering the United States.

Trump said Arpaio was convicted of “doing his job.” The crowd in Phoenix roared.

Actually, Mr. President, “Sheriff Joe” was convicted of ignoring what a judge told him to do. We are, after all, a nation of laws.

Isn’t that right?

‘Hoax’ probe of Trump now is getting quite serious

This is a mere hunch.

When a special counsel orders an unannounced search of a home for evidence of possible crimes involving the president of the United States, then I believe we have a serious investigation under way.

Federal agents barged into the home of former Donald J. Trump campaign chief Paul Manafort. They collected information and evidence allegedly related to the probe being conducted by special counsel Robert Mueller.

The president, let us remember, has said all along that Mueller’s probe is a “witch hunt,” that it is a “hoax,” that the whole “Russia thing” matter is a creation of Democrats who are still steamed at losing the 2016 presidential election.

The search conducted two weeks at Manafort’s home suggests something quite different. It represents a potentially stunning turn in the probe into whether Russian efforts to meddle in the 2016 election were done in collusion with the Trump campaign.

Is there an obstruction of justice charge on its way? Might there be an actual violation of the law to be discovered?

Yes, this investigation is still in its infancy. Mueller is known as a meticulous lawyer. He has hired a crack legal team. He is a former FBI director who served under presidents of both major political parties: George W. Bush and Barack H. Obama.

Is this man capable of conducting a “hoax” investigation?

Hmmm. I, uh, don’t believe so.