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Archive for the ‘Justice and the judiciary’ Category

A while ago, I read somewhere that emails had the virtue of taking the edge of familial conflicts. It has to do with writing and distance, if I remember well. When you write, you think, as the other guy would say, and that helps you overcome your emotions. Also, a written commitment is a commitment you are more likely to stick to. Something like that…

Mrs Justice Pauffley

Mrs Justice Pauffler

In the technological age we are living in, Mrs Justice Pauffley (from the High Court of London) found much better: prescribe taking tea to parents who were had been tearing them apart over custody issues for ten years. And it worked

Thinking about it, it makes total sense to me.  Tea soothes tensions.  Anybody who went to arid countries in West Africa such as Mauritania or Mali, where people spend hours talking over the”three teas,” a very bitter one, a less bitter one, and a sweet one, knows what I am talking about. Long before you are drinking the sweet one, the world looks harmonious to you.

The three tea tradition does not exist in England and the story does not tell us how many tea meetings it took the parents to come down and start settling contentious issues. Anyway, hats off before Mrs Justice Pauffley!

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Photo The Innocence Project

Photo The Innocence Project

There are some stories, that once you become aware of, you have to do something about it. Like Mumia Abou Jamal’s, or Florence Cassez’s; they just haunt you. Even if you don’t do much, you have to do something.  In the case of Herman Wallace, that’s too late for me. Herbert Wallace died on October 5 of this year of liver cancer.

Herman Wallace spent 41 years in jail for a crime he claimed he did not commit. Adding to the abomination, he served his sentence in solitary confinement: 41 years in 6 by 9 feet cell. One can find perhaps a superior level of horror in Louis XI (1423-1483)’s justice: the famously mean king of France is known for locking up political enemies in cells so small they could not stretch.

That Herman Wallace was able to live 41 years in such conditions is an hymn to life. Amnesty International, Democracy Now among others have denounced Herman Wallace’s detention conditions. The Louisiana justice system kept tottering until the end: on October 1, Wallace’s conviction was overturned, on the 4th, he was re-indicted.

One cannot but wonder if the best thing that can happen to Louisiana is a government shutdown that would prevent the justice system from functioning at all.  Or let’s dream: a UN mandate over the Louisiana justice system, until reforms are implemented, from top to bottom.

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Veronica and Father Dustin Brown

Veronica and Father Dusten Brown

I am currently trying to make sense of the recent developments in the Baby Veronica’s case. Since I blogged about Veronica’s case a while ago, the US Supreme court ruled in favor of the Capobiancos, the couple that adopted Veronica and took care of her until 2011, when she was returned to Dusten Brown, her biological father;  then the South Carolina Supreme Court ordered that Veronica’s adoption should be finalized by family court.

Two things: first,  I have no empathy for the Capobiancos and their reckless claim of their parental rights on Veronica. They had Veronica’s custody for 27 months, all right. Why does this let them feel entitled to deny Brown- Veronica’s biological father- the right to raise his child? That they can do it better?

Second thing: there is a real need in this country to protect children and their biological parents – undocumented immigrants, and minorities- from predatory adoptions and the adoption business. I have been blogging about instances of children of undocumented immigrants given for adoption by the family court system, because their parents had been put in jail. Native American at least have the Children and Welfare Act of 1978 the goals of which is to protect their communities from would-be parents, who feel their desire justified by the social origins of the child they put a claim on. Unfortunately, that’s a view that was shared by only four Justices, led by Sonia Sotomayor. 

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It is already old news but it is major news. Karen Atala, the Chilean judge who had lost custody of her three daughters because of her sexual orientation – and had appealed the Chilean Supreme Court to no avail- has finally prevailed with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. The Chilean justice system had deprived Karen Atala from her parental rights on the grounds she was a lesbian, hence her children could turn homosexual; a variant of the “best interest of the child stuff.” On March 21 of this year, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights acknowledged that Atala was discriminated against, and that the damage caused by the Chilean justice was beyond repair. The Chilean government is required to pay Atala $50,000 in addition to $12,000 for legal expenses.

Simon Romero (the New York Times) talks of a landmark gay rights’ victory. Certainly, but I would also think of the outcome of Karen Atala’s versus Chile as potentially having critical implications for fathers rights. In most US States, fathers have second-class parental rights, on the grounds that women have a predisposition for parenting that men don’t have; in short, since “men hunt and women nest,” to plagiarize Seinfeld, women get full custody of the children. Fathers’ relations with their children are further damaged by lengthy divorce and child abuse trials. As fathers try not to be expelled from the lives of their children, family courts opposed the fait accompli of their severed relations with their children, which proceeds from these custody battles.

That’s the ultimate trick that Jaime López, Atala’s ex-husband, tried to pull on her. According to López, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights did not care about what his daughters think; his daughters don’t see themselves as victims. They are part of a happy heterosexual family. Too bad that their mother have not seen them for years. Fortunately, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights did not make the mistake that US family courts consistently make, that is to give credence to “the best interest” of the alienated child, who inevitably sides with the alienating parent.

Atala’s case may help the US family court system protect better gay parents rights. Let’s hope it also help US family courts to figure out that fathers- gay or not- ought to have the same parental rights women have.

Hat tip: Vinka Jackson

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On Sunday January 8, 2012, I met Florence Cassez, the French women who has been sentenced to serve sixty years in prison by the

Florence (filou.fr)

Mexican justice for the crimes of  kidnapping and organized crime she did not commit.  As I was carrying the  grilled chicken Florence had asked me to bring for lunch, heading toward the Centro Feminil de Readaptacion Social de Tepepan (South of Mexico City) where she is incarcerated, I was still struggling with the thought that had started to bug me since Florence had accepted my request to visit her, three days before: I am no journalist, no lawyer, and therefore I could not be of much help to her.

I know I will not sleep much until she is set free, but I also know now she does not need my help that much. The first thing I found out last Sunday is that she has been helping herself amazingly well given what she has gone through. Before meeting her, I had in mind the image of Florence in shock during the AFI (Agencia Federal de Investigacíon, the Mexican FBI) ‘s remake of her arrestation for the Mexican TV, on December 9 2005. The Florence Cassez I see after passing security, as I step into the large room where a crowd of inmates is meeting and eating with its visitors, has nothing to do with that.  She is a rather tall women with an intense and reflective gaze. She graciously introduces me to her two other visitors, among whom David Bertet, who manages the Canadian Committee in Support of Florence. I quickly discover she has guts. Indeed, as I am telling her I did not understand why the Mexican government  (Mexico is a signatory of the 1983 Strasbourg convention on the transfer of sentenced persons) has been dragging its feet to repatriate Florence to France while invoking the incompatibility of the French thirty-year maximum jail sentence with Florence’s, she brushes away this option. Repatriation? No Sir. She did not want that. Doing time in France meant acknowledging she was guilty. She is innocent. Florence wants the Cassez’s case to be cleared in Mexico. She is fully aware that if it were to happen, it would have wide implications for the working of the Mexican justice system, and for the lot of those Mexican whose rights are violated and who, like her, rot in jail thanks to flawed or made-up accusations of kidnapping.

As the discussion unfolds around lunch, I cannot but notice with immense pleasure that it is interrupted many times. Florence is not at all ostracized as I was fearing. On the contrary, she is a popular figure here. Folks want to chat with her. She keeps getting up, keeps leaving the table to shake hands or hug people. David Bertet told me aside that her humility, her acceptance of the rules of the jail, have earned her the respect of the inmates and that of the prison’s authorities. According to Florence, it has not always been like that; President Sarkozy’s intervention with the Senate and the Mexican government was key to the inmates’change of mind about her. As they saw the French President himself pulling up his sleeves for Florence, people started to question the way most of the Mexican media had depicted her, as the secuestradora, the Francesa diabolica. I gladly admit I was off the mark in an earlier criticism of Sarkozy’s intervention on this blog. Yet I think that Florence is perhaps too modest. Her audacious resilience in claiming her innocence must have something to do with people’s empathy for her.

Also, Florence Cassez is beautiful. She is a beautiful woman, but what I mean here, she is beautiful on the inside.  For instance, when I asked her how come she did not know anything about Israel Vallarta (he ex)’s deeds, she first pauses and slowly, simply, refraining from crying, she states she has so often reproached herself for and been haunted by not having seen anything suspicious with Vallarta; It just never was a serious relation for her. At this moment, I feel like a total idiot for having asked this question. When you are unfairly accused of something, you feel there must be something wrong with you, and people too think that there must be something wrong with you that justifies your situation. I have been there, and I have never been sentenced to jail. As upon my return from the visit, I was moving ahead in my reading of Florence’s book –  A La Sombra de Mi Vida- her answer would appear blatantly true.  Florence only lived two months with Vallarta and then, their relation had ended.  After all, Rosemarie Fritzl, the cellar monster’s wife, lived her life next to Joseph Fritzl and she did not no have a clue about what he was doing in his bunker under his house.

The next step? The decision of the Mexican Supreme Court that Florence’s lawyer has appealed to. It should come in the first half of 2012. I used to think that the best thing for the Mexican democracy was a Lopes Obrador’s victory in 2006. There was one, but it was stolen from him. Florence’s story made me think that out of the three pillars of a democracy, the judiciary – a sound and independent one- is the most important. Clearing Florence Cassez from the accusations that were brought against her would put an end to a six-year violation of her basic human rights. But also, it would prompt the beginning of the end of “la ley de Herodes” (“o te chingas o te jodes”) that has marked the Mexican political life since the Mexican revolution.

A few links and addresses to learn more about Florence Cassez:

comite_florence_cassez_montreal@live.com
twitter :  Florence_Casse1
twitter (esp) : MXporFCassez

www.mexicoporflorencecassez.wordpress.com (Mx)

www.liberezflorencecassez.com (Fr)

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Thémis

One of the many problems of the American justice system is that it is unnecessarily clamorous. Take perp walks for instance. DSK had his. Perp walks are there for the media to share in with the crowd the shame of those who are indicted, like in the Middle Ages the populace could scream at and insult those who were sentence to death on their way to the scaffold. These practices add absolutely nothing to justice.  The American justice system is unnecessarily clamorous because, among others, some law-enforcement officers and magistrates are elected. This creates a serious conflict of interests between the superior interests of justice and theirs. These elected officials have an incentive to call in the clamor of the regular folks on easy victims to justify their job and advance their careers.

I just found out about one of these new knights of law-enforcement: Sheriff Dart in Cook County, Illinois. Dart is posting pictures of deadbeat dads on his website and encourage all noble delators to rat on the monsters. One can bet that Dart’s P.R. operation at the expense of deadbeat dads rests on an efficient cooperation with the family court of Cook County;  After all, that’s only in family courts that turnips bleed. Let us suggest one bolder move to Dart for his anti-fathers law-enforcement practices: Have family court provide him with the list of unemployed divorced fathers and arrest them preventively. These folks are about to default on their child support payments anyway!

The question that I cannot help but ask myself: were fathers, divorced and not, gone fishing when Dart was elected in Cook County?

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The U.S. justice system is crumbling. We divorced fathers that have experienced family justice know where the flaws lie: prejudice -

John Whitmire, Texas State Senator

against men and fathers- and more credence and weight given to accusation than to defense. You have to prove your innocence, when prosecution should be bearing the burden of the proof.  In the case of capital punishment- the icing on the rotten cake- there is the combination of racial prejudice and prejudice against the poor. If you are flushed, you might save yourself; Otherwise, too bad.

Thursday September 23 of this year, Troy Davis was executed in Georgia. His execution was opposed by an international movement led by Amnesty International. One would have thought that might have spurred proposals to mend the capital punishment system.  Indeed it did, in the most unexpected area: John Withmire,  a Houston democrat and chairman of the Senate criminal Justice Committee, put an end all by himself to the last meal in Texas.

According to Manny Fernandez from the New York Times, this is the profligacy of Lawrence Russel Brewer’s last meal that set Withmire’s creative legislative mind in motion. Brewer was executed by lethal injection in the Huntsville Unit on Wednesday, September 22, one day before Travis. One would think that the chairman of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee in Houston had better things to do than micromanaging last meals. In any case, we don’t know for sure if it is the ethnic ingredients of Brewer ‘s last meal – jalapeños, fajitas- or worries for the State of Texas’ budget that troubled Whitmire. But even at the pace Texas executes inmates on death row, I bet last meals are not the most crucial budgetary issue of the state.

John Whitmire’s score to the Political courage test organized by Project Vote Smart is 0, because he refused to tell where he stands on issues addressed in 2010 Political Courage Test. No wonder;  To me, Whitmire belongs to the most despicable type of politicians: Those who seek exposure while beating on the weakest and the defenseless. Who in these glorious days we are leaving in will oppose scaremongers like Whitmire? For God sake, until the day medieval capital punishment is abolished in the U.S., let’s those to be executed enjoy a last meal…and a last cigarette. Their  fellows on death row won’t mind second-hand smoking.

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I was in Colombia the last two weeks of August. I could not help but notice that the Colombian press follows very closely Karen Atala’s case. To my knowledge, Atala’s story got barely more than a blurb in the New York Times in July, and that’s a pity; there are important issues at stake and its outcome in the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights might have important implications for custodial rights across the continent.

Karen Atala is Chilean. Until  2002, she was married to Jaime López, with whom she had three daughters. Then they separated and agreed that Atala would have the custody of the girls, with weekend visitations for the father. But the latter changed his mind when his ex-wife started a relation with a women, Emma de Ramón. The couple lived under the same roof with the girls. According to Natalia Herrera Durán (El Espectador, August 25) López reclaimed custody on the ground that “the sexual orientation of his ex-wife was putting the emotional development of the girls at risk,” and (why not?) the girls might get AIDS. López prevailed and in 2003, Atala lost the custody of the girls. After several appeals, the case ended up in the Chilean Supreme Court. Verdict -hang on-:  “the mother has put his personal interest before those of the girls. The girls might be confused about their sexual role and suffer discrimination in the future.”

But -pardon my French- Karen Atala has balls. Also, she is a judge. That helps. She held steady while dragged in the mud by the Chilean press – which calls her “the lesbian judge”-  and under pressure to give up on her workplace.  According to Dominique Rodríguez Dalvard (El Tiempo,  August 28) the experts that testified at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights -whose sessions were held in Bogotá- asserted that “if Atala’s sexual conduct does not affect the living conditions of the girls, her sexual orientation is irrelevant.” One wonders why it did not occur to the Chilean Supreme Court.

Atala has argued in court that “being deprived of her girls has destroyed her identity and her personal dignity.” Gotcha!  To all fathers living in the U.S. doomed to get second-rate custody of their kids in gender-biased family courts (and loose it if any accusation of wrong parenting, founded or not, is brought against them), Atala’s words strongly resonate. Thanks to her courage, we might learn that if national family laws and courts suck, there is hope for justice somewhere. We cross our fingers awaiting the verdict of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

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It has become a reflex. I freeze anytime I happen to hear or read about making us better dads. Check this piece, by Jill Colvin:

Rashomon (Kurosawa)

Midtown Court Helps Ex-Criminals Become Better Dads.  We are not talking of something published by New York State Child Support Collection Unit but by a media outlet,  DNAinfo.com, sadly enough.

In this piece we learn that Bronx Family Court refers ex-criminals to Midtown Community Court, a project of the Center for Court Innovation. Here they attend the Dad United for Parenting  (don’t dream, it ain’t a dads’ grassroots organization) program where they learn skills that will help them find jobs. Why is the Bronx Family Court doing that? The students dads of the program have child support payments problems. Some have accumulated arrears in child support while there were in jail.

That’s where the silence of the piece is deafening: The fact that by law you owe child support while in jail. Let us just talk money here. Depending on your ex-spouse’s financial situation, being in jail has possibly caused hardship to your children. But this hardship, if hardship there was, is past and in civilized countries there are institutions protecting the welfare of those in need. Child support as conceived by New York State laws is accessorily about your children. It is mostly about providing a rent to your ex-spouse no matter what: whether you are employed or not, institutionalized or not.

To reintegrate oneself into society after a jail sentence is not easy, even less so with a debt to pay off. What is the ultimate purpose of this project to better dads? Help ex-criminals to cope with child support laws that provide them with the incentives to do things that will bring them back to jail. It would be a million times more efficient to reform New York State Child Support laws.

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It must have to do with my sour commerce with the New York State family court system, I have gotten an epidermic sensitivity for lives broken by justice.  Also I sense in Florence Cassez’ sixty-year jail sentence in Mexico the heavy hand of motives that have nothing to do with justice.

Is she guilty? That’s really not clear. As the girlfriend of  the Mexican group’s leader of kidnappers los Zodiacos, she might have known about some of what was going on.  Yet there has been so many irregularities in her trial – starting with a staged second arrest aimed at showing that the Mexican government was tough on crime- that in many countries, a case like Cassez’s would end up with a mistrial. Mexicans themselves don’t seem to have much faith in the way the Mexican justice system dealt with the Cassez’s case. Check out 2009 Aristegui’s interview on CNN in Spanish:

Let us assume now that you are the French government and want to help Florence Cassez do her time in France –  as international conventions might allow her- where she would be able to see her family more easily than in Mexico. If you are the French president, you keep a low profile.  After all, France has also a colonial past with Mexico, that’s even what Cinco de Mayo is about.  You let not-that-visible emissaries conduct the negotiations with the Mexican government. You don’t trumpet your claim to see a compatriot doing time in France in front of the whole Mexican Senate – after an appeal in the Mexican Supreme Court and months of international media attention focusing on the pitfalls of the Mexican justice system. Because if you do so, you are vulnerable to the accusation of arrogance and you have no fallback position, beside canceling the year of Mexico in France (which was supposed to take place in 2011) which has nothing to do with the Cassez’s case, and  against Florence Cassez’s very view.

It will certainly take another new French government to repair the damage of this Mexican -French saga and improve Florence Cassez’s lot.

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