Prisons

Justice John Paul Stevens

* Opponents of “three strikes” hope that the SCOTUS decision requiring California to reduce its prison population by 33,000 inmates will help them to repeal three strikes. Four balls, standing eight count, and wicked googly are among sports terms vying to take its place. [San Diego Union Tribune]

* A law firm librarian in New Jersey is suing her old firm and police for being falsely arrested and accused of pulling a fire alarm in the law firm’s building. This lawsuit is long overdue. Dewey even need to check out the complaint? Folio microfiche rare books. [New Jersey Law Journal]

* An in-depth look at the legal issues facing moral exemplar and top-shelf human being John Edwards. [Charlotte Observer]

* Utah became the first state to recognize gold as legal tender, momentarily sending the price per ounce skyrocketing to 5.7 wives. [International Business Times]

* Retired Justice John Paul Stevens, at 91, remains as spry as ever. At an age when most men are dribbling pudding onto their shirt, he is dribbling it onto his bow tie. [New York Times]

* “Again?! Egypt bizman busted at Pierre hotel.” [New York Post]

Justice Kennedy says: 'Open Sesame.'

It’s late May, so we’re entering the home stretch of the Supreme Court Term. Over the next few weeks, the Court will be handing down opinions in the most contentious, closely divided cases.

One such opinion came down today: Brown v. Plata (formerly Schwarzenegger v. Plata). In this high-profile case, a three-judge district court issued an order that directed the State of California to reduce its prison population — e.g., by releasing prisoners (as many as 46,000, at the time of the order) — in order to address problems with overcrowding and poor health care for inmates.

When SCOTUS granted cert, I thought that it did so in order to summarily reverse. Federal judges running penal institutions, ordering tens of thousands of convicted criminals to be let out onto the streets? The district court’s order reeked of the kind of Ninth Circuit liberal activism that doesn’t sit well with the Roberts Court. (Note that one of the members of the three-judge panel was the notoriously left-wing Judge Stephen Reinhardt.)

Well, I was wrong. The Court just affirmed, 5-4, in an opinion by (who else?) Justice Anthony Kennedy.

There were two dissents, by Justices Antonin Scalia and Samuel Alito. Justice Scalia’s opinion in particular contains some stinging (but ultimately ineffectual) benchslaps….

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[T]he never-ending stream of futile petitions suggests that habeas corpus is a wasteful nuisance. By almost any measure, the use, and abuse, of habeas by convicted state prisoners is a failure, one that could corrode one of the most revered pillars of our legal system.

– Professors Joseph Hoffmann and Nancy King, in an interesting and persuasive New York Times op-ed piece, arguing that habeas review of state criminal cases should be limited to “capital cases and cases in which the prisoner can produce persuasive new evidence of his innocence.”

* If the Muslim Brotherhood gains power in Egypt, they will impose sharia law. Just like Oklahoma! [ABC Online]

* Lindsay Lohan took to Twitter to announce that she “was not raised to lie, cheat, or steal.” Well, nature it is. [msnbc.com]

* Arizona is suing the federal government over the porous border. Mr. Obama, build us a wall! [Reuters]

* Barry Bonds, he of the enormous dome piece, had the number of felony charges against him dropped to five. Hauling that gargantuan cranium about. I’m not kidding, that boy’s head is like Sputnik. [ESPN]

* Mario will mediate the Madoff / Mets mess. [New York Post]

* How to fix the criminal justice system? I say gulags. Mostly because I like the word gulags. [The BLT via WSJ Law Blog]

* Hospitals have begun turning away job applicants who smoke. This guy thinks hospitals are acting like a bunch of weiners. [New York Times]

This experience has been both profound and humbling. I have been able to reflect on my relationship with the universe and despite the physical incarceration of the past year, it has been incredibly emancipating for all other aspects of my being. Everything I have learned, seen, and lived I regard as invaluable in the journey of my life. I embrace this entire experience as a necessary one in the fulfillment of my future and destiny.

Kumari Fulbright, Arizona law student and beauty queen turned convicted felon, in a letter to Judge Michael Miller (who sentenced her last week).

When we last discussed Kumari Fulbright, the Arizona beauty queen and law student turned felon, we mentioned that she was going to be sentenced in early 2011 for her role in the kidnapping and torture of her ex-boyfriend. Well, it looks like Christmas came early for Kumari — her sentencing hearing took place yesterday.

Fulbright was sentenced to two years in prison and six years of probation. She also has to pay $15,000 in restitution. The sentence itself wasn’t a surprise, since it was consistent with the plea agreement we previously mentioned.

Far more shocking was the truly hideous hairstyle that Kumari sported at sentencing….

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In Friday’s Non-Sequiturs, while linking to an interesting article about a man who served 27 years in prison for a rape he did not commit, I used an intentionally inflammatory blurb:

Would Michael Green, exonerated of rape charges by DNA evidence, be worth $2.2 million today if he hadn’t gone to prison? Just asking.

Judging from some of the comments, it seems that this blurb offended some of you. If so, I apologize.

(But I should also note that part of the blogger’s job is to troll provoke readers, intellectually and emotionally. Elie is tasked with baiting provoking the conservatives, and I’m in charge of provoking the liberals. If we don’t offend you every now and then, we’re not doing our jobs.)

In making my excessively irreverent quip, I was trying to get at a fairly serious question: How can we put a price on a man spending years behind bars for a crime he did not commit?

Let’s discuss….

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Lindsay Lohan claims her fingernails were not sending a message to the court.

When actress Lindsay Lohan was sentenced earlier this week to 90 days in jail for probation violations, she showed up in court with fabulous fingernails. If you’d like to learn about how to get the same look for your own nails, check out our sister site, Fashionista.

The tie-dye effect on LiLo’s nails was très cute — the profanity, not so much. After a photographic close-up showed “F**K U” stenciled on her nails, observers wondered if the message was directed at the judge — and whether it might constitute contempt of court. Lohan clarified, via Twitter, that the “F.U.” was not directed at Judge Marsha Revel. (For the record, though, Lohan does think Judge Revel is a “f**king bitch.”)

Still, it probably wasn’t advisable for Lohan to show up in court with profanity printed on her fingernails. Didn’t her attorney — or her former attorney, veteran litigatrix Shawn Chapman Holley, who recently quit the case — advise the actress about courtroom appearance and demeanor?

UPDATE: For the time being, Holley is still Lohan’s lawyer. Page Six reports that Judge Revel won’t allow Holley to leave the case until a substitution of counsel has been filed with the court.

In fairness to Lohan, she probably didn’t expect that the words on her fingernails would be seen. After all, they were only shown to the world thanks to extreme close-up shots by high-definition cameras — cameras that also captured her handwritten courthouse notes. (John Steele of Legal Ethics Forum wonders if this raises privilege issues.)

And perhaps Lindsay Lohan views herself as above the law — and the lawyers. As analysis of the starlet’s Twitter feed reveals, Lohan considers herself to be quite the legal eagle….

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Ian Graham is the author of Unbillable Hours: A True Story, which was published earlier this month. The book is a memoir of Graham’s time at Latham & Watkins, where he spent about five years as a litigation associate.

Unbillable Hours is not, however, a Latham exposé (which I’d eagerly read, by the way). Rather, the book centers on Graham’s work on a major pro bono case. The book’s publisher describes it as follows:

Landing a job at a prestigious L.A. law firm, complete with a six figure income, signaled the beginning of the good life for Ian Graham. But the harsh reality of life as an associate quickly became evident. The work was grueling and boring, the days were impossibly long, and Graham’s main goal was to rack up billable hours.

But when he took an unpaid pro bono case to escape the drudgery, Graham found the meaning in his work that he’d been looking for. As he worked to free Mario Rocha, a gifted young Latino who had been wrongly convicted at 16 and sentenced to life without parole, the shocking contrast between the quest for money and power and Mario’s desperate struggle for freedom led Graham to look long and hard at his future as a corporate lawyer.

Yesterday I chatted with Ian Graham about his book, his time at Latham, and how he made the transition from a legal career to a writing career.

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That’s the question the Supreme Court answered in the negative today, in Graham v. Florida. The Court’s opinion was by Justice Kennedy, whose vote usually controls on Eighth Amendment issues, and it was joined by the four liberal justices.

The case generated oodles and oodles of pages and a welter of separate opinions. Thankfully, the AP has a fairly clear and concise summary:

The Supreme Court has ruled that teenagers may not be locked up for life without chance of parole if they haven’t killed anyone.

By a 5-4 vote Monday, the court says the Constitution requires that young people serving life sentences must at least be considered for release.

The court ruled in the case of Terrance Graham, who was implicated in armed robberies when he was 16 and 17. Graham, now 22, is in prison in Florida, which holds more than 70 percent of juvenile defendants locked up for life for crimes other than homicide.

Florida: where it’s good to be an old person.

Interestingly enough, Chief Justice John Roberts — not known as a bleeding heart — agreed with the majority as to Terrance Graham specifically. Because he concurred in the judgment, the vote on the disposition of the case was actually 6-3.

The back-and-forth between the majority and the dissent gets quite heated at times. Justice Thomas wrote the main dissent, which Robert Barnes of the Washington Post described as “stinging.” But given the power that Justice Kennedy wields at One First Street, it’s generally unwise to attack him too harshly.

So the most snarky exchange did not involve Justice Kennedy, but took place between Justice Thomas and his soon-to-be-former colleague, Justice Stevens….

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