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Case Update

The comedian Louis C.K. does a routine on "white people's problems."  We bitch because we don't get cell coverage in certain places and we have to press 1 if we want to speak in English.  Gotta admit, that's not quite as bad as getting a crap education and having three friends who were shot and killed in their teens, but it's pretty close.

Neil Gorsuch has white people's problems, times ten.  This article details the trials and tribulations that await Gorsuch when he assumes his spot on the bench this week as his compatriots try to "keep a new Supreme Court justice's head from getting too big."

Start by making him take notes and answer the door at the justices' private meetings. Then, remind him he speaks last at those discussions. Finally, assign him the job of listening to gripes about the food at the court's cafeteria.

As the article notes, this parade of horribles is "not a bad deal for a job that comes with lifetime tenure and the prestige of a high court seat." 

Yeah, there's that.

But there's work to be done.  Gorsuch will hit the ground running:  he'll participate in seven oral arguments this week.  The only criminal case is Weaver v. Massachusetts, and it's a doozie.

Very short version.  At Weaver's murder trial, the courtroom was closed to the public for two days.  The lawyer didn't object.  The courts subsequently decided that the judge erred in closing the courtroom.

The Supreme Court has held that that's structural error:  you don't have to show prejudice.  But you do have to show prejudice for a claim that the lawyer was ineffective for not objecting to the closure.  So, do you use the structural error analysis or the prejudicial error standard?

I'll read that one, and tell you what I think next week.

The Ohio Supreme Court's website has a column for "opinions":  the current one lists the last thirty-five opinions the court has issued.  Twenty of them are from last year.  In fact, the only significant decision this year was State v. Gonzalez, where in a shocking break from judicial restraint the court on "reconsideration" decided that their decision three months earlier was wrong, the evidence of error being a change in the composition of the court. 

The court did hand down a decision last week, more notable for its facts than any legal application. 

On the night of November 29, 2012, a cop decided to stop Timothy Russell's car for a Bullshit Traffic Violation,™  turn signal violation variety.  Russell, with his passenger Malissa Williams, didn't stop.  Russell's car backfired, but the cop thought it was a gunshot, and things went all to hell.  The chase eventually involved no fewer than sixty-two police cars; about 40% of the on-duty cops in the whole city that night were involved at some point.  After a 22-mile chase, the police cornered Russell and Malissa in a parking lot.

Remember the climactic scene in Bonnie and Clyde?  This made that look like Bedtime for Bonzo.  The cops pumped 137 shots into the car, an even two dozen striking Williams and one less hitting Russell.  The last fifteen were fired by Officer Michael Brelo:  he stood on the hood of the car and fired down at the occupants.

I rarely use profanity in this blog, but clusterfuck is the only word to describe this.  Sure, those four New York detectives fired 49 shots into the black guy who was reaching for his wallet, and that blew over.  But having a battalion of police officers firing 137 shots at two unarmed black people was a bit over the top.

So Brelo got charged with manslaughter.  He waived a jury, and the judge acquitted him on the theory that the State had failed to prove that Brelo's shots were the fatal ones.  I don't remember the State having that burden of proof in the murder cases I've had.  Somebody winds up dead, and everybody who was shooting is going to get charged. 

And so we come to dereliction of duty.  Five other police officers up the command chain - not too far, of course - got indicted for that.  (Yes, a grand jury can indict somebody for a misdemeanor.)  Then, after Brelo's acquittal, the county prosecutor announced that East Cleveland would be filing complaints for identical charges.

Not so fast, said the defense, relying on the rule that when two courts have concurrent jurisdiction, the first court to acquire jurisdiction retains it to the exclusion of the other.  They ran to the 8th, which granted a writ prohibiting the municipal court judge from hearing the case.  The prosecutor upped the ante, dismissing the common pleas case.  The 8th still continued the writ, and last week the Supreme Court held they shouldn't have

There's stuff in there about adequate remedy of law and jurisdiction, which I didn't bother with.  That sounds like the right result, and it couldn't be more irrelevant.

You know what is relevant?  The two unarmed people who were killed by the police.

The opinion doesn't mention their names.

Oh well.  That's not white people's problems.

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