Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The McCourt's in Court

As I sit here in court and watch Jamie and Frank McCourt duke it out over support, lawyers fees, and the like, I am floored by the numbers.  I mean - I knew they were rich, uber-rich even, but still the amount of money is absolutely mind-blowing. 

They lived in seven lavish homes; they flew in private jets; and they had hair stylists come to their house every day (my thought: oh my Gosh!).

HE spent $80,000 recently on a Caribbean vacation. Of course they also tried poking fun Jamie saying that she uses one home in Holmby Hills exclusively for swimming, another is used to store furniture, while a third in Malibu for laundry only. Whether you believe Frank is a poor billionaire or that Jamie spends like a drunken sailor, watching this all play out in court is barely palatable compared to the bigger issues at stake in other courtrooms. 

Dennis Wasser, Jamie’s divorce lawyer, began his argument in court with a Passover type question: Why is this case different from all other cases?  He answered his own question by talking about all the zeros.  First noting that the magnitude of the money - and the number of attorneys involved in the case - did make it different, he then added that it was in most other ways just like any other divorce case. That is, “the same rules apply,” he said.

Lots of zeros can make lots of difference. It will make a particularly big difference to the charities and organizations that the McCourts support. We heard all about perks and spousal support, but never heard about how their charities or social work would be affected (except for his two college projects: MIT and Georgetown). I wonder why?

Suprisingly, there is some good charity work in McCourt's history: Frank’s Grandfather started the Jimmy Fund Foundation (to fight cancer). Frank McCourt himself started ThinkCure – another cancer-fighting nonprofit. He is also a big contributor to the Dodger Dream Foundation (created to provide educational, athletic and recreational opportunities for the youth of the greater LA community). So what will happen to the funding of these organizations in all this mess? I guess that is not as important as NetJets and luxury suites.

Jamie asked for – get this! – about a million a month in temporary spousal support. Is she SERIOUS!? Some examples of monthly expenses: $25,000 monthly for spa treatments, $2,500 for weekly pedicures, and $10,000 for daily household expenses, including shopping trips to Rodeo Drive. The future court date was set for August 30 -- so I guess we’ll see what happens. 

The court proceedings were interrupted by what would appear to be more serious issues like when a father found out he was being forbidden from seeing his daughter for five years and broke out in screams; and another time when LA County Superior Court Commissioner Scott Gordon received a request for a restraining order in a domestic-violence case. 

Of course for most out there in the larger public the BIG issue -- which will have repercussions for Major League Baseball -- is whether Jamie is actually going to be a co-owner of the Dodgers, as she contends, or not. Bottom line is: I could do a lot more with the the close to 1 million that Jamie is requesting in support! 

Friday, March 26, 2010

Missed Opportunity in the Murder of Deandre F. Green

It happened again…! Another “missed opportunity” -- I can’t stand it anymore, it’s really quite unbelievable.  It seems that a week doesn’t pass where there is a case that comes through my email, the airwaves, the news, or online where I hear about some major downfall in the criminal justice system.

I am not here to bash cops, prosecutors, judges, or anyone else who puts their lives out there to insure that we are safe. But for heaven’s sake - what is going on? Work in this field is not for the weak, the lazy, the dispassionate, or the uninterested.  The failures and snafus that occur in the criminal justice arena are far too costly and too dangerous, and are occurring far too often.

So, what is it this week?  This week it is the case of the little Deandre F. Green who was allegedly murdered by his mother’s live-in boyfriend, Hector Ernest Jr.  A quick look at comments around the blogsphere shows people are asking,  “Where was mom?”  They are pointing the finger at her negligence, beyond ill caring of her child. But what about dad? We are not hearing much about him perhaps because he did the RIGHT THING.  Dad, Deandre Franks, stepped up to the plate, did what he was supposed to do: called the police, went to station, made a report to the Hawthorne police (and Department of Children and Family Services). All these efforts seemed to have fallen on DEAF ears.

I cannot explain why dad was not believed or taken seriously. Frankly, there is no excuse that will make me - or the surviving family - rest.  This is a case of serious physical abuse. Prior injuries were visible at the time of the little boys death. No one (who had the power or ability) did a darn thing about it prior to the DEATH of the child.  This is atrocious.

Everyday people make reports to me about their abuse, both current and past. The first thing I do is to tell them to call the authorities — the police, Department of Children and Family Services, DA’s, everyone and anyone until someone does something.  Giving this advice is risky business in this day and age. I am risking advising people to do what they are supposed to do only to find that the authorities don't hold up their end of the bargain.  It seems that there are way more cases of the system dropping the ball than ever before.  Or is it my imagination?

Every day we hear talking heads discuss what can we do to change the system -- what laws need to be passed to get the Gardeners and Garridos of the world off the street.  While everyone seems to be rallying for tougher laws, I am saying lets just work with the freakin’ laws we have  on the books already - and let's do that correctly.  Is that so much to ask?

Thursday, March 18, 2010

'Sexual Assaults on Female Soldiers: Don't Ask, Don't Tell'

I would like to shout out Time Magazine essayist Nancy Gibbs for her exceptionally well written piece in the March issue, "Sexual Assaults on Female Soldiers: Don't Ask, Don't Tell." Gibbs profiles a major issue happening in our armed services that is not talked about at all - what she calls "the war within." Women now represent 15% of our armed forces, and they are under siege - not by the enemy but by their fellow male serviceman.

Gibbs gives the Pentagon's latest figures showing that nearly 3,000 women were sexually assaulted in 2008, up 9% from the year before; among women serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, the number rose 25%. When you look at the entire universe of female veterans, close to a third say they were victims of rape or assault while they were serving — twice the rate in the civilian population. This is ASTOUNDING! Just so horrible. Why is no one talking about this!?

Kathryn Kerns from Arizona wrote into Time saying that the Gibbs piece should have been the cover story for March - and I agree. The Rape Abuse & Incest National Network estimates that 60% of sexual assaults against women are not reported in the general population. Compare this to the Pentagon's figures that between 80% to 90% of sexual assaults against female soldiers go unreported. These figures are appalling.

Gibbs offers her theories as to why this is happening: that military culture is intrinsically violent and hypermasculine, that the military is slow to identify potential risks among raw young recruits, that too many commanders would rather look the other way than acknowledge this kind of breakdown in their units, and that the issue has simply not been made a high enough priority.

Only 8% of the cases that are actually investigated end in prosecution, compared with 40% for civilians arrested for sex crimes. Astonishingly, about 80% of those servicemen convicted are still honorably discharged. This issue must be brought out into the light. We must blog about it, petition our leaders, rant about it, until something major changes.

As Gibbs so aptly put it: What does it say if the military can't or won't protect the people we ask to protect us? Perhaps it goes to a bigger issue we must address: that women, children, and sexual assault victims are disbelieved, distrusted, and re-victimized by the system.

Read Gibbs entire article here.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Carlos The Hero

If you haven't listened to little 7-year-old Carlos from Norwalk, CA on his now infamous 9-1-1 phone call this week, I urge you to listen (click here for video). Carlos called 911 from a locked bathroom, with his 6-year-old sister, as armed robbers held his parents at gunpoint in his home.  The boy told reporters at a news conference that he remained calm during the ordeal because his mother used to make him practice dialing 9-1-1 in case of emergencies. The intruders stormed the bathroom and reached the children, but since Carlos was on the phone with 9-1-1 and told them cops were coming the intruders fled. 

When I heard about this boy I was blown away. I feel we should all take a moment to collectively praise this little hero for saving his family and being calm and smart enough to remember to call 9-1-1. But more importantly, we should be praising and making an example of this family's practice. The mother made him practice how to dial 9-1-1. Have you done this with your underage kids lately? Ever? I know we all think "it can't happen to us" ... But I'm telling you, scary things DO happen to people like us every day. Isn't it better to prepare your kids? Look at Carlos!

Captain Patrick Maxwell, of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Office, told The Early Show that Carlos did "a fantastic job … better than most adults." He added that the episode offers a valuable lesson for parents.  "We'd really like parents out there to have this as a learning experience to teach your children how to use 9-1-1."

Of course I agree with Captain Maxwell. This has been my message for years! Use the news and other situations as teachable moments to educate your kids on how to keep themselves (and you) safe. If you haven't had the 9-1-1 conversation with your child yet, use CARLOS as an example! Tell your child how Carlos saved his family by staying calm and calling 9-1-1 when the bad men entered the house. It's not about scaring your child -- it's about empowering them to be a hero if (G-d forbid) the occasion ever arises!

Friday, March 5, 2010

Chelsea King is a Case of Justice Interrupted

Convicted sex offender John Albert Gardner III, 30, from Lake Elsinore, Calif., pleaded guilty in May 2000 to molesting a 13-year-old female neighbor. He was sentenced to only six years in prison, and served just five.

Are you kidding me?! A violent sex offender only served five years in prison? How is it that such a plea-bargain passed legal and judicial muster? To me, it shouldn't have. It was merely a wimpy sentence for a heinous crime.

In 2000, Gardner allegedly lured his victim to his home with an offer to watch a movie, and then he violently assaulted her. From the time he was released from prison (in September, 2005) until his parole ended (in 2008), he had to wear a GPS-tracking device. And that's it. No long-term consequences, no long-term monitoring ... just a weak, five-year sentence and a measly GPS. And oh, yeah: Registration as a sex offender -- which apparently is supposed to be some sort of consulation prize. (I'm not bashing sex registries, but when the likes of Gardner and Phillip Garrido commit sex crimes after registering, one must question the system's effectiveness.)

Gardner is now being held in prison without bail for the rape and murder of 17-year-old high-school student Chelsea King. She vanished last Thursday after going for a run near Lake Hodges at Rancho Bernardo Community Park in San Diego, a popular park for runners. This was a rape and murder that could have been avoided. The very people who were supposed to protect us and ensure justice had had an opportunity -- and wasted it.

Today, authorities believe that they have found Chelsea's body near Lake Hodges. What a tragedy! Now police are looking for a link between Gardner and another Calif. girl who's still missing -- 14-year-old Amber Dubois.

Authorities have also said that Gardner was involved in an attack in December 2009 on a 22-year-old woman in the same park where King disappeared. (Gardner allegedly tackled the woman to the ground; cops say she escaped after hitting Gardner in the face with her elbow.)

Back in 2000, an official court psychiatrist had deemed Gardner extremely likely to be a repeat offender. This psychiatrist argued for a thirty-year prison term. For reasons unknown to me, the prosecutor pled it down to just six years. This was truly a system malfunction.

Folks, it's time to wake up! Sexual assaults occur in frighteningly huge numbers. And if victims survive the assault, they get re-victimized on the witness stand. National sentencing disparities are unacceptable. The plea-bargaining that goes on is a huge issue -- trust me, I was a prosecutor for fifteen years, and I saw stuff like this happen every day!

I have a lot of ideas for improving the system. First, there should be mandatory sentencing schemes nationwide. And once in place, these laws need to be USED. Clearly, there also needs to be better supervision of registered sex offenders. Money and time should be spent training professionals in this field. (This should include all officials involved: law enforcement, prosecutors, advocates, therapists, judges, and probation and parole officers.) Studies show that providing training and resources prevents burnout and inspires and motivates people in this line of work.

As an alternative to jail and/or prison, there should be live-in lockdown facilities created specifically for working with, treating and studying sex offenders. As with drug rehabilitation, there should be facilities where we can take a low-level sex offender off the street, both to ensure the safety of the public and to treat the offender -- or at least learn from him or her.

There are so many changes that need to be implemented. We need to make better use of new technology to provide enhanced supervision of registered sex offenders. Registered sex offenders should be subject to lifetime counseling, as well -- not merely during the term of their parole or probation. Offenders should also be required to inform authorities of travel.  (Gardner had supposedly been visiting his mother in Rancho Bernardo. He doesn't even live there.) For more of my ideas on how to reform our malfunctioning system, read my book, "It Happens Every Day: Inside the Life of a Sex Crimes D.A."

Gardner was not a low-level offender. He was a high-risk, violent offender, and he should have been put away for life. Period.

When an event like this occurs, it makes us question who's in charge. Who's protecting our kids? How can we keep our children safe? Sexual assault is disgusting -- we all can agree on that. And the murder of this young, innocent, darling, straight-A San Diego teen was truly horrific. Our hearts go out to Chelsea King's family and friends. But no amount of condolences can even come close to healing the pain her family must be feeling.

When will this type of preventable tragedy end?

Thursday, March 4, 2010

International Human Trafficking Task Force Website Launch

I am proud to be a part of the International Human Trafficking Task Force (IHTTF) team!

Goal: To combat human trafficking and support existing government efforts across global jurisdictions. To increase the number of investigations, rescued victims and prosecutions of human traffickers.

Mission: Through the use of  attorneys, private investigators, law enforcement, media, non profits and local actions the IHTTF will assist in the rescue, retraining, support of victims and disruption of traffickers though coordinated efforts between the community and government organizations across jurisdictions from local to global.

Human trafficking is a global crisis-there is more at stake than people realize. Fault does not just lie within those individuals who enslave or subjugate them. Fault lies within everybody who knowingly uses the products, goods, or services that are bought via the exploitation of others. Most of us don't realize how we drive the demand from human slavery. But, like any other commercial enterprise, the slave labor is driven by supply and demand. Both those who supply and demand can and should face legal consequences.

Human Trafficking is modern  slavery: 27 million people are enslaved in the world today- this is more that when slavery was legal. Human Trafficking is the fastest growing and second largest crime in the world today. In the United States, it is estimated that 300,000 children are at risk for  being exploited into commercial sex trade. Anyone held in service of another through force fraud or coercion is a victim of this crime. Any minor in commercial sex (prostitution, stripping, or pornography) is a victim of human trafficking. Prostituting  a minor under 14 years of age carries a federal life sentence.

IHTTF Team  
Logan Clarke      
Allen Cardoza      
Dottie Laster        
Robin Sax

More Information: