Linn Government official John Lindsey believed to violated Oregon ethics law

The Oregon Government Ethics Commission will investigate whether Linn County Commissioner John Lindsey broke state principles laws by trying to use his position to stop medical pot from being grown in his area south of Lebanon.

A grievance was filed on July 17 by William Templeton of Albany, on behalf of himself and several member of the family connected with the marijuana operation at Butte Creek Estates.

Lindsey stated he welcomes the probe.

” I consulted with members of the Ethics Commission and brought documentation,” Lindsey stated. “We came to an arrangement that they require to examine, and I think this grievance requires to be investigated. I want an examination of the complaint itself.”

Inning accordance with a report by the Federal government Ethics Commission, Mark Owenby and Michelle Page acquired the property in December 2016. The couple started establishing a medical cannabis growing operation, consisting of constructing a large greenhouse.

Templeton charged that in 2017, Lindsey went to the home and provided a service card noting he was a county commissioner. Templeton likewise asserts that Lindsey told the homeowner “you chose the wrong community,” and “what you are doing is illegal.”

Templeton asserted that Lindsey went to several county departments browsing for possible illegalities at the property.

Templeton also said Lindsey made copies of the homeowner’ Oregon Medical Cannabis Program cards and permits .

Because he feared the marijuana operation would lower home values in the area, he also declared that Lindsey’s actions were being made in part.

The Ethics Commission noted that public authorities are prohibited from ” attempting or utilizing to utilize their official positions to acquire a personal financial advantage or avoid a individual monetary detriment, that would not have been offered however for holding the public position.”

The commission report keeps in mind that additional examination will be needed to “determine whether Mr. Lindsey used methods of access to county resources not readily available to the general public, whether the nature of Mr. Lindsey’s position influenced county personnel’s responsiveness, or whether Mr. Lindsey directed county personnel to hang around working on the matter.”

The report also noted that had Lindsey made declarations such as ” exactly what you are doing is prohibited,” or “you selected the incorrect community,” while providing himself in an official capacity, he “may have been trying to utilize the influence of his position to stop the medical cannabis grow in his community in order to prevent a individual financial hinderance.”

Further investigation is likewise needed to identify whether Lindsey may have had a conflict of interest when he initiated a lawsuit naming the home owners and others.

“There appears to be substantial objective basis to think that one or more offenses of Oregon Government Ethics law may have happened as a result of Mr. Lindsey’s actions in relation to the cannabis being grown on Mr. Owenby and Ms. Page’s property in his community. The Oregon Federal Government Ethics Commission ought to relocate to investigate whether John Lindsey may have breached ORS 244.040( 1 ), ORS 244.040( 4) and ORS 244.120(2 (Motion 4),” stated the report authorized by Ronald Bersin, the commission’s executive director. 


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Lyric Novels

All cultural trends cycle through history. Long form works in verse are no exception.

They were big in Sumeria: think Gilgamesh. They were big in classical Greece: think Homer. They were big in Elizabethan England: think Shakespeare. And, they were big two hundred years ago: think Byron.

Now, they are back, mostly in the teen fiction aisle of your local book store or library.  One recent one is the new novel by Stefanie Lyons, Dating Down (2015).  It, and its companions in the genre are not Gilgamesh, Homer, Shakespeare or Byron.  But, you’ve got to start somewhere. This genre has been so frozen for so long, it will take some time to recover.

Intellectual historians hypothesize that writing in verse may have originally been a mnemonic aide when most people were illiterate and fiction was strictly an oral tradition.  Shakespeare and Byron were, in part, trying to imitate classical Greco-Roman forms in the process of trying to reinvent high culture that had been dormant during the Dark Ages.

These days, teen fiction aimed at girls is in verse because it is emotionally intense, while also being cute.  It also captures the modern folk practice of keeping a poetry journal in lieu of a more conventional one, which is a favorite of introverted, emotionally intense bad girls across America these days.  It conjures the creative spirit of all of the great manic-depressive wunderkind who die young after leaving their mark on our collective soul.

The trouble is that modern long form works in verse tend to be poetry collections loosely connected together to provide a narrative, rather than actually containing any really lengthy individual poems.

Why is this a problem?

Well written long works in prose can be page turners, flowing seamlessly as they pulls you ever forward towards a conclusion.

In contrast, a long collection of related short poems invites you, indeed almost urges you, to stop, reflect, and put the book down every two or three pages when an individual poem concludes.  It’s like watching a TV show with a commercial break every three minutes.  While individual poems may suffice to tell their part of the story, and even to tell it better than prose would, it interrupts the flow of reading to invite your reader to interrupt the experience.  This makes it much harder to finish reading the whole thing.

This isn’t to say that there is an insurmountable barrier to a return to long form works in verse. Some very successful and acclaimed short novels are written in prose so carefully crafted that it reads almost like poetry.  The Bridges of Madison County (1992) by Robert James Walker, and Plainsong (1999) by Kent Haruf, exemplify that literary style.  And, most of the millions of English majors in the country today are very familiar with the historical forms of the genre to Gilgamesh to Byron, so plenty of potential lyric novelist are equipped with the basic tools needed to single handedly revive the form.

Until then, you can read the decidedly less than epic lyric novels that have infiltrated teen fiction at your own risk.  But, don’t blame me if you set these novels down before you are finished and never get back to them.

from Wash Park Prophet
via Denver News

Confederate Flag Rallies

Wonkblog maps the 173 pro-Confederate Flag rallies that have been held since the June 17, 2015 shooting of nine parishioners by a white supremacist (who has confessed to the crime and its motive) at a historic black church in Charleston, South Carolina prompted governments and businesses to disavow the Confederate Flag as a symbol.

The data was gathered by the Southern Poverty Law Center, which estimates a total attendance of 23,000 people, about half of which was at three big rallies: one in mid-July in Oscala, Florida to support a county decision to return a Confederate flag to government property with about 5,000 attending, one in North Carolina that drew about 4,000 people, and a KKK rally in Charleston in July, 2015 that had 2,000 supporters.

This isn’t a huge attendance for supporters of what was reinvented as a symbol of opposition to the Civil Rights movement at that time, after having been mostly dormant for about seventy years, and has remained a potent symbol for white racists in the South (unfortunately, a group that includes most Southern whites) for about half a century.  Keep in mind that referendums in more than one state have shown majority support among voters for the Confederate flag as a government endorsed symbol in Southern states in the last decade.  The many small rallies with just twenty or so supporters each almost make more of a statement by being pathetic and lonely than they do by showing mass opposition to removing the Confederate flag from government buildings. Also notably, many of the rallies had numerous armed attendees.

Mostly, the distribution of the rallies are what you would expect.  But, there were a few surprises.  I was surprised to see many more rallies in Ohio than in Indiana which has historically been more conservative and more politically aligned with the South.  I was surprised to see no rallies in Coeur D’Alene, Idaho, a historical center of the white supremacy movement, while seeing them in Oregon and New Mexico which are not known for those leanings. There were fewer rallies in Texas than I would have expected, perhaps because the Texas flag provides an alternative sense of identity for Texans.

from Wash Park Prophet
via Denver News

NYC In The Summer

I am in New York City most of this week taking depositions* in a trademark infringement lawsuit. My hotel is in Times Square (7th Avenue and West 51st Street).  The depositions are being held at the offices of a law firm at Park Avenue and East 40th Street.  I took a cab there this morning since time considerations were key and I had a large suitcase full of exhibits (including numerous samples of the disputed goods) that I needed for the depositions.  But, since I was able to leave my exhibits and their suitcase at the law firm overnight, and I was in no rush to get back to my hotel, I walked back.

This fifteen block walk (1.1 miles) was a manageable distance to walk unburdened by things to carry; a healthy walk with a little sightseeing thrown in, after a day spent working since early in the morning to make final preparations for, and then take, today’s deposition.  But, what I did not foresee was just how hot it is to walk the streets of New York City on a summer afternoon, with temperatures of a reasonably humid ninety-something degrees, in a full suit and tie.  It had been so much cooler in the morning when I left that I hadn’t expected it to be an issue.

By the time I finished my walk and arrived in my hotel room, my dress shirt was so drenched with sweat that I might as well have just pulled it out of a bathtub, or walked through a rainstorm.

* A deposition involves taking the testimony of a witness under oath in the presence of a court reporter, much like you might at a trial, usually in a law office or hotel conference room, outside the presence of a judge or jury, and with fewer permissible objections to questions asked that are allowed. Depositions are usually taken in non-criminal lawsuits in order to obtain information from opposing parties and third party witnesses in order to prepare for trial.  This testimony is also not infrequently used in a pre-trial motion for summary judgment to establish that one or more key facts necessary for the court to make a ruling are undisputed, when this is the case.  Less frequently, depositions are used to preserve the testimony of someone who may not be available to testify at trial for some reason, in which case the testimony is read aloud to the jury in lieu of live witness testimony, unless the deposition was videotaped, in which case the jury watches selected portions of the video. In modern civil litigation, in which the lion’s share of lawsuits are resolved by settlement or motions practice prior to trial, and “no surprises” in the mantra in cases that do go to trial, a civil litigator typically spends far more days taking and defending depositions, than actually litigating cases in trials.

from Wash Park Prophet
via Denver News

Old New Wisdom That’s Still True And Other Miscellany

* Vox succintly restates what recent empirical evidence from the social sciences tells us about parenting:

Like any parent, I would love to believe that my awesome kids are a result of my awesome parenting. Sadly, expert opinion indicates it ain’t so. Genes have an enormous influence. Peers and culture have an enormous influence. But parenting styles inside the home, apart from extreme cases like abuse or neglect, have very little long-term influence on a person’s personality or success in life, at least that social scientists have been able to detect. . . . This isn’t to say parents and parenting aren’t important. Parents supply the genes, except in cases of adoption (or remarriage). They control, at least to some extent, the peers and environments to which children are exposed. And of course they crucially affect a child’s quality of life at home, which, as I will argue shortly, is not some minor detail.

But it’s safe to say that your kids’ long-term fate will not be meaningfully affected by the speed and timing of potty training, the brand of educational videos you purchase, or the precise tone of voice in which you discipline. A large proportion of the Parenting Industrial Complex isn’t about kids — it’s about generating content for nervous parents who feel like they should be doing something.

I’ve made the point recently that there are a few other things that buck the trend of genetic determinism in parenting. Many of traits we associated with “good character” in children, the extent to which a child is comfortable physically touching others, the religious beliefs a child learns growing up (although not necessarily the way a child responds to those beliefs within that tradition), the language that a child learns, and the opportunities that a child has to learn new languages at an age young enough for that instruction to “take”, do have something to do with parenting choices.

Also, just because refraining from “abuse or neglect” and escaping its frequently companion, poverty, is commonplace, doesn’t mean that it is always easy when faced with a colicky baby or balancing the need to work long hours to be able to afford essentials and the need to be personally present with your children.

But, it is certainly fair to say that parents, especially affluent new parents with few children who grew up small families themselves, are prone to dramatically overestimate the role of parental nurture in how they turn out.

And, David Roberts, the author of this Vox article does have one other good caveat for us:

The alternative to viewing childhood as preparation is viewing it as life, to be savored and enjoyed. Life is just a series of moments, and it’s amazing how many of them we miss, rush past, or disrupt because our minds are elsewhere, anticipating the future or dwelling on the past. But a moment of joy or connection is its own justification, not a means to an end.

* Another Vox retread that has long been well established, but mysteriously hasn’t swept the nation despite being well established empirically is that: Giving housing to the homeless is three times cheaper than leaving them on the streets.

This miracle has been demonstrated over and over again, in Denver, in Southeast Colorado, in Central Florida, and in Charlotte, North Carolina, and in Utah, to name a few examples.  Yet, it is so contrary to what “everyone knows is true” that politicians and the public stubbornly resist implementing this fairly simple idea.

* The same thing is true about the common American criminal justice practice about routinely incarcerating people charged with crimes pending trial if they can’t post bond, which many poor arrestees cannot.

The Vera Institute of Justice developed powerful empirical evidence in the 1960s that the modern institution of bail was unjust and that releasing all but a handful of high risk poor criminal defendants awaiting trial did not pose a heightened risk to public safety, greatly reduced the cost of the criminal justice system for the municipalities that adopted this reform (supervision by pretrial services officers costs about a tenth as much as keeping someone locked up), and produced more fair criminal justice outcomes.

But, as the New York Times and other investigative journalists who have looked into the story have shown, bail remains an institution for unjust and expensive mistreatment of the poor, even in New York City where some of the first experiments with an alternative were wildly successful.  Consider this paragraph from the New York Times Magazine (via Vox):

[The Bronx Freedom Fund] bailed out nearly 200 [low-income] defendants and generated some illuminating statistics. Ninety-six percent of the fund’s clients made it to every one of their court appearances, a return rate higher even than that of people who posted their own bail. More than half of the Freedom Fund’s clients, now able to fight their cases outside jail, saw their charges completely dismissed. Not a single client went to jail on the charges for which bail had been posted. By comparison, defendants held on bail for the duration of their cases were convicted 92 percent of the time. The numbers showed what everyone familiar with the system already knew anecdotally: Bail makes poor people who would otherwise win their cases plead guilty

* Empirical research by educational psychologists and pediatricians had strongly established that high school students perform better if their school days start later.  Despite the existence of this proven, easy to implement, no cost way to improve secondary education, however, this remains the exception rather than the rule, with the lion’s share of school districts sending elementary school children who are bright eyed and bushy tailed early in the morning to school late in the day, and giving high school students the early shift.

One rare promising example of a school listening to the empirical evidence, however, is the newest charter high school in the Denver Public Schools, Northfield High School in the Stapleton neighborhood, whose doors open this fall for its first entering class, which will also feature an extended school year with less summer vacation (another empirically proven way to improve school performance that has not overcome decades of tradition that no longer makes any sense in the modern world).

* I hadn’t realized until stumbling upon an article on the reform of California’s draconian “three-strikes and your out” law that the 2012 ballot initiative that reformed it was largely the work of two men, George Soros and a California law professor, whose roughly equal combined $1.9 million of contributions to the total $2.7 million raised by the campaign as a whole (about $1.5 million of which paid for the process of getting approval for a petition and circulating it with paid petition gatherers to get it one ballot).

They accomplished what liberals in California’s legislature, seemingly unanimous academic and newspaper editorial opinion, the 8th Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment, the power of the Governor of California to commute criminal sentences, and scathing dissenting opinions by judges had not.  This measure bought the freedom of roughly 3,000 people who were unjustly imprisoned for life for minor third crimes (many of which would have been misdemeanors for first offenders), at a price of less than $1,000 each, in an act reminiscent of a wealthy man buying slaves to free them (something that still happens in places like Mali).

The fact that a couple of wealthy individuals could get 69% of Californians to vote for a citizen’s initiative to fix a clear problem which the state legislature in a liberal state wasn’t willing to take on points to how fundamentally flawed the legislative process can be.

* Op-Ed columnist George Will meanwhile calls attention to another set of deep flaws with our legislative process recalling Jonathan Rauch’s 1994 book “Demosclerosis”, which he accentuates with the example of Mohair subsidies supported by no rational policy argument to the tune of $5 million a year that managed to be reenacted for most of the time period since 1954.  Simply put, Madison’s Federalist Paper No. 10 be damned, the inattentive majorities to which Congress theoretically responds turns out to be utterly incompetent at overcoming the will of attentive minorities. Individually, this senseless subsidies are a drop in the bucket, but collectively, they add up.

They are also canaries in the mine alerting us to flaws in the process that have the potential to manifest in more damaging ways elsewhere, and undermine basic civics assumptions about how our democratic system of government should work.  In short, it is proof, once again, that we have a system of government that is no longer state of the art or enviable as a world model of a democracy that works well, something that undermines our “soft power” on the world stage.

* Louisiana has lost 1,880 square miles of land to the sea in the last century, a trend that Hurricane Katrina accentuated.  Many of the remaining settlements outside New Orlean’s new and improved levees will be gone after the next serious Hurricane to this the region (which may be a few years due to the existence of one of the strongest El Nino conditions on record in the Pacific right now, which suppressed Atlantic Hurricanes while enhancing Pacific Monsoons).

Incidentally, those Pacific Monsoons which have hit rural Indian hard, are also dragging down world gold prices, because rural India despite being relatively poor internationally, accounts for about 20% of world gold purchases (proportionate to its population but greatly disproportionate to it share of world GDP) because large gifts of gold are common their as gifts for weddings and other occasions. But, monsoon driven hard times have curtailed their purchases and thus curtailed demand for what is roughly speaking as a first approximation, a fixed world supply of the commodity.

* There are still crazy people in the world.

For example, there are people who get stories published in religious magazines in the United States, who claim with a straight face that having Rhesus (RH) negative blood is a sign that you are descended from the Nephilim (i.e. human-angel hybrids), described in passing in the Bible and at length in the non-canonical Book of Enoch which has had immense impact on Judeo-Christian mysticism or metaphysical lore that has made its way into popular culture. Despite the fact that the Nephilim of apocryphal Christian tradition were generally evil, the proponents of this theory try to fit an angelic origin of RH negative blood into a doctrine of white supremacy (although ironically a white supremacy that favors the European Catholics and Jews whom the KKK persecuted almost as severely as blacks) noting that:

Northern Spain and Southern France is where you can find some of the highest concentration of the RH-negative factor in the Basque people. Another original group were the Eastern/Oriental Jews. In general, about 40 – 45% of Europeans have the RH-negative group. Only about 3% of African descendent and about 1% of Asian or Native American descendent has the RH-negative group.

They also argue that angelic ancestry is associated with:

* Higher than average IQ
* More sensitive vision and other senses.
* Lower body temperature
* Higher blood pressure
* Increased occurrence of psychic/intuitive abilities
* Predominantly blue, green, or hazel eyes
* Red or reddish hair
* Increased sensitivity to heat and sunlight
* Cannot be cloned
* Extra vertebra

Needless to say, all of this is absurd and has no legitimate basis in either science or Christian or Jewish religious doctrine.

* Modern African Christianity, meanwhile, has latched onto to doctrines of demon possession and exorcism, deliberately de-emphasized in the Northern hemisphere branches of these denominations despite the prominent role that these doctrines play in the canonical New Testament, in which an exorcism ministry was one of the core activities of Jesus Christ and his apostles.

African Christians have also taken up the Old Testament injunction to kill witches with unfortunate gusto, a practice that European Christians largely abandoned after the 17th century as the Enlightenment largely banished the notion of witchcraft as being anything more than fiction among the elites that held the power to continue the practice.  (Persecution of suspected witches is also alive and well in modern Islam.)

* Crazy people are more frightening, however, when they have power.  For example, Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore (who was re-elected by the people of Alabama to the post after being removed from it for judicial misconduct) thinks that the U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage because Satan influenced them to do it.

* Our criminal justice system is quite impervious not just to uncommon insights, but to common sense too.  The prevailing view in the law of post-conviction review of criminal convictions is that “an innocent person convicted after a procedurally adequate trial” is not constitutionally entitled to release from prison, because “actual innocence” has not been recognized by the U.S. Supreme Court as a valid legal basis for a habeas corpus petition (a perverse position famously strongly supported by Justice Scalia).  I strongly suspect that Justice Kennedy and the four liberals on the U.S. Supreme Court might change that precedent if the right case presented itself (and President Obama’s solicitor-general might not argue too strongly for a contrary result).

But, right now, this is a status quo that Congress in an effort to weaken post-trial review of death penalty sentences has enacted as policy in statutes like the habeas corpus reforms of Title I of the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996, which has made post-trial review of state criminal convictions into an angels on pinheads procedural maze, even though the act has actually proved in practice to be more of a barrier in non-death penalty cases than in those where the death penalty is actually imposed.

This unfortunate legislation was one of a number of bad policies signed into law by President Bill Clinton.  It routinely compounds the harm done by state court trial judges when they make grave mistakes that unjustly ruin people’s lives.  Concern about the possibility that his wife would also support those bad policies if elected President is one reason that some Democrats, rightly or wrongly, are concerned about a Hillary Clinton Presidency.  Maybe she has learned from experience. Democrats have been known to do that a bit more often than members of the other major political party.  But, it would be nice to have a nominee who was right on issue like that the first time.

* You would think that U.S. Supreme Court litigation specialists would be that the top of the food chain when it comes to pay in the legal profession and would have the highest hourly rates.  This might be true, and certainly, none of them are going hungry.  But if their rates are as high as they get, the “winner take all” economics of many other parts of the U.S. economy aren’t as powerful in law as they are in many professions.

Top U.S. Supreme Court advocates charge $1,020 to $1,800 an hour. For a unique, national, premier specialty, this is a surprisingly small multiple of the roughly $250-$300 per hour charged by perfectly ordinary, run of the mill lawyers in the regional, not particularly high cost of living.  It is less than the effective hourly rates earned by many lawyers working on perfectly ordinary contingent fee cases, where it isn’t unusual to see effective hourly rates of $500 an hour or more.

from Wash Park Prophet
via Denver News

Rocky Ford a.k.a. Bad Copville

Rocky Ford is not a town with a good track record of quality control.

For the past few years, until a few months ago, the small town in Southeast Colorado was known for the disastrous listeria ridden cantaloupes called “Rocky Ford Sweets” from Jensen Farms that killed thirty-three people in 2011.

Now, it has another claim to infamy.  It turns out that the town made it its business to hire cops who had already been discovered to be bad apples.  Four out of ten officers on the force have prior serious criminal records or histories of discipline in previous law enforcement jobs.

In November of 2014, one of those bad cops with a history of using excessive force shot an unarmed man in the back, killing him, and then pepper sprayed the man and fled, while on duty.  Unlike most cases of this type, the bad cop who did it was fired and charged with second degree murder in a prosecution that is currently in progress.

This “second chance” hiring policy may have been modeled on the Vatican’s policy of relocating priests who sexually abused children to new posts where families of new potential victims didn’t know about the priests’ prior crimes.  The policy didn’t work out well for the Roman Catholic Church.  It turns out that their second chance priests (and often there were many “second” chances), had a strong tendency to reoffend and require the church to engage in more cover ups.

It also doesn’t turn out to be working that well for Rocky Ford.

There is absolutely room in the world for giving people second chances in life.  But, giving someone a second chance in life doesn’t mean that one should give that person who has proven himself to be ill suited for a task a second chance in a position of public trust ripe for a repeat of the mistakes that this person made the last time.  A second chance like that is just another name for corruption.

If you give a priest who abused children a second chance (and that second chance should come only after the priest and the church apologizes to the victims, tries to compensate the victims, reports the incident to authorities and punishes the priest), that second chance should be an a monastery or a prison ministry, not a parish serving young families or a youth camp.

If you give a cop who screwed up a second chance, it should be in a position that doesn’t involve giving him a gun, or putting him in a position of authority over others, like driving a truck, working on a farm, or framing new apartment buildings.

Of course, as the Denver Post’s excellent investigative journalism on this story (credit where credit is due in an increasingly understaffed newspaper) points out, the Colorado Board of Peace Officer Standards and Training, the licensing body for state and local law enforcement officers in the state, is also to blame.  At least 39 other states make it harder for bad cops to remain licensed as law enforcement officers and at least 18 other states require employers of bad cops to inform state authorities when police officers are fired or resign.  In contrast, “Colorado will not even share the employment history it does have with the chiefs wanting to know about an applicant’s background.”

If the state licensing authority for law enforcement tells law enforcement offices that an individual meets state standards to do the job, it is natural that offices with tight budgets, like Rocky Ford, are going to hire bottom of the barrel candidates in order to make it possible for them to pay bottom of the barrel salaries.

Yet, when the government puts someone on the street with expanded authority relative to an ordinary person to use deadly force, qualified immunity from civil liability, and deadly weapons, privacy should take a back seat to public safety.

Not all tragedies can be prevented.  Some are inevitable.  But, we need to do a better job at preventing the tragedies that are eminently predictable.

from Wash Park Prophet
via Denver News

The Odd Case Of The Vigilant Tourists

A Texas couple sold thousands of tons of alfalfa for more than $1.5 million to Colorado farmers, bought a big boat and sailed away to the Bahamas with their seven children. The seemingly idyllic family adventure didn’t end well, however, because Donald and Karlien Winberg didn’t actually grow alfalfa. They’re con artists. 

After federal fraud charges were filed in April 2014, the Winbergs went on the run for several months. FBI agents tracked them to a 40-foot sailboat near the Staniel Cay Yacht Club in the Bahamas in October. . . . A federal grand jury in Denver indicted the Winbergs on April 22, 2014. After going on the run, the family surfaced in the Houston area in October and bought a sailboat with $20,000 cash using fake names, the Houston Chronicle reported. They lived aboard the boat at a local marina until shortly before setting out Oct. 29. Galveston Bay authorities rescued the family from the sinking boat. 

Shortly afterwards, the Winbergs bought a larger boat and sailed to the Bahama islands, court records say. Tourists from Louisiana on vacation in the Bahamas recognized the fugitives and called the FBI.

Via The Denver Post.

I’ve litigated many cases against con artists big and small, and have had to turn as many down because it wasn’t possible to identify and locate the perpetrators who were operating under false names and claimed to be working out of non-existent office addresses.

It is rare for law enforcement to be willing to step in and take action.  But, the fairly large dollar amounts involved, the multiple victims, and the fact that the case had strong ties to Colorado, Texas and Idaho at the time that it was filed, and the fact that the perpetrators apparently didn’t use false names.

Far more remarkable, however, is the fact that even though “Galveston Bay authorities” who rescued the family of con artists from their sinking sailboat didn’t recognize them and turn them in, tourists from Louisiana on vacation in the Bahamas did!

Seriously, how many are so alert that, even when they are on a beach vacation in the Bahamas, they were aware of the existence of someone who conned some farmers out of money in states where they don’t even live, and then connected the dots to know it was them in the Bahamas?  Even determined private investigators are rarely able to find fugitives in cases like these.  But, perhaps because a family of fraudsters with seven kids on a sail boat in the Gulf of Mexico are so different from the run of the mill “most wanted” poster criminals, they may have been more memorable.

This case wasn’t national news (rightfully so, it isn’t that big), but presumably, the FBI or federal marshals must have figured out in October that they had just missed their quarry in Galveston and that they had fled via another sailboat, and then put out the word in marinas, in local news broadcasts across the Gulf Coast, and maybe even in Caribbean news outlets, shortly afterwards.  People who frequent marinas may be more attentive to wanted criminals who could crop up in the boat next to them than to run of the mill thugs reported on the nightly news, for example.

Still, even then, the tourists rate as incredibly vigilant.  There seems to be an endless barrage of missing persons and most wanted criminals in post offices, grocery stores and news stories (most for serious violent crimes), that it is very hard to keep track of.  And, it is also rare for someone to have the certainty that these people are the suspects, the sense of civic duty to take action on that knowledge while on vacation, and the familiarity with the criminal justice system to know how to report this knowledge to someone capable of securing international cooperation to have them arrested in a foreign country.  Many a small town cop in the jurisdictions where the farmers who were victimized by these crimes lived would not have known how to manage such a bureaucratic feat.

Indeed, the mores I think this through, the more likely I think it is that these tourists may have been vacationing law enforcement officials of some type who were alerted to these fugitives through official channels and been able to take action on that information because of their professional expertise.

I guess I’ll never know how this extraordinary tip was really made possible, but it would be fascinating to know.  Still, whatever the circumstances, it does illustrate a recurring theme.  Sharing information about suspected wrongdoers with the public routinely results in them being apprehended or thwarted, while keeping this information secret makes it much easier for suspects to remain at large.  Secrecy rarely makes us more secure, and this is just as true in cases where the suspects are suspected terrorists or national security threats as it is when they are mere common con artists as in this case.

Once arrested, the couple eventually pleaded guilty to federal wire fraud and conspiracy charges. Yesterday, about ten months after they were arrested, they were sentenced in federal court in Denver, although the report that I link to doesn’t say what sentences were imposed.  Given the amount stolen, both parents will likely face many years in prison, leaving their seven kids in the lurch, either to be placed with extended family, or in foster care, something that they presumably did nothing to deserve.  But, it is hard to see any way to avoid that outcome while appropriately punishing the parents.

The short news report also doesn’t make clear how much of the stolen funds were recovered or repaid in a restitution award from other sources, or whether the victims of the fraud were able to recoup any of their theft losses from insurance.  While homeowner’s and business insurance policies routinely cover stolen tangible personal property, it is much less common to be able to recover money paid as a result of someone else’s fraudulent conduct with an insurance claim.

One of the unfortunate realities you face as an attorney trying to secure justice for a client who has been defrauded is that your client is usually better off with the fraudster out of prison where he or she can earn funds to make settlement payments, even though this exposes the public to the risk that the perpetrators will merely find new marks (and perhaps even use the funds secured from those victims to pay your client).  Likewise, as a private attorney helping one fraud victim, it is often in your interest to act in a way that doesn’t tip off other victims (and fraudsters almost always have more than one victim) that you have located the fraudster and brought him or her to justice, because then the limited funds available to compensate your client (which are almost never sufficient to secure a full recovery) will have to be shared with other victims.

Similar moral conflicts arise when your client is the victim of some systemic business conduct or administrative behavior of a government agency.  Attorneys defending the business or government will often offer your client a settlement in exchange for confidentiality and an end to your lawsuit or threatened lawsuit, even though, had you prevailed on the merits (as you are likely to have done in cases that the other side is willing to settle), your win would have given other victims a binding precedent that they could have used to win easy victories of their own, and would have made the perpetrator much more likely to discontinue what is typically an ongoing pattern of improper conduct.  Unless your client is independently wealthy and has an extreme sense of moral duty, your client will usually direct you to take an offer that provides compensation to them, even if that means allowing the repeat perpetrator to escape justice for harms to other past and future victims.

One of the important reasons that businesses so vehemently oppose class action lawsuits is that it denies them the ability to grease the squeaky wheels, while unjustly screwing over everyone else that they have wronged without facing any consequences for their actions.

As an attorney representing a private client who has been victimized by fraud, your duty to put your client first, even if other victims will be left worse off, is clear.  But, this is certainly one of the otherwise more morally ambiguous imperatives imposed upon attorneys as a matter of professional ethics.

In private litigation, restitution almost always trumps retribution or justice viewed at the level of the entire course of conduct by the wrongdoer.  But, while this is almost always the right micro-level decision for the victims who you represent, it is not at all clear this the incentives our legal system creates to take this approach make sense as a matter of public policy.

from Wash Park Prophet
via Denver News