Geoff Schoos: Plea Agreement Unconscionable

I am elevating Geoff Schoos’ comment on the plea agreement for the Derderian brothers because it gives needed insight into how this agreement harms not only the victims and their families but also the general public:

It is unconscionable that a plea agreement was entertained, let alone formalized, and then for the architect (Attorney General Patrick Lynch) to deny any involvement in it. It is inconceivable that Attorney General Lynch was out of the loop in the most emotionally charged and high profile case to be prosecuted by his office.

A plea agreement is the legal equivalent of “hedging your bets� at Foxwoods. Originally conceived as a means of clearing overcrowded court dockets of “run-of-the-mill� cases where the facts were clear and the outcome was not much in doubt, it has now morphed into a means where both sides work out a deal to avoid a loss. The prosecution can claim a “win�, the defense can claim that it courageously saved the day for its clients and the judge can find solace in not putting the victims through a process that relives the misery of their lives that began the night of the Station fire. All that gets lost under this scenario is the examination of the facts of the case and the ever elusive “search for truth.�

Trials are about more than the conviction or the acquittal of defendants. At their best, they reflect the community’s attempt to right a wrong against one or more of its members. The title of a case, “State vs. ____� or “People vs. _____� reflects the view that an offense against one of us is in fact an offense against all of us. It’s not just the individual victims or their families that cry for justice, it’s all of us. Therefore, in a very real way, this plea agreement with its lenient sentence recommendations, apparently accepted by Judge Darigan, is not just a slap in the face to the victims and their families. It is a slap to all Rhode Islanders who looked to this trial for an exposition of the facts that led to this tragedy, the punishment – if appropriate – of the guilty parties, and a sense that “justice� was served.

All of that is denied the victims of the Station fire and their families. Over the summer I had the opportunity to meet with a family member of a victim of the fire. She was the mother of a woman who died at the Station nightclub. During our brief conversation, she was outraged that Daniel Biechle was given a plea agreement that resulted in his imprisonment for only four years. However, she held out some hope that her daughter’s death would in some measure be vindicated by the trial of the Derderians. Other than that faint hope, she had lost all interest in any governmental institution and struggled each day with her loss. Judge Darigan is wrong when he says that this deal would spare the victims and their families from having to relive the pain of their lives – they have nothing left from which to be spared.

And after all this, who can blame the woman I met and others like her for feeling like forgotten pawns to be sacrificed in a bigger chess game.

There is hardly time to organize public protest as this decision is scheduled to be finalized Friday, but if you want to let your opinion on this be known, you can call Patrick Lynch’s office at 274-4400 x2359.

Station Fire Victims Failed At Every Level

Patrick Lynch, Attorney General for the State of Rhode Island, is claiming he is not responsible for a plea deal being offered to Michael and Jeff Derderian, the owners of The Station Night Club, where 100 people were killed in a fast-moving fire on February 20, 2003. You can read the full interview with Lynch here.

Like many people, I find this to be one of the starkest and most disgusting examples of judicial failure I have ever seen. Patrick Lynch is the Attorney General. If he can’t take responsibility for the decisions coming out of his office, he does not deserve the authority that the office affords. He is either lying, or he is completely incompetent.

I agree with the James C. Gahan, whose son, James C. Gahan IV died in the fire:

“We were failed basically at all levels,” said Gahan, listing town and state inspectors, the Derderians and, now, the judiciary.

How Low Can the Bush Administration Go?

Like a coddled child brimming with entitlement, the Bush administration seems to respond petulantly when it fails to get or hear what it wants, acting out against those who dare to express dissent with intimidation and/or name-calling. Today’s Los Angeles Times features a story that suggests just how low the Bush administration or its agents can go. On this occasion, the target of their sullen pique is a California church:

All Saints Episcopal Church Won’t Comply With IRS Probe

A liberal Pasadena church on Thursday declared that it will refuse to comply with an IRS investigation into its tax-exemption status launched after a guest speaker was critical of President Bush in a sermon.

At a news conference attended by 50 cheering supporters gathered before the marble altar at All Saints Episcopal Church, the Rev. Ed Bacon said his 3,500-member congregation did not violate tax regulations barring tax-exempt organizations from endorsing or opposing candidates when a former rector, George F. Regas, criticized the Bush administration two days before the 2004 presidential election.

The Episcopal faith, the 58-year-old rector said, “calls us to speak to the issues of war and poverty, bigotry, torture, and all forms of terrorism … always stopping short of supporting or opposing political parties or candidates for public office.”

Joined by members of other faiths, he added, “We are also not here for ourselves alone but to defend the freedom of pulpits in faith communities throughout our land.”

The All Saints case escalated a week ago when the IRS slapped the 80-year-old parish with a summons demanding that it turn over by Sept. 29 all materials, such as newsletters and sermons, produced during the 2004 election year with political references. Bacon was told to testify in person Oct. 11.

At stake, several religious leaders say, is freedom from government intimidation when churches address moral issues of the day from the pulpit.

In an interview, Richard Land, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, said, “Churches should not endorse political candidates. But the IRS is seriously out of kilter and wrong-headed on this one; it’s an appalling intrusion and it smacks of intimidation.” [full text]

Bush and McCain Embrace Compromise

Bush and McCain hug and make up

All is right in the world again…or, at least, right-wing. George “Iceâ€? Bush and John “Maverickâ€? McCain have patched up their differences. They’re back on the same team and flying high. It turns out that the Senator’s opposition to the President’s proposal on the interrogation and treatment of detainees was largely the product of feeling spurned. John saw George kissing Ringo—I mean, Joe Lieberman—and did not take well to being second banana (if you know what I mean, nudge nudge, wink wink). Feeling hurt and unloved, much as he did as a prisoner of war in Vietnam, McCain acted out by fomenting rebellion against Bush’s beloved proposal. But then these two manly men got to talking, and, soon enough, all was forgiven and a “compromiseâ€? was reached. Now, Maverick is back to being numero uno banana. Isn’t that appealing?

Daily Kudos for Thursday, September 21

Yummy Kudos

• KUDOS to British business mogul Richard Branson for following in the footsteps of fellow billionaires Bill Gates and Warren Buffet and setting aside significant capital to tackle issues of global import that might otherwise be underfunded or neglected. At a summit sponsored by the Clinton Global Initiative (see below), Branson pledged to “invest about $3 billion to combat global warming over the next decade.â€? It seems only fitting that Branson—who is also renowned for his exploits as a balloonist—would contribute money to the atmosphere after having previously contributed a good deal of hot air to it. more…

• KUDOS to former President Bill Clinton for organizing the Clinton Global Initiative, which has “gathered heads of state, business leaders and international nonprofits to find and fund solutions to the world’s most pressing problems: poverty, limited access to health care, energy and climate change, and religious and ethnic conflict.â€? Even a good half decade removed from his tenure in public office, Clinton remains a charismatic and influential leader. Anyone care to lay bets on whether the same might be said of George W. Bush in 2014? more…

• KUDOS to Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez for using a bully pulpit at the United Nations General Assembly yesterday to give words—however inflammatory or hyperbolic—to what many around the globe have long thought. He “bitterly and sarcastically assailed President Bush…portraying Mr. Bush as ‘the devil’ who thinks he is ‘the owner of the world.’â€? Not surprisingly, after Mr. Chavez gave his speech, a spokesperson for the Devil (who looked very much like Tony Snow) issued a press release taking exception to the Venezuelan leader’s “hurtfulâ€? analogy. more…

• KUDOS to U.S. Magistrate Judge Elizabeth D. Laporte for yesterday “ruling against the Bush administration’s efforts to open national forests for logging and mining…[by setting] aside a U.S. Forest Service rule that allows governors to decide which land in national forests is suited for development.â€? It’s encouraging to see that justice can occasionally prevail and that some in positions of authority have the best interests of the globe and the species which still inhabit it at heart. more…

Celebrate National A.D.D. Awareness Day

Poster Child for ADHD

Break out the Ritalin, folks! The U.S. Senate has designated today as “National Attention Deficit Disorder Awareness Day.� To be honest, it almost escaped my notice that such an august occasion was taking place. Perhaps all the hullabaloo about war, terrorism, genocide, corruption, global warming, and killer spinach had me distracted. Gee, maybe I have ADHD. Heck, maybe the whole country’s got it. (And wouldn’t that just send the pharmaceutical fat cats into a priapic stupor?) Seriously, given the humongous mess we’re in and the yahoos we put in charge, how well could we have been paying attention?