Sustained Outrage

Judiciary approves Goodwin as U.S. Attorney

At this morning’s executive business meeting, the Senate Judiciary approved Booth Goodwin to become the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of West Virginia. Goodwin’s endorsement came at the end of the meeting, when a handful of nominees, including John Foster and Gary M. Gaskins to be the U.S. Marshals for West Virginia’s Southern and Northern districts, respectively, were approved all together by the committee.

Almost the entire meeting was spent discussing a different Goodwin, Goodwin Liu, a law professor at the University of California at Berkeley who is up for a seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. Liu passed out of committee by a 12-7 vote on strict party lines, with multiple Republican senators, including Ranking Member Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), John Kyl (R-Ariz.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), John Cornyn (R-Tex.), and Tom Coburn (R-Ok.) all speaking out against Liu’s record as an academic with no judicial experience.

Sessions worried about adding Liu to the Ninth Circuit, which he called “one of the most undisciplined courts in America, one of the most activist courts in America.” Hatch questioned whether Liu would put his own views ahead of settled law, saying, “The Constitution must control government, not the other way around.”

Democrats countered that the senate had confirmed several circuit judges nominated by Republican presidents who had academic rather than judicial experience. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, (D-Calif.) noted that neither Judge Michael W. McConnell (who resigned from the Tenth Circuit in August 2009 to become the director of the Stanford Constitutional Law Center) and J. Harvie Wilkinson III (who taught law at the University of Virginia and edited the Norfolk Virginian-Pilot‘s editorial page for three years before President Reagan appointed him to the Fourth Circuit in 1984) had any judicial experience before becoming appeallate judges.

The discussion of Liu’s credentials offers an interesting prelude to the confirmation hearings of Elena Kagan, President Obama’s nominee to replace retiring Associate Justice John PaulĀ  Stevens on the U.S. Supreme Court. Although Kagan is expected to be confirmed without too much difficulty, oppenents to her nomination are likely to raise the same issues about her academic, rather than judicial, experience.

Here’s another installment of stories that made us take notice this week:

The former mayor of West Linn, Ore., admitted in court on Tuesday that she knowingly lied on an election document in 2008, claiming that she was “degreed in English” when she had no such degree, the Oregonian reported. Patti Galle resigned from office in April, two days after the paper reported that she had bought a degree from what investigators called an online degree mill in February 2010. Galle, who originally claimed she had a degree from San Jose State University, had the online degree backdated to 1973, although Redding University has only existed since 2003, according to investigators.

After spending more than $1 million and three and 1/2 years defending the case, the city of Portland agreed to a $1.6 million settlement in the wrongful death lawsuit filed by the family of a mentally ill man who died in police custody, the Oregonian also reported. James P. Chasse Jr.’s family contended that three officers tackled him face-first on a concrete sidewalk then brutally beat him, breaking 16 ribs (some of which punctured a lung), then engaged in a cover-up (which included bagging bread crumbs as evidence of cocaine and telling civilian witnesses that Chasse had cocaine convictions and was on drugs). The police were prepared to argue that Chasse died of excited delerium, and that the fractured ribs were the result of multiple attempts to revive him using CPR. Notably, the settlement requires the police department to release to the family records including the internal affairs investigation and training and discipline records, which had been under seal while the case was pending.

Residents in Philadelphia’s Overbrook neighborhood are outraged after learning that the area was put on lockdown after a city police officer lied, saying he had been shot by a black man with cornrows and a mark or tattoo underneath his left eye, according to this account by the Philadelphia Daily News. In fact, Sgt. Robert Ralston (who is white), apparently unhappy that he had been transferred to a high-crime district, shot himself in the shoulder then concocted a detailed story about a struggle with an assailant in the early morning hours of April 5. The department suspended the 21-year veteran for 30 days with an intent to dismiss, according to the story.

Money and elections

I didn’t post this until after yesterday’s primary was over, because I didn’t want anyone to think that I was trying to influence voters in any way. But the National Institute on Money in State Politics released a couple of interesting studies recently that examined the intersection of money, incumbency and politics in state legislative elections.

Incumbents who also had a fundraising advantage won 96 percent of the time in the 2007-08 election cycle, according to Peter Quist’s study, The Role of Money and Incumbency in 2007-2008 State Elections. In one-third of the races, incumbents ran unopposed.

Challengers who failed to raise more money than the officeholder won only 8 percent of the time. However, when they did manage to build a bigger war chest, challengers won 53 percent of the time, according to the study.

Moreover, the success rate for incumbents has been slowly creeping upward, from 89 percent in 2001-02 to 92 percent in 2003-04 and 2005-06 to 94 percent in 2007-08. The winning percentage for candidates with the money advantage has been relatively stable, though: 82 percent in 2001-02; 84 percent in 2003-04; 83 percent in 2005-06; and 80 percent in 2007-08.

The other study, Tyler Evilsizer’s Competitiveness in 2007-2008 State Legislative Races, notes that only 22 percent of candidates nationwide had a monetarily competitive race, i.e. where the candidates raised similar amounts of money.

As for West Virginia, roughly a quarter (26.5 percent) of the 117 legislative races in 2008 were monetarily competitive, while 44 percent weren’t competitive, and 29 percent were uncontested. You can see a national map here.

Continue reading…

Booth Goodwin on Senate Judiciary’s Thursday agenda

R. Booth Goodwin II, who was nominated by President Obama to be the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of West Virginia on Jan. 20, is on the agenda for Thursday’s business meeting of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

If Goodwin’s confirmation goes smoothly, he will become the first nominated and confirmed U.S. Attorney in the Southern District since Kasey Warner left the office under a cloud of speculation in 2005.

Goodwin is the son of Joseph R. Goodwin, the district’s chief federal judge. Judge Goodwin told the Gazette in January that he will no longer hear criminal cases if his son is the district attorney. The judge has already recused himself from any cases handled by his son or the economic crimes section, which Booth Goodwin has headed for the past two years.

Two other West Virginia nominations are also on Thursday’s agenda: John Foster, to be U.S. Marshal for the Southern District, and Gary M. Gaskins, to be U.S. Marshal for the Northern District.

Here again is another installment of stories that caught our eye this week.

Officials are investigating complaints that employees at a Los Angeles County hospital ran a makeshift beauty salon in the neonatal intensive care unit, the Los Angeles Times reported. “The smell of acetone permeates the back area of the NICU,” according to one complaint, which alleged that doctors and nurses were getting manicures during their shifts. There have also been allegations that the unit is understaffed and that unqualified doctors and staff are providing substandard care.

In the wake of the tragic murder of a member of the University of Virginia’s women’s lacrosse team, allegedly at the hands of a member of the men’s lacrosse team who had a drunken confrontation with a female police officer in Lexington, Va., in 2008, the Washington Post noted that eight out of 41 players on the men’s team have been charged with an alcohol-related offense during their tenure with the team. The charges included underage alcohol possession, using a fake ID and driving while intoxicated, according to the Post, and resulted in six convictions and two acquittals.

A former Chicago Police commander accused of participating in widespread torture of suspects will stand trial on federal perjury charges this month, the Chicago Tribune reported. The city has paid out millions of dollars in civil lawsuits related to Jon Burke and other officers’ conduct, but he avoided criminal charges until 2008, when prosecutors accused him of lying under oath during a civil case in 2003 by saying he neither knew about nor participated in the torture of suspects. “In 2006, an investigation by a special Cook County prosecutor concluded that Burge and his officers obtained dozens of confessions through torture, but found that prosecutors had no recourse because of the statute of limitations,” the article notes.