WV Civil Rights Lawyer

Police Misconduct, Civil Rights Law

DOJ investigations of pattern or practice police misconduct resume (and shift course)

You might have noticed in the news today, as per CNSNews.com, that the DOJ has commenced an investigation of Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio – a man known for the strict enforcement of laws – and who is hated by the political left.  The article doesn’t say so, but his Sheriff’s Department is being investigated by the Special Litigation Section of the Civil Rights Division of the DOJ – a place I once worked.

It’s probably not a coincidence that this investigation comes on the heels of the inauguration of President Obama.  Either every career liberal in the DOJ has finally been given a green light to conduct their dream investigations, or grateful federal employees are scrambling to secure their jobs in light of the sudden shift in political leaning in the executive branch.

The Special Litigation Section is responsible for pattern or practice police misconduct investigations (among other things) – which results only in civil – not criminal – litigation.  Individual incidents could be prosecuted criminally by the Criminal Section of the Civil Rights Division.  

You will notice from the few and far between police misconduct investigations in the past 8 years, that they were not high on the Bush Administrations’ priority list – except to assist law enforcement agencies throughout the country in evading civil 1983 lawsuits.  For instance, see this letter to the Austin Police Department from the SLS.  By the way, this letter, and others that the DOJ provides the public, contains some great stuff for plaintiff’s attorneys, or anyone else who wants to learn more about proper “use of force” and “supervisory oversight” and other policies and procedures for police departments – at least according to the DOJ.

Nevertheless, the SLS has not yet even listed the Arpaio investigation in it’s website.  And until then, the public will not know what the specific allegations are.

 – John H. Bryan, West Virginia Attorney.

March 12, 2009 Posted by | DOJ, Police Misconduct | Leave a comment

The “Kramer Rule” to affect West Virginia jury trials?

There was a story that I saw yesterday in the Register-Herald titled “Berkeley delegate wants judges’ donations disclosed in trials.”  Apparently, as per a bill introduced by Delegate Jonathan Miller, “[b]efore the first shred of evidence is put before a jury, members would know how much — if anything — opposing attorneys dumped into the presiding judge’s campaign chest.”

What I want to get is disclosing contributions to sitting judges from attorneys, first and foremost,” Miller, R-Berkeley, said Monday. “They are very involved in these lower races, circuit judges and family court. And I want disclosure to be compelled.”

Miller is labeling his proposal the “Jim Kramer Rule,” named after the investment guru, who, under Securities Exchange Commission rules, must disclose his personal holdings before pitching any stock.

The proposed legislation purportedly would not apply to criminal cases – not that it would be constitutional anyways….  This legislation begs the question: what in the heck is the point of doing this?  The reason that we have a jury in civil trials in West Virginia, is to decide contested issues of fact.  Of course the lawyers always believe that the trial judge favors and/or helps one side or the other somewhat during the trial.  But from the point of view of the jury, the judge is supposed to be neutral, and is only assisting them in doing their job.  In fact, the judge will instruct them not to try and speculate as to what he thinks about the case.  To instruct the jury from the beginning on which lawyer contributed campaign donations would confuse the jury from the start, and would possibly cause prejudice to an innocent party.  The lawyer is only representing the client.  Now if the client has some sort of improper connection with the judge, that could be different, in which case there already exists a procedure for the recusal of a judge if there exists a conflict.

Regardless, there’s no way this legislation, if passed, would get through the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals – all of whom are judges who arrived where they are, in part, through campaign contributions.

 – John H. Bryan, West Virginia Attorney.

March 12, 2009 Posted by | Elections, Evidence, Judges, Trials | Leave a comment