Monthly Archives: April 2009

CREDO’s Preemptive Call to Action to Fire Alleged “Mastermind” of Terror- I Mean, “Mastermind” of Torture

As a progressive Democrat, I want to believe in my heart that when progressives say “no one is above the law,” we mean it.  I also want badly to believe it is true when progressives say it is a fundamental value of ours that all individuals should be provided with fair legal proceedings (i.e. due process) before being condemned as guilty by the public or by some politician, and before being deprived of rights, liberty and/or property.

By due process extending to “all individuals” this includes (at least in my understanding) all individuals.  “Enemy combatants” or alleged terrorists are individuals, so they qualify, and progressives routinely acknowledge this.  But here’s the catch: “Neo-cons” are also individuals, so they should also be entitled to due process before being publicly condemned and deprived of rights or property.  Same goes for “religious fundamentalists.”  And, most pertinent to this post, same goes for alleged torture supporters  in the Bush administration.

Today, I was very disappointed to review an email and web link I received from the progressive organization  CREDO (which I think is usually very supportive of individuals’ rights), asking people to assume that an individual- William Haynes, a former attorney with the Bush administration who has NOT yet been subject to legal investigation or due process- is a “mastermind” of torture.

Worse, CREDO asks that people sign a petition that seeks to deprive Mr. Haynes of a job he has been working since leaving the Bush administration.  The job, of note, is with a private entity, Chevron, and is unrelated to Mr. Haynes’ government job or alleged involvement with torture.  CREDO calls this job “cushy,” and apparently finds high income relevant to its demand that Mr. Haynes be fired.

CREDO sums up its request as follows: “The legal mastermind behind Bush’s torture policies deserves prison, not a giant paycheck.”

I generally appreciate and support CREDO’s recommendations and actions, but I couldn’t disagree more with this one.

An appropriate approach for CREDO and the public would be – as opposed to demanding Mr. Haynes be terminated from his Chevron job-  to demand an impartial investigation of his conduct with the government, and to demand initiation of criminal action if the investigatory evidence warrants that.   CREDO has made similar demands in the past, and has otherwise been highly supportive of individual rights and due process.

However, when we progressives say “no one is above the law,” to me that really means no one.  President Bush and Mr. Haynes, definitely- but this also means CREDO, you and me are also subject to the law and must also respect and not contravene due process.  We, as progressives, are not above the law just because we are not supporters of President Bush, or just because we didn’t allegedly torture anybody.  We have made other types of huge mistakes.  We’re human and, for just one example of our common mistakes, we are prone to occasionally hop on moralistic high horses that cause us to abandon progressive principles to service a thirst for righteous condemnation, like CREDO’s call to action.

CREDO’s request that Mr. Haynes be deprived of liberties and property (those associated with his current job), based on past conduct which has not yet been legally investigated or prosecuted, is exactly the same philosophy as to legal rights and civil liberties that the Bush administration viewed to apply to “enemy combatants” and that progressives have opposed vehemently.  Yes, exactly.

If you are a progressive, and your gut reaction to this post is to be defensive on CREDO’s behalf and think up rationalizations or distinctions to claim CREDO’s call to action is fundamentally different than President Bush’s approach to civil liberties, then I would say that type of defensiveness (which I myself have made the mistake of having on different issues) is yet another similarity with President Bush.  Part of being a true believer in individual rights and due process is keeping our eyes open to our own frequent and inevitable mistakes, and our frequent needs to be subject to criticism and correction by ourselves and others.

All of us- progressives, conservatives, independents, and US citizens of all types and kinds- are heavy contributors to the US’s existing deficiencies with individual rights and due process.  We all have contributed by our actions, by our inaction, and by our many instances of apathy.  I would add that progressives are especially responsible, because we claim to be the most attuned to principles of individual rights and due process, and as such we should be most sensitive to these issues, and should be the most primed to call a spade a spade when it crosses our radar.

Yet I expect most progressives who read CREDO’s request will get caught up in the emotion of President Bush-bashing and will make the horrible mistake of assuming there is a difference between (1) deeming someone a “mastermind” terrorist and demanding deprivation of their rights and property before legal investigation and due process has occurred; and (2) doing the same thing with a “mastermind” torturer.

I don’t know about the rest of you, but what I want from government (and from CREDO, Chevron, and everyone else) is a fundamental and entrenched commitment to fair inquiry and due process.  If that fundamental structure is restored, then you and I can hopefully be saved from our own irrationality when we go off on future rants (and we will) about others who we have pre-judged without complete and fair information.

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Interesting Statistics About Lawsuits in WI and Elsewhere

Does Wisconsin and the U.S. generally need “tort reform?”  Are too many (or an increasing number) of lawsuits being filed, with too many plaintiffs receiving large awards, and too many businesses suffering due to law suits by individuals?

As a plaintiff’s employment attorney, I have shared my own observations and biases in trying to answer questions  like these.  See, for example, my blog posts “Biggest Risk to Employers? Frivolous Suits? No. The (Expensive) Certainty of Being “Right” and “Corporate Rhetoric, the Decline of Individual Rights, and What You Can Do About It.”

My views aside, the best answers to the questions above are non-biased and objective answers, grounded in statistics and facts.  While it is my opinion no one can give answers that are purely objective and non-biased, folks interested in the questions above should check out this resource, which is much more objective than my blog posts: “Civil Justice in Wisconsin: A Fact Book, with Commentary” by Marc Galanter and Susan Steingass, of The University of Wisconsin Law School.

(I heard of this fact book via the excellent blog by Jon Groth, a Wisconsin personal injury attorney).

I’ll quote the Fact book’s conclusion below, which is a summary of some important information covered, although you should read the full fact book (a 23-page Adobe document) for detailed and statistical information that addresses questions like those above.  The full fact book is here.

“Conclusion

In many ways, Wisconsin is very much like its neighbors and like the rest of the nation. Overall, resort to the courts is increasing, but most of this increase is in the family and contract areas. Tort filings are decreasing relative to population and in absolute numbers. The portion of cases that reach trial, especially jury trial, is decreasing. When cases do get to trial, median awards are mostly lower than in the recent past.

If we look further to see how Wisconsin is distinctive, we find that even with the limitations of the data, Wisconsin has a modest amount of
litigation in comparison with our neighbors and the rest of the nation. Most non-family civil cases are filed by businesses against individual defendants; where individuals sue businesses, the awards are comparatively modest.

This relatively low resort to the courts is reflected in a lawyer population that is relatively small and slow growing. The costs imposed by the civil justice system are palpable; the benefits that it confers are less apparent – indeed to the extent that they are effective, they fade from view. The same system of justice that protects citizens, protects and facilitates businesses. Businesses use the civil justice system to enforce contracts and collect debts. The security of property rights afforded by the civil law enables them to raise capital, borrow, and extend credit. They enjoy the protections of the tort system in deterring injurious behavior by others. All of this is so routine that it easily escapes our attention. This should remind us that citizens and businesses have a shared interest in an effective civil justice system. We hope that this booklet helps provide the basis for an informed public discussion.”

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Know of Good Resources for Laid Off Workers (Esp. WI)? Please Pass Them On…

I am on the lookout for helpful resources for employees who have been laid off, particularly resources for laid off workers in my state of Wisconsin.

If anyone knows of helpful resources in the areas below, I’d be very grateful if you emailed me at mbrown@dvglawpartner.com with a description of the resource(s), and their contact information. Ultimately, I’d like to post a list on this blog and hopefully provide a centralized list of resources and information that provides assistance in many areas, above and beyond the employment law information in this blog.

I’m familiar with many fine organizations and resources already- if you know that I already know you and your organization, please know you’re already on my list- I’m just in info-collecting mode right now, and you’ll be posted!

These are the types of WI worker issues (beyond employment law) for which I’d like to learn of resources/organizations:

Grants or financial assistance (other than unemployment), governmental or private, that are available to workers in WI or nationwide who lost jobs/have low income.

– Free or low-cost advice about health insurance options for workers, especially laid off workers in WI.

– Free or low-cost advice about Wisconsin unemployment benefits/proceedings (I know some fine attorneys across WI who provide unemployment representation, but like me they are in private practice and must charge for their services; I am looking for all non-profit legal-aid-type organizations in WI that have attorneys available for free unemployment representation from beginning to end).

– Free or low-cost advice about mortgage or housing problems, especially resources available for individuals with these problems in WI or nationwide.

– Free or low-cost advice about job-searching or vocational training for workers, especially laid off workers in WI.

– Free or low-cost advice on consumer or credit issues (repossession of car, etc.), particularly for individuals in WI.

– Free or low-cost financial planning or debt management advice, particularly for individuals in WI.

Grants or financial assistance that are available to workers with disabilities in WI or nationwide.

– Free or low-cost advice about social security disability benefits.

– Free or low-cost advice about short term and long term disability benefits (I also know many good WI attorneys who work with these benefits and have free consults and reasonable rates; again here I’m looking for any free or low-cost resources for legal representation).

– Free or low-cost advice about Wisconsin workers compensation law (I know some fine workers comp attorneys across WI who provide free consults and who I refer to, although all are in private practice; I was wondering if anyone knew of a non-profit organization that had workers comp attorneys available for free representation from beginning to end).

– Free or low-cost advice for WI workers who have had difficulty finding employment due to their arrest or conviction records (I have represented several such workers, as have many good WI attorneys I know; again here I’m looking for any free or low-cost resources for legal representation, or for vocational assistance as well).

Again, please send any resources and their information/contact information to me at mbrown@dvglawpartner.com.  Also, I am sure that in the list above I left out several important issues- please email me with any additional issues as well.  Thank you!

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New COBRA Benefits/Help for Laid Off Workers

If you were laid off from your job, and have the chance to elect or continue COBRA benefits, please know that a new law was passed which could possibly provide you with federal subsidy money (paid via a tax credit) that would pay for 65% of several months of COBRA costs, leaving you responsible for 35% of those (usually high) costs as compared to 100%.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), “If you were offered Federal COBRA continuation coverage as a result of an involuntary termination of employment that occurred at any time from September 1, 2008 through February 16, 2009, and you declined to take COBRA at that time, or elected COBRA and later discontinued it, you may have another opportunity to elect COBRA coverage and pay a reduced premium.”

Please know there are several specific and detailed eligibility rules to get the new COBRA subsidy, so the purpose of this post is not to tell you that the COBRA subsidy money is guaranteed for your situation.  Rather, this is a heads up that the COBRA subsidy may be available, depending on a laid off worker’s circumstances, and as such is worth you looking into.

As a first matter, you can review information about the new COBRA benefit at this web page of the Department of Labor (DOL), which describes general information about the COBRA subsidy benefit.  From this web page, you can link to more specific information, such as DOL “Fact Sheets” for employees and employers, FAQs, etc.

DOL describes specific employee-eligibility requirements (e.g. required date range that layoff occurred, required formwork, etc.) at this web page.  DOL has answers to employee FAQs here.

Once you have read information from DOL, if you think your situation is such you may be eligible  in the COBRA subsidy, you could then contact the COBRA administrator as identified by your employer (usually, the employer will list a COBRA contact/phone number in its employee handbook, mailed COBRA materials, or other sources).

If you contact the COBRA administrator, they should be familiar with the new COBRA subsidy, whether you are eligible and if it can be applied to your specific situation, what you’d need to do, what your deadline(s) are, and how payments and COBRA benefits would work.

I wish you the best of luck, and hope the COBRA subsidy is of great assistance to many laid off employees.

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