Restitution and the Statute of Repose

February 1, 2008

HB 3235 was introduced this week by no fewer than 17 state representatives. It requires that a criminal court in a sentencing hearing provide for appropriate restitution to the crime victim. This is now discretionary. This I think is appropriate but its utility is limited by the defendant’s ability to pay and there may be a conflict between the defendants ability to pay restitution and sentencing the defendant to incarceration.

What interests me particularly though is when our legislature feels it appropriate that victims ought to get restitution. If a condominium falls on someone four years after it was built, the legislature believes there should be no restitution. If a school or bridge collapses 6 years after completion, our legislature believes the the victims should not receive any restitution. These are the results of the legislature’s granting of immunity to absolutely everyone in the construction industry through the statute of repose.

In Washington, I guess, you’d be better off if you were shot than if you were hurt in a collapsing buiding, bridge or any other constructed thing. You’d have a better chance of the responsible person covering your medical bills if that person were in prison than you would have if the person was a member of the construction industry.

Sandra Day O’Connor on How to Improve our Court System

February 1, 2008

Retired Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, a Reagan-appointed U.S. Supreme Court Justice, is troubled by a court system that gives special interests great influence on the decisions of the courts. An independent court system is necessary to curb the influence of big money on the government. Dependence on campaign contributions for election creates an opportunity for moneyed interests to undermine the intended independence of judges. Justice O’Connor has spent much of her two years of retirement promoting the urgent need for re-establishing judicial independence in states where the level of campaign contributions plays a significant role in the selection of judges, states such as Washington.

Ironically Justice O’Connor became a trial judge in Arizona through an election, but happily saw Arizona replace that system with a merit system shortly before her appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court. She commented in a November speech that the quality of the Arizona judicial system appreciably improved with the new selection system.

Her second wish was that prosecutors and defense lawyers should be similarly trained and paid, and that they should periodically trade places, going from one side to the other. This she said is how it works in England, something that I didn’t know.

Pike Place Market to be Renovated

February 1, 2008

pike-place.jpgThe Public Market is scheduled for a $80 million upgrade. “Upgrade” as we all know is a call to arms in the Market where figuratively speaking blood has been spilled aplenty over any proposal to modernize the facility or to permit the invasion of franchises or any other blight of modernity. There will be public hearings and information about this is readily available. The Puget Sound Business Journal gives us assurance that only the creaking infrastructure will be improved.

Another “Mission Accomplished”

February 1, 2008

In 2004 President Bush pledged to bring affordable high speed broad band service to all Americans by 2007 and yesterday he announced that he had accomplished that, pointing to a report prepared by the National Communications and Information Administration, which states that broadband service is now available to 99% of the country’s zip codes. The pledge and the announcement, however, do not match up very well. The word “affordable” appears in th4 pledge but not in the announcement. That’s a little bit like pledging to provide affordable health care to every American, then saying three years later “Look there are hospitals everywhere.”

The Associated Press points out that the U.S. was ranked fourth among nations in broadband service in 2001 and has slide to fifteenth in 2006 according to the Organization for cooperation and Development. (Apparently the presumption is that the slide has continued.) In any case the claim to have reached every zip code doesn’t really mean much and there appear to be no domestic studies identifying the availability of broadband service and the NTIA, which wrote the report, supports the gathering of reliable information on this subject by the FCC. Somehow the need to gather data concerning this presidential priority utterly escaped everyone in the administration.

Critic seems to accept the data that is presently available, showing the the U.S. is lagging far behind other countries. They point out that a significant factor in the relatively low penetration of broadband in the U.S. is due to the relatively high cost here, compared to other countries.

The NTIA celebrates the current state of affairs saying “If you look at the administration policies from the beginning, there’s been a comprehensive set of technology, regulatory and fiscal economic policies that have laid the foundation for the robust competitive environment that we are enjoying today.” It’s just a little unclear who the “we” is.

February 9th

February 1, 2008

Isn’t it more fun to have our caucus in early February instead of May? Edwards’ departure seems to have had the effect of stirring up speculation, rather than toning things down. Why exactly did he withdraw less than a week before Super Tuesday? One thing for sure, it was not to consolidate the “anti-Hillary” vote. The idea that attitude toward Hillary Clinton defines this nomination process is silly; it belittles the candidates for the nomination, as well as the electorate. My sense is that on balance Edward’s (as well as Kucinich’s) withdrawal will favor Obama, shortening whatever popular lead Clinton may have, if any.

I think that the local press has greatly exaggerated the significance of Washington’s role in this process. If the candidates battle to a standoff next Tuesday, our caucus may fleetingly impart a sense of momentum to someone.

I don’t get the same sense of excitement on the Republican side of things. McCain has dropped his “bee in a jar” frenzy where he would seemingly trip over himself to embrace everything “Republican” no matter how inconsistent with previous statements. I was struck by his pious statements about opposing any form of torture, then you could almost see his head swivel around like a cartoon character when he saw that his party was standing off there somewhere to the right. Like a cartoon character, in one giant step he disappeared back into the crowd. It was fun to be astonished at Romney’s political self discovery as he tried to, not just distance himself from prior positions, but piously advocate the opposite position. But that’s old now and our only amusement is his corporate-style efforts to seem like a regular guy. Huckabe strikes me as the most authentic guy of the pack. Even his blunders when away from the teleprompter are kind of charming. Exactly how would president Huckabe mold the Constitution to conform with Christian principles? (Has anyone told him that the constitution isn’t presidential dictation?) Christians are increasingly coming out in favor of concepts actually advocated by Jesus, such as feeding the poor, helping the sick, and what was that about the accumulation of wealth? I looked and couldn’t find the Biblical part on preemptive strikes, but I’m sure there’s something supportive of causing hundreds of thousands of deaths as collateral damage in a war that seems to be sustained by nothing more than the fear of losing it. It would be interesting to see how president Huckabe’s Christian principles are defined, then how he would implement them as constitutional amendments while we are fighting against theocracy elsewhere. It’s funny to think that the “conservative” candidate Huckabe is actually by far the most radical in proposing to cast off the cornerstone of our democracy, the separation of church and state. Unless of course he meant something else . . . .

Nonetheless, isn’t it a lot more fun to prepare for the caucus now?

Seattle’s Mayor and Appearances

February 1, 2008

Greg Nickels unquestionably politically astute. He ballyhoos his efforts to get the cities to adopt the terms of the Kyoto accord, then his administration in less public forums cow-tows to developers within the City. More recently he promoted a homeless ordinance that is roundly condemned by representatives of the homeless, then this week announces a pilot program offering a small amount of money to people confronting foreclosure.

Seattle’s pilot program sounds like a good template for assisting people facing foreclosure, but its effect on the problem of homelessness is incremental.

Foreclosure Relief

February 1, 2008

Here’s a promising development. Seattle’s Mayor Nickels announced a pilot program which, through the offices of nonprofits Solid Ground and the Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle, will provide foreclosure relief to householders earning $48,000 to $50,000 per year, about 80% of the mean household income. The program will loan money to forestall foreclosure and provide debt counseling. The loans are limited to $5,000 and the funding is small, $200,000, but the program will be assessed after 6 months to determine its viability.

My guess is that the amount will turn out to be a bit low, as typically people pay their last cent avoiding a foreclosure. By the time a foreclosure is begun they have little money to pay the lender and the cost of curing the default is much higher than the sum of the monthly payments that were missed. Default interest rates, trustee’s fees, attorneys fees, title reports, publication costs and the like quickly escalate the cost of curing a default. It is not terribly uncommon for these foreclosure-related costs to come to $5000.

In reality these will be loans to the vigilant and the informed, as the amount of money offered is most likely to be helpful before the foreclosure has progressed too far and accumulated a lot of extra costs.

The thing about this that appeals to me and which highly recommends it, is that the grant is for a loan and is presumably secured. The borrower agrees to refinance or sell the property to repay the loan. If the borrower is forced to sell the home, the borrower at least gets to receive all the equity in the house. If these loans are properly administered, they should all be repaid, or at least substantially all of them should be. It strikes me as a win-win type of program: the money goes back to the government and the home owner either keeps the house or sells and gets all the equity. The government’s net savings are substantial by avoiding responsibility for any sort of relief to the working family.