FEDERAL JUDGE FINDS ALBUQUERQUE’S CIVIL FORFEITURE PROGRAM UNCONSTITUTIONAL…….


FINDING OF PROGRAM FORCES OWNERS TO

BEAR UNCONSTITUTIONAL BURDEN OF INNOCENCE

In a ruling likely to have national implications, today a federal judge in Albuquerque has found that the city’s civil forfeiture program is unconstitutional. The ruling sets a precedent that calls into question countless other civil forfeiture programs across the country.

“Today’s ruling is a total victory for fairness, due process and property owners everywhere,” said IJ Attorney Robert Everett Johnson. “The court ruled the government must prove that an owner did something wrong before it can take away their property. Beyond that, the judge ruled that law enforcement cannot benefit financially from revenue generated by a forfeiture program. Together, these rulings strike at the heart of the problem with civil forfeiture. We will undoubtedly use this decision to attack civil forfeiture programs nationwide.”

Federal Judge James O. Browning found Albuquerque’s civil forfeiture program unconstitutional because the city’s ordinance violates the basic rule that citizens are presumed innocent until proven guilty. Albuquerque places the burden on property owners to prove their own innocence. Independent of that, he also struck down the law because funds raised by the program are used to fund the program’s budget, which gives law enforcement officials an incentive to police for profit, rather than justice. He wrote, “the City of Albuquerque has an unconstitutional institutional incentive to prosecute forfeiture cases, because, in practice, the forfeiture program sets its own budget and can spend, without meaningful oversight, all of the excess funds it raises from previous years.”

“I’m glad this is going to help people in the same situation,” said IJ client Arlene Harjo, on whose behalf the case was filed. “It’s totally wrong what the government is doing. Hopefully now more people will fight back, and courts will say this has to stop.”

The fight over civil forfeiture in Albuquerque began in 2015, when a series of videos uncovered by the Institute for Justice revealed that city attorneys across the state were engaging in widespread policing for profit. Following the release of the videos, the New Mexico state legislature unanimously passed landmark legislation outlawing civil forfeiture. Despite that groundbreaking legislation, Albuquerque law enforcement officials continued to seize and sell hundreds of cars each year—including Arlene Harjo’s Nissan Versa.

The city claimed it could take Arlene’s car because her son, Tino, asked to borrow her car to drive to the gym in the middle of the day, but then took the car for a day-long trip and was found that evening allegedly driving under the influence of alcohol. Arlene does not approve of drunk driving; if Tino broke the law, she agrees he should be punished. But the city seized her car, and she did not see why she should be punished for something she did not do and never condoned.

So Arlene joined with the Institute for Justice in August 2016 to file a legal challenge to Albuquerque’s program, claiming that the program violates both the 2015 state law and the Constitution. The city returned Arlene’s car in December 2016, after it became clear that the car was actually outside city limits at the time that it was seized and therefore not even subject to the city’s jurisdiction. Arlene pressed forward with her broader legal challenge, however, and in March 2018 the court issued an opinion agreeing that Albuquerque’s program violates the 2015 reform law. Today’s opinion holds that Albuquerque’s program violates the Constitution as well.

“Civil forfeiture is one of the most serious assaults on private property rights in the nation today,” said IJ Senior Attorney Robert Frommer. “For decades, civil forfeiture has lured officials away from impartial enforcement of the law and toward policing for profit. Today’s ruling striking down Albuquerque’s forfeiture program is a major step towards ending forfeiture not only across New Mexico, but throughout the United States.”

DAWG SAYS:

ANOTHER GOOD IDEA THAT HAS BEEN MASSIVLY ABUSED AND RUINED BY PEOPLE IN THE GUVMENT. GREED ALWAYS TRUMPS ALL.

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LAWMAKERS DEMANDS ANSWERS ON FEDS “QUIET SKY’S PROGRAM

Federal air marshals have begun following ordinary US citizens not suspected of a crime or on any terrorist watch list and collecting extensive information about their movements and behavior under a new domestic surveillance program that is drawing criticism from within the agency.

The previously undisclosed program, called “Quiet Skies,” specifically targets travelers who “are not under investigation by any agency and are not in the Terrorist Screening Data Base,” according to a Transportation Security Administration bulletin in March.

The internal bulletin describes the program’s goal as thwarting threats to commercial aircraft “posed by unknown or partially known terrorists,” and gives the agency broad discretion over which air travelers to focus on and how closely they are tracked.


But some air marshals, in interviews and internal communications shared with the Globe, say the program has them tasked with shadowing travelers who appear to pose no real threat — a businesswoman who happened to have traveled through a Mideast hot spot, in one case; a Southwest Airlines flight attendant, in another; a fellow federal law enforcement officer, in a third.

It is a time-consuming and costly assignment, they say, which saps their ability to do more vital law enforcement work.

TSA officials, in a written statement to the Globe, broadly defended the agency’s efforts to deter potential acts of terror. But the agency declined to discuss whether Quiet Skies has intercepted any threats, or even to confirm that the program exists.

Release of such information “would make passengers less safe,” spokesman James Gregory said in the statement.


Read the checklist

Already under Quiet Skies, thousands of unsuspecting Americans have been subjected to targeted airport and inflight surveillance, carried out by small teams of armed, undercover air marshals, government documents show. The teams document whether passengers fidget, use a computer, have a “jump” in their Adam’s apple or a “cold penetrating stare,” among other behaviors, according to the records.

Air marshals note these observations — minute-by-minute — in two separate reports and send this information back to the TSA.

All US citizens who enter the country are automatically screened for inclusion in Quiet Skies — their travel patterns and affiliations are checked and their names run against a terrorist watch list and other databases, according to agency documents.

Explore the behavior checklist

1. Subject was abnormally aware of surroundings

(If observed, check any that apply below) | Y N Unknown

  • Reversing or changing directions and/or stopping while in transit through the airport
  • Attempting to change appearance by changing clothes, shaving etc. while in the airport or on the plane
  • Using the reflection in storefront windows to identify surveillance
  • Observing the boarding gate area from afar
  • Boarded last
  • Observing other people who appear to be observing FAM team and/or subject

2. Subject exhibited Behavioral Indicators

(If observed, check any that apply below) | Y N Unknown

  • Excessive fidgeting
  • Excessive perspiration
  • Facial flushing
  • Rapid eye blinking
  • “Adam’s apple jump”
  • Rubbing/wringing of hands
  • Strong body odor
  • Sweaty palms
  • Trembling
  • Cold penetrating stare
  • Exaggerated emotions
  • Gripping/”White knuckling” bags
  • Wide open, staring eyes
  • Face touching
  • Other

3. Subject’s appearance was different from information provided

(If yes, check any that apply below) | Y N Unknown

  • Lost weight
  • Gained weight
  • Balding
  • Graying
  • Hair length/style change
  • Goatee
  • Visible Tattoos (Describe)
  • Visible Piercings (Describe)
  • Beard
  • Mustache
  • Apparent Altered Experience (Explain)
  • Clean shaven
  • Other

4. Subject slept during the flight

(If observed, check any that apply below) | Y N Unknown

  • Subject slept during most of the flight
  • Subject slept briefly

5. General Observations

(Provide detailed descriptions of any electronic devices in subject’s possession in AAR) | Y N Unknown

  • Checked baggage?
  • In possession of cell/smartphone?
  • In possession of multiple phones?
  • Used phone to talk?
  • Used phone to text?
  • In possession of computer?
  • Seated in first/business class?
  • Used lavatory?
  • In possession of any unusual items?
  • Traveled with others?
  • Met with others in the airport?
  • Engaged in conversation with others?
  • Subject initiated conversation with FAM?
  • Carryon baggage?
  • Other notable activity?
  • Subject engaged in “more than casual contact” with airport or airline employee?

6. For Domestic Arrivals Only

(If possible, provide identifiers (license plate, vehicle description) of pick up vehicle in AAR) | Y N Unknown

  • Picked up at curbside shuttle, taxi, bus or public transit?
  • Picked up at curbside by private vehicle?
  • Obtained rental car for transportation

The program relies on 15 rules to screen passengers, according to a May agency bulletin, and the criteria appear broad: “rules may target” people whose travel patterns or behaviors match those of known or suspected terrorists, or people “possibly affiliated” with someone on a watch list.

The full list of criteria for Quiet Skies screening was unavailable to the Globe, and is a mystery even to the air marshals who field the surveillance requests the program generates. TSA declined to comment.

When someone on the Quiet Skies list is selected for surveillance, a team of air marshals is placed on the person’s next flight. The team receives a file containing a photo and basic information — such as date and place of birth — about the target, according to agency documents.

The teams track citizens on domestic flights, to or from dozens of cities big and small — such as Boston and Harrisburg, Pa., Washington, D.C., and Myrtle Beach, S.C. — taking notes on whether travelers use a phone, go to the bathroom, chat with others, or change clothes, according to documents and people within the department.

Quiet Skies represents a major departure for TSA. Since the Sept. 11 attacks, the agency has traditionally placed armed air marshals on routes it considered potentially higher risk, or on flights with a passenger on a terrorist watch list. Deploying air marshals to gather intelligence on civilians not on a terrorist watch list is a new assignment, one that some air marshals say goes beyond the mandate of the US Federal Air Marshal Service. Some also worry that such domestic surveillance might be illegal. Between 2,000 and 3,000 men and women, so-called flying FAMs, work the skies.

Since this initiative launched in March, dozens of air marshals have raised concerns about the Quiet Skies program with senior officials and colleagues, sought legal counsel, and expressed misgivings about the surveillance program, according to interviews and documents reviewed by the Globe.

“What we are doing [in Quiet Skies] is troubling and raising some serious questions as to the validity and legality of what we are doing and how we are doing it,” one air marshal wrote in a text message to colleagues.

The TSA, while declining to discuss details of the Quiet Skies program, did address generally how the agency pursues its work.

“FAMs [federal air marshals] may deploy on flights in furtherance of the TSA mission to ensure the safety and security of passengers, crewmembers, and aircraft throughout the aviation sector,” spokesman James Gregory said in an e-mailed statement. “As its assessment capabilities continue to enhance, FAMS leverages multiple internal and external intelligence sources in its deployment strategy.”

Agency documents show there are about 40 to 50 Quiet Skies passengers on domestic flights each day. On average, air marshals follow and surveil about 35 of them.

In late May, an air marshal complained to colleagues about having just surveilled a working Southwest Airlines flight attendant as part of a Quiet Skies mission. “Cannot make this up,” the air marshal wrote in a message.

One colleague replied: “jeez we need to have an easy way to document this nonsense. Congress needs to know that it’s gone from bad to worse.”

Experts on civil liberties called the Quiet Skies program worrisome and potentially illegal.

“These revelations raise profound concerns about whether TSA is conducting pervasive surveillance of travelers without any suspicion of actual wrongdoing,” said Hugh Handeyside, senior staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Security Project.

“If TSA is using proxies for race or religion to single out travelers for surveillance, that could violate the travelers’ constitutional rights. These concerns are all the more acute because of TSA’s track record of using unreliable and unscientific techniques to screen and monitor travelers who have done nothing wrong.”

George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley said Quiet Skies touches on several sensitive legal issues and appears to fall into a gray area of privacy law.

If this was about foreign citizens, the government would have considerable power. But if it’s US citizens — US citizens don’t lose their rights simply because they are in an airplane at 30,000 feet.

— Jonathan Turley, George Washington University law professor

“If this was about foreign citizens, the government would have considerable power. But if it’s US citizens — US citizens don’t lose their rights simply because they are in an airplane at 30,000 feet,” Turley said. “There may be indeed constitutional issues here depending on how restrictive or intrusive these measures are.”

Turley, who has testified before Congress on privacy protection, said the issue could trigger a “transformative legal fight.”

Geoffrey Stone, a University of Chicago law professor chosen by President Obama in 2013 to help review foreign intelligence surveillance programs, said the program could pass legal muster if the selection criteria are sufficiently broad. But if the program targets by nationality or race, it could violate equal protection rights, Stone said.

Asked about the legal basis for the Quiet Skies program, Gregory, the agency’s spokesman, said TSA “maintains a robust engagement with congressional committees to ensure maximum support and awareness” of its effort to keep the aviation sector safe. He declined to comment further.

Beyond the legalities, some air marshals believe Quiet Skies is not a sound use of limited agency resources.

Several air marshals, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to speak publicly, told the Globe the program wastes taxpayer dollars and makes the country less safe because attention and resources are diverted away from legitimate, potential threats. The US Federal Air Marshal Service, which is part of TSA and falls under the Department of Homeland Security, has a mandate to protect airline passengers and crew against the risk of criminal and terrorist violence.

John Casaretti, president of the Air Marshal Association, said in a statement: “The Air Marshal Association believes that missions based on recognized intelligence, or in support of ongoing federal investigations, is the proper criteria for flight scheduling. Currently the Quiet Skies program does not meet the criteria we find acceptable.

“The American public would be better served if these [air marshals] were instead assigned to airport screening and check in areas so that active shooter events can be swiftly ended, and violations of federal crimes can be properly and consistently addressed.”

These revelations raise profound concerns about whether TSA is conducting pervasive surveillance of travelers without any suspicion of actual wrongdoing.

— Hugh Handeyside, American Civil Liberties Union’s National Security Project

TSA has come under increased scrutiny from Congress since a 2017 Government Accountability Office report raised questions about its management of the Federal Air Marshal Service. Requested by Congress, the report noted that the agency, which spent $800 million in 2015, has “no information” on its effectiveness in deterring attacks.

Late last year, Representative Jody Hice, a Georgia Republican, introduced a bill that would require the Federal Air Marshal Service to better incorporate risk assessment in its deployment strategy, provide detailed metrics on flight assignments, and report data back to Congress.

Without this information, Congress, TSA, and the Department of Homeland Security “are not able to effectively conduct oversight” of the air marshals, Hice wrote in a letter to colleagues.

“With threats coming at us left and right, our focus should be on implementing effective, evidence-based means of deterring, detecting, and disrupting plots hatched by our enemies.”

Hice’s bill, the “Strengthening Aviation Security Act of 2017,” passed the House and is awaiting consideration by the full Senate.


Read the bulletin

The Globe, in its review of Quiet Skies, examined numerous TSA internal bulletins, directives, and internal communications, and interviewed more than a dozen people with direct knowledge of the program.

The purpose of Quiet Skies is to decrease threats by “unknown or partially known terrorists; and to identify and provide enhanced screening to higher risk travelers before they board aircraft based on analysis of terrorist travel trends, tradecraft and associations,” according to a TSA internal bulletin.

DAWG SAYS:

BASED ON ALL THE CRITERIA THERE IS NOT ANYONE WHO DOES NOT MATCH THE SUSPICIOUS CHARACTER PROFILE. THAT IS CALLED JOB SECURITY.

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FRANK CARSON/SCOTT MACFARLANE UPDATE…….


Just as a note court was canceled today due to Judge Zuniga’s sister passing away. Unknown at this point what’s going to happen the rest of the week.

We give Judge Zuniga our condolences for her loss.

While I was at the courthouse today, in court was canceled, give me the opportunity go to the clerk’s office and pick up a motion that I’ve been wanting to get.

Scott McFarlane and his attorney had filed a motion on June 14, 2018 requesting that Judge Moody recuse himself under CCI 170.3 (c) (1).

The motion was heard and ruled on by Alameda Superior Court judge Tara Desaultels. The motion was denied.

Below you will see judge Moody’s factual summary and judge Desautels ruling.

HERE ARE THE DOCUMENTS READ FOR YOURSELF:

MOODY FACTUAL SUMMARY

DESAUTELS RULING

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DAWGS BLOG PODCAST TONIGHT 6:00pm

To listen online go here:

http://tobtr.com/s/10908397

 

To listen by calling in on your phone dial
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and hit #1 on your dialer
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DIXON, CA. MAYOR DECLARES JULY STRAIGHT PRIDE MONTH, NOW UNDER PRESSURE TO RESIGN…….


The vice mayor of Dixon, Calif., proclaimed July “Straight Pride American Month” in his weekly newspaper column, a choice that’s left his small city embroiled in conflict over free speech and civil liberties.

“I support the First Amendment,” Ted Hickman wrote in his “tongue-in-cheek” column for Dixon’s Independent Voice, “… and support the rights of grown men to wear skin tight short-shorts and go-go boots and don tinker bell wings with wand and prance down the streets of San Francisco.”

Prompted by a local community college that dubbed June to be its LGBT pride month, Hickman wrote that he was pro-family and not anti-anything, next to an image of a red no circle slashing through the pride flag.

“Now hundreds of millions of the rest of us can celebrate our month, peaking on July 4th as healthy, heterosexual, fairly monogamous, keep our kinky stuff to ourselves, Americans,” Hickman wrote. “We do it with our parades … We honor our country and our veterans who have made all of this possible (including for the tinker bells) and we can do it with actual real pride, not some put on show just to help our inferior complex ‘show we are different’ type of (stuff).”

“We ARE different from them,” he wrote later.

Hickman acknowledged that he was unsure whether a vice mayor had the authority to make a proclamation, yet his column has drawn national attention to a city of 19,000 located 23 miles outside Sacramento. The mayor of California’s capital requested he resign, about 200 people showed up to Dixon’s most recent city council meeting, and an online petition pushing for his removal is approaching 30,000 signers.

Local pastor Jeff Myers was present Tuesday night at the council meeting and expressed concern about Hickman’s column.

“(His) words not only misrepresent the values of the vast majority of our city, they ascribe to us an ignorance and a closed-mindedness that most of us would fight to the death to avoid,” Myers said, according to a Facebook post by his wife, Jamie. “This is not a free-speech issue.”

Dixon resident Julie Monson helped organize the “Recall Ted Hickman” Facebook group, and told The Washington Post she feared his sentiments might seep into public policy. “I want everybody in this town to feel safe,” she said.

Hickman, who wrote in his column that he was “expressing a private opinion,” declined to comment. He told the Vacaville Reporter that his views don’t affect his public service.

“Don’t like what I write? Don’t read it,” Hickman told the newspaper. “… I do represent (all Dixon residents) equally on government issues, not their personal habits.”

Local groups are demanding the city council censure him, which would be the highest reprimand possible.

Dixon Mayor Thom Bogue told The Post he did not appreciate Hickman’s comments but is concerned about calls for censorship.

“No matter what we do, for many, they will say it’s the wrong move,” Bogue said. “You can’t make everyone happy with your decision, so you hunker down, take all the facts into consideration and make the best decision that you can.”

The city council will host a closed meeting later this month to decide whether Hickman will face reprimands. Bogue said regardless of the results of the meeting, Hickman’s one-year term as vice mayor will end in January. Voters elect council members, but the council determines who serves as vice mayor. The few things the council could do this summer would be nominal, Bogue said.

Dave Scholl, editor in chief of Dixon’s Independent Voice, told The Post he is proud of publishing Hickman’s op-ed, calling it a matter of free speech. Scholl said he has received a lot of support as well as criticism — particularly from a lot of “out of towners” pressuring advertisers to boycott the newspaper.

“When people try to harm local businesses … I’m going to fight back” by not censoring Hickman, he said.

Bogue said a number of “big” groups have threatened the city with litigation but declined to say which ones.

Mike Ceremello also supports Hickman, writing a Dixon Independent op-ed arguing the “liberal” reaction exemplified the “war on white men.”

“The fact of the matter is any action taken by this council, as a governmental agency, is a violation of Ted’s First Amendment right to free speech,” he said.

Local LGBTQ groups plan to host the city’s first pride parade later this month.

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USE A STRAW GO TO JAIL…….


 The City of Santa Barbara has passed an ordinance that allows restaurant employees to be punished with up to six months of jail time or a $1,000 fine for giving plastic straws to their customers.

Santa Barbara’s ordinance is certainly the most severe straw ban in the country. Although Seattle banned plastic straws earlier this month, mandating a $250 fine for violators, Santa Barbara has taken it further than Seattle. The city has banned not only plastic straws, but also compostable straws.

And, get this, each individual straw counts as a separate infraction. That means if some poor sod at In-N-Out Burger is the target of an undercover straw sting and hands out straws to a table of four people, that person is facing years behind bars.

Tourists and college students can forget ordering the popular punch bowls at Baja Sharkeez on State Street.

Knowingly Exposing HIV is a Misdemeanor

The straw ban is even more outrageous and confounding if viewed through the state’s position on transmitting HIV.

Last October, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill that lowered the crime of knowingly exposing a sexual partner to HIV without disclosing the infection from a felony to a misdemeanor .

Remarkably, the bill also covers those who give blood without telling the blood bank that they are HIV-positive.

The bill was authored by state Sen. Scott Wiener of San Francisco and Assemblyman Todd Gloria of San Diego.

When the bill was passed, Weiner said, “Today California took a major step toward treating HIV as a public health issue, instead of treating people living with HIV as criminals. HIV should be treated like all other serious infectious diseases, and that’s what SB 239 does.”

Judges crack down on illicit inmate cellphones


Judges in California and South Carolina have ordered cellphone carriers to disable nearly 200 contraband cellphones used by inmates to orchestrate crimes behind and outside prison walls, the most sweeping order of its kind ever won by corrections officials.

It’s an important victory for prison officials who have been frustrated by their inability to stop the flow of smuggled phones that are used to coordinate drug deals, gang operations and killings. Even murderous cult leader Charles Manson, who died in November, obtained phones and used them to communicate with followers outside prison.

The warrant essentially orders carriers to “turn these phones into bricks,” California Corrections Secretary Scott Kernan told The Associated Press on Monday. The phones will be shut down over the next week or two, he said.

Kernan expects other states will follow the lead of South Carolina and California and ask judges to approve broad shutdowns. He said the ruling is a big step forward in addressing the intractable and related issue of drugs and cellphones in prisons.

Last February, federal prosecutors said two inmates used smuggled cellphones to run a violent, drug-dealing street gang from inside California’s super-maximum-security Pelican Bay State Prison. And South Carolina officials blamed a prison riot that killed seven inmates in April on a turf war between gangs over territory, money and contraband items such as drugs and cellphones.

The wireless industry has long been able to remotely disable cellphone if they are lost or stolen. But the industry has said it needs a court order before it can shut down the devices at the request of the government.

The goal is to not only stop inmates from using the phones to orchestrate crimes, but to disrupt the lucrative smuggling of cellphones by prison employees and others that Kernan said can bring the smuggler “about $1,500 a pop on the (prison) black market.” California authorities seized more than 13,000 cellphones last year alone, the most since 2011, “so you can do the math. That’s a lot of black market.”

Getting an order to shut down multiple cellphones is more efficient and cheaper that tracking them down and confiscating them one at a time.

In California, a Kern County judge on Friday ordered all the major carriers to shut down 97 devices including cellphones and SIM cards at Kern Valley State Prison in Delano, north of Bakersfield. A South Carolina judge issued a similar warrant for about 100 cellphones at one prison there, also on Friday, California officials said.

California plans to obtain similar warrants to regularly shut down phones in other prisons, Kernan said.

Corrections department Special Agent James Rochester cited the “voluminous offenses committed by the use of cellular phones” and “the direct link these phones have to the commission of crimes” as reasons for the judge granting the warrant. He said hundreds of inmates have told him they can easily obtain the phones that he said in his sworn affidavit have been used to coordinate violent crimes including assaults and murders along with narcotics and firearms trafficking.

It has long been illegal for inmates to have cellphones in prison. Prison officials identified the contraband phones using cellphone signal-capturing devices that were installed years ago at 18 of the California’s 35 prisons. They halted expansion of that program in 2015 for fear the technology was being outpaced by advances in cellphones’ sophistication.

South Carolina officials used similar technology to identify the illicit cellphones there, Kernan said.

California has since installed nearly 1,000 sophisticated metal detectors, scanners and secret security cameras in prisons to detect and deter the smuggling of cellphones and other contraband like drugs. That effort was paid for by Virginia-based Global Tel-Link, the nation’s largest prison phone company, from the projected $17 million it receives each year from California inmates and their families who use landlines to make phone calls that are monitored for security reasons.

DAWG SAYS:

MY UNDERSTANDING THERE IS THE ABILITY TO PLACE AN ELECTRONIC WALL AOURND PLACES LIKE THAT, AND THE PHONES WOULD BE USELESS ANYWAY.

Jerry Brown’s plan lowers PG&E’s liability for wildfire damages

WILL UTILITIES BE LET OFF THE HOOK?


Gov. Jerry Brown released a proposal Tuesday to reduce PG&E’s legal responsibility for wildfire damages after months of intense lobbying at the California Capitol.

The change could shift the financial burden for blazes onto insurance companies and lead to higher coverage premiums for homeowners.

“Now more than ever, Californians depend on reliable electrical power to heat and cool homes, run hospitals and fire stations and so much more,” Brown wrote in a letter to the Legislature. “Yet, the increasingly destructive and costly wildfires and natural disasters have the potential to undermine the system, leaving our energy sector in a state of weakness at a time when it should be making even greater investments in safety.”

Brown unveiled his plan on the eve of the first meeting of a conference committee comprised of members of the state Senate and Assembly to address the issue of wildfire liability in California. Pacific Gas & Electric Co. and other utility companies have been working the halls of the Capitol for months to persuade legislators to reduce their property damage liability.

State laws and regulations give utility companies the power to put equipment on private property. Under “strict liability” in California law, a utility company is then automatically responsible for providing compensation if the property is damaged by its equipment, even if investigators fail to prove the company behaved negligently.

PG&E, one of the most powerful players in California politics, argues it cannot afford the costs of intense wildfires, which it claims are fueled by climate change. The company has been asking the Legislature to do away with the “strict liability” standard and absolve utilities of financial responsibility for fire damages if they didn’t do anything wrong to cause the blaze.

Brown is giving the utilities exactly what they want. His bill would rewrite the wildfire liability laws with a new set of directives to determine whether a utility company has to pay for fire damages in civil cases.

It says a court would be required to “balance the public benefit of the electrical infrastructure with the harm caused to private property to determine whether the utility acted reasonably.” One of those factors is whether the utility acted in compliance with its “fire mitigation plans” to prevent fires, such as trimming tree branches around power lines.

Under the current system, homeowners, cities and counties file claims with insurance companies after wildfires cause damage to their properties. Insurance companies pay out the claims and sue the utility companies for reimbursement.

The existing “strict liability” standard ensures that the utility pays the insurer. Utilities can also pass off those costs to customers by increasing rates.

But if utilities are let off the hook for damages, the insurance companies could be left with the bill. The industry has said it would be forced to increase premiums or decline coverage entirely in fire-prone areas as a result.

“This proposal’s weakening of well-established liability standards is nothing more than a bailout of public utilities, shifting their financial liability onto the backs of wildfire survivors, homeowners, communities and businesses,” said a statement from Stop the Utility Bailout, a coalition of homeowners’ insurance companies.

“Protecting utilities’ shareholders over fire survivors leaves the very individuals and communities whose lives were upended on the hook to the benefit of huge utility companies.”

PG&E said it was reviewing the governor’s plan on Tuesday afternoon.

“As we have stated previously, we believe comprehensive public policy reforms are urgently needed to address the challenges brought about by more frequent and more intense wildfires,” PG&E said in a statement.

So far, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection has found PG&E’s equipment responsible for 15 of the wildfires that scorched Northern California last year. The agency has not announced a cause of the Tubbs fire in Santa Rosa, the most deadly and damaging of the October blazes. Brown’s proposal does not apply to the devastating 2017 fire season.

“The only reason we’re having this conference committee is because PG&E wants to change the laws they keep breaking,” said state Sen. Jerry Hill, a San Mateo Democrat and fierce opponent of PG&E.. “The system is working today.”

A coalition of residential and industrial ratepayers, called the Ratepayer Protection Network, said it was still reviewing the governor’s proposal.

“We are urging policymakers to prioritize safety, accountability and affordability and not give investor-owned utilities a blank check paid for by customers,” said Becky Warren, a spokeswoman for the Ratepayer Protection Network in a statement.

 

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Justices: Suit by Trump backers against San Jose police can proceed


SACRAMENTO — A federal appeals court on Friday allowed supporters of then-presidential candidate Donald Trump to proceed with a lawsuit alleging they were beaten after San Jose police steered them into a crowd of anti-Trump protesters.

Police and the city of San Jose can’t claim that officers have immunity from being sued in the aftermath of the June 2016 confrontation outside a Trump campaign rally, a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled.

Nineteen Trump supporters sued the city and individual police, alleging that officers guided them into a violent protest, barred them from finding a safer way out and then stood by while protesters assaulted them.

The justices said the Trump supporters “have alleged sufficiently that the Officers increased the danger to them,” and that the police acted with “deliberate indifference to that danger.”

The supporters are represented by lawyer and Republican Party official Harmeet Dhillon.

San Jose City Attorney Richard Doyle said the city council will decide whether to take the case to the entire 9th Circuit, appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, or proceed to trial.

“We think in the end the officers didn’t do anything wrong and they did everything they could to try to protect public safety,” he said. “The police officers were really caught between a rock and a hard place.”

Police wearing riot gear stood their ground for about 90 minutes as violence escalated before breaking up scuffles and making arrests.

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California will soon end lifetime registration of some sex offenders

UNDER BILL SIGNED BY JERRY BROWN


Thousands of Californians will be allowed to take their names off the state’s registry of sex offenders as a result of action Friday by Gov. Jerry Brown.

Brown signed legislation that will end lifetime listings for lower-level offenders judged to be at little risk of committing new crimes. Offenders can file petitions to be removed from the registry beginning in 2021.

The measure was introduced at the request of Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Jackie Lacey and other law enforcement officials who said the registry, which has grown to more than 105,000 names, is less useful to detectives investigating new sex crimes because it is so bulky.

“California’s sex offender registry is broken, which undermines public safety,”  said Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), who introduced the bill. “SB 384 refocuses the sex offender registry on high-risk offenders and treats low-level offenders more fairly.”

The registry currently requires law enforcement officials to spend hours on paperwork for annual evaluations of every offender, including those who are low risk and have not committed a crime for decades, Wiener said.

Brown declined to comment Friday, but his office referred to a statement put out last month.

“SB 384 proposes thoughtful and balanced reforms that allow prosecutors and law enforcement to focus their resources on tracking sex offenders who pose a real risk to public safety, rather than burying officers in paperwork that has little public benefit,” said Ali Bay, a spokeswoman for the governor, last month.

The measure was opposed by many Republican lawmakers and Erin Runnion, who in 2002 founded the Joyful Child Foundation, an Orange County advocacy group for victims, after the abduction, molestation and murder of her 5-year-old daughter, Samantha.

Runnion said parents should be able to check a comprehensive registry to see if a potential teacher, youth league coach or babysitter for their children has ever been convicted of a sex crime.

California is one of only four states that require lifetime registration of sex offenders. The others are Alabama, South Carolina and Florida.

The new law signed by the governor creates a tiered registry, with high-risk offenders on the registry for life and others able to petition to be removed after either 10 or 20 years without re-offending, depending on the offense.

Offenses for which registrants can be removed from the list after 20 years include include rape by deception and lewd and lascivious behavior with a child under 14.

Offenders who petition for removal after 10 or 20 years will be assessed by a judge — with input from the local district attorney — who can grant or deny the petition.

The registry can be checked by members of the public, including people doing background checks on potential hires or tenants.

DAWG SAYS:

Though the headline sounds bad and I have no compassion for legitimate sex offenders, my past experience that there were some who were on the Megans law site for reckless and stupid acts decades ago. Some may have been from a vengeful ex or someone who complained about a boob touch. I offer no excuse for their acts but sometimes we overdo it.

If it is done on a case by case basis then OK, but everything today is on a political benefit status anymore.

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Nat. Geographic Comes Clean About Climate Change Polar Bear

VIRAL PIC BLAMED GLOBAL WARMING

You may recall the story that broke last December about the poor emaciated polar bear shown in the National Geographic.

The picture was taken by Christina Mittermeier and Paul Nicklen in the Baffin Islands in Canada.


And the National Geographic used it as a proof of their claim that climate change was destroying the wildlife and the ecosystem.

From Conservative Tribune:

The original article describes, in horrifying fashion, “the polar bear clinging to life, its white hair limply covering its thin, bony frame. One of the bear’s back legs drags behind it as it walks, likely due to muscle atrophy. Looking for food, the polar bear slowly rummages through a nearby trashcan used seasonally by Inuit fishers. It finds nothing and resignedly collapses back down onto the ground.”

“We stood there crying — filming with tears rolling down our cheeks,” Nicklen said.

However, now both Mittermeier and the National Geographic are admitting that the narrative that developed around the picture was inaccurate particularly in regard to climate change in the August 2018 issue of the magazine in an article titled, “Starving-Polar-Bear Photographer Recalls What Went Wrong.”

Mitttermeir described how the picture went viral when Nicklen posted it on Instagram, telling people to do everything they could to “reduce their carbon footprint.”

“He wondered whether the global population of 25,000 polar bears would die the way this bear was dying. He urged people to do everything they could to reduce their carbon footprint and prevent this from happening. But he did not say that this particular bear was killed by climate change.” (Emphasis mine.)

Mittermeier said their “mission was a success, but there was a problem: We had lost control of the narrative. The first line of the National Geographic video said, ‘This is what climate change looks like’ — with ‘climate change’ highlighted in the brand’s distinctive yellow. In retrospect, National Geographic went too far with the caption. Other news outlets ran dramatic headlines like this one from the Washington Post: ”We stood there crying’: Emaciated polar bear seen in ‘gut-wrenching’ video and photos.'”

“Perhaps we made a mistake in not telling the full story — that we were looking for a picture that foretold the future and that we didn’t know what had happened to this particular polar bear.”

But the bottom line was that they had no idea what was wrong with the bear, they just thought it helped their cause.

It’s good that they’re coming clean about it now.

But it’s eight months later. And while the picture went viral and stoked the narrative, the retraction/correction wouldn’t get anywhere near the attention of the original picture. And they should have been responsible to begin with and not implied something which wasn’t the case.

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