Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Bush to investigate his own incompetence

President Bush announced today that he will investigate the federal response to Katrina, but the White House added that "now is not the time for finger-pointing."

The President will likely form an executive commission to investigate the federal government's response to Katrina. Likely appointees to the commission to find the "real hurricane victim killers" include:
  • O.J. Simpson,
  • Michael Jackson (who has never been accused of killing anyone, but still...)
  • Jon Benet's parents, and
  • Robert Blake.

BTW, why announce an investigation if now is not the time for finger-pointing? If all the White House can do in response to this disaster is to craft a message to limit their own political damage, can they at least come up with a consistent message?

Is it just me or is Harry Connick, Jr. the best nominee to replace FEMA Head Mike Brown??

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Navy Ship, in Gulf at time of Katrina's landfall, complains about underutilization by FEMA

The USS Bataan can hold 600 patients, produce 100k gallons of drinkable water a day, and stations 1,200 sailors who could aid in the resecue and recovery efforts. Most of which has yet to be utilized in response to the disaster, DESPITE THE FACT THAT THE SHIP HAS BEEN IN THE AREA SINCE KATRINA HAS HIT.

Please read today's Chicago Tribune story on the Bataan and its C.O.'s frustration with being under utilized while several other Navy ships are still en route to get to the area.

1,200 sailors that can aid in cleanup and clearing of roadways. The ability to produce drinking water and delivering it (helicopters). A 600 bed hospital with doctors with nothing else to do.

Add this to the list of the indictment of the federal government's mismanagement of the response.

Note, unlike the Cmd. of the Guard who claims that reaching the area was all but impossible until now. This Navy commander believes he could get personel wherever they're needed.

Here's a quote from the story:

Then the Bataan was ordered to move to the waters off Biloxi, Miss., and LCU-1656 was ordered to return. The landing craft was 40 miles from New Orleans, but it wouldn't be able to deliver its cargo.

"It was a disappointment," Fish said. "I figured we would be a big help in New Orleans. We've got electricity, and the police could have charged up their radios. We've got water, toilets. We've got food."

Now sailing within 25 miles of Gulfport, Miss., the Bataan has become a floating warehouse. Supplies from Texas and Florida are ferried out to the ship, and the helicopters distribute them where Federal Emergency Management Agency personnel say they are needed.

The Bataan has also taken on a substantial medical staff. Helicopters ferried 84 doctors, nurses and technicians 60 miles out to the ship from the Pensacola Naval Air Station on Friday, and on Saturday afternoon 24 of the medical personnel were flown to the New Orleans Convention Center where they expected to augment the staff of an Air Force medical clinic on the center's bus parking lot. The medical staff had come from Jacksonville, Fla., Naval Hospital, and they covered a wide swath of medical specialties from surgeons and pediatricians to heart specialists, a psychiatrist and even a physical therapist.

"It's really a cross section of a major hospital," said Capt. Kevin Gallagher, a Navy nurse who was part of the group. "We haven't been told what to expect, but we're going to find out once we get out there."

Moving in, ready to go

On Friday evening the Bataan was edging closer to the Mississippi shoreline; until then, it had stayed well out into the gulf to avoid floating debris.

Closer to shore, it will be able to deploy the landing craft again, as well as Marine hovercraft that can ride up onto shore to deliver supplies.

LCU-1656 cruised 98 miles overnight Thursday with a failed electrical generator and broken starboard propeller to join up again with the Bataan, their mother ship. After repairs, it was to set out for the shoreline near Gulfport, Miss., Saturday with a 15,000 water tank lashed to vessel's deck, as well as pallets of bottled water.

The role in the relief effort of the sizable medical staff on board the Bataan was not up to the Navy, but to FEMA officials directing the overall effort.

That agency has been criticized sharply for failing to respond quickly enough.

Tyson said the hurricane was an unusual event that has left some painful lessons.

"Can you do things better? Always," Tyson said. "Unfortunately, some of the lessons we have learned during this catastrophe we are learning the hard way. But I think we're working together well to make things happen."
Unfreakin' believable.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Ohio law schools opening their doors to Katrina-affected law students

My alma mater, the University of Cincinnati College of Law announced that it will allow Louisiana-enrolled law students from Ohio displaced by Katrina to enroll at U.C. Law as visiting students this semester.

The University of Dayton and other law schools have as well. Indeed, many have agreed to admit these students and waived tuition and fees for them.

If you, or someone you know, is a displaced law student, a full list of law schools accepting students and information about enrolling and costs can be found: here.

CSI Undone

In the criminal justice system, much has been said about the impact of popular crime dramas have had in shaping laypeople's perceptions of forensic science and expectations of investigations.

The "CSI Effect" Lately, several prosecutors have commented that juries have been more willing to acquit criminal defendants simply because there is no forensic evidence that tied the defendant to the crime, even in cases where forensic evidence would normally not come into play.

With the increased attention on forensic science, defense attorneys have been make significant headway in revealing long-used forensic science techniques as "junk science." With that, common forensic techniques like bite mark comparison, microscopic hair comparisons, and bullet lead batch comparison tests have come under more scientific scrutiny and revealed to be more questionable science than originally accepted.

Today, the FBI announced that they will no longer conduct bullet lead batch comparison tests as it is simply proven to be too unreliable. The test had been routinely done by the FBI since 1966 and has served as evidence in countless criminal convictions.

Essentially, the flawed theory behind the test was that by testing the amount of common trace elements and compare the compositions of say a bullet committed in a murder to unfired bullets in the possession of the accused. The FBI analyst would say whether the composition of the two different bullets of those trace elements were similar, thus implying that they were likely from the same batch made from the same manufacturer. You can see where I'm going with this.

However, study of the technique had revealed one critical flaw. Not every bullet in a manufacturer's package came from the same batch. Furthermore, studies also showed that bullets supposedly made in the same batch did not have the same composition of the trace elements.

Although only 20% of the FBI lead batch tests were admitted as evidence, the impact of a forensic science technique proven to be unsound can not be understated. Over 100 cases since the 1980s had lead batch testing evidence introduced as sound forensic science bearing the seal of approval from the FBI. And in hindsight, it's hard to quantify how much impact that forensic test alone had on the jury's decision.

Expect to see further forensic science techniques to come under increasing scrutiny. With that, several long-held assumptions about the results of some tests to be proven to be unsupported by science. Indeed, given the lack of a uniform standard of doing comparison analysis, even the use of fingerprint analysis has become questioned. And in some courts, expert handwriting comparison evidence is inadmissible as unreliable evidence.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

The lawlessness won't end with the looting

With gas prices going up to anywhere to $3 to almost $5 a gallon in some areas, it's hard not to see the possible economic impact Katrina will have on our national economy. With daily images of the suffering, the human and psychological toll is just as inescapable.

But if you believe that the legal impact of this disaster will end once the looting stops, you're sadly mistaken.

Prof. Bainbridge reports on the legal impact Katrina has already had on the disaster. I've linked his blog entry so you can read it in its entirety. Consider:

  • 5,000 - 6,000 lawyers (1/3 of the lawyers in Louisiana) have lost their offices, their libraries, their computers with all information thereon, their client files.

  • Countless criminal and civil appeals pending in the state supreme court have likely been washed away as the state supreme court building is under water. And in most courthouses, records are kept in the basement or lower levels of the building.

  • The U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals building is under some water - with the same effect. That one building houses all relevant records of every pending federal appeal in Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi. That doesn't include just attorney's legal briefs, but court records and evidence on matters on appeal. How can any inmate appeal a conviction when the entire record of their trial is washed away?

  • Locally, the city and district courts in as many as 8 parishes/counties are under water, as well as 3 circuit courts - with evidence/files at each of them ruined.

  • The law enforcement offices in those areas are under water - again, with evidence and investigatory filed likely destroyed.

  • 6,000 prisoners in 2 prisons and one juvenile facility are having to be securely relocated. We already have over-crowding at most Louisiana prisons and juvenile facilities. What effect will this have? And what happens when the evidence in their cases has been destroyed? Will the guilty be released upon the communities? Will the innocent not be able to prove their innocence?

  • The state bar offices are under water as are the state disciplinary offices - again with evidence ruined. How many complaints about unethical acts committed by attorneys will go unpunished?

  • Furthermore, and particular interest to me, there's the concern that the recent July bar exam tests were housed there. Prompting Prof. Bainbridge to ask, "Will all of those new graduates have to retake the bar exam?"
So, now you can see that the injustice and lawlessness will not end with the looters.

Simply beyond understanding.