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Judges can instill sanity

April 14, 2006 | 4:15 p.m. ET

Judges can instill sanity (Dan Abrams)

As of late, judges have been taking a lot of heat, many members of Congress and the public demanding that the people, not judges, make certain decisions.  Well, I'm not ashamed to say that there are many times I'm thrilled to see judges step in and instill some sanity to the “people.”

In addition to reducing some outlandish jury awards, judges sometimes just knock some sense into the system. I was reminded of this by reading about the Wisconsin case of Berrell Freeman, an inmate at a maximum-security prison who is serving 58 years for a series of violent crimes.

He refused to obey prison rules required for meals. He wouldn't wear shorts or pants, didn't remove a sock from his head, and refused to clean up blood and feces smeared on his cell walls. So, they refused to provide him with certain meals over a period of 27 months.
Nurses and doctors visited to make sure he wasn't suffering any permanent injury, but Freeman says he lost 45 pounds. Well, rather than removing the sock from his head and cleaning the feces off the wall, he sued, alleging cruel and unusual punishment. Somehow, a jury awarded the troublemaker $1.25 million.

Fortunately, the trial judge stepped in, rejected the outlandish verdict, and ruled for the defense. Now the Court of Appeals based in Chicago has upheld that court's decision. And, so, the guy gets what he deserves: nothing.

The court wrote, he was “the author of his deprivation, rather than the victim of punishment.” So true. And they even astutely pointed out, “No doubt he would have sued the defendants for battery had they ordered him force-fed.”

So, next time you hear someone making sweeping allegations against all judges, remember that, if we always leave things up to “people,” people like Berrell Freeman will be a lot richer.

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April 12, 2006 | 12:44 p.m. ET

Duke case is different (Dan Abrams)

A lot of people on both sides are writing in suggesting we are treating the Duke lacrosse rape investigation case with kid gloves in a way we might not if it were another story.  Well it’s true, this is different.

So is it race? Is it gender? Is it because I’m a Duke graduate? No, no and no.

It’s a lot simpler than that.  First of all, unlike many of the cases we cover, no charges have been filed here.  No defendant or suspect has been identified publicly.  That fact, in and of itself, distinguishes the case from many.

But maybe most important of all, the uncharged suspects say that no crime was committed.  In most stories we at least know with certainty there was a victim. This came up in both the Michael Jackson and Kobe Bryant cases.  The accusers’ credibility was put into question as it has been here.  That is not an issue of race, but of rape.  We are not treating this case any differently than we treated the allegations of sexual misconduct against Bill Cosby.  In the end, he was never charged.

You can argue that makes this a gender issue because rape is a crime most often perpetrated against women.  And let me make it perfectly clear, as in the other rape or sexual misconduct cases we cover, I will not stand for scurrilous and irrelevant accusations about the chastity of the female accusers.

Their credibility, on the other hand, is crucial.

Sure we are treating this case differently from a murder case but no differently than any other rape investigation where no one has been charged.

This is sensitive stuff, so if you are one of the people preparing to write that angry email accusing the media, or even me, of racism, sexism or bias one way or the other, ask yourself this: do we really know enough yet to have that kind of certainty about what did or did not happen?  I sure don’t.

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April 11, 2006 | 9:32 p.m. ET

Don't forget what Duke scandal is really about (Dan Abrams)

Reading and watching some of the coverage of the rape allegations against members of the Duke lacrosse team, you might forget what this case is really about: a woman claiming she was raped by three individuals, not by the university, not by the entire lacrosse team or the athletic department, but, if true, by three criminals. 

Nevertheless, it seems some want to embellish the story by suggesting it was almost inevitable it would happen at Duke.  They vastly overstate the tension between Durham and Duke communities and inflate the sense of privilege at the university while exaggerating the economic woes of those in Durham.  It is often nothing more than race and class baiting. 

One of the worst pieces that appeared so far was on Sunday in The New York Times op-ed page.   A short story writer named Allan Gurganus, who apparently once taught a course at Duke, offered up a history of Native American pastimes, tobacco and slavery, and then torturously and unsuccessfully tried to link it to the rape allegations. 

He ever so pompously writes: “Lacrosse was our Eden‘s first team sport.  The Cherokees called it ‘the little brother of war.’ It bred loyalty among players, a solidarity demonstrated by the code of silence among party attendees.” 

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April 5, 2006 |

Congress working part-time?  (Dan Abrams)

How would you feel if I told you that your tax dollars were paying $162,500 per year to federal employees who only report to the office one out of every four days?
And these men and women "of the people" are not toiling away at some obscure federal agency.  I'm talking about the U.S. Congress, which is on track to set a modern record for working the fewest days.

Not since 1948, what became known as the "do-nothing" congress, have the members worked so little.  Back then, they only worked 108 days.  And yet it seems the current Congress is on track to do less than that. 

At its current pace, they will only have been in session 97 days this year.  In fact, House members worked only 87 hours during the month of March, less than many people work in a week.  That, of course, included time off for the St. Patrick's Day recess.

Think about that.  St. Patrick's Day recess?  Since when do any of us get to take off work for St. Patrick's Day?  And they are taking the next two weeks off for Easter and Passover.  And then another week in May for Memorial Day and the entire month of August.

A Dartmouth College government professor explained it this way,  "The members may in the long run decide it's better to do nothing than cast votes that may make them look bad.  So being unproductive isn't always bad."

And yet they still get a raise this year!  An additional $3100!

Yesterday, I was watching the disturbing testimony of 19-year-old Justin Berry talking about how he was lured into internet porn as a child and highlighting how almost none of the men who violated him had been prosecuted. When the camera panned around to show the Subcommittee on Oversights and Investigations, it became clear very few members were there.

Now, it’s true members pop in and out of hearings.  But for this type of high-profile and important event, you would think they would at least try to make it look like they are all paying close attention.  We have been hearing a lot of members do a lot of complaining as of late about political witch hunts and accusations that the other party is stalling on legislation.  Well, I would think that stalling would at least mean working.  It's time for them to get to work. 

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