By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
By making Stein a harbor commissioner without a hint of reproach, the council majority gave Stein a license to kill in San Pedro. Maybe we ought to start calling him Double-0-Ted.
But this is the new city spirit: It's not what you do; it's who you know. Ted's a pal of the mayor's, and now a council pal too. "Ted just schmoozed everyone," said one resistant schmoozee. "When he wants to be, he can be a really likable guy," conceded another distrustful council member. A sweetie, really.
So what if, apart from the Hubbell mess, Stein never accomplished anything noteworthy at the airports? The right people like him. He must be okay. Otherwise, why would he be joining the oversight body of the city department with the worst history of corruption?
The Good Old Days
Then the unlucky Carli was once more put on to the strappado. He fell into a deep swoon and was with difficulty brought to life again. Next, his son of 16 was racked with similar results. [Another suspect] had been kept on low diet in prison during the past week, and was therefore ripe, according to the judicial theories of that time, for salutory torments. Having been strung up by the hands, he was jerked and shaken in the customary fashion until he declared his willingness to make a full confession . . . Carli was again summoned, and set upon the "she-goat" with heavy weights attached to his feet. He sat for two hours on this machine, the sharp edges and spikes of which were so contrived as to press slowly and deeply into the tenderest parts of his body . . .
Renaissance in Italy
Such was jurisprudence before "criminals" had rights. In the 1570s you didn't need to be a convict to be tortured. Just a suspect. Or a witness. Confession meant that you'd been tormented enough to say what your torturers wanted to hear. Two hundred years later, our nation was founded, in part, on the principle that this sort of thing didn't constitute a fair trial.
And so traveled criminal-justice theory, until four weeks ago in Long Beach. When Municipal Judge Joan (hereinafter Joltin' Joan) Comparet-Cassani ordered a bailiff to administer a huge charge of electricity to criminal defendant Ronnie Hawkins, who wouldn't stop talking.
According to what I've read, the stun-belt device hurts enough to double you up on the floor. It is intended to stop prisoners from escaping or attacking. It is not intended to tell them to shut up. But that's the way Joltin' Joan used it. The defendant is now suing. He was also assigned another judge.
The authority to inflict pain is among the scariest of mandates. In 1998, in theory - if not in Corcoran state prison - pain cannot be used to control those in custody. But it's used anyway: in jails and prisons, sometimes on the streets - curbstone justice, the old cops called it. But in a public courtroom? For talking out of turn?
So large a swerve in the highway of due process certainly merits overwhelming public attention. It was therefore decent of the county Board of Supervisors to investigate Joltin' Joan's 400-year retreat to the electric strappado, even if they have no direct authority over the courts. Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, to his credit, moved to ask whether her act fell within, shall we say, the protocols of county practice, let alone modern jurisprudence. In other words, may judges now lawfully torment prisoners?
I am told the discussion included a recommendation to restrict the stun belt's use to situations that embody a risk of injury or escape. That's what I'm told, but neither I nor any other member of the general public knows for certain because the discussion was held in closed session. Of course, this secrecy was unlawful, in the strict sense of the Ralph M. Brown public-meetings act. But by now, we know that this law exists only to be violated, not enforced.
A standard justification of this secrecy is that matters such as the courtroom jolt could result in potential liability for the county. And that supervisors don't want to say anything that could assist a lawsuit against the county. But even though a lawsuit has been filed, do our supervisors really think the general public's become so bloodthirsty that it is politically perilous to openly oppose public torture?
What else can you possibly think?