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You Can’t Win ‘Em All, Kid

Thu, 07/17/2014 - 2:30pm

 

Posted by Matsui Local Government Fellow Brandon Wong.

In my previous blog post, I alluded to a trial that was then in its final stages—namely, the Deputy District Attorney and the Deputy Public Defender’s closing arguments. Given that the trial is now over, I am legally allowed to divulge more details. The civil trial, The People of the State of California v. Norman Morrow, lasted for a total of about ten days. During that time, a bevy of witnesses, both experts and victims, took the stand to testify about Mr. Morrow. To those unfamiliar with the courtroom, I’ll briefly explain the difference between the two types of witnesses.

Expert witnesses are professionals in their fields, such as doctors and psychiatrists. (As a side note for those who have been following the Bryan Stow-Dodgers civil trial—both Stow and Frank McCourt called “stadium security experts” to the stand to testify and vindicate their assessments of Dodger’s Stadium’s security. I suppose any field can have experts if there are knowledgeable enough people.) Moreover, expert witnesses are typically paid to testify, since their expertise adds substantial weight to one side’s case. Finally, expert witnesses do not testify on events that took place but rather give their professional opinion on a matter related to the trial. For instance, the aforementioned stadium security experts testified about the stadium’s security (or lack thereof), not whether or not Stow was intoxicated the day he was beaten. Conversely, garden variety witnesses may consist of actual witnesses to a crime, the Defendant/Respondent, and the victim. Naturally, their testimonies center around events that transpired leading up to a crime.

Two expert witnesses took the stand in the Morrow trial. They were doctors from Coalinga State Hospital, a mental health facility in California. Given their credentials and extensive experience with Mr. Morrow at Coalinga, these doctors wrote reports detailing Mr. Morrow’s mental state as a Sexually Violent Predator, claiming that Mr. Morrow’s disorder predisposes him to commit sexually violent crimes, and that Mr. Morrow’s release into society would be dangerous because he is statistically likely to recidivate. While the doctors’ testimonies were dry and technical, their contribution to the DA’s case was enormous.

In addition, the DA called to the stand two of Mr. Morrow’s past victims. Their testimonies, in contrast to the doctors’, were emotional and utilized mainly to depict Mr. Morrow as a man relentlessly pursuing his sexual urges with no regard for the welfare of Orange County women. Unsurprisingly, this tactic worked to great avail. One victim was so flustered and overcome by memories of her attack that she had an emotional episode while on the stand. As a mere audience member in the courtroom, I could feel the tension; I could not begin to imagine how she felt while testifying.

After all witnesses were called to testify, both sides began their closing statements. As I mentioned in my previous blog post, I heard DA Peter Finnerty’s closing statement. What I failed to mention was how he delivered it. These days, both sides use computers and powerpoints to give jurors relatively quick, clear, and easy to understand summaries of their arguments. Unfortunately for Mr. Finnerty, his computer suffered from a technical malfunction, and he was forced to rely on printed powerpoint slides presented on a projector that one might find in an elementary school classroom. Far from being lackluster, though, Mr. Finnerty delivered a remarkable statement that tied together reports, testimonies, and Mr. Morrow’s past misdeeds. I’ll save you the suspense. The jury came back with a finding of “True,” meaning that the DA proved beyond a reasonable doubt the four criteria I listed in my previous post. Mr. Morrow will be spending more time at Coalinga until he is sufficiently rehabilitated.

As I’ve been told by one of the paralegals, however, victories are sweet but short. Sure enough, I found out what she meant. Shortly after the Morrow trial, another of the same nature quickly started up, and in the end the jury found “Not True” and the Respondant was released on his own recognizance. Disappointed by the loss, I asked the DA in charge of the trial if he ever felt the same way. He shrugged and said to me in a nonchalant yet respectful tone, “You can’t win ‘em all, kid.” I guess I’ll have to take his advice to heart if I want to work here in the future.

Brandon Wong is a senior at UC Berkeley, studying political science and public policy. He is currently interning with the Orange County District Attorney’s Office as a Matsui Local Government Fellow.


A Summer Not to Forget

Mon, 07/14/2014 - 10:12am

 

Posted by Cal in Sacramento Fellow Maria Selina López-Nuñez.

 

We’re down to the last two weeks of the program, and it’s just now that I’ve come to realize how comfortable I’ve been feeling with the work I do.

​On the Governor’s podium—with, my bodyguard, ahhemm (Cal in Sac Fellow Steven Zimmer). :) Maybe one of us will be up here for real someday

A few things have changed since I last posted. One of the interns in our office (not from our program) left two weeks ago, and we’ve been slowly entrusted with more work. That combination of events has kept Steven, the other Cal in Sacramento Fellow interning in the Governor’s Press Office, and me a bit busier—which has been really good! From cross-checking appointments for accuracy, to working on random projects for the senior staff, I’ve learned how to handle my share of work. And it’s a lot of work! It’s true that the Governor hardly rests and neither does his staff. Being around the senior staff in the Press Office has allowed me to learn just how important it is to be prudent, and have a quick mind.

For example, there was a day where something came up out of nowhere that had to be dealt with immediately. The swiftness with which the staff at the office got on it and simultaneously connected with the senior staff (who was still in an airplane that had just landed), and handled the situation left me first stunned and then impressed. Afterwards, the staff even took the time to explain to me what had just happened—step by step. That right there is awesome mentoring. Busy as they are at times, handling a phone call and writing an email and sending a press release, all at the same time, the staff in the office and within the Governor’s office in general, always take a few moments to include Steven and me. Because of that, I feel I’ve gained a deeper sense of connection between my work and the overall outcome of each task.

Perks: small celebrations for staff in the office are pretty awesome! Free desserts and coffee here and there really makes for a happy intern.

In the end, (oh, transitions…) I look forward to going to work—I literally sit outside of the Press Secretary’s office, and get to meet amazing people with completely different backgrounds, all within the span of ten feet. I feel grateful for this fellowship as it not only gives me access to great people within the Capitol, but it also connects me with all the Golden Bears (of different ages and at different stages of life) around that Capitol. I couldn’t feel more proud to be an alumna from a school that is so well-represented in our State’s pulsating center.

​Here’s to working for a better tomorrow, not just for us, but for those who need it most.


Worlds Collide

Wed, 07/09/2014 - 9:29am

 

Posted by Matsui Local Government Fellow Kenna Falk.

 

College students and recent graduates are asked, “What was your major?” almost as often as they check some form of social media. As a Psychology and Legal Studies double-major, I have grown accustomed to the initial confusion or long pause that follows; however, after a moment of reflection I usually hear, “That’s interesting, and you know what, it totally makes sense!” I have greatly enjoyed exploring the overlap between these subjects. That said, I could never have anticipated that I would gain an understanding of just how important the overlap between these two areas was during a police ride-along.

As a Matsui Fellow for the Oakland City Attorney’s Office I had the opportunity to ride-along with an Oakland Police Officer. Filled with excitement, I arrived at the Police Department at 5:30 AM, just in time to attend the officer’s “line-up” for the day. The purpose of the “line-up” is to hand out assignments and catch everyone up on important news. I was assigned to Beat One. I learned that “Beat” simply meant neighborhood, and that I had to quickly adapt to their lingo if I really wanted to understand what was happening all day.

My ride for the day.

During my ten-hour shift, we received a myriad of calls, but what struck me was the high volume of “5150” calls that we received. “5150” was the designation for persons with potential psychiatric issues, and with each call, I was able to connect my academic training with real world experience. I was I able to learn about various disease manifestations, but more importantly I came to understand how that influenced the legal action taken by the officer.

One call in particular stood out because it involved not only a 5150, but it was located at a hotel that I had spent time researching and reviewing for a case assignment just a few weeks earlier. I was able to gain a deeper understanding of how psychiatric illnesses are considered by law enforcement and the legal system, and I was also able to incorporate knowledge that I had learned on the job.

While the ride-along was certainly a highlight, being a Matsui fellow has allowed me to explore many aspects of the legal system. For example, while most of us are familiar with the catchy Schoolhouse Rock lyrics of, “I’m Just a Bill…” a recent work assignment allowed me to experience it firsthand. A fellow law clerk and I were tasked with working on AB 1147. AB 1147 is currently before the California Senate and deals with the legality of massage parlors. I was responsible for reviewing the proposed bill and identifying areas of interest to the City. The intricacies of the bill analysis make for less than page-turning reading, but suffice it to say that (after many tight deadlines and revisions) I am not only well-versed in the education requirements for massage therapists, but am now more familiar with the legislative process outlined in the aforementioned song. Not only was this an exciting and challenging assignment, but it seemed especially well-suited for a post-graduate interested in an advanced degree in law or public policy.

As my time at the Oakland City Attorney’s Office comes to a close, I am even more grateful for this incredible opportunity and all the experiences being a Matsui Fellow has afforded me. The continuous overlap between my prior academic training, my passions, and my future interests assures me that this placement was a perfect fit. Not only have my worlds collided in unexpected ways, but also they have expanded, broadening my knowledge and awareness, and assuring me that public service is what I want to continue to pursue.

Kenna Falk just graduated from UC Berkeley with dual degrees in Psychology and Legal Studies. She is currently interning with the Oakland City Attorney’s Office as a Matsui Local Government Fellow.


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