Friday, April 21, 2017

Flatter to Hire: When People’s Governor Steps on Academic Independence

“The problem with corrupt, corporate, incompetent government is corruption, corporatism and incompetence, not government.”     ~Jerome a Paris, 2004

I can’t seem to get away from this insouciant concern for academic independence and Governor’s Fayose’s penchant for mob rule camouflaged as masses rule. According to news report, the Governor was about to assess the third phase of Ado/Ikere road dualization  when a member of National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) accosted him and request to snap a picture with him. Let’s set aside the image of the corpse member on his knees with two hands raised up for one minute and consider the Governor’s reaction. It is apparent this is a governor rules by fiat and acts based on flattery with an insouciant disregard for academic independence. Can you imagine this happening in any other place other than Nigeria?
Let’s go over the encounter with the Governor’s again, from the Vanguard newspapers account, the youth corper after approaching the governor states: “Good afternoon Mr. Governor, I am a native of Edo, I relocated from Adamawa to Ekiti State because of my love for you, I follow everything you do religiously online, I love you so much and I pray God take you higher and higher. I graduated from UNIBEN with a first class in Political Science and Public Administration, one thing I pray thee Sir, please allow me snap with you Sir”, the Corps member said. Governor Fayose who obliged the request, said to him “go to the provost tomorrow, tell her I asked her to give you automatic employment”.
Note in particular the flattery embedded in the youth corper’s words. The kid must have studied the weakness of our “Donald Trump” like governor, they both love flatteries. I lost count of how many “I love you” in the statement and the icing is “snap with you”. What a show! A first class act of empty blandishment, evident from the fact that the youth corper cannot point to any positive policy impact of the governor other than following the governor “religiously online”. I am sure that includes many insults flung at the president, his wife as well as Governor Fayose’s predecessor, the primal object of his invectives online. Is this youth corper behavior a reflection of the malaise in our education system? Whatever happens to the days when youth corper like late Bamidele Aturu refuses to shake the hands of military governor Lawan Gwadabe of Niger state because he believes military subjugates the will of the people?
Finally let’s examine the governor’s statement: “go to the provost tomorrow, tell her I asked her to give you automatic employment.” This is where we find ourselves in Nigeria. Our governors, like Louis XIV are now “lest cei moi” they are the state. They are laws onto themselves. If we set aside the affront of a state governor, who have history of alleged forgery of education qualifications, commanding the head of an education institution in his state to hire someone by fiat, whatever happens to academic independence?
In any way, the provost reaction was very diplomatic to say the least, she merely asked the youth corper to go bring his curriculum vitae.  If the governor has been familiar with the hiring process in academic institutions he would have realized that often when there is an opening there are lots of qualified applicants waiting in line for interview and the rigorous process is put in place to ensure that applicants are not hired just because they are good at “honeyed words.”

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Wanted ...concluding part

For the last three years, the Spokane Municipal Community Court has assisted 143 participants obtain housing and case management assistance through collaboration between Better Health Together, Volunteers of America, Catholic Charities, and SNAPNine hundred bus passes have been provided by Catholic Charities to help participants get to their doctor appointments. Providence Consistent Care assisted 121 individuals in obtaining primary physicians and reducing visits to the emergency departmentOver 10,000 lunches have been provided to both participants of Community Court and library patrons demonstrating a need. Lion’s Club distributed 223 pairs of reading glasses to individuals in need, and scheduled 128 eye exams to obtain prescription glassesThree hundred twenty five participants have graduated, many of whom committed no offense after graduation. Over 2,600 downtown community service hours have been completed by Community Court participants in the same locality where the crime was committed. Skils’kin has enrolled approximately 65 participants for payee services. At least 50 participants have been referred to the Dental Emergencies Needing Treatment program (DENT)Roughly 2,700 individuals with no criminal charges accessed provider services offered at Community Court on MondaysOver 1,000 participants have been referred to Community Court each year, some without any infraction by the same officer who would have filed charges against them three years ago. The Downtown precinct officers and Spokane Transit Authority security team have greatly helped us redirect folks to programs. 
Herein lies my joy, but we are not there yet. Many of my clients are still lost in the system. Lost to a criminal justice system that is broken. They are lost to a system that perpetuates injustice by criminalizing poverty in the greatest nation on earth. We have to do more than the current status quo. For far too long, many of those who work in the criminal justice system do not understand how to communicate in the language of poverty. They believe everyone in America is a member of the middle class and they can read and write. Some think if we could just give them a piece of paper they would get their act together and make it in life. Some angrily ask, "Why can’t they pull themselves up by their shoelaces?" Forgetting many don’t even have legs (due to physical and mental disability) or when they do, they cannot afford the shoes.
So how can we achieve real change in the lives of those we serve? The answer lies in love. We are finding that when we show that we care about our participants in Community Court, they respond by obeying the law. The difference lies with case managers who care deeply about their clients’ predicament and work hard to help them. Love them until you see real change. From my experience, love and respect lie at the root of the success of Community Court in Spokane. When they find a prosecutor that used to routinely lock them up reach out to them with love, encouraging, prodding and offering genuine concerns about their plight, it surely makes a difference. When the judge, the prosecutor, and public defender are willing to show them love when they relapse or fail to show up for court appearances, they in turn will respond in kind by following court orders and obeying the law.
As the Center for Court Innovation indicated in a recent press release, we cannot underestimate “the importance of small gestures”. One thing Judge Logan insisted on when we started Community Court was the need to serve our participants a free lunch. She often had to stay up all night to bake cookies for graduates of Community Court. It is well known in Downtown Spokane that the Downtown library is where you get lunch as a homeless person on Mondays. While the drug treatment, job training, community service et al are important components, all of that would be of no avail if they were not accompanied by the feeling that the court staff and law enforcement in the field care about them.
We have helped many fellow citizens dream again. They have come out of the shadows and started to contribute to the improvement of their city. As one of the participants told me recently, “It is my city too, that is why I give back by doing community service.”
As we celebrate a brand new year, I want us to bear in mind my Christmas experience years ago. It doesn’t have to end that way. We need an extreme makeover of our misdemeanor criminal justice system to a more caring and supportive program that helps alleviate the pain of being poor and not compound it by fines and incarceration. Let this CCI clarion call to practitioners ring out loudly: “With your help, we will continue to redouble our efforts to transform lives, create a more humane justice system, and advance common decency.”  Yes, we need a community justice program in the mold of the Innocence Project for misdemeanants in our criminal justice system. It will take a desire to collaborate across platforms by breaking out of silos and barriers that easily barricade our community justice. To get community justice, we need you (my readers) to become more involved, as volunteers or providers of services, engage, participate, let your voice be heard, speak out, join with others. The reform is ongoing but it will take all of us working together to attain this worthy goal.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Wanted ...contd

Next, a friend of mine, Barry Pfundt, from the Center for Justice, connected us with Dr.Darin Neven of Providence Consistent Care and the Hot Spotter team of first responders and treatment providers. The coalition helped shape the eventual program tracks as we decided to focus efforts on those labeled as "frequent flyers". We devised a means to work with the medical team and make Spokane Community Court the first community court in the nation to successfully connect the nexus between incarceration, poverty, and health issues. 
The Center for Court Innovation (CCI) flew in two experts to help serve as mentors for our court. We worked through all the restrictions, HIPAA challenges, unavailability of treatment beds to put together a court that recently celebrated its three year anniversary. From the very first moment we realized the dictum, “If you didn’t measure it, it didn’t happen” we connected with Washington State University Criminology department to serve as our evaluators. The partnership we struck with Professor Jackie van Wormer later inured to our county as she was subsequently appointed as our criminal justice administrator, a position where she currently manages the MacArthur’s Safety and Justice Challenge grant.
Concluding part next month

Friday, October 28, 2016

Wanted ...cont'd

Months later, the then presiding judge of Spokane Municipal Court, Honorable Judge Mary Logan, called for a collaborative meeting of all prosecutors and public defenders in her courtroom to address the establishment of Spokane Community Court. The two offices dug in their heels on what the court would look like. The prosecutor wants a more punitive court with the hope that the defendant would learn a lesson and quit committing crimes – something that is not anyway different from what we were currently doing. The public defender, myself included,wanted a court where everyone would have a chance, sex offender et al. The project never got off the ground. It suffered for years until Judge Logan found an ally in the new police chief, Frank Straub. The latter had been involved with Center for Court Innovations in West Plains, New Yorkand understood the advantages of having a court that cared about community needs and not just law and order type court
A small group started working on the project in the spring of 2013, and I was happy to be included by my boss. I immediately struck up a friendship with an unlikely ally, a prosecutor I had done battle with in numerous trials. What I didn't know is that I was not the only one disappointed with the system. The prosecutor, Adam Papini, started telling me how much disgust he often felt when at an arraignment hearing a person of color would come in from jail in shackles and would be offered a plea and credit for time served, in order to get out of jail, while others who could afford to bond out would come in from the street on bond, free as a bird and plead not guilty. We struck a partnership that endures to this day. We promised Judge Logan, that we would work collaboratively to make her dream of a court that cared "for the least of these" a reality. Along with the then municipal probation chief, Donna McBride, we spent night and day working hard to put together the community providers that today form the bedrock of Spokane Municipal Community Court.
With the help of the then deputy police chief (who is now our current police chief), Craig Meidl, we pulled the data and what we found was staggering. We found that the majority of crimes in our downtown corridor are low-level quality of life crimes, mainly trespass, pedestrian interference et al. We also pulled conviction and jail data and we found facts that confirmed my suspicion that my clients were serving life sentences even though they do not know it. The icing on the cake was when we struck up a partnership with Spokane County Medical Health Foundations, the then operators of the Hot Spotters program. We had sent them our jail and conviction data and we asked them to tell us the percentage of people on the list that frequently use the ER to access routine healthcare. They came back with a figure that astounded us all. We found that when my clients are not serving life sentences 30 days at a time, they are either spending the night in unsafe alleys or under the interstate bridge where the Spokane Fire Department spends hundreds of dollars to evacuate them to the ER
To be continued

Friday, September 23, 2016


I felt terrible that I couldn't do more to help my client. I was distraught at the end of that trip. As an immigrant from Africa, I believed no one should die the way my client died, helplessand without dignity, in the greatest nation on earth. I was mad at myself and mad at the system that perpetuated such injustice against my client. I felt deeply that the criminal justice system punished my client for being poor. Especially when I recalled the times some of my clients had to either use their meager earnings from Social Security Disability to pay for the cost of alcohol evaluation mandated under his probation or the one that had to donate his blood at the plasma center to get money for treatment. I left the House of Charity that day, determined to get out ofthe misdemeanor criminal practice. I was sick of it all.
When I got back to the office after the Christmas holiday, I went straight to my boss’soffice, but before I could unload on her, she asked me to sit down as she had good news to tell me. She said as a result of my hard work fighting for my clients, she nominated me as one of the Employees of the Year and that I would be having lunch with the mayor. This news further infuriated me as that is not what I wanted to hear. But I had to contain myself as I have high regard for her – after all she had been the only one willing to give me a chance to practice law in America when all other doors were shut against me. I calmly sat down in her office and told her about my experience over the Christmas holiday. I informed her that I was at the point of quitting my job. My boss, as usual, sprang to her feet, gave me a hug, and pleaded with me not to take such drastic action. She assured me that she, along with others, were working hard to come up with something. This is why she fought so hard to establish Spokane Municipal Court. She encouraged me to attend the lunch with the mayor. 
At that lunch, the mayor asked everyone at the table to talk about their accomplishments, everyone did except me. Instead, I unloaded my predicament. Everyone at the table just listened in silence as I retold my story of anguish in seeing my client die a horrible death that could have been prevented.
To be continued

Friday, August 19, 2016

Wanted: Innocence Project for Misdeameant

I remember distinctly my "Damascus road" experience. Not because there was a "shining light" from heaven on my path but because of a rude shock and awakening I had. It was Christmas time and I had gone along with other members from my church to feed and provide warm clothing for the homeless at Catholic Charities homeless shelter in Spokane, Washington. As we walked into the entrance to the dining hall, a notice board on the wall caught my eye. As I drew closer, my mouth went ajar. The piece of paper glued to the board contained the list of the homeless folks who died in my city that year. Out of the dozen people on the list, I had represented four or five of them in one form or another.
When I inquired the cause of death for one of them, an individual I believed I got out of jail on numerous occasions by pre-trial motion victory, outright victory at trial, or sometimes with credit for time served guilty pleaI broke down and wept when they told me that he died of complications from frost bite and a cancerous liver exacerbated by Korsakoff alcohol-induced dementia. The saddest part for me is that I knew about his serious health concerns months before his death, as he usually brought to me the paperwork from his numerous emergency room visits. It was on one of those papers I learned more about Korsakoff syndrome, but I didn’t do anything about it. I told him to go see a doctor. His response then was that when he needed to see a doctor he’d go to the ER as he has no primary care physician. His ER papers clearly stated that Korsakoff syndrome is a chronic memory disorder caused by a severe deficiency of thiamine (vitamin B-1) and that Korsakoff syndrome is most commonly caused by alcohol misuse, but certain other conditions also can cause the syndrome. 
Unlike now, there was no Affordable Care Act, and he had no health insurance. He only visited the hospital emergency room when he was seriously sick. Numerous times he would tell me he wanted to attend alcohol treatment, but he couldn't afford it; and no insurance covered an addiction recovery program at that time. So I fought tooth and nail to make sure no treatment conditions were imposed on his probation. When the court did, despite my several protestations,and he came back on probation, I reminded the court he could not afford to pay for it, so I got the least punitive sanctions, 30 days credit for time served instead of the maximum 90 days for asimple misdemeanor.
To be continued

Friday, July 15, 2016

Wanted: Innocence Project for Misdemeanor Offenders

Wanted: Innocence Project for Misdemeanor Offenders
The success of the Innocence Project in exonerating people on death row and those serving life sentences is well-known. Prison wardens often say they fill more requests for stationery by prisoners to write to the Innocence Project than any other commissary request. The reputation of the project is well-earned. From the moment the project won the first DNAexoneration in 1989, the organization has spread its gospel to 37 other states where 215 African Americans, 105 Caucasians, 25 Latinos, and two Asian Americans have regained their freedom. My call in this piece is a demand for similar freedom for those serving life sentences in our county and municipal jails in increments of thirty days or ninety days at a time.
I am a public defender that takes special pride in winning cases at trial. I love trials! Did I say I love trials? I meant the ones I win! It's why I went to law school. I enjoy crushing my opponent, even when I get bruises (losses) here and there. I assume it's due to the fact that my clients did not tell me the whole truth or the jurors were biased. It is never my fault. Call it hubris, ego, or chutzpah, I am guilty as charged. When I go to trial I wear the white hat. I am the only one with that hat. I fight for freedom for my client. It's war to me. I know my client’s freedom totally depends on me. I am the only thing standing between them and the governmental machinery set in motion when the 911 call is made or when the officer informs my client he cannot leave the scene of the incident.
This is where I was six years ago, after 15 years of misdemeanor criminal practice. I had won some, and lost some; I was literally having the time of my life. Yes, I don't get paid much and I have a huge caseload, but at least I thought of myself as the last frontier for freedom for the masses and the hoi polloi from the pernicious government prosecutors who are all out to persecute, but not prosecute, my clients.
To be continued