girl ipsa loquitur: 02/06/2005 - 02/13/2005 Email me!

Saturday, February 12, 2005

Remembering a murdered boy, a missed opportunity & questioning the system a bit...

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Today is the second anniversary of two significant events in my life. Three years ago today I almost met Justice Kennedy at the 100th anniversary celebration of the historic Riverside County Superior Courthouse. Friends of Girl Ipsa know that this would have been one of the greatest experiences of my life. Being the sort of legal geek that I am... How far behind can the title of "Supreme Court Justice Groupie" be? This was an opportunity that I am unlikely to be given again.

Dork and I had planned to go, coupled in our legal-geekness, together. So, I know what would of happened had I been there, one step behind or in front of Dork, since I know what happened to him. He spoke with Justice Kennedy, shook hands. Had exactly the experience I was hoping to have. It would of been mine as well. Had I been there. But I was not. Which leads me to the second event this day memorializes for me: The death of Jerel Cobbs.

Jerel was 15 years old when he died of a gun shot wound, in a dark and muddy vacant lot, a few yards from where my oldest daughter lay hiding from the man with a gun. Three years later I am still suffocated by tragedy, still made guilty by the thought "Thank God it was not my child." At this very moment my daughter is in the next room. I can touch her. I can speak to her. I can loan her my car so that she may go to the grave of her friend today to cry and leave him flowers. But always hand in hand with that is the knowledge that Jerel's father can not.

No situation I have experienced, no case I've studied, nothing I know of has ever so perfectly placed the competing interests of criminal defendants and society (The People who speak for the victim) in contrast. A boy is dead. He was bright and funny and filled with so much potential. Loved by his family and his friends. Loyal enough to run from safety and into harms way to retrieve his fallen friend. And no excuse or explanation will ever change the fact of his death. Nothing can bring him back. No I'm sorry. No plea of it was not my fault.

On the other side is the man with the gun who has not yet gone to trial. He is being treated in Patton Hospital for mental illness that a judge agrees has made him unable to assist in his own defense. The law is pretty clear on this. If you can not defend yourself, we will not try you. It is a basic tenant of a civilized system. Sanitized of all the details it is both rational and benign.

But in this case, I have to be honest and say, it pisses me off.

I am angry. Angry that the anniversary of Jerel's death (Murder) is passing, again, without any resolution for his family. For his father. For his friends. For my daughter. Another year has passed where the questions remain unanswered and the man with the gun goes on unpunished.

Another year without vindication for The People.

I don't know what the answer is. It's not right to try an incompetent defendant. It is not right to make Jerel's father wait and wait for some vindication, some conclusion, to the nightmare. But I am inclined to think (perhaps I am biased by my rage) that if neither choice is right then the hardship ought to fall on the man with the gun. He chose his actions. He should now suffer his consequences.

I hope to soon add another anniversary to my collection. The anniversary of his conviction. The anniversary of the final resolution.

Kiss your kids today. And take a moment to remember all the parents who no longer can.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Life, Cloning and Wrongful Death of a Zygote
Girl Ipsa Weighs In...

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Can we talk? A couple of things are going on in the legal scene which I want to discuss with you. But I fear that you will be too polarized, too angry, to have a conversation. An exchange of ideas. I don't want to you to become an activist. I don't want you to adopt my thinking whole. I don't even want you to change your mind about anything. I just want you to think about it. (If you change your mind, well that's just a bonus!)

First up we have Human cloning . I know, I know. Fraught with danger this issue is (and Yoda I am). So, lets just take it slow. Do you know anyone with diabetes? There is some very exciting medical stuff on the horizon. Pancreatic cell transplants which will literally repair the problem making a former diabetic an actually healthy person again. Not a well treated diabetic person but a diabetes free person. This is nearly miraculous. Trouble is that it requires some research, some pre-miracle lab work, and some cloning. Oh crap. Cloning.

Therapeutic cloning is the creation of human embryos (zygotes or blastocysts** might be more correct) for the purpose of destroying them. They are not created to become babies so this purpose, this use, does not implicate all of the "Cloning People" issues (such as the uncertainty of health & the theological quagmire of will they have souls?). What it does implicate are the right to life issues raised in abortion and stem cell research. The argument is that the initial division of cells creates the possibility of viable human life and therefore it is wrong (evil, immoral) to destroy it for any purpose. (I am forced to point out that all gametes contain the potential for life but you rarely hear people calling for the protection of sperm)

On the other hand, therapeutic cloning is never done with a mom and a dad, no gametes at all! In fact, the cloning (by definition) is genetically singular in nature. The cell division occurs in the regular way but the genetic contribution to the blastocyst is from only one person -- that's why its a clone and not a regular embryo. This is medically useful since researchers can isolate certain diseases and genetic defects in order to better understand them and eventually treat or cure them. But the cloned embryo has a very different genesis than other embryos. It is literally created for the purpose of research and was never going to be anything but that.

The article linked here is about research into incurable muscle-wasting disease. The cloned embryos would be created with DNA from people with this disease. Therefore, the embryo will have this disease, providing researchers with defective nerve cells to compare to healthy nerve cells. In the end, the betterment of humanity is the goal. A treatment or a cure for the formerly incurable. But at what cost?

In a totally unrelated case we are introduced to another embryo (zygote**...). This one was whipped up in a petri dish with the intention that it one day be a person, a baby. Now its the subject of a wrongful death law suit because of its accidental destruction. A judge has ruled that the suit may continue, holding that the embryo is a human being. Obviously the parent/plaintiffs here are pleased. They want some sort of compensation for the loss of that little bit of possibility. I am sure that they are grieving, as well, since they have the desire to be parents and have lost an opportunity because of the negligence of a lab worker. I say an opportunity because there is nothing to suggest that they can not make another embryo.

What I find interesting in both of these cases is what the ultimate results of opposing the medical actions will be. Successful opposition to therapeutic cloning and stem cell research will not result in the increased birth of normal and healthy babies. Opposing stem cell research will not make women seeking abortions any less likely to abort their fetuses. It will only result in the entire waste of the fetus. Rather than contributing to our medical knowledge and consequently benefiting humanity as a whole through better treatment and cures, stopping stem cell research will only stop stem cell research. It won't save babies. It will only hurt people who stand to benefit from the research in the end. It HARMS life while failing to actually preserve life.

Also interesting is the effect that allowing a recovery for wrongful death in the fertility clinic case will be. The logical result is that either doctors will stop providing this type of service to would-be parents (in order to avoid exposure to a wrongful death liability) or that the cost of such services will sky rocket. In either event, the ability of fertility challenged parents to eventually give birth will be diminished. Fewer babies will be born. Again, life takes the blow here.

It begs the question: What are we really opposed to? And what price are we willing to pay to have our way in the end? If you oppose cloning, ask yourself why. Stem cell research? Why? In vitro-fertilization? Why? Drag yourself away from the easy answer and really give it a good shot.

I was asked the question in Constitutional Law class: When do you think life begins? and I answered it as honestly as I know how -- When sperm meets egg and the cell division starts. That's the beginning of life. But I think the question was wrong. It did not really address the issue, did it? The question is not when does life begin but, rather, when should we assign a protected status to life? When does a blastocyst, or an embryo or a fetus become an individual? There are countless places at which to draw this line. But I think we can all agree that once you are born you have crossed that line, you are worthy of protection, even if you are born with an incurable disease. Even if you are diabetic.

I don't think I've answered a single question here and I did not intend to. What I hoped was that you would think. Think about this. And perhaps we can replace some of our knee-jerk reactions with thoughtful considerations. Perhaps we can raise our eyes up and see the Big Picture, feeling a sense of amazement when science seeks to accomplish the miraculous by improving LIFE, saving LIFE, and protecting LIFE. Ultimately we have to balance the good and the bad in almost everything.

Let us weigh carefully.

*** The embryonic stage is long. It begins with initial cell division and ends at 8 weeks of development. There is a substantial difference between the early embryo and the late. One is a wad of cells, the other has a beating heart. To refer to both of these states as "embryo" is to confuse what we are really talking about. The embryo in the test-tube is a zygote, not even blastocyst since that stage begins on implantation and it can not yet have implanted...

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Another Drunken Judge & I've Got a DEAL for Ohio

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Friends of Girl Ipsa know that I do not drink, smoke "weed", or generally engage in other mind altering activities unless you count reading my corporations cases on Nyquil. Friends also know that I intend to be a judge some day. Maybe even to achieve that lauded level of judicial accomplishment, a seat on a Supreme Court. (I do not say THE Supreme Court since I have not seen my grades yet and I fear the worst) I'll be happy with any Supreme Court, say for instance, Ohio's. As a former Buckeye, born and raised in that RED state, I think I could have a shot (and maybe even do a little BLUE work while I'm there!). If a seat opens up, that is. Hopefully we will have filled
Justice Alice Robie Resnick's seat before I am eligible.

Does this sound like something out of a television show? Supreme Court Justice is pulled over by the police on suspicion of drunk driving and then reminds the officer whose side she's on.
"My God, you know I decide all these cases in your favor. And my golly, look what you're doing to me."

That is some fairly unrealistic dialogue. Who will believe this gritty Law/Cop/Politics (Wednesdays at 9/8 central) show with cheesy dialogue like that?

It's a little know fact that judges are not subject to the laws of gravity and drunk driving (Namely, what ever can go wrong will injure an innocent person instead of the idiot driver). That is why its OK for them to drive drunk, OK for them to request special privileges such as being "let go" and not taking that sobriety test, and why they have no fear of pulling rank on an officer who is just doing his job. Judges have special cars and super powers. Drunk judges never hurt anyone.

Lets imagine for a moment what Justice Resnick would say to the mangled corpse occupant of the oncoming vehicle she's plowed into as a result of driving with a blood alcohol level nearly three times the legal limit?

"My God, you know I decide all these cases in your favor. I lock up drunks all the time. I've saved countless lives in the process. This is not that big a deal. It's just the one dead person. And my golly, look what you're doing to me. I am, after all, a judge."

There's some engaging dialogue.

So, I would like to say that I am surprised, but I'm not. And that is sad. It is a sad commentary on selfishness and self control. I have no respect for the drunk driver. None whatsoever. The risk to others (Mothers and children and people who are loved and needed and will be so sorely missed) is incalculable. And unjustifiable. However, Mrs. Resnick's** subsequent attempt to avoid responsibility for her own choices and actions is that much worse. She holds a position of respect and authority, a position which I envy, and she treats it like so much garbage. How dare she demand respect when she herself has none?

People of Ohio, I've got a deal for you. I will work diligently to meet each and every requirement, to earn your trust and your respect and to undertake the responsibilities of Supreme Court Justicehood with diligence and sobriety. I will begin this very moment and focus on that goal with singular purpose, devoting every spare moment to its accomplishment.

All I ask in return is that you throw that bum OUT.

**I decided that I would no longer respect Alice with the title Justice or Judge. I refrain from calling her "That drunken idiot" out of respect for myself.

"To live is so startling it leaves little time for anything else." ~ Emily Dickinson

"Ouch!" ~ Mrs. Palsgraff

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