Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Set em up, knock em down

Must get to shower to "shave and exfoliate," as the woman on the phone said. Because in about 40 mintues I'm going to be standing in some bizarre shower stall thing in my skimpiest bikini while a woman I don't know sprays me brown.

Yep, I'm getting my spray tan, and just in time for an upcoming family wedding in California. I'm thinking of posting before and after pics... but we'll see. This is so amusing and fun!

Monday, October 25, 2010

Reflections on my law school social life

I haven't posted in a while, so I think I'd better say something on here. This fall 3L semester has been flying by incredibly fast, as exam schedules came out over a week ago! Where has the semester gone?

I'm coming to grips with the end of law school slowly and cautiously. As much as I've decried the student life and rolled my eyes at the heavy work load, I am really going to miss this lifestyle because it's what I've gotten used to. But the thing about law school is that each of the three years is really quite distinct from the others. First year was all that craziness that everyone talks about, but it was more: it was a bunch of people all thrown together and forced to find camraderie. My section, in particular, was pretty close and fond of one another, even if we bickered and gossiped and preferred some over others. Even the gunners were much beloved. Second year some of those friendships sputtered as us 2Ls were cast to the winds of varying class schedules, certain of us picked up by the Journal team, others by the Moot Court and Trial Teams. The slackers among us often found ourselves alone in the lobby at lunchtime where up to 50 people once congregated in nervous enthusiasm, while the harder workers holed up in library carrels or in the Law Review office. Now it's third year, and I'm hard-pressed to find myself on campus long enough to even notice who is and isn't there. I hardly recognize the faces of people walking the halls, and when I do it's a quick smile, hello and "how've you been?" before we're off to our respective classes. When class is over, I book it for the train, not just because I want to get home but because there's no reason to stay.

Closing time is nearly upon us.

I wish that I could say that law school has brought me some really close friendships with new people. I'm certain that my Richmond psychologist would've been happy to know that I'd branched out socially. Instead, I have boatloads of people I know to say hi to, several people I consider drinking buddies when our schedules line up, a handful of budding friendships that have wilted for one reason or another and a girlfriend-in-law (BIL's gf). It's worked out okay, and I have no doubt that as long as we continue to live in Big City I'll continue to see familiar faces around town, have the occasional night out and maybe reminisce once in a while about this or that funny thing that happened during our law school days. But I'll admit to being a little jealous of my classmates who appear to have made lasting friendships of one another, whose facebook photo albums are filled with fun outings and who don't need to go to campus to hang out because they call each other all the time anyway. It's a problem that's older than law school, my friendship envy, but as I sense the curtains drawing on this phase of my life, it's hard not to evaluate myself and wonder if I could've done better.

It's just something I'm thinking about, because as close as I am to the end of law school, there's still one more semester, two more rounds of finals and a bar exam to pass before I'm actually done with this chapter of my life. That leaves plenty of time to make the most of it.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Brief thought on moving back to Virginia

While we were in Richmond, I ran into some people we used to hang out with from college. One of the guys had moved to DC while we were living in RVA and has since moved back. He said that he likes Richmond a lot more now than he did when he lived there before. Before he left for DC, he described feeling bored with the city. He doesn't know if it's that Richmond has changed or himself, but he's goes out a lot more and has a lot more fun now.

This gave me some encouragement about perhaps one day moving back. One of my big concerns is that moving back to Richmond would be a return to a slightly more...stunted social life.

Anyway, it was a good weekend. The best weekends, it should be no surprise, are the ones that I forget that I'm in law school. I should think about that some, though. After all, aren't I going to miss law school when it's over? Probably best to spend more time focusing on the here and now.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Justice, finally, for Luis Eduardo Ramirez Zavala

I have blogged about Luis Eduardo Ramirez on this blog and on my other blog.

Last year when the perpetrators of the violent beating that took Luis Ramirez's life were found guilty of mere simple assault, I was heartbroken and dumbfounded at the miscarriage of justice that had taken place from the moment the police were called to the scene of the crime.

Today, I am happy to report that two of the assailants, Brandon Piekarsky and Derrick Donchak, were found guilty of committing a federal hate crime. Interestingly, the local bias is still quite evidence in the local paper's coverage of the trial.

The sentencing phase will be coming up next, and these boys may be given up to life imprisonment for their crimes. I don't wish that on them. Just as I wrote a few posts back, in an exploration of the recent 28-year sentence handed down to a 14-year old who raped and robbed his neighbor, I think their ages need to be taken into account. And I believe in rehabilitation, not punishment. But I am just so 100% pleased that Luis's family finally got a fair accounting for what happened that July night. Justice, finally, is served.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

A soccer adventure, or how I forgot I was in law school for one night

Last night, I felt like I got a taste of my life in the days before law school was even a twinkle in my eye. Ironically, it started with my skipping class to study Federal Courts.

I do that. Skip class, I mean. And skip it to study. There may be little to no logic in it, but I've realized that instead of beating myself up over it, I should just trust myself that I can learn the material, learn it well enough to do okay on tests and as long as I don't surpass my allowed absences, I need to go with my gut.

Anyway, that's what I was doing last night. I was set up in the little corner of our bedroom that's been designated as my study spot, and which I've recently rediscovered as a less distracting place to read than the couch in the living room. I'm working my way through supplemental jurisdiction and debating whether or not to read United Mine Workers v. Gibbs for the gazillionth time. So I decided to take a break and check facebook on my blackberry.

"COLOMBIA!!!" is the first status update I see listed on my friends page. And that's how I learned that the US was playing Colombia in an international friendly match last night. "We're coming up from DC on a party bus!" was the first comment on the status update. And that's how I realized that the US-Colombia match was going to be played in the Big City. Oh crap!

In typical me fashion, I got super excited extremely fast and immediately start scheming for ways to get tickets to the game, planning the best route to the new stadium (that's 30 minutes outside the City) and imagining all the shots of aguardiente (a popular Colombian liquor) I would be taking in the parking lot. I leap over to the iPod, put on the Diomedes Diaz and start a massive text message campaign.

Can you guess what happened next?

30 minutes later, my blood is still pumping fast, but I have realized that tickets to the game are going to run us a minimum of $35 a person for the worst seats, we'll have to pay $15 for parking, T is going to be tired when he gets home and everybody else is out of town or studying. Plus even the soccer bars in town didn't know about this match, or just didn't care enough to remember it. I can feel my dreams of a Colombian rumba slipping away. I settle on watching the game at the one local soccer bar that's got the game on its schedule. I find a friend who's up for going.

When T gets home, he's up for watching the game but less than excited about watching it at my selected bar, which is admittedly a jock chain irish pub and not exactly our preferred atmosphere. He suggests the local German beer house around the corner from us, where we caught many a World Cup game. I call them up and they agree to play the match. But when 8 o'clock rolls around, T is on the phone with his business partner and my other friend has already committed to meeting people at the jock pub. I walk over to the German bar alone.

Sitting in that German beer house alone, eating a soft Bavarian pretzel and watching old footage of the fateful Escobar auto-gol (can any Colombian match be shown on a US network without that clip being played) I started feeling sad. Sad because I couldn't find other people to share my excitement. Sad because I didn't care about the game so much as the camraderie. Sad because nobody else in the bar was watching the game, and because the damn place was blasting polka music. Sad because I was homesick for another country.

The game started late, and T showed up just as it began. I learned from striking up a conversation with an older couple at the bar that the bar's owners had actually gone to the game. They had a bunch of tickets they were selling to go as a caravan with bar regulars, but they couldn't even give them away. We had just missed them. It occurred to me that anybody in the Big City who actually care about the game was actually at the game.

"I'm sad we're not there," I said to T.

"You want to go?" he replied.

"No, there's no point." I sighed, fully invested in feeling sorry for myself. We sat in silence, trying to get excited for a minute. "I mean, by the time we get there, the game will be almost over," I added.

"We can go, if you want to."

"Well..." I considered it. Thought of all the reasons it wouldn't be worth it. And then thought about what would happen if we stayed. We would drink a couple more beers. I would muster up a little enthusiasm, but mostly continue to feel sad, and then we'd go home. The polka would continue to blast.

"Eff it, let's go." I looked at T to see if he was really okay with it. "Let's just do it, why not?"

"Okay," said T. "But I think the dog needs to go out."

So I handed T my credit card, told him to finish his drink and pay up, and I walked back to the apartment to walk our dog and grab the car keys. Five minutes later, we were on the road. Before we even left city limits, I felt a thousand times better. I didn't even care if we missed the game.

We didn't really have much of a plan. I'd grabbed some cash from T's sock drawer, but not enough for us to buy two tickets to the game. Besides, we weren't even sure how much time would be left by the time we got there. We just decided to go and see if we could figure something out once we were there. Maybe they'd let us in to see the last bit of the game. Maybe we'd just party with Colombianos in the lot. Maybe the whole thing would be a bust.

We spent the drive talking about our days, like we'd do if we had had dinner at home. I watched the city lights as we crossed the bridge, as if we were driving back to Virginia. It felt like an escape. With my stupid new little Blackberry as our guide, we fumbled our way through shitty parts of abandoned towns to get to the soccer stadium. We laughed at the marker on Google Maps for Chiang Jiang Chinese Food. T rolled his eyes when I insisted he use Google Street View to figure out the best place to turn. "I can't even see that thing. It's not helpful!" And then he blamed Street View for nearly turning too early. "It looked familiar! Street View confused me."

Anyway, by some miracle we ended up finding the stadium about 35 minutes after our initial decision to go. Getting there involved turning onto a half-paved road, crossing railroad tracks and driving through a chainlink fence with barbed wire on top. But we did it.

The parking lot was closed off because the game was over halfway done. I jumped out of the car at the barricade and called over a parking lot attendant.

Parking Lot Man (PLM): "You know the game's almost over, right?"
Me: "Yeah, we're just trying to catch the tail end."
PLM: "It's supposed to be $15 to park here. That's okay. Gimme $10 and turn to the left and park over there."
Me: "How about $5?"
PLM: "It don't matter. That's fine."
Me (Running back to the car and whispering to T): "Quick! Give him five bucks, let's go!"

So we parked the car in the lot and walked over to the stadium entrance, fully prepared to bribe some other people to let us into the game. Cash in hand, we sauntered up to the entrance. There were at least three stadium attendances at the gate, none of whom was prepared to let us in without a ticket.

Me: "Even though there are so many empty seats? Can we just pay at the gate?"
Stadium attendant (SA): "Nope. If you don't have a ticket, you can't get it."
Me: "What are we supposed to do?"
SA: "Try over there?" (Gestures to the closed ticket booths.)

T and I wander over and knock on the windows of the ticket booths, where a woman working late came over to tell us that we couldn't buy tickets after halftime. We wandered further down the stadium to the team shop, which had the game playing on a big screen t.v. that we could watch through the window.

As we stood there watching the game, I listened to another couple standing beside us, watching the game and talking to one another about how their passes would get them anywhere except the field. I looked over. They were wearing shirts from the local soccer team and big passes around their necks. Someone from inside the store came out and took orders from them. "How much is that shirt over there?" said the man. The store clerk went in and looked and came back with a price.

I turned to the couple. "Are you here with...the team?" The woman turned to me and smiled, "We're with the [Big City] team."

"Oh, that's cool," I said. "Well, it's kind of a bummer that your stadium won't sell tickets to people who want to go to the game just because we got here late."

"Half-time," she said apologetically, by way of explanation.

I shrugged. "Yeah, that's really disappointing."

I listened to the couple muttering and they eventually went back to their banter as they watched the game through the glass. Getting self-righteous and huffy, I began fantisizing about the bad review I was going to post on Yelp about the experience. After all, every news article about the game mentioned the lack of ticket sales. Why wouldn't they take our money?

"I'm not sure we're going about this the right way," said T. We stared at the screen. Score was 0-0 with just under 30 minutes left. "I don't think there was anything else we could do," I said back.

We glanced behind us to where a small cadre of people had gathered with the couple who had been standing beside us. They'd relocated somewhere back by a flagpole. I wondered who the hell they were.

"They want to get into the game?" I heard someone say. I looked over. A girl in a knitted beanie and big puffy coat rushed over to the storefront. Next thing I know, she was standing beside me.

"Here, take these, quick!" she whispered. "Don't tell anyone!"

She flashed two tickets to the game and pressed them into my hand. I grinned. She rushed away.

"Wow, thanks!" I said. I have no idea if she heard me.

And that's how T and I ended up getting into the game, where we caught the last 20 minutes of the US-Colombia international friendly from mere feet away from the US goal. We were surrounded by so much yellow and red and spanish and beer and soccer chanting that I couldn't stop smiling the whole time. It was amazing! We did it! And when I turned around from our seats, I saw this:

PAZ EN COLOMBIA. Peace in Colombia.

And then it was over. No score. Un empate. But on the way back, we drove under a bridge as a train passed by, and I noticed every diner on the side of the road. T laughed when I said, "The best part was that we just went." When I asked why he laughed, he said it was because of how nonchalant I was. I reminded him that this was kind of thing we used to do on a whim, to just go, to adventure out and find something to get ourselves into. It's how we have ended up tailgating a rodeo, napping on the Gulf shore, eating lobster rolls in Maine, climbing to the top of a drive-in movie screen. (And falling in love.)

Last night, I remembered that there is a life beyond law school, beyond work, beyond the daily grind and its attendant expectations. Thank God.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

My first race

Tomorrow I am running my first ever 5K. My first ever race, actually, unless you count elementary school field days. I used to dread that one day of the year when our P.E. class had to run four laps around the soccer field. The Dreaded Mile. But today, in what was perhaps a stupid rookie mistake, I ran/walked 2 miles (0.5 run, 0.25 walk, 0.75 run, 0.5 walk) along my street.

So, if all goes as planned, tomorrow I'll be able to cross another one off my list. Wish me luck!

Friday, October 8, 2010

Something doesn't sit right here

Bear with me. I realize I'm about to start sound like I'm defending a rapist. I absolutely do not condone violence of any kind, and least of all sexual violence. And I know this is not a popular position to take. But something about this case does not sit right with me.

In updating my other blog I came across the story of Alexis Ramirez, a 15-year old Mexican boy living in Liberty Township, Ohio. Alexis was convicted of felonious assault, aggravated robbery, aggravated burglary, two counts of kidnapping, three counts of rape and tampering with evidence. So what happened? The boy, then 14, allegedly broke into his 64-year old neighbor's home while armed with a pellet gun. At gun point, he raped her, drove her to an ATM and forced her to take out money, grabbed her purse and then ran.

I defend none, absolutely none, of those actions.

That said, I want to take a look at the timeline of the events at trial, to think about whether or not this minor got a fair shake within the justice system. Here goes...

March 19, 2010 - Transfer to adult court
Testimony in the hearing to determine whether Alexis was competent to stand trial as an adult focused on whether he was "beyond help." Two experts offer testimony - a psychiatrist from the county's forensic center and a local pediatrician who was also the county health commissioner.

Testimony Friday came from a forensic psychologist and local pediatrician on his chances of being rehabilitated in the juvenile justice system.

Dr. Kim Stookey, a forensic psychologist, testified that she met with Ramirez for more than an hour and subjected him to multiple tests.

She described his family environment as rife with alcohol and abuse. “He doesn’t like to speak with him (his father) when he’s sober, because he tends to be more irritable,” Stookey said.

She said during interviews Ramirez seemed “fixated” on the sight of blood — possibly even aroused by it.

Prosecutor says this testimony proves he is beyond help and that it would be a waste of resources to send him to juvenile detention facilities. Then-defense attorney Traci Combs-Valero says “I don’t believe it’s a waste of resources to try to rehabilitate a 14-year-old.”

Citing the possibility that there may not be enough time to rehabilitate him, the Butler County Juvenile Court judge rules that Alexis Ramirez will be tried as an adult in the Butler County Court of Common Pleas. Ramirez, at 14, becomes the youngest criminal defendant to be tried as an adult in Butler County.

April 28, 2010 - Grand jury indictment
Alexis is indicited by a Butler County grand jury on charges of felonious assault, aggravated robbery, aggravated burglary, two counts of kidnapping, three counts of rape and tampering with evidence. The three rape charges are based on "three distinct places in the house" that Ramirez forced his neighbor to have sex with him, according to the prosecutor.

May 6, 2010 - Defense attorney withdraws, public defender appointed and enters plea of not guilty by reason of insanity
Traci Combs-Valero withdraws because she is not on the appointment list for the Court of Common Pleas and because Alexis' family does not have the funds to retain her. Court appoints David Brewer to defend Alexis. He enters a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity.

May 21, 2010 - Judge orders another competency evaluation

July 22, 2010 - Judge finds Alexis competent after testimony from same forensic psychiatrist
Dr. Stookey makes a reappearance after she evaluated Alexis for the second time. Testifying to his competence to stand trial, she says:
[S]hortly after his arrest, Ramirez spoke of demons, aliens, UFOs and “ghosts in his mind.” But in later evaluation, he had “calmed down,” leading her to determine his odd behavior and acting out in the juvenile detention center was due to immaturity and stress rather than a mental illness.
While Ramirez understood the criminal proceedings against him and is capable of assisting with his own defense, Stookey testified he told her “he gets nervous during court appearances and does not listen.”
Brewer questioned whether Ramirez could participate in his defense if he shut down and did not pay attention.
“There is a difference between having the capacity to do something and choosing not to do so,” Stookey said. “He certainly has the capacity to pay attention and listen.”
Stookey said Ramirez is of low average intelligence, with some tendency toward being oppositional or defiant.
“He likes to irritate people, get them going,” she said.

August 20 - Alexis pleas no contest to all charges
He has apparently admitted to committing the crime. Continued news coverage mentions that he allegedly told a police detective that he guessed he had to "pay the price for having a little fun."

October 8 - Alexis is sentenced to 28 years in prison
Prior to sentencing, Alexis says, “I hate myself...People look at me as a monster. They have every right to. I’m guilty and whatever you give me, I’ll do it.”

The judge asks him what motivated him to commit the crime. He says, “I thought she would be scared and give me all her money...I don’t know what made me do all that.”

The victim, however, later entered her own statement contesting his explanation: “I offered him a diamond ring and he didn’t take that. I offered him a charge card and he didn’t take that...He was there for sex.”

Okay. Having spent like half an hour going back and forth trying to piece together that timeline, I've figured out what bothers me about these proceedings. First of all, there's no question that Alexis was the true perpetrator of whatever attack happened that night. He deserves to be brought to justice for his crimes.

Here are my problems:
He was bounded over from juvenile court to adult court on the basis of extremely flimsy testimony. The psychiatrist testified to two facts:
- That his father abused alcohol
- That the defendant was "fixated" on the sight of blood, "whether it was someone else's or his own."
The only basis that I could find for Dr. Stookey's belief was that he cut himself while he was in detention because he "wanted to hurt." Furthermore, I didn't see any indication that his prior counsel attempted to procure her own evaluation or even questioned the testimony of the two experts put on by the County.

Then, there's the fact that his attorney ditched him because he couldn't pay. But that's just the legal world and how things work. Money buys justice. So I won't dwell on that.

But it matters! Because, see, he goes to adult court where the very same psychiatric expert is ordered to evaluate him by the Common Pleas judge. And once again she gets on the stand and spouts off clearly biased testimony that does not in any way appear to be based on her scientific knowledge or professional experience. Instead, she sounds like she has a personal grudge against him. She literally explained away his "odd behavior and acting out" (including talking about demons and UFOs) as immaturity and stress. And the defense attorney did not challenge this! Then, after testifying that he gets nervous and doesn't always pay attention during proceedings, she says "there is a difference between having the capacity to do something and choosing not to do so." She goes on to talk about how he likes to irritate people and "get them going." Oh please, please, please... couldn't I have had the chance to cross-examine her? Because seriously.

Lady, you say he likes to irritate people? He must've irritated you. He really got you going. You didn't like his personality. You thought he was defiant. You said he was oppositional. Those are psychiatric terms of art, aren't they? Oppositional defiant disorder is a psychiatric condition. A juvenile psychiatric condition, right? But he doesn't have a psychiatric condition. He's just irritating.

Okay, which is it? He has a mental disorder? Or you're biased because he pissed you off?

It's really messed up that the defense attorney couldn't get a non-biased psychaitric evaluation or any other person on the stand to testify to his character or at least his insanity defense. Or something. Because the way I see it, he wasn't very zealously represented, and there were a bunch of people there who had decided from the outset that he was an insalvagable, hopeless rapist. I just wonder... did a fourteen-year old kid really deserve to be sent to adult prison for twice the length of his life? Or maybe I'm just a trial defense nerd who is missing her calling.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Primitive Africans

I don't have it in me to write anything right now. But I have to post this blog post from Stuff White People Do (currently on hiatus) after I just had an infuriating, yet refreshingly blunt, conversation with a friend about "Africans" being more "primitive" and thus closer to our biologically-driven gender roles, since they do a lot of f**king and fighting.

Stuff White People Do - Homogenize people from over fifty country into one group: "Africans"

From that post, I'd like to quote a particular passage that was apropos to our conversation. The passage is itself a lifted from a lecture given by Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie:

I was 19. My American roommate was shocked by me. She asked where I had learned to speak English so well, and was confused when I said that Nigeria happened to have English as its official language. She asked if she could listen to what she called my “tribal music,” and was consequently very disappointed when I produced my tape of Mariah Carey. She assumed that I did not know how to use a stove.

What struck me was this: She had felt sorry for me even before she saw me. Her default position toward me, as an African, was a kind of patronizing, well-meaning, pity. My roommate had a single story of Africa. A single story of catastrophe.

In this single story there was no possibility of Africans being similar to [my roommate], in any way. No possibility of feelings more complex than pity. No possibility of a connection as human equals.

...[A]fter I had spent some years in the U.S. as an African, I began to understand my roommate’s response to me. If I had not grown up in Nigeria, and if all I knew about Africa were from popular images, I too would think that Africa was a place of beautiful landscapes, beautiful animals, and incomprehensible people, fighting senseless wars, dying of poverty and AIDS, unable to speak for themselves, and waiting to be saved, by a kind, white foreigner.

My friend said there's nothing wrong with being primitive. But I take issue with his completely ignorant view that all most people in Africa (and, he later said, in South America) being primitive to begin with - not having telephones, carrying around spears and following their primal urges wherever those urges may lead them (HIV, population explosion, war). He said that because I don't see "Africans" as primitive that I am idealistic and refuse to acknowledge that US Americans live in a bubble and that not everybody is like us.

EEEEERRRRGGGHHHH. Sometimes I want to scream.