Thursday, April 30, 2015, will be my last day in the role of Chief Assistant (or First Assistant) State’s Attorney of Effingham County. It has been a true honor to serve in this important capacity for the past couple of years.
Soon I will take a couple of weeks off – to rest and reflect – before likely resuming a private practice of law.
Serving as a prosecutor under my great friend, State’s Attorney Bryan Kibler, has been a richly rewarding experience. My office-mates and I have worked hard. I have learned a lot, and feel fortunate to have made and continued many important and lasting friendships.
The decision to leave was not easy. My final decision was reached in March, surprisingly, as I was listening to the words of University of Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino, lamenting the fact that “windows of opportunity” in life remain open only for so long. The message hit home.
The privilege of serving as Chief Assistant has been all-encompassing for me, and I am proud of this service. But, each of us occupies a unique mission and multiple roles in life. Each of these roles demands an adequate devotion of time.
In the future, I hope to make myself more available for other responsibilities, which, of course would include, but not be limited to, legal matters.
As I look back on the past couple of years, I feel very privileged to have been associated with such a brilliant decision-maker as Bryan Kibler. He and I – and countless others – have worked many long hours together on matters such as the Willow Long case, the region’s heroin crisis, the neglected and mistreated children of our world, and other more typical or routine matters.
Though no prosecutor’s office can push a county into perfection, we have worked ethically to help make our county a better place, I believe. At all times, we have sought justice tempered with mercy.
As for the immediate future, I am looking forward to a busy schedule of personal involvements, including a family wedding, time with friends, a recommitment to physical fitness activity (maybe even some standup paddleboarding this summer on Lake Sara), volunteer work as a host at this summer’s Relay For Life, and, of course, the challenging legal and business trials of the months and years ahead.
But, I will long remember the privilege of my years in the Effingham County State’s Attorney’s office. I am thankful for having experienced this opportunity to serve.
Thank you all for this wonderful opportunity!
I was asked this morning about the most abused drugs in my community, and so I’ve given it a lot of thought.
Here’s The Top Five List:
Typically, alcohol is the first drug used illegally (by underage residents) in most communities. Deaths, injuries and arrests do little to deter local religious fervor for this politically-favored, prehistoric and psychoactive substance made out of ethanol, a product that might be good for your car, but not for you.
Tobacco products are as unhealthy and addictive as ever to the individual user, according to recent studies. And now E-cigarettes are simply the latest in a neauseating line of nicotine-laden product.
Cigarette butts litter our downtown sidewalks, and discarded cigarette packs litter our rural roads. Need I say more?
3. Opiates (including heroin and abused prescription drugs).
The majority of these cases involve the misuse, trading and selling of prescription narcotics. But, the use of illegal heroin – and heroin-related deaths – are ever on the rise in communities such as ours.
Meanwhile, pity our poor physicians who are being overwhelmed by pill-seekers, complaining of mysterious pain. Hypochondria abounds . . . and so does dangerous chemical addiction.
Not talking about coffee drinkers here.
I am referring to the pill poppers of this legal product, including truckers who pass through our region and individuals seeking the so-called boost offered by pills and caffeine-based “energy” drinks.
And what about the athlete wannabes who “fuel up” before at-bats and races — those to whom I would address this simple question: “Was it you, or the drug?”
Just because a product is “legal” doesn’t make it healthy or safe. For example, in the case of “amped up” truck drivers: “The fact that any person charged with [DUI] is legally entitled to use any drug or drugs … shall not constitute a defense …” 625 ILCS 5/11-501(b).
Absent significant change in the Legislature, marijuana use remains illegal for “recreational” purposes in Illinois – at least for the time being. Far less dangerous than alcohol, the product is addictive and typically makes one lethargic. For the general population, marijuana use is a great waster of time, at very best.
CONCLUSION: My advice, as usual, is to #BeReal and #BeYou and to assist others in doing so. Set a good example by avoiding the above-identified products, as well as other obviously illicit substances, and . . . take necessary medication only as prescribed.
While scouring an internet discussion board this morning, I was struck repeatedly by the use of a certain word from folks of a certain mindset.
That word is “they.”
As in, “They’re not like us.” As in, “What they don’t want you to know.” As in, “Don’t you just love it when they all come out.”
“They” is one of the most divisive words in human history.
The propagandists among us have a real “talent” for this divisiveness. Please review the language employed at some of our nation’s recent “rallies,” for example.
Is there a word for “opposite of rally?”
Fortunately, the good people in society frequently make use of some diametrically opposed language.
I heard one particular word over and over recently during a local Spanish language religious ceremony. I liked the way it sounded as the word warmly flowed from the minister.
In Spanish, the word is . . . “nosotros.”
Following the service, I approached the speaker and asked him to translate.
I learned that “nosotros” means us (or “we”).
Nosotros: To me, it’s a simple, one-word lesson that I hope not to forget anytime soon. The lesson is that “it’s not all about ‘them.’ It’s about ‘us‘ – ALL OF US – and what we go out and do with our lives.”
“Nosotros” is the simple language lesson of inclusiveness that I had been taught earlier in life (in English) by Fred Slabach, assistant dean at the law school that I attended in Jackson, Mississippi.
But I’ll save that particular story for another day.
The Alliance Against Intoxicated Motorists (AAIM) thought its “Top Cop” lists would be helpful.
In reality though, lists like these are incredibly counter-productive. Even my prosecutor friends agree.
AAIM’s annual designation of “Top Cops” and “Top Departments” is based solely on the number of DUI arrests “scored” by each officer or department.
Result: Officer motivation gets called into question: “Are you trying to make the list again this year?”
“Isn’t it true that this designation is based solely on how many arrests you make, rather than convictions?”
“Does this listing help serve as motivation for you — to pull drivers over more often than your colleagues?”
As courtroom action came to a halt Tuesday in the case against Rod Blagojevich, speculation began to emerge that the former Governor’s defense would “rest” . . . without calling a single witness to testify.
That’s an unusual tactic, but occasionally it’s a tactic that works – as longtime residents of South – Central Illinois may recall.
In 1993, jurors in Effingham County found a Shumway businessman not guilty on a felony charge of bribery. The defense called no witnesses in the highly-publicized case — after vigorous cross-examination of witnesses presented by the prosecution.
The defendant’s representation was handled by Anton R. Valukas, a partner in the prestigious Chicago law firm of Jenner & Block and former United States Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois.
Official court records of the case have been expunged.
[Note: I personally have employed the “no witnesses” defense strategy sparingly, but as recently as July of 2011 in a felony DUI matter (after this post was originally published). My client, too, was found “Not Guilty.” It was a very unusual case].
Nothing causes more fear and consternation in our local legal system than . . . court-ordered drug testing.
It catches some people off guard. But, it shouldn’t.
Perhaps a new approach is needed.
Drug testing is an opportunity to prove himself / herself for the person who may have made mistakes.
It can help a defendant establish a track record of compliance with the law, bolstering that person’s status during plea negotiations or at a possible sentencing hearing. Drug test results are not opinion but fact.
[As a defense attorney, I am well aware of the possibility of false “positive” test results. But, most of our clients are behind the 8-ball (no pun intended) already, and additional review is usually available].
Frankly, there’s no stronger evidence than consistently clean test results to assist the Court in making the following necessary findings “in mitigation” with regard to nearly any charged offense:
8. The defendant’s criminal conduct was the result of circumstances unlikely to recur.
9. The character and attitudes of the defendant indicate that he is unlikely to commit another crime.
10. The defendant is particularly likely to comply with the terms of a period of probation.
A person who cannot comply with court-ordered drug testing should face the facts and seek help.
Although initially it may seem like punishment, in reality drug testing is supposedly there to help.
So, why not be bold and encourage clients to request random testing — up front — in any case in which an allegation involves the use of narcotics?
Few people have done more to help steer our people away from illicit drug use than our daily court Judge in Effingham County, the Honorable Sherri L.E. Tungate.
“It helped me to see what a jerk I was becoming,” one of my clients said recently about the testing program that Judge Tungate had ordered in his case.
“My friends say I’m different now. I was wasting lots of time and risking my job with (cannabis use). I am different now. Better. I’m back to being myself.”
So, the next time a Judge orders – or offers – even the possibility of drug testing, here’s my legally recommended response:
What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciation of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade and solemnity, are, to him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy — a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices more shocking and bloody than are the people of the United States, at this very hour.
“The Meaning of July Fourth For The Negro,” Frederick Douglass (1852)
Scott: I find it intellectually insulting – if not blasphemous – when Caucasian ministers suggest at this time of year that the morality of the “founding fathers” merited special blessing for our nation.
Do not say, ‘Why is it that the former days were better than these?’ For it is not from wisdom that you ask about this.
In lieu of the Fourth of July, the Second of July seems more appropriate for a holiday celebration: Civil rights leader (and World War II veteran) Medgar Evers was born on this date in 1925, and the USA’s most significant Civil Rights Act was signed into law on this date in 1964 . . . prompted in significant part by grief over the assassinations in 1963 of Evers and President John F. Kennedy.
In part, the Civil Right Act of 1964 provided that:
All persons shall be entitled to the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, and privileges, advantages, and accommodations of any place of public accommodation, as defined in this section, without discrimination or segregation on the ground of race, color, religion, or national origin.
Analysis: “The Way It Is” – Bruce Hornsby and the Range (1986)