Friday, February 22, 2008

An Altercation with the Drug Court Gestapo

Yesterday, I was invited to attend the Birmingham Lawyers Chapter of the Federalist Society luncheon and panel discussion. The topic of the panel discussion was "Is Drug Court a Good Idea?"

A little bit of info on the Federalist Society.
The Federalist Society for Law and Public Policy Studies is a group of conservatives and libertarians interested in the current state of the legal order. It is founded on the principles that the state exists to preserve freedom, that the separation of governmental powers is central to our Constitution, and that it is emphatically the province and duty of the judiciary to say what the law is, not what it should be. The Society seeks both to promote an awareness of these principles and to further their application through its activities.

There members include all of the current conservative members of the Supreme Court and others of that ilk. Some might think that I would be out of place in such company, but the truth is I am a real conservative. I believe in a very small, un-intrusive government that serves to protect our rights and freedoms. I believe in states rights. I believe in the separation of powers. The people calling themselves conservatives today (The Republican Party) are really anything but.

I wouldn't have known about this luncheon, but apparently I have a friend in the legal community that thought my presence might be sorely needed at any such discussion on drug courts in Alabama. Bless'em! And a HUGE thank you to the attorney who invited me. If you live in Shelby Co. or surrounding areas and get wrapped up on drug charges CALL ME and I will give you the name of an attorney whose heart is in his work and that you can trust to fight like hell to clear your name. I would list it here on the blog but I haven't asked permission to do that. If I get permission I will put up a permanent link.

The luncheon was held at The Summit Club in Birmingham. The Summit Club is for really rich, powerful people. It is a private deal with membership dues (I don't know what they are but I suspect they are outrageous according to my poor person definition of that word). It is located on the 32nd & 33rd floors of the Regions Bank Harbert Center and it has an incredible view of the city. I had been there once before back in the late 90's. Yesterday my friend and fellow activist Dawn Palmer attended with me.

We arrived about the same time but had problems finding good parking. I wound up parking three blocks away. As soon as I pulled into the parking spot and began looking for change to feed the meter I was assailed by a homeless person. I tried to ignore him but he was persistent enough to tap on my window. "I don't have any cash." I wasn't lying either. All I had was enough to pay the $16 to get into the event. He walked away. About ten seconds later along came another one. I just waved him away. Then another one. Geez Louise! I finally got out of the car, fed the meter and hobbled the three blocks on my broke foot to the Harbert Center.

Dawn and I got in and got situated. Two more attorney's joined us at our table and introduced themselves and asked who we were and what we did. I explained that I am a legalizer, run Court Watch, Alabamians for Compassionate Care and ran for Governor with the Libertarian Party in 2006. It turns out that both of these attorney's had recently quit their practice and are opening an addiction treatment center. I was glad to hear that. Alabama has a huge deficit in the number of treatment beds available in the state and zero funding dollars. It's really awful. Drug Court can only be as good as the treatment offered. This bullshit of herding people through it and making them pay the drug courts anywhere from $2500 to $4000, plus CRO fees, plus drug test fees, plus drug and alcohol class fees is nothing more than government sanctioned extortion that doesn't help anyone. Most drug courts in Alabama offer no wrap around services such as mental health counseling and medications for those who need them, no vocational rehab to help them get a job, no transportation to get to and from drug court, which makes it almost impossible for people to get there because the state takes your license when you plead guilty. It's basically all a big fucking extortion scam.

The panel was made up of Drug Court Judge Davis Lawley, who was appointed by Gov. Bob Riley to take the place of Judge Pete Johnson when he retired in 2007. Judge Lawley informed us that he was a the former head of a drug task force and used to be the door-kicker-inner on drug raids. What a swell, unbiased person to be appointed Judge of drug court, eh? The other panelist was Lt. James Chambliss head of the Narcotics Division in the Birmingham Police Dept. Rep. Cam Ward (R- Alabaster) was also supposed to be on the panel but was unable to make it due to being in session in the legislature. A note to the organizers of this event...if you truly want to have a discussion on whether drug courts are a good idea or not how about including a panelist who doesn't profit directly from the drug war and drug courts? That'd make it a tad more balanced.

Having no opposing panelist I decided to fill that role from my chair in the audience. Judge Lawley spoke first and he covered what drug court is, how he wants to 'help' people who are 'addicts' so they can pay in their social security like everybody else. I got the impression that he felt every human was born to be a slave to social security taxes and that was perfectly ok by him. He tried to talk about how the brain works in an addicted human and failed terribly. It was painfully obvious he had not a single clue as to the science of drug addiction. He was a cop and now he is a judge and he never went to medical school, so just how exactly is he qualified to talk about addiction? Sounded to Dawn and me like he was acknowledging that addiction is a medical condition and not a criminal justice one. Which begged the question of why is he a drug court judge. But that isn't what I asked.

Next up was Lt. James Chambliss head of the Birmingham Police Dept. Narcotics Division. He kept looking at me long before he and Judge Lawley took their seats at the head of the room. He looked incredibly familiar. I am almost certain I have seen him in the State House. He talked about how his department is currently engaged in a "Zero Tolerance" campaign which consists of pulling over anyone and everyone. He said "We pull people over for throwing a piece of paper out the window. We use every tool we can to make contact with as many 'subjects' as we can to try and see what they are doing." It gave me chills. He continued to ramble about nothing in particular for some time. Seriously, this guy made no sense and was not talking about the subject of the luncheon at all. He said he sees the same people over and over and over. He threw in a comment about the Titanic being built by professionals and Noah's Ark being built by amateurs...but then failed to connect it to anything relevant. It was most bizarre! I couldn't help but wonder how many times his incoherent, rambling testimony put some poor non-violent drug user in jail.

Both Judge Lawley and Lt. Chambliss harped on the dangers of opiates, cocaine and meth. Neither of them mentioned marijuana in their remarks. I found that rather encouraging....until question time arose.

The first question was, "Does drug court reduce the recidivism rate and if so by how much?"

Lt. Chambliss started rambling again about seeing the same people over and over. To me that was a clear indication that Lt. Chambliss didn't think it was working. He continued to ramble about how bad drugs are and a bunch of other crazy nonsense that had absolutely nothing to do with the question asked. It was obvious that he probably didn't know what a recidivism rate was and he was floundering pretty badly when Judge Lawley attempted to answer the question. He didn't do much better. I was really surprised that they did not come prepared with some government math stats that say drug court works. It's like they never expected that question to come up.

There were a couple other questions before they got to me. I don't remember what they were. When I was finally called on I asked Judge Lawley how much of his drug court case load was made up of simple possession for personal use marijuana cases. It seemed that question caught him off guard as well. He had to stop and think about it for a minute. Then he pulled the random number of 10 to 12 percent out of this air. Now it may actually be that percentage but he really didn't seem to sure of that number. I noted that 50% of all drug arrests in Alabama are for simple possession of marijuana and that his number seemed very low to me. I then asked him if he thought that using 10 to 12 percent of the very scarce resources available for drug court on non-violent marijuana offenders was a waste since marijuana is not addictive and doesn't have the same health risks as other harder drugs.

Judge Lawley: "Absolutely not. Marijuana makes people lazy and a-motivational."

Me: "Well, I hope the narcotics officer won't arrest me for saying so, but I have been smoking marijuana regularly since the age of 12. I am now 33, I run Court Watch, Alabamians for Compassionate Care, a blog, I ran for Governor of Alabama in 2006 with the Libertarian Party, am often in the media and I am here at your meeting today. Does that sound like someone who is lazy and a-motivational to you?"

Judge Lawley: "No but not everyone reacts the same way. Not everyone is you."

Me: "True, yet the net cast by law enforcement drags in everyone caught with drugs and does not differentiate responsible users from non-responsible users. Why doesn't drug court focus its resources on just the problem drug users?"

Judge Lawley: "Talk to Cam Ward...I don't make the laws."

Me: "I've been talking to Cam Ward for a few years now."

Lt. Chambliss: "I would like to address this question. Marijuana is a gateway drug. Every drug addict I have ever dealt with started with marijuana."

Me: "Marijuana is not a 'gateway drug'. That is just a theory. Every drug addict also drank milk at some point is milk a gateway drug? The connection between marijuana and harder drugs is that marijuana is simply the most prolific and widely available. What about tobacco and alcohol? Do you consider those gateway drugs as well?

Lt. Chambliss: "Them's legal."

Me: "Yes but I asked if you thought they were gateway drugs?"

Lt: Chambliss: "I believe tobacco a gateway drug."

Me: "But not alcohol?"

Lt. Chambliss: "No."

Me: "Both of you keep referring to 'drug related crime'. That is the wrong term. The correct term is prohibition related crime. It is exactly the same thing that we had when alcohol was outlawed in the 20's."

AT this point Lt. Chambliss became so irritated at me that he started asking me questions.

Lt Chambliss: "How many people you charged with narcotics?" (at least I think that is what he said)

Me: "None, I'm not a cop."

Lt.Chambliss: "How many narcotics raids you been on?"

Me: "None and I wouldn't ever go on one." bI almost said "Hey I'm asking the questions here" but figured that might push himover the edge and make him pull out his gun and shootme dead in my chair. Neither of those questions even made sense.

Judge Lawley: "I saw a study recently that showed marijuana caused 'paranoia'." (What he meant to say was schizophrenia).

The moderator jumped in at this point and cut off any further debate between the three of us. I was ready with this response had I been allowed to give it.

"I think you meant to say schizophrenia Judge. And regardless of what government study you read medical science tells us they have no idea what causes schizophrenia, that people are born with it and it is triggered at some point in their lives. Additionally, schizophrenics who use marijuana are using it to self-medicate. It doesn't cause the condition. If you truly meant that marijuana makes you paranoid I would offer up that it isn't marijuana that makes you paranoid....its the cops."

The next question was about arrest statistics. Lt. Chambliss pulled out some notes and left no doubt that cops and drug court judges are having no success in stemming the flow of drugs or stopping people from using them. He went back to about 2002 and read the amount of marijuana seized each year. Every year there was much more marijuana than the year before.

And then the fun was over because time was up. I'd like to be locked in a room with Lt. Chambliss for about an hour. Just me and him. He'd come out a changed man.

As we were leaving the lawyer who invited me came over and the first thing out of his mouth was, "I can't believe they would put that guy (Chambliss) in charge of anything. You couldn't make sense out of anything he was saying." I said, "Scary ain't it...and he carries a gun."

He also said that he was sitting by a Jefferson County Commissioner who was nodding his head in agreement with marijuana being a gateway drug. He said he told him that it isn't a gateway drug but that it is more widely available and easier to access than other drugs. The commissioner said, "That may be but the public isn't ready to hear that."

I had a marvelous time being a professional pain in the ass yesterday. It isn't often that I get to go head to head with a Narc and a drug court judge all in the same day. I was really surprised that some of the Federalist Society lawyers didn't ask about the Constitutionality of the drug war and the end run around the Constitution with the Interstate Commerce Clause. Really surprised.

Strangely, the question of whether drug court is a good idea was never answered. Judge Lawley, who makes around $140,000 a year, obviously thinks it is a good idea and Lt. Chambliss, although he hinted that it wasn't working, profits from the fact that it isn't working so he don't give a damn about whether it is a good idea or not. He'll still make blood money off the damn drug war anyway.

My friend who extended the invite also attended our Compassionate Care meeting last night and signed up. He also told me that he has a friend who used to be a drug task force officer and has since joined LEAP and is now against it. I made him promise to hook me up with that gem. I'd really like to get LEAP down here in the same room with Lt. Chambliss and Judge Lawley and any other law enforcement officers, DA's, defense attorneys and judges who are interested to attend.

Later today I am going to talk to my friends at LEAP and see what it would cost to get them down here and start raising funds to make that happen. I'll make a separate post about that and ask you dear readers to contribute to that most noble cause.

Peace Out
Loretta Nall

Cross Posted at Alabama Court Watch

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