After today, you won’t be able to quickly depreciate your racehorse, your motorcycle-racing track or your movie-production expenses on your tax return. The first $4,000 of your college tuition will no longer be deductible.
Lawmakers swore last year they were burying Congress’s decades-old tradition of constantly rolling over a batch of temporary tax breaks. There was nevertheless skepticism because, well, this is Congress.
But now — with a comprehensive overhaul of the tax code looming as a possibility for 2017, dozens of breaks are set to expire Saturday with surprisingly little controversy.
Here are some of the tax breaks we may never see again:
THE NASCAR BREAK: Businesses are allowed to deduct the cost of their investments, though only over a number of years and according to complicated “depreciation” schedules. They’re always looking to speed up those deductions, and this provision allows NASCAR and others who operate car, motorcycle and truck racing facilities to write off their investments over seven years, which is more than twice as fast as they’d otherwise. This provision has been on the books since 2004, and it’s been mocked nearly as long as little more than an earmark for the Dale Earnhardt Jr. set. This year, it’s projected to cost $20 million. The racing industry has long argued it’s important to local economies. If there’s something to salve their concern over losing the break, it’s that they’d get even better depreciation rules under House Republicans’ tax-reform plans. They want to allow to junk those complicated depreciation schedules altogether, and allow businesses to immediately write off the cost of their investments.
BEWARE FIRST-TIME HOMEBUYERS: As part of its response to the recent housing crisis, lawmakers allowed homeowners to deduce the cost of mortgage-insurance premiums, just like they do with mortgage interest. Created in 2006, it was intended to help prop up the housing market by making it cheaper to buy a home. It’s been renewed ever since, claimed on 4.2 million tax returns in 2014, IRS data shows, with an average savings of $1,400. Home builders, realtors and mortgage bankers had urged lawmakers to extend the break, arguing it’s important to first-time homebuyers who are forced to buy mortgage insurance when they can’t afford a 20 percent downpayment on a home. This year the break is projected to cost $1.3 billion.
THE TAX BREAK FOR HOLLYWOOD: Lawmakers have long offered a special break for movie and television productions, allowing them to immediately deduct the first $15 million in expenses ($20 million if they’re produced in certain low-income areas). Though the break has been criticized as frivolous, Congress expanded it in recent years, at the urging of Sen. Chuck Schumer, to benefit theatrical plays as well (think: Broadway). It’s projected to cost $351 million this year.
MEDICAL EXPENSES: As part of the Affordable Care Act, Democrats made it harder to claim a deduction for big medical expenses. They raised the threshold at which people could begin claiming the break to when those bills amounted to 10 percent of their adjusted gross income, up from what had been 7.5 percent, a move that helped pay for the health care law. But they included a temporary carve out for seniors, granting those at least 65 years old the lower 7.5 percent threshold through 2016. In September, House Republicans voted to repeal the whole thing, so that everyone would be subject to the old 7.5 percent standard. But the bill died in the Senate, and lawmakers did not make a serious effort to extend this expiring provision.
HEY, LOOK SIMPLIFICATION!: The government offers 14 different tax breaks for higher-education expenses, and critics have long complained the provisions are duplicative and confusing. Lawmakers say they want to clean up this corner of the code, though they’ve never quite gotten around to it. But they’ll achieve a small measure of simplification by allowing a temporary $4,000 deduction for tuition expenses to expire. First offered as part of George W. Bush’s 2001 tax cuts, it was originally slated to die at the end of 2005, though it’s been renewed ever since. It’s hardly the biggest education tax break out there — at a cost this year of $400 million, it’s a fraction of the size of President Barack Obama’s signature American Opportunity Tax Credit (projected cost this year: $21 billion). But the tuition deduction was nevertheless claimed on 1.7 million returns in 2014.
THE RACEHORSE SPECIAL: Yet another depreciation tax break, this time for race horse owners. Backed by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, whose state is home to the Kentucky Derby, it allows them to deduct the cost of the animals over three years, rather than as long as seven years they’d otherwise have to wait. First added to the code in 2008, it’s projected to cost this year $22 million.
Have you had this happen to you? The topic of racism comes up in casual conversation. Some white person defensively says that he has black friends. He is immediately (and implausibly) denounced. The thinking is that the claim that “some of my best friends are black” is an old canard to cover up…racism. The accused stands there humiliated, stripped bare, seeming to have affirmed his own evil with the invocation of a simple and common-sense point.
The claim that having black friends is a lame excuse – and even evidence of racism – came up in MTV’s recent video: White Guy Resolutions 2017. The video was taken down following the claim it itself was racist. Among the statements in the video: “just because you have black friends doesn’t mean you’re not racist.”
How Racist Ideology Break Down
Cross-racial and cross-cultural friendship is the best antidote to tribalism, bigotry, and racialist ideology.It’s technically true of course. You can be a white racist and have black friends. However, it’s harder. The ideology of racism – the view that some races are less deserving of dignity and human rights than others – is more difficult to maintain in light of friendship. It strikes me as counterproductive and even destructive to put down friendship as a path toward universal human understanding.
Cross-racial and cross-cultural friendship is the best antidote to tribalism, bigotry, and racialist ideology. Friendship generates empathy and connection, and builds networks of harmony that overcome bias and conflict. Friendship is brilliant at breaking down barriers in language, race, sexual orientation, religion, physical ability, and gender.
I can recall sitting with some black friends (ok, yes, I have some black friends, so I’m implicated, I suppose) who were talking about how annoying movies can be about race. Some awesome black character gets introduced, but halfway through the movie, he is killed off. They all agreed that this is a pattern you see in movies.
Bias You Never Noticed
Frankly, I had never noticed this pattern before. After I was present for an open and light discussion of it, I began to notice it too, which is to say that my perception broadened. No, this did not turn me into a “social justice warrior” who rails against a racist Hollywood, but it did help me understand a bit more and caused me to hope for better storylines in movies.
It’s the same with police bias. When you hear black friends talk about what they face – and it’s the friendship aspect that gives their voices credibility – you hear harrowing stories of unrelenting suspicion and harassment. True, the police can be terrible to everyone (I dread few things more than the flashing blue lights in my rear-view window). But hearing evidence that it is worse for some than others helps you understand the extra sense of alienation that many feel from public institutions. That’s surely a good thing to know.
The more diverse friendship networks we cultivate, the less we think in categories of “us vs. them.” And this is not just about race. Having a friend with a severe disability is a wonderful, consciousness raising experience. When we see how difficult it can be to get around, even accomplish small tasks like going to the bathroom in a restaurant, your sympathy for them and respect for their lives grows. That only comes about through friendship. We should all value that. We need that.
The more diverse friendship networks we cultivate, the less we think in categories of “us vs them.” We come to realize that “we” are different from “them.” Rather, all of us as individuals, are different from everyone else, which is to say we are all unique. At the same time, all of us are struggling with similar problems based on common features of the human mind. This struggle is easier when we do it in relation to others, in peaceful cooperation. That realization is crucial to fostering a liberal worldview.
In contrast, putting down friendship accomplishes nothing; in fact, it is destructive because it spreads unhinged guilt that leads to anger and resentment. The left is actively doing harm by putting down the capacity of friendship to build a more peaceful and just society.
Friendship and Trade
This is one reason I value markets. They specialize in bringing people together in friendship, even through brief commercial encounters. Just a few weeks ago, I was in an Italian restaurant, but my waiter didn’t seem Italian, so I asked where he is from (whoops, another no-no, according to the PC police). He said he immigrated from Iraq. That immediately opened up a discussion about his country and all that it has been through. I learned so much from that encounter, much more than I could by reading a Wikipedia entry. It was a brief friendship but a highly valuable one.
The commercial marketplace specializes in bringing people together who might not otherwise ever meet. And this is a fantastic way to break down prejudice and tribalist thinking.
Friendship Improves Your Worldview
Think of the brilliant case of Derek Black, the son of the founder of a Nazi website who was raised in a white-supremacist household. It was his whole worldview. When he went to college, he was outed and ostracized. Everyone treated him like vermin. It got so bad that he had to move off campus. His next-door neighbor was Jewish, and befriended him.
After long conversations, video game evenings, and just hanging out, Derek’s views began to change. Everything he thought about the world began to fall apart. Eventually, Derek repudiated the ideology of hate in which he was raised, and became a happy person with a humane outlook on others.
People who feel undervalued as individuals wrongly believe that this can be corrected by group identity.Friendship did this! I can’t imagine that it was easy for the Jewish guy to do this, to take on a quasi-Nazi as a bestie, but it was a brilliant and loving act. It accomplished so much more than ostracism, shaming, and meeting hate with hate.
This captures the whole essence of what gives rise to all kinds of non-empathetic and tribalist ideologies. People who feel undervalued as individuals wrongly believe that this can be corrected by group identity. Becoming friends with people as individuals, showing them that they are valued as individuals, especially by people they have otherwise demonized, can unravel threads of belief that make up the tribalist mind.
Better than Force
What, precisely, is the alternative to friendship as a means of making the world a more peaceful and harmonious place for everyone? Shutting people out accomplishes nothing. Perhaps the people who put down friendship think that forcing people to associate does the trick.
Friendship should never be cited as evidence of a problem; it is the means by which we build a more humane and freer world.That’s not the case. We’ve been through plenty of that for decades, and this only breeds seething resentment that ends in political and personal backlash. This is the path of politics, which is often the real point that people who put down friendship are trying to make: they claim we need change that only the state brings. But politics doesn’t change the human heart; it only introduces force in ways that harm our ability to learn from and cooperate with each other.
Friendship, even the seemingly superficial sort that you get on Facebook, leads to empathy, appreciation of the value of others, and even that most precious thing: love. I like what Albert Camus said: “Don’t walk behind me; I may not lead. Don’t walk in front of me; I may not follow. Just walk beside me and be my friend.”
If you like that one, you can read hundreds of other quotes on friendship here. If you put down friendship, you are playing a dangerous game. Friendship should never be cited as evidence of a problem; it is the means by which we build a more humane and freer world.
Jeffrey Tucker is Director of Content for the Foundation for Economic Education. He is also Chief Liberty Officer and founder of Liberty.me, Distinguished Honorary Member of Mises Brazil, research fellow at the Acton Institute, policy adviser of the Heartland Institute, founder of the CryptoCurrency Conference, member of the editorial board of the Molinari Review, an advisor to the blockchain application builder Factom, and author of five books. He has written 150 introductions to books and many thousands of articles appearing in the scholarly and popular press.
A first-of-its-kind research program by a St. Francis Hospital and Medical Center team to gauge the effectiveness of medical marijuana as a painkiller for traumatic injuries such as broken ribs has been approved by the state.
Hospital and state officials said Friday the program’s goal is to develop medical marijuana as a safer alternative to the highly addictive painkillers that have led to a deadly opioid epidemic in Connecticut and across the nation.
State Consumer Protection Commissioner Jonathan Harris said this is the first research program of its kind in the U.S.
“Medical marijuana is nonaddictive, it’s almost impossible to overdose on it, and it has very mild side effects,” said Dr. James M. Feeney, director of trauma services at St. Francis and the head of the new research effort.
“If we can stop prescribing opiates [as painkillers]… we can stop the whole cycle of abuse,” Feeney said.
Dr. John F. Rodis, president of St. Francis Hospital, said the “opioid epidemic is devastating families and towns across the country. We need to find alternate methods to effectively and safely treat illnesses and diseases that can save lives and not ruin them.”
The U.S. Senate last week overwhelmingly approved $1 billion over two years to combat opioid abuse and addiction. Misuse of opioids such as codeine, oxycodone and hydrocodone has resulted in the deaths of hundreds of people in Connecticut in recent years and thousands in the U.S.
Legislation allowing research into potential new uses of medical cannabis was signed into law by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy in May and took effect on Oct. 1.
The project proposed by St. Francis is the first to be approved by the Department of Consumer Protection under the new law.
Harris said the state’s medical marijuana program has been a remarkable success and that nearly 600 physicians have registered for the ability to prescribe the drug and that more than 14,800 patients can now legally get and use medical marijuana.
The initial phase of the St. Francis research is expected to take about eight months and involve 60 patients with rib injuries. Patients who would normally be prescribed opiate painkillers for six to eight weeks will be chosen for the study. Feeney said heroin addicts and habitual marijuana users will be excluded from the program.
The $30,000 to $50,000 estimated cost of the initial research phase is being covered by the hospital and the doctors involved, according to Feeney. Additional research will be needed in the form of a randomized control trial that would involve about 310 patients, Feeney said, and that could take approximately 18 months.
Although this is the first research program of its type in the U.S., Feeney said similar studies have been done in other countries that indicate marijuana can be used as a substitute painkiller with success.
Neither Harris nor Feeney said they could predict how long it would take before medical cannabis could be in widespread use as a substitute for traditional opiate painkillers. According to Feeney, both national and state laws would need to be reformed before that could happen.
Feeney said the results of the St. Francis study could be used to support such reforms.
Harris pointed to the 25 states that have medical marijuana programs as evidence that “reflects a change in people’s attitudes” about the drug.
Connecticut authorizes patients suffering from 22 serious medical conditions to qualify for medical marijuana prescriptions. The new law that took effect in October lists six major conditions that would allow marijuana to be prescribed for people under age 18.
Feeney and Rodis said research into expanding the use of cannabis as a medical painkiller is long overdue.
“Unfortunately, we are the first state to allow research into medical marijuana,” Feeney said. Rodis agreed, saying, “It’s kind of sad that it’s so late in coming.”
For the past year, President-elect Donald Trump campaigned on “law and order,” stating at the Republican National Convention that under a Trump presidency, “safety would be restored.” His administration, with Sen. Jeff Sessions as attorney general, is likely to be unfriendly on criminal justice. However, Trump and his ilk are outliers. There is strong trans-partisan agreement, among politicians, law enforcement, advocates and researchers that there are simply too many people in prison.
Crime exploded in the 1980s and 90s. Officials responded with harsh sentencing laws that had little impact and ironically may have made things worse. Now that crime is down, we need to change our approach. Instead of doubling down on the failed draconian policies of the past, based on vengeance, we have an opportunity to rethink how America punishes people who break the law and ground those decisions in what we know works.
With 2.2 million people in prison, mass incarceration is the greatest moral and racial injustice of our time. We need bold solutions to solve this crisis, but few systemic solutions exist.
For the past three years, we led a team of criminologists, lawyers, and statistical researchers to analyze criminal codes, convictions, and sentences to help pave a way forward. This week, we released our findings in a new report, How Many Americans Are Unnecessarily Incarcerated?
We found that approximately 39% of the nationwide prison population (576,000 people) is behind bars with little public safety rationale. And they can be released, significantly and safely cutting our prison population.
How did we get to this number? First, many people who are in prison shouldn’t have been sent there in the first place. For example, we found that 25% of prisoners (364,000 people), almost all non-violent, lower-level offenders, would be better served by alternatives to incarceration such as treatment, community service, or probation. Second, another 14% (212,000 prisoners) have already served long sentences for more serious crimes and can be safely set free.
Releasing these inmates would save $20 billion annually, enough to employ 270,000 new police officers, 360,000 probation officers, or 327,000 school teachers.
Republicans and Democrats agree that America’s experiment in mass incarceration has failed. Our research-driven recommendations aim to help rethink sentencing to make our justice system better by decreasing crime and recidivism, reducing the disproportionate impact on communities of color, and preserving the hard-won declines in crime over the last 20 years.
How We Got Here
There was a period in America where crime dominated the headlines. In 1968, Republican presidential candidate Richard Nixon ran a campaign commercial where a series of still photos of angry protesters and burning buildings appeared over a soundtrack of a snare drum and dissonant piano chords. “Let us recognize that the first civil right of every American is to be free from domestic violence,” Nixon intoned. “So I pledge to you, we shall have order in the United States.” To a large extent, what average Americans saw on their television screens squared with their own experiences. From 1960 to 1980, violent crime soared 270%, peaking at 758 violent offenses per 100,000 people in 1991. African American and Latino communities bore the brunt of this crime rise. By the late 1970s, people of color were crime victims at a rate 24% higher than white Americans.
States and the federal government responded by enacting a series of laws that dramatically lengthened sentences for many crimes, and also created entirely new ones. Increased policing of lower-level offenses and drug violations swept more individuals into the system. Punitive policies such as mandatory minimum sentencing, the abolishment of parole, and a slew of new criminal laws caused the prison population to explode.
The nation experienced a prison boom. Average lengths of time behind bars increased by 33% in state prisons between 1993 and 2009, and doubled in the federal system.
As America became the world’s number one jailer, crime plummeted dramatically. Today, the overall crime rate is half of what it was at its peak in 1991. Violent crime is about where it was in 1970. Property crime is at 1967 levels.
Many may assume that this decrease in crime was caused by the increase in incarceration. But research shows incarceration had a limited impact on the massive drop in crime.
“When the incarceration rate is high, the marginal crime reduction gains from further increases tend to be lower, because the offender on the margin between incarceration and an alternative sanction tends to be less serious,” according to the Brookings Institute’s Hamilton Project. “In other words, the crime fighting benefits of incarceration diminish with the scale of the prison population.” A 2015 Brennan Center study came to the same conclusion.
Although there is some relationship between increased incarceration and lower crime, at a certain point, locking up additional people is not an effective crime control method, especially when imprisoning one person costs $31,000 a year.
Building on State Successes
The current sentencing regime was largely a knee-jerk reaction to crime, not grounded in any scientific rationale. While it may have seemed like a reasonable approach to protect the public, a comprehensive examination of the data proves it is ineffective at that task. Worse yet, it is also inequitable, placing a disproportionate burden on communities of color. Whether viewed through a lens of justice, fairness, public safety, cost, or victims’ rights, the U.S. prison system unnecessarily warehouses millions of people.
There are some state models for success. Over the last decade, a majority of states reduced their prison populations while cutting crime. From 1999 to 2012, New Jersey and New York reduced their prison populations by about 30%, while crime fell faster than it did nationally. Texas decreased imprisonment and crime by more than 20% during the same period. California cut its prison population by 27%, and violence in the state also fell more than the national average. These state reforms are excellent steps in the right direction. They provided modest fixes and short term relief. Although these reforms are heartening, we need more wholesale systemic changes to strike a blow to mass incarceration.
A problem of such epic proportions needs a bold solution.
Who’s Unnecessarily Behind Bars
Our team discovered these 576,000 people by rethinking who really needs to be behind bars and whether an alternative to prison could be a more effective sentence. Our current sentencing regime is largely based on outdated ideas about what is necessary to keep the nation safe, which we know don’t work.
Public safety should be the number one reason we incarcerate. But penalties should be the most effective, proportional, and cost-efficient sanction to achieve that goal. This would create more uniform sentences and reduce disparities, while preserving judicial discretion when needed.
To arrive at our findings, we considered four major factors.
The first factor is seriousness. Murder, for instance, should be treated as a far graver crime than writing a bad check. The second is victim impact. If a person has been harmed in the commission of a crime, especially physically, the punishment should weigh toward a more serious sentence. The third factor is intent. If a person knowingly and deliberately violated the law, a more severe sanction may be appropriate. The fourth factor is recidivism. Those more likely to reoffend may need more intervention.
We first applied this analysis to people convicted of lower-level offenses. We found that for an estimated 364,000 lower-level offenders (25% of the nationwide prison population), alternatives to prison are likely more effective.
We then applied these factors to prisoners who were serving serious crimes. They may warrant prison, but do they really need such lengthy sentences?
Research shows long sentences aren’t very effective. A 2007 National Bureau of Economic Research study found that prison stays longer than 20 months had “close to no effect” on reducing commission of certain crimes upon release. Other studies show prison often has a “criminogenic” effect, meaning that imprisonment can actually lead people to commit more crimes after release.
With that in mind, we took the 58% of prisoners serving time for six major crimes — aggravated assault, murder, nonviolent weapons crimes, robbery, serious burglary, and serious drug trafficking — and tested several methods for cutting sentences, ultimately landing on a 25% reduction. This approach would ensure that sanctions for serious crimes involve significant prison time, but that the sentences are better calibrated to deter recidivism and protect public safety.
This approach would shave a little over a year from prison sentences for these crimes. Applied retroactively, it means 212,000 prisoners (14% of the total prison population) have already served sufficiently long prison terms and could be released within the next year with little risk to public safety.
Rethinking Sentencing in America
Our findings are not isolated. A prominent coalition comprised of groups such as the ACLU, Beyond the Dream, #Cut50, Ella Baker Center, #FreeAmerica, and JustLeadershipUSA is calling for the prison population to be cut by 50%. Other criminologists have recommended we go back to the sentencing regime of the 1970s and 1990s, which would require us to cut average prison stays by almost 40%.
Our recommendations are more conservative and err on the side of public safety. We recommend that state legislatures and Congress make two major changes to sentencing laws: (1) eliminate prison for lower-level crimes altogether, barring exceptional circumstances; (2) and reduce current sentence lengths to be more proportional to the crimes committed, starting with considering a 25% cut to the six crimes we tested. We also recommend that they allow current prisoners to petition for application of these news laws, and that prosecutors use their discretion to seek sentences in line with this report.
Judges should have discretion to depart from these guidelines in special circumstances. And, we can’t simply swing open the prison doors — prisoners need proper support upon reentry into society to ensure they get back on their feet and do not recidivate.
Sentences should be based on what works to prevent crime, not vengeance. On social science research, not conjecture from 30 years ago on what we mistakenly assumed worked. And sentences should be proportional to the crime committed.
Donald Trump campaigned on a message that Washington is broken. Our bloated, wasteful, ineffective, and unnecessarily harsh criminal justice system is a prime example of that. Republicans like House Speaker Paul Ryan, Senators Mike Lee and John Cornyn, and even Vice President-elect Mike Pence and Newt Gingrich have strongly backed criminal justice reform. In fact, many efforts in the states were championed by conservative lawmakers.
Republicans should not walk away from the cause now that Trump is in the White House. Their voices will be crucial in explaining to the next administration why America’s experiment in mass incarceration has failed, and needs to be fixed. Not only does using prison as a one size fits all punishment for crime devastate families and communities, but many of today’s overly punitive prison sentences produce little public safety benefits.
Our findings and recommendations are intended to offer a practical and effective approach to end mass incarceration while preserving public safety. Our goal with this report is to jump-start a conversation about how the United States can implement specific reforms that are audacious enough to truly end mass incarceration.
The audience sitting in the gymnasium bleachers is charged with excitement as the graduation speaker approaches the podium. Student artwork hangs on the cinder block walls nearby, along with handwritten signs that declare “The harder I work, the luckier I get” and “Failing to prepare is preparing to fail.”
The graduating class of 86 men is dressed in two-piece khaki scrubs branded with DOC on the back. They are detainees inside the Cook County Jail and all have a serious mental illness.
There are no family members here to celebrate with them, just Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart and warden Nneka Jones Tapia, who sit in the first row with guards and mental health professionals behind them.
The speaker, a man with a shaved head and tattoos on his arms and face, speaks of his father’s death, his mother’s drug use and his anger, gang involvement, depression, addiction and, most importantly, his transformation since starting a photography class at the jail’s 2-year-old Mental Health Transition Center.
“It’s time for me to let go of the fake me and embrace the real me,” the speaker says. “Thank you, Sheriff Dart. You are our gatekeeper.”
Everybody in the gym stands, clapping and hooting.
CARE AND TREATMENT
The ceremony celebrating completion of photography and drumming classes illustrates how Dart is trying to bring programs and treatment to low-level offenders with mental health issues—an approach that is catching on throughout the country. Dart’s goal is to help move them out of the criminal justice system and into treatment through a wide-ranging spectrum of programs. A handful of counties are adopting a similar holistic approach. “We are putting sick people in jail,” Dart says. “Would we do that with another disease? We are criminalizing mental illness instead of treating it.”
In 1976, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Estelle v. Gamble that prisons are constitutionally required to provide adequate medical care to inmates. That makes detainees the only group of Americans with a right to health care, and that includes mental health care. In recent years, moves by Dart and others who run jails have worked to support that right.
In his 10-year tenure, Dart has made unconventional moves, including hiring Tapia as warden, the first clinical psychologist to serve as executive director of a major U.S. jail. “What she brings to it is another skill set,” Dart says. “It is a nuanced way that she has added additional emphasis on [mental health]. I have an additional person who completely gets it.”
“He’s the type of guy that gets ideas when he is brushing his teeth,” Tapia says of Dart.
Those ideas include crisis intervention training for sheriff’s department officers and 911 dispatchers, increasing the use of electronic monitoring for low-level offenders, especially those with mental illness, and diverting arrestees with behavioral health issues from jails or emergency rooms. He also wants to create daily programs for low-level offenders, such as group therapy, individual counseling, job training and art therapy like cooking, drumming, gardening and photography.
Despite the good intentions of these programs, Cook County Jail still is an institution steeped in problems. In 2008, the U.S. Department of Justice cited the jail for violating inmates’ constitutional rights, including excessive use of force by staff, inadequate fire safety and sanitation, failure to protect inmates from harming one another, and inadequate medical and mental health care. The jail remains under federal watch.
The jail is one of America’s largest pretrial detention centers where those arrested and unable to make bail remain, presumed innocent, until their cases are adjudicated. About 2,200 of the 8,800 detainees have a mental health diagnosis, prompting many to call it America’s largest mental health institution. By comparison, Bellevue Hospital Center in New York City is considered the nation’s largest mental health hospital with 330 psychiatric beds.
Overcrowded jails housing mentally ill people are not unique to Chicago. Across the nation, about 383,000 inmates with serious mental illness sit in jails and state prisons. That’s 10 times as many people as in state hospitals, according to the nonprofit Treatment Advocacy Center. “It is an omnipresent tragedy that there is an overrepresentation of people with mental illness in jails,” says Dr. Fred Osher, the Charleston, South Carolina-based director of health systems and services policy at the Council of State Governments Justice Center. Many who have been arrested do not receive regular psychiatric care or counseling on the outside, often because of a lack of adequate insurance.
“Their violating the law often is linked to their mental health issues. That’s different from people who are making bad choices,” says attorney Jennifer Vollen-Katz of the John Howard Association of Illinois, a Chicago-based nonprofit devoted to prison reform. “If we are more mindful of that, we might get closer to getting people into the right systems where we address their needs.”
THE SHERIFF’S CRUSADE
With graying hair and rimless eyeglasses, Dart looks more like an English professor than a sheriff. He wears beige chinos and a blue checked shirt, his holster and gun visible on his back, and his sheriff’s badge on his belt. A flip phone hides in his pocket, and several colorful, braided-yarn bracelets made by his five children rest on his wrists.
Despite his law enforcement responsibilities and his crusade to improve mental health treatment, the 54-year-old sheriff does not have a background in mental health, medicine or even police work. (He has, however, received the same firearms training as law enforcement.) The Chicago native is a Jesuit-educated, voluntarily inactive lawyer who served in the state legislature before being elected sheriff and focusing on mental health. It has been an issue as long as he has been sheriff, Dart says. “But it’s only been the last two or three years that the world has woken up to it.”
Although he is not the only one taking this approach, Dart has perhaps been the loudest American sheriff on the issue of mental health, writing op-eds in the Chicago Tribune and Wall Street Journal. “The voice that [Dart] has given—that this is a major crisis, that it is a tragedy on our hands—is huge,” says Gilbert Gonzales, director of the Bexar County Mental Health Department in San Antonio.
“If I am going to be in charge of all these ill people, then I have to treat them like patients,” Dart says.
At 9:30 on a Monday morning, a slight, 20-year-old man stands at a counter. Charged with possession of a firearm and cannabis, he’s deep inside the main building of the Cook County Jail, an 87-year-old, 4 million-square-foot compound. Intake sits in the labyrinth of deliberately unmarked tunnels connecting the complex of buildings that cover 96 acres. There’s no natural light here, making it dark despite the white walls inside the pens. Down the hall, two men with profound mental illness sit in solitary cells behind metal fencing, each shouting at their florid hallucinations.
Maggie Bojko stands on the opposite side of the counter. A behavioral health specialist with the sheriff’s office, she has a conversation with the man as part of a mandatory mental health screening for all new arrestees. She asks why he carries a gun. “For protection. This is Chicago.”
“You been here before?” Her voice is kind and warm.
“No. This is my first time.” He swallows hard, looking wide-eyed and boyish.
“Do you have mental health issues? Depression? Bipolar?” she asks.
“I am not bipolar, but I am schizophrenic.” He pauses, timidly. “A little bit.”
They talk about counseling and medication—he has neither. His mother is his only family support. Bojko hands him a hot-pink card with numbers for suicide hotlines and 24-hour social service agencies. This move—the first of many offerings of help for mental illness—plants the seeds for the support he’ll need when he gets out.
The man says thank you and swallows hard again, then walks away, waiting for the sandwich he’ll receive before seeing the pretrial judge that afternoon.
“Historically, this is a population we couldn’t even get near, couldn’t get to interact with because they went right to court,” says Elli Montgomery, Cook County director of mental health advocacy and policy. “The sheriff is making sure we will offer support to help with basic needs—housing, medical, job training, rides and religious services.”
Though Cook County has a 12-year-old mental health court, a minute percentage of people with mental health issues go there, says Cara Smith, Cook County’s chief strategy officer. The reason is that getting into mental health court requires defendants to plead guilty and be willing to go into treatment, and they cannot be charged with a violent crime, among other restrictions. “With the restrictions, it doesn’t seem to help the people who need it most,” Smith says.
The U.S. has never had a national mental-health system. That responsibility falls on the states, which 100 years ago funded the first asylums and mental health hospitals. In the 1960s, deinstitutionalization became a buzzword as the facilities faced political and financial pressure to close. Patients were released from state institutions with plans for community treatment in smaller centers. It sounded ideal, but community services never kept up with demand. Many people ended up on the streets, unable to receive public services for treatment or afford private care.
Fifty years later, resources remain scarce and continue to dry up. To this day, when communities suffer hard times, mental health funding usually falls victim to cuts. From 2009 to 2012, state funding for mental health dropped by $1.6 billion—$187 million in Illinois alone, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
So jails often become de facto mental health service providers, forcing administrators to figure out how to handle the situation. Dart admits he has no master vision for the jail’s mental health program. “I truly am making it up every day. I can’t wait for a grand plan here,” he says. “Grand-plan thinking is what is killing us. It’s paralysis. I just start doing it.”
Dart gets what he wants. He can reallocate resources toward supporting mental health issues without requiring approval for line-item changes in his budget. “I really have to answer to no one but the voters,” he says.
Cook County encompasses the politically charged city of Chicago, where Mayor Rahm Emanuel has shuttered half of the mental health clinics in recent years. (If Dart, a Democrat, throws his hat into the mayoral race, Emanuel will likely be his foe in a town where the primary often determines the election.) Cook County itself sits within the financially troubled state of Illinois, which operated without a budget for more than a year, choking off funding for many agencies. As a result, services for those with mental illness from the city and state are vanishing.
“Our state can’t even come up with a budget,” says Cook County Commissioner Richard Boykin. “It’s done irreparable harm at the social services level. Several providers have closed their doors or laid off workers. People shouldn’t have to be incarcerated to get services.”
Faced with little support from state governments, the holistic mindset of Dart and a few others is a slow, yet growing movement around the country. In August, the American Bar Association passed revisions to the 10-part Criminal Justice Mental Health Standards, originally written in 1984, that recognize the need to change with the times. The new standards reflect changes in the law and best practices, ranging from the roles defense attorneys, prosecutors and judges play in cases involving people with mental illness to the addition of specialized courts and the need for service networks for defendants.
“The document recommends education for all stakeholders in the field and aims to change the system,” says Associate Administrative Judge Steve Leifman of the 11th Judicial Circuit of Florida in Miami-Dade County, who sits on the ABA committee that revised the standards.
Meanwhile, a collaboration among the National Association of Counties, the Council of State Governments Justice Center and the American Psychiatric Foundations aims to share those lessons with others working to move in the same direction. This is happening through the Stepping Up Initiative, a year-old group that encourages counties to work with state and local agencies and others to develop a new way of handling mentally ill detainees. At press time, 308 counties had passed resolutions supporting the group’s efforts.
However, even though counties have common goals and face similarly tight financial constraints, each county must negotiate specific political priorities in its multipronged approaches. “No one county has the special sauce yet,” says Osher, a leader at Stepping Up. “Everyone does things a little different and has to find their own way.”
To develop programs that address specific local needs, county officials must look at a variety of numbers—arrests, locations, available services and more. “We are spending a good amount of time and energy analyzing data. It really opens up your eyes,” Dart says. For example, Cook County used data to map out areas where law enforcement officers go most frequently to handle mental health cases. “Then, we layer over that services available,” Dart says, “so we can get more critical analysis of where services should be.”
Data also helped the county see the stumbling blocks, such as fees for expunging or sealing arrest records. According to the sheriff’s office, 17 percent of the more than 70,000 people who enter Cook County Jail every year get released as a result of having their cases dropped or being found not guilty. “Many of the people arrested have mental health issues and they are poor people. We need people to have jobs, and a mark on their record can be a roadblock,” Dart says.
He pushed for Illinois House Bill 6238, which creates a pilot program in Cook County to remove the $120 fee for expungement and sealing arrest records. The bill also opens up who can qualify to have their name cleared. It was signed by Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner in August.
TEXAS HOLD ’EM
Data analysis also led to changes in Texas.
Gonzales, the mental health director in Bexar County says that in the early 2000s, “the get-tough-on-crime laws and the lock-’em-up mentality that arrested everyone with a drug issue and even a small amount of marijuana filled San Antonio’s jails and emergency rooms beyond capacity.”
Desperate for solutions, county officials examined the data—from the number of homeless to police response time and the cost of processing detainees through the system. They found that the jails, hospitals, courts, police and mental health department often dealt with the same people—those with mental illness.
If various agencies could coordinate efforts, the county would save money. And if people with mental health or alcohol issues could be diverted out of jails and ERs and into specialized treatment, they’d be better off—and potentially more productive citizens. To that end, Gonzales helped bring together a multidisciplinary consortium of more than 60 community stakeholders.
“Getting buy-in can be incredibly frustrating, to put it mildly,” says Gonzales, who has led the communitywide jail diversion services. “But we rely on data. We can show how a difference is being made. We can show cost-benefit ratios that make sense. And it’s hard to argue with something that’s working.”
With $6 million in state funds, the county built the publicly funded Roberto L. Jimenez MD Restoration Center, offering services to stabilize people with mental illness—including a 48-hour inpatient psychiatric unit, an outpatient unit, a detox center and sobering services. The center sits across railroad tracks from the publicly and privately funded Haven for Hope, a rehabilitation campus and low-barrier homeless camp.
Now, police screen those they arrest for nonviolent, minor-offense mental health issues, the first of four levels of screenings. If any red flags are raised, such as previous suicide attempts or self-inflicted injuries, arrestees are brought to the restoration center for treatment instead of being taken to jail, says Gonzales, also a clinical psychologist. Those who are indigent immediately also are assigned a public defender and a licensed mental health counselor.
The once-overcrowded jail now has empty beds, and the streets of San Antonio have fewer homeless people, Gonzales says.
Substantial savings come from getting police back on the streets within minutes, instead of hours after an arrest, Gonzales notes. The process of intake at the center frees up officer time. In Bexar County, it costs $2,295 for booking and placing an arrestee in jail. “If the officer can take the individual who is charged with a misdemeanor and bring them to treatment, the cost is about $350 and they are less likely to return to jail,” Gonzales says.
As the number of detainees dropped and the loads of police, judges and hospital emergency rooms lightened, the county has saved an estimated $10 million annually, he adds.
Critics worry, however, that treatment is not enough, and that some with more serious mental illness might return to a life of more serious crime once released. And they point out that these systems demand a considerable investment up front to build the facilities and infrastructure. Moreover, treating people with mental illness is not cheap. In Bexar County’s mental health treatment center, for instance, it costs $143 per day per person for treatment and medication.
But it’s a worthy investment if it keeps the detainees from coming back, Gonzales says, and ultimately that puts money back into the community and out of the criminal justice system. “We have a solution to this problem,” he adds. “It’s called treatment.”
Data-based thinking helped Miami-Dade develop its Eleventh Judicial Circuit Criminal Mental Health Project in 2000. The wide-ranging program coordinates dozens of community stakeholders. For instance, all 4,700 officers from the county and its 36 local police departments receive mental health crisis-intervention training.
Data from 2010 to 2015 collected by Miami and Miami-Dade officers show those two agencies handled 60,427 mental health calls, yet made only 119 arrests, says Miami-Dade judge Leifman, who spearheads the program. “We were actually able to close one of the local jails,” he says. “This enabled the county to save $12 million and we are investing some of that money into other programs. Rarely is there cost savings, just shifting.”
Another of Miami-Dade’s reforms includes working with nonviolent offenders deemed incompetent to stand trial. “Typically, if you are incompetent, you go to forensic restoration to become fit to stand trial, which costs $60,000 to $70,000 per person. In Florida, we spend $135 million to restore competency,” Leifman says.
Whatever the outcome of their cases, those arrested often leave the system with little if any access to mental health treatment. This tends to result in the revolving door between homelessness, mental health facilities and jail.
The Miami-Dade program involves community reintegration. “It is one-third cheaper, one-third quicker and we have very little if any recidivism,” Leifman says. “They stay with the same provider that we hook them up with, and we work with them to get them into recovery.”
INTO THE COMMUNITY
In the discharge lounge of Cook County Jail, the efforts to set up mental health support that began during the intake process are spelled out. A caseworker spends about 2½ hours covering the basics with each person being released—housing, medical needs, prescriptions. They also get a crisis hotline number and information covering topics such as how to get a bus pass and state ID.
The caseworker also makes sure the person has health insurance lined up. About 15,000 detainees have signed up for CountyCare, a low-income Affordable Care Act expansion of Medicaid. This ensures that their treatment plan after jail—including group therapy, doctors’ appointments and medication—will be covered, according to Dart.
The caseworkers make arrangements for rides by a friend or family member to make sure the detainee goes to someone’s home or a shelter instead of directly back to the streets. And once detainees are released, the county provides free rides to doctor appointments and job interviews using a donated van. “Previously, we would just let them go and that was that. I think that was the height of foolishness,” Dart says. “We stay with them, even after they leave.”
Every other Monday, some “alumni” of Cook County’s Mental Health Transition Center come back to the jail—on their own terms. This is part of a support group started under Dart; and today, six men show up to review how things are going. “Those guys who come back and do check in, they are the ones doing really well,” says Sharon Latiker, a community outreach manager.
One man has a job interview lined up. Two are studying to become ministers and invite the others to listen to their first sermons. Another is celebrating 18 months of sobriety. The lessons they learned while in the program during detention—to stay away from people, places and things that trigger high-risk behavior—are reinforced.
Former detainee David was released six weeks earlier after serving 10 months for assault. He says he now focuses on gratitude, that he already has all he needs to be happy. “Entitlement does not make you happy. Asking for happiness, wanting more does not make you happy,” David says. “Be grateful. We are released. Be grateful.”
“That is powerful. That gives me chills,” says Lee, an alum who wears a white T-shirt and black shorts. “Cold-blooded truth.”
“The Mental Health Transitional Center has changed me,” David says. “This program has saved me.”
In a move that could affect thousands of low-income women, state health officials on Tuesday delivered a final legal notice to defund the organization from the Medicaid program through which it provides family planning and women’s health services to the poor. Planned Parenthood had previously received $3.1 million in Medicaid funding, but those dollars will be nixed in 30 days, according to the notice which was obtained by The Texas Tribune.
That cut-off day will only be delayed if the organization appeals the state’s decision in the next 15 days by requesting an administrative hearing with the Texas Health and Human Services Commission. But Planned Parenthood officials say they will instead turn to the courts to block the cuts.
“Planned Parenthood continues to serve Medicaid patients and will seek a preliminary injunction in an ongoing lawsuit filed in November 2015, following the state’s original threats to take action against Planned Parenthood’s patients,” said Yvonne Gutierrez, executive director of Planned Parenthood Texas Votes, the organization’s political arm.
The battle over the funding Planned Parenthood received for those health services — which are separate from its abortion services that receive no public funds — began in October 2015 when Gov. Greg Abbott and state health officials first moved to cut off Medicaid funding, about 90 percent of which comes from the federal government, to the organization’s Texas affiliates.
Feeding on outrage sparked by the release of controversial undercover videos of Planned Parenthood officials, Republicans cited the videos — and unspecified allegations of billing fraud — as proof of “acts of misconducts” by the organization and said they would cut off Medicaid funding. But the state’s threat initially appeared to be a feint.
In October 2015, Texas officials delivered a notice of intent to boot Planned Parenthood from the public insurance program and gave the organization 30 days to respond to its notice and request an “informal resolution meeting” with health commission attorneys. If the organization did not act, the state said, it would issue a “final notice of termination,” formally ending Planned Parenthood’s participation in Medicaid. That order would have gone into effect 15 days after the organization received it.
But more than a year went by without a final notice. Meanwhile, Planned Parenthood continued to provide well-woman services, including birth control and cancer screenings, to roughly 11,000 low-income women.
In the final notice, Texas Health and Human Services Inspector General Stuart Bowen said the undercover videos — which depicted Planned Parenthood officials discussing the use of fetal tissue for research — showed “that Planned Parenthood violated state and federal law.”
Bowen claimed in the letter that the videos revealed Planned Parenthood has a history of “deviating from accepted standards” to procure tissue samples for researchers and a “willingness to charge more than the costs incurred for procuring fetal tissue,” among other violations.
“Your misconduct is directly related to whether you are qualified to provide medical services in a professionally competent, safe, legal and ethical manner,” Bowen wrote in the letter. “Your actions violate generally accepted medical standards, as reflected in state and federal law, and are Medicaid program violations that justify termination.”
Planned Parenthood has vehemently denied those claims, and it has criticized the videos the state is pointing to as evidence as being heavily edited to imply malfeasance. Its health centers in Texas have also said they do not currently donate fetal tissue for research. Their Houston affiliate did participate in a 2010 research study with the University of Texas Medical Branch.
State health officials initially alleged they also had “reliable information indicating a pattern of illegal billing practices” by the organization. But Tuesday’s letter made no mention of billing fraud.
Texas health officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment regarding the final notice. And Abbott and other state officials have been largely silent on why the termination was delayed more than a year.
In October, a spokeswoman for the governor said Abbott was “disappointed and troubled by the lack of progress” in defunding the women’s health organization but that he still expected the issue to “move forward.”
The fight over Medicaid funding will now play out in federal court in Austin, where Planned Parenthood pre-emptively filed a lawsuit a year ago seeking to block Texas’ efforts. At the time, it was thought that Planned Parenthood affiliates would be cut from the Medicaid program as early as Dec. 8, 2015.
But the lawsuit sat virtually idle for a year because Texas had not delivered its final legal notice to defund the organization.
Federal officials have already warned Texas that pushing Planned Parenthood out of the state’s Medicaid program could put the state at odds with federal law. And federal courts in other states have ruled that Planned Parenthood cannot be legally kicked out of Medicaid.
More than a year after lawmakers originally ordered it, Texas announced in November it would enact significant cuts to the money that it pays therapists who treat vulnerable children with disabilities in two weeks.
When marijuana shops arrive in Massachusetts—at the start of 2018, barring any delays from the Legislature—they’ll bring a brand new industry with them. But just how big will it be? If you ask the researchers behind a study about the future of pot in the Hub, the answer is: huge.
According to a forecast from cannabis industry analysts ArcView Market Research and New Frontier Data, we could very well become “the cannabis capital of the world in short order.” So says Troy Dayton, Arcview’s CEO. It also projects that the Commonwealth will be home to a $1 billion marijuana industry by 2020, in a summary of their findings published Wednesday.
The report argues that, as the first East Coast city to have shops with recreational marijuana on its shelves, Boston will be a magnet for tourists. A lot of that has to do with location, as many of those would-be visitors wouldn’t have to go far to sample the new products on our shelves.
“Unlike other places where cannabis is legal, Boston is within driving distance of many of the most populous places in America,” Dayton says.
It also predicts that legalization here is a bellwether for other states in the region, who are likely to follow Massachusetts’ lead and pass legalization initiatives of their own.
The forecast acknowledges that, despite voters approving the law via ballot initiative in November, the marijuana industry is still vulnerable to being shaped by lawmakers. The regulatory body charged with overseeing it, called the Cannabis Control Commission, has not yet been formed. And on Beacon Hill, where the ballot question was largely opposed by top politicians, there are discussions in progress that could result in everything from increased taxes for cannabis, to changes to the minimum legal age for marijuana consumption, to significant delays in implementing the law.
“The full regulatory structure and key program details of the adult use market remain to be determined, and the market could take a few different directions depending on the actions of the Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission and local municipalities across the state,” a summary of the report reads. “However, the broad parameters of the law create an opportunity for an open and expansive market.”
Not everyone is likely to be pleased with the prospect of Massachusetts becoming a booming pot tourism destination. Concerns about pot shops outnumbering McDonald’s and Starbucks were a central talking point in the campaign opposing legalization (that was also the argument made in the much-talked-about anti-marijuana ad that ran this year, featuring a flabbergasted mom and her THC-consuming son, Kevin).
Maryland patients are several months away from being able to legally obtain medical cannabis to treat chronic conditions. But scammers are already trying to make a buck off patients desperate for the relief from the new drug, according to regulators and industry officials.
State officials have been told that some companies are selling “marijuana cards” or offering exams to “pre-approve” patients for medical cannabis.
Neither is a legitimate practice, officials say.
“They are telling patients that they have the ability to pre-approve them for the medical cannabis program and that is a lie,” said Darrell Carrington, executive director of the Maryland Cannabis Industry Association. “There is no such thing as pre-approval.”
The Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission, which regulates the industry, has issued preliminary licenses for companies to grow, process and dispense cannabis in the state. But none of the businesses have received final licenses or begun operation. No doctors have the ability to issue certifications for legal medical cannabis.
Patrick Jameson, executive director of the commission, said “there are already attempts at fake patient identification cards being promulgated.”
“This type of fraudulent activity preys against the most vulnerable people in society and we will do everything possible to stop this behavior,” Jameson said in a statement. “Only patient identification cards issued by the Commission are legitimate. At this point no ID cards have been issued.”
The state commission has received about 20 reports of questionable claims by cannabis businesses, according to Vanessa Lyon, a spokeswoman for the commission.
Carrington said he’s frustrated that companies are trying to dupe sick patients.
“They’re taking advantage of them because people are so desperate for the medication,” he said.
It’s already a struggle for the emerging cannabis industry to win over skeptics, he said, and dishonest operators don’t help.
“Groups that are operating nefariously and preying on people’s hopes and desires do a huge disservice,” he said.
Maryland’s medical cannabis system won’t involve written prescriptions. And while the commission will offer patient identification cards, they won’t be required.
Both doctors and patients will be required to join an online registry that will be monitored by state regulators. Doctors will use the system to issue online certifications for patients to use cannabis.
Doctors can currently join the registry. The patient registry won’t open until sometime in the first few months of 2017, Lyon said.
A doctor’s certification for cannabis will be good for 120 days from its issuance. Patients will be able to obtain one 30-day supply at a time. Licensed dispensaries will check the state database before selling the drug.
The dispensaries will verify a patient’s identity, either through government identification such as a driver’s license or a patient identification card issued by the commission.
All transactions will be monitored by the state commission.
Medical cannabis will be available to Maryland patients no earlier than late next year, Lyon said.
A number of factors will influence the timing of when legal medical cannabis will be available to patients.
In response to concern about the lack of diversity among preliminary license winners, state lawmakers could decide to change the rules governing the medical cannabis program during the General Assembly session that begins Jan. 11. And there are multiple lawsuits that have been filed over the licensing process that have yet to be resolved.
“We’re not there yet,” Carrington said. “We’re close. We’ll get there soon.”
The small San Diego plaintiffs’ firm behind the Trump University lawsuit wasn’t expecting to end up enmeshed in presidential politics.
But that’s what happened when Zeldes Haeggquist & Eck agreed in 2010 to represent a dissatisfied Trump University student, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported. The newspaper profiled the firm and its case from beginning to end, including the reasons the firm had for forgoing the large contingency fee it was eligible for from the $25 million settlement.
The firm took a call in January of 2010 from former student Tarla Makaeff, who became the first lead plaintiff in the case. There happened to be a Trump University seminar happening in San Diego shortly afterward, so attorney Helen Zeldes attended.
What she discovered, she told the newspaper, was a heartbreaking “dog and pony show” designed to sell more seminars at high prices. Nearly 400 people called their firm or Robbins Geller Rudman & Dowd, a larger firm brought on as co-counsel, with stories about being encouraged to max out credit cards or take from retirement savings to pay for the courses. After the case was filed, plaintiffs’ attorneys began to hear from former Trump University employees, who described hard-sell tactics, including keeping the room slightly cold and stationing employees at doors so students would be unable to leave without talking to someone. The plaintiffs would later file a separate class-action case alleging racketeering by Trump University.
Early on, Donald Trump countersued Makaeff for defamation. That claim failed at the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, but it set the stage for Trump’s aggressive defense. When Trump was deposed in 2012, Robbins Geller partner Rachel Jensen said he was combative, threatening to sue her and her firm. The defense argued that students didn’t put in the required effort to take advantage of their Trump University educations, and also suffered from the real estate market’s late-2000s downturn.
Trump’s rise in the election polls didn’t change much about the lawsuit itself, other than scheduling problems, attorneys told the newspaper. But it made the case a household name, especially after Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, a Republican rival for the nomination, mentioned it during the debate. Defense attorney Daniel Petrocelli, a partner and chair of the trial practice committee at O’Melveny & Myers, called the case “a political football” and said the press had been overwhelmingly biased in its coverage.
Trump himself fanned the embers of that story by attacking the judge, U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel of the Southern District of California, as biased because he is “Mexican.” Curiel is an American of Mexican descent.
But candidate Trump became more pleasant to deal with as time went on. Later depositions in late 2015 and early 2016 were smoother, with Trump giving answers that seemed genuine to Robbins Geller partner Jason Forge.
Under the circumstances, both sides thought the case would end in trial. But after Trump was elected, Curiel encouraged the parties to come to a settlement through mediation. District judge Jeffrey Miller mediated a settlement conference that allowed them to avoid the headache of picking a jury with no preconceptions about the president-elect or calling a sitting president to the witness stand. It also avoided lengthy appeals, which seemed likely under the circumstances.
The settlement will ultimately give the class members in the two cases a bit more than half of what each of them spent on Trump University classes. It would be less, but attorneys at Zeldes Haeggquist and Robbins Geller decided to forgo their contingency fee so that plaintiffs could recover more and that there would be no protracted fee-related proceedings to linger in the news.
“The decision came from the very top of our firm. It was not a demand made,” Jensen told the Union-Tribune. “To make sure as a class they can recover the maximum amount, make sure our fees did not get in the way of allowing this to settle so our country could move on.”
Former town marshal Michael Thomison said in the resignation letter that the alleged illegal and unethical requests included asking him to conduct background checks on some town board members and requesting confidential information. He also said the town provided officers with just one bulletproof vest that had to be shared and reduced patrols to just one officer to save gas money.
Thomison also said the town cut his schedule to part-time after he was diagnosed with cancer so it would not have to provide health insurance. In addition, Thomison and another officer said in interviews with BuzzFeed News, officers were written up after they ticketed a council member’s wife and pulled over a council member with a broken taillight.
Thomison said he gave advance warning to state and county police, as well as the local prosecutor, about his plan to resign. For now, the Miami County Sheriff’s office will be handling police duties in the town.
The town council released a statement Wednesday evening denying making any illegal, unethical or immoral requests.
“Like most small towns, there have been from time to time, disagreements in the policy making process between the town council and other town departments,” the statement said. “The current town council as well as prior councils have, on occasion, had disagreements with Mr. Thomison over a number of things. These disagreements have primarily been caused by the lack of funding available to the town to invest in the police department. However, the council denies that it has failed to provide body armor for the marshal or reserve deputies. The council is well aware of Indiana law on the topic and has complied with it fully. Further, the council absolutely denies that it has ever asked Mr. Thomison or any of the reserve deputies to be involved in any illegal, unethical or immoral actions.
“The council admits that it had made a number of cuts to the police department over the last few years. This was a decision the town made due to a lack of funding. Bunker Hill is diligently working to solve this problem for the coming year. The cuts made to the police department were not made with the intention of jeopardizing the safety of any of the town’s police officers. Over the last few years, the Council has made attempts to find additional money for the department. Mr. Thomison was instrumental in obtaining a large sum of money on behalf of the town. However, he fails to state that the police department received the benefit of a large portion of that funding. …
“The resignation of the entire police force has come as a shock to the council. It has never been the goal to dismantle or otherwise endanger the town police department or officers. The council thanks these officers for their service to the town. Bunker Hill is in the process of obtaining a new marshal and reserve deputies. The council asks for patience from the town residents in this process.”
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