On the docket today: Court reform, intestinal fermentation, and whether it’s possible to grill a witness when the witness doesn’t show up. Life lessons for everyone!*
*Probably not Republicans, IDK
The Big Takeaway
First up: Courts, which we’ll kick off in Alabama, where advocates hope to codify into law a veterans court program that aims to keep low-level offenders out of jail by connecting them with resources to treat underlying substance abuse or mental illness. The program, which began more than a decade ago, operates on the basic premise that jail is rarely the appropriate place for an offender who needs health treatment or rehabilitation services, the Alabama Reflector reported.
“Jailers, judges, and lawyers are not mental health and substance use experts or professionals,” said Miriam Krinsky, founder and executive director of Fair and Just Prosecution, a criminal justice reform advocacy group. “Those of us in the criminal justice system don’t know best how to treat a mental health, substance abuse, or public health crisis — and we shouldn’t pretend to know best.”
There are 26 veteran treatment courts in Alabama, all of them open to any veteran who has not been charged with violent crimes, sexual offenses, or drug manufacturing or distribution. Eligible participants may enter the program as soon as they’re charged with a crime; once accepted, they’ll appear before a judge, where they’re required to plead guilty. Participants are then transferred to a veteran services officer, who will shepherd them through the program. Treatment plans are individualized for each client, but typically involve drug testing and regular check-ins. Most veterans stay in the program for at least a year.
Supporters of the program have touted its success rate, and there’s some data to back up those claims, including a report this month showing a 1% recidivism rate among program participants in Calhoun County. But statewide statistics are hard to come by. That’s mostly due to the wide-ranging nature of the program, which utilizes nonprofits and other community partners with different funding streams and recordkeeping policies.
And that could make it tough to codify the program into state law. Some lawmakers said they supported the general idea, but the lack of funding data makes it difficult to write into legislation, according to state Rep. Ed Oliver, a Republican who chairs the House Veterans and Military Affairs Committee.
“One of the things that we are trying to figure out right now is what funding follows a veteran,” Oliver said. “What federal money, what does the person get? We have a disconnect between our court system and what those veterans get at this point.”
Because of that, Oliver said, the proposal will likely get diverted to a subcommittee, where lawmakers will be tasked with researching the funding structure to provide the main panel with more detailed information. But he hopes to pass a version of the bill this year, he said.
Lawmakers in Georgia on Monday approved a different type of judicial legislation, voting largely along party lines to approve a bill making it easier to punish — or fire — local prosecutors. The legislation, now awaiting a signature from Gov. Brian Kemp, would establish two panels to review complaints against prosecutors and then mete out appropriate punishment, which could include removal from office, per the Georgia Recorder.
Republicans pitched the bill as an oversight mechanism that would allow the state to remove “bad” district attorneys who engage in misconduct that doesn’t warrant a criminal indictment. Impeachable offenses would range from the vague “willful misconduct” to the more specific “categorically refusing to prosecute any offense or offenses of which he or she is required by law to prosecute,” a clear and direct shot at left-leaning attorneys who have declined to prioritize low-level marijuana charges.
That’s not conjecture — it’s the explanation given by Republican state Sen. Randy Robertson, who said earlier this month that his bill was aimed at “somebody who says they can choose, not based on evidence, but on how they feel about their political leanings, who they can prosecute.” Curiously, Robertson did not seem troubled by his own decision to target prosecutors with legislation based on his political leanings (I am shocked!) — but the hypocrisy did not escape Democrats, who slammed the bill as a thinly veiled attempt to circumvent voters by bestowing power on a board of political appointees who will be literally tasked with making up their own rules.
“It undermines democracy by silencing local voices while really doing nothing at all to make our community safer,” said state Rep. Tanya Miller, an Atlanta Democrat.
A former county prosecutor in Iowa last week pleaded guilty to public intoxication — then seemed to deny that she’d been drunk, claiming in court documents that her elevated blood-alcohol level was the result of an exceedingly rare medical condition. That explanation was filed by a lawyer for former Dickinson County Attorney Amy Zenor after a judge accepted her guilty plea and levied a $150 fine for the misdemeanor, the Iowa Capital Dispatch reported
The saga began last November, when Zenor resigned from office after she was arrested and charged with being publicly intoxicated while at the county courthouse. A preliminary breath test placed her blood-alcohol level at .195 percent, more than double the legal limit of .08. Later that month, the Iowa Attorney Disciplinary Board asked the state Supreme Court to suspend Zenor’s license due to “a disability that prevents her from discharging the professional responsibilities associated with the practice of law,” according to state records. Zenor consented in writing to the suspension, prompting the court to impose the sanction.
This all seemed fairly straightforward until last week, when Zenor’s attorney filed a letter from Anup Kanodia, a doctor in Ohio who concluded that Zenor suffers from Auto-Brewery Syndrome, which can cause intoxication in people who haven’t consumed alcohol. This is a real thing — the drunkenness is a byproduct of fermentation between intestinal yeast and certain carbohydrates – but it’s super uncommon, to the tune of fewer than 100 cases since 1952 in the entire world.
Still, one supposes, Zenor could be one of those rare cases — except for the minorly inconvenient fact that she tested negative for the syndrome, according to Kanodia.
But “we still have a high clinical suspicion [that] she does, in fact, have ABS,” the doctor wrote. That suspicion appears to be based on different tests that showed Zenor’s “poor gut health” along with the “unexplained presence” of alcohol in her system.
“We ask that this serious condition be taken into consideration if any accidental intoxication occurs,” Kanodia concluded.
This is not the first time there have been allegations of intoxication levied against Zenor. According to an unrelated harassment lawsuit, Zenor brought alcohol into work, was “obviously under the influence of alcohol and to the point of inebriation” in the office, regularly appeared “zoned out” and was found passed out both in her office and on the bathroom floor.
Zenor has denied any wrongdoing. The suit is expected to go to trial in September.
All rise: Recovery advocates unveil bills to invest in treatment, end incarceration of Mainers who use drugs … (New Jersey) Legislators propose $3M program to treat law enforcement officers in mental crisis … Ohio AG files antitrust suit against Express Scripts, Humana, others … (Wyoming) Remote public testimony secured for legislative interim
State of Our Democracy
National Republicans continued their assault on election integrity Tuesday, convening a congressional hearing to grill local officials about the ballot paper shortage that gummed up Election Day in Luzerne County, Pennsylvania, last November. But then local officials skipped the hearing on the advice of legal counsel, forcing Republicans to pivot — sort of, the Pennsylvania Capital-Star reported.
The stated goal stayed the same, according to U.S. Rep. Bryan Steil (R-Wisc.), who opened the hearing by explanation that the U.S. House Committee on House Administration hoped to “bring transparency and accountability to the citizens of Luzerne County, who were failed by their local officials … and to prevent it from ever happening again.”
From The Newsrooms
One Last Thing
An Australian company on Tuesday debuted a mammoth meatball made from lab-grown cultured meat engineered using the genetic sequence of the extinct pachyderm. The stunt was supposed to fire up public debate about lab-grown meat in general, but I feel like it’s kind of hard to get past the … specificity of dining on fake extinct elephants.
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