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The Republican Sabotage Of Healthcare

We can all agree that the Affordable Care Act is not perfect but it was a monumental step in the right direction at a time when insurance companies were raking in record profits, jacking up rates by double digits, making the cost of insurance unaffordable for millions of Americans.

Since the ACA passed, Republicans have been trying to repeal it. Over the last eight years, Republicans have made more than 60 attempts to repeal the bill and only in the last six months have they ever offered any type of replacement.

Their latest replacement plan, that was ironically killed by three moderate Republicans in the Senate, would have kicked an estimated 32 million Americans off of their healthcare plans and would have transitioned Medicaid into a block grant system.  Ending Medicaid would have left millions of children, seniors, and the disabled without out any coverage at all.

Medicaid is the largest single provider of insurance in the country.  Nearly 40% of all child births in New Hampshire are covered by Medicaid.  Medicaid covers the cost for millions of disabled Americans who use funds to live in their own homes.  This is why dozens of ADAPT (Americans Disabled Attendant Programs Today) members protested during the Senate hearing on the Graham-Cassidy bill.

“Graham-Cassidy is the worst bill yet that Republicans have come up with to repeal Obamacare. This wasn’t what they campaigned on; they didn’t campaign to strip away the services that disabled people and seniors rely on to live in the community,” said Bruce Darling, an organizer with ADAPT. “They campaigned on fixing Obamacare and I don’t understand why they continue to target our community with cuts that will steal disabled lives instead of actually fixing anything.”

Cuts to Medicaid funding will fall first and hardest on community based services, forcing disabled people into institutions which will be underfunded hives of abuse, neglect, and human misery.

“The cuts to Medicaid funding are cruel and un-American,” said Dawn Russell, ADAPT organizer from Denver Colorado. “Forcing disabled people and seniors into institutions just to pay for tax cuts, which is what this bill does, is not equality. It’s not liberty. Graham-Cassidy is a policy for a much crueler and meaner country than this one, and the people who support it should be ashamed of themselves.”

Recently, Senator Hassan shared the story of Bodhi Bhattari, a Concord boy who experiences spinal muscular atrophy and needs hundreds of thousands of dollars in life-saving drugs every year. Bodhi’s mother, Deodonne Bhattarai, told WMUR that under the Graham-Cassidy Trumpcare proposal, “If we sold our house, we could probably keep him alive for another year.”

Now, the New Hampshire Department of Insurance estimates that 25,000 people, who get their insurance from the healthcare exchange, will see a 52% increase.

“Among 97,000 people in the individual insurance market, the 74 percent who either get federal subsidies or are part of the expanded Medicaid program will likely see their premiums drop or remain flat in 2018. But the 26 percent who pay the full cost will see sharp increases,” wrote Holly Ramer of the Associated Press.

The news of this dramatic increase on those trying to provide healthcare for their families, outraged legislators.

“I am outraged that some middle-class New Hampshire families will suffer huge premium hikes next year because of the chaos D.C. Republicans have created in the individual insurance market,” said Congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter.  “This is exactly why I spent the past year urging my colleagues to pass bipartisan marketplace stabilization legislation, which would have provided insurers with needed certainty, and also why Congress should pass my bill, the Medicare You Can Opt Into Act, and make sure every American has an affordable option that’s not vulnerable to profit-driven rate hikes.”

“That said, let me be clear: thanks to the Affordable Care Act and its Medicaid expansion, New Hampshire’s uninsured rate is at an all-time low, and I will not allow Republican state officials to use the disruption their party has caused in the individual market as justification to jeopardize that progress by ending an essential program that covers over 50,000 people in New Hampshire,” Shea-Porter added.

In the US Senate, Senator Shaheen has been working to avoid these rate hikes. Earlier this year, Senator Shaheen introduced the Marketplace Certainty Act to permanently appropriate payments for cost-sharing reductions to help stabilize state marketplaces and expand eligibility for hard-working Americans who need help paying their premiums.

“These rate increases for next year would be devastating, yet have always been avoidable,” said Senator Jeanne Shaheen. “This administration has followed through on President Trump’s threat to sabotage healthcare marketplaces as leverage to repeal the Affordable Care Act. New Hampshire families are now forced to pay the price for the Trump administration’s shameful behavior. I have been pleading with Republican leadership to allow bipartisan efforts to stabilize the healthcare marketplace to move forward, but instead, they chose to use this valuable time to make another attempt at repealing the Affordable Care Act—a law that has helped tens of thousands of Granite Staters gain access to healthcare coverage. Republicans must return to the negotiating table and work with Democrats to craft bipartisan legislation that would stabilize the marketplaces. We need to work together to mitigate the harm caused by the Administration and help working families access quality and affordable insurance.”

As a member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, Senator Maggie Hassan participated this month in bipartisan health care hearings focused on stabilizing the individual health insurance market and lowering costs.

At a press conference after the defeat of the Graham-Cassidy bill, Senator Hassan said:

“We know that there is more to do on health care. There isn’t a Democrat here who doesn’t know that there are improvements we need to make. I am committed to working with members of both parties on the HELP Committee and throughout the United States Senate to come together and find ways in the short-term to stabilize our markets and lower costs. We have to address pharmaceutical costs. We have to address health care outcomes. But as long as there is this threat out there of another Trumpcare attempt, it’s going to be harder for us to do that, and it’s going to cause disruption in the very lives of the people we were sent here to represent.”

In the U.S. House, Congresswoman Annie Kuster, who also saw the possibility of massive rate hikes looming, has been working to stabilize the marketplace. Earlier this year, Kuster and nine House Democrats unveiled a five-part plan to improve upon the Affordable Care Act and stabilize the individual marketplace.

“I’ve discussed with Republican colleagues various proposals to stabilize the individual marketplace and rein in costs. I genuinely believe that there are many areas of agreement that can be reached to improve our healthcare system and I’m hopeful that my colleagues on both sides of the aisle will come to the table in good faith to get this done for the American people,” said Kuster.

Not only has the President and the Republican leadership actively worked to repeal the ACA, they have been ensuring its failure by slashing funding to the program.

Congresswoman Shea-Porter pushed back by calling on the President to release funding allocated for the exchange “navigators” program.

“Navigators are an essential resource for the American people, and the Navigator program is critical to the success of Open Enrollment. We urge you to unfreeze these funds immediately,” Shea-Porter wrote. “Americans already face a number of new hurdles to enrolling in coverage during the upcoming Open Enrollment period, including an enrollment timeframe that has been cut in half and a 90% cut to the outreach budget that could have informed consumers about this significant change. Destabilizing the Navigator program could further compound the challenges consumers will face in understanding when and how to enroll.”

Shea-Porter also submitted an amendment that would save the Navigator grant program from elimination in House Republicans’ Fiscal Year 2018 omnibus appropriations bill.

We have known for a while that the ACA needs adjustments, but you would not toss out your car because of a loose spark plug.  We need to stop this ideological and political attack on the ACA and do what is really needed to help working families.

Of course there are many among us who believe the best way to solve the entire insurance issue is to eliminate private insurance all together and move to a national single player system.

NH Democratic Party Files Lawsuit Against Republican Voter Suppression Law (SB 3)

Concord, N.H. – Today, the New Hampshire Democratic Party filed a lawsuit with the Hillsborough County Superior Court on SB 3, the voter suppression law that was passed and signed into law this spring by a Republican legislative majority and Republican Governor Chris Sununu.

Legal issues with SB 3 include:

  • Registering to vote requires a “verifiable act” to demonstrate intent to be domiciled in the state
  • Legitimately domiciled voters could be denied the right to register by failing to present the new paperwork more than 30 days out from Election Day
  • A different, more lengthy registration form is required to be signed under penalty of voting fraud within 30 days of Election Day, opening themselves to investigation or being forced to provide documentation after an election

These burdens fall disproportionately on young, low-income and minority groups who are more likely to be transient or register closer to election day, creating arbitrary and differential treatment of eligible New Hampshire voters. These undue burdens serve as deterrents for voters and make it more difficult for election officials to efficiently register voters.

“New Hampshire Republicans have created a solution in to a problem they have no evidence exists. This is the latest in a long line of voter suppression efforts the Republican Party has engaged in around the country,” said NHDP Chair Ray Buckley. “Unfortunately, the myth of voter fraud has been spread by Republican leaders at every level, from President Trump to Governor Sununu and within the New Hampshire legislature, as a false pretext for restricting access to voting. The First in the Nation primary state should work to make voting more accessible and efficient to eligible voters rather than driving down turnout and changing the rules to shape their desired outcome.”

SB 3 is the first voter suppression bill passed in the country since the election of President Trump.  In November, Governor Sununu falsely claimed that Massachusetts residents were being bused into New Hampshire to commit voter fraud. President Trump parroted the same lie just after his inauguration in January. New Hampshire has a proud tradition of strong voter turnout, with among the highest turnout percentages of any state in the country.

House Democratic Leader Steve Shurtleff (D-Penacook) released the following statement after the lawsuit was filed:

“I am in full support of the NHDP lawsuit to block implementation of SB 3.  As we heard throughout the legislative process, enacting this bill will do nothing but confuse and intimidate new voters and complicate the work of election officials.”

“SB 3 requires anyone who registers to vote within 30 days of an election and on Election Day to read, and affirm to understand under penalty of fraud, an overly complex registration form outlining new requirements to ‘verify’ domicile.  The bureaucratic requirements established by SB 3 are so cumbersome that the unnecessary complexity appears deliberate.”

“Republicans in the legislature have erroneously claimed that this bill is needed to combat ‘voter fraud.’  Investigations that have been conducted following every New Hampshire election since 2006 show that voter fraud is practically nonexistent in our state.”

“It is embarrassing that the Republican Party continues to push President Trump’s discredited myth that New Hampshire’s elections have been wrought with fraud.  The election officials in our cities and towns deserve more credit for the hard work they do preserving the integrity of our elections.”

Make Your Voice Heard On Proposed Changes To Net Neutrality

One of the freedoms we as America covet most of all is our freedom of speech.  It allows us to speak out without fear of reprisal.  Yes this means that Alex Jones’s horrific statements are protected, but that also means that citizens speaking out against a corrupt system of government financing are also protected.

Now what if that ability to speak out was hindered by corporations. This is the foundation of “Net Neutrality,” ensuring that everyone has open and unrestricted access on the internet.

In 2015, the FCC adopted the Open Internet Order, which reclassified broadband as a telecommunication service under Title II. The D.C. Circuit Court upheld the rules in 2016. The FCC’s Open Internet Order prohibits internet service providers from setting up internet fast and slow lanes, ensuring all online traffic is treated the same.

Think of it this way:  What if Comcast or your internet service provider (ISP) could block websites it does not want you to see.    If ISP’s had control over what content was allowed to be viewed by customers do you think you would be reading this post?  Probably not.

Net Neutrality blocks ISP from charging more money or limiting connection speed for specific websites. Imagine if Comcast slowed down websites from their competitors like Hulu or Netflix.

This is why we need strong regulations from the FCC to ensure that the internet is open to all.

Go to the FCC’s website and leave a comment that the FCC should protect a free and open internet.  Tell them to preserve Net Neutrality.

The current period to voice your opinion on Net Neutrality closes on Aug 16th 2017, but some members of  Congress believe we should extend the comment period for at least an extra 30 days.

Senator Maggie Hassan (D-NH), a member of the Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, joined 21 of her colleagues in calling on the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to extend the reply comment period for its proposal to undo the Open Internet Order and net neutrality protections.

“This proceeding has the potential to impact all Americans and as the expert agency, you should ensure that the Commission provides ample time to ensure all voices are heard,” the senators wrote in the letter to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai.

(Full text of the letter can be found HERE.)

If protecting your freedom of speech is important to you, then make a comment on the FCC’s webpage.  If having unrestricted access to the internet is important to you, then make a comment on the FCC’s webpage.

Make your voice heard, comment now!

NH House Committee Pushes ‘Fetal Personhood’ Bill To The House Floor

In an unprecedented move,
House Criminal Justice Committee reopens a retained bill

CONCORD – In an unprecedented move, the NH House Criminal Justice Committee passed SB 66  out of committee by a vote of 12-8. The House Committee previously retained the bill by a margin of 21-1. SB 66, if passed, would recognize a fetus as an independent victim of a crime for the first time in New Hampshire law.

SB 66 is a bill that poses serious unintended consequences and threatens women’s rights and health. The bill, as reported out by the House Criminal Justice Committee, would recognize a fetus as an independent victim of a crime. In doing so, SB 66 pits the rights of women against the rights of a fetus – threatening to erode the reproductive rights of Granite State women and to advance a larger national agenda to undermine the Roe v. Wade decision protecting abortion access.

”In other states that have adopted personhood measures like SB 66, pregnant women have been subjected to surveillance, arrest, incarceration, and unwanted medical treatment,” says Devon Chaffee, Executive Director of the ACLU-NH. “SB 66 is inconsistent with existing New Hampshire statutes, and pits women’s rights against fetal rights in a manner that threatens to undermine pregnant women’s status as full persons under the law.”

As amended by the Senate, SB 66 uses medically inaccurate terminology. The Senate amendment to SB 66 removed the term “viability” from the bill and included a definition of “fetus” that is inconsistent with how that term is understood by the medical community.  Additionally, the Senate amendment’s use of a twenty-week marker has no grounding in medicine or law.

Current New Hampshire law recognizes the severe harm resulting from the death of a fetus and provides for an enhanced felony conviction in such cases. A person may be prosecuted for First Degree Assault if that person purposely or knowingly causes injury to another resulting in miscarriage or stillbirth—a class A Felony carrying a sentence of up to 15 years. People who commit violent crimes against pregnant women, especially crimes which result in miscarriage or stillbirth, should be punished and that punishment should recognize the severity of the harm and loss to women and their families. Representative Laura Pantelakos has submitted an amendment to SB 66 that would replace the bill with language that adds enhanced penalties to New Hampshire’s homicide statute. As such, Representative Pantelakos’ amendment would appropriately focus the law on the additional, often devastating injury suffered when a crime against a woman results in the loss of her pregnancy.

Leaders across New Hampshire are speaking out against SB 66 as passed by the Senate and as reported out of the House Criminal Justice Committee. Dalia Vidunas, Executive Director of the Equality Health, wrote in the Concord monitor: “SB 66 would become the first New Hampshire law to recognize a fetus as an independent victim of a crime. Such measures have been passed in other states to create a tension between women’s rights and fetal rights and provide a framework to overturn Roe v. Wade, which protects a woman’s right to choose.” Read the rest of Vidunas’ letter here.

Reverend Mary Westfall, Community Church of Durham, United Church of Christ wrote in the Portsmouth Herald: “We all agree that those who commit violent acts against pregnant women should be severely punished under the law. SB 66 is not the answer. Instead of providing recourse for tragic fetal loss, this bill is a slippery slope to eroding rights under Roe v. Wade. If the New Hampshire legislature wants to increase penalties for crimes against pregnant women it should do so without threatening women’s rights and in a manner consistent with existing law.” Read the rest of Westfall’s letter here.

Susan Arnold, Chair for the NH Reproductive Rights Advisory Council, wrote in Foster’s Daily Democrat: “SB 66, if passed, would recognize a fetus as an independent victim of a crime for the first time in New Hampshire law…In other states that have adopted personhood measures like SB 66, pregnant women have been subjected to surveillance, arrest, incarceration, and other deprivations of liberty for otherwise legal behavior that may or may not have harmed their fetuses. Justice for women? I think not. Read the rest of Arnold’s letter here.

ACLU Launches Multi-State Legal Action on Voting Rights

Seeks Information Related to New Trump Election Commission

The myth that is voter fraud is pushing legislation in many states and now President Trump has created a new commission to study “election integrity.”

“The President of the United States has alleged that “millions of votes” were “illegally” cast “for the other side” during the November 2016 General Election. No concrete evidence has been provided thus far to support the President’s serious indictment against American democracy. Yet the President’s allegations are the basis of an Executive Order, issued today, directing the Vice President to establish a “Commission on Election Integrity.”This FOIA demands that the government release the factual bases and evidence supporting the President’s allegations,” wrote the ACLU in a May 11th Freedom of Information Act request.

Though President Trump announced plans to form the commission months ago, he signed the executive order just last week. The commission is headed up by Vice President Mike Pence and Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, whom the ACLU has successfully sued numerous times over his voter suppression policies. The FOIA requests target commission members who currently serve as secretaries of state — Kobach of Kansas, Connie Lawson of Indiana, Bill Gardner of New Hampshire, and Matthew Dunlap of Maine — as well as Christy McCormick, commissioner of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission.

Multiple reports have shown that voter fraud is a myth and that we have had only a couple of actual cases of voter fraud out of millions of ballots cast.

Earlier this year, in an interview with CNN, Kobach claimed he had reason to believe out-of-state residents voted illegally in New Hampshire — because Kobach said New Hampshire’s Secretary of State told him thousands of people registered to vote using out-of-state licenses on the day of the election.

“Now some of those are going to be legit, they’re going to be people who just moved to New Hampshire and hadn’t yet gotten a New Hampshire driver’s license,” Kobach told CNN. “But many of those will be out-of-state residents who voted in the state.”

(From NHPR)

“We haven’t seen any evidence that there’s widespread voter fraud taking place. We do get anecdotal reports, but the substance is not available to back up those claims,” David Scanlan, NH’s Deputy Secretary of State told WMUR. “We do know that voter fraud does occur in every election on a small scale.”

Despite a complete lack of evidence Trump and Kobach continue to make claims that thousands of out-of-staters are coming to New Hampshire to vote.  Even after Sec. Gardner stated that voter fraud does not exist in New Hampshire, he has thrown his weight behind SB3, saying that there is an “perception” that voter fraud exists.  This “perception,” not actual voter fraud, is leading the legislature to change the law.  While proponents say that everyone who voted in 2016 would be able to vote in 2018 if SB3 passes, opponents of the bill say it is “voter suppression” aimed at making it harder for young people to vote.

Today, the American Civil Liberties Union sent coordinated Freedom of Information Act requests to officials in Kansas, Indiana, New Hampshire, Maine, and the U.S. Election Assistance Commission seeking information related to the Trump administration’s new “Presidential Commission on Election Integrity.”

“We believe the outcome of the commission’s investigation is preordained,” said Dale Ho, director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project. “It’s time to shed light on whether any commission members were crafting policy recommendations before their investigation was launched or the commission was even formally announced. If they’ve got evidence, it’s time to stop hiding and start sharing.”


Attached is NH’s FOIA request all of the rest of today’s FOIA requests are available here.

5.18.17_new_hampshire_rtk_request

A Startling Truth: Pregnancy Discrimination on the Rise

By John Sherman

In 1978 the Pregnancy Discrimination Act was passed, protecting women from being fired or discriminated against due to pregnancy. Yet in 2016, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) received almost 3,500 pregnancy discrimination charges. There were more cases of pregnancy discrimination filed in 2016 than in 1992. And those are just the cases that were filed, not taking into account the thousands of women who never moved forward with complaints. Startling, to say the least.

Pregnancy discrimination can take many different forms. In some cases, mothers return to work after their maternity leave ends only to find out they have been demoted or placed in a new position. In other cases, a woman is fired simply for announcing her pregnancy. That type of case seems almost too blatant. But shockingly enough, it happens. And then there are countless other situations of pregnancy discrimination that occur every day in U.S. companies.

What the Law Says

The Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 was enacted to ensure that pregnant employees or “women affected by childbirth” are treated the same as childless workers. More recently the EEOC updated its expectations and guidelines to make clear that pregnant workers with a medical condition such as gestational diabetes, should be granted reasonable accommodation under the Americans with Disability Act.
Far too often, employers refuse to grant pregnant workers accommodations based on medical needs. A problem this recent update by the EEOC hopes to curb.

The “Motherhood Penalty”

According to the The Atlantic, “Studies from 2004 and 2010 have shown that mothers start at a lower pay than their coworkers, make less money over time, and they receive raises and promotions less often than their colleagues—that is, when they’re kept around.” Employers and co-workers also commonly believe, incorrectly, that mothers don’t work as hard and aren’t as capable as their male or single women colleagues.

“The “motherhood penalty” is alive and well. When sociologist Shelley Correll and her colleagues sent out more than 1,200 fake résumés to employers in a large Northeastern city, mothers were significantly less likely than either childless women or fathers with identical qualifications to get interviews,” said the Washington Post.

A University of New Mexico study, reported by NPR, found that moms earn 14% less than childless women. Women also fall short, across every sector, when it comes to occupying leadership positions. The bias towards working mothers and women is evident, yet the perceptions are unfounded. In fact, many studies have shown quite the opposite. A Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis study concluded that mothers were actually more productive in their jobs than childless women.

In the News

It’s companies of all sizes and across every industry that are being accused of pregnancy discrimination. Since 2014, according to the EEOC, pregnancy discrimination resolutions have increased 17%. In the summer of 2015, AutoZone was ordered to pay an unprecedented $185 million in punitive damages to a former employee who claimed that after she became pregnant she was demoted, relocated and her wages cut. When she returned and asked for her job back her supervisor refused to promote her. Ultimately she was fired.

These types of situations are all too common. Unfortunately, many women don’t want to go through with a formal complaint or workplace lawsuit, which only perpetuates the situation and allows the mistreatment of pregnant women to continue and misperceptions of working mothers to prevail.

Why Many Women Don’t File Complaints

Unfortunately, many women don’t file complaints or stand up for their rights when faced with pregnancy discrimination. The reasons are many but the top 4 most common reasons women site are:

  • Feeling guilty
  • Believing that filing a law suit against their employer will ruin their career
  • An ignorance on the law
  • Don’t think they have enough evidence

While pregnancy discrimination filings are going up each year, the reasons listed above stop a large majority of women from moving forward with a complaint. For these women, the alternative is usually to either find a new job or accept an uncomfortable or hostile working environment.

If you believe you are being discriminated against based on pregnancy or because you are a mother, it is important that you stand up for your rights. Every time a woman speaks up, she makes it easier for other working mothers. And with pregnancy discrimination on the rise there has never been a more crucial time for women to stand up for their rights and fight back against discriminatory practices.

Sherman Law, PLLC, located in Portsmouth, NH, represents companies and employees in all types of employment-related matters, including claims involving sexual harassment, retaliation, wrongful termination, and discrimination.

 

Shea-Porter And Kuster Vote Against FCC Giveaway Of Your Private Internet Information

Republicans in Congress just sold you out. They have just voted to allow all of your online activities and data to be sold to corporations by your Internet Service Providers (ISPs) without a consumer’s permission.

Both Congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter (NH-01) and Congresswoman Annie Kuster (NH-02)  voted “no” on S.J.Res.34.

“Today, I voted against rolling back Internet privacy protections. Allowing Internet companies to sell personal information flies in the face of the New Hampshire ‘live free or die’ values we cherish,” said Shea-Porter. “Congress should be doing more to safeguard our Internet privacy, not making it harder for law-abiding citizens to protect their own data.”

The legislation Shea-Porter opposed would overturn Federal Communications Commission (FCC) rules that currently require ISPs to secure a consumer’s permission before selling their private internet browsing history and other sensitive information. It would also overturn rules that currently require ISPs to use “reasonable measures” to protect consumers’ personal information. For these reasons, leading privacy organizations including the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the Consumer Federation of America, and Access Now opposed S.J.Res.34.

A staunch Internet privacy advocate, Shea-Porter previously introduced the Personal Data Privacy and Security Act of 2014 to ensure consumers are notified quickly if their private information has been compromised, and help prevent cyber-attacks by addressing the underlying problem of lax security and a lack of accountability. She has also co-introduced legislation that would prohibit employers from requiring current and prospective employees from disclosing their personal passwords as a condition of either keeping or getting a job, and was a leader in 2014’s successful fight to defend net neutrality.

“It is unacceptable that Republicans in Congress are trying to roll back basic privacy protections for internet users. Instead of voting on a bill that will make it easier for Internet Service Providers to sell customers personal information, Congress should be working together to strengthen existing privacy protections for broadband users,” said Kuster.  “Today’s vote begs the question, who is Congress working for: Granite Staters and Americans who use the internet, or multi-million dollar Internet Service Providers? I’m disappointed by today’s vote and will continue to stand up for the right to online privacy.”

Our right to privacy should be protected, not sold to marketing firms and multi-national corporations.  

Justice and Injustice in the Big City – Part Two

(NB: This article was based on interviews with attorneys, court employees, police officers, defendants, and personal observations by this reporter in actual courtrooms and in the Philadelphia Criminal Courthouse. All names have been changed. Multiple real personal stories have been condensed to provide a hypothetical scenario where you are the defendant.)

You’ve rejected every plea deal. You’re one of the few cases that’s made it to trial. Your public defender has urged you to take the deal. You’re innocent, and you refuse. You’ve waited almost a year for this day, and you finally will be able to tell your side of the story. During that year, you’ve lived in constant fear. As a defendant on bail, even being pulled over for running a red light or being in the same room as a potential witness against you (even family members) could have landed you in jail with your bail revoked. The District Attorney knows this and is hoping you’ll do something – no matter how innocent it looks – to land you in jail and to limit your options. You never leave your house if you can help it. You miss weddings. Funerals. Family gatherings. Your heart races when you hear sirens going by.

But you’ve made it! You’re going to trial.

If you’re lucky, you’ve had a hour to go over the facts of your case the week before, and to prepare your testimony. Your attorney has a mountain of cases on their desk, and may even remember your name and what you look like on your trial date. By now the District Attorney’s Office has given your lawyer all of evidence they have against you – called “discovery” – and you’re confident that the evidence of your innocence that you’re collected will eventually exonerate you.

You get to court bright and early because your subpoena says you need to be there at 9:00 am. As I discussed in a previous column, that doesn’t mean your trial starts at that time. You go through the line, emptying your pockets and removing your belt to be run through a scanner. You walk though a metal detector, gather your things, and join the throng of defendants, police officers, witnesses, and attorneys jostling for a place in the elevator.

(Author’s note: If you want to be glared at by police officers, wear a press pass during this process.)

You get to the fifth floor, and enter your courtroom. Outside you may have seen the witnesses against you, but you quickly look away before anyone can unjustly claim you’ve intimidated them. You sit and wait for your lawyer to appear.

And wait. And wait. And wait.

Photo: Mark Dobbins

Real Scene: An Assistant District Attorney (ADA) hands a file to a police officer in the hallway of the courthouse that has the evidence that will be used against the defendant – including the arrest report. The officer “refreshes their recollection” by memorizing this report, and all of the other evidence collected since the arrest. This is information that the arresting officer could not have known at the time of your arrest. But they know it now, and the officer will “expand” their testimony to include language and this information that will be geared to ensure your conviction: “in plain view,” “furtive movement,” etc. The ADA goes over the officer’s testimony. In violation of the rules of criminal procedure, I observed one ADA say, “No, you want to say this,” and the officer repeated their planned testimony until the ADA was satisfied that they will say what the ADA wanted to hear to convict. I witnessed this myself just feet away from this pair with my press pass in plain view – and on other occasions. That’s suborning perjury – and it’s against the law.

Your case is called. You’ve elected for a bench trial, so the judge goes over your waiver of your right to a jury. You sit to the left of your lawyer, and start praying that not all of the witnesses show up. They do. Damn.

Real Scene: Jane is arrested in November of 2016 and charged with retail theft for forgetting to pay for a soda. Her family cannot afford the five-hundred dollar bail. She sits in jail. During her first hearing, the complaining witness fails to appear. The case is continued for another six weeks. Six weeks of no income. Six weeks where she rarely sees her children. The case is called a second time. Still no witness. Another six weeks of jail. Another six weeks of your public defender telling you that all Jane needs to do is sign this piece of paper and she can go home. She justs have to plead out. Jane refuses. During the third hearing the witness still fails to appear. The judge tells the ADA to either withdraw the charges or they will dismiss. They case is withdrawn. Jane’s processed and eventually released. Jane has lost her job. She’s lost her apartment and everything that she owns. All she has are the clothes on her back. Where does she go to get her life back? She can’t sue the District Attorney – under Pennsylvania law, they’re immune from that. She can’t sue the police. She’ll lose. With no apology and no offer of assistance Jane gets on the bus with her mother. Jane and her children can’t stay long at her mother’s apartment because it’s Section Eight – and there are limits as to who can live there. Jane has no job, no money, and about two weeks to figure something out before she ends up in a shelter. Over a can of soda that, in the haste of taking her children out for some pizza, she forgot to pay for. Jane breaks down in front of me and starts sobbing, “What do I do?”

The ADA calls the arresting officer. It’s clear to everyone in the room that they’ve been coached. Their answers use language and phrases that no regular person uses. It’s also clear that they’re lying. Yes, the police lie every day in court – hundreds of times. The ADA knows that they are lying and will put them on the stand anyway. The ADA will “rephrase” questions if they realize the officer has forgotten their pre-planned answers. Every person in the room knows that they are lying – and no one says a word.

Photo: Mark Dobbins

Your lawyer cross examines the officer, and tries to poke holes in their account. But it’s too late. The damage has been done. The judge believes their lies.

Fast forward: You’re found guilty.

Because you’re accused of a non-violent offense, and since you’re never been arrested before, you’re lucky. You’re later sentenced to two years probation, plus court costs. You’re a felon, but you get to go home.

Real Scene: Bob goes home and start talking to his family and neighbors. He’s heard something that stops him cold. His neighbor said that the DA’s office questioned them about his case, and they told the ADA that you were miles away when they say you committed the crime. But they never told your lawyer about that witness – and that’s what’s called a “Brady Violation,” after the case that said the prosecution must turn over all evidence about the crime – even evidence that may point to your innocence. Bob calls his lawyer, excited that his case may be overturned. That’s when Bob finds out from his lawyer that it doesn’t matter. Brady violations happen every day. Bob has one witness against the weight of the police and District Attorney’s Office. No one will believe him. Bob’s conviction stands.

At this point you’re wondering why this happens. How can the District Attorney’s Office get away with this? You’ve watched court dramas on television and that’s not what happens.

It happens every day.

When I planned this series, I was like you. I believed that the system was self-correcting, and that people who lie on the stand get caught, and punished. I believed that the District Attorney existed to charge bad people and to seek the truth. That the truth mattered above all. That there was justice.

Then I started talking to the people who work in the system. And I was shocked.

In Philadelphia, our District Attorney, Seth Williams, isn’t one of the good guys. For years people have noted his ethical lapses. Then this happened. He took money from tax cheats. He took gifts from people who had business before his office. The words “scandal” and “District Attorney” now are synonymous in Philadelphia. In any jurisdiction he’d be facing criminal prosecution. But in Philadelphia, he’s only looking at fines. He will walk away smiling.

And that’s wrong. I’ve called out our District Attorney for his ethical lapses. Like you, I expect out District Attorney to be ethical. To follow the rules. To be one of the good guys. To put justice above personal ambition. I posted one tweet calling for him to resign.

This was his response.

Photo: Mark Dobbins

In my next column, I’ll write about the wreckage this system causes. Lost jobs. Lost families. Lost homes. Lost hope.

Oddly enough. I have been called for jury duty this Thursday. Once my name is called – how long do you think until I’m shown the door?

Place your bets.

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