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Is Texas becoming a safer state or a police state?

Are local police forces becoming militarized? That’s a concern expressed Tuesday before the Arlington City Council with regard to this weekend’s regional distaster drill which some are terming “militarization of the police.”

The Star Telegram reported:

A group of 25 people angrily left the City Council chambers Tuesday night after voicing objections to this weekend’s regional disaster drill, saying it is a “militarization of the police.”

The North Central Texas Council of Governments is sponsoring the Urban Shield exercise Friday through Sunday to test the region’s ability to respond to terrorist events and other emergencies that could happen simultaneously throughout North Texas.

Police officers and firefighters will go through several training exercises including school shooting scenarios and mass transportation incidents. Arlington, Fort Worth, Dallas, Garland, Grand Prairie and other area cities will participate.

But the training exercises became controversial to some people after they learned that first responders in Boston had been through the training before the April 15 Boston Marathon bombing. Protesters said the tactics that first responders reportedly learned were excessive when it came to searching for the bombers.

“What happened in Boston won’t be allowed here by the population. That will be a danger to everyone. The way they went through people’s homes. The way they pointed weapons,” said Douglas Bell, 33, a disabled veteran who was among four residents who spoke in opposition Tuesday night. “Our people should not be trained to do that. It is unnecessary.”

Defending the drill as preparedness exercises, Mayor Robert Cluck said, “Public safety is complicated and everyone needs to know what their job is in an emergency.”

“Clearly the world is more dangerous,” he told the paper, “But this exercise is not prompted by any one recent incident.”

Area residents might have heightened sensitivity to this issue after the August raid of a small Arlington farm that led to a 10-hour property search during which the residents were reportedly “handcuffed and held at gunpoint while they watched more than 10 tons of their property hauled off in trucks.

FreedomWorks blog reported:

What dangerous contraband required this massive governmental response? It wasn’t illegal explosives, stolen vehicles or drugs, but rather organic blackberry bushes, okra plants, and sunflowers.

The Garden of Eden is a 3.5-acre farm that promotes a sustainable lifestyle. Back in February, Arlington started complaining about possible city code violations. Officials said that the grass was too tall, bushes were too close to the street, and chopped wood wasn’t stacked in a government-approved manner. Basically, HOA-style complaints where no homeowners’ association exists.

The farm owners said they had corrected some of the issues and challenged others, requesting meetings with the city to work out an amicable agreement. Early the morning of August 2, the government responded with the SWAT raid. Officers carried search warrants alleging that the farm might be growing marijuana, but none was found. The search warrant, signed the day before the raid, gave police the pretext to enforce the city’s “code violations” on private property.

“They came here under the guise that we were doing a drug trafficking, marijuana-growing operation,” owner Shellie Smith said. “They destroyed everything.” She said that officers shielded their nametags so they couldn’t be identified and didn’t produce a warrant until two hours after the raid started.

Officers destroyed crops and other vegetation, they hauled off furniture, wooden pallets, food and compost. One individual, Quinn Eaker, was arrested for unrelated traffic violations.

Per the blog, City of Arlington spokeswoman Sana Syed called the raid “perfectly legal and appropriate” terming its purpose as “to improve the quality of life, to resolve safety issues within neighborhoods and to hold the property owner responsible for creating blight conditions on their property.”

And just last month, Fort Hood personnel used the base’s Elijah urban training site to conduct crowd and riot control training for both soldiers and municipal police forces.

In what the military is calling “full-spectrum operations,” the training is to help individuals in “keeping themselves safe and mitigating any danger for the people on the other side.”

The training included an exercise that utilized role players as rioters. The Killeen Daily Herald described this drill:

Beginning at the team level, soldiers learned formations and verbal and hand signals used to unify themselves against a crowd from 89th Military Police Brigade soldiers. Eventually the formations grew to platoon-sized shapes. Soldiers learned to chant, “Get back,” while stepping forward in unison with their left feet toward the crowd.

This sends a clear, concise message that’s not demeaning or harmful to the crowd, Ford said.

The paper discussed an earlier training for San Antonio Police Department personnel while Watchdog Wire – Texas reported on the Austin Police Department’s SWAT operations attending a similar session.

Is this the emergence of “warrior cops”? In his new book Rise of the Warrior Cop, Radley Balko makes the case that equipping police with military weapons and armor is creating a new breed of police.

Salon.com says this of the book and its position on the growing militarization of police forces:

How did this happen? For decades, the war on drugs has empowered police to act aggressively. More recently, 9/11 and school shootings enforced the notion that there’s no such thing as too much security. Since 9/11, the newly formed Department of Homeland Security has distributed billions in grants, enabling even some small town police departments to buy armored personnel carriers and field their own SWAT teams.

Once you have a SWAT team the only thing to do is kick some ass. There are more than 100 SWAT team raids every day in this country. They’re not chasing murderers or terrorists. For the most part they go after nonviolent offenders like drug dealers and even small time gamblers. As you’d expect when there is too much adrenaline and too much weaponry, there have been some tragedies. Suddenly goofball comedies where an elite squad invades a house to find a pot-smoking kid don’t seem so funny. (Balko’s book describes such incidents at length in excerpts Salon published here and here.)

This problem defies the usual conservative vs. liberal calculus. As Balko sees it, Democrats love spending money on cops and Republicans want to seem tough on crime. In this fertile ground, the police-industrial complex has grown. Many of its excesses are almost impossible to defend, but it’s not going anywhere. Balko talked to Salon about the decline of community policing, the warrior cop mentality, why so many dogs get killed by police. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

The Wall Street Journal provides this perspective:

The acronym SWAT stands for Special Weapons and Tactics. Such police units are trained in methods similar to those used by the special forces in the military. They learn to break into homes with battering rams and to use incendiary devices called flashbang grenades, which are designed to blind and deafen anyone nearby. Their usual aim is to “clear” a building—that is, to remove any threats and distractions (including pets) and to subdue the occupants as quickly as possible.

The country’s first official SWAT team started in the late 1960s in Los Angeles. By 1975, there were approximately 500 such units. Today, there are thousands. According to surveys conducted by the criminologist Peter Kraska of Eastern Kentucky University, just 13% of towns between 25,000 and 50,000 people had a SWAT team in 1983. By 2005, the figure was up to 80%.

The number of raids conducted by SWAT-like police units has grown accordingly. In the 1970s, there were just a few hundred a year; by the early 1980s, there were some 3,000 a year. In 2005 (the last year for which Dr. Kraska collected data), there were approximately 50,000 raids. Some federal agencies also now have their own SWAT teams, including NASA and the Department of the Interior.

Lou Ann Anderson is an information activist and the editor of Watchdog Wire – Texas. As a Policy Analyst with Americans for Prosperity – Texas, she writes and speaks on a variety of public policy topics. Lou Ann is the Creator and Online Producer at Estate of Denial®, a website that addresses probate abuse via wills, trusts, guardianships and powers of attorney as well as other taxpayer advocacy issues.

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Brazoria County, Travis County: Comparing and contrasting two drunk driving tales (TX)

Upon being arrested by Houston police on a driving while intoxicated charge, a Brazoria County prosecutor has resigned. This development becomes especially notable as controversy continues related to the April drunk driving arrest of Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg and four months later that of Assistant District Attorney Brandon Grunewald.

Michael A. Abner, 30, was arrested Oct. 19 after a Houston police officer responded to a call about a swerving vehicle the Houston Chronicle reports. He was later released from jail on a $500 bond and is scheduled to return Nov. 11 to Harris County Criminal Court at Law No. 4.

Brazoria County District Attorney Jeri Yenne told The Chronicle Abner resigned last week.

“After his arrest became known, Mr. Abner and I had a discussion,” she said.

Yenne said her office has a policy of no drinking and driving.

“I came to the conclusion years ago that there are certain standards you have to have when you prosecute people for DWI,” she said. “I don’t ever want somebody to say, ‘You do the same thing.’ No good can ever come from drinking and driving, anyway.”

Yenne said she has had the policy in writing since 2011.

“It is my sincere hope that everyone who works for me complies with it,” she said.

Travis County, on the other hand, approaches drunk driving of district attorney’s office employees much differently.

Despite repeated calls and ongoing legal actions stemming from the arrest, Lehmberg has refused to step down. Hypocrisy and diminished credibility overshadow the district attorney’s office and its effectiveness as the county’s chief prosecutor of other DWI offenders or offenses that involve drunk driving.

Shortly after her April arrest, Lehmberg entered a guilty plea to intoxication and an open container violation. She was then sentenced to 45 days in jail with her license suspended for 180 days. Credit for good behavior allowed Lehmberg’s release after serving half the time.

Adding insult to injury, it was later learned that Lehmberg continued receiving her salary while in jail and kept the almost $10,000 of public dollars paid to her. Weeks later upon discovery of this information by attorney Kerry O’Brien who has also filed a removal from office civil action, the embattled district attorney quickly announced a donation to Mothers Against Drunk Drivers (MADD) claiming there “isn’t really a mechanism” to pay back the public.

In June, Lehmberg entered into a political showdown with Gov. Rick Perry as the state’s top official made good on his threat of a line item veto of state funding for the district attorney’s Public Integrity Unit (PIU) when Lehmberg refused to resign in the wake of controversy surrounding her drunk driving arrest.

The Public Integrity Unit investigates and prosecutes state officials and politicians. Its Travis County location and control by Lehmberg comes as ethics violations often center on activities around the Capitol or at other Austin-based state agencies.

Travis County residents are now on the hook for a new $1.8 million expense after county commissioners voted in August to finance a portion of the PIU whose funding was cut after Lehmberg refused to resign.

Meanwhile, Travis County Assistant District Attorney Brandon Grunewald was arrested Aug. 11 on a misdemeanor drunken driving charge in connection with a traffic accident in Austin.

The Austin American-Statesman reported Lehmberg saying “her office doesn’t usually fire employees for a first-time DWI offense and that she will wait until ‘all the facts are known’ before making any final decisions.”

The Remove Rosemary Lehmberg Facebook page offered this quote reportedly from Lehmberg’s Travis County District Attorney Employee Handbook (dated 09/03/10, p. 4):

“All employees are expected to adhere to the highest standards of conduct in both their professional and private lives. By statute, all DA employees work at the will of the District Attorney. Any illegal acts or any conduct bringing disrepute on the office are grounds for immediate termination.”

So Lehmberg doesn’t “usually fire employees for a first-time DWI offense”? Has it happened so many times to have developed such a specific course of action? And if so, what of the DA’s “standards of conduct” and how do DA staffers maintain credibility in prosecuting other DWI offenders or offenses that involve drunk driving?

Also worth noting, however, all news for Lehmberg is not grim.

A 12-member Travis County grand jury recently declined to indict the district attorney on charges relating to her jail conduct in the aftermath of the drunk driving arrest. The grand jury review was based on a complaint filed by attorney Rick Reed, a former Lehmberg political opponent. Reed’s complaint alleged Lehmberg committed 16 counts of official misconduct ranging from coercion of a public servant to retaliation. If affirmed, Lehmberg could have faced third-degree felony obstruction charges.

Austin’s KOKE-FM compiled this booking footage of Travis County’s top prosecutor.

The civil jury trial seeking to remove from office Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg based on her drunk driving arrest has also been cancelled. This cancellation prompts serious questions of if this development is a move to save taxpayer funds and more efficiently move forward the legal process? Or is merely a tactic which might later be used to help the district attorney avoid removal?

As Brazoria County taxpayers can take a degree of satisfaction that their interests have been protected at least in this instance, Travis County taxpayers still deservedly have legitimate questions regarding the operations of their district attorney’s office and its impact on the county’s entire legal process.

Lou Ann Anderson is an information activist and the editor of Watchdog Wire – Texas. As a Policy Analyst with Americans for Prosperity – Texas, she writes and speaks about a variety of public policy topics. Lou Ann is the Creator and Online Producer at Estate of Denial®, a website that addresses the growing issue of probate abuse in which wills, trusts, guardianships and powers of attorney are used to loot assets from intended beneficiaries or heirs.

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Big in Texas: local government spending, football, local government football spending

Texas is known for big things and that includes public spending. Complain all you want about Washington D.C. and the federal government’s always insatiable appetite for debt accumulation and more tax dollars. With $322 billion in local government debt here in our own backyards, Texans can have our own special brand of confidence that the all-star debtor status of our children and grandchildren is firmly secured, even growing, so that an adult life of financial uncertainty and instability are some of the few things on which they’ll likely be able to count.

Texas local government debt stands at $322 billion, second only to California in total debt and second only to New York in per capita debt. Often using the “for the children” mantra, school districts account for the largest growth sector of outstanding local government debt while the biggest percentage debt increase is in special purpose districts.

Texas is routinely noted as one of the nation’s fastest-growing states. For the year ending July 1, 2012, we had eight of the 15 fastest-growing large U.S. cities and towns. High tax states are losing population.

You’d think that might signal to the historically low tax states – like Texas – the importance of maintaining those policies that indeed are the basis for its current taxpayer migration popularity. It’s understood that population growth prompts the need for some increased infrastructure like new schools and roads. Does it, however, prompt the need for things like $60 million high school football stadiums?

In August 2012, just north of Dallas, the Allen Independent School District opened its $60 million, 18,000-seat football stadium. Forbes noted it as “generally discussed, at least outside of Texas, as the wretched excess of the state’s mania for high school football, the kind of schoolboy facility inspired by Jerry Jones‘ understated (that’s sarcasm) Cowboys Stadium.”

Upon its opening, the stadium “instantly become the nation’s largest and most expensive high school football stadium.” Featuring 4,000 seats more than district’s old stadium and though the stadium was only home to six regular season games during its first year, WFAA reported “district officials emphasize the athletic complex will be used every day, all year round. Among the amenities are a vast weight room, an area for the three-time state wrestling champs and an indoor golf practice area.”

Other stadium features include a 75-foot long high-definition video scoreboard, 42 concession stands and 192 public restrooms.

“If they didn’t want it, they could have voted it down,” Allen Coach Tom Westerberg told WFAA with regard to the stadium’s community support. “And they didn’t.”

But voters are often disinclined to vote against such proposals and the reasons why aren’t hard to see. Constructive opposition to local government spending issues places citizens against public officials who may be neighbors, fellow church or civic organization members, etc. Launching an oppositon campaign requires courage, an attribute existing more in theory and reputation than in reality.

Prominent local officials as well as business leaders are strongly encouraged to register support for new measures or else risk community “team membership” status. Average citizens not falling into step risk social ostracization or other exclusion from the “right” party rosters or Christmas card lists. Peer pressure is a common force used to encourage passage, but other routinely invoked mechanics in such elections are also easily identifiable.

With the November 2012 election, Texas voters continued embracing debt level largesse by approving $5.5 billion in new bond proposals – $7.7 billion upon adding the interest rarely addressed in bond proposal “sales” campaigns.

Nov. 5 will offer new opportunity to continue this trend of financial commitments and consequences destined to impede future generations’ prosperity for decades ahead. Besides nine proposed constitutional amendments, more than 70 local taxing entities will ask their voters to approve more than $5 billion in new bond packages. But again, will the outrage aimed at D.C. ever find its way to local communities?

A new 14,000-seat, $69.5 million football stadium for the in Katy Independent School District will be an interesting initiative to watch. While proponents claim the growing school district is in need of a second stadium, other term the measure as  “grossly excessive” and failing to offer voters a choice of projects.

Cyndi Lawrence, president of an anti-tax group called Katy Libertea, said her members do not oppose all of the projects in the $99 million bond package, which includes $25 million to expand the Gerald D. Young Agricultural Sciences Center and $4.5 million for a new science, technology, engineering and math center.

“They are coming at us with a $99 million bond that is all or nothing,” Lawrence said. “Some of us support the STEM Center and the agricultural facilities but we feel that $69 million is way outlandish for a football stadium.”

Bet they are not mentioning that the real cost of the bond package will be the advertised rate plus another 40 percent or so for interest. Taxpayers were seriously betrayed as organizations including Texas Association of School Boards (TASB) and Texas Association of School Administrators (TASA) – both of which exist based on school district memberships (i.e. public funds) – joined Texas Municipal League (TML), Texas Association of Counties (TAC) and a host of other taxpayer-funded organizations in killing legislation that would have provided taxpayers with new transparency regarding local government spending and debt.

In other words, dishonesty with regard to real bond proposal costs would have been disallowed. The mechanics of school district elections once more in play.

Texans for now seem happy to remain outraged with Washington while largely living out of touch with their own local governments’ spending and the long-term dangers being created. Interesting times will be ahead as future generations of all-star debtors live with the consequences of today’s all-star spending  – spending created in part by all-star football and similarly questionable expenditures.

Lou Ann Anderson is an information activist and the editor of Watchdog Wire – Texas. As a Policy Analyst with Americans for Prosperity – Texas, she writes and speaks about a variety of public policy topics. Lou Ann is the Creator and Online Producer at Estate of Denial®, a website that addresses the growing issue of probate abuse in which wills, trusts, guardianships and powers of attorney are used to loot assets from intended beneficiaries or heirs.

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Houston-area neighborhood opts for private, not government security (TX)

One Houston neighborhood is taking an interesting non-governmental approach to security.

From KHOU 11 News Houston:

 

Since November Houston’s Sharpstown neighborhood has contracted with S.E.A.L. Security Texas for its security services. The officers look and are equipped as traditional police. Their services even include the use of canines.

James Alexander, director of operations for the Houston-based company, says that although most people think of private security as “mall cops,” his company patrols district and subdivisions like Sharpstown to “give them a little bit more security for their money.”

Opposed to Sharpstown’s prior contract with Harris County Constable’s Office, KHOU reports, S.E.A.L. Security provides three to four officers on patrol at any given time and does so at half the previous cost. Burglaries have also been cut in half.

The Sharpstown Civic Association says the switch will save about $200,000 per year.

Lou Ann Anderson is an information activist and the editor of Watchdog Wire – Texas. As a Policy Analyst with Americans for Prosperity – Texas, she writes and speaks about a variety of public policy topics. Lou Ann is the Creator and Online Producer at Estate of Denial®, a website that addresses the growing issue of probate abuse in which wills, trusts, guardianships and powers of attorney are used to loot assets from intended beneficiaries or heirs.

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DontComply.com speaks to juror as Bell County prosecution of Grisham case continues (TX)

L.J. Cotterill, one of six jurors from the U.S. Army Master Sgt. C.J. Grisham trial, spoke with Matthew Short of DontComply.com regarding his four-day Bell County courtroom experience which rendered a hung jury with a five to convict, one to acquit vote.

After qualifying that he was speaking only on his own behalf, Cotterill called the trial an “interesting event.”

Cotterill said that upon seeing the dashcam video, being a corrections officer caused him to look at the incident from both points of view and he saw many mistakes made by both parties. “This was a matter that got completely blown out of proportion,” he said. “You had two A-type personalities run into each other and they responded poorly to one another.”

He discussed how, as a reflexive response, people with weapons retention training will react differently when someone tries to disarm them. With Grisham’s military history, Cotterill observed “you’re going to have that.”

Once the encounter between Grisham and Temple Police Officer Steve Ermis started, “if either party had backed up just a little, it would have de-escalated quickly. They could have talked, they could have fixed this. It would never have become public attention. But what happened was rather than say ‘hey, hold on, what I’m going to do is clear this weapon and make sure I’m safe while speaking to you,’ the officer pulls his weapon and puts him (Grisham) on the hood.”

He expressed empathy for Ermis, the dangers of the job and noted not being there to specifically read that situation, but suggested, “I know my method of handling the situation would have been different.”

Cotterill says that Grisham did the things he was charged with, but there were circumstances behind the actions. “The problems were with two A-type personalities and neither was going to back down so it continued to escalate and they ended up on the hood.”

“If I had been allowed to factor in self-defense,” Cotterill said, “This would have probably been a two-minute deliberation and we all would have went ‘not guilty.’”

The problem is, he explained, all the jury was allowed to consider was criminal negligence using the definition that had been provided. The jury was not allowed to factor in circumstance or anything else – it was just did this thing happen? All evidence considered had to be from witness statements.

After 12 hours of arguing “not guilty,” Cotterill said he had to admit that Grisham did indeed commit the acts. The jury, he said, was not there to decide if there were mitigating circumstances.

“We had been given the order to determine whether or not he had committed these acts.”

“You can look at the video and you can see he (Grisham) committed these acts. Yes, he may have had his reasons, but it doesn’t change the fact that he committed these acts.” Cotterill explained. “We weren’t there to determine if he had the right to self defense, we weren’t there to determine if his actions were a defensive tactics. We weren’t there to determine whether the officer was wrong in his actions. We were just there to determine whether or not he had committed the acts that he was charged with.”

The jury was hung because “one individual did not feel Grisham’s acts were pronounced enough to constitute resisting, interfering, impeding or disrupting,” Cotterill said.

He went on to describe a “huge gray area” regarding the definitions given. “That gray area is the difference between the spirit and meaning of the law and the letter of the law,” he continued. “When we were arguing for ‘not guilty,’ we were going on what we felt the spirit and the meaning was, but that is a highly subjective thing and we ended up having to resort to what is the letter of the law.”

Of the one acquittal holdout, Cotterill said he didn’t know if the person “couldn’t divorce their feelings from the matter or if they were stubborn.”

Of his own vote change from not guilty to guilty, Cotterill said he told other jurors that he was wrong initially, but “for all the right reasons.” The charge by itself, he said, is garbage because while Grisham may have committed the charge, it was for a good reason and while he may have committed the acts, it was justifiable in Cotterill’s opinion.

Only information presented from the witness stand was allowed during deliberations. No “outside information” was made available. A jury request for a dictionary in order to clarify the definition of “criminal negligence” was denied.

When asked if jurors were presented an option of jury nullification, Cotterill said no. He said the jury instructions stated if Grisham committed any one – not all – of the acts for which he was charged, a guilty verdict should be returned. Only if the jury found Grisham committed none of the acts could not guilty be found.

Cotterill said he originally argued that circumstances of the incident mitigated Grisham’s actions and the charges, but because of the “criminal negligence” definition provided, he says that hours of deliberation altered his position to a view that “circumstances were not what was in question – it was a question of whether or not the action had been committed.”

The jury composition included corrections officer Cotterill, a law enforcement officer and a Marine. He said all but one – the individual who voted “not guilty” – were pro-gun.

The interview concluded with Cotterill noting both Grisham and Ermis are “heroes” with regard to their respective public service. He said Ermis made mistakes, but “was not on trial.” Grisham was on trial and his actions were those upon which judgment was required.

Regardless “whatever the politics were,” Cotterill said he agrees with the message of Open Carry Texas and believes in the Second Amendment and in all our Constitutional rights. Whether the Grisham case could be precedent setting, he said the jury had to set aside personal feelings and judge the case based on the information provided at trial and on the jury instructions.

That’s why, he said, they “had a hard time coming to a decision” and had Bell County’s longest deliberation of any Class B misdemeanor.

Per Cotterill, “we all agreed that the charge itself and the case itself was garbage. This entire matter should have been resolved by two grown men acting like grown men apologizing for their part in a bad situation and buying each other a beer and then going to a range together.”

The term right fighting – fighting to be right, not necessarily to make the right decision; having to have the last word in an argument; to not back down, to prevail regardless the cost or carnage -  applies to the prosecution of this case. Right fighting usually occurs in dysfunctional personal relationships, but we see here that it can also find its way to public venues at taxpayer expense.

As Grisham’s case remains pending with the office of Bell County Attorney Jim Nichols, area residents can look to the new trial scheduled Nov. 18 as the next date in which taxpayer-funded right fighting dysfunction returns to court.

Lou Ann Anderson is an information activist and the editor of Watchdog Wire – Texas. As a Policy Analyst with Americans for Prosperity – Texas, she writes and speaks about a variety of public policy topics. Lou Ann is the Creator and Online Producer at Estate of Denial®, a website that addresses the growing issue of probate abuse in which wills, trusts, guardianships and powers of attorney are used to loot assets from intended beneficiaries or heirs.

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Adventures in lawyer advertising: Battle of the Hammers

For years, personal injury law advertising and violent imagery have gone hand in hand. Only in this field would we get a video of an unhinged attorney smashing a pickup truck into a parked car and call it an advertisement. The more they can yell or blow things up, it seems, the better.

Keeping with the tradition of aggression, we have not one, not two, but three different personal injury lawyers who have branded themselves “The Hammer.” But in the dog-eat-dog world of personal injury law, there can only be room for one Hammer. So who should win the rights to the title?

Should it be Lowell “The Hammer” Stanley from Virginia, who compares personal injury law to making sausage? Or Jim “The Hammer” Shapiro, the personal injury attorney possibly from New York (or Canada or Florida), who claims he loves to play rough? Or our entry from down South, Jim “The Texas Hammer” Adler, who is supposedly meaner than a junkyard dog?

Which Hammer should reign supreme? Let’s review the evidence….

Lowell “The Hammer” Stanley, hailing from Norfolk, Virginia, makes his case entirely through an extensive YouTube presence. Show this guy a camera and he will yell at it.

Stanley holds himself out as the “Avenger for the Injured” and assures us that size matters, in terms of client recovery anyway (clever there, Hammer). In my favorite spot, the Hammer conjures scenes from The Jungle as he informs us that “getting you a fair settlement from stingy insurance companies is a lot like making sausage, you don’t want to see it done.”

If you haven’t had your fill of Lowell Stanley yet, there is a seemingly endless supply of commercials to watch, including this one, this one, and this one.

To sum it all up, someone has created this awesome montage that transforms Stanley into a rapper, and features the likes of Hulk Hogan, Steve Urkel, and, of course, MC Hammer:

Well done, sir.

The next Hammer in contention is a fellow with a sketchier past. Jim “The Hammer” Shapiro used to advertise in the Rochester, New York area by way of predictably low-budget commercials featuring a lot of monotone and screaming. Like Stanley, Shapiro has a large YouTube presence showcasing his finer work.

With catch lines such as “I sue drunks” and “I love to play rough,” Shapiro makes a compelling case that he truly is The Hammer of all hammers. There are other videos, including one where he just yells the word “victims” over and over again. Shapiro loses points to Stanley in the remix department, though, because his montage can’t even compete. I mean, they couldn’t conjure up footage of even one dancing 80s star?

But nothing can top the ad where Shapiro professes: “I cannot rip out the hearts of those who hurt you. I cannot hand you their severed heads. But I can hunt them down and settle the score.”

OK then. If that’s not a lawyer who will fight for you, I don’t know what is.

According to Urban Dictionary (yes, this guy has an Urban Dictionary entry), Shapiro’s tagline was, “I may be an SOB, but I’m your SOB.” Nice.

But before we hand the Golden Hammer Trophy to Shapiro, it’s time look at The Hammer’s dark side. In 2002, The Hammer was nailed with a $1.9 million malpractice verdict after he accepted a $65,000 settlement on behalf of a car crash victim who was in a coma, despite never having met his client. As it turns out, the settlement undervalued the victim’s injuries and didn’t pay his medical bills. It also came out during videotaped testimony (because why would the lawyer be at the trial?) that Shapiro had never tried a case, hadn’t lived in New York for over ten years, and let subordinates such as paralegals handle his cases while he lived in Florida.

Not cool, Hammer. I’ll be taking that trophy back now.

Our last contestant under consideration is Jim “The Texas Hammer” Adler. As always, we have a slew of ads, courtesy of the magic of YouTube.

Adler promises, “you call, I’ll hammer” in the requisite Texas drawl, while assuring us that he bites, given that he’s “meaner than a junkyard dog.” There are other videos out there, but where Adler really seems to wander off the path of sanity is when he starts talking about the possible bankruptcy implications “if you get hit by a UFO….” Sure, why not?

Adler makes an admirable effort to market to potential Spanish-speaking clients in this spot, where he promotes himself as El Martillo Tejano. So, he’s not just The Texas Hammer, but the Spanish Texas Hammer, too.

Sadly, there is no remix video for the Texas Hammer. It seems his fans don’t love him as much as the other Hammers’ fans do. Or maybe they have more important things to do with their time. Either way, it is definitely a weakness in Adler’s case.

So, who is the Supreme Hammer? I have to give this one to the Avenger for the Injured, Lowell “The Hammer” Stanley, for the sheer number of crazy commercials he has put out, although I confess that the scale was tipped by the awesome rapping montage. But I will give a special Foreign Language category award to Jim “The Texas Hammer” Adler. Keep up the good work, sir. And Jim “The Hammer” Shapiro — I’m pretty sure that a huge malpractice verdict and a confession that you’re not even really a lawyer take you out of the running. Feel free to slip out the side door while no one’s looking.

Attribution:

Adventures in Lawyer Advertising: Battle of the Hammers
Natasha Lydon
September 25, 2012
Above the Law
http://abovethelaw.com/2012/09/adventures-in-lawyer-advertising-battle-of-the-hammers/

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October 4, 2012 | 1 Comment

InJustice the Film: Austin premiere scheduled Oct. 9 (TX)

The Austin premiere of InJustice the Film is scheduled to begin 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 9, at Alamo Drafthouse Village, 2700 W. Anderson Lane.  The event is sponsored by Americans for Prosperity (AFP) Foundation –Texas, Texans for Lawsuit Reform (TLR) and Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse (CALA).  Seating is limited and reservations are required for this free event.  Doors open 6:15 p.m., food and drinks will be available for purchase.  Visit http://injusticescreeningtx.eventbrite.com/ to reserve your space.

InJustice is a feature length documentary which showcases how the class action lawsuit, born from the Civil Rights Act of 1964, was skillfully managed by a small group of trial attorneys who manipulated legal rules, procedures — and even their own clients — to become an international enterprise that rivals the scope and profits of Fortune 500 corporations.

If in the central Texas area, hope you’ll join us for a great evening!

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September 30, 2012 | Leave a comment

The Death Tax: alive, still kicking

The Death Tax is projected to skyrocket in upcoming months.  Estate of Denial® addresses the ongoing use of probate venues and probate instruments (wills, trusts, guardianships and powers of attorney) to perpetrate Involuntary Redistribution of Assets actions against the dead, disabled and incapacitated – and their families or other heirs/beneficiaries.  We see property rights trampled as the legal system is used to loot estates by diverting lifelong accumulations of assets from a property owner’s intended recipients to never-intended or outside parties. The Death Tax is government-sponsored estate looting and is equally harmful as actions perpetrated by non-governmental grave robbers, asset looters, property poachers and walker stalkers.

An estate tax discourages productivity and prosperity. It can thwart motivation and economic innovation – foundational principles on which this country was built.  While the generation of prosperity through hard work, creative thinking and discipline was once aspired to and celebrated, today’s world too often seems to begrudge success and foster a skeptical view that if someone is “rich,” perhaps they acquired it less than honestly or were undeservedly “lucky.” As the trickle-down value of wealth – did a poor man ever give you a job? – seems sadly lost, also being challenged is the concept that one’s earnings are their own to keep spend, save or reinvest/redistribute per their own accord.

Fox News recently aired this interview on the Death Tax:

Attribution:

‘Death tax’ rate set to almost double in coming months
Jul 10, 2012
FoxNews.com
‘Death tax’ rate set to almost double in coming months
Jul 10, 2012
FoxNews.com
http://video.foxnews.com/v/1729106112001/death-tax-rate-set-to-almost-double-in-coming-months/

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July 18, 2012 | Leave a comment

Philip K. Howard on a broken legal system where common sense is uncommon (TX)

Estate of Denial® was recently alerted to a compelling Philip K. Howard video which as we move through the 2012 election cycle contains important perspective that – whether they realize it or not – is impacting the lives of all Americans.  Howard is founder of Common Good, a nonpartisan, nonprofit reform coalition that offers new ideas to restore common sense to all three branches of government.

In the video, Howard discusses how lawsuits have damaged basic trust in our society, not only stifling business growth and innovation, but also in limiting our freedom.  These same limitations on freedom are increasingly seen in probate venues as abusive use of legal instruments like wills, trusts, guardianships and powers of attorney threaten the property rights of individuals by too often illicitly diverting or otherwise ignoring specified wishes with regard to final distributions of assets.  Or, as we call it at EoD, estate looting.  These acts also impede the inheritance rights of legitimate heirs and beneficiaries.

“We’ve been trained to squint into a legal microscope, hoping that we can judge any dispute against the standard of a perfect society, where everyone will agree what’s fair, and where accidents will be extinct, risk will be no more,” Howard says.  He says that “what people can sue for establishes boundaries for everyone else’s freedom.”

Howard further discusses how a lack of personal responsibility creates more legal chaos as business and other entities take defensive actions hoping to avoid lawsuits.  This absence of common sense and personal responsibility was suggested in a July 12 letter in Bell County’s Temple Daily Telegram.

A July 8 lightning strike at the city of Temple’s water treatment plant temporarily disabled operations causing the city to issue a “water disaster declaration” based on fears that a diminished water supply could hamper fire department efforts in the event of a fire.  At a point, residents were put under a boil water notice thus apparently prompting this letter to the local paper:

Boil water rigorously

During the recent water treatment plant shutdown, the city of Temple website instructed me to “boil water rigorously for two minutes before consumption.”

This caused me to badly burn my mouth.  Who should I complain to?

Michael Craig
Temple

While unlikely to be published, this response was submitted by an EoD-affiliated individual experienced with both abusive legal practices and the common sense void thriving within the legal industry specifically and the public at large.

This letter is in response to the July 12, 2012 “Boil Water Vigorously” letter submitted by Michael Craig.

I would caution Mr. Craig the next time he is planning on taking a shower and washing his hair with shampoo.  If he follows the shampoo manufacturer’s instructions (i.e. lather, rinse, repeat) he will never get out of the shower and be able to submit another insightful “Letter to the Editor” again!

John Anderson
Temple, TX

Howard says “the land of the free has become a legal minefield” causing much work to be “paralyzed by fear of suits.”  This Letter to the Editor is only one reminder that Howard’s absolutely right.  Though Temple chose a prudent course geared toward overall public protection, today’s world sees many entities fearfully reacting to similar situations by deferring to often isolated and unknown legal threats that seemingly abound in our current environment.  A “need to overhaul and simplify the law” is a generalization of Howard’s advocated course, but such a thought process undoubtedly heads in the right direction!

For substantive reform to occur, however, people will have to recognize the negative impact of overreaching regulations along with the growing numbers of nonsensically intrusive laws.  This is a complicated issue with many separate components deserving attention, but the important starting point comes with understanding how an out-of-control legal system is limiting freedom and self-interestedly consuming resources (financial and other).  This is not a problem affecting only large businesses, the “rich” or some other population segment that rarely draws empathy.  Many other Americans are increasingly harmed by this broken legal system without ever realizing what’s happening.

This video provides a great start for understanding what’s at stake today and the threats a broken legal system poses for future generations.

Lou Ann Anderson is an advocate working to create awareness regarding the Texas probate system and its surrounding culture. She is the Online Producer at www.EstateofDenial.com, a Policy Advisor with Americans for Prosperity – Texas and a Director of Women on the Wall. Lou Ann may be contacted at info@EstateofDenial.com.

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July 17, 2012 | Leave a comment

Family takes issue with Michigan estate recovery laws

A new dispatch from the Land of the Gimme-Gimmes and the Home of the I-Want-Mores.  Wouldn’t we all like to keep our property for ourselves rather than use it for cost of living expenses like nursing home care?  But that’s not the real world.  And don’t think Medicaid planning is the answer!  If that’s your solution, at least do it honestly by stealing outright from your neighbors, friends and other family members instead of hiding behind a theft-disguised-as-a-government-program action.  Estate of Denial® has written on that subject many times.

Nonetheless, whether the financial burden falls on taxpayers or companies in a union environment, affording a populace that embraces one’s adulthood spent sporting the maturity of a 13-year-old with generous parents on allowance day is expensive and unsustainable.  In Michigan’s years-long descent into economic oblivion, it could be hoped this realization might begin to emerge.  Evidently not.

Kudos to Katherine Thelen of Grand Rapids for this comment:

So let me get this straight, you want to take care of everyone, not make them pay for their own care, not have your taxes increase, have a balanced budget and if you don’t get this fairy tale you blame the government? What happen to personal responsibility? If they want to keep the house, give the state of MI $39,000.

A ray of sunshine!!  Even if personal responsibility isn’t a component of this family’s belief system, the self-serving play would have been to at least educate themselves on who was picking up their mother’s long-term care tab.  In doing so, they would likely have found that on behalf of Michigan taxpayers, the state has every right to put a lien on this property in order to satisfy an unpaid debt.  Instead, resistance to the “no such thing as a free lunch” reality continues.

Here’s the article inspiring this rant:

GLENN, Mich. (WOOD) – Families dealing with the death of a parent are finding that her will doesn’t matter. The State of Michigan has cut in line to get the proceeds of her estate.

Lillian Collins’ family was supposed to keep her home near Glenn in Allegan County — which has been in the family since 1950 — after she died last year at age 84. Now, instead, the State of Michigan wants it.

Shirley Logsdon and her brother were shocked when they found out that the will their mother left didn’t matter. The siblings were supposed to inherit the house but now the state has gone to the Michigan Probate Court and put a lien — a claim on property to settle a debt — on it.

“They’re asking for $35,000,” Logsdon told 24 Hour News 8.

That’s because Lillian Collins spent the last year of her life in a nursing home and was covered under Medicaid.

Since July 2011, the state has been enforcing the Estate Recovery Law. The law aims to recoup taxpayer money from individuals who received long-term Medicaid care.

“My brother is 62 years old,” said Logsdon. “He’s getting ready to retire. The house was willed to him. We both knew the property was willed to both of us and now if the State of Michigan takes this property, he’ll be kicked out on the road. He has no place to go.”

Elder law and estate planning attorney David Carrier said the state is trying to get what money it can.

“They’re looking under the cushions for the loose change,” said Carrier.

Carrier said some states have had similar laws for years, but have recovered little money for the taxpayers.

“Less than 1%,” said Carrier. “This is not a solution to ‘How do we pay for long term care?’”

Carrier says he was surprised when the state decided to try estate recovery because it applies only to cases that go thru Probate Court and there are ways to avoid that, such as using Trusts to preserve assets for the family.

“There are ways to hang on to the house, but you have to plan,” said Carrier. “You don’t get any do-overs.”

There are some hardship exemptions in the recovery law, but so far Logsdon has been told they don’t apply in her case.

The family has appealed and is waiting for a hearing date — possibly the first since the state has started enforcing the law.

Attribution:

Family may lose home to Estate Recovery
Law aims to get back taxpayer Medicaid money
Henry Erb
March 27, 2012
WoodTV.com
http://www.woodtv.com/dpp/news/local/allegan_county/Family-may-lose-home-to-Estate-Recovery

 

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April 2, 2012 | 1 Comment

Audio

Estate of Denial, Live and Let Live audio file posted

Last Sunday, Lou Ann Anderson, creator and online producer of Estate of Denial® joined host Gary Johnson on Rule of Law Radio’s Live and Let Live broadcast to again discuss the growing threat which many Texans – and many Americans – face with abusive probate actions.  Recent probate cases in the news were highlighted to help illustrate how these cases can occur and the variety of people affected.

They also discussed Anderson’s recent experience with Occupy Wall Street/D.C. protesters while attending the Americans for Prosperity Foundation’s Defending the American Dream Summit as well as latest developments on the investigation into Michael Morton’s wrongful murder conviction, another public corruption issue Anderson has closely followed.

Live and Let Live’s second hour featured Thomas Baird, treasurer of the Save Our Charter PAC, a Temple, Texas, citizen’s group that recently defeated a city charter amendment that would have mandated a minimum police department staffing requirement and potentially created the city’s largest-ever tax increase.

As a Temple resident, EoD’s Lou Ann Anderson also shared concern over this issue.  As an Americans for Prosperity Foundation Texas Policy Adviser, its widespread policy implications was immediately recognized.  Anderson’s Temple voters face big decision with proposed charter amendment change details the issue.

Live and Let Live 111113A

Live and Let Live 111113B

And incidentally, Jonathan Okray, organizer of the Killeen (Texas) city council recall effort, will visit with Gary Johnson at 8 p.m. CST on Sunday, Nov. 20.  The program can be accessed hereKilleen, Temple voters show the power of an engaged, informed electorate provides a wrap-up of both issues.

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November 20, 2011 | Leave a comment

Arise Shine with Dan and Laurie Purkis (September 18, 2011)

Lou Ann Anderson

Arise Shine with Dan and Laurie Purkis (September 18, 2011)

Public corruption is a big component of the probate abuse issue.  Crony court systems, dishonest public officials, government systems that function on taxpayer funds yet provide little taxpayer protection are a reality that increasingly impacts peoples’ daily lives.

Last December, Estate of Denial® began writing about a lawsuit involving a Williamson County (TX) judge accused of sexual harassment.  As this judge reportedly had probate responsibilities, our interest was piqued.  Nearly one year later, that interest is more intense than ever as questions concerning the county government’s culture of corruption, pattern of misconduct, abuse of public trust and disregard for taxpayer interests continue.

EoD’s Lou Ann Anderson discusses this situation on Arise Shine with Dan and Laurie Purkis.  Topics include Williamson County, its alleged corruption issues along with the implications and expenses to taxpayers as well as the Michael Morton murder case in which a potentially innocent man has been in prison for nearly 25 years while a killer presumably walks free will certainly be part of the discussion.

AriseShine110918

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September 19, 2011 | Leave a comment

Live and Let Live (June 5, 2011)

Lou Ann Anderson

Live and Let Live (June 5, 2011)

Lou Ann Anderson, creator and online producer of EstateofDenial.com, joined host Gary Johnson on Live and Let Live, a program broadcast on the Rule of Law Radio network, to discuss the implications of Britney Spears’ ongoing conservatorship (guardianship) as well as the Josephine Smoron estate case out of Connecticut.  Click here for more information on these cases.

Live and Let Live 110605

 

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June 9, 2011 | Leave a comment

Studio Talk with Laurie Horvath (March 20, 2011)

Lou Ann Anderson

Studio Talk with Laurie Horvath (March 20, 2011)

Lou Ann Anderson visits Studio Talk with Laurie Horvath on Austin’s Talk Radio 1370 AM to discuss her latest column Legislation seeking to change control of the Parrie Haynes Ranch generates interest, creates questions. Bell County Commissioner John Fisher was also on hand as the conversation spanned implications from probate to politics to the potential positive impact this 4,500 acre central Texas treasure is poised to have on untold numbers of state residents. The hour is kicked off with a Capitol Update by Americans for Prosperity-Texas Director Peggy Venable.

StudioTalkwithLaurie Horvath110320

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May 9, 2011 | Leave a comment

Live and Let Live (February 27, 2011)

Lou Ann Anderson

Live and Let Live (February 27, 2011)

Lou Ann Anderson, creator and online producer of EstateofDenial.com, joined host Gary Johnson on Live and Let Live, a program broadcast on the Rule of Law Radio network, to discuss current high profile probate cases including the Anna Nicole Smith case and issues surrounding the Parrie Haynes Ranch.  Controversy surrounding a Williamson County legal decision was also a topic.

Live and Let Live 110227

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May 9, 2011 | Leave a comment

The Truth Squad (February 14, 2011)

Lou Ann Anderson

The Truth Squad (February 14, 2011)

Estate of Denial’s Lou Ann Anderson talks with host Marti Oakley about “Guardianships Used as Tools for Hijacking Individual Rights, Looting Assets.” Marti and Lou Ann discuss the mechanics of probate corruption and estate abuse. They also detail probate’s parade of predators currently involved with hijacking rights and looting assets from intrusive government officials and bureaucrats to unscrupulous legal industry participants to medical and financial entities aiding and abetting these actions.

http://www.blogtalkradio.com/marti-oakley/2011/02/15/ts-radio-with-guest-lou-ann-anderson

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February 14, 2011 | Leave a comment

The Devvy Kidd Show (July 19, 2010)

Lou Ann Anderson

The Devvy Kidd Show (July 19, 2010)

Estate of Denial’s Lou Ann Anderson talks with Devvy Kidd about estate abuse and probate corruption.

DevvyKiddShow100719

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July 19, 2010 | Leave a comment

Nicole Sandler Show (May 20, 2010)

Danny Tate, Kevin Montgomery

Nicole Sandler Show (May 20, 2010)

Singer-songwriter Danny Tate along with his friend and fellow musician Kevin Montgomery discuss the status of Tate’ s current conservatorship and the upcoming Danny Tate Extravaganzascrutinizationfest. This is a follow-up interview with radio host Nicole Sandler.

http://www.blip.tv/file/3651549

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May 20, 2010 | Leave a comment

Nicole Sandler Show (May 3, 2010)

Danny Tate

Nicole Sandler Show (May 3, 2010)

Singer-songwriter Danny Tate discusses his current conservatorship imposed by Nashville Probate Judge Randy Kennedy with radio host Nicole Sandler.

EoD has written about Danny Tate’s questionable conservatorship in both Austin musicians (and others) beware the guardianship plight of Nashville rocker Danny Tate and Musician Danny Tate shows “fight for your life” aspect of Nashville (and other) probate courts.

http://blip.tv/file/3575003

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May 3, 2010 | Leave a comment

Live and Let Live (November 1, 2009)

Lou Ann Anderson

Live and Let Live (November 1, 2009)

Lou Ann Anderson, creator and online producer of EstateofDenial.com, joined host Gary Johnson on Live and Let Live, a program broadcast on the Rule of Law Radio network, to discuss current high profile probate cases including the guardianship of Michael and Eugenia Kidd, the Astor case verdicts and more.

http://blip.tv/file/get/Estateofdenial-LiveAndLetLiveNov12009527.mp3

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November 1, 2009 | Leave a comment