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Archive for the ‘First Amendment’ Category

2013 is already upon us, and three days in things are headed downhill. Congress just passed a bill to respond to the so-called “fiscal cliff” by increasing EVERYONE’S taxes at least a little bit, and a lot if you have a high income (note: if your money comes from investments and assets, such as Warren Buffett, your taxes will be unchanged). More battles will come up on the debt ceiling, automatic defense cuts, and future budget deals (if any come), and no doubt the partisanship will continue.

Delaware has its own problems to deal with: unfunded pension liabilities, out of control Medicaid spending, bad deals with Fisker and Bloom Energy, education performances moving sideways and not up, and taxes such as the gross receipts taxes which harm business growth. These are just a sample of the issues facing the state. While CRI would like to resolve every major issue within the state, that is not very likely.

Therefore CRI will spend 2013 focusing on three elements: improving education standards, discouraging corporate subsidies, and preventing the state from passing any legislation which pushes single-payer healthcare by abolishing private healthcare insurance.

Education reform will be CRI’s top priority in 2013. There is general consensus that the education system as currently structured is not serving the students well, particularly those in areas like Wilmington and Dover, where parents usually do not have the  financial means to send their children off to private schools, and who cannot be guaranteed a slot in the charter schools due to bureaucratic processes. CRI is calling for legislative actions to allow the money to “follow the student”, where parents have options such as Education Savings Accounts (ESA) that give parents the financial opportunity to choose where they want to educate their child. We hope to inform and engage the public and the legislators into some serious action this year that will give students a big victory for their future.

Our second goal is to reduce, if not eliminate, subsidies for preferred businesses and special interest friends of the government. Bloom Energy and Fisker Automotive are two prime examples of the government handing over “subsidies” for “investment” in these companies, meaning hundreds of millions in tax dollars to give to these companies, money we will in reality never receive payback for. There is no industry in Delaware receiving taxpayer money that can be said to be worth the corporate welfare. Our aim is to educate the public and legislators, and push Delaware to either reduce/eliminate current government subsidies to preferred parties, or else to agree to prohibit future government subsidies via “corporate welfare”.

Our third goal will be to discourage the Legislature from passing any bill which bans private health insurance in favor of “single payer” government. While CRI acknowledges the issues in containing healthcare costs, such as Tort reform, allowing insurance to be purchased across state lines, and using means-tested methods to determine who qualifies for Medicare or Medicaid as opposed to just handing it out to anyone who asks, there is no way the government can raise all the taxes needed to pay for this without destroying job opportunities or sending them out of state. Plus, the government will not be able to manage the insurance aspects of healthcare policy without setting up a massive, inefficient bureaucracy, just like they do with everything else.

What do you think? Are there any goals CRI should work for that are no mentioned above?

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According to the Society of Professional Journalists, Sens. Dianne Feinstein, D-CA, and Dick Durbin, D-Ill, may propose an amendment to S. 448, which is also known as the federal shield bill, or journalist shield law, in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Feinstein’s amendment would limit the type of journalist protected by the bill to a salaried employee or independent contractor/freelancer of a “news organization.”

This amendment would exclude from coverage online journalists, including the hardworking ones at CRI, un-contracted freelancers, student journalists, and anonymous bloggers.

Delaware Sen. Ed Kaufman serves on the committee. He can be contacted here.

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In an interview with the Caesar Rodney Institute Friday, Attorney General Beau Biden took issue with the claims that recent motions by his deputies to silence a well-respected Dover lawyer and vocal critic of the Department of Correction were designed to harass anyone.

Earlier today CRI revealed how Biden’s Office balked, the second time in as many weeks, in its latest attempt to restrict the First Amendment rights of Dover attorney Steve Hampton.

Deputy Attorney General Marc P. Niedzielski had asked a judge to stop Hampton from speaking out about the inadequacies of prison health care, and physical abuse by guards at the Sussex Correctional Institution (SCI).

Niedzielski also wanted the court to stop the public from viewing video evidence of inmate abuse by staff at SCI.

Less than two hours before the hearing was set to begin, however, Niedzielski withdrew his motion, at the insistence of his superiors.

Biden told The Caesar Rodney Institute that Niedzielski’s motion, and a similar motion filed last week by another Deputy AG, were “unnecessary” and not meant to harass anyone.

“I don’t believe there was any harassment going on here,” Biden said Friday afternoon. “That would be unacceptable. I have a great deal of confidence in the career deputies in this office. My experience has been they make the right judgement day in and day out.”

As to why he ordered both motions, which amounted to nothing more than gag orders, withdrawn, Biden said, “In my judgement, they were unnecessary.”

He would not explain why the motions were unnecessary.

“I am not going to comment on ongoing litigation,” he said.

As to when the AG’s office will start charging abusive prison guards with crimes, rather than defending them, Biden said his office will charge “anyone who breaks the law in the State of Delaware.”

“I been seven days back to work, and I’m reviewing everything that took place while I was in Iraq,” Biden said. “If criminal laws were broken, this office will investigate and prosecute.”

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Attorney General Beau Biden and his staff refused to comment about the decision.

By Lee Williams

(Editor’s note: this story can also be viewed in the Special Reports section.)

DOVER –Attorney General Beau Biden’s Office balked, the second time in as many weeks, in its latest attempt to restrict the First Amendment rights of a well-respected Department of Correction critic.

Deputy Attorney General Marc P. Niedzielski was due in court this morning to ask a judge to stop Dover attorney Steve Hampton from speaking out about the inadequacies of prison health care, and physical abuse by guards at the Sussex Correctional Institution (SCI).

Niedzielski also wanted the court to stop the public from viewing video evidence of inmate abuse by staff at SCI – which can be viewed here – that the Caesar Rodney Institute included as part of its recent special report “Rogue Force.”

Hampton is one of the few attorneys willing to accept inmate cases, and he has never hesitated to warn the public about atrocities committed behind the barbed wire by state employees or prison health care vendors.

In a motion that was supposed to have been argued Friday morning, Niedzielski asked the judge to gag Hampton, and to have him ask the Caesar Rodney Institute to remove the video, even though Hampton is not affiliated with CRI.

Less than two hours before the hearing was set to begin, however, Niedzielski withdrew his motion.

“I have been directed by the State Solicitor [Lawrence W. Lewis] to withdraw the Motion for Protective Order scheduled to be heard today October 9, 2009 in the above-referenced case,” Niedzielski wrote in his withdrawal letter. “I apologize to the Court and counsel for any inconvenience this has caused.”

“It bothers me that the state is wasting precious resources trying to find out who gave the video to CRI, rather than trying to stop guards from abusing inmates,” Hampton said. “The state would be better served doing that, than by trying to kill the messenger.”

Neither Biden nor Niedzielski or Lewis returned calls or e-mails seeking comment for this story.

Lewis would not say when the Attorney General’s Office will start prosecuting abusive prison guards rather than defending them, or why he ordered Niedzielski to withdraw his motion.

This is not the first time Biden’s office has attempted to stop Hampton from talking about horrific conditions within Delaware’s prisons.

Last week, Deputy Attorney General Michael McTaggart tried to silence Hampton by seeking a confidentiality order in a different case, in front of a different judge.

Then, like today, the AG’s office quickly announced they were withdrawing the motion after the Caesar Rodney Institute published a story that revealed their attempt.

Solicitor Lewis did not respond to an e-mail asking why the public should not view the two recent attempts to gag Hampton, and the two subsequent withdrawals, as anything other than an attempt by the AG’s office to harass and intimidate someone for criticizing the DOC.

Conflict of Interest

Legal experts say these types of cases highlight the conflict of interest that exists within Biden’s office.

If a member of the public is accused of a crime, the AG’s Office assumes the role of prosecutor.

If, however, a state employee or a state agency is accused of wrongdoing, the AG’s office assumes the role of defense attorney for the employee and their agency.

Delaware taxpayers pay millions of dollars for both roles.

Nowhere does this conflict of interest become clearer, with more potential for harming the public good, than when a Department of Correction employee is involved.

Biden has a team of attorneys deciding whether to charge a group of guards at SCI with a crime for assaulting former inmate David Sully.

Sully suffered a series of savage beatings in June during a brief stay at the Georgetown facility. Several wounds on his face that he received during three separate beatings required stitches to close.

Meanwhile, Biden has a similar team of attorneys defending a group of guards who also work at SCI. These guards are accused of beating former inmate David Kalm in 2006. At some point during this attack someone is alleged to have shoved a nightstick or similar object down Kalm’s throat, tearing his trachea.

Biden never charged any of these guards with a crime for beating Kalm. His office is defending the guards from a civil suit, after Kalm sued for the injuries he claims the guards inflicted.

As if this conflict of interest isn’t confusing enough, if Biden decides not to prosecute the guards for beating Sully in June, and Sully sues the DOC and the state, Biden’s prosecutors will then have to switch roles and defend the guards from the civil suit – the same guards who they decided not to prosecute for assault.

“The AG’s office represents the guards, the Department of Correction and even its Internal Affairs unit,” Hampton said. “Who represents the inmates that are being abused?”

Contact investigative reporter Lee Williams at (302) 242-9272 or lee@caesarrodney.org

The Caesar Rodney Institute is a 501(c)(3) non-partisan research and educational organization and is committed to being a catalyst for improved performance, accountability, and efficiency in Delaware government.

© Copyright 2009 by the Caesar Rodney Institute

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Attorney General Beau Biden’s office is going to court to silence one of Delaware’s most-vocal and most-respected prison critics at 10 a.m. Friday in Kent County Superior Court in Dover, in front of the Honorable President Judge James T. Vaughn Jr.

Biden’s office does not want the public viewing video evidence of inmate abuse by staff at the Sussex Correctional Institute – evidence that can be viewed by the public here.

A motion filed last month by Deputy Attorney General Marc P. Niedzielski asks Judge Vaughn to grant a protection order in the case: Kevin Moore v. Sgt. Matthew Long.

Moore, a former inmate at SCI, is suing Long, a correction sergeant, for injuries he alleges were caused by a kick to his ankle.

Moore alleges he entered prison immediately following surgery to his ankle. The video shows Long apparently kicking Moore’s leg – a blow that Moore says further aggravated the injured limb, which required additional surgeries.

Niedzielski’s motion came after he saw the video on the Caesar Rodney Institute’s website as part of its ongoing series “Rogue Force,” which revealed inmate abuse by staff at SCI.

Dover attorney Steven Hampton represents the inmate.

Hampton is one of the few attorneys willing to accept inmate cases, and he has never hesitated to speak out about the shoddy medical care plaguing the state’s prisons.

Tomorrow, Hampton will argue against the state’s motion. He will tell the court why it is important for the public to be informed about the horrific conditions behind the wire that the state would like to conceal.

In his motion, Niedzielski asks the judge to order Hampton to have the Caesar Rodney Institute remove the video, even though Hampton is not affiliated with CRI.

It’s not the first time Biden’s office has attempted to stop Hampton from talking about the horrible conditions within Delaware’s prisons.

Last week, Deputy Attorney General Michael McTaggart tried to silence Hampton by seeking a confidentiality order in a different case, in front of a different judge.

After the Caesar Rodney Institute published a story that revealed McTaggart’s attempt, the AG’s office quickly announced they were withdrawing the motion, which was viewed as an unprecedented legal maneuver for a case of this type.

Hampton believes Niedzielski’s motion is a similar attempt to silence him from criticizing the DOC’s shoddy inmate health care, or the skyrocketing rate inmates are dying from preventable illnesses.

Biden did not immediately return calls seeking comment for this story.

If tomorrow’s hearing is cancelled or continued, the Caesar Rodney Institute will update the public immediately.

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