Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Wone Case: Judge Leibovitz Got It Right

Yesterday, Judge Lynn Leibovitz issued her ruling in the fascinating obstruction of justice case arising out of the murder of D.C. attorney Robert Wone.

We happen to know Judge L. from way back--she was a student (a good one!) in a legal writing class the Curmudgeon taught to first year law students when he was a third year student at Georgetown.

For those who haven't been following the case, here's a synopsis. Wone was working late one night, and had an early meeting the next morning. Instead of trekking back to his suburban home, he stayed overnight with a college friend and fellow attorney, Robert Price, at Price's townhome in D.C.'s Dupont Circle.

Within an hour of arriving, Wone was dead, stabbed in the chest while in the guest bedroom of Price's home. Price and his two roommates--all three of whom were in a committed homosexual relationship--told police they believed an intruder stabbed Wone. Police never bought that story. Instead, they believe one of the housemates did it, with the others covering; or, perhaps, Price's brother did it and they were covering for him.

Police never had sufficient evidence to charge anyone with murder. But prosecutors eventually cobbled together a conspiracy obstruction of evidence and tampering case against the three housemates. Price and his co-defendants waived a jury trial, leaving it to Judge Leibovitz--a former prosecutor herself--to decide their fate.

Yesterday, Judge L. acquitted the three defendants, while at the same time saying she didn't necessarily believe their story. Based on what we read in the Washington Post, which covered the case intensely, she made the right decision (not that reading about it in the newspaper is the same as being there).

While we absolutely believe the three defendants are covering up a murder, the prosecution's evidence was weak. The prosecution argued that the defendants delayed calling police while they cleaned up the scene, removed a lot of blood, and switched the real murder weapon with another knife.

Problem is, there was never a good explanation for why the defendants did all this, i.e., what benefit it was to them.

The prosecution also suggested that the roommates might be covering for Price's brother, who had had trouble with the law before, and who a few months later did break into Price's home to steal items in support of an apparent drug habit. Here again, however, there was no explanation of why Price's brother would've attacked and murdered Wone, who was in a second floor guest room at the time.

There are all kinds of things that don't add up in the case. The first is why Wone was there in the first place. At the time of night when he arrived, he could have gotten to his own home in about a half hour. By all accounts, Wone and Price knew each other in college, but weren't particularly good friends.

Then, there's the issue of whether Wone was sexually attacked. The Post repeatedly hinted at this, from its police sources, but there was no such evidence at trial as far as we could tell.

The person who's actions seemed the most suspicious based on the evidence at trial was Price's roommate Dylan Ward. His bedroom was next to the guest room, whereas the other two defendants--Price and Victor Zaborsky--were on the third floor. According to testimony and 911 tapes, it was Price and Zaborsky who heard something going on in Wone's room and came running down to find out what. Zaborsky placed the 911 call. Meanwhile, Ward--right next door--apparently did nothing, at least according to their stories to the police. We find that awfully suspicious. He should have been the first on the scene.

In any event, Price and Zaborsky had somewhat different recollections of the events--not too far off, but enough to sound like they agreed on a story, but didn't work out every detail before being interviewed by detectives.

It's certainly not clear why any of the roommates, or Price's brother, would've wanted to kill Wone.

Unfortunately, the evidence was just too weak to meet the prosecution's burden of proving guilt "beyond a reasonable doubt."

That doesn't quite mean the defendants are off scot-free. Wone's family has filed a $20 million civil suit against the three. The burden of proof will be lower, and some additional evidence may be admitted. We can only hope that justice is someday done in this bizarre case.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

South Carolinians Have A Real Choice For Governor

For the past year, South Carolina has been the butt of many jokes on late night TV. SC is comedian Jon Stewart's "favorite state" because it's politics are so messed up that one can only make fun of the state.

The problem is that for ordinary South Carolinians, it is no laughing matter. Unemployment is high. The state's economy has been floundering. And the state government, firmly in the control of Republican politicos for many years now, is a dysfunctional mess.

The current governor, Mark Sanford, is--thankfully--term limited. Not only was Sanford a national disgrace for his affair with an Argentine dancer, but in eight years as governor he accomplished little. In Sanford's view, the government is not there to help people.

The Lt. Governor, Andre Bauer, was so bad that he came in FOURTH place in a four person primary for the Republican nomination to succeed Sanford (and he was generally acknowledged as the reason Sanford wasn't forced from office).

Instead, the Republicans nominated a heretofore little known state senator, Nikki Haley, who's claim to fame is that she is a Tea Partier fancied by Sarah Palin. She may end up just as embarassing to the state as Sanford, as two male political operatives in the state have claimed to have had affairs with the married Haley.

[Haley denies it and claims there's no "evidence" to support the claims. Where we come from, testimony is evidence. Plus, one of her suitors has phone records showing hundreds of hours of contacts. That's evidence, and usually these things turn out to be true.]

Putting aside Haley's bedroom exploits--which Republicans seem ready to overlook when it's one of their own--she represents nothing new for the Palmetto State. Yes, she's a woman, and yes, she's Indian-American; but she's really just more of the same. As a state Senator, Haley refused to disclose outside income from "consulting" activities, claiming it was exempt from ethical disclosure requirements. Yet, nothing could be more important to disclose than who she's "consulting" for.

In the "Tea Party" mode--something she seems to have adopted as the current fad--she espouses low taxes and limited government. In other words, she won't do anything, other than favors for her consultee friends.

Now, there is an alternative for voters in the Palmetto State. Democrats have nominated Vincent Sheheen, a state senator from Camden. Sheheen's three boys attend the same public school he attended.

Sheheen would be a breath of fresh air. Every indication is that he is a true family man, with a long record of dedicated service to his church and his community. As a state senator he has vigourously pursued reformation of state government to make it more open and efficient.

We hope SC voters get to know Vincent over the next few months. Many white voters in the state have a knee-jerk aversion to anyone running as a Democrat, but those voters ought to look at the laughing stock that the Republican Party has made of their state. It's time to take a fresh look. Haley's "Tea Party" is no change at all; if voters want something new--a government that serves the people, then they should look closely at Sheheen.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Suppose They Had A Primary And No One Came?

It looks that way today in Arlington for the Republican primary to challenge Jim Moran in November. We haven't seen more than one car today in the nearly 20 parking spaces wastefully set aside at our local precinct.

Why couldn't the five Republicans here in the County have just had a convention, in a phone booth?

Monday, June 07, 2010

SC GOP Campaigns Are ALWAYS Nasty

Over the past few days, both the New York Times and Washington Post have run stories on the nastiness of the Republican primary campaign for governor in South Carolina. The Post's story had as it's theme that in a state "accustomed to two-fisted politics" this year's race "stands out."


South Carolina politics are mean and nasty, and never rougher than when the Republicans are battling it out with each other. Just ask John McCain from when he ran against W Bush in the Palmetto State primary in 2000.

Or, for that matter, ask just about any candidate in a seriously contested race in the state. Dirty politics were invented in South Carolina, then packaged for export to the rest of the nation by the late Lee Atwater and his political acolytes.

[This is a stark contrast to Virginia, where the moderate middle of independent voters really hate dirty campaigns and will often penalize a candidate viewed as taking the low road. But then, that's long been a distinction between the two states.]

This year, the spotlight has fallen on GOP candidate Nikki Haley, a state senator running for the Republican nomination for governor. It's a classic case. For awhile, Haley was ignored. An Indian-American who'd never run for statewide office, Haley was trailing along in fourth place.

But then she started bashing her male colleagues as an "old boys club" (which they are), and began moving up in polls. Suddenly, two long-time political operatives associated with other campaigns claimed they'd had sexual liaisons with her (she's married), and another state senator made inappropriate remarks about her ethnic background.

This is par for the course in S.C. Maybe even tame. Politics in SC has a long tradition of "whispering campaigns"--usually word of mouth libels, sometimes backed up by cheap flyers placed on windshields in church parking lots and at campaign rallies.

The whispering is almost always about race, sex, illegitimate children--and homosexuality. What's particularly strange about all this is that the people actually elected often really do have these skeletons in their closet.

Beloved Sen. Strom Thurmond had an illegitimate black child, rumored for years, but finally proven only after he died. Thurmond's successor in the Senate--bachelor Lindsey Graham--has long been rumored to be gay. As are a couple other powerful state GOP figures.

Sometimes, SC voters will overlook these factors, despite the whispering, if they like the way a candidate handles the controversy (and if the other candidates are have competency issues). Nikki Haley may be benefitting from that. She's standing up to the accusations, while current Lt. Governor Andre Bauer is viewed by many as embarassingly erratic and incompetent (so much so that almost everyone preferred that the embarassing Gov. Mark Sanford stay in office rather than elevate Bauer).

SC Republicans are also completely willing to overlook in their candidates what they would never tolerate in a Democratic candidate. But then, the initial qualification for many GOP office holders in the Palmetto State is simply that they "aren't Democrats."

No matter how flawed the GOP's nominee for governor, she or he will still be the overwhelming favorite to win election in November. And you can bet that the campaign will be a dirty one!

Friday, June 04, 2010

Patti Prius, MPG Champ

Patti Prius, i.e., the Curmudgeon's 2009 Toyota Prius, has really come into her own recently. The Curmudgeon, like many Prius owners, obsessively follows his car's gas mileage because, hey, what else is there to brag about with the ugly little cars?

During warm months we usually get better than 50 mpg, but this last tank of gas set our personal record: 57.8 mpg. We went an incredible 609 miles between fill-ups, which is darn good for gas tank that holds about 11.5 gallons and usually costs less than $30 to fill.

Ok, you can now make fun of us!
UPDATE: On our next tank of gas, we got 58.3 mpg and 625 miles. That'll probably stand as our record for quite some time!

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Capital Weather Gang on Landstrike

We greatly appreciate the generous plug for Landstrike today on's Capital Weather Gang blog (our go-to source of authoritative information for the local weather scene).

See: Landstrike: New York's Horrible Hurricane Scenario