April 17, 2014

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev case: hearing on SAMs, discovery, and more

Filed under: law & crime by Victoria Liberty @ 6:52 am

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev

Yesterday, a year and a day after the Boston Marathon bombings, defense attorneys and prosecutors in the case of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev met for another pretrial conference to argue about various motions that have recently been filed. The conference began at 10:00 a.m. sharp in courtroom 9 of the Moakley Federal Courthouse, before Judge George O’Toole.

As usual, numerous members of the media and the public were in attendance, as well as U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz and members of her staff and other federal agencies. In the section of the gallery reserved for victims and their families, I saw bombing survivor Marc Fucarile and his fiancée, Jennifer Regan. There was one bench reserved for the defendant’s family members, friends, and/or members of the defense team, but it remained empty.

“No selfies,” joked a court officer, after giving the usual warning to refrain from taking any photos or videos during the court proceedings.

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March 29, 2014

Massachusetts Republican Convention 2014

Filed under: politics by Victoria Liberty @ 7:59 pm

Photo courtesy of Charlie Baker 2014

I had the honor of being a delegate at this past Saturday’s Massachusetts Republican Party State Convention at the Agganis Arena at Boston University. The 2,500 delegates voted to officially nominate the following candidates:

  • Patricia Saint Aubin for Auditor
  • David D’Arcangelo for Secretary of State
  • Brian Herr for Senator
  • John Miller for Attorney General
  • Mike Heffernan for Treasurer
  • Karyn Polito for Lieutenant Governor
  • Charlie Baker for Governor

The last nomination was the only one that was contested, and has proven to be a source of some controversy (more on that later).

This was my first convention, and it was for the most part an exciting and enjoyable experience. After attending a Women for Baker breakfast, where we heard from the gubernatorial candidate and his wife, among others, I followed the crowd of fellow delegates as we gradually trickled into the arena and sat according to our towns. Sprinkled throughout the seats were large signs bearing the names of districts, such as First Suffolk, Fifth Middlesex, and Cape and Islands. A stage was set up in the middle of the hockey rink, with the jumbotron above and a black curtain behind, closing off half the arena. At 9:00, the BU ROTC color guard presented the flag, along with a fife and drum corps. Then the day began with short speeches by State Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr, House Minority Leader Brad Jones, State Rep. Keiko Orral, an Abraham Lincoln impersonator (yes, really), and many others. Throughout the day, we also got to watch a moving tribute to Governor Paul Cellucci, who passed away from Lou Gehrig’s disease last year, a presentation about a new campaign program called Mass Victory, and the awarding of the Edward W. Brooke Award to former State Sen. David Locke.

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March 8, 2014

Rand Paul wins CPAC straw poll again

Filed under: politics by Victoria Liberty @ 10:05 pm

For the second year in a row, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) won the CPAC (Conservative Political Action Conference) straw poll. He received 31% of the vote, followed by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) with 11%, Ben Carson with 9%, and Governor Chris Christie with 8%. In addition to their support for Paul, the CPAC attendees took a libertarian stance on several different issues. According to Politico, 75% expressed opposition to the NSA’s surveillance programs, and 78% believe the best way to solve the government’s budget problems is by cutting spending. A plurality (41%) expressed support for full legalization of marijuana, 21% supported legalizing marijuana for medical purposes only, and 31% supported keeping it illegal.

Sen. Paul gave an inspiring, pro-liberty speech which you can watch above, as well as tweeting some of the highlights, which you can read below:






February 23, 2014

A tribute to Evgeni Plushenko

Filed under: sports by Victoria Liberty @ 9:30 pm

2012 European FSC Evgeni Plushenko5

Although this blog is not primarily about sports, now that the 2014 Winter Olympics have come to an end, I think it’s fitting to pay tribute to my favorite athlete and one of my favorite people in the world: Russian figure skater Evgeni Plushenko. For him, the past few weeks have held both tragedy and triumph. After two excellent performances to help his country win the gold medal in the team figure skating event, he was forced to withdraw from the individual event due to injury mere seconds before he was scheduled to skate. But the way that Plushenko’s career ended does not change the fact that he is not only one of the greatest figure skaters in history, but also a remarkable and courageous person.

With two Olympic gold medals and two silvers, as well as three World Championship titles and countless other medals, Plushenko is arguably the most accomplished figure skater of all time. In addition to completing difficult jumps with remarkable ease and consistency (something that the error-filled skates of the newly-crowned Olympic gold and silver medalists threw into stark contrast), he has a sense of elegance, passion, and charisma that is uniquely his own. Plushenko began his career as an Olympic-level skater in 1998 at age 15, and won his first Olympic gold medal in 2006. As impressive as these accomplishments are, I admit that I didn’t really follow his career (or figure skating in general) until 2010, and it was his character and personality off the ice that initially made me a fan.

The night of the men’s free skate during the Vancouver Olympics, I was sitting on the couch, reading about something or other on my laptop, while glancing up at the TV occasionally. When American Evan Lysacek took to the ice, I was impressed that he didn’t make any mistakes, but I didn’t find his routine particularly memorable. A few skaters later, it was Plushenko’s turn. I’m no expert on figure skating, and was even less of one four years ago, but I thought his routine was more interesting to watch and showed more personality. Like Lysacek, he skated a clean program, but unlike Lysacek, he did a quad jump, making his routine more difficult. When his scores came up, and he was put in second place, I was vaguely disappointed but, not being extremely info figure skating, I went back to whatever I was doing on the computer. A few minutes later, Andrea Joyce of NBC interviewed Plushenko. I was expecting him to say what most athletes say in similar situations: that he was happy for Lysacek, that he was content to receive any medal at all, that he was just proud to have done his best.

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February 12, 2014

Tsarnaev trial scheduled for November

Filed under: law & crime by Victoria Liberty @ 10:59 pm

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev

A pretrial conference took place this morning in the case of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the alleged Boston Marathon bomber. The biggest piece of news is that Judge George O’Toole scheduled Tsarnaev’s trial for November 3, 2014, far earlier than the defense team would like. In a status report filed jointly by defense lawyers and prosecutors on Monday, both sides laid out their recommended deadlines for various motions and witness disclosures, with the defense suggesting a trial date of September 2015 at the earliest.

Although Judge O’Toole sounded firm and not open to discussion when he announced his decision, it’s hard for me to believe that the trial in such a high-profile and important case could take place merely a year and a half after the bombing. Legal experts don’t think so either, including David Frank of Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly, who tweeted:

In addition to scheduling, some other topics, including discovery, were discussed as well, but we didn’t learn a ton of interesting new information. As usual, Tsarnaev himself was not in court, but some of his alleged victims, including Marc Fucarile, who lost a leg in the bombings, were in attendance. They sat with staff members from the U.S. Attorney’s office and chatted briefly with U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz. Interestingly, Ortiz also appeared to be very friendly with defense attorney Judy Clarke, and chatted with her as well before the proceedings began. All four of Tsarnaev’s lawyers – Clarke, Miriam Conrad, William Fick, and Timothy Watkins – were at the defense table. The prosecution was represented by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Nadine Pellegrini and Aloke Chakravarty. William Weinreb, the third prosecutor, was running late and didn’t end up making it.

“By and large, with some exceptions, I think the government’s suggestion is the more reasonable of the two,” said Judge O’Toole, with respect to the schedule. In a no-nonsense tone of voice, he set out the following deadlines:

April 9, 2014: Defense motions to suppress

May 7, 2014: All other motions addressing legal issues

June 11. 2014: Defense motions for a change of venue (also another status conference on this date)

October 20, 2014: Final pre-trial conference

November 3, 2014: Jury selection begins

Judge O’Toole called this calendar “a realistic and a fair one.” He acknowledged that the trial will be lengthy (12 weeks for the guilt phase and 6 weeks for the sentencing phase, according to the status report), but urged both sides to keep it as short as possible and to avoid presenting redundant or unnecessary evidence. “This is a unique case, obviously,” he pointed out, in a significant understatement. “Not everything that can be presented, for either side, needs to be, necessarily.”

Then came the familiar (to anyone who has been following the previous status conferences in this case) bickering about discovery. AUSA Chakravarty told the court that the government has provided the defense team with over 67 terabytes of electronic discovery materials, that the defense team has gotten to view physical evidence, and that they are in the process of arranging for the defense team to view some 2000 additional items, including everything from ball bearings to bomb components, located at the FBI lab in Quantico, Virginia. Chakravarty also mentioned the existence of “larger exhibits, shall we say, vehicles,” at other locations in Boston. He complained that the defense team’s requests are often open-ended and difficult to comply with. Adding to the delays, he said, is the defense team’s request that separate staff members, who are not part of the prosecution team, photocopy documents for them so as not to tip off the government about their strategy. Indicating some willingness to delay the trial date, Judge O’Toole warned the prosecutors that discovery disagreements such as these “could endanger the schedule.”

Defense attorney Clarke agreed that they’ve had “a little bit of a sluggish start to reviewing physical evidence.” But she placed the blame for this on the government. “It’s not the defense dragging its feet,” she contended. ” Discovery has been a laborious process and in my experience, far from the norm… It’s just been a laboriously slow, cumbersome process.” She questioned why the government is so reluctant to turn over evidence and is sticking to only what they are absolutely required to share by law. There is a “whole host of digital items that are pending copying,” and the government has not yet set up an appointment for the defense team to view the 2000 items at Quantico. Additionally, Clarke argued that logistical difficulties such as weather, travel, and the Olympics, as well as the sheer volume of evidence that the defense team will have to sift through, make the November trial date impossible. It took the defense team an entire week last month to review 600-800 items of evidence, she said, so going over all the items at Quantico will be extremely time-consuming.

Then, Clarke’s co-counsel, Miriam Conrad, stood up to add her two cents. “Ms. Conrad cannot help herself,” Clarke told Judge O’Toole, who quipped, “There is precedent for that.” Conrad was animated in describing how the defense team has sent three discovery letters to the government. They sent the first of these on December 9th, received an email on December 18th saying that the government would get back to them after the holidays, and got “radio silence” until February 7th, when the government asked them to clarify their request.

The two sides briefly discussed expert witness disclosures, but Judge O’Toole did not set deadlines for these yet. “Let’s not kid ourselves,” AUSA Chakravarty pointed out, “the issue here is going to be the penalty.”

Finally, Judge O’Toole instructed the prosecutors to provide the defense with a list of all the items at Quantico. When it took Chakravarty some time to give a definite answer, Clarke quipped, “Your honor, you have a black robe, and it took you that long to get an answer from the government.” And that was it for today’s hearing, which lasted from 10:00 to shortly after 10:30.

Some relevant documents can be found below:

Joint Status Report filed 2/10/2014

Tsarnaev Notice of Intent to Seek Death Penalty

January 29, 2014

Oklahoma considers de-legalizing marriage

Filed under: culture & social issues by Victoria Liberty @ 8:22 am

Image credit: DamnStraightPolitics.com

State Representative Mike Turner of Oklahoma has filed a bill in his state’s legislature to de-legalize marriage. If the bill passes, marriage would no longer be a governmental institution, but instead, it would be left up to individuals to agree on the terms of their relationships, and to churches to decide which relationships, if any, to recognize. This is believed to be the first time a state has considered getting the government out of the business of regulating marriages.

I think this is a great idea, and in my opinion is the only way of having true equality and fairness when it comes to marriage. Gay rights proponents argue that it is discriminatory for marriage to be limited to one man and one woman. Allowing same-sex marriages achieves equality for gays, but this “solution” ignores the fact that marriage as a government institution, with tax advantages and other benefits, inherently discriminates against people who, for whatever reason, choose not to form a long-term romantic relationship. Why not treat everyone – gay, straight, bi, asexual, single, in a casual relationship, or in a serious relationship – equally under the law? Couples would have the power to form their own agreements about finances, living arrangements, pets, and children (if any). Or, as outlandish as it might sound, groups of people could enter into polygamous marriages if they so chose. (Why not, as long as all of the parties freely consent?) Churches would set their own criteria to determine which relationships to give their blessing to.

If it passes, the Oklahoma bill would be a positive step towards a more libertarian society.

December 31, 2013

Freedom Awards 2013

Filed under: Freedom Bulletin by Victoria Liberty @ 6:43 pm


Image credit: Free GIFs and Animations

The time has come to reflect on the year 2013, a year of both triumph and tragedy, despair and hope. As is customary, I have thought long and hard about who to include in my annual list of the 10 most important, interesting, and influential people of the year. The list includes people who made the news in Boston, nationally, and internationally. It includes heroes, freedom fighters, and those who impacted current events, whether good or bad. Some people on the list are deservedly very high-profile; others did not receive as much media attention as they deserved. Without further ado, below are the Freedom Awards for 2013:

Honorable Mention: Judge Richard Leon – In December, he granted a preliminary injunction in the case of Klayman v. Obama, et al., ordering the NSA to stop collecting the plaintiff’s phone records. This landmark court decision was the first time a judge ruled against the NSA’s surveillance programs.

Honorable Mention: The Boston Red Sox – They defied expectations by going from last place in the American League East last year to World Series Champions. This quirky and fun-loving group of guys made the 2013 season truly memorable and brought much-needed joy to the city of Boston.

Honorable Mention: Chelsea Manning – The U.S. Army private who leaked hundreds of thousands of classified documents to WikiLeaks, Manning was convicted this summer of violating the Espionage Act and sentenced to 35 years in prison. In addition to speaking out against what she considers to be war crimes, Manning made the brave decision to reveal her new gender identity, changing her name from Bradley to Chelsea.

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