FORUM SUNDAY, MARCH 14, 2004 - A-7 SUNDAY VOICES Bury the shovels Wall Street reacted favorably when California voters last week approved two ballot initiatives pushed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and leaders of both Republican and Democratic parties. Prop. 57 authorizes the state to sell up to $15 billion in bonds and use the money to pay off old debts. The bonds would be retired in nine to 14 years, depending on how much money streams from the rainy day fund set up by Prop. 58, which requires at least half of the reserve to pay off the bonds. Prop. 58 prohibits the state from borrowing to meet operating expenses. Schwarzenegger characterized Prop. 58's purpose as "tearing up the credit, card." Moody's and Standard and Poor's, the country's most prestigious credit rating agencies, issued similar statements last week which upgraded California's fiscal condition from "negative" to "positive." However, they also warned that the state must continue take meaningful, i.e., tough steps to balance the budget. According to Moody's, "While the deficit bond approval (Prop. 57) is certainly a positive development, the prospect for recovery of the state's bond rating to the "A" category (from "Baal" category) will still be dependent on further steps by the state to improve its budget and financial position. A significant reduction in the state's structural budget gap, establishment of a moderate reserve', and evidence of stronger financial management would be needed. The time horizon for such improvement would be very Political type BY JIM SHIELDS much up to the state's elected officials and, to a lesser extent, the pace of state economic recovery. Noting the simultaneous defeat of Proposition 56 (which would have lowered legislative taxing/budget approval threshold) and approval of Proposition 58 (new balanced budget and reserve requirements), it remains unclear whether the state will now be able to make the kind of difficult and recurring budget adjustments that have been avoided in recent years. The size of the annual budget gap in FY05, before enactment of any budget adjustments, is estimated to exceed $14 billion or close to 20 percent of expected revenue for the year." Standard and Poor's weighed in with this opinion: "The magnitude of any near-term rating improvement will depend on the degree the enacted 2005 budget might reduce the state's large projected fiscal 2005 structural deficit of approximately 9 percent to 19 percent of the governor's proposed fiscal 2005. The range is dependent on the status of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's currently proposed budget adjustments. The state's The Freedman Follies When last we tuned in to the Freedman Fiasco, Ralph Freedman, Mendocino County's former Director of Child Support Services (aka the Deadbeat Dad office), had resigned under pressure and was charged with making sexual overtures to one c ' his single-mother staffers, on top of earlier charges of flipping out on two other Child Support staffers. .Freedman was installed in the CSS top job in 2000 with no previous experience in child support and no background check. If anyone had checked, they would have discovered that Freedman had bombed out of two prior jobs as a public administrator. In April of last year, Freedman was charged with "disturbing the peace" when he went nuts on two of his employees, screaming insults, banging on tables, rattling walls, and stamping his tasseled little feet when they'd made him unhappy- Instead of firing him, the Supervisors voted in deep closed session to pay for Freedman's high-priced private legal defense. DA Norm Vroman was forced to file charges on the out-of-control bureaucrat because the Supervisors refused to take action. Freedman's tantrums were so unhinged that the DA reasonably suspected that Freedman represented a physical danger to his employees. Freedman was subsequently forced to resign after a sexual harassment complaint was lodged. The DA filed restraining orders at the request of the employees involved and the county belatedly cut off the public funding of his criminal defense attorney, Ms. Jamie Thistlethwaite of Santa Rosa, after paying her $30,000 for obstructing the charges against Freedman. Ms. Thistlethwaite's primary defense strategy was to try to get DA Norm Vroman thrown off the case by alleging, without evidence, that Vroman was biased against Freedman. Sunday view BY MARK SCARAMELLA In October, Judge Ron Brown ruled that the case for bias hadn't been made and declined to remove the .DA's, office as Freedman's prosecutor. As soon the Ms. Thistlethwaite was off the public dole, Freedman magically became the responsibility of the Mendocino County Public Defender's office. The County Counsel's office had of course previously determined that justice for Freedman required the allegedly superior services of a private attorney. Freedman then hired a new private attorney, a Mr. John Shields, also of Santa Rosa who quickly went to court to re-assert the bias argument. We were back to where we started. Meanwhile Mrs. Freeman continues to allege that the DA is biased by filing frivolous complaints with the Attorney General about Vroman's inclusion of the Freedmans' traffic violation history. Freedman's new attorney, Mr. Shields, upon resubmitting the bias charge to Judge Brown, persuaded the dim jurist to reverse his earlier finding that there was no DA bias. Vroman was off the case based on unsubstantiated and previously dismissed allegations by Ms. Thistlethwaite that Vroman refused to negotiate a plea bargain for Freedman. Brown's idiot ruling read, "The comment of the district attorney that the case would not be negotiated because the defendant filed a complaint against him was born of anger and not of objective and impartial consideration. Coupled with earlier actions and comments by the district attorney, the court finds a conflict of interest exists within the meaning of Just check this out You've seen them, no doubt, while in line at the supermarket—tabloid headlines screaming something like, "President Bush a Suspect in Lacey Peterson Murder!" or "Hillary Clinton was Behind Assassination of Princess Di!" Then in tiny print near the end of the headline will be a phrase like, "insiders say" or "new book charges." Headlines like these, and the stories under them, rely on something called the "neutral reportage privilege." That is, if a news story simply repeats what's already been published elsewhere (no matter how outlandish), it can probably get away with it — as long as it's talking about a "public figure." But not, as the tabloid the Globe discovered a few years ago, if the second article defames someone who's not a public figure. The case demonstrates once again why being a fact- checker for a supermarket tabloid is one of the world's easiest jobs. In November, 1988, a man named Robert Morrow published a book claiming that the former Shah of Iran's secret police, working with the Mafia, assassinated Senator Robert F. Kennedy, naming Kennedy's assassin as a young Pakistani named Ali Ahmand. Morrow described how AJunand, on the evening of the assassination, carried a gun disguised as a cam- Judicial follies BY FRANK ZOTTER increased ability to sell bonds to fund current operations merely postpones difficult taxation or expenditure reduction decisions. The state's structural deficit has not appreciably improved compared with the same period last year, despite recent economic improvement." Basically the credit rating agencies are telling us that there is hope on the horizon, but we ain't out of the woods yet. As you all,know, there is only one way to balance a budget: Expenses must match revenues. California is in its current fiscal mess because Sacramento politicians - in both parties - pursued reckless fiscal policies where government grew by an astounding 40 percent over several years. That growth, which was funded mostly by one-time revenues from the late 1990s dotcom boom which predictably went bust when its house of cards collapsed, left taxpayers on the hook for massive state employee salary and benefit increases, program expansion, bureaucratic empire-building, and a procurement system rife with corruption. As the old saying goes, the only way to get out of a hole is to stop digging. Schwarzenegger says his fiscal recovery plans, as embodied in Props 57 and 58, have taken away the state,s credit card. That may be true, but while he's at it he might- as well grab all the shovels and lock them up in the tool shed. Jim Shields is the publisher of the Mendocino County Observer in Laytonville. Penal Code section 1424." (PC 1424 is the penal code section governing recusal of the District Attorney.) Brown does not specify which "earlier actions and comments by the district attorney" he's referring to. But Vroman never said anything of the sort and Brown, being dim and lazy, made no effort to determine if Vroman had made such comments, accepting attorney Thistlethwaite's months-old third-hand allegation at face valuer The DA's office then asked Judge Brown to reconsider his ruling. "The court based its ruling on Jamie Thistlethwaite's declaration that contained a comment allegedly made by Chief Deputy District Attorney (Rick Martin) regarding a comment allegedly made to him by the District Attorney. These multiple levels of hearsay (make) Ms. Thistlethwaite not legally competent to testify as to those matters. Therefore, her declaration failed to comply with the clear language of section 1424. This court should not have proceeded on an issue raised in a defective declaration." Duh. In fact, Brown made his latest ruling based on an argument he had dismissed at the previous hearing and without questioning any of the persons directly involved. DA Martin had assumed that Thistlethwaite's allegation was ancient history and wouldn't be reconsidered, and Thistlethwaite herself has. been off the case for months. So, on Wednesday, March 17, at 1:30 p.m., Judge Brown is scheduled to hear the DA's latest motion to re-reconsider. Although the DA's new motion makes it clear that the bias allegation hasn't been explored, much less proven, there's no way to predict how Brown will rule. See FOLLIES, Page A-8 Mark Scaramella is a Philo resident. ON THE STREETS Have you already filed your taxes or do you like to wait until the last minute? Ricki Hempsmyer Ukiah Office Manager "I'm waiting 'til (April) 15th because I have to send in a check and they're not getting it any sooner than they have to." Jerry Phillips Redwood Valley Musical instrument repair "I'll probably wait til the last. That's just the way it is." Kathryn Van Diest San Jose Homemaker "We don't wait. They're in the process of being completed and they'll be done by the end of March." Matthew Howard Ukiah Physician/lawyer "I owe them money so I wait til the last minute." Bee Choon Loh Ukiah Recent Berkeley grad "We usually do it about a month before. I never like to do it at the last minute." Mary Diesel Ukiah County worker "I did it yesterday so I wouldn't have to think about it anymore." Photos and interviews by Amy Wellnitz. era that Ahmand used to kill Kennedy. Morrow's book included four photographs that .identified Ahmand standing near Kennedy shortly before the assassination. In its April 4, -1989 issue, the Globe published a short, uncritical article based on Morrow's book. The Globe article included enlarged photographs from the book, helpfully adding an arrow to identify "assassin" Ali Ahmand. Shortly after the article was published, a man named Khalid Khawar sued the Globe, Morrow, and the publisher of Morrow's book. It seems he was the person in the photographs and, to say the least, a bit upset. Khawar was indeed a Pakistani, and in 1968, a free-lance photojournalism he was indeed in the hotel when the assassination took place nearby. He had been questioned by police, but no one (until Morrow's book) ever thought he was a suspect. In 1989, by then a U.S. citizen, Khawar lived with his wife and children in Bakersfield, California, where he owned and operated a farm. His father, Ali Ahmad (not "Ahmand"), had also become a U. S. citizen and settled in Bakersfield. After the Globe article, Khawar became very frightened for his and his family's safety. He received threatening phone calls from as far away as Thailand; death threats against him and his family; and he became the victim of vandalism. A Bakersfield television station interviewed him about the Globe article. After a trial, a jury awarded Khawar almost $1,200,000 in various kinds of damages for defamation against the Globe. The Globe appealed, and managed to get the case before the California Supreme Court. It didn't help; the court upheld the verdict unanimously. It probably didn't help the Globe's case that while Morrow had sold only 500 (out of 25,000) copies of the book when the article was published, the Globe distributed more than 2.7 million copies of the issue containing the article. The Supreme Court had little problem concluding that there was no defense based on a magazine — itself — making someone an "involuntary public figure." Khawar's attorney called some of Kennedy's more prominent associates from 1968 — who witnessed the assassination — to show it wasn't that hard to check out the story. But the Globe's managing editor admitted during his testimony that the Globe made no effort at all to check out the allegations of Morrow's book. Still, what may be most interesting about the case is simply the line-up of lawyers on both sides of the case. Representing Mr. Khawar: a single attorney (possibly a sole practitioner). Representing the Globe: four law firms and eleven attorneys from five cities. And signing on as "friends of the court" in support of the Globe were at least another 20 attorneys from some of the largest law firms in the country. No one signed on as "friend of the court" supporting Khawar. „ Why? Well, all that legal talent no doubt represented various news organizations afraid of just the decision the Supreme Court issued. Because after the Khawar case, in California, reporters are going to have to be careful what they reprint about people who don't qualify as "public figures." Khawar v. Globe International, Inc. (1998) 19 Cat.4th 254 Frank Zotter Is a Ukiah attorney.
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