Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Lawlor’s Law

The whole point and purpose of the Office of Victim Advocate (OVA) is, as the title suggests, victim advocacy. Any defense lawyer or reporter will tell you that advocacy hurts and involves incalculable risks to the advocate. Such is the case with the OVA, which can most accurately be described as an independent in-house whistleblower operation.

A number of people who showed up on a blustery afternoon outside the Wethersfield Department of Corrections (DOC) on October 16 to protest the immanent firing of Michelle Cruz, Connecticut’s Victim’s Advocate, had use of her services. One of them was Elizabeth Barrett, whose daughter was murdered four years ago. She was accompanied by her husband who, with his close cropped white beard, looked for all the world like Ernest Hemingway.

Mrs. Barrett stepped to the battery of microphones, leaned into them and said in a crisp voice, “Four and a half years ago, we were fortunate enough to meet Michelle Cruz, Connecticut’s Victim’s Advocate. She has sat with us at our meetings with police, advised us of our rights, explained the judicial system, and explained legal terms in a language we could understand. Her empathy and knowledge have been indispensable, which brings me to the reason I’m here today.”

She was here, she said, to serve as a sort of advocate for Ms. Cruz, whose position as the State Victim’s Advocate has been put in jeopardy because she blew the whistle on Michael Lawlor’s poorly constructed, badly administered Earned Risk Reduction Credits program. Under Mr. Lawlor’s program, convicts who had committed violent crimes are given early release credits for having taken courses specifically designed to assure that they are not recommitted when they are let loose early from prison; critics have said that in many cases the courses taken do no such thing and will not affect recidivism rates.
The program is Mr. Lawlor’s brainchild, and he is determined not to heed his many critics, who include the Republican minority in the General Assembly, Senator Len Suzio, now targeted by the administration of Governor Dannel Malloy for elimination in the upcoming elections, Ms. Cruz and, among other victims of Connecticut’s Byzantine judicial spider’s web, Mrs. Barrett, whose daughter was murdered in an arson fire. In her case, still under investigation, justice in Connecticut moves at a snail’s pace. 

Surviving relatives of violent crimes are easy to spot in a crowd: A silence of menace breathes around them. They are not used to microphones. Questioned by the media, often on timelines and hurried, they cannot quite get it out, although they may have told their pain to strangers hundreds of times. Mrs. Barrett got much of it out because she had written it down and her supportive now daughterless husband was beside her, offering by his solid and silent presence just the comfort and encouragement she needed to get on.

Following the much publicized murder of a store clerk in Meriden by one of the graduates of Mr. Lawlor’s early release program, and a murder in Manchester by yet another criminal who “earned” Mr. Lawlor’s get-out-of-jail-early credits, Ms. Cruz courageously stepped forward and, along with several Republican leaders in the General Assembly, offered a public critique of the program, greatly upsetting the unimpeachable Mr. Lawlor, Governor Malloy and his Malloyalists, and other public servants blissfully unconcerned with what enlightened legislators the world over consider the FIRST duty of government -- to insure public safety. Someone high up in the Malloy administration, perhaps Roy Occhiogrosso, should convey the news to Mr. Lawlor. Public safety ought not to be Public Enemy Number One. To ensure the public safety, men form governments; legislatures pass laws; executive departments – the governor’s office comes to mind – enforce the laws; police departments are organized; criminals are prosecuted; jails and prisons are constructed; justice is dispensed, in Mrs. Barrett’s case agonizingly slowly.

Was justice dispensed when Frankie Resto, accused by police of murdering a store clerk in Meriden, was set loose on the community after he had received his early release credits? 

At one point, a mischievous wind blew Mrs. Barrett’s written notes, but she recovered and gamely went on:

“Ms. Cruz’s four year term as Victim Advocate was up in April 20212. She wrote the governor [who easily could have reappointed her] asking him where her position stood. Governor Malloy did not have the courtesy to reply. However, six months later her job is being posted; this after Michelle had the courage to speak out against the risk reduction program. [How, indeed, is the public safety advanced by the retro-active application of the program to more than seven thousand prisoners?]"

The law – the majesty of the law that now treats violent and non-violent criminals equally under Mr. Lawlor’s deficient program – constrains the governor, Mr. Malloy told Ms. Barrett in a letter, “to pick someone recommended by the Advisory Committee.” That is not true: The governor could simply avoid the recommendation process through his reappointment power.

Among members of the board constraining the governor is Chairman of the Board Lawlor and the governor’s wife Kathy, who once ran a rape crisis center. Among the prisoners released early though the Lawlor program was Wayne Brown, arrested upon his release for raping a woman in Vernon. “Wayne Brown is no stranger to the criminal justice system,” Ms. Cruz writes in one of her nettlesome media releases, “at the age of 16, Brown was convicted of Assault 2nd w/ weapon and Attempt to commit Robbery 3rd. He was sentenced to 7 years, suspended after serving 2 years and 4 years of probation. This is at age 16. Within four months of his release, he was charged with violating probation.

Perhaps Mrs. Malloy can intercede on behalf of Ms. Cruz.

The wind again attacked Mrs. Barrett as she concluded: “I would ask why we victims have no voice when it comes to reappointing this position. Governor Malloy and the Michael Lawlor team need to listen when few say we are pleased with the caliber of Ms. Cruz’s advocacy on our behalf.”

Clearly, justice in Connecticut is not stacked on the side of its victims.
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