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.

3 comments:

peter brush said...

Thanks for your reporting on the early release program. It appears to be a gratuitously bad idea ideologically motivated and jammed through the legislature without the benefit of proper hearings. Now with the attack on Ms.Cruz we have further evidence of vicious undemocratic liberalism at the Capitol. God Bless her and Mr. Suzio; admirable courage.

peter brush said...

I tried earlier to comment, so forgive me if I'm repeating myself.
Just would like to thank you for your attention to this issue. Has the Courant run a story on the law or its effects on the streets of Meriden or New Haven?

It's hard to understand why Attys. Malloy and Lawlor are hell-bent on jamming this program down our throats. It's reminiscent of Malloy's mysterious commitment to the idiotic busway. Are they really so committed to their progressive ideology that they can't reconsider what is surely a small part of Malloy's agenda? There can't be much political hay to be made with it.
Mr. Suzio wants only a suspension. Would seem more than reasonable since public hearings were never held before the thing was passed in the figurative dead of night. The apparent punishment of Ms.Cruz is appalling.
Another example of mindless liberal viciousness. Thanks to her and Mr. Suzio for their courage.

Don Pesci said...

Peter,
The Courant ran an editorial on the subject. I commented upon it here: “One murder is not convincing enough for the editorial writers at the Courant: ‘It's too early in this year-old program,” the paper avers, “to come to such a conclusion. One failure, even one leading to a fatality, is no justification for scuttling the entire program.’” http://donpesci.blogspot.com/2012/08/courant-oks-defective-risk-reduction.html
There have been other violent crimes committed by released prisoners who have been awarded release credits since the appearance of the Courant’s editorial, which represents the views of the paper’s publisher and editorial writers.
Most reporters have not followed the story surrounding the early release program with the same diligence and dispatch one finds in, say, the story surrounding salary increases within the state’s colleges. That one caused some heads to roll. This one, not so much.
Sorry for the tardy posing. I wasn’t available today.