Monday, May 2, 2022

Be Salt; Be Light

 

(c) Alamy

I'm sorry I haven't wrote in awhile again. Because again, my family's had health issues. Several weeks ago my father had a fall. While this happened, I was also working on his elder abuse case. His girlfriend and family appear to be the culprits.

Then, after the fall, my father was hospitalized last week and nearly died. He was in a coma and his body was convulsing violently. Very sad to see.There were all sort of complications and details that I won't discuss. I will say it was a very frustrating and painful ordeal. 

In any event, he's recovering and doing much better - though he's not out of the woods yet.

What did I learn from all this? At one point, I felt tired from dealing with all this, especially when these duties weren't assigned to me. Family issues are tough. 

But I asked a former pastor of mine for counsel, and I was encouraged by it. He told me, "I'm glad you're doing everything you're doing. As a Christian - you're duty is to expose and fight evil, and shine a light on it." Those words helped me confirm that I was doing the right thing, even when other family members told me otherwise. (That's family for you, and as the Chinese say: "Matters of the heart are complicated.")

I'm glad I stuck with it, and persevered. I'm blessed to have great counselors, especially older ones who respect fathers. It helps to have a coach in your corner, who has experience with darker people and knows how to sort them out.

After I put my father in a safe place, I saw a strange sign. (From time to time, this happens in my life.) Our cat, "Jeh Pan", (Trial)), killed and brought me several lizards as presents. I told him, "Jeh Pan - the lizards eat the insects. Stop doing that." But he looked at me in a way that told me he wasn't going to listen.

Later that day, Jeh Pan jumped on the house's official chair. From there, he watched all the various fish in the aquarium and made it clear he was now in charge. I smiled and said, "Sah Jah (Lion) - you are way too spoiled for your own good." But we spoil him, because we love him.

The day after, at around 1am, I saw a pack of dogs chase my cat. Taking advantage of the darkness, he ran and hid underneath a car. The dog was still prowling out on the street, but after my run, I found him in a hiding spot and picked him up and took him home. He was happy. Now he acting like the king of the block.

Anyways, last year, I wrote that the verse of the year was  Hebrews 12:14. (GNT): "Try to be at peace with everyone, and try to live a holy life, because no one will see the Lord without it."

Finally - the theme of my year has come to me. “You are salt for the earth. . . . You are light for the world. . . . [L]et your light shine in front of people. Then they will see the good that you do and praise your Father in heaven." Matt. 5:13-16 GNT. Remember; salt and light are not incidental elements; they have the power to destroy disease.

If you're not that into the New Testament, I think that the Jewish Scripture equivalent is as follows. "No, the Lord has told us what is good. What he requires of us is this: to do what is just, to show constant love, and to live in humble fellowship with our God." Micah 6:8 (GNT).

Thursday, February 3, 2022

OpEd Published - Private Criminal Prosecution: Contracting our constitutional due process rights to the ultra-wealthy

(c) Cam Cottrill, published on NY Times
My opinion editorial was published yesterday in the Argonaut News - a local paper for Marina del Rey, Venice, and Santa Monica. It hasn't been uploaded on the site yet, but I appreciate them publishing my article. I've copied and pasted it below for you guys. They published it here.

Private Criminal Prosecution: Contracting our constitutional due process rights to the ultra-wealthy

Judge Loretta Preska sentenced environmentalist lawyer, Steven Donziger to 6 months of imprisonment for a criminal contempt misdemeanor for withholding confidential information. Donziger has already served 787 days under house arrest. The UN human rights council declared that the house arrest violated international human rights law. Judge Preska ignored the decree.

Chevron began its campaign to war against Dongizer after he obtained an $18 billion judgment against Chevron for dumping toxic waste in the rivers of the Amazon rainforest. The dumping harmed at least five indigenous communities, whose livelihoods depended on this water.

After the judgment, Chevron filed a racketeering suit (a type of charge generally reserved for mobsters). Without a jury, the court found against Donziger. Then, the New York Bar revoked Donziger's license to practice law. The court ordered confidential communication to be released. For refusing, the court ordered one of the longest house arrests in American history. To find Donziger guilty of criminal charges without a jury trial, the court appointed a private law firm, which previously profited from Chevron, to criminally prosecute Donziger.

Although it appears that numerous legal errors were committed here, the purpose of this opinion is to stress the hidden, illegal and trending unconstitutional practice of contracting out criminal prosecution to contractors. The Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments guarantee that the government cannot “deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law”. As Donziger’s case proves – without due process – a person’s life and reputation can be ruined.

One of the core rights of due process is that a defendant is entitled to have a prosecutor who is fair and neutral, because of the heavy, scarring, and maiming impacts of a criminal conviction. For instance, a criminal record is a bar to a number of employment opportunities.

There are three rights that a defendant is entitled to from a fair and neutral prosecutor. One, a defendant has the right to decide whether the government should spend its resources in filing the case. Two, the defendant has a right to a fair plea bargaining deal. Three, the defendant has a right to a fair sentence by the prosecution.

Prosecutors are paid on salary. Therefore, since profit is not the reason she is making government decisions, neutrality is presumed. But a contractor, who profits off a case, has every reason to prolong a criminal case, or file a frivolous one, or recommend punitive sentences, which a party like Chevron may want.

There are three ways that contractors can profit from the accused. This happens when they get paid by the hour, are paid more for prevailing against the defendant, or execute decisions with an eye for future contracts with the government. Here, the Department of Justice, the government’s default prosecutors, declined to file charges against Donziger. Because Chevron wanted to circumvent the government’s decision, it hired a law firm that profited by all of the above factors.

 In 1987, in Young v. United States ex rel. Vuitton et Fils, 481 U.S. 787 (1987) the U.S. Supreme Court found the practice of private prosecution to be repugnant to due process.  It stated, “That state official has the power to employ the full machinery of the state in scrutinizing any given individual. Even if a defendant is ultimately acquitted, forced immersion in criminal investigation and adjudication is a wrenching disruption of everyday life. [S]uch an [interested] attorney is required by the very standards of the profession to serve two masters.”

But nearly 35 years later, the practice rears its ugly head again to prosecute protesters,  the poor, and civil rights attorneys. In a case I litigated, the City of Baldwin Park contracted a private law firm for $25,000 to charge an 80 year old man for putting up a sign that criticized a politician of being corrupt. The problem was that the City filed charges against the father of the alleged offender and not the person who put up the sign. And get this: the corrupt politician actually and eventually pled guilty to bribery in federal court.

Three years ago and also in California, in “Coachella and Indio, the law firm Silver & Wright has repeatedly filed criminal charges against residents and businesses for public nuisance crimes—like overgrown weeds, a junk-filled yard or selling popsicles without a business license—then billed them thousands of dollars to recoup expenses” reported the Desert Sun. One woman was even charged $6,000 for violating the chicken ordinance.

For all these reasons, private prosecution must clearly be prohibited. Our constitutional rights cannot be decided by corporate interests. Doing so ultimately concentrates powers and rights in the hands of the ultra wealthy, at the expense of the citizen. Having money shouldn't entitle the rich to be able to criminally prosecute people they don't like, just because they have money. For this reason, even Chief Justice Roberts recognized: “A basic step in organizing a civilized society is to take that sword out of private hands and turn it over to an organized government, acting on behalf of all the people.”

 

 

 


Sunday, January 30, 2022

On Fasting

 

I've been on a modified fast now for 44 days. It's been tough but rewarding. (By modified, my fast is more like the style the Muslims practice during Ramadan. I eat once a day in the evening.) I decided to fast to lose some weight, but I continued for spiritual reasons.

In general, I practice a dry fast once a year during Yom Kippur. I started this in 2015. For those of you who don't know, Yom Kippur is the holiest Jewish holiday of the year. For about 24 hours, you don't eat or drink or put anything into your mouth. Along with other practices, you repent (or say you're sorry) for all the things that you've done wrong that year. You make peace with all your relationships during that time. And, after it's all over, you're forgiven by God. (Before this, I only fasted once in high school.) Then the New Year begins. Great way to start the New Year on a clean slate.

Of course, it's a tough holiday, not like our American ones of feasting and indulgence. Not only are you not eating or drinking, but you're thinking about all the things you've screwed up during that year. 

So, one year I didn't do it. Why? Too hard. Too inconvenient. And the consequences weren't good. My year really didn't go as well.

Back to my current fast. I probably had two times that were really painful. The first moment came the first three days into it. I had terrible and incredible and sharp hunger pains. It made me realize I was addicted more to food than I realized. But I endured.

The second time came around the third week. The sharp pains left. But I was fatigued often and feeling cold. And I asked why I was doing all this? I also hit a weight loss plateau. I was ready to end the fast.

But I continued during this time, because I thought if the Muslims can do this for 30 days, I can do this too for 30 days. I was impacted by my trip in Istanbul in 2015. I came during Ramadan, and I watched an entire country fast for weeks. I remember the festivities after Ramadan was over.

I was also influenced by my time in Mauritius (an island off the African continent, literally on the other side of the world of Los Angeles) in 2018, when the owner of my apartment fasted for Ramadan. I remember asking him if he was happy the fasting time was over. And he said, "No. I'm sad. It was a reflective time." The response left me somewhat puzzled. I thought he would be happy to eat again and feast. But I understood probably into Day 30 of my own fast, what he meant.

I found fasting important, because it made me realize that I'm more than just my body and that I'm not subjected to my appetites and desires. The New Testament for this reason states, "'Food for the stomach and the stomach for food'--but God will destroy them both." (1 Cor. 6:13). It means that we're more than just flesh and bones and a need to consume food. Hence, we need to subject our appetites and desires to self-control.

Both the Old and New Testament command humbling one's self before God. The Prophet Ezra said, "I proclaimed a fast...that we might humble ourselves before our God" (8:21). Thus, the most practical easiest way to humble one's self before the Lord is to fast. (Incidentally, John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist Church, would disqualify candidates from ministry who didn't fast.) There's so much talk in the Christian church but not enough practice of actually humility in fasting.

Now, I know that I have a lot of atheists and agnostics who read my blog. And if you got this far, then, thank you.

One last hero that fasted often was Gandhi. He led the entire Indian nation in a fast, which helped in destroying the power of the British Empire without ever firing a gun back at them. The power of a national fast against the oppressor awakened the spirit of hope.

During this time - I realized the importance of saying No to the excess we have in the West. Fasting has and continues to teach me the power in conquering myself, who is my own worst enemy often.

For this reason, Saint Augustine once said, "Fasting cleanses the soul, raises the mind, subjects one’s flesh to the spirit, renders the heart contrite and humble, scatters the clouds of concupiscence, quenches the fire of lust, and kindles the true light of chastity."

Friday, December 31, 2021

2022 - Year of the Water Tiger - Following the Rule of 20

 

According to the Chinese calendar, last year was the Year of the Metal Ox. This is the Year of the Water Tiger.

Last year, I stated that the ox represents hard work, and that "I'll make sure to work hard and be loyal to cause of Truth and love in hopes of a great harvest to come.". I think I lived up to this. But I had no idea the work would come in taking care of family. 

I can't tell you how difficult this year has been, but it ended well and victorious. And a harvest did come.

As you probably all have noticed, I haven't been writing as much. Part of it is that the court wasn't too happy that I was blogging about my cases. Another part was that I had a lot of family emergencies this year.

My mother ended up in the emergency room twice in January of 2021 (right when the year started). Then my father ended up in the emergency room in March of 2021. 

Actually, even our cat ended up in the emergency room, right before my mother - which was probably the foreshadowing of everything to come. And while that was happening, I was in heavy litigation against the City of Baldwin Park, West Valley Water District, and the Baldwin Park Unified School District.

Everybody is healthy and well now, even Jeh Pan, our cat. It did take a toll on me though. The stress was incredible. I can't even tell you how I managed everything, still kept a stiff upper lip in litigation, and made sure everyone was healed and restored. I don't know. 

I can only say the Lord was with me to give me the strength and wisdom required and the love to endure. I gained 10 pounds in those 11 months from stress, and in these last two weeks, I've lost 10 pounds. So, it all worked out.

Baldwin Park Unified

We ended up winning this case. The School District was illegally ticketing people outside of its area (or jurisdiction in legalise). They were even ticketing people outside of this City, in West Covina! All in all, the court agreed with us, that this was illegal. It's a shameful school district that's failing the students here, keeping them trapped in poverty by a lack of education. 

In the end, I won an amount of attorney's fees, and I donated it to my non-profit. You can read all about it here. I've heard from a major newspaper that they want to write the story.

The City of Baldwin Park

This case, I lost. This was a public records act case, in which the City never released records. My client and I even had video evidence that they didn't release all the records. Then, right before trial, the City submitted a declaration that they released everything and the trial court agreed.

This was totally false on the City's part, and it's been frustrating dealing with players who make misrepresentations just to win, and those who need to hold them accountable do nothing about it. Take for instance how attorney Maribel Medina and Tam filed a restraining order against me, alleging I rammed into Tam's car, and wrote emails to her that I love her. (There's no evidence of this.) They lost the restraining order part of the case, but do they get disciplined for it? No.

I reported Medina to the bar. And that got dismissed too. I'm not surprised. This was like when the city attorney misrepresented my signature, and I reported him. And nothing happened.

I'm realizing more and more, the government can get away with misconduct we can't - like lying, violence, and stealing. (More on this in a later series.)

Well, if you know anything, the City officials and administrators are under federal investigation. I've been telling you guys for years that they're corrupt - and now - it's being proven. And part of the records the City refuse to release regards how they cashed in and spent revenue from cannabis distribution licenses.

In any event, I have appealed the case. I've received two amici letters in support so far. I hope that things go better in this case for next year.

West Valley Water District

In another records case, in which the City Attorney of Baldwin Park represents, West Valley Water District refuses to release its credit card statements. Like in the Baldwin Park case, they're saying they released everything, when they clearly haven't. So, I went to the Bank and asked for it. That's when I got the kicking and screaming from Robert Tafoya, General Counsel on the case. Part of this case went on appeal too. Everything is pending. Let's see what happens.

Thoughts for next year

2020 and 2021 has been hard for the majority of us. It's been one dark and long winter, in which our country is still semi-locked down, restricted, and in disagreement about vaccine passports. From the information I have, and what I see, I think this entire affair will continue until the summer of 2023. I don't want to focus my writing on a general bleak prediction regarding our economy and Covid. Instead, I wanted to focus on a talk that really made made me think.

The Rule of 20

I was listening to talk by Warren Buffet on investing. If you don't know who he is, look him up, and you'll see that he's one of the richest people alive, and arguably in human history. And he said this, he said that if you only had 20 investment choices in your life - you would be picking stocks differently. 

That made me realize why he's rich. It's because he thinks differently than 99% of everybody

Then it made me realize something else, especially because I was running 7-9 miles a day, and dieting. There were a few days, I could only think about food. I thought about roasted bone marrow on toast and tacos and Italian pizza cooked in a wood fire oven with truffle shavings. And I realized, how I needed to get my thinking under control.

But I asked myself, what if you could only eat 20 dishes? What would you choose? I'll tell you, items in my freezer didn't make the list. So, I started wondering - why did I buy it?

What if you could only have 20 pieces of clothes? What would they be? 

What if you could only have 20 items in total, including your car? How would you treat those items? What would you buy?

What if you could only have 20 business decisions, including the cases you picked?

What if you could only have 20 friends? Who would they be?

What if you only had 20 things to say? What would you say?

What if in total, you only had 20 important decisions from birth to death? What would you do?

From the cases I picked, I'm glad that my business advisor Tuttle told me to take on the school district case. I actually didn't want to, but he convinced me after a lot of argument. It'll be one of the cases that defined the middle part of my career. That was a good one in the bundle of 20.

From a family perspective, I'm glad I chose to be there for my cat, for my mother, and for my father. That was important. And it made me realize, life is short.

I wonder how many decisions I have left in total. I wonder what I should do. But I think the questions make you realize, don't spend your time on useless things, when you only have a limited amount of money and time spend in a lifetime.

This year, one Bible verse struck me to try to live by. It says, "Try to be at peace with everyone, and try to live a holy life, because no one will see the Lord without it." Hebrews 12:14. (GNT).

I don't know what next year's verse is. I'll tell you when I know.

I had two books that changed my life this year. I'll write more on both of them. Cured by Jeffrey Rediger and The Kingdom of God is Within You by Leo Tolstoy.

To end, I want to say, the tiger has all kinds of meanings in Asian mythology. It can be both protection and danger. So, it's uncertain. But generally, tigers cross water, because they're on the go. And I think, this will be a year of uncertain transition for everyone.

Happy New Year. Out with the old. And in with the new. I welcome the Year of 2022 - the Year of the Water Tiger.

Monday, November 8, 2021

Federal Grand Jury Subpoenas Records Regarding Allegations of Baldwin Park's Marijuana Bribery Scheme

 

A federal grand jury has issued subpoenas seeking information about cash and other payments to public officials and cannabis consultants as part of a criminal investigation into pot licensing in Baldwin Park and nearby cities, The Times has learned.

Federal authorities, including agents from the FBI and Internal Revenue Service, have been interviewing witnesses and are seeking a wide range of records regarding Baldwin Park city officials who approved cannabis licenses and consultants who helped businesses obtain the permits, according to interviews and a copy of a grand jury subpoena reviewed by The Times.

 

. . . Read more on the LA Times.

 

 

Thursday, June 24, 2021

Disgraced, Former Council Member, Ricardo Pacheco, and his Wife Fined $15,500.

The Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) fined former Baldwin Park Council Member, Ricardo Pacheco and his brother, Gilbert Pacheco, who is also Ricardo's campaign manager, $6,500. It also fined Pacheco's wife, Lenet Pacheco, $9,000.

Ricardo was fined for hiding his campaign contribution information from voters. According to the FPPC press release, Ricardo did so by failing "to timely file two preelection campaign statements and six semi-annual campaign statements, in violation of Government Code Sections 84200.5 and 84200 (2 counts) and failed to timely file three 24-hour reports, in violation of Government Code Section 84203".

Lenet was fined, because of violations in 2013 and 2018. In 2013, while running for public office as Valley County Water District, which services Baldwin Park, Lenet failed to timely file any campaign contributions. In 2018, Lenet failed to file 11 reports timely. Her husband, Ricardo was Lenet's treasurer for both election years.


The recent campaign violations point to the rife, blatant, and trending corruption in Baldwin Park. The purpose of the FPPC is to ensure that citizens know who is financially supporting those running for politics; so that the voters can know what interest influence the candidate and hence can know if they represent their values and beliefs.

Nonetheless, it's not surprising that the Pachecos wanted to conceal such information, especially in light of the dirty money Ricardo has been accepting. In January of this year, Pacheco pled guilty to accepting tens of thousands of dollars in bribes – including $20,000 in cash – to vote on a police contract. The FBI also accused Pacheco of accepting over $303,000 in bribes.

The self-interest of public officers and administrators is a problem that's currently in the spotlight. For instance, the FBI has served search warrants on the city attorney, Robert Tafoya - who Council Members Paul Hernandez, Alejandra Avila, and Monica Garcia refuse to fire. (Later, Legal Lens discovered that Robert Tafoya was also a campaign manager for Garcia - offering different levels of influence for thousands of dollars in cash.)

The State of California has blasted the current finance director for poor accounting practices, which it found encourages fraud and embezzlement. 

The current Parks and Recreation Director, Manuel Carrillo, has been accused of laundering money through a non-profit agency, which the California Attorney General shut down.

Finally, a number of directors, such as the public works director, the community development director, and the previous finance director, have all suddenly resigned.


Local business owner and activist, Greg S. Tuttle is taking credit for reporting the Pachecos. When asked about the rulings, Tuttle replied, "I keep my word against dirty politicians. I will see you locked up for your corruption."

Thursday, April 29, 2021

Baldwin Park Council Members Refuses to Fire City Attorney and Campaign Contributer, Robert Tafoya; Tafoya Currently Subject of U.S. Department of Justice Probe

Robert Nacionales-Tafoya (c) Los Angeles Times

On April 7, 2021 - Council Member and Mayor Pro Tem, Alejandra Avila stated that she wished "to hold off" on looking for a new city attorney, even though the current one, Robert Tafoya, was served search warrants by the FBI. (See video at 1:10). From the video, it's clear that Avila blocked Council Member Damian's request to find a new city attorney by asking why the city needed a new one, even though the current city attorney appears to be connected with former Council Member Ricardo Pacheco, who pled guilty to accepting over $303,000 in bribe money regarding marijuana distribution. Council Member Paul Hernandez states that he is "comfortable with the services that we're providing . . . I don't feel like we should put out an RFP [Request for Proposal]." Similarly, Council Member Monica Garcia "questioned if it was the right time for this". Garcia made the third request to put a search for a new city attorney, "on hold". Does political campaign contributions have anything to do with keeping Tafoya?

Alejandra Avila

City Attorney, Robert Tafoya, Subject of Federal Investigation

Besides the federal probe, Tafoya has been a controversial figure in Baldwin Park. Tafoya was fined with $36,000 in sanctions in the court by filing a fraudulent disability lawsuit, placing a criminal doctor on the stand that had no personal knowledge of the case, and then walking out on his client's trial entirely. Other problems have ranged from alleged excessive billing and drafting contracts that stated that a police chief could only be fired if he was convicted of a felony. Tafoya also has a money trail that can be traced back to the three council members, who support keeping him.

 Does Political Campaign Contributions from Lawyers Influence City Council Votes?

From January 1, 2017 - September 19, 2020, Council Member Garcia reported that she received $8,800 from Tafoya and his law firm. Also, Garcia received significant contributions from those affiliated with Tafoya. Cristeta Paguirigan-Summers gave $13,200. Cristeta is also affiliated with Albright, Yee & Schmit, who gave $2,000. David Olivas gave $2,000. Leal & Trejeo and Anthony Willoughby II gave Garcia $2,000. Willoughby is currently at the center of an alleged scandal regarding his employment and marijuana distribution licenses.

From January 1, 2018 and October 20, 2018 - Council Member Avila reported that she received $4,457.79 in campaign contribution from Robert Tafoya and his law firm. Furthermore, Avila received another $1,500 from Albright, Yee & Schmit, a firm that Tafoya frequently subcontracts.

From October 12, 2018 to June 30, 2019 - Hernandez reported that Tafoya contributed $6,000, Albright $1,000, and the Kauffman law firm $2,000. (Incidentally, Hernandez received  $3,500 from CA Education Coalition PAC, which is tied to Pacheco, Michael Taylor, and marijuana money.)

Tafoya Raises Campaign Money for Council Member Garcia: Conflict of Interest?


Tafoya holds fundraising events for Council Member Monica Garcia. Email evidence confirms that Tafoya would blast attorneys for money on behalf of Garcia's campaigns. According to Tafoya, $1,000 buys you Bronze standing with Garcia. $1,500 buys one Silver standing. And Gold members require $2,500. But in a representative democracy, are we supposed to pay now to meet with our elected officials?

Furthermore, there's an appearance of a conflict of interest when Garcia votes for Tafoya - who has raised significant sums of money in the past. To ensure the appearance of integrity, Garcia should abstain from voting on any decisions regarding Tafoya.

The Harm to our Local Government and Democracy

It appears that the city council, and other governments, have forgotten their purpose, which is that they exist to serve the people. Instead, career politicians appear to exist for what they can take from the taxpayer and the advantages they receive from selling their influence in office. In the end, the citizens suffer at the expense of the few. 

So the decision to keep a questionable city attorney is really a much bigger issue, because it eventually results in the oppression of the common people. For instance, the City Council decides it wants to misappropriate federal housing funds but can't do so without the approval of the city attorney. A good city attorney would object. A bad one would permit it. And people who need those funds eventually become homeless. And as discussed further below, that's what makes this entire political system unbearable and unworkable. In short, a bad city attorney promotes decisions that hurt the people.

Hence, the above problem reflects a crisis for Western democracies throughout the world. As global wealth is becoming concentrated in fewer people, these fewer people, who have been commonly called the one percent, are having greater influence over our politicians and governments. This trend is the antithesis of a democracy, which is supposed to generally result in the greatest good for the greatest number of people.

Two U.S. Supreme Court cases have enabled this corrosion. The first one was in 1976 with Buckley v. Valeo. That case held that political spending limits violate the First Amendment and hence political spending limits on individuals are unconstitutional. 

The second case, as seen here with the political action committee, is Citizens United. In Citizens United, our Court held that corporations are people and hence can spend as much as they want regarding political campaigns.

The consequences of these decisions are clearly proven in local politics here and for sure in higher levels of government. Reform is required. Amendments to our Constitution must be ratified.

Regarding Baldwin Park, Robert Tafoya in office reflects badly on the City. People in government must not only be honest, but they have to have a reputation of honesty too. As has been so often said, "Trust is the currency of government."