Melissa Ripley–the former “druggie”

I know Melissa Ripley. She used to be a druggie. More on that in a moment.

If you want to read a heart warming story of kindness, read Cindy Lange-Kubick: A place to lay his head for Christmas in the Lincoln Journal this Christmas day. Lange-Kubick is a gifted, and I mean gifted, writer. Her story about Melissa and the mentally ill vet may well make you weep.

As I said, I know Melissa. I ran into her at the hospital about a week ago. I had just completed my pulmonary function testing in preparation for my surgery. Melissa had her dog with her. It was Melissa’s day off, and she and her pal where at the hospital so the pup could provide therapy to patients.

How do I know Melissa? She testified in front of me many times after she bought drugs as an undercover cop. She was absolutely the best cop-witness I have ever heard. She was truthful to a fault–never an exaggeration. Juries loved her. They sensed the honesty and humanity and the raw guts.

Guts? Imagine being alone in a dealer’s car wearing a wire when the electronic beeper in the guy’s coat goes off signaling to him that you are wearing a recording device. Awkward!

Melissa, you go, girl!



To Howard, Doug and Scott: Thank you for the wonderful gifts!

As many folks familiar with this blog know, I am not a believer and Christmas is not my favorite time of the year. See, for example, Merry Fucking Christmas from last year.

The foregoing said, I have opened Christmas presents each and every day this year. They came from three bloggers.* So, since my mother taught me always to send “thank you” notes, despite the fact that she was drunk on her ass virtually all the time, I take this Christmas day to thank the three fellows who gave me these gifts.



First, thanks to Howard Bashman and How Appealing. Howard what you do is amazing. You are a critical resource to the legal profession. I particularly like the fact that you almost never write snarky stuff, except when it comes to a certain state Supreme Court. That I love!





Second, thanks to Doug Berman and Sentencing Law & Policy. Doug, like the great teacher that you are, you inspired me to write this blog and taught me to think more deeply (insert punch line) about sentencing. Besides, I like bald guys who are Bob Dylan fans. Now, send me a picture of you smoking a joint!





Third, thanks to Scott Greenfield and Simple Justice. Scott, you scare the shit out of me. But you have also made me less stupid in the process. By the way, this is not a belly rub–think of it as a massage from a pretty showgirl.



Howard, Doug, and Scott, I truly want thank you. All the best.


*Honestly, I just learned that “blawg” means a blog about law and “blawger” means one who blogs about law.  I am 68, don’t laugh at me. It is a miracle that I can still type.


Jackson in the Holiday Season

Judges and Justices are ordinary people who sometimes do extraordinary things. One of the greatest Justices of all time, Robert Jackson, proved that point during the holiday season of 1945, as chronicled in this post from the Jackson List:

For the Jackson List:

Sixty-nine years ago, the Nuremberg trial was in its fifth week.  Twenty-four actual trial days had been completed and United States prosecutors were still presenting their case—the leading and largest, and only the first of four, national presentations of evidence—to the International Military Tribunal.

On December 20, 1945, the IMT judges recessed the trial for a two-week holiday break.  They decided to recess over the strong objections of U.S. chief prosecutor Justice Robert H. Jackson.  He then was in the seventh month of his presidential assignment to prosecute the principal Nazi war criminals, away from the Supreme Court as its 1945 Term was progressing, and trying to complete the trial and return to the U.S. as quickly as possible.

Late that Thursday afternoon, in his office in the Palace of Justice on the outskirts of devastated Nürnberg, Jackson wrote a long letter to his wife, his daughter and his daughter-in-law.  It chronicles his holiday circumstances and, as Jackson’s writing typically did, it shows a lot of himself:

Dec 20 1945

Dear Rene, Mary and Nancy:-

 Well here we are at Christmas—I have plenty of money and can’t buy a thing.  At least my shopping problem is simple. 

The Tribunal against our protest voted a recess from Dec 20 to Jany 2.  We wanted to work right through except Christmas day.  But nothing doing with the French + British so near home.  The time is too long to remain here in waiting and not time enough to get home [to the U.S.] + back safely.  I can’t take a chance on the long delays now caused by weather over the Atlantic. 

We have planned a short trip to the sun sunshine south of the Alps—Riviera—Rome—(1 day) Athens (1 day) Cairo—If possible we will go to the Church of the Nativity at Bethlehem for midnight Christmas eve service.  It is only 40 minutes by air from Cairo and Cairo two days from here.  Then on the way back we will cut our trip to fit our time.  Seems a rare chance to see something of the Near East.  Our party will be only eight—Gordon Dean—Col. [Robert] Gill—Bill [Jackson’s executive assistant and son, William E. Jackson]—Capt. [John] Vonetes—Roger Barrett a fine boy from Chicago [*no, no relation][—]R.H.J.—and Jean MacFetridge and Elsie [Jackson’s secretary Elsie L. Douglas].  …  We have our own plane and the Army is taking care of us at each point.

…  Last night we gave a combination dinner for staff members….  The cooks and boys got a tree—Elsie made all sorts of things to put on it by way of decorations—nuts and cookies tied up in paper napkins, cut outs of horseshoes, the moon, stars etc etc and finally one of the boys from some German got some lights and Elsies mother sent some icecycles (however you spell it).  It made a really beautiful tree.  Then a turkey dinner.  It was exactly six months before that our plane landed in London—only ones [from that original group] here now were Bill, [Larry] Coleman, [Gordon] Dean, Jean MacFetridge, Alma Soller, Elsie & I.  We drank a wine Rhine wine—(liberated) to ourselves + then made the others drink one to us.  Then they all went to the [house’s] music room and sang Christmas carols—then we had a bus take us all out to the Press Camp where the correspondents were having a rather shabby dance—but for policy reasons I had to show up.  Back about midnight—at least things are early around here.  Everybody thought we had a darned good time considering.  Santa Claus came to our house too—Elsie gave Bill + me each a pair of pajamas—made us ashamed we had not thought so far ahead [back in London that summer, to buy gifts before coming to Nuremberg].  …

The case is going well.  There is complaint that it is dreary.  So it is for people who don’t like hard facts.  I have tried to avoid making it spectacular.  But don’t worry.

…  Love and good wishes—more later


(Jackson’s late December 1945 holiday trip with stops around the Mediterranean Sea did come off as planned.  Eight years later, in what turned out to be the last year of his life, he described that trip quite lyrically in an autobiographical fragment:

I have journeyed to Jerusalem and on a Christmas even to Bethlehem, where walking outside the little village the shepherds were still tending their flocks and the stars seemed almost within reach.  And I have lingered for days at Luxor, resting in the shade cast by temples that the faith of men built 4,000 years ago and trudging through a city of tombs that bespoke their belief that death was a beginning as well as an end.)

The Robert Jackson of Christmastime 1945—he a leading player on the world stage, commanding the power of military occupation, immersed in and proving the horrors of Nazism and World War II, experiencing the wonders of geography and history—is one piece of him and the holiday experience.

Jackson’s December 1945 also letter shows quite plainly, however, that he was even then, in all of his Nuremberg power and special circumstances, a man of human values and not much pretense—as he had been from his humble beginnings and earlier years.  Consider, for example, a Christmastime in the mid-1920s.  Bob Jackson then was a Jamestown, New York, lawyer in his early 30s.  He and Irene had been married since 1916 and their children Bill and Mary were young.  At holiday time, they hosted at home their friends Royal and Alace Bates.  The men went out and then returned with young Bill Jackson’s first toy train—“a wind up affair.”  And then, as Alace Bates recalled it years later, “those big boys”—Jamestown lawyers Bob Jackson and Royal Bates—“played with it all evening then did the tree and we all made merry.”

In this holiday season, I hope that you and yours get to gather with loved ones, to travel and see marvels, and to experience the happiness of a child—and perhaps to be one yourself—with a new toy.

*          *          *

John Q. Barrett

Professor of Law, St. John’s University, New York, NY


Posner on same-sex marriage

That Judge Posner has changed his mind on the same-sex marriage question is only slightly less dramatic than if the Pope decided that the Church had been too tough on Satan. Less bombastically, Posner’s change of position was a sea change in the judge’s thinking.  Professor Ronald K.L. Collins details this about-face in Posner on Same-Sex Marriage: Then and Now. It is captivating reading.

As I concluded Professor Collin’s piece, I thought of Mr. Justice Holmes. Some may remember that he too changed his views dramatically on the value of free speech in his Abrams’ dissent. See Thomas Healy, The Justice Who Changed His Mind: Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., and the Story Behind Abrams v. United States, 39 J. Sup. Ct. History (March 2014)  (download free at the Social Science Research Network) (Abstract: “It is one of the great legal and intellectual mysteries of the twentieth century: Why did Oliver Wendell Holmes change his mind about the value of free speech in the turbulent months following World War I and write his landmark dissent in Abrams v. United States? In this Article, I provide the most comprehensive answer yet to this question. Relying upon extensive archival research – including a number of previously unpublished letters – I argue that Holmes’s dramatic transformation was the result of two related, but distinct developments. First, during 1918 and 1919, Holmes was the target of an intense behind-the-scenes lobbying effort carried out by a group of young progressives that included Harold Laski, Felix Frankfurter, Learned Hand, and the editors of the New Republic. Holmes cared deeply for these young men, viewing some of them like sons, and was thus surprisingly susceptible to their influence. Second, at the same time these men were lobbying Holmes to adopt a more expansive view of free speech, two of them – Laski and Frankfurter – came under attack for their own radical views. Holmes learned about their difficulties in the spring of 1919 and wrote several letters on their behalf. Then, when trouble flared up again that fall, Laski and Frankfurter asked Holmes if he would write an article on tolerance for the Atlantic Monthly. Holmes declined, citing his heavy workload, but several days later he wrote his dissent in Abrams “as if possessed,” he explained to Frankfurter. Thus, I argue, Holmes’s dissent can be seen as more than just an abstract defense of free speech. From the perspective of his young friends, it was a defense of them.”).

It is well-known that Posner holds Holmes in high regard. See, e.g., Richard A. Posner, The Essential Holmes: Selections from the Letters, Speeches, Judicial Opinions, and Other Writings of Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., (Paperback – January 1, 1997). Consequently, we should not be surprised then that Posner emulates the great man in the flexibility of the mind. Indeed, Professor Collins provides us important insights into the ability of Posner to see the world differently as time marches on without the slightest concern about the bugaboo of “inconsistency.”

I urge you to read Collins’ piece. As you do, remember Emerson’s dictum: “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.”


To traumatized law students: How does it feel?

Many years ago, the greatest philosopher of all time, Bob Dylan, asked the most important question of all time. “How does it feel?”

For the law students who suffered trauma regarding the Garner/Brown tragedies, I have a similar question. How does it feel as you contemplate the shooting death of an Asian and Hispanic cop by a crazy black guy? If you answer the question seriously, and I truly intend it as a serious question, you might learn something worthwhile.

Honestly, no snark intended: How does it feel? This old white guy is curious.



Jailhouse Doc


William Wright, M.D., is at again. This time he writes about running the medical department at a large urban jail in Colorado that houses about 1,500 inmates. As I have indicated before regarding Bill’s first book Maximum Insecurity, the doctor is a renaissance man and a lyric writer.

We learn something more about Wright in his second book, Jailhouse Doc. That is, physicians like Wright, particularly those who have practiced as surgeons,* can’t be pushed around. More on that later.

Wright “retired” from his speciality surgery practice, and then, out of boredom, took a job being a doctor at a  Colorado maximum security prison. When offered the job of running a jail medical facility closer to home and one which paid better, Wright took the offer.

Remember now, Wright was moving from a maximum security prison to a jail. How hard could that be? Jails are run by county sheriffs, right? Go ahead, picture Andy of Mayberry. WRONG.

If you are a lawyer, a judge, or an inmate, you know the difference between prisons and jails. By comparison, prison are relative islands of tranquility and normality when compared to the utter chaos and abject craziness of jails.

Most of the time, jails hold prisoners for a short time. Frequently, thirty or sixty days is the length of stay, although a fair number stay a longer as they await disposition of felony charges. Think of an Army MASH unit. There is a never-ending stream of patients.

Many are really sick; that “is acutely and chronically ill street people” present themselves to the medical staff at jails each and every day. Wright tells us about “homeless men whose socks had literally grown into their feet” and women “who would come in with tampons that had been in place for months.” Addiction and psychiatric problems abound.

Jeffrey E. Keller is a Board Certified Emergency Physician with 25 years of emergency medicine practice experience before moving full-time into his “true calling” of Correctional Medicine. He is the Chief Medical Officer of Centurion as well as the Medical Director of Badger Medical, which provides medical services to several jails and juvenile facilities in Idaho.

Here is Dr. Keller’s take on Dr. Wright’s book:

Everyone who has worked in corrections for any length of time accumulates a litany of anecdotes about the funny and crazy things that go on. These tend to get passed around whenever correctional personnel get together at parties or conferences. Invariably, someone eventually says, “You know, someone should write these stories down.” Well, finally someone has.

Dr. William Wright has published a sparkling and humorous memoir of his time working in a county jail entitled “Jailhouse Doc.” This book is well worth reading. In fact, it is almost a “must read” for those of us who work in correctional medicine. Not only is it the only book I am aware of about jail medicine, it is well written, funny and informative.

If there is such a thing as “medical realism” in the correctional context, Wright is the master of it. While the book is written around anecdotes, collectively those vignettes paint a whole picture. The truth is that many American jails are hell holes.**

Yet quality correctional care in jails, including medical treatment, is often provided by employees who work under some of the most stressful conditions imaginable. Ultimately, Dr. Wright’s book is paen to those honorable and courageous people–from deputy sheriffs, to nurses, to doctors and beyond.

Here, in no particular order, are few of the anecdotes that Wright uses to paint the picture:

*  It is not a good thing, medically speaking, to put drugs up your ass or, for that matter, any other orifice. In a jail, when prisoners first enter those hallowed halls, the medical staff must be very aware of the possibility that the new inmate is mulling drugs. Dr. Wright speaks knowingly of instructing a new inmate to remove a balloon of drugs from the hole through which a colostomy bag was attached.

*  The doctor laments the female inmate whose blood pressure began to drop like a rock as a result of a package of drugs that she had stashed in her vagina only to have it leak out and intoxicate her. And he notes laconically the inmate who died of a heroin overdose when the balloon popped. His body contained 8,000 times more than the lethal dose.

*  Wright describes a facially absurd accusation that he sexually assaulted a male prisoner during an examination in the busy clinic, the obligatory investigation that followed and his exoneration. Why the false claim? Sociopaths get bored too!

* He speaks of ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) and the prisoners housed at the county jail by the Feds awaiting deportation. He speaks almost lovingly of these poor souls and their wonder that he willing provides medical care, perhaps for the first time in their lives, while speaking Spanish with them. Interestingly, his dislike of ICE mirrors the experience of Dr. Keller. (Secret: I don’t much like ICE either.)

*  Wright discusses an important issue regarding the treatment of Hepatitis C. There are new drugs on the market that may cure this awful disease***, but they are expensive, extremely expensive–perhaps a $100,000 per patient for a full course of treatment. Will these curative drugs be used in jails when all too frequently the causes of Hep. C–dirty needles and such from drug use–are surely to return to the jailed inmate’s life after he or she hits the streets? This is a huge policy and legal question for which we have no answer. As Wright says, “If you have a solution to this problem, write it on the back of a twenty-dollar bill and send it to me.”

*  If you were a doctor, how would you treat the medical needs of a husband and wife in jail accused of burning their children alive to recover insurance money so they could pay their drug suppliers and thus retain the luxuries of their very lucrative business? Dr. Wright speaks candidly and openly about his approach.

*  There are funny moments, many of them. Consider the one simple example of the inmate who stressed to Wright the need to see an “obstetrician” because he needed glasses.

Least you worry that the doctor is exaggerating, consider this review on Amazon from someone who worked closely with Wright:

Dr Wright, I heard about this book from a handful of others, many of them El Paso County Sheriff’s Office employees. Having worked with you as the HSA at CJC, I have to admit, this was a great read – very quick and easy to follow. Having actually worked with you there at CJC, it was very comical and reminiscent of some interesting times. Thank you for your ability to “paint a picture” with your experiences and share them with others not familiar with the correctional medicine environment. I encourage others in the medical field to share this book with others that may be interested in ‘testing the waters of correctional medicine’. Working in corrections is definitely not for everyone; however, it is also not a path often thought of for medical personnel. I have great, great respect for those I worked with (including you) at CJC (both medical and many in Security working for the Sheriff’s Office), and encourage readers to go check it out when you are done. I encourage those in the medical field, from Medical Assistants all the way to provider level, to check out corrections and give it a try. Every day was an adventure and no two days are ever the same – these stories in this book are definitely real….and only the tip of the ice berg for what you will see and encounter. Those that know you, know you have a passion for helping people and doing whatever you can to make the best of the situation at hand. You are not only missed by many of the medical unit staff (most of which are not even there anymore), but also by me.

Wendy H., Amazon, Memories are Abundant!!!, October 22, 2014

As Dr. Keller notes, Wright’s time at the jail “does not end on a positive note.” Indeed, the book ends on a decidedly dark note that raises extremely important policy questions about how medical care should be provided in jails (and for that matter in prisons).

Who really runs the medical facilities within a jail? Is it the Sheriff or Chief Deputy who may think they know more about medicine than the medical professionals? Is it the corporation that contracts to provide medical care to jails in order to make a profit?

I won’t spoil this somber story. You must read the book to find out. I can tell you this though: Physicians like Wright, especially those who were trained as surgeons****, will not be pushed around. For that, correctional docs, like Wright, deserve nothing but praise.


*Trained at the University of Michigan Medical School, Wright practiced 30 years as neuro-otologist. That is “a branch of clinical medicine which studies and treats neurological disorders of the ear. It is a subspecialty of otolaryngology-head and neck surgery.

**For one such example that I dealt with personally in 1994, as a young district judge, see Whitnack v. Douglas County, 16 F.3d 954 (8th Cir 1994) (there was “‘paper and food and stuff on the floor . . .there was ‘hair, dried mucus, spit, [and] vomit in the sink’ . . . there was ‘dried human waste’ on the toilet seat. . . . there was ‘a partially-eaten pear’ and ‘a partially-eaten sandwich’ on the floor . . .there were ‘cigarette butts and ashes on the desk’ . . . there was garbage in the toilet bowl . . . there were dried puddles of urine on the floor . . . there was dried ‘snot’ on the wall.”;  a guard refused to give the plaintiffs cleaning supplies; the Court of Appeals stated that “we find the conditions of Cell C-18 . . . , to have been deplorable”; however, the Court of Appeals ruled that the jury’s verdict of nominal damages in the sum $1.00 plus my award of attorney fees must be reversed because the 24-hour confinement in the filthy cell was not long enough to inflict a Constitutional injury).

*** My brother-in-law is a liver specialist and the head of the department that treats such ailments at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. He has spoken to me about the revolutionary potential of these drugs and their costs.

****I revere surgeons. See here.

会说话的鹦鹉–talking parrot

Petra loves the talking parrot that is on the way to Wa-Mar (Walmart) in Shekou. He makes money for his master by saying,


That means “hello” in Mandarin. Then, the customer pays the master, and the customer may feed the parrot from seeds made available for that purpose.

China is a wonderous place for a little white girl with a heart of gold and silver slippers.




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