WBEZ | Florida http://www.wbez.org/tags/florida Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en Former Indiana public schools superintendent feels the heat of Hoosier grading scandal http://www.wbez.org/news/former-indiana-public-schools-superintendent-feels-heat-hoosier-grading-scandal-108261 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/Indy Schools (Tony Bennett) .jpeg" alt="" /><p><p>The former head of Indiana&rsquo;s public schools faces allegations of favoring a charter school backed by a major donor.</p><p>As a result, Tony Bennett announced today during a conference call that he&rsquo;s resigning from his current post as Florida&rsquo;s education superintendent.</p><p>&ldquo;The decision to resign is mine and mine only,&rdquo; Bennett said this morning from Tallahassee, Florida. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s not fair to the children of Florida that I continue as commissioner and deal with the distraction.&rdquo;</p><p>During his tenure as Indiana Superintendent for Public Instruction, Tony Bennett pushed a system of grading public and charter schools.<br />Failing schools were subject to state takeover, including Roosevelt High School in Gary, Indiana.</p><p>But those moves and others may have led to Bennett&rsquo;s failure to win reelection to that post last fall. The Republican lost to Democrat Glenda Ritz.<br />Soon after, Bennett was hired as Florida&rsquo;s education commissioner at a salary of $275,000.&nbsp;</p><p>But today, he resigned over reports from the Associated Press that he changed the grade of Christel House Academy charter school in Indianapolis from a C to an A.</p><p>The school was backed by Christel DeHaan, a major Republican donor.</p><p>In a conference call this morning, Bennett said the reports are false, but also distracting.</p><p>That&rsquo;s why he&rsquo;s quitting despite Florida Governor Rick Scott&rsquo;s request that he stay on.</p><p>Bennett says he expects to be cleared of any wrongdoing.</p><p>Meanwhile, Indiana Governor Mike Pence urged the Indiana Department of Education to complete a thorough review of the questions surrounding the 2011-2012 A-F letter grades. He wants the Department to report its findings at the next State Board of Education meeting in August.</p><p>&ldquo;Governor Pence believes in accountability and that students, parents and teachers deserve to know our state has a fair and impartial grading system that accurately describes the performances of our schools,&rdquo; said Kara Brooks, Press Secretary. &ldquo;The Governor supports our A-F grading system and believes that the people of Indiana should have confidence in the integrity of that system. &hellip; The Governor believes we will be able to make an informed decision about how we might best ensure public confidence in our A-F grading system going forward.&rdquo;</p><p>The American Federation of Teachers released a statement calling for Indiana to suspend its A-F school grading system.</p><p>Indiana uses A-F grades to determine which schools get taken over by the state and whether students seeking state-funded vouchers to attend private school need to first spend a year in public school. They also help determine how much state funding schools receive. A low grade also can detract from a neighborhood and drive home buyers elsewhere.</p><p>After Bennett learned about a likely low grade for Christel House, he fired off an email last Sept. 12 to his chief of staff.</p><p>&quot;This will be a HUGE problem for us,&quot; Bennett wrote. &quot;They need to understand that anything less than an A for Christel House comprises all of our accountability work.&quot;</p><p>Bennett, who had been reworking Florida&#39;s grading system as the state&#39;s education commissioner, denied that DeHaan&#39;s Christel House Academy school received special treatment. He said earlier this week that discovering that the charter would receive a low grade raised broader concerns with grades for other &quot;combined&quot; schools &mdash; those that included multiple grade levels &mdash; across the state.</p><p>But even before this scandal, Indiana House Speaker Brian Bosma said there were questions regarding how the Indiana Department of Education arrived to a final grade.</p><p>House Bill 1427 was passed to require the DOE to evaluate the fairness of the system.</p><p>&ldquo;We already had some concerns about it just in how you balance growth, improvement and raw scores,&rdquo; Bosma told WBEZ today. &ldquo;We&rsquo;re committed to having the system but it just has to be the right system.&rdquo;</p><p>Bosma said the the rise in Christel House&rsquo;s grade may have brought attention to the overall grading system itself.</p><p>&ldquo;I&rsquo;m less convinced that specific changes were made for a single school and more inclined to believe that school&rsquo;s score gave rise to the realization that there was a flaw in the entire system,&rdquo; Bosma said.</p><p>Bosma also said the school in question, Christel House Academy were educating 9th and 10th grade students. However, the school-grading metric system gave them a zeros for grades 11th and 12th as if it had those grades.</p><p>&ldquo;That was my understanding at the time,&rdquo; Bosma said. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s something more than that, of course, we&rsquo;d like to get to the bottom of that and see what the real story is.&rdquo;</p><p>The revelations that Bennett and Indiana officials scrambled to change the grade of one school come amid a strong debate over Florida&#39;s grading system.</p><p>Bennett earlier this month pushed the Florida board that oversees education policy to adopt a &quot;safety net&quot; provision that prevented the grades of more than 500 schools from dropping more than one grade this year.</p><p>That provision was adopted by a 4-3 vote amid much debate and criticism that the move would &quot;mask&quot; the true performance of schools. The grades released last week still showed a sharp drop in the number of A-rated schools and a jump in the number of F-rated ones.</p><p>Bennett&rsquo;s resignation forced the Florida State Board of Education to hold an emergency meeting Friday. Board members are expected to name Pam Stewart as an interim commissioner. Stewart, who is currently chancellor for the division of public schools, served as interim commissioner before Bennett was hired.</p><p>Stewart would take the helm at a critical time. Bennett was poised to decide whether Florida should remain with a national consortium or develop its own set of tests for new common core standards that are scheduled to take effect. Florida&#39;s Republican legislative leaders want the state to develop its own assessments.</p><p>Bennett&#39;s decision to resign came even though he had gotten support from board members after the initial reports from Indiana came out.<br />&quot;I regret that Commissioner Bennett feels he must resign, but I respect his decision,&quot; said John Padget, a state board member from Key West. &quot;He has spent countless hours focused on what&#39;s best for Florida&#39;s children, and I&#39;ll miss him.&quot;</p><p><em>Follow WBEZ&rsquo;s Northwest Indiana reporter Michael Puente on Twitter <a href="http://@MikePuenteNews">@MikePuenteNews</a>.</em></p></p> Thu, 01 Aug 2013 15:58:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/former-indiana-public-schools-superintendent-feels-heat-hoosier-grading-scandal-108261 The Kate Hunt saga http://www.wbez.org/blogs/achy-obejas/2013-05/kate-hunt-saga-107375 <p><p>The deadline came Friday and <a href="http://www.wbez.org/blogs/achy-obejas/2013-05/hate-air-lgbtq-setbacks-107291#comments">Kate Hunt, the Florida 18 year-old</a> accused&nbsp; of <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/05/19/kaitlyn-hunt-florida-teen-felony-same-sex_n_3302713.html">&quot;lewd and lascivious battery on a child 12 to 16 years-old,&quot;</a> rejected a plea deal offer by the state&rsquo;s attorney, meaning the case goes to trial June 20.<br /><br />The <a href="http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2013/05/21/gay-teen-underage-girlfriend/2347989/">deal would have meant</a> two years of house arrest, one year of probation and a conviction of child abuse (rather than be required to register as a sex offender for life). It would have, in effect, kept Hunt from going to college and likely ended any chance she could ever have a career involving minors, including her choice of nursing. In other words: Hunt would have been stigmatized for life.<br /><br />When news broke of the case &ndash; a pair of high school Juliets apparently caught in the web of homophobia and laws aimed at adult predators of minor children &ndash; there was a wave of sympathy for Hunt, whose family has come out in force to defend her, creating a <a href="https://www.facebook.com/groups/FreeKate/?fref=ts">Facebook page</a> to explain their side, raising funds for a legal defense, and selling &ldquo;Free Kate&rdquo; t-shirts to that end.<img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Screen%20Shot%202013-05-27%20at%202.18.25%20PM.png" style="height: 218px; width: 320px; float: right;" title="Kate Hunt supporter at a Florida Pridefest event (Facebook)" /></p><p>But in the last week or so, at least two events have caused some reconsideration. Those include the decision by the state&rsquo;s attorney and sheriff&rsquo;s office to release the arrest affidavit (which includes details of both sexual acts and, in its dry clinical language, actually reads like the worst pornography &ndash;&nbsp;and, no, I&rsquo;m not going to link it: it&rsquo;s easy enough to find) as well as recordings from <a href="http://www.wptv.com/dpp/news/kaitlyn-hunt-phone-calls-released-by-indian-river-county-sheriffs-office">a taped conversation between the two girls</a>, and the decision of <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/news/crime/teen-rejects-plea-deal-same-sex-relationship-case-article-1.1354721">her younger girlfriend&rsquo;s family</a> to finally speak to the press.<br /><br />Not surprisingly, the families tell different stories. These events seemed to have affected the some folks, even over at <em>Daily Kos</em>, who&rsquo;d originally come out strong for Hunt, and woulnd up <a href="http://www.dailykos.com/story/2013/05/20/1210464/-Falling-in-love-with-another-girl-lands-Florida-teen-in-criminal-jeopardy#">taking back a petition</a> supporting her. (A petition at <a href="http://www.change.org/freekate">Change.org</a> continues full steam ahead).<br /><br />From everything I can tell, here&rsquo;s the story:<br /><br />* There is a three-year, seven-month difference in age between Hunt and the younger girl.<br /><br />* They met at school, where they were classmates and peers because the younger girl is in an International Baccalaureate program. They were also on the varsity <a href="http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2013/05/21/gay-teen-underage-girlfriend/2347989/">basketball team together</a>. In the arrest affidavit, Hunt says she didn&rsquo;t think about the age difference because the girl acted older. The younger girl is actually taller and looks older than Hunt.<br /><br />* The relationship began sometime in the fall, when Hunt was 18 and the girl was 14. They had sex twice: once in a school bathroom (this really seems to get some people because it sounds so lurid but &ndash; seriously &ndash; is this that far-fetched for a pair of high school kids?) and another time at Hunt&rsquo;s house, after the girl ran away from home and Hunt went to pick her up.<br /><br />* The relationship appears to be a first for both girls. Hunt&rsquo;s mother said she&rsquo;d only dated boys up until this point. In the recorded phone, Hunt tells the younger girl she&rsquo;s in love with her.<br /><br />* Hunt&rsquo;s mother says she assumed the younger girl&rsquo;s parents, Jim and Laurie Smith, knew about the relationship. She does not describe Hunt as a lesbian &ndash; she considers the relationship a normal part of teen experimentation &ndash; but she does accuse the Smiths of being religious anti-gay zealots. She says they should have come to their family first before going to the authorities to deal with the matter between families. At one point, she also sad the Smiths waited until Hunt turned 18 to get her arrested, an accusation which appears to be contradicted by the arrest warrant.<br /><br />* The Smiths say the <a href="http://www.cbs12.com/news/top-stories/stories/vid_7589.shtml">same sex issue is not their concern</a>, that it&rsquo;s the age difference (something they might have given some thought to before signing off on their daughter&rsquo;s IB matriculation). They also say they twice warned Hunt to stay away from their daughter (which means that either Hunt didn&rsquo;t share this with her family, or her mother deliberately ignores it in the retelling, or it never happened). They also <a href="http://www.theblaze.com/stories/2013/05/22/anti-gay-bias-or-fair-punishment-new-details-emerge-about-high-school-students-lesbian-relationship-with-a-minor/">blame Hunt</a> for their daughter&rsquo;s running away. They claim they went to authorities when all else proved futile.<br /><br />* I can&rsquo;t find anything about the Smith&rsquo;s religious affiliations but the State&rsquo;s Attorney on the case, Bruce Colton, who claims this is not a LGBTQ issue, is a Republican who was <a href="http://www.dougholder.com/2012-florida-christians-voter-guide-candidate-endorsements/">endorsed by Christian voting groups</a> in the last election. Colton also recently dropped similar charges against <a href="http://www.examiner.com/article/kaitlyn-hunt-charged-with-felony-but-another-teen-freed-for-similar-charges">another 18 year-old girl</a> in a case involving a 15 year-old girl, so why he seems to be doubling down on Hunt is somewhat of a mystery.<br /><br />* Hunt&rsquo;s mother says Hunt was kicked out of high school, in spite of two judges orders allowing her to stay, because the Smiths pressed the school board. There may be some truth to that, but it&rsquo;s also true that sex in school bathrooms is against the school&rsquo;s student code and may be at least, the technical reason for her expulsion.<br /><br />* The Hunts have been careful to insist the younger girl is not cooperating and has said the relationship is consensual. But the younger girl has no legal right to consent in Florida. And she has either cooperated or been coerced into cooperation in both the arrest affidavit and the recorded phone call. She&rsquo;ll be called to the stand during the trial, though her testimony may not be necessary for conviction: Hunt admitted both sexual encounters to the arresting officer after she was Mirandized. Hunt could get as much as 15 years in jail and be required to register as a sex offender.<br /><br />* There is a chance that, even if convicted, Hunt could apply to have her record expunged under <a href="http://definitions.uslegal.com/r/romeo-and-juliet-law/">Florida&rsquo;s &ldquo;Romeo &amp; Juliet&rdquo; law</a>, which erases convictions when the partners have less than a four year age difference. In the meantime, a Republican state senator, Thad Altman, has said <a href="https://www.facebook.com/groups/FreeKate/permalink/196758677142825/">he&rsquo;ll introduce a bill</a> that will ease matters for high schoolers caught up in laws aimed at adult child predators.<br /><br />All of which brings me back to my original take on this story: It seems like a fairly typical high school romance blown completely out of proportion, particularly by the parents.<br /><br />First, the Smiths: it seems, they don&rsquo;t seem to know much about what their daughter is up to (they found out about the relationship from the basketball coach, who told Mrs. Smith, an assistant to the coach). They didn&rsquo;t seem to have given much thought to what having their daughter attend school with older kids might mean &ndash; older kids, let&rsquo;s be honest, right smack in the midst of sexual discovery. I am also mystified they didn&rsquo;t seek out the Hunts in trying to keep things under control. Their warnings to Hunt seems to ignore that their daughter sought out Hunt when she ran away.<br /><br />What is the relationship with their own daughter? Kids don&rsquo;t run away without a reason. Everybody in Indian River nows who their daughter is now, and would have known even without the Hunts&rsquo; media campaign. How smart was it to expose her to all that? And is putting their kid on the witness stand against her girlfriend a good idea &ndash; I don&rsquo;t mean legally, I mean psychologically? While I&rsquo;m sure a sexually active 14 year-old can be unnerving to parents regardless of orientation, I&rsquo;m not convinced by any of the Smiths&rsquo; public statements &ndash; all very gay neutral &ndash; that they aren&rsquo;t particularly freaked out by their daughter&rsquo;s same sex attraction. They say they want to hold Hunt responsible and don&rsquo;t want her to do jail time. But they have also rejected Hunt&rsquo;s offer to leave the state and never contact their daughter. What do they want then? It&rsquo;s unclear.<br /><br />And second, the Hunts: I get their crazy-over-the-top protect-my-baby above all things campaign. I get her legal defense is an extraordinary expenditure they didn&rsquo;t anticipate and that they need help. I admire the unconditional support they&rsquo;re giving their child. But the campaign has also been a Pandora&rsquo;s Box. The Hunts, I&rsquo;m sure, didn&rsquo;t anticipate the details of their daughter&rsquo;s tryst would be splashed in newspapers all over the world. They&rsquo;ve also created a public gay persona for Hunt which may or may not mirror her actual sexual identity. Even if somehow Hunt gets off, or the charges are reduced to a misdemeanor, this story will follow her forever.<br /><br />In other words, both of these girls will need a long, long recovery from this ordeal.</p></p> Mon, 27 May 2013 10:40:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/blogs/achy-obejas/2013-05/kate-hunt-saga-107375 The NRA has a say even in your health care http://www.wbez.org/blogs/achy-obejas/2012-12/nra-has-say-even-your-health-care-104566 <p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/RS2581_AP05031408767-guns%20Nam%20Y.%20Huh-scr.jpg" style="float: right; height: 300px; width: 300px;" title="AP file" />Did you think the National Rifle Association had reached its nadir when it suggested that, no matter the costs, we should put an armed guard in every school in the nation? Did you think it was a bit much that the group thought to inject itself in education policy by providing a whole gun training regimen for schools?</div><p><br />Here&rsquo;s another NRA policy that&rsquo;s right there with that flash of genius, that&#39;s far more intrusive, and one with which the group has had some success: The Firearm Owners Privacy Act -- <a href="http://www.myfloridahouse.gov/sections/Bills/billsdetail.aspx?BillId=44993">already passed in 2011 in Florida</a>, the nation&rsquo;s loony bin -- would seek to ban physicians from asking patients about gun ownership and possession.<br /><br />The act basically says that doctors can ask about smoking, drinking, drugs, physical abuse, caloric intake and any other health risk factor they can come up with, but not about firearm possession. Never mind that study after study shows that even <a href="http://www.bradycampaign.org/facts/gunviolence/gunsinthehome/">law-abiding gun owners have a higher risk of death by gunshot</a> if they keep their weapons at home.<br /><br />The idea behind it is so impractical that even the version signed by Florida Gov. Rick Scott comes with exemptions for EMTs and other emergency personnel.<br /><br />And want to know what&rsquo;s even scarier? There&rsquo;s <a href="http://www.dailykos.com/story/2012/12/19/1171950/-Guns-mental-health-and-Obamacare#">a section in the Affordable Care Act</a>, AKA Obamacare, that mirrors the Firearm Owners Act. The ACA provision doesn&rsquo;t out-and-out prohibit doctors from asking about guns -- a useful question when dealing with minors, or potentially homicidal or suicidal patients -- but it discourages them from doing so. The provision, under the ACA&rsquo;s Title X, even goes so far as to forbid doctors from collecting any data that concerns gun ownership.<br /><br />A judge issued <a href="http://www.miamiherald.com/2012/07/02/2879089/miami-federal-judge-sides-with.html">a permanent injunction against Florida&#39;s bill</a> last July, saying, among other things, that the law was so vague it violated doctor&rsquo;s First Amendment rights to free speech.<br /><br />But the Obamacare provision -- which was <a href="http://www.redstate.com/briansikma/2012/06/28/how-the-nra-helped-obamacare/">written with the NRA&rsquo;s blessing</a> -- stands. In other words, even when the NRA loses a state statute in the courts, it has something to build on down the road based on federal law.<br /><br />That&rsquo;s why <a href="http://smartgunlaws.org/">six other states</a> -- Alabama, Minnesota (c&rsquo;mon!), North Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee and West Virginia -- have tried to pass their own versions of the Firearm Owners Privacy Act.<br /><br />Supporters of Firearm Owners Privacy Act argue that the law basically <a href="http://www.sunshinestatenews.com/story/florida-appeal-flawed-decision-overturning-docs-vs-glocks-law">allows doctors to drop patients who are gun owners </a>-- as if doctors had a particular prejudice rather than a concern about the health consequences of gun ownership.<br /><br />&quot;What is curious about this law &mdash; and what makes it different from so many other laws involving practitioners&rsquo; speech &mdash; is that it aims to restrict a practitioner&rsquo;s ability to provide truthful, non-misleading information to a patient, whether relevant or not at the time of the consult with the patient,&rdquo; wrote U.S. District Judge Marcia Cooke in her ruling on the Florida version.<br /><br />In other words, Judge Cooke put a stop to a law that would have kept physicians from asking questions about guns and how it might impact the health -- perhaps even <em>life</em> -- of their patients.<br /><br />But the NRA would like doctors to let that info be.</p><p>And by working with the NRA on the ACA to keep gun nuts from upending the entire law, the White House has provided the very platform for this nasty bit of murderous legalese to keep popping up, like varmints in a midway shooting game.</p></p> Wed, 26 Dec 2012 12:21:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/blogs/achy-obejas/2012-12/nra-has-say-even-your-health-care-104566 Witness missing in case of Rubio's pal Rivera http://www.wbez.org/blogs/achy-obejas/2012-09/witness-missing-case-rubios-pal-rivera-102600 <p><p>Remember Florida Congressman David Rivera, Sen. Marco Rubio&#39;s honest-to-God-no-hyperbole-best-friend? When I <a href="http://www.wbez.org/blogs/achy-obejas/2012-08/florida-congressman-under-investigation-alleged-shadow-campaign-101894">wrote about Rivera</a> last month, several different law enforcement agencies were looking at all sorts of allegations concerning what appears to be a shadow primary campaign that Rivera, a Republican, engineered against&nbsp;Joe Garcia,&nbsp;his Democratic rival in the November election.<br /><br /><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/AP110224067931.jpg" style="height: 348px; width: 300px; float: left; " title="Rep. David Rivera's troubles get weirder. (AP)" />Since then &mdash; and I&#39;m not making this up &mdash; the shadow candidate&#39;s campaign manager, a woman whom Rivera claimed to not know but whose Facebook page was plastered with pictures of the two of them, <a href="http://blogs.miaminewtimes.com/riptide/2012/09/ana_alliegro_central_figure_in.php">has vanished</a>.<br /><br />Ana Alliegro, who ran shadow candidate Justin Sternad&#39;s failed campaign, dropped from sight June 5 after her computer was seized by the FBI. She disappeared on the way to meet investigators after her lawyer engineered a private meeting, to save her from having to testify to a grand jury.</p><p>I know, I know: It sounds crazy. A key witness in the investigation of a congressman is holding out somewhere for God knows what.<br /><br />We know she&#39;s holding out and not dead because she stays in touch with her family. The <em>Miami Herald</em> quotes Alliegro&#39;s mother as saying that she hasn&#39;t heard from her in two weeks. &quot;I know she is resting. We are praying for her.&quot; (The family <a href="http://www.elnuevoherald.com/2012/09/07/1295059/testigo-crucial-en-investigacion.html">has not filed</a> a missing persons report.)<br /><br />Alliegro is alleged to have delivered envelopes stuffed full of cash &mdash; about $40,000 worth&nbsp;&mdash;&nbsp;for Sternad mailers attacking Garcia (one actually blamed him for the BP oil spill). The investigation concerns whether Rivera was funneling that cash illegally.<br /><br />It now turns out that Alliegro left behind at least<a href="http://www.miamiherald.com/2012/09/21/3014731/fbi-checks-envelopes-used-in-probe.html"> four of the envelopes</a> in which the cash was delivered; the FBI is checking them for fingerprints and handwriting comparison.<br /><br />In the meantime, Rubio&nbsp;&mdash;&nbsp;who hosted a fundraiser in May for Rivera&nbsp;&mdash;&nbsp;has stepped back a bit.<br /><br />&quot;I only know what I&#39;ve read in the press. I haven&#39;t had a chance to speak with him since that all came out. I just hope none of it is true. I continue to give him the benefit of the doubt on all these things. I just hope none of it is true,&quot; <a href="http://miamiherald.typepad.com/nakedpolitics/2012/08/as-fbi-and-questions-swirl-marco-rubio-keeps-distance-from-nixonian-pal-david-rivera.html#storylink=cpy">Rubio said</a> during the Republican National Convention in Tampa last month.<br /><br />Rubio isn&#39;t the only keeping his distance. Mitt Romney ordered a Rivera-free zone during his interview with Univisión at the University of Miami campus last week. Rivera was the only Florida Republican elected official not invited to the studio&nbsp;&mdash;&nbsp;even though he has been one of Romney&#39;s biggest boosters in South Florida.<br /><br />The Democratic Campaign Congressional Committee is spending more than $1 million to help Garcia get on the air; the GOP equivalent has plans to hep Rivera with exactly <em>nada</em>.<br /><br />Still, you have to admire Rivera&#39;s resilience. Even after all these shenanigans, and in spite of the fact that Rivera was already under a cloud of suspicion when this campaign <em>began</em>, he still maintains <a href="http://thehill.com/blogs/ballot-box/house-races/250841-garcia-leads-rivera-in-new-fl-26-poll">a six-point lead</a> over Garcia in the most recent polls.</p></p> Mon, 24 Sep 2012 09:00:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/blogs/achy-obejas/2012-09/witness-missing-case-rubios-pal-rivera-102600 Local attorney gives assessment of the Casey Anthony verdict http://www.wbez.org/episode-segments/2011-07-06/local-attorney-gives-assessment-casey-anthony-verdict-88777 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/segment/photo/2011-July/2011-07-06/Lyon photo 3.JPG" alt="" /><p><p>Thursday there will be a sentencing hearing in the trial of Casey Anthony, the 25-year-old Orlando woman accused of murdering her two-year-old daughter Caylee in 2008. A jury of seven women and five men found her guilty of four counts of lying to law enforcement officers. But she was found not guilty of the most serious charges against her: first-degree murder, manslaughter and aggravated child abuse.</p><p>The verdict was as controversial as the trial and the coverage itself – a saga that played out 24-7 on national television and around water coolers across the country.</p><p>One Chicago attorney had a front row seat to much of the action: DePaul University law professor and noted death penalty defense attorney <a href="http://www.law.depaul.edu/faculty_staff/faculty_information.asp?id=29" target="_blank">Andrea Lyon</a> was a key member of the Anthony defense team in its early stages. She joined WBEZ’s Steve Edwards on <em>Eight Forty-Eight</em> to share her reaction to the verdict.</p><p>Lyon came on to the defense team to block the prosecution’s capital punishment pursuit.&nbsp;<br> It was previously reported that Lyon eventually left the team because the cost of travelling from Chicago to Florida was adding up. Lyon admitted that while she’s defended dozens of death penalty defendants and received hate mail in the past, this was the first time she'd been physically attacked—twice in Orlando.</p><p>Edwards asked her to explain the context of the attacks: One took place while trying to interview a witness, the other, simply walking down the street in Orlando. The city, Lyon pointed out, has a long and difficult history of extreme racial tension. That led Edwards to ask what role race and class played in the Anthony case and the attention it received compared to other capital cases she argued.</p><p>“It plays an enormous role,” Lyon said. “We have an attractive, middle-class, white family; an attractive young woman with salacious photographs so we can love to hate her,” she continued. “And a beautiful little girl. But you know, as sad as it is, a lot of beautiful little girls go missing and unspeakable things are done to them all the time but if they’re African American or Hispanic, nobody cares.”</p><p>It would be foolish, Lyon said, to pretend that race and class had nothing to with this case.</p><p>Edwards described the outrage some expressed after the “bombshell” verdict as palpable. He asked Anthony’s former defense attorney for her reaction to the verdict and public response. “This is why we have trials instead of lynchings,” Lyon said.&nbsp; The judge sustained an objection from the prosecution once in eight weeks of trial. Lyons explained that this meant everything the state of Florida wanted to use to make the case against Anthony was allowed—every expert, every instruction, every restriction on closing arguments and a “death-qualified” jury.</p><p>But in the end, Lyon said, the jury digested the evidence and could not determine how Caylee died.<br> “Even their [the prosecution’s] medical examiner had to admit there was no cause of death, she could not rule out accident—and the jury said, ‘that’s not proof,’” Lyon explained.</p><p>And that, Lyon said, was how the jury was meant to rule—not on passions, not on whether they thought Anthony was a good or bad mother, or a bad person as she was often portrayed—but on whether or not Anthony or anyone killed Caylee.</p><p>Edwards concurred that a great deal of attention was paid to Anthony’s conduct during and in the aftermath her child’s disappearance—including detailed accounts and photos of partying and fresh tattoos—and wondered if her former attorney had a possible explanation for her client’s behavior.</p><p>She pointed to her friend and former partner, Jose Baez’s, opening statement whereby he explained that Anthony’s behavior was inexplicable to most people, but most people are not survivors of sexual abuse.</p><p>“If my son or daughter were missing for 31 seconds, let alone 31 days, I would go crazy—and most parents would,” Lyon began. “But most people are not child sexual abuse survivors. And most people have not had to develop a personality that acts like everything’s OK, when everything isn’t,” she reasoned.&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;</p><p>Lyon attested that it was Anthony’s behavior that people hated but that it was not proof of a muder.</p><p>“That is what people have concentrated on—she didn’t behave the way that we think a woman should, the way that a mother should, the way that most folks would in a circumstance if their child was missing—and therefore, there must be a murderous thing behind that,” Lyon explained.</p><p>Edwards asked Lyon to explain her belief, about which she wrote and later argued in the Anthony case, in the existence of a gender bias when it comes to the application of the death penalty, specifically around questions of motherhood.</p><p>“It’s because she steps outside of gendered roles—a man who, you know, plays around and parties and whatever else, well, it’s not nice but you know, ‘boys will be boys.’ A woman who does that, it’s not acceptable,” Lyon said.</p><p>Further, she called the prosecution’s request for the death penalty in this case “simply outrageous.” To qualify a case for the death penalty, the prosecution must show that it’s a first-degree murder with what’s called an aggravating factor, or a plus factor, like the killing of a police officer in the line of duty. But capital punishment is supposed to be reserved, Lyon said, for people with awful criminal histories or where torture or other egregious facts exist. And in this case, she argued, the death penalty was used for a tactical advantage.</p><p>During the jury selection process in death penalty cases, a potential juror that is opposed to the death penalty is excluded for cause—it’s the only opinion one can hold that prevents a person from sitting on a jury. Therefore, Lyon said, a jury pool in a capital case is stacked with members that are pro-death-penalty and have been tainted, to a degree, by the process of considering the case for the death penalty before it has been argued.&nbsp;</p><p>The media coverage and public fascination, Edwards pointed out, was compared to that of the O.J. Simpson trial. He asked Lyon why a similar frenzy formed around the Anthony case.</p><p>“Well, there was a drumbeat started by someone who pretends to be a journalist and pretends she was actually a good lawyer, by the name of Nancy Grace,” Lyon began. “She actually encouraged people to go to the Anthony home and you know, start trouble.”</p><p>Lyon recalled counting 187 shows before the trial devoted to the case, helping create the fascination.</p><p>“It’s very easy to tap into hatred; it’s very easy to tap into those kind of mob, ugly kinds of reactions. It’s much more difficult to ask people to stop and think,” Lyon explained.&nbsp;</p><p>She went on to say that the media no doubt played a role in the prosecutions’ reach in charging Anthony.&nbsp;</p><p>Edwards asked what such heightened, intense media coverage does to a defense team’s navigation of a case.</p><p>It certainly interfered with the defense’s ability to interview witnesses—because once a person was identified as a witness, they were excoriated in the press.</p><p>Given the profile and attention of the case, Edwards wondered, what happens to defendants, like Casey Anthony, that are found not guilty or exonerated. Lyon called it a difficult road—defendants have spent a lot of time in prison, they’ve been treated badly and it has a damaging effect on their psyche. In Anthony’s case, a woman Lyon described as particularly “fragile,”so she is quite concerned.&nbsp;</p><p>Edwards asked her to clarify what she meant by fragile and she again pointed to the abuse Anthony survived. But for as much as the claim was discussed at trial, Edwards pointed out that there was not specific evidence to substantiate a history of abuse.</p><p>Lyon said, without revealing confidence, that there were witnesses that didn’t say things she assumed the defense was expecting to hear and that there were other witnesses that could have confirmed changes in behavior and things that are indicia to the type of mental health problem the defendant endured. She believed witnesses were frightened to come forward.</p><p>“So I am concerned—I don’t know where in this country she can live; safely. There are people who want her dead and I fear for her safety,” Lyon concluded.&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;<br> &nbsp;</p></p> Wed, 06 Jul 2011 13:31:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/episode-segments/2011-07-06/local-attorney-gives-assessment-casey-anthony-verdict-88777 Illinois faces a lot of competition for high speed rail money http://www.wbez.org/story/florida/illinois-faces-lot-competition-high-speed-rail-money-84838 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/story/photo/2011-April/2011-04-06/High Speed Rail_Getty _ File.JPG" alt="" /><p><p>The State of Illinois faces some stiff competition to win some extra cash for high-speed rail projects. The U.S. Department of Transportation announced Wednesday that 23 other states are also competing for the $2.4 billion. The money was supposed to go toward a high-speed rail project in Florida, but that state's governor rejected the money saying the project might be too costly.</p><p>Rick Harnish heads a high-speed rail advocacy group based in Chicago. He said Illinois stands a good chance to win the money from Florida.</p><p>"We really have to figure out very quickly how to move more people without their cars and this is the only way to both reduce fuel consumption and the cost of fuel and actually improve the way people travel in the state," Harnish said.</p><p>Illinois wants to apply $248 million of the Florida money to an existing project linking St. Louis and Chicago. It also filed a joint application with Wisconsin, Michigan and Missouri for $860 million worth of new rail equipment, despite Wisconsin recently turning down money for high-speed rail.</p></p> Thu, 07 Apr 2011 10:00:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/story/florida/illinois-faces-lot-competition-high-speed-rail-money-84838