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Professional Troublemaker

 Jonathan Corbett, Civil Rights Advocate

Is It *Really* Impossible To Get A Gun License in NYC? (Part V — Filings Complete in Appeal in N.Y. Supreme Court, Appellate Division)

This is the fifth installment of a series documenting an ordinary New Yorker attempting to exercise his Second Amendment rights: Part I (license application), Part II (application rejected), Part III (the lawsuit), Part IV (appeal filed).


Opposition to Corbett Gun License AppealWe’re now at 15 months from the date I — just an ordinary citizen with no criminal record — applied for a license to carry a handgun in New York.  My application was filed in December 2016, denied in April 2017, and the NYPD denied my administrative appeal in May 2017.  My petition to have a lower court review the denial was filed in September 2016 and rubber-stamped by a judge in February 2017 who decided that the NYPD’s denial of the license was “rational” because I didn’t give them a good reason to approve it.

The appellate process in New York is a bit clunky.  This is partially owing to the hodgepodge of trial courts — from local town courts that hear small matters, to city courts that hear more significant matters, to county courts that are the highest trial courts.  It’s perhaps also partially owing to the odd naming system in place in this state: the original petition was filed in the “Supreme Court,” the appellate court I’m in now is called the “Supreme Court, Appellate Division,” and the next and last court it can go to is the “Court of Appeals.”  There’s also the “Supreme Court, Appellate Term,” which is somewhere in between “Supreme Court” and “Supreme Court, Appellate Division,” which was skipped here.  Compare this to California, for example, where there are Superior Courts for the trials, Courts of Appeals for the appeals, and their Supreme Court to appeal an appeal — and that’s it.  It really shouldn’t take an hour of research just to figure out which court will hear your case.

It’s also clunky because they have very strict, archaic rules about how they want their documents.  You can’t electronically file, unlike virtually every other court in the state.  But you also must e-mail them a PDF copy, after you “bookmark” each section and subsection in the file (Have you ever used the bookmark feature in Adobe Acrobat?  I hadn’t either!).  You have to file 8 copies of everything, but you probably can’t just staple the hundreds of pages required per copy.  Oh no, you must bind them, but not with comb-binding like you can find at Kinko’s — they only accept binding with metal fasteners or glue binding.  If your fasteners are visible from the outside, you have to put tape over them, because we wouldn’t want any sharp edges in the judge’s chambers.  Some documents must be double-sided while other documents must be single-sided.  You also must use recycled paper for all your printing, because let’s be environmentally-friendly while failing to allow e-filing and requiring 8 copies.  And finally, don’t even think about attaching exhibits to your brief (if you want to, say, cite a government document or a news article and provide the court with a copy), because that’s simply not allowed.

That aside, let’s take a walk through what the City says about my appeal (the contents of what they were responding to — my original appellate brief — are discussed in the previous post):

NYPD is tasked with the grave responsibility of protecting New York City’s 8.5 million residents and over 50 million annual visitors from senseless gun violence and accidental shootings.

Well that does sound like a very important task, but how many people are killed each year in New York with legally-owned handguns?  They omit that statistic, but I’d bet more people are killed by the NYPD each year than by the 88,000 current license holders in New York.

“But if we increase the number of license holders, then there will be more victims!”  Well, the State of Texas has 1.2 million licensees out of 28 million residents (4.3%) and they study how law-abiding those licensees are each year.  Not surprisingly, Texas license holders in 2016 committed 0.35% of crimes in total and 0.40% of assaults with a deadly weapon despite being 4.3% of the population.

NYPD rationally denied Corbett’s application for an unrestricted permit to carry a concealed handgun. That determination is due considerable deference and should be affirmed.

In what sane world is a police department due “deference” when evaluating their decision to deny a constitutional right to the citizens?  We don’t allow them “deference” when they violate 4th Amendment rights by arresting someone without probable cause — they have to prove that they did, indeed, have probable cause.

NYPD’s requirement that applicants complete a minimally invasive background
questionnaire is part of a presumptively lawful regulatory measure that
does not substantially burden Corbett’s right to bear arms.

The background check asks you to go through your prescription medication history, which I refused to do (no, it’s not limited to “prescriptions that get prescribed to crazy people”).  They ask you to tell them any time you’ve ever lost a job.  They ask you for everywhere you’ve lived so that they can talk to your neighbors.  That’s not “minimally invasive” to me — that’s more like the background check one goes through for a government security clearance (unless you’re Jared Kushner, in which case you can flat-out lie and keep your job).   And for those of you who don’t think it’s a big deal, the NYPD admits they would have denied my application even if I had bent over for the background check because I still don’t have a “good reason” for which I “need” a gun.

Corbett was disqualified from carrying a concealed handgun because he obstructed NYPD’s mandatory background investigation [by refusing to answer the most invasive questions]. … His belief that these questions were constitutionally impermissible reflects an absolutist view of the Second Amendment that is not grounded in the law.

In the NYPD’s view, challenging them on the constitutionality of their questions is “obstruction” and “an absolutist view of the Second Amendment.”  Sorry, NYPD, the citizens do have a right to challenge you in the courts, nor is my view that there should be a procedure for an ordinary citizen to carry a gun “absolutist.”  Keep in mind that I completed an application that contained several dozen pages, came in for an in-person interview, submitted to fingerprinting, and paid over $400 (original app process described here).  “The Second Amendment is my gun license” is absolutist.  Challenging their most invasive 3 questions and their “good reason” requirement is simply asking for reasonable access to my rights.

But the government’s opposition to my appeal was strangely silent on one issue: the continuing corruption within the NYPD Licensing Division which resulted in several arrests of police officers in 2016 and 2017 and the transfer of the commanding officer who denied my application to another unit.  Apparently, the fact that one can buy a “good reason” from the NYPD was not an important enough issue to address.

Here’s hoping that the Court doesn’t ignore the elephant in the room like the City did in their opposition.  From here, the Court may order oral arguments, or it may not.  Either way, it will then rule on the appeal (sometime this year), which will either result in the case being sent back to the lower court to do something differently, or will result in the appeal being dismissed and my next appeal to New York’s highest court.

Corbett v. City of New York – Appellate Brief (.pdf – 7MB)

Corbett v. City of New York – Opposition Brief (.pdf)

Corbett v. City of New York – Reply Brief (Bookmarked) (.pdf)

Turkey, Poland Compete To See Who Can Fuck Free Speech Harder in 2018

Let’s meet our contestants in this race to the bottom!

ByLock
Only terrorists would use this!

Weighing in at 83 million residents, Turkey has decided to make the downloading of a messaging app illegal, with possession of it subjecting the thought criminal to prison time, loss of employment, and social scorn for being a terrorist.  The app is called ByLock, and it’s basically a watered-down version of WhatsApp that has now reached over a million downloads (wow, that’s a lot of terrorists!).  The reason this app earned contraband status was because an opposition political party movement called Gülen allegedly liked to use the app to communicate.

Weighing in at 38 million residents, Poland has a pet peeve.  You see, some people have been referring to Nazi concentration camps that existed in Poland during World War II as “Polish death camps.”  Poland takes umbrage at this depiction because, while there were indisputably death camps in Poland, they were not “Polish;” they were German.  So the correct way to handle this situation is not to educate the public but to criminalize the stringing of 3 words together.  Those who use the term “Polish death camps” instead of “death camps in Poland” will be subject to a 3 year term in a Polish death camp — er, I mean, prison.

Polish Death Camp
This is a Polish death camp

The scoreboard stands as follows:

Turkey’s measure is specifically intended to stifle political dissent, which earns them 12 points.  They also earn 5 points for futility, since there’s no special technology behind ByLock and dissidents could simply switch to virtually any messaging app.  They earn 3 more points for accidentally arresting over a thousand people who were mistakenly thought to have downloaded the app.  They earn 1 more point for being ignored by the mainstream media until they accidentally arrested the wrong people (apparently it wasn’t enough of a story when they arrested actual users of an innocent messaging app to silence political dissidents).  And they earn 2 more points because Turkey’s President, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, smells of bad döner.

Poland gets 6 points for the stiff prison sentence for such a subtle linguistic nuance.  They get 2 points for criminalizing the saying of something for no other reason than that it embarrasses them.  They get 5 points for using the Holocaust as an excuse to be authoritarian.  They get 2 more points for criminalizing something Barack Obama once did.  And, I give them 3 points for being a secular, democratic nation from which we should be able to expect better.  But, I deduct 2 points for pissing off Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who puzzlingly equates this with Holocaust denial (no Ben, it’s not Holocaust denial, it’s just stupidity and thuggery).

That’s 23 points for Turkey and 16 points for Poland so far.  Let’s see if Poland can catch up, or perhaps another country will join the battle, which is traditionally initiated by having the country’s leader get on Twitter and announce their candidacy using the hashtag #HoldMyBeer.

Nassar Judge Wishes She Could Sentence Defendant To Be Raped In Prison

Judge Rosemarie AquilinaLarry Nassar, the infamous USA Gymnastics doctor recently convicted of sexual assault upon children and possession of child pornography (some of which he made himself), is, to say the least, not a likable guy.  Considering that he is now 54 years old and was sentenced to 60 years on the federal child pornography charge last month, he already had an effective life sentence before today’s sentencing on the state sex assault charges.

At today’s sentencing, Michigan Circuit Court Judge Rosemarie Aquilina decided on a sentence of 40 to 175 years for the sexual assault charges.  Considering he plead guilty to assaulting 10 children and nearly 200 others have accused him of the same, that sentence isn’t at all surprising.  What did surprise me, however, were the comments coming from Judge Aquilina:

“It is my honor to sentence you because, sir, you do not deserve to walk outside of a prison ever again. Anywhere you walk, destruction would occur to those most vulnerable. I just signed your death warrant.”

Perhaps it’s just because I’m preparing for a law school ethics exam, but this immediately suggested judicial bias to me.  A judge has a duty to recuse his or herself in the event of either personal bias or the appearance of the same.  By itself, this probably would not be enough to prove judicial misconduct, but was enough for me to read through coverage of earlier proceedings, where Judge Aquilina stated as follows:

“Our Constitution does not allow for cruel and unusual punishment. If it did, I have to say, I might allow what he did to all of these beautiful souls, these young women in their childhood, I would allow some or many people to do to him what he did to others.”

Did she seriously just say that, if not restrained by the Constitution, she would hand out sentences that ordered the sexual assault of a convict?  This makes me question not just her personal bias but her fitness to be a judge.  Rape is not acceptable in our society, it’s not “funny” or “cool” or “tough” to wish it on someone, and that doesn’t change if it takes place in a prison or if the victim is an evil person.

If our goal is to dismantle the “rape culture,” Judge Aquilina’s comments are not helpful in moving us forward.  Mr. Nassar’s victims deserved justice, and in order to best deliver that justice and ensure no possibility of appeal for judicial misconduct, comments like the above should be omitted from the courtroom.

NYPD Upset That They Will Have Fewer “Get Out of Jail Free” Cards to Give to Family in 2018

Many years ago, I was hanging out with a police officer friend of mine at a bar.  One of her police friends said he was about to drive home, and I asked if he was good to drive.  He chuckled a bit and said, “Of course, what are they going to do, arrest me?”  He then left the bar, far more intoxicated than I would prefer to be behind the wheel, and presumably drove home.

He was right, of course: assuming he didn’t get into an accident thus forcing a report to be made, while you may be shocked by his attitude, you probably know that police officers will not cite or arrest each other for pretty much anything that doesn’t have a complaining civilian witness, and sometimes not even then.  This “professional courtesy” is also often extended to their families by providing the family member business cards with little notes on them.  Having such a card is not a license to kill, but it is probably going to get you out of a minor speeding ticket.

It takes special audacity, however, to be the largest police union in the country and to take this to the next level by printing up plastic credit-card like “get out of jail free” cards, and giving each officer 32 of these cards every year.  It takes even more audacity to complain to the media when the union reduces that number down to 20:

“They are treating active members like shit, and retired members even worse than shit,” griped an NYPD cop who retired on disability. “All the cops I spoke to were . . . very disappointed they couldn’t hand them out as Christmas gifts.”

A few points.

First, it’s clear that these cards are expected to grant special privileges upon the holder, to wit: that they will receive leniency upon being stopped for committing a crime.  Otherwise, they’d make pretty lousy gifts.  “Oh, thanks, Dad, a 2018 edition of a worthless card from your former employer!”  Of course not.

Second, this is corruption.  It’s not major, “let’s get a law passed in exchange for cash” corruption.  But all are entitled to be treated equally under the law, and if some are treated “more equally than others,” we end up with nonsense like NYC’s gun licensing scheme, where for a full century, anyone from literal mobsters to random rich people are entitled to their Second Amendment rights where the people as a whole are not.

NYPD Get Out of Jail Free Card
Yes, seriously.

Third, the reason cops want 32 of these cards is not because they have 32 family members to give them to, but because they are literally selling them on eBay.  For a $50 donation to your local corrupt cop, you too can have a get-out-of-jail-free card.  For a bit more, you can get one signed by an actual cop.

It’s a problem that it’s long time we address, and the first step in fixing that problem is treating this like the corruption that it is.  NYPD rank-and-file cops simply see this as a perk of the job — as “professional courtesy.”  But there’s nothing courteous about it to the general public, who is deprived of the public safety benefit they are paying for when people think they no longer have to follow the law.  Police officers and their family should be setting the example when it comes to lawfulness — not seeking to be above the law.

Trump Nominates Man with Less Courtroom Experience than Me for U.S. District Judge

Meet Matthew Spencer Petersen:

Mr. Petersen heads the Federal Election Commission’s legal team and has some experience with election law.  But in the video above, you’ll see that under questioning, he revealed that:

  1. He’s never tried a case to completion in either state or federal court
  2. He’s never even argued a motion in either state or federal court
  3. He doesn’t even know what certain motions are
  4. He hasn’t read the Federal Rules of Evidence since law school
  5. He hasn’t read the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure since… well, he didn’t actually even answer that one

President Trump submitted this man to the Senate for confirmation as a United States District Judge, a lifetime appointment to an extraordinarily powerful position.  A U.S. District Judge has the authority to issue restraining orders against the federal government, decide death penalty cases, and safeguard (or disregard) constitutional rights.

Yet the man that Trump wants to have the job has never been a judge.  He’s almost never been in a courtroom.  This man is utterly unqualified, and to make the point, this year I — as a law student — can answer all of those questions more favorably than he can.  I’m in no way qualified to be a U.S. District Judge, but this appointment is merely a joke that’s not funny.

If you didn’t hear about Mr. Petersen, perhaps it’s because you watch Fox News, which reported the hearing like this:

They entirely left off the part about the unqualified man being destroyed during a confirmation hearing, presenting the day as an epic win for Trump because the Senate confirmed 2 out of 5 of the President’s nominees.  Now that is fake news.

Rich People Skip TSA Body Scanner, Get PreCheck Access at JFK Thanks to AA “Flagship First” Entrance

AA Flagship First Dining
The menu I received for the “free” restaurant access with AA Flagship First

I don’t often purchase full-fare first class tickets, and at the beginning of the year I switched loyalty programs from American to Delta after merging with US Airways caused AA’s service to plummet (hey, who could have predicted that merger would hurt consumers?!).  So I’ve never had access to AA’s Flagship First program before, which entitles guests to ultra-premium lounge access, including no-charge “fine dining,” and a special airport entrance, for those flying in first class direct between JFK and either LAX or SFO.  But, I had some AA miles to burn and booked the flight for today.

You’ll imagine my surprise when I walked through the VIP entrance and was immediately placed in the PreCheck queue.

TSA PreCheck is designed to allow people to submit to a background check and thereafter skip the most invasive of the security the TSA imposes upon us — including the nude body scanners and full-body pat-down.  The idea is that passengers can be pre-screened to ensure that they are less of a security risk and thus it becomes unnecessary to use normal security practices.

The wisdom of PreCheck not withstanding (it relies on the premise that the government can predict who is a terrorist and who is not, a premise that I’m not sure is founded), the program is entirely undercut if one can get PreCheck benefits by splurging about $1K (or 50,000 AAdvantage miles, in my case) on a premium ticket.  American Airlines and the TSA are literally allowing flyers to buy their way out of security procedures.

In the meantime, your 80-year-old grandmother is still getting rubbed down for weapons and your 2-year-old’s baby bottle is still being tested for explosive residue.

Anything for our profits safety, right?

 

How Many Times Must TSA Be Spanked for Illegally Prohibiting Filming?

Michael Williams, traveling through EWR airport in Newark, N.J. a few days ago, was surprised when TSA screeners gave him a hard time for photographing his own belongings, and then threatened to have him arrested when he recorded the TSA screeners and managers themselves:

The video starts with Mr. Williams explaining his situation to a blue-shirt screener, and then 2 supervisors in suits walk up to him, and decree the following:

Listen, I’m not here to argue with you.  I’m telling you what we’re supposed to do.  I’m the lead terminal manager, and no, you are not allowed to take pictures of my officers.  [If] my officer feels uncomfortable with you taking pictures because you are interfering with the screening process, my officer is correct, and you are wrong.  Ok?  Clear?”

The threat of arrest comes off-camera after Mr. Williams starts walking away, but the damage to his constitutional rights has already been done even without that threat: Mr. Williams’ taping was protected both by TSA rules and the First Amendment.

Some areas of the law are gray areas.  Others are perfectly clear.  Whether photography is allowed at TSA checkpoints is one of those that is perfectly clear.  From the TSA’s Web site:

“We don’t prohibit public, passengers or press from photographing, videotaping, or filming at screening locations. You can take pictures at our checkpoints as long as you’re not interfering with the screening process or slowing things down. We also ask that you do not film or take pictures of our monitors.”

I contacted the TSA for comment on Mr. Williams’ video, and it was also perfectly clear to TSA Press Secretary Lisa Farbstein:

Hi Jon. Your inquiry was forwarded to me for response. Indeed individuals are permitted to film the checkpoint and the TSA officers who are working. The individual who [Williams] encountered will be reminded of that fact. Thank you for bringing it to our attention.

Even if the TSA didn’t want to allow photography at its checkpoints, doing so is probably First Amendment-protected speech that they cannot ban anyway:

It is firmly established that the First Amendment’s aegis extends further than the text’s proscription on laws “abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press,” and encompasses a range of conduct related to the gathering and dissemination of information. As the Supreme Court has observed, “the First Amendment goes beyond protection of the press and the self-expression of individuals to prohibit government from limiting the stock of information from which members of the public may draw.” … The filming of government officials engaged in their duties in a public place, including police officers performing their responsibilities, fits comfortably within these principles.

Glik v. Cunniffee, 655 F.3d 78 (1st Cir. 2011) (internal citations omitted).  The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, which encompasses New Jersey, agreed earlier this year.

This kind of nonsense happens all the time, including to me.  Incidents of people being denied the right to take pictures or video are fastidiously documented by Photography Is Not A Crime (PINAC), and their archive of TSA abuse in this realm is well-populated.  It sounds like the TSA needs to be sued over this, and they should probably be careful considering that I’ll have my license to practice law before the statute of limitations for this matter will expire.

In the meantime,  at the least we can get a laugh out of the end of the video.  The supervisor who came to tell him he could not film apparently doesn’t realize the passenger is still recording until the end, leading to this gem when the passenger says he’s going to forward video to the “FSD” (Federal Security Director — basically a high-level regional TSA director):

I hope you’re recording everything. Are you recording me now? Can you please erase that?

“Lordy, I hope there are tapes.”

 

Twitter to Ban Users Who “Affiliate” With Organizations That “Promote Violence”

Twitter is a private company that has a right to allow and to ban whatever speech they would like on their platform.  But its users also have the right to call them out on using that power to silence debate.

Twitter has announced that starting December 18th, they will not allow users who “affiliate with organizations that … use or promote violence.”  They make clear that it matters not whether the organization is allegedly violent “on [or] off the platform,” and do not define “affiliate” or “violence:”

Twitter's New Policy

Source: Twitter

This leaves open a lot of important questions:

  1. What counts as a “violent” organization?  Does Black Lives Matter fit?  What about “alt-right” protesters?  Does the group need to be “illegal?”  (Under which jurisdiction’s laws?)  What about groups fighting for active revolutions (and does it matter if they are oppressed peoples fighting against an abusive government)?  They do say the ban is limited to “violence against civilians,” so maybe it’s ok to call for the death of U.S. soldiers?  What about violent governments?  Are we taking a side on the Israel-Palestine issue?  What about violent individuals who don’t really have an organization — or are in a loose, decentralized group like “Anonymous” — but want to see the world burn?
  2. What does it mean to “affiliate?”  Do I need to be a card-carrying member?  A leader of the organization?  Or is just posting, “I support X” somewhere on the Internet good enough?  What about mere sympathy, even if I expressly state that I am not a part of the group?  What if I support their philosophy, but not their violent means?  Will promising that I don’t — or no longer — belong to the group get me un-banned?
  3. How will Twitter be tracking affiliations assuming users don’t announce them overtly on the Twitter platform?  Will it be looking through other social media platforms?  Will it use tracking cookies to ban people who visit certain Web sites?  If I “Like” or “Re-Tweet” something verboten, is that enough?

It makes sense that Twitter doesn’t want to be a platform for terrorists to spread their message (even though promoting foreign interference into U.S. elections is no problem for them).  So why not say that, and do that, instead of changing your terms to something entirely amorphous with vague insinuations of an intent to play Big Brother?

Three Down, One to Go: Final Year of Law School at NWCU

NWCU Enrollment Documents
My final course enrollment documents, for NWCU’s 4L program.

I announced that I was entering Northwestern California University‘s law program on November 16th, 2014, which was also the four-year anniversary of my first civil rights litigation.  Now three years later, I’ve taken my 3L final exams and I’m still on track to graduate in November 2018, attempting the California Bar Exam in February 2019.

I feel like my previous review of the school + study tips still accurately reflect my thoughts on the program.  tl;dr: all the tools to study the law are there, but there’s no one holding your hand to use them.  Proceed only if you have a passion for studying the law, because otherwise you won’t be able to stay with the 2+ hours per day, every day, for 4 years.

My school year having concluded, especially on a Friday, it’s time for a few beers…

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