The Return of the Answerman

It's been ages since CourtWatch offered up one of its early staples; the in-your-face question-and-answer session. Why now? Because it's the middle of summer, dog-days-time, and the law's annual hibernation period is starting to set in all across the country.

Lawyers and judges, plaintiffs and defendants, witnesses and bailiffs, all are heading out, or already have, for their summer breaks. The Justices of the United States Supreme Court have scattered from Washington to the four corners of the world - speaking and teaching about what they do and why. But I am still here. And there are still a few decent legal stories swirling around that merit at least a little attention. So let's begin.

(AP Photo/Rusty Kennedy)
What's going to happen if there is a manslaughter charge against one or more of the doctors who were caring for Michael Jackson at the time of his death?

The most likely charge, based upon what little we now know, would be "involuntary manslaughter," a crime punishable by up to four years in prison. The key element of "involuntarily manslaughter" is a notoriously low bar; anyone who acts "without due caution and circumspection" in the commission of a "lawful act which might produce death" may be convicted. Would the mere administration of drugs do the trick? Stay tuned.


What's the deal with the Obama Administration delaying its report on how to close down the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba?

In my family, we call what Team Obama did on this issue back in January "big eyes." As in, the White House and Justice Department had "big eyes" (unrealistic expectations) about how quickly they could transfers all of the terror detainees to other venues for trial or release or what have you. The fact is, the Bush Administration was trying to do the same for years without success. And "success"—the closing down of the miserable place—will only come when our leaders recognize the need for a new court system specifically designed for these men.

What do you make of the enormous corruption bust in New Jersey this past week?

My first thought was: "Wow, Hoboken has a government?" My second thought was: "Wow, this explains why New Jersey can't figure out a way to get gaming at horseracing tracks." And my third thought was: "Wow, all the feds had to do was trawl a little with an informant or two and a whole boatload of (allegedly) greasy, slimy fishies rose to take the bait." What is remarkable is how much larger the "sting" got than what the feds had figured it would be. Just proves again why my own, personal slogan for New Jersey—"New Jersey, You're Welcome To It!"-is a timeless classic.

5168028It's now been 10 days or so since the Sotomayor hearings ended on Capitol Hill. Has anything changed your perceptions of her candidacy and/or the Senate Judiciary Committee during that time?

Not really. For example, I'm not surprised that a majority of Republicans on the Committee intend to vote against her. And I'm not surprised that Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-SC), who asked some of the most mendacious questions of the nominee, would ultimately vote against her. Remember, Sen. Graham is the man who was against torture before he was for it and then back again, all culminating in baffling, self-defeating legislation (the Military Commissions Act and the Detainee Treatment Act) that helps explain in part why Gitmo is still open for business.


What was the single most over-looked, under-reported legal story this past week?

Easy. It was the fact that the United States executed its 1,000th person via lethal injection since the Supreme Court renewed capital punishment as a sentencing option in 1976. Ohio executed a man, Marvallous Keene, who years ago was convicted of five murders. It was an important milestone for several reasons, not the least of which is that some states are moving away from the death penalty, for financial reasons and otherwise, even as others embrace last year's Supreme Court ruling that upheld certain injection procedures.

What do you make of the kerfluffle in Cambridge, Massaschusetts involving Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr.?

The incident is further proof that the interaction between and among human beings typically generates great bursts of stupidity on the part of the people involved. Is there anyone involved in this near-comedy who didn't act stupidly during the course of it? Anyone? And what makes matters worse is the thought that this sorry screw-up could linger in our consciousness for years to come thanks to threatened lawsuits. They should all just go get some tasty Scorpion Bowls at that place in the Square and be done with the fight.

Please give us a few Answerman predictions.

Okay. Judge Sotomayor will receive at least 14 of 19 votes from the Judiciary Committee and then proceed to rack up 69 votes in the full Senate. Barring major Jackson news, and by that I mean the release of his autopsy results, the big cable-tabloid story of the next few weeks could turn out to be the story of the apparent murder of a young woman in Los Angeles named Lily Burk. It's a very sad story and it's precisely the sort that the Nancy Graces of the world tend to chew up and spit out. Finally, I predict that former Supreme Court Justice David H. Souter, speaking this Friday in Chicago before the American Bar Association, will offer his most candid and insightful public comments, ever.



(CBS)
Andrew Cohen is CBS News' Chief Legal Analyst and Legal Editor. CourtWatch is his new blog with analysis and commentary on breaking legal news and events. For columns on legal issues before the beginning of this blog, click here. You can also follow him on Twitter.
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