Thursday, September 18, 2003
One hundred and sixty-five days
Baton Rouge, Louisiana
NOTES FROM THE OUTSIDE WORLD
Time flies by
so quickly! It’s hard to imagine that only one
hundred sixty-five days ago, I was unjustly being detained in Oakdale,
Louisiana. Yet so much has happened over the summer months that the
experience seems like years ago.
I’m back in a busy routine of family, friends, exercise,
good food, business opportunities, movies, sporting events and the
numerous things we all do to make our life enjoyable. I certainly
do not miss prison life, but I will say this. There was a routine
that kept me healthy….a predictable schedule that never changed.
No worries about making plans when I woke up each morning.
food was so bad that I picked only the few wholesome items available.
whites, wheat bread, peanut butter, fruit, salads;
I would even mix my own salad dressing. I still am careful now as
to what I eat. No starch, eliminate the white processed items including
breads, pastas, potatoes, etc. and few desserts. But let’s
be realistic. I live in South Louisiana, and there are just too many
temptations. Since coming home, I’ve put back on 15 pounds,
although I regularly exercise.
am swimming, biking, climbing on an elliptical trainer, and using
not available to me in Oakdale. But quite frankly, I don’t
feel the results as much as I did during my prison experience. There,
I worked out six days a week, at the exact same time each day. The
equipment was limited, so I had to creatively adapt. Jumping rope
with an electrical cord, and pull-ups on doorways. The rap music
blared, and the four-letter words spewed out from the young African-American
inmates surrounding me at the work-out platform each day. Quite frankly,
it was invigorating. I stretched a little more and pushed myself
a little farther. It’s harder now. I can see why those who
can afford it get a personal trainer to push and motivate them.
search each day now for private time to write and read. That was
never a problem
at Oakdale. I had little else to do. It’s
is a different story now.
I have been working on some potential business opportunities overseas.
With the time difference, the office phone starts ringing in the
early morning hours and I often stay busy until late in the evening.
But I am not surrounded by a staff to get someone on the phone, arrange
luncheon meetings,etc. There never seems to be enough time now. What
other lesson I learned from my 6-month “sabbatical” is
not to get into a lethargic rut of maturity. I was surrounded there
almost entirely by young people, mostly in their 20’s who thrived
on high-energy living and intense enthusiasm in what they enjoyed.
Perhaps, as we get older, we often fall into a “comfortable
routine”, that, quite frankly, can make us a bit dull. For
whatever value it brings me, I am trying to weigh my options and
prioritize my interests at 63. There’s a lot of living I have
ahead of me, and like many of you, I want to make the best of it.
And the experience at Oakdale has taught me that life can be broader
and more enjoyable if it’s accompanied by a certain degree
of gusto and enthusiasm. The accomplishments and broad reach of my
children should have taught this to me this already. Perhaps its
time for some re-learning. Or at least, to put more spring in my
step. Hopefully, the years ahead will be a little more enjoyable
THOUGHTS ON POLITICS
just a few weeks from a statewide gubernatorial election. This
will be the first time since 1971 that I will not be on the
ballot. It has been interesting to be on the sidelines and I may
be able to be a little bit more vocal about state and local issues.
That’s the prerogative of most of us who are private citizens.
We can make eloquent, well-reasoned and emotional arguments about
how we feel. Few will listen, but at least we are not constrained
like those in public life who have to make broad appeals.
Louisiana voters have a number of good choices for Governor this
year. Probably the best field since 1987, when there was a solid
field of creditable candidates with a number of well thought out
ideas. That group included Governor Buddy Roemer, Congressman Billy
Tauzin, Future House Speaker Bob Livingston, Governor Edwards, and
to the two candidates who make the run-off. Voters, of course,
want specifics about today’s problems in our state.
And there are many. But the next governor will hopefully spend quality
time in office developing a scenario for Louisiana’s priorities
that are twenty years away. The benchmarks we want to reach, not
just in the coming four years, but through the first quarter of this
new century. The “vision thing” that George Bush, Sr.
was criticized for talking about fifteen years ago.
been in public life for over thirty years, I realize there are
pressures on someone in public office to deal with “the
here and now”. What can you accomplish in four years before
the next election? And there are the daily crises that always face
those in public office. The complaint is often heard that one cannot
sit back and develop long-range policy because of one brush fire
after the other springing up. It often seems necessary to circle
the wagon train and fight daily battles, putting future goals aside.
But you know what? A really effective chief executive needs to sometimes
let a few of those brush fires burn. Time needs to be set aside to
develop a “think tank” of trusted advisors, read a number
of challenging books available on past and current public policy,
clear one's head and think about the quality of life our state should
hope to achieve in the years to come.
Now that’s easy to say, and extremely difficult to do. The
new governor will be swamped with requests from every conceivable
interest group to meet and discuss specific and immediate needs.
But time set aside for that “vision thing” is every bit
as important. The governor and the state will be better served by
looking beyond the next election.
So, what should the next Governor be reading? I could make numerous
suggestions, and perhaps I will in the months to come. Let me start
with the following five.
Public Justice, Private Mercy. A Governor’s
Education on Death Row. New York: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1989.
“The former governor of California writes a moving account
of his struggles with the Death Penalty. Brown let 36 convicts go
to the gas chamber, and commuted the death penalty on 23 others.
Governor Buddy Romer’s first decision as governor in 1988 was
to decide whether or not to grant clemency on a convict the very
night he took office.
Cuomo, Mario. Diaries
of Mario Cuomo: The Campaign for Governor.
New York: Random House, 1984
New York governor offers some candid advice as to where private
morality ends and public policy begins. How does
a governor offer an inclusive political philosophy with those who
disagree? His speeches are eloquent, and offer a special kind of
hope, whether or not you fully agree with his philosophy. How do
you persuasively communicate what you believe? Cuomo offers a good
Bradley, Bill. Time
Present, Time Past. New York: Alfred A. Knopt,
The former Senator and presidential candidate tells us that those
who govern need extensive background in history and genuine empathy
for the basic problems many Louisianaians face on a day-to-day basis.
He also offers good lessons for the importance of any governor creating
a public dialogue about problems in our state. It is a marvelous
book about why public service is so important.
Character is the Issue: How People with Integrity Can Revolutionize
America. Nashville, Tennessee: Broadman & Holman
The present Arkansas
governor sent me a copy of his book when my problems mounted in
1999. His book offers guidance when trouble mounts,
and emphasizes the importance of maintaining one’s personal
honor, faith and integrity in meeting major challenges.
Dewberry, Elizabeth. Sacraments
of Lies. New York: Blue Hen Books,
Something a little
lighter when the governor wants to relax. Elizabeth Dewberry is
married to Pulitzer Prize winner Robert Olen Butler,
who for years taught at McNeese State University in Lake Charles.
Elizabeth has written a modern day “Hamlet” filed with
murder, mayhem, and madness in the Louisiana’s Governor’s
Mansion. One might argue that mayhem and madness has been the norm
in the Governor’s Mansion over the past century – but
that’s another story. The book begins during the Louisiana
governor’s re-election campaign. He is recently widowed, and
marries his deceased wife’s sister. Did his first wife commit
suicide? Throw in Mardi Gras, the Governor’s long term plans
on running for the White House, and you have a “Hitchcockin
mixture” that keeps you puzzled until the end.
She gives a great
tour of the Governor’s Mansion. Did you
know there are gun racks put in by Edwin Edwards on the fourth floor?
I didn’t know this, but Elizabeth told me she has toured the
Governor’s Mansion from top to bottom. This is a good political
thriller, and will give the governor a break from the day in, day
out pressures of the office.
If the new governor will just call me, I will be glad to recommend
some other titles for heavy and light reading in the months to come.
With all the problems he or she will be facing, I doubt I will get
books, history is silent, literature dumb, science crippled,
thought and speculation at a standstill. Without books,
the development of civilization would have been impossible. They
are engines of change, windows on the world, and lighthouses
erected in the sea of time. They are companions, teachers,
of the treasures of the mind. Books are humanity in print.”
additional thoughts. Californians seem to be almost punishing themselves by
rash judgments involving a recall election. We are
in a goofy gubernatorial age where if you disagree with policy, you
simply “throw the rascals out” Four years go by quickly.
I don’t see the merits in tearing the fabric of government
apart, and pinning a black eye to the rest of the nation. The only
good thing I can see out of the California battle is that it certainly
taken the eye off of Louisiana as having weird politics.
OPEN PUBLIC TRIALS
There is a debate being carried on in New York right now as to whether
television cameras should be allowed in state and federal courtrooms.
Numerous letters on both sides of the issue appeared recently in
the New York Times.
We have witnessed
the televising of a number of high profile cases in state court
throughout our country. However, most federal courts
ban cameras in the courtroom. In fact, in my own personal case, the
public was not even allowed to be in the courtroom when the jury
was picked. That’s right! The public was banned and forced
to leave the courtroom while the jury that judged my case was picked
in secret. How does the democratic system benefit when the public
cannot see the court system in operation close-up?
We have a strong tradition of public trials in this country. In
early colonial America, courthouses were the center of community
life, and most citizens regularly attended criminal trials. In fact,
trials were scheduled on designated days and often became community
events. Citizens were knowledgeable about the trials, and there was
wide participation in the process. Particularly in rural America,
trials were often scheduled on market day, when local farmers came
to town for supplies. The courthouse was the center of activity,
and courtrooms were often built to accommodate crowds of more than
three hundred observers.
Back then, citizens watched defendants being tried, know when judges
issued ridiculous rulings, and saw firsthand when justice was perverted.
Whatever happened, the citizens were there, watching. The court system
belonged to them. The televising of criminal trials would merely
be an extension of this direct review by the average citizen.
Some argue that
televising criminal trials would create a circus atmosphere. There
is no reason to think this would be the case. In
fact, many of our most dignified ceremonies, including church services
and inaugurations, are televised without losing any of their dignity.
Judge Burton Katz, in his book, Justice Overruled: Unmasking
the Criminal Justice System, said it well: “We should bring pressure
to beat on federal judges to open up their courtrooms to public scrutiny.
As life appointees, they enjoy great entitlements and wield enormous
power. They bear close watching by an informed public. I guarantee
that the public would be amazed at what goes on in some federal courtrooms.”
As an attorney,
I participated in Louisiana’s first televised
trial before the Louisiana Supreme Court in 1997. Senator Cleo Fields
opposed my efforts to impound the cars of uninsured drivers. The
proceedings were televised without a hitch. No one pandered to the
cameras, and the entire procedure was straightforward and dignified.
This was an important issue to many citizens in Louisiana, and they
were entitled to hear the arguments and watch the trial in progress.
federal court in America refuses to allow television cameras in
the courtroom. One exception is in New Orleans where federal
judge Morley Sear televises the entire proceedings. Each side has
access to a tape of each day’s proceedings. The cameras are
concealed, and there has been no concern expressed by prosecutors
or defense attorneys.
As Harvard Professor Alan Dershowitz wrote in Reasonable
television coverage may magnify the faults in the legal system,
and show it,
warts and all. But in a democracy the public has the
right to see the institutions in operation, close up. Moreover, live
coverage generally brings out the best, not the worst, in judges,
lawyers, and other participants. If people thing that what they see
on televised trials is bad, I suggest they go to their local courtroom
and sit quietly in the back row. They will see laziness, lack of
preparation, rudeness, stupidity, posturing, and plain ordinary nastiness – and
I’m just talking about the judges! The lawyers can be even
worse. The video camera helps to keep the system honest by keeping
I’m glad an active debate is taking place throughout this
country on the value of televising many of our criminal proceedings.
The public has the right to see, first hand, what is going on in
the courtroom. In my own case, I wanted a full and open airing of
the injustice that took place. It’s time we put the old courtroom
procedure under a much higher degree of scrutiny.
most of you know, I wrote a column each week from Oakdale during
my 6-month stay that appeared on my website, www.jimbrownla.com.
I made it a habit to review the latest book I had been reading.
I would continue this tradition.
With a backlog
of books I want to read on various subjects, I have generally stayed
away from current best sellers. But all three of
my daughters encouraged me to read a novel that has been at the top
of the best-seller list for some time; “The Da Vinci Code” by
The book is
a suspense thriller that begins in modern-day Paris with the murder
of the Louvre’s chief curator. The crime serves
the back-drop for an intriguing exploration of some of western culture’s
greatest mysteries – from the nature of the Mona Lisa’s
smile to the secret of the Holy Grail. It’s a fascinating historical
review of the symbolism in many of the world’s most treasured
paintings, and well as architectural symbolism in some of history’s
most sacred churches. If you are a history buff, a puzzle lover,
or enjoy analyzing conspiracies, this fast-paced narrative will keep
you on edge and guessing right up until the end.
newsy read with crisp, short chapters. My daughters were right.
Dan Brown has written an enjoyable book that I highly
A statesman is an easy man,
He tells his lies by rote:
A journalist makes up his lies
And takes you by the throat:
So stay at home and drink your beer
And let the neighbors vote.
In the midst of winter, I finally learned that
there was in me an invincible summer.
Peace and justice to you and your family,