Sunday, November 9, 2008

OK - Kids Having Kids: Teen Pregnancy in Oklahoma

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Read the rest of the story, at the link above, or see the video below.

09/03/2008

Reported by: Kaci Christian - Email: kacichristian@fox23.com

John McCain's selection of Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as his running mate has propelled a controversial issue into the spotlight: teen pregnancy. This issue is making national news after the Republican presidential campaign announcement that one of Palin's five children – her 17-year-old unmarried daughter, Bristol – is five months pregnant.

FOX 23's Kaci Christian begins tonight's team coverage with a look at kids having kids.

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FL - Former Congressman Mark Foley may appear on NBC's "Today" show Wednesday

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11/09/2008

By Jim Turner (Contact)

TREASURE COAST — Mark Foley, the former congressman representing portions of Martin and St. Lucie counties and who resigned in 2006 over inappropriate e-mails, is expected to be on NBC’s “Today” show Wednesday morning.

WPTV Channel 5 started promoting the interview Friday as a long-awaited exclusive, without saying Foley’s name.

A representative for NewsChannel 5 said the interview was an exclusive to the “Today” show. Producers with the show were unavailable for comment Sunday.

Foley has not responded to e-mail requests from Scripps Treasure Coast Newspapers for an interview.

The Web site for Atlantic magazine says Foley, who has not directly addressed the media since leaving Congress in 2006, a month before the election, wants to speak.

“He’s sober, he’s not blaming his problems on alcohol, he’s kibitzing about Florida politics, and he’s eager to speak...,” a blogger for the magazine stated.

According to the magazine, Foley wanted to wait until after the current election, where Congressman Tim Mahoney, D-Palm Beach Gardens, faced his own sex scandal in the weeks prior to the vote.

Foley, who had been the representative for Florida’s 16th District since 1995, stepped down after the publication of sexually-laced e-mail exchanges with underage male congressional pages.

In September, it was announced that federal and state law-enforcement officials would not press charges against Foley, who entered rehab for alcohol abuse after leaving office and is reportedly now involved in real estate.

Repeating often they were unable to get access to the computer hard drives used by Foley, FDLE investigators concluded there was insufficient evidence to pursue criminal charges against Foley, 54, as an Internet sex predator.



OR - High Court mulls sex abuse question Does intimate touching over the clothes merit six years in prison?

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11/07/2008

By Kurt Eckert - The Hillsboro Argus

SALEM - An attorney for a former employee of the Hillsboro Boy's and Girl's Club told the Oregon Supreme Court Tuesday that six-plus years in prison for touching her clothed breasts to the back of a 12-year-old boy's head amounted to cruel and unusual punishment.

A Washington County jury found Veronica Rodriguez, now 28, guilty of sex abuse in the first degree after Hillsboro investigators saw her breasts touch the boy's head while she ran her fingers through his hair at the club in 2005.

At sentencing, now-retired Judge Nancy Campbell said the circumstances only merited one year and four months in prison instead of the prescribed sentence of six years and three months required by 1994's voter-approved Measure 11.

Rodriguez and attorney Peter Garlan concede that Measure 11 is constitutional, but claim its application against Rodriguez violates Article 1, Section 16 - the proportionality clause of the Oregon Constitution.

Rodriguez's case is combined with another appeal from Linn County, where 36-year-old Darryl Buck was convicted of first-degree sex abuse for touching a 13-year-old girl's clothed buttocks several times during a fishing trip.

Garlan said the girl overreacted to Buck's using his hands to help her remain upright, and her "histrionics" had an effect on the jury. The judge agreed, and handed down a 17-month sentence, appropriate for the action, Garlan said.

The state's Court of Appeals rejected both judge's decisions, and said both defendants should serve another five years.

Garlan said while it was clear there was wrongdoing, the pair's actions didn't merit the same sentence as someone who committed obviously violent acts of sex abuse or those convicted of attempted rape or attempted sodomy, as Measure 11 requires.

Rodriguez was an exemplary employee at the Boy's and Girl's Club, praised by her superiors, Garlan argued.

"There is no doubt that Miss Rodriguez, but for this offense, was an extremely positive influence on this victim," Garlan said. Even the boy's mother praised Rodriguez for helping him deal with his troubled past. But police and prosecutors said the relationship rose to an inappropriate level, with the boy seen kissing her on the cheek and sitting in her lap. A second charge of sex abuse ended in a mistrial.

When Assistant Attorney General Timothy Sylwester began his arguments, Justice Thomas Balmer took him to the wood shed immediately, noting sharply that Sylwester's brief continually used the word "rubbing" to describe the physical contact between Rodriguez and the boy, when that word was never mentioned in testimony.

"You have strong constitutional, legal argument here," Balmer said tersely. "Why did you mischaracterize testimony?"

Sylwester said he didn't feel it was a mischaracterization, but apologized if he'd made a mistake.

Department of Justice spokesperson Jake Weigler said Wednesday voters passed the measure to eliminate judges' discretion in a range of crimes. Clearly, Rodriguez and Buck fell within that range, he said. If Measure 11 is to be changed, it should be by the will of the voters or the legislature, he said.

"This court never has struck down a sentence within a permissible scheme," Sylwester said.

Justice Robert D. Durham asked both attorneys if it was the role of the court to make an evaluation of offenders, when the law only mentions "the offense." Should the court treat each offense as if it were a videotape of the act that turns on when the abuse begins and turns off when it ends?

"Does that imply there should be no investigation into the actor?" Durham asked. And did that also imply there should be no consideration of whether a defendant lied on the stand, or lied to the police?

Sylwester answered: "You don't just look at the good stuff, you look at the bad stuff, too."

As to Garlan's argument that some kinds of sex abuse were worse than others, Sylwester said it was defined by law as sexual touching with sexual intent.

"The victim has been violated, whether it lasted for five seconds or 10 minutes," he said.

The law says sex abuse occurs when it "subjects another person to sexual contact and the victim is less than 14 years of age."

Sexual contact is "any touching of the sexual or other intimate parts of a person or causing such person to touch the sexual or other intimate parts of the actor for the purpose of arousing or gratifying the sexual desire of either party."

The Supreme Court is expected to return an opinion within six months.



LA - Bobby Jindal Governor of Lousiana Persecuting Children

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KS - RISKY BUSINESS

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11/09/2008

By ERIN MATHEWS - Salina Journal

Salina South senior Brooke Smith was ashamed when she stood before a judge in Saline County District Court early this year to make a first appearance on a felony charge for a sex offense.

Recently, when she recreated the scene with cameras rolling, she occasionally had to be reminded not to smile.

"Great! OK, let's do that again," said videographer Jeff Piepho, of Piepho Multimedia, Salina. "Say it loudly, clearly and slowly."

When parents and teens participating in a juvenile sexual diversion program decided to make a video to educate the public about laws pertaining to sexually active teens whose partners are younger than 16, Smith made a suggestion.

She said she wanted the nearly 20-minute documentary-style video to show a teen brought to court to hear charges read. To be true to life, this person should be wearing a jail inmate's orange jumpsuit and handcuffs, and she volunteered to do it herself.

"I want other kids to learn about it so hopefully they will think it through and not do it," she said.

Vera Johnson, executive director of New Start Family Life Skills Center, a nonprofit agency at 1125 W. South, is the founder of the diversion program called HEART, which stands for Healthy Education on Age-appropriate Relationships and Temptations. So far, nine teens from Saline County have participated in the program, which was launched in January.

She said she is proud of what Smith is doing, describing her as the "bravest kid I know."

The parents involved in HEART decided to make the video in an effort to keep other teens from facing sexual offense charges by educating them about laws related to voluntary sexual activity between teens. They hope to show the video in sex education classes and to parent groups to help other teens make better choices and avoid prosecution.

Ultimately, the group of parents, who have organized into Empowered Parents Ignited, hope to show the video to legislators and advocate for changes in the law. They want the circumstances of each case to be assessed to protect teens caught experimenting with adolescent sexual behavior from being labeled as sex offenders.

Arrested for 'making out'

Teens participating in HEART had nonforcible sexual contact with a partner who was at least 14 years old but not yet 16. Before the diversion program became available, older teens caught in a voluntary sexual encounter with a younger partner ended up with a felony sex offense conviction, said Jaime Blackwell, assistant Saline County attorney.

She anticipates her office will see about 20 kids a year who will qualify for the program.

A slight age difference between dating teens -- even if they are in the same grade -- could mean a felony charge for the one older than 16 if the other was not yet 16, the legal age of consent in Kansas. Two 14- or 15-year-olds caught together could both face charges.

And that's not just for teens who had sex. Lewd fondling, defined in Kansas statute as touching with the intent to arouse or satisfy sexual desires, also leads to a felony charge.

"If it (sexual activity) comes to the attention of law enforcement, they have a duty to enforce," Blackwell said. "Hopefully, with this program, we can use education instead of punishment."

Blackwell approached Johnson, a psychiatric nurse who has had success working with teens at risk of dropping out of school, about starting the juvenile sexual diversion program.

A $3,000 grant from Salina Area United Way provided the necessary start-up funding.

"Jaime Blackwell has a very big heart for these kids," Johnson said. "She didn't want to see them stuck with felonies."

Salina Deputy Police Chief Carson Mansfield said if an underage teen is found to have been involved in a sexual encounter, school officials or employees of public agencies are obligated to report, and police are sworn to enforce the law.

Lewd fondling, what many people would refer to as "making out," could result in a felony charge of indecent liberties with a child or unlawful voluntary sexual relations for a teen older than 16 who is no more than four years older than their underage partner. Nonforcible sexual intercourse or sodomy with a 14 or 15 year old would result in felony charges of aggravated indecent liberties, unlawful voluntary sexual relations or criminal sodomy.

It's a scary thing

"They're checking each other out at this stage of life," said Angie Cartwright, president of Empowered Parents Ignited. "I warned my 15-year-old daughter, 'You can get a young man in trouble.' It's a scary thing as a parent."

She said the Empowered Parents group is still seeking answers to their questions about exactly what behaviors would land a teen in the juvenile detention center.

Facing charges for a sexual offense leaves teens with a lowered self-esteem, which is part of what the HEART program is designed to address, Johnson said.

The curriculum is based largely on work by Dr. Paul Hegstrom, author of "Angry Men and the Women Who Love Them," and founder/developer of the Life Skills International Program. It would be good for any teen whose sexual behaviors are putting them at risk, Johnson said.

"We work through the shame issues because these kids feel like they are deviant juvenile sex offenders," she said. "We say, 'You're not a deviant juvenile sex offender. You are a child with hormones that are raging, and you have broken the law.' "

In a society that seems almost more afraid of sex offenders than murderers, being labeled a sex offender carries a life-changing stigma, she said.

"We're trying to empower kids to come out of the shame and heal them," she said.

In an effort to ensure that other families do not unknowingly face the same ordeal, the parents in Empowered Parents Ignited decided to make the video, which they hope to have ready for showing by early December. To make arrangements to view the video, visit www.EmpoweredParentsIgnited.org or call the New Start Family Life Skills Center at 827-2800.

Parents and the video cast gathered in Courtroom 308 to begin filming Oct. 21. Smith wore a Halloween costume of a jail inmate, but Shawn Baltazor, a community volunteer who portrayed the judge, borrowed District Judge Jerome Hellmer's actual robe.

"I'm all for helping with anything that's going to give a kid a chance," Baltazor said.

Sex with her boyfriend

Smith heard her actual charges read again in the fake court set up for the video. Twice in December 2007, Smith, then 16, had unlawfully had voluntary sexual relations with a 15-year-old boy, a felony offense. Smith tried to recreate for the camera the fear and shame she felt when she stood in court and heard the charges read for real.

"The main thing Brooke wanted to get across to the kids is how this will impact their life so that they will pay attention to the rest of what we have to say," Johnson said.

Kristi Brin, Smith's mother, said her daughter had been arrested after she approached school officials to stop the boy she had intercourse with from showing friends a video of their encounter filmed without her knowledge.

No video was ever located, but because of their age difference, Smith ended up being charged with a felony.

Brin said participating in HEART has enabled both her and her daughter to turn a bad experience into something positive.

"We're to the point we can actually say this wasn't such a bad thing looking at all we've learned from it," Brin said. "I cannot say enough about the HEART program. It has made my daughter a stronger person. We recognize that everyone makes mistakes, and it's given her the skills to make better choices in the future."

Because completing the diversion program will prevent her from having a felony record, Smith will be able to pursue her plans of becoming an Air Force nurse after she graduates high school in December.

As mad as mad gets

Brin is among the group of parents drawn together because they were required to attend the diversion program with their children. Salina's program is the only one of its kind in the state to require parent involvement, and at first the parents were less than thrilled to be there.

Cartwright was initially about as mad as mad gets.

Her 16-year-old son had been caught making out in his car with a 14-year-old girl in a business parking lot. He had been kissing the girl and touching her breasts when a policeman found them. The boy, who had never been in trouble before, spent the weekend in the juvenile detention center and made his first appearance in court in an orange jumpsuit, shackles and handcuffs.

And now, Cartwright was stuck in a parent class for the next 12 weeks so that he -- who was little more than a child himself -- wouldn't end up with a felony for unlawful voluntary sexual relations with a child.

The girl had told him she was 16, she said. The girl and her parents both said they did not want to press charges, but because the girl was younger than 16, the state pursued prosecution.

"Parents can't step in and say, 'Wait a second. These two have been dating. No harm, no foul,' " Cartwright said.

Cartwright felt like the criminal justice system was treating her son like a sexual predator.

"I was really upset," she said. "I said I really see a problem here. There's a big difference between a predator and a child who is being a kid."

She wasn't alone in her anger. None of the parents in the class were happy to be there. When Johnson sought their comments after the first session, they let her know exactly how they felt.

"At the very end of the first class, she had us fill out a feedback form, and our pens were smoking," Cartwright said.

Had to involve parents

Johnson said she knew parents wouldn't be pleased that their attendance was required.

"The first night I just let them vent at me," she said. "They were saying they couldn't believe they were there when their kids were the ones who got in trouble."

But Johnson said she knew if the teens involved in HEART were going to learn to make better choices, their parents had to be involved in the process.

"A lot of parents will drop off their kids and say, 'They're broke. Here, fix them,' " she said. "You can't make a difference in the home unless the environment changes, and you can't change the environment unless the parents are on board."

Johnson gave the parents a challenge.

"I said you can take that angry feeling and do nothing but be bitter and upset, or you can use it to be productive and become better communicators," she said.

After about four weeks of HEART, the parents were ready to turn their anger into fuel for change.

"We wanted to take our anger and be productive and help people from falling through the cracks in our system," Brin said. "I don't think the law is wrong. It needs to be out there to protect children who are abused and taken advantage of, but something needs to be put in there to protect these teens."

We just didn't know

Parents said many of their friends were not aware of the legal ramifications for teens who get caught engaging in physical contact with a peer who is not yet 16.

"The parents were saying, 'If we'd have known, we could have taught our children differently,' " Johnson said. "'If our kids would have known, they could have made better choices.' They don't want anyone else's kids going through what their kids went through."

At the suggestion of Bill Weaver, director of marketing for United Way, the group decided to produce the video to use in presentations to parent groups, sex education classes and anyone else who will listen. Weaver also helped the group with designs for educational posters.

Johnson said she has seen the HEART program become a "birthing room for community leaders."

"It's going to be amazing to see what these parents do," she said.

Reporter Erin Mathews can be reached at 822-1415 or by e-mail at emathews@salina.com.



GA - Young lawyer makes his mark - Public defender wins state Supreme Court case

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Congratulations Adam, now knock down the rest of the unconstitutional law!

11/08/2008

By Stephen Gurr - sgurr@gainesvilletimes.com

Not often does a defense attorney less than a year removed from law school get part of a controversial law thrown out by the Georgia Supreme Court.

But that’s what happened after 26-year-old Hall County public defender Adam Levin, with help from colleague Brett Willis, argued the case of a homeless sex offender in front of the state’s highest court.

The case of William James Santos prompted the state Supreme Court last week to declare Georgia’s sex offender registration law as it applies to the homeless "constitutionally vague" and forced lawmakers to revisit how people without permanent addresses can comply with the law.

For Levin, who admits he still is adjusting to his role as public speaker, the prospect of arguing in front of the seven justices in Atlanta was nerve-inducing, but a chance he nevertheless could not resist.

"I just wanted the experience of getting up there," Levin said.

Despite Levin having tried only a handful of cases, Northeastern Circuit Public Defender’s Office Director Brad Morris gave him the job of arguing the Santos case over more seasoned lawyers in the public defender’s office, whose 13 staff attorneys represent poor criminal defendants in Hall and Dawson counties.

"I pestered Brad about letting me take a shot at it, and he was willing to take the risk and let me get my feet wet," Levin said.

Less than a year earlier, Morris was helping Levin adjust his tie for his swearing-in to the bar.

Levin came to the public defender’s office in May 2007 and passed the bar the following October after his graduation from Georgia State University School of Law. He earned an undergraduate degree in music engineering from the University of Miami in 2004, but decided "I was not a very good musician."

"I just didn’t have the ear for it, so as soon as I could I applied to law school," he said.

Levin has legal roots. His father, Jay Levin, is a partner with Powell Goldstein, a large corporate law firm in Atlanta.

But Levin chose the often thankless work of the public defender over the better-paying jobs some of his law school classmates took at places such as prestigious Atlanta firm King and Spalding.

Levin said he discovered the appeal of criminal defense work while in law school.

"The work was interesting, the people were interesting, and I think there’s just something inherently interesting about the underdog, which is who we mostly work with," Levin said. "I’ve always had something for the underdog."

Levin was assigned the Santos case through an alphabetical system and soon found what he said were "some interesting issues." Mainly, how does a sex offender without a home comply with a law that says they must register their place of residence?

The state Supreme Court last April agreed to hear the pretrial appeal and Levin and Willis prepared their legal brief. Levin credits his more-experienced colleague Willis with much of the work compiling the brief and lining up help from old law school classmates and professors to prepare for oral arguments.

"I was sort of spitting out the ideas, and Brett crafted it," Levin said.

Morris said Levin’s modesty aside, the young attorney deserves the most credit.

"I think our office has been fortunate in getting people who are focused in what they’re doing, and who understand that only when you have strong, hard-working advocates is the Constitution protected," Morris said. "Adam, along with a lot of other people here, could have much more lucrative positions elsewhere, but they believe in what they’re doing, and this case is a good example of the work he and other people in this office are doing."

Levin eschews any notion that the big legal win so early in his career is a feather in his cap. While he knows the case was watched closely by other attorneys, he believes the court’s decision in Santos v. State is just one small part of the overriding legal controversy that surrounds Georgia’s sex offender registration requirements.

"It was just a question that everyone wanted an answer to, and our office just happened to have the case that asked the question," Levin said.

Of the outcome, Levin said, "It was satisfying, there was a sense of accomplishment. But I just felt like that was the correct result. That was what should happen."



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