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Court on the spot after Washington State killings

In the wake of the horrible massacre of four Tacoma, Wash.-area police officers, there's been a lot of talk about the fallout for former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, a Republican. While in office, Huckabee commuted the lengthy prison sentence of the main suspect, Maurice Clemmons, with the result that he got out of prison in 2000 after about 11 years. Huckabee, who might repeat his 2008 run for president in 2012, has faced criticism of his liberal use of the pardon power already; now he’ll face more.

But the case really puts the U.S. Supreme Court on the spot. Here’s why: The court is currently trying to decide whether it is unconstitutional to sentence anyone under the age of 18 to life in prison without parole for a non-homicide crime. The basic issue is whether the constitution allows states the power to conclude that some teenagers are so irredeemable and violence-prone that they may be locked up forever -- or whether youths are so inherently less culpable, and their personalities are still so malleable that it constitutes "cruel and unusual punishment" to deprive them of all hope of release.

Maurice Clemmons was never sentenced to life without parole, but he was given a total of 108 years behind bars for a string of armed robberies, burglaries and other offenses he took part in as a 17-year-old. Citing his tender age at the time of the crimes, Huckabee commuted Clemmons' sentence to 47 years, which made him eligible for immediate parole.

It's not strictly true that Huckabee's action put Clemmons directly on the path to his alleged crimes in the state of Washington. Clemmons committed another armed robbery in 2001, a year after his release, and went back to prison, but he served just three years of a ten-year sentence before being granted parole again -- amazingly, considering his record. A few days before allegedly gunning down the cops, he made $15,000 bail in Washington on a child rape charge.

Still, Huckabee's charitable intuition toward Clemmons seems stunningly misplaced in hindsight. Yet this is essentially the same intuition that lawyers for Florida inmate Terrance Graham are asking the court to follow.

Graham was sentenced to life without parole at 17 for an armed home invasion. He got the sentence partly because he had returned to crime after receiving a lenient punishment for an earlier attempted robbery. (In a companion case, another Florida inmate, sentenced to life without parole at 13 for raping a 72-year-old woman, asks the court to set the bar at age 14.)

At oral argument, Justice Samuel A. Alito asked Graham’s counsel:

You can imagine someone who is a month short of his 18th birthday, and you are saying that, no matter what this person does, commits the most horrible series of non-homicide offenses that you can imagine, a whole series of brutal rapes, assaults that renders the victim paraplegic but not dead, no matter what, the person is sentenced shows no remorse whatsoever, the worst case you can possibly imagine, cannot -- that person must at some point be made eligible for parole.
That's your argument?

To which the reply was:

Your Honor, that's correct. A life -- yes. A life with parole sentence would be constitutional, and that may mean that person you describe still spends his entire life in prison, but life with parole gives some hope to the adolescent who has an inherent capacity to change. It gives him some hope that later in time he may be released.

Clemmons' history seems instead to reinforce the intuition of Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., who suggested at oral argument that the constitution and the court's precedents merely require a more flexible standard: that a defendant's youth be taken into account at sentencing on a case by case basis.

As we all know, the court never considers anything except the constitution, the law and the arguments of counsel. Such matters as how the public might react if the justices were seen to take the side of a teenage career criminal, just after a former teenage criminal got back on the street and allegedly slaughtered four police officers in cold blood, do not enter into their decisions.

Still, I can’t help thinking that, after the murder of the four cops, the chances that Terrance Graham is going to win his case just got a little bit slimmer.

By Charles Lane  | November 30, 2009; 3:29 PM ET
Categories:  Lane  | Tags:  Charles Lane  
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Huckabee & the Supreme Court should consider the victims. There's some big powerful 14 year old kids robbing & killing people. Don't the older drug dealers use under age kids to sell drugs on the street corners ? I'm surprised at Mr Republican ... Huckabee commuting any ones sentence ... George Bush fried everyone he could as Gov of Texas, as did his brother in *******

Posted by: wasaUFO | November 30, 2009 4:40 PM | Report abuse

Mr. Lane, a very fine piece of reporting until I got to your assertion that,"...the court never considers anything except the Constitution, the law and the arguments of counsel."

So then, are we to presume that Dred Scott v Sandford or Plessy v Ferguson, to cite two examples, were simply applications of the Constitution through rigorous legal argument? If so, I think there's more than a few constitional scholars who would suggest otherwise.

Posted by: jackconly | November 30, 2009 5:01 PM | Report abuse

Interesting dilemmas for any case like this. I just can't help wondering though- 'What really happens when any 'kid' goes behind bars?' 'What does prison life do to an individual?'

We know the statistics aren't good.

The word 'reform' is spoken of, but WHAT reform. HOW? I think there may be some truth in that a teen could be reformed, but is the current system truly capable? Or is it turning out 'cookie cutter monsters?'

I think the prison system itself is perhaps outdated and needs serious re-thinking.

Posted by: lingo009 | November 30, 2009 5:27 PM | Report abuse

Two Words we are all waiting to rub in Mr. Huckabees' face: Willie Horton.
Nuff said...

Posted by: cam7 | November 30, 2009 5:40 PM | Report abuse

Being a teenager does not necessarily make one's sociopathy reversible. Given the potential impact on completely innocent victims, people who commit such horrific and cruel crimes, regardless of their age, should never leave prison, and a good argument could be made for execution. I hope that the partisan eagerness to drag Huckabee through the mud for this will give the issue enough attention to keep at least one other dangerously bad prisoner, somewhere, from being released.

Posted by: fernie1 | November 30, 2009 6:04 PM | Report abuse

Prison is a place primality to keep people who disrupt our lives and endanger the public.They are fed ,clothed and given a certain area to live. There is rehabilitation available if the prisoner wishes to take advantage of it. But make no mistake of believing that it will work for all. They are in prison because we are not safe to go about our lawful pursuit of our right to life and an orderly lifestyle. They have forfeited the right to come and go throughout the population as the wished by their misdeeds. They can not be trusted to uphold the values of civilization and therefore must be held separate from those of us who live within the confines of law.

Posted by: ajaxf7 | November 30, 2009 6:04 PM | Report abuse

I believe that only Democratic governors should be blamed for releasing child rapists and cop killers.

Posted by: motorfriend | November 30, 2009 6:30 PM | Report abuse

Right now, at this moment, we, out here in Washington State, are in the midst of tracking down a multiple murderer. In our "in between" moments, we may reflect on WHY, oh WHY, was this guy let go, for whatever reason, but mostly, we are NOW concerned about HOW IN THE HELL to catch him!!!
All, I think I am truly responding to right now, is HOW DO WE CATCH him and I, confess, reflecting on how this all came to pass, can be left to another day. He's a maniac, pure and simple.
No one in this whole of the United States wants to spend ANY money on rescuing a criminal maniac. He got loose. It is to be expected. DAMN.

Posted by: cms1 | November 30, 2009 6:31 PM | Report abuse

Sorry that the crime rate goes down the more we lock convicted criminals up.

Wish they would just be nice. But, aw gee, they don't.

Tough but simple decision -- repeat offenders need to stay in the slammer. It makes me sad. But it's an easy decision.

Posted by: kls1 | November 30, 2009 6:33 PM | Report abuse

More importantly, what do the shootings mean for the Republican party's key method of scaring people into voting for them - Willie Horton seems to have come back and bitten them. Oh dear. Need to find a brand new scare tactic that they're more immune to!

Posted by: B2O2 | November 30, 2009 6:36 PM | Report abuse

Huckabee is a nice guy.. but after what he's done I could never vote for him. He's to soft on crime... Clemmons had a string of serious crimes and never should have been paroled. Hopefully this will keep Terrance Graham behind bars now.

Posted by: sovine08 | November 30, 2009 6:48 PM | Report abuse

A sociopath is a sociopath is a sociopath. From my experience in having to deal with one for an extended period, I think that once you reach that state, you never change, no matter what you say, no matter what your age is, and no matter what other people hope. The only place appropriate for such a person is a prison cell until death. The consequences of letting such a person go free are terrible for the people whom he preys on.

Posted by: phillyreader | November 30, 2009 6:50 PM | Report abuse

Maurice Clemmons and the culture that produced him are monstrous, pure human evil. We in the NW are suffering from the like who choose to murder police officers dedicated to defend the rule of law. We will probably learn of his psychological difficulties, as if they explain the problem. I think they do not. It is the gang banger culture, just listen to their music. It is pure poison. And very true, the African Americans suffer from it far and away more than other segments of society. But if you choose to suck it up and rationalize it at every turn, you perpetuate the problem and make it worse on all its victims.

Posted by: tarquinis1 | November 30, 2009 6:51 PM | Report abuse

Let me guess... this guy converted to Huckabee's religion and then was pardoned.

Anyway, one case or person shouldn't determine law or policy. This guy wasn't just a criminal, he was clearly nuts. Even criminals are not so insane to start just randomly shooting cops.

Posted by: ihatelogins | November 30, 2009 6:52 PM | Report abuse

Huckabee is a nice guy.. but after what he's done I could never vote for him. He's to soft on crime... Clemmons had a string of serious crimes and never should have been paroled. Hopefully this will keep Terrance Graham behind bars now.

Posted by: sovine08 | November 30, 2009 7:00 PM | Report abuse

I have to admit this case has changed my mind regarding the Supreme Court case.

The news about Mike Huckabee's involvement, and his relationship working for Roger Ailes at Fox News is also revealing. After all, it was Roger who conceived of the Willie Horton commercial.

Take this case and the silence on the cyber crime involving the East Anglia climate emails. Cyber theft costs this country billions of dollars. Now that is OK by conservatives.

The whole party has gone soft on crime. That might save tax dollars, but it puts all of us at risk.

Posted by: colonelpanic | November 30, 2009 7:14 PM | Report abuse

On other blog boards, Republican supporters are blaming President Obama for the killing of these officers. This is the mentality of people who consider themselves sane in the face of their crazed accusations.

Huckabee made a bad decision listening to lawyers who are willing to allow any crazed person back into society. Every state in the Union has closed up its Insane Asylums because they could not afford to keep them open. These mentally disturbed people are now roaming the streets and in any city you can cross their paths without knowing you are facing a potential killer.

Willie Horton was a rightwing smear campaign by worthless politicians for their own political gain and it was wrong. The same goes for Huckabee, and they are the ones who laid the groundwork for this type of smear.

America has no political statesmen left, only politicians who pimp for personal gain. What has happened with this case is the probable outcome of our weak laws pertaining to the permanent incarceration of insane people. It should never have happened.

Posted by: papafritz571 | November 30, 2009 7:14 PM | Report abuse

Hey I HEART HUCKABEE, does the name Willie Horton mean anything to ya, ole boy????

Posted by: demtse | November 30, 2009 7:31 PM | Report abuse

some of these comments are ridiculous - grouping all prisoners together like they're all the same. maybe if we weren't locking people away for stupid **** like smoking weed we would have the money and room to keep people like this in prison for life.

Posted by: gbeegs | November 30, 2009 7:37 PM | Report abuse

Huckabee's Willie Horton, and it won't go away.



Posted by: swanieaz | November 30, 2009 7:41 PM | Report abuse

Locking up a 14 year old for life without parole for crimes other then murder?!!? That is just crazy talk! Prosecutors down in Florida need to sober up or something (and I do seriously believe someone down there is an alcoholic, is on cocaine, or is on some other type of drug). These prosecutors should try church or something. I hope the Supreme Court has the wisdom to spare these children life behind bars.

Posted by: RobertCurleyJacobs | November 30, 2009 8:00 PM | Report abuse

Crime? Look, why don't you read the DOJ report on homicides and violent crime (aggravated assault, rape, armed robbery). An astounding 47.3% of all homicides are committed by Hispanic males, the vast majority illegals or their children, males between the ages of 18 and 29 -- 21.8% are committed by black males in the same age group. Both of these categories are almost completely gang related. White's accounted for a mere 14.7% of the total. The rates for violent crimes, forced entry, armed robbery, rape, aggravated assault, reverse the statistical trends between blacks and Hispanics - 30 per 100,00 due to black gang related, 9.7 per 100,000 due to Hispanic gang related, and a mere 1.2 per 100,000 for all white related.

Essentially, violent crimes are race related and gang related. There is no juvenile crime problem, either, as less than 5% of the 18 to 29 year population is in a gang. The sad fact is, at least 86% of our violent crimes are due to minority membership in gangs. They are overwhelmingly both the victims and the perpetrators. We could fix most of our violent crime problem by providing jobs for black men, so they could raise families and be good parents, and we could fix most f the problem in he Hispanic community if we rounded up illegal immigrants and expelled them.

Posted by: mibrooks27 | November 30, 2009 8:01 PM | Report abuse

The pundits on both sides of the aisle will long debate Clemens sentence being commuted and the what if's. Each person that argues against Huckabee's actions need to consider what if it was their child sentenced at 17 and how they would want to be treated. Clemens sentence was commuted with the support of the sentencing judge, parole commission and Huckabee. Certainly none of them would have supported the action if they could have seen years into the future. Most certainly at the time they made a decision they felt was right. Clemens actions should not be used against anyone else.

Posted by: topgun97365 | November 30, 2009 8:02 PM | Report abuse

These idiots will never change. Anyone who believes these Born Again Morons is a complete Idiot. Execute all the violent criminals, rapists and murderers. They cannot be reformed. Why waste money and time with prison? The Guns Owned Party and the National Right to Annihilate say guns protect people. So, Gun Clingers how come 4 trained Heroes (in America everyone is a hero) was shot dead by a lowly criminal. 300 million guns on the street doesn't make it safer for anyone. Execute the violent criminals will make it safer. Don't bother with life without parole. The criminal justice system is a farce in America.

Posted by: mawt | November 30, 2009 8:06 PM | Report abuse

One less Republican to run in 2012.
Ensign.....out! Sanford.....out!
Keep em coming!

Posted by: angie12106 | November 30, 2009 8:18 PM | Report abuse

Life and freedom is a privileged and a smart society should reward the good and isolate and destroy evil doers.

Posted by: eddiemacs | November 30, 2009 8:18 PM | Report abuse

topgun wrote>>>>Clemens actions should not be used against anyone else.

You mean - Huckabee shouldn't be blamed for Clemens' actions.
Well, Republicans thought otherwise about Willie Horton.

Posted by: angie12106 | November 30, 2009 8:22 PM | Report abuse

Mike Huckabee's simplistic misapplication of a religious teaching meant to apply to individuals in ordinary daily life, to the criminal justice system, has had predictably disastrous results.

I don't want to have to find out what other poorly thought out but superficially comforting beliefs of his will be paid for by other people's suffering should he ever attain office higher than the one he held in Arkansas.

Posted by: douglaslbarber | November 30, 2009 8:27 PM | Report abuse

This one is not a Muslim!!! So anybody can kill according his motive. Please stop portraying Muslim as murders.

Posted by: ossamasse | November 30, 2009 8:28 PM | Report abuse

ossamasse wrote, "This one is not a Muslim!!! So anybody can kill according his motive. Please stop portraying Muslim as murders."

That's logically equivalent to saying "This person died as a result of a virus, so please quit portraying bacteria as killers".

Posted by: douglaslbarber | November 30, 2009 8:39 PM | Report abuse

I don't give a sh!t if you are 12 years old. If you do the crime you must do the time. Kids no right from wrong by the time they are 8 years old. If a 12 year old kills someone just because he wanted to see what it felt like then I say KILL him. Save the state dollars in paying for his bed, meals, weight training and cable tv.

Posted by: FreddyFlyntstone | November 30, 2009 8:48 PM | Report abuse

He should have been put in the military.

Posted by: shuttdlrl | November 30, 2009 8:51 PM | Report abuse

No one seems to be questioning the logic behind granting bail to someone who just raped a child. Personally, I'm all for executing people who rape children, I dont care how old they are. We have enough people in this world. We can do without a few. Which few? Lets start with the ones that rape children.

Posted by: oo7 | November 30, 2009 8:52 PM | Report abuse

It doesn't matter if the sociopath is 7 years old. Life in prison or a "post birth abortion" seems in order.

Posted by: dlkimura | November 30, 2009 8:56 PM | Report abuse

I am not sure how the Supreme Court will arrive at framing a response on juvenile justice, but I think the public would be more relieved if the Court took a position that would better compartmentalize the ages of violent youth offenders. For youth at the age of 12-13 and below, considerable leeway should be given in sentencing with the objective in mind of the rehabilitating effects of time, education, training and maturity. Generally, you don't find
many violent offenders in this group though they are very malleable to the wrong influences. When you arrive at older teen offenders, then another set of criteria needs to be considered - is this a first offense or is there a history; the rate of recidivism; the ferocity and violence of the crimes; if murder has been committed; any inclination to mental illness that may not have been treated. Teens 14 and older have been around long enough to have developed an objective conscious response about and understanding of right and wrong.

Posted by: shangps | November 30, 2009 9:00 PM | Report abuse

Mawt is correct. Exterminate the vermin of society. They won't be missed and serve no purpose to anyone, themselves included.

Posted by: dlkimura | November 30, 2009 9:00 PM | Report abuse

What's so innocent about a stinking teenage criminal? Remember Columbine?

I'm fed up with the far left cry-babies that think it's everyone else's fault these pieces of garbage are what they are.

Let's warm up old sparky and put new seals on the gas chambers and get the cleanup started.

Posted by: dlkimura | November 30, 2009 9:05 PM | Report abuse

Kids are some of the most evil criminal kind infesting this world. End their worthless lives! Thoe whiners that see them as victims of society can join them in the gas chamber.

Posted by: dlkimura | November 30, 2009 9:15 PM | Report abuse

why do you need to use gas chambers and electric chairs? Why not a simple bullet to back of the head? It doesn't need to be obscene or cruel, just quick and effective. Not every teenage criminal is irredeemable. Society should shoulder some of the blame, at times, but not when it comes to hardcore criminals like this guy.

Posted by: oo7 | November 30, 2009 9:18 PM | Report abuse

..."but life with parole gives some hope to the adolescent who has an inherent capacity to change."

What a pile of horses#it!!!

Posted by: dlkimura | November 30, 2009 9:21 PM | Report abuse

The US has more prisoners in custody than any other nation on earth. We are a free society and some people take advantage of that.

If you want to punish someone under eighteen for a non-homicide, then we need to lower the age of consent and voting rights to age sixteen. If people under the age of 18 are not juveniles, then let them buy cigarettes, alcohol and pot.

Posted by: alance | November 30, 2009 9:24 PM | Report abuse

dkimura wrote, "I'm fed up with the far left cry-babies that think it's everyone else's fault these pieces of garbage are what they are."

Does this mean that you regard Mike Huckabee as a far left cry-baby?

Posted by: douglaslbarber | November 30, 2009 9:24 PM | Report abuse

I'll tell you, oo7, any kid criminal posing a danger to me or anyone around me will get his hollow point right through his stinking face!

Posted by: dlkimura | November 30, 2009 9:26 PM | Report abuse

"As we all know, the court never considers anything except the constitution, the law and the arguments of counsel."

yes, and even though 6 of 9 Justices are Catholic, they NEVER consider their own personal convictions.


Posted by: forestbloggod | November 30, 2009 9:30 PM | Report abuse

"Malleable" personalities?

We need to immediately eliminate "psych" majors as an excuse for a college degree. Same for the other "social sciences".

A teary-eyed gaggle of ultra liberals making up BS excuses for the filth that infests this world. It's no wonder tghat gun ownership is so high and people want more ammo so the far left can't deprive them of their right to defend themselves and family.

Huckabee effed up! He's as guilty as the other garbage that pulled the trigger.

Posted by: dlkimura | November 30, 2009 9:33 PM | Report abuse

When the humane desire to rehabilitate prisoners rather than warehouse them is at cross purposes with the rstablishment of domestic transquility - the security of law abiding citizens from wrongful taking of their life, limb, or property - the humane desire should give way to the public good.

This applies even when the human desire to rehabilitate is accentuated by the youth of the offender.

Posted by: douglaslbarber | November 30, 2009 9:48 PM | Report abuse

aaack....this new HP keyboard is going to be the death of me

Posted by: douglaslbarber | November 30, 2009 9:50 PM | Report abuse

douglas barber wrote:
"When the humane desire to rehabilitate prisoners rather than warehouse them...."


Yes, Huckabee is acting like a whiney liberal when he pardons dangerous sociopaths.

I'm all for giving non-violent offenders another chance, instead of paying their room and board insome prison.

But the Willie Horton types of the world need to be extinguished without pause. Liberals are fine and reasonable people, but I use the term here, derisively, as it applies to nutcases that sit outside a prison protesting the execution of a convicted rapist or murderer. Those kinds of "liberals" can start their own commune someplace far away. In the meantime, I'll keep my guns clean and oiled...

Posted by: dlkimura | November 30, 2009 10:06 PM | Report abuse

"Anyway, one case or person shouldn't determine law or policy."

Unfortunately, this is not an isolated event. Just google "Lily Burk", and you can read about a heinous murder in Los Angeles committed by a repeat offender.

Posted by: GRILLADES | November 30, 2009 10:15 PM | Report abuse

This may indeed turn out to be Huckabee's Horton. But there never was anything "smear" about the Willie Horton ad. I've seen the ad again recently. There isn't anything dishonest or deceptive about the ad. It may be that a reasonable response could have been, "Well, all governors make mistakes." Fine. If so (then-Massachusetts Governor) Michael Dukakis, the Dem candidate, should have said that.

But even as a Democrat at the time (1988) and living in Massachusetts at the time, I knew there wasn't anything dishonest about the Willie Horton ad.

Posted by: srb2 | November 30, 2009 10:20 PM | Report abuse

looks like the NRA guys are right all along about carrying weapons. It did the four cops a lot of good. Let me guess they wern't armed.

Posted by: grogg1 | November 30, 2009 11:03 PM | Report abuse

What...there must be a God! I can't beleive you haters aren't blaming Bush for this incident too.
These days, no matter what the "FACTS" are; most of you liberals are so unfairly vicious!

Posted by: m929s | November 30, 2009 11:32 PM | Report abuse

We as a country live with violence everyday. The news cycle in my are is about death and the survivors of brutality. Why are the angry posters here once more shocked at the violence. I am so sorry for the families of the Police families in Tacoma who have lost their loved ones. Children are not born to murder. What are the individual circumstances that make them do so? Until we try to understand, I see this murder as four more bodies laid on the Altar of the Second Ammendment.

Posted by: fabricmaven1 | December 1, 2009 12:16 AM | Report abuse

Hello everyone,

This horrible event has got me thinking along two parallel lines, parental responsibility and state (actually society's) responsibility to ensure that children are not abused or neglected.

I take it as a foregone conclusion our justice system is in a terrible state of disrepair; that this Maurice Clemmons hides among us today is testimony enough to that
sad fact.

What I am asking myself is at what point, if at all, should we also hold parents of wayward children accountable, after all this is their direct progeny, the product of their own making. I know there is a line there, somewhere. Perhaps someone here has suggestions? Perhaps bad parenting (or lack there of) should have concrete consequences attached to the actions of a person's offspring?

What do you think?

And what about the state? What is our collective responsibility to the young? Do we not all bear some blame when a child goes so bad we even have to consider putting them away for life? And when this keeps happening, isn't that a very loud alarm that tells us we need to reexamine our whole approach to young people (and their parents) when they go astray at an early age?

Is there something wrong with us? And if so, what is it and can we fix it?

Thank you for your indulgence.

Posted by: Xray01z | December 1, 2009 12:24 AM | Report abuse

Huckabee should say;

My heart goes to the families of these officers....................and I am sorry I ever even thought of letting that son of a bich pass the prison bars.

But still, bail bondsmen are the people who got this guy on the streets after he screwed up pretty bad after Huckabee pardoned him. Huckabee didn't pardon him for a second time.

Posted by: BOBSTERII | December 1, 2009 3:51 PM | Report abuse

Posted by: ossamasse
This one is not a Muslim!!! So anybody can kill according his motive. Please stop portraying Muslim as murders.

Wrong blog,dumbass!!! I have a motive to tell you to get the hell out of here!!!

Posted by: BOBSTERII | December 1, 2009 3:58 PM | Report abuse

Mr. Lane is basically correct that Huckabee's commutation did not lead directly Clemmons' subsequent crimes, including the murder of four police officers. However, he is incorrect when he states that Clemmons was released on $15,000 bail. Clemmons' bail was set at $190,000 for two seperate felonies. He made bail by posting ten percent as the bond fee and security for the balance. In addition, he was ordered to wear a GPS device, so his movements could be tracked. Unfortunately, Clemmons cut off the device the morning of the murders. But most importantly, law enforcement was not notified he had done so, even though the monitoring system was immediately notified. The reason? The monitoring system is a private vendor that has no process for notifying law enforcement, just the court (which was closed because it was a weekend).

Posted by: mschwartz2 | December 1, 2009 11:41 PM | Report abuse

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