Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Is the governor a spanker?

Inquiring dogs want to know. Spot, of course, doesn't know if the governor is a spanker or not. However, we do know some interesting facts. You remember, boys and girls, Spot's post about Katie's second column on the spanking case?

Doesn't ring a bell, Spot.

Aw, come on, grasshopper! That post is maybe a day old.

Just kidding Spotty. The column and the case were about parents who got into trouble for hitting their 12 year old son 36 times in the space of a little over an hour. Katie thought it was fine Christian discipline. The parents apparently threatened the boy with the Bible.

Close enough, grasshopper. You will remember that when Katie first wrote about the case last summer, the Minnesota Court of Appeals had reversed a trial court finding of child abuse. Here's the opinion, if you want to read it.

Well, great, Spotty, but what does this have to do with the governor?

Check out who wrote the opinion in the Court of Appeals.

Let's see. Some dude named Judge Dietzen, right Spot? But what does that have to do with the governor?

Governor Pepsodent recently made a new appointment to the Minnesota Supreme Court. Who was it?

Can we get back to you on that one, Spotty?

No. Look it up and come right back.

Holy smoke! The governor appointed the same fella, Chris Dietzen—who wrote the Court of Appeals decision—to the Supreme Court! Do you suppose that the governor was aware of that?

You can be sure that he was, grasshopper. And although it's not proof that the governor is a spanker, it wasn't a deal killer for him, either.

You mean this same judge gets to decide the case again now that it's been appealed to the Supreme Court? That stinks.

No, grasshopper, now-Justice Dietzen will undoubtedly recuse himself from the case. But the Court of Appeals decision is interesting to Spot for a couple of reasons.

First, the opinion contains a recitation of the findings of the trial court, based substantially on a stipulated record. It's an illuminating read. You will recall that Katie tells us that the parents had said this is what their son had been up to:

Last week, the Frasers described their long ordeal. In 2005, their then-12-year-old son, Gerard, "began running with the wrong crowd at school," explained Shawn. The boy started shoplifting, stealing money from his mother and prowling the streets at night, leaving his parents frantic.

You would certainly think that the shoplifting and stealing money from his mother would feature prominently in the parents' defense of their conduct, wouldn't you? Well, here's how Judge Dietzen described it:

During 2005, G.F. left home without permission on numerous occasions and, when confronted, either lied about it or refused to say where he had been or what he had done.

That's it? Gee, Spotty, that doesn't add up, does it? Did Katie read the opinion?

No grasshopper, it doesn't add up. If Katie did read the opinion, she failed to ask a few pointed questions of Gerard's parents. If she didn't read it, she failed to avail herself of some rather simple fact checking that was available to her. Not a pretty sight either way. She says she's a lawyer, you know.

Isn't it unfair, Spotty, to tag Governor Pepsodent with responsibility for the Appeals Court's decision?

Well, sure, grasshopper, but that's not the issue. This issue is the subsequent appointment of Dietzen to the Supreme Court after the Fraser decision. That and the basis on which the Dietzen court decided Fraser. As Spot said earlier, the case was appealed on a mostly-stipulated record. It looked at those facts de novo.

Wow, Spotty! That sound dangerous!

Actually grasshopper, it just means this:

Because this case was presented on stipulated facts to the court, the material facts are undisputed.  Consequently, we review the application of law to the stipulated facts de novo.  Morton Bldgs., Inc. v. Comm’r of Revenue, 488 N.W.2d 254, 257 (Minn. 1992); In re Welfare of K.J.K., Jr., 620 N.W.2d 734, 736 (Minn. App. 2001), review denied (Minn. Mar. 27, (2001); see also In re Welfare of Children of R.W., 678 N.W.2d 49, 54 (Minn. 2004) (stating that questions of law, such as the interpretation of the statutory criteria for adjudicating a CHIPS petition, are reviewed de novo).  Clear and convincing evidence is required to support a CHIPS petition.  Minn. Stat. § 260C.163, subd. 1(a) (2006); Minn. R. Juv. Prot. P. 39.04, subd. 1; In re A.R.M., 611 N.W.2d 43, 49 n.2 (Minn. App. 2000).

Judge Dietzen wrote, in effect, that he didn't think that whacking a kid three dozen times was clear and convincing evidence of child abuse. Funny, though, the cops, the county attorney, and the trial court thought it was! We're just lucky that Governor Pepsodent appointed such a wise man to the Supreme Court.

There's one good thing about the decision, though. The Appeals Court didn't have to rule on the Fraser's other claim.

What was that?

They urged the court to rule that the child abuse statute was an unconstitutional infringement on their right to discipline their children. If the Frasers had won on that one, it would have meant that you could kick you kid, but not your dog. Spot is glad for the second part of that, of course!

A couple of other things before Spot lets you go:

First, Chris Dietzen, then a practicing lawyer, represented Governor Pepsodent in an election law violation case in 2002:

Dietzen defended Pawlenty's campaign when Democrats accused it of conspiring with the Republican Party to exceed campaign spending limits. The state Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board fined the campaign $100,000 and reduced Pawlenty's spending limit for the violation.

Pawlenty said he doesn't give preferences to acquaintances or political allies, but he also doesn't penalize them when making appointments.

Pawlenty also said this of Dietzen when he made the appointment:

He is studious; he is smart; he is also kindhearted.

Spot wonders of Gerard would agree with that assessment!

Second, P.Z. Myers recently put up a post titled Religion Kills. It's about a boy who died after refusing a blood transfusion on religious grounds. P.Z. called it child abuse. Spot agrees. P.Z., even when religion doesn't kill, it sure can sting sometimes!

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