Each year, about 32,000 criminal defendants cycle through criminal proceedings of some sort at D.C. Superior Court. That’s an awful lot of people for the court to track. But you might suppose that it could at least keep up with its high-profile cases.
Take the pre-sentencing experience of one Marion Christopher Barry. The 25-year-old son of Ward 8 Councilmember Marion S. Barry Jr. was arrested Feb. 18, 2005, and charged with assaulting a police officer in a D.C. apartment just a few blocks away from the courthouse. The police also found two zip-lock bags “containing a green weed-like substance” after the scuffle, according to a police report. The story was widely reported in the print and broadcast media. On March 31, 2005, the younger Barry agreed to plead guilty to simple assault. The agreement deferred his sentencing for an indeterminate period, and it laid out a set of standard conditions on conduct:
•Do not violate any law or be rearrested on probable cause.
•Stay away from the officer allegedly assaulted.
•Undergo drug testing, enter a drug-treatment program, and complete 100 hours of community service.
As a matter of policy, the court doesn’t allow defendants to manage their own drug treatment and determine on their own how they want to perform their community service. Instead, it relies on the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency (CSOSA) to supervise such activities. It’s pretty much the only way to hold defendants accountable for the commitments they make under plea agreements.
Yet for about eight months, the court lost contact with Barry. Sources close to the case say that after a routine drug screening for Barry on April 14, 2005, following his plea agreement, no agency or person was ever assigned to track him.
Barry’s lawyer, A. Scott Bolden, says his client used his monthslong free time to voluntarily enroll in a drug-treatment program at the Masjidush Shuran mosque in Ward 8. The program is not certified by CSOSA. Bolden also presented a letter at a Feb. 2 status hearing stating that Barry completed his community-service requirement at the same mosque. It’s unclear what Barry did to fulfill this condition.
Bolden says he learned several weeks before the Feb. 2 status hearing that his client had no appointed court supervisor. The typed pre-sentencing agreement designates CSOSA as the agency that would supervise Barry. But the document is amended by hand to direct the court’s Pre-Trial Services Agency to handle Barry. According to Bolden, Barry presented his pre-sentencing order to CSOSA, and staff there sent him over to Pre-Trial Services. According to Bolden, that agency also turned Barry away. “Apparently, Pre-Trial Services says they don’t conduct the kind of supervision called for in the agreement,” says Bolden. Per the court’s direction, CSOSA wasn’t involved. “They were pushing the ball back and forth to each other,” he says.
CSOSA spokesperson Leonard Sipes offered a very brief description of Barry’s status prior to the Feb. 2 hearing. “He was unsupervised,” says Sipes.
Court sources say confusion over pre-sentencing supervision is extremely rare. Leah Gurowitz, spokesperson for the D.C. Superior Court, says the Barry snafu prompted Judge Harold L. Cushenberry Jr. to reiterate the court’s policy on pre-sentencing supervision. “The presiding judge has spoken to his colleagues in the criminal division to make sure that everyone is clear that CSOSA monitors pre-sentencing agreements,” Gurowitz says.
Bolden, who is a candidate for the at-large D.C. Council seat now held by Phil Mendelson, argued on Feb. 2 that Barry should not be penalized in any way for the court’s mistake. “It is not Mr. Barry’s fault that this happened,” he says.
A court source says it would have been Bolden’s duty to inform the court if he knew Barry had not been reporting to anyone in the court system. But Bolden says he didn’t become aware of the issue until he began preparing for the status hearing. Barry, who now resides with his mother, Effi Barry, did not return calls seeking comment.
CSOSA’s Sipes says Barry is no longer awaiting sentencing without the help of a supervisor. “As of today, the court has given us the direction we sought,” says Sipes. “He is under the supervision of CSOSA.” Bolden also says Barry has enrolled in a government-approved drug-treatment program.
The court has scheduled a May 3 status hearing in the case. Bolden says that if Barry meets the conditions of his agreement, the assault charge will likely be dropped.
BRILLIANT IN HINDSIGHT
The folks at the D.C. Office of the Chief Technology Officer (OCTO) have never been shy about expounding on their brilliance. OCTO Director Suzanne Peck loves to deliver sermons on the District’s glorious march from being a government that used rotary-dial phones well into the 1990s to a city that routinely grabs national awards for its Web site.
A Feb. 23 press release takes the boasting of D.C. technological triumphs to a higher platform. The missive brags that the city is “immune” from any “fallout in the Blackberry battle.” The widely-used handheld communication device is at risk of being shut down by a much-publicized patent lawsuit. D.C. residents can rest assured, the press release suggests, that their public servants will have uninterrupted communications no matter what happens to the BlackBerry. That’s because in 2002, OCTO chose a different messaging-software solution—GoodLink. “Our Chief Technology Officer, Suzanne Peck, and her staff positioned us well by conducting a thorough investigation when they chose our messaging software technology in 2002,” Mayor Anthony A. Williams stated in the release. “They found that our requirements were best met by GoodLink. Thanks to their careful scrutiny of the options at the time, we don’t have to worry about the Blackberry software issue.”
So OCTO programmed its systems to see into the future.
Or not. Back in 2002, the legal questions about BlackBerry weren’t exactly front-page news. In fact, Rob Mancini, who evaluates technology for OCTO, says the patent battle has been a “recent consideration” in evaluating messaging technology. “It was not known at the time there would be royalty issues,” he says of the 2002 technology review. “It took on more importance about a year ago,” during a routine review of the GoodLink program. Even after the legal battle began to percolate, “it was not a big differentiator but a risk factor,” he says.
The press release accurately points out that OCTO’s evaluation of messaging technologies was focused on “feature requirements designed to ensure ease of use, user choice of devices, high reliability, strong security and cost-effective remote administration. GoodLink was the only solution that met the requirements.”
OK, now we get it. OCTO made a sound technology choice when it picked GoodLink. And it got really lucky on the patent lawsuit.
GO-GO GOING GONE
Mayoral long-shot candidate Michael Brown decided it was time to bring his campaign to a lot of folks who can’t vote.
At “DC’s First Ever Go-Go Summit,” held Feb. 24 at the Friendship Collegiate Academy Auditorium in Ward 8, Brown faced the challenge of keeping the attention of about 100 young people. A flier circulated by Brown promised some serious talk with the teens about D.C.’s signature musical genre and how it relates to their daily struggles.
The WKYS-FM van parked on the sidewalk at the front entrance to the school cleared up one detail: The cash-strapped Brown campaign was not the main attraction at the event. Radio personality Antonio the Cuban Cigar Smoker was the real headliner, even though yellow “Brown for Mayor” stickers were slapped on every kid who showed up. A flier for the summit promised that the Cigar Smoker, Brown, Big “G” from the HBO show The Wire, and others would be on hand to “share their experiences and knowledge on the music and issues that matter to us!” Brown says he was invited to serve as the moderator.
Brown managed to share his own homespun go-go memories with LL, but a widely anticipated display of musical knowledge never materialized during the preachy forum. In fact, the agenda set out by Brown focused on youth violence, education, and health.
In an interview before the event, Brown spoke about attending go-go shows with his father when he was 8 or 9 years old. His youthful musical influences included go-go godfather Chuck Brown and groups, including Mass Extinction and Rare Essence, that played at the now-defunct Maverick Room. These days, there “really is nowhere safe [for a kid] to see a show,” said Brown.
The candidate would have been wise to use that story as a stepping-off point for an audience clearly more interested in talking about music than in discussing social problems. Friendship Academy student Joseph Belton, 17, wanted to address issues more in line with the advertised theme of the summit. “I want [Brown] to know a lot of us still love go-go and that people shouldn’t try to ban it,” he said. Another unidentified 16-year-old shouted over Lil’ Kim blaring on the loudspeakers that he was “here for the music, not politics—I’m not old enough to vote!”
The lack of fertile ground for building political momentum doesn’t faze the candidate, who has consistently trailed the pack in private polls. “This isn’t just a campaign for me to find votes,” he said before the event. “We seem to be the campaign for the young people in the city.”
Brown did come through with a small history lesson for the kids, but it didn’t involve go-go lore. He reminded the audience that when Ward 8 Councilmember Barry was mayor, he set up a program that promised every young person a summer job. Brown is ready to take that now-legendary youth program one step further. “I want the summer jobs program to be year-round,” he said. —James Jones
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