Previously, I wrote of my plan to introduce what I’d termed “prosecutorial budget-sharing” into the California Libertarian Party platform ( http://blogcritics.org/archives/2005/01/26/095402.php ). On February 18, 2005, the CLP’s Platform Committee convened at the LAX Sheraton
Gateway Hotel. There I proposed the following new plank to the committee:
Because a person is innocent until proven guilty, whenever any governmental entity fines, or tries to expropriate money or other property (as in civil asset forfeiture), or demands compliance to a law or regulation that a defendant feels has been misapplied or misinterpreted, then there must first be a jury trial, and the prosecutor shall be required to estimate his budget at the start of court or administrative proceedings and turn over an equal amount to the defendant to be used for the defendant’s legal defense. Whenever the prosecutor goes over budget, he shall simultaneously pay an equal amount to the defendant. If the defendant is found guilty after expending all appeals, he shall be required to refund said amounts, with interest at market rates.
During the ensuing discussion, committee member M. Carling worried that my proposal legitimized civil asset forfeiture and other laws and regulations that the CLP seeks to abolish. I countered that I merely sought to mitigate the damage done by such regulations, until their abolishment. Several members were bothered by the requirement that interest be paid. In the end, Antelope Valley’s Jason Gonella suggested that my proposal was more appropriate for the Program Committee. When others concurred, I submitted my proposal to the Program Committee, which was meeting a few rooms down the hall.
The CLP’s Platform is a somewhat utopian declaration of the party’s principles and end goals, whereas its Legislative Program is a more pragmatic list of the nuts-and-bolts policies the party hopes to advance in the near future through
The Program Committee improved my proposal’s language and resolved that it be added to the CLP Legislative Program under Section IV, as Item 6. Their resolution, passed by unanimous consent, read as follows:
Government fines, civil commitments and prosecutions can be as damaging as criminal prosecution. While in cases of criminal prosecution, the defendant is entitled to representation, no such right exists in civil cases.
To remedy this, in all cases of government civil prosecution, civil commitment, or regulatory fines, the defendant shall be entitled to representation and funding equal to that of the prosecuting agency’s, to be paid from the agency’s budget.
But their resolution still required approval by the convention delegates. Due to time constraints, however, delegates were almost denied the opportunity to vote on the matter. In that case, the resolution would have automatically died.
One reason for the convention’s time constraints was that elections for CLP officers took so long. This needn’t have been so. Candidates for Northern Vice Chair, Secretary, and Treasurer ran unopposed. For each of these elections, CLP Chair Aaron Starr made a motion for delegates to elect these candidates “by acclimation,” meaning that the body need only say “Aye” and be done with it. But in each case, because San Francisco’s Starchild objected (“None Of The Above” is an option in all libertarian elections), delegates were required to use paper balloting for unopposed seats. Thus, the convention lost at least a half hour electing unopposed candidates.
Consideration of the Platform Committee Report had been scheduled for 2:20 to 3:45 p.m., followed by the Program Committee Report from 3:45 to 4:45. However, the elections lasted until about 4:15, consuming the Platform Committee’s time. Fresno County Chair Rodney Austin moved that delegates extend convention business past the scheduled 5 p.m. closing. Starr countered that they only had the Sheraton ballroom until five. So Austin made a second motion that the remaining time be split between the Platform and Program Committee Reports. His motion passed.
Three of the Platform Committee’s six resolutions were considered during this newly allotted time. My resolution on the Program Report was fifth among seven items, so it appeared that we’d run out of time before the delegates could reach it. However, L.A.-Westside Chair Bob Weber made a motion for my proposal to be moved to the top of the Program Report. His motion passed. In the ensuing debate, Santa Barbara County Chair B.J. Wagener said that though he “loved” my proposal, he worried that it was so out there, its inclusion would make the CLP appear to be nuts. Weber and San Luis Obispo Chair Gail Lightfoot defended my proposal. Both had served on the Program Committee, and both had just been elected to the Judicial Committee.
A few minutes before five, on Sunday, February 20, the CLP convention delegates passed my program proposal, with only time enough for one other program item to be considered before the clock called the convention to a halt.
Some delegates grumbled about Starchild’s time-consuming demands for paper balloting on unopposed elections, but he told me in his defense, “I had asked the Chair to allow us to take up other matters while votes were counted, and he refused. Furthermore, about ten or fifteen minutes after the business session concluded, someone came in and showed a film, which a couple dozen of us watched. An hour or so later, the hotel staff had still made no move to clean the room. We should have used the time during balloting, and we should have continued the session until there was some sign the hotel wanted us to vacate.
“People are often reluctant to visibly oppose the group or particular individuals, especially when those individuals are present. You will often get a different result from a voice vote than from a secret ballot. As part of the LPC’s dissident faction, I wanted to see those ‘None Of The Above’ votes formally recorded.”
Although the CLP does not currently have any elected state legislators to advance its Legislative Program, its drafting of one is not a pointless exercise. The CLP’s Program, like its Platform, provides issues for the party’s candidates to run on. Additionally, program items can still be advanced by the party through California’s initiative and referendum process.
Thomas M. Sipos is Vice Chair of the CLP’s L.A.-Westside Region. He can be contacted through his website: http://www.CommunistVampires.com.