Wednesday, November 11, 1998

Two Supreme Court
rulings in Starr’s favor

CHALK up two more victories for Kenneth Starr. The Supreme Court has sided with the independent counsel on two important issues. The court let stand an appeals court ruling that presidential confidant Bruce Lindsey and other White House lawyers cannot refuse to answer a federal grand jury's questions about possible criminal conduct by government officials. And the court refused to shield Secret Service officers from having to testify to grand juries about information they acquire while protecting the president.

The White House propaganda mill has spared no effort in its attempt to depict Starr as a loose cannon of a prosecutor who was trampling on civil liberties. But time and again the courts have ruled in Starr's favor and against President Clinton. The latest decisions by the nation's highest court are perhaps the most significant ones.

The decision on the lawyers upheld a ruling by an appeals court panel last July that Lindsey could not invoke the attorney-client privilege "to withhold information relating to a federal criminal offense." The court cited "the public interest in honest government and in exposing wrongdoing by government officials."

One of Clinton's most trusted advisers, Lindsey has appeared a number of times before Starr's grand jury, but refused to testify about information he claimed was protected by attorney-client privilege. The decision could end Lindsey's stonewalling unless the White House decides to claim executive privilege for his conversations with Clinton.

The Supreme Court actions were announced as the House Judiciary Committee heard conflicting testimony from law professors and historians on whether Clinton's alleged crimes constituted grounds for impeachment. It's possible that the decisions will lead to further incriminating evidence against the president, perhaps involving other matters than the Lewinsky affair.

Public opinion is opposed to impeaching Clinton on the basis of that sex-and-perjury scandal, but House Judiciary Chairman Henry Hyde feels Congress has no choice but to proceed with the inquiry. Hyde says he is "frightened for the rule of law" if Clinton is not punished.

The debate over whether Clinton's conduct meets the impeachment standard of "high crimes and misdemeanors" is interesting but there is no one standing up to defend him. House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt had it right when he called the president's actions "reprehensible." Whether Clinton survives the impeachment process is in a sense less important than the fact that he has indelibly soiled his presidency.


Drug courts

DRUG rehabilitation of nonviolent criminals has been found to be a success both nationally and in Hawaii. The Clinton administration is proposing to triple the number of drug courts, which now number 300, by the year 2000. Expansion of this alternative to incarceration could be valuable not only in dealing with Hawaii's overcrowded prison system but also in combating the cycle of drug addiction, crime and prison.

A bipartisan group of health experts called the Physician Leadership on National Drug Policy found that drug courts, which allow nonviolent offenders to undergo treatment instead of serving prison time, resulted in reduced drug abuse and rearrest rates. One survey showed only 10 percent of urine tests for those enrolled in drug courts turned up positive, compared with 31 percent of urine tests of other defendants who were under supervised probation for drug-related offenses.

Since opening its doors in January 1996, Hawaii's Drug Court has accepted 270 clients, of whom 74 have graduated and had their charges dismissed. Sixty have strayed from the program and had their original prison terms reimposed; 145 are presently in the program; and only nine have been rearrested. "It's helped a lot of people get back on track and restore their lives," says Darin Kawazoe, the program's coordinator.

National studies indicate that rearrest rates for enrollees are one-third that of offenders who did not go through drug court, a record with important economic consequences. Hawaii spends nearly $90 a day to house prison inmates, while the daily cost of treating Hawaii Drug Court clients is $14.

The success of Hawaii's Drug Court does not eliminate the need to expand the state's prison space, but it has played a modest role in keeping the prison population down. This is an effort that deserves to be continued and expanded for the good of the public and of offenders whose lives can be restored.


Veterans Day

TODAY is the 80th anniversary of the end of World War I. Originally observed as Armistice Day, it has been Veterans Day -- in honor of the veterans of all of America's wars -- for the last 44 years. But the holiday's original association with World War I should not be forgotten.

For that conflict, remembered ironically now as "the war to end all wars," the United States mustered 4.7 million men. The passing years have taken their toll on the survivors. The Department of Veterans Affairs says about 4,800 World War I veterans are still alive, but their numbers are dwindling fast.

Hawaii has some unfinished business pending for the veterans of that war. The Waikiki Natatorium, built as a memorial to them, remains in disrepair, a crumbling safety hazard and blight on the shoreline. Plans to fully restore the Natatorium have been blocked by people who use the adjoining beach and don't want to share the area with those who would be attracted to the facility.

Veterans of all wars, as well as citizens who appreciate the importance of historic preservation and water sports, should support the campaign to restore the Natatorium.

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