Monday, March 21, 2005

Walking With Baugh

by F. T. Rea

Like successful lawyers can sometimes be, David P. Baugh is not afraid to be garrulous, even galling, when he thinks something important is at stake. In a courtroom he’s a tough customer, yet, Baugh is also a bit of a dreamer, who calls the Constitution is his “religion.”

Consequently, where others saw only indefensible evil, Baugh recognized chances to shore up a basic principle he says he cherishes -- in the USA everyone is entitled to a fair trial. To make that talk into more -- a walk -- at times Baugh has represented notorious clients, charged with heinous high-profile crimes. “Most lawyers don’t get the opportunity to take on such cases,” said Baugh in his roomy office on Cherry Street in Oregon Hill. “Criminal lawyers don’t represent people; we represent a set of principles.”

By “such cases,” no doubt, Baugh was referring to two of his clients, in particular. In 1999 there was the unrepentant cross-burning Ku Klux Klan official, Barry E. Black, of Johnstown, Pennsylvania. Then there was Mohamed Rashed Daoud al-‘Owhali, card-carrying follower of Osama bin Laden. For his role in the 1998 bombing of the American embassy in Kenya al-‘Owhali received a life sentence in 2001, supposedly, with no chance of release.

In pursuit of taking stands Baugh has served a little time (five days for his 1991 courthouse scuffle with then-Commonwealth’s Attorney Joe Morrissey) and he has served on the Richmond School Board. I met Baugh shortly after he began his law practice in Richmond in 1983. Over the years talking with him about politics has always been interesting, because he is not the least bit shy about saying what he thinks, off the top of his head.

During the interview that preceded the Q and A section below a new aspect of Baugh was revealed to me. It was a side of him I hadn’t seen before -- the proud son, with big shoes to fill. His father, Howard L. Baugh (who grew up in Petersburg), was one of the legendary Tuskegee Airmen, who flew P-40s and P-51s in World War II.

The unpracticed warmth in the son’s voice, as he spoke of his father’s military adventures and the medal, France’s Legion of Honor, that was bestowed upon him in a ceremony in Paris last summer, underlined his adoration for his father. “He was always my hero,” said Baugh.

SLANT: As men you had to work with how difficult were Black and al-‘Owhali? Were they in any way similar?

BAUGH: Mr. Black and Mr. al-‘Owhali were zealots, persons driven by a cause. Both were very polite and gentlemanly. There was an initial phase of distrust, but that is to be expected. Due to the nature of the defense, I did not have to work with Mr. Black. The facts were set and uncontested. The sole reason for the trial was to make a record from which to appeal and challenge the statute. With al-Owhali -- a death case -- there was much more work and the need to get the jury to understand the defendant’s perspective to assess the morality, or immorality, of his actions.

S: To prepare for the al-‘Owhali case what did you do beyond gathering facts, to better understand your client’s mindset, and al-Qaida’s motives and its way of operating?

B: For the al-‘Owhali case I tried to read the Koran. Impossible! I did read history books, a lot of Internet information from that area and a wonderful book, “Teach Yourself Islam,” from a woman in England. This 250-page book exposed me to my ignorance and the general ignorance of the West, concerning this religion. When I understood these things I could understand the framework upon which my client’s logic was laid.

S: What does the general public in this country need to better understand about al-Qaida’s nature?

B: In [al-‘Owhali’s] trial, Al-Fadl [a former member of al-Qaida] testified: ‘You cannot understand al-Qaida unless you understand Islam. We have more people willing to martyr themselves than we have targets.

One of the realities of democracy is the need for a well-educated and informed population. [In America] news programs are a collection of sound bites, and the news is slanted. Everyone concerned with the preservation of the world should spend some time learning about Islam and the truth about it.

S: What’s your stand on the military tribunals, rather than trials, for the Guantanamo detainees?

B: The entire policy reminds me of a lousy Nazi movie and [it] reflects a lack of faith in the brilliant philosophy of our constitution -- which is not merely a list of rules, but more accurately, our morality, our moral rudder which guides us and who we are.

S: What’s your reaction to the call for Constitutional amendments to ban same-sex marriages and flag-burning?

B: The proposed same-sex marriage ban and flag-burning amendments would undermine the constitution from within. The sole purpose of the bill of rights is to protect us from our government and the majority of ourselves. When the majority and the government suggest amending to limit rights, rather than expand rights, it should be viewed with great suspicion.

S: Regarding Virginia’s laws and practices, what needs to be changed right away?

B: Virginia needs to be more inclusive. The laws preventing full restoration of convicted felons need changing. These laws are not odd when one considers Virginia’s history of trying to limit the voting base to property owners and whites.

S: Finally, regarding politics, are there any more runs for political office in you?

B: I was on the school board and lost reelection. I still feel that the school system is the key to the resolution of the nation’s woes. Democracy requires a well educated and informed populace. The quality of students being graduated from America’s schools is pitiful, by and large. Basic information is not known to most and information which is not directly related to some paycheck is deemed unnecessary.

If I could spend more time in Richmond, instead of following my practice around the country, I would run for that office again. We cannot make all parents good parents. Therefore [at school] we must expose younger children to that to which they should be exposed. We need to shape a new perspective.

-- 30 --

Thursday, March 17, 2005

SitCons and Stupors

by F. T. Rea

First they stand for this, oops, then they don’t. Then they're opposing that, uh oh, then they won’t. Perhaps the ultra-modern conservatives, or “neocons,” as some call them, would be more aptly referred to as “situational conservatives.” Forget about wishy-washy liberals, today’s brand of conservative is as moody as a chameleon sliding across a checkerboard.

And, now those same nu-style conservatives have climbed down from their moral high-horse, stepped over their obstreperous calls for less government intrusion in life, to insinuate themselves into yet another private situation. Thus, the nation is knee-deep in the story of poor Terri Schiavo, 41, the comatose woman down in Florida with the frozen gasping expression since 1990, whose family has been shanghaied by political goons.

Willing, or not, Shiavo’s husband and parents have become players in a game being dominated by an Orwellian White House propaganda machine, which has become indistinguishable from the so-called fourth estate.

Rather than argue to support either side of the Schiavo case, all I want to do is ask how anyone can say they oppose same-sex marriages -- because to allow for such unions undermines the traditional concept of marriage -- and then flip-flop to support Shiavo’s parents effort to trump the voice of her husband.

Isn’t one spouse’s right/duty to speak for the other -- in times when it’s called for -- at the center of our collective understanding of what marriage has meant? So, unless there’s an indication of malfeasance on the husband’s part, how can anyone see what opportunists are up to in this business, as being “pro-family values,” or the least bit “conservative?”

But, I suppose folks who like to claim they are conservative on fiscal matters, then switch into stupor mode -- so they can believe that President Bush’s radical tax policies and his bumbling adventures in Iraq and environs are actually “fiscally conservative” moves -- might just believe anything. Anything!

The Schiavo battle is hardly about morality. No. Neither was the similar Hugh Finn case, here in Virginia, on former-governor Jim Gilmore’s watch. And, what of dignity? Does "dignity" appear on the necocons’ up-to-date list of that which is worthwhile?
-- 30 --

Wednesday, March 09, 2005


For readers interested in the history of the neoconservative movement in America this piece by Brian Giles may fill in some blanks:

"...The term 'neoconservative' makes less and less sense the more it is explored. Conservatism is based on preserving the status quo and opposing progressive changes, but the neocons were radicals at heart, defying the very meaning of 'conservative.'"

Surprisingly, in the 1960s, Richmond’s own Supreme Court Justice, the late Lewis F. Powell, Jr., played a role in the story, according to Giles. Read the story in the Weekly Dig: The Best Little Paper in Boston.