On Top? It's Not Rape, and Full-service Journalism

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Courts, Crime

On Top? It's Not Rape
Houston judge questions whether victim was raped

By Richard Connelly

Newly elected judge Kevin Fine isn't your typical jurist — he's been frank and outspoken about his missteps in life, which include a cocaine addiction.

Now he finds himself dealing with another alleged misstep — accusations that he told a rape victim in his court that he didn't believe she was raped because she was "on top" during the act.

There are no transcripts yet to the July 31 hearing, which came after the defendant was convicted and before he was sentenced. Transcripts are being prepared for appeals. But observers in the courtroom have spread word of the alleged comment, and it will likely come up in the appellate process.

A woman can't be raped if she's on top? That will be difficult to explain away.

Fine tells Hair Balls he can't comment on the case because it's still pending, but he did offer a general take on events. He said the method he used in questioning some of the evidence was "incorrect," and it seems from his answer that his doubts were based on more than just the "on top" issue.

We'll print his response here in full: "The manner in which I went about garnering answers to my questions that I had, and that I needed answered prior to assessing appropriate punishment for the defendant, was incorrect. I should not have gone about it in the manner in which I went about it.

"In other words, I should not — probably the better method would have been to call counsel into chambers and express my concerns directly to them, demonstrating all of the physical evidence that I was looking at that did not match what the complainant had to say during [the] guilt/innocence and during [the] punishment [phases of the trial].

"And then let them flesh it out with the witness, rather than me question the witness, because of the appearance that I didn't believe the witness, or was picking on the witness, which I don't think a judge should do. Although in certain circumstances maybe it's appropriate.

"I think in light of the nature of the offense the better means would have been to call counsel for both sides into chambers, express my concerns, explain my concerns based on the evidence I had in front of me — and by that I mean the physical evidence — and then let them flesh it out."

As to whether the concerns included the woman being on top, as others in the courtroom have alleged, Fine said he couldn't comment.

That will be answered whenever the transcripts are released; still, it's clear that something unusual went on that day.

The defendant was reportedly sentenced to 25 years, which seems to indicate Fine considered his doubts addressed. (The defendant's newly appointed appellate attorney tells Hair Balls the 25 years "sounds right," in terms of being what Fine assessed, but he hasn't had time to look at the case.)
_____________________

Spaced City

One Way to Get A Quote
Full-service journalism from the CHRON

By Richard Connelly

All the recent BARC brouhaha brought us an interesting bit of e-mail correspondence, forwarded to us from a chain that began with a Houston Chronicle reporter.

Rebecca Maitland, a freelancer who writes occasionally for the Chron's Fort Bend zoned edition, was doing a story on animal shelters in that area. Here's the e-mail she sent to one official, with the name of the recipient and the relevant organization omitted. (The stuff in brackets is what was removed by the person who forwarded it to us; the underscored lines, for filling in the blanks, are in the original.)

"Hi [volunteer's name], As you know I'm a reporter and I am working on an article that I have to turn in tomorrow on the over population of unwanted animals, which I suggested and was approved. However, right now it was only approved for the Fort Bend County area. I would like some quotes from [animal rescue group] and here they are- this is not the whole article just the quotes I need - can I use your name or can you direct me somewhere?:

"'Animals and people have one thing in common, and that is all they want is to be loved and cared for,' said _____ [animal rescue group] animal rescue volunteer.

"One of the saddest aspects of this, according to _________, is some pet owners drop their animals off in subdivisions, along highways, or in parking lots hoping someone will find them and take them in.

"'With all of the shelters and rescue groups full, many just toss their pets out the windows. But what people do not understand is these animals stay where they were dropped off, waiting for their owners to come back and get them. While they wait, these animals often starve, are hit by cars or are attacked by wildlife or other stray animals. We beg people not to do this, please try to find some other alternative,' _____ ______ said.

"'But most of all, please understand that pets are people too, with the same emotions and needs that we all have. So before you cut your pets out of your life, consider other options, options that could allow the pet to stay or a chance to find a good home,' ________ said."

Once again in regards to the Chronicle, we find ourselves asking WTF?

Reporters sometimes call or e-mail looking for sources who will say something specific — "Hey, I need someone to tell me that it's this high-pressure system that's responsible for the heat wave," or something like that — but we have to admit we've never seen the full-service idea of providing paragraph-long quotes and just asking for a name to attach to them.

Maitland has a rather rambling explanation, which is that she talked to volunteers at a shelter where she works (another red flag: doing a story on a place you work at), and none of them wanted to be quoted. So she took the gist of what they had said and tried to find a spokesperson.

"I didn't make the quotes up," she tells Hair Balls. "I had all these quotes and I went to look for a supervisor who would be able to talk to me."

Oooookay.

Hey, the zoned edition of any paper can be staffed with stringers who may not be as well versed in journalistic practices as career reporters are. So we talked to Maitland's editor, Karen Zurawski.

Zurawski gave the same explanation as Maitland. "She was a volunteer with the organization and she talked to some of the other volunteers and they didn't want to be quoted," Zurawski told us. "And so she took the quotes that she thought would be best-used in her story and sent it to somebody who was in a position to speak on behalf of the agency."

Zurawski said a spokesperson never got back to Maitland, so the story — submitted but not yet published — does not include anything from the group for whom she volunteers.

Frankly, we were expecting Maitland's editor to be a bit aggrieved and follow up with something like, "Of course that's not the way to go about it," but instead there was silence.

So we had to ask: "Umm, yeah, that's why it all seemed odd to me, that a) she'd be writing a news story about the organization she's a part of, but also I've never heard of furnishing complete quotes and saying, 'Can I have you say this?'"

To which Zurawski replied: "She got the quotes from volunteers who did not want to be quoted and so what she said is she sent that to someone who was a spokesperson for the agency and asked if anybody would be able to comment or use those quotes and she got no response. I have never done this before, so I don't know. As far as I know, she doesn't write for us very often."

Eventually, after some prodding from us, Zurawski admitted what Maitland had done was "not an acceptable practice."

So hey, we at least got the Chron on the record saying that. Although that, too, was a struggle. At the end of the conversation — after we had identified ourselves as a reporter, after we had e-mailed her as a reporter, and she's an editor who understands journalism rules, you'd think — she said, "You're not going to quote me, are you?"

Zoned editions. You gotta love them.

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