Tuesday, October 30, 2018

QUORA QUESTION: How many major battles would a regular soldier usually fight in the American Civil War?

Sunday, October 28, 2018

QUORA QUESTION: As a lawyer, what is the worst behavior by a client you’ve ever witnessed?

Friday, October 26, 2018



My latest book is nearing publication. and I am quite happy about how things are going with it. Unlike some previous publishers I've worked with, Kent State University Press did not ask for my input on cover design, which is fine with me. Most other publishers who have asked completely ignored my suggestions. I think KSU Press did a jam-up job of designing the cover. It is period appropriate, and it includes the one thing that I thought should go on the cover, a depiction of the murder weapon. Of course, I had no idea how to depict the poisoned capsule or what else to put on the cover.

Another thing that KSU Press did was change my title without asking me about it. This is completely alright with me, too. Other publishers have involved me in the tedious process of changing my working title, and it was a gigantic pain in the neck. Besides, KSU Press came up with a far better title than the one I had given the book. Six Capsules: The Carlyle Harris Murder Case just isn't as good as Six Capsules: The Gilded Age Murder of Helen Potts.

The third thing I really like about what KSU has done comes in pricing. It's more important to me that as many people as possible can afford to buy a copy than it is to make money from sales. The modest price of the book compared to most of my previous books is a definite plus.

The publication date is mid-May of next year, but you can pre-order it on Amazon and Barnes and Noble now. The book hasn't been on the Amazon website long, but it is already climbing the charts.

What's the book about, besides the murder of a beautiful young lady? This Annotated Table of Contents can give you an idea without giving away too much.


Chapter 1: The Sleep of Morpheus—Describes how Helen Potts died from morphine poisoning at the Comstock School in New York City, and how suspicion immediately fell upon her supposed friend, medical student Carlyle Harris.

Chapter 2: The Secret Marriage—Tells how Harris met and became infatuated with Helen and traces their romance up to and through their contracting a secret marriage.

Chapter 3: The Sacred Marriage—Describes how Helen’s mother learned of the secret marriage and began pressuring Harris to enter into a “sacred [public] marriage” with Helen, a move which Harris vehemently opposed. 

Chapter 4: A World of Concern for Harris—Recounts the aftermath of Helen’s death: the coroner’s botched investigation and inquest, the media firestorm, Harris’s expulsion from medical school, and the bringing of charges against Harris with the District Attorney.

Chapter 5: Working Up a Case on Harris—Describes how Assistant District Attorneys Francis Wellman and Charles Simms reassembled the broken pieces of the coroner’s botched investigation and were able to amass enough evidence to indict Harris.

Chapter 6: Wellman States His Case Against Harris—Analyzes and critiques Wellman’s opening statement.

Chapter 7: The Prosecution Case Week One—Describes the course of the trial through the first week. Critiques both the prosecution’s presentation and the defense put up by Harris's attorneys,  William Travers Jerome and John Taylor.

Chapter 8: The Prosecution Case Week Two—Describes the course of the trial through the second week. Continues the critiques of both the prosecution’s presentation and Harris's defense.

Chapter 9: The Defense Case Day One—Describes how the defense suffered when Wellman's cross-examination undermined their star witness.

Chapter 10: The Defense Case Day Two—Tells of the efforts of the defense to make up the ground lost on the first day of the defense case.

Chapter 11: Taylor Sums Up—Analyzes and critiques defense attorney Taylor’s final argument.

Chapter 12: Wellman Sums Up—Analyzes and critiques prosecutor Wellman’s final argument. Describes the reaction to the verdict.

Chapter 13: New Evidence?—Tells how a new defense lawyer, William Howe, took over the post-conviction litigation and marshaled a host of witnesses who stood ready to testify that Helen Potts was a morphine addict who had killed herself with an accidental overdose.

Chapter 14: The Rains Commission—Describes Howe’s media campaign to pressure Governor Roswell P. Flower into reopening the case. Tells how Flower submitted the case to a commissioner to give him recommendations on how to proceed with the case.

Chapter 15: The Curtain Falls—Tells the aftermath of Commissioner Raines's written report to the governor.

Epilog: The Carlyle Harris Case Today—Discusses how the Harris case might play out today in a modern courtroom with a modern forensic investigation. 

Thursday, October 25, 2018


Wednesday, October 24, 2018


I just got in a copy of an advertising flyer from Southern Illinois University Press. It highlighted some of their newer books on Lincoln, and Prairie Defender was one of the books included, along with an excerpt from a review of the book published in the Midwest Book Review. Here is the entry for Prairie Defender:

ADDENDUM: After making the above post, I found the Midwest Book Review online and found the full text of the review. Here it is:

Synopsis: According to conventional wisdom, Abraham Lincoln spent most of his law career collecting debt and representing railroads, and this focus made him inept at defending clients in homicide cases. "Prairie Defender: The Murder Trials of Abraham Lincoln" is an unprecedented study of Lincoln's criminal cases, in which George Dekle (who worked as an assistant state attorney in the Third Judicial Circuit of Florida, where he prosecuted hundreds of homicide cases, and for the past ten years he served as the director of the prosecution clinic at the University of Florida Law School) disproves these popular notions, showing that Lincoln was first and foremost a trial lawyer. Through careful examination of Lincoln's homicide cases and evaluation of his legal skills, Dekle demonstrates that criminal law was an important part of Lincoln's practice, and that he was quite capable of defending people accused of murder, trying approximately one such case per year. After more than 150 years it is remarkable that there is still more to be discovered and written about the life and accomplishments of Abraham Lincoln.

Critique: "Prairie Defender" is an impressively researched, exceptionally well written, informatively organized and presented work of seminal scholarship. The result is a unique and singular study that will prove to be an outstanding and appreciated contribution to community and academic library 19th Century American History collections in general, and Abraham Lincoln supplemental studies reading lists in particular. Highly recommended.


Saturday, October 20, 2018



Friday, October 19, 2018


I have finally forced myself to read the full text of the 12 proposed constitutional amendments, an exercise which I highly recommend. You can access the full text of all the amendments HERE. 

After bringing to bear the full weight of my limited expertise on the amendments, here's what I think:


[PROPOSAL 1] BALLOT TITLE: Increased Homestead Property Tax Exemption
BALLOT SUMMARY: Proposing an amendment to the State Constitution to increase the homestead exemption by exempting the assessed valuation of homestead property greater than $100,000 and up to $125,000 for all levies other than school district levies. The amendment shall take effect January 1, 2019.
MY TAKE: The wording of the amendment is so sloppy that the new language saying owners can’t be taxed on value over $100,000, which is supposed to be applied only to special assessments, looks like it can be applied to all property taxes, greatly reducing tax revenues. If you diagram the sentence, you can’t tell whether the $100,000 cap applies only to special assessments or to all property taxes.

[PROPOSAL 2] BALLOT TITLE: Limitations on Property Tax Assessments
BALLOT SUMMARY: Proposing an amendment to the State Constitution to permanently retain provisions currently in effect, which limit property tax assessment increases on specified nonhomestead real property, except for school district taxes, to 10 percent each year. If approved, the amendment removes the scheduled repeal of such provisions in 2019 and shall take effect January 1, 2019.
MY TAKE: Looks benign on its face, but I’m no property lawyer.

[PROPOSAL 3] BALLOT TITLE: Voter Control of Gambling in Florida
BALLOT SUMMARY: This amendment ensures that Florida voters shall have the exclusive right to decide whether to authorize casino gambling by requiring that in order for casino gambling to be authorized under Florida law, it must be approved by Florida voters pursuant to Article XI, Section 3 of the Florida Constitution. Affects articles X and XI. Defines casino gambling and clarifies that this amendment does not conflict with federal law regarding state/ tribal compacts.
FINANCIAL IMPACT STATEMENT: The amendment’s impact on state and local government revenues and costs, if any, cannot be determined at this time because of its unknown effect on gambling operations that have not been approved by voters through a constitutional amendment proposed by a citizens’ initiative petition process.
MY TAKE: This provision, which the Financial Impact Statement admits, will have unpredictable and incalculable effects on the state’s economy. It essentially provides for a potential Pandora's Box creating a “wild West” for casino gambling, making it possible for every county in the state to vote in casinos. Imagine a state with 67 casinos, one in each county. A visit to Atlantic City, Reno Nevada, or any Mississippi riverboat casino, and an inspection of the depressed economy outside the casino can give you pause to think. Whether the entire state should be covered up with casinos or the number should be limited is a decision best made on a statewide basis by the legislature and governor.

[PROPOSAL 4] BALLOT TITLE: Voting Restoration Amendment
BALLOT SUMMARY: This amendment restores the voting rights of Floridians with felony convictions after they complete all terms of their sentence including parole or probation. The amendment would not apply to those convicted of murder or sexual offenses, who would continue to be permanently barred from voting unless the Governor and Cabinet vote to restore their voting rights on a case by case basis.
MY TAKE: Many felonies are so trivial in nature that they should be misdemeanors, like the felony of lassoing a horse by its leg. Judicious restoration of the right to vote is a good idea, but they should have expanded the list of disqualification to register beyond merely murderers and sex offenders. They, at the very least, should have expanded the list of disqualifications to violent felony offenders who used firearms.

[PROPOSAL 5] BALLOT TITLE: Supermajority Vote Required to Impose, Authorize, or Raise State Taxes or Fees
BALLOT SUMMARY: Prohibits the legislature from imposing, authorizing, or raising a state tax or fee except through legislation approved by a two-thirds vote of each house of the legislature in a bill containing no other subject. This proposal does not authorize a state tax or fee otherwise prohibited by the Constitution and does not apply to fees or taxes imposed or authorized to be imposed by a county, municipality, school board, or special district.
MY TAKE: This looks like a recipe for legislative paralysis.

[PROPOSAL 6] BALLOT TITLE: Rights of Crime Victims; Judges
BALLOT SUMMARY: Creates constitutional rights for victims of crime; requires courts to facilitate victims’ rights; authorizes victims to enforce their rights throughout criminal and juvenile justice processes. Requires judges and hearing officers to independently interpret statutes and rules rather than deferring to government agency’s interpretation. Raises mandatory retirement age of state justices and judges from seventy to seventy-five years; deletes authorization to complete judicial term if one-half of term has been served by retirement age.
FINANCIAL IMPACT: [None listed, but potentially catastrophic].
MY TAKE: The vast majority of these rights are already in place. See Florida Statutes Chapter 960; Florida Statue §§ 39.906, 92.55, 415.1034, 741.2902, 741.313, 794.052, and 985.036, to name a few. The danger here is it appears to open the possibility for the victim to become a party to the prosecution, further mucking up and running up the cost of an already mucked-up, costly criminal justice system.
The Trojan Horse here is raising the age of mandatory retirement for judges from 70 to 75. Is that good or bad? Many judges are sharp as a tack at ages far above 70. But many judges far younger than 70 have lost the mental acuity to sit on the bench.

[PROPOSAL 7] BALLOT TITLE: First Responder and Military Member Survivor Benefits; Public Colleges and Universities
BALLOT SUMMARY: Grants mandatory payment of death benefits and waiver of certain educational expenses to qualifying survivors of certain first responders and military members who die performing official duties. Requires supermajority votes by university trustees and state university system board of governors to raise or impose all legislatively authorized fees if law requires approval by those bodies. Establishes existing state college system as constitutional entity; provides governance structure.
MY TAKE: The benefit of helping survivors of first responders is the bait, but the meddling with the university system is the Trojan Horse.
Why aren’t these provisions enacted as statutes? The Constitution is not supposed to be a statute book. Is the legislature dodging its responsibility to make tough decisions?

[PROPOSAL 8] Removed from ballot by the Supreme Court.

[PROPOSAL 9] BALLOT TITLE: Prohibits Offshore Oil and Gas Drilling; Prohibits Vaping in Enclosed Indoor Workplaces
BALLOT SUMMARY: Prohibits drilling for the exploration or extraction of oil and natural gas beneath all state-owned waters between the mean high-water line and the state’s outermost territorial boundaries. Adds use of vapor-generating electronic devices to current prohibition of tobacco smoking in enclosed indoor workplaces with exceptions; permits more restrictive local vapor ordinances.
MY TAKE: Anti-vaping provision seems ok, but you’ve got to vote to cripple the state’s economy by preventing offshore drilling for oil and natural gas. Anti-vaping provision could be handled by statute.

[PROPOSAL 10] BALLOT TITLE: State and Local Government Structure and Operation
BALLOT SUMMARY: Requires legislature to retain department of veterans’ affairs. Ensures election of sheriffs, property appraisers, supervisors of elections, tax collectors, and clerks of court in all counties; removes county charters’ ability to abolish, change term, transfer duties, or eliminate election of these offices. Changes annual legislative session commencement date in even- numbered years from March to January; removes legislature’s authorization to fix another date. Creates office of domestic security and counterterrorism within department of law enforcement.
MY TAKE: Why can’t these issues be addressed by statute? Is the legislature dodging its responsibility to make tough decisions?

[PROPOSAL 11] BALLOT TITLE: Property Rights; Removal of Obsolete Provision; Criminal Statutes
BALLOT SUMMARY: Removes discriminatory language related to real property rights. Removes obsolete language repealed by voters. Deletes provision that amendment of a criminal statute will not affect prosecution or penalties for a crime committed before the amendment; retains current provision allowing prosecution of a crime committed before the repeal of a criminal statute.
MY TAKE: Clears the way for [illegal immigrants] [undocumented aliens] (chose the term which most closely aligns with where you are on the political spectrum) to acquire, own, and transfer real property. Under these provisions, Osama bin Laden could have become a proud Florida real estate owner.

[PROPOSAL 12] BALLOT TITLE: Lobbying and Abuse of Office by Public Officers
BALLOT SUMMARY: Expands current restrictions on lobbying for compensation by former public officers; creates restrictions on lobbying for compensation by serving public officers and former justices and judges; provides exceptions; prohibits abuse of a public position by public officers and employees to obtain a personal benefit.
MY TAKE: Seems benign enough, but what do I know about lobbying?

BALLOT SUMMARY: Phases out commercial dog racing in connection with wagering by 2020. Other gaming activities are not affected.
MY TAKE: Outlawing dog racing can be done without a constitutional amendment. There’s no constitutional provision outlawing dogfighting or cockfighting, but they’re both very much against the law in Florida due to statutory enactments. Check out Florida Statutes Chapter 828.
The Trojan Horse here is the totally unnecessary language in the proposed amendment: “The humane treatment of animals is a fundamental value of the people of the State of Florida,” Take that language and mix in Florida Statute § 828.12 (Cruelty to Animals), and you can argue that hunting and fishing are now cruelty to animals.