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Supreme Court

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We have hit the point as a society where it is near impossible to believe a definitive conclusion will be reached that will convince both sides of the political divide as to what happened between Christine Blasey Ford and Judge Brett Kavanaugh in 1982. This is not to say we did not find Blasey Ford’s testimony under oath credible, but we wish the conversation could go in a different, more productive direction on parallel tracks with the predictable political mudslinging. Believe it or not, we see this moment and conversation as far more important than a single seat on the Supreme Court bench, as mind blowing as that may be for some partisans.

The tenor of the national conversation following the hearing on the matter before the Senate Judiciary Committee last week is a perfect representation as to why people like Blasey Ford hold accusations back, sometimes for decades. As a country we need to take a step back and figure out why the knee-jerk reaction from so many when sexual assault or misconduct accusations come up is to find a reason to invalidate them. The #MeToo, #WhyIdidntreport and #TimesUp movements have moved the discussion undoubtedly in the right direction, but this week should serve as proof we still have a long way to go.

Defining sexual assault and instilling a baseline of acceptable behavior — especially in young men, but all young adults — would be an extremely healthy first step. Legally the term is defined as any unwanted sexual contact. It seems simple when phrased that way, but because of the way rites of passage and coming of age are portrayed and depicted in our society, truly hearing and understanding a partner and being conscious of someone else’s comfort in a certain situation is likely far from the minds of young people in that situation.

This should not be read as an excuse for people who cross the line into sexual assault — which is a crime — but rather a demand to be open to communication and self-reflection as a means to avoid perpetuating this type of behavior. If we can get our kids to a place of having that reaction, to look within and take up a dedication to learning from mistakes, instead of the knee-jerk deny, deny, deny, we’ll have taken a critical, if minimal, first step toward a healthier tomorrow for everyone.

The U.S. Senate used to be a body looked to for leadership, a place where Americans use their democratic right to send our very best, and most objective, neutral arbiters. Anyone who watched the hearing would scoff at that notion in the present day. We can only hope that once the dust settles on this ugly chapter that body will resume its intended function and becomes a leader in this discussion, regardless of political persuasion.

His life makes for a fascinating story even if the current spy movie is mediocre. “The Catcher Was a Spy,” tells of Morris “Moe” Berg, baseball player, and his remarkable intelligence and exploits, especially during World War II. Born in Harlem, not far from the Polo Grounds, home of the New York Giants, Berg began playing baseball at age 7. He was to be called “the brainiest guy in baseball,” and Casey Stengel, a baseball player and manager who was something of an eccentric himself, referred to him as “the strangest man ever to play baseball.”

Berg’s story, captured in Nicholas Dawidoff’s 1994 book of similar title, is also the story of the times in America in which he lived. Born in 1902, he begged to go to school at age 3 1/2. The third and youngest child of a pharmacist and a homemaker, Berg graduated from high school at 16, then Princeton magna cum laude in 1923, as an outstanding scholar-athlete playing baseball all along the way. He also grew up as an outsider, marginalized there because of modest finances and as a Jew at a time of deep bigotry. He majored in modern languages and spoke some half-a-dozen fluently, including eventually Japanese.

Upon graduation, Berg was signed to a contract by the Brooklyn Robins, soon to become the Brooklyn Dodgers and he seemed to be just so-so at bat but a good clutch hitter with a strong and accurate arm in the infield.

After that first season, Berg traveled to Paris, where he enrolled at the Sorbonne and read several newspapers each day. By January 1924, Berg was not thinking of going back to spring training to develop himself as a hitter but rather found the idea of travel irresistible and went on to tour Switzerland and Italy. When he finally did return to the United States, he was optioned off to the Minneapolis Millers of the American Association minor league. He was to play for four American League teams throughout his baseball career, primarily as a catcher, ending with the Boston Red Sox as player and then coach in 1941. “Good field, no hit,” was how Dodgers scout Mike González, characterized him. Berg distinguished himself for his putouts stealing percentage, double plays by a catcher and assists by a catcher.

However, throughout his baseball life, which he so clearly loved, he was a true Renaissance man. In between seasons, and sometimes missing the first couple of months of the new season, he studied law at Columbia University, passing the bar in 1929 and finally earning his Bachelor of Laws degree in 1930. Interestingly, he was sent with Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and a handful of other all-stars to play exhibition games with the Japanese in 1934 — Berg’s second trip there. Although certainly not of their star caliber, he spoke the language and was probably included on the squad for that reason.

While in Tokyo, he donned a kimono and pretended to bring flowers to the American ambassador’s daughter, who was a patient in the Tokyo hospital. He went up to the roof instead, and from the top of one of the tallest buildings he used his 16-mm Bell & Howell camera that he had concealed in the folds of his garb to film the city and harbor. He never did visit the daughter but he did provide American intelligence with rare and invaluable footage later on. He supposedly did this in anticipation of the war that he was sure, from his various readings and Far East travel, was coming. He went on to join the Office of Strategic Services, later the CIA; was parachuted into occupied Yugoslavia evaluating which resistance groups should get U.S. support — he chose Tito’s group; and became involved in the frenzied effort to determine if the German scientist Werner Heisenberg was close to developing the atomic bomb with orders to assassinate him if so — Berg decided not. Otherwise, he was of immense value to the U.S. as he moved throughout Europe in his dangerous and exciting life.

The former ballplayer turned down the Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor to the war effort, during his lifetime but the medal was awarded posthumously. In American history he is a mysterious footnote.

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Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia died Feb. 13, 2016. With the presidential election 269 days away, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) and his caucus set a new precedent, refusing to hold confirmation hearings or a vote on then-President Barack Obama’s (D) nominee Merrick Garland because they believed the American people were mere months away from truly having a chance to weigh in on the decision.

This week Justice Anthony Kennedy, viewed by many as the center-right fulcrum of an otherwise politically balanced bench, announced he would retire. As a result, President Donald Trump (R), with two- to six-and-a-half more years left in the White House, will get his second bite at the Supreme Court apple, having already appointed Justice Neil Gorsuch last year.

If we are to set aside the hypocrisy of Senate Republicans pledging to plow forward with the nomination and confirmation process before the midterms, jus—-t 124 days from now, we don’t think it’s too much to ask for them to consider a few things as they begin the process.

First, can our current political climate handle the nomination and appointment of a partisan justice bent on say, being the deciding vote in overturning Roe v. Wade? Yes, it would score political points with the president’s Republican base and enflame liberals even more than they already are, which seems to be one of the few pillars guiding the right. Do Republicans in Congress truly believe they don’t have a role to play in restoring some shred of compromise and unity in our politics? Would nominating a hard-line pro-life justice this close to what was already likely to be possibly as heated a campaign season our country has ever seen (outside of 2016, of course) really do anything to advance our country’s discourse to a better place than we’re in now?

Further, beyond Roe v. Wade, are Republicans comfortable with the current discourse regarding the free press and the First Amendment? Will Trump be vetting his nominee about their stance on critical issues pertaining to his own legal situation, which includes probes into his personal attorney’s alleged pay-for-play White House access business structure and a special counsel investigation into Trump’s alleged campaign ties to the Russian government and its meddling in our election? Everyone involved is innocent until proven guilty, but if the president intends to impose a litmus test on his nominee for a question like, “Can the president of the United States legally pardon himself?” that should be a red flag to anyone who claims to believe in the rule of law.

We don’t feel it’s too much to ask for Republicans to consider a nominee that could serve as a unifier in as desperate a time as any for a little compromise, even assuming they’ve made up their mind on tearing up the McConnell Rule before the proverbial ink from 2016 is even dry. Both sides like to stake claims to a mythical moral high ground. Republicans, as they cheerlead things like tearing up the Affordable Care Act and labeling the free press as the enemy of the American people, could do more to stake an actual claim to that high ground than they have since Trump burst onto the scene with a nominee in the form of an olive branch.

Highway Superintendent Glenn Jorgensen patches a pothole in the Town of Smithtown as another highway department staffer looks on. File photo by Rachel Shapiro

Smithtown Highway Superintendent Glenn Jorgensen (R) has resigned and pleaded guilty to felony and misdemeanor charges in a scheme to alter road-repaving records from last year.

Jorgensen, 63, pleaded guilty in New York State Supreme Court in Riverhead on Thursday, Oct. 15, to a felony charge of offering a false instrument for filing and a misdemeanor charge of official misconduct as part of a plea deal with the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office.

He will be sentenced on Dec. 11 to four months of jail but will serve an alternative sentence in lieu of jail of 570 hours of community service, and will receive three years probation, according to Robert Clifford, spokesman for the Suffolk County District Attorney’s office.

“This disposition compels the defendant to resign from his elected position and his admission of guilt before the court confirms the facts uncovered during the investigation,” Clifford said in a statement. “As the Superintendent of Highways Mr. Jorgensen knowingly had false information about the paving of town roads filed as an official town record, and he knowingly directed that inaccurate information be filed to make it appear as though the roadwork met state mandatory specifications.”

Vecchio’s office confirmed that Jorgensen resigned from his position as of Friday, Oct. 16.

In April, Jorgensen was charged with tampering with public records, falsifying business records, filing false records, official misconduct and grand larceny, Suffolk County District Attorney Tom Spota said. Initially, Jorgensen pleaded not guilty to the charges.

At the time, Jorgensen, of St. James, was accused of altering road construction reports and stealing a public work order for an improper repaving. He tried to conceal his approval of paving at least eight Smithtown streets in freezing temperatures last November and then directed a highway foreman to alter the record of the weather conditions done during the repaving work.

District attorney detectives found work orders for the improper repaving jobs hidden under Jorgensen’s bed at his Hope Place residence.

“State Department of Transportation construction standards dictate asphalt must not be applied to a road surface in freezing temperatures, and in fact, the town’s own engineer has said repaving in freezing weather would result in the asphalt falling apart,” Spota said in an April statement. “The repaving of a residential street doesn’t happen that often and when it does, residents are paying for a job done correctly, not a faulty repaving that will soon need pothole repair work.”

Supervisor Pat Vecchio (R) has said he felt Jorgensen should resign from his post amid the slew of accusations.

“It is a sad occurrence and I will have no comment other than I have sympathy for Mr. Jorgensen and his family,” Vecchio said in an email on Tuesday morning.

Jorgensen had also been accused of sexual harassment involving his former secretary. The town was issued a notice of claim alleging he sexually harassed her in December. The claim also alleged he had taken her out to job sites, out to eat and eventually fired her after finding out she was dating an employee of the highway department. Earlier this year, Vecchio publicly called Jorgensen out for taking his new secretary out to job sites, going against the Suffolk County Civil Service’s job description for the position.

“It seems to me that you are either not comprehending why the position exists, you have a disregard for civil service law or you are mocking the town board and the public,” Vecchio said of Jorgensen bringing his new secretary to the job site in April.

Smithtown Democratic Committee Chairman Ed Maher also called for Jorgensen’s resignation in April, and said it was an outrage that the taxpayers were funding his salary.

Jorgensen worked for the Smithtown Highway Department for 37 years, and won election for highway superintendent in 2009 and 2013.

Jorgensen’s attorney could not be reached for comment this week.

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