Stephanie Mencimer

Stephanie Mencimer

Reporter

Stephanie works in Mother Jones' Washington bureau. A Utah native and graduate of a crappy public university not worth mentioning, she has spent the last year hanging out with angry white people who occasionally don tricorne hats and come to lunch meetings heavily armed.

Full Bio | Get my RSS |

Stephanie covers legal affairs and domestic policy in Mother Jones' Washington bureau. She is the author of Blocking the Courthouse Door: How the Republican Party and Its Corporate Allies Are Taking Away Your Right to Sue. A contributing editor of the Washington Monthly, a former investigative reporter at the Washington Post, and a senior writer at the Washington City Paper, she was nominated for a National Magazine Award in 2004 for a Washington Monthly article about myths surrounding the medical malpractice system. In 2000, she won the Harry Chapin Media award for reporting on poverty and hunger, and her 2010 story in Mother Jones of the collapse of the welfare system in Georgia and elsewhere won a Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

This Is How The Right Will Try to Destroy Chris Christie

| Wed Jul. 16, 2014 6:00 AM EDT
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie (R)

This week, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is crisscrossing Iowa. Officially, the visit is a fundraising trip tied to his side job as chairman of the Republican Governors Association. But like most any big-time politician choosing to spend some of the summer in the first caucus state, the visit is drawing the kind of speculation—and attacks—befitting a potential presidential contender.

Take the Judicial Crisis Network, which has seized the chance to target him with online ads and a website criticizing him for failing to turn the New Jersey Supreme Court into a bastion of right-wing judicial activism. JCN has established itself as significant player in judicial nomination fights and elections over the past several years, and has strong ties to conservative factions that don't trust the governor's record on social issues—and who would prefer a 2016 nominee more in line with the evangelical strain of the GOP.

The online ads take Christie to task for reappointing—gasp!—a Democrat as the chief justice of the state's supreme court, and criticize him for failing to live up to earlier campaign promises to remake the court as a conservative body.

The gripes about Christie's judicial appointments are pretty bogus. He's a Republican governor of a democratic state, and he's been thwarted again and again in his attempts to install conservatives on the high court: only three of his six nominees have been able to get past the Democratic controlled state legislature's judiciary committee. One of those nominees only got through because Christie agreed to a deal where he re-nominated the aforementioned sitting chief justice, a Democrat.

In a response to the ads, one of Christie's top advisers has argued that JCN is a Johnny-come-lately to New Jersey's nomination battles, suggesting that they don't really care about the composition of the court—but care plenty about dissing Christie. "This group has been noticeably absent from any judicial fight we've had in New Jersey, showing up only to criticize after the fights are over," Mike DuHaime said in a CNN appearance.

As DuHaime's complaint suggests, the Judicial Crisis Network's campaign is likely just another shot across the bow by social conservatives who think Christie is too liberal on issues like gay marriage and abortion, and don't want to see him become the GOP nominee for president in 2016. Indeed, the people behind the organization seem like just the sort who would much rather see a President Rick Santorum than a President Christie.

The JCN was founded by Gary Marx, who wooed family values voters for the 2004 Bush-Cheney campaign, organizing church-sponsored voter drives in Ohio. According to Right Wing Watch, he was encouraged to start the organization, originally called the Judicial Confirmation Network, by Jay Sekulow, a veteran Christian soldier. As president of the American Center for Law and Justice, Sekulow has litigated numerous church-state cases before the US Supreme Court, including a recent one that allowed a Utah park to keep a Ten Commandments statute installed.

In 2004, Marx joined with Wendy Long, a former clerk for US Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, to set up the Judicial Confirmation Network to bolster President Bush's efforts to install staunch social conservatives on the federal bench. When Obama was elected, the group changed its name and focus to blocking the new president's nominees. (Marx went on to spend three years as executive director of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, a conservative evangelical group founded by Ralph Reed.* Long left the JCN in 2012 to pursue an unsuccessful GOP Senate campaign against New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, a Democrat.)

JCN also has close ties to the anti-gay marriage movement, sharing a treasurer with the National Organization for Marriage. Indeed, in a piece published this week by the National Review Online in coordination with the campaign bashing Christie's judges, the Judicial Crisis Network's current director, Carrie Severino, wrote that Christie's "conservative" justices took part in the court's unanimous decision last year to allow same-sex marriage in New Jersey. She also contends that Christie's most recent nominee has a record of being pro-choice. Severino—who is also a former Thomas clerk—concludes, "If these are Christie's conservative nominees, then Christie's definition of a conservative sounds an awful lot like a liberal."

Christie is likely to see similar attacks as he makes further steps towards a 2016 campaign after the ignominy of Bridgegate. He'll be in New Hampshire later this month.

Correction: The original version of this article incorrectly stated that Gary Marx is currently the head of the Faith and Freedom Coalition. Marx left that post in December 2013 and now runs a political consulting firm, Madison Strategies.

Is Montana More Corrupt Than Miami?

| Wed Jul. 9, 2014 12:44 PM EDT

For such a sparsely populated state, Montana has managed to generate some outsize headlines lately. There's the GOP Senate candidate who made news by suggesting that creationism should be taught in public schools. Then there's Missoula's reputation as the "rape capital" of the world, thanks to, among other things, serious allegations of sexual assault committed by University of Montana football players. And continuing that theme, there's also the Justice Department's investigation of the Missoula County Attorney's office alleging that prosecutors had been systematically discriminating against female sexual-abuse victims.

Now comes new data showing that Montana is leading the country in public corruption prosecutions, suggesting that the state's reputation for graft (dating back to the days of the Copper Kings) hasn't changed much. Clocking in with 18 active cases, the federal judicial district of Montana has had more public corruption prosecutions in 2014 than those in South Florida, Southern California, and even New Jersey, according to data crunched by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University.

How is it that such a small state has so many prosecutions? "Why prosecutors do what they do is a mystery," says TRAC's David Burnham. But the prosecutors in Montana have a good explanation: They've recently organized a major crackdown on corruption on American Indian reservations, of which the state has seven. 

A recent AP investigation concluded that, nationally, tribal governments are five times more likely to have "material weaknesses" in their administration that make corruption possible, and reporters for years have been sounding alarms that federal prosecutors have largely turned a blind eye to these problems. Montana decided to change that trend, at a time when millions in additional federal dollars have flowed into tribal governments thanks to the federal stimulus package enacted after the financial collapse in 2008.

In 2011, the US Attorney's office launched a task force, dubbed the Guardians Project, with the FBI, the IRS, and inspectors general of various federal agencies, to target corruption on American Indian reservations. The results have been telling: In 2012, Montana had only one official corruption prosecution, but by August of last year, the Guardians Project had netted 25 indictments against people who'd allegedly done all sorts of devious things to keep federal money from reaching those it was supposed to help.

Prosecutors promised there would be more to come, and there have been. Just last month, four members of the Blackfeet tribe were sentenced to prison for involvement in a scheme to steal federal mental-health and substance abuse treatment funds from a $9 million contract. More than $225,000 intended for the program ended up being spent on travel and gambling, among other things.

Six people have pleaded guilty to embezzling federal dollars from a $361 million pipeline project designed to bring freshwater to the Rocky Boy's Indian Reservation. Another seven people from the Crow reservation were indicted for stealing at least a half-million dollars from the tribe in a double-billing scheme operated out of the tribe's historic preservation office. One of the people convicted in the scheme allowed a coal company to take a backhoe to a 2,000-year-old sacred bison burial site. The corruption investigations have already ensnared a former state representative and Chippewa Cree tribe official, Tony Belcourt, who in April pleaded guilty to bribery, theft, and tax-evasion charges related to the water project, as well as construction of a multimillion-dollar clinic.

Overall, though, Montana itself probably isn't more scandal-plagued than New Jersey or Miami. Montana's US attorney has just taken a harder line on prosecuting the abuses on its reservations, and all those cases have added up to boost Montana to the top of the rankings in terms of public corruption prosecutions. "These figures from Syracuse reflect only a portion of our effort," US Attorney Mike Cotter said in a statement Tuesday. "Many of the public corruption indictments brought in Montana were initiated before last October. Relatively speaking, Montana is a small office; a David among Goliaths. But the Guardians have done truly remarkable work. Their efforts have unearthed widespread criminal activity and flagrant abuses of trust with regard to federal programs and grants designed to provide for the common good of our Indian communities."

Autopsy Shows Just How Royally Oklahoma Screwed Up Clayton Lockett's Execution

| Fri Jun. 13, 2014 3:26 PM EDT
Oklahoma's death chamber.

In April, when Oklahoma tried to execute Clayton Lockett, everything went wrong. The execution team spent more than an hour trying to find a useable vein. And after officials administered drugs that should have rendered him unconscious, he raised his head, writhed on the gurney and mumbled, appearing to be in pain. The proceeding was eventually halted, but Lockett reportedly died of a heart attack a few minutes later. Corrections officials insisted at the time that Lockett's vein had "blown" or ruptured, causing the drugs to leak into surrounding tissue rather than into his blood stream. Now preliminary findings from an independent autopsy of Lockett suggest an unsettling explanation of what really happened: The people charged with carrying out the execution had absolutely no clue what they were doing.

Oklahoma officials initially claimed that Lockett's executioners had been forced to insert an IV line into the inmate's femoral vein—a painful place for the insertion and also a risky one that requires serious medical expertise—after running into difficulty finding another suitable vein. They also suggested that dehydration or another medical condition might have led to Lockett's botched execution.

Lockett's lawyers retained a medical examiner, who performed an autopsy on the prisoner. Dr. Joseph Cohen's findings, which were released today, raise serious questions about the official account. The autopsy indicates that Lockett's vein never blew—because the IV was never inserted there in the first place. Instead, the needle punctured the vein. Cohen also determined that there was nothing wrong with the veins in Lockett's arms that would have justified using a femoral vein, nor was he dehydrated. Yet he found "skin punctures on the extremities and right and left femoral areas," and proof that the execution team had tried to set lines in both of Lockett's arms and both sides of his groin. Cohen also found more evidence of inept handiwork in hemorrhages around the places the team had tried to access a vein, as well as other injuries related to "failed vascular catheter access."

As with other botched lethal injection executions, the autopsy provides compelling evidence that the people handling what is supposed to be a medical procedure, albeit a gruesome one, have little or no medical training. Oklahoma corrections officials, as well as the governor, said athat a phlebotomist had inserted Lockett's IV. Phlebotomists are fairly low-level health care workers whose primary training and work involves drawing blood for testing. Leaving aside the fact that, in Oklahoma, phlebotomists aren't licensed, regulated, or trained in inserting catheters or IVs, the state's own protocols require a paramedic or EMT to inert an IV. After the Tulsa World started asking about this discrepancy, the state changed its position and claimed that the work had been done by an EMT. State law makes this almost impossible to verify, shrouding the identities of execution team members in secrecy.

Executioner jobs don't necessarily attract the best and brightest. The oath doctors take to "first do no harm" renders them ethically prohibited from participating in executions, so often the people who carry out lethal injections are just ordinary prison officials or, in some cases, employees with checkered pasts. In Arizona, for instance, where execution team members are supposed to receive background checks, one of the primary execution team members had a criminal record, including arrests for drunk driving and drinking in public. Even when doctors participate, they're not always at the top of their profession. In Missouri, dyslexic surgeon Dr. Alan Doerhoff, who admitted to improvising drug mixtures, oversaw 54 executions before a judge banned him from performing any more. Doerhoff was the subject of more than 20 malpractice lawsuits during his career, and he was disciplined by the state medical board for concealing lawsuits from a hospital where he worked. Two Missouri hospitals banned him from practicing in their facilities.

Cohen is still seeking more information from Oklahoma about its procedures, test results from the coroner's office, and other details about the day Lockett died. Corrections officials tasered Lockett in the process of removing him from his cell to take him to the death chamber, and Cohen is seeking more information about that, too, due to other injuries he found on Lockett's body.

In a statement, Dr. Mark Heath, an assistant professor of anesthesiology at Columbia University and an expert in lethal injection executions who has been aiding defense lawyers challenging state protocols, explained, "Dr. Cohen has begun a critically important inquiry into the botched execution of Clayton Lockett. However, to complete this inquiry, Dr. Cohen will need the state to provide extensive additional information beyond what the body itself revealed. I hope that Oklahoma provides everything he asks for so that we can all understand what went so terribly wrong in Mr. Lockett’s execution."

Fri Sep. 14, 2012 6:13 PM EDT
Fri Sep. 14, 2012 11:33 AM EDT
Fri Sep. 14, 2012 6:11 AM EDT
Wed Sep. 12, 2012 1:24 PM EDT
Wed Aug. 22, 2012 6:01 AM EDT
Thu Jul. 12, 2012 6:04 AM EDT
Thu Jun. 28, 2012 4:06 PM EDT
Thu Jun. 7, 2012 11:37 AM EDT
Mon Jun. 4, 2012 6:53 AM EDT
Fri Jun. 1, 2012 1:42 PM EDT
Fri May. 25, 2012 2:12 PM EDT
Tue May. 22, 2012 1:35 PM EDT
Thu May. 10, 2012 3:01 AM EDT
Wed Apr. 11, 2012 10:10 AM EDT
Tue Apr. 10, 2012 3:53 PM EDT
Thu Mar. 22, 2012 6:00 AM EDT
Mon Feb. 27, 2012 4:41 PM EST
Tue Jan. 31, 2012 4:57 PM EST
Tue Jan. 17, 2012 1:54 PM EST
Tue Jan. 10, 2012 3:24 PM EST
Wed Dec. 14, 2011 7:53 AM EST
Tue Nov. 29, 2011 11:55 AM EST
Tue Nov. 22, 2011 2:00 PM EST
Tue Nov. 15, 2011 7:00 AM EST
Fri Nov. 11, 2011 7:31 AM EST
Wed Nov. 9, 2011 1:24 PM EST
Tue Nov. 8, 2011 4:36 PM EST