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Larry Benjamin's blog

Friday, July 13, 2007

Not in My Space

The saga of Miss New Jersey's somewhat racy photos and the failed blackmail attempt to have her bounced from the Miss America pageant will fade from the public eye soon enough. Oh, it would be nice to know who thinks so little of Amy Polumbo of Howell to send the telltale photos to pageant officials. But in the long run, it's no big deal.

What this episode did expose is the pervasivenss of social networking Web sites, familiarly known by the most popular ones, MySpace and Facebook. Why people feel compelled to share their innermost thoughts and mostly silly photos with select friends online says something about the communication needs of younger people today. Is everything worth boasting about? Isn't anything private anymore? And as Polumbo, "American Idol'' wannabe Antonella Barba of Point Pleasant and others have learned to their regret, the images on their protected pages can get around.

Any teenagers so uncomfortable with this sharing frenzy that they forgo MySpace or Facebook and instead prefer one-on-one in-person privacy are probably labeled as weird. Maybe they're better off.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

The scales of (un)justice

How must pain must a widow endure? Bear with us. Elizabeth Bernoskie's husband, a Rahway police officer, was slain on duty in 1958. Four decades later, someone was finally charged with his murder: Robert Zarinsky, in prison for the murder of a 17-year-old Atlantic Highlands girl in 1969. Zarinsky was linked to the Bernoskie murder by his sister, who said Zarinsky and a cousin said they killed a police officer. The cousin admitted his role and served three years in prison. But Zarinsky beat the rap in 2001. The jury foreman said the jurors believed Zarinsky did it, but that the prosecutor's case was too weak to convict him.

End of story? Not at all. Elizabeth Bernoskie later filed a wrongful death suit against Zarinsky and was awarded $9.5 million in 2003. Zarinsky posted his $150,000 mutual fund as a down payment. But on appeal, the award was tossed out Tuesday. Since Zarinsky was cleared, he couldn't be sued in civil court in connection with the murder. As a result, the $150,000 has to be returned to Zarinsky. But Bernoskie doesn't have that money to give. She distributed it among her six children. So now Zarinsky can seize her assets, including the home where she lived with her husband so long ago.

Nothing is just in this story. A widow didn't get the closure of seeing her husband's killer get what he deserved at long last. And now, thanks to judges strictly applying the law, that man can boot her out of her house. This may be how the wrongful death law works in this state. But in this case, the outcome was what was wrongful. The prisoner wins, the widow loses and justice isn't served. And it's perfectly legal.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

No special treatment

Federal prosecutors trying the Fort Dix 6, the six South Jersey men charged with plotting to kill military personnel on Fort Dix in May, are taking an unusual step: They want to keep the names of the jurors who will consider the charges anonymous. They fear potential jurors will be concerned about their safety and that of their families, especially given the extensive pretrial publicity generated by the case. After all, these guys allegedly have radical Islamic and jihadist beliefs.

Why treat the trial of these defendants any differently than trials involving other dangerous men? If the presiding judge finds that the juror pool of 2,000, drawn from five or six South Jersey counties, isn't filling the juror box, then extraordinary measures may be needed. But until that time, let's make this trial a model of how the American justice system works.

Monday, July 09, 2007

The highfalutin governor

Gov. Corzine does not have a warm and fuzzy relationship with the public the way, say, Senate President and former acting Gov. Richard J. Codey has. Codey portrays himself as a regular guy, which belies his stature as the ultimate Trenton insider. Corzine sees himself as someone extraordinary and uses language that reinforces that image.

A recent poll found that the Democratic governor's not connecting with his audience. He has only himself to blame with his reference to confounding Wall Street terms such monetization and securitization. And he's one of several state officials who use terms such as NPC, pathfinder project, air rights and naming rights.

Republicans say Corzine is trying to confuse the voters by calling his proposals to lease or sell the state's toll roads "asset monetization.'' Fairleigh Dickinson University pollster Peter Woolley says there's a danger for Corzine in using these fancy terms: The plans will be interpreted by others, some of whom may not have the governor's best interests in mind. To find out what these terms mean, check out