Reaching Out to Constituents,

Mayor Asks: Coffee, Tea or Me?

Fat-cat contributors and high-rolling lobbyists aren't the only people who get face time with politicians. In Glen Rock, N.J., the mayor makes himself available every Saturday morning for a cup of coffee.

For a nickel, locals can share their gripes and lodge their requests. The mayor will even waive the nickel.

"I alternate between Starbucks and Dunkin' Donuts," said Mayor John Van Keuren, who took office in the Bergen County town early this year. "It's a question of taste, and some people like the coffee at one. Gotta reach out to a different crowd."

The one-on-one sessions, he says, are needed in a world in which people have less time to attend lengthy town meetings.

"People have many more draws on their time these days than they used to," he said. "We have to create our own niche, because if we don't, it becomes more difficult to govern or manage the town."

Locals have just a few more weeks to grab the mayor's ear. When winter blows in, he will close up shop, and folks will have to go to City Hall to find him.

-- Michelle Garcia

Hello, I Must Be Going: Judge

Wants Class for Divorcing Couples

Judge J. William Callahan of Detroit's family court has seen so many messy custody battles and divorces that he thinks people need a class to help them split up.

Callahan, who presides in the Wayne County Circuit Court, is working on court rules that, if instituted, would require couples to take a class before divorcing. The class would cover topics including coordinating joint custody, agreeing on relatives to serve as mediators, and splitting property.

Meanwhile, two packages of laws related to marriage are going through the state legislature, including provisions that would make pre-divorce counseling mandatory. Gov. Jennifer Granholm (D) has said she will veto any such laws.

"She thinks it's too intrusive -- it takes the government where it shouldn't go," said Granholm's press secretary, Liz Boyd.

Since 1990, couples in Oakland County, Mich., have been required to take a 90-minute class before divorcing. Callahan said such a class could benefit most people.

"The people going through this right now usually don't come from families where [divorce] has happened," he said. "They don't know how to handle it. The parents are so focused on themselves, they're not dealing with their children's problems. They're grieving at the loss of a relationship. A class will help them learn how to focus, transition and heal themselves."

-- Kari Lydersen

Wave of Drunken-Driving Arrests

Reveals the Wrong Arm of the Law

If you've met one drunk, you've met them all.

Or so it seemed for a while on the streets of Pittsburg, Calif., a blue-collar community about 40 miles east of San Francisco.

Again and again, reports would come into the police department of suspicious drivers who, when pulled over for a sobriety test, would try to walk a straight line -- only to stumble after the second step, fling out an arm or leg for balance, and then turn around and ask the officer, "Now what?"

In summer 2003, two suspects confessed to the arresting officer, "I used heroin earlier." Asked where, both demurred: "I'd rather not say." Nine other suspects groping for words of dismay came up with: "I can't believe this." Five others had pupils dilated to the same size.

Finally, local prosecutors noticed the eerie patterns. A police investigation uncovered dozens of falsified records by officers James Hartley and Javier Salgado -- the latter Pittsburg's 2001 officer of the year -- going back three years. Each recently accepted plea deals of six months' home detention for falsifying records.

Why did they do it? Investigators could find no evidence that the officers sought to frame the suspects, most of whom legitimately tested positive for drug or alcohol intoxication. (Several pending cases involving the officers were tossed out by prosecutors.)

Instead, said Mark Peterson, senior deputy district attorney for Contra Costa County, "It appears they were motivated by laziness, frankly." At least one of the officers used a computer template for writing up his reports, then just took details from old cases to fill in the blanks.

"The idea of creating a template isn't necessarily wrong," Peterson said. "But it makes you subject to this kind of abuse."

-- Amy Argetsinger