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March 1-7, 2006

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The Fly

Where Art Thou, Romeo?

U.S. immigration officials almost succeeded in keeping Romeo and Juliet apart. But, as fate would have it, the star-crossed lovers met in San Jose last week after Romeo's two-week visa delay was resolved. The Montague in question would be Cuban dancer Maykel Solas, who flew here to star in Ballet San Jose Silicon Valley's upcoming interpretation of Shakespeare's play. Juliet, played by the American Karen Gabay, will now finally be able to rehearse with her partner for the March 9 opening night. Solas is just as charming as one would expect Romeo to be (with a Latin flair) but even his good looks and preferred artistic status didn't make it easier for him to visit. The fact is, he's still Cuban (as are four other dancers in the local company), and the combination of Homeland Security concerns, fears that a visitor could take advantage of a U.S. law which allows any Cuban visitor to seek citizenship, and the Bush administration's tightening of the embargo against the Castro government has made it nearly impossible for artists from the Caribbean island to enter the United States. (During the Clinton years, artistic exchanges between America and Cuba flourished.) San Jose Ballet spokesman Lee Kopp says he wasn't surprised about the delay because nearly one-third of the company's dancers come from other countries. "We have hang-ups with immigration all the time," he said. Santa Clara University professor David Friedman said screening ballet is another symptom of an overly restrictive immigration policy. "Obviously the harder it is for foreigners to come here," he pointed out, "the fewer interesting and talented people we'll be exposed to."

Life and Death In the Valley

While the execution of Stanley 'Tookie' Williams and the nonexecution of Michael Morales heating up the death penalty debate, California leaders are turning to the South Bay to examine the statewide criminal justice system. The California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice, formed by the state Senate in 2004, is just now getting off the ground after raising enough money to support its mission: to find flaws in the system that lead to wrongful convictions and come up with ways to prevent them. Former state Attorney General John Van de Kamp is leading the advisory panel of experts and recently appointed Gerald Uelmen, a Santa Clara University law professor, as executive director. Uelmen said Van de Kamp "twisted his arm" to accept the position, but "not too hard," he added, laughing. "I've spent 40 years working on criminal justice issues and this is a chance to make meaningful reform," he said. Kathleen 'Cookie' Ridolfi, head of SCU's Innocence Project, also serves on the commission, which will have an office based in Santa Clara. Ridolfi's project works to free wrongfully convicted prisoners around the state, often victims of systematic problems like the use of unreliable jail snitches, prosecutors withholding evidence, incompetent defense lawyers, sloppy forensics and misleading eyewitness identification procedures. Who knows about these annoying criminal justice snafus better than anyone? Our very own district attorney, George Kennedy, of course, who was appointed to the commission two weeks ago. A recent Merc series found many of these problem areas right here in the Santa Clara County district attorney's office. Ridolfi and Uelmen, though, both said Kennedy shouldn't take all the heat for problems in his office, which they said are common to many counties in California, and which the Mercury News editors acknowledged is a national problem. They also gave Kennedy credit for instituting new witness identification procedures several years ago. Ridolfi thinks, though, that Kennedy reacted too defensively to the recent revelations. "He should have been more forthright about the problems in his office," she said.

The Real Scoop On Cohn

When state Assemblymember Rebecca Cohn dropped out of the race for the county Board of Supervisors last week, insiders mused that she must be divorcing Ron, her husband of 15 years. Cohn did not return our calls by presstime, but Ron squashed the rumor. "No," he told Fly, "we haven't made any decisions yet." He did admit, however, that they "were evaluating their relationship" while living separately: she in the townhouse recently bought in San Jose to qualify for the District 4 seat, and he in their longtime Saratoga home. Cohn made her announcement at the Santa Clara County Democratic forum, where co-founder and County Assessor Larry Stone says she launched her political career 10 years ago. Stone said he was only slightly surprised to hear her decision because he knows about her "personal reasons," which he did not specify. Nearing the end of her six-year limit in office, Cohn has certainly had her share of stress-inducing pitfalls. In 2004, she faced a lawsuit from former employees alleging they had been made to do campaign work on state time. In the same year, another employee claimed he was unjustly fired for writing a critical letter about her during a controversial software contract investigation. Last year, Cohn came under heat for her spicy San Jose Magazine photo shoot that prompted two aides to sue her for allegedly creating a sexually charged work environment. In the meantime, it seems that Cohn's career and marriage are uncertain. "I don't know what the future holds for us," Ron said.


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