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August 31, 2010

Tuesday's Three Burning Legal Questions

Here are today's three burning legal questions, along with the answers provided by the blogosphere.

Garagesale 1) Question: I just returned home from a vacation. Why are half of my tools missing and the other half laying out in my front yard?

Answer: Sometimes burglars break into homes and hold a garage sale of the homeowner's possessions in the front yard. (Lowering the Bar, Burglar/Entrepreneur Breaks In, Holds Garage Sale)

2) Question: Whew!! Thank goodness that kind young man came to my door and warned me that unless I purchased an "ObamaCare" health care policy I would have to go to jail! Who knew?!

Answer: Sorry, old-timer, but that "ObamaCare" offer is a fraud that has been perpetrated on senior citizens in California. (Consumerist, Do Not Buy Insurance Called 'ObamaCare')

3) Question: How in the world am I supposed to answer this interrogatory asking me to "please describe how 'beer pong' is played, including the needed equipment and/or materials"?

Answer: Like this! (Legal Juice, Yes, An Interrogatory About Beer Pong, And A Truly Awesome Response)

August 31, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0)

The Blogosphere Examines Lawyer Bios

One of this week's themes in the blogosphere appears to be the art of creating effective lawyer biographies on law firm Web sites. Matt Homann kicked this off on his [non]billable hour blog with a funny Venn diagram showing the tiny overlap between what lawyers include in their bios and what clients actually care about:


That led LBW alumnus Bob Ambrogi to offer a different view on the subject. Bob stated on his LawSites blog that while Homann's "diagram suggests that many standard elements of lawyer bios are irrelevant to clients. I don’t buy that." To the contrary, Bob argues, three of the points on the right side of Homann's diagram are the questions he thinks are most important and which should be answered in a lawyer bio:

  • Do you have experience doing exactly what I need?
  • What kind of work are you really good at?
  • What do your clients think of you?

All of this led Brian Tannebaum to offer his own five key thoughts on lawyer bios on his My Law License blog:

1. Always look to see if the lawyer fails to state their year of graduation or admission to the Bar, or doesn't have a link to easy access to that information.

2. Disregard any value you may put into someone being a "member" of anything. If they practice law, they are required to be a member of a bar. Stating that in a bio is nice, but means nothing. Basic memberships in other bar organizations are also meaningless.

3. Plenty of morons went to great schools.

4. Plenty of stellar lawyers went to unknown schools.

5. A lawyers bio was probably written by the lawyer. A lawyer looking for clients. People say a lot of interesting things when they are looking for clients. Some of those interesting things are actually true.

Honestly, I have no idea who is right on this point. But what about the "day-in-the-life" lawyer bios from Axiom Legal that feature huge photos of lawyers gardening, having breakfast with their families or dancing? I guess nobody is on board for these?


August 31, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (3)

Want to Run for 8th Grade President? Well, What Race Are You?

I'm still shaking my head in disbelief over this memo from Nettleton Middle School in Nettleton, Miss. that specifies which race you must belong to in order to run for certain school offices. What's that? You are a black kid interested in running for 8th grade president? Ha!! Try vice president or reporter instead.


According to the Popehat blog, where I first learned of this, the story was first broken here on Aug. 25 by the Mixed and Happy blog. Mixed and Happy reports that it received a Facebook message from the mother of a white NMS student whose "daughter came home from school telling me that she wanted to try out for the school reporter, but it is only open to black students...They told her “she should run for class president, that was open to only white students.”

MSNBC reports that after a furor erupted last week about the race-based elections, school Superintendent Russell Taylor posted a statement on the school's Web site:

saying the policy had been in place for 30 years, dating back to a time when school districts across Mississippi came under close scrutiny from the U.S. Justice Department over desegregation.

"It is the belief of the current administration that these procedures were implemented to help ensure minority representation and involvement in the student body," the statement said. "It is our hope and desire that these practices and procedures are no longer needed."

Popehat notes that the Nettleton School District has now formally changed the policy.

August 31, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (2)

Property Law Made Easy: The 'Conveyance Interpreter'

Property Law was just about the death of me in law school. Crazy people bequeathing "Blackacre to my third cousin for life, then to my cat for 20 years, then to my ex-wife for eternity so long as she never stops practicing law." These bequeaths get complicated and you ultimately need to map them out to figure out who gets what, for how long, and when.

But not any more! Via the PrawgsBlog I learned about the "Conveyance Interpreter" by law professor Shawn Bayern of Florida State University. It comes about 20 years too late to be of much help to me, but surely there is someone out there who could use some artificial intelligence on his or her side to make sense of conveyances such as "To Boalt Hall for 10 years, then to the Earl of Arundel and the heirs of his body, then to Duke of Norfolk and his heirs."


Let me try out one of my own creation on the Conveyance Interpreter: "To Eric Lipman, but if he gets anymore traffic tickets, then to Scott Greenfield for life, but if Greenfield becomes a social media consultant, then to my dog Cooley." As you can see, Cooley has an "executory interest in fee simple absolute." Lucky dog!


August 31, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (2)

August 30, 2010

Two-Track Legal Education Coming to a Law School Near You?

What makes a good law school professor? This is a debate that, I daresay, will go on in perpetuity. Bruce brought you some of the latest thoughts on Friday, with his discussion centering on Brent Newton's recent law review article, and the reaction thereto.

Yesterday at Balkinization, Jason Mazzone of Brooklyn Law School came up with a way to employ even more professors. Hooray! 

Mazzone suggests separating legal education into a "professional school" and an "academic law department." Say what now? Let me him elaborate:

Under this approach, the professional school would be staffed by instructors whose job is to teach legal skills to lawyers-in-training. Instructors would not be expected to write books or articles. Instead, they would bring expertise in teaching practical skills.


The academic law department would be very different from the professional school. It would be staffed by tenured and tenure-track professors. The principle [sic] task of these professors would be research and writing. Like faculty members in other departments, they would also teach (more on this below) but teaching would not be their main function. These professors would be career academics.

OK. Where to start? Reading the entire post -- and it's not too long -- left me puzzled. Essentially, what Mazzone is proposing sounds like moving the "real" professors out of the law school building so they can hobnob with their brilliant colleagues working in other disciplines. No, seriously:

The academic law department would be located in a separate building from the law school, closer to the other social science departments of the university.

Well, at least the don't-call-them-adjuncts who teach the "professional school" classes could have offices then.

Hmm. Why might Professor Mazzone long for a world in which tenured faculty can come right out and say that teaching is not their "principle" task? Oh, right. Because he IS ONE OF THEM! Look at all these pesky classes they make him teach. And having to interact with students, having them (foolishly) relying on him to prepare them for a career practicing law? The horror!

But it's all good. Mazzone wraps up by telling us the three reasons his idea is awesome:

There are three main benefits to my approach. First, it recognizes more than our current model that the law is both a subject of academic study and a professional field and that these are distinct features. Second, my approach would improve legal scholarship because the only people producing scholarship would be those who are highly skilled in doing research (and who therefore understand the difference between research and advocacy) and the scholarship would be evaluated in the same way as scholarship in other academic fields. Third, my approach would produce law school graduates with stronger legal skills.

Also, my approach cures cancer.

I, for one, don't buy it. At 30,000 feet, recognition that "law" entails both practical and theoretical components is all well and good. But I don't think it's too much to ask of a law school professor to have a grasp of both. Thoughts, loyal readers?

August 30, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (12)

China Bulletin: Illegal to Wipe With Propaganda

I have been to China. Though this was over five years ago, I still occasionally have nightmares about some of the "public restrooms" I saw. (And my Chinese travels were limited to major metropolitan areas.)

This morning at the Volokh Conspiracy, none other than the blog's namesake linked out to a post on the Language Log, which shows this photo of the wall of a Chinese public toilet:


The translation: "Use of Party newspapers and magazines as toilet paper is strictly forbidden.”

It's good to know that, though when push comes to shove, unless the government is going to provide some actual toilet paper, I imagine it's every periodical for itself. I would sure hate to be the court clerk when a prosecution for this rule violation was on the docket and the government asked me to mark Exhibit 1 for identification ...

August 30, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Striking Coke Workers Sue Over Health Insurance Cancellation

If you can spell out the full name of the statute commonly abbreviated ERISA without falling asleep, you're probably an ERISA lawyer. You know, the one who has to sit through interminable conference calls on every mergers and acquisitions transaction your firm does, just so that four hours in someone can say, "Sound OK to you, Mary?"

Some striking Teamsters at Coca-Cola plants in Western Washington, though, have filed an ERISA suit in federal court in Seattle, claiming that Coke improperly canceled their health insurance coverage a day after their strike began. The strike itself arises out of allegations that Coke has been spying on its own workers and refusing to bargain in good faith.

The company says that cancellation of health care coverage was not retaliatory, but, rather, coverage was canceled because employees are not entitled to coverage if they refuse to work. Which, unless I'm mistaken, is sorta what a strike is about.

One striking worker complained that his wife, who had a kidney transplant two years ago, will be denied coverage for her anti-rejection medication unless the issue is resolved.

August 30, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (4)

August 27, 2010

Friday's Three Burning Legal Questions

Here are today's three burning legal questions, along with the answers provided by the blogosphere.

1) Question: I'd like to trademark a color. Any advice?

Answer: Stay away from yellow. That color is taken. (Very Demotivational, The Color Yellow)

demotivational posters - THE COLOR YELLOW

2) Question: I have a restraining order against these protesters -- they can't come within 50 feet of my store. According to my tape measure, they are now 49 feet 8 inches away from it -- that's a violation, right?!

Answer: In Portland, Ore., 4 inches too close doesn't cut it for a violation. The judges say you should draw a visible line at the 50 foot mark. (Bad Lawyer, Free Speech Can Come Down to Inches)

3) Question: Some friends say they saw my DUI mugshot "tagged" with my name on Facebook. What the heck!!??

Answer: Was your DUI arrest in Evesham, N.J.? Evesham now posts the names and photographs of people arrested for drunk driving on its Facebook page. (CNET, N.J. town posts DUI photos on Facebook: Tag away?) (via

August 27, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Gossip Blog '' Hit With $11 Million Defamation Judgment

A story today involving a Cincinnati Bengals cheerleader shows the significant hot water bloggers can get into if they ignore the law. Yesterday, U.S. District Judge William Bertelsman ordered a gossip blog called to pay cheerleader Sarah Jones $11 million for libel and defamation resulting from allegedly false accusations that Jones had sex with Bengal football players and had two venereal diseases. failed to respond to the lawsuit that was filed in February, leading to the court's order which included $10 million in punitive damages.

Sarahjones reports that Jones, who also works as a high school teacher, filed the lawsuit after the site refused her repeated requests to take down the posts. is a popular website operated by Hooman Karamian, who writes under the name “Nik Ritchie.” It also received publicity recently after it was discovered that Dan Quayle's son, Ben Quayle, now a candidate for Congress in Arizona, at one time wrote posts for the site.

In her lawsuit, Jones laid out the havoc caused by's posts about her. Among other things, she says:

  • she had to face fellow teachers and cheerleaders after the post was published and explain that it wasn’t true;
  • her cheerleader job was jeopardized because cheerleaders are excused from the squad if they fraternize with players;
  • she had to call the fiancee' of the Bengals' player she allegedly had sex with to reassure her there was no affair;
  • her work e-mail was flooded with crude e-mails from random people who saw the posts; and
  • the principal of her school reviewed security camera footage after one post alleged she was having sex in her classroom.

Jones' lawyer was hopeful that Jones would be able to collect on the judgment, according to He said the "the site is operated by a limited liability cooperation that 'apparently is doing pretty well' and is backed by investors who he will attempt to expose.

UPDATE: Politico reports that a clerical mistake by the plaintiff's lawyers could nullify the judgment:

But U.S. District Court Judge William O. Bertelsman on Wednesday ordered Los Angeles-based Dirty World Entertainment Recordings — which the complaint and judgment said operates — to pay $1 million in compensatory damages and $10 million in punitive damages for failing to respond to the suit.

Sarah Jones's attorneys had actually intended to sue Scottsdale-based Dirty World LLC, which runs the

August 27, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (4)

Should Law School Be More Than Just a 'Sorting Mechanism' for Potential Employers?

Houseman-thumb-320x160 A lively discussion is underway at The Volokh Conspiracy blog on the issue of whether law schools hire the wrong type of people to be professors by overemphasizing "elite academic credentials at the expense of practical knowledge and experience." More broadly, the debate there is over whether law school should be a "trade school" or rather a place of scholarship where students gain academic and theoretical insights about the law.

The post by Jonathan Adler cites a new paper by Georgetown adjunct professor Brent Newton who asks:

Could [a typical law school] professor whose primary scholarly interest is criminal law and procedure effectively prosecute or represent a criminal defendant at a felony trial? Could such a professor who writes law review articles about the First Amendment effectively represent a client in a civil rights litigation? Could such a professor whose expertise is securities regulation effectively represent a client or the government in an S.E.C. enforcement action? Imagine such professors being first-chair counsel in a complex civil or criminal litigation who must interview potential witnesses, take depositions and engage in electronic discovery, file and respond to summary judgment motions, conduct voir dire, present the testimony of an expert witness, cross-examine (and impeach) hostile witnesses, and make closing arguments to a jury.

Newton clearly thinks not, and adds: “How can we expect law students to become competent practitioners if the core of full-time law faculties, notwithstanding their scholarly prowess, do not themselves possess even the basic skills required to practice the type of law about which they teach and write?”

The post also cites to some provocative thoughts by Professor Stephen Bainbridge, who takes Newton's argument to the next level (and then some) in this post on his blog. Prof. Bainbridge says that as far as he can tell, these days law schools hiring professors focus almost solely on qualifications that do not have a "goddamn thing to do with the practice of law" such as "having a PhD" or "having multiple publications, even if they demonstrate the author's utter lack of doctrinal knowledge or inability to do basic legal research." 

Adler ends by stating:

As Bainbridge notes, the question today is whether the collapsed legal market will cause law schools to reevaluate their priorities and recommit themselves to preparing students for the practice of law (as opposed to providing little more than a sorting mechanism for potential employers).

The debate continues in the comments to the post. "Chris" comments:

the idea that law schools should be truly liberal academic institution is part of the problem. Law is a trade and I think that vast majority of people who enter law school are interested in learning to practice that trade.... If people want to write law review articles, they should charge their audience for them. It should not be subsidized by a trade school. I don’t see plumbers paying other non-practicing plumbers to write about how critical race theory effects piping.

Commenter "frankcross" disagrees, however:

This relies on a silly presumption. Most political science professors wouldn’t make good politicians. Most economists may not be good businessmen. And natural scientists who study botany would make lousy plants. There is no necessary reason why a person who studies and teaches something necessarily must be good at doing that thing.

August 27, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (4)

August 26, 2010

Thursday's Three Burning Legal Questions

Here are today's three burning legal questions, along with the answers provided by the blogosphere.

Bagel-sliced 1) Question: All I ordered was a bagel. Why am I being charged sales tax?

Answer: Did you want it sliced? If so, your bagel transforms into "prepared food" subject to an 8.875% tax. (NY Post, NY's cut of bagel 'dough:' Extra tax for slicing)

2) Question: I'm a judge hearing a felony drug case. Does it matter if two jurors just walked over and patted a testifying police officer on the back and said "good job?"

Answer: It matters. (Underdog, A trial judge must not ignore jurors patting testifying cops on the back midtrial)

3) Question: This clumsy lawyer I work with just fell back onto me on the dance floor, making me bonk my head. May I have $6 million?

Answer: You may.  (Turley, Lawyer Gets $6 Million After Colleague Falls On Her On Dance Floor)

August 26, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Dog Law: Austin Court Awards Wife Custody of Clementine the Chihuahua

Chihuahua While Austin, Texas resident Eric Lipman, my co-blogger here at Legal Blog Watch, is off gallivanting about the Texas traffic court, there are cases of real importance going on right under his nose. Take the case of Calder v. Calder, in which the 3rd Court of Appeals in Austin ruled yesterday that Brooke Ashley Calder may keep her Chihuahua named Clementine as part of her divorce.

According to the Texas Lawyer, Daniel Naeter Calder appealed to the 3rd Court, challenging the trial court’s ruling that Clementine was Brooke’s separate property. A panel of three judges, who were probably wondering why they ever went to law school, affirmed the trial court, holding that Clementine was purchased before the marriage took place and therefore was separate -- not community -- property. The court noted that Brooke Calder "put $948 into the account a few days before she purchased Clementine, and she testified that he agreed to let her buy a dog only if her own money paid for it, according to the opinion."

With all due respect, I think the 3rd Court is over-thinking this. Everyone knows that dog disputes are supposed to be resolved by taking the dog to court and placing it in the middle of the room. Then the parties seeking custody go to either side of the room and call the dog -- whomever the dog goes to gets custody. See, e.g., The Awful Truth (1937); see also 10 other TV shows from the 1970s the names of which I cannot recall right now.

August 26, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (3)

Can Today's Lawyers Practice Without a Cell Phone?

Via a post on the ABA Journal's Web site I came across a Bloomberg article about certain high-profile professionals who are saying goodbye to their cell phones in favor of, well, nothing. Among the unreachable individuals noted in the article are Warren Buffett, Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov, national radio show host Tavis Smiley and law professor Afsheen John Radsan.

Why dispense with a device that most of us find vital? Bloomberg suggests that not having a cell phone "is a way of getting the world to run on your time," and Radsan says he believes it is important not to respond to everything. Even though Radsan's wife gets annoyed that she cannot reach him to plan things on the fly, he says he remains of the mindset "that we can avoid that just by planning. I say, 'Katy, I'll be home at 7 or 7:30,' and she says, 'Let's talk about it later.'"

Jonathan Reed, a no-phone dean at the University of La Verne, says getting rid of the cell phone makes him more efficient -- not less. "I'm more focused. It forces me to be proactive," he says.

Could a successful practicing lawyer get away with having no cell phone in 2010? I think it would be very tough to pull off as clients and colleagues demand availability and responsiveness. The article discusses just a small sample of people who have gone this route, and none of them fall in the practicing lawyer category. I suspect billionaires Buffet and Prokhorov are in positions in life where they can deal with the world however they damn well please. As the philosopher Kanye West said, "Wait 'til I get my money right; Then you can't tell me nothing, right?" (see below).

As for the professors and deans, they already walk to the beat of their own drummer, and I doubt they have too many pressing deadlines and calls day-to-day in the ivory tower.

What do you think? Are there any practicing lawyers or professionals out there who have ditched the cell phone and lived to tell about it?

August 26, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (4)

Twitter Law (cont.): Doctor Drives Off Cliff While Sending Twitter Message

This is a bit creepy. On Aug. 16, I noted that:

Ever since I got Twitter installed on my BlackBerry, it has occurred to me that we cannot be far away from a time when we will regularly be reading articles with headlines such as "Six Car Pileup Results After Man Checks TwitterFon on Beltway" or "Local Woman Walks Into Manhole While Posting TwitPic."

And yet, to date, I have not seen any car crashes, boat wrecks, slip-and-falls, or any of the other things I expected directly attributed to Twitter. Are they out there? Are there other types of cases out there where damages, injuries or even crimes are being connected back to people using Twitter?

None of our readers were able to offer up any immediate examples of this. The very next day, however, on Aug. 17, a well-known plastic surgeon named Dr. Frank Ryan was killed when he accidentally drove his car over a cliff while sending a Twitter message about his dog.

ABC reports that Dr. Ryan, who is known for performing significant plastic surgery on Heidi Montag, among other things, died in a one-car collision in Los Angeles. "He lived up in Malibu on a tiny street and he was texting while driving and he accidentally went over the cliff," Ryan's ex-girlfriend Charmaine Blake told People magazine. Ryan was reportedly Tweeting about his border collie, Jill, at the time of the crash.

August 26, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (4)

August 25, 2010

Wednesday's Three Burning Legal Questions

Here are today's three burning legal questions, along with the answers provided by the blogosphere.

Dea 1) Question: Years and years of study to obtain my degree in Ebonics translation and now I can't get a job! Are there any opportunities in the legal field?

Answer: Why, yes! Try applying to the Department of Justice's Drug Enforcement Administration. (NPR, Speak Ebonics? The DEA Wants You) (via The Agitator)

2) Question: The woman at the deli counter asked me which chicken breasts I wanted in the case. I pointed out what I wanted and said "I like the large ones." Now I'm banned from Safeway?

Answer: Watch the double entendres. Safeway doesn't like them one bit. (Consumerist, Shopper: I Was Banned From Safeway Because I Asked For Large Chicken Breasts)

3) Question: I'm a juror in a trial. My hearing is perfect, but I must confess that the acoustics in the courtroom are so poor that my fellow jurors and I can't hear a damn thing anyone is saying -- not the lawyers, not the judge, and not the witnesses. What should we do?

Answer: Tell the judge -- it will likely result in a mistrial. (WLOX, Bad courtroom acoustics force mistrial; Lawyer demands change)

August 25, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (2)

Reports From Multiple Fronts in the 'Breast-feeding in Public' War

The battle lines are fairly well-drawn by now: Mothers with infants sometimes like to actually venture out into the world and do things. While they are out, they want to be able to breast-feed their children in McDonald's, retail shops, etc. Some restaurants and shops, however -- or at least some of their employees -- do not welcome breast-feeding on the premises.

Today I saw stories about two different ways this disagreement is playing out. The New York Post reports that a mother was allegedly thrown out of a Midtown Manhattan chocolate shop after breast-feeding her baby there. The mother claims that while she was nursing her baby in a manner in which no nipples were exposed, the shop manager came over and told her to "stop doing that." According to the Post, the mother refused, leading the manager to eventually order her to "leave and never come back to [the] establishment again." The mother has filed a lawsuit against the shop for her "severe embarrassment, severe shame, severe humiliation, severe emotional distress and loss of dignity." Although the shop manager has since been "removed," the shop claims that it never threw the mother out for breast-feeding but rather just asked her to "cover-up some."

Meanwhile in Arizona, dozens of less-litigious mothers staged a "nurse-in" at a Glendale McDonald's this weekend. The mothers breast-fed their children in the restaurant in response to a store manager who asked a woman to leave earlier this month for breast-feeding her 6-month-old son (breast-feeding in public is reportedly allowed under Arizona law).

ABC 15 reports (via Consumerist) that the owner of the McDonald's says the request for the mother to leave was a mistake and contrary to its policy, and he "can assure mothers it won't happen again."

August 25, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (3)

Burglarized House? Oakland Police Want You to Know 'We're Not Coming'

Oakland police Via the free copy of USA Today that was left in my hotel room this morning comes this money quote from the Oakland, Calif. police on the effect of budget cuts in that city:

"If you come home to find your house burglarized and you call, we're not coming."

Clear enough? Cutbacks in places like Oakland have forced police to prioritize crimes as never before, and to simply "stop responding to fraud, burglary and theft calls as officers focus limited resources on violent crime."

What happens if your home is broken into? In places including Oakland, Tulsa and Norton, Mass., you now must file your own report online (here) or in writing. USA Today reports that Oakland laid off 80 officers from its force of 687 last month; Tulsa has lost 110 officers to layoffs and retirements (it is now down to 739 officers) and no longer sends officers to the scene of larceny, fraud and car theft.

Here are some of the other crimes for which Oakland says it will no longer be sending officers to the location unless it is "in-progress or there is a suspect on-scene:"
•  Lost Property
•  Theft
•  Vandalism
•  Vehicle Burglary
•  Vehicle Tampering
•  Residential Burglary 
•  Identity Theft 
•  Annoying and Harassing Phone Calls 
•  Barking Dog 
•  Violation of a Restraining Order 
•  Reporting a Runaway 
•  Violation of a Court Order 
•  Violation of a child custody order where one parent failed to return the child at a specified time. 

August 25, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (23)

August 24, 2010

'Hi, I'm Roni Deutch, and I'm the Defendant.'

If you haven't seen a commercial for "Tax Lady" Roni Deutch, you must be either blind or Amish, making it extremely unlikely that you're reading this post. But just in case, they look something like this:

Yes, she's always that grating. But it seems the California Attorney General wants her to pipe down. Via Consumerist comes the news that Deutch is on the wrong side of the "v." in a suit seeking $34 million in restitution for Deutch clients who claim that the "tax relief" she promised never quite materialized.

The press release issued by the AG's office minces no words:

When potential clients call Deutch's boiler room, sales agents employ high-pressure sales tactics plus a series of misrepresentations and false promises to persuade them to retain her firm. The sales agents claim Deutch's success rate in dealing with the IRS is as high as 99 percent. But the percentage of clients whose tax bills Deutch actually reduces is a mere 10 percent.

If I ever buy a bar, I may well name it "Deutch's Boiler Room."

There's a preliminary injunction hearing scheduled for tomorrow, in which state lawyers will try to convince a judge to "enjoin Defendants from continuing to engage in the unlawful, fraudulent, and deceptive practices that have jeopardized thousands of consumers already in financial distress." 9 a.m., California Superior Court, Sacramento County, before Judge Steve White. If you live in the neighborhood and have nothing else to do, swing by the courtroom. And please tell Roni that I said "Hi."

August 24, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (3)

Blawger/Candidate Suggests Giving Your Law License to God, but Not Your Vote?

Bloom It may not have the mainstream appeal of the story about the Georgetown Law graduate who sold his law degree on craigslist, but blogger, and Republican candidate for the Pennsylvania legislature, Stephen Bloom of the Believer's Guide to Legal Issues, has built a following around the notion of giving your law license to God.

Bloom wrote a book that shares the same name as his blog and has a second blog along the same lines. His basic philosophy, he says, is captured by this article in the Liberty Legal Journal, adapted from a presentation he often gives to students.

It's pretty heavy stuff. For example:

(2)    Do not assume that having faith is enough. Be alert and ready to resist when Satan presents you with a shadow mission for your career that hits all your weakest places, and plays perfectly to your ego and talents.

Warning lawyers to resist Satan -- isn't that like warning fish to stay dry?

Bad jokes aside, reading Bloom's writings, and some of the writings about him (including prior LBW coverage), evokes interesting questions. For starters: How should religious belief intersect with secular law? Would/should Bloom ever represent a client that does not share his faith?

And how does Bloom's philosophy affect his aspiring political career? The following is one of his tenets:

(4)    Do not be afraid to reveal your faith in the marketplace. Be a transparent, hopeful, honest, joyful witness in your work. Do not hide who you are, do not hide Jesus Christ.

Yet his religious beliefs seem to be downplayed on his campaign website, with no real mention of his blogs (though there is a link to the Amazon page for his book), and no explicit Christian message as part of his platform.

Readers: the floor is open. Have anything to say about Bloom specifically or religion in law or politics generally?

August 24, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Apple Wants to Spy on You All Hi-Tech-Like

Here I am, seriously considering switching from a BlackBerry to an iPhone when my contract runs out next week, and the Electronic Frontier Foundation has to go and ruin it for me.

Spy On the EFF Deeplinks blog yesterday, Julie Samuels posted about Apple's patent application for technology, which Samuels dubs "traitorware," that will enable Apple to "secretly collect, store and potentially use sensitive biometric information about you."

The details are sort of frightening.  The patent application is entitled "SYSTEMS AND METHODS FOR IDENTIFYING UNAUTHORIZED USERS OF AN ELECTRONIC DEVICE." But if Samuels is correct, such an invention would not be so limited. The technology will allow Apple to remotely, and without detection, capture an image of a user's face, the user's voice and a unique "heartbeat signature." It would also be possible to capture photos of the location where the phone is being used, and monitor or record essentially all usage of the device.

Basically, it sounds like when you let the guy from your information technology department "remote in" to your PC to fix some issue with your Word macros. Except it's not the IT guy, but Steve Jobs. And you have no idea he happens to be listening and watching as you talk to your friend about your torrid affair with your downstairs neighbor.  In person, over a cocktail, while your phone just happens to be sitting on the table.

Maybe I don't really need to play Angry Birds that badly.

August 24, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (4)

Judge Shows Burglar Some Georgia Justice

Yesterday, the WSJ Law Blog linked out to an Atlanta Journal-Constitution article about the state of Georgia's seemingly league-leading run of recent scandalous behavior on the part of its jurists. The article references, among others, the judge caught having sex with a public defender in a parked car, and the one who "inappropriately touched a prosecutor and investigator after they sat in his lap posing for a photo."

Georgia needed some good news about its judges. So this morning, we bring you Judge Carlisle Overstreet. Last Friday at around 4 a.m., Judge Overstreet shot and killed an unarmed burglar in his home. The dead burglar, John Howard Jr. (ironically nicknamed "Killa," according to the Augusta Chronicle), was one of two men who broke into the judge's house in the wee hours. The other, William Omar Jacobs, turned himself in and was denied bond.

Richmond County Sheriff Ronnie Strength (competition for yesterday's judge named Lex) said that Overstreet did exactly the right thing:

"If somebody breaks into your home, we expect and hope that what Judge Overstreet did this morning would be done by any other citizen."

The sheriff said he has known Overstreet for about 45 years and called him a "good marksman."

In another article from the Chronicle, an attorney and president of the judge's neighborhood association, Joe Neal, echoed the Sheriff's sentiments with enthusiasm:

"I can tell you right now if someone walks inside my house, I'm going to blow their head off," Neal said. "If someone is in the house, he is asking to get shot and the law gives them every right to pull the trigger."

That article also includes a helpful breakdown of Georgia gun laws, and those of neighboring South Carolina.

August 24, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0)

August 23, 2010

Reader Poll: What Will Zombies Do With Settlement Dollars?

Zombie Remember back in February when we told you about the 8th Circuit decision reinstating a lawsuit brought by a group of people who dressed up as zombies and wandered the streets of Minneapolis to protest against "mindless consumerism," and were arrested for their trouble?

Well, the city has settled with the zombies. According to the Minneapolis Star Tribune, the City Council has approved a payment of $165,000 to settle the suit. One of the zombies is quoted as saying he's thrilled the city is being held accountable, and the City Attorney stands behind her cops, but says, "you never know what a jury is going to do with a case."

Here's what I'm curious about: what do zombies do with money? It's not like you can go to the 7-11 and buy a brain taquito. There were seven zombie plaintiffs. Figuring their lawyer took a third, that leaves $110,000. Dividing that among the seven would leave each with $15,714.29.

If you were a zombie that just came into 15 grand, how would you spend it? Let us know in the comments.

August 23, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (4)

DUI Defendant Doesn't Want Expert Testimony Recorded on iPhone

Iphone Here's an interesting plot line out of Arizona, and it's got nothing to do with immigration or ... immigration (funny, I can't remember anything else for which that state is known anymore).

Courthouse News Service posted a copy of an "Emergency Petition for Special Action" filed by a defendant in a driving under the influence prosecution in Pima County Superior Court. The defendant, Angela Koperski, wants to appeal the trial judge's ruling that prosecutors will be permitted to videotape the testimony of her expert witness using an iPhone. Koperski doesn't like the idea, and neither does her expert, Charles Laroue, who would be "threatened and intimidated" by such a recording.

Koperski asserts that the iPhone recording would create a "circus-like atmosphere," and would lead the jury to believe that "something is unusual or strange about this witness as opposed to all others."

As for why the prosecutors wanted to videotape the testimony, the judge had an idea:

"Judge Lex inquired as to the purpose, as the proceedings are already recorded," the complaint states. "Prior to the state's answering the question, Judge Lex provided the answer to them 'is it for training or something?' The state responded 'ya' and the motion was granted.

Wait, the judge's name is "Judge Lex"? How can you possibly appeal one of his orders?

The players in this saga all seem to suffer from pretty serious cases of "I do not think that word means what you think it means." The defendant is worried that the iPhone recording will "imbue" the credibility of her witness. Counsel, at the judge's instruction "avowed as to" the facts stated in the petition (not technically an improper use of the word, I guess, but odd).

This petition reeks of desperation; if the video really is for training purposes, it would seem Judge Lex would be able to sufficiently explain this to the jury, and instruct them that it has no bearing on the credibility of the expert. Here's a tip, though: if you're threatened and intimidated by being recorded, perhaps "expert witness" is not the job for you.

August 23, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (2)

Silly Tax Disclaimers in All Attorney E-mails Explained

Anyone who's ever sent or received an e-mail from a decent-sized law firm has probably seen (note, I did not say "read") that text blurb that magically appears at the bottom, mentioning something about the Internal Revenue Service and "Circular 230."

When I was working at a firm, I knew that I sure wasn't giving any tax advice, but the little note telling recipients of my e-mail, "not to use the contents thereof to avoid paying taxes," showed up anyway. The other members of my fantasy baseball league surely appreciated the warning.

This morning, Tax Girl gives a little background on these disclaimers, and informs us that the IRS is currently in the process of amending the infamous Circular 230 to, among other things, allow all admitted attorneys to become registered tax preparers without taking the exam that will be required of other "unenrolled" individuals wishing to charge people to do their taxes.

Since I, like most lawyers/people, "d[o]n’t understand the rule[s] and [am] scared of the IRS," that's all I'll say on the topic. But if this is the sort of thing that floats your boat (which you may be able to declare your second home, thereby entitling you to deduct the interest payments), go hit up Tax Girl and/or the IRS's page about the proposed changes to the preparer regulations.

August 23, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Try 'Legalry' for One-Stop Legal News Shopping


I know this might be hard to believe, but there are some people out there whose thirst for legal knowledge is not completely slaked by the hard-hitting investigative journalism we crank out here at LBW. Of course, there are quite a few listings of legal websites and blogs out there, and we're all capable of cruising around them and setting up an RSS feed.

But why? Someone's already done it for you. Vu Nguyen, now (presumably) a second-year law student at the Oklahoma City University School of Law has created Legalry, a legal news aggregator that pulls stories and posts from over 650 sources (including Legal Blog Watch), organizes them, and provides a hover-over summary to help you decide if it's worth clicking through.

Nguyen's site has, it seems, been around since sometime last year, though I only recently discovered it, and it doesn't seem to have gotten a lot of buzz. I think it deserves some, and as someone with the power to generate a buzz factor approximately the equivalent of that induced by a can and a half of MGD 64, I hereby bestow it on Nguyen and Legalry.

If you want to read about Nguyen's motivations, check out Legalry's "about" page. And if you're wondering what's going on in the wide world of law, hop over to the home page a couple times a day. 

Welcome to the big time, Legalry.

August 23, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (2)

August 20, 2010

What Do Law Students and Puppies Have in Common?

Nothing. Which doesn't mean the former, specifically 1Ls, can't learn some valuable lessons from the latter, according to Neetal Parekh's post on the Greedy Associates blog this morning.

Parekh doesn't explicitly suggest learning not to pee on the rug, but distills canine wisdom for baby law schoolers into six nuggets. My favorite:

3. Be able to fall asleep anywhere. You may soon find that a well-timed 15 minute nap on a library desk can be sweeter than your favorite double fudge sundae. Being able to sleep when you have time to will make you a much happier (and more-agreeable) 1L.  Know when to schedule a 'last call' for caffeinated beverages so you can get a decent snooze.

Just don't let that habit stay with you if you manage to snag a summer associate position.

August 20, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (2)

Saudi Judge Considering Spinal Cord Damage as Sentence for Assault

Maybe this is why some commentators are so concerned about U.S. courts relying on foreign law.

On his It's (Barely) Legal blog, Georgia Municipal Court Judge Glen Ashman linked to an Associated Press report about a judge in Saudi Arabia who appears to be taking the concept of the punishment fitting the crime a wee bit too far.

The judge, Saoud bin Suleiman al-Youssef, has reportedly been inquiring of hospitals as to whether it would be medically possible to paralyze a man who was convicted in a cleaver attack that left the victim paralyzed. The "eye for an eye" request was made by the victim's family, who were apparently unsatisfied with the seven months in prison served by the attacker before he was granted amnesty.

The request is based on Islamic law, and reports that the judge is considering it are being taken seriously by human rights organizations:

Amnesty International expressed concerns over the reports and said the rights group was contacting Saudi authorities for details.

"We are very concerned and we will appeal to the authorities not to carry out such a punishment," said Lamri Chirouf, the group's researcher on Saudi Arabia. Such measures are against international conventions against torture and international standards on human rights.

Though the report indicates that at least one hospital has refused to agree to the procedure, it's frightening to imagine a judge who would even entertain the idea. Good day to be thankful you live in a country that bans cruel and unusual punishment, even if that concept is not defined to include denial of fresh fruit. And, also, a country where we protect the freedom of speech even of those who think it might be OK to sentence a man to paralysis.

August 20, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0)

DOJ and FTC Issue New Merger Guidelines; Commissioner Hates Them

Yesterday, the Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission released the long-awaited update to the Horizontal Merger Guidelines. And, as reported by the Blog of Legal Times, FTC Commissioner J. Thomas Rosch signed on to the new version with reservations -- to put it gently.

While the FTC's press release touts the new guidelines' ability to "give businesses a better understanding of how the agencies evaluate proposed mergers," Rosch, in a separately issued statement, was critical of not just the final product, but the entire process by which the guidelines were generated.

From the BLT:

"What [the antitrust] bar and their clients deserve is what these guidelines promise at the outset — namely, that they will be a complete and accurate description of what our enforcement staff considers in merger investigations and that they will be a helpful guide to courts,” wrote Rosch, a Republican and former partner at Latham & Watkins.”These guidelines are neither.”

Yikes. Rosch opines that too much influence was exerted by economists, and that, though public workshops were held during the review process, they were dominated by "members of the defense bar, academics, and other kindred souls," resulting in too much price-theory gobbledygook making the final cut.

No doubt the guidelines will be sliced and diced by the antitrust cognoscenti over the coming days and weeks, as the draft version was in April. So stay tuned.

August 20, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (1)

NY Court: OK to Serve Servants on Sunday

What days do you not want to be served with process? I believe Clay Walker has an answer to that question. But a little known (to me) provision in the New York General Business Law actually prohibits service on Sunday.

Or does it? The Religion Clause blog posted a link yesterday to an opinion out of New York Supreme Court in Nassau County, holding that service on Sundays is valid as long as you can be sure that you're not disturbing the "repose or religious liberty" of the defendant or the person accepting service. When that person is a "concierge in a multiple dwelling," you can be sure you're not. Thus, said the court in Carbon Capital Management, LLC v. American Express Co., service is valid.

The opinion is kind of rambling, and the validity of service as to the defendant in question was not the primary issue. But the court did make clear its reasoning: to assume that Sunday is everybody's Sabbath might violate the Establishment Clause of the Constitution. And, where you're the poor sap stuck working as the concierge on Sunday, you're obviously not too deep in prayer. Unless, of course, you're praying for a better schedule the next month.

August 20, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0)

August 19, 2010

If the Dingo Ate Your Baby, Shouldn't the Death Certificate Say So?

Lindy Chamberlain-Creighton sure thinks so. She is the (in)famous mother of Azaria Chamberlain, the nine-week-old girl who disappeared in the Australian Outback back in 1980. Chamberlain-Creighton and her husband claimed that little Azaria had been snatched by a dingo.

The dingo story was viewed with some skepticism and, though the baby's body was never found, her mother was tried and convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison. Years later, Chamberlain-Creighton was released and exonerated when a piece of Azaria's clothing was found in the area from which she disappeared. However, a subsequent coroner's inquest was inconclusive, leaving the official cause of death undetermined.

The story of Azaria's disappearance was made into a movie featuring Meryl Streep, and "maybe the dingo ate your baby" will live on as a pop culture reference longer than any of us.

Now, as the 30th anniversary of the incident is upon us, Chamberlain-Creighton is appealing to Australian authorities, in a letter published on her website, to officially designate "dingo" as the cause of death on the child's death certificate.

According to The Associated Press, the attorney general of the Australian territory where the certificate is filed has asked for an inquiry, and the baby's father has also commenced legal proceedings to have the cause of death changed.

August 19, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Iowa Restaurant Fined for Toad-Licking Chef

I ate a meal in Davenport, Iowa once. Once! But alas it was not at the Osaka Restaurant, which was issued a fine by the Scott County Health Department last week.

Not for the usual "evidence of vermin" or "insufficient refrigeration of uncooked meat." No, Osaka was fined $335 because of a YouTube video showing its head chef "kissing and licking" toads, and then shoving them in his mouth. All of this happened in the restaurant kitchen, with the toads (note, some reports identify them as frogs) hopping around on the food prep table when not actually being kissed, licked or chewed. The restaurant owner said he will pay the fine, and will further train his staff on appropriate sanitary procedures. If you need to be "trained" not to lick and touch live animals in the kitchen, perhaps a change of career is in order.

The video has been pulled from YouTube, but the local NBC station weaved some of the action into its story on the incident, in which the chef himself says the whole thing was "like, sorta like a dare . . . or, you know, a prank . . . a joke . . . whatever." Enjoy.

August 19, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (1)

How the Sausage Was Made: Corporate Counsel Interviews Robert Jackson Jr.

Jackson If you've read the 2,200 page Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, signed into law by President Obama last month, well, you're a better man than I.

But even those of us who haven't read it page by page and line by line probably know that it's kind of a big deal. And, as with all legislation, you might wonder, "how do they come up with this stuff?" Corporate Counsel has a partial answer for you in its interview with Robert Jackson, Jr.

Jackson is now preparing for his first semester as a professor at Columbia Law, but spent the last year or so advising the Treasury Department in connection with the reform legislation. Jackson, formerly a Wachtell associate, helped draft provisions in the law regarding "say on pay" and independence requirements for compensation committees. He discusses his contributions and opines that, while the law isn't perfect, it's a good start. Its success or failure hinges on the future actions of regulators, including the Securities and Exchange Commission, he says.

Scary note: according to the article, Jackson will solicit the help of students in his "Law, Economics, and Regulation of Executive Compensation" class in drafting implementing regulations for the SEC. Guess that makes sense since many of the SEC's actual lawyers are likely busy with other things.

August 19, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Oklahoma City Bomber Doesn't Like Prison Food, Judge Doesn't Care

Nichols Remember Terry Nichols, the other guy who was involved in the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City?

Nichols has been making his home in Florence, Colo. since his 1997 conviction on charges related to the bombing. Last year, Nichols decided to file a lawsuit, claiming that the food he was being served -- which he described as "dead and refined" -- constitutes cruel and unusual punishment. Not only is it cruel and unusual to limit his menu options, said Nichols, but it violates his right to the free exercise of religion, since such food is "abhorrent to [his] sincerely held religious beliefs" and thus causes him to "sin against God."

U.S. District Judge Christine Arguello in Denver wasn't buying it. She dismissed his claims last week. Arguello was apparently unmoved by Nichols' claims that the lack of insoluble fiber in his prison grub was preventing him from a blissful routine of "easy, daily bowel movements, with soft stools." Sorry, Terry. You'll have to struggle with digestive issues sometimes just like the rest of us.

I am, as usual, in agreement with Kevin at Lowering the Bar:

Hey, if you would prefer to have your events catered by Wolfgang Puck, don't help somebody blow up a building.

(Thanks to KFMB 760AM in San Diego for their excellent Photoshopping skills.)

August 19, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0)

August 18, 2010

Is PACER Providing Sufficient Public Access to Federal Court Documents?

Pop quiz: Do you know what PACER stands for? I, admittedly, had to look it up, despite having been a frequent user in years past. But it's Public Access to Court Electronic Records. We've previously covered the ongoing crusade (led by Carl Malamud) to make court documents, PACER and otherwise, available for free in several posts

In that last linked post, I mentioned that the federal government was engaged in a "comprehensive study" of how to improve its services to the public. Harlan Yu at Freedom to Tinker posted yesterday that the study has been completed, and while the results have not officially been released, he did find an interview with Bankruptcy Judge J. Rich Leonard, in which Leonard discusses some of the findings.

Leonard paints a pretty rosy picture in terms of user satisfaction, claiming that 80 percent of surveyed users were purty darned happy with the system. But Yu questions the fundamental premises of the study:

If we compare public access before we had PACER to where we are now, there is clearly much success to celebrate. But the key question is not only whether current users are satisfied with the service but also whether PACER is reaching its entire audience of potential users. Are there artificial obstacles preventing potential PACER users -- who admittedly would be difficult to poll -- from using the service? The satisfaction statistic may be fine at face value, assuming that a representative sample of users were polled, but it could be misleading if it’s being used to gauge the overall success of PACER as a public access system.

Yu wonders whether PACER is fulfilling its mission when 45 percent of users appear to be attorneys practicing in the federal courts, and notes that costs may still present an obstacle to potential users despite Judge Leonard's statement that costs were not a major concern identified in the study. Thoughts?

August 18, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (3)

D.C. Circuit Has Fun With Freud and Solon

Over at the Volokh Conspiracy, Jonathan Adler pointed to an opinion issued by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit yesterday, in which the court refreshingly found a way to weave some whimsy into an otherwise not particularly funny incident.

The case, Sigmund v. Starwood Urban Retail VI, LLC, represents a gentleman's attempt to collect some cash on a negligence theory as a result of his being in the wrong place at the wrong time. The wrong place being an SUV, the wrong time being when the bomb rigged by his half brother in an attempt to kill their father happened to go boom. The plaintiff, who sustained some serious injuries, sued the owners of the garage where the car was parked, based on the fact that at the time the bomb was placed the garage door was broken (it was stuck in the open position).

The D.C. Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment to the garage owners, on the grounds that the intervening criminal act of the plaintiff's kin was not foreseeable. And the court started the opinion with flair:

Solon, the ancient Athenian lawgiver, made no law against patricide because he thought it impossible that anyone could commit so unnatural a crime. Two and a half millennia later, Freud famously claimed the opposite -- that every son harbors murderous impulses toward his father. In this case, we side with the lawyer not the psychoanalyst. Donald Sigmund, the accidental victim of a car bomb that his half-brother intended for their father, cannot recover from the third-party defendants he has sued unless his half-brother’s crime was foreseeable. We conclude that neither that crime nor any similar one was foreseeable, and thus affirm the district court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of the defendants.

Kudos to Judge Merrick Garland of the D.C. Circuit (or his clerk), and also to the Volokh commenter who noted that the plaintiff's last name was likely the judge's inspiration.

August 18, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (1)

Motivation vs. Belief and Objective vs. Subjective in Criminal Law

In an interesting post on the Dorf on Law blog this morning, Sherry Colb explores the difference between motivation and belief in assessing the actions of both criminal defendants and police officers. 

Colb's post is an extension of her column posted at FindLaw, in which she criticizes the Supreme Court's decision in Michigan v. Fisher, released last December. In Fisher, the Court applied the "emergency aid" exception to the Fourth Amendment's warrant requirement in holding that a police officer's entry into a home sans warrant was justified because, upon his arrival, the officer observed the defendant bleeding, screaming and throwing things inside the house. Colb opines that the "little-noticed" per curiam opinion "could ultimately undermine the constitutional requirement of 'probable cause.'"

Why? Because the Court held that whether or not a situation meets the "emergency aid" test is to be judged objectively rather than subjectively; i.e., the relevant question isn't what the officer on the scene believes, "but whether there was 'an objectively reasonable basis for believing' that medical assistance was needed, or persons were in danger."

If logically extended to the probable cause standard for a search, Colb says, this ruling could mean that:

an officer who knows that a person has committed no crime and harbors no evidence could, in theory, still arrest and search that person because appearances might have led another officer to conclude, reasonably, that the person did commit a crime.

In the Dorf post, Colb expands on her column, reflecting on the difference between a rule where an officer's motivations are irrelevant to one where his beliefs are irrelevant, and why the concepts of intent and motive are distinguishable when assessing a defendant's guilt:

Why distinguish intent and motive?  We do so because intent (or some level of awareness with respect to the likely consequences of one's actions) helps distinguish between innocent behavior and guilty behavior.  The person who unknowingly turns on a light switch that causes an explosion is an innocent person, despite having been the causal agent of a death.  Intent (or the beliefs under which an actor is operating) determines whether or not she is guilty at all.

Motivations, by contrast, generally turn someone who is already guilty into someone who is either worse than or not as bad as the typical guilty person.  They do not ordinarily either independently establish guilt or negate it.

She explores how this difference might come into play in the context of self-defense and hate crime sentence enhancements.

Though I'm not sure I agree that the Fisher decision is the death knell for the notion of probable cause, both of Colb's pieces are thought-provoking and worth a read.

August 18, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Passing on 40-Year Plea Deal, Paralegal Indicted for Embezzling $1 Million

Stogner Out in the west Texas town called El Paso, a former paralegal and office manager has been indicted for allegedly embezzling over $1 million from the law firm where she worked between 1999 and 2007.

According to the ABA Journal (via the El Paso Times), Rosanne Stogner's duties at Oaxaca, Bernal & Associates included "paying bills." And that she did. Including the bills for her daughter's personal trainer. Stogner (whose mugshot was apparently taken underwater) also allegedly wrote checks to herself, her husband and her husband's fence company. The husband, Michael, was indicted as well.

Mr. Stogner's attorney, Michael Gibson (who wants you to "stop worrying" and call him, should you ever be arrested), said that the charges against his client were filed only after Mrs. Stogner turned down a plea deal pursuant to which she would have served 40 years in prison, which he said is more than most murder defendants receive. He suspects the Oaxaca firm may have some shady connections to the district attorney's office, and has "started going back in to the campaign contributions to the court and to the DA's office to see if there's any political influence there."

And I thought nothing exciting happened in El Paso.

August 18, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (1)

August 17, 2010

Tuesday's Three Burning Legal Questions

Here are today's three burning legal questions, along with the answers provided by the blogosphere.

1) Question: I'm at Starbucks. All I want is a plain bagel. Period. But that stupid barista won't serve me a plain bagel unless I specifically utter the words, "no butter or cheese." Why? Why?

Answer: Sometimes at Starbucks the barista will yell, "You're not going to get anything unless you say butter or cheese" and then call the police on non-compliant customers. That happens. Say what they want you to say or face the consequences. (Consumerist, English Professor: I Was Booted From Starbucks Over Bagel Linguistics)

2) Question: Is it my imagination or did someone Photoshop a can of pepper spray and a badge into Will Ferrell's hands in place of guns in "The Other Guys" movie poster?

Answer: You must be in San Francisco. No poster guns allowed. (SF Weekly, 'The Other Guys' Movie Poster Disarmed By Muni)


3) Question: I'm disabled and pretty much broke. Any chance I can get the government to agree to pay for prostitutes and lap dances for me?

Answer: Do you live in the U.K.? If so, and if it will help your "mental and physical well being," that should be no problem. (Telegraph, Councils pay for prostitutes for the disabled)

August 17, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (1)

'Simplicity Guru' Alan Siegel's 'Simplified Credit Card Agreement'

Via Public Citizen's Consumer Law and Policy Blog I came upon the great video below featuring Alan Siegel, a branding expert and "simplicity guru." One of Siegel's missions is to put legal documents for government and business into plain English, and he has offered up a stellar example of that in the form of a simplified credit card agreement (click the thumbnail below to see full size):


Siegel says he locked himself in a room and created this simplified agreement after hearing President Obama ask why credit card companies could not offer customers a clear, one-page agreement explaining the terms of the relationship. I'd say he did a pretty darn good job and his effort is far clearer than anything I've ever received from my credit card company.

August 17, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (1)

Using CiteStack for Legal Research and 'Bluebook-Quality' Citations

Back in May 2010, in this post about the possibility of abolishing The Bluebook from the legal world, I wondered if there could at least be a 21st century alternative. For instance, couldn't Microsoft bake the 400 pages of The Bluebook into a lawyer-focused version of its Word software, which you could then use to automatically correct citations in your work?

I still have not seen such an alternative (confession: I have not been looking all that hard), but today I did discover via the Futurelawyer blog an interesting citation and research tool called CiteStack. CiteStack allows users to capture, cite, and organize legal research using Google Scholar. Using CiteStack, you can:

  • save selections from cases, and organize the selections according to case and issue;
  • annotate your research;
  • automatically create "Bluebook-quality" citations and pincites for the portions of cases you select.

The video below provides a useful demonstration of how CiteStack may be quite useful to lawyers. Note that it is only available as a plug-in for the Google Chrome browser at this time, and is not free ($69 after your free trial expires).

August 17, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (3)

'Our Hearts Are With Jesus, but Our Bodies Are at the Foxhole' Strip Club

Stripperspastor Grab a box of tissue before you read this post, as your eyes will surely be moist when you learn the latest developments in last week's "Creative Counter-Protesters" post about a church that protested a strip club, which led the strip club to then protest the church. Yes, that photo to the left shows pastor Bill Dunfee, pastor of New Beginnings Ministries, hugging it out this past Sunday with a tearful Laura Meske, a stripper at the Foxhole strip club.

One of the peacemakers who made this unlikely embrace a reality is a woman named Sheri Brown. The Columbus Dispatch reports (via Consumerist) that Brown took a break from her usual job of "evangeliz[ing] to strippers in San Diego" and flew to Ohio late week after reading about "Foxhole strippers camping out in front of the church during worship services in recent weeks, many dancing in bikinis to music from George's bright-orange Dodge Challenger."

On Sunday, Brown and a "stripper-turned-Christian" named Anny Donewald were guest preachers at Dunfee's church. They urged the congregation to rethink the parking-lot protests outside the Foxhole strip club, telling the members of the church that "it's not our job to tell these women that it's time to get out of there. Just love them. Let the Holy Spirit draw them out." This led many women from the church to file out into the street, "hugging the strippers and apologizing to them."

Donewald and Brown also went to the Foxhole on Friday and Saturday to meet the strippers, and Brown reported to the congregation that "two girls accepted Jesus in their hearts." The two strippers confirmed their acceptance of Jesus to the Dispatch, but said they won't be leaving their jobs at the Foxhole anytime soon: "Our hearts are with Jesus, but our bodies are at the Foxhole," Gina Hughes said.

In addition, it should be noted that notwithstanding the numerous hugs on Sunday, this beef is not over. Dunfee told the Dispatch that he will continue his "ministries" every weekend outside the Foxhole and push for the club to close. Foxhole owner Tommy George said that so long as Dunfee's flock keeps messing with his club, he'll keep going to the church on Sundays with carloads of friends and strippers. So stay tuned.

August 17, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (1)

August 16, 2010

Monday's Three Burning Legal Questions

Here are today's three burning legal questions, along with the answers provided by the blogosphere.

1) Question: I'm a 26-year-old woman at a topless beach in Italy. Why are the police standing by my towel and giving me a hard time about being topless?

Answer: Sometimes police will open an investigation if a furious mother on the beach complains that an “attractive” sunbather is rubbing lotion on her body in a way that “troubled her sons aged 14 and 12.” (, Topless sunbather accused of sensuously rubbing in sun cream)

2) Question: I'm a priest. I just put a great door sticker on my car that reads... wait for it... "God Squad." Hilarious, right?!

Answer: Great stuff, Father, but you need to get that off of your car before the lawyers from Best Buy find you and send you a cease-and-desist letter. (Fond du Lac Reporter, Priest receives cease-and-desist order from Best Buy) (via Bad Lawyer


3) Question: I'm not going to lie, I was driving way too fast -- about 290km/h (180mph), which was about 170km/h over the limit. What is the fine for that in Switzerland?

Answer: One million dollars. (BBC, Swede faces world-record $1m speeding penalty)

August 16, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Canadian Case Finds Children Have No Duty to Supervise Elderly Parents Living Independently

Elderlycare Via a post by David Cheifetz on the blog, I came across the Ontario case of Morrison v. Hooper, 2010 ONSC 4394.  Morrison addresses the interesting question of whether adult children have a legal duty to supervise an elderly parent who is living independently. The answer? No.

84-year-old Anna Morrison was crossing a street near her home in Toronto when she was struck by the defendant's car and sustained serious injuries. Notably, at the time of the accident, Ms. Morrison did not live with her son and daughter (who lived in Ottawa and Mississauga, Ontario respectively).

Morrison and her family (her son and daughter) brought a claim against the defendant. The defendant argued among other things that Morrison's son and daughter "failed to properly supervise the conduct of Anna Morrison and the failure to supervise or monitor her activities caused or contributed directly to the accident." The defendant noted that at some point prior to the accident, the children had sought advice from a geriatric psychiatrist about their mother, and that based on that discussion the children should have forced her into undergoing an "assessment" of her condition. Had such an assessment taken place, defendant argued, "the accident may have been avoided as Ms. Morrison might have had more supervision on the evening of the accident."

Judge Wilson, however, was not persuaded by the defendant's argument, ruling that there is no duty in law for a child to supervise an elderly parent who is living independently:

I conclude that an elderly parent living independently from the children is not in a special relationship of vulnerability with the children in a corresponding position of power. Children do not owe a duty to proactively force elderly parents to submit to an unwanted assessment. An elderly person living independently, even with some difficulties, is autonomous, unless judged otherwise by the court after consultation with expert capacity specialists.

The judge stated that "an elderly person’s autonomy is to be respected," and further observed that

To extend a duty of care to children of elderly parents living independently would create chaos in litigation. It would add cost and delay as tactics emerge sidetracking the main focus of the issues as is evidenced by this litigation.

August 16, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (1)

The Rise of 'Sextortion' Against Teens Posting Racy Photos of Themselves Online

We've seen plenty of examples recently of men using "sex-by-trick" to get women to sleep with them (e.g., pretending you are a "Jewish bachelor looking for a serious romantic relationship" or pretending you are a good-looking male model whose elderly dad (actually you) "requires constant sex to stay alive") -- but The Associated Press reports that a far creepier tactic is now on the rise: "Sextortion."

Cameramirrortop According to the AP, federal prosecutors are seeing an upswing in cases of online sexual extortion, where "teens who text nude cell phone photos of themselves or show off their bodies on the Internet are being contacted by pornographers who threaten to expose their behavior to friends and family unless they pose for more explicit porn, creating a vicious cycle of exploitation."

Some recent examples:

  • Three girls at a party visited an Internet chat room and yielded to requests to flash their breasts. A week later, one of the girls started getting e-mails from a stranger who said he had captured her image on the webcam and would publish the pictures unless she posed for more explicit pictures and videos for him. On at least two occasions, the girl did what her blackmailer demanded.
  • A 24-year-old man in Alabama was sentenced to 18 years in prison in April for "sending threatening e-mails on Facebook and MySpace extorting nude photos from more than 50 young women in Alabama, Pennsylvania and Missouri."
  • An 18-year-old man in Wisconsin recently received a sentence of 15 years in prison after he "posed as a girl on Facebook to trick male high school classmates into sending him nude cell phone photos, which he then used to extort them for sex."

Steve DeBrota, an assistant U.S. attorney in Indianapolis, warned that women who show off their bodies on the Internet need top realize that once the photos are online, "[y]ou are blackmailable... and you will do anything to keep those pictures from getting out." 

August 16, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (5)

Twitter Law: What Damages, Crimes and Injuries Has Twitter Led To?

Walking Let me preface this by saying that I do not know the answer to the question in the headline above, and the answer may well be "none." But ever since I got Twitter installed on my BlackBerry, it has occurred to me that we cannot be far away from a time when we will regularly be reading articles with headlines such as "Six Car Pileup Results After Man Checks TwitterFon on Beltway" or "Local Woman Walks Into Manhole While Posting TwitPic."

And yet, to date, I have not seen any car crashes, boat wrecks, slip-and-falls, or any of the other things I expected directly attributed to Twitter. Are they out there? Are there other types of cases out there where damages, injuries or even crimes are being connected back to people using Twitter? If you have seen anything on this point, please help "crowdsource" an answer to this question in the comments section below.

Pre-emptive comment strike: I understand that walking into a manhole while reading your Twitter feed on your iPhone is not Twitter's fault. No need to go there!

August 16, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (5)

August 13, 2010

Friday's Three Burning Legal Questions

Here are today's three burning legal questions, along with the answers provided by the blogosphere.

1) Question: Chad Johnson was allowed to change his name to Chad Ochocinco. Why can't I change my name to "Boomer the Dog?"

Answer: Some judges feel that "Boomer the Dog" could result in "confusion in the marketplace," and could lead to chaos if Boomer the Dog tried to call 9-1-1 emergency, for example. Sorry, dawg! (WPXI, Judge Denies Pittsburgh Furry's Request To Change Name To 'Boomer The Dog') (via Bad Lawyer)

2) Question: I'm a (former) flight attendant.  I cursed out a passenger, pulled the emergency chute releasing a sliding board, grabbed two beers and slid off of my last flight. Can I get my job back?

Answer: We'll have to wait until more of the facts are in on this one. But as comedian Andy Borowitz advised today, "Dude, you can't go up that slide." (Twitter feed of @AndyBorowitz)

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3) Question: Hi, John Doe here. Along with some other John Does and Jane Does, I just got sued for bootlegging at a concert that hasn't even happened yet? Can they do this?

Answer: We'll see soon, in Live Nation Merchandising v. John Does 1-5, Jane Does 1-4, and XYZ Corp. now pending in federal court in Los Angeles. (THR, Esq., Live Nation joins effort to pre-sue concert bootleggers)

August 13, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0)

One Very Tough Job: Music Copyright Enforcement Agent

Bmi Via the Entertainment & Media Law Signal blog I came across a great article in last week's New York Times about what appears to be a very tough job: "licensing executive" at a performing rights organization such as Broadcast Music Incorporated. PROs license the music of the songwriters and music publishers they represent, and their licensing executives have the unenviable task of going out into a hostile world to try to collect royalties whenever that music is played in a public setting.

Like the "pool permit" enforcers I discussed here last week, the Internet has made the licensing executive job a little easier. In the past, BMI had to staff "14 regional offices around the country, with field agents reading local newspapers and scouring the land on foot and by car, ever on the lookout for new bars and restaurants or old ones that aren’t paying for their music." Now, however, those offices are closed, and agents work via telephone from BMI's Nashville headquarters. In the 21st century, licensing agents can track online ads about live music or karaoke nights, and prowl online state registries of liquor licenses.

Still, getting businesses to pay up is a daunting task. The article discusses the efforts of an agent named Devon Baker, who is often reduced to tears by her job. Sometimes people merely curse at her and kick her off their property. Others call her a "vulture that flew over and came down and ate up all of the little people.” Another "gentleman" at a Kentucky RV resort told her over the phone that he was going to come to her office and “spray her down” with a machine gun. And one female punk-rock-club owner "ripped up Baker’s licensing agreement, ordered her out of the club, followed her out the door, spit a huge goober on the paperwork and stuck it to Baker’s windshield."

Still think you want the job? The article adds that Baker and about 24 other licensing executives at BMI "make about a million calls a year" as they carry out BMI's "slow-boil form of suasion. Rather than initiating legal action, BMI and other P.R.O.’s prefer a kill-them-with-patience approach that can take dozens of phone calls, letters and as long as 10 years."

Read the full article here.

August 13, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (2)

Are These Posters Sold at Sears Pornographic or Merely 'NSFPL'?

Searslbw On Wednesday, I discovered the "Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood" and its brave crusade against the "horrifying" action figures currently found in McDonald's Happy Meal boxes. Today's discovery: the "American Family Association" and its battle to get Sears to stop selling the type of posters that most teenage boys have had on their bedroom wall at one time or another.

The AFA has carved some time out of its normal agenda of condemning homosexuals and seeking a complete ban on the construction of mosques to peruse the posters on sale at, and it is not pleased. "Extremely graphic and offensive" and "pornography," as they see it. AFA says that it has "tried more than a half-dozen times to reach out to Sears quietly and professionally. Sears' public relations department has refused to return our calls and emails." According to a website called LifeSiteNews that is supportive of AFA, a Sears employee stated that “[w]e … have reviewed the products in question and found that they do not fall outside our marketplace guidelines.”

As part of my investigation into this matter (which took place at a public library due to an Internet outage), I navigated past the not one, not two, but three separate warning pages provided by the AFA telling me that I was about to "view pornographic material sold by the Sears company." I finally got to the "material," however, and offer the following conclusions:

1. Most of what is seen in the posters can also be seen every day at the beach, in the pages of Cosmopolitan magazine, on the walls of Abercrombie & Fitch, etc.

2. Notwithstanding conclusion number 1 above, the posters did not pass the "acceptable to view at the Great Falls Public Library without significant awkwardness" test. I guess that means that at a minimum they are NSFPL ("Not Safe for Public Library")

You can draw your own conclusions on the arguably NSFPL Sears posters here after going through the three warning pages.

August 13, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (8)

August 12, 2010

Miami Drug Court Judge in Minivan Nabs Skating Camera Thief

Thief One of the things I love about this gig here at LBW is that it gives me an excuse to read some fairly obscure legal blogs. For instance, I can't imagine why else I might find myself randomly checking out the Justice Building Blog, which is dedicated to the goings on in and around the Richard E. Gerstein Justice Building in Miami.

Had I not clicked on the link for the Justice Building Blog, I would never have found this post, about Miami Drug Court Judge Deborah White-Labora's role in pursuing, and ultimately apprehending, a guy on Rollerblades who had just stolen a camera from a Miami Herald photographer as he prepared to take some pictures of a taco truck. (Not just any taco truck, but the Taqueria Mexicana Orale truck, winner of the Miami New Times' Best Taco 2008 award.)

Judge White-Labora (not pictured, left) was flagged down by the taco truck proprietor and, at his urging, chased down the blader, until her teenage sun could hop out of the family minivan and pounce on him "like a cobra." At which point, the kid, the robber and the taco guy scuffled. Then, the gentleman in whose yard this melee was taking place brought things to a halt by whipping out his handgun and holding everyone there until cops arrived.

Though the photog's camera was damaged, he got the ultimate revenge: a picture of the perp being shoved into the back seat of a police car, published in the Herald along with a story about the whole bizarre incident.

August 12, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (1)

Philadelphia Utility Threatens to Send Overdue Balance of $0.00 to Collections

Nobody likes to be threatened with having their alleged unpaid bills turned over to a collections agency. I imagine that Avi, some guy from Philly, likes the threat he received from Philadelphia Gas Works even less than the average consumer.

At Consumerist, Phil Villarreal has posted a copy of the collection notice Avi received, which encourages him to pay his outstanding balance of $0.00 immediately. Avi was unsure how to handle this. Phil suggested sending in a check for $0.00. I'm partial to the idea of showing up at one of PGW's service centers with this:


August 12, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0)

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