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October 29, 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'm broke but I want some property to call my own. Where can I get some free land?

Answer: Try Marquette and Atwood, Kan.; Elwood, Neb.; Marne, Iowa; Muskegon, Mich.; or Camden, Maine. They're giving it away! (Curbly, 6 Places Where Land is FREE) (via Consumerist)

Fog 2) Question: The fake fog from this haunted house made me have an asthma attack. Can I sue the haunted house?

Answer: That exact question is being litigated in St. Louis. Stay tuned, and steer clear of any more haunted houses this weekend. (, Teen's Scary Fog Machine Suit Spooks Haunted House)

3) Question: A former friend of mine and I just got into a huge fight. Now he wants me to ink a tattoo on his back with that stupid "yin and yang" image and some dragons. I'm thinking I might just punk him by tattoing a 16" penis on his back with some text implying that he is gay. That will teach him not to mess with me, right?

Answer: Indeed. But you may end up getting arrested for assault, too. (NY Daily News, Worst tattoo ever? Amateur pranks friend by giving him obscene ink instead of yin-yang he asked for)

Image: The Fog

October 29, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (2)

Whither the Nordstrom's Employee Handbook Contained on an Index Card?

Via Consumerist I came across an interesting story about the Nordstrom department store. According to a book called "The Nordstrom Way", the company for years had an employee handbook that consisted solely of a single 5 inch by 8 inch index card. The card, shown below, proclaimed that the company had "only one rule... Use good judgment in all situations."

Of course, such simplicity and quaintness was probably doomed to not survive in our litigious society, and according to Nordstrom's Wikipedia page, "new hire orientations now provide this card along with a full handbook of other more specific rules and legal regulations."

If this is true, I guess you can now say that Nordstrom still has only one rule, broken out into a handbook of sub-parts and regulations. Are there any Nordstrom's experts out there who can confirm or deny the death of the single index card handbook at the company?

Image: The Nordstrom Way

October 29, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (2)

Lawyers Lag Behind Business World in Utilizing the iPad

Ipad I wrote back in April 2010 about how trial lawyers were beginning to integrate the iPad into their trial preparations and presentations to juries. A post yesterday on Tablet Legal explores some recent research on the impact of the iPad in the business world and how the findings might apply to law firms more generally.

As discussed on The Unofficial Apple Weblog, a new Forrester report finds that:

1. The iPad is beginning to displace the traditional laptop, particularly among those who use a laptop primarily for email and web-based communications.

Tablet Legal writes that there is not much evidence that this is similarly occurring in the legal world so far, which is "surprising considering the typical short list of lawyer computing needs: reading, writing, email, calendar, contacts, internet. All of these are handled well by the iPad."

2. The iPad is replacing paper. Forrester found that "wherever people would usually carry around stacks of paper or files, particularly in medical and pharmaceutical industries, the iPad is now the preferred choice."

Tablet Legal writes that this trend also does not seem to have taken hold in the legal world. Many lawyers still "feel they can only edit or review a document in its printed form," TL writes, also noting that the move to abandon paper may begin to grow with the next generation of legal professionals.

3. The iPad is allowing companies to be more efficient, Forrester says, "by providing immediate connection to further resources and data." For example, a sales rep may use the iPad to customize a customer’s order on the showroom floor.

Tablet Legal says this is strike three for lawyers, who have not really begun to do anything similar for their clients. TL adds that two "huge opportunities" for greater efficiency may be (a) in document review/annotation, and (b) access to legal information:

The iPad offers a way for lawyers to easily bring what otherwise would fill boxes of documents and review those easily. Similarly, with an iPad a lawyer can have volumes worth of books easily accessible at the touch of a button – whether stored locally (though as noted above, this hasn’t appeared yet) or accessible via the Internet. I haven’t yet seen the first story of extensive and comprehensive document review being conducted on iPads, though I am sure the time is coming.

TL asks a great question that is also worth repeating here: is there a particular iPad "app or resource [that] could make the iPad as ubiquitous as the yellow pad?" What is it?

October 29, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (5)

October 28, 2010

Thursday's Three Burning Legal Questions

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

Oconnor 1) Question: Why does retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor keep calling my home at 1:00 in the morning? Stop it, Sandy!!

Answer: The Nevadans for Qualified Judges would like to apologize to you for a "snafu of the highest order." That robocall from Justice O'Connor was was supposed to go out at 1 pm, not 1 am. (Las Vegas Review-Journal, Robocall mishap shows Nevadans don't want ANY questions at 1 a.m.)

2) Question: One one hand, I have two cases of beer that I need to transport safely to my home in my car. On the other, I have a two-year-old and a four-year-old boy that I also need to drive home safely. And yet, I only have one car seat. Please advise on how I should arrange the seating.

Answer: I don't have all of the car safety laws handy but I know this: choosing to place the beer in the only car seat is the wrong answer. (Corpus Christi Caller Times, Police arrest man after beer found in child safety seat)

3) Question: I'm pretty darned sure I just found a chicken brain in my box of KFC. The store claims it is a chicken kidney, but whatever--I'm gonna get PAID here, right?

Answer: Brains? Kidneys? That's weak! Call me when you find a used condom in your meal, then we'll talk about you getting paid.  (Consumerist, Which Is Worse To Find In Your KFC: Chicken Brain Or Kidney?)

October 28, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (2)

Porn Industry May Play the 'Shame Card" in Litigation to Stop Piracy

With it's YouTube public service campaign against piracy apparently not getting the job done, the porn industry has apparently moved on to Plan B: the shame card.

Law & Disorder reports that last week in Tucson, a large number of porn studio reps and lawyers gathered for a "content protection retreat." The goal of the CPR was to get the industry working together on an anti-piracy strategy that will work by January 2012. The retreat was top secret, but L&D reports that lawyers presently "engaged in widespread 'Doe' litigation against anonymous file-swappers were present to make their case."

L&D reports that the porn industry is highly dependent on individual sales to home users, and is therefore more at risk from the various porn "tube" sites that now appear on the Internet. These sites are "modeled after YouTube," L&D says, and are "awash in copyrighted content." One unique litigation advantage the porn industry may possess against pirates is the weapon of shame. As one industry executive stated last month, "It seems like it will be quite embarrassing for whichever user ends up in a lawsuit about using a popular shemale title. When it comes to private sexual fantasies and fetishes, going public is probably not worth the risk that these torrent and peer-to-peer users are taking."

October 28, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (2)

Lawyers Litigate Who Will Pay for 'I'll Make Them Pay!' Slogan

Try to follow closely here because this gets a bit confusing.

On one hand we have Cleveland lawyer Tim Misny, who has run commericials for some time now promising Ohioans that if they are wronged, "I'll Make Them Pay!"

Bad Accident? "I'll make them pay!"

Birth injury? "I'll make them pay!"

Hurt at work? "I'll make them pay!" reports (via Overlawyered) that in April 2010, Misny attempted to get a trademark for his catch-phrase, but learned that a Louisiana lawyer named Gordon McKernan had been awarded a trademark for "I'll make them pay" a few months earlier.

I will now pause for a moment to allow you to vote on what happened next:

(a) Misny and McKernan had a good laugh about the coincidence and Misny moved on to a new catch-phrase.

(b) McKernan graciously gave up his trademark to Misny, saying Misny had put a lot of time and effort into making the phrase well-known.

(c) Everybody sued everybody.

DId you say (c)? If so, then well-played. The correct answer is that Misny filed a suit in federal court against McKernan claiming that Misny has "continuously and heavily used the phrase" since at least June 2006. Misny's lawsuit seeks to have McKernan's trademark registration canceled, or for the court to grant Misny the right to use the phrase in the local markets where Misny is now using it.

McKernan, however, has responded that he used the phrase before Misny, and is demanding "$150,000 for the trademark, except in Louisiana." reports that Misny claims to have no worries about the dispute, saying that when all is said and done, "[m]y mom will continue to be able to tell her friends at church and in the grocery store that her son can make them pay."

October 28, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (3)

Is There a Time Traveler Strolling Through Charlie Chaplin's 1928 Film, 'The Circus?'

Timetravel I'm asserting jurisdiction over the intriguing video below under Rules 1 and 3 of the LBW Rules of Procedure based on the fact that (a) I saw it on the Consumerist blog, which is blawgish, and (b) "pick of the litter" jurisdiction applies here given that the underlying information may prove that time travel exists.

The video below lays out the case in detail, but by way of background, indie filmaker George Clarke was viewing the DVD special features of Charlie Chaplin's 1928 movie "The Circus" when he stumbled upon a scene that neither he nor any of the hundreds of people he has shown the scene to can explain: a woman strolling down the street talking on what appears to be a 21st century cell phone.

As Consumerist and Clarke observe, there were no cell phone towers or satellites in the 1920s, so how could the woman in the movie be talking on a cell phone unless she was a time traveler? Please take a look at the video (skip to the 1:45 mark or so if you are pressed for time) and help confirm or debunk the time travel theory in the comments below.


October 28, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (12)

October 27, 2010

Do Lawyers Use Macs? Survey Says . . .

I've been around long enough that I remember the days when saying "I have a Mac at home, can I check my email remotely?" to your firm IT guy would result in ridicule, at best, and at worst possibly a maliciously delivered Trojan Horse virus eating up your draft summary judgment brief the day before it was due.

But the times they are a changin', and, according to LBW alum Bob Ambrogi, someone's gonna quantify that change. Specifically, software company Clio is conducting a survey on the extent of Mac use in law firms. Here's a link to the press release announcing the survey, and here's a link to the survey itself.

The results of the survey will be revealed -- no doubt in dramatic fashion -- at next month's MILOfest, which is, no joke, billed as "A Mac-Lovin' Lawyers Event." [Insert your own McLovin' joke here.]

Also, if you take the survey, you'll be entered to win an iPad. So go to town.

October 27, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (4)

Make Your Own Lawyer Ad for Just $229!

Here at LBW, we're big fans of poking fun at lawyer advertising. I mean, it's kind of easy. I watch these videos and look at these billboards, and wonder who comes up with these things.

But if you're a law firm that needs to get your name out there and lack the budget to hire Don Draper, your options are sometimes limited. Now there's a new software product that promises to make creating your own ads a breeze. It's called Legal Ad Pro. It hasn't been released yet, but you can pre-order it for the special introductory price of $229.

And what do you get for that money? Glad you asked:


My favorite part of that video -- the animation shot of erasing one lawyer's name and phone number and filling in another's.  Seems like purchasing this software is akin to guaranteeing that your ads and marketing materials are going to look just like those of anyone else who forks over the $200. Which, I guess, is ok if you're confident no competitor in your neck of the woods is gonna beat you to the punch. But I thought one goal of advertising is to distinguish yourself, rather than be all generic.

The company's press release promises "Madison Avenue results at a very affordable cost." And there is some inherent value in a license to use a bunch of stock images (some samples of which are posted on Facebook!). I'd be interested in playing around with the software to see just how easily you can customize their templates and generate usable materials. Any readers out there participating in the beta test who can share their experiences?

October 27, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (3)

Hells Angels Sue McQueen and Saks

I don't know that it merits "Lawsuit of the Day" honors, but it paints a pretty entertaining picture. As reported in Bloomberg Businessweek (and noted by the Lawline Legal Beat blog), the Hells Angels are suing fancy pants fashion house Alexander McQueen and my sister's favorite "charity," Saks Fifth Avenue, for infringing on the motorcycle group's (I didn't say "gang") famous "death-head" trademark.

According to the complaint, not only are the defendants using the trademark without a license, but they're using it on items like $2,300 purses that aren't even big enough to hold the keys to your chopper and $1,600 dresses that look like slightly artsier versions of those skeleton t-shirts lazy people wear on Halloween. Also named as a defendant is

McQueen died earlier this year in an apparent suicide. Which is a shame, because it would have made great television to hear his commentary on the ensembles of the Hells Angels as they left the courthouse, should this thing ever get that far.

October 27, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (7)

Election Conspiracy of the Day: Voting Machine Techs and Harry Reid

Hang in there, folks. It's almost over. Less than a week until Election Day. While I'll miss some of the more hilarious campaign ads ("I carry a gun in my boot!"), it will be nice to be able to go back to focusing on the real issues of the day, like whether Miley Cyrus has converted to Hinduism.

Until then, though, I'm compelled to bring you stories like this one. Fox 5 Las Vegas is reporting that several citizens participating in the early voting process in Boulder City, Nev. have shown up to find that incumbent Democratic Senator Harry Reid's name has been conveniently pre-checked for them on the fancy electronic voting machines. Or so says one voter, Joyce Ferrara. But she says the same thing happened to her husband. So, there you go.

The Clark County voter registrar says the issue is that the touch screens are just super sensitive. No big whoop.

That sounds reasonable. God knows I still can't successfully complete a three word text message on my iPhone without a typo. But could there be another explanation? One that would make for better sound bites? Of course there is.

See, the technicians who maintain the voting machines in Clark County are members of the local Service Employees International Union. And the SEIU endorses Harry Reid. Ergo, VOTER FRAUD CONSPIRACY! Here's what Publius (that's original) at Breitbart's Big Government blog has to say about it. And Mark Hemingway in the Washington Examiner. And, finally, the demand for action from Americans for Limited Government:

“The U.S. Attorney’s Office, the Nevada State Attorney General, and the U.S Marshalls [sic] need to act now to ensure that the SEIU does not continue to compromise the integrity of ballots in Nevada, and anywhere else in the country. The democratic process is too precious to be tampered with and abused.”

Raise your hand if you miss hanging chads.



October 27, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (1)

October 26, 2010

Southern District of Florida Spiffs Up Website

Miami lawyers, move on up to the edge of your seats. The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida has unveiled its new and improved website.

I must admit that I was not all that familiar with the old version, so I'm largely taking on faith the opinion of David Oscar Markus at the SDFLA Blog that it's a "big improvement." But in cruising around it, I can confirm that I found it to be pretty darn user-friendly. Also, as opposed to the situation on the website for the District of Montana, I didn't detect a single use of comic sans. So that's good.

I did take Markus's suggestion that I try viewing the mobile version on my phone. But for the lack of a visible "Quick Links" bar (which contains links to lists of recent cases filed, among other things), the mobile version also seemed to work fairly well.

Both the Southern District of Florida and Markus encourage users to take a survey about the website and provide a link for that purpose. Because I already took the survey, I am unable to successfully reproduce that link. Blogger Fail. But you can all go ahead and take the survey too, if you're into that sort of thing.

October 26, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Soros Joins Snoop in Bid to Legalize Pot in California

Here at Legal Blog Watch, we've covered many different angles on the debate about the legalization of marijuana, which is on the ballot in California next week. We talked about the public defender who made a reasoned argument for legalization, though he was not optimistic. We profiled LEAP, a group of cops, prosecutors, and others who you would think might be on the other side, but that favor legalization.

This morning, another voice has weighed in on the issue. It's the voice of money. The Sentencing Law and Policy blog has some lengthy excerpts from a Wall Street Journal editorial written by billionaire George Soros, in which he explains his support for Proposition 19. Soros opines that exposure to the criminal justice system is potentially more detrimental to a young person than marijuana itself, that enforcing marijuana laws costs taxpayers billions while benefiting only foreign drug kingpins, and that laws against marijuana, from their inception, have been motivated by racial prejudice. Woah, heavy.

Soros is no stranger to the drug legalization cause, and has donated millions to support other reform intiatives in the U.S. A poll conducted by the Los Angeles Times and the University of Southern California last week had 51 percent of respondents opposed to the California legalization measure, and 31 percent for it.

October 26, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (1)

Two Senate Candidates Suggest Minimum Wage Is Unconstitutional

I thought running for office on a platform that included repeal of the amendment providing for direct election of senators was odd. "Vote for me so I can take away your right to vote."

Now, we've got two theoretically viable candidates for the United States Senate out there blabbing about the federal minimum wage law being unconstitutional. Sigh.

Time (via the ABA Journal) is reporting that Republican candidates Joe Miller (Alaska) and John Raese (West Virginia) have been saying, in public, with all sorts of audio and video recording equipment present, that the mimimum wage law is unconstitutional.

Not just that it's a silly idea, anti-small business, etc. etc. Those arguments are old news. Miller and Raese are saying Congress does not have the power to enact such a law. Perhaps they should go back and read U.S. v. Darby Lumber Co. Or, even better, Gary Norton's piece on Daily Kos, which is written with the appropriate degree of snark and disdain.

I hate traffic and the New York Yankees, but they're not unconstitutional. I know this, and I didn't even go to Yale Law School. Let's go back to talking about who's a witch.


October 26, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (1)

October 25, 2010

Animated Video Trend Taken to the Next Hilarious Step: Plea Negotiations

As with the Hitler video meme, I am, embarrassingly, behind the times regarding the animated videos any old schlub can make using xtranormal. Witness my post last week re: "So You Want to Go to Law School."

But I'm trying to catch up. And thanks to D.A. Confidential, I'm now in the loop on the latest, funniest adaptation of the technology. Here's Confidential's take on a plea negotiation between a defense liar lawyer and a prosecutor. It's pretty sweet:


And though the video went up only on Saturday, the criminal defense bloggers are already buzzing. Mark Bennett thinks defense lawyers like the one in the video are the reason he can charge such high rates. And Scott Greenfield expanded on Bennett's theme, noting that coming into a case after some other hack has already fouled things up with the prosecutor requires some janitorial skills:

Trying to explain the problem to potential clients who seek representation after their first shot didn't pan out as well as they hoped, I often use the analogy of the lawyer as gunslinger, a Paladin, who brandishes a six-shooter.  I explain that their choice of going cheap cost me a few of my bullets, and they are leaving me with only a few chances to do my work.  It's an imperfect analogy in many ways, but it usually gets the point across. 

Once defense counsel goes off half-cocked to the prosecutor, the die is cast.  Indeed, to the extent there was any doubt of the defendant's guilt before, the prosecutor is now certain that he's got the right person because the defense lawyer's act of desperation confirmed it.  But you're not guilty?  Try undoing that certainty in the prosecutor's head.

If you are aware of other good legal-themed xtranormal animations, feel free to throw some links in the comments. We allow that over here.

October 25, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (1)

Polar Bears Treated Better in Denmark Than in D.C.

Why you gotta hate on the polar bears, Capitol Police?

That question is being asked -- in the form of a lawsuit, natch -- by a bunch of people who dressed up as said bears and put on a little show outside the Longworth House Office Building back in 2007. Lowering the Bar has the story (from Courthouse News Service). The bear-costumed protesters were attempting to draw attention to the impact on global warming of the war in Iraq. And they allege that they were singled out by police for arrest to the exclusion of non-bear-suit-clad attendees who were, unlike the bears, actually being disruptive and blocking sidewalks.

Here's a copy of the complaint. If the Minneapolis zombies can get a settlement, I'm thinking the polar bears have a pretty good shot as well.

At Lowering the Bar, Kevin notes that Danish police were much more courteous toward bear protesters at the UN Climate Change conference last year. Then again, some of those people were probably just wearing the costumes to keep warm.

October 25, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0)

A Little Power is A Dangerous Thing: High School Football Officials Face Discipline for Charity Support

Pink October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Unless you live in a shack in the woods, you've probably figured this out by now. Supermarket checkout workers are asking if you want to donate a dollar, and there's pink everywhere, from the Empire State Building to fleets of 18-wheelers.

One of the biggest supporters of breast cancer awareness has been the National Football League, with players, coaches, officials and, yes, cheerleaders, wearing various and sundry pink items to show their support. So one would think that, if a bunch of high school football officials in Washington State wanted to get in on the philanthropy, using pink whistles during their games last Friday night and donating their pay to the Susan G. Komen Foundation, it would be a pretty run-of-the-mill feel-good story.

One would, incredibly, be wrong. 140 of the officials used the pink whistles over the weekend and, as such, are in trouble with the Washington Officials Association. Todd Stordahl, head of the association, said that the refs had not asked permission to deviate from the standard equipment, and suggested those who participated might be prohibited from working in playoff games. He spouted off something about violating the rules and setting bad examples for players.

But, as noted by the Bleacher Report blog, and as confirmed by a "source" of mine (read: college buddy) who happens to be a high school football official in the great state of Washington, there don't appear to be any rules dictating the color of whistles that must be used during games. D'oh!

Once the story went national, Stordahl released a meaningless blurb of a half-hearted explanation, but stuck to his guns:

"WOA deeply regrets that there's any perception that we don't support any breast cancer programs," he said.

But still, Stordahl insists the referees needed to ask before changing their whistles.

"As someone who follows sports, that's all that we have are rules, regulations and interpretations."

To be more specific, what we have here are rules and regulations that appear to mention nothing about the color of an official's whistle, and an interpretation that makes sense only to someone so oblivious to the world around him that he should be required to wear a helmet when crossing the street. Congratulations, Todd. Way to take a stand for phantom principles while sacrificing anything resembling common sense. You're certainly getting your name out there.

October 25, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Muslim Truck Driver Sues After Being Fired for Refusing to Transport Alcohol

Good morning and happy Monday, LBW readers. I thought we'd jump right into the week with an interesting Constitutional discussion.

The discussion centers around a complaint filed 10 days ago in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania by a man who says he was fired -- or, more accurately, forced to resign -- from his job as a truck driver for refusing to transport alcohol, in this case, Miller Lite. The plaintiff, Vasant Reddy, is a Muslim, and says that delivering cigarettes and booze violates his religious convictions.

The complaint is pretty bare bones, and the Philadelphia Inquirer captures the essence of it here. As does Eugene Volokh, at the Volokh Conspiracy, where, as usual, the debate is ramping up in the comments. Volokh runs through the 2 prongs of the "religious accommodation" test under Title VII and grants Reddy the benefit of the doubt as to the fact that his refusal was based on a "sincerely held religious belief." The remaining question: whether accommodating that belief imposes an undue hardship on the employer.

Reddy's complaint alleges that less than 5 percent of his employer's loads contain alcohol or tobacco, so it should be no big whoop to assign those loads to other drivers. In fact, that's what he alleges happened when first refused to move the beer. It was only after the load had been transported "without incident" that he was given the choice: resign or be fired.

Volokh concludes his post as follows:

Maybe it’s bad for federal law to impose such an obligation on employers, whether because the law is too vague, imposes unduly on private employers, imposes unduly on coworkers, gives an undue preference to conscientious objectors (it has been interpreted to apply to nonreligious conscientious objectors as well as religious ones), or something else. But it does impose such an obligation, and provides a valuable benefit to religious objectors. Muslims are no more and no less entitled to this benefit than are Christians, Jews, or others.

And from there, the commenters take off, waxing poetic on how the percentage of naughty stuff-containing loads can be misleading in the context of cross-country trucking, noting that Muslims are necessarily aiding in the transport of such goods every day since the diesel fuel powering the trucks comes from the Middle East, and describing in great detail the roundabout way in which Royal Brunei Airlines gets around the Sultan's objections to alcohol to allow its passengers to get sloshed.

A similar case in the U.K. back in 2008 resulted in a loss for the employee who objected to handling alcohol. Of course they don't have Title VII over there.

Let's join the discussion, readers. What do you think -- does Reddy have a valid claim of religious discrimination?


October 25, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (13)

October 22, 2010

Sting to Perform at The Lanier Law Firm's 2010 Holiday Party

You thought your 2009 law firm holiday party at the Marriott was great because you got three free drink tickets and the DJ played "Thriller" at your request?

But you don't work at The Lanier Law Firm, which has taken the law firm holiday party to the next level. In 2008, The Lanier Law Firm's party featured teen star Miley Cyrus and it upped the ante in 2009 by bringing in the band Bon Jovi. The Tex Parte blog reports that The Lanier Law Firm has scored another hugely popular artist for 2010, as Sting will be performing for the firm and its friends and clients.

Tex Parte reports that Lanier expects about 8,000 people to attend the event, which he holds at his home in the Cypress area northwest of Houston (big yard?).

October 22, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (6)

Conn. Law Firm Offers First 'Drive-Through Legal Service'

Drive-thru I've written here before about the frequent fussin' and fightin' at the Wendy's drive-through window, but here's a story about a much more civilized drive-through in the town of Manchester, Conn. The building housing the drive-through used to be a Kenny Rogers Roasters restaurant, but is now occupied by the Kocian Law Group. Instead of boarding up the drive-through, however, the law firm plans to keep it open so that its clients can easily pick up and drop off documents.

NBC Connecticut reports that attorney Nick Kocian reasons that "[w]e have drive-thrus for ATMs and we have that customer convenience. Why not a law firm?" He says he has been told this is the first drive-through legal service in Connecticut, if not the country.  Kocian explains that the firm has many clients who visit the firm weekly to pick up workers compensation checks. Rosa Castillo, a paralegal at the firm, adds that "clients really love it.  It's convenient for them."

Is it true that this is the first "legal drive-through" in the U.S.? If not, please refute in the comments below. You can see the drive-through in action in this video:

October 22, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (3)

Was the August Plane Crash in the Congo Caused by an Escaped Crocodile Onboard?

Congo On Aug. 25, a Filair LET L-410 aircraft flying from Kinshasa Ndolo to Bandundu (Democratic Republic of Congo) with 18 passengers and three crewmembers crashed approximately 2 km from the Bandundu Airport. There was only one survivor. The initial report from the "provincial governor" attributed the crash to the aircraft running out of fuel, the Aviation Herald reported.

A couple days later, the lone survivor spoke to investigators and infomed them that fuel was not the problem, but rather an "imbalance" caused by passengers, who "noticed that the airplane was not heading for the runway...then rushed to the cockpit unbalancing the aircraft to a point where control was lost." Indeed, the Aviation Herald later reported that 150 liters of fuel were recovered from the wreckage.

Today, however, it is being reported that the imbalance in the aircraft may have occurred because of a far more unusual reason. The Daily Mail reports (via Consumerist) that, in fact, the imbalance was caused when a crocodile escaped from a carry-on bag, triggering a "stampede of passengers trying to avoid the reptile."

Citing a report by news organization Jeune Afrique, the Daily Mail states that the crocodile's owner had hidden the animal in a large sports bag. As the plane was descending into Bandundu, the croc escaped and the "terrified air hostess hurried towards the cockpit, followed by the passengers." Jeune Afrique also reports that the crocodile survived the crash, but was then cut up with a machete.

October 22, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (2)

October 21, 2010

U.K. Squatters Will Be Moving Into Your House, Thank You Very Much

Squatters Did you know that sometimes in the U.K., when you go on holiday and leave your £700,000, five-bedroom home triple-locked, squatters will enter the property and, upon your return, refuse to let you back in the home and basically tell you to get lost?

The London Evening Standard reports that hotelier Connan Gupta moved out of his house in Camberwell for a week while it was being renovated. When he returned, he discovered "10 unwelcome visitors" -- Italian students who somehow got in and then changed the locks. The article reports that the squatters (four men, six women, plus two dogs) acknowledge that they are unable to pay living costs in London. They say that they are not leaving as "the property had been unoccupied and they had not broken in."

Gupta has hired lawyers to try to force the squatters out, but he is learning that in the U.K., "squatting" is merely a civil offense. As such, the police will not help him. Gupta told the Evening Standard that "we just have to sit here and wait. It's as if the squatters have more rights than I do." He added that "it is really scary that you can go on holiday and come back and your house has been taken."

Image Source: Chubby Fingers blog

October 21, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (5)

Belgian Woman Convicted of Murder for Tampering With Fellow Skydiver's Parachute Out of Jealousy

See if you can guess where this sad story is headed:

  • A Belgian woman, Els Clottemans, was "intimately involved" with a man who was a Dutch skydiver.
  • Another woman, Els Van Doren, was also intimately involved with the Dutch skydiver.
  • Clottesman was jealous of Van Doren, and wanted the Dutch skydiver's attention all to herself.
  • Clottemans and Van Doren were members of the same parachute club
  • (uh oh ... ).
  • Clottemans and Van Doren planned a parachute jump from the same plane on Nov. 18, 2006 (oh no ... )

Any guesses what happened?

Well, yesterday, Clottemans was sentenced to 30 years in prison for tampering with Van Doren's parachute, which the jury found caused Van Doren to plummet to her death when her chute failed to open during the Nov. 18, 2006 jump.

According to the Associated Press, the jury agreed that a jealous Clottemans was guilty of murdering Van Doren by sabotaging her parachute so neither it nor a safety chute would open during the jump. As a result, "Van Doren crashed into a garden in the East Belgian town of Opglabbeek and died instantly."

October 21, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (3)

FCC Now Tweeting Baseball Playoff Updates for Irate FOX-Cablevision Subscribers

An unresolved dispute between cable TV provider Cablevision and FOX's parent company, News Corp., has led FOX to pull New York's FOX 5 and My9 from the Cablevision channel lineup. Nobody would probably care too much about this except for the fact that the spat, now in day six, has coincided with baseball's National League Championship Series (on FOX), meaning that three million subscribers could not watch the Giants-Phillies games.

In dueling press releases, Cablevision says News Corp. is guilty of an act of "corporate greed." News Corp. says that it is actually Cablevision’s "demand for preferential treatment" that is causing the problem. Cablevision has also called for News Corp. to agree to a mediation with the Federal Communications Commission to resolve the issue, and two U.S. senators from New Jersey have jointly asked the chairman of the FCC to intervene.

The FCC has not intervened, but rest assured, our nation's communications regulator is not sitting idly by. Claiming on its Twitter page last night that it was going to help "fill in the baseball void for those without Fox-Cablevision," the FCC began tweeting updates on the Phillies-Giants game.

So there's that.

October 21, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (3)

October 20, 2010

Wednesday'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 political candidiate and I'm headed into an important debate. Can you give me a quick primer on the separation of church and state?

Answer: I'm sorry, I don't have time for that right now. But don't worry, I'm sure it won't come up in the debate. (Above the Law, Christine O’Donnell Asks: ‘Where in the Constitution Is Separation of Church and State’?)

2) Question: Why is there a calimari ring on top of my hamburger? Or is that an onion ring?

Answer: I am extremely sorry to be the one to tell you that you may be looking at neither calimari nor an onion ring. There may be a nice legal settlement in your future, though. (Consumerist, Man Settles With Burger King Over Used Condom In Whopper)

3) Question: I'm a lawyer and also a party to a lawsuit. The court keeps e-mailing me orders demanding that I produce this record or that record. How about I just block the court's e-mail address on my computer and then I won't receive any of this stuff??

Answer: That is a really bad idea, which could lead to you being suspended from the practice of law. (Legal Profession Blog, E-Mail From Court Blocked, Attorney Sanctioned)

October 20, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (4)

South Carolina Case Will Turn on Whether Poker Is a Game of Luck or Skill

Poker Yesterday, the South Carolina Supreme Court heard oral argument on an issue that my empty wallet and I already know the answer to: Is poker a game of luck or skill?

The Post and Courier of Charleston reports (via How Appealing) that if the answer is "skill," then South Carolina residents will be permitted to hold poker games in their own homes without violating the state's anti-gambling laws. This was the view taken by Charleston Circuit Judge Markley Dennis last year, who ruled that the poker game Texas Hold 'em was a game of skill, not chance. The state's attorney general, Henry McMaster, is now challenging that ruling.

According to The Post and Courier, in April 2006 police raided a South Carolina home and arrested dozens of people after authorities discovered that two Texas Hold 'em tables were operating inside. Some of those arrested challenged the charge, and Judge Dennis' ruling led to the cases being thrown out. Dennis found that the game of poker is determined more by "the relative skill of the player" than anything else and also that, as I have learned the hard way myself, "a more skilled player will consistently beat a less skilled player." 

In his appeal, McMaster argued that "In the General Assembly's view, the ills resulting from games played for money does not depend upon the particular game or the nature in which it was played." He added that if the case in question "does not violate (state law), few would."

October 20, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (3)

Short Fuse at Anger Management Class Leads to Stabbing

Angermgmt I sometimes write about legal matters I find on the awesome FAIL Blog, so let me return the favor by offering a clear "Anger Management Class FAIL" that FAIL Blog is welcome to run with. Surely we will be seeing this in an upcoming episode of some cop drama on TV.

The Seattle Times reports (via Legal Juice) that at a recent 9 a.m. anger management class run by the court system, Faribah Maradiaga ambled into the classroom while a video on anger management was being shown. Maradiaga promptly began complaining about the movie and disrupting the class, prosecutors say. This led another presumably short-fused attendee (aka, the "victim") to tell Maradiaga that "the video was good and to give it a chance."

It was at this point that the teachings in the video (deep breaths? count to 10?) might have helped Maradiaga. Rather than go the "Peaceful Warrior" route, however, Maradiaga allegedly stood up, started talking "trash" to the soon-to-be victim, pulled out a knife with a 3-inch blade and stabbed the woman several times in the arm and shoulder. She also threatened to kill the victim's family.

I assume she also failed the class.

October 20, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (1)

Life Imitates Art in 'Shards O' Glass' Recall

Shards I found the "Shards O' Glass" commercials (see one below, and many more here) from the Truth anti-tobacco campaign to be pretty amusing and effective.

But I didn't anticipate that life would imitate art so quickly, with a real company issuing a real recall because its food products contain ... real shards o' glass! Via the Class Action Central blog, I learned that Pictsweet Co., which distributes frozen vegetables, is now recalling 24,000 pounds of different food products because it has discovered shards o' glass in the food. The recalled vegetables were distributed to Kroger stores in the southeastern U.S. and Walmart stores throughout the U.S., the company stated in a press release.  No injuries have been reported to date.

The recalled items include Kroger 12-ounce Green Peas, Kroger 12-ounce Peas and Carrots,
Great Value 12-ounce Steamable Sweet Peas and Great Value 12-ounce Steamable Mixed Vegetables.

October 20, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (2)

October 19, 2010

Common Sense and Delicious Tater Tots Prevail in Hot Coffee Case

Yesterday we reported on the suit filed by the family of a kid who claimed to have been injured by hot sauce that was too hot at a Tennessee Steak 'N Shake. In coming up with other examples of suits against restaurant chains for food-related injuries and distress, I purposefully omitted the most well-known variety: the hot coffee case.

This genre of legal nonsense was pioneered by Stella Liebeck and her attorneys back in 1992, and, much to the chagrin of thinking people everywhere, lives on to this day. So I was thrilled this morning to see that at least one federal judge faced with such a suit didn't surrender his brain to the marshals on the way into the courthouse.

Point of Law pointed me to the Abnormal Use blog's writeup of a decision granting summary judgment to Sonic restaurants in a hot coffee case out of Louisiana. While it's hard not to sympathize with anyone whose "groin area" was severely burned by hot coffee, it's also hard to take seriously his claims that he was surprised by the fact that the coffee was hot.

Creativity points, though, are definitely in order for plaintiffs counsel's attempt to rebut the testimony of the defense's coffee temperature expert (which phrase, to me at least, evokes an image of weatherman Ollie Williams saying, "It's HOT!"). They had the plaintiff, Gerald Colbert, swear out an affidavit, based on his having taken chemistry in high school, that because there was steam coming out of his cup of coffee, and steam is produced when water boils, and water boils at 212 degrees, his coffee must have been at least 212 degrees at the time he dumped it in his lap.

As Abnormal Use points out, litigating the case to summary judgment may well have cost Sonic more than offering up a settlement early on, but sometimes it really is the principle of the thing. Next time, Gerald, may I suggest one of Sonic's delicious Route 44 Cherry Limeades?

October 19, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (9)

Grigorieva Brings In 40th Lawyer for Mel Gibson Child Support Case

Ever heard a partner tell a client or a junior associate that the firm "staffs matters leanly?" That phrase is designed to fool the client into believing that his bills will be reasonable and to fool the associate into believing that he will actually get to do some meaningful work.

Well, if your client is Oksana Grigorieva (which is Russian for "Mel Gibson's baby mama"), there's apparently no need for this charade. TMZ is reporting (via the Family Law Prof Blog) that Grigorieva has just hired her 40th attorney in her child support battle with Gibson. Who's the lucky lawyer that just made the cut to fill out the 40-man roster? It's LA family law practitioner Mitchell Jacobs. Congratulations, Mitch!

If you're curious about the other members of the team, TMZ published an exhaustive list over the weekend. If you're curious why anyone would choose to reproduce with Mel Gibson, get in line.

October 19, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (2)

Blogging Jury Foreman Turned In by Uptight 'Law Prof'

I, as a law geek, am one of approximately three people nationwide who legitimately laments the fact that he's never had the opportunity to serve on a jury. Most people find the prospect about as attractive as an unanesthetized root canal.

So I'm not sure what led blogger, librarian and Mets fan Bruce Slutsky to believe that people would be interested in reading his daily musings on his jury duty experience in New York Supreme Court, Queens County. But he obviously thought it worthwhile to document the "ordeal," as he called it. And what did he get for his trouble? More trouble.

As reported by the New York Times (via the ABA Journal), Slutsky's blogging caught the eye of professor John Clark, of the University of Texas at Tyler, who was Googling around for research on juror behavior. (Note that the Times refers to Clark as a "law professor," but from what I can tell UT-Tyler does not have a law school. Clark is listed in the faculty directory as "Assistant Professor of Criminal Justice.") And Clark tattled.

Professor Clark notified the court of Slutsky's blog posts, and maintains that some of Slutsky's commentary "crossed the line." For example, this post, where Slutsky complains that the plaintiff was repeating himself on the stand. But neither the lawyers in the case nor the judge, after reviewing the posts and interviewing Slutsky, thought he did anything to warrant being dismissed as a juror.

Perusing the posts, I'd have to agree. Slutsky never identifies the parties or talks about the substance of the case. It's mostly just garden variety bitching about the process, how long it's taking, how inefficient it is, etc. Only after the verdict was rendered last Friday did Slutsky give any information about the case, and it was still rather generic.

Does this bother anyone? Do we need to make sure the instructions given to jurors admonish them against discussing "jury duty," rather than just "the case?" Slutsky certainly isn't the first person to blog about jury duty (see here and here). Thoughts?

October 19, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (6)

'So You Want to Go to Law School' Sets a New Bar for Anti-Law School Videos

Right up front, let me say that Above the Law has scooped us on this one.

Last evening, Elie Mystal whipped up a post on an animated YouTube video called "So You Want to Go to Law School." The video was posted to YouTube last Thursday by someone calling himself "dwkazzie." dwkazzie, whose real name is apparently David, first posted the video on his own blog, Wahoo Corner, where he confesses that the best thing to come out of his law school experience is his marriage.

I know the chances are extremely slim that any of you who are reading this blog don't also read Above the Law (unless you're currently boycotting them). Seriously, the statistics don't lie. But if, by throwing the video up here at LBW, we can save even one additional moron misguided youth from the fate of the Lego-girl in this video, then we're doing God's work.

So, without further ado, please enjoy "So You Want to Go to Law School." Thanks, dwkazzie and ATL.



October 19, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (2)

October 18, 2010

Reader Poll: Favorite Legal-Themed Song

So I'm not sure I'm gonna get a lot of votes in this one, but on my way to the office this morning, I heard Aaron Watson's "Off the Record" on the radio. Here, enjoy the live version:


Country music is rife with songs about divorce and the like; see here for a nice rundown. And, of course, plenty of songs about getting in trouble with the law (one of my all-time favorites being "Bubba Shot the Jukebox"). But not too many of them focus on the attorneys as pointedly as "Off the Record," which starts right off with "I got a letter from your lawyer, you got one from mine." And it got me to thinking.

So if you're having a slow day, take some time to scroll through your iTunes library and play around on the interwebs (if you're busy, here's a shortcut) and vote in the comments on your favorite legal-themed song, country or otherwise.

October 18, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (1)

Kentucky Coroners Want You Out of Their Way

Via, I learned of pending legislation so important that it's been "pre-filed" for the 2011 session of the Kentucky General Assembly. What's the urgent issue? Coroners statewide want to be able to use lights and sirens when responding to the scene of a death.

Though the bill would allow lights and sirens, according to the Lexington Hearld-Leader, it would not allow coroners to exceed the posted speed limit. The state representative who introduced the bill, Republican Marie Rader, is well aware of the gripes of medical examiners who have to sit in traffic, because her brother is the coroner in Jackson County. Gotta get there before the dead bodies get tired of waiting and walk off, after all.

Let's hope if the bill passes Kentucky's coroners don't let the power go to their heads like one Colorado coroner's investigator did last year.


October 18, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Lawsuit of the Day: Kid Injured by 'Deleterious' Hot Sauce

Sauce What started out as a nice family dinner at the local Steak 'N Shake has turned into a lawsuit.

The incident in Cleveland, Tenn., though, wasn't your typical condom on burger or finger in chili deal. No, this lawsuit, as reported by OnPoint News, claims that a Steak 'N Shake waiter pulled the old switcheroo on little Caleb Gann. Caleb ordered chili, and the waiter asked if he would like "hot sauce" with it. Who wouldn't? So the waiter brought over a "bottled substance" he called hot sauce. Alas, it wasn't your garden variety hot sauce, but Blair's Mega Death Hot Sauce, or, as worded in the complaint, a "deleterious substance" that waiter "John Doe" failed to warn Caleb "contains ingredients 500 times hotter than a jalapeno chile."

Caleb reportedly broke out in hives, had trouble breathing, and experienced inflammation of his GI tract, for which he was rushed to the hospital. The Ganns argue that they relied on the assumption that the sauce was "a product that Steak 'N Shake customarily serves to its customers," and should have been warned that the waiter was bringing the fire.

I'm no Judge Carton, but I want to know if the bottle in which the "substance" was brought to the table was the Blair's Mega Death Hot Sauce packaging (pictured, left). If so, I think the "failure to warn" aspect of the plaintiffs' claims is weak.


October 18, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (4)

'The American Lawyer' Interviews the Attorney Credited With Discovering Robo-Signers

To ease you all into another week of . . . whatever it is all of you do . . . I thought I'd link out to some easy, feel-good reading on The American Lawyer magazine's website.

Every day, new, more disturbing allegations about the "robo-signers" employed by mortgage lenders to process foreclosures are coming to light. The magazine published a brief interview with the attorney whose actions are being hailed as the proximate cause of the ever-expanding foreclosure freeze (or, if you must, Foreclosure-Gate).

Thomas Cox, of Portland, Maine, has been working on foreclosure cases -- pro bono, through an organization called Pine Tree Legal Assistance -- for several years. In a front-page New York Times story on Friday, he describes how he came to take the deposition of Jeffrey Stephan, an employee of GMAC who signed thousands of foreclosure affidavits in his role as a "limited signing officer."

In the deposition, Stephan admitted candidly that he had signed approximately 400 foreclosure affidavits a day for GMAC, without reviewing the underlying files, and without having his signature properly notarized. As the dominos have fallen, many of the country's largest mortgage lenders have halted foreclosures, either in certain states or nationwide, and the attorneys general of all 50 states, as well as the Justice Department, are investigating.

So next time you raise a glass, toast Thomas Cox. Praise him for doing good deeds for homeowners who have fallen on hard times while simultaneously keeping the banks' attorneys busy churning those billables in an attempt to minimize damage caused by the sh*tstorm he started.

October 18, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (4)

October 15, 2010

Yes, It's an FDCPA Violation to Threaten to Harm a Debtor's Children

Please allow me to present Exhibit A from the "Why do debt collectors get a bad rap?" file.

From Evan Brown's Internet Cases blog, I learned of the recent opinion in Sohns v. Bramacint, out of the District of Minnesota. Cases in which a plaintiff alleges that a debt collection agency violated the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act by engaging in one form of harassing conduct or another are a dime a dozen. But an employee of Bramacint LLC seems to have gone the extra mile, aided by modern technology, in an attempt to collect back payments on a car loan.

From Internet Cases:

The first bad decision was to use a caller-ID spoofer to make it look like the collection call was coming from plaintiff’s mother in law. The next not-smart use of technology was to access plaintiff’s MySpace page, learn that plaintiff had a daughter, and to use that fact to intimidate plaintiff. There was evidence in the record to suggest that the collection agency’s “investigator” said to plaintiff, after mentioning plaintiff’s “beautiful daughter,” something to the effect of “wouldn’t it be terrible if something happened to your kids while the sheriff’s department was taking you away?”

Color me surprised that seeing your mother-in-law's number on caller ID would make you more likely to pick up the phone. But wow.

According to the opinion, the Bramacint employee, Vanessa Hummel (who, by the way, identified herself on the phone as "Investigator Ortiz"), denied making those threats, but did admit to having mentioned the plaintiff's daughter to be "intimidating to her that I knew or that I had found her and I would find the car."

The court granted summary judgment on FDCPA liability to the plaintiff. Whose MySpace page is still up. Good for you, Tosha. Don't let those debt collectors scare you into hiding!

October 15, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (3)

Law School Hiring Committee Member: Practical Experience? 'Scratch That.'

It is probably, at best, a footnote in the ongoing debate about law professor skills and qualifications (see here for some of our prior coverage), but I couldn't help but notice it.

In a post yesterday on the Faculty Lounge blog, Professor Michael Lewyn of Florida Coastal School of Law ran through a "mock email exchange" with a would-be law professor concerned that he hadn't gotten enough interviews. Now, I don't claim to know the first thing about the academic hiring process. I don't know an AALS Form from a TPS Report.

But I recognize how quickly Lewyn dismissed the significance of experience with the actual practice of law as a factor in assessing candidates. Read:

I can’t speak for other law schools. But I can speak for myself. There are four major factors I look at (leaving aside affirmative action considerations): teaching experience, subject matter fit, publications, and practice experience. Most applicants have practice experience, so let’s scratch that factor.

No, Professor. Let's not scratch that factor. Even assuming it's true that "most applicants" for law teaching jobs have practice experience, not all practice experience is equal. The applicant who spent 10 years as an ADA should not start on the same footing as the applicant who "practiced" by way of a one-year circuit court clerkship. It matters.

I don't take issue with Professor Lewyn's other criteria, and I have no idea what, if any, practice experience he had prior to seeking asylum in academia. And maybe it's worth considering the point made by commenter "ja" on Lewyn's post:

Don't think anyone should be taking advice from someone who teaches at Florida Coastal.

But it irked me to see that casual a dismissal of the factor that should arguably be paramount in comparing law school faculty candidates. Readers: if you have further thoughts (other than the suggestion that Prof. Lewyn buy a new suit), chime in in the comments.

October 15, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (2)

D.C. Prosecutor Grading 'Law & Order: SVU' Episodes on Authenticity

Via a post on the Volokh Conspiracy, I was made aware of a new blog being maintained by Allison Leotta, a sex crimes prosecutor in Washington, D.C.

Leotta's Prime-Time Crime Review has a synopsis of each of this season's episodes of "Law & Order: SVU," with an analysis of how realistic the depiction of investigating and prosecuting sex crimes is. As someone who was once known to say he learned more about criminal law from watching "Law & Order" (the original, RIP) than from his first year of law school, I was intrigued.

Taking episode three as an example (because four and five are still stacked up on my DVR), I think Leotta is being a bit too kind.

She runs through a litany of unrealistic stuff, including completely off-the-wall harassment of a suspect by police and the fact that the judge (hello, Judith Light!) threw out a rape case at a probable cause hearing despite the victim's clear testimony that the defendant had raped her. And then she gives the show an A- "because of its important, relevant, and powerful message about the need to process the backlog of sex kits in this country."

Come on, Allison! You're a prosecutor fer chrissakes. Be tough!

The blog, though, is a fun concept, and will help you validate some of your reactions to the show without having to annoy your spouse/significant other/pet by saying umpteen times per episode, "that would NEVER happen in real life!"


October 15, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (1)

Heavily Armed Canadian Feared Elves, Made Death Threats on Facebook

That's the sort of headline you just kind of want to leave alone, floating pristinely on the page for all to ponder. But that's not what we do here, so enjoy the quick and dirty:

Via Karl's Weird News (no, I don't know who Karl is) and CTV News, comes the tale of David Abitbol, a 28-year-old Montreal resident who appeared at a bail hearing on Wednesday, after having been charged with threatening -- on Facebook -- to kill certain former teachers and classmates. Police took these threats rather seriously, it seems, because Abitbol had a veritable arsenal of weapons in his house, including handguns, "high-powered rifles" and a .12-gauge shotgun.

These weapons were properly registered, so let's give David the benefit of the doubt and allow him to explain why he felt he needed to be so "well protected."

Elf A man charged with uttering death threats on Facebook armed himself with high-powered weapons because he feared he was being stalked by elves, a Montreal court was told Wednesday.

Quebec provincial police told David Abitbol's bail hearing that he told a friend on the Internet that his .12-gauge shotgun was just what he needed to kill the mythical creatures.

Oh. Well, OK. I guess that's sort of reasonable. I mean, this sounds like a serious problem, not your garden variety elf stalking:

Sgt. Mathieu Bouliane, a Quebec provincial police investigator, read numerous messages Abitbol had written to correspondents on the Internet in which he said he repeatedly saw and heard elves at home and in stores.

At one point, after hearing static on his office walkie-talkie, he complained the elves had followed him there and he would quit if they showed up again.

I hate when the elves mess with my office walkie-talkie.

Just for good measure, David was also charged with being a kiddie porn afficionado, the police having recovered at least 250 inappropriate images of girls aged 10-14 on his computer.

PLEASE go watch the video clip on the CTV site for the stereotypically awesome Canadian accent of the reporter, as well as the image of the prosecutor (whose name is apparently Steeve, with an extra "e") all decked out in his fancy court attire.

And, always, beware of the dwarf.

October 15, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (3)

October 14, 2010

Ga. Supreme Court: Ordinance Requiring Lawncare Does Not Equal Slavery

Grass Via the Meeting the Sin Laws blog, I learned of a woman named Linda Gasses who was convicted and fined $150 under a local ordinance by the city of Riverdale, Ga., for refusing to cut her grass. Rather than break out the lawn mower, however, Gasses elected to take her version of a "you can't make me" defense all the way to the Georgia Supreme Court.

MTSL reports that after her first appeal was dismissed on procedural grounds, Gasses appealed a second time. She argued, among other things, that the ordinance requiring her to cut her grass imposed "involuntary servitude" upon her in violation of the 13th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution as well as the Georgia Constitution.

The Georgia Supreme Court, however, did not agree that the ordinance requiring citizens to mow their grass effectively turned the residents of Riverdale into slaves. The court held in an opinion issued Oct. 4, 2010 that

"The prohibition against involuntary servitude does not prevent the State or Federal Governments from compelling their citizens, by threat of criminal sanction, to perform certain civic duties.” U.S. v. Kozminski, 487 US 931, 944 (108 SC 2751, 101 LE2d 788 (1988). Key examples of such civic duties are jury service, military service, and roadwork. Id. A municipal ordinance requiring a citizen to maintain grass, weeds, and vegetation for the welfare of the community is not constitutionally prohibited involuntary servitude. See Rowe v. City of Elyria, 38 Fed. Appx. 277, 283 (6th Cir. 2002).

If anyone in Riverdale can let me know if Gasses' lawn has been mowed yet, please do so. I'm betting it has not been -- there's still the U.S. Supreme Court to appeal to, right?

October 14, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (7)

Law Students and Associates: Beware of the Red Pen

Redpen According to research by three psychology and social sciences professors, the grade or feedback that you receive on your next law school exam or legal memorandum could well depend on an unexpected variable: the color of the pen used to evaluate your work.

Via the Legal Writing Prof Blog, I learned that a recent research report concludes that "because red pens are closely associated with error-marking and poor performance, the use of red pens when correcting student work can activate these concepts." As a result, "people using red pens to correct essays marked more errors and awarded lower grades than people using blue pens." Thus, the authors assert, "despite teachers’ efforts to free themselves from extraneous influences when grading, the very act of picking up a red pen can bias their evaluations."

The authors believe that this "red pen effect" is attributable to the fact that the common pairing of red
pens and error-marking have created a strong mental association in people's minds that "red writing in effect denotes an error." They allow that there may be other explanations, however. such as the possibility that "red pens could influence levels of testosterone and aggression." 

In any event, it looks like a midnight "red pen raid" on your professor or partner's office might be quite beneficial for law students or law firm associates.

October 14, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (1)

Is the Overly-Snarky Judge in Your Case Secretly Making an Audition Tape?

Lawyers, the next time the judge hearing your client's case seems particularly grandiose or snarky, ask yourself this: is he or she secretly making an audition tape today?

In California, the Commission on Judicial Performance has opened an investigation into whether San Diego Superior Court Judge DeAnn Salcido acted improperly when she secretly filmed the proceedings in her courtroom on at least two occasions. THR, Esq. reports that Salcido testified that "on January 26, 2009, she had the husband of her courtroom bailiff videotape her on the bench presiding over a variety of matters. The hourlong tape was then passed onto an unnamed entertainment lawyer, who showed it to a TV producer." The producer then asked for some more footage, which led Salcido to tape another day's proceedings in May 2009.

Judgejudy The judge did not advise the litigants that they were being secretly taped, although they might have noticed a resemblance on those days between Salcido and one of her possible role models, Judge Judy. THR, Esq. reports that the transcript shows Salcido in "full snarkiness" mode, asking a defendant in one case "if he was born in 1980, and after he responded 'yes,' she responded 'You look older than me. That's what smoking will do to you.'"

The judge admits that she should not have said some of what she said, THR, Esq., notes, but Salcido adds that she often uses humor to "ease the tension" in the courtroom.

October 14, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (1)

October 13, 2010

Judge Can't Write Letter Recommending Kid Be Allowed to Play Football

Sometimes judicial ethics opinions deal with interesting, cutting edge topics. And sometimes, they come out of South Carolina.

Via the Legal Profession Blog, comes this gem from the state Advisory Committee on Standards of Judicial Conduct.

The opinion is concise, at four paragraphs, yet I'm not entirely sure I grasp the situation (typos aside). It seems a kid who appeared before this juvenile court judge wants to play football. For a school other than the one he would normally be slated to attend. The kid's mother worries that, though he will apparently be allowed to change schools for educational purposes, they might not let him on the field because of the whole geographic discrepancy.

So mom asked the judge to write a letter to the high school football authorities recommending that the child be permitted to be on the team. The committee said no go. That would constitute "lend[ing] the prestige of judicial office to advance the private interest of others."

But all hope is not lost. This letter would be bad only because the judge had not received some sort of "formal request." If the kid's lawyer makes a motion, it would be just ducky for the judge to write such a letter.

Now, having read that opinion, you might wonder, "What other similarly pressing issues could the committee possibly address? How on earth do you follow Opinion No. 6-2010 without the inevitable letdown?" The answer: with Opinion No. 7-2010, wherein the committee deems it perfectly acceptable for a law clerk to host a "jewelry party."

October 13, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Long Island County Passes Animal Abuse Registry Bill

In what's being reported as a nationwide first, the Suffolk County, N.Y., legislature has approved a bill requiring those convicted of animal abuse to register, much the same way sex offenders do, making that registry available to the public.

The Sentecing Law & Policy blog excerpted the article from the North Shore Sun, which contains the money quote from the local SPCA Chief:

“Most serial killers began as animal abusers,” [Suffolk County SPCA Chief Roy Gross (pictured, far left)] said. “It's a known fact: people who hurt animals hurt people too.”

A similar bill for a statewide registry has been proposed in California.

The Animal Legal Defense Fund, and presumably, all the papillons in Patchogue, are elated.

October 13, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Lake Pirate Murder Investigator Assassinated

When my colleague Bruce Carton warned readers to watch out for lake pirates last week, I didn't know how seriously to take him (despite his writing, "No, seriously."). But it seems these guys mean business.

One of the Mexican police investigators looking into the murder of jet skier David Hartley has been assassinated.

There's no confirmation that the killing was directly related to the Hartley case, as the officer, Rolando Armando Flores Villegas, was also, of course, working on other matters. TalkLeft has a good roundup of the news coverage and commentary on the Hartley case and this latest development. And Stand By Liberty is citing this as an example of the consequences of inadequate border security.


October 13, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Water Cooler Topic of the Day: Repeal of the 17th Amendment

Wanna impress your friends and colleagues today with your seemingly superior knowledge of all things Constitution-related? Start up a casual conversation about the burgeoning movement to repeal the 17th Amendment.

Sure, you can take a couple of seconds to click here and find out what the hell that Amendment says. Or you can read this article in this morning's ABA Journal. According to that article, some Tea Party candidates are pushing to return to the good old days when Senators were appointed by state legislatures. That's right, candidates, who, by definition, are asking the general population to vote them into some office or another, are hoping to be elected by telling those same voters that they shouldn't have a say in who represents them in the U.S. Senate. You following?

The case for repeal was argued, less than fiercely, by Gene Healy in a June issue of the Washington Examiner. Here's a slightly more impassioned pitch from the Tenth Amendment Center, complete with draft language for the Amendment-repealing Amendment. When a candidate has expressed any support for repeal, that candidate's opponent has generally been quick to mock. For example, in these ads collected by the Washington Post.

I kind of like getting to vote for my Senators, but when push comes to shove, I'll let them take the 17th as long as they don't mess with the 21st.

October 13, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (1)

October 12, 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: A car just knocked me off my bike, then kept driving and dragged my bike two kilometers down the road! What's up with that?

Answer: Perhaps the driver thought you were a tree branch? (FAIL Blog, Excuse Fail)

2) Question: An arrestee who we were taking to jail in handcuffs jumped out of the squad car and ran off with his hands cuffed behind his back! We may have some trouble proving a first-degree escape charge, do you have any other ideas on what we can charge him with?

Answer: Third-degree theft of the $29 handcuffs. (Lowering the Bar, One Possibly Unforeseen Risk of Escaping While Handcuffed)

3) Question: Yes, I was growing marijuana in my yard but can the cops really arrest me for this? Don't I have some right of privacy for my own yard?!

Answer: Not when the marijuana is growing in plain view right in your front yard, sir. (Bad Lawyer, When Cultivating Marijuana, Concealment Is Suggested)


October 12, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Nintendo Prevails in 'Flying Wii Controller' Class Action Lawsuit

Wiitv The Abnormal Use blog has an interesting post today about a recent decision by a federal court in Colorado concerning people who accidentally throw their Nintendo Wii controller through the screens of their television sets, through windows and so on. For the three of you out there who do not know what I'm talking about, playing games on the Wii, like tennis or baseball, involves swinging the controller like a racket or a bat, and sometimes people lose their grip on the controller. Each comes with a wrist strap that you might assume would keep a wayward controller from flying accross the room into your TV, but that assumption was the hotly-contested subject of the class action litigation in Colorado.

In the class action, plaintiffs argued that the wrist straps were inadequate to serve their purpose. On Sept. 23, 2010, U.S. District Judge Marcia S. Krieger, however, granted summary judgment in favor of Nintendo in the case (Elvig, et al. v. Nintendo of America, Inc.).  The court rejected the class action's allegations under the Colorado Consumer Protection Act, as well as its claim that Nintendo breached the implied warranty of merchantability and fitness for a particular purpose. Among other things, the court took a very broad view of what the "purpose" of a wrist strap might be:

On the implied warranty of merchantability, the court cited the lack of evidence that would indicate what the intended purpose of the strap was. One might plausibly assume, as plaintiff did, that the strap was intended to prevent a controller, inadvertently released by the player during vigorous activity, from hurling towards the player’s television (or towards another player) and causing damage. But equally, one might assume that the strap was simply intended to keep an inadvertently released controller in the vicinity of the player so that it could be easily retrieved and was was never intended to withstand the forces of high-speed controller release.

In this case, I must agree with Abnormal Use, which writes that "to surmise that the wrist strap is designed to do anything but keep the controller strapped to your wrist is a bit of a stretch" on the part of the court. Abnormal Use also points out that some television makers are making the best of the flying controller phenomenon, offering Wii-proof screens!

October 12, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (1)

'27 Precautions Before Risking Sex With a Woman'

Checklist Building on a list of tongue-in-cheek precautions that have apparently been making the rounds on Brazilian blogs, the Human Stupidity blog offers a 27-point legal checklist for "any man who dares to have sex with a woman." 

Human Stupidity (which appears to be generally dedicated to proving, often in extreme fashion, the notion that "people who normally are highly intelligent ... become totally irrational, unconscious, self-deceived on issues related to dogmas, taboos, religion, habits, political correctness") writes that while the precautions tracking Brazilan law are a start, the list is incomplete.

Among the 27 points on HS's "pre-sex" list that purports to help men manage their risk under additional laws in the U.S., Australia, the U.K., Holland and elsewhere around the globe are the following:

(3) Check ID of your prospective partner for age: Make sure your partner is above age of consent. It does not matter if your prospective partner looks like 70 years old, s/he could suffer from Progeria, which makes 7 year olds look like 70....

(5) Make sure the ID does not belong to someone else: The ID could be authentic. But it could belong to another person. So check the photo, compare it to the person. If there is a signature, have the person sign a piece of paper. Get a graphotechnical (handwriting expert) analysis to assure the signature in the ID matches the signature in the ID....

(27) Make sure you don’t give any presents or money, to avoid prostitution charges.

HS concludes that "these 27 steps can greatly increase your chances to stay out of the sex offender register, but there always remains a substantial risk. A careful attorney will tell you to avoid sex completely." Read the full 27-point checklist here.


October 12, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (5)

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