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December 22, 2010

Video: Bruce Carton's '10 Most-Watched' Legal Blogs in 2010

This is Legal Blog Watch. We watch legal blogs -- lots of them. But not all legal blogs are created (and maintained) equal, and some grew to be favorites of mine in 2010. With this being the final post on LBW in 2010, I thought I'd look back and try to identify my 10 "go-to" blogs of the year. All 10 are featured in the video below, and linked to at the bottom of the page.

Happy Holidays!

Bruce Carton

  1. Consumerist
  2. Jonathan Turley
  3. Legal Juice
  4. Legal Satyricon
  5. Lowering the Bar
  6. Simple Justice
  8. SPAM Notes
  9. Texas Lawyer
  10. THR, Esq.

December 22, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (9)

Wyclef and His Band Jam Out in DLA Piper Conference Room

Wyclef I worked at DLA Piper for years, but did Wyclef Jean ever come into one of our conference rooms and start jamming? Heck no!

But things are different nowadays, I guess, because on Monday, Jean did just that. The AmLaw Daily reports that the artist and his six-piece band rolled into DLA's "multipurpose" room on the 27th floor of its Manhattan office and provided hundreds of his fans at the firm with a concert. Jean did so as a thank you to the people at the firm, which represents him and also handles pro bono work for his foundation, Yéle Haiti.

DLA Piper partner David Hryck, who represents Jean, said "It was unbelievable. It was over-the-top. No one has ever seen anything like that at a law firm. It was a good vibe."

December 22, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (2)

Golf Law: NY Court of Appeals Says No Duty to Yell Out 'Fore!'

So let it be written: Golfers need not shout out "Fore!" before hitting each shot. In New York, at least.

Golfer As discussed here, in November 2010 the New York Court of Appeals heard oral argument in the case of two doctors who were playing golf together. Dr. Anoop Kapoor hit a shot from the rough that went 50-80 degrees off course and hit Dr. Azad Anand in the head, blinding him in one eye. The issue before the court was whether Dr. Kapoor had any obligation to scream out, "Fore" before swinging.

Yesterday, the court ruled that Dr. Kapoor had no such obligation. The court reasoned that

Here, Kapoor's failure to warn of his intent to strike the ball did not amount to intentional or reckless conduct, and did not unreasonably increase the risks inherent in golf to which Anand consented. Rather, the manner in which Anand was injured—being hit without warning by a "shanked" shot while one searches for one's own ball—reflects a commonly appreciated risk of golf

So all of us who have the "ability" to accidentally hit a golf 50-80 degrees off course can breathe a bit easier today.

Image by

December 22, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (2)

December 21, 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 a 30-year-old woman and recently got into an argument with my mother-in-law. Things got heated and she ripped one of my body parts completely off of my body (my right nipple).  Now what?

Answer: (a) Go to the hospital; and (b) as you've probably deduced, ripping body parts off of other people is a crime. Your mother-in-law may face charges for that. (Legal Juice, That Has GOT To Hurt)

2) Question: I'm checking out my house on Google Street View and I see that the image shows my unmentionables hanging on a clothesline! Can I sue?

Answer: That seems like a very tough case to win, but a similar case is being litigated now in Japan. Stay tuned.  (The Telegraph, Japanese woman sues Google for displaying images of underwear)

3) Question: I'm a prosecutor. We're trying to go to trial against a man for marijuana possession but nearly all of the 27 possible jurors told the judge during the jury selection process that there was no way they would convict anybody of having a couple of buds of marijuana. Can they do that? What are we supposed to do now?

Answer: Time for a plea bargain! (AP, Would-Be Jurors Stage 'Mutiny' in Marijuana Case)

December 21, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (5)

Los Angeles Lawyers Philharmonic: Why?

In keeping with the "why?" theme that seems to be developing today, let me pose another such question:

Los Angeles Lawyers Philharmonic: why?

Via the Legal Watercooler, I see that in Los Angeles there is a philharmonic orchestra made up solely of lawyers. The Los Angeles Lawyers Philharmonic is "the orchestra where lawyers, judges, law students and legal staff meet in harmony," according to its website. Its conductor and founder is Gary S. Greene, Esq., (who I'm guessing is the only orchestra conductor in the world to use both a middle initial and "Esq." in his name).

I'm no orchestra expert, but I'm going to go out on a limb and say that when you limit the pool of orchestra members to one relatively small profession, you'll get a weaker orchestra. So, I ask again... why?

The website does not really explain the "why" other than one short quote I found from Gary S. Greene, Esq., who states “I know many lawyers and judges who are accomplished musicians and I believe it will be exciting to bring them together to make music. Especially in these trying times, we need to have harmony in our lives.”

Fair enough. Harmony in the lives of lawyers is a noble goal, and hopefully there is a decent amount of harmony coming from the orchesta pit, too!

December 21, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (9)

Law Firm Holiday Cards: Why?

Snowman I continue to receive e-holiday cards fom friends at law firms and, frankly, they all kind of look the same. With some minor variations, they all tend to start with some Christmas/holiday image (a snowman; a quaint tree-lined street; a Nutcracker). Then, the animation (usually falling snowflakes) and the music (jingly Christmas music) begins. And ... scene!

I've been looking at these e-cards lately and wondering: what is their specific purpose? It clearly is not to impress with originality, as 99 percent of the e-cards stay right in the middle of the fairway with the holiday image/falling snow/jingly music. Is it to "check the box" that you've sent your contacts a card (to make sure they are not feeling ignored) without offending any of the recipients? Judging by the e-cards, I'm thinking this may be the real purpose. 

A similar question is posed today at the Lawyerist blog, where Allison Shields asks, "If you are sending holiday cards to clients, colleagues and referral sources this year, what is your purpose for doing so?"

One of Shields' lawyer clients told her that his purpose for sending out 1,000 holiday cards was that he wanted to receive referrals. Shields writes that she advised the lawyer that while sending holiday cards is a nice way to stay in touch with clients and remind them of your "continued existence," it is highly unlikely that any referrals will result. She also cautions that a "pre-printed, automated-addressed holiday card" may even have the undesired effect of making the recipient feel they are simply part of a mass-mailing. I assume she'd feel the same way about an e-card emailed to a mailing list.

What is your purpose for sending out holiday cards -- electronic or paper? What do you hope to achieve from the effort, if anything?

Image by *Micky

December 21, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (11)

December 20, 2010

BlockShopper Dishes the Basics on Lawyer Real Estate Transactions

Blockshopper Our friends at Above the Law occasionally go all "Cribs" with their Lawyerly Lairs feature. But to make those pages, a lawyer and/or his lair have to be pretty high profile.

If you're interested, though, in what kind of pads the rest of the herd is buying and selling, at least in New York, you should go cruise around BlockShopper. It's a pretty no-frills site, featuring blurbs on recent real estate sales, pretty obviously compiled from whatever can be gleaned from a quick Google search. And there's a "lawyer" tag, so you don't have to bother wading through all the news on purchases made by talent executives or ASPCA employees.

Some recent transactions involving attorneys include a Seyfarth Shaw associate selling his condo on East 22nd Street for a cool $1.2 mil and the sale of an East Village condo by a tax partner in a Canadian firm to a former Baker & McKenzie associate.

So if you're testing the market, or just bored during this longer-than-necessary pre-Christmas week, enjoy.


December 20, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (2)

Education Dollars Going to Prisons in Alabama

The Sentencing Law & Policy blog posted a link yesterday to an article on disclosing that the biggest beneficiary of federal education stimulus dollars given to Alabama has been the department of corrections.

According to the article, the state has received approximately $1.1 billion since 2009 under the federal program, and of that sum, $118.6 million has gone to the corrections department. And not for anything that could legitimately be called "educational purposes." The money has been used to fund healthcare costs for 26,000 inmates and to pay the salaries of 4,200 department employees.

While nobody in Alabama is challenging the legality of the spending -- the bill allowed for up to 18 percent of funds to be earmarked for other purposes, such as public safety -- some educators bristle at the fact that four times as much education money is being spent per inmate as per public school student.

From the article:

“If we could’ve had that $118 million,” Baldwin County schools Superintendent Alan Lee said of school systems in general, “we could’ve given the prisons less business.”

December 20, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Lawyers Will Be Lawyers: Sutherland Partner Sues for $1.2 Million Over $35 Fine

Fox Washington, D.C.'s Metropolitan Police Department messed with the wrong guy back in 2008 when they asked Phil Fox to move his car. According to the Blog of Legal Times (via the ABA Journal), Fox -- who clerked for Supreme Court Justices Reed and Powell, and served as Deputy Chief of the Justice Department's Organized Crime unit in the 70s -- is now suing the District, and two police officers, for $1.2 million.

Fox's suit challenges the constitutionality of the District's "Post and Forfeit" procedure. As described in greater detail on the BLT (and in Fox's complaint), Fox got into a bit of a dispute with the officer that had asked him to move his car and ended up getting arrested for disorderly conduct. (They had to call out the Segway cops, who "swarmed" the scene.)

Upon being taken to the station, Fox was asked to fork over $35 and sign a "Post & Forfeit" form, which essentially amounts to paying a fine without admitting guilt or having a conviction on your record. Seeing as how the only other alternative was being sent to lockup, he complied. Now, two years later, having had his arrest record expunged, he's suing, and seeking class status on behalf of all arrestees forced to pay what his lawyer called a "bribe sanctioned by the government of the District of Columbia."


December 20, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (2)

December 17, 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 own a store where everything is free. That's right -- free. We charge people $2 to drop things off here and "customers" can take whaever they want -- free! So why would anyone break into our store at night through a window when they could walk through the front door in the morning and take whatever they want -- for free?

Answer: Um... Uh... Um... Good question.  (CBC News, Thieves target Edmonton free store)

2) Question: My good-for-nothing fiance just dumped me four days before the wedding! I've spent almost $95,000 on this wedding. Can I recover that from him?

Answer: That question is being tested right now in a Chicago court under theories of "breach of promise to marry" and "intentional infliction of emotional distress." Stay tuned! (Chicago Sun-Times, Bride sues runaway groom)

Lightning 3) Question: I drive a red race car with a yellow number 95 on it. Did Pixar's Cars misappropriate the likeness of my car?

Answer: Nope!  (THR, Esq., Appeals Court: Pixar Didn't Steal Lightning McQueen for 'Cars')

December 17, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (1)

'Legal Oracle' Answers Your Legal Questions in 140 Characters or Less

Someone please get Scott Greenfield his fainting couch because this just might be the one that puts him over the edge. Simon Fodden of the the blog wrote earlier this week about a U.K. lawyer, Nicholas Jervis, who not only scoffs at your worry-wart Yankee blog disclaimers, but (a) will answer legal questions for free over the Internet and (b) will do it in 140 characters or less on his Twitter feed (@thelegaloracle). "Tweet your legal claim or question and we will answer it free of charge," his Twitter bio promises. "Taking the fear and mystery away and making law accessible."

"Speaking of 'fear and mystery', who in his or her right mind would take legal advice from an unnamed person in 140 characters," Fodden asks? Well, so far, a couple of people have taken Jervis up on his offer. Richard Hanstock asked whether casinos can ban players without giving reasons, and Katie Finn wanted to know "how long after an accident has happened am i still able to make a claim?" Like a true Legal Oracle, Jervis' Twitter feed was able to provide answers to both questions.


December 17, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (2)

Strip Club Owner Says 'No Negros Allowed'

Those of us who grew up after the civil rights movement helped end segregation in this country have seen the old photos of "Whites Only" drinking fountains and such, but have certainly never seen such a sign from a modern era business.

Until today, that is, when photos began to circulate on the Internet of a 'No Negros Allowed' sign that was posted at a strip club planning to open soon in Abbotsford, Wis.

NBC reports (via Consumerist) that Mark Prior, who is planning to open a "gentlemen's club" in a location next to the Abbotsford city hall and library, believes he has the right to discriminate: "If I've got a problem with you it's going to be on the front of my store," he says. Prior told NBC that he posted the sign because he "had some problems with black people in the past and needed to make a policy against them."

If the club is open to the public, however, excluding people based on race is illegal. Dr. Selika Ducksworth-Lawton, an African-American historian, told NBC that the second Prior opens his business, he'll be in violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. For now, Prior has moved his sign inside the club at the request of the city.

December 17, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (3)

December 16, 2010

Dallas Personal Injury Firm Sponsors Christmas Bike Giveaway With Radio Station

Next time someone tells you that lawyers are a plague on society and don't contribute anything positive, you should let them know about the bike giveaway being co-sponsored by Dallas personal injury firm Godsey Martin.

The firm -- whose website address is, no joke, -- is, in conjunction with local radio station KSoul, giving away 94 bicycles to area children.

Don't believe me? Let attorney Justin Martin and KSoul radio personality Spinderella -- yes, that Spinderella -- tell you all about it:

In recognition of the holiday spirit, I'll refrain from assuming the firm's sponsorship is motivated by hopes that some of the winners will get run over and retain Godsey Martin to represent them.

December 16, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (4)

Sick and Have a Chunk of Change? Duke Prof Says 15 Days Remain to Kill Yourself

RS Last week we wrote about Paul Caron's declaration that John E. du Pont had won the "estate tax lottery" by being fortunate enough to pass before the New Year.

Today, according to the ABA Journal (and, again, Caron's own Tax Prof Blog), we have another law professor -- Richard Schmalbeck of Duke (pictured, left) -- going on record as suggesting that, absent Congressional action, the imminent return of the "death tax" means that there will be blood between now and the time the big ball drops in Times Square in a couple of weeks.

Let him tell you the details:

The concern is with the people whose deaths would naturally occur in 2011, but whose death can be accelerated if the individual is so inclined. There may actually be a few cases of tax-inspired murder by the decedent’s heirs, but the legal consequences of murder are severe enough that it is unlikely to happen with any frequency.

Rather, the concern is suicide. Many among the several thousand wealthy people who would die of natural causes in 2011 already know that that outcome is highly likely. They are the people suffering from stage four cancers, advanced congestive heart failure, and other terminal conditions. It is not fanciful to imagine that several hundred, or even a few thousand, people in this group will give serious consideration to ending their lives in ways that will benefit their heirs financially.

I predict with grim confidence that we will learn of many such stories if Congress doesn’t quickly act to alter the incentive structure. Not only is the premature loss of life lamentable, but so too is the loss of the millions, or even billions, of estate tax that can and should be collected from these very wealthy estates. If Congress decides—either by acting or by failing to act—that we will have an estate tax in the coming years, why should it tolerate the existence of a holiday from the tax for the next two weeks?

If I were a terminally ill millionaire, I'd hold off on my call to Dr. Kevorkian for right now, as it seems a deal softening the blow of the tax's reinstatement is coming.

December 16, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (1)

Bad Idea of the Day: Billboard Suggesting Restaurant With 'No Muslims'

It's been a while since we featured something from the "Just because something may not be illegal doesn't make it a good idea" files.

But today, courtesy of FindLaw's Free Enterprise blog, we've got a prime example. Free Enterprise has the story of an Alabama business owner who thought he was providing a public service by advising his neighbors about local restaurants where it might be "safe" to eat.

Why don't you just take a look at the photo of the billboard, as shown on the ABC 33/40 website:

Mind you, the man responsible for the billboard, Chuck Biddinger, doesn't own a restaurant, but an electronics repair shop. He claimed that the statement on the billboard was merely one in a series of rotating "jokes" that he likes to post to keep things fresh.

And then he said this:

"Muslims do not eat pork. And, uh, it's a known fact, Muslims have tried to commit crimes in this country," Biddinger said told the local ABC affiliate ABC 33/40. He continued, "I'm not a politically correct person, don't claim to be, never have been."

And this:

 "For the local area, if I offend a few Muslims, there will be a lot of people who support it," he said. "Not to mention, all the coverage of his repair shop from the sign is good for business ... I believe it's a positive."

Way to go, Chuck. Luckily, I think the odds are minuscule that I will ever find myself in need of sewer cam repair in East Lake, Ala.

December 16, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0)

December 15, 2010

R.I. Lawyer Chosen as PETA's Sexiest Vegetarian Over 50

Lombardo It ain't exactly winning "The Apprentice", but an attorney from Westerly, R.I. can take pride in the fact that he's officially been named the Sexiest (Male) Vegetarian over the age of 50, by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

Here's the story from, and a more detailed profile of the winner, Robert L. Lombardo, Jr., from the Providence Journal. The Journal article, and Lombardo's website, reveal that the lawyer does largely criminal defense work, and is a big supporter of marijuana legalization organizations, like NORML and LEAP.

Lombardo's previous gigs include stints as a fashion model, a petroleum engineer for Halliburton and "two years as in house counsel for a small internet company that produced adult entertainment."

Lombardo's prize from PETA includes a trip to an eco-resort in Guatemala, and a feature on PETA's website. Enjoy basking in the Guatemalan sun, and in the glory of your hard-earned victory, Robert. Considering what some of the other finalists looked like, had you not won, I would have been glad to file an appeal on your behalf.

December 15, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (2)

Legal Blog Watch: The Official Legal News Source of Dorman & Howie, P.C.

Legal Blog Watch is, essentially, a legal blog that picks up on and disseminates interesting happenings and trends being reported on by other legal blogs and/or news outlets. We like to think we're providing a valuable service to our readers. And, of course, we're interested in what people think about our little corner of the blawgosphere. 

For instance, it's nice to see that, according to Avvo, we're currently the 17th most popular legal blog around. (Damn you, Mortgage Fraud Blog!) And, as Bruce noted, we're crossing our fingers for an amazing come-from-behind victory in the News category of the ABA Journal Blawg 100.

Sometimes, though, we want to see who's commenting on, linking to, or appropriating our work, and good old reliable Google is the way to go. Yes, I sometimes Google around to see who's talking about me and Bruce. And that is precisely how I discovered that there is a two-attorney firm in King, N.C., that loves LBW so much that it has adopted our RSS feed as its official source of what it calls "Interesting Legal News."

If you click on any of the links to sections of the Dorman & Howie website (other than the firm's home page), running down the right side of the page is a big old list of all of our recent posts, with links. Try it -- click on "About Us" or "Attorneys" and there's the LBW feed. Nothing else, just us. Click up top, on the "Interesting Legal News" header, and it takes you right to the LBW home page

Dorman & Howie has only been around for a couple of months, as the firm's "News" page will tell you. To Messrs. Dorman and Howie, I say, on behalf of LBW: Best of luck. We'd be sure to send a couple of Legal Blog Watch t-shirts your way, if such things existed.


December 15, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Proposed Amendments to Texas Civ Pro Rules Make Facebooking About Jury Duty a No-No

We've written several times about the potential hazards of mixing social media/the internet and jury service. There was the blogging juror who was turned in by a law professor. And the disturbing results of an unscientific survey of jury duty-related tweets.

The Texas Supreme Court must have been reading LBW. Because yesterday, as reported by the Tex Parte blog, the court released proposed amendments to the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure that, among other things, would hammer home the point that the internets are no place for jurors to be hanging out.

Proposed Rule 226a would change the mandatory instructions that trial judges would give to potential jurors on a panel, and to the jury once selected, in several ways. The current rule was last amended in 2005, and makes no mention of the internet. But the proposed new rule includes the following instructions:

Do not discuss this case with anyone, even your spouse or a friend, either in person
or by any other means [including by phone, text message, email message, chat room, blog, or social networking websites such as Facebook, Twitter, or Myspace]. Do not allow anyone to discuss the case with you or in your hearing. If anyone tries to discuss the case with you or in your hearing, tell me immediately. We do not want you to be influenced by something other than the evidence admitted in court.


Do not investigate this case on your own. For example:
a. Do not try to get information about the case, lawyers, witnesses, or issues from
outside this courtroom.
b. Do not go to places mentioned in the case to inspect the places.
c. Do not inspect items mentioned in this case unless they are presented as evidence in
d. Do not look anything up in a law book, dictionary, or public record to try to learn
more about the case.
e. Do not look anything up on the Internet to try to learn more about the case.
f. And do not let anyone else do any of these things for you.

And those are just two of several places that modern technology gets a shoutout in the instructions.

The instructions that would be given under the new proposed rule are also written in plain language, as opposed to "Legalese," where possible. For example, the first proposed instruction excerpted above would replace one that currently reads "Do not discuss anything about this case, or even mention it to anyone whomsoever, including your wife or husband, nor permit anyone to mention it in your hearing until you are discharged as jurors or excused from this case. If anyone attempts to discuss the case, report it to me at once."

I'll be surprised if "anyone whomsoever" doesn't think the proposed changes are an improvement.


December 15, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0)

December 14, 2010

Michael Moore Offers to Post $20K Bond for Assange

As readers are no doubt aware by now, Wikileaks founder Julian Assange appeared in a British court today, and was granted bail.

Many celebrities and public figures reportedly offered to post bail on Assange's behalf when the request was first considered last week, including British heiress Jemima Khan. On this go-around, one of the people who offered to contribute to Assange's freedom was filmmaker Michael Moore.

Moore released his statement to the court explaining the reasons he was willing to pony up $20,000 of his own cash on Asssange's behalf, and explained his decision further at the Huffington Post.

The Huffington Post piece is, well, classic Moore. He ain't shy about his motivations:

I ask you to imagine how much different our world would be if WikiLeaks had existed 10 years ago. Take a look at this photo. That's Mr. Bush about to be handed a "secret" document on August 6th, 2001. Its heading read: "Bin Ladin Determined To Strike in US." And on those pages it said the FBI had discovered "patterns of suspicious activity in this country consistent with preparations for hijackings." Mr. Bush decided to ignore it and went fishing for the next four weeks.

But if that document had been leaked, how would you or I have reacted? What would Congress or the FAA have done? Was there not a greater chance that someone, somewhere would have done something if all of us knew about bin Laden's impending attack using hijacked planes?

But back then only a few people had access to that document. Because the secret was kept, a flight school instructor in San Diego who noticed that two Saudi students took no interest in takeoffs or landings, did nothing. Had he read about the bin Laden threat in the paper, might he have called the FBI? (Please read this essay by former FBI Agent Coleen Rowley, Time's 2002 co-Person of the Year, about her belief that had WikiLeaks been around in 2001, 9/11 might have been prevented.)

Moore also suggests that the allegations of sexual assault Assange is facing in Sweden may be nothing short of bogus, urging that readers "not be naive about how the government works when it decides to go after its prey."

Odds on a release date for  "WikiLeaks: The Movie," anyone?

December 14, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (2)

Mark Your Calendars: USC to Hold Conference on 'Law & Memory'

This morning, the Legal History Blog posted an announcement for a conference to be held at USC Law School in February. The subject of the conference: Law & Memory.

Having read the announcement, I'm still not sure exactly what that means. Take a look at some of the sessions that will be a part of the conference:

  • War, Time, and Memory
  • Trials, Narrative and Memory
  • Property and Memory
  • Trauma and Oblivion (my favorite)

So, apparently they won't be focusing on how to avoid forgetting everything you study in preparation for the bar exam the minute you walk out the door.

The conference is sponsored by USC's Center for Law, History, and Culture, which bills itself as being "devoted to encouraging the study of law as an historical and cultural institution." If any readers are planning on going to the conference -- or can shed any light on the Law & Memory movement -- hit the comments.

December 14, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Calif. Judge Cites Festivus to Justify Inmate's Special Meals

Judges are people too. Which means that, on occasion, they can exercise compassion and/or display a sense of humor.

Judge Derek G. Johnson of the Orange County (Calif.) Superior Court did one or both of those when faced with an inmate's renewed request for "double-portion kosher meals" while incarcerated in the County's Theo Lacy jail. As reported by the Orange County Register (via the ABA Journal), the judge initially signed off on the request in April. But county officials weren't having it; kosher food is apparently more expensive than salami (though the two are not mutually exclusive, as any kid from New York knows).

When questioned, the inmate, Malcolm Alarmo King, candidly admitted that he wasn't Jewish. He just didn't think the oft-served salami sandwiches were healthy enough, and needed more calories to "maintain his physique." Thus, when asked by jail officials about his religion, he replied that he was an adherent of "Healthism."

King then appeared before Johnson for sentencing, and pleaded guilty to one of the counts against him. Since he realized he would be spending more time on the inside, he renewed his request for the double-kosher meals. The judge, realizing that "Healthism" wasn't gonna fly, called counsel to the bench and asked what religion he could put down on the necessary paperwork to legitimize King's meal choice.

King's lawyer, Fred Thiagarajah, suggested Festivus. Festivus, of course, is not a religion, per se, but rather the holiday made famous by the Costanza family on one of the undisputably greatest episodes of Seinfeld ever produced. 

Despite the county attorney's "airing of grievances," Festivus was a good enough answer for Johnson, and he again ordered that King was to be given non-salami meals. According to The Associated Press, the Sheriff's Department was, eventually, able to get the judge's order overturned.

So score one for Frank Costanza. King may need to start thinking about some feats of strength pretty quick, as he's been transferred to federal custody and is awaiting deportation.


December 14, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (2)

'U.S. News' Caves to Law School Transparency Pressure


It's no "Ford to City: Drop Dead," but that up there is a headline I never thought I'd be writing.

Somebody should buy the founders of Law School Transparency a drink today, because, as reported in the National Law Journal (and, unsurprisingly, as noted in an LST blog post), U.S. News and World Report, overlords of the law school rankings, have decided to provide more detailed information about graduate employment in the next version of the rankings, and to retroactively update the current version.

While the magazine (or, pardon me, website) will not change the methodology for ranking schools, it has committed to offering information beyond the "overall percentage of graduates employed" numbers, which the scambloggers (and others) have argued are, at best, subject to manipulation.

U.S. News director of data and research Robert Morse explicitly cited LST's crusade as one of the factors that influenced the decision to expand the available data. LST's changes are described in detail in its post from Friday, and they've pasted the email from Morse in which he confirms that the website "will add all the new fields that you suggest to current data for 2008 graduates and those new fields will show up when the redesign goes live in late Winter 2011."

While this move likely won't entirely placate the most vocal critics of law schools, more information is always better than less. Kudos, LST.

December 14, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0)

December 13, 2010

Did You Know: How to See Foreclosure Sales on Google Maps

Via Consumerist I learned today that you can see foreclosure sales in your home town and all over the U.S. through Google Maps. Who knew? Here's how it works:

1. Enter a town or city name into Google Maps.
2. Go to the "More" drop-down box at the top of the map and select the "Real Estate" box.
3. All homes for sale will appear, but then go to the options menu on the left and select "Foreclosure" (and deselect "For Sale").

All homes for sale as foreclosures should now appear as red dots. Mouse-over the dot to get address information, and click on any dot to get photos and much more. Cool! 

Consumerist says Google Maps "only shows foreclosures currently on the market and won't show any foreclosures that have already been sold by banks." Here's how things are looking in my town:

View Larger Map

December 13, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (2)

What a Robust Blawgosphere Might Have Meant for 'Bush v. Gore'

At her Althouse blog, Ann Althouse observed that yesterday, Dec. 12, marked the 10-year anniversary of the Supreme Court's decision in Bush v. Gore.

Althouse makes the interesting observation that at the time of the November 2000 election, there were no legal blogs to speak of, and that things would have unfolded "differently if there had been legal bloggers picking through the fast-accumulating wreckage hour by hour. Instead we got those TV sound bites."

Althouse says she wishes she could have been blogging at such a fascinating point in legal history, when there were so many interesting details to examine yet no blawgosphere to "call bullshit" on the mainstream media.

What do you think? Would the existence of a robust blawgosphere in November/December 2000 have made a difference to either the process or the outcome of the election dispute?

December 13, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (5)

Jets Cornerback Revis Joins Athletes Seeking Trademarks on Catchphrases

Athletes are increasingly seeking trademark protection for their own personal catchphrases, The New York Times reports.

Back in 1989, then-Lakers coach Pat Riley made news when he obtained a trademark on "three-peat," a phrase he coined to describe the Lakers (unsuccessful) effort to win three consecutive championships. Seeking trademark protection appears to be on the rise in recent years, the Times says, with athletes such as New York Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis, Michael Strahan, Terrell Owens, Manny Ramirez and Jared Allen all seeking to obtain trademarks on phrases.

Revis, one of the best "cover corners" in the NFL, has applied for a trademark on the term "Revis Island" for use on "T-shirts, sweatshirts, sweat pants, hats, footwear, sleepwear, swimwear." The "Revis Island" phrase is now well-known to NFL fans and refers to the lonely, isolated place that wide receivers covered by Revis often go for about 3 hours until the game is over. Revis told the Times that he filed for the trademark out of concern that others were profiting from it through tee shirts and the like.

Other trademarks sought include:

  • "Stomp You Out,” by former Giants defensive end Michael Strahan;
  • “I Love Me Some Me” and "Getcha Popcorn Ready,” by Bengals wide receiver Terrell Owens;
  • "Manny Being Manny,” reportedly claimed and then abandoned by Manny Ramirez; and 
  • “Got Strange?,” by Vikings defensive end Jared Allen.

December 13, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0)

December 10, 2010

Lawsuit of the Day: Capital One Sues Cardholder for $286 Million and Fails to Appear

Capital One Credit card debt collection actions are a dime a dozen. But it's not often that Jane Q. Consumer is accused of failing to pay a bank for running up charges to the tune of close to $300 million.

Courthouse News Service has linked to a complaint filed Wednesday in a Pennsylvania state court, accusing Capital One of harassing Patrice Perry in an attempt to collect on unpaid credit card bills. Allegedly, Capital One didn't like that Patrice responded to their initial collection letters by hiring an attorney. At that point, the bank was seeking something in the neighborhood of $4,000.

Not only did Capital One ignore the demand, under Pennsylvania's version of the FDCPA, that all future communications be with Perry's lawyer, continuing to make phone calls to her home, her office, and even some of her friends and relatives, but it kept arbitrarily changing the alleged amount due. Finally, Perry received a letter demanding payment of $286,651,237.00.

Capital One then allegedly filed suit against Perry but failed to appear for a scheduled court hearing. So Perry sued 'em right back. She contends that this couldn't be a mere computer error, since "no computer program at Capital One could have possibly contained an algorithm allowing for a 9 digit debt to be printed on a letter seeking payment without human intervention."

The icing on the cake is contained in Perry's prayer for relief, which demands, among other things, "Damages equal to amounts sought by Defendant from Plaintiff." If Capital One has to pony up $286 million, there may be some angry Vikings roaming the streets of your neighborhood. And, no, I'm not talking about this kind of angry Viking.

December 10, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (32)

Calif. High School Wrestler's 'Butt Drag' Earns Him Sexual Assault Charges

Believe it or not, I was not a high school wrestler. But from what I understand about the sport, it's not at all like the WWF of my youth (sorry, panda bears, I still refuse to call it "WWE.").

There are no turnbuckles to jump off of, no conveniently placed folding metal chairs, and, I have to assume, no -- or at least very few -- competitors that look like this.

It seems, however, that something I never saw on Monday Night Raw is more prevalent than I would have expected in "real" wrestling. I'm talking about fingers in butts.

Bridget Crawford at the Faculty Lounge has gathered some info on the case of Preston Hill, a high school senior in Clovis, Calif., who has been charged with sexual assault for his conduct during a wrestling practice. The incident happened over the summer, but Hill's trial was initially scheduled to begin yesterday. It has now been adjourned until next month. Hill claims he was just engaged in a common move known as the "butt drag."

The case has spurred a lot of conversation, and it includes copious use of phrases not generally uttered in the context of high school sports. Here are some excerpts from the Fresno Bee's Tuesday article about the case:

"Some people already see wrestling as a dirty sport. Now people are talking about anal penetration and wrestling in the same sentence." [From a high school coach not directly involved in the case]


"To think I'd ever instruct my guys to get on the mat and practice sticking their fingers in their teammates' rear end, it's stupid and ridiculous," longtime Fresno State wrestling coach Dennis DeLiddo said. "A butt drag isn't sticking your finger up a guy's [rectum]. That'd be illegal. That'd be counterproductive. That's not the move.

"That's not a butt drag -- that's just perverted."


Fresno City coach Paul Keysaw said the butt drag is used often in wrestling and that anal penetration does occur on occasion.

But Keysaw said "it's not like your sole purpose is trying to insert your finger in their butt." Rather, it's something that just happens at times, particularly in a sport where opponents are grabbing and holding onto each other.

"I'm not going to say anal penetration never happens," Keysaw said. "But I absolutely, unequivocally say 'no' that a coach would ever teach his kids to shove fingers up another kids' rectum. That's just a dangerous path to take."

Thanks for clearing that up, guys.

The Bee has a follow-up story this morning all about the proper definition of "butt drag." That story seems to indicate that Hill admitted to police that the penetration was intentional, which would certainly be relevant in the prosecution. Let's hope there are no dramatic courtroom moments invoving mannequins and re-enactments.

December 10, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (1)

Congratulations on Your Death, Mr. du Pont!

John E. du Pont (yes, that John E. du Pont) died yesterday in prison. If you were so inclined, you could spend the rest of the day cruising around the web reading all sorts of obituaries and related feature pieces about his life, his apparent insanity, and, of course, his murder conviction.

But leave it to Paul Caron at the Tax Prof Blog to find the silver lining for du Pont's family. According to Caron, du Pont is the latest winner of the estate tax lottery, having passed on a mere 22 days before the revamped "death tax" is set to kick in.

So, well done, John! Not only have you spared yourself additional time confined in the pokey, but you've saved your heirs some serious cash.

December 10, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Blawgers Ponder Superheroes as State Actors

How would you lawyer comic book fans like it if the next issue of Superman ended with a panel depicting a judge declaring from the bench that: "The case against Defendant Luthor is dismissed. The only evidence of the particular evil deeds with which he is charged in the indictment is that gathered by Mr. Ken ... uh, Superman, at Luthor's lair on July 13 of last year. Because Superman had no warrant, the search was unreasonable, and the evidence must be excluded. As such, the state cannot make out a prima facie case against Mr. Luthor, and he must be released from custody, and all charges dropped"?

I will admit that it's not something I've ever thought about. I don't read comic books. But others have thought -- and written -- about the possibility that your favorite superheroes might be considered state actors, and thus subject to all those pesky constitutional restrictions on their behavior. I was clued in by Ilya Somin's post at the Volokh Conspiracy, which linked to a recent post on the Law and the Multiverse blog (how's that for a niche, Bruce?).

The Multiverse post focused on Batman, and concluded that under current U.S. law, Batman would most certainly be considered a state actor, in light of his active involvement with Commissioner Gordon and such. Why, then, have we never seen the Riddler v. Batman, Gordon, and City of Gotham Section 1983 complaint?

Either all of the criminals in Gotham have incompetent attorneys, the state action doctrine in the DC universe is weaker than it is in the real world, or Gordon has actually managed to keep his reliance on Batman a secret.  I’m going to opt for the second explanation.  Superheroes like Batman are simply too effective for a court to shackle them with the Constitutional limitations of the state, especially with supervillains running around.  Perhaps the DC universe courts have developed a public emergency or necessity exception to the state action doctrine whereby private individuals pressed into public service in an emergency are not held to the same standards as ordinary state actors.

Indeed. Somin also links to a 2006 post of his own, which was largely a legal critique of the movie "Superman Returns," but also makes a compelling argument, based on circumstantial evidence, that Superman is, indeed, an undercover government agent.

As I said, I hadn't thought much about the issue, but now that I have, I'm just hoping no activist judge goes and overextends the state action doctrine to, say, Scooby Doo and the Gang. They always investigate on their own, and only call in the cops when they've got everything figured out (and, usually, a villain tied up and waiting).

Image: University of Northern Florida Pre-Law Program

December 10, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (1)

December 09, 2010

In Search of the Tiniest Niche in the Blawgosphere

Each day, the Inter Alia blog offers up a new "Blawg of the Day." Today's BotD is the RLUIPA Blog, a niche blog by Michigan law firm Dalton Tomich Pensler about the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act.

I'm not otherwise familiar with RLUIPA, so perhaps this statute is more broadly significant than it looks, but Inter Alia's selection of the RLUIPA Blog has me wondering: what is the most niche (microniche? nichiest?) law blog out there?

I'm familiar with the two mixed martial arts law blogs and the Law and Magic Blog and the Salmonella Blog, of course, but what else is out there? What is the tiniest speck of a niche of the blawgosphere that is now being served by an active blawg? Please let me know in the comments what you've seen.

December 9, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (3)

Five Holy Men Try to Help Burger Joint Stay in Business Through Prayer

Via the Law and Magic blog I learned today about a new strategy for small business owners who are  trying to boost their chances of staying in business in a tough economy: multifaith prayer.

A new franchise of the New York Burger Company is opening next week at the corner of 23rd Street and 10th Avenue in New York. The New York Times reports that no fewer than four restaurants have tried and failed to make a go of it in that location in the past 12 years, leaving New York Burger Co. franchisee Jonathan Moldovan wondering what he can do to end that pattern. His solution?

On Monday, ministers and holy men from the Catholic, Jewish, Buddhist and Episcopalian faiths visited the restaurant to bless the fledgling restaurant and "cleanse [it of] any lurking evil." A private Native American ceremony was also scheduled.

“This is the first time I blessed hamburger,” said the Rev. Ed Sombilon of Holy Trinity Roman Catholic Church in Fort Lee, N.J.

December 9, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Website Promises Lawyers 'One Really Good Idea Every Day'

Attyatworklogo Via Bob Ambrogi's LawSites blog I learned today about a new website called Attorney at Work. Bob is an advisor to the site, which has launched with the mission of delivering “one really good idea every day” to lawyers on the subject of law practice management. Regular contributors to the site will include people like Steve Matthews and Jordan Furlong, who are well known for their work at Stem Legal in this area. The website adds that others including Monica Bay, Patrick J. Lamb and Gerry Riskin will also contribute content.

The site seems to be getting cranked up now, and had three new posts on Dec. 6. Did it meet its goal of providing one really good idea that day? One of the posts basically suggested that busy lawyers delegate more, which is probably too obvious to meet the "really good idea" test. Another discusses electronic greeting card options -- meh. But the third by Steve Mathews suggests that lawyers trying to stay on top of many streams of information add an RSS reader to their daily lives. I completely agree with Steve that "for those who want a competitive advantage without a huge time investment, a personal RSS reader is a 'must have' tool." That is, as the website promises, a "really good idea."

December 9, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (4)

December 08, 2010

Ariz. Law Professor Publishes Book on Walking Away From Mortgages

Book Though professor Brent White of the University of Arizona School of Law doesn't have the star power of rapper Chamillionaire, he may be slightly more qualified to opine on issues related to the housing crisis and mortgages and the like.

As reported by the ABA Journal, he's done so on many occasions in the past, and has now gone big time with a book on the subject. The book is descriptively titled "Underwater Home: What Should You Do if You Owe More on Your Home than It’s Worth?" I guess that subtitle was necessary so as to avoid angry letters from readers who might have expected something more along these lines.

The Wall Street Journal Developments blog has a thorough review of the book, complete with juicy excerpts like this:

I think it‘s OK to stop paying the mortgage long before you clean out your savings, sacrifice your retirement, spend your children‘s college fund, and certainly before you have to start using your credit cards to survive. Before you do any of those things, I think the more moral course is to stop paying your mortgage. Indeed, I think it‘s morally acceptable to default if your mortgage threatens your ability to save adequately for the future, regardless of whether you can pay it according to some arbitrary definition of “affordability.”

While I'm sure the book is full of helpful information, I'm hoping it doesn't show up on the holiday wish lists of any of my loved ones.

December 8, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (1)

Ga. Court OKs Class Action on Mandatory E-Filing

A Georgia state trial court has denied a motion to dismiss filed by Reed Elsevier, the parent company of LexisNexis, in a class action accusing the company -- and Fulton County -- of violating the state constitution by requiring court documents to be electronically filed at litigants' expense.

Courthouse News has a good recap of the court's opinion, which recites the long and tortured procedural history of the case before getting to the meat. The judge who authored the opinion was brought in from neighboring DeKalb County after all Fulton County judges recused themselves because the county was a defendant.

According to the opinion, the Georgia Constitution indeed includes an implied right of access to the courts, despite Reed's protestations to the contrary, and the plaintiffs properly stated a claim that the mandatory e-filing procedures violated that right. The judge, Robert Castellani, had, at oral argument, expressed surprise that Reed would actually dispute the existence of such a right, according to an October article in the Fulton County Daily Report.

The judge also took a shot at the lawyers in the case. After noting that he had read all of the voluminous submissions on the motions, he called out counsel on their "propensity . . . to use a shotgun when a carefully aimed rifle would be preferable," and instructed them to get their act together on all future filings.

The court vowed to set a hearing early next year to work out discovery issues pertaining to class certification and the merits of the case.

December 8, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Peru Enacts Religious Liberty Law

At the Religion Clause blog, Howard Friedman has linked out to an article on the Adventist News Network site, singing the praises of religious liberty legislation passed by Peru's legislature last week.

The ANN article reads more like a press release, what with the quote from the director of the Seventh-Day Adventist Church's public affairs department and all. But there doesn't seem to have been a whole lot of mainstream media coverage of the legislation.

ANN does note that the Peruvian Constitution guarantees religious liberty, but the legislation appears to have included more specific protections, particularly for students. The U.S. State Department's 2007 Report on Religious Freedom gave Peru a pretty good review, but did note that the Catholic Church receives preferential treatment from the government.

If any readers can provide links to more information about the legislation, hit the comments.

December 8, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0)

To: Squeaky From: Charlie 'How U Doin? Prison Food Still Sux LOL ;<)'

I know, I know. It's almost 2011, and everybody has a cell phone. It's not like it was in the bag phone days, when having a cellular was an indication that you were somebody important. Or at least thought you were. Today, your average cab driver, fifth-grader, and grandma are all in a perennial state of "reachableness."

Which is why I wasn't surprised to read on Findlaw's Blotter blog that none other than Charles Manson was found to be in possession of a cell phone in his California jail cell. Not only was he using it to make calls, though, but he was texting. That's pretty impressive for a guy who's been in prison since before anyone knew what a microprocessor was. Hell, I am, at best, a marginally competent texter.

The L.A. Times has more details in its story published Friday, including some of the locations of Charlie's texting buddies. I'm hoping someone will get the phone records through a Public Records Act request and discover that the texts to New Jersey somehow involved Snooki.

Both the article and the blog post note that possession of a cell phone by an inmate is not a crime in California, as it is in the federal system now that the President has signed the Cell Phone Contraband Act of 2010. Thus, all they did to Charlie was to tack 30 days onto his (life) sentence and "counsel and reprimand" him. Ah, to be a fly on the wall in that session ...


December 8, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0)

December 07, 2010

Tuesday's Three Burning Legal Questions

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

Prince_symbol 1) Question: I would like to legally change my name to "Captain Awesome" and have my legal signature appear as a right arrow, a smiley face and a left arrow. I can do that, right? You saw what the artist-formerly-known-as-Prince did, right?

Answer: No problem, Captain! (Washington Post, What's in a name? Man goes from Smith to Awesome)

2) Question: For the last time: What part of "my boobs are too big for me to have fit through the hole in the door to commit the crime I'm accused of" do you not understand? People, please!

Answer: Seems perfectly clear to me. (Turley, A Good Offense is The “Breast” Defense)

3) Question: I just bought my granddaughter a "Barbie Video Girl" for the holidays. It is a new Barbie doll that comes with a built-in camera. She'll love it! Why is this strange black car tailing me home from the toy store?

Answer: I'm not sure about the car, sir, but you should know that the FBI just sent out a "Cyber Crime Alert" about Barbie Video Girl saying it is a "possible child pornography production method." (Law and Disorder, FBI alert over Barbie Video Girl causes child porn panic)

December 7, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0)

LBW Trend Watch: Numerous Crimes Foiled by Perpetrators' Baggy Pants

Back in July 2010, I wrote here about a New York case that found that while the baggy "pants on the ground" look may be foolish, it is not illegal to walk around with your pants hanging "down below your buttocks." After now reading about not one, not two, but three criminals whose plans were foiled by their own baggy pants, I wonder if the New York case might also have been decided on public policy grounds: baggy pants sems to make law enforcement's job easier.

Back in December 2009, a criminal was charged with killing several members of his family. The New York Post reported (via Turley) that he was inches away from grabbing another family member when he tripped on his baggy pants, allowing the woman to escape. He then tried to flee the scene by racing down the building's rear fire escape, "but again, his low-slung pants fell to his ankles, tripping him and sending him falling three stories to his death, authorities said."

This baggy pants lesson was not learned by a bank robber in Columbus, Ohio, who ordered a teller to put money into a blue bag he was carrying. The teller complied, The Columbus Dispatch reports (via Simple Justice), but also slipped a dye pack into the bag. The robber tried to run out the door but he was "impeded by his sagging pants," causing the dye pack to explode into a cloud of red smoke. The robber then dropped the bag and fled.

The most recent criminal to be foiled by his own pants was a burglar in El Jebel, Colo., who allegedly broke into a sports bar, started a fire while cooking snacks, and took "a substantial amount of cash." The Aspen Times reports (via Lowering the Bar) that the owners of the bar later spotted the suspect on a live surveillance video and ran to try to catch him. The suspect attempted to elude his pursuers, but without luck, "thanks in part to [his] baggy clothing." One of the owners reported that “[h]is pants were clear down around his knees so he couldn't run real well.” The owner and family members were able to detain the baggy-panted man until police arrived to arrest him.

December 7, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (2)

Goodbye to Leslie Nielsen, a Parody Law Icon

On Nov. 28, actor Leslie Nielsen passed away. While his fans will miss him for his great work in movies such as Airplane! and Naked Gun, the Entertainment Law Matters blog adds that Nielsen should also be remembered by intellectual property lawyers. Nielsen, it turns out, was at the center of two of the leading cases in the field of "copyright infringement litigations in advertising where defendants successfully asserted parody as a defense."

In the first of these two cases, Nielsen appeared in a Coors Beer ad that parodied the then-popular Eveready "Energizer Bunny" commercials. According to ELM, "a life-sized Leslie Nielsen wearing rabbit ears and carrying a full-sized drum interrupted a more mundane beer commercial much in the same way that the Energizer Bunny interrupted the commercials for Eveready." This led Eveready to sue for copyright infringement. The federal court hearing the case ruled that Coors "had established a defense of parody, defeating Eveready’s claims of copyright and trademark infringement."

The second case involved a movie poster for Nielsen's Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Insult. ELM explains that the poster was a "purported parody of Annie Leibovitz’s famous photograph of a pregnant Demi Moore that appeared on the cover of Vanity Fair." 

Leibovitz filed a lawsuit against the producers of the movie, claiming that the poster infringed upon her copyright.  The 2nd Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the case, holding that the poster "could reasonably be perceived as a parody, commenting on the 'seriousness, even the pretentiousness, of the original.'''

ELM concludes that these two landmark cases "guarantee that Leslie Nielsen’s legacy will live on, not only for his movie performances, but also due to his unique place in the law of parody."

December 7, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (1)

Abnormal Use Blog Sits Down for Interview With Jackie Chiles of 'Seinfeld'

I don't quite get the connection between the Abnormal Use blog ("An Unreasonably Dangerous Products Liability Blog)" and faux-but-über attorney Jackie Chiles from "Seinfeld" but who really cares? A big round of applause, please, for Abnormal Use author Kevin Couch, who somehow scored an interview with Phil Morris, the actor who played the role of Chiles in six "Seinfeld" episodes.

The interview addresses numerous topics with Morris beyond his legendary work as Chiles, including his upcoming projects, his love of superhero comic books, his influences as an actor, yada yada yada. But this isn't Superhero Blog Watch, so let's stay focused on Chiles, shall we? Some of the highlights from the interview:

  • The Jackie Chiles character -- out of action since the "Seinfeld" finale in 1998 -- is currently experiencing a bit of a revival, as Morris recently helped create a series of videos reprising the role for the Funny or Die website. Two of the new videos have have already been posted to the site, and three more are coming soon (see one of the new ones below).


  • Morris' portrayal of Chiles is a combination of many men he grew up with, including his father (actor Greg Morris), his Uncle Phil, and, of course, Johnnie Cochran.
  • Morris grew up going to the same barbershop as Cochran, and had many opportunities as a kid to watch Cochran "come in and pontificate on everything from the Raiders moving to L.A. to any of the number of egregious acts of civil unrest." Morris says Cochran loved the Chiles character and found it "very flattering - at first."
  • The University of Utah has a Jackie Chiles Law Society!

Read the entire Abnormal Use interview with Phil Morris here.

December 7, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (2)

December 06, 2010

Pondering E-Discovery Without Those Pesky Humans

"Predictive coding," to me, has the sound of some of those annoying buzzwords like "proactive" and "slippery slope." But it's a real thing, and Barry Willms has some details at Counsel On Call's Lawdable (sigh) blog.

The headline -- "What Would Hal 9000 (WWH9D) Do for E-Discovery?" -- hooked me despite the misplaced parenthetical. Having been there in the trenches, reviewing and re-reviewing thousands upon thousands of .tiff files for days and weeks on end, I would have killed for a mystical system that took over for me after an hour or two.

Of course, Willms is quick to point out that no computer is gonna be able to do the kind of coding that they paid me the big bucks for: determining which of the 143 "primary issues" in the litigation were implicated and tagging as appropriate. But I did my share of garden variety Responsive/Nonresponsive/Privileged reviews as well, and it sounds like software engineers are making real strides in creating programs that can "learn" to draw those lines fairly accurately.

Willms is not ready to advocate eliminating people from the process altogether -- good news for contract attorneys worldwide! He just wants us all to adapt, without obsessing about who moved our cheese:

The bottom line: I don’t believe we’re anywhere near the Hal 9000/Space Odyssey scenario or a comprehensive predictive coding process eliminating the use of attorneys during the review.

But as the year nears its close, realize that change is constantly in the air these days. Change with it. Expand your skill set. Don’t get stuck where you are. Learn something new about technology this year. Read. Experiment. Become better at what you do.

Speaking of which, I'm kinda hungry. Enjoy the rest of your Monday, LBW readers.


December 6, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (2)

Lawyers State the Obvious: Phone Book Ads Show Diminishing Returns

Despite the fact that I live in one of the "greenest" cities in the U.S., and the fact that I have not had a landline telephone since about 2002, I came home from a jaunt to my local Target this weekend to find, sitting on my porch, a bag o' phone books. I admit to not having investigated whether the city of Austin has an opt-out program for the books. My bad.

I also admit that, as of the time I left the house this morning, the bag was still sitting on the porch. They don't collect recycling until next week, so I figure it'll be there at least that long. If, in theory, I were to bring the bag inside and open it up, however, I would likely find a bunch of ads for lawyers in those yellow pages. Which, according to the Wisconsin Law Journal, might not be the case for too much longer.

According to the article, not only are fewer clients finding their way to attorney advertisers via the yellow pages, but the "caliber of client" that's responding to ads has declined too. The article has some concrete examples. Take the case of Samster, Konkel & Safran:

Personal injury lawyer Jerome A. Konkel (pictured, above right, with his firm's ads) said his firm, Samster, Konkel & Safran, invests more than $10,000 a month on phone book advertising. A two-page spread in the AT&T Yellow Pages alone runs the firm $6,000 each month, Konkel said.

“There was a time when you could justify the cost for the name recognition,” he said. “I’m not sure it has that panache anymore.”

The firm has seen a precipitous decline in both the quantity and quality of business generated by phone book ads.

While Konkel said the advertising still “makes the phone ring off the hook,” only about 10 percent of those calls translate into paying clients, often with atypical cases.

$10,000 a month? I know that in the world of contingency fees, one good case can make that seem like pocket change, but damn!

The article even notes that one firm lists separate phone numbers in its multiple phone book ads to enable better tracking of which ads generate legit clients.

Old habits die hard, indeed.

December 6, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (3)

Philly Law Firm Charged With Unauthorized Practice for Lawyer-Free Foreclosure Filings

Nothing like more foreclosure-related shenanigans on a cold December morning. Today, it's a law firm in the crosshairs.

According to the ABA Journal, Philadelphia firm Goldbeck, McCafferty & McKeever has been accused of the unauthorized practice of law based on the deposition testimony of two partners who admitted that non-lawyers routinely prepared and filed papers for the firm without any oversight, forging attorneys' names when necessary.

The details are provided in a motion to compel linked from the ABA Journal post, and I will say that the candor of Messrs. Goldbeck and McCafferty is refreshing. I hope these guys have made serious bank from the thousands of foreclosure cases the firm has filed, because I'll be shocked if they keep their licenses. Not only do they admit to authorizing legal secretaries to process and file foreclosure cases without a lawyer even glancing at them, they admit to being unfamiliar with the laws and regulations that govern foreclosures and, in many cases, not even knowing whether or not their clients actually held the mortgages they were seeking to foreclose on.

It's pretty amazing stuff. This article on AOL's DailyFinance has more details, and foreshadows the malpractice suits against the Goldbeck firm that are sure to come. It seems that while his name is still on the "door," so to speak, Mr. Goldbeck is no longer listed in the "attorney profiles" section of the firm's website. Maybe he found a viable exit strategy.


December 6, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (1)

Viacom Files Appellate Brief in Battle With YouTube

Remember Viacom v. YouTube? We last wrote about the epic copyright case back in March, when the Southern District of New York released the previously sealed summary judgment briefs. So we thought it was time for an update.

Back in June, YouTube won the summary judgment duel, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act bottom line tidily summed up by Judge Louis Stanton: "General knowledge that infringement is 'ubiquitous' does not impose a duty on the service provider to monitor or search its service for infringements."

Viacom vowed to fight on after that ruling, and lived up to its promise. Friday, Viacom filed its appellate brief in the 2nd Circuit. Pamela Jones at Groklaw has posted a text version of the brief, with a thorough analysis.

As reported in October, Viacom brought Ted Olson on board for the appeal (though Olson did let the Jenner and Block team keep the left side of the counsel list on the cover of the brief). Jones says that move is an indication that Viacom "seriously wants to win." No doubt, 'cause Ted don't come cheap. But Jones's take on the Viacom brief isn't too confidence-inspiring if your money's on a reversal.

Viacom's plea for the establishment of a "duty to monitor," says Jones, doesn't -- and really can't -- incorporate the notion of fair use. Not even Viacom is suggesting that an actual living, breathing being must view every video uploaded to YouTube and make a call on infringement. That would be absurd. Rather, Viacom is pushing for a particular sort of computer "filtration system" to screen out infringing video. I don't claim to understand a lot about the technology, or the nuances of the DMCA, but I can agree with Jones on this:

Computers don't know a thing about fair use, and there's no way to teach them about it, because it's analyzed on a case-by-case basis. You can't even teach the general public and so set up a reliable system of user-flagging, because they don't know what fair use it either. Really, only the copyright owner can stand up and tell us when he thinks a quotation goes beyond fair use, and then a judge has to decide who is right based on some factors that are known, but unpredictably interpreted, case by case. You can't write a particularly effective algorithm from such unknown and unknowable factors. It takes a human to weigh such things out.

Andrew Berger, at IP in Brief, recaps the history of the case and the legal issues, but comes out on the opposite side, his central theme being “When you welcome a thief in your house, you probably know he’s there.”

Opinions are like ... well, you know. And as the appeal progresses, with YouTube's opposition brief and, no doubt, a bunch of amicus briefs rolling in, the debate will continue to take shape. Law geeks rejoice!


December 6, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (2)

December 03, 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 have had the good fortune to receive a Chipotle gift card. I have many questions! Can I eat the card itself? Can I use this gift card other places, such as the Home Depot or at my doctor's office?

Answer: Chipotle has answered all of your excellent questions and many more in the fine print on the back of the card (below). To answer your immediate questions, you should "refrain from eating the card" and if you try to use the card elsewhere "it won't be accepted and they will probably laugh at you." (Consumerist, This Chipotle Gift Card Is Kinda Chuckle-Worthy)


2) Question: I was just on a date where we went horseback riding. I fell off my horse and injured myself. The man who took me on the date "was negligent in failing to properly warn me and appreciate my limited level of skill as a rider, and in failing to pay proper attention to my request that the horses proceed at a slow pace in a careful manner," right?

Answer: Nope! According to the New York Appellate Division, your date had no duty to insure that your "horseback riding experience was safe." (Lowering the Bar, It's Safe Again to Take Your Date Horseback Riding in New York)

3) Question: I'm starting to re-think this whole "online commerce" concept. Everytime I order something online -- DVDs or books from Amazon, lingerie from Victoria Secret for my wife, whatever -- I get billed but it never comes! Where does it go?!?! --Roscoe in Littleton, CO

Answer: Littleton? It is quite possible that your postman may have taken your packages, along with 11,000 others over the last two years.(, Postal worker gets prison time for stealing 11,000 packages) (via Legal Juice)

December 3, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0)

The Legality of Posting Surveillance Video to Shame Your Neighbor

Sometimes, when your neighbor throws a bag full of dog crap into your bushes every single day while walking his dog, you need to fight back. Here is what one guy did:

As discussed in The New York Times last month, the man who made the video above is Steve Miller of Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. The Times says that in so doing, Miller

joined the ranks of outraged homeowners who are recording their neighbors’ misdeeds. Attracted by the declining prices and technological advances of such devices, these homeowners are posting the videos online to shame their neighbors or using them as evidence to press charges.

Yesterday, Tara Krieger of the Legal As She is Spoke blog posted on the legality of posting such videos, identifying two key issues:

(1) Under what circumstances may private citizens set up hidden cameras?; and

(2) Can private citizens then upload unauthorized footage of others to the Internet?

Surveillance Looking at Miller's situation, Krieger writes that for private citizens, the First Amendment often protects this type of freedom of expression. In addition, Florida is not among those states that have enacted statutes banning the use of surveillance cameras in “private places” where one would have a “reasonable expectation of privacy,” and a public sidewalk probably would not fit that definition, anyway. In short, Krieger says, Miller "can rest assured that in taking pains to film and show what was on his own property, his revenge against the poop dropper was legal."


December 3, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (6)

Misworded 'Stop a School Bus' Statute Temporarily Allows Reckless Driving in Virginia

Busstop As a Virginian with a bunch of school bus-riding kids, I'm pleased to say that like most states, we have a statute prohibiting motorists from whizzing by stopped school buses that have their lights flashing as they drop off and pick up children. Unfortunately, a recent case held that the law is drafted improperly, which led to a motorist, who admittedly whizzed by such a school bus, being acquitted of reckless driving charges.

The Washington Post reports that the statute, last amended in 1970, reads as follows:

A person is guilty of reckless driving who fails to stop, when approaching from any direction, any school bus which is stopped on any highway, private road or school driveway for the purpose of taking on or discharging children.

Read literally, the statute provides, as The Post put it, that "drivers must stop a school bus which is, er, stopped." Apparently the 1970 revision of the statute deleted a key "at" for some reason, leading Judge Marcus D. Williams to rule that defendant John Mendez "can only be guilty if he failed to stop any school bus. And there's no evidence he did." Unless an emergency bill is passed, The Post reports, the "stop a school bus" law will remain in effect until January 2011, when the Virginia legislature reconvenes.

The defendant acquitted under this bizarre statutory mishap said his attorney "did a lot of work and investigation into the statutes ... This is the greatest moment ever." The attorney, Eric Clingan, provided Judge Williams with "a grammatical analysis" by a professor of English at George Mason University in support of his argument.

Fairfax Commonwealth's Attorney Raymond F. Morrogh told The Post that he respectfully disagrees with the decision, quoting a U.S. Supreme Court case that states, "If a literal construction of the words of a statute be absurd, the act must be so construed as to avoid the absurdity."

Or, as Mr. Bumble stated it another way in Dickens' Oliver Twist, "If the law supposes that ... the law is a ass."

December 3, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (6)

'Hot Coffee' Case Documentary Chosen for Sundance Film Festival

It's not the O.J. Simpson case, but in terms of name recognition the "hot coffee case" certainly ranks right up there with the general public. Most adults have probably heard somewhere along the way that "a lady spilled McDonald's coffee on her own lap and then got millions of dollars from McDonald's in a lawsuit because the coffee was hot and burned her." Or words to that effect.

Now, as the New York Personal Injury Law Blog reports, the 18-year-old case has become the subject of a documentary (called "Hot Coffee") that was among 16 films out of 861 submissions selected to play at the Sundance Film Festival. As stated on the website for the film, the case's infamy continues on nearly two decades later:

Everyone knows the McDonald’s coffee case. It has been routinely cited as an example of how citizens have taken advantage of America’s legal system, but is that a fair rendition of the facts? Hot Coffee reveals what really happened to Stella Liebeck, the Albuquerque woman who spilled coffee on herself and sued McDonald’s, while exploring how and why the case garnered so much media attention, who funded the effort and to what end. After seeing this documentary film, you will decide who really profited from spilling hot coffee.

Check out the trailer for the "Hot Coffee" movie here. Looks interesting:

December 3, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (2)

December 02, 2010

John Boehner Shows Some Love for the Ladies ... Who Have to Pee

After the Republicans re-took the House in last month's midterm elections, Rep. John Boehner of Ohio was elected speaker-designate. He had lots of stuff to say about his grand plans for the coming era.

But yesterday, he made another announcement -- this one undoubtedly a great relief to all of the female members that will be serving their constituents during the next session. Boehner committed to commandeer office space adjacent to the House floor for conversion to a women's restroom.

It seems that while there's a little boys' room right near the floor, nobody bothered to install toilets for the ladies at any point after the election of Jeannette Rankin in 1917. But Boehner has swept in, and promised that our phallically challenged representatives will no longer have to sprint downstairs or several halls over should nature call during a hearing on important pending legislation.

Boehner is touting this plan as part of his initiative to "open up the people's House." Presumably that doesn't mean that the stalls in the new can will be doorless.

December 2, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (5)

Buchanan Ingersoll Rubs Collections Data in Its Attorneys' Faces

If you are now, ever have been, or are at all acquainted with, a Big Law attorney, you know that, in all but the most unusual circumstances, when push comes to shove, it's all about the Benjamins.

And now, one firm has decided to remind all 423 of its attorneys of that, each and every day. According to The Am Law Daily blog, Pittsburgh-based Buchanan Ingersoll has implemented "cutting-edge technology" to display detailed collections data on every one of its attorneys' computer monitors first thing in the a.m.

That's right. Log on, and the first thing you see is how far behind your clients are on their bills. The software was designed by James O'Toole, an environmental partner in the firm's Philadelphia office, in an attempt to "provide [lawyers] with current information that could help them better manage their practice and help us manage our firm."

From the Philadelphia Inquirer:

If any one lawyer falls too far behind, he should expect to spend some quality time with senior lawyers on the firm's collection committee, with the goal of figuring out how to get laggard clients to pay more quickly.

Based on the The Am Law Daily post, and the more detailed source article in the Inquirer, it sure sounds like associates are in on this thing too, and I'm not sure how such a thinly veiled threat would apply to them. God help us all if it's come to the point where we're having second-years start harrassing assistant general counsel to pay the bills.


December 2, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0)

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