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September 30, 2011

The Final Four: U.S. Citizens Get Their Marijuana Directly From the U.S. Government

The AP has an interesting article about a little-known government operation under which the federal government grows marijuana, tests it, rolls it into cigarettes and mails these marijuana cigarettes (in tins of 300) out to a very select group of citizens. How select? Four people in the entire country!

The program began in 1976, when a federal judge ruled that the Food and Drug Administration was required to provide a man named Robert Randall with marijuana. The court found that no other drug could effectively help Randall deal with his glaucoma, thereby allowing Randall to become "the nation's first legal pot smoker" since marijuana was outlawed in the 1930s.

Other citizens petitioned to join the program, which is run by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, and at one point its ranks had grown to include 14 people. The program stopped accepting new patients in 1992, however, and just four beneficiaries remain today. NIDA says that public health authorities concluded that there was "no scientific value" to the program, but that the government has continued to supply marijuana to the remaining patients "for compassionate reasons." 

The marijuana for the program is grown, harvested and stored at the University of Mississippi, and is part of a small crop of marijuana the school grows to conduct "all cannabis research in the U.S. " After it is harvested,

The marijuana is then sent from Mississippi to a tightly controlled North Carolina lab, where they are rolled into cigarettes. And every month, steel tins with white labels are sent to Florida and Iowa. Packed inside each is a half-pound of marijuana rolled into 300 perfectly-wrapped joints.

If you ever wanted to know what a Family Size package of professionally rolled and packaged marijuana joints would look like, it looks like this:

(image: AP)

One of the four remaining patients, Elvy Musikka, lives in Oregon, a state which also has a medical marijuana program. Musikka is also enrolled in the state's program, which means that she is "entitled to more legal pot than anyone in the nation."

September 30, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (6)

Friday's Three Burning Legal Questions: 'Bitch' Edition

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

1) Question: I'm about to be sentenced on robbery charges, and I'm really quite perturbed. I'm thinking about calling the judge a "cracker bitch" in open court. How much extra time will I have to serve if I say it?

Answer: It looks like you may get six months extra time in prison for contempt of court. (State v. Taylor) (via Legal Juice)

2) Question: I'm pretty sure this talking baby doll I got my daughter at Toys "R" Us just called my daughter a "crazy bitch." Won't anyone think of the children and get this abusive doll off of the shelves?

Answer: Rest easy, an Arkansas lawyer is already on the case. (ABA JournalLawyer Says Doll Says the B-Word, Offers Video Proof)

3) Question: I poked fun at a mistake the barista in the coffee shop made. When I got back to my office with my caramel frappuccino, I noticed that the barista wrote "Bitch" on the part of my cup where she was supposed to write my name. What can I get for my emotional distress?

Answer: Some free coffee vouchers is about all you can expect here. (Consumerist, Starbucks Customer: Excuse Me, But My Name Is Not "Bit*h")


September 30, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0)

September 29, 2011

Heads Up! Packaging Error Reverses Tablet Orientation of Placebo and Birth Control Pills

Via the Abnormal Use blog I see that a company called Qualitest Pharmaceuticals is urgently recalling certain lots of its birth control pills, but not because anything is wrong with the pills themselves. Rather, the pills were distributed in a package in which the blister packaging was rotated 180 degrees within the card. Qualitest announced that this error had the effect of reversing the weekly tablet orientation, meaning that the "daily regimen for these oral contraceptives may be incorrect and could leave women without adequate contraception." Accordingly, the company stated, "consumers exposed to affected packaging should begin using a non-hormonal form of contraception immediately and consult their health care provider or pharmacist."

The AU blog explains that the "tablet orientation" of the pills is critical because the first three weeks of pills are "hormone-producing" and prevent pregnancy, while the last week of pills are simply placebo pills. Thus, if the orientation of these weeks is altered by a packaging error, women may inadvertently end up taking placebo pills during a time that they need contraception and end up with an unplanned pregnancy.

AU observes that while packaging errors are not unheard of, this one is "curious" because it actually affects the performance of the drug itself:

The fact that the mere 180 degree rotation of a product's packaging can render a product completely ineffective seems curious. If Crayola accidentally packaged its product in reverse-rainbow order, the crayons would not cease to become coloring utensils. One would think that if a company is capable of designing a product that can alter reproductive hormones and prevent unwanted pregnancies, it could also design a package not affected by a reverse rotation.

AU further anticipates that plaintiffs who have experienced an unwanted pregnancy may bring claims against Qualitest for "wrongful pregnancy," although such plaintiffs may face issues of comparative negligence for failing to notice that the placebo pills are a different color than the hormone-producing pills.

September 29, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday'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 store clerk and I witnessed a robbery at my store. I went to court to testify in the robbery trial, and the next thing I recall is waking up in the courtroom to an outrageously bad odor. What happened to me?!

Answer: Sometimes witnesses will faint on the witness stand due to the stress of testifying, and a family member will remove the witness' sneaker and hold it to the witness's nose to revive her. (Lowering the Bar, Shoe Applied to Witness)

2) Question: I'm thinking about hiring someone to take the SAT exam for me so that I can get into a better college. What is the going rate for this?

Answer: It looks like you can get someone to pretend to be you at the SAT exam for between $1,500 and $2,500. (New York PostSeven LI students busted for cheating in SAT scam ring) (via Jonathan Turley)

3) Question: It seems like everyone I know in my town of Albany, Ga., has been issued a citation by the police for wearing saggy pants. First-time violators pay $25 but recidivists can get fined up to $200! Are the authorities trying to balance the budget with our saggy pants?

Answer: So far this year, Albany has issued 187 saggy pants citations and collected $3,916.49 in fines. (Consumerist, Saggy Pants Fines Bring City $3,916.49)

September 29, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0)

September 28, 2011

Trial Begins for 7 Italian Scientists Charged With Manslaughter for Failing to Warn of 2009 Earthquake

It seemed like something had to have been lost in translation when I first read this, but no -- in Italy, the trial of seven scientists is now underway on criminal manslaughter charges because they allegedly failed to predict and warn citizens of the possibility of a significant earthquake that hit the Italian city of L'Aquila on April 6, 2009.

Prosecutors allege that the defendant scientists gave "inexact, incomplete and contradictory information" regarding some tremors that led up the earthquake. Digital Journal reports that prosecutors have indicted the scientists "because of their failure to say that a 'significant quake was possible,' preventing the area's population from taking preventive measures." The families of people who died in the earthquake are separately seeking $68.2 million dollars in damages from the defendants.

The seismological community has rallied in support of the accused scientists. Digital Journal reports that more than 5,200 international "researchers, professors, postdocs, [and] seismologists" have signed a petition supporting the seven defendants and the Seismological Society of America has denounced the charges as an "unprecedented legal action against members of the seismological community." Seismologists also warn that it is dangerous to allow prosecutions like this one because the fear of legal retaliation will discourage seismologists from issuing any advice at all in the future.

Prosecutors and relatives of victims deny that science is on trial here, however, and acknowledge that earthquakes cannot be predicted. They focus on the fact that scientists failed to warn that a significant quake could be possible, despite mounting concerns by some seismologists about seismic activity in the region. The Associated Press states that a report issued a week before the earthquake concluded that a major quake was possible but "improbable."

Prosecutors also point to an unfortunate pre-earthquake interview in which Bernardo De Bernardinis, then-vice chief of the technical department of Italy's civil protection agency, was asked whether residents should just sit back and relax with a glass of wine. "Absolutely, absolutely a Montepulciano doc," he responded, referring to a high-end red. "This seems important."

The defendants face up to 15 years in prison if they are found guilty.

September 28, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (2)

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 burglar, but honestly I am running out of ideas for places to burgle and it is hurting my business. How do others in my profession deal with this problem?

Answer: Your peers are embracing social media and you are being left behind. Seventy-eight percent of burglars surveyed say that they use social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and Foursquare to select properties, and 74 percent use Google Street View to plan home thefts. Are there any "black hat" social media consultants you can work with to raise your game? (All Twitter, 4 Out Of 5 Burglars Use Twitter And Facebook To Select Victims, Says Survey)

2) Question: My child's nursery school always has the kids draw their pictures on greyish paper. I can barely even see the drawings! What happened to using white paper?

Answer: White paper promotes racism. (The TelegraphDress witches in pink and avoid white paper to prevent racism in nuseries, expert says)

3) Question: I accepted $1,000 to kill a woman but, alas, I cannot, as I have fallen madly in love with the intended victim. What can I do?

Answer: The simple answer is to return the money and walk away from this bad idea. Another option is to pretend to kill the woman and take a fake death scene photo (see below) by covering her in ketchup and using the old "knife tucked in the armpit" trick. (Jonathan Turley, De Jesus Loves You: Hit Man Stages Killing After Falling In Love With Target)

(Mail Online)


September 28, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0)

September 27, 2011

Court Suppresses Information Revealed When Police Take Computer Out of 'Screensaver Mode'

Via The Volokh Conspiracy, I learned of an interesting Fourth Amendment decision by a federal court in United States v. Musgrove (E.D.Wis. 2011) that looks like a law school exam question. As stated by VC's Orin Kerr, the question before the court was:

When a computer is in screensaver mode, does a police officer's touching a key or moving the mousepad in order to reveal the contents of the screen constitute a Fourth Amendment "search"?

That question is one that could only have arisen after the advent of the personal computer and the screensaver, and the additional facts involving ominous Craiglist posts and incriminating Facebook status updates make the case one that could only have even happened in the much more recent social media era. As summarized in the VC post, police were put on alert after tipsters alerted them to a threat posted on Craigslist regarding possible planned violence at a shopping mall. Police obtained contact information from Craigslist about the person who posted the threat and went to his home, where the man invited the police to come in.

While in the man's home, one officer saw a laptop computer that was either off or in screensaver mode. VC reports that:

The officer touched a key or moved the mousepad, and the computer came out of screensaver mode. The officer could then see the contents of the screen, and those contents revealed the suspect's Facebook wall. The Facebook wall contained a "status update" in which the suspect discussed the mall and wrote that another mall was next, and it also showed that the defendant had "liked" a group about the need to change the mall.

Based on the status update, police arrested the suspect. The defendant later argued that the information found on his computer should be suppressed because the officer's act of removing the computer from screensaver mode to see the man's Facebook page was an illegal search under the Fourth Amendment.

The court agreed with the defendant, and suppressed the evidence from the computer. Magistrate Judge Nancy Joseph found that:

[b]y touching a key or moving the mouse, the officer put into view the Facebook wall, which was not previously in view. Though a close call, the Court concludes that this was a search, however minimal, which required further authority, a warrant or consent. The government submits that the officer's manipulation of the computer was for the purpose of seizing the computer, not to conduct a preliminary search. However, intent is not generally relevant in assessing whether a search ensued. ... The Court therefore recommends that the defendant's Facebook wall be suppressed.

Bottom line: If you make threatening posts on Craigslist and are discussing these threats further on your Facebook page which is up on your computer when the police come by, make sure you have a screensaver set up on your computer. Or something like that.

September 27, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (17)

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 white male. I am at a bake sale and I just bought a muffin for $2.00. My buddy who is an Asian male just bought the same muffin for $1.50, and our other buddy who is a black male was only charged $0.75 for his muffin! What is going on here? 

Answer: It sounds like you are at the student bake sale at University of California, Berkeley, where students are protesting considerations of race in admissions through a sale of baked goods priced according to the customer's race. And FYI, women get an additional $0.25 off those prices! (Jonathan Turley, A Pinch of Satire: Bake Sale Causes Uproar at Berkeley)

2) Question: I'm an administrator with the county schools and we just received a complaint that one of our sixth-grade teachers told an 11-year-old student in his class that the Tooth Fairy is not real. How should we handle this?

Answer: Wait, what? The Tooth Fairy isn't real? (, Fla. teacher under scrutiny after telling students Tooth Fairy isn't real)

3) Question: The judge says I can either go to jail for my crime or volunteer at a church every Sunday for one year. Isn't this a violation of the separation between church and state?

Answer: According to one town, at least, this is not such a violation because you can always choose to go to jail instead! (, Serve Time In Jail...Or In Church?)

September 27, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0)

September 26, 2011 Will People Visit for the Porn and Stay for the Animal Rights Message?

For some time now, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has used nudity to grab people's attention for its cause. The organization has had celebrities such as Pamela Anderson,  Eva MendesElisabetta Canalis, Khloe Kardashian, Amanda Beard and Chad Ochocinco serve as nude models for its "I'd Rather Go Naked than Wear Fur" and other anti-fur campaigns, for example. PETA has explained in the past that it uses nudity because it must rely on getting free "advertising" through media coverage, and activists "going naked instead of wearing fur" successfully grabs headlines.

Now PETA wants to further raise awareness by moving beyond its current PG-rated stuff (PG-13?) to some real XXX action. Indeed, The Virginian-Pilot reports that PETA has applied to launch "," a website that will use the new ".xxx" domain that is intended for pornographic sites. Lindsay Rajt of PETA says that the .xxx site will not be hard-core porn, but will be "erotica," i.e., nudity and "sexually suggestive content."

Rajit says may be up and running as soon as early November 2011, and she believes it will be "triple extra effective in helping us bring our important issues of animal rights and eating a vegan diet to a greater number of people." Others believe the porn strategy will backfire. Marketing professor Daniel Howard of Southern Methodist University, for example, believes that will reinforce the notion that PETA is an extremist organization. And Robert Peters of the anti-pornography group Morality in Media believes PETA's foray into porn "borders on insanity" and may end up offending people who would potentially support its cause. "There have got to be other ways to draw attention to their cause," he said.

PETA says it will be tracking the website to determine if people are viewing its animal rights messages as well as the nudity.

September 26, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (3)

September 23, 2011

Jury Confusion About Verdict Form Costs Plaintiff Over $200,000 in Damages

Earlier this month the Court of Appeals of Indiana ruled (via Deliberations) in an interesting case that involved a jury deciding that a plaintiff should be awarded $336,300 in damages, but failing to adequately communicate that to the court because of confusion about how the verdict form worked. As a result, the plaintiff ended up being awarded just $128,712.

According to an affidavit filed by one of the jurors after the trial, the jury unanimously agreed that the plaintiff, Martha Sienkowski, should be awarded $336,300 but "we had trouble trying to figure out the verdict form, and sent a note through the bailiff to that effect seeking further instructions." When no help was provided by the court, the jury took a shot at completing the verdict form, as follows:

We, the Jury, find for the Plaintiff, [Sienkowski], and we assess the percentages of fault as follows:

Plaintiff, [Sienkowski] 38%
Defendant, [Verschuure] 62%
TOTAL 100%

We further find that the total amount of damages which the Plaintiff, [Sienkowski], is entitled to recover, disregarding fault, is the sum of $207,600.  (Enter this amount below as Total Damages.)

We, the Jury, now find for the Plaintiff, [Sienkowski], and find against the Defendant, [Verschuure], in the sum of:

Total Damages $207,600
[Verschuure's] percentage of fault  x 62%
[Sienkowski's] Verdict Amount = $336,300.

One of the jurors later explained in an affidavit that the jury erroneously believed that Sienkowski would receive the sum of (1) $207,600 and (2) $207,600 multiplied by 62 percent, which would equal the $336,300 it intended to award.

Presented with this verdict form following the trial, the court observed that the Verdict Amount ($336,300) did not equal $207,600 multiplied by 62 percent, and asked the jury to reconsider its computations. The jury then compounded the problem by "correcting" the error by striking "$336,300" and replacing it with "$128,712." At this point it appears that everyone in the courthouse -- particularly the plaintiff and the jurors -- stopped paying attention. Counsel for both parties declined an offer to poll the jury, and both parties replied negatively when asked by the trial court if there was "any reason that this should not be entered as a verdict and a judgment at this time."

After the trial, however, one of the jurors approached plaintiffs counsel in the parking lot and told him "this is b__ s__. All of us wanted Ms. Sienkowski to get $336,300." Sienkowski's motion to vacate the judgment and for a new trial based on this information was denied, leading to an appeal to the Court of Appeals of Indiana.

The appeals court rejected Sienkowski's argument, holding that under Indiana law a party cannot attack the validity of a verdict by juror testimony about jury deliberations unless it relates to (1) drug or alcohol use by any juror, (2) the question of whether extraneous prejudicial information was improperly brought to the jury's attention or (3) whether any outside influence was improperly brought to bear upon any juror. As such, the court held that

When one disputes the information written on the verdict form, one is in effect contending that the verdict is wrong, which  amounts to a direct attack  on the "validity" of the verdict.  Asking the jurors during a post-trial hearing whether the amount written on Verdict Form B represents their agreement reached during deliberations directly impeaches the verdict.

Bottom line: Sienkowski is stuck with $128,712, not the $336,300 the jury says it wanted to award her.

September 23, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (2)

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 am thinking of naming my new macaroni and cheese restaurant "Jus' Mac." What do you think?

Answer: Cute, I guess, but heads up that any name with the word "Mac" in it will probably get you sued by McDonalds. (Consumerist, McDonald's In Legal Battle With Houston Mac & Cheese Restaurant Over The Word "Mac")

2) Question: I'm a chef. I was recently fired by my employer for making a "rice dick." Is this a legitimate grounds for termination?

Answer: I can see how receiving a plate of food featuring a rice dick would be offensive to patrons, and, in fairness, many restaurants do expressly ban this practice. See below. (FAIL Blog, After 12: That’s Much Lager Than A Rice One)

3) Question: What is the record for most DUIs in one night? I am up to two tonight and it is still only 11:30 p.m.

Answer: Great question that will require some additional research. My guess is that you are the leader in the clubhouse. (The Associated Press, Deja brew? Pa. man gets 2 DUI arrests in 1 night)


September 23, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (1)

September 22, 2011

Claimed Memory Loss from Airbag Deployment Leads to Suspension of Attorney's Law License

This is the story of how an airbag led to attorney Eric Forstrom's law license being suspended in two states, according to a Supreme Court of Wisconsin opinion (via the Legal Profession Blog) that lays out Forstrom's account of what happened:

The opinion states that on March 23, 2008, Forstrom, an attorney admitted to practice in Wisconsin and California, was driving his car and collided with another car. Both vehicles were damaged. Forstrom remained at the accident scene for a few minutes and then walked away, leaving the scene and abandoning his car. The next day, Forstrom went to a police station and reported that his car had been stolen. Later that day, Forstrom reported to his insurance company that his car had been stolen and a claim was initiated.

The police investigated the accident and identified Forstrom as the owner of the car involved in the hit-and-run accident. On May 30, 2008, a lawyer for Forstrom wrote to the insurance company to say that Forstrom was withdrawing his theft claim and would hold the insurance company harmless. It is unclear exactly how things went down from there, but on April 28, 2009, Forstrom entered an "initial guilty plea" to insurance fraud, a felony involving moral turpitude. On Dec. 8, 2009, the charge was reduced to a misdemeanor and Forstrom entered a final plea (this misdemeanor charge was ultimately dismissed/expunged earlier this year).

Following the final guilty plea, the Supreme Court of California suspended Forstrom's license to practice law for two years (but stayed the execution of the suspension such that he was placed on probation for two years with his license suspended for only the first year of the probation). This week, the Supreme Court of Wisconsin also suspended Forstrom's license to practice law for one year, but noted in its opinion that Forstrom had presented some new information during the Wisconsin proceedings.

Specifically, Forstrom maintains that the whole "insurance fraud" mess resulted from the fact that during the auto accident, he "suffered a concussion/brain trauma caused by airbag deployment" that caused him to temporarily have no recollection of the accident. Thus, he "did not recall being involved in an auto accident at the time he initiated the insurance claim that led to his conviction." In the weeks following the accident, however, Forstrom's memory resurfaced, leading him to formally withdraw his insurance claim.

It is unclear to me what the "lesson learned" is when your car's airbag supposedly ends up getting you suspended from the practice of law in two states. Always drive with a friend so that you won't erroneously think your car was stolen? Disable your airbags? Please weigh in if you have the answer.

September 22, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (4)

Thursday's Three Burning Legal Questions

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

1) Question: I am planning to add a new service at my spa where people bathe with live eels. It is popular in China now -- the eels painlessly eat dead skin off the customer's body. Are there any special risks here that I should perhaps obtain insurance for?

Answer: Yes. If you can find a company that will insure against the risk that one of these eels will enter your customer's penis and wriggle its way up his urethra and into his bladder requiring surgery, that may be worth the investment. (Metro, Eel removed from man's bladder after entering penis during beauty spa)

2) Question
: I teach kindergarten. We asked the kids to bring in something for show-and-tell that was an "important family item," and one child brought in his mom's crack pipe and several baggies of crack rocks. This was definitely not covered in my kindergarten teacher training! What am I supposed to do here?

Answer: Your school will want to alert the authorities, as the mother may face charges for possession of a controlled substance and child endangerment. (, Kindergartner brings Mom's crack pipe, drugs to show and tell, police say)

3) Question: I am currently rocking the natural "Afro" hairstyle and I'm about to travel by plane. Should I allot some time before my flight for a search of my hair by the TSA?

Answer: You should consider that, as the TSA says "additional screening may be required for clothing, headwear or hair where prohibited items could be hidden" and sometimes they will stop people with Afros and checked their hair for explosives. (NBC DFW, TSA Searches Dallas Woman's Hair for Weapons)

September 22, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0)

September 21, 2011

8 Amish Men Go to Jail, 'Will Not Use That Triangle'

In Graves County, Ky., six men belonging to an Amish sect called the Old Order Swartzentruber are currently serving time in jail after they refused to place bright orange safety triangles on the backs of their horse-drawn buggies. Two other Amish men in the sect just completed jail sentences resulting from this same dispute.

The CNN Belief Blog reports (via Compliance Building) that Kentucky law requires that orange safety triangles be displayed on all "slow-moving vehicles," including the Amish buggies. The Old Order Swartzentruber Amish, however, follow a strict code of conduct that is at odds with this law. Their code of conduct called "Ordnung" requires, among many other things, that displays of "loud" colors should be avoided. To make matters even more challenging, the Amish view the triangle as a symbol of the Holy Trinity, a belief that further prevents them from using the safety triangles.

In other states, the Swartzentruber Amish are allowed to use gray reflective tape as an accommodation for their religious beliefs, but judging from the sad mug shots below, it appears no such accommodation is available in Kentucky. The Belief Blog reports that the men were provided with jail uniforms, however, that were dyed dark gray rather than the standard orange.


The jail time for the eight men (sentences ranging from three to 10 days) reportedly resulted when they lost an appeal in which they argued for their freedom of religion, and then refused to pay the small fines associated with their conviction. It is unclear how this standoff will ever get resolved because as one Graves County man told the Belief Blog, the Swartzentruber Amish simply "will not do certain things. And they will not use that triangle."

September 21, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (8)

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 am six years old and my friends want me to throw eggs at this old man's house. I'm kind of scared -- what is the worst that can happen to me here?

Answer: Don't do it. If you pick the wrong grandpa to mess with, he may try to retaliate with napalm. (The TelegraphGrandfather caught making napalm after being egged)

2) Question: What is the record for the longest sentence used in a complaint in a lawsuit? I have crafted one that goes on for 345 words!

Answer: You may well have the record. But it may get you disbarred, too. (ABA Journal, 7th Circuit Slaps Lawyer for 345-Word Sentence and Briefs Full of 'Gibberish')

3) Question: I just finished watching the "Wedding Crashers" scene where Owen Wilson's character makes his enemy sick by putting drops of Visine in his drink. Hilarious! Does this really work? And could I get in trouble if I tried this in real life on my annoying roommate? 

Answer: You should consult with Poison Control Blog Watch on your first question. On your second question, you could be looking at felony charges for "placing foreign objects in edibles" and 90 days in jail if you try to have life imitate art in this way. (Mail OnlineStudent jailed for 90 days for putting eyedrops into her room-mate's water after seeing stunt on Wedding Crashers) (via Consumerist)


September 21, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0)

September 20, 2011

Netflix in Losing Race With Numerous Pot-Smoking Muppets for Twitter Username

Sometimes there's so much beauty in the world I feel like I can't take it. -- "American Beauty" (1999)

As I have mentioned before, sometimes I feel the same way about legal blog watching. Sometimes there's so much crazy-stupid-funny news in the legal world, I feel like I can't take it. In a good way, though.

Take Monday's news, for example, that Netflix has decided to spin off its DVD mailing business into a separate company called Qwikster. After people got finished laughing at the name Qwikster, they moved on to laughing at the fact that Netflix apparently forgot to line up the logical Twitter user name for its new business, "@Qwikster." And unfortunately, that name already belongs to someone whose avatar is a pot-smoking Elmo, and who regularly tweets about "cute ass gurls" and whether now would be a good time to smoke a bowl of that good Elmo ganja (not surprisingly, his usual answer seems to be "yes"). Here is a representative post from @Qwikster:

As of this morning, @Qwikster had tweeted that he had been offered $1,000 for the Twitter name by an unidentified purchaser, and he was conferring with his "right-hand man," @SoccerIsLifegc7, about the matter. @SoccerIsLifegc7's initial advice seems to be that any offer must be enough to "buy a Bentley with" and "we're not talkin til the offers get in 6 figures." Perhaps to improve his professionalism should negotiations heat up, @Qwikster changed his avatar to some kind of shiny coat-of-arms late Monday.

Netflix's task of coming up with a suitable backup Twitter name should it not be able to persuade stoned Elmo to cough up @Qwikster is also starting to look like a challenge. As far as I can tell from a quick search, most of the logical names are now being snapped up by other pot-smoking Muppets. For example, @QwiksterMovies is now in use by Big Bird lighting up a joint:

 How about, say, @Qwikster2?  Sorry, that is taken by bong-passing Bert and Ernie:

In short, Netflix's future presence on Twitter has now turned into a high-stakes race between the company and every pot-smoking Muppet character for a usable Twitter name.

September 20, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (4)

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 am completely, 100 percent exhausted. However, I have been planning a burglary that I intend to carry out tonight. Should I suck it up and go through with the burglary?

Answer: Skip it. If you fall asleep during the burglary, you will probably be arrested. (The Associated Press, Wichita burglar caught after falling asleep)

2) Question: I'm a new mom and I've been asked to participate in a video about breast-feeding. The producers want me to sign a bunch of releases and stuff before we film it. What is the big deal? Should I just sign everything?

Answer: Make sure you look the releases over and think about whether you want to allow the producers to use your real name. Sometimes people will take innocent breast-feeding videos like yours off of YouTube and splice them into pornographic movies, giving the impression that the breast-feeding scenes and the pornographic scenes portray the same woman. (New Jersey Law Journal, Breast-Feeding Video Subject Sues Over Its Transfiguration to Porn)

3) Question: The state tried to take my property through eminent domain to let a corporation build a large facility. I fought it! I took it to the Supreme Court, even, but I eventually lost. Trust me, it was fascinating. So who do you think will play me in the movie?

Answer: Brooke Shields. (The Hartford CourantBrooke Shields To Star In Movie Based On New London Eminent Domain Case)

September 20, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0)

September 19, 2011

Flash Mob Thefts, Part II: The Legislative Response

As I discussed here, last month in Germantown, Md., a crowd of about 30 young people stormed into a 7-Eleven at about 1:45 a.m. and "grabbed snacks and drinks and anything else they wanted and rushed out without paying." Police described the hit on the 7-Eleven a planned event -- a "flash mob theft" that was well-coordinated by the dozens of kids that participated. Other cities such as Philadelphia have also experienced flash mob thefts to the point that Philly's mayor announced a 9 p.m. curfew last month "for city children in certain neighborhoods in an effort to stop increasing occurrences of flash mob violence." 

Maryland is not following Philadelphia by instituting a curfew, but it is weighing an even stronger legislative response. The Washington Times reports that in response to the Germantown incident, state Delegate Jeffrey D. Waldstreicher may sponsor a bill next year that "would hold each flash-mob participant responsible for the total amount of merchandise stolen by the group, rather than just for their own actions." For example, the Times notes, such a law would mean that "anybody who steals $10 in merchandise as part of a $1,000 mass robbery could be charged with stealing all $1,000 worth of items." This change in Maryland law would mean harsher potential sentences for most defendants and, if the collective theft pinned on each participant was of more than $1,000, potential felony charges for each participant. 

Other Maryland delegates are concerned that holding each individual responsible for what the "mob" does may be unconstitutional. Delegate Michael D. Smigiel Sr. stated that that type of liability is typically only seen in "heinous" crimes such as felony murder. Waldstreicher, however, says the concept is not that unusual and that lawmakers have an obligation to "give our state's attorneys and police officers new tools to make sure the law catches up with what’s happening on the ground."

September 19, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (3)

Monday's Three Burning Legal Questions

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

1) Question: My friend says she saw SpongeBob Squarepants getting taken away by police after being in an actual fistfight with two women on Hollywood Blvd. today. I say she didn't see that because (a) SpongeBob lives in a pineapple under the sea, and (b) SpongeBob wouldn't do that anyway. Who is right?

Answer: You are right on (a), but your friend is right on (b). Sometimes SpongeBob does do that (see the video below). (TMZ, SpongeBob SquaresUp, FIGHTS Two Women)

2) Question: I came home tonight to find my roommate dead. My buddy and I are thinking we may just grab his corpse and head out to a strip club -- kind of a "Weekend at Bernie's"-style final salute to our deceased friend. Yes?

Answer: No. That is a just a horrible idea and also may get you charged with "abusing a corpse." (The Denver PostTwo Denver Men Find Out That "Weekend At Bernie's" Isn't As Funny In Real Life)

3) Question: I am working as a dispatcher on the "911" emergency line. A guy is on the line now saying that he is drunk with the "munchies" and is trying to be responsible and avoid a DUI by walking through the Taco Bell drive-through. Taco Bell says that for safety reasons, however, he must drive through (not walk through) to be served. This Catch-22 was not covered by my 911 training. What am I supposed to do here?

Answer: This is not an emergency and it is not your problem. The guy trying to use you to get served at Taco Bell can be arrested for misuse of a 911 system. (, Largo 911 call: 'Taco Bell won't serve me tacos!')

September 19, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0)

September 16, 2011

9th Circuit Says a Year is 365 Days, Regardless of the 'Intricacies of Astronomy'

In an opinion issued this week (via How Appealing), the 9th Circuit set out to answer a question that seems better suited for the television show "Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader?" The question presented on appeal was:

How many days are in a year?

The obvious answer is, of course, 365 days. But for Jawid Habibi, an alien living in the U.S., an answer of "365 days" meant he might be removed from the U.S., and he therefore presented an astronomy-based argument in court that a year is a bit longer than 365 days -- 365.24237 days, to be exact, according to the Royal Observatory in Greenwich. (In its opinion, the 9th Circuit explained that we make up the difference by adding an extra day on Feb. 29 every fourth year ("leap year"). This still doesn't quite work, because 365.24237 days is not quite 365.25, so society further corrects its calendars by omitting leap year every 100 years, in years ending in "00" except once every 400 years).

The additional 0.24237 days was a key issue for Habibi because he had been convicted of battery and received a 365-day suspended sentence to be served through the year 2000, which was a leap year. As the 9th Circuit explained:

under 8 U.S.C. § 1101(a)(43)(F), an alien who commits "a crime of violence ... for which the term of imprisonment [is] at least one year" has committed an "aggravated felony." The immigration consequences of having committed an  "aggravated felony" are substantial -- for instance, if a removable alien is a lawful permanent resident ("LPR"), he becomes ineligible to apply for cancellation of removal.  Id. § 1229b(a)(3).

The court added that "[d]isregarding the intricacies of astronomy, the Board of Immigration Appeals ('BIA') defines 'one year' as 365 days, regardless of leap years, for purposes of § 1101(a)(43)(F)." Habibi, however, was not prepared to disregard such intricacies given the potential consequences.

The 9th Circuit was not persuaded by Habibi's astronomical argument. It noted that in Matsuk v. INS, it had already rejected the argument that because a "natural or lunar" year is actually composed of 365 days plus some hours, that the BIA definition of "one year" was incorrect. The court added that while Habibi's case was novel in that his 365-day sentence was to be served through the year 2000 -- a leap year -- accounting for leap years would lead to "unjust and absurd results. It would mean that an alien's status as an aggravated felon -- and his eligibility for removalor cancellation thereof -- would turn on a fortuity, the particular day in a particular calendar year in which he began serving his sentence."

September 16, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (3)

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 drunk and I'd like to go into my garage and pull one of my teeth out with a pair of pliers. Don't judge. Can the police try to stop me?

Answer: Only if your accompanying yelling and cursing "affect the public decency as well as the peace and quiet of the children playing in the neighborhood." (Off the Beat, Accused barfing tooth-puller jailed in PSL disturbance) (via Legal Juice)

2) Question: I promised in my wedding vows to stay with my wife "for better or for worse" and "in sickness and in health." On the other hand, we also agreed that the marriage would only last "until death do us part." If I want to divorce my wife who has Alzheimer's, does this fall under the "sickness or in health" clause or the "death do us part" clause?

Answer: According to Pat Robertson, Alzheimer's should be viewed as a type of "death," so under that interpretation you are in the clear. (Jonathan Turley, Until Death [or Dementia] Do Us Part? Robertson Says It Is OK To Divorce Spouses With Alzheimer’s)

3) Question: I received a summons to serve as a juror in my own murder trial. I believe that I can be fair and impartial. Is there any way I can pull this off?

Answer: Sorry, but you are not going to be selected. (Times UnionMurder suspect summoned for jury pool)

September 16, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0)

September 15, 2011

Class Action Takes On Traffic Tickets Issued for Flashing Your Lights to Warn of Speed Traps

I have heard through the years that police sometimes ticket motorists who flash their lights to alert other motorists that a speed trap is ahead and, frankly, I never understood how that was justified. To me, the motorist flashing his or her lights is saying "slow down if you are speeding," which is a good thing to say and which further seems like it should be squarely within the rights of a U.S. citizen.

Nonetheless, police in many jurisdictions do issue tickets in such cases, and sometimes must seriously stretch the language of existing statutes to do so. In Florida, The Palm Beach Post reports (via ABA Journal), police are writing tickets in these situations based on a traffic statute that prohibits motorists from using flashing lights on their vehicles "except as a means of indicating a right or left turn, to change lanes, or to indicate that the vehicle is lawfully stopped or disabled upon the highway." Some motorists such as Dean Winton have successfully challenged "flashing your lights" tickets in court by arguing that this statute is clearly "aimed at stopping motorists from operating flashing lights to imply they're driving official or emergency vehicles" -- not at people who flash their headlights to warn of a speed trap (or, I would imagine, to inform an oncoming driver that his high beams are on).

Florida attorney J. Marc Jones estimates that over 2,900 Florida drivers have been ticketed for flashing their lights over the past 5 years (Florida police say the number is far lower -- just 82 people over the last 12 months). After he successfully defended one such driver last year when the court ruled that the ticket had nothing to do with the statute being relied upon, that client turned into the lead plaintiff in a putative class action lawsuit that Jones recently filed attacking this type of enforcement. Jones says that after filing the lawsuit, he has "heard from over 200 people who've been cited during the last two weeks."

The Palm Beach Post reports that Florida police have now suspended any further enforcement of "flashing lights" violations until the case is resolved by the court.

September 15, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday's Three Burning Legal Questions

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

1) Question: I was just struck in the head violently by an airborne turtle, causing me, in my opinion, more pain and damages than anyone has ever suffered in the history of American jurisprudence. What is the record for damages sought in a case, because my damages request will be at least one dollar more.

Answer: $239 decillion. (Bitter Lawyer, 6 of the Biggest and Baddest Damage Claims Ever)

2) Question: I'm a doctor. My patient complains of extreme pain after being struck in the head violently by an airborne turtle. Is there an insurance code for this?

Answer: Sure -- W5922XA. (Lowering the Bar, Injury Code W5922XA: Struck by Turtle)

3) Question: I'm Pakistani. Nobody else in this restaurant is being charged a mandatory 18 percent tip except for me and the Bangladeshi couple seated near me. What is going on here?

Answer: Some restaurants allegedly have a policy of automatically including an 18 percent gratuity on the bills of Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi customers because "they never tip." (New York Daily News, Customers file suit against Baluchi's Indian restaurant for 'tip discrimination' practices) (via Above the Law)

September 15, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (1)

September 14, 2011

Controlling Who Wears Your Brand of Clothing, Part II: Police Intervention

Last month I posted here about Abercrombie & Fitch's effort to bribe Michael "The Situation" Sorrentino and other members of the cast of MTV's "The Jersey Shore" program to stop wearing its clothing. In a press release on Aug. 12, A&F stated that it was:

deeply concerned that Mr. Sorrentino's association with our brand could cause significant damage to our image.  We understand that the show is for entertainment purposes, but believe this association is contrary to the aspirational nature of our brand, and may be distressing to many of our fans. We have therefore offered a substantial payment to Michael 'The Situation' Sorrentino and the producers of MTV's The Jersey Shore to have the character wear an alternate brand.  We have also extended this offer to other members of the cast, and are urgently waiting a response.

The Situation laughed it off, tweeting: "Looks like Abercrombie got themselves into a Situation!" His castmate known as JWOWW added, "Who tells people not to shop at there store?! .... I want my fans to shop where they want to and express yourself with your clothes. A&F are followers anyways … Rock your own look and style! Screw the haters." It looks like The Situation will be moving on from A&F anyway, however, as he is reportedly launching his own line of clothing this year called Dilligaf, an acronym for "Do I look like I give a f---."

But what if the person you don't want to wear your clothing is not really bribable -- maybe a confessed mass murderer who is in police custody? In such a case you may need to call in the police. The BBC reports that in Norway, French clothing label Lacoste has asked Norwegian police to prevent Anders Breivik from wearing the Lacoste brand in court. Breivik, who has reportedly admitted to killing 77 people during bomb and gun attacks earlier this summer, says Lacoste is his favorite brand. Following his arrest, Breivik has been seen in photographs wearing a red Lacoste jumper and a black Lacoste sweater. Breivik also mentions Lacoste in his over 1,500-word "manifesto," describing the brand as a way to blend in with the "well-educated European conservative pensioner type."

Norway police have not indicated whether they will honor Lacoste's request. Either way, many people believe that Lacoste was foolish to flag this issue as it has created a Streisand Effect. As Techdirt puts it (via The Legal Satyricon), the fact that Lacoste is one of Breivik's favorite clothing brands is "something that you or I would probably not know at all ... until the company decided to let the world know by asking the police to stop him from wearing its clothing in court."

September 14, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (4)

Wednesday's Three Burning Legal Questions

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

1) Question: The judge just said that I have "staggering chutzpah!" That is a good thing, right?

Answer: It could be, but not if it is accompanied by a $10,000 fine. (Law and Disorder, Sanctioned: P2P lawyer fined $10,000 for "staggering chutzpah")

2) Question: This is a strip club. I'm stripping. Why am I being arrested!?

Answer: It does sound unfair, but if police find you in your underwear and drunk in the strip club parking lot, they will probably arrest you -- particularly if you are not an employee of the strip club. (, Woman Sheds Clothes, Panhandles As Stripper)

3) Question: My fiance and I ordered a nice bottle of wine at a restaurant to go with dinner. Why did the waiter bring us out a wrap of cocaine? 

Answer: Are you in London? There are reportedly many restaurants there where ordering certain bottles of vintage wine that aren't advertised on the menu is a secret code for ordering cocaine from the bar staff. Don't worry, it will show up on your bill as a bottle of wine. (Business Insider, Finance Guy In London Explains How To Order Cocaine From A Restaurant)

September 14, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0)

September 13, 2011

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 an octogenarian. I just went out and got a "Do Not Resuscitate" tattoo on my chest. Is that legally sufficient? 

Answer: Sorry, but it is probably not. Get a living will in place, too. (The Mirror, Gran has 'Do Not Resuscitate' tattooed onto her chest to tell docs to let her die)

2) Question: My chosen profession is "town crier" (I'm great at it, by the way) but I cannot find any openings. How do I break into the field? 

Answer: If you act quickly you may be able to get into the competition to be Alexandria, Va.'s next town crier. Bring your tricorn hat, breeches, jabot and waistcoat. (The Washington Post, Hear ye! Alexandria choosing a town crier)

3) Question: The police just burst into my home at dawn to conduct a raid because they say they saw me swallow a live goldfish in a Facebook video. I did that over a year ago! Am I being "Punk'd" or can this be real?

Answer: Yes, goldfish swallowing can be considered animal cruelty in some jurisdictions, leading to dawn raids and possible hefty fines and even jail time. (The Sun, Nicked for gulping goldfish in pet shop) (via Legal Juice)

September 13, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (4)

September 12, 2011

Court Appoints Rare Independent Damages Expert in Oracle-Google Dispute

Under Rule 706 of the Federal Rules of Evidence, a court may "appoint any expert witnesses agreed upon by the parties, and may appoint expert witnesses of its own selection." I have not seen a court rely on Rule 706 before to appoint its own damages expert, but that is what is happening in the case of Oracle America v. Google that is now pending before U.S. District Judge William Alsup in the Northern District of California. In the lawsuit, Oracle claims that Google's Android mobile operating system violates Java-related patents and copyrights that Oracle acquired from Sun Microsystems in 2009, The Recorder reports.

On Aug. 30, Alsup appointed James Kearl, an economics professor from Brigham Young University, to testify in the trial between the two technology giants. The Recorder notes that Oracle had previously presented an expert's report that found $6.1 billion in damages while Google had argued that there were no damages at all because the patents at issue are neither valid nor infringed.

Faced with this $6 billion divide, Alsup appointed his own damages expert. In an order issued on Friday, the court wrote that Kearl's job is to "provide an independent professional analysis and view to inform the jury, in the event liability is found, on the issue of damages on the claims asserted in this action." The court also appointed a lawyer to serve as counsel to Kearl on a pro bono basis. 

The court ruled that in his role as court-appointed damages expert, Kearl:

  • may review all materials necessary for him to be thoroughly informed as to all aspects of the damages claims and analyses of the parties in the case, including confidential material, depositions and other discovery materials, and expert reports.
  • will prepare and submit a separate expert report that will independently critique the damages expert reports submitted by each side and assess all issues raised in the parties' damages expert reports.
  • will be subject to having his deposition taken to the same extent as any other expert witness; and
  • will be permitted to attend the depositions of the parties’ damages experts in this matter and, through his counsel, may question the parties’ damages experts at those depositions.

Litigators told The Recorder that Alsup's naming his own damages expert was a "bold move" that brings with it some risks of its own. For example, one litigator said, the proceedings can "turn[ ] into a one-witness trial," where whatever the independent expert says is "taken as gospel" over the parties' positions. Indeed, in a motion arguing against the independent expert, Google stated its fear that such an expert "will have a powerful stamp of court approval and objectivity that will lend a disproportionate weight to that expert's opinions and testimony." The court rejected that argument, finding that in this case where both parties have taken "extreme and unreasonable positions regarding damages," the independent expert's assistance would be particularly useful.

September 12, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (6)

Monday's Three Burning Legal Questions

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

1) Question: I'm on a company's board of directors. We fired the company's CEO and, as a parting shot, she said in an interview that we were "doofuses" and that we "f---ed [her] over." Can we now refuse to pay her the last $10 million the company owes her under her employment agreement?

Answer: If the CEO has a non-disparagement clause in her employment contract, her "doofus" remark may well have violated the employment agreement and caused her to forfeit the $10 million. (FortuneYes, Carol Bartz had a non-disparagement clause)

2) Question: I broke up with my girlfriend last year. Since then, she has telephoned me over 65,000 times. Can I get the police involved here? 

Answer: Yes, she could be charged with stalking. (The Associated Press, Dutch woman calls ex-boyfriend 65,000 times)

3) Question: The police wrongly suspected me of hiding heroin and got a search warrant for a cavity search of my body. They found no heroin, but did send me a hospital bill for over $1,100 to cover the cost of the search. Do I need to pay this?

Answer: If you refuse to pay it, the police may back down. (MSNBC, Cops to pay bill for woman's body cavity search)


September 12, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (3)

September 09, 2011

Automotive Version of 'Castle Doctrine' Leads to New Trial in Manslaughter Case

"For a man's house is his castle, et domus sua cuique est tutissimum refugium [and each man's home is his safest refuge]." Sir Edward Coke, The Institutes of the Laws of England (1628).

"The poorest man may in his cottage bid defiance to all the forces of the crown. It may be frail - its roof may shake - the wind may blow through it - the storm may enter - the rain may enter - but the King of England cannot enter." William Pitt (1763)

When you take criminal law in law school, you learn about the "castle doctrine," which is named after the centuries-old saying that "a man's home is his castle." The castle doctrine is one of the most badass concepts in criminal law. In short, in many states, if you are in your home and an intruder unlawfully tries to enter to attack you, you can use deadly force to defend yourself while in the sanctity of your "castle."

There are numerous twists and exceptions to the castle rule depending on the state (e.g., in some states the intruder must intend to inflict serious bodily harm while in others it is enough that the intruder intends to commit some felony such as arson or burglary; in other states the occupant of the home must not have provoked the intrusion, etc.). The notion that a person is free to use deadly force to protect themselves while in their home has led some people to nickname it the "Make My Day Law" or, more negatively, the "Shoot The Milkman Law."

On Aug. 30, the Court of Appeals of the State of Mississippi issued a ruling (via the Legal Profession Blog) in which it reversed the 2009 manslaughter conviction of Justin Thomas because the lower court refused to give a requested jury instruction regarding the castle doctrine. Interestingly, Thomas' "castle" in this case was not his home but his car.

According to the facts stated in the court's opinion, a fight broke out in a parking lot after a party, and Thomas shot a gun in the air. This caused the fight to stop, and Thomas immediately ran and got into his car. Several men tried to go after Thomas and tried to open his car doors, but Thomas had locked the doors. Thomas began to reload his gun, and the men ran to the back of the car. When one of the men threw a cell phone at the car in an attempt to break the back window, Thomas rolled down the driver's side window and fired several shots, killing a man. Thomas then drove off.

The relevant Mississippi statute states that:

A person who uses defensive force shall be presumed to have reasonably feared imminent death or great bodily harm, or the commission of a felony upon him or another or upon his dwelling, or against a vehicle which he was occupying ... if the person against whom the defensive force was used, was in the process of unlawfully and forcibly entering, or had unlawfully and forcibly entered, a dwelling, occupied vehicle ... and the person who used defensive force knew or had reason to believe that the forcible entry or unlawful and forcible act was occurring or had occurred. 

The trial court found that Thomas' requested jury instruction based on the statute was not warranted because he retreated to his vehicle after firing a weapon on someone else's property. The appeals court disagreed, however, holding that:

Thomas was in a parking lot where he had a right to be when the incident occurred. A question arises as to whether Thomas could be considered the immediate provoker and aggressor since he fired a gun in the air. However, we find that a fact question is presented for the jury as to whether or not the attack on Thomas once he entered his car started a separate chain of events.

The appeals court therefore reversed the manslaughter conviction, and ordered a new trial based on this automotive version of the castle doctrine.

September 9, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (2)

September 08, 2011

Things You Can't Do on a Plane: Vol. 6

You might think that after Volume 1Volume 2Volume 3Volume 4 and Volume 5 of Things You Can't Do on a Plane, that we'd have exhausted the list of things you can't do on a plane. Nope! The list grows daily.

Here are three more things I've recently learned that you cannot do on a plane:

  • Read a book about old European aircrafts as plane is preparing to take off. You may not read books on European aviation history that present photos of aircraft from 1921. CONSEQUENCE: Plane will be returned to gate, reader will be interrogated by police.
  • Knowingly take off with a mouse on board. Pilots may not proceed with a planned flight if a mouse has been spotted in the cabin. CONSEQUENCE: Flight canceled, plane evacuated, aircraft searched for mouse.

September 8, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (4)

Thursday's Three Burning Legal Questions

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

1) Question: So I'm on the plane watching the in-flight movie and I look over at the guy next to me and he is dead. As in deceased -- he died during the flight! I'm sorry for his family's loss and all but shouldn't there be something in it for me, for my trauma?

Answer: Yes. An $84 coupon for your next flight. (Consumerist, Sorry A Guy Died Next To You, Here's A Coupon)

2) Question: It is a free country right? If I want to change my name to "" then I can darn well change my name to "," right?

Answer: Yes to your first question; no to your second question. (Gawker, Awesome Man Cannot Change His Name to ‘')

3) Question: I have had it with these nudist men who walk around the Castro district in San Francisco every day buck naked. Isn't that against some law? 

Answer: Sorry, but walking around naked in San Francisco isn't currently against the law, unless the person is aroused. Then the conduct can be considered lewd and therefore illegal. Under newly proposed legislation, however, nudists will be required to put a towel or something under their behinds if they sit in public and to cover up when they're in a restaurant. (San Francisco ChronicleDear nudists: Please cover up, the seat at least)

September 8, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (1)

September 07, 2011

Do No Evil? Using Google to Harm Your Competitors

You probably have already heard about the people who follow directions on Google Maps and end up lost in Death Valley or getting hit by a car as they dutifully walk across a dangerous highway to get to their destination. In these types of cases, the problem typically lies in old information (not accounting for a road closing, new roads or a detour, for example) or perhaps some accidental misinformation that is relied upon by the Google Maps system. Garbage in, garbage out, but no real "bad guy" involved.

As Google Maps and smartphones add features, people are increasingly using these tools to help them figure out things like where on a highway they can stop to get gas or coffee, where the nearby hotels are, or even where they can find a divorce attorney in their area. As more and more people use these tools, the temptation to tamper with the results generated by Google Maps and related sites for one's own benefit has apparently become too great for some businesses, and has led to some damaging online mischief.

The New York Times reported this week that on the widely used Google Places service (which expands on Google Maps by providing the address of a business, a description provided by the owner and links to photos, reviews and Google Maps), Google relies on crowd-sourcing to determine if a business has closed down. Google Places users can provide feedback to the system to report that "this place is permanently closed." If enough users report the business is closed, Google will show the business as "reportedly closed" or even "permanently closed." The NYT reports that in an effort to hurt competitors, unscrupulous businesspeople are increasingly closing competitors' business on Google by clicking a few buttons.

The NYT notes that in some Google-related online forums, there are numerous pleas for help from businesses such as hotels and even lawyers who are losing money after being falsely labeled as closed. Although there is a "not true" button that appears next to a "closed" sign on Google that is supposed to help correct misinformation, some business owners say it doesn't seem to work. "In the last four days, I’ve hit that 'not true' button every six to eight hours," Daniel Navejas of RBI Divorce Lawyers told the NYT. "It's getting old." Indeed, in an act of frustration, one blogger enlisted a friend and between them easily managed to "close" Google's headquarters in Mountain View, Calif. The blogger said he did so to show "how annoying this is when it happens."

Google is reportedly now beginning to implement changes to prevent such mischief, such as sending an email alert to businesses that are about to be labeled as permanently closed. Google stated that changes designed to prevent "malicious or incorrect labeling" will be adopted "in coming days."

September 7, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (3)

Wednesday's Three Burning Legal Questions

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

1) Question: My co-workers and I have have pooled our money each week for about a decade to buy lottery tickets. The deal was we'd share the money if we won. One of the guys in our pool got sick a few months ago and stopped coming to work and paying into the pool. A couple weeks ago our pool hit the lottery jackpot for $99 million, and now the guy who stopped paying in a few months ago says he should get a cut of the money!!! Is he right?

Answer: That very question is being litigated now in Ohio. In the meantime, the lottery commission may ask you to set aside a share of the jackpot just in case your former co-worker prevails. (FOX News, Ohio Man Sues for Part of $99 Million Jackpot Won by Co-Workers)

2) Question: I am thinking about getting breast implants. Are there any special risks I should be aware of? 

Answer: Consult with your plastic surgeon, but you should definitely be aware of the dangers of playing paintball with enhanced boobs. (Los Angeles Times, Woman's breast implant explodes during paintball: New high-impact sports risk?)

3) Question: I question whether Arizona iced tea is truly "100% Natural" as advertised. Should I hire my lawyers for a class action lawsuit against the makers of Arizona iced tea before I buy a bottle of the iced tea or after I buy it? 

Answer: After. (New Jersey Law JournalHiring Lawyers Before Buying Product Stews Plaintiff in Arizona Iced Tea Suit)


September 7, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (2)

September 06, 2011

'Thou Shalt Not ...' Visit Six Flags Great America for the Remainder of Your Life

Recently I launched a series of "Thou Shalt Not ..." posts here at LBW to memorialize the growing number of instances I see where a corporation rolls out its "death penalty" punishment on a customer: "You can never come here [buy here] [eat here] again!!" 

The latest installment in this series:

Thou shalt not visit Six Flags Great America for the remainder of your life.

On Friday, the Chicago Tribune (via @segelke43) told the sad tale of Brian Gill, who made the mistake at some point in his life of parking his motorcycle at Six Flags Great America in Gurnee, Ill., without paying. Gill then compounded his problem by trying to re-enter the park after a guard told him to leave. The fallout from Gill's conduct is that he is now the bearer of a letter addressed to him that reads,

Attention! As a result of your infraction you are not permitted on the property of Six Flags Great America for the remainder of … your life.

The duration of Gill's sentence (his entire life) was reportedly penciled in by a Six Flags security guard.

Now Gill is sad. "I'm never going to get to take my child to Six Flags," he told the Tribune. "It's so weird. You come to this place since you were a little kid, and they're like: 'You can never come here again. Ever.'" Gill said it is like being "banned from summer." [Not to rub it in, Gill, but you'll never get to take your grandchildren or great-grandchildren to Six Flags, either. Just saying.

The Tribune notes that there is no obvious way for Gill to appeal his banishment or the life term penciled in by the security guard, or to somehow "earn parole." Gill's letter to the president of Six Flags Great America has gone unanswered. As a practical matter, I think Gill just needs to wait about 20 years until he is older and no longer looks like the "Do not let this man in the park" sign that is presumably hanging in the Six Flags in Gurnee, and then try to sneak back in.


September 6, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (4)

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 am a prostitute in Bonn, Germany. Someone who looks like a meter maid just walked up to me and demanded to see my "tax ticket" for today. This was not covered in the prostitute training. What is going on here?

Answer: Starting this week, Bonn prostitutes must purchase a tax ticket for €6 from a vending machine every day before they start their business. Prostitutes with no ticket will first be given a warning, followed by fines and possibly a ban. (The Local, Street prostitutes taxed via vending machine)

2) Question: My wife and I got into an argument. Now I see that she has changed her Facebook status from "married" to "widowed." Should I alert the authorities?


Answer: I think it is a bluff. You are still alive to be writing me this question, right? Man up and show her who is boss by changing your own Facebook status to "It's complicated" or something like that. Of course, I could be wrong, so maybe you should get 9-1-1 queued up on your cell phone. (FAILBlog, Dating: Be Very Afraid and Use the Buddy System)

3) Question: I don't want to go to grandpa's house any more! Every time we go he makes me and my grade-school age brothers walk 18 miles through the desert in triple-digit heat with no food or water. Is that even legal? Do we have to go?

Answer: Not legal! Tell mom! (The Associated Press, Grandpa charged with forcing Grand Canyon hikes)

September 6, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (2)

September 02, 2011

Va. City's Ban on Flying Confederate Flag on City Flagpoles Angers Heritage Groups

I'm originally from the Maryland suburbs of Washington, D.C., and now live in the Virginia suburbs of D.C. Despite being different states*, and despite the people from each state that say they hate the other, the experience is really not all that different and the demographics are pretty similar.

[* Note: I know that Virginia is technically a "commonwealth" and not a state. Don't even start.]

One of the interesting things about Virginia, however, is that it is sharply divided in pretty much every way between the D.C. suburbs in Northern Virginia and everywhere else. Once you travel 100 miles south of D.C. and hit Richmond, you enter old-school Virginia -- the Virginia that makes you realize that you are in a state that was a full-blown part of the Confederate States of America. Indeed, Richmond was the capital of the Confederate States and the home of Robert E. Lee, "Stonewall" Jackson and many others. Since 1889, Virginia has had its own state holiday called Lee-Jackson Day in honor of those men, which is now observed on the Friday before Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.

Virginia's rich Confederate heritage still carries with it a number of tricky issues, however, including the appropriate use of the Confederate flag. In short, many Virginians view the Confederate flag as a symbol of slavery and are offended to see it flying anywhere, particularly on public property. Others contend, however, that the flag is an important part of Virginia's heritage, and is a way to honor Confederate veterans.

On Thursday, officials in Lexington, Va., the Virginia city where Lee and Jackson are buried, voted to prohibit the flying of the Confederate flag on city-owned poles. This was prompted by the hundreds of complaints the city received in January 2011 when the it placed Confederate flags on light poles to mark Lee-Jackson Day. The city council voted Thursday to allow only U.S., Virginia and city flags to be flown on its poles. The vote upset heritage groups such as "The Sons of Confederate Veterans," whose members promptly led a rally that reportedly "turned a downtown park into a sea of Confederate flags" (see a photo of the rally here) The group says it will challenge the new city ordinance in court.

The Lexington city manager responds that the ordinance only affects city property and people can still "carry their flags anywhere they want." The Associated Press notes that nearly 20 years ago the city moved to ban the display of the Confederate flag during a parade honoring Jackson, but was not successful in this effort due to a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union.

September 2, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (6)

September 01, 2011

Estrin Report: 9 Ways to Stop Stressing Out

Last week on the Estrin Report, which is aimed at professional paralegals, Chere Estrin wrote about the topic of stress and how to deal with it. Estrin says she was feeling stressed out herself, and decided to do some research to see if she could uncover any useful mechanisms to deal with this. Finding only worn-out ideas such as "take a walk outside" that didn't help her much, Estrin says she came up with nine ways of her own to eliminate stress in her life. 

Some of her ideas seem particularly helpful to me:

1. Figure out what stresses you. That's right. Half the time, we don't even recognize it.  For example, it took me a long time to realize that it wasn't going swimming every day that stressed me out.  It was the idea that I had to get in the car, drive 20 minutes to the Y, get changed in the locker room in front of 47 very elderly women, all with bluish gray hair, Cobby Cuddler shoes and bodies a 20 year old would die for.

I have found this same tactic to be useful to me, as well. The next time that you feel particularly stressed, step back and ask yourself: What, exactly, am I stressed about right now? Sometimes when you break this down and articulate it, you then realize that either: (a) this issue is not worthy of the stress I am attaching to it; or (b) I can address this issue by doing X.

2. Eliminate unnecessary commitments. Why, oh why, do we say yes to things when we mean no? I don't like having lunch with (Jane).  She bores me to tears. Yet, I can't say no.  So once a month, I'm off to have lunch with her at a restaurant I don't like, can't afford and swear I won't go to again. It's unnecessary. I'll go every six months instead.

Another good one. Are you stressed because you need to accomplish five things by Wednesday? You'd be less stressed if you only had to accomplish two things. Guard against unnecessary time commitments vigilantly.

5. Avoid difficult people. Just avoid them. Who needs that anyway? Some ranting, raving power hungry person who is plays passive-aggressively in their emails to you - someone who gives you heartburn just because they can? No to that. Avoid 'em. Being nice isn't working anyway and you wouldn't want what you really feel to be in print. Nope. No answering here.

 6. Eliminate energy drains. What is draining your energy? Eliminate it. Or them in your life. People who insist on drama, situations that call for much more input than you want to give. Yep.  Eliminate all of it. Of course, I consider going to the dentist an energy drain.  I might want to reconsider that.

I would group these two tips together because difficult people are also massive energy drains. In short, difficult, miserable people need to be weeded out of your life (or completely ignored, according to people like James Altucher) because they will take you down with them like an anchor handed to a swimmer. This is not always easy to do if the difficult person is presently intertwined in your life somehow, but, if so, start finding a path today that does not involve that person.

You can read all of Estrin's thoughts on how to better handle stress here.

September 1, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday's Three Burning Legal Questions

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

1) Question: I work for a private security firm. Our monitoring service shows that a defendant on whom we recently placed an ankle monitor per a court order is in his home, but the police just told us he is back in custody at the jail. What is going on here?

Answer: Sometimes defendants trick security firms into placing the ankle monitor on a prosthetic leg. (The GuardianG4S staff sacked for tagging offender's false leg) (via Legal Juice)

2) Question: I am on a cruise with my 7-year-old son. I have told him several times that I am going to throw him into the harbor if he does not stop crying, but he will not stop crying. In he goes, right?

Answer: Maybe try the "I'm going to count to three" tactic instead? If you throw him off the ship you may face charges of child endangerment. (CBS News, Man throws son off ship, claims "horse playing")

3) Question: Every time I order a mixed drink the bartender disappears into another room and finally emerges with my drink. What's with all the mystery over the preparation of a gin and tonic? 

Answer: Welcome to Utah, where businesses must have separate rooms to hide the preparation of mixed drinks. (Jonathan Turley, Beer Burkas: Utah Legislators Require Restaurants To Install “Zion Curtains” To Prevent Customers From Seeing Beers Being Opened or Poured)


September 1, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (1)

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