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October 31, 2011

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 was at the grocery store with my husband and our 3-year-old son when I started feeling faint. I grabbed a $5 sandwich off the shelf and started eating it -- I saved the wrapper so I could pay for it at the register when I checked out but I forgot and walked out without paying. Now the store security is approaching me! What will they do? 

Answer: Probably call the police, have you and your husband arrested, and send your son off to Child Protective Services. (FOX News, Hawaii Couple's Daughter Taken Away for 18 Hours Over Alleged Sandwich Theft) (via Consumerist)

2) Question: I'm trying to get custody of my kids away from my soon-to-be-ex-wife. Both of our kids live with her now and are obese. Can I try to use that against her in the custody hearing? 

Answer: Yes, obesity is increasingly being raised as an issue in custody fights. (WSJ, Obesity Fuels Custody Fights)

3) Question: My roommate allowed his stupid dog to eat my pet bird! Does that entitle me to take his belongings and light them on fire? 

Answer: No. If you go through with this revenge burning you may face charges of burglary and felony criminal mischief. (St. Petersburg TimesPolice: Anger over dead pet leads Clearwater man to burn roommate's belongings)

October 31, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (1)

October 28, 2011

Things You Can't Do on a Plane: Vol. 7

You might think that after Volume 1Volume 2Volume 3Volume 4, Volume 5 and Volume 6 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:

  • Kiss a girl mid-flight (when you yourself are a girl). Girls may not kiss other girls on planes, even if the airline in question is the official airline of the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation. CONSEQUENCE: Kisser will be escorted off plane upon landing for a "discussion" with airline personnel.
  • Try to open the emergency exit door over the wing while the aircraft is at cruising altitude. Passengers may not open this door, period. It needs to stay shut. CONSEQUENCE: Pilot will turn the plane around and land. Passenger will be arrested and charged with crime of interfering with flight crew.
  • Forcefully push your way past airline gate agents and take a seat on a plane despite having no ticket. You need a ticket to ride, sorry. There is nothing gained by simply making it to the plane and sitting down. CONSEQUENCE: Police will come onto the plane, walk you right back off of the plane, and arrest you.

October 28, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0)

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 want to roll around Silicon Valley with no license plates on my car for years like Steve Jobs did. How do I pull that off without getting tickets?

Answer: A loophole in California vehicle laws gives owners up to six months to get plates for their vehicles. So just do what Jobs did, and switch out your leased vehicle every six months. (Yahoo! Autos, Latest Steve Jobs Mystery Revealed: How He Drove Without License Plates)

2) Question: I found someone's iPhone in a shopping cart at the grocery store. Should I bring it home with me so I can try to figure out who it belongs to and return it to them?

Answer: That would be considerate of you, but make sure you act quickly before the police use the phone's GPS to locate it, and then kick in the door to your house and arrest you for possession of stolen property. (Press Democrat, A painful lesson: Don't pick up abandoned iPhone)

3) Question: I keep getting kidnapped and beaten by an Iraqi gang that wants to force me to film pornographic videos because of my astonishing resemblance to former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein. What am I supposed to do here?

Answer: The blogosphere has no answer for you, sorry. Off the top of my head, all I can suggest is maybe shave off the beard and moustache. (Ahram Online, Saddam 'double' escapes Alexandria porn kidnap gang, again)

(image: Ahram Online)

October 28, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (1)

October 27, 2011

In Search of ... a Judicial Opinion Containing an Emoticon

WinkiconVia the Legal Writing Prof Blog I see that the use of smiley faces and other emoticons in professional writing is on the rise. Indeed, The New York Times reports that "the emoticon has rather suddenly migrated from the e-mails and texts of teenagers (and perhaps the more frothy adults) to the correspondence of business people who pride themselves on their gravitas."

Emoticons are supposed to provide additional guidance to the reader as to the writer's state of mind. As an epidemiology professor explained to the Times, she and her colleagues have recently embraced the smiley face emoticon “sparingly and strategically” because a "well-planted smiley face can take the edge off and avoid misunderstanding.”

However, as the Times notes, emoticons are not always well-received. The same epidemiology professor recalled sending an acquaintance a 'big hug' emoticon, which for some reason appeared on the recipient's iPhone as a series of characters that he thought resembled "splayed lady parts": ({})

Other people such as British journalist Maria McErlane claim to be "deeply offended" by emoticons. "If anybody on Facebook sends me a message with a little smiley-frowny face or a little sunshine with glasses on them, I will de-friend them. I also de-friend for OMG and LOL. They get no second chance," McErlane warns.

How far have emoticons spread into the legal field? Do you ever send your clients emails with smiley faces (I'm guessing some of you do)?

Even more interesting to me: Has the world seen its first judicial opinion that contains an emoticon yet? I challenge LBW readers to find and send me a judicial opinion that includes an emoticon.* Winner gets some kind of LBW or swag, to be determined later.

* Emoticon must be written by the judge, not just a quote in the opinion taken from some teenager's cellphone or something like that.

October 27, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (2)

Thursday's Three Burning Legal Questions

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

1) Question: Why was I able to get such a great deal on the used car I recently purchased? And why has my health steadily deteriorated ever since I bought it?

Answer: Watch out, vehicles with high radiation levels from the area around Japan's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant were supposed to be destroyed, but are now being sold by unscrupulous dealers. (NBC LA, Radioactive Used Cars Being Sold in Japan)

2) Question: I saw your Q&A recently about the couple that got lost in a corn maze and called 9-1-1. Are you sure they didn't get lost in an apple orchard and call 9-1-1, not a corn maze?

Answer: Unfortunately it looks like we are talking about two separate "lost-in-crops-calling-9-1-1" couples. (GateHouse News Service, Newton couple gets lost in Stow apple orchard)

3) Question: My wife drove to an Internet cafe to do some online gambling, and left our 11-year-old son sleeping in the car. While she was gambling, a repo man came and drove away with the car -- which still contained my sleeping 11-year-old. When my son finally woke up and the repo man noticed him, the man just kept on going and dumped him off at a gas station on the highway. Who may be facing charges here?

Answer: At least your wife, who may face child neglect charges. And possibly the repo man for dumping the boy off at a random gas station. (WESH Orlando, Police: Mom Gambles, Car Repo'd With Kid Inside) (via Consumerist)


October 27, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0)

October 26, 2011

Judge Carton Affirmed by Australia's High Court in Flap Over Men at Work's 'Down Under'

In February 2010, Judge Carton ruled in a case pending in an Australian court (yes, he has discretion to exercise jurisdiction over Australian matters) in which record company EMI sought to overturn a court ruling that the Aussie band Men at Work copied a flute riff from the children's song "Kookaburra Sits in the Old Gum Tree" in their 1980s song, "Down Under."

EMI argued that similarities to two bars of the Kookaburra song might be noticed by "the highly sensitized or educated musical ear" but were unlikely to be noticed by the ordinary listener. Judge Carton was not persuaded, finding that even to his decidedly NOT "highly sensitized or educated musical ear," the two key bars in the songs sounded just alike. To spare the parties in this case in which the outcome was obvious the time and expense of further litigation, Judge Carton dismissed the appeal and affirmed the verdict in favor of "The Kookaburra Who Sits in the Old Gum Tree."

EMI did not accept the wisdom of Judge Carton's arguably non-binding ruling, and pressed forward with its appeal. A year and a half later, however, Australia's High Court has now agreed with Judge Carton, and formally denied EMI's appeal. Accordingly, The Associated Press reports, EMI is now on the hook to pay publishing company Larrikin Music, the copyright holder for "Kookaburra," five per cent of royalties earned from the song since 2002 and from its future earnings.

Litigants, Judge Carton is here to help you. Heed his words! Ignore his rulings at your peril.

October 26, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0)

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 live in Missouri. Does my state have any guidance for me with respect to identifying potential zombies? 

Answer: Yes, the Missouri Department of Conservation has issued an alert saying that the following are indications that you have a zombie in view:

  • It has a gray-green dull skin tone.
  • It is wearing inappropriate clothing for the season or terrain (no coat or shoes, for instance).
  • It has open wounds, other injuries and/or missing or damaged limbs but no sign of bleeding.
  • It does not respond to verbal stimulus or exhibit any interest in its immediate surroundings.
  • It is trying to eat you. (Missouri Department of Conservation, Invasive Species Alert: ZOMBIES!)

2) Question: Ugghh! I just got a ticket from one of those red light cameras in Los Angeles County. How many days do I have to pay it? 

Answer: The rest of your life. Or just throw it in the garbage if you want, as paying those fines is supposedly now "optional." (, California: Despite Payment Decline, LA County Rakes in Millions)

3) Question: I'm a famous rapper. I lost my laptop and I made an elaborate music video offering a $1 million reward if anyone could find and return the laptop to me. Some dude found it while walking his dog in Germany and now he wants the $1 million. Do I need to pay him? 

Answer: Yes, or get ready for a lawsuit. (Gawker, If You Offer a $1 Million Bounty for Your Missing Laptop, You Must Pay It)

October 26, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0)

October 25, 2011

'Thou Shalt Not ...' Visit Any of Our 11 McDonald's Restaurants 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 any of our 11 McDonald's restaurants for the remainder of your life.

In Arizona, a woman named Erin Carr-Jordan made a trip to McDonald's with her kids this summer and left disgusted by how dirty the playground was. Carr-Jordan, a child development professor and a mother of four, then embarked on a crusade of sorts to get that particular McDonald's to clean up its playground. After Carr-Jordan created a video (below) showing her findings and some actual laboratory results, McDonald's finally responded at the national level. Consumerist reports that McDonald's corporate told the Los Angeles Times that the conditions were "unacceptable, completely unacceptable ... but not reflective of our business and our restaurants. As far as I'm concerned, it was an isolated matter. And we took immediate corrective action to thoroughly sanitize the PlayPlace."

Au contraire, said Carr-Jordan. She began visiting fast food restaurants -- McDonald's and others -- in 11 different states in recent months (during her "family vacations") to test them for cleanliness. She would swab surfaces at each location and send the samples off to a microbiology professor who then analyzed the samples (which almost always revealed various pathogens).

Decide the merits and wisdom of Carr-Jordan's crusade for yourself. Indeed, that is just what the owner of 11 McDonald's restaurants in Arizona (including the Ground Zero McDonald's that started the whole thing) did recently, Consumerist notes. On Monday, Carr-Jordan wrote on her Kids Play Safe Facebook page that at 7:00 a.m. that morning, a visitor came to her house bearing a notice "from the attorneys representing the owner of the [Ground Zero] location informing me that I am prohibited from entering any of his 11 McDonald's." She notes that this includes not only the dirty McDonald's she originally visited, but another 10 McDonald's where she has never even visited to date. 

I wonder if this ban applies to her children, too? When the soccer team heads over to McDonald's for ice cream does her child have to wait in the parking lot? Check out Carr-Jordan's video below:

October 25, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (2)

Tuesday's Three Burning Legal Questions

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

1) Question: My plan is simple. I will place my feces along with other waste products such as fertilizer on a heater and turn it into gold. Then I will be rich -- bwaaaaa haaaa haaaa!! Do you see any risk here?

Answer: Check with Alchemy Blog Watch for technical details of the feces-to-gold plan, but from the legal side just make sure that you do not burn down your home and get yourself charged with arson and endangering the lives of others. (Yahoo! News, Man jailed after trying to turn faeces into gold)

2) Question: Have you had any experience with "Welcome Home from Jail" parties? Is there anything we need to be mindful of in planning one for our son? 

Answer: The guest list is critical. Mess that up and multiple stabbings can result. (Bethlehem Patch, 5 Stabbed at 'Welcome Home from Jail' Party)

3) Question: Oh man, there is some kind of terrifying wild animal stalking me and my friends at our midnight bonfire! It has been making noises out in the dark woods for 5 to 10 minutes now. I have my shotgun with me -- is it OK for me to open fire into the darkness? 

Answer: Make sure it is not just a friend making animal noises trying to frighten your group before you start shooting. (, Man in woods becomes frightened at prankster's noises, shoots him with shotgun, Manlius police say)

October 25, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (1)

October 24, 2011

You Can Hold Any Office You Want in Texas ... 'Provided You Acknowledge the Existence of a Supreme Being'

Via Legal As She is Spoke, I came upon a surprising provision in the Texas State Constitution. Section 4 of Article 1 of the state's Constitution (which is its Bill of Rights) provides:

RELIGIOUS TESTS. No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office, or public trust, in this State; nor shall any one be excluded from holding office on account of his religious sentiments, provided he acknowledge the existence of a Supreme Being.

Got that? Texas will not preclude you from becoming its governor, head dog-catcher or any other state official ... so long as you will acknowledge the existence of a Supreme Being. Thanks, Texas!

LASIS set out in this post to figure out how Section 4 did not violate the U.S. Constitution, and whether the state was alone in requiring officials to acknowledge the existence of a Supreme Being. In short, LASIS concluded that:

1. Section 4 does violate the First Amendment's religion-related protections, as applied to the states via the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. In 1961, LASIS notes, the U.S. Supreme Court considered the case of Roy Torcaso, an atheist who challenged Article 37 of the Constitution of Maryland's Declaration of Rights. Article 37 similarly stated that that "no religious test ought ever to be required as a qualification for any office of profit or trust in this State, other than a declaration of belief in the existence of God." Torcaso sought to become a notary public in Maryland, but refused to declare any such belief. The Supreme Court held that Article 37 infringed upon Torcaso's First Amendment rights.

2. Despite the infringing nature of language such as that found in Texas' Section 4, some states like Maryland have left the language in their constitutions anyway. In a Maryland case (State v. Hutchinson) that followed Torcaso, a man convicted of murder challenged his conviction on the ground that Article 36 of Maryland’s Declaration of Rights similarly required that jurors profess a belief in the existence of God. The court held that while the requirement in Article 36 was "still literally a part of the Declaration of Rights," it had previously been found to be unconstitutional and invalid, and therefore "rendered null and void."

LASIS speculates that Texas and various other states whose constitutions still contain religious oath requirements have not bothered to remove the language under the "why bother, it is null and void" rationale seen in the Hutchinson case.

October 24, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (5)

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 am really tired from staying up late to watch "Catwoman," starring Halle Berry. On the one hand I need to steer this ferry boat safely through the fog and must concentrate. But, man, did you see "Catwoman"? Halle was jumping from everywhere like a cat. She is very beautiful. She was wearing a sexy outfit -- "

Answer: Please focus, Captain!! (Mail Online, British ferry captain crashed into fishing boat and killed skipper 'because crew were chatting about Halle Berry as Catwoman')

2) Question: I'm sure the family of a missing 20-year-old woman is upset about the situation, but do they really need to put up "MISSING" posters all over town asking people to send in tips? I mean, that's just littering, right? 

Answer: Please sleep on that question and re-submit it later if you still think it is appropriate. (The Associated Press, Mom of missing Indiana University student says she's "hurt" by anonymous letter)

3) Question: I crashed my son's wedding to object to the marriage. But then he picked me up and carried me out of the church. Can he do that? 

Answer: Yes, and he probably should. But he still may face face charges of disorderly conduct and coercion for tossing you out. (The Associated Press, Nev. man accused of throwing mom out of wedding)

October 24, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (2)

October 21, 2011

Divorce Hotel: 'Check In on Friday and on Sunday Your Marriage is Over'

Jim Halfens, managing director of is hoping that Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore will take him up on his offer to be the first "stateside guests" at Divorce Hotel. As Radio Netherlands succinctly explains the Divorce Hotel concept in the video below, "couples check in on Friday, and on Sunday, their marriage is over."

At Divorce Hotel, you and your hopefully soon-to-be-ex spouse pay about $3,500 to check into a five-star resort on a Friday. The two of you will spend the weekend meeting with Divorce Hotel's on-site team of attorneys, counselors and mediators, who are there to help you execute a "clean, cost-effective divorce." For any of you who remain doubters, the company swears it is already having great success at its Divorce Hotel in Amsterdam. 

In its open letter to Ashton and Demi, Divorce Hotel says it is quite confident it can help the two celebrities "best navigate this turbulent time and move on enthusiastically to the next step in each of your lives." Check out the Divorce Hotel video below:

October 21, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (5)

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 with a law enforcement agency. One of our agents decided to take a joyride in a $750,000 Ferrari that had been "detained" during an investigation into its apparent theft from a dealership. Long story short, he wrecked the Ferrari. Does the government need to pay for the damage?

Answer: Of course not. Enjoy your sovereign immunity! (Lowering the Bar, Judge: Feds Don't Have to Pay for Wrecked Ferrari)

2) Question: The Rapture was supposed to take place on May 21, 2011, ending the world. That didn't happen, which is a significant problem for me because I quit my job and drained my retirement accounts in reasonable reliance on the world ending. What am I supposed to do now?

Answer: The end of the world has been rescheduled for today. Let's see what happens. (The Associated Press, Apocalypse, again: Camping says today's the day)

3) Question: We manufacture a brand of 151-proof rum. If one of our bottles accidentally turns into a flamethrower in the hands of a "flair bartender" and burns someone, can we be liable?

Answer: Quite possibly, and particularly so if your company actively promotes "pyrotechnic uses" of your rum. (Lawyerist, Court: “Rum Fireball” Suit May Proceed Against Bacardi)


October 21, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (2)

October 20, 2011

Lindsay Lohan Mug Shot Gallery, Part II

There is an old saying that goes something like, "Once is an accident, twice is a coincidence, three times is a pattern." And "three times" was where things stood for Lindsay Lohan in July 2010, when she was arrested and forced to pose for the third mug shot of her young life. Legal Blog Watch dutifully posted a Lindsay Lohan Mug Shot Gallery featuring all three mug shots in July 2010, naively thinking that there would never be a sequel.

But the thing I forgot about "patterns" back in July 2010 is that they are, by definition, a "consistent and recurring characteristic or trait that helps in the identification of a phenomenon or problem, and serves as an indicator or model for predicting its future behavior." As such, it probably is not all that surprising that Lindsay's "future behavior" served to grow the Lindsay Lohan Mug Shot Gallery from three mug shots to five mug shots over the past 15 months:


(assembled mug shots from twirlit)

Is five mug shots a celebrity record? Can anyone name a celebrity with more? And what is the over/under for the number of Lindsay Lohan mug shots by the end of 2012? I'm putting it at six, feel free to weigh in.

October 20, 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 am a police detective in Los Angeles. Sometimes I like to send out tweets on Twitter with photos of bloody murder scenes that I investigate. Is that going to be a problem?

Answer: The LAPD has no set department policy pertaining to employees using social media, but it is conducting an internal investigation on the issue. Stay tuned. (The Associated Press, LAPD detective under fire for posting murder scene photo on Twitter)

2) Question: Yes, I know that these "Froot by the Foot" snacks contain trans fat, added sugars and artificial food dyes; lack significant amounts of real, natural fruit; and have no dietary fiber. But they are called "Froot." How can anything called "Froot" not be healthy for my children?! I feel misled, is there anyone out there that will sue on my behalf?

Answer: Yes, the Center for Science in the Public Interest has filed a class action on behalf of you and all other misled Froot-eaters. (Consumerist, Class-Action Lawsuit Claims Fruit Roll-Ups Are Unhealthy, Contain Little Fruit)

3) Question: The old geezer singing at this karaoke bar is so bad that I feel like my ears are starting to bleed. Seriously, I cannot take this another second. No jury would convict me if I just took this guy out with a punch, would they?

Answer: Yes, they would convict you. (The Associated Press, NY man convicted of punching karaoke singer, 79)

October 20, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0)

October 19, 2011

Lions and Tigers and Bears and Cheetahs and Wolves and More on the Loose in Ohio -- Oh My!

In Zanesville, Ohio today, several schools districts have been closed and motorists are being warned to stay in their vehicles by flashing highway signs that read, "Caution exotic animals" and "Stay in vehicle." Meanwhile, more than 50 law enforcement officials, including sheriff's deputies, highway patrol officers, police officers and officers from the state Division of Wildlife, spent Tuesday night patrolling the grounds of a 40-acre farm and were forced to shoot and kill nearly 30 lions, bears, tigers, cheetahs and wolves that escaped from a wild animal preserve on the Muskingum County Animal Farm.

The Associated Press reports that the craziness in Zanesville began Tuesday night when the owner of the farm, Terry Thompson, apparently opened the cages that held the dangerous animals, left the fences unsecured, and then committed suicide. Police stated that Thompson had recently gotten out of jail.

Officials warned this morning that only 30 of the 48 animals had been hunted down, and expressed concern that big cats and bears might be hiding in the dark and in trees. Police reported numerous sightings of "exotic animals" along a nearby highway, and one big cat was struck by a vehicle on the highway. “These are wild animals that you would see on TV in Africa,” Sheriff Matt Lutz stated.

The director of a local zoo explained that using tranquilizer guns Tuesday night was not an option as the animals would have simply gone off and hid in the dark, and that the police decision to shoot the animals was appropriate. The police's "shoot-to-kill" order on the animals was lifted this morning

The AP reports that Ohio has "some of the nation’s weakest restrictions on exotic pets and among the highest number of injuries and deaths caused by them."

October 19, 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: My wife and I had an argument and she proceeded to throw the contents of an entire box of cupcakes -- one by one -- at my head. She had quite a few hits, too, as evidenced by the icing all over my head and shirt. Is this a crime?

Answer: Oh, yes. She can be charged with a misdemeanor count of domestic battery for those cupcake projectiles. (CBS, Domestic dispute gets husband covered in cupcakes, say Chic. cops)

2) Question: I'm an actress, and I have been 29 years old for about a decade now, as far as you and the rest of the world know. But now the Internet Movie Database has published my age as ... 40 years old! I'm not saying IMDB is wrong, but do they have the right to publish my age like that? It may hurt my acting career. 

Answer: We'll see, a case like that seeking punitive damages is being litigated right now. (Threat Level, Actress Sues Amazon for Publishing Her Age)

3) Question: I'm a student at Evergreen Park High School in Chicago. I really need to use the restroom but I already used it during class three times this semester. What should I do?

Answer: Sorry, but three visits per semester is the maximum number of permitted bathroom visits at your school. Until next semester starts you'll need to hold it in or be prepared to stay after school to make up the lost time. (The Associated Press, High school sets bathroom visit limit for students)

October 19, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0)

October 18, 2011

WSJ Law Blog: Ashby Jones Moves On, Joe Palazzolo Moves In

Way back in January 2006, The Wall Street Journal rolled out its very first blog, called simply the "Law Blog." At the time, I was writing a blog called Securities Litigation Watch and enviously observed that within just three days of its launch, the Law Blog had managed to leverage its resources to get a mini-scoop in its coverage of an interesting insider trading case. I wrote at the time that the then-novel idea of a media giant like the WSJ getting into blogging was "exciting stuff and presents a model that should be eye-opening to people in both the mainstream media as well as the blog world."

AshbyjonesFrom 2006 to 2009, the Law Blog was written by Peter Lattman, a former lawyer who had been a reporter with Forbes magazine, and was edited by the WSJ's Ashby Jones (pictured left). In an interview with Bitter Lawyer last year, Jones said that in the Law Blog's early years, the WSJ did not have a law bureau, so the Law Blog served as the newspaper's primary source of legal coverage. The Law Blog's success and popularity ultimately led the WSJ to create a stand-alone law bureau, not to mention many other blogs covering other areas.

In early 2009, Lattman left the Law Blog to cover hedge funds for the WSJ (he has since moved on to The New York Times' DealBook blog), and Jones became the lead Palazzolo writer. Since then, Jones has written more than 4,400 posts for the Law Blog. Yesterday, however, the Law Blog announced that Jones will now be reporting on national legal affairs for the WSJ, and that Joe Palazzolo (shown on the right) will be the new lead writer for the Law Blog.

I'm already familiar with Joe's great work at the WSJ's Corruption Currents blog, and I look forward to now reading his posts at the Law Blog. And to Ashby Jones, I say thanks for five great years of work on the Law Blog that helped make it the terrific resource it is today.

October 18, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (1)

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 contestant in the World Scrabble Championships in Warsaw. I just defeated an opponent in one of my matches, but he has now demanded that I be taken to the toilet and strip-searched to prove I have not hidden a 'G' tile that mysteriously went missing during our game. Can he do that?

Answer: Your opponent can request that, but it is up to the judges whether to order the strip search. (The IndependentG for 'guilty'? Lost letter spells trouble at world Scrabble contest) (via Deadspin)

2) Question: I am ashamed to say that I participated in the Canadian riots that followed the Boston Bruins sweep of the Vancouver Canucks in the Stanley Cup. Should I turn myself in to police? 

Answer: That is your call, but keep in mind that if you do turn yourself in and present your official arrest form to the Eccotique spa, Eccotique will provide you with a $50 "Calm Down & De-Stress" gift certificate to help you calm down and relax. (Consumerist, Spa Offers Gift Certificate To Stanley Cup Rioters Who Turn Themselves In To Police)

3) Question: I tried to text a customer of mine to see if he wanted to buy some illegal drugs, but accidentally texted a cop! Now the cop has come to the meeting place we set up and things are looking bad for me. Should I just delete all the texts real quick and deny I ever texted the cop?

Answer: That will work briefly ... until the cop calls the phone number that the texts to him came from, and your phone rings. (Media General News Service, Authorities say woman mistakenly texted deputy to sell drugs)


October 18, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0)

October 17, 2011

Supreme Court to Rule on Constitutionality of 'Stolen Valor Act'

Today, the U.S. Supreme Court granted certiorari in the case of U.S. v. Alvarez, which presents the question of the constitutionality of the "Stolen Valor Act." The Stolen Valor Act prohibits people from falsely claiming they have been awarded military decorations and medals, and states that:

Whoever falsely represents himself or herself, verbally or in writing, to have been awarded any decoration or medal authorized by Congress for the Armed Forces of the United States, any of the service medals or badges awarded to the members of such forces, the ribbon, button, or rosette of any such badge, decoration, or medal, or any colorable imitation of such item shall be fined under this title, imprisoned not more than six months, or both.

As I discussed here last year, in July 2010 a federal district court in Denver ruled that the act violates free speech, and rejected the argument that lying about having military medals dilutes their meaning and significance. A month later, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals also considered the issue in a separate case (the Alvarez case), and held (via Threat Level) that the "speech" involved in the case -- lying about being awarded military medals -- was within the scope of the First Amendment. The 9th Circuit therefore applied "strict scrutiny review to the Act, and [held] it unconstitutional because it is not narrowly tailored to achieving a compelling governmental interest." The court observed that if the Stolen Valor Act was constitutional, as argued by a dissenting judge,

then there would be no constitutional bar to criminalizing lying about one’s height, weight, age, or financial status on or Facebook, or falsely representing to one’s mother that one does not smoke, drink alcoholic beverages, is a virgin, or has not exceeded the speed limit while driving on the freeway. The sad fact is, most people lie about some aspects of their lives from time to time. Perhaps, in context, many of these lies are within the government’s legitimate reach. But the government cannot decide that some lies may not be told without a reviewing court’s undertaking a thoughtful analysis of the constitutional concerns raised by such government interference with speech.  

Additional information and case documents from the Alvarez case are available at SCOTUSBlog.

October 17, 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: I am interested in a career in law enforcement, specifically in being one of the extra "filler" guys in the police lineups. I'd like to do that on a regular basis. How is the pay?

Answer: $10 per appearance. Thank you for your service. (The New York Times, A Casting Director for Police Lineups) (via Simple Justice)

2) Question: I'm headed out to Occupy Wall Street and I'm thinking I might get arrested today. Is there an app for that? 

Answer: Sure, the new "I'm Getting Arrested" app for Android allows users to notify a pre-programmed group of people when you are getting arrested. (NetNet, Arrested at Occupy Wall Street? There's an App for That)

3) Question: I drive down this street in Highland Park, Mich., at night all the time but I don't remember it ever being this dark. Is there a lunar eclipse tonight or something?

Answer: No, sometimes when a city does not pay its electric bill the power company will send a repo man to remove the lightbulbs in 1,400 streetlights. (Consumerist, Electric Company Repossesses Michigan City's Street Lights)


October 17, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0)

October 14, 2011

iGotYa App Combines Camera, Email and GPS to Foil iPhone Thieves

Today I learned about a clever iPhone app called iGotYa, which combines the iPhone's camera, email function and GPS capabilities to immediately and completely rat out would-be iPhone thieves.

The New York Post reports (via ABA Journal) that iGotYa recently worked beautifully for a woman in Queens who had her iPhone stolen. When the thief tried to unlock the iPhone by unsuccessfully guessing at the password, the iGotYa application kicked into action by snapping a photo of the thief and emailing it to the victim along the thief's specific GPS location.

IGotYaThe victim turned the photo (seen here via NYPD/WCBS) and GPS information over to police, who then knew they are searching for a thief "in his 20s, 5-foot-8 and with an earring in his left ear." Days later, police announced that they had arrested a suspect based on the photo. 

For some reason, iGotYa is not yet available in iTunes and only works if your iPhone is "jailbroken." It is available online for $5.99.

A video showing iGotYa in action can be seen below.

October 14, 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: Two years ago you stated here that poor handwriting can ruin a bank robbery attempt. Is that advice still valid today?

Answer: Very much so. (Delaware Online, Police: Messy handwriting foils bank robbery plot near New Castle)

2) Question: I have been practicing law for 62 years. In my day, the defendant did not enter the courtroom in a coat, then remove the coat to reveal that she was topless. That simply did not happen. But it happened today! I don't even have a question. I'm just sayin'.

Answer: I'm sorry to hear about that unexpected toplessness in the courtroom. I believe it is still the exception, not the rule. Try to shake it off, sir. (ABA Journal, Woman Charged with Taking Off Her Clothes in Public Demonstrates Her Technique in Court)

3) Question: Several of my pot-smoking muppet friends and I have secured the Twitter user names for every possible permutation of "Qwikster," the new spin-off from Netflix. Ha! So how come nobody from Netflix has been coming around with a big check to buy these names from us?

Answer: The Qwikster idea was so hated by customers that Netflix scrapped the whole plan. Sorry, but at least you still have the cool Twitter names. (The Atlantic5 Reasons Why Qwikster Is Now Deadster)


October 14, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0)

October 13, 2011

Texas and Florida Try to Make Death Row Less Hospitable

You might think that the death penalty would be an adequate -- or more than adequate -- punishment for a person's crimes, but certain lawmakers from Texas and Florida believe that those on death row still have it too easy.

Last month in Texas, Lawrence Russell Brewer, who was executed on Sept. 21 for the 1998 murder of James Byrd Jr., asked for and received an elaborate "last meal" of "two chicken fried steaks, a triple-meat bacon cheeseburger, fried okra, a pound of barbecue, three fajitas, a meat lover's pizza, a pint of ice cream and a slab of peanut butter fudge with crushed peanuts." The Associated Press reports that after prison officials provided this meal to Brewer, he didn't eat any of it, prompting Texas State Sen. John Whitmire to denounce the state's decades-old "last meal" practice.

Whitmire promptly shot off a letter to Brad Livingston, the executive director of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, stating that it was "extremely inappropriate to give a person sentenced to death such a privilege," and that if the practice wasn't stopped immediately he would introduce legislation to end it. Livingston replied that he agreed and that effective immediately in Texas, inmates about to be executed "will receive the same meal served to other offenders on the unit."

Meanwhile, the AP reports that in Florida, state Rep. Brad Drake introduced a bill this week that would end the use of lethal injections in Florida executions, and instead require those on death row to choose between electrocution or a firing squad. Drake said that a recent discussion he had with a constituent at a Waffle House caused him to realize that the use of lethal injection allowed killers to "get off easy." Drake believes that the use of a firing squad or electrocution would force death row inmates to think about their punishment "every morning."

The American Civil Liberties Union has already weighed in against Drake's proposed bill, which the state Legislature will consider during the session that starts in January 2012. Howard Simon, executive director of the ACLU of Florida, said "just when you thought that public policy in Florida couldn't get worse, along comes a state rep who develops proposed legislation from what he overhears at the Waffle House." Simon added that the legislation "would be embarrassing -- if our legislature were capable of embarrassment."

October 13, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (2)

Thursday's Three Burning Legal Questions

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

1) Question: A guy claiming to be a doctor just showed up at my front door. He has a black doctor's bag and everything. Anyway, he is offering free breast exams! Seems legit -- right?

Answer: I cannot say for sure that there are no legitimate door-to-door breast examiners, but I think you should assume "not legit" until further notice. (Orlando Sentinel, Man accused of phony breast exams strikes deal with prosecutors)

2) Question: I find some of the new websites such as LinkedIn and Facebook to be quite invasive of my privacy. Am I alone in this view? 

Answer: No. But holding that belief does mean you are officially an old person. (IT Business, LinkedIn founder dead wrong about privacy being just for 'old people') (via Slaw)

3) Question: I'm a police dispatcher for the 9-1-1 emergency service. A family just called to say they are lost in a corn maze. Does this qualify as an emergency? 

Answer: Yes, send the K-9 unit. (Los Angeles TimesCouple lost in corn maze calls 911)

October 13, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (1)

October 12, 2011

Florida Law Schools Take Note: Governor to Shift Funding to Degrees That 'Create Jobs'

In Florida, Gov. Rick Scott has had it with educational programs and majors at his state's universities that do not contribute much to Florida's economy. Scott has now stated that degrees such as psychology and anthropology and potentially even entire schools that focus on a liberal arts curriculum should begin to get the short-end of the state's education funding, HT Politics reports (via Gawker). Indeed, he says that reforming the state's college and university system by shifting funding to degrees that have the best job prospects (i.e., science, technology, engineering and math degrees) will be one of his top priorities in the coming year.

"If I’m going to take money from a citizen to put into education then I'm going to take that money to create jobs," Scott said. "So I want that money to go to degrees where people can get jobs in this state."

"Is it a vital interest of the state to have more anthropologists? I don’t think so."

And Scott is not alone in this view. HT Politics reports that Republican leaders in the state Legislature agree that there is a need to reform the state's universities. Future Senate President Don Gaetz says Florida has become a "second tier" state in attracting companies because universities are not producing the right graduates.

Future anthropology, philosophy and drama majors in Florida are surely not too happy right now. But what about wannabe Florida lawyers? According to Adam Smith, Esq., NALP reports that the job market facing the law school Class of 2010 is the worst in decades, to the point that just 36 percent of all 2010 graduates held a permanent, full-time job that actually required the graduate to pass a state bar.

Thirty-six percent! I wonder if that is higher or lower percentage than the percentage of 2010 anthropology graduates who now hold a permanent, full-time job that actually requires an anthropology degree? If it is lower, then heads up Florida law schools -- the governor may want to have a word with you.

October 12, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (10)

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 an astronaut. I found a cool camera from a prior space mission while I was walking on the moon. Can I keep it?

Answer: Whether that camera was abandoned, given to you as a gift or stolen by you may need to be resolved at trial. (, Judge Denies Apollo Astronaut's Motion to Dismiss Moon Camera Lawsuit) (via Lawyerist)

2) Question: I work for the EU. We are trying to micro-manage the lives of children and parents as much as possible. WIll required warning labels on all latex balloons requiring "adult supervision" for children under eight years old do the job? 

Answer: That is a good start, but you should also place similar warnings on all whistle-blowers and further require that all teddy bears be washable. That will really tick people off! (Telegraph, Children to be banned from blowing up balloons, under EU safety rules) (via Jonathan Turley)

3) Question: I'm a 17-year-old girl in Los Angeles. I need to get tan for the Homecoming dance this weekend but the tanning salon says I cannot use their beds. Whaaaaatt?

Answer: Sorry, but you will need to hit the spray-tan bottle because children under 18 are now banned from using tanning beds in California. (The Washington Post, California becomes first state to ban children under 18 from using tanning beds) (via Consumerist)

October 12, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0)

October 11, 2011

Arnie Who? L.A. What? Arnie Becker Fades From View (Except in New York)

LALawPerhaps 2011 will be remembered as the year that Arnie Becker officially faded from view as a relevant legal character. Becker, who at one time was probably the best-known lawyer on TV (he was played by actor Corbin Bernsen on the show "L.A. Law" from 1986 to 1994), has had a tough time this year.

First, despite being optimistically slotted as a #3 seed in Above the Law's Fictional Lawyer Madness -- a contest in which ATL readers voted to determine their favorite movie and TV lawyers from the past 30 years -- Becker was bounced from the contest in the second round. After defeating his weak Round 1 opponent (Romo Lampkin, a character from "Battlestar Galactica"), the once-mighty Becker was unceremoniously knocked out of the tournament in the Sweet Sixteen round by Alan Shore of "Boston Legal."

Adding to Becker's 2011 woes, Hollywood, Esq. reports that actor Bernsen has now filed a lawsuit against Innovative Legal Marketing, a Virginia-based company that provides marketing services for lawyers and law firms, because ILM has allegedly tried to pull out of an agreement to have Bernsen/Becker promote the company. Bernsen alleges that in 2009, he and ILM entered into a five-year agreement under which Bernsen would "record promotional announcements, make promotional appearances, be available for still photography sessions" and generally help ILM sell law firms on the idea of hiring marketing assistance.

ILM allegedly agreed to pay Bernsen $1 million: a $50,000 fee at the beginning of each year and eleven equal monthly payments of $13,636.36 each year of the agreement. In June 2011, however, ILM informed Bernsen that it was terminating the agreement because, alas, "the campaign was not successful -- except in New York where the name of Arnie Becker still holds some luster and the commercials would still run." Hollywood, Esq. reports that Bernsen claims ILM has breached the agreement and is now "unjustly enriching itself."

October 11, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (1)

October 10, 2011

Lawyer Advertising: Introducing the 'Asian Columbo'

Asian ColomboI see your and raise you an Asian Columbo!

As BaldLawyer Chandler Mason illustrated last week, there is rarely a shortage of amusement in the world of lawyer advertising. The subject of today's dose of offbeat lawyer advertising: John Kim, a.k.a. the "Asian Columbo."

According to a press release from The Kim Law Firm last month, Kim created a video to show "an animated side of himself" that focuses on his courtroom skills. As with, Kim says he is seeking to show that he takes his work -- but not himself -- seriously. Kim says that his trial lawyer skills are confirmed by "surveys of his legal peers and courtroom opponents, who called him, among other things, 'smart like a fox' and 'an Asian Colombo.'"

Asian Columbo!! Granted, nobody under the age of 30 has any idea who Columbo is, and sure, Kim misspelled the character's name ("Columbo") in the press release, but nonetheless I still dig it. To learn more about the Asian Columbo, check out his video here.

October 10, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0)

October 07, 2011

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 traveling on the Dutch national railway today. Where the heck are the bathrooms on this train? 

Answer: Sorry, those trains were built with no bathrooms, but the Dutch government would like you to know that plastic pee-bags are available in the conductor's booth if that helps at all. (The Associated Press, Dutch to rail riders: Gotta go? Use this bag)

2) Question: I work for a pharmaceutical company. Generic versions of one of our drugs are about to become available, which will hurt our profits. Can we delay these generic versions by simply etching an additional line across our pill's surface?

Answer: Yes, that will work. (Consumerist, Drug Maker Adds Line To Pill's Surface To Delay Generic Versions)

3) Question: I'm a male in North Carolina, and I have been charged with assault. What is the likely sentence if I am convicted? 

Answer: Since you are a man, your sentence will depend on the gender of the person you assaulted. In North Carolina, a male who assaults a female has committed a class 1 misdemeanor, while female-on-male, male-on-male, and female-on-female assaults are generally class 2 misdemeanors. A defendant who has no prior convictions faces up to 60 days in jail for a Class A1 misdemeanor, but only up to 30 days for a class 2. (The Volokh Conspiracy, North Carolina Crime of "Assault on a Female")

October 7, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (2)

October 06, 2011

LBW's Exclusive Interview With Scott Greenfield's Refrigerator

Back in my day, if you bought a refrigerator and had it delivered to your home, only to find that it didn't refrigerate properly, you were at the mercy of the company to come to your house and replace it. In the social media era, that is still pretty much the case, as criminal defense lawyer and blogger Scott Greenfield has learned the hard way over the past couple months. However, in the year 2011, social media such as Twitter can at least provide an aggrieved consumer, his broken appliance, and their collective Twitter followers with a way to apply some pressure on a company to make things right.

To make a very long story short, this summer Greenfield ordered a KitchenAid refrigerator. He quickly realized that try as it might, his refrigerator was unable to get to the standard temperature of 37 degrees -- 44 degrees cool was all that it could muster.

Over Greenfield's objections, KitchenAid unsuccessfully tried to repair his newly installed refrigerator (he wanted a new one). Greenfield ultimately received an email that (a) blamed the refrigerator's cooling problem on the "ambient temperature" of Greenfield's house, and (b) essentially told him he would get nothing and like it. 

This triggered a blog post and some shots fired by Greenfield on his own Twitter feed about the subject, but nothing really happened for a while. More recently, Greenfield says, KitchenAid finally agreed that a refrigerator that will not cool things is defective, and had a new one delivered. Regrettably, the delivery men dropped the refrigerator in the process, leaving Greenfield with a functioning but very banged up refrigerator (no word on how refrigerator #2 was able to overcome the "ambient temperature" in Greenfield's home).

When KitchenAid failed to follow up on Greenfield's subsequent requests that it provide him with a functioning AND undamaged refrigerator, his refrigerator apparently decided it could not remain silent any longer. On Oct. 4, Greenfield's refrigerator opened a Twitter account (@SHGrefrigerator) and began pleading with KitchenAid to fix it: "@KitchenAidUSA Help me. Please, HELP ME!"

@SHGrefrigerator's pleas for help did not go unnoticed by Greenfield's Twitter followers, who rallied behind the appliance. Click here to see the complete stream of hundreds of tweets by the refrigerator, friends of the refrigerator and even @KitchenAidUSA's customer support people (who are now desperately tweeting every hour or so to tell Greenfield that they are working on the issue).

Intrigued by a household appliance that has its own Twitter account that has already been featured on Above the Law, I reached out to @SHGrefrigerator and scored an exclusive interview. Here is our actual email exchange:

Q: Hello @SHGRefrigerator! You are probably the most famous refrigerator -- or household appliance of any kind, for that matter -- in the world right now. How does that feel?

A: It would feel better if I wasn't in such dire need of repair. It's embarrassing to be so well known when you're not looking your best. By the way, you ended up in my spam filter. Hope you didn't get too warm in there.

Q: Which SHG refrigerator are you? The one that sat in Greenfield's kitchen for weeks not keeping things cold or the replacement fridge that was dropped and damaged by delivery men? Or are you a composite entity, representing them both?

A:  Spiritually, I believe we are one. But I was recently dropped on my head, so I may be suffering from a traumatic brain injury.

Q: You recently took to Twitter to beg Kitchen Aid to repair you. How has your experience been on Twitter -- is it an effective tool for broken appliances like yourself? Do you write your own material or do you use a ghost-Twitterer?

A: It has been effective in the sense that more and more people are becoming aware of KitchenAid's poor customer service and shoddy appliances. It has been ineffective in getting KitchenAid to repair me. On the upside, I've befriended a nice toaster and am dating a defective freezer I met via Twitter. I would like to do my own Twittering, but the lack of fingers makes me a terrible typist. I've had no choice but to outsource.

Q: Let's be honest -- do you really even want to work or is it a pretty nice gig just sitting in Greenfield's kitchen with no responsibilities?

A: Apparently you've never tried to live with Scott when he's angry. This is the worst gig I've ever had. Would you care for a warm beverage?

October 6, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (3)

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 treating my painful knee condition with some good medical marijuana. The pizza delivery guy who came to my house in the middle of my marijuana treatment just ratted me out to the cops! I'm not going to get in any trouble since it is "medical" and all, but can I sue the pizza place for messing with me in this way?

Answer: You are probably out of luck, as private citizens who notify the authorities about something are typically immune from lawsuits. (Consumerist, Medical Marijuana User: Papa John's Driver Ratted Me Out To The Cops)

2) Question: Yes, I did procrastinate in getting my son to the dentist for his painful teeth. But I did not tell him to try to pull two of his teeth out of his mouth with pliers. Can I get in any trouble for this?

Answer: Yes, you could be charged with reckless endangerment. (The Associated Press, Denied dentist visit, teen pulls out own teeth)

3) Question: I'm a firefighter in L.A. Three years ago I allowed a porn film to use my fire engine as a prop in the movie (it seemed like an awesome idea at the time). Was this wrong? Can I get in trouble for this?

Answer: Yes, it was wrong to allow your fire engine to be used in a porno. But the City Charter prevents the Fire Department from disciplining any member for actions that are more than two years old, so you may be have dodged a bullet here. (Los Angeles TimesL.A. firefighters won't face discipline in porn-film probe)

October 6, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (1)

October 05, 2011

Atlanta Lawyer Rolls Out '' Ad Campaign

Lawyer advertising is everywhere, to the point that is often just unnoticed noise (e.g., images of people in suits, gavels and scales of justice) thrown onto a billboard or the back of a phone book. How can a lawyer stand out in a sea of competitors while still remaining G-rated (unlike this risque divorce lawyer ad, for example) and not offending people and otherwise making themselves the butt of jokes forevermore?

Via The Matte Pad, I learned of a memorable ad campaign that Chandler Mason, an Atlanta lawyer, is running for his law practice. You can just call Mason the "Bald Lawyer." Tom Matte of The Matte Pad says he was driving on the interstate when he came upon the following billboard that made him "nearly drive off the road."


Matte, who runs a legal marketing company, was so impressed by the idea that he called the Bald Lawyer to learn more about how the campaign came to be. Mason told Matte that he and his wife/law partner Louise believed that most laypersons consider lawyers to be "too uptight" and he wanted to dispel that notion. Mason also wanted to find a way to brand his firm in a crowded field. Mason says that he believes the creation of "" a few weeks ago has accomplished both goals and that the campaign has already generated a lot of interest.

Matte concludes that while Mason's ad may be a bit "cheesy," he still thinks the billboard is funny and memorable and makes Mason seem approachable. I agree on all of those points, although I'm not sure I'd personally want to be known as "Bald Lawyer" for the next several decades.

What do you think? Good ad or bad ad?

October 5, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (12)

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 single man. I have a contract to purchase a condo but the co-op board says it will refuse to sell it to me at any price. What is the problem?

Answer: Single men throw loud parties and smoke marijuana. You probably can't figure that out because you are so high at a party right now, pothead. (New York Law JournalDisappointed Male Co-op Buyer's Suit for 'Sex-Plus' Bias Proceeds)

2) Question: I am in the middle of robbing a convenience store. Why are the clerk and the customers all laughing at me?

Answer: Look over your shoulder to make sure there is not a uniformed police officer standing right behind you. (Consumerist, Don't Rob A Convenience Store With A Cop Standing Right Behind You)

3) Question: I just took a tour of the John Marshall Law School campus and I think I want to apply there. Is there an app I can use on my iPhone to apply for admission to the school during my drive home? I'm pretty sure I will lose interest if I have to wait until I get home to get on a computer.

Answer: Yes, there's an app for that. (Above the Law, Law School Actively Encourages People To Apply Before They Go Home And Think)

October 5, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (2)

October 04, 2011

More From Texas on the Need for Court Reporters (Versus Video Equipment)

In June, I discussed an interesting article from the Austin Statesman that raised the question of whether, in a digital world, the job of court reporter was starting to resemble a "system of medieval scribes" that might not be long for this world. In the year 2011, I wondered, must the responsibility of recording exactly what is stated at trial or a deposition be filled by a human? That is, "couldn't some combination of 21st century audio and video equipment adequately and accurately capture what is said during a proceeding?"

Earlier this year, the Texas Conference of State Court Administrators issued a report questioning the state's reliance on human court reporters to create transcripts, and called the current system inefficient, costly and, in some ways, "completely baffling." Recently, however, a Texas organization called the Court Reporters Certification Board sought to fight back a bit on behalf of court reporters. In a letter dated Aug. 31, 2011, CRCB asked the state Attorney General to opine on whether an oral deposition meant for use in litigation in the courts of Texas can be recorded solely by non-stenographic means (i.e., by video camera), or whether doing so would violate Texas Government Code §52.021(f), which requires that an oral deposition be recorded by a certified shorthand reporter. The CRCB mentioned in its request that its "inclination" is ... wait for it... for the AG to conclude that all depositions must be recorded by a certified court reporter. 

As discussed by Texas Lawyer's Tex Parte Blog, the CRCB says that there is a conflict between §52.021(f), which requires certified shorthand reporters to record depositions, and Texas Rule of Civil Procedure 199.1, which permits depositions recorded by nonstenographic means such as video. The CRCB asserts that rules such as 199.1 cannot repeal "substantive" law, and it asked the AG to determine whether §52.021(f) is "procedural or substantive." The AG's office says that it expects to issue an opinion by Feb. 29, 2012.

What do you think? Is there a valid reason to require a certified court reporter to record a deposition that will be used in court, or is a video deposition sufficient?

October 4, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (6)

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 the star in a topless Las Vegas show. If anything happened to my boobs, I'd be out for a few months and I'd probably be out a million dollars. Can I insure my two primary moneymakers for this amount?

Answer: No problem. Lloyds of London provides breast insurance. (People, Holly Madison Insures Her Breasts for $1 Million)

2) Question: My neighbor's mom won't give me a ride home from baseball practice anymore because she says that she could be charged with the crime of "luring a child into a motor vehicle." Is this true?

Answer: The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled last week that she can start driving you again. (The Volokh Conspiracy, Does Law Banning "Lur[ing] ... a Child into a Motor Vehicle" Cover Simply Offering a Child a Ride?)

3) Question: I'm a hit man. I agreed to do a job where I wear a bear's pelt like a suit and bear paws on my feet and hands, and then maul the victim when she is taking her garbage out to make it look like a bear did it. The only problem is, I am supposed to provide the bear suit and paws and I only have three acres to hunt on, and no bears. So, um, what am I supposed to do?

Answer: Looks like you are out of luck. Frankly, you should have thought about whether you had the proper tools for the job before you accepted it. (Lowering the Bar, How to Get Back at Your Ex: First, Kill a Bear)


October 4, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0)

October 03, 2011

'Miranda' Warnings Required From Police Officer Who Sniffed Breath of Dozens of Young Partygoers

We already determined last week that it is a Fourth Amendment "search" for a police officer to touch a key on a laptop or move the mouse pad in order to reveal the contents of the screen, so let's move on to this week's criminal procedure question:

If a police officer enters a party filled with 40 to 50 young people, demands that they line up, and proceeds to sniff the breath of each person to determine if they have consumed alcohol, is this a custodial interrogation requiring Miranda warnings? Yes, according to the Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division.

Last week in State v. Koch (via New Jersey Law Journal), the court considered the case of Zeb Koch, an 18-year-old who was convicted in the lower court of underage consumption of alcohol. Koch attended a party that drew complaints from a neighbor that young people attending the party were smoking marijuana and urinating on his lawn. A policeman responded to the call in a marked squad car, which caused about 20 young people to run off into the woods behind the home. The policeman did not pursue the kids who ran off, but did detain the 40 to 50 young people who remained at the home. It is "undisputed" that alcoholic beverages were being consumed in and around the home.

The policeman then

lined them up; told them they were not free to leave; and proceeded to sniff the breath of each to determine if they had consumed alcohol. It is undisputed that no Miranda warnings were given. Specifically, no one was advised that they had the right to refuse to submit to being sniffed, or to remain silent.

Just before the policeman sniffed Koch, Koch said spontaneously, "I only had one." The policeman also says that he remembered that Koch's breath smelled of alcohol. Ultimately, Koch was charged with underage consumption of alcohol based on his admission that he'd had one beer and the officer's testimony that Koch's breath smelled of alcohol.

The appeals court agreed with Koch's argument that he and the others at the party were detained, questioned, and not free to leave the "to-be-smelled" line created by the policeman. The court stated that the officer's actions were an "implied question to Koch and others to indicate whether they had consumed alcoholic beverages." As such, the court held, Koch's "admission" must be suppressed because no Miranda warning was given.

In addition, in a separate holding that could deter police in the future from acting like K-9 sniffer dogs, the court found that the officer's testimony that he sniffed alcohol on Koch's breath was insufficient as a matter of law to sustain a conviction:

There were many young people at this party. Alcohol was being consumed by many of them. Therefore, the smell of alcohol in the area of the party was a given. The sniff test without excluding other sources, was not sufficient to establish that Koch was drinking. 

The court therefore reversed Koch's conviction.

October 3, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (2)

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