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November 30, 2011

As Happy Meal Toy Ban Goes Into Effect, McDonald's Throws a Counterpunch

Today marks the last day that people can roll into a San Francisco McDonald's and purchase a Happy Meal that comes with a toy for their screaming kids. As noted here, in November 2010, the San Francisco board of supervisors voted to forbid restaurants from offering a free toy with meals that contain more than set levels of calories, sugar and fat. The Chicago Tribune reported last year that the ordinance, which takes effect tomorrow, Dec. 1, 2011, provides that restaurants may only include a toy with a meal if the food and drink combined contain fewer than 600 calories, and if less than 35 percent of the calories come from fat.

Since coming in under 600 calories obviously isn't realistic for any Happy Meal -- even the "healthier" Happy Meals with apples and such -- the ordinance means that today marks the end of the "meal and a toy" combo that has long been a staple at McDonald's in San Francisco and elsewhere. According to SF Weekly, however, the ordinance may have unintended consequences, as McDonald's has devised a counterpunch that may lead to the company making more money and possibly selling even more Happy Meals.  

Historically (and until the end of the day today), parents who wanted to provide a Happy Meal toy to their children without purchasing the food could simply pay McDonald's $2.18 for the toy only. Beginning tomorrow when the new ordinance goes into effect, however, McDonald's has decided that the only way to get a toy is to make a 10-cent charitable donation to the Ronald McDonald House charities. And in order to have the privilege of making this small donation to get the toy, parents must ... wait for it ... buy the Happy Meal! As SF Weekly sums it up, "in their desire to keep McDonald's from selling grease and fat to kids with the lure of a toy [San Francisco has] now actually incentivized the purchase of that grease and fat. ..."

Your move, San Francisco!!!

November 30, 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: A Tennessee "constable" just pulled me over for speeding as soon as I crossed the state line. Do you think I can talk him out of giving me the ticket?

Answer: Don't count on it. Those constables get paid $22 for every citation they write! (, Tennessee constables aren't salaried, but they can make money)

2) Question: I've been called for jury duty here in Michigan but I am a breastfeeding mom. Do I need to serve? 

Answer: For now, yes, you still need to report for jury duty. But if House Bill 4691 goes on to be approved by the Michigan Senate, then courts will have to exempt nursing mothers from jury service if they have a note from their doctor. (WXYZ, Rules may change for nursing moms called for jury duty)

3) Question: I have a small bakery. We placed an ad offering a 75 percent discount for a dozen cupcakes on Groupon and 8,500 people accepted the offer. To honor this deal, I will need to hire temporary workers through an employment agency to make 102,000 cupcakes, wiping out my profits for the year! Do I need to do this?

Answer: Yes. Start baking aggressively. (MSNBC, 102,000 cupcakes! Small bakery burned by Groupon)

November 30, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (1)

November 29, 2011

Things You Can't Do on a Plane: Vol. 8

You might think that after Volume 1Volume 2Volume 3Volume 4Volume 5Volume 6 and Volume 7 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:

  • Get drunk, confuse a male flight attendant with your boyfriend, and begin to grope the male flight attendant "through his trousers" and proposition him for a sexual encounter. Passengers may not sexually assault and proposition flight attendants, even if they are under an "alcohol-induced illusion" that the person is their boyfriend. CONSEQUENCE: May be charged with with sexual assault and being drunk on an aircraft, fined £1,500, and ordered to perform 11 months of community service. Plus, you maybe suspended from your job as a teacher.
  • Watch child pornography on your laptop mid-flight.  Passengers may not view "horrific" child pornography on their laptop during the flightCONSEQUENCE: Will be apprehended by police upon plane landing and charged with possession of child pornography. May also be placed on administrative leave from your job as a professor pending the outcome of the case.
  • Allow a 400-pound passenger to purchase just one seat on a sold-out flight, forcing the passenger next to him to stand up for seven hours. Airlines may not allow morbidly obese passengers to board with just one seat purchased, causing the person in the seat next to them to have to stand for seven hours on an Alaska-to-Philadelphia flight with no seat belt during takeoff or landing. CONSEQUENCE: Pay angry displaced passenger $200.

November 29, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (2)

November 28, 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 am a middle school student and I suffer from ADD, Asperger's and a medical condition that causes me to sleep -- sometimes during school hours. Is there anything my school can offer to help me deal with these disabilities?

Answer: In some schools the counselor will handle this by pulling you out of your homeroom every day and making you mow the school lawn with a push mower as a punishment. (KOMO News, Ore. 6th grader says he was forced to mow school lawn)

2) Question: In my bedroom there was a quilt laid out to dry on a "clothes horse." I tumbled off of a bed onto the clothes horse and my head went through the frame. Then, when I tried to move the quilt, the clothes horse locked into place and now I fear I may be permanently stuck in this clothes horse. Will firefighters respond to a call from someone who has their head stuck in a clothes horse? 


Answer: Yes, hang in there. Firefighters will respond and can probably free you using bolt croppers. (BBC News, Derby student trapped in clothes horse rescued by firefighters)

3) Question: My 8-year-old has been gaining weight at a very extreme pace. Is there some weight at which the county will intervene and take my child away and place him into foster care?

Answer: 200 pounds. (The Associated Press, 200-lb 8-year-old placed in foster care)

November 28, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0)

November 23, 2011

Trust Me, I'm an Expert: Pimping

As I have begun to chronicle in my ongoing "Trust Me, I'm an Expert" series of posts, courts have not hesitated to deem people experts in fields such as "smell" and "lap dancing." On the other hand, at least one court has declined to name someone an expert in the field of "shit." Today I have discovered one more area of expertise where the courts just don't want to go: Pimping.

In Brooklyn Supreme Court, Anthony McCord is presently defending himself on charges of rape and robbery. The New York Daily News reports that prosecutors allege that the victim was a prostitute who worked for McCord, and that the incident occurred after she "freelanced," i.e., sold sex without giving him any of the money.

McCord, however, believes the jury needs to better understand the pimp-prostitute relationship. According to The New York PostMcCord says the March 2010 beating was "part of the pimp-prostitute relationship and the sex was consensual." And McCord thinks that he is just the man to explain this dynamic to the jury, since he considers himself an expert in the field of pimping for several reasons:

  • He has been a pimp since 2000;
  • He has read "pretty much read every book, saw every movie and heard every song relating to the subject matter;”
  • He has attended two national conferences on the trade and is also a "member of a quiet society of pimps.”

Despite these credentials, Justice Wayne Ozzi ruled on Monday that he would not permit McCord to serve as an expert "pimp" witness. The judge stated that such testimony would debase the process and possibly confuse the jury, the Daily News reports.

November 23, 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 have been charged by the police with something called "DUI-super extreme." What is that?

Answer: "DUI-super extreme" is the charge when a person does all of the following: hits "numerous curbs" and drives on the sidewalk; says "I don't have to walk f*cking anywhere" when approached by a cop; shoves an officer after declining to take field sobriety tests; scuffles with a cop and gets taken to the ground; knees a second officer in the crotch while being handcuffed; repeatedly curses at police; kicks the inside of a squad car; has a blood alcohol content nearly three times the legal limit; and poses for a mug shot like this:

(The Smoking Gun, After Kneeing Cop In Groin, Arizona Drunk Driver Poses For Beatific Booking Pic)

2) Question: I just spent three days in jail because Australian police at Darwin Airport said I had 1.6 kg of liquid ecstasy in my shampoo bottle. In fact, they now admit that there was nothing in the bottles but Pantene shampoo and have dropped all charges!! Can I get anything for going through this nightmare?

Answer: $100,000 and an apology. (, Neil Parry given $100,000 after Pantene shampoo and conditioner mistaken for liquid ecstasy) (via Legal Juice)

3) Question: As of this week I have been writing my law blog for nine years! How long is that in "blog years?" 

Answer: The conversion of nine years to "blog years" cannot be performed on a regular calculator. You'll need a Big Number Scientific Calculator that provides precision up to 1 million digits. Without getting too technical, however, suffice it to say that nine years is roughly one bazillion blog years. (LawSites, Nine Years of Blogging Here at LawSites)

November 23, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0)

November 22, 2011

Deadspin Uncovers Why 'Rae Carruth' and 'He Hate Me' Are on Pakistan's List of Offensive Words and Phrases

Last week, the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority made itself the butt of many jokes when it decided to ban its citizens from texting over 1,600 "offensive words." The Guardian reports that in a letter from the PTA to the nation's mobile phone companies, the PTA told the companies that they had obligations under their licenses to prevent "obnoxious communication." The PTA attached a list of 1,109 words and phrases in English to be banned and 586 in the national language, Urdu. 

Publications like The Guardian marveled at the "creativity and dedication" that local Pakistani officials showed in coming up with the 1,109 dirty words and phrases in English:

After serious deliberation and consultation, officials from the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) have come up with more than 50 phrases using the word "f*ck" and 17 involving "butt".

The list includes several apparently innocuous words and phrases, including "flatulence", "deposit" and "fondle". Others would likely only make sense to frustrated teenagers.

Among the more printable terms are "strap-on", "beat your meat", "crotch rot", "love pistol", "pocket pool" and "quickie".

But other people who reviewed the list -- NFL football fans, in particular -- were more confused than impressed with the Pakistanis' "creativity." Why was the name of now-imprisoned NFL wide receiver "Rae Carruth" on the list of words banned in Pakistan!? Why was "He Hate Me", the famous phrase on the jersey of XFL star Rod Smart, on the list? And why ban "Neon Deion," a nickname of NFL Hall of Famer Deion Sanders? Why were there eight obscenities involving the word "foot?"

After getting some tips from readers about the odd NFL-related words and phrases to be banned in Pakistan, the website Deadspin did some digging and figured out that to create its list of 1,109 dirty English words and phrases, the PTA simply copied -- verbatim -- the list of 1,109 words and phrases that the NFL Shop originally banned from use on personalized jerseys back in 2005! As Deadspin observed, Pakistan's decision "hypothetically presents a terrible conundrum for Pakistan's biggest Deion Sanders fan."

Today, the PTA announced that it has delayed the implementation of the ban. The BBC reports that the PTA says it will "carry out more consultations before producing a much shorter list of banned words." Somehow, I don't see "Rae Carruth" making the short list!

November 22, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (2)

November 21, 2011

After Supreme Court Denies Cert, Police Association Must Contend With Unconstitutional Highway Crosses

Since 1998, the Utah Highway Patrol Association, a private organization, has paid for and erected more than a dozen 12-foot-high crosses to honor fallen state troopers. Ten of the memorial crosses are on public land.

A group called American Atheists challenged this practice in a 2005 lawsuit, arguing that the crosses were an endorsement of Christianity by the Utah state government, and therefore unconstitutional. The district court granted summary judgment for the defendants, holding that the memorial crosses did not violate the federal or state constitution. Plaintiffs appealed, however, and in December 2010 the 10th Circuit reversed the lower court, holding that the crosses did "have the impermissible effect of conveying to the reasonable observer the message that the State prefers or otherwise endorses a certain religion. They therefore violate the Establishment Clause of the federal constitution."

The defendants asked the U.S. Supreme Court to rule on the issue, but on Oct. 31, 2011, the Supreme Court denied the petition and refused to hear the case. The Utah Highway Patrol Association has since tried to remedy the "unconstitutional memorial" problem, the Deseret News reports, by removing all UHP logos from the 14 crosses at issue and "tap[ing] on notes stating they are private memorials."

Brian Barnard, an attorney representing American Atheists Inc. said that even with these changes, the fact that the crosses are on government property still presents a problem. "Those crosses are on government property only with the permission of Utah officials," Barnard said. He noted that the disclaimers are too small to be read from a car traveling on the highway and that "a reasonable observer seeing the Roman cross on the front lawn of a UHP office will see an improper connection between the state of Utah and Christianity."

The UHP has had offers from people to help buy the land on which the crosses stand to make it private property, but Barnard said this idea of buying "postage stamp sized pieces of land" has been tried in other states and does not work. "A private plot of land in the middle of government land still gives the impression of government support," he said.

Barnard and other atheist groups have stated that more litigation is likely to follow if the UHPA simply uses these disclaimers instead of some other symbol that is "inclusive of all Utahns."

November 21, 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 am flying across the country and I am seated at the back of the plane completely surrounded by about a dozen families with very loud and very young children. What is going on here?

Answer: Welcome to the back of the plane, a.k.a. the "baby ghetto!" (The Wall Street JournalFlying With Little Children? Go to the Back of the Plane)

2) Question: I am a teacher at a day care center. I'd like to pierce one of my 5-year-old students' ears, and the child says it is "OK with her." Can I proceed?

Answer: No. You need to speak to her parents first. (Star-TelegramMom irate after 5-year-old's ears are pierced at Fort Worth day care)

3) Question: The man who is leading a scientific "sexology" study here on campus wants me to go to a motel room with him for "role play." Is this a legitimate aspect of the science of sexology?

Answer: Check out Sexology Blog Watch for more details but you should assume that this research is a fraud. (Seattle PIHigh-paying UW 'sexology' study ad bogus, police warn)

November 21, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (3)

November 18, 2011

Farewell and Thanks to Ben Popken, Managing Editor of The Consumerist

I started reading The Consumerist about two years ago, and it has since become one of my "must-read" blogs every day. In fact, in December 2010 I named The Consumerist as one of my '10 Most-Watched' Legal Blogs in 2010.

A huge part of the success of The Consumerist was due to its managing editor, Ben Popken. Popken's byline seemed to regularly be at the top of many of the Consumerist articles that I found particularly interesting (like this, this, this or this, just to pick a few). Today, however, Popken announced that after six years at The Consumerist, he will be leaving the publication at the end of this week.

Popken added in his farewell post that:

Here's the part in these things where I'm supposed to tell you about the ground-exploding Web5.0 transdimensional hyperrealistic consumer empowerment matrix I'm starting. Except there isn't one. I'm working on a few different ways to exploit my brain for profit. In the meantime, please stay in touch. I'm writing at, making funny stuff at, and my personal landing page and catchall for my endeavors and adventures is

Popken's farewell post went online at 10:50 a.m. today and within one hour there were already 84 comments wishing him well and thanking him for his great work on the site. To that quickly growing list, I would like to add my own thanks to Popken for his terrific work on The Consumerist. Ben, good luck to you on whatever venture comes next!

November 18, 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 am an eleventh-grade high school student. Let's face it, I stink at math. How much would I need to pay the teacher to get a good grade? 

Answer: It looks like $40 will get it done. Just staple or paper clip two $20 bills to your test when you turn it in. (WINK News, Report: Charlotte teacher sold grades to pay debts)

2) Question: Can I still be charged with "hit-and-run" if I get into an accident and flee the scene on foot, but leave my 2-month-old and 2 year-old daughters behind in the car?

Answer: Yes. (The Detroit News, Dad crashes car in Detroit and flees, leaving young daughters behind)

3) Question: I am trying to run for president, but one of my harshest critics has created a website that (falsely!!) defines my last name as a noun meaning, "The frothy mix of lube and fecal matter that is sometimes the byproduct of anal sex." Even worse, through some kind of Google black magic, he has managed to make this website and definition be the first result that comes up when you search my name on Google!! Can I force Google to change this?

Answer: No. Google doesn't give one single hoot about your misdefined name. (CNN, Santorum asks Google to clean up search results for his name)

November 18, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (1)

November 17, 2011

.XXX Domains Selling Like Hotcakes to Companies That Don't Even Want to Use Them

In case you haven't been keeping up with it, the ".XXX" domain is getting closer and closer. ICM Registry, the company that administers the .XXX domains, created a "Sunrise" period (Sept. 7, 2011-Oct. 31, 2011) that allowed trademark holders -- both those looking to use a .XXX address and those seeking to prevent others from using their trademark on a .XXX website -- to register in advance of the rest of the world. ICM recently announced that it received more than 80,000 applications in the Sunrise period, and that "the applications have been well balanced between brand owners inside the adult industry and those non-adult brands that want to protect their trademarks."

Between Nov. 8 and Nov. 25, the "Landrush" phase is underway, during which only members of the "adult Sponsored Community" (but not trademark holders) can apply for .XXX domain names. Finally, beginning on Dec. 6, 2011, the "General Availability" phase will begin, and all remaining .XXX domain names will be allocated to applicants on a first-come, first-served basis. 

In a press release, ICM stated that "We couldn't be happier about the success of the Sunrise period. There is always a risk with a new TLD that you may build it and nobody will come. We are thrilled that over 80,000 applications came!" ICM's break-even point was reportedly 10,000 applications, so I'm sure it is thrilled to have received 80,000 applications, but let's think about this. I don't know how many of the 80,000 applicants in the Sunrise phase were non-"adult" companies that just want to protect their good name from ending up on a .XXX website, but ICM said it was "well balanced" between adult and non-adult applicants so let's assume 40,000 "non-adult brands." That means ICM had roughly 40,000 paying customers that had zero interest in actually using this product but bought it for $162 anyway as a form of reputation insurance. Brilliant! And that does not even take into account the recurring revenues ICM will take in down the road when these customers must renew the registrations on these domain names.

I am feeling motivated by ICM's success in getting tens of thousands of companies to buy something they don't want, and I think I may be able to replicate it by becoming the domain registry for a different new domain: ".SUX"  Who won't sign up to get their company or personal ".SUX" domain name before their competitor or enemy gets it? Nobody!! Everyone will be in!! Bwahhhh haaa haaaa!!!

November 17, 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: I am the president of a country. I can't say which country I am president of but let's just say it is a superpower located in North America. I am about to travel to Darwin, Australia. Can I obtain insurance for my family in case I am attacked by a crocodile during my visit?

Answer: Yes, but don't bother. Upon your arrival, the local authorities will likely present you with the gift of an insurance policy that will pay your family $50,000 if you get attacked by a crocodile in Darwin. You're covered! (ABC NewsNT insures Obama against croc attack)

2) Question: I'm representing myself as the defendant in a robbery prosecution. Are there any questions I should not ask the robbery victim when he is on the witness stand?

Answer: Do not ask the question, "What did the robber's voice sound like?" unless you are prepared for the response of "It sounded exactly like you." (The Morning CallHow did robber sound? 'He sounded like you')

3) Question: Why is there a very sad and dirty-looking man stuck in my chimney?

Answer: Sometimes would-be burglars try to break into people's houses through the chimney and get stuck for 10 hours. (WSBTC, Teen rescued from chimney, arrested)

November 17, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0)

November 16, 2011

Promise of Free Beer Nets 19 Suspects Who Had Been Evading Arrest

What would it take for people who are trying hard to evade arrest for offenses including burglary, robbery and serious sexual assault to actually schedule a specific time and place to meet the police? A crate of free beer!

In an operation reminiscent of the "deadbeat dad sting" I discussed here (that used the irresistible bait of two free tickets to the 2011 Alabama-Auburn football game to lure fathers with outstanding child-support warrants into the police's trap), the Derbyshire (U.K.) police were able to arrest 19 suspects with the promise of a crate of beer.

Sky News reports that Derbyshire police sent letters to dozens of people who had been evading arrest for months. The letters asked the suspects to call a "marketing company" if they wanted to receive a free crate of beer, but the phone number provided secretly went straight to the Chesterfield Police Station.

Ultimately, 19 suspects called the phone number and arranged a specific date and time for their free crate of beer to be delivered to them. Instead of bringing free beer, however, undercover police disguised as beer delivery men (see below) placed the waiting suspects under arrest. D'oh!!


November 16, 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 trying to go through the Taco Bell drive thru in my motorized wheelchair. But the losers in the drive thru window won't serve me because they say company policy doesn't allow service in the drive thru to anyone not in a vehicle. I say I AM in a vehicle. Who is right? (p.s. I am thinking about retaliating by crashing my supposed "non-vehicle" through the tempered glass of the restaurant's front door -- just saying).

Answer: I get it. "They see you rollin', they hatin'.'" Please don't get mad, but I think Taco Bell is right: wheelchair does not equal vehicle. And if you crash that door in you'll likely be charged with criminal mischief, so maybe roll on over to Chipotle instead? (57 News, Taco Bell customer accused of causing $1,500 in damage with wheelchair)

2) Question: In California we have a "hands-free" phone requirement for motorists. But I can text someone if I am sitting at a red light, right? 

Answer: Nope. The law applies to stopped drivers just as it applies to drivers in motion.(The RecorderAppeal Court: Texting at Red Lights a No-Go)

3) Question: I'm a police officer. I just arrested a man and woman on drug charges, handcuffed them, and put them in the back of the squad car. But now I cannot see the woman in my rear view mirror -- where could she have possibly gone?

Answer: Take a closer look behind you. Sometimes handcuffed women in the back of a moving squad car will try to engage in oral sex with their fellow passenger in the backseat. (The Smoking Gun, Texas Cop Catches Arrested, Handcuffed Couple Engaged In Sex Act In Back Seat Of Police Car)

November 16, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0)

November 15, 2011

The Debut of Matt Ritter's 'The Bottom Rung'

Today on Bitter Lawyer, Matt Ritter released Episode 1 of his new video series, "The Bottom Rung." As discussed in this interview with Ritter last week, Ritter is a lawyer (U.Penn., Class of 2005) who, after a stint in BigLaw in New York, moved to Los Angeles to pursue a career as an actor and stand-up comedian. 

Ritter describes "Bottom Rung" as being "about a group of people who are stuck doing document review but desperately want to get out and chase their real dreams. It's sort of Party Down meets the Office." It is loosely based on his own experience doing document reviews where he says he realized there was "so much ridiculousness and so many untold stories" that he felt he had to capture it somehow. 'Bottom Rung tries' to highlight some of the absurdity of the worst document reviews: hardass bosses who treat the reviewers like prisoners; horrible working conditions; "no windows, no ventilation, no personal space, weird smells, sick people;" and much more.

One of the surprises I had when watching Episode 1 was that I actually recognized one of the actors in the video -- a comedian named Eddie Pepitone that I remember from the movie "Old School" and from some TV shows. Pepitone's character, "Locker," does not have much involvement in Episode 1 but Ritter says that Locker, the "King of the Lifers," will be the face of the show.

Check out "The Bottom Rung - Episode 1" below.

November 15, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (5)

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 planning a robbery. We have the blueprints of the building, the guards' work schedules, pretty much everything. Are there any lesser-known things we should prepare for?

Answer: Make sure you know where all the shrubs are located. They can interfere significantly with your getaway. (AZ Central, Purse snatcher caught by shrubs, cops say)

2) Question: Yes, I drove a school bus while drunk. But why am I facing 25 counts of driving under the influence with a minor and 25 counts of endangering the welfare of a child? 

Answer: 25 kids on the bus, 25 counts. (Courier Post Online, Police: South Jersey woman drove school bus of kids while drunk)

3) Question: I was just pulled over by a police officer and issued a ticket for having bad breath. Is this even a real offense? 

Answer: Yes. And welcome to Kuwait City! (Legal Juice, Perhaps The Strangest Ticket Ever Issued)

November 15, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0)

November 14, 2011

From the Blawgosphere: 4 Thought-Provoking Takes on the Penn State Scandal

The blawgosphere has had plenty of commentary on the still-unfolding events at Penn State involving the sex crimes against children allegedly committed by former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky. Here are some of the takes on this matter that I have found particularly interesting:

1. Scott Greenfield, Simple Justice: "Mike McQueary's Choices"

There must be a protocol, a path, that is clear and known to anyone claiming membership in this race. You do not turn your head away from a child being raped. Not even if you're Joe Paterno. And not even if you're Mike McQueary. No, it's not a violation of the laws of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. It is a violation of our obligation as human beings. That's a damn good reason to lose a job. Immediately.

In response to Scott's post, a commenter on the Simple Justice blog noted that "Mike McQueary was a graduate student back then. Had he done anything more, his entire career would have been over before it even started, and the coverup probably would have still happened. I do not think it is fair to have expected Mike to destroy himself like that."

Scott's reply: "Life is full of terrible and unfair choices."

2. Mark Esposito, Guest Blogger at "Penn State: What Did They Know and When Did They Know it"

Esposito explores Sandusky's sudden retirement in 1999, just one year after local authorities investigated Sandusky in 1998 for "inappropriate" conduct with a minor but the DA declined to prosecute him. Joe Paterno has claimed ignorance of the 1998 investigation but Esposito asks whether that is really plausible:

Is State College immune from the marriage that all authority figures have for one another in most every other small town. You know like when the police chief and the high school football coach meet over coffee to discuss who's handling security for Friday's game and whether that trouble-making Jones kid will be there. ...

Put those little facts together with the fact that Paterno did not attend Sandusky’s retirement party, and was rarely seen outside of the football facility with Sandusky, and you might wonder what happened to the relationship after 1998. You might wonder why Sandusky quit applying for head coaching jobs. You might even conclude that Coach Paterno nudged his former right-hand man out of his position at age 55, and refused to recommend him for any job at the head of another football program. ...

3. Michael P. Maslanka, Work Matters: "Penn State lessons: investigations into alleged employee misconduct"

Maslanka, a labor and employment lawyer, says the Penn State matter offers several lessons on how to handle investigations into alleged employee misconduct, including:

  • "Train managers who receive complaints of misconduct to actually listen to the employee's concern. Too often a manager will argue with the employee. For example, 'I have known Pete for 20 years and go to church with him. He would not sexually harrass anyone.' The manager needs to declare a mental time-out: Do not dispute the information, but receive it. ..."
  • "... Engage in a technique called 'prospective hindsight.' This technique uses the power of a question, where the decision-makers ask themselves: 'Let's pretend it is two years from now. Our decision to do XYZ comes to light. How will we respond to arguments that we should have done ABC instead?'"
  • "A lawyer or counselor needs to look around the room of execs and say, 'From this point forward we will be judged by what we do now.'"

4. John Scalzi, Whatever: "Omelas State University"

This is not from a legal blog (Scalzi is a science fiction writer) but it is too good to leave out. Scalzi writes:

You know, there’s a part of me who looks at the actions of each of non-raping grown men in the "Pennsylvania State University small-child-allegedly-being-raped-by-a-grown-man-who-is-part-of-the-football-hierarchy" scandal and can understand why those men could rationalize a) not immediately acting in the interests of a small child being raped, b) not immediately going to the police, c) doing only the minimum legal requirements in the situation, d) acting to keep from exposing their organization to a scandal. But here's the thing: that part of me? The part that understands these actions? That part of me is a f*cking coward. And so by their actions -- and by their inactions -- were these men.

He also adds an interesting observation from his world of science fiction:

I'm a science fiction writer, and one of the great stories of science fiction is "The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas," which was written by Ursula K. Le Guin. The story posits a fantastic utopian city, where everything is beautiful, with one catch: In order for all this comfort and beauty to exist, one child must be kept in filth and misery. Every citizen of Omelas, when they come of age, is told about that one blameless child being put through hell. And they have a choice: Accept that is the price for their perfect lives in Omelas, or walk away from that paradise, into uncertainty and possibly chaos.

At Pennsylvania State University, a grown man found a blameless child being put through hell. Other grown men learned of it. Each of them had to make their choice, and decide, fundamentally, whether the continuation of their utopia -- or at very least the illusion of their utopia -- was worth the pain and suffering of that one child. Through their actions, and their inactions, we know the choice they made.

November 14, 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'm being chased by the police. It is dark and I think I see the perfect hiding place under a piles of leaves. That will work, right?

Answer: Yes, unless the police are equipped with thermal imaging. (UPI, Police use thermal imaging to find suspect hiding in leaf pile)

2) Question: I'm at a convenience store and some dude just ran naked through the parking lot, tried to steal a police car, beat a police officer and police dog and then got "Tased" three times before the police were able to subdue him. What is going on?!

Answer: Sometimes people get very upset when they get kicked off of the school basketball team. (The Fresno BeeFresno Pacific athlete is held in naked rampage) (via Legal Juice)

3) Question: A girl I dated for a couple weeks impregnated herself -- without my knowledge--using sperm from a used condom that I discarded after sex. Now the child has been born and I just got a letter from the U.K.'s Child Support Agency asking me to contribute money for the child's upbringing. Do I need to pay?

Answer: It looks like the U.K. courts may believe that if you are the biological father, then you must take responsibility. (Daily MailDads by deception)

November 14, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0)

November 11, 2011

The 'RT Taxonomy': Creating Different Flavors of Retweets

There is an old legend that, due to the fact that they spend most of their lives looking at snow, Eskimos have dozens of words for it. (It turns out this may not even be true but please just work with me here). By the same logic, it would make sense that in the year 2011, people who spend way too much time on Twitter should have more than one way to "retweet" something.

As most of you know, Twitter users retweet a post written by someone else by adding the letters "RT" as a prefix to that post and redistributing it to the world. Let's look at some recent retweets of mine, for example:

RT @TPM_dk GOPer who tweeted that women should be "a whore in the bedroom" apologizes "for any offense I may have caused"

I retweeted this not because I agreed, disagreed or endorsed the original tweet. In this instance I retweeted the tweet because I thought it was funny.  

Here is an example of something I retweeted because I thought it was interesting:

RT @dianabhenriques Today will be Bernie Madoff's 850th day in prison. 54,750 more to go. #Madoff #Ponzi

Here is one that I retweeted because I agreed with David Lat and wanted to express the same thought:

RT @DavidLat congratulates new WSJ Law Blog writer, @Joe_Palazzolo, & wishes @NathanKoppel & @JonesAshby good luck w/their new beats.

And finally, here is one that I retweeted out of vanity:

RT @@ECLegal @brucecarton Congrats! You made our list of the October 2011 Top 50 Lawyers to Follow on Twitter…

The point here is that people have numerous reasons for retweeting other people's posts, and these reasons may not be readily apparent from the underlying post and the letters "RT." To address this, Antonin Pribetic offered up the following "RT taxonomy" in a tweet last night:

RT+ (agree)
RT- (disagree)
RT= (indifferent)
RT? (confusing)
RT± (undecided)
RT☀ (interesting)
RT! (check this out!)

I like this idea a lot and it seems like something that could catch on. My only quibble with Pribetic's taxonomy is that I have no idea how to create the sun or fried egg or whatever that "interesting" symbol is, but I assume the rest of you do. 

In a post today on the Slaw blog, Dan Pinnington ran with Pribetic's taxonomy, and added a few of his own, such as :

RT~ (original tweet was edited)
RT:) (a happy tweet)
RT:( (a sad tweet)

To this running list I would add a few more:

RT;) (sarcasm)
RT:o (unbelievable)
RTv (vanity/self-promotion)

Do you like the idea of having these different flavors of retweets? If so, what else belongs on this list? 

November 11, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (6)

November 10, 2011

Service Dog Law Watch: Are There Any Limits?

In the last two weeks I've seen a flurry of stories about service dogs. Usually they are about businesses that get themselves into trouble by refusing to serve or admit customers who have service dogs with them. But sometimes the stories are about businesses that allow the dogs to come in, only to aggravate other customers.

In late October, CBC News reported the story of Emily Ainsworth, an autistic nine-year-old girl who was asked to leave a store called Winners back in July because she was accompanied by her service dog, Levi. Emily's mother spoke to the store manager, who was very apologetic and upset about the incident. The store later sent Emily a letter formally apologizing to the family, and included a $25 gift card for Emily featuring a puppy on the cover.

On Sunday, Oct. 23, Emily, Levi and her mother visited Winners to use Emily's gift card and -- wait for it -- "were told by store staff that Levi, whose harness identifies him as a service dog, was not allowed into the store." D'oh!! After her daughter was kicked out of the store for the second time for having a service dog, Ms. Ainsworth filed a complaint with police and the Alberta Human Rights Commission. She says she wants the store to actually educate its store associates this time. Winners says allowing service animals in stores is "standard policy" and that it will look into what happened and reach out to the Ainsworths directly.

Next up we have the law firm of Larkin Axelrod Ingrassia and Tetenbaum, which managed to get itself sued over a service dog issue by the Civil Rights Unit of the U.S. Attorney's office for the Southern District of New York. On Tuesday of this week, Reuters reports, prosecutors filed a lawsuit alleging that the firm refused to meet with a disabled client who was "accompanied by a service dog trained to assist her with day-to-day tasks."

Specifically, prosecutors allege, the law firm refused to allow one of its own clients, Lauren Klejmont, into its office in 2009 because she was accompanied by her service dog, a German Shepherd named Reicha. Then in January 2010, prosecutors allege, Klejmont was asked to visit the firm to sign documents but was told to "either leave her dog at home or meet with the attorney in the parking lot while the dog stayed in the car."

As reported by the New York Law Journal, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara stated that it was particularly disturbing to him that "a law firm and a partner in the firm would so flagrantly violate such a clear and well-established law, as was alleged in this case." He added that "of all people, lawyers should know better." According to The Associated Press, the law firm has stated that it "arranged to accommodate the dog after the first incident" but that "the lawyer in the second incident acted on his own and violated policy."

On the flip side of today's Service Dog Law Watch, there is a report today on Consumerist from a person who was surprised to see a very large, 80-pound dog sitting in a booth (with his paws on the table) near him and his wife at Outback Steakhouse. The man was put off by the dog, and told the manager he was no longer hungry. The manager explained that the person with the dog had been to the restaurant on one other occasion, and that the dog helped its owner with "some kind of impulse disorder." The manager also promised that after the dog left, the restaurant "completely sterilized the booth."

The surprised customer wondered if there was any definitive criteria for what qualifies as a "service animal." An "impulse control dog?" he wrote. "What's next, a dog that helps people who have ADHD?" He also wondered if there were any health restrictions on service animals -- are they really allowed to sit right in the booth with their paws on the table or are they supposed to stay on the floor?

Does anyone know the answers to these questions? 

November 10, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (8)

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 see that an Australian escort agency is offering the virginity of a 19-year-old girl for $15,400. Is this legal?

Answer: According to Brothel Busters, there is no law in Australia to stop an escort service from profiting from someone's virginity. (Daily TelegraphAussie Escort Agency Causes Outrage Offering Teen Girl's Virginity for Sale)

2) Question: A local casino has a glass display case that contains what is clearly real money and advertises a $250,000 giveaway. My buddies and I could not resist this and devised a plan that included shooting at the case with AK-47s and ultimately wrapping a chain around the case, connecting it to a sports utility vehicle and yanking it out of the casino. But despite the ad, it really only contained less than $3,000! We ditched the SUV and the measly $3,000 and ran, but now the cops are after us. Isn't this false advertising? Aren't we the real victims here?!

Answer: No and no. (10 News, 4 Armed Men Shoot Display Case, Take Cash At Barona Casino) (via Jonathan Turley)

3) Question: Why is there an odd sticker on my grandfather's gravesite? 

Answer: Did your grandfather lease his burial site? Some cemeteries have begun placing stickers on thousands of burial sites with lapsed leases as a warning to relatives that their ancestors face possible "eviction." (, Stickering campaign in cemetery to warn relatives of possible eviction)

November 10, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (1)

November 09, 2011

'Jailbait'? 'Third Degree'? New Book Tracks Down Origins of Common Legal Phrases

Via a post on The Faculty Lounge I came across an interesting new book called "Lawtalk: The Stories Behind Familiar Legal Expressions." The authors of the book are James E. Clapp, Elizabeth G. Thornburg, Marc Galanter and Fred R. Shapiro. As described on Amazon, 

Law-related words and phrases abound in our everyday language, often without our being aware of their origins or their particular legal significance: boilerplatejailbaitpound of fleshrainmakerthe third degree. This insightful and entertaining book reveals the unknown stories behind familiar legal expressions that come from sources as diverse as Shakespeare, vaudeville, and Dr. Seuss. ...

Skimming the Table of Contents, I selected several phrases to learn their origins, including:

  • "Affirmative action": First used in President Kennedy's Executive Order 10925 in 1961, which requires federal contractors to "take affirmative action to ensure that applicants are employed, and that employees are treated during employment, without regard to their race, creed, color, or national origin." "Lawtalk" credits the phrase to Houston businessman Hobart Taylor Jr., who drafted the executive order. Taylor says he chose the phrase "affirmative action" over alternatives such as "positive action" because "it was alliterative."
  • "One bite at the apple": This expression was originally stated as "one bite at the cherry," which made sense because a cherry is small and eaten in one bite. However, in the 20th century, the word "cherry" took on the additional meaning of "hymen" or "virgin." According to Bryan Garner's Dictionary of Modern Legal Usage, the phrase appears to have gradually changed to "one bite of the apple" because its users were embarrassed by the new double-entendre. As "Lawtalk" notes, however, this substitution was somewhat unfortunate because the switch was from an image that made sense to one that did not, since "usually you get lots of bites at an apple."
  • "Hearsay": This term originated in a 16th century textbook on French language that included English translations. In one of the discussions, a cleric is trying to explain the properties of earth, water, air and fire, but admits this is not his area of expertise. He stated French words meaning "I know nothing about it except by hearing it said," which was translated in the book as "I knowe nothying of it but by here say." The phrase "by hear say" gradually began to appear in English writings, eventually as a single word: "hearsay."

The book seems like an interesting resource for lawyers interested in the origins of some of the phrases that they utter on a daily basis. Check it out here.

November 9, 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: I saw your post about the recent craziness in Zanesville, Ohio, where law enforcement had to shoot and kill nearly 30 lions, bears, tigers, cheetahs and wolves that escaped from a wild animal preserve. I'm in Zanesville and I'd like to bring home one of those lion carcasses and maybe have it stuffed. Is this a "finder's keepers" situation?

Answer: No, those dead lions still belong to someone other than you. If you try to take one home, you can expect to be charged with a misdemeanor count of theft. (FOX News, Five Arrested for Trying to Steal Lion Carcass in Ohio)

2) Question: Thanks for answering my recent question about the guy who showed up at my front door with a black doctor's bag offering "free breast exams." Now there is a van driving around my neighborhood offering free "mobile mammography." Is this also a scam?

Answer: No, this one looks legit. (Orlando SentinelMobile mammography unit will help uninsured women in cancer fight)

3) Question: I have been following your series of posts about Things You Can't Do on a Plane. What about viewing pornography -- can you do that on a plane? 

Answer: Not quite yet, but soon you may be able to do so on Ryanair airline. (Daily MailTurning Ryanair blue: Boss of budget airline plans to screen in-flight pornography)

November 9, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0)

November 08, 2011

Tobacco Companies Win Injunction Blocking New Mandatory (and Gnarly) Cigarette Warning Labels

Since November 2010 I've been following here and here the effort of the Food and Drug Administration to require nine new and quite graphic warning labels on cigarette packs and advertisements. As I previously summarized,

The graphic images include corpses with their chest sewed up, smokers with smoke coming out of a hole in their throatdisgusting-looking lungs that are yellow and diseased from smoking, a close-up of someone with mouth cancer, a suffering baby, and so on. If the purpose of the new warning labels is to convey the message that smoking is dangerous and gnarly, then mission accomplished.

The FDA's campaign is the result of "The Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act," which requires larger and more visible graphic health warnings on cigarette packages and ads. The law will go into effect beginning September 2012.

In August 2011, however, four of the five largest U.S. tobacco companies filed a lawsuit against the federal government claiming that requiring the gnarly warnings to accompany their product will violate their free speech rights, cost millions of dollars to print, and require them to feature anti-smoking advocacy more prominently than their own brands. The tobacco companies' lawsuit asked the court to prohibit the FDA from mandating the labels.

On Monday, Nedra Pickler of The Associated Press reports, U.S. District Judge Richard Leon granted the tobacco companies' request for an injunction that will prevent the FDA from requiring the warnings. Leon ruled that it is likely that the tobacco companies will prevail in their lawsuit, and issued the injunction pending the resolution of the case. In his opinion, the judge wrote that the graphic images were "calculated to provoke the viewer to quit, or never to start smoking -- an objective wholly apart from disseminating purely factual and uncontroversial information."

The AP reports that the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids has now urged the Obama administration to appeal the ruling.

November 8, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (1)

November 07, 2011

Parents Buy Chickenpox-Laced Lollipops, Have Kids Attend 'Pox Parties' to Avoid Vaccines

It looks like the kind of story that would be quickly debunked by a search on Snopes, but as the message is being delivered by Jerry Martin, U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Tennessee, I'm going to assume that it is legitimate. In short, parents who don't want to get their children vaccinated for chickenpox are paying strangers to mail them lollipops supposedly licked by people who have chickenpox. These parents then give the chickenpox-laced lollipop to their children to lick and hopefully contract the virus. The idea is that after suffering through having this self-inflicted chickenpox, the kids will then have immunity without needing the vaccine. Wonderful!

The Associated Press reported Martin's comments about people who are connecting in Facebook groups to buy and sell these lollipops or sometimes even just spit. In one Facebook post noted by the AP, for example, a Nashville woman reportedly offered a "fresh batch of pox in Nashville shipping of suckers, spit and Q-tips available tomorrow 50 dollars via PayPal." Martin stated that it is a federal crime to send diseases or viruses across state lines, and that perpetrators face up to 20 years in prison.

Legalities aside, doctors say that the chickenpox-lollipop idea is a terrible one. William Schaffner, MD, president of the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases and chair of the department of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt University, told WebMD that "there is nothing good to be said about this. It is a totally misinformed concept." Here are a few of the reasons:

  • Although it is theoretically possible, it is unlikely to achieve the goal of transmitting chickenpox. Schaffner explains that "chickenpox is not spread through oral secretions but by the respiratory route. You have to inhale this virus for it to be successful. It’s spread through sneezing or couching or just breathing out the virus."
  • On the other hand, there will definitely be other germs, bacteria and perhaps viruses on the used lollipop. So the child being given the used chickenpox lollipop may be receiving something else, such as a staph infection or hepatitis.
  • Even if this scheme succeeds in getting a child sick with chickenpox, Schaffner says there may be "worst-case" consequences such as chickenpox encephalitis and chickenpox pneumonia that can leave a child semi-comatose. 

Beyond the lollipop idea, the AP reports that parents are also taking their kids to "Pox Parties" that hook kids with chickenpox up with those who do not. There is even a Facebook group called "Find a Pox Party in Your Area."

November 7, 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: My bank does not sell money orders. Believe me, I'm as surprised and completely outraged as you are, and I expressed my displeasure by urinating in the tube that the bank uses in its drive-through. Can I get in trouble for this?

Answer: If they find you, you may be looking at a second-degree misdemeanor charge. (WFTV, Customer reportedly urinates in drive-through bank tube) (via Legal Juice)

2) Question: My co-workers at the strip club foolishly offered to perform sex acts on undercover policemen for $250, and got themselves charged with prostitution. I also offered to perform sex acts on the undercover policemen but all I asked for in exchange was a beer. Does that count as prostitution, too?

Answer: Sorry, but yes. (The Sun NewsThree women face prostitution charges in Myrtle Beach area police sting)

3) Question: Yes, I told the judge that he was in "contempt of law" but I was admitted to the bar in 1990, when the ethics rules required "zealous advocacy." Aren't I "grandfathered" in under the old ethics rules? 

Answer: Apparently it does not work that way. (ABA Journal, Lawyer Who Argued He Was 'Grandfathered In' Under Old Ethics Rules Loses Contempt Appeal)

November 7, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0)

November 04, 2011

Government Responses to Bullying Based on Sexuality Go Haywire

Bullying has been under increased scrutiny in recent years, and schools and lawmakers have tried to take on the issue with rules, guidance and even new laws to protect people who are being bullied. Judging by some recent developments both in the U.S. and in the U.K., it appears that these efforts may be missing the mark in the area of protecting gay and lesbian kids who are being bullied.

The London Evening Standard reports that In the U.K., a recent report on bullying in schools in Essex shows that "schoolchildren bullied over their sexuality are being advised by teachers to act 'less gay' or to wear their hair differently. The National Union of Teachers quickly condemned the "act less gay" advice as "inappropriate" and an Essex County Council spokesperson said the council "hope[d] all teachers are sensible in giving the right advice to pupils."

Meanwhile, here in the U.S., an an anti-bullying bill was passed by the Michigan state Senate after being tweaked by Senate Republicans to add a clause that affirmatively allows bullying based on "moral convictions." TPM Muckraker reports that SB 137, also called "Matt's Safe School Law" now includes language stating that the bill does not prohibit First Amendment rights, and "does not prohibit a statement of a sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction of a school employee, school volunteer, pupil, or a pupil's parent or guardian." The bill, named after Matt Eppling, who committed suicide in 2002 after being bullied, will now go to the state House.

Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer (D) called the bill a "blueprint for bullying" in a floor speech. Kevin Eppling, Matt Eppling's father, said the bill would have the twisted effect of putting kids in greater danger. "I am ashamed that this could be Michigan's bill on anti-bullying when in fact it is a 'bullying is OK in Michigan law,'" he said.

November 4, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (8)

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 president of the local police union. Our guys have come up with a t-shirt that we can sell to raise money that says, "U Raise 'Em, We Cage 'Em." Hilarious! How many do you think we should order? 


Answer: If you are smart, zero. (Sacramento BeeTwin Rivers Police Association stops sales of controversial T-shirts)

2) Question: I do not have the money to pay the airline's checked-bag fee for my flight home. Long story short, I have now been stuck living in the corridors of the San Francisco airport for 8 days. How can I ever get out of here?

Answer: Try visiting the Airport Church of Christ at the San Francisco airport. The congregation there may be able to donate some money to cover those fees. (Consumerist, Passenger Lives In Airport For 8 Days Instead Of Paying Bag Fees)

3) Question: Our museum has been entrusted with a masterpiece by the late artist Martin Kippenberger. It is his work titled "When It Starts Dripping From the Ceiling," in which he created a "tower of wooden slats under which a rubber trough was placed with a thin beige layer of paint representing dried rain water." Are there any special security measures we should take?

Answer: Make sure someone explains to the cleaning crew that the thin beige layer of paint representing dried rain water is not an actual stain and is not to be scrubbed clean. (AFP, $1.1M German museum piece falls victim to cleaning lady)

November 4, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0)

November 03, 2011

Lawyers Should Think Twice Before 'Friending' Reporters on Facebook

You are a partner in a law firm. You are trying to develop relationships with people in the media to promote yourself and your firm, and you make the acquaintance of a reporter. Now the reporter is seeking to connect with you on social media -- let's say LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook. Should you connect in this way?

LinkedIn seems like a no-brainer "yes." That is exactly what LinkedIn is for -- solidifying professional connections online. Twitter is not even a real question, as anyone can follow anyone. But what about Facebook?

On the Slaw blog, legal marketer Susan Van Dyke offers a reminder that "friending" a reporter on Facebook can lead to trouble. She writes that a reporter writing about one of her law partner clients was not satisfied with the photograph provided by the lawyer's publicist, and "decided to hunt for more interesting photos." It turned out that the reporter was among the "distant" friends of the law partner on Facebook, and went through his Facebook photos to find a more interesting photo.

Happily, the photo selected was not embarrassing to the partner, but the episode serves as an important reminder that each and every photo on your Facebook page may be available to those that you deem to be your "friends." So choose your friends wisely.

Van Dyke offers five "essential Facebook tips" in her post, including limiting your Facebook friends and redirecting reporters to social media sites such as Twitter, and double-checking your Facebook security settings. You can read all of her tips here.

November 3, 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 an 83-year-old man running for city council. Do you think that my arrest this week on charges of prostitution will help or hurt my candidacy? I mean, sure, it is a crime but I am still GETTING IT DONE at age 83. W00t!!

Answer: I'm going to need some more details on your prostitution gig. Until then, I say it is a net negative for your campaign. (Heartland Connection, 83 year-old Centerville man arrested for prostitution)

2) Question: I am fed up with one of my old buddies. I think the time has come to "unfriend" her on Facebook. I'm new to this -- is there any real downside or consequence if you unfriend someone?

Answer: Possibilities certainly include some hurt feelings and awkwardness. Plus, your ex-buddy might then try to burn your house down while you and your family are sleeping in it. (Des Moines RegisterFacebook figures in Des Moines arson case)

3) Question: Our early-morning train is scheduled to arrive in five minutes but the station doors are locked and no employees are anywhere in sight. Will Amtrak care if we just break the door down to catch our train?

Answer: No problem, just bash the door in if no employees are there with a key. Amtrak is cool with that. (Consumerist, Locked-Out Commuters Break Down Door Of Amtrak Station To Catch Train)

November 3, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (1)

November 02, 2011

Austin, Texas Considers Deputizing Smartphone Owners for Parking Enforcement

The city of Austin, Texas is considering the implementation of program called "Parking Mobility" that seems like a surefire way for some do-gooder citizen to get his or her butt kicked.

According to, the Austin city council unanimously voted on Oct. 20 "to explore the concept of deputizing vigilante meter maids using an iPhone app." The plan would allow anyone with an Android, Blackberry or iPhone to download a "parking ticket app." If they see a vehicle that is parked in a handicapped parking spot, the "deputy" would then take three photographs (of the license plate; the windshield; and the car in the handicapped parking sign). The software from Parking Mobility then transmits the photos and the GPS location to the city so it can issue a ticket. says that the city council meeting was attended by disabled advocates trying to guarantee easier parking and "others who were just interested in writing the $511 tickets." Some attendees even asked if the city would provide them with smartphones so they could start community-policing the handicapped spots. The council has reportedly asked the city manager to report back on the feasibility of the program within ninety days.

Parking Mobility's website notes that as an additional incentive for neighbors to rat each other out, "when the city collects the fine, your favorite charity receives 20% of the fine!"

On the subject of the potential beatdown that might be given to a person caught in the act of taking the three photos, Parking Mobility has a "Personal Safety" section on its website that states:

For your safety, we have designed Parking Mobility to minimize the amount of time you need to be around the vehicle parked illegally. The less time you’re around the vehicle, the less likely you may be confronted by the owner. ...

If you are confronted by someone while taking the 3 photos, we strongly encourage you to simply walk (or roll!) away. Again, no violation is worth putting yourself in harm's way. But also remember that taking photos of an illegally parked vehicle is a legal activity -- you have done absolutely nothing wrong.

Check out Parking Mobility's "How it Works" video here:

November 2, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (5)

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 on probation with a 9:00 p.m. curfew. It is after 9:00 p.m. and the manager at my halfway house has authorized me to go to the store -- is it a violation of my probation if I stop to have sex in the back of my car on the way to the store?

Answer: Sorry, but yes. (TCPalm, Woman in PSL accused of violating probation to have sex)

2) Question: I got busted by NBC's "To Catch A Predator." As you can imagine, that caused me significant emotional distress. Can I sue the network?

Answer: Of course. (Hollywood, Esq., NBC Must Defend Conduct in 'To Catch A Predator' Lawsuit Says Judge)

3) Question: We just learned that our daughter was accidentally switched at birth with another baby at the hospital 12 years ago. It turns out that a maternity nurse mixed up their wrist tags at birth. Neither of the girls wants to leave the families that raised them. Now what?

Answer: Tough one. One option is to get a settlement from the hospital and then build a large new house so that both families can live under one roof. (CBS News, Russian swapped-at-birth families awarded $100K)


November 2, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0)

November 01, 2011

Pondering the 'Former Lawyer Selling Marketing Advice'

This post is going to be about legal marketing. But first let's talk about Drew Manning, a fitness trainer in Salt Lake City, Utah. Drew worked to stay in incredible physical shape his whole life -- until May 2011. That was when he decided to spend six months doing the exact opposite: eating unhealthy food and not exercising at all, with the goal of getting completely out of shape. So far, his plan is "succeeding," as he has gained more than 75 pounds of fat. Check out the results so far (he has since pushed to 269 pounds):


On Nov. 5, 2011, when the six months is up, Drew says he will then spend the next six months getting fit again. Beginning on that date, he will carefully document everything in his healthy diet plan and his specific exercise regimen so that he can show others who want to get in shape along with him exactly what to do.

Drew's "Fit2Fat2Fit" experiment has captured the attention of millions of people, and has landed him on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno, on the homepage of Yahoo and elsewhere. I think there are two reasons for this interest. First, of course, is the train-wreck nature of his massive weight gain. The intentional transformation above is simply jarring and may be unprecedented (with the exception of a couple of actors like Robert DeNiro and Tom Hanks, who I recall piled on weight for movie roles).

Second, and even more interesting to me, Drew seems to have drawn the attention of thousands of people who are eagerly counting down the days until Nov. 5 so that they can follow Drew's diet and exercise plan and join him in the journey back to "fit." In a world that is choked with thousands of different diets and workout plans, why has Drew attracted such interest in what he is about to do?

I suspect that is because people, myself included, have little doubt that Drew is going to succeed in getting back in top shape, and will in short order look just like he does in the May 2011 photo. Why do I think that? Because he has already proven that he knows exactly how to achieve his desired fitness results, and has successfully done so for himself in the past. 

Back to legal marketing. For a while now, Brian Tannebaum has argued on his My Law License blog that practicing lawyers must be skeptical of the "former lawyer selling marketing advice." Why, Tannebaum asks, are these lawyers even in the business of selling marketing advice? "Is it because they made a fortune in the practice of law and now want to cash in on the 'secrets' to making money as a lawyer?" He thinks not.

In short, Tannebaum says that lawyers who want legal marketing advice "should only pay real marketing professionals - not lawyers." He argues that most lawyers selling marketing advice have no track record of success as lawyers, and therefore have no business selling marketing advice to lawyers. 

Tannebaum renewed his criticism on Twitter this weekend, when he saw that Niki Black had given the keynote speech at the LexisNexis 2011 Practice Management Annual Conference on Sept. 22, 2011. He wrote tweets, including:

  • "How does a non practicing lawyer keynote a practice management conference?..."
  • "I mean, if you were paying to learn about managing your practice, wouldn't you want to hear from someone who manages one? I guess not."

As a neutral observer of this debate, my take is that it is not completely black and white. Yes, I agree that it would be ideal to learn how to manage or market a law practice from someone who has successfully done just that for themselves in the past. That would be the Drew Manning of legal marketing -- someone who can show you the specific results they have achieved in their own practice and whose success leaves you reasonably confident that if you follow their guidance, you can achieve positive results in your own.  

But what about the lawyer-turned-legal marketer who has never successfully marketed a practice of their own?  Does that mean they do not know what they are doing or that their marketing advice will not work for lawyers? Maybe, but not necessarily. To further torture this legal marketer-personal trainer analogy, I once was trying to find a personal trainer and met with one who looked much more like the "after" photo above than the "before."  I was tempted to look for other options because I wondered if this meant that he could not bring his clients results. In that case, at least, I took a chance on the guy and learned that, despite his own appearance, he was quite knowledgeable and great at obtaining results for others.  

In short, even if you've never proved it on yourself, you may still be a completely legitimate provider of services. But you better find some other way to prove to the world that what you are selling actually works.

November 1, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (18)

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