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January 28, 2011

Document Ninja School: A New Program for a New Career Track

Over at Above the Law, Elie Mystal writes that recent events suggest we are seeing a new bifurcation of the attorney career path: traditional partnership-track associates and a new species of what he calls “barely legal” career paths.

This week, law firm WilmerHale announced that it is seeking 20 lawyers with the title of “discovery attorney" to do document review out of the firm's “business services center” in Dayton, Ohio. According to the firm, "discovery attorneys" will handle document reviews on a full-time basis, earning $55,000 to $60,000 a year, plus benefits.

It was also reported this week that Thomson Reuters is now looking to hire experienced contract attorneys to staff a new facility in Ann Arbor, Mich., by March 1.  The ABA Journal reports that the company is actively building multiple document review project teams for the document review facility.

Given the emergence of this new career track of "permanent document reviewer," Mystal asks a good question:

If we’re going to have two different “tracks” for attorneys, then shouldn’t we have two different tracks for legal education? Why require three years and charge six figures to train people for jobs that they have nearly no hope of getting?

Wouldn’t it be better if we had some of our law schools training the document professionals of the future? Put people in school for one year, give them courses on attorney-client privilege and some basic corporate and litigation principles, don’t make them sit for the bar, and let ‘em rip.

I like the idea, in theory. What Mystal refers to as “Document Ninja School” could be an intensive, one-year program that focuses solely on the skills and knowledge necessary to review documents for a living: privilege issues, e-discovery techniques, inadvertent disclosure rules, how to avoid carpal tunnel syndrome and so on. Arguably, graduates of DNS would be even more qualified to work in document review jobs than graduates of traditional law school programs because the focus of their studies would be specifically on serving in that role.

One question I have is whether there would be a sufficient number of applicants for DNS. All new law students seem to believe that they will graduate in the top 10 percent of their class and go on to fame and fortune. Is there a subset of potential lawyers who are willing to "aim low" and enroll in DNS as the first step in a permanent career reviewing documents for $60,000/year?

You tell me!

January 28, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (5)

Baby Name Law: Can You Name Your Child 'Toilet Queen'?

Just when you thought all of the good law review article topics had been snatched up, professor Carlton Larson of the UC Davis School of Law proves you wrong with his new article entitled, "Naming Baby: The Constitutional Dimensions of Parental Naming Rights." In the article, which Larson notes in this post on the PrawfsBlawg is still "currently on the adoption market and is seeking a loving home," he analyzes the extent to which the law can constitutionally regulate the ability of parents to name their children, particularly where "parents agree on their child’s proposed name, but the government nonetheless denies that name legal recognition."

Here are some of the areas regulated under various state laws:

  • Prohibition on Ideograms and Pictograms: A number of states "prohibit the use of ideograms or pictograms as part of the child’s name." That is to say, Prince's parents could not have named him using a symbol in certain states.
  • Prohibitions on Numerals: Several states prohibit the use of a numerical symbol. That means you can name your child "Eight" but not "8" (or "Seven Costanza" but not "7 Costanza"). And perhaps more relevant to today's parents, you can name your newborn “John William Turner III,” but not “John William Turner 3.” 
  • Length restrictions: Some states explicitly limit the length of names due to "technological limitations associated with its electronic data." In Massachusetts, for example, the full name is limited to a total of 40 characters. It is my dream that some day we will live in a world so technologically advanced that my children's children can have names of an unlimited number of characters.
  • Prohibitions on Diacritical Marks: In California, the Office of Vital Records handbook states that a name can only be made up of "the 26 alphabetical characters of the English language." That means no pictographs, ideograms, or diacritical marks” such as “é,” “ñ,” and “ç” are allowed. No way, José!

There are other issues to examine -- what about name choice? Is the right to name your child "“Dumb Motherf*cker” protected by the Constitution, Larson asks? What about other bizarre names handed down to children through the years, such as:

  • “Preserved Fish”
  • “Encyclopedia Britannia”
  • “States Rights”
  • "Emancipation Proclamation”
  • “Latrina”
  • “Trailing Arbutus Vines"
  • “Number 16 Bus Shelter”
  • “Toilet Queen”

Larson's paper dives into the suprisingly deep pool of baby name law to deliver what he believes is the "first law review article to address comprehensively the existing prohibitions on parental naming rights." Check out the full article here.

January 28, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (16)

The Law of Decoy Cameras in Restrooms

Via the Legal As She Spoke blog, I see that patrons of the bathroom in the Circle K convenience store in Yuba County, Calif., are not happy about a surveillance camera aimed straight at the toilet area.

Customers such as Robert Donaldson told CBS13 that they were shocked to emerge from the stall to see an electronic eye pointed right at them. Donaldson fears he will end up seeing his trip to the bathroom on YouTube someday. Circle K, however, says the camera is merely a decoy intended to curtail vandlism, and that it doesn’t record anything.

Is the camera violating privacy laws? According to Legal As She Spoke, if the camera was found to be "operable" while patrons used the restroom, this would constitute a crime under California law.  LASS adds that

the requisite intrusion could be found through the mere existence of the camera in the restroom if the camera had the capability of recording customers. The camera does not necessarily have to be functional or even plugged in. All the would-be plaintiffs have to prove is that it was possible for store employees to render the camera functional, thereby invading the privacy of anyone who used the restroom.

January 28, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (8)

All Eyes on Egypt

Amid accelerating anti-government protests in Egypt, described as the largest uprising there in three decades, The Associated Press reported Thursday that scores of demonstrators massed outside the downtown Cairo offices of the country's lawyers' union, considered one of the flashpoints of unrest. Elsewhere, The AP reported that lawyers conducted two small peaceful protests in the Mediterranean port city of Alexandria and the Nile Delta town of Toukh, north of Cairo.

According to The Washington Post, the protesters have so far been largely middle class: students, professors, lawyers and doctors. One man who spoke to the newspaper said that he went to law school only to learn he'd have to make endless payments to clerks just to have his cases heard.

Meanwhile, Wired has put together a cross-section of online resources, including Twitter hashtags and RSS feeds, for people who want to keep up with information about protests in Egypt and the Middle East. Among the resources: The New York Times' The Lede blog, which features an audio interview with Egyptian blogger Gigi Ibrahim, who spoke via Skype from a Cairo Internet cafe Thursday evening.

Reuters and other news outlets report that Internet access was shut down in Egypt shortly after midnight local time in anticipation of large demonstrations on Friday. PC World says that, although some countries routinely block access to specific websites, Egypt's action marks the first time a country has voluntarily severed its own Internet connection. (Noor Data Networks, the provider used by the Egyptian Stock Exchange, is reportedly unaffected by the outage.)

Previously, at least 80,000 people confirmed on a Facebook page that they would show up for the Friday protests. However, MSNBC reports that Egypt's elite special operations counterterrorism force, which is reportedly seen on the streets only rarely, took up positions early Friday in strategic locations in Cairo, including central Tahrir Square, the site of previous days' largest demonstrations.

Additional online resources for information on protests in Egypt include the Global Voices community of bloggers and live updates from The Guardian.

Written by managing editor Paula Martersteck.

January 28, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (1)

Law Schools Do the Shuffle in Crowdsourced Rankings

The Conglomerate recently crowdsourced U.S. law school rankings, prompting some 6,100 people to cast more than 300,000 votes. And now, the final results are in!

According to law professor Gordon Smith, the five law schools that came out on top are:

1. Yale

2. Stanford

3. Harvard

4. University of Chicago

5. University of Michigan-Ann Arbor

The entire list can be found here

Although some schools wound up with rankings similar to those generated by U.S. News & World Report, others suffered -- or enjoyed -- a much different fate, as noted by Above the Law, which points out that the TaxProf Blog's Paul Caron has created a chart of the schools with the largest differences in scores.

The best thing about the crowdsourced rankings is that it gives law school applicants a second opinion about their prospective schools. There have been long-standing rumors that schools manipulate their numbers to improve their U.S. News rankings. For example, I know of at least one school that is rumored to hire graduates to do research for low pay, and then goes on to claim that a higher percentage of its graduates is employed after graduation.

Guest blogger Ruth Carter is a law student in her final semester at Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law at Arizona State University.

January 28, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Medical Marijuana: The Cure for State Budget Woes?

In the last election, Arizona voters passed Proposition 203, which legalized medical marijuana for patients diagnosed with certain debilitating conditions. It appears that the law could also transform some forms of pot use into a significant revenue source for the state.

The new law requires physicians to write certifications for marijuana, rather than prescriptions. State law prohibits sales tax on prescription medications, according to -- but products that require a certification can be taxed just like "buying something off the shelf or over the counter," says Anthony Forschino, spokesperson for the Arizona Department of Revenue.  Every marijuana dispensary will be required to have a sales tax license.

Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne, who opposed Proposition 203, says he expects -- based on Colorado's experience with medical marijuana -- that a state tax on medical marijuana usage will generate at least $40 million per year in revenue for Arizona.  Some legislators who also opposed Prop 203 during the election are now said to support it, because it will benefit the state's budget, which has been severely slashed in recent years.

Guest blogger Ruth Carter is a law student in her final semester at Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law at Arizona State University.

January 28, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (4)

January 27, 2011

'Raging' Attorney Sentenced for Airport Melee

Former Los Angeles Deputy City Attorney Angela West pleaded no contest Tuesday to exhibiting a deadly weapon and battery on a peace officer, following a Christmas Eve ruckus at San Francisco International Airport, where authorities say they spotted the 50-year-old Harvard Law grad using a metal pole to smash merchandise, food containers and other items at a Peet's kiosk.

The San Francisco Chronicle's Crime Scene blog reports that, when officers at the airport tried to speak to West, she "raged" at them and began swinging the 3-foot pole, which she had taken from a janitor's cart.

The blog reports that a San Mateo County Superior Court judge sentenced West to two years but suspended it, giving her credit for time served.

Written by managing editor Paula Martersteck.

January 27, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (1)

Going to Chicago? Better Leave Your Audio Equipment at Home

A silkscreen artist's long-running opposition to Chicago restrictions on street sales of artwork has netted him a Class I felony charge.

Activist artist Chris Drew's campaign, and resulting legal situation, heated up on Dec. 2, 2009, when he hit the streets to sell his art. Drew was prepared to face a misdemeanor charge for civil disobedience and expected to go on to state his case in court. What he did not expect was that his audio-recording of his arrest would result in felony charges for violating the Illinois Eavesdropping Act. If convicted, he could be sentenced to 15 years in prison, according to The Huffington Post.

As it happens, Illinois is one of 12 states in the United States that has a "two-party consent" eavesdropping law, which requires consent from all parties before a conversation may be legally audio-recorded. Furthermore, Illinois is one of only three states that prohibit recording police conversations.

Illinois is currently prosecuting nine individuals, including Drew, for recording conversations with police. The ACLU is challenging the Illinois law on First Amendment grounds, arguing that there should be no expectation of privacy regarding public events.

Guest blogger Ruth Carter is a law student in her final semester at Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law at Arizona State University.

January 27, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (4)

Judge Required to Submit to Daily Sobriety Test

Maryland Judge W. Kennedy Boone III has a new ritual before taking the bench each day: He must submit to a blood-alcohol level.

The requirement stems from the 68-year-old judge's DUI guilty plea last year, following a collision in which another driver was injured. The judge, whose blood-alcohol level tested at more than twice the legal limit afterwards, was sentenced to three years' unsupervised probation and fined $1,000.

Boone is quoted in this Associated Press report as calling the sanctions against him "totally appropriate" and saying that he is "prepared to live by them." Still, one can't help but wonder what litigants' reaction would be if they learned that the judge hearing their case has this requirement hanging over his head. As one of my fellow law students said, "It's kinda weird."

Guest blogger Ruth Carter is a law student in her final semester at Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law at Arizona State University.

January 27, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (4)

January 25, 2011

Tuesday's Three Burning Legal Questions

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

1) Question: In his closing argument, opposing counsel just referred to my medical malpractice expert witness as a "$400,000 lounge singer." Outrageous! Can I get a new trial?

Answer: Nope! (The Legal Intelligencer, No New Trial Despite Lawyer's Closing Argument Gibe)

2) Question: My buddy and I were hanging out on a frozen lake, and a woman who was also out on the lake asked us to turn around while she urinated on the ice.  So we did, but she then threw a fish that hit me and followed that up by slapping my buddy in the face with another fish. We just called the cops. Now what will happen?

Answer: Sorry, I'm from Virginia and you kind of lost me at "hanging out on a frozen lake." But if you choose not to press charges, the case will likely be closed. (FOX 17, Police: Woman Assaults Men With Fish In Norton Shores)

3) Question: I was burglarizing a house with another guy. The homeowner caught us in the act, chased us with his car, and accidentally ran over and killed my co-burglar. Is that going to be a problem for me?

Answer: Very much so. You could be charged with felony murder because someone died while the felony crime of burglary was taking place. (The Palm Beach Post, Accomplice gets life sentence for burglar's death)

January 25, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Lawsuit to Examine Golf Course's Liability for Alligator Attack

In October 2009, a golfer at the Ocean Creek Golf Club on Fripp Island, S.C., reached down to pick up his ball on the course's 11th hole. The golfer, James Wiencek, had hit his ball “near, but not in” a large pond near the green. As he reached down, a 10-foot alligator "sprung from the brackish and dark water and attacked" Wiencek, biting and holding his right arm. The alligator then pulled Wiencek into the water, tearing off his right arm at the elbow.

Last week, Wiencek filed a lawsuit against the golf course's owners and operators alleging that his injury was the result of their negligence. The lawsuit alleges that defendants had "actual or constructive knowledge" of the presence of a large and aggressive alligator because neighbors had spotted the alligator on the course and alerted defendants. Accordingly, plaintiff alleges, the course breached its duty to (a) "secure the premises of the golf course and to warn its business invitees, including the Plaintiff, of the alligator’s aggressive presence, size, or aggressive behavior;" and (b) "make the golf course premises reasonably safe for the Plaintiff and to warn the Plaintiff of the presence of the large, dangerous, and aggressive alligator."

Wiencek also argues that the golf course is strictly liable because its construction "created an artificial habitat for alligators that did not exist prior to the construction of the golf course, and specifically, the pond near the 11th hole."

OnPoint News reports that the lawsuit may be a long shot because a Florida appeals court has previously held that "a property owner cannot be held liable for an attack by a wild animal that has not been 'reduced to possession,' but which exists in 'a state of nature.'”

January 25, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (5)

One Million Dollars Worth of Proof of the Value of Asking for What You Want

Via Consumerist I see that, unless things unravel for him before Feb. 2, comedian Craig Rowin has found perhaps the easiest way yet to become a millionaire: Make a funny video asking millionaires to give you 1 million dollars.

Rowin put together the following video asking Steven Spielberg, Lagy Gaga, and every other millionaire he could think of to "give me a million dollars." He even whispered to Willow Smith that she should "run into your parents' money room, find the money and send me a million dollars."

The video above and updates such as this video were humorous but, I suspect, not something that Rowin really believed would actually lead to him receiving a check. But that all changed, the New York Daily News reports, when Rowin received a call from a "mysterious moneyman named Benjamin" who has vowed to present him with a check for ... one million dollars! According to Rowin, Benjamin has promised to deliver the check during his show on Feb. 2 at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater in Manhattan.

Here is Rowin's celebratory video:

So stay tuned, or attend the show Feb. 2, to see if simply asking for it is, in fact, a viable method of becoming a millionaire.

January 25, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (2)

January 24, 2011

Is 'Swinging Baby' Video Anything to Cry About?

Nathan Thornburgh, a DadWagon reporter who also writes about Russia for Time magazine, last week pulled back the curtains to reveal the woman behind "Baby Yoga with Lena Fokina," a video-gone-viral that initially was widely regarded as a hoax and that was later pulled from YouTube, which deemed it too disturbing even for its seasoned, seen-it-all viewers.

In the DadWagon interview, Fokina explains the rationale for what Thornburgh describes as a "lariat-like twirling of a tiny infant" -- a practice that some online commenters have derided with terms such as "wacked" and "batsh*t crazy."

Asked one such commenter: "Is russian society so lax in protecting its children that they don't track down and prosecute this woman for child endangerment and neglect?" Instead, it seems that quite the opposite has occurred. In answer to Thornburgh's question as to whether Fokina has "had any legal problems" due to her practices, which she calls "dynamic gymnastics," Fokina says, "I never have. I love people."

Fokina's baby exercises apparently stem from the beliefs of one Igor Charkovsky, who has long espoused childbirth practices and child-rearing systems that, depending on whom you talk to, fall somewhere along the continuum between tough love and waterboarding. (In this undated photo, Charkovsky bears some physical resemblance to Brother Theodore, who rose to national fame on old episodes of the David Letterman show.)

Commentators on one website speculated that Fokina's practices would catch on among well-to-do, trend-conscious parents in some parts of the United States, like San Francisco's Noe Valley neighborhood. But given that San Francisco, in the name of children's welfare, recently moved to crack down on fast-food restaurants' free toy offers, would its Board of Supervisors really tolerate near-newborns being flung about like the Flying Wallendas?

Still, one legal issue could still bring Fokina's airborne babies down to earth or at least take the wind out of her business name. According to some reports, someone in South Korea has filed for patent protection for the term "baby yoga." And as we've seen in recent years, the yoga community is no downward-facing dog when it comes to taking on fierce IP battles.

Written by managing editor Paula Martersteck.

January 24, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Who Owns Student-Created Intellectual Property?

When teens select a college, they have historically considered factors like the school's cost, academic programs, location and climate. Now it seems they should consider whether a school will claim an ownership right if the students create a new invention while attending the school. That's what happened to University of Missouri student Tony Brown, after he and three fellow students created NearBuy, an iPhone application intended to help track local apartment rentals.

According to Yahoo News, the university initially demanded 25 percent ownership and two-thirds of the profits from the app, which has been downloaded more than 250,000 times. The university has since revised its policy to state that it will not claim an ownership interest in inventions created for school contests, by extracurricular clubs, or as the result of an individual's initiative. However, if a student invention was created under a professor's supervision or with the use of school resources or grant money, then the school can assert the same ownership right as it does for faculty inventions.

Universities tend to have more established policies regarding inventions created by their professors; however, school policies related to student inventions may still be lagging behind social changes and the general pace of technology. Given that student inventions have the same potential for success as faculty inventions, it is foreseeable that other universities could also rewrite their policies to state that they own everything created by a student that involves the use of any university-provided resources (i.e., Internet access, dormitory rooms, etc.). Students in this position would be forced to surrender some or all of the control of their products and profits. A school with such a policy might also be able to claim ownership rights in student copyrights for any literary or artistic works that they create and even the profits from advertisements that run on students' blogs.

Thankfully, some universities see value in promoting entrepreneurship and restrain themselves from laying claim to student inventions. Carnegie Mellon University and Pittsburgh and Yale University are among the schools that encourage students to create new inventions and launch businesses by providing incubator space and faculty guidance for their endeavors, which saw the formation of dozens of new businesses and millions of dollars raised in startup capital.

Guest blogger Ruth Carter is a law student in her final semester at Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law at Arizona State University.

January 24, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (4)

A Different Kind of Legal Exposure

Ohio lawyer Thomas Walkley has been charged with public indecency after allegedly exposing himself to two 19-year-old men, who, after being arrested for underage drinking, were due to perform community service at a cafe that Walkley founded, which advertises itself as a "Christian outreach center for at-risk teens."

After the encounter with the young men, Walkley claimed he had dropped his pants as part of a mentoring program that he developed to assist "at-risk boys" and that the act had an educational, not sexual, purpose.

This explanation leads one to wonder just what the educational purpose was: a long-overdue birds-and-the-bees talk? An anatomy lesson?

Further, Walkley allegedly admitted to his action, claiming his behavior was permissible because everyone present was over age 18 and because "radical times call for radical measures."

The last time I checked, indecent exposure didn't have any age restrictions.

Guest blogger Ruth Carter is a law student in her final semester at Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law at Arizona State University.

January 24, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0)

January 21, 2011

Friday's Three Burning Legal Questions

1) Question: I'm about to sign a $126 million deal to play baseball with a Major League team. Can I throw into the contract that I shall be entitled to wear jersey No. 28 forevermore?

Answer: No problem! (ESPN, Players show they have a little creativity)

2) Question: I just received three completely separate speeding tickets in a span of 70 minutes. Is this a record?

Answer: Sorry, but a woman in Sheffield Village, Ohio recently accomplished that feat in just 63 minutes. (Fox 8 News, Slow Down: Woman Ticketed 3 Times in 1 Hour) (via Legal Juice)

3) Question: I'm 7 years old. I just threw my ball and accidentally hit a man's car. Why is he handing me a piece of paper?

Answer: Sometimes when children hit a policeman's personal vehicle with a ball, they are charged with criminal mischief in the third degree. (Turley, Louisville Police Officer Suspended After Giving Seven-Year-Old Boy Ticket For Hitting His Personal Car With a Ball)

January 21, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Judge Carton Rules: Fountain-Falling Text Lady vs. Mall Workers

Welcome back to Judge Carton Rules, where a fake judge issues rulings to spare the parties to cases in which the outcomes are obvious the time and expense of further litigation. There is just one case on today's docket. We'll hear now from counsel for the the plaintiff:

PLAINTIFF'S COUNSEL: Thank you, your honor. Jackie Chiles on behalf of the plaintiff. My client was walking through a mall while texting a friend about a birthday party and, long story short, she walked directly into a fountain. Not the concrete surround of the fountain, mind you. My client walked straight into the fountain wall and fell head first, fully clothed, into the water.

She quickly hopped out of the fountain and went on her way, but that was not the end of her ordeal, your honor. You will not believe this, judge, but during the five seconds that she was in the fountain, no one came to her aid. That's outrageous, egregious, preposterous. And I question the wisdom of placing a body of water inside a mall in the first place -- that is an accident just waiting to happen!

Also, now a video of her falling into the fountain has somehow emerged and gone viral on the Internet, causing her humiliation.


JUDGE CARTON: It is impossible to tell who the person falling into the fountain is from this video. How was your client humiliated by this video?

PLAINTIFF'S COUNSEL: Your honor, my client says that members of her church were able to recognize her in the video from "the way she walks."

JUDGE CARTON: Case dismissed.

January 21, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Introducing the MILF Law Firm

In the country of Oman, the Mohammed Ibrahim law firm has, since 2006, represented clients in a wide range of fields. The firm's website notes that it helps clients with international laws and has "tried to overcome language barrier in the present day commercial world which is gearing towards Globalization."

One language barrier that the firm has arguably not overcome is the language of "U.S. slang." Consider the acronym that the firm has chosen for itself:

And here is the firm's English language business card (via Tosh.0):


January 21, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (7)

Grocery Stores Use Amazing Surveillance Videos to Fight Against Bogus 'Slip and Falls'

What kind of people get up in the morning and decide to go to a supermarket, throw food or liquid on the floor and then pretend to slip, fall and fake-injure themselves in the mess they just made?

A lot of people, apparently. According to CBS News, 2010 may have been the biggest year ever for suspicious slip-and-falls. The Insurance Crime Bureau reports working on 469 cases during the first half of 2010, which would be a 50 percent increase over 2008.

CBS has a video report (shown below and also clickable on the CBS site) discussing the problem that also includes amazing/pathetic surveilance video of numerous people -- sometimes working with a partner -- blatantly placing items such as hot dogs, apple cider and olive oil on the floors of supermarkets so that they can immediately pretend to slip and fall. Happily, thanks to the video, many of these fakers not only do not recover for their bogus injuries but are also criminally prosecuted.

Perhaps the worst faker on the tapes is the 72-year-old woman who was found lying on her back in a grocery store aisle. Check the tape, though, and you see her and her caretaker standing in the aisle. Then the woman carefully smears some water around with her foot and, rather than risk a fall (those can hurt, you know), slowly descends to a seated position and finally lies down (while fixing her hair). CBS reports that both women were prosecuted and banned from the grocery store for life.

January 21, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (8)

January 20, 2011

20-Year-Old Sentenced to 45 Days for Cyberbullying

This week, 20 year-old Matthew Riskin Bean was sentenced to 45 days for cyberbullying, following his involvement with a group of anonymous Web users who tried to induce a teen to commit suicide.

The victim in this case posted nude pictures of himself on the Internet when he was 12 or 13. This wasn’t the smartest thing to do, but then again, 12- and 13 year-olds aren’t always known for being especially savvy.

A few years later, Bean discovered comments about the photo on an online imageboard, and he e-mailed the images to the teenager’s school, claiming to be a “concerned mother“ of another boy at the school, according to the Philadelphia Daily News.

U.S. District Judge Anita Brody described Bean’s crime as “extremely malicious” and said, “You have to be blind to what's going on in this world not to know the effect of cyberbullying on present-day society."

As the ABA Journal notes, Bean could have been sentenced to five years in prison if had been charged with distributing child pornography.

Instead, he got off easy with only a 45-day sentence and five years of probation.

Even so, a few minutes of bad decisions could haunt Bean for the rest of his life. I wonder what potential employers will think of him when he has to disclose on job applications that he has been convicted of a crime.

Side note: A defense attorney apparently requested an alternative placement for Bean on the grounds that his client’s young age and his small size -- he stands 5-feet-4-inches tall and weighs 110 pounds -- would make Bean a target for abuse. What goes around comes around …

Guest blogger Ruth Carter is a law student in her final semester at Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law at Arizona State University.

January 20, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (2)

Can Giffords Legally Keep Her House Seat?

As Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., recovers from injuries suffered during the Jan. 8 shooting in Tucson, questions have begun to circulate regarding whether or not she will be able to keep her congressional seat as she continues her recuperation. 

Arizona state law says that an elected office is considered to be vacant if the “person holding the office ceases to discharge the duties of office for three consecutive months.”  But, because Giffords is a member of the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Constitution determines the qualifications for serving in Congress, legal authorities quoted this week in The Washington Post have concluded that this state law does not apply to Giffords and that any attempt to vacate her congressional seat using a state law would be unconstitutional.

In the midst of the extensive news coverage about the shooting itself, Jared Loughner’s history of disturbing behavior and whether he should have been identified as someone who required mental health services, and the aftermath of the shooting and its impact on the national political scene, few have asked until recently if Giffords will be able to serve in Congress over the long term or whether she even wishes to do so. Her staff is reported to be continuing to work on her behalf, but there are certain roles they cannot fill in her absence, like voting on bills. There seems to have been little discussion in the news as to how long the House can wait until it must decide whether Giffords is incapable of performing the duties of her office.

Guest blogger Ruth Carter is a law student in her final semester at Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law at Arizona State University.

January 20, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (7)

January 19, 2011

Will Facebook Become Part of the Jury Selection Process?

District Attorney Armando R. Villalobos of Cameron County, Texas wants to be able to search potential jurors’ Facebook profiles as part of the jury selection process, Gizmodo notes. Currently, jurors must provide names and basic information about employers, religion and children.  Attorneys have the ability to run a quick Google Search on potential jurors via their smartphones in the courtroom.

Villalobos claims that having access to jurors’ Facebook profiles will reveal more information about them, such as interests, education and work history. Additionally, since people share information more freely on social networks, viewing a juror’s Facebook page will provide a more accurate depiction of that person. He hopes that having more information about potential jurors will lead to selecting a jury that is fair.

While having the most accurate information about potential jurors is important, this plan has two serious pitfalls. On one hand, any intelligent person who values privacy sets privacy settings to block most personal information from public view. On the other hand, an individual that wishes to get out of jury duty may purposely alter his or her profile so that an attorney will not select them.

Guest blogger Ruth Carter is a law student in her final semester at Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law at Arizona State University.

Photo by Scott Beale / Laughing Squid 


January 19, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (13)

Warning: Not All E-Mails Are Created Equal

Work-computer-CC-TedsBlog The attorney-client privilege extends to e-mails exchanged between a lawyer and his or her client ... unless you send it from work.  A California court of appeal held an e-mail sent from a client to his or her attorney from a work e-mail account is not a privileged or confidential communication.  The unanimous decision held that this type of communication was comparable to consulting your lawyer in your “employer’s conference room, in a loud voice, with the door open” where any reasonable person would expect the employer to overhear it.  

The court supported its decision with the fact that the employer had a policy that stated that company e-mail accounts should only be used for company business, that e-mails were not private, and that e-mails could be monitored to ensure that employees complied with the policy.

Wired's Threat Level said it best: “Case law on electronic privacy in the workplace is slowly evolving, and not always for the best.”

The courts have come to opposing decisions in regards to communications transmitted using employer-provided devises.  In 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court held that text messages on an employer-provided pager are not private.   However, the New Jersey Supreme Court held that e-mails sent from a personal e-mail account using a work computer are, in fact, private.   The New Jersey decision was based in part on the fact that the company did not have a clear e-mail policy.

This is a difficult issue.  Clients are often at work when attorneys are in their offices.  If it is expected for employees to take care of personal affairs during work time that do not take up much time -– such as scheduling a doctor’s appointment -- why shouldn’t they be able to send their attorney an e-mail, particularly if they work for a company that blocks personal web-based e-mail?

For now, the take-home message is if you need to communicate via e-mail with your attorney during the work day, do it using your personal smartphone, preferably while hiding in a bathroom stall.

Guest blogger Ruth Carter is a law student in her final semester at Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law at Arizona State University.

Image by TedsBlog

January 19, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (1)

January 18, 2011

Tuesday's Three Burning Legal Questions

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

Mcdonalds 1) Question: I'm working the late shift at McDonald's in Minnesota and only the drive-through is open. But Minnesota Vikings All-Pro running back Adrian Peterson is standing in the drive-through and says he needs to use the restroom! On one hand, McDonald's says I'm not allowed to let people inside after-hours. On the other hand -- it's Adrian Peterson!! Can I let him in?

Answer: It may cost you your job. (Consumerist, Woman Fired From McDonald's For Letting Adrian Peterson Use The Bathroom)

2) Question: Does the doctrine of "When you gotta go, you gotta go" hold up in court? I was pulled over for speeding, but I was racing home due to my explosive diarrhea.

Answer: In Sweden, at least, the court has held that "a situation can only be classed as an emergency if somebody's life is in danger or if a driver hits the gas in an attempt to prevent a serious crime." The court concluded that a "woman's desire to get home to her toilet" did not meet this standard, and ordered her to pay the speeding fine. (Legal Juice, This Is Your Excuse For Speeding? In Court?)

3) Question: I complained to the police that my neighbors were too loud. Now they've trained their pet mynah bird to say the words "Clueless big-mouthed idiot" whenever I leave home. D'oh!!! Can I press charges or recover for my emotional distress?

Answer: Unless you have evidence linking the bird to your injuries, it looks like you are out of luck.  (9 News, Man sues neighbours over rude bird) (via Lowering the Bar)

January 18, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (2)

Improved Google Scholar More Useful to Lawyers

When Google Scholar was introduced back in late 2009, we noted here that "there's no ignoring a 1,000-pound gorilla. Google's entry into the area of legal research is definitely a game changer for the entire legal industry." Google Scholar's impact on Westlaw and LexisNexis, however, was no doubt limited by the fact that its search functionality was nowhere near as sophisticated.

Last week Google Scholar announced (via WisBlawg) that it has taken another step forward, enhancing its "Advanced Search" capability to allow users to select a specific federal jurisdiction or state for their search. Users simply select the specific federal court or other jurisdictions they wish to search by checking the appropriate box (see below). The more refined and timely Google Scholar becomes, the more lawyers can actually consider using it in their practice over other fee-based options.

Google Scholar Advanced


January 18, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (3)

Florida's 'Taj Majal' Courthouse Leads to New Rules Against 'Grandiose, Monumental and Luxurious' Facilities

Taj-mahal-courthouse128 I have been following the ongoing reports from Tallahassee, Fla., about a newly-built courthouse that houses the 1st District Court of Appeal of Florida. To make a long story short, it appears that the judges of the 1st DCA somehow managed to accidentally build themselves a "Taj Mahal"-caliber facility that includes "27 flat screen TVs, bathrooms and kitchens for all 15 judges, granite counter- and desktops and miles of African mahogany" among other things, the Miami Herald reports.

I do not know how the planning, funding and construction of a $49 million Taj Mahal could have escaped the notice of everyone involved until it was all-but-completed, but that appears to be the case. Now members of the Florida Senate are up-in-arms about how such a development could have occurred, and "angrily questioned" two 1st DCA judges on Wednesday about the matter, according to Florida Today.

During the hearing, two judges apologized "if the building exceeded legislative intent" and Florida Supreme Court Justice Charles Canady promised to issue an order that would require closer scrutiny of future capital projects for courts.

Sen. Mike Fasano, chair of the Florida Senate's Criminal and Civil Justice Appropriations Committee that called the hearing, noted that the new building -- initially estimated to cost $22 million -- will ultimately cost taxpayers more than $70 million after interest is paid on the bond that financed it.

"Somebody had to make this decision" to spend more, Fasano said. "Somebody has to explain that to us. (The Legislature) didn't put the African mahogany in there. We didn't put the granite countertops in there. We didn't ask for two robing rooms. Who signs off on it? Who made that decision? Was it a committee, was it an individual, who?"

"Who" remains a mystery, it seems, but Supreme Court Justice Canady did issue an order yesterday stating that going forward, "[e]very dollar should be spent wisely and with an unceasing awareness that it is hard earned taxpayer money.... Courthouses should be dignified, durable and functional. They should not be grandiose, monumental and luxurious.'' He also reportedly forced Judge Paul M. Hawkes to resign as chief judge of the 1st DCA.

January 18, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (2)

January 14, 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: OMG, my husband just got shot by a fox hunter! He has an injured leg. Do we have any claims available to us here? Wait. What's that honey? OK, sorry, correction: he just got shot by an actual fox. Same question, though.

Answer: Bad fox!! Bad!!! And I see no viable claims against woodland creatures, sorry.  (Reuters, Fox shoots man)

2) Question: I just got sworn in as governor of my state. But instead of swearing that I'd "defend" the Constitution, I accidentally stated that I swore to "offend" the Constitution. D'oh!!! Am I the governor now or do I need to do this over again?

Answer: If Oklahoma law is any guide, it looks like you became governor regardless of your slip of the tongue.  (AP, Gov. Flubs, Says She'll "Offend" Constitution)

3) Question: I figured out that if I push the buttons on a particular slot machine in a certain sequence, it causes the slot machine to display false double jackpots. Will it be a problem if I go around the world exploiting this glitch and collecting millions of dollars?

Answer: When you get caught, yes. Then you may face 650 felony counts. (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Swissvale man accused in casino thefts arrested by federal agents) (via Consumerist)

January 14, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (1)

Farm Animals Not 'Motor Vehicles' for Purposes of DWI Charge

In Texas, a person can be charged with the crime of Driving While Intoxicated (DWI) if, while at a certain level of intoxication, he or she drives a "motor vehicle" -- that is, "a device in, on or by which a person or property is, or may be, transported or drawn on a highway."

Jose Rios and Samuel Olivo Jr. may not have known the exact language of the law, but they tested its limits Friday night when they rode farm animals down Austin, Texas' busy East Sixth Street in an allegedly drunken state.

According to the Austin American-Statesman, Austin police quickly descended on the men, put them in handcuffs, and loaded their horse and mule onto a trailer bound for an animal shelter.  Rios, the mule rider, was charged with DWI. A police affidavit said that Rios "had bloodshot eyes and was swaying, staggering and stumbling, and that he told officers he'd had 'two vodka and cranberry drinks.'"

When the case reached the desk of Travis County's County Attorney, David Escamilla, however, he was not convinced that riding the farm animals met the language of the DWI statute. After researching similar cases in other states, Escamilla's office dropped the case, stating that the law did not support DWI on an animal. "It has to be a motor vehicle or device," Escamilla explained. "And our research shows a mule is not a motorized vehicle. To be absolutely sure, I watched a few episodes of 'The Lone Ranger,' and not once did I hear the masked man refer to Silver as a device."

Escamilla added that the Rios choice of vodka and cranberry seemed all wrong, too. "That doesn't seem like the right drink. This story begs for tequila," he said.

January 14, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (5)

Lessons From the Blawgosphere: Giving Birth Proves You Will Be a Tough Lawyer

On this Friday, I introduce what may end up being an ongoing series of posts here called "Lessons from the Blawgosphere." You see, I'm looking at hundreds of blog posts, legal new stories, and other websites each day from my perch in the LBW Command Center, and I can't help but pick up key pieces of information that I feel should be shared with LBW readers.

Today, via the video below by attorney Judith Marsh, I learned that potential clients need not worry that a female lawyer will be less tough than a male lawyer if the female lawyer has given birth. It is unclear whether having given birth multiple times proves even greater levels of toughness (I assume so).

January 14, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0)

January 13, 2011

Will the ABA Make LSATs Voluntary?

3967476921_ed8f106205 The National Law Journal reported yesterday that an American Bar Association panel is considering making the Law School Admissions Test voluntary under proposed changes to law school accreditation standards currently under review.

The standards review committee's main misgivings about requiring LSATs centers around "the proper role of the ABA in the regulation of law school admissions." So sayeth Loyola University Chicago School of Law Dean David Yellen, who feels his panel should be reframing the debate around whether students can successfully enter practice instead. He asks, "is taking a standardized test the only way to determine if someone should be able to go to law school?" While he's on the fence about dropping mandatory LSATs, he seems certain that schools should be allowed more freedom in admitting students.

Yellen is also concerned that the ABA is making rules that directly benefit the Law School Admission Council, the adminstrators of the test: "So many people take the LSAT. Why is the ABA ensuring its future success?"

Despite the possibility of a switch to voluntary status, it's probably unlikely that law schools would abandon a test deemed so integral to the admissions process -- it remains the best way to measure applications against one another and to evaluate merit-based financial aid.

So LBW readers, what do you think? Should the LSATs become voluntary? As usual, we welcome your comments, however frank, about LSATs and the law school admissions process.

Brendan McKenna is's news editor. 

January 13, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (1)

Heard on the Amtrak Acela: the Latest in Law Firm Gossip

Ah, the Amtrak Acela train: A convenient and sensible transportation choice, especially with all that wacky winter weather grounding flights these days. But not such a great place to conduct confidential law firm business on your cell phone.

2385941127_63a37e0066One might consider that common knowledge after the unfortunate incident of February 2009, when Above the Law leaked news of impending layoffs at Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman, courtesy of a law student who overheard a loud cell phone call made by Pillsbury partner Robert Robbins on an Acela train bound from Washington, D.C., to New York. Pillsbury then had to confirm the layoffs and apologize for the "unfortunate manner" in which the news was leaked. And a lesson was learned by all.

Well, apparently not all. Above the Law has done it again, thanks to a tipster who was riding in a packed Acela car last Friday within earshot of Kelley Drye & Warren's managing partner, James J. Kirk. Though Kirk didn't treat his fellow passengers to anything as juicy as layoff scoop, he did take the opportunity to call a partner at a New York litigation boutique to offer him a non-equity partnership position at Kelley Drye. The ATL tipster was able to record not only the specific terms of the offer, but the offeree's name and home address, since Kirk then made a second call to one of his firm's HR employees to request a background check. (To protect the innocent, ATL declined to divulge the name and address information). Kirk then left his Amtrak ticket stub behind on his seat, where it was retrieved by the sleuth and then posted by ATL as evidence.

For law firm partners still confused about the moral of this story, ATL's David Lat provides a helpful mantra: "I will not discuss confidential matters, using my cell  phone and speaking in a loud voice, on the D.C. to New York Acela train."

And if you're going to ignore that, at least take your ticket stub with you when you exit the train. Happy travels!

Image by _JY_1124_Crop

Written by Laurel Newby,'s courts editor.

January 13, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (4)

January 12, 2011

Broward County, Fla.'s Sick Courthouse

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When Broward Circuit Judge Cheryl Aleman of the Family Court Bench died last month due to an aggressive form of lung cancer at the age of 52, attention quickly turned to her workplace, Fort Lauderdale, Fla.'s Broward County Courthouse, home of the Broward County 17th Judicial Circuit of Florida. Concerned that repeated flooding from rains may be causing dangerous molds to grow, Aleman's neighboring judges on the building's ninth floor have requested relocation. The courthouse's staff is also concerned about the potential for asbestos leaks. The building was constructed in the '50s and scheduled for replacement by 2014. The JAABlog is wondering if it's a "cancer cluster."

WSVN-TV reports that "Court Administrator Carol Ortman said she hopes these concerns do not spill over to more requests by judges for relocation." But Clerk of Courts Howard Foreman wants the community to know that his department takes the health worries very seriously, commenting to WSVN that "the judges are concerned, the clerk's office is concerned, and when the reports come back, we'll be very interested in taking a good look at them to see whether that area is inhabitable again or not."

The Sun-Sentinel writes that one of the relocated judges, Patti Englander Henning, said there were health issues for more than just Aleman -- and Broward County has now lauched further environmental tests. However, the newspaper says that these tests were not enough to stop lawyers from suing the county "on behalf of courthouse employees claiming exposure to toxic mold arranged for testing at the request of several judges." Attorney Bob McKee comments that "it's our perspective that this building should not be inhabited for work; it's making people sick." McKee has requested independent tests on the seventh, eighth and ninth floors, based on the concerns of six judges, including Englander Henning.

Each must have been dissatisfied with testing conducted after Aleman's passing, which found elevated levels of mold in the judge's former offices. A survey from 2009 also indicated that asbestos was a problem in the building, and just under half-a-dozen floods have struck the building in recent times. The question: Is this building even habitable until the new courthouse is constructed? The attorneys will also do their best to determine whether the tragic passing of Judge Aleman could have been prevented. Overall, quite a mess for Broward County.

January 12, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (1)

The iPhone Drink App Intellectual Property Litigation Wars

Being a sorry excuse for an iPhone user -- I don't have a single game downloaded on my phone and use the bare minimum of apps on a regular basis -- I was naturally surprised to learn that not only are there iPhone apps that will virtually transform your cell phone into the beverage of your choice, but that such a thing is popular enough to inspire intellectual property litigation.

Via techdirt, here's the tale of two iPhone apps -- developer Hottrix's "iMilk" and The Hershey Co.'s "HERSHEY Chocolate Milk" -- that can quench your, um, "thirst" for the frosty beverage. (Hottrix also offers iBeer and iSoda if you're craving something less wholesome.) Hershey sued seeking a declaratory judgment that its app didn't infringe Hottrix's copyrights on iMilk, and Hottrix counter-sued with a number of claims, including copyright infringement, unfair competition and tortious interference, alleging that Hershey copied the "look and feel" of iMilk. Techdirt reports that Hottrix filed a similar case against Coors a few years back over its virtual beer app. (Shannon Duffy of The Legal Intelligencer also covers the iMilk case in this article.)

Now a federal judge in Pennsylvania has denied Hershey's motion to dismiss and ruled that Hottrix can proceed with its suit. Techdirt's Mike Masnick is very skeptical about the merits of the case, calling it a "huge waste of court resources" and maintaining that "Hottrix doesn't deserve a total monopoly on 'drinking' apps." It will be interesting to see how the dispute pans out, and we're likely to see more suits of this type in the future. As the ruling points out, Apple's revenue from app sales is in the billions and likely climbing after introduction of the iPad. "This is big business by anyone's measuring stick," the judge wrote, "which explains why the combatants here would bring a dispute involving computer-generated images of milk, chocolate, and syrup to federal court."

I am left a little bit intrigued by which of the apps offers the most satisfying virtual imbibing experience. Apparently one "drinks" from the iMilk app by tipping the phone/glass sideways, while Hershey's helpfully offers a straw. Shaking the phone using iMilk produces whipped cream or cheese, while Hershey's provides -- what else -- chocolate syrup. Not sure my curiosity extends to shelling out $2.99 for iMilk, however -- and I'm unconvinced that my phone is the best source for that recommended daily calcium.

Written by Laurel Newby,'s courts editor.

January 12, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (2)

January 11, 2011

Tuesday's Three Burning Legal Questions

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

1) Question: Yes, it has been a crappy year for me, but can the video game company really take my image off of the cover of this year's version of a game named after me?

Answer: Check your contract but if they did it to Tiger, I'm guessing they can do it to you, too. (CBS News, Tiger Woods Dropped From Cover of His Own Video Game)

2) Question: The governor just said he'd grant clemency to both my sister and me on our life sentences for armed robbery if I will donate a kidney to my ill sister, who requires dialysis. I'm not trying to be ungrateful here, but, um, can he do that?

Answer: This seems to fall squarely into the category of "Questions You Really Don't Want to Know the Answer To." Let's leave it alone. (Turley, Miss. Governor Frees Sisters Who Robbed $11 – But With A Catch)

3) Question: I have spent 500 hours using this penis enlarger that I purchased and I've seen no results. Can I recover the cost of the (non)enlarger as well as "moral and punitive damages?"

Answer: Just 500 hours, huh? Are you sure you don't want to give it a fair chance to work its magic? If not, keep an eye on a case going on now in Canada that is exploring this same issue. (Consumerist, Man Says Penis Enlarger Never Worked, Even After 500 Hours Of Use)

January 11, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Your Legal Career in 6 Words or Less

Via The Legal Watercooler I came across Ross Fishman's interesting challenge to lawyers and law marketers: Can you summarize your "lives, careers, experiences, firms -- or just something [you've] been thinking about" in six words or less?

Fishman has been collecting some of the responses he has received, which include:

Thirty years. Same office. Metal desk.
I wish I'd become a teacher.
I love saying I'm a lawyer.
I help people every day. Wow.
My children will not become lawyers.
I hope this gets fun soon.
I'm stuck in the library. Dying.
I'd make Atticus Finch very sad.

As the summaries above suggest, the majority of those shared by Fishman are pretty negative. In my opinion, the two saddest summaries are (cue "Cat's in the Cradle" music):

"I work. My son plays alone;" and
"I've never seen a T-ball game. "

What is your six-word summary of your legal career? Personally, I'm going to go with this:

"Explored until it worked for me."

January 11, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (7)

Clorox Ad Sparks Absurd Cat Litter Box Litigation

Let's kick this post off by presenting the amusing-enough video that has resulted in commercial litigation between corporate giants Arm & Hammer and Clorox. As you will see below, these companies are apparently competitors in the kitty litter business:

Pretty cut and dry. I mean, I think we can all agree that the yellow cat clearly preferred the odor of Clorox's Fresh Step over Arm & Hammer's Super Scoop, right?

But in a lawsuit that I predict will lead one or more of the lawyers involved in the case to consider a career change, Arm & Hammer has filed a federal lawsuit against Clorox alleging false claims that cats prefer Fresh Step over Super Scoop. Arm & Hammer says "independently conducted research" proves otherwise.

Specifically, the Arm & Hammer complaint charges that

"The Clorox advertisements are unambiguous that the judges of whether Fresh Step is superior at eliminating odors are cats, not people," the suit says.

"But cats do not talk, and it is widely understood in the scientific community that cat perception of malodor is materially different than human perception," the company argues. "It is not possible scientifically to determine whether cats view one substance to be more or less malodorous than another substance."

Arm & Hammer adds that "cats will not reject Super Scoop to any meaningful degree and will do so no more frequently than they will reject Fresh Step."

According to the New York Daily News, Arm & Hammer further claims that the cat study on which Clorox bases the ads on is "severely flawed" because the cat-to-litter box ratio was way too high, possibly leading to "intercat aggression." Frightened cats, Arm & Hammer says, "may ultimately select an inappropriate toileting site."

January 11, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (5)

January 10, 2011

Middle Fingers and the Middle East

800px-Dubai_2010 Dubai's highest court, the Court of Cassation, gave the middle finger to the middle finger today -- so to speak -- making it illegal to flip someone off there, The Associated Press reports. So, if you gesture in said manner, you practically ensure yourself a one-way ticket out of the United Arab Emirates. The AP reminds readers that Dubai is no Las Vegas -- while the showy city begs you to let your guard down, that's probably not a good idea:

But in Dubai's cultural soup -- dominated by foreign workers, visitors and sun-seeking vacationers -- such rules can seem far removed from the skyscrapers, Western-style malls and lifestyle options that are much closer to California than Cairo. The court ruling is the latest reminder of Dubai's split personalities as both ambitiously cosmopolitan and instinctively conservative.

The ruling stemmed from the case of a Pakistani man who flipped off the Dubai Police during a traffic altercation, which resulted in a one-month jail sentence and deportation, which he disputed (to no avail). Other foreigners (they make up a large majority of the emirate's population) have faced similar legal trouble over "provocative" kissing in public, as well as steamy text messages. So, even though Bryan Adams was set to rock Dubai in December of last year, it is still a good idea to be very mindful of cultural mores.

Brendan McKenna is's news editor.

January 10, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (7)

A Somber Day at the Supreme Court

The U.S. Supreme Court justices will hear their first oral arguments of 2011 today, returning to the bench on a somber morning with a rare intrusion of the outside world into the marble palace. SCOTUSblog and the BLT reported Sunday evening that the Court will begin its session 10 minutes before the usual 10:00 a.m. start time, so that the first case will be concluded by 11:00 and the Court can observe the national moment of silence called for by President Barack Obama to honor to the victims of Saturday's shooting in Arizona. Tony Mauro notes in the BLT post that it is "unusual for the Court to recognize exterior events in a formal way."

The Court also issued a statement on Saturday from Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. honoring U.S. District Court Judge John Roll, who was among those killed. "We in the judiciary have suffered the terrible loss of one of our own," Roberts' statement reads (via SCOTUSblog). "Chief Judge Roll's death is a somber reminder of the importance of the rule of law and the sacrifices of those who work to secure it."

SCOTUSblog previews several of the cases to be argued this week, including the one that the justices are scheduled to hear just after observing the moment of silence today -- Montana v. Wyoming, which arrives at the Court's doorstep courtesy of its "original jurisdiction" over conflicts between states or between a state and the federal government. The original jurisdiction cases are a fascinating little corner of the high court's docket, and this looks like a particularly interesting one. SCOTUSblog's Lyle Denniston describes it as the modern-day legal system's version of a Wild West "water war" between Montana and Wyoming over the use of waters from two tributaries of the Yellowstone River.

This post was written by Laurel Newby,'s courts editor.

January 10, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0)

January 07, 2011

Who Will Be Above the Law's Lawyer of 2010?

Above the Law has opened up voting for the ATL Lawyer of the Year (2010) after receiving nominations from readers. The site has narrowed down the list of potential winners to 10 (nine nominees, one joint). The list ranges from lawyers to a (former) judge to political figures.

Here is the list, although I might have to beg to differ about one of the nominees, if only because Mother Nature put a chink in his armor:

  • David Boies was nominated for his work "advancing LGBT rights and marriage equality, through litigating Perry v. Schwarzenegger" and the strong bonuses his firm offered in 2010.
  • Jack Camp, the former judge for the Northern District of Georgia, who was in the news for all of the wrong reasons.
  • Chris Christie, governor of New Jersey, was nominated for "favorable reviews" in his state, but alas, is now on the wrong end of criticism over failed snow removal during a recent blizzard.
  • Elena Kagan, new associate justice for you know where.
  • Patrick Lynch and Kyle McEntee, of Vanderbilt Law, founded Law School Transparency, to keep law school employment data honest.
  • Ted Olson advocated for marriage equality in California alongside David Boies.
  • Steve Pesner, for his "e-mail about the importance of entering time in a timely fashion."
  • Irving Picard was nominated for his efforts to fix the Bernie Madoff mess.
  • Finally, Andrew Shirvell, the now former Michigan assistant attorney general, was obsessed in 2010 with the anti-gay agenda, and specifically Chris Armstrong, the openly gay University of Michigan student body president.

There you have it, ATL's nominees for 2010. I, for one, would lean toward Patrick Lynch and Kyle McEntee; I am a big fan of transparency in any form, and the results of their efforts are laudable. So who do you think is the strongest of these nominees -- or who do you think is missing from this list? Voting runs until Monday, Jan. 10.

Brendan McKenna is's news editor.

January 7, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (3)

Legal Aid's Ongoing Struggles in 2011

Legal aid is threatened in this country, according to The Wall Street Journal's Law Blog (by way of The National Law Journal). The post notes that legal-aid lawyers "know the knife's edge, working long hours for low pay at organizations that are often underappreciated, underfunded, and undersupplied." Many of the programs that managed to stay afloat in 2010 are "bracing for an even leaner 2011," in fact, the "most dire circumstances in decades." We've written about legal-aid challenges in the past, but things certainly haven't improved.

Pressure_thumbSo what's the cause? It shouldn't be a surprise that legal aid is facing "the perfect storm of financial scarcity." Karen Sloan, author of the NLJ piece, evaluates the repercussions -- the Legal Aid Society, largest such group in the country, for example, saw a dramatic increase in the number of people seeking assistance last year, but the organization can only help one of every nine people seeking assistance, all the while facing budget cuts and substantial job reductions.

Sound off in the comments: what do you think can be done to salvage legal aid in the United States? With so many continuing to face financial hardship, it's a shame that legal-aid services can't be bolstered to better match demand.

Brendan McKenna is's news editor.

January 7, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (6)

January 06, 2011

The Daily Show's Counterpunch to San Francisco's Ban on Happy Meals

I've written here before about San Francisco's stupid ban on Happy Meals, but I mean, I'm just one blogger. How much can I really do?

Now if I worked for the The Daily Show, and had a camera crew, and had actual talent like Aasif Mandvi, then things would be different. Then I could make a video like the one below that seems to be the perfect response to the city of San Francisco. Enjoy!

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon - Thurs 11p / 10c
San Francisco's Happy Meal Ban
Daily Show Full Episodes Political Humor & Satire Blog</a> The Daily Show on Facebook

January 6, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (3)

Good Stuff From the 'Big Legal Brain'

Oh, man, how am I just now discovering the awesomeness that is "Big Legal Brain?"

Seal-of-approval I stumbled upon the site today for the first time via an irresistable link ("Keys to Building a Lebowski-Driven Practice") on Venkat Balasubramani's Twitter feed and was hooked. The site is written by C. Hank Peters (aka "Chank"), Amy Derby, and Gregory Luce and it hereby receives the first-ever Carton Seal of Approval for being damn funny.

Consider the posts from this week alone. On Tuesday, Amy Derby wrote a post entitled "Finding Tweet-Life Balance" in which she took on one of the big questions of 2010: "How can Starbucks lawyers better balance the tiring demands of tweeting about social media, attending conferences, and paying student loans?"

Amy followed that up on Wednesday with a rigorous analysis of the "ROI of Name Dropping." The tips in this post include:

Tweet about your phone conversations. For example: “Just had a great convo with @lizstrauss. I went to her conference in 2009 and even saw her house once.”

If no one important wants to have a conversation with you, stick to tweeting web celebrity sightings. For example: “Just saw @kevinokeefe having a convo with @adriandayton in the hall at #ABATechShow.”

Finally, Chank added his ground-breaking "Keys to Building a Lebowski-Driven Practice" post, which teaches lawyers how to rebrand their practice around the philosophy of Jeff Lebowski, while avoiding common pitfalls ("Don’t tell the court that you “burned one on the way over.” You may get time just for saying it.)"

January 6, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (2)

Courtney Love Twitter Defamation Trial Will Feature 'Testifying Social Media Expert'

I was reading through the last post on LBW about the Courtney Love Twitter defamation lawsuit (by Brendan McKenna,'s news editor) when I got to the last sentence: "Love has 40,000 followers, and Simorangkir has hired a social media expert to testify about "what kind of credibility is given to statements made on a casual forum like Twitter."  

[sound of car tires screeching]

What was that? A testifying social media expert? As they say on the Bud Lite commercials, "Here We Go!!!"

This development immediately raises several questions in my mind:

1. Has Brian Tannebaum been alerted to this and, if so, did he survive hearing the news?

2. Has there ever been a "testifying social media expert" before in the history of U.S. jurisprudence?

3. Can we make "accepted by the court as a social media expert," the new universal standard for holding oneself out as a guru?






For the record, the person identified as the prospective "testifying social media expert" is reportedly Jessie Stricchiola (above), founder of Alchemist Media.

January 6, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (2)

January 05, 2011

Courtney Love Tweets Her Way Into a Defamation Suit

220px-CourtneyLove1045 From THR, Esq. comes word that Courtney Love has tweeted her way into a lawsuit. Starting in March 2009, the rocker allegedly began a series of tirades on Twitter against fashion designer Dawn Simorangkir, who was demanding payment for a couple thousand dollars' worth of clothes she said Love owed her. THR, Esq. notes that:

[Love] announced that Simorangkir was a drug-pushing prostitute with a history of assault and battery who lost custody of her own child and capitalized on Love's own fame before stealing from her. 'She has received a VAST amount of money from me over 40,000 dollars and I do not make people famous and get raped TOO!' Love wrote.

Not only did Love, front woman for the band Hole, slam the designer on Twitter, she also turned to and MySpace (remember, this was two years ago, when MySpace was a bit more relevant than it is now). "There has never been anything like this case before," THR quotes Bryan Freedman, attorney for Simorangkir, as saying. Love's attorney, James Janowitz, said  "we don't believe there's any defamation, and even if there were defamatory statements, there was no damage."

A question the upcoming trial may attempt to answer: Just how seriously do Twitter followers take tweets? Love has 40,000 followers, and Simorangkir has hired a social media expert to testify about "what kind of credibility is given to statements made on a casual forum like Twitter."

Image by S_Eck

Brendan McKenna is's news editor.

January 5, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (3)

You Are Now Free to Curse in Pennsylvania

At long last, Pennsylvanians can now curse a bit more freely. The Pennsylvania State Police department has agreed to stop citing residents for foul language, as part of a settlement announced Tuesday with the American Civil Liberties Union. Residents have long been fined by police for a wide range of cursing offenses, from swearing at a parking ticket issuer to cursing at an overflowing toilet.

The settlement has wider implications than one might imagine. In recent years, 700 cursing-related tickets have been issued by the state police, plus hundreds more by local cops -- and thousands of dollars in fines have been collected. All of this happened despite a long ago ruling by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court that allowed for cursing deemed nonthreatening and not obsene. It's not just the state police that are facing suits, either -- both Scranton and Pittsburgh have paid thousands of dollars in cursing cases.

Brendan McKenna is's news editor.

January 5, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (6)

January 04, 2011

Gawker Calls Scalia an 'A-Hole' as He Questions Women's Rights Under the 14th Amendment

Scalia_Antonin63 It should be no surprise that Antonin Scalia's legal perspective differs from that of Gawker, the (in)famous news and gossip site with a snarky twist. But it never ceases to amaze me just how much ammunition the conservative Supreme Court justice gives the site, as he shares his views, seemingly, with every single publication out there. This time, Gawker analyzed an interview with California Lawyer where Scalia offered his take on the 14th Amendment (and other matters):

California Lawyer: In 1868, when the 39th Congress was debating and ultimately proposing the 14th Amendment, I don't think anybody would have thought that equal protection applied to sex discrimination, or certainly not to sexual orientation. So does that mean that we've gone off in error by applying the 14th Amendment to both?

Scalia: Yes, yes. Sorry, to tell you that. But, you know, if indeed the current society has come to different views, that's fine. You do not need the Constitution to reflect the wishes of the current society. Certainly the Constitution does not require discrimination on the basis of sex. The only issue is whether it prohibits it. It doesn't ...

Gawker says, "Surprise, surprise! There is no line in the Constitution that reads, 'ATTN: ANTONIN SCALIA JUST SO YOU KNOW WOMEN ARE AFFORDED THE SAME CONSTITUTIONAL PROTECTIONS AS EVERYONE ELSE FYI" and "This is not, of course, a surprising take on the Fourteenth Amendment from Scalia, but it's always nice to see him talk about what an asshole he is." 

Gawker is fairly relentless in its Scalia coverage, unusual for a site that generally focuses on the the Lohans and the Fergies of the world, along with the latest cute puppy or baby videos. At the same time, no matter your perspective on the Constitution, it seems strange to call a Supreme Court justice an "asshole."

Brendan McKenna is's news editor.

January 4, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (11)

Don't Drunkenly Invoke Firm Name in a Public Setting on New Year's Eve

It's obviously a holiday tradition to partake in New Year's Eve imbibing. But associates from Alston and Bird's Charlotte, N.C., office may have taken the festivities a little too far. While many of us may have embarassing situations captured for posterity, few face the misfortune of Above the Law's additional (and very public) scrutiny.

ATL writes this about the reveler in question, who was celebrating a little too aggressively, according to the manager at the Dandelion Market:

When they got up to leave, the woman came over to me at the bar and placed a card down, identifying her as an associate with Alston & Bird. She slurred on about how much money the firm spent at our restaurant, and how she and her friend weren’t going to be treated that way.

There is a clear lesson here -- one that may never be learned, it seems. In this day and age, when employers and the blawgosphere are on the constant lookout for potential sources of scandal and mayhem, it is probably best to avoid causing a scene (like at all, ever) -- especially while invoking your firm's name. Otherwise, you might end up making an appearance on Above the Law (or Legal Blog Watch).

Brendan McKenna is's news editor.

January 4, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (1)

January 03, 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 just returned home to find, to my surprise, two women and a man having sex in my carport. Specifically, a "half-naked man was having sex with one of the women, while the other female was 'naked and messing with [my] scooter.'" When I interrupted this scene in my carport, the woman who was "mid-coitus got angry, ripped down a cigarette ashtray attached to the apartment building, and threw it at [me], striking [me] in the shoulder." What are my rights here?

Answer: You absolutely have a right to prohibit strangers from having sex in your carport. I'm pretty sure that is in the Constitution somewhere. And the ashtray throw sounds like the crime of "battery."  (SeattleCrime, The Morning Blotter: Naked Chicks and Scooters)

2) Question: My son just got kicked off the basketball team for refusing to cut his hair above his "eyebrows, collars and ears." Isn't this unconstitutional or something?

Answer: It is not as clear-cut as the right to prohibit strangers from having sex in your carport, but you may have a First Amendment argument here. (, Lawsuit over Greensburg short-hair rule may be a long shot).

Witch 3) Question: I'm a Romanian witch. The Romanian legislature just passed legislation defining witches, astrologists and others as legal and taxable "professions." Outrageous! I threatened to "cast a spell using black pepper and yeast to create discord in the government" and the legislature passed the bill anyway. What should I do?

Answer: Either pay your witch taxes or break out the black pepper and yeast, I guess?  (AP, Witchcraft declared legal profession in Romania) (via Lowering the Bar)

January 3, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (1)

Improve Your Firm's Image and Work Product Through 'Typography for Lawyers'

Ernest Svenson (aka "Ernie the Attorney") writes on his blog today that he has been reading a new book by Matthew Butterick called "Typography for Lawyers" which has helped him transform the style of his federal court pleadings and his letterhead. Svenson writes that the book is particularly helpful because, as suggested in the title, it is geared directly for lawyers and the legal documents they crank out daily.

On Butterick's own blog (which I must say has a nice font), he explains that while he is a practicing lawyer in Los Ange­les, he also has a degree in art from Har­vard focus­ing on graphic design and typog­ra­phy, as well as experience as a dig­i­tal font designer. Butterick says that he finds that legal typog­ra­phy is often poor, which he largely blames on "lack of infor­ma­tion, not lack of will."

As Svenson notes, Butterick's book explains how set up basic documents such as firm letterhead, legal memos, and briefs, but also "goes so far as to explain what font size and color to use in bates-numbering." Svenson provides some great "before and after" examples of what he has done with his own firm's typography based on what he learned in the book. Check these examples out here.

January 3, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (4)

'Stripper Law Blog': Another Nonexistent Blog That Needs an Author

We've got blogs on Furniture Law, Mixed Martial Arts Law, Salmonella Law ... pretty much every niche you can think of. How can there not be a Stripper Law blog? Can someone please step up? If there was a Stripper Law blog, I'd already know everything I need to know about Hart v. Rick's Cabaret Int'l Inc., a newly-certified class action filed in the Southern District of New York.

The New York Law Journal reports that the plaintiffs -- as many as 1,700 exotic dancers in New York -- allege that Rick's Cabaret International failed to pay them the minimum wage going as far back as 2004. RCII argued that the dancers were independent contractors, not employees, but Judge John G. Koeltl of the Southern District rejected that argument. Judge Koeltl found that plaintiffs had adequately alleged that the club had almost complete control over the dancers' activities, "including what music they danced to and the pace and manner of their stripping."

The court observed that Rick's dancers are allegedly required to:

  • cover all tattoos while on stage;
  • pay "shift fees" before beginning work;
  • wear heels of a certain height;
  • refrain from gum chewing;
  • schedule their shifts in advance and pay a fine if they do not come to work as scheduled.

The dancers also claimed that they are not allowed to select their own music, and are "told how much clothing to remove during each song, i.e., top only during the first song and then all clothing, save a G-string, during the second song."

January 3, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (6)

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