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March 31, 2011

Want a 'Raging Bitch' Beer? Not in Michigan

In September 2009, Frederick, Md.-based Flying Dog Brewery learned that its license application to sell its best-selling beer had been rejected by the Michigan Liquor Control Commission. Why? Because its best-selling beer is called "Raging Bitch," and includes a label with some other choice words.

The Washington Business Journal reports that Flying Dog has now decided to fight back, and filed a lawsuit in federal court seeking to overturn the commission's decision and recover damages for its lost sales in Michigan. According to, the MLCC ruled that the language printed on the bottle was “detrimental to the health, safety, or welfare of the general public.” Commissioner Patrick Gagliardi specifically pointed to a proposed label inscription of “Remember, enjoying a Raging Bitch, unleashed, untamed, unbridled -- and in heat -- is pure GONZO.”

Flying Dog's lawyer, Alan Gura, stated that the MLCC and its members "have taken it upon themselves to control not merely alcoholic beverages, but speech as well.” Flying Dog claims the ban violates its rights under the First Amendment to free expression.

As the Legal Juice blog observes, Michigan has previously approved beers named "Doggie Style," "In Heat Wheat," and "Dirty Bastard," so "Raging Bitch" doesn't exactly seem beyond the pale. The banned label is below. Gaze upon it at your own risk.


March 31, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (11)

March 30, 2011

Will U.K. Authorities Stand Up to Squatters?

It appears that a growing number of members of the U.K. parliament have finally had enough of the odd "squatting" situation in the United Kingdom and may take action. As I noted here back in October, squatting -- which occurs when people decide to occupy an empty property -- is merely a civil offense in the U.K., which leads to some bizarre and unnecessary challenges for property owners.

As a result, for example, when hotelier Connan Gupta moved out of his house in Camberwell for a week while it was being renovated, he returned to find 10 unwelcome Italian students who had moved in and changed the locks. Gupta learned that the police were powerless to help him because under existing U.K. law, squatters may legally enter an empty property if they do not cause damage when gaining access. To his dismay, Gupta was required to hire lawyers and begin a lengthy process of trying to evict the squatters. "It's as if the squatters have more rights than I do," he said at the time.

This may change soon, however. On April 4, an "early day motion" and petition calling for squatting to be criminalized will be presented at Downing Street, Rent Man reports (via Lawyers on Strike). The motion, which is being pushed by Brighton and Hove’s Mike Weatherley and about 20 other MPs, would permit police to enter the premises and arrest squatters who are occupying a property without the consent of its owner.

According to the Rent Man article, there are are more than 100,000 instances of squatting each year in the United Kingdom. Weatherly says the ease with which squatters can occupy a home, with very few consequences even if they are evicted, has led to at least one instance where "squatters in Brighton made a freedom of information request to see which council homes were empty" in order to target homes. Weatherly also points out that even the U.K.'s Ministry of Justice "itself has fallen victim to squatters, with one of its building being occupied twice by squatters in 2009."

March 30, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (8)

March 29, 2011

Tuesday's Three Burning Legal Questions

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

1) Question:  I'm a judge. One of the defendants in a case I heard today was chewing gum and  blew a very large bubble and popped it "whilst looking my direction [sic]!!!"  Can you believe this guy? Whilst looking in my direction!!  Can I sentence him to 30 days in jail for contempt?

Answer: Technically you can do it, but it will probably get appealed. (AAP, Bubble gum man appeals jail term)

2) Question: Regrettably, I missed the sale last year at Nations Truck where if you bought a used truck you also received an AK-47 assault rifle. What other free gun options are available to me?

Answer: Are you in the market for satellite TV, by any chance? If so, a Radio Shack in Montana has a new promotion you should check out: "Protect yourself with Dish Network. Sign up now, get free gun." (Consumerist, Montana Radio Shack Gives Away Guns With New Dish Network Subscriptions)

3) Question: I have a coveted "212" Manhattan area code telephone number that I don't need anymore. Can I sell it on eBay for a million dollars?

Answer: It is unclear. New York State Public Service Commission rules say subscribers have "no proprietary right in any number that is assigned by the Telephone Company," but Verizon admits that switching over a phone number is technically possible. Good luck! (New York Daily News, New Jersey man hawks his (212) phone number on eBay -- wants $1 million for swanky area code)

March 29, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (1)

Painter Goes to Extremes to Have His Forged Artwork Hang in Museums. But Is It Criminal?

Via the PrawfsBlawg, I found this interesting article by Randy Kennedy in The New York Times about a man named Marc Landis. According to the article, Landis, a lifelong painter and former gallery owner, has gone to great lengths -- including dressing up like a priest -- to donate pieces of important artwork from his collection to U.S. museums. It turns out, however, that Landis is no priest and the pieces of art he is donating are forgeries.

In September 2010, for example, Kennedy writes that Landis visited the Paul and Lulu Hilliard University Art Museum in Lafayette, La. He introduced himself as Father Arthur Scott, and was dressed “in black slacks, a black jacket, a black shirt with the clerical collar and he was wearing a Jesuit pin on his lapel.” He offered to donate a painting by the American Impressionist Charles Courtney Curran "in memory of his mother."

This was just one of many such donation efforts by Landis, now known as "one of the most prolific forgers American museums have encountered in years." According to Matthew Leininger, the director of museum services at the Cincinnati Art Museum who now maintains a database on all known contacts, sightings and forgeries by Landis, Landis typically forges lesser-known artists but occasionally attempts a "Picasso, a Watteau or a Daumier." Many of Landis' donated forged paintings have been accepted by museums and displayed as authentic.

One interesting question raised by Kennedy's Times article and by the PrawfsBlawg post is whether Landis' alleged conduct violates any laws. As noted in the article, Landis does not appear to have benefited financially at all, even turning down tax write-off forms. PrawfsBlawg asked its readers if they see any criminal liability such as "criminal mischief" in these facts, particularly assuming Landis has received nothing at all.  What do you think?

March 29, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (3)

March 25, 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: Sure, I keep a bunch of chickens in my house. But why did the police just roll up to my house in an armored tank holding movie star Steven Seagal and SWAT guys, blow out my windows and arrest me? Why???

Answer: Sometimes authorities break out the tanks and Steven Seagal when they suspect you of cockfighting. It happens.  (, Steven Seagal, Sheriff Raid Valley Home In Tank) (via Popehat)

2) Question:  I'm at the bank. I think this $100 bill they just gave me looks a bit off, but it's hard to know. Should I just check it more closely to see if it is counterfeit when I get home?

Answer: Freeze! Once you walk out that bank's door, they will say any problems with the $100 bill are "on you." Check it out now, not later. (Consumerist, Man Who Says Chase Gave Him Counterfeit Bill Camps Out In Front Of Branch)

3) Question: I'm 103 (!) years old, so I'm starting to slow down a bit -- Do you think it would be OK if I asked to lighten my load at work a bit?

Answer: Is that you, U.S. District Judge Wesley Brown? Either way, you are 103 years old! You do whatever the heck you want to do! (The Associated Press, Federal judge lightens case load at age 103)

March 25, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (3)

@freeNYTimes Twitter Feed Drives Truck Through Narrow NYT Paywall Exception

On March 17, 2011, New York Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. made news when he announced that the Times is now rolling out "digital subscriptions" that will require readers of more than 20 articles each month to become paid subscribers. There are some exceptions to this requirement, however. For example, home delivery subscribers will continue to have full and free access to The New York Times website.

In addition, Sulzberger stated that the paper was carving out an exception for readers who come to New York Times articles through links from search, blogs and social media like Facebook and Twitter. Those readers, he said, will also not be required to enter into a subscription, even if they have hit their monthly reading limit of 20 articles.

Twitter being Twitter, it did not take long for someone to eye the Times' narrow social media exception and drive a truck through it. Indeed, the same day that Sulzberger announced the new plan, a Twitter feed by the name of @freeNYTimes was born. Using the Times' own data (which is provided to developers here with the express invitation, "why just read the news when you can hack it?"), @freeNYTimes is engineered to automatically link to each and every Times article that is posted. Under the Times' current plan, that means that anyone willing to sift through stories on @freeNYTimes would have no compelling reason to pay for a digital subscription.

Not surprisingly, the Times does not like this development. Jeff Bercovici reports on Forbes' Mixed Media blog that the Times has now asked Twitter to disable the @freeNYTimes feed as an alleged violation of its trademark. However, as I write this, @freeNYTimes is still up and running.

Bercovici also notes another way around the paywall, a bookmark called NYTClean that uses four lines of code to allow users to avoid subscribing. The New York Times told Bercovici it is aware of such workarounds but "plans no changes to the programming or paywall structure in advance of our global launch on March 28th.”

March 25, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0)

March 24, 2011

Moving On From 'Let it Be' to 'Paperback Writer'

At Legal Blog Watch, we turn now from "Let it Be" to "Paperback Writer."  The Globe and Mail had an interesting article recently ('The judge who writes like a paperback novelist') (via How Appealing) about Ontario Court of Appeal Judge David Watt, who has become a bit of a sensation in criminal law circles as the result of a stark transformation in the way he writes his decisions.

Until recently, the G&M reports, Watt wrote in a traditional, legalistic manner.

But not any more!

As the excerpts below show, Watt has gone a different, more breathless direction with his recent decisions. In a recent opinion overturning a domestic murder conviction, Watt wrote:

Early one morning in June, 2006, Melvin Flores closed the book on his relationship with Cindy MacDonald. With a butcher knife embedded in Cindy’s back. Fifty-three blunt force injuries.

In another murder case, Watt penned the following:

Handguns and drug deals are frequent companions, but not good friends. Rip-offs happen. Shootings do too. Caveat emptor. Caveat venditor. People get hurt. People get killed. Sometimes, the buyer. Other times, the seller. That happened here.

Watt's work has brought mixed reviews. David Tanovich, a law professor at the University of Windsor, told the G&M that Watt was “out of control” and that he "would not be surprised if there is not a judicial council complaint if he continues.”

Another law professor named Rakhi Ruparelia said she was stunned by Judge Watt's "disrespect" in the Flores decision, and believed he was "trying to titillate and entertain with his writing rather than offer a careful and appropriate consideration of the facts.” On the other hand, a Manitoba judge said the Flores decision was a "must-read" and "another excellent piece of work by one of Canada’s finest criminal law jurists."

For several more examples of Judge Watt's distinctive brand of writing, read the full Globe & Mail article here.

March 24, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (4)

March 23, 2011

'Hot-Tubbing' Makes its Way Into Civil Trials

I'm from the United States, home of "The Bachelor" -- so I know enough about "hot-tubbing" to know that, at its best, it doesn't involve old men and women sitting around pontificating about whether some molecular compound is strong enough to support a 10-story building or whether a particular type of fertilizer should be used on Bermuda grass soccer fields located in shady areas.

In Australia, however, hot-tubbing of that sort is all the rage now in civil trials. As discussed on the Slaw blog, hot-tubbing is the phrase used to describe "a new method of presenting expert evidence at trial. Opposing experts testify in each other’s presence, as members of a panel, and are questioned in each other’s presence in front of the trier of fact."

This system is also making inroads in the United Kingdom and Canada. In the U.K., a pilot trial of hot-tubbing will soon begin in Manchester, England. In Canada, the Federal Court Rules were recently amended to enable hot-tubbing (aka "concurrent evidence").

As discussed in a paper recently presented by the WeirFoulds law firm, hot-tubbing

involves asking all of the experts to generally comment on the issues in the case and discuss their differences in opinions. Once each of the experts has explained his or her position, they usually supplement their initial testimony with comments on the testimony of the other experts. The judge, lawyers and even fellow experts ask questions of the experts, mostly of an eludicatory nature. The judge may also suggest topics and direct the experts to comment on legally relevant issues. At the end of the first stage, each expert is usually asked if there is anything they would like to add or clarify.

In addition, "questions may be put to more than one expert at a time and witnesses can be asked to comment on the answers of other witnesses." This sounds like quite an event, and one that could get quite lively!

Indeed, one of the concerns raised about hot-tubbing is that "[a]n expert who is more aggressive may dominate the panel discussion," making an aggressive personality as important as expertise. For a detailed breakdown of the pros and cons of legal hot-tubbing, read the full WeirFoulds article here.

March 23, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (1)

March 22, 2011

Tuesday's Three Burning Legal Questions

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

1) Question: I'm an inmate. Sometimes we get our hands on contraband cell phones and we have the chance to update our Facebook status ("still in prison"). The guards forbid us from using Facebook but, I mean, we're already in prison -- what are they going to do to us, right? 

Answer: Be careful. If you are in South Carolina, that Facebook update may soon mean 30 days more prison time. (AP, Facebook may mean more jail time for S.C. inmates)

2) Question: I do not have a meth lab. Do not have one, never, ever did. How can I get the police to leave me alone?

Answer: Have you considered spray-painting that message in red paint across your garage? (Legal Antics, Oh, well in that case, move along then. Nothing to see here)

3) Question: I'm in love and I just got married! Yes, I'm still married to another person but she is in a different state and I have a plan: I'm going to unfriend her on Facebook so she'll never see the new wedding photos. This will work, right?

Answer: Being married to two people at the same time is called "polygamy" and it is a felony. And FYI, your "first" wife just might locate those photos elsewhere on Facebook even if you unfriend her. (Grand Rapids Press, Alleged Grand Rapids polygamist told second wife he was divorced, police say)

March 22, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (2)

March 21, 2011

Defining 'Reasonable Doubt'? Appellate Court Tells Trial Courts to 'Let It Be'

At the California Appellate Report blog, Shaun Martin points to the recent case of People v. Moore as the latest example of why the appellate courts really, really wish the trial courts would not try to explain the concept of "beyond a reasonable doubt" to jurors.

Over and over, California appellate opinions through the years reiterate that the term "best defines itself'"; that "all attempts at definition are likely to prove confusing and dangerous"; and that "every attempt to explain [the definition of reasonable doubt] renders an explanation of the explanation necessary.” In short, as summed up by the court in People v. Johnson, 119 Cal. App.4th 976, 986 (2004), "[w]e trust that any trial judge who reads that history will heed the two English bards: . . . 'Let it be.' (Lennon & McCartney, Northern Songs 1970, 'Let It Be.')” 

But the trial court in Moore did not let it be. The judge tried to explain reasonable doubt through a series of examples, including:

  • whether one can know that an unfurled flag is, in fact, an American flag;
  • whether one can tell what a jigsaw puzzle will show despite some missing pieces; and
  • whether one can know whether the weather will be more than 50 degrees in San Bernardino in August.

As suggested by past cases, the court's explanations and examples promptly led to additional efforts by defense counsel to re-analyze those examples and then offer his own. Defense counsel's closing argument included a new series of examples and explanations concerning reasonable doubt such as:

  • the reasonable doubts he entertained about the future success of his impending marriage;
  • his decision to become a parent, about which he had reasonable doubts as to his future success before making the decision; and
  • a hypothetical about the decision to turn off the life support for a loved one who was in a persistent vegetative state.

Ultimately, the defendant was convicted and appealed, arguing that the "trial court's remarks during voir dire trivialized the reasonable doubt standard, diluted the concept of reasonable doubt and lowered the People's burden of proof, constituting structural error." The appellate court rejected this argument, stating that it had actually been defense counsel

who introduced the idea of reasonable doubt in the types of decisions that were held to be improper in Nguyen and Brannon, although it would take more time and mental gymnastics than this jury possibly possessed to derive any inference relevant to reasonable doubt from what he said. The only inference this court could derive from counsel's remarks is that counsel made two important decisions in his life, although he had reasonable doubts about their wisdom, and they happened to work out for him. We have no idea what this means in terms of the burden of proof. The implication, in terms of reasonable doubt, of his example of cutting off someone's life support also escapes us, despite many attempts to formulate one. Again, we doubt that the jury put as much time and effort into it as we have.

March 21, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (5)

March 19, 2011

Calendar Snafu Leads to Default Entered Against Wachovia in Securities Case

The South Florida Lawyers blog reports that the auction rate securities action filed against Wachovia in federal court in Florida is, well, going poorly for the defendant at the moment.

How poorly?

On March 9, SFL says, Judge James Lawrence King entered -- sua sponte -- a default against Wachovia for failing to file a response to plaintiff's Amended Complaint in the case. The next day, a Birmingham, Ala., lawyer for Wachovia named Carl S. Burkhalter filed a motion to set aside the default, explaining that a perfect storm involving the resignation of his associate and the unexplained failure of an email "auto-forward" function from the associate's email account to his secretary led to the date for defendant's Answer to the Amended Complaint not being entered on his calendar. Burkhalter said that he was "profoundly sorry" for the oversight.

Obviously a painful motion to have had to write.

Is plaintiffs counsel feeling a fellow lawyer's pain and letting Burkhalter off the hook here, you might ask?


SFL notes that plaintiff has now asked the court to deny the pending motion to set aside the default, arguing that it "ignore[s] the fact that two other current Wachovia lawyers were served with the Order and Amended Complaint. Thus, the Motion sets forth no good cause for their -– or Wachovia’s -– failure to timely respond."

March 19, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (9)

March 18, 2011

Friday's Three Burning Legal Questions

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

1) Question: I've had these license plates for months! Why did the Secretary of State Police just come to my office, take my plates reading "GIV ME A" off my car and shred them?

Answer: Sometimes it takes a complaint or two from motorists for the state's license plate people to catch on and ban a particular license plate. Let me guess -- are you driving a Hummer? (Chicago Sun-Times, The off-color personalized license plates that are banned in Illinois)

2) Question: I stabbed my friend.  However, in my defense, I believe I am a vampire and he would not let me suck his blood for a second time. That's justified, right?

Answer: Unjustified! (Arizona Republic, Chandler 'vampire' gets three years probation)

3) Question: I'm working security at the county building. This guy is carrying a pitchfork as a "protest" and insists on bringing it in with him. Can I tell him he cannot come in with the pitchfork?

Answer: If you let people come in with holstered handguns, then you may be required to let this guy in with his holstered pitchfork. (Volokh Conspiracy, Pitchfork Rights Case)

March 18, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (4)

Does Pot Have a Shot at Being Legalized in the U.S.?

Rhode Island, which legalized medical marijuana in 2006, is now wrestling with the next big question on that front: whether to become the first state in the U.S. to make pot legal for recreational use as well.

The motive? Money. The Associated Press reports that, if the proposal goes into law, wholesalers would be on the hook for a $50 per ounce excise tax, and retail licenses would cost $5,000 per year. And of course, all retail marijuana sales would be subject to sales taxes imposed by the cash-strapped state.

The AP reports the proposal would also allow individuals to grow up to three pot plants per person -- but only if they've paid $100 per plant. (How exactly that last provision would be enforced is unclear. Obviously, large-scale grow operations are relatively easy to sniff out, but if someone has four or five or six plants basking on the windowsill or in a greenhouse, they presumably aren't going to be living in fear -- or writing a check -- anytime soon.)

Meanwhile, on the Left Coast, budget woes are firing up a similar debate in the state of Washington. On Wednesday, Seattle's city attorney, a former federal prosecutor, and a city councilman who used to be a police officer all testified in support of a bill that would legalize the sale, possession and delivery of marijuana for adults over 21 years old -- and, in theory at least, generate millions of dollars from taxes on the product. According to the Seattle Times, the measure's lead sponsor, Rep. Mary Lou Dickerson, D-Seattle, estimates that legalization would generate about $440 million in new revenue every two years through cannabis sales, taxes and licensing fees.

Still, not everyone's convinced that legalized pot is the cure for what ails state coffers. As the Seattle Post-Intelligencer reports, Don Pierce of the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs observed that many people may simply grow marijuana themselves and avoid the tax hit. Said Pierce, "If I could make Jack Daniels in my garage and avoid paying the tax, I probably would."

Written by managing editor Paula Martersteck.

March 18, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (2)

And Now, a Bit Less Screaming Over Ice Cream

A pesky legal action by Lady Gaga's lawyers aside, a U.K. ice creamery has one less thing to worry about now that local officials have deemed the business's product made with human breast milk safe for consumption.

After having lab tests run, local authorities recently announced they have received confirmation that the product contained no harmful bacteria or viruses. Giving the Icecreamists the green light to resume selling the controversial item, authorities said: "Our investigation into the safety of the product is now over." 

But all's not sweetness and light just yet. Saying that he is considering legal action, Icecreamists founder Matt O'Connor claims that authorities have damaged his business's reputation by saying the product could have been a health hazard before any tests were actually performed on it.

And what about that cease-and-desist letter from Lady Gaga's legal team? In a nod to that dispute, O'Connor writes on his blog, "Whilst we still have to deal with Miss Germanotta, its probably time for us to say thanks for the mammaries and get back to our mission; liberating the world one lick at a time with lashings of great boutique ice cream, crazy cocktails and some very bad puns."

Written by managing editor Paula Martersteck.

March 18, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0)

March 17, 2011

Airline Passenger Sues TSA for False Imprisonment

Since the Transportation Security Administration began screening airline passengers with body scans and pat-downs, people have chosen various ways to express their distaste for the measures. One such person is Aaron Tobey, who, when going through security at Richmond International Airport on Dec. 30, 2010, opted for a pat-down rather than an X-ray screening. At that point, the 21-year-old college student voluntarily removed his T-shirt and sweatpants (leaving on his socks and running shorts), revealing that he had written on his chest with marker as follows: "Amendment 4: The right of the people to be secure against unreasonable searches and seizures shall not be violated."

Although Tobey was ultimately released in time to make his flight (now, there's a guy who follows guidelines about showing up at airports early!), he was initially detained for questioning for about 90 minutes -- at least part of that time with his hands cuffed behind his back, according to his attorney. Prosecutors dropped a disorderly conduct charge against Tobey two weeks later, Wired reports.

Now, Tobey is turning the tables and has sued the government (pdf), including Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano and TSA Administrator John Pistole, for violating his First, Fourth, Fifth and 14th Amendment rights and for false imprisonment and malicious prosecution. Tobey has requested a declaratory judgment, an injunction prohibiting the TSA from treating anyone else as he was treated, and $250,000 in compensatory damages and attorney fees.

Due to the considerable leeway granted to the TSA regarding air travel safety, Techdirt does not expect a judge to be sympathetic to Tobey's plight. (However, Tobey has a feisty advocate on his side; the Rutherford Institute, which filed the lawsuit on Tobey's behalf, shot to fame after financing Paula Jones' sexual harassment lawsuit against President Clinton.)

Whatever the ultimate outcome of Tobey's lawsuit, the TSA's handling of his security-line actions certainly seems to have given his demonstration significantly more attention than it would have otherwise received. The next time an airline passenger decides to put on a public but well-mannered strip-tease, TSA agents might be wise to simply roll their eyes and let him go on with the show.

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

March 17, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (8)

'Human Guinea Pig' Gets Payback as Jury Awards MLB Umpire $775K for Defective Mask

The trend is clearly against people who are injured by reasonably foreseeable events that occur at sporting events (errant golf balls shanked into the side of your head; hot dogs thrown by team mascots straight into your eye, etc.). But Major League umpire Ed Hickox beat that trend this week when a jury in the District of Columbia found that the Wilson Sporting Goods Co. must pay him $775,000 following injuries he suffered as home plate umpire from a foul ball that struck him in the jaw. Hickox suffered a concussion and several broken bones from the impact.

The Blog of the Legal Times reports that Hickox was wearing a Wilson-made face mask when he was hit. The face mask, however, failed to protect him and flipped off of his head upon impact from the foul ball.

Beyond the obvious claim that the mask did not serve its purpose of protecting him, Hickox also claimed that Wilson failed to properly test the masks and essentially used umpires and catchers as "human guinea pigs."  According to an attorney for Hickox, the equipment manufacturer claimed that seeing how the mask performed while worn on the job by umpires and catchers amounted to sufficient testing.

Hickox has recovered from the injuries and is back in action as an MLB umpire.

March 17, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (3)

March 15, 2011

Twitter Defamation Lawsuit: NBA Referee Edition

It worked for the designer who sued Courtney Love to the tune of a $430,000 settlement, and now we'll see if an NBA referee can similarly recover for "defamation by Twitter." The Minneapolis-St. Paul Business Journal reports that NBA ref Bill Spooner has filed a defamation suit in federal court in Minneapolis against Associated Press writer (and Timberwolves reporter) Jon Krawczynski following a Krawczynski tweet back in January.

Spooner alleges that during a Jan. 24 game between the T'wolves and the Houston Rockets, he called a foul on a Minnesota player that Minnesota coach Kurt Rambis vehemently disagreed with. Spooner allegedly promised to review the call at the half, but Rambis, as the Journal puts it, "asked him how he would get the points back." According to Spooner, he did not respond to this question but according to the Krawczynski tweet in question, Spooner "told Rambis he'd 'get it back' after a bad call. Then he made an even worse call on Rockets. That's NBA officiating folks."

Spooner alleges that the tweet is defamatory and accuses him of game-fixing. He has demanded that the tweet be unpublished and retracted and seeks "more than $75,000" in damages. According to the Business Journal article, The AP maintains that the facts were accurately reported.


March 15, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (2)

Tuesday's Three Burning Legal Questions

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

1) Question: My neighbor's lawn is a mess. Turning brown, sprouting weeds, outrageous! Can I go water it even though he doesn't want me to?

Answer: First of all, that is trespassing, so no. And if they call the cops on you (it happens) and you get into a scrap with the police (also happens), you could wind up with two black eyes plus an arrest for battery to a law enforcement officer, assault on a law enforcement officer, resisting an officer with violence, depriving an officer of communication, and resisting an officer without violence. Worry about your own lawn. (, Man Watering Neighbor's Lawn Fights Cops) (via Legal Juice)

2) Question: I lost my license and it turned up as bogus  "proof" of some other girl's age in a Girls Gone Wild video. Can I have $3 million, please?

Answer: No problem. (Internet Cases, Woman mistaken for Spitzer prostitute in Girls Gone Wild internet video awarded $3 million)

3) Question: I was halfway finished getting a haircut when, to make a long story short, I got into a fight with someone in the barbershop and got arrested. Can they make me sit for my mugshot with my hair in this half-finished state?

Answer: There is precedent for this, yes. See below. (Tosh.0 Blog, If You're Going To Stab Someone, At Least Wait Until Your Haircut Is Over)


March 15, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0)

March 14, 2011

'Social Media Guru' Becomes a Real Job at BigLaw

For all of you us who were convinced that "Social Media Guru" wasn't a real job ... now what?

Via the Twitter feed of Lance Godard I see that BigLaw stalwart Latham & Watkins is now seeking a "Social Media Specialist" to help develop and implement the firm's social media strategy. The open position is posted here on the L&W website.

What does a Social Media Specialist at a law firm do? Well, at L&W, at least, the job involves devising a social media approach that is "integrated with the firm’s public relations and marketing endeavors, as well as supporting the development of the firm's social media policies and governance." Specifically, this includes responsibilities such as:

  • staying abreast of best practices and trends in the digital communications and social media arena;
  • promoting social media tactics as a fundamental part of the PR/communications media mix;
  • supporting the design, development and maintenance of blogs;
  • leading the development of internal social media training modules; and
  • establishing key metrics to measure effectiveness of the firm's digital communications/social media program.

Among other things, L&W wants its Social Media Specialist to have experience with online measurement platforms such as Google Analytics and Facebook Insights, a Bachelor's degree in PR/Communications, Journalism or related field and six years relevant experience working in digital communications.

March 14, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (7)

March 11, 2011

Legal Industry Does Not Exist on 'LinkedIn Today'

LinkedIn announced Thursday that it has launched "LinkedIn Today," which some have described as an effort to become "The Wall Street Journal of social news." LinkedIn describes LinkedIn Today as a site that "delivers the day’s top news, tailored to you based on what your connections and industry peers are reading and sharing."

Unless, of course, you are a lawyer or in the legal profession, in which case you get absolutely nothing. Yes, despite lawyers' pretty heavy use of LinkedIn as a social media tool, LinkedIn Today seems to forget that we even exist.

As Bob Ambrogi similarly observed Thursday on his LawSites blog, LinkedIn Today offers a lengthy list of industries you can choose to tailor your reading, but law isn't one of them. In addition, he notes, the site does not draw on any legal-news sources. "Given the apparent widespread use of LinkedIn among legal professionals of all kinds, it is surprising that this new service would skip right over the entire industry," Ambrogi adds.

I agree completely. We lawyers are out here dutifully "LinkingIn" with each other in droves, probably without even knowing why we're doing so in most cases. LinkedIn can at least throw us a bone and give us our own industry on LinkedIn Today.

March 11, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (9)

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 a paramedic. I'm at the scene of a grisly car accident and, well, I just found the driver's foot, which is now severed and all mangled. May I take it home with me to help train my "body-recovery dog?"

Answer: No. That foot does not belong to you or your dog. Taking it may be second-degree theft, plus you could get sued by its true owner. (Lowering the Bar, Florida Man Sues Alleged Foot-Stealer)

2) Question: I am due to appear at a hearing in Juvenile and Domestic Relations court, but I do not have a caregiver lined up for my monkey, Kara. It would be abusive to leave Kara home alone -- would you leave your child at home? Kara has to be close to me. Do you think I can sneak her through security in my bra if I put her in diapers for the day?

Answer: It is highly unlikely that a diaper-wearing monkey will make it through security in your bra. And if she does, you will have even more trouble when the judge sees her. Make alternate plans for Kara. (Turley, Court Security Discover Woman Smuggling in a Monkey into Courthouse).

3) Question: I was trying to rob this house. Nobody was supposed to be home but now the owner has suddenly returned, along with two German shepherds, so I'm hiding in the bathroom! Now she is asking me what I'm doing in the house! This was not the plan!!! What if she has a gun? What should I do?

Answer: Have you thought about calling the police? (ABC, Showering Home Intruder Calls 911 on Homeowner)

March 11, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0)

March 10, 2011

No Gavels Allowed! Picking Better Stock Images for Your Law Firm Website

On Lawyerist, Karin Conroy has an interesting post pointing out that, while certain types of stock images seem like likely fits for your law firm website, it is time to let some of the most cliched images rest in peace. The wrong stock images, Conroy writes, "can ruin an otherwise great website by making it look generic, while creative and customized stock images can evoke emotion and support your messaging and branding."

What are some bad or cliche images for lawyer websites? Take 30 seconds and try this exercise: Jot down the first four or five stock images you might consider using for your law office website.



IstockphotoGavel Did you say a gavel, scales of justice, courthouse steps,columns, a skyscraper, a distinguished-looking person staring at a document, law books and people shaking hands? Of course you did, and so did every other lawyer in the world. So don't go that route!

As Conroy notes, leading websites for stock image websites such as iStockPhoto or Shutterstock will indicate which images are popular for a particular search such as "law." Don't use these, Conroy says, and instead "find a different way to represent your idea in a fairly unique way." Conroy says that good imagery will convey a sense of your firm's personality and character. If you cannot identify an image to enhance this message, consider not having an image at all, she says.

Read the full article here.

March 10, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (3)

How Much Toilet Paper Must Be 'Left Behind' on a Cartoon Bear's Butt and Other Key Advertising Rules

Advertising Age has an interesting article here (via Consumerist) describing how advertising "law" is created, in part, by decisions of the National Advertising Division of the Council of Better Business Bureaus, a self-regulating body established in 1971 to deal with false or misleading advertising claims. The NAD handled over a hundred cases last year, some following complaints by competitors and others on its own initiative. Ad Age says that more than 90 percent of advertisers comply with NAD decisions because failure to do so can result in government action.

Through its cases, the NAD has established a number of key rules. Here are some of the more interesting ones:

  • "Re-enactments" must depict real performance. In a 1997 case involving window manufacturer Andersen Corp., the NAD ruled that re-enactments of extraordinary consumer experiences may be dramatized, but still must accurately portray how the product performed under the circumstances. So, Ad Age summarizes, "your re-enactment can still misrepresent the hotness of the housewife in the scenario, just not the product she uses."
  • Puffery. Subjective "puffery" ("we're the best!") need not be proven, but factual claims must be substantiated. For example, Yahoo Personals' claim of "Better First Dates" was deemed puffery but an additional claim of "More Second Dates" was not, requiring Yahoo Personals to show the numbers.
  • Product demonstrations. A 2010 case known as the "Charmin Ultra Bears" case established that "product demonstrations must accurately show a product's performance, characteristics or features" -- even if the "demonstration" is simply toilet paper on a cartoon bear's butt. Kimberly-Clark Corp. complained about its rival Procter & Gamble's campaign claiming that Charmin toilet paper leaves "fewer pieces behind" than K-C's Cottonelle. The NAD ruled that the cartoon bears in the P&G ad must be drawn with "at least a few specs of cartoon toilet paper on their rears to accurately reflect that Charmin leaves fewer pieces behind, but not no pieces behind."

Read Ad Age's full list of the Nine Things You Can't Do in Advertising if You Want to Stay on Right Side of the Law here.

March 10, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (3)

March 09, 2011

The Key to Lawyer Happiness: The '2/3 Rule'

HappyFace On the blog, Dan Pinnington writes about a "simple and profound" rule that, if followed, can help lead to the ever-elusive concept of a "happy lawyer." Pinnington says this rule -- known as the "2/3 Rule" -- was passed on from a Belgian lawyer to an Ottawa family law lawyer he knows, and ultimately on to Pinnington as part of a presentation he did with the Ottawa lawyer many years ago.

Pinnington says that under the 2/3 Rule, "the goal of being a happy lawyer with a successful practice can be achieved provided all your clients/matters meet at least 2/3 of the following requirements:"

1. You are working on interesting and challenging legal problems.
2. You are working with people you enjoy.
3. You are getting paid for your work.

Thinking back on my own time as a practicing lawyer, I think the 2/3 Rule sounds about right. For example, even the worst six-month document review (or insert your own idea of a sorry project that does not satisfy requirement No. 1) can be a pleasant experience if you are working with fun people and getting paid.

Pinnington suggests thinking about your current and future clients and matters in terms of whether they comply with the 2/3 Rule. He says that if they do not, "don’t take on the file. Slowly over time you can work towards the goal of having all your clients comply with The 2/3 Rule."

March 9, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (4)

March 08, 2011

Injured Car Passenger Gets $1.6 Million due to 'Optical Illusion'

When can a passenger in a car with a driver who fails to observe a left-hand curve in a road and instead continues straight and plunges over an 8-foot embankment into a ditch recover from the county for her significant injuries caused by the crash? When modifications to the road create an "optical illusion" that the road continues straight.

Via Law and Magic I found this post on Deceptology discussing the case of Gunderson v. County of San Diego, in which the injured passenger received a $1.6 million settlement from the county, as well as the county's agreement to make extensive changes to the road to help keep future motorists from driving off the embankment.

According to plaintiff's counsel Richard Huver and Karin Wick, Mussey Grade Road in Ramona, Calif., was originally constructed to "continue straight, intersecting with State Route 67. However, the road was re-aligned in 1992 to create a left-hand curve." The plaintiff argued that these modifications created an optical illusion because "drivers approaching the curve at night see a traffic signal, flashing yellow lights, as well as headlights in the distance, giving the impression that the road continues straight." The plaintiff also showed that there had been six collisions over a seven-year period before the Gunderson accident.

I've attempted to use Google Maps below to illustrate the illusion. It appears to me that the driver allegedly failed to see the left-hand curve (shown by the red circle) because, in the dark, Mussey Grade Road appeared to go straight into Julian Road -- an illusion caused by the traffic signal in the distance (as shown by the yellow circle).


Plaintiff's counsel says that in January 2011, the county installed an "Advance Curve Ahead" warning sign and a large "Sharp Curve and Stop Ahead" sign, installed a flashing yellow beacon to warn drivers of the curve, and also erected a fence to eliminate the optical illusion.

March 8, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (1)

Baby on Board: Flight Attendant Grounded After Putting Child in Overhead Compartment

A Virgin Blue flight attendant has lost his job after reportedly putting a couple's 17-month-old child in an overhead luggage compartment during a flight from Fiji to Australia

Reports differ as to what preceded the unorthodox use of airplane facilities. Natalie Williamson claims the attendant scooped up son Riley, put him in the luggage bin and closed the latch, leaving Riley locked in the dark compartment for up to 10 seconds. Virgin Blue claims that Williamson's husband (the couple are now estranged) and their son were playing peek-a-boo with the overhead compartment when the flight attendant merely joined in the game.

After investigating, the Australian carrier terminated the attendant and offered Riley's mother credits for three flights, but the woman, who said she cried for days after the incident and that her son has been suffering from "anxiety and withdrawal" ever since, said she is too shaken up by the experience to redeem the credits.

The report has stirred up a lot of emotions on online forums as well, with some commenters saying the attendant should not have touched the child for any reason and others questioning the mother's state of mind and possible legal and financial motives.

Written by managing editor Paula Martersteck.

March 8, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (1)

Lady Gaga's Lawyers Tell Breast-Milk Ice Creamery to Cool It

Attorneys for pop sensation Lady Gaga have sent a cease-and-desist letter to the Icecreamists, a London enterprise that has been doing a bang-up business selling ice cream that's made with breast milk and marketed under the name "Baby Gaga."

Mishcon de Reya has given the ice creamery until Wednesday to change the name of the product -- which the law firm refers to as "deliberately provocative and, to many people, nausea-inducing" --"if you wish to avoid proceedings for trademark infringement."

Icecreamist owner Matt O'Connor isn't backing down quite so fast, though. His response, as posted on his blog: "She claims we have 'ridden the coattails' of her reputation. As someone who has plagiarised and recycled on an industrial scale, the entire back catalogue of pop-culture to create her look, music and videos, she might want to re-consider this allegation." Ouch!

As for the similar name, O'Connor goes on to write: "How can she possibly claim ownership of the word 'gaga' which since the dawn of time has been one of the first discernable phrases to come from a baby's mouth."

As it happens, the local authorities have seized the controversial ice cream so they can run health and safety checks on the product. Writing on his blog, O'Conner says of the ice cream dispute with Lady Gaga: "Nobody seems to have told her it is no longer for sale."

Written by managing editor Paula Martersteck.

March 8, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (1)

'Crimebook:' Anti-Social Network Shut Down by U.K. Authorities

You know about Facebook, aka "The Social Network," but what about "Crimebook"?

The Age reports that two young men in the U.K. have been convicted and face up to five years in prison "for running a $26 million Facebook-style website for criminals described in court as 'Crimebook.'" This very "anti-social network," as The Age calls it, was run on a website called, and allowed as many as 8,000 members to exchange details about thousands of stolen credit cards and hacked bank accounts.

The judge in the case described Crimebook as a "criminal enterprise offering sophisticated advice on how to hack into computers, cause them to malfunction and retrieve personal information from computers -- and how to do it on a massive scale."

Police reportedly found 100,000 stolen credit card details on one of the two young men's laptops and traced the information back to the site. After their arrests in 2009, the 18- and 17-year-old skipped bail and fled to Majorca, but they were apprehended last year after returning to the U.K. Both have now pleaded guilty to "conspiracy to make or supply articles for use in fraud, encouraging or assisting offenders, and conspiracy to commit fraud."

March 8, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (2)

March 04, 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: We are trying to do a breathalyzer test on this driver but he keeps burping. Our protocol requires a 20-minute wait after a burp because it can skew readings by drawing alcohol into the mouth. But this guy has now burped 78 times in 75 minutes (he blames the escargot he ate). What can we do?

Answer: Is the driver an ex-judge? Sometimes they try to beat the system by burping because they know the protocols. If so, they can be convicted for refusing to submit to the breathalyzer. (New Jersey Law Journal, Ex-Judge's Belching After DWI Arrest Held Conscious Avoidance of Alcotest)

2) Question: My Mazda6's fuel tank ventilation system seems to be all clogged up. Any ideas?

Answer: I was going to refer you to Automotive Repair Blog Watch, but if you have a Mazda6 you should check your car for yellow sac spiders. Mazda has recalled 65,000 Mazda6 cars after finding that yellow sac spiders like to weave webs in a vent connected to the fuel tank system that can clog up the tank's ventilation. (AP, Potential spider problem leads to Mazda recall)

3) Question: I would like to delay the trial in which I'll be prosecuted for murder just a bit so that I can get my hair cut and colored first. Yes?

Answer: No. (Chicago Tribune, Judge: Murder defendant can't have her hair done before trial)

March 4, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (7)

British Authorities Give Cold Shoulder to Breast-Milk Ice Cream

I have a pretty bad memory for events that occurred years ago. One memory that has proven to be indelible, however, came many years ago when one of my college friends who had recently given birth confessed that the brownies she served at a get-together (that I happily did not attend) were made with her breast milk because she had run out of cow milk. By the way, she served these brownies with no disclosure (before or after) of this material departure from the standard recipe.

I had a flashback to the brownie incident when I read that government officials in London swooped in on a local ice cream shop over the weekend to confiscate a line of ice cream called "Baby Gaga" that is made with human breast milk. It seems that some Londoners question "whether a shop should be selling edibles made from other people's bodily fluids." 

According to the Associated Press (via Consumerist), the Icecreamists, the parlor marketing the dessert, claims that the breast milk used "was screened in line with blood donor requirements before being pasteurized and churned together with vanilla pods and lemon zest." It also states that Baby Gaga meets the "highest and safest" of food standards, and that there is no law prohibiting such a product. Most surprisingly, the Icecreamists say that Baby Gaga has had a "huge response" and promptly sold out upon its launch on Friday.

I can say with confidence that I will not be among those in line for a dish of Baby Gaga, but at least there is disclosure in this case about the source of the milk! What do you think: Should the London authorities have confiscated the supply of Baby Gaga or not?

March 4, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0)

The Day'sThree Burning Legal Questions

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

1) Question: It is my dream to be a social media guru for lawyers. I've been twitting and tweeting furiously but nobody will follow me on Twitter. Yes, I have an iPad, but other than that my assets are limited to a 1986 Ford Fiesta worth about $1,000. Any thoughts?

Answer: You didn't hear it from me but here's what you could do. Sell the Fiesta and take $850 of the proceeds. Visit this website and buy "Pack 9," which will get you 20,000 Twitter followers. Instant guru!!! Then, start boldly leading your 20,000 followers until you achieve glory and reach your dream. (Buy Twitter Followers)

2) Question: These two new pizza shops are killing my pizzeria's business! What if I went and bought a bunch of white mice, and stealthily put several mice in each of the restauants? Would that work?

Answer: It might work ... to get yourself charged with with disorderly conduct, harassment and animal cruelty. (, Cops: Pizza shop owner is a rat who hid mice at competing shops) (via Consumerist)

3) Question: My home was just burglarized, and many of my possessions were stolen. But why would the burglar have dumped hot sauce, mustard, ketchup and spices into my fish tank, killing my three goldfish? Why???!!

Answer: Sometimes burglars kill goldfish because they "don't want to leave any witnesses." (Huffington Post, Teen Burglar Kills Goldfish Because He Didn't Want To Leave Any Witnesses, Cops Say)

March 4, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (3)

March 01, 2011

Pimp Law: Are You Offering Pimp Services if the Woman Is Already 'in the Game'?

There is such a thing as California pimp law, and on March 8 the California Supreme Court will hear argument in a case that will help define it.

The Associated Press reports that in 2007, Jomo Zambia was in his car at a "notorious intersection" in the San Fernando Valley known for its prostitutes. He allegedly asked a woman he believed to be a prostitute to enter his car, explained he was a pimp, and offered his pimp services, "which included providing housing and clothing, if she turned over all of her money to him."

The prostitute was actually an LAPD Officer working undercover, and Zambia was arrested and later convicted of the crime of pandering, as one who "induces, persuades or encourages another person to become a prostitute."  California's highest court will now examine whether a defendant like Zambia can be convicted of encouraging another person to become a prostitute when that person already appears to be working as a prostitute. Or, in AP writer Paul Elias' words, the court will define "what makes a pimp in California."

Zambia's lawyer, Vanessa Place, argues that the law is directed at people who recruit innocent victims into the "game," and not at people who are simply attempting to persuade an already working prostitute to "change management." The California attorney  general's office counters that there is "no way lawmakers intended to let suspects like Zambia off the hook."

According to The Associated Press, there is some precedent in Zambia's favor. In 2009, a lower appellate court "reluctantly" reversed a conviction because "[i]f the Legislature had wanted a more broadly applicable provision, it could have easily replaced the phrase 'become a prostitute' with the phrase 'engage in prostitution.'"

March 1, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (7)

Cast Your Vote for 'Blawg Review of the Year 2010'

I could be wrong, but I suspect it is no easy task for "Ed.", the editor of Blawg Review, to find a new, talented blogger each week to write Blawg Review. And yet Blawg Review continues to crank out good stuff week after week, and celebrated its 300th edition last week.

Blawg Review #300 looks back at all of the 47 Blawg Reviews from 2010, and provides an update on what each author is writing about lately. #300 also reminds readers that Blawg Review is seeking feedback from readers on which of these 47 Blawg Reviews should be named "Blawg Review of the Year 2010." Blawg Review will announce the winner on Saturday, March 5th, at 7:00 p.m. Pacific, live from Harry's Bar in San Francisco (the event will be live-tweeted, of course, for those who cannot make it to Harry's).

A full list of all of the 2010 Blawg Reviews is below. Feel free to vote for #259 if you want to.

March 1, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (2)

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