Wednesday, August 10, 2005

 

Property Insurance For College Kids

I saw a news story on t.v. about how parents need to worry about getting insurance to cover their college kid's possessions. Apparently, kids who stay in dorms will be covered by their parent's insurance, but those who take off-campus housing will need to get their own renters' insurance.

This was not a big problem when I went to college in the 1980s. Most college students didn't have computers or other expensive equipment. I'm sure there were some exceptions, but I went through my entire college career without ever buying a p.c. (let alone a laptop - did they even exist in the 1980s?).

I think the value of my possessions when I went to college was about $300.
 

This Story Belongs on the Overlawyered Site

A guy blames Grand Theft Auto for making him shoot three police officers. He got convicted. But apparently the victims are suing the game manufacturer and two stores.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

 

The Law Firm to Continue on Bravo

The schedule is here.


 

The Law Firm, Episode Two: Witness to an Injustice

NBC has announced that it is canceling the remaining episodes of the Law Firm (thanks to Evan Schaeffer for the link). The announcement came before I had a chance to finish and post my review of Episode Two. I include the portion of my review that I was able to finish, in memoriam:

Like millions of Americans, I watched in shock and horror as Elizabeth was fired on the second episode of The Law Firm. Olivier's survival, after calling an arbitrator's decision "bullshit" to his face, is irrefutable evidence that the producers, and not Roy Black, are calling the shots on who gets fired. Olivier is an annoying, arrogant, whiny baby but his presence creates what passes for drama on reality t.v. The decison not to fire him was a transparent ratings grab that disgusted me so much I am now rooting for the show to fail just to prove that the American viewing public isn't as base as NBC thinks it is.

There is no question that Anika should have been fired for screwing up the defense team's strategy in the Terrorist case by trying to paint the plaintiff, Brad Graves, as a dangerous man, rather than characterizing the whole incident as a silly joke that went wrong.

The main problem I had with the episode is that it sacrificed clarity for melodrama. It failed to explain the legal standards that applied to each case, focusing instead on the more salacious or sensationalist aspects of the cases.


And so we waive goodbye to another bad reality tv show. I thought that, despite its flaws, it would be a big hit. Maybe it will have a second life on Bravo, but for now, it was not meant to be.

Afterthought: It occurs to me that NBC may have pulled the plug, not just because of ratings but because of all the legal and ethical concerns that have been raised by critics of the show. Maybe they are concerned about liability.
 

Legal Question From a Reader

Bobby has posted this question in the comments. I thought it was worthy of its own post. Feel free to opine.

I've used [PACER] to follow . . . a waste disposal company's lawsuit against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. (Norton Environmental vs. U.S. Army Corp)

Digression - The company wants to build a landfill near us in Canton. The Army Corps has to approve anything that affects wetlands, which this landfill does. The local congressman, a vice chairman on the House Appropriations Committee, placed provisions in appropriation bills that prohibit the Army Corps from spending federal funds to review the landfill application.

A U.S. District judge in Akron, Ohio, ruled in May that the provisions are unconstitutional - they violate the equal protection clause because they singled out Norton. The judge ordered the Army Corps to resume review of the landfill application. The Justice Department has filed an appeal with the 6th Circuit. In its argument for a stay, which I read off Pacer, the department says that the judge is basically ordering Army Corps staff to spend federal funds that have not been appropriated by Congress, opening the staff to civil penalties.

Can the judge order Congress to appropriate the money?


Really interesting question, Bobby. As I understand it, Congress has appropriated money for the Army Corps. However, it has placed a limitation on how it can spend that money. A court has determined that the limitation is unconstitutional. If that decision is upheld, the Army Corps would be free to go ahead with its review of the landfill application. I gather that the Justice Department's position is that the Army Corps should be stayed from reviewing the landfill application while the appeal is pending, because if the decision is overturned, they will have spent the money without congressional authorization, which would subject them to civil penalties.

I'm not sure if your question "Can the judge order Congress to appropriate the money?" means "does the district court judge's decision amount to an order that congress appropriate the money and, if so, is that permissible?" or "can the judge now, in light of the Justice Department's argument turn around and order congress to appropriate the money for the purpose of reviewing the landfill application?"

Courts can't order Congress to affirmatively appropriate money - all they can do is interpret the law - i.e. determining the constitutionality of congressional acts and applying them to the facts of a particular case. More than that would violate separation of powers.

Friday, August 05, 2005

 

Guestbook Worthless? You Decide

I'm taking an informal poll

This morning I checked my email and discovered there were four new entries to my Bravenet Guestbook. When I went to read them, however, all I discovered were a bunch of entries consisting of the words "good site" followed by the person's website. I guess these people must all know each other - or there is some kind of spammer's code of conduct that I don't know about.

Anyway, my question is: should I remove the guest book since it seems to serve no other purpose than to provide spammers with a place to congregate? On the other hand, does its existence deter people from spamming directly in my comments? If so, it might be worth keeping just for that purpose.

As a follow up question - is there anyway to punish these people? Should I retaliate by spamming in their site - or encouraging my readers to spam in their sites? I think I'm above that, don't you? Should I post something on their websites to let then know how I feel about their behavior? Of course, I now I shouldn't feel so annoyed and violated - they are just minor nuisances, after all. Well, thanks for listening. I guess I mostly just wanted to vent.
 

No Law Firm For Me :(

Well, being the electronics genius that I am, I failed miserably in my efforts to tape the Law Firm last night. It turns out that, even though your VCR prompts you to enter the channel number of the show you want to tape, you should actually enter channel 3 and set your cable box to the channel you want to tape. Apparently, this is where I went wrong. Now I know.

Fortunately, I had the good sense to anticipate my own ineptitude and asked my boyfriend to tape the show as well. So I will get to see it tonight. Stay tuned for comments.

Update: I did watch the tape and will provide commentary soon - whaddaya want? I'm busy working right now!

Thursday, August 04, 2005

 

NYCLU Suing Over Bag Searches

This story was on TV in the background as I was getting ready for work this morning. According to the expanded story on Channel 1, the NYPD's policy is to search bags "randomly" based on a mathematical formula (e.g. search every 12 or 14 people). My question is how do you search every 12 people unless they are actually in a line? New Yorkers don't stand in lines to get on subways and trains.

And anyway, as everyone in NYC knows, the police aren't really searching every 12th or 14th person. They are standing around chatting with each other and checking out women. I haven't seen a single search in any of the subway or train stations since this policy was instituted. So if you stand around for an hour without searching anyone and then you decide to search some guy with a backpack, haven't you already violated your "random search" policy by failing to search the 12th or 14th person before him and then the 12th or 14th person before that guy and so on for the previous hour? IMO, this random search policy is BS and serves no purpose other than to create the appearance that there is no racial profiling.

Anyway, predictably, the NYCLU isn't buying the no racial profiling policy and they are preparing to file a lawsuit.

Update: Lawsuit filed
 

Cute Story That Demonstrates the Advantages of Mediation


Lemonade Stand Dispute Ends in "Merger"

New York LawyerAugust 4, 2005

By The Associated Press

SALEM, Mass. -- A dispute between two boys hawking lemonade and a rival vendor who forced police to shut down their unlicensed stand was resolved Wednesday after the mayor orchestrated what he called "a corporate merger."

Mayor Stanley Usovicz said sausage stand owner Kevin Kefalas agreed to allow Dominic Serino, 9, and Ryan Decker, 11, to operate as subcontractors under his vending license following an impromptu outdoor meeting initiated by Usovicz.

The agreement expires when school starts.

Kefalas' employee, Jarrod Crowley, reported the boys to police Saturday, saying their stand was affecting his business, which also sells lemonade. He said he didn't want the stand closed, just moved farther away.

But without a $2,200 vendor's license, the police were forced to shut it down.

Crowley said he's endured his share of icy stares since the incident.

Ryan Decker's mother, Angela, said the boys started selling their powder-based brew last summer and made a "killing" -- $130.
 

Sister of Law Firm Contestant Entered Her For the Show Without Her Knowledge

According to Law.com article, Aileen Page's sister submitted Page's application and impersonated her through the first few rounds of the vetting process. She finally came clean when the producers asked to meet Page in person.

Page describes the show as "a complete insider's look at what lawyers do."

Her biggest gripe - not having a professional hair and make-up artist to help her look good on camera. I would probably feel the same way.


BTW, cross your fingers for me. I am having dinner with my mom tonight so I had to set my VCR to tape the show (something I haven't done since circa 1989).
 

Trick of the Trade: Cribbing Briefs With PACER

The following tip for attorneys is featured today on Tricks of the Trade:

If you find a federal court opinion that you like (or don't like) issued within the last five or six years, use PACER (Public Access to Court Electronic Records) and find the docket sheet for the case in question. You will then likely have access to the briefs filed by both sides that led to the opinion, allowing you to either crib their research or be forearmed with opposition research. It is like having an on-demand brief bank.

Bonus tip: If the briefs were not scanned in (and are therefore unavailable online), call the attorney who filed it -- they may be willing to email a copy to you.

Good tip. I've used PACER way to find court documents which I can then use to draft my own pleadings and briefs.

Tricks of the Trade is a fun blog by Matthew Baldwin that provides daily tips for a variety of professions.
 

Recently Exonerated Man Convicted of Serial Rape Was Originally Represented by Roy Black

Luis Diaz, who was convicted of serial rape in 1980, was freed yesterday after DNA evidence cleared him of two of the attacks, casting doubt on the other three convictions.

According to the article, Roy Black said he was "thrilled" by the result.

Black issued the following statement: "That Luis' innocence has finally been admitted is cause for celebration, but nothing can erase the 26 years he spent in prison, in horrible condition, separated from his family."
 

Actor Blake's First Wife Claims He Put a Hit Out on Her

According to CNN, Blake's first wife, Sondra Kerr Blake, was deposed in a civil lawsuit filed by Bonnie Lee Bakley's children against Robert Blake. She testified that she learned some time in the 1970s that Blake had put out a hit on her and her then-boyfriend, actor Steve Railsback. Allegedly, Blake had planned to make the double-murder look like a revenge-killing for Kerr Blake's and Railsback's participation in the movie Helter Skelter (about Charles Manson).

Kerr Blake said that the director of Helter Skelter told her about the plot, but she did not as him how he learned about it. Well, call me crazy, but that seems to show a surpising lack of curiosity on her part.

The CNN article pointed out that Kerr Blake did not testify about the alleged hit at Blake's murder trial.

Umm . . . no kidding. Perhaps because that would be double hearsay? And it probably wouldn't be admissible in a civil trial either.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

 

I Really Admire This Lawyer

Update:

Blogger e nonymous has chastized me in the comments for not including more information in my post about the article, so here is a brief excerpt:

Wagman has made a career out of protecting animals from abuse. While he spends about 20 percent of his time handling product liability defense and labor and employment litigation, the remainder is devoted to animal cases.


I am not a PETA freak, but I love animals and believe that we should work harder to eliminate the suffering caused by the stupidity and selfishness of humans. I admire this lawyer because he has devoted a big part of his career to fighting to protect animals who can't protect themselves.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

 

More Blogging about The Law Firm

Donald Caster at All Deliberate Speed asks some good questions about the ethics of the reality show, The Law Firm.

For example:

1. How was the client convinced to allow his case to be tried in this forum/format? (Are they really in court, or is this actually just binding arbitration?) Why would it be in the client's best interest to turn his or her case into an episode of reality TV?

As someone noted in the comments to Caster's post, the clients are convinced because they want to be on TV. Clearly this is not a real court - the judges are apparently retired judges and arbitrators. Even if the trial takes place in a "courtroom," the case is actually resolved by binding arbitration. Is it in the client's best interests? That's up to the client to decide.

2. Were there limitations on the clients' ability to decide to settle a case pre-trial? Settlement discussions don't make for very interesting TV.

I wondered the same thing. I imagine that the client must agree to try the case, not to settle it, in order to be on the show.

3. If the lawyer-contestants are judged on criteria apart from merely who wins and who loses, has NBC created a separation of interests between attorney and client (I can't think of a concrete example, but what if an attorney decided a particular argument or strategy might win for the client, but might not look great on TV--maybe it's politically unpopular or just too complicated for the inevitable editing?) If so, how is this ethical?

Also, as we saw in the first episode, winning the case doesn't mean saving your ass from being fired. What is more likely is that the contestants will elevate their desire to win the competition over their duty of loyalty to their clients.

4. NBC's website promises us a behind-the-scenes look. So the clients agreed to waive work product and attorney-client privilege? Again, how is this in their best interests?

Again, the clients must have waived the atty-client privilege as part of their agreement to be on the show. Presumably, they received legal counseling concerning the pros and cons of doing so and made the decision that they felt was in their best interests. I am assuming that, as with People's Court, the TV show covers any damages awarded against a particular party. Arguably, a client who waives the atty-client privilege in exchange for free legal representation and indemnification for any judgment is acting in his own best interests. This is true even for the party who wins the lawsuit, because the judgment is immediately and fully recoverable (unlike real life where most judgments are not fully recoverable).

However, this raises another interesting question. Roy Black blasted one of the teams for failing to seek punitive damages against the Coroner who posed as a police officer and pulled over the plaintiff for speeding. The plaintiff's team won, but did not get a big judgment. Could the plaintiff sue those lawyers for the amount of the punitive damages she should have been awarded? Since a lawyer cannot contractually limit his liability for legal malpractice, I don't see why this couldn't happen. I would hope that the TV show agreed to indemnify the contestants for any claims of legal malpractice against them.


Update: Evan Schaeffer didn't think much of the show.

Based on my quick, informal survey of the blogosphere, I seem to be in the minority in predicting the show will be a hit.
 

Controversial Ex-Judge Appears on The Law Firm

New York Lawyer reports that a former California judge, Howard Broadman, who was once censured by the California Supreme Court for discussing cases with the media, is one of the featured judges on The Law Firm. The article requires a subscription (which is free), but I have reproduced it below for convenience:

Censured Ex-Judge Lands Reality TV Gig
New York LawyerAugust 2, 2005
By Warren LutzThe Recorder

Move over Judge Judy and make room for Judge Howard.

Judge Howard is retired Tulare County Superior Court Judge Howard Broadman, whose controversial sentencing techniques once made him the subject of his own "60 Minutes" segment — and landed him in hot water with the state's Commission on Judicial Performance and the California Supreme Court.

Broadman, 55, now acts as a judge on NBC's latest reality game show, "The Law Firm," where a dozen young attorneys participate in an elimination-style competition for $250,000.
Broadman, who works in private practice as an arbitrator and mediator, says he has no idea how he came to be a part of the show.

"They just called me up," he said. "I asked one of the people, 'How did you find me?'"
Broadman is no stranger to the national media.

In 1991, he grabbed attention when he sentenced a woman guilty of child abuse to probation only if she used Norplant, a birth control device that is implanted in a woman's arm.
He resigned from the bench in 1999, a year after being censured by the California Supreme Court for talking to the media about cases, committing willful misconduct and appearing in another judge's courtroom when an attorney he despised was testifying — just to be "an asshole," Broadman said at the time.

Producer David Garfinkle, one of the creators of "The Law Firm," said Broadman was a natural for TV.

"I had seen a story on him on "60 Minutes" years ago, and I was always kind of fascinated by him," Garfinkle said. "He's one I remembered, and we gave him a call."

Garfinkle said the show's producers were looking for unique personalities and a strong presence for the show's judges, who act as arbitrators and decide actual cases. Broadman had both qualities.

Producers also scoured mediation centers looking for retired judges. Four other judges — all formerly Los Angeles County Superior Court judges — appear on the show. "They are all different," Garfinkle said. "But Judge Broadman is quite a character."

While he's been a critic of the justice system in the past, Broadman said he isn't taking his TV role very seriously.

"It is acting, it is entertainment," he said.

He can't talk about the plots of future episodes, which feature increasingly complex cases. But he giggles when he thinks about them. "The fifth episode that I'm on, it's unbelievably creative what they do," he said.

Visalia attorney John Bianco, who tuned in to watch Broadman, said few local attorneys are surprised the judge wound up on the small screen.

"There was some talk about when he retired that he was going to do some television," Bianco said. Bianco added that he doesn't usually enjoy reality TV, but found "The Law Firm" "interesting."

More TV work may be in store for Broadman, but he won't talk specifics. "It's in negotiations," he said. "Other people have contacted me."

Whatever the future holds, he seems to be taking TV fame in stride.

In a phone interview before Thursday's premiere, Broadman could be overheard telling a neighbor, "Don't miss Channel 24 today, they came over today and filmed me at the house!"

Then he turned his attention back to the phone.

"Well-wisher shit," he explained.

Friday, July 29, 2005

 

The Law Firm

Like Jeremy, I watched the Law Firm last night, the new reality t.v. show starring "real lawyers, trying real cases, in front of real judges."

I came in about ten minutes late, but I caught up pretty quickly. I predict the show will be a hit. As I posted before, the concept is the People's Court Meets the Apprentice. Having now seen an episode, I believe it has the qualities of each of those shows that made them hugely popular.

I agree with Jeremy that I can probably learn something from this show. I'm not as optimistic that Roy Black's comments will be particularly helpful, however. His instructions are clearly to blast each candidate about something they did wrong since that makes better t.v. than giving constructive criticism. I think I will learn more from watching the candidates and taking note of their strengths and weaknesses.

The Cases:
The cases chosen for the first episode were quirky enough to be interesting, without being outlandish. They involved legal issues that were easy enough for most lay people to grasp quickly. I imagine the complexity of the cases will increase with each episode. Since most lay people have a pretty sophisticated understanding of legal issues nowadays, this shouldn't be a problem. My one criticism is that neither of the cases was a close call on either the law or the facts, so the lawyers' skills did not determine the outcome.

The Losers:
I felt kind of bad for Jason, who made the fatal error of moving to strike the defendants' inflamatory statement in the three-legged dog case. Since Jason represented the plaintiff, the statement actually helped his case, so moving to strike it showed extremely poor judgment. However, I was just in court yesterday morning where I had to field questions fired at me by an irate judge. I discovered that, no matter how good you may be at legal research and brief writing, it is really hard to think on your feet in a courtroom setting. Of course, afterwards, I thought of a dozen better answers than I gave at the time. My experience made me more sympathetic to Jason's faux pas.

Kelly deserved to be booted. Her opening statement was really bad and she was clearly shaken by the judge's harsh comments (in reality, an arbitrator would probably never interrupt a lawyer's opening statement that many times). Nevertheless, Kelly seemed unprepared and inept - which is a lot worse than committing the occasional verbal misstep.

Other Candidates:
Regina is way too much of a control-freak and is too stressed out. She needs to chill. However, I disagreed with Roy that there was much she could have done to control her client on the stand. That guy was uncontrollable. Chris did a great job with objections and cross-examination in the arbitration. I thought Roy's criticism that he took a back seat was unjustified. However, both he and Deep screwed up by undervaluing their client's case and downplaying the egregiousness of the defendant's conduct. The guy impersonated a police officer and pulled a woman driver over, for God's sake. If that's not egregious, what is? Roy was totally right to slam them for that.

What I learned:
Taking chances and being creative can pay off - bringing the three-legged dog into the courtroom was "brilliant" as Roy Black said. Even the judge let them get away with it.

Winning the case doesn't necessarily win you the esteem of your colleagues. Both the losers were on the winning sides of their cases.

Practice your opening and closing statements before a colleague to reduce the likelihood of getting flustered on the day of trial.


Your Reactions?
I would love to get my readers' feedback on the show or my observations.
 

Forbes Best of the Web is Up

The list segregates thousands of websites into helpful categories and provides a brief review of each site, including best and worst features.



Thanks to Jim Calloway for the pointer.

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