Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Choosing a Pre-Law Major - Happy Holiday Season

This is final exam week at UConn. As the semester comes to a close I wish a happy holiday season and semester break to all readers.  Posts will return in earnest when the Spring semester begins in mid-January.

In the meantime, this clip of a family holiday dinner discussion allows us to reflect on how our students may be drawn to study the law.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Bad Lawyer Ads #3

This is final exam week at UConn so, normally, I would post something on the lighter side. I went  looking for humorous lawyer ads to post and found the video below, Unfortunately, this ad, ostensibly intended to be clever turned out to be disturbing.

How can you be a lawyer who purports to make a living advancing the rights of innocent injury victims yet embrace the stereotype of "bullying" insurance companies into unfairly paying money to your clients after a "shakedown"?  Where is our credibility, as a profession, in advocating for a fair civil justice system when we sink to pandering for business at the expense of principles? An ad like this emboldens the cause of "tort deformers," and cheapens the search for justice.

I hesitated to post the ad here for fear that I would be giving it unwarranted exposure. But toward the greater interest of education, we all need to know what is happening out there and to what forces of "mis-education" our students may be exposed.

See also: Bad Lawyer Ads #1; Bad Lawyer Ads #2

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Law Music Video: "Sue Me" from Guys and Dolls

This week's installment in the "Law Music Videos" series is Sue Me from the musical "Guys and Dolls." This performance features Nathan Lane and Faith Prince.
Law music videos played before your class starts will positively contribute to learning.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Commercial Appropriation Claim: Kardashian v. Old Navy

We have seen successful commercial appropriation claims by Bette Midler and Vanna WhiteLindsey Lohan's claim deservedly crashed and burned. The latest person suiing to prevent others from trading on her fame is Kim Kardashian.  If you are like me, your first reaction is likely, "Who the heck is Kim Kardashian?"  However, I understand that she is a person well known to our undergraduate students. Yet, even the students are unable to satisfactorily answer my follow-up question, ". . . and why is she famous?"

Judge for yourself.  This is Kim Kardashian:

This is the Old Navy ad:

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Law Lessong - Another Day (A Good Samaritan Law Song)

The next installment in the “Law Lessong” series is Another Day. The lyrics for this song were written by Faiven Feshazion, a student in my Legal and Ethical Environment of Business class at the University of Connecticut. Students may submit law songs for credit. In order to fashion a rhyming scheme that matches a melody, a student must carefully examine and distill legal principles and the language that expresses the legal principles. This song helps students consider the absence of a Common Law duty to assist someone who is in danger and, therefore, the public policy behind Good Samaritan statutes.

Learn more about Law Lessongs from the post found here.  More videos may be found at my youtube channel. Please feel free to use them in the classroom or as assignments or in any way that they work for you as an educational resource.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Eat More . . . Doughnuts?

The NY Times is reporting that lawyers for Chick-fil-A have sent a notice to an entrepreneurial T-shirt seller in Vermont to cease and desist from selling his "Eat More Kale" T-shirts. Chick-fil-A claims that the shirt's slogan is "likely to cause confusion of the public and dilutes the distinctiveness of Chick-fil-A's intellectual property."  (Chik-fil-A's trademarked advertising slogan is actually for the misspelled phrase "Eat Mor Chikin." See the video embedded below.)

I cannot profess to be an expert in these matters, but on the trademark infringement issue of public confusion, I just don't see a lot of dangerous consumer confusion between a fast food chicken restaurant that sells chicken sandwiches and a T-shirt maker that sells T-shirts about eating kale.

On the issue of trademark dilution, I think it is pretty hard to claim the distinctiveness of the phrase "Eat more (insert food item here)." In fact, I am certain that my children will recall me repeating that phrase, or something quite similar to it, many times over the years; "Eat more peas," or "Eat more liver" or "No desert until you eat more fish sticks," or something like that. If I reveal here that my physician recently advised me to "eat more fiber," should he expect a missive from Chick-fil-A?

Even a 30 second Google search turned up sites for, "Eat More Brook Trout,"  "Eat More Produce,"  "Eat More Chiles," "Eat More Cheese," "Eat More Fish," and "Eat More Cake." That last one might have run into some trouble with the British pop music group of the same name.

All in all, if I had my druthers, I'd rather eat more doughnuts. (I carefully avoided writing "donuts" so as to avoid any potential trademark issues.)

A Chick-fil-A sandwich:


Chick-fil-A commercial:

Press conference with Vermont's Governor and "Team Kale":

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

A Challenge For an Open Internet

Keeping internet speech open and free is certainly a desirable goal.  But how do we, as a society, deal with those who act irresponsibly and cause significant harm to others.  School systems are struggling mightily with the issues of cyber bullying. Teachers and school administrators have been targets of fake Facebook listings.  Thus far, legitimate websites such as Facebook have been cooperative in removing content that is obviously false and harmful, thereby attempting to reduce the magnitude of harm suffered by victims.  But how should the system deal with website hosters who not only allow false and harmful postings, but actually encourage the practice?

Consider the case of Sarah Jones.

Monday, December 5, 2011

"Frivolous" Lawsuits Are Good For America

The national news media reported last week on a lawsuit filed by a kidnapper against his victims claiming that they breached an oral contract to hide him from police. (A tip of the hat to ALSB member Marsha Hass for sharing the report). Predictably, bloggers and commentators have added this example to their rhetoric of a "justice system out of control" and "costing taxpayers money" and etc.

In this post, I advocate that this story, rather than supporting the notion of an out of control civil justice system,  is best understood as an example of a legal system working exactly as it should for the greater benefit of society.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Law Music Video - Folsom Prison Blues

This week's installment in the "Law Music Videos" series is Folsom Prison Blues by Johnny Cash. This is both a Rock'n' Roll AND a Country classic.
Law music videos played before your class starts will positively contribute to learning.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Are Courts Insulated From Politics?

Students learn in high school Civics classes that the courts are insulated from the affects of politics.  This issue has already been mentioned in this blog. But as states all over the country deal with serious budget issues, all aspects of state government, including courts, have been affected. Reporting on Budget cuts in the New Hampshire court system, the New York Times reports:

While most state agencies are feeling a squeeze, legislatures squeeze courts at the risk of violating the access to the courts guaranteed in criminal and civil matters by the Constitution, said Steven Zack, a former president of the American Bar Association.

The video embedded below reports on similar issues in Iowa.

Part of being college educated is being able to see through the mask of "Civics class" platitudes and maxims and to see the Legal Environment with all its warts and imperfections.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Law Lessong - Administrative Runaround

The next installment in the “Law Lessong” series is Administrative Runaround.  This simple video and song from a Power Point presentation helps students consider aspects of Administrative Law, including rulemaking, enforcement and adjudication.  Please excuse the "Dylan-esque" harmonica playing.
Learn more about Law Lessongs from the post found here.  More videos may be found at my youtube channel. Please feel free to use them in the classroom or as assignments or in any way that they work for you as an educational resource.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Mandated Reporting

In my experience with college students the legal requirements of mandated reporting of suspicion of child abuse and neglect is mostly unknown. One positive outcome from the recent events at Penn State is to bring public recognition to both the legal requirements and the moral obligations of all persons to protect children from abuse. Many legislatures are reviewing the mandated reporting statutes to determine their efficacy in light of these recent revelations.

The video below is a good basic introduction to the issue of mandated reporting.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Featured Website: LawInfo.com YouTube Channel

The Law Info You Tube channel has a plethora of short (around 1:00) videos that are great for introducing legal topics or defining terms. I find that students can zone out on my voice.  Sure, I can define a promissory note or briefly introduce the concept of employment discrimination, but having another face/voice do it gives an opportunity to have students close laptops to look up at a video and lends credibility to what I have to say (since the video lawyer agrees).  Below are some examples:

Click on the image below to see a video on Promissory Notes:

Click on the image below to see a video on Commercial Speech:

Monday, November 28, 2011

Contemplating The True Nature of Law

Is "Law" a set of universally recognized truths about right and wrong? Or, is "Law" nothing more than the policy decision of law-makers designed to shape society in particular ways or to satisfy an electoral impulse? Or, is it a combination of both?

This video from newt Gingrich speaking at Harvard may be a good discussion starter.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Songs of the Supreme Court

This is Thanksgiving Week and there are no classes at UConn. I thought it would be a good week to make a fun post and leave it up until classes resume next week.

This post is made up of songs realted to U.S. Supreme Court cases. I found songs on a few cases, but I am sure that there are more out there that readers will be able to share.  Please us the comment section at the end of the post to add your favorites and suggestions.

1. Brown v. Board of Education
The song Black and White written by David Arkin (Alan Arkin's father) and Earl Robinson.was inspired by the Brown case. The most famous recording of the song was by Three Dog Night in the 1970's.  However, that version inexplicably removed all the poignant references to the court. The version below is from Pete Seeger.

2. Loving v. Virginia
Singer/songwriter Nanci Griffith wrote and recorded this song to commemorate the 50th anniversary of this landmark decision.

3. United States v. US District Court
The song John Sinclair was written by John Lennon prior to this Supreme Court decision. Sinclair was one of the defendants whose case made up the subject of  the Supreme Court case.  Lennon famously performed the song at the "John Sinclair Freedom Rally" in Ann Arbor, MI in 1971.

4. Snyder v. Phelps (Westboro Baptist Church)
There are a large number of songs available on-line in response to the Westboro Baptist Church protests that were upheld by this decision. Many of them cannot be shared in polite company. I chose the one embedded below because I thought it best exemplified Justice Holmes' "marketplace of ideas" (although the phrase was coined by Justice Brennan).

If you have a song related to a Supreme Court case that you would like to share, please feel free to send it to me for a future post at mark.deangelis@uconn.edu.  I look forward you  to your comments and suggestions.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Law Music Video - Renegade

This week's installment in the "Law Music Videos" series is Renegade by Styx. I recommend maximum volume - especially just before your 8:00 AM class starts. No "drowsyheads" after this.

Law music videos played before your class starts will positively contribute to learning.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Immigration Law is Baffling

Today's post is not really a classroom resource.  Rather it is an invitation to begin a conversation that can lead to learning.

As the son of an immigrant, I am embarrassed to admit that I know very little about immigration law and procedure. I only glean what I can from anectdotes reported by the press - and I rarely trust the press to accurately report a complex issue. Whenever an issue comes up in class regarding illegal immigration, I often get angry responses from students who feel that immigrants can readily choose between immigrating legally or illegally and, therefore, choosing to immigrate illegally should be punished. Not being particularly familiar with the process from a professional (legal) standpoint, I was under the belief that the legal immigration process could not be navigated unless one had significant education or funds to hire expensive lawyers, or both. Once again, I don't know if this is true or not - but that was the impression I had from reading news articles like this one. I am under the impression that illegal immigration is the only realistic option for anyone who is not a "person of means."  Am I right or wrong?   Hopefully, someone with knowledge or expertise in this area can post a clarifying comment.

This following video seems to support the assumption that legal immigration is not a realistic option for many people.

This video is more encouraging, but still - lawyer's fees are involved.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Law Lessong - The Takings Clause

The next installment in the “Law Lessong” series is The Takings Clause. The lyrics for this song were written by Alex Bansak, a student in my Legal and Ethical Environment of Business class at the University of Connecticut. Students may submit law songs for credit. In order to fashion a rhyming scheme that matches a melody, a student must carefully examine and distill legal principles and the language that expresses the legal principles. This video features Alex's performance of the song as he submitted it for credit and use in the class. The song helps students consider the legal and practical parameters of the Eminent Domain power.

Learn more about Law Lessongs from the post found here.  More videos may be found at my youtube channel. Please feel free to use them in the classroom or as assignments or in any way that they work for you as an educational resource.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Facebook Photos = Imminent Incarceration

This blog has previously featured the use of facebook photos to support employee termination. Now, the granddaughter of a Saudi millionaire faces more severe consequences for her ill-advised facebook postings.

The Connecticut Supreme Court recently heard the appeal of Alia Altajir.  According to the Hartford Advocate,  a 19-year-old Altajir drove drunk and killed her best friend in 2004. Her plea bargain resulted in a sentence of five years suspended after one year served and 5 years probation. She later violated her probation.  Prosecutors used her facebook photos as evidence, referring to them as an "altar of alcohol, lewdness and debauchery." Noting a lack of remorse, the Superior Court judge sentenced Altajir to three years in jail. On appeal, defense counsel argued that the photos were undated and, therefore, should not have been admissible. Read the full article here.  Read the Appellate Court decision here.

A tip of the hat to Mark Spurling, my UConn colleague, for sharing this article.

Source of image: http://www.ct.com/news/advocates/latest-news/nm-ht44ncfacebook-20111025,0,3113626.story
Connecticut Supreme Court Case Hinges on Facebook Photos
Alia Altajir

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Monday, November 14, 2011

Singing the C.I.S.G.

University of Pittsburgh Law School Professor Harry Flechtner has composed and recorded a song extolling the virtues of the United Nations Convention on Contracts for the International Sale of Goods (C.I.S.G.). If this is your area, be prepared to be simultaneously entertained and educated.  I don't know a lot about the CISG, but I am a big believer in the use of music as a pedagogical device. Thank you, Professor Flechtner, for sharing this great educational resource by posting it on the web.  A tip of the hat to ALSB member George Siedel for bringing it to my attention.

Click on the link below to access the site with an audio file of the C.I.S.G. Song:
(image source: http://commissions.uianet.org/en/business-law-department/root-48/presentation/)

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Law Music Video - Criminal Lawyer

This week's installment in the "Law Music Videos" series is Criminal Lawyer by Bugle. Honestly, I can't understand a single word this guy is singing, other than "criminal lawyer."  But it's got a nice beat and it's easy to dance to. . . . Law music videos played before your class starts will positively contribute to learning.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Contingent Fee: 25%

Here is a law firm advertising a reduced contingent fee.  What a minute - on uncontested claims? First of all, is there such a thing? And when one comes along, what's the lawyer's job - to deposit the check? Students may be interested in discussing the ethics of this kind of advertising.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Law Lessong - Ethics and Laws in Our Lives

The next installment in the “Law Lessong” series is Ethics and Law in Our Lives. The lyrics for this song were written by Sean Donlon, a student in my Legal and Ethical Environment of Business class at the University of Connecticut. Students may submit law songs for credit. In order to fashion a rhyming scheme that matches a melody, a student must carefully examine and distill legal principles and the language that expresses the legal principles. This simple video and song from a Power Point presentation helps students consider the relationship of law and ethics.

Learn more about Law Lessongs from the post found here.  More videos may be found at my youtube channel. Please feel free to use them in the classroom or as assignments or in any way that they work for you as an educational resource.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Featured Website: Exploring Constitutional Law

The website, Exploring Constitutional Law is maintained by Doug Linder at University of Missouri- Kansas City School of Law.  Prof. Linder has compiled material on a wide range of topics.  In each instance, he has gathered case summaries and background information to assist the learning process.  Click on the images below to sample some of the topics explored. But also take the time to explore this website for you own classroom needs.

Thanks to Prof. Lender for sharing this fine classroom resource by posting it on the web.

Click on the image below of Estelle Griswold, plaintiff in the landmark case of Griswold v. Connecticut to explore the website section on the right of privacy. (source of image: http://www.abajournal.com/magazine/article/june_7_1965_griswold_v._connecticut_decided/)

Click on the image below of Susette Kelo, plaintiff in the landmark case of Kelo v. New London to explore the website section on the takings clause. (source of image: http://www.boston.com/ae/books/articles/2009/02/01/stealing_home/)

Click on the image below of Thomas Edison High School in San Antonio, Texas, the locus of the events leading to the landmark case of U.S. v Lopez to explore the website section on the Federal Power to Regulate Commerce. (source of image: http://saisd.net/schools/edison003/)


Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Do Your Student Use Laptop Computers in Class?

If your students use laptops computers in class, then the video below is probably an accurate representation of what your lectures sound like to your students.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Over the Rainbow - Statutory Interpretation

An earlier post suggested making analogy to popular music (First Cut is the Deepest) to illustrate the process and results of statutory interpretation.  Ken Schneyer has made the excellent suggestion to use the song Over the Rainbow as a better example.  

Over the Rainbow was composed by Harold Arlen with lyrics by E.Y Yarburg for the movie, The Wizard of Oz. Although composed by Arlen and Yarburg, they were not the song’s performers.  Like a legislature which must leave interpretation of its statutes up to the courts, the composers left interpretation of their creation to others. 

Judy Garland, of course, performed the song in the movie. In compiling the videos below, I was struck by the noticeable differences between her movie performance from1939 and a subsequent recording in 1955 Garland’s voice and presence are more mature and confident in the later recording.  It is the same song, same melody, lyrics and tempo – it is even the same performer, but the interpretation is still different.  Analogy can be made to a single court’s interpretation of a statute over time. Eva Cassidy’s 1992 performance “modernizes” the song adding modern pop and jazz elements to the performance.  Katherine McPhee’s American Idol performance is interesting because she returns to the text of the original composition to perform the rarely heard opening lines of the composition which were cut from the movie performance and nearly lost to the public mind – all despite the fact that other verses of the song had to be left out to accommodate the limited TV time slot for the performance.  She had to make choices about what was important to be included in the performance.  Iz Kamakawiwo’ole’s delightful interpretation has been very popular even though his fidelity to the song’s lyrics is somewhat unpredictable. However, I found it interesting that in the Glee performance, the directors chose his interpretation as the “precedent” to follow for the arrangement of the performance, but maintaining truer fidelity to the original lyrics.  It is an interpretation that both returns to the text and incorporates innovative precedential interpretation. 

So is it also with the law. Judges “perform” the legislature’s composition by giving it voice. Legislatures know that when they compose a statute, the interpretation of performance is out of their hands and in the hands of the courts.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Friday, November 4, 2011

"Do You Like to Insult People?"

If so, Australian lawyer Paul Brennan has some good advice. As a result, I use the video to introduce the "publication" requirement for a defamation claim.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Law Lessong - Vicarious Liability

The next installment in the “Law Lessong” series is Vicarious Liability Song.  This simple video and song from a Power Point presentation helps students consider the issues of vicarious liability  -- specifically, the potential for an employer being civilly and criminally liable for the torts and crimes of their employees.

Learn more about Law Lessongs from the post found here.  More videos may be found at my youtube channel. Please feel free to use them in the classroom or as assignments or in any way that they work for you as an educational resource.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

"We Both Reached For The Gun"

From the movie Chicago, attorney Billy Flynn orchestrates his client's story and manipulates the press to skew the legal system. How much is our legal system reactive to the result of impressions rather than evidence? This clip can be a good catalyst for that class discussion.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Guest Blogger- Paula O'Callaghan: Colbert Showcases "Hot Coffee"

Paula O'Callaghan from University of Maryland University College submits the following resource for use in class.

Here's a possible classroom resource - it's Susan Saladoff from the Colbert Report on the Liebeck case and tort reform. 

Saladoff is very good as you'd expect, but my favorite part is Colbert's point that if we believe in "jury of our peers" then why isn't McDonald's, being a corporate person, entitled to a jury composed of Burger King, Jack--in-the-Box, and it's corporate peers?! 

That's a good one, isn't it?  Incidentally, this was sent to me by a student after I had covered the Liebeck case in class.  Hope you find it useful.

Editor's note.  The documentary, "Hot Coffee" is available on DVD beginning today, Nov. 1, 2011.

To access the video clip, click on the image below:

Monday, October 31, 2011

Business Ethics: "Dead Peasant" Insurance Policies

"Dead Peasant" insuarnce policies are "common."  Are they ethical?  students may be interested in considering the ramifications of companies cashing in on the death of rank and file employees.  Something seems amiss when a company recognizes that being a convenience store clerk working at night is such a dangerous job that it is financially justified in buying a life policy on its employees - but feels no obligation to purchase a policy for the employee's own benefit or even to offer the employee the opportunity to purchase one for herself.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Law Music Video - Not Guilty Blues

This week's installment in the "Law Music Videos" series is Not Guilty Blues by Brownie McGhee. There's nothing like a wrongful prosecution to cause one to sing the blues. Law music videos played before your class starts will positively contribute to learning.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Introduction to Torts . . . or is it "Sorts?"

Professor Robert Emerson at the University of Florida maintains a YouTube channel with a host of delightful videos, many featuring his unique talents for student engagement. I use the video below to introduce the Torts unit in my Legal Environment class. If you visit Professor Emerson's channel, you are certain to find a video resource that will enhance your class presentations.  Thank you, Prof. Emerson, for sharing these valuable resources with your colleagues by making them available on the web.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Law Lessong - You Owed a Duty to Me

The next installment in the “Law Lessong” series is You Owed a Duty to Me. The lyrics for this song were written by Asley Dorman, a student in my Legal and Ethical Environment of Business class at the Univeristy of Connecticut. Students may submit law songs for credit. In order to fashion a rhyming scheme that matches a melody, a student must carefully examine and distill legal principles and the language that expresses the legal principles. This simple video and song from a Power Point presentation helps students consider the element of "duty" in a negligence claim as a basis for civil liability.

Learn more about Law Lessongs from the post found here.  More videos may be found at my youtube channel. Please feel free to use them in the classroom or as assignments or in any way that they work for you as an educational resource.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

"It's Not What You Know, It's What You Can Prove in Court"

Students seem to be quite familiar with the movie Law Abiding Citizen and from time to time send me clips to illustrate a point.  I have not seen the movie, but from some of the scenes that I have viewed there seems to be a lot of action and swearing. The courtroom scenes that I have viewed exhibit that liberties have been taken in portrayals of the legal system.  Yet, the short clip embedded below rang true for me.  If it speaks to students, all the better.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Featured Website: The Georgia Civil Justice Foundation

The Georgia Civil Justice Foundation maintains a website with a wealth of materials to assist in educating students about the law. I have made regular use of their videos and animations, accessed by scrolling over the book titles on the bookshelf exhibited at the webpage.  Some of the videos are available at a YouTube channel, if that gives you more flexibility in using these resources.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Ponzi Scheme Lawyer: What Does This Story Say About the Profession?

Upon viewing the 60 Minutes report on NY lawyer Marc Dreier's ponzi scheme a cold chill ran up my spine. The video was brought to my attention by Mark Spurling, a colleague at the University of Connecticut.  Mark uses the video for a discussion of Business Ethics in his Legal Environment class.  I hope to use the video in the class that I teach for freshman honors students entitled, Law and Lawyers in Song and Story.  In that class we examine popular cultural representations of the legal profession and the legal system and compare them to reality.  A recurring exercise in that class is to analyze various movie character lawyers as either "good lawyers" or "bad lawyers" in an effort to distill out the characteristics of each designation.

While viewing this video, I couldn't help but think that the qualities that made Dreier a "good" lawyer may also have served him well in his criminal enterprise. What does that revelation say about the legal profession?

Click on the image below to be linked to the video:

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Law Music Video - I Might Have Been a Lawyer But I Couldn't Pass the Bar

This week's installment in the "Law Music Videos" series is I Might Have Been a Lawyer But I Couldn't Pass the Bar by Bill Kirchen. Bill was the lead guitarist for Commander Cody and the Lost Planet Airmen, if anyone can remember that far back. Law music videos played before your class starts will positively contribute to learning.

Friday, October 21, 2011

The Story of Citizens United

The video below was shared on the ALSB listserve some time ago.  Unfortunately, I don't remember who shared it so I can't acknowledge the credit that is well deserved . Since this blog has a potential reach beyond the ALSB membership and the video is now available on YouTube, I am embedding it below.

I think that there are a number of ways to use this video in class.  I use it in an ethics lecture, emphasizing the video's description of the history of the corporation and leading into a discussion about different ethical standards and considerations for human persons and corporations (fictional persons).

To aid in discussing the Citizens United v. FEC case, I have also added below a trailer for the movie Hillary and an ad for the prospective DVD release of the movie that prompted Citizens United to seek judicial determination of its rights.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Featured Case: Pennsylvania v. Noel: Is a Horse a "Vehicle?"

Here are the facts from the majority opinion of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. Noel:

On April 7, 2002, the Pennsylvania State Police stopped Appellees Richard Carroll Noel and Keith Douglas Travis while they were riding horses on a public highway in Springfield Township, Mercer County because they appeared to be intoxicated. Appellees were subsequently charged with Driving While Under the Influence of Alcohol ("DUI").

The relevant part of the Pennsylvania Motor Vehicle Code states as follows:

Every person riding an animal or driving any animal-drawn vehicle upon a roadway shall be granted all of the rights and shall be subject to all of the duties applicable to the driver of a vehicle by this part, except those provisions of this part which by their very nature can have no application or where specifically provided otherwise.

The defense argued that "by their very nature" the DUI provisions did not apply to horseback riders.  The trial court stated that it could not clearly determine what provisions "by their very nature" did not apply to horseback riders and, therefore, the statute is unconstitutionally vague in violation of the due process clause.

I like this case for class for two reasons. First, it is a "two-fer."  The case is a natural to illustrate two legal principles. I use it to explain the requirement under substantive due process that a criminal statute must give unambiguous "fair warning" of the conduct that has been criminalized. I also use it to explain the need for statutory interpretation by courts.  As is often the case, a statute which seems reasonably clearly written when read in a vaccuum, becomes noticeably ambiguous when applied to a challenging set of facts. Therefore, the court's interpretation is necessary.

Second, there is an witty dissent in the case written by Mr. Justice Eakin. After opening his opinion by quoting the theme song to Mr. Ed, a 1960's sitcom about a talking horse, Justice Eakin summarizes his rationale by composing it to the Mr. Ed theme. (Here is another link to the dissent.)

Here is a short clip to illustrate to your students the premise of the show, Mr. Ed:

Here is the Mr. Ed theme song:
And here is the excerpt from Mr. Justice Eakin's dissent set to music:

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Featured Case: Wood v. Lucy, Lady Duff Gordon

In this contract law classic, Justice Benjamin Cardozo of the NY Court of Appeals establishes the doctrine of an implied obligation of good faith. Here is the hornbook brief summary of the case: Lady Duff Gordon is a fashion designer.  Otis Wood is a NY advertising man.  They enter into a written contract whereby Gordon grants Wood exclusive rights to market and sell her goods and Wood agrees to account to Gordon for 1/2 of the proceeds. Eventually, Gordon begins to endorse products marketed by others and Wood files suit for breach of contract. Gordon claims that Wood's promise is illusory -as he has not bound himself to actually try to sell her fashions, but merely to account for profits, if any. Cardozo determines that serious business peole would not have taken the time to negotiate such an agreement if they had not intended some perfomance. He finds expressions of implied intent to perfom on Wood's behalf:  His promise to pay the defendant one-half of the profits and revenues resulting from the exclusive agency and to render accounts monthly, was a promise to use reasonable efforts to bring profits and revenues into existence.

So, the case is interesting and illustrative for class.  But, this is just the beginning.  If you like to personalize cases - to help students understand that these cases involve real people making real decisions, the resources available to you are plentiful. Start with an article by Columbia Law Professor Victor Goldberg. Goldberg looks at the historical evidence to conclude that, ironically, the shrewd Wood had probably carefully crafted the Gordon contract so as to refrain from binding himself to performance - precisely the course of conduct that Cardozo concluded was unlikely. However, for me, his historical information on the principal players in the litigation is even more valuable than his insightful legal analysis.

Through his paper we learn that Otis Wood was one of somewhere between 14-17 children of colorful NY Mayor Fernando Wood.  Father Fernando was famous for, among other things, having supported the Confederate cause during the Civil War. A loyal Tammany Hall Democrat, Fernando later served in Congress from NY.  Other exploits of the colorful Wood family are documented online. Read here about Otis's involvement in the estate of his aunt Ida Mayfield Wood.

For her part, Lucy Lady Duff Gordon had already lived through at least one major disaster prior to the Wood business debacle. Lucy and her husband, Sir Cosmo Duff Gordon, survived the sinking of the Titanic, but not without controversy. Her story is dramatized in the video below. There is a wealth of images of Lady Duff Gordon available on the web - here at the Encyclopedia Titanica, and here. I was unable to find any images of Otis F. Wood. But here you will find an image of a drawing book most certainly produced by Wood's lithography company in NY.

In 2008, the Pace Law Review published results of a symposium on this interesting case.  Other useful articles may be found here and here  and here.

Image of Lucy, Lady Duff Gordon from:  http://fashion.telegraph.co.uk/article/TMG8328862/Lady-Duff-Gordon-fashions-forgotten-grande-dame.html

Lady Duff Gordon, the leading fashion designer of the Edwardian age.

Image from: http://dawndefined.blogspot.com/2009/04/milwaukee-museum.html

Imageof Lady Duff Gordon (third from left) and Sir Cosmo (standing directly behind her)  from: http://articles.sfgate.com/2010-10-08/news/24117249_1_titanic-memorabilia-andrew-aldridge-sir-cosmo

This is a  photograph of Titanic survivors Laura Francatelli, standing second right, and her employers Lady Lucy Duff-Gordon, standing 3rd left, and Sir Cosmo Duff-Gordon, standing directly behind LadyLucy, standing on the rescue ship Carpathia, made available by auctioneers Henry Aldridge and Son on Thursday Oct. 7, 2010. Francatelli heard a terrible rumbling noise, then anguished cries for help as her rowboat pulled away from the sinking ocean linerTitanic that dreadful night in 1912. Photo: AP

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Monday, October 17, 2011

Unconscionability as Introduced by Professor Sam

The video below is merely one of many made available by former ALSB Master Teacher Award Winner Professor Samuel Hodge at Temple University.  Professor Hodge maintains a YouTube channel hosting a number of usefully entertaining videos.  He also maintians an interactive website providing additional resources. Thank you, Prof. Hodge, for making these delightful teaching resources available to all your colleagues by uploading them to the web.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Law Music Video - Condemned Without Trial

This week's installment in the "Law Music Videos" series is Condemned Without Trial by Eddie Arnold. Ok, its a little campy, but variety is supposed to be the spice of life - and it's less than 3 minutes long. Law music videos played before your class starts will positively contribute to learning.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Rulemaking Matters! Let Your Voice be Heard

In 2010, the EPA conducted a contest seeking video submissions on the topic "Rulemaking Matters." The video was required to include the spoken or written phrase "Let your voice be heard." many of the submissions can be easily found on YouTube by searching either of the quoted catchphrases above.

This one was the winner.

Here is another useful one.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Workplace Safety: "Where, Oh Where Did My Hearing Go?"

Here is some plain talk (and singing) from a plain talking guy about the importance of following workplace saftey regulations.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Law Lessong - The Offer's Real

The next installment in the “Law Lessong” series is The Offer’s Real. This simple video and song from a Power Point presentation helps students consider the elements that are needed to distinguish a contract offer from mere negotiation or inquiry. Learn more about Law Lessongs from the post found here.  More videos may be found at my youtube channel. Please feel free to use them in the classroom or as assignments or in any way that they work for you as an educational resource.

Monday, October 10, 2011

ESPN Punts And Hank Williams, Jr. Fumbles

After publicly comparing President Obama to Hitler, Hank Williams, Jr. was dropped by ESPN as the introductory performer to the popular Monday Night Football broadcasts. In response, Williams made this comment:

After reading hundreds of e-mails, I have made my decision. By pulling my opening Oct. 3, you (ESPN) stepped on the toes of the First Amendment freedom of speech, so therefore me, my song and all my rowdy friends are out of here. It’s been a great run.

Like many of my students, Mr. Williams has no idea that the First Amendment applies only to government censorship of speech. People, which includes major corporations according to the Supreme Court, are free to object to one's speech, by speaking (or acting) as they see fit.  That is the theory of the free marketplace of ideas.  Speech which has little value will be valued little. I am free to express my opinion in response to yours. And ESPN is free to express its opinion of  Mr. Williams' speech by disassociating itself from him.

In the event that anyone was listening, Sarah Palin was quoted as saying that it is "disgusting" that people are criticized for the things that they say. There's another public figure who needs a primer on free speech.

Below are some powerpoint slides of an exercise that I have used in class to illustrate these points. But first, are you ready for some footbaaaawl?

Free Speech Exercise

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Law Music Video - Remain Silent

This week's installment in the "Law Music Videos" series is Remain Silent by Keb Mo.  The pictures in the video are beautiful, but don't have anything to do with the song.  However, this is the best audio version of the song available.  Law music videos played before your class starts will positively contribute to learning.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Guest Blogger: Donna Steslow - Causation Explained by a Rube Goldberg Music Video

Donna Steslow at Kutztown University submitted the following:

I am always trying to explain the concept of a Rube Goldberg type machine when discussing the Palsgraf case and proximate cause, but students have no idea what that is. I think this music video is great; it could illustrate the difference between causation in fact, proximate cause and foreseeability. Is the last step (getting doused with paint) foreseeable?

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Van Morrison Completes His Contractual Obligation

I don't know how much of this story is legend but clearly the core of it is verifiable. In late 1967, singer/songwriter Van Morrison was interested in leaving Bang Records, the label to which he was contractually obligated, in favor of Warner Brothers records.  However, Morrison still owed Bang thirty-one solo recordings to meet his contractual obligation. So, Morrison went into the studio with his guitar and in a single session pumped out 31 solo recordings, consisting of Morrison strumming various riffs on his guitar and singing or speaking whatever was on his mind. Titles of the songs (below), which were never released by Bang, are revealing.  Bang expected some bang for their buck. Instead, they got . . . "Ringworm?"


Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Eyewitness Testimony Examined

This term, the US Supreme Court will be re-examining the rules regarding the admission of eyewitness testimony. Scientific studies have increasingly called the inherent reliability of eyewitnesses into question.  The NJ Courts have already taken action in this regard.

Here are links to some prior posts that also address this issue.  Eyewitness Reliability #1.  Eyewitness Reliability #2.

Click on the image below to see a scene from My Cousin Vinny where Atty. Vincent LaGuardia Gambino exposes the mistaken recollections of an eyewitness.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Guest Blogger: Henry Lowenstein - Gibbons v Ogden: Steamships, Slaves and Supremacy

Every term I assign 4 cases for my Legal Environment of Business class for students to read the majority opinion and write a 2 page mini-brief summary.  The first one is usually a Commerce Clause case since we start the course on foundations of the law.   This year I decided to use the old war horse, Gibbons v. Ogden.

In perusing the internet I found this wonderful YouTube video which is a 35 minute dramatization of the case done by the Judicial Conference of the United States in 1977.  (The late actor E.G. Marshall introduces it).  It can be a little dry at times but I sent it to my students.

The students who took the time to watch it say they were fascinated, particularly my African-American students who had no idea of the critical linkage between the Marshall Court making this decision and the post hysteria and unconstitutional law enactments here in South Carolina following the Denmark Vesey Slave Conspiracy at that time.  Below is what I sent my students:

Dear Students:

I have heard from some of you working your way through the Supreme Court decision in the case of Gibbons v. Ogden, your first case assignment coming up shortly.

For those of you interested I draw your attention to an outstanding 35 minutes dramatization of this case on YouTube at the following site: 

This program, commissioned by the Judicial Conference of the United States in 1977, covers the issues and deliberations Chief Justice John Marshall and the then 7 member justices faced and how they ultimately crafted the unanimous decision you are reading.   Note as you watch it, the similarity between the issues and concerns then with what you hear in today's public debate on the role of the Federal government and its regulation of commerce.

What you may find more fascinating, is that the Court took this case as a legal linkage in dealing with events of the time happening in Charleston, South Carolina; the Denmark Vesey Slave Revolt Conspiracy of 1822 and its aftermath. That event led to a cruel and inflexible state law governing seamen passed by South Carolina which many felt impeded commerce.  One of the Justices, sitting as presiding Federal Judge over the region declared the South Carolina law unconstitutional. This helped push Chief Justice Marshall and the full Supreme Court to strongly affirm Federal supremacy over interstate commerce in Gibbons v. Ogden to deal with both situations.

I hope you will find this helpful, interesting and the acting superb.

Henry Lowenstein, PhD
Professor of Management and Law 

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Law Music Video - Call The Police

This week's installment in the "Law Music Videos" series is Call The Police by Nat King Cole.  This is a Classic! Law music videos played before your class starts will positively contribute to learning.

Friday, September 30, 2011

This land is Your Land: Judicial Interpretation Illustrated #2

In an earlier post, I advanced the position that the process and results of judicial interpretation can be illustrated by making analogy to the process of music interpretation. Popular music can be a particularly effective device to illustrate complex legal principles. Since students already know and understand popular music and how it works, making proper analogy between what is well understood and what needs to be learned promotes understanding.

Below are six videos of the song, This Land is Your Land, beginning with a version by author/composer/performer, Woody Guthrie. If Guthrie's version is "the law," then what happens when the law is interpreted by other judges.  The song maintains certain consistency of melody and lyrics, but problematic verses are removed and tempo, arrangement and overall effect vary significantly.

This progression of videos may also be used to illustrate, more specifically, the topic of statutory interpretation along the lines as described in this earlier post.

Click on the image below to view the energetic performance of the Fabulous Echoes:

Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Right to Keep and Bear Cellphones

Many times since the Supreme Court’s decision in DC v. Heller, I have found myself mulling over the ramifications of the following quote:

If, as they believe, the Second Amendment right is no more than the right to keep and use weapons as a member of an organized militia, it does not assure the existence of a “citizens’ militia” as a safeguard against tyranny.
- U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia in District of Columbia v. Heller (2008)

Although the quote applies directly to the constitutional language referring to the right to “keep and bear arms,” what are the broader implications? Is there a citizen’s right to other means of safeguarding against tyranny?  For instance, this article documents the governmental practice of prosecuting persons who use their cell phones to videotape police officers publicly performing their duties. In some instances, the language of statutes designed to combat wiretapping or voyeurism is tortured to the extreme to support a prosecution. If the right to bear arms is a personal right in order to guard against tyranny, then can it not also be argued that there is a right to record allegedly tyrannical conduct for the same purpose? When a citizen is faced with conduct from a government official that the citizen believes is dangerously tyrannical, which response contributes more effectively to an orderly society; the citizen organizing a militia to start a revolution, or the citizen recording the allegedly wrongful conduct on her cell phone for later use in legal proceedings or for media scrutiny?

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Inescapable Logic and a "Fair Cop"

A trial, medieval style.  In what ways has the trial process changed since then? 

Note the inescapable logic leading up to the determination of guilt. The accused ultimately admits it was a "fair cop."

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Counteroffer: From My Cousin Vinny

Rarely is real life contract negotiation as stilted and mechanical as a formal offer, rejection, counterofffer, acceptance, etc.. Students have to sift through the way people actually communicate to identify the language, conduct, or other expressions of intent that make up the necessary elements of mutual assent for contract formation.  The following clip from the movie My Cousin Vinny includes a comical "contract" negotiation including, as Vinnie points out, a counteroffer.

Click on the image below to go to the video site:

Another option: