Saturday, April 30, 2011

Law Music Video: The Night The Lights Went Out in Georgia

This week's installment in the "Law Music Videos" series is The Night The Lights Went Out in Georgia.  I have included video versions from both Vickie Lawrence and Reeba McIntire. Choose your own favorite!

I admit being a fan of country music's penchant for storytelling and melody.  This story is just so deliciously improbable (her brother is arrested, tried, convicted and executed all before the judge makes it home for dinner). But allegorically, it serves up food for thought.

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

Friday, April 29, 2011

Summation Seeking Nullification

The Verdict is one of my all time favorite movies. It is based on the book of the same name by Boston lawyer Barry Reed.  I was a young lawyer in Boston when the book was published and followed by the movie's release. This movie has affected me greatly, both personally and professionally.  To complete the circle in the spirit of "it's a small world after all," it was Reed who referred the Woburn leukemia case to Jan Schlictmann. This is the case that was the subject of the book and movie, ACivil Action

The clip below is the summation by plaintiffs' counsel, Frank Galvin.  The judge has instructed the jury to disregard the testimony of the plaintiff's key witness because it should not have been allowed in evidence.  This testimony is, of course, damning to the defendant and eminently credible. Galvin annoints the jury, telling them, "Today, you are the law." Then brilliantly leads the jury well down the path toward nullification without crossing the line.

In the event that this clip ever gets pulled from YouTube, you can also find it at this link. I hope you enjoy it.

Another option:

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Copyright Infringement? You be The Judge!

Below is a demonstration that YouTubers have put together raising issues about copyright infringement.  You can go as long or as short as you like with these videos in class.

In 2009, Coldplay won two Grammy awards, for its song Viva la Vida, including song of the year.  Artist Joe Satriani and Coldplay worked out a confidential settlement of Satriani's claim that Viva la Vida contained substantial elements of his song, If I Could Fly.

Musical analysis:

Full Songs:

And is there more?

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Introduction to "Causation"

As is sometimes the case with posted material,  this video contains information that I could convey to the class myself.  But by using a video, maybe I can get a few to look up from their laptops long enough to retain something (maybe!).

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Law Lessong - Our Lives Would Suck Without Laws

The next installment in the “Law Lessong” series is Our Lives Would Suck Without Laws. This simple video and song from a Power Point presentation can help students consider the role of law to promote safety and preserve order in society. This song can be used as a springboard for a class discussion about differing perceptions of law. On the one hand, law restricts freedom, while on the other hand in doing so it protects us from the harm we would suffer from the irresponsible exercise of freedom by others. 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, April 25, 2011

Featured Case: Cherry v. Des Moines Leader

The Cherry sisters, farm girls from Iowa, became famous in the late 1890's with their travelling early vaudeville act.  Their sad fate was to have earned their fame as a result of their suspect talent and the hideous nature of their performance. (Your students will understand a reference to Rebecca Black and her "Friday" video.)  Billy Hamilton, the editor of the Odebolt Iowa Chronicle attended the Cherry Sisters' performance in Odebolt and published a review, quoted in part as follows:

The audience saw three creatures surpassing the witches in Macbeth in general hideousness. Effie is an old jade of 50 summers, Jessie a frisky filly of 40, and Addie, the flower of the family, a capering monstrosity of 35.  Their long skinny arms equipped with talons at the extremities, swung mechanically, and [soon] waved frantically at the suffering audience.  Their mouths opened like caverns, and sounds like the wailing of damned souls issued therefrom.  They pranced around the stage with a motion that suggested a cross between the “danse du ventre” and a fox trot – strange creatures with painted faces and hideous [demeanor].  
Effie is spavined, Addie is knock-kneed and stringhalt and Jessie, the only one who showed her stocking, has legs with calves as classic in their outlines as the curves of a broom handle.... Not even in the woods around Sac City, nor in the wilds of Monona county, could three such raw and rank specimens of womanhood be found.
The review was reprinted in the Des Moines Leader prompting a defamation lawsuit by Addie Cherry against both newspapers.  In upholding the trial court's directed verdict the Iowa Supreme Court preserved the right of fair comment.  Public performance invites comment - even if the performer disagrees with the reviewer's characterization. 
One who goes upon the stage to exhibit himself to the public, or who gives any kind of a performance to which the public is invited, may be freely criticised. He may be held up to ridicule, and entire freedom of expression is guarantied dramatic critics, provided they are not actuated by malice or evil purpose in what they write. . . . Unless this be true, liberty of speech and of the press guarantied by the constitution is nothing more than a name. If there ever was a case justifying ridicule and sarcasm,--aye, even gross exaggeration,--it is the one now before us.
However, given the facts of the case, and the nature of other reviews from around the country, maybe Billy Hamilton could have avoided liability even if he had to rely on truth as a defense.
The Cherry Sisters, Revisited is a modern theatrical production based on the tribulations of the hapless siblings.  
The Cherry sisters:

Billy Hamilton:

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Friday, April 22, 2011

What's in a Name?

Lawyers for Rutt's Hut, a famous hot dog house in Clifton NJ, have notified upstart competitor, Mutt's Hut, that its use of a similar sounding name, "constitutes a willful, obvious, and inexcusable infringement of our client's intellectual property rights." The owner of Mutt's Hut says that he has received more free publicity from the notice and press coverage than he ever could have gotten without it.  Perhaps Mutt's is just hotdogging for the press because he relishes the publicity of protracted litigation.


Thursday, April 21, 2011

Law Lessong - Enumerated Powers Song

The next installment in the “Law Lessong” series is Enumerated Powers Song. This simple video and song from a Power Point presentation can help students learn and remember the distinction between powers enumerated to the national government by the constitution and the police powers resident in the state governments. 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, April 20, 2011

The CSI Effect

The standard of proof in a criminal case is still "beyond a reasonable doubt." However, jurors who watch CSI TV may be holding prosecutors to an inflated conception of "reasonable doubt." Here is how the CSI effect is described in one media article:

The problem today is that citizen jurors expect to be dazzled when selected and seated for jury duty, waiting to be overwhelmed and over-impressed when the prosecution produces tons of forensic evidence and related scientific whiz-bang devices. When these “toys for boys” are not introduced, it’s like, well, “Where’s the beef?” Enter the CSI Syndrome.

Case in point. In a recent assault case a jury acquitted a man for the brutal stabbing of his girlfriend. The victim had survived the assault and testified against her assailant. She had been found in her own bed, the sheets of which were soaked in blood, but the defendant was found not guilty as the jury felt that the blood-soaked sheets should also have been tested for DNA like they do on TV, and not merely examined and found to simply have the same blood type as the victim. The assailant did go to jail for another crime, but when he was later released, he returned and this time he finished the job, stabbing the same woman to death. Prosecutors are learning that the one question they do not want juries to ask is “Why didn’t they test (fill the blank) like they do on CSI?”

In "Law and Order SVU,"  Olivia can often be found following up on results of the rape kit. In real life, shrunken budgets (it costs about $1,500 dollars per kit) and poor evidentiary support for a likely conviction keep many rape kits from being processed. Media reported estimates of un-processsed rape kits vary from 20,000 to 400,000 nationwide. Is popular culture altering the burden of proof in criminal cases so as to make it unattainable?  Let's hope there are alternatives.

News report on the CSI syndrome:  ("It's costing taxpayers money!" Yeah, and it's also skewing the legal system - but I guess the money angle is sexier than burden of proof issues.)

Defense lawyer argues, "no DNA evidence..."  (Click picture below to go to video) This case has now gone through 4 mistrials due to hung juries.

Rape Kit backlog in L.A.:

Call to Action:

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Legal Realism: Justice is Best Served on a Full Stomach

Leading Legal realist Judge Jerome Frank is credited with the phrase that "Justice is what the judge ate for breakfast."  I have never tracked down that precise quote from him but perhaps it is drawn from this passage found at p.162 of my well worn copy of Courts on Trial:

Out of my own experience as a trial lawyer, I can testify that a trial judge, because of overeating at lunch, may be somnolent in the afternoon court-session that he fails to hear an important item of testimony and so disregards it when deciding the case. “The hungry judges soon the sentence sign, And wretches hang that juryman may dine,” wrote Pope.  Dickens’ lovers well remember Perker’s advice to Pickwick: “A good, contented, well-breakfasted juryman, is a capital thing to get hold of.  Discontented or hungry jurymen, my dear sir, always find for the plaintiff.”
I have long ago worked this concept into class asking student to consider what might happen to convicts sentenced in the afternoon after the judge had a bowl of 4-alarm chili.  Now an empirical study from Israel ties judges' decisions on criminal dispositions to the proximity the case action bears to the judge's break times. It appears that judges are more lenient after meals and breaks and less lenient the longer they sit on the bench following a break. I think Judge Frank would have flashed a wry smile at these results.

Image result for Judge jerome frank

Judge Milian must have had the 4-alarm chili! (But she was right)

Monday, April 18, 2011

Tax Day Debate: Double Taxation of Corporate Form - Fact or Fiction?

In teaching the different features of various business organization forms, we advise students that one of the detriments of the corporate form is the problem of double taxation.  By law, the corporation is subject to taxes on its pre-dividend profit and, the corporations' shareholders are subject to taxation on the dividends distributed to them in after tax dollars. Has modern corporate practice relegated this legal concept to the dustbin of theory?

The New York Times reported in 2008 that 2 out of 3 American Corporations paid no income tax between 1998 and 2005. Zero Tax! Now it has been reported that despite soaring profits, General Electric Corp paid no taxes in 2009.  Do we have an obligation to advise students that it is possible to legally manipulate the corporate form to avoid income taxes altogether?

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Friday, April 15, 2011

Media Gets Another Multi-Million Dollar Verdict Story Wrong

Recently an article appeared in the Hartford Courant with the following headline: "Hartford Jury Awards Injured State Trooper $16.8 Million."  To me, this article is notable for what is missing - the crucial end of the story.  From the headline and the story, the average reader will assume that this state trooper is about to receive millions of dollars in compensation.  Only a reader who is properly educated about how the system works will understand that the conclusion of this story should read: "As a result, the state trooper is not likely to receive any compensation, despite the jury's verdict."

After long struggling to determine if the mainstream media's failure to tell the whole story in personal injury cases was the result of lack of experience, reporters hamstrung by editorial constraints, or the pursuance of an agenda, I have given up trying to figure it out.  Instead, my crusade has been to properly educate students about how the system works. And in this regard, Business Law texts are not very helpful.  Very few have any information on insurance and those that do, do not address the role that insurance coverage and insurance companies play in the real-life aspects of a civil liability claim. We do our students a disservice if we teach them "Torts" and "Judicial Procedure" without addressing the nitty grittty issues that play out behind the scenes. Most of my students come into class believing that Stella Liebeck (the McDonald's Coffee Case plaintiff) received millions of dollars. The media reporting of the amount of the verdict rarely mentioned the reduced judgment award or the ultimate settlement. 

The article referenced here reports a jury verdict in a lawsuit brought by a Connecticut state trooper who, two years prior, was injured while on the job after being struck by a drunk driver. The officer suffered severe injuries to both knees and back injuries.  He was subsequently required to take a disability retirement.  The article reported that medical bills were nearly $100,000. A dram shop action was brought against the bar that served the driver and the driver was sued, personally.

The article in this case accurately reports that the verdict against the bar will likely be reduced to the dram shop statutory limit of $250,000.  However, it does not mention that after attorney's fees and pay back of worker's compensation benefits, there is likely nothing left for the plaintiff.  The impressive $12.6M award against the drunk driver is likely uncollectable.  The article reported that the driver, "did not appear to defend himself in the trial."  It takes an understanding of the civil justice system well beyond that possessed by the typical undergraduate to understand that since no one represented the driver in the case, there is apparently no insurance coverage available to pay any portion of the judgment.

Kudos should be given to alternative media such as the Hartford Advocate.  In reporting a $125,000 wrongful death settlement with the City of Hartford, the Advocate went the extra yard and reported that after attorneys' fees, expenses of litigation, and re-payment of a state welfare lien, the family will recieve a little less than $20,000.

Post update 4/24/11: Kudos should also go to Hartford Courant reporter David Owens for a 4/23/11 story about a civil suit following a horrendous accident.  The story mentions the existence of insurance coverage in a way that introduces the public to insurance considerations as a integral part of a lawsuit.

The video below shows Fox News looking at "whacky warning labels" and reporting that a jury awarded Stella Liebeck $2.7M without mentioning that the judgment was actually for less than 30% of that amount.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Cross Examination Causes Witness to Lose Cool

The video below from the movie Serial Mom is a comedic popular cultural representation of the way crafty cross-examination can ruin a witness' testimony.  Warning! The language is saucy! There is liberal use of the "F-bomb." But then, students have heard this word before.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Legitimacy of Courts

Justice Stephen Breyer talks about Bush v. Gore and praises our national culture of respecting the rule of law.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Law School Dog Day Afternoon

We all know law school is tough.  It is nice to see the administrators at Yale Law School are willing to recognize that and help out their students. Students in need of some stress relief may check a "therapy dog" out of the library. Do you think Monty may be touted as a new recruiting tool among the nation's elite law students?

Monty, the Yale therapy dog; cute, huh?

Monday, April 11, 2011

Featured Website - The Copyright Website

This website contains alot of practical information regarding copyright law. I like to use the music section of this site. I have used the George Harrison and ZZ Top examples in class.  The Harrison case is readily available.  I also use the George Harrison example in class to introduce a discussion of the case betwen Harrison and his former manager, Allen Klein.  That case deals with an agent's ongoing duty to protect a principal's confidential information. The music section is easy to use and a very nice classroom resource.  Despite my best effors, I have been unable to determine the identity of the host of this site, but the information has been reliable.

Access Copyright Website Here 

George Harrison:

Alan Klein:


Saturday, April 9, 2011

Law Music Video: Better Get a Lawyer

This week's installment in the "Law Music Videos" series is Better Get a Lawyer by Cruel Sea. The students seem to like it ... but, I'm not sure why. Law music videos played before your class starts will positively contribute to learning.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Role of Social Norms in Shaping Conduct

One of the roles of law is to control or "shape" conduct. Social norms and mores also contribute to controlling or shaping conduct. I ask students to take note that none of them seem to be wearing their underwear on the outside of their clothes. Part of the reason for that is the social ostracization that would result from doing so. As the Dilbert cartoons below indicates, there are social "rules" that govern our conduct.

What happens when social norms in particular groups or areas or cultures encourage (shape) conduct that is inconsistent with law? Some  students may be familiar with the "Stop Snitching" syndrome. In inner city neighborhoods, witnesses to crimes are threatened with violence if they cooperate with police.

In Baltimore, a "Stop Snitching" DVD was sold on the street. Customers could buy the DVD to learn that they would be harmed if they cooperated with police. "Stop Snitching 2" is now also available.  Here is the trailer:

Here at UConn, we recently suffered the tragic death of a student football player who was stabbed following a university event. When police made a public appeal for students to come forward with cell phone pictures and videos, another student posted a facebook message that students should "Stop Snitching." Social norms in rogue groups can be a powerful force in shaping conduct - just not in ways that are consistent with the law.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Law and Politics - Separate or Inherently Intertwined?

The NY Times is reporting that the Wisconsin Supreme Court election has taken on a decidedly political tone with one candidate being aligned with union busting crusader Governor Scott Walker and the other being associated with the public employee unions. We do not have judicial elections in Connecticut (other than for local Probate Courts) and I have always been skeptical of the ability to insulate judicial decisions from the influence of politics where these elections exist. It is certainly a topic rich for discussison in class. The Georgia Civil Justice Foundation video referenced at this earlier post on Judicial Elections would be a useful classroom resource to trigger a discussion.

Breaking news of election fraud allegations!
Other news regarding election irregularities.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Lindsay Lohan sues E-Trade for $100M

Lindsay Lohan filed suit in New York's Nassau County against E*Trade for commercial appropriation claiming that the Super Bowl ad shown below traded on her identity. Watch the ad and judge for yourself. After about 6 months of litigation, the suit was withdrawn.  Apparently, she started getting better legal advice.

Lindsay Lohan's mug shot from her arrest in 2007 for drunk driving:

Monday, April 4, 2011

Mediation Explained

Here are a few videos that can be used to illustrate mediation services.  The first one is informative and features a calming musical soundtrack behind a soothing narration.  I like the atmosphere that it creates.  The second video illustrates the business end of mediation - services for a fee. The third video is a trailer for the new TV show, Fairly Legal, about a lawyer turned mediator.  I never realized mediation was so exciting! Wait, you don't think the network would take liberties with reality?

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Law Music Video: Like a Good Neighbor...

This week's installment in the "Law Music Videos" series is Like a Good Neighbor, State Farm is There by Weezer. I Imagine that there was some remunerative incentive for the commercialization of art in this instance. Law music videos played before your class starts will positively contribute to learning.