Thursday, October 31, 2013

Appropriately Named Accused Criminal II

In "Appropriately Named (Accused) Criminal I", we gave a link to a video detailing the troubles of D'AlCapone AlPacino Morris. Today's post allows you to consider the plight of Alkapone Cruz-Balles - charged with car jacking in Hawaii.

In all fairness, it should be mentioned that there is a rap/hip hop artist who goes by the name Al Kapone (stage name). And it is possible that the person responsible for choosing a name for Mr. Cruz-Balles may know only that cultural reference and not be aware of the exploits of famous gangster Al Capone. Either way, consider the intersections of popular culture and law.

Alkapone Cruz-Balles:

Al Capone famous Chicago gangster:

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Using "God" to Sell Products or Services

The LSCB previously posted commentary about a Sam Adams Beer Ad that quoted the Declaration of Independence but conspicuously deleted references to "Our Creator." Sam Adams's response: The Beer Institute Advertising and Marketing Code (yes, this exists) states:

Beer advertising and marketing materials should not employ religion or religious themes. 

Indeed, ethical standards are important and this one seems to make sense.  Can you image a beer ad that says, "Drink Schlockmeier Beer. It's God's choice for you?" Such advertising would be patently absurd and would unfairly play on the consumer's faith to sell a product for profit. While such a business practice is undoubtedly legal, wouldn't it most certainly be unethical?

Consider the commercial below.  It suggests that by using this dating service, you will find "God's match for you." Is this ethical practice or not?  Discuss.

Another link to see ads is available here.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Ethics Unwrapped and Updated at UT Austin

The 2013 Charles M. Hewitt Master Teacher Award recipient Robert Prentice from the University of Texas shares the followings:

Our EthicsUnwrapped FREE educational ethics video site was recently upgraded and updated with new short videos about behavioral ethics and eight new videos about Mary Gentile's Giving Voice to Values program for helping students act effectively when they know what the right thing to do is.  

The LSCB previously featured and recommended the Ethics Unwrapped site. Once again, you are encouraged to explore this site and incorporate these innovative resources into your curriculum.

Introduction to Giving Voice to Values  from Ethics Unwrapped site:

Monday, October 28, 2013

Guest Blogger - Paula O'Callaghan: Stella Liebeck Scalded First by Coffee, Then by The Media

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

With the 20th anniversary of the verdict in Liebeck v. McDonald's approaching next year, Retro Report finally does the case justice, citing the relevant facts, evidence and discussing the settlement outcome.  What is particularly noteworthy about this twelve minute documentary, provided today on the front page of The New York Times website, is the depth of the research and the interviews with some of the actual participants in the case, such as the attorneys for both parties.  This is a great resource for debunking many of the myths that still surround this case.

Retro Report (Producer).  (2013, October, 21). Scaled by coffee, then news media [Video file].  Retrieved from

Click on the image below to go to the NY Times video site.

Friday, October 25, 2013

More Law School Ditties

Here are more law professors using songs in class. Don't sell this method short.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Artists' Works Copied by Big Business?

A number of artists are claiming that Cody, Foster and Co., a big wholesaler of ornaments and decorations, are ripping off their work. The report from Yahoo Shine seems to present pretty compelling evidence.  As does a flickr site compiled by an anonymous whistleblower. Read artist Lisa Congdon's blog post, "My Art Was Stolen For Profit and How You Can Help," about her trials and tribulations over this issue.  Read more, here.

I am speculating that the prospect of protracted litigation against a major, well financed corporation is daunting to a small independent artist. This is one of those situations where the law ignores the disparity of access to resources and presumes everyone has equal ability to enforce his or her rights. We should get our legal heads out of the sand and devise a system that can actually protect and encourage creativity. Otherwise, bullies always win.

Source of image below:

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Contract Assignments: Flipping Houses Like Pancakes

Entrepreneur Antonio "Hitman" Edwards tells our students how assignment of contracts works as a business model. At his blog, he promises, "I’ll show u how to flip these houses like pancakes on a regular basis."

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Monday, October 21, 2013

More "Seeing is not Believing"

I guess I am like most people in that intellectually I realize that photographs and videos that we see in mass media campaigns or in entertainment media are altered to make the people look "better," or less flawed. Yet, emotionally, I am offended by this. I have previously written about enhanced visual marketing as being deceptive, perhaps unlawfully so. I have written about how the ease with which videos may now be edited calls into question the evidentiary value of any video evidence.  I imagine the same goes for photographic evidence.

This article provides another example of the ease with which images in a video can be altered to show us something other than what really existed.

Aren't there deleterious social effects? Isn't there a need for regulation, here?

Friday, October 18, 2013

Song of Civil Disobedience

Law affects the conduct of the people.  But if the people use their conduct to peacefully disobey the law, then maybe the people affect the shape of the law.

Rosa Parks.  She sat on a bus.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Speed Limits, Part Deux; Or Bad Media Coverage, Part Un Mille (One Thousand)

In an earlier post, I discussed Speed Limits as an example of Legal Realist thinking.  If the "written law" says the speed limit is 65, but no one gets a ticket until they drive faster than 75, then a Legal Realist thinker may well be justified in concluding that the law ("law in action") limits speed at 75, not 65. But, I was surprised to see this "speed buffer zone" practice formally acknowledged in public.

The Department of Transportation for the State of Connecticut provided information for an article in the Hartford Courant (DOT Task Force to Drivers: Don't Endanger Our Lives) that was supposed to encourage people to slow down when approaching highway work zones. The speed limits on many Connecticut highways is 55, and in other sections, it is 65.  Connecticut law has long allowed for fines to be doubled for speeding violations in marked work zones. But this statement caught me by surprise:

Effective Oct. 1, Connecticut law will get tougher. Motorists caught speeding through a marked work zone at 75 mph or faster -- or any trucker or other commercial driver who zooms through at 65 or more – will be ticketed. Those who are convicted will be required to attend an in-person retraining class in addition.

What? No tickets until speed 75?  This is the new law to crack down on speeding in work zones?  Thankfully, this is just another instance of bad writing. The law regarding ticketing for exceeding the speed limit has not changed.  It is still an infraction, subject to ticketing, for exceeding the posted speed limit by even one mile per hour (whether that is what happens in practice is another story). The "new" part is the driver re-training requirement.

I was not the only one to pick up on the misinformation.  A letter to the editor printed in the Courant expressed the same surprise.  The Courant printed the letter - but no clarifying explanation.  Once again, the "law in action" may be less about how the law is enforced than about the public perception of how the law is enforced.  That perception, unfortunately, is shaped by media reporting on lawmakers - not on the the law-makers, themselves

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

More Legal Fallout From Anonymous Internet Postings

In 2011, five New Orleans police officers were convicted of civil rights violations in the shootings and deaths of several New Orleans residents in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. A few weeks ago, U.S. District Court judge threw out the convictions on the basis of "grotesque prosecutorial misconduct."  Before and during the trial, lawyers in the U.S. Attorney's office that was prosecuting the case posted anonymous online comments to the New Orleans Times Picayune site ( creating a "prejudicial, poisonous atmosphere." Another lawyer in the Dept. of Justice in Washington DC who had helped prepare the case for trial also posted anonymously to comment on the case.

Lawyers, and certainly prosecutors, are aware that such public comment is against all rules of professional conduct.  Yet, somehow, the anonymity that appears to shield the comments from attribution somehow alter conduct - and not for the better.  I have previously commented on how internet anonymity skews the balance between the liberty of expression and the liberty of privacy.  In this case, it corrupted due process.

I am a staunch supporter of the liberty of expression.  However, I can't for the life of me understand how anonymous expression has value that adds to the discourse.  The old radio show, The Shadow, carried the catch phrase, "Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men?" Anonymity allows the evil to be outed. If you want to speak badly of others or their opinions, you should have the liberty to do so.  But only if you are willing to face the criticism that comes with the expression of your opinions.

If expression is so important (and it is) why do we allow it to be cheapened by anyone's fleeting tawdry ill considered ramblings? Do we allow bills to be introduced in a legislature with anonymous sponsors? Do judges render opinions anonymously? Do doctors render diagnoses anonymously? Do general direct battles anonymously? Newspapers will not print letters to the editor without first making some reasonable effort to verify the source. That has been the journalistic standard for decades - an improvement over the 19th century practice of printing letters with pseudonyms. But on the most groundbreaking technology, we have gone backwards in the theory of valued civilized discourse.

Now, even lawyers can't keep themselves from botching their own cases by blabbing on the internet.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Legal Realism: The Law Depends on What the Judge Had for Breakfast

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.”
What happens if the judge had a "dicey looking breakfast burrito this morning and just took an imodium?"  See the video below:

Friday, October 11, 2013

Law School Ditties

More songs in the classroom courtesy of Prof. Erichson at Fordham U School of Law.

Eerie v Tompkins

Pennoyer v. Neff

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Is Seeing Still Believing?

Technological advances have paved the way for video cameras to be everywhere. The public has become accustomed to seeing video evidence of nearly everything that happens. This week, a camera on the helmet of a motorcycle rider captured tragic events when a motorcyclist appeared to intentionally cut off an SUV on a New York highway.  The frightened SUV driver pulled away in traffic tragically injuring one of the other motorcycle riders.  The SUV was chased into the streets of New York where the driver was pulled from the vehicle and beaten.  Much of it was captured on video. Now, with criminal charges pending, at least one defendant claims that what we see in the video is not actually what happened.

Citizens have been arrested for making cell phone videos of police officers publicly engaged in the course of their duties.  The concern? The videos can be altered or edited to portray something other than what actually happened.

Professors in classrooms have been the victim of edited videotapes portraying their classroom lectures as something that they are not.

The videos below seem to be evidence of amazing feats. Yet, they are only illusions. If these illusions can be created by just about any bright techie, then the value of video evidence must be scrupulously scrutinized in court. Even proof of chain of custody is not going to be enough if anyone in that chain possessed the ability to make alterations.  When it comes to compelling evidence, technology giveth and technology taketh away.

Tumba Ping Pong Show video:

Here is the story de-bunking the authenticity of the above video.

Other amazing edited videos from the Tumba Ping Pong Show:

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Insurance Fraud

It's a crime.  Don't do it. Don't videotape yourself doing it.

So much for criminal law as a deterrent.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Third Amendment Claim

The Third Amendment to the Constitution is probably the least cited as a basis for a claim against the government.  But for Justice Douglas's inclusion of it among the "penumbras" and "emanations" of the Bill of Rights supporting a right of privacy, I am not sure when it would have otherwise appeared in modern jurisprudence.

Here is the text of the Third Amendment:

But a complaint filed in federal court in Nevada claims a Third Amendment violation.  The plaintiff claims that the Henderson, Nevada police phoned him to say that they needed his house in order to keep surveillance on a neighbor in a domestic dispute matter.  The plaintiff declined.  So, according to the complaint, the police knocked down his door, ordered him to the ground, shot him and his dog with pepper spray and then arrested him for interfering with an officer.

According to Plaintiff's counsel, “And after entering the houses, they drank water, ate food,enjoyed the air conditioning,” he said. “That struck me as quartering.”

One can't help but think that some crucial facts are either missing or not fully reported.  We will have to see what further facts emerge and how the court deals with the notion of police as "soldiers."

Not a lot of news services are reporting on this case. Here is Fox News:

Friday, October 4, 2013

The Gross Income Song

From the University of Oregon Law School.  This is actually a student, encouraged by the professor.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Which Law Do You Prefer, Obamacare or The Affordable Care Act?

In a recent post, I suggested that the media's portrayal of law is perhaps more important to the fostering or hindering of legal legitimacy than the law itself. I also re-iterated the AACSB requirement that students understand:
Here is an exercise in understanding political, legal  and social contexts.  The staff of the Jimmy Kimmel show interviewed people on the street asking them about their support for "Obamacare" versus "The Affordable Care Act."  Of course, they are the same law. But removing the "Obamacare" label, makes the law more palatable.  Although not a scientific study, this exercise supports the notion that the way the law is presented in society, whether through the media or the political system or both, affects the public's perception of the law. 

Consider the answer to the question: "Do you believe that Obamacare will lead to gun prohibition?"

Click on the image below to see the video from a different source:

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Consideration in a Nutshell

With all due respect to Professor Smith, when I use the video clip below in class, I partner it with the case of Hamer v. Sidway and talk about the potential confusion that can come from the legal benefit/detriment analysis.  Instead, I favor the "legal value" analysis for consideration.  Consideration being legal value, bargained for and exchanged. Legal value includes:

doing something (or promising to do something) you had no prior legal obligation to do, OR 
refraining from doing something (or promising to refrain from doing something) that you had a legal right to do

Tuesday, October 1, 2013