Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Suicide Chump?

For those of us who style ourselves as libertarians, at least when it comes to personal autonomy issues, suicide is always a tricky issue. From a legal standpoint, most of us would agree that laws against suicide unduly infringe upon personal liberty and, at any rate, are staggeringly ineffective (you can't prosecute a corpse). On the other hand, we have to realize that many in the psychological community view the act of suicide as per se evidence of mental illness. A mentally ill person, the theory goes, cannot rationally decide to end their own life.

That's the interesting debate playing out in the comments to this post over at the Volokh Conspiracy.

I sympathize with Sasha Volokh (the original poster) and his position that he would oppose interfering with another person's choice to end their life, but would quickly violate his own convictions in an attempt to save his teenage son from killing himself. I, too, would do everything in my power to prevent a friend or loved one from taking his or her own life. But on the other hand, I can't condemn the act itself.

A fundamental tenet of Mill-style libertarianism is that no person can really know another person's wants, needs, and desires. No matter how much I try to "walk a mile in your shoes," I simply can't really understand your life. I cannot grasp what gives you pleasure in the world , what causes you pain, and in what proportion those things exist. For anyone to say otherwise is the height of arrogance. When reviewing a situation where someone offs themselves (as with the novelist in the VC post), the best you can say is "I wouldn't do the same thing." But, by definition, you are not them, and therefore can't really grasp why they did it.

In that fashion, I very much enjoyed the way the assisted suicide issue was set up in The Sea Inside. The 2004 Spanish film tells the true story of a man who becomes a quadriplegic after a diving accident in his youth. He is confined for the next several decades to a bed in his brother's home in the Spanish countryside. He eventually decides that he wants to die but, due to his condition, needs the help of others to do so. His legal case set off a furor in largely Catholic Spain and was ultimately unsuccessful (he did indeed kill himself, using a conspiracy so elaborate that none of his conspirators could be prosecuted). What was interesting about the film was that it portrayed the man's life as pretty damn good, all things considered. Yes, he was paralyzed and confined to bed. But he had the care and support of his family, full control of his mental faculties, and an infectious personality. Personally, I think I could live on like that. But he couldn't, and that was the point - by eliminating the traditional movie-of-the-week agony of his condition, it faced the viewer to confront the issue fairly rationally.

While I can sympathize with the "pro-life" movement on this issue (i.e., suicide is by definition an irrational act of the mentally ill), they seem willing to compromise for certain exceptions. For the purely hypothetical, they seem to agree that killing oneself in a peaceful hours before being tortured to death would be a rational act. And, of course, folks want to leave open the possibility that the terminally ill should be able to die with dignity. But those examples cut against the "suicide=nuts" paradigm. In the end, it only shows that those situations are sufficiently clear to convince you that it's for someone to kill themselves. And that, in a free society that cherishes individual liberty (assume we are one, arguendo), isn't the point.

The Party of Smaller Government Strikes Again!

We all know about the Dubya administration's push for abstinence-only education in schools. Now, from USA Today, comes word that the program is extending its reach to adults. Given the success with the kids, I guess they figured they might as well try to shame full-grown adults into observing their Victorian-era notions of sex. At least I'm old enough (the program targets 19-29 year olds) to escape the propaganda this time around!

Evolutionary Morality

One of the interesting and recurring debates between atheists/agnostics and religious types is the source of morality. Religious types tend to argue that moral principles are dictated by God (in whatever fashion She exists), while the non-theists like me argue that logic and heavy intellectual lifting (thing Rawls's Veil of Ignorance) will produce agreed upon moral baselines.

What if we're both wrong? What if morality, at least at some basic level, is evolutionarily hardwired into the human (and some other animal's) brain? Today's New York Times discusses a new book, Moral Minds, by a Harvard biologist, who argues just that:

The proposal, if true, would have far-reaching consequences. It implies that parents and teachers are not teaching children the rules of correct behavior from scratch but are, at best, giving shape to an innate behavior. And it suggests that religions are not the source of moral codes but, rather, social enforcers of instinctive moral behavior.
It's an intriguing prospect.

I Won I Won!

After beating me up twice last week, the Fourth Circuit slipped in a favorable opinion in one of my cases last week, while I was out of the office, no less. In this case, our client was a bank employee who embezzled funds from accounts. The issue on appeal was whether the amount of loss (which basically determines sentence length under the Guidelines) should include only the funds she actually took for herself, or also the ones she moved around from account to account to "fix" the problem. The district court threw it all it, but we argued, and the Fourth agreed, that only the money she actually took out for herself should count. As a result, she should get a moderate reduction in her sentence.

Hooray for me!

Thursday, October 26, 2006

A Man's Life = $2500

In Richmond, at least. Last week, a jury convicted a police officer of voluntary manslaughter in the shooting death of a motorist during a traffic stop. The officer claimed self defense. A first jury hung on murder charges, and he was reindicted on voluntary manslaughter. After the conviction, the jury recommended that the officer be punished by only a $2500 fine – no time in prison. Given that the officer faced up to 10 years in prison, the sentence was exceptionally light.

The victim in this case was black, which caused the local chapters of the NAACP rightly to express their outrage. A twist in the case was that the jury was equally divided by race – 6 white, 6 black – but returned a unanimous sentencing recommendation.

On a gut level, I’m appalled that 12 people would think a $2500 fine is a sufficient punishment for taking another human being’s life (a successful wrongful death suit would likely result in a larger damage award). The self defense argument obviously didn’t fly, or else the officer would have been acquitted. From an “I’m a defense lawyer” level, I wonder if this kind of leniency is typical of jury sentencing in Virginia, of if it cuts against the defendant more often than not.

For My Canadian Friends

I’m a big fan of our friends from the Great White North. Our ex-colonial brothers to the north have given us Rush, Bob & Doug McKensie, the racing Villenueves and Champ Car bad boy Paul Tracy, and MLS stars Dwayne DeRosario, Pat Onstad, and Frank Yallop. So I’m being quite genuine when I say I’m really sorry that we’ve apparently decided to start dumping sex offenders off in Ontario.

Malcom Watson, a New York teacher, pleaded guilty to molesting a 15-year old student. At sentencing, he was given a choice by the “town court” – serve three years in jail or go to Canada for those three years (his wife and children live there), returning to the US only to see a probation officer. Aside from the issue of whether a New York “town court” can exile an American citizen, it’s a pretty shitty thing to do just to fob him off on another country! In the words of one unmanned official, “[h]e's Canada's problem, not ours.” Nice! That’s diplomacy for you.

More “In America . . .” for the Soccer World

Last week I noted a column from ESPN Soccernet about why some South American players enjoy the move to Major League Soccer because of such mundane things as getting paid on time. Today there’s another column about the impact of foreign players in American soccer, this time on the college level. Among those discussed is WVU forward Jarrod Smith, who is a native of New Zealand.

Richmond Reflections

I spent the last couple of days in Richmond, Virginia, in front of the Fourth Circuit for two oral arguments. I feel better about the one on Tuesday (a Fourth Amendment issue) than the one on Wednesday (sentencing). We’ll see how it goes. But, enough about court – on to more pressing matters:

  • The public toilets of Virginia are apparently under attack! The toilets at several of the rest areas along I-64 were closed, replaced with Port-a-Pots. Even the men’s room on the fourth floor of the courthouse was working at 1/3rd capacity. What exactly is going on in the Old Dominion?
  • If you’re ever in Richmond looking for a place to eat, I recommend The White Dog in the Fan District. According to the menu, the restaurant is the brainchild of Max, the white dog in issue, who always wanted to be a restaurateur, and run by Max’s owners (“mom’s” artwork adorns the walls). Max is involved as a recipient of the day’s leftovers.
  • On Wednesday, the panel hearings were delayed by an en banc hearing which, of course, involves all (well, most) of the judges. That meant that all the attorneys there for regular arguments crowded into the big courtroom to check out the action. As it turned out, the case being argued was the Anson Dorrance sexual harassment case, so I was passingly familiar with the facts. It was fun watching counsel and the court trying to avoid using the word “fuck,” which was fairly relevant to the facts of the case!
Ah, the joys of oral argument!

Thursday, October 19, 2006

I'll See This Glass Half (Well, 3/5ths) Full

Since the Genesis machine ground to a halt after Calling All Stations (an album which, on the whole, I like), there's been rumors and rumors of rumors about a reunion tour and/or album. The ultimate dream/holy grail for Genesis fans was a reunion featuring not only the "pop" three of Phil Collins, Tony Banks, and Mike Rutherford but also founding vocalist Peter Gabriel and golden-era guitarist Steve Hackett. Well, the reunion has been announced, but it appears to be limited to the . . . and Then There Were Three guys. Gabriel is officially out, allegedly working on new material, which, given his glacial pace, should mean a sequel to Up! by the next decade. Hackett hasn't been mentioned - presumably he's happy with his own thing, exemplified by the new album Wild Orchid.

For the time being, I'll remain optimistic. My hope was that the whole bunch would get together and generate some new material before touring, as Van der Graff Generator did successfully last year. Alas, that's not in the cards. But maybe a new Collins/Banks/Rutherford album could have some potential. And the live show might still be good, particularly if they make it a more wide-ranging setlist than just hammering the later pop hits (confession - take the abysmal "Hold on My Heart" out of the live DVD from the We Can't Dance tour and that set is really pretty good).

When do tickets go on sale?

Invaders from the Deep

Now that Dubya has almost dictatorial powers to fight the War on Terra(tm), it's time for him to direct them at the real enemy - stingrays. We all remember the sleeper cell that took out Steve "Crikey!" Irwin, right? Well, now their tactics have become more aggressive, as one jumped into a boat off the Florida coast and stabbed a man in the chest. What's next? Swimming up the Mississippi and striking New Orleans? Where is the Department of Homeland Security? Has Rumsfeld been briefed?!?

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

What Red Light Camera Are Really All About

Today's USA Today has a story about a legal challenge in Chicago to red light cameras - cameras that take pictures of cars as they allegedly run red lights. The main argument pressed in the article is that car owners get charged with the violation, regardless of who is actually driving. In the process of defending their system, a Chicago official tips the city's hand about the real purpose behind the cameras:

Jennifer Hoyle, a spokeswoman for the city's Law Department, says the city expects to prevail in court because other city ordinances that are similarly enforced have survived court challenges.

* * *

'As a vehicle owner you have a responsibility to ensure you are not lending your car to someone who will use it illegally,' Hoyle says.

She added that red-light tickets, like parking tickets, are considered by the city to be 'administrative tickets,' not moving violations, and can be paid by mail. 'It's not something that you have to go to traffic court for. It doesn't count against your driving record as a moving violation,' she says.
In other words, "guilt or innocence is irrelevant, we just want the money." Just like the car mags have said from the beginning.

Lord of the Whatnow?

I know times are hard for Rick Santorum - name appropriated for nasty sexual debris, probably on his way to losing his Senate seat - but this makes me thing he's gone 'round the bend (if he wasn't there already):

In an interview with the editorial board of the Bucks County Courier Times, embattled Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum has equated the war in Iraq with J.R.R. Tolkien's 'Lord of the Rings.' According to the paper, Santorum said that the United States has avoided terrorist attacks at home over the past five years because the 'Eye of Mordor' has been focused on Iraq instead.

'As the hobbits are going up Mount Doom, the Eye of Mordor is being drawn somewhere else,' Santorum said. 'It's being drawn to Iraq and it's not being drawn to the U.S. You know what? I want to keep it on Iraq. I don't want the Eye to come back here to the United States.'

Maybe, in his stress, he's confused "Middle East" with "Middle Earth"? Regardless, I wouldn't trust Rick to return The Lord of the Rings to the video store, much less analyze the war in the Middle East with any competency/honesty.

UPDATE: Ah, all is clear now, thanks to an explanation from Steven Colbert.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Wow. Just . . . Wow

It's not uncommon for politicians running for election to hint that God is on their side, but I've never before seen a political campaign that actually put the Almighty and his helpers in a TV commercial. Apparently, one of the ballot initiatives at issue this year in Colorado would amend the state constitution to automatically raise the minimum wage every year. There are arguments pro and con for that initiative, I'm sure. I'm guessing the "con" side is deep down in the polls, tho', since they've drafted God and Moses for TV spots urging voters to defeat the initiative. Via this diary over at Daily Kos, you can watch the ad for yourself here.

This leads me to ask a question for which I've never gotten a satisfactory answer. Some folks are quite fond of citing to the Bible to justify passing certain laws or implementing certain policies. Where, exactly, in either the Old or New Testaments did God, Moses, Jesus or anybody else discuss tax and other economic policies?

Monday, October 16, 2006

Random Soccer Thoughts

It was an interesting weekend in the soccer world:

  • Being a keeper is dangerous: I knew this already (and still have the bruises to prove it), but English giants Chelsea learned that lesson in a particularly harsh way this weekend. In a Saturday match against Reading, Chelsea lost not one but two world class keepers in collisions with the opposing team. Starter Petr Cech suffered a "depressed fracture" in his skull, while backup Carlo Cudicini left the game later with another head injury. As a result, Chelsea's third-string keeper, Hilario, will be between the pipes for Wednesday's Champion's League showdown with Barcelona. And, no, I did not make up that name!
  • In America . . .: ESPN's Andrea Canales had an interesting article over the weekend about how foreign players adapt to playing in MLS. In spite of the rather small salaries (in global terms), the South Americans are enjoying MLS due to such small luxuries as grass (as opposed to pure dirt or broken glass) fields and getting paid with regularity. Ah, the glorious life of a professional athlete!
  • We're doomed: If you just looked at the final MLS standings, you'd think that DC United would be in good shape for the playoffs. Best record in the league, home field advantage in the Eastern Conference playoffs, etc. Unfortunately, most of DC's points came during a blazing early season run and the standings mask the fact that they've been playing like shite for the last few weeks. After watching the 3-2 loss to the Fire yesterday, I'm convinced we'll bomb out of the playoffs again. Hopefully not in the first round against the Metroscum, er, Red Bulls, but I wouldn't be surprised.

Bloggers Beware (Lawyer Edition)

Among the other worries bloggers should keep in mind, there may be an extra layer of bother on the horizon for we lawyer bloggers. As Julie Hilden over at Findlaw discusses, some state bar associations are considering regulating legal blogs as a form of advertising. Also, as Hilden points out, this seems like a very bad idea. Could anyone reading this honestly think I'm soliciting business (for the record, I only represent court appointments, so I can't be "hired" as such)? While some blogs, associated with law firm web sites and such, may become advertising, regulating all legal blogs as such seems ridiculously overbroad.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Return of the Giant Potweed

Wow, you know your pot patch is out of hand when the tanks can't get through! Cue Mr. Gabriel and company:

They are invincible,
They seem immune to all our herbicidal battering.
I wonder if this is should be part of Dubya's plan to pacify Iraq?

Fresh Tunage

I'm not sure if it's the new surroundings, a pair of beautiful blue-sky days, or (perversely) the buckets of snot draining from my brain today, but I finally finished up my first new tune since August this afternoon, "Crystal Clear." The inspiration (and namesake) for starting to work on the track is the very nice Crystal VSTi synth, which provides the main bass and synth riffs in this tune. Head on over to AP and have a listen.

Friday, October 13, 2006

For the Well (Un)Dressed Attorney

From earlier this week, we know that it's not proper for an attorney to wander around stark nekkid. So what's a lawyer to do if he's not in the mood for the coat and tie? Get some Illegal Briefs, of course! Why, I bet they'd even make a swell gift for the hard-to-buy-for attorney in your life. ;)

Is Football Doomed?

UEFA, the European football/soccer governing body thinks it might. At issue is what liability exactly do national federations owe to the professional club teams when players are called up for national team duty? The issue has came to a head when Abdelmajid Oulmers was injured playing for the Moroccan national team in 2004. That injury deprived his club team and employer, Charleroi, of his services. Pissed about one of their prized employees getting broken, Charleroi sued FIFA (the international governing body). According to the BBC:

A Charleroi victory would mean clubs would become entitled to compensation while their players are away on international duty.
And that would wreck the international game, according to UEFA. The Brazilian federation, among others, probably couldn't afford to use their best players. Of course, maybe that will bump the US up in the game, given our bottomless pool of Nike money.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Loonies Are Fun

One of my daily rituals is checking out that main page at Wikipedia to see what nuggets of trivia they're pushing. Today marks an auspicious anniversary: on this date in 1959, Norton I, Emperor of the United States and Protector of Mexico issued an imperial decree disolving Congress.

Never heard of Norton I? Never knew the United States had an Emperor (Dubya's delusions to the contrary)? Well, head on over and learn the story of Joshua A. Norton, whom the article charitably describes "he was considered insane, or at least highly eccentric." The native Brit immigrated to the US from South Africa, eventually settling in San Francisco and declaring himself emperor. He became quite the sensation in San Fran before his death.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Stupid Criminal Tricks

It's that time again, boys and girls! Time for tales of the criminally stupid - the the stupidly criminal, depending on your point of view.

  • From the New York Times comes this story about a prosecutor in Ohio who was caught in the buff. On camera. In his office:

    A guard monitoring a security camera spotted a nude man investigators identified as Blauvelt in a building that houses county offices the night of Oct. 5, sheriff's Maj. Anthony Dwyer said. The night before, security video had captured Blauvelt naked in another area of the building, where city offices are located, Dwyer said.

    Dwyer said investigators don't know why Blauvelt, who was alone, wasn't wearing clothes. He faces two counts of indecency.
    Personally, I do a lot of thinking on my feet, pacing around the house or office. Never once have I felt that I could focus better if I got nekkid.
  • Again, from the New York Times, comes a story of enterprising stoners. Three Burger King employees decided to put some marijuana in some Whoppers and see what developed. Problem was, a couple of local cops bought the burgers and the scheme was unveiled. The BK dudes were charged with drug possession and assault of the cops.
  • Finally, some local idiocy. Mr. Austin was arrested on Friday afternoon for DUI in St. Albans. That, in and off itself, is pretty dumb. What makes is royally stupid, however, is that he was on his way to court to answer charges of . . . wait for it . . . 3rd offense DUI! Brilliant.

Now That's Audience Participation!

On the Frank Zappa album Lather, there's a live version of "Honey, Don't You Wanna Man Like Me" in which Frank deals quickly, brutally, and humorously with a heckler - "Fuck you, too, buddy. Fuck you very much" - without he or the band missing a beat.

Well, hard as this may be to believe, Barbara Streisand is no Frank Zappa, either musically or satirically. During a show in New York last night, a poorly conceived comedy bit broke out in which Babs sparred verbally with an impersonator playing Dubya (in even dimmer fashion than in real life). Not all were amused:

Though most of the crowd offered polite applause during the slightly humorous routine, it got a bit too long, especially for a few in the audience who just wanted to hear Streisand sing like she had been doing for the past hour.

'Come on, be polite!' the well-known liberal implored during the sketch as she and 'Bush' exchanged zingers. But one heckler wouldn't let up. And finally, Streisand let him have it.

'Shut the [fuck] up!' Streisand bellowed, drawing wild applause. 'Shut up if you can't take a joke!'

While nobody loves some dumb Dubya shtick more than I do, I would be kind of pissed if I paid way too much money to see Babs croon (imagine an alternate universe version of me - I have to in order to get through even the idea of it) and got a bad SNL sketch during the proceedings.

Still, it's good thing Babs no longer has the Triangle of Zinthar, or the heckler would have ended up a small puddle of goo on the Madison Square Garden floor!

Monday, October 09, 2006

Home Studio Redux

Back in the summer, when I was first getting online with ACIDPlanet, I threw up a post with a picture of what I euphemistically called my "studio." Finally, after some hemming and hawing, I've managed to upgrade my surroundings. With help from the girlfriend (thanks, honey!) I picked up a new desk and a storage thingy from IKEA. Today I had a chance to put those together (damn those Swedes who decided that assembly instructions could be adequately conveyed only by pictures!), along with a spiffy keyboard stand that I got last week and some upgraded computer speakers. Thus, voila:

Yes, that is the Roger Dean cover art for the Anderson, Bruford, Wakeman, Howe album on the wall behind my keyboard rig. Every thing works and the new speakers really round out the synth sounds I've got to play with. So, at some point, I'll have some new goodies up at AP.

Lawyers on Film, Part Deux

Last week I referenced a post over at Concurring Opinions about great lawyer movies. A couple of things move me to discuss a couple of other flicks that might fit that category.

First, as the commenters pointed out, I completely overlooked . . . and Justice for All from my list. It earns a spot solely for Al Pacino's in-court freak out (the "this whole trial is out of order" speech). It slipped my mind because it's been a while since I've seen it and I can't really remember the rest of it.

Second, in the comments over at CO, A Man for All Seasons was mentioned. Oddly enough, that was recommended by one of my first-year profs in law school as a great lawyer movie. Even more oddly, it had risen to the top of my Netflix queue so I actually had a copy to watch last week. After watching it, I don't think I could rightly put it on my great lawyer movie list.

For those of you who haven't seen it, the film (based on a play of the same name) tells part of the story of the life of Sir Thomas More, an English lawyer and politician during the 16th Century. More is rightly famous for standing on principle against Henry VIII's goal of divorcing his first wife so he could marry his mistress (and hopefully sire a male heir). More's allegiance to his principles destroyed his career and ultimately led to his beheading as a traitor.

The film covers that part of More's life and is often seen as a case study of a man who will not compromise for political expediancy. As powerful a message as that is (and, sadly, all too relevant given the current administration), More's steadfastness comes not because of some overriding legal principle, but an overriding religious one. In fact, More appears to be quite the religious fanatic, placing the law of God (as dispensed by the Pope) as superior to the law of man. That's a dangerous worldview for a lawyer to hold, in my opinion. In addition, More's faith led him to persecute non-Catholics as heretics (burning some at the stake, no less). Leave it to the Catholic church to canonize the man.

So while the film itself is very good, the man portrayed in it is a religious nutball who just happens to be a lawyer. Which keeps it off my great lawyer movie list.

Flash Fictionless Friday

Last week the Flash Fiction Friday round for the week passed me by - I wasn't really grabbed by the idea and never got inspired. Nonetheless, other people did, so be sure to check out what they came up with.

Thursday, October 05, 2006


It's hard enough finding a bride when you're alive, imagine what it's like when you're dead. Today's New York Times has an interesting article about a Chinese practice in which families find brides for sons who died before they were married. Thankfully, the blushing brides are already dead, too - they get the corpses together and bury them in a the same grave.

Alas, marriage isn't any easier in the West, particularly if your parents are insane:

Sometimes a bride or groom has second thoughts as the Big Day approaches.

In this case, it was the bride's parents.

Utah prosecutors have charged Julia and Lemuel Redd with kidnapping their daughter Julianna, 21, the day before her Aug. 5 wedding and driving her from Provo, Utah, to Grand Junction, Colo., to prevent her marriage.

They took her home the next day, after the wedding time had come and gone, Utah County Attorney Kay Bryson said. “You can't take an adult child against their will, even if you don't agree with the course of action or the path they're taking in their life,” he said.

Not surprisingly, the happy couple (apparently) eloped shortly thereafter. Should make for an interesting Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Lawyers on Film*

Over at Concurring Opinions, Dan Solove asks what movies are part of the "law movie cannon." Dan's criteria for inclusion are rigorous:

I'm basing this list on the following totally objective standard: Do I really like the movie? I actually happen to be an expert in things I like, and I therefore believe I am uniquely situated to create this list.
No doubt! Dan's list, for the record:
1. Anatomy of a Murder
2. Breaker Morant
3. My Cousin Vinny
4. To Kill a Mockinbird
5. 12 Angry Men
Aside from Anatomy of a Murder, I've seen the others on Dan's list and recommend them all. Mad props for putting Breaker Morant on that list, one of my favorite films of all time and a great examination of law and war at the crossroads of history. Laugh at the inclusion of My Cousin Vinny, but my trial advocacy professor in law school used one scene as an example of where to find an expert witness outside of academia. As for To Kill a Mockingbird, I still love it (the novel, too), even after a recent PD training where we ripped poor Atticus apart, concluding that he was at best inept and at worst a patsy for the prosecution.

As for what I'd add to Dan's list, the first thing that pops to mind is A Few Good Men, not just because I love about everything Sorkin does, but because even after the big "Perry Mason moment" (Jack's "you can't handle the truth!" speech), the defendants still get convicted. As in real life, many factors leading to the commission of an act don't really go into the guilt/innocence calculus (for better or worse).

Another is The Sweet Hereafter, a brilliant Atom Egoyan flim that deals with the aftermath of a school bus crash that devastates a small Canadian town. The main actor in the film is a PI lawyer who shows up to try and recruit plaintiffs for a class action suit. The reaction of people to him, both in the way they get indignant at his presence and the way they open up to a complete stranger about a tragedy, show how a lawyer doing his job affects other people.

For a documentary, I highly recommend Murder on a Sunday Afternoon. It's about a murder case in Florida (thought it is a French film) in which a 15-year old boy is falsely accused. The heroic work his public defender attorneys put in to save the kid's life is a great motivator for all of us who toil in the system on a daily basis.

Anybody else?

* sung to the tune of Duran Duran's "Girls on Film," perhaps?

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

This Seems Familiar Somehow . . .

Remember when Clinton was accused of being in medias res with Monica while on the phone with various world leaders? Well, it appears that the GOP's own sexual miscreant, Mark Foley, actually held up a House vote while having cybersex with one of his former pages. Too bad Foley resigned so quickly over the weekend. Maybe we could drag him back for some public scolding anyway, huh? Where's Joe Lieberman when you need him?

As bad as Foley's actions are, the right-wing attempt to justify them is even worse. How about Matt Drudge, for instance:

And if anything, these kids are less innocent — these 16 and 17 year-old beasts…and I've seen what they're doing on YouTube and I've seen what they're doing all over the internet — oh yeah — you just have to tune into any part of their pop culture. You're not going to tell me these are innocent babies. Have you read the transcripts that ABC posted going into the weekend of these instant messages, back and forth? The kids are egging the Congressman on! The kids are trying to get this out of him. We haven't got the whole story on this.

* * *

You could say 'well Drudge, it's abuse of power, a congressman abusing these impressionable, young 17 year-old beasts, talking about their sex lives with a grown man, on the internet.' Because you have to remember, those of us who have seen some of the transcripts of these nasty instant messages. This was two ways, ladies and gentlemen. These kids were playing Foley for everything he was worth. Oh yeah. Oh, I haven't…they were talking about how many times they'd masturbated, how many times they'd done it with their girlfriends this weekend…all these things and these 'innocent children.' And this 'poor' congressman sitting there typing, 'oh am I going to get any,' you know?
Wow, sit back and let that sink in for a minute, then consider three things.

First, presumably, the kids who were serving as Foley's pages were children of upper-crust GOP power brokers. If such kids are "beasts," what does that say of all that traditional GOP parenting going on out there?

Second, federal law, which regulates conduct on the Internet (for the most part) universally defines "minor" as someone who is less than 18 years of age. That means, while whatever Foley may have discussed with his pages might have been legal given the age of consent in Florida or elsewhere (I have no idea), the pages were minors as far as federal law goes. Federal law that has become increasingly harsh and unflexible in the past few years (thanks, largely, to people like Foley).

Third, remember how back during Monicagate Clinton was portrayed as the dirty old man, preying on the innocent young intern? Well, she just happened to be in her early 20s.

So which is it? Are 16-17 year olds wily "beasts" who trick naive Congresscritters into talking dirty or are men in position of power predators when they use their position to seek sexual favors from their underlings? I'm perfectly willing to admit that Clinton was a sleazy scumbag for hitting on the help, if the GOPers are willing to say the same of Foley.

UPDATE: Or how about pill-poppin' Rush, who is floating the conspiracy theory that the Democrats set Foley up. For crying out loud, if the Democrats were with it enough to setup someone would it be some nobody Congressman from Florida? Jeez, Rush.

Small World

Sometimes, I think, people believe that all West Virginians are related to each other somehow, often for unseemly reasons. Well, this story probably won't help. It details on ongoing criminal case in federal court involving a former legislator (indeed, I think she represented my area when I moved in) named

Lisa Smith.
The Assistant US Attorney handling case's name is
Hunter Smith.
The defendant's attorney is named
Tom Smith.
OK, I can say with complete certainty, since I know of the attorneys involved, that none of these folks are related - it just looks that way. Nonetheless, some local conspiracy theorist will come up with some scheme that ties them altogether (particularly given the outcome of the hearing).

On the other hand, the transcript probably reads a bit like play-by-play from any of the Korean's games at this summer's World Cup: "Kim to Kim to Kim to . . .".

Bloggers Beware

The cover story in today's USA Today is about the extension of libel and slander laws to the blogoverse and how some bloggers apparently think they're judgment proof. That's almost certainly not the case, particularly when you try something like this:

Rafe Banks, a lawyer in Georgia, got involved in a nasty dispute with a client over how to defend him on a drunken-driving charge. The client, David Milum, fired Banks and demanded that the lawyer refund a $3,000 fee. Banks refused.

Milum eventually was acquitted. Ordinarily, that might have been the last Banks ever heard about his former client. But then Milum started a blog.

In May 2004, Banks was stunned to learn that Milum's blog was accusing the lawyer of bribing judges on behalf of drug dealers. At the end of one posting, Milum wrote, 'Rafe, don't you wish you had given back my $3,000 retainer?'

Banks, saying the postings were false, sued Milum. And last January, Milum became the first blogger in the USA to lose a libel suit, according to the Media Law Resource Center in New York, which tracks litigation involving bloggers. Milum was ordered to pay Banks $50,000.

* * *

Milum says he considers himself a muckraker and exposer of corruption in local officials. In the recent libel trial, his attorney, Jeff Butler, described his client as a 'rabble-rouser' whose inspiration was 'public service.'

Milum lost in court because he could not meet the basic defense for libel claims: He could not prove that his allegations that Banks was involved in bribery and corruption were true.

Keep in mind that opinion, particularly on important political or social matters, is one thing. But slinging accusations of criminal and unethical behavior at another person on a blog is just as likely to get you in trouble (if not more so) than if you said it at the local pub.*

* This should not be construed in any way as me giving legal advice. After all, it's pretty much common sense that you shouldn't verbally write checks that your ass can't cash, right?

Play Ball!

Major League Baseball may have just wrapped up its regular season and Major League Soccer is winding down as well, but today marks opening day of the most important season: the Supreme Court's new term! For an appellate geek like myself, this is almost like Xmas in October (although not quite as good as June, when the term ends and we get opinions coming out thick and fast). CBS legal analyst Andrew Cohen has a brief (and light-hearted) look at the upcoming term here.

One quibble, however - there was no "landmark 2004 ruling that required federal jurors to find beyond a reasonable doubt any fact that increased a defendant's sentence." The landmark ruling from 2004, Blakely, applied only to state sentencings, not federal. By the time the federal Guidelines got around to the court in Booker a year later, Blakely was emasculated to the point of being nearly meaningless for the feds (as I argued here on the 1-year anniversary of Blakely). Maybe Cunningham, the California case Cohen alludes to, will fix that, but I'm not overly optimistic.

Monday, October 02, 2006

GOP Loses War on Terror

It's official: the Republican party has lost the War on Terror. Word comes from none other than Senate Majority Leader (and Presidential hopeful) Bill Frist who says it's time to make peace with the Taliban and bring them back into the Afghani government. Great! All that time, effort, and money (not to mention lives) that we've wasted in Iraq running after phantom WMDs could have been at work in Afghanistan hunting down the Taliban. Remember them? The ones who actually were involved with Al Qeada? Way to go, GOP.

UPDATE: Frist cries bullshit, saying he didn't actually say what is attributed to him in the article, but it seems like a lukewarm denial at best.

As to the question from jedi jawa in Da Kron: yes, they do think you're that stupid. Prove them wrong, Ohio!