Thursday, May 31, 2012

The Chicago Way

An arbitrator has sustained the grievances of four Chicago firefighters fired for submitting false reimbursement reports:

Independent arbitrator Edwin H. Benn said there is “no real dispute” that all of the accused “knowingly submitted inaccurate mileage-reimbursement reports and obtained compensation for mileage — ranging in some cases into the thousands of dollars — that they did not actually incur.” 
But Benn pointed to city Inspector General Joe Ferguson’s conclusion that the alleged mileage padding was a “decades-long practice that was condoned and encouraged by supervisors.” Benn quoted Ferguson as saying that many of he inspectors were “assured by their supervisors that the accuracy of their mileage totals would not be challenged.”
Apparently it's okay as long as everybody does it.

One question: have the complicit supervisors been fired? I mean, the ones who encouraged these firefighters to steal taxpayer money?

Birthers have been around longer than we think.

In March, I pointed out that a lot of what we call politics is really a non-cartoon example of Mad Magazine's "Spy vs. Spy." As I noted then, this is not an original thought.  However, Reuters has another example of this phenomenom. Democrats used to be birthers. Of course, they were not questioning whether President Obama is a natural born citizen. Instead they were questioning whether George Romney, Mitt Romney's father, was eligible to become president of the United States.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Justice Stevens = Bob Dylan (or vice versa)?

Is it just me or does it seem strange to you that Bob Dylan and John Paul Stevens won the same award this week.  While both are widely respected in their field of endeavor, I cannot say I ever thought of them in the same sentence before.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

R.I.P. Doug Dillard

Like many people born in the 60s or 70s, the first bluegrass music I heard was the theme song to "The Beverly Hillbillies."  I am not entirely certain, but I think that the time I saw anyone play bluegrass music was when I saw the Darlings appear on "The Andy Griffith Show."  

The Darlings, minus Denver Pyle, were actually a group called The Dillards.  On Sunday, the New York Times reported that Doug Dillard, the banjo player in the group, died at the age of 75.  The L.A. Times has a more detailed obituary here.  Other than that I enjoyed his music, I do not have much else to add beyond what those articles say about Mr. Dillard's skill.  Requiescat in pace Mr. Dillard.

Suggested Reading.

It is my youngest sister's birthday today.  Perhaps you should check out her blog

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Was the zebra or the parrot the designated driver?

Check out this tidbit from Dubuque, Iowa..  KCRG-TV reports
A Cascade man was arrested outside of a Dubuque bar on Sunday night with a pet zebra and a macaw parrot in the front seat of his truck.
Officers charged Jerald Reiter, 55, with OWI. Police reports say officers stopped him in the parking lot of the Dog House Lounge as he drove away in his truck. According to police, field sobriety tests showed Reiter had a blood alcohol level of .14. The legal limit in Iowa is .08.
. . .
Reiter disputes the charges and says he realized he was too drunk to drive and was about to let a passenger in the truck to take the wheel when he was arrested.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Sometimes the first thought is not the best thought.

If you ever find yourself accused of hitting, choking, and trying to gouge out the eyes of the child of your former law firm partner, you may wish to reconsider some of the decisions that got you to that point.  This is especially true when the best the lawyer defending you in the matter can say is that the encounter was a "huge misunderstanding." 

You know, because trying to gouge out a person's eyes is susceptible to more than one meaning.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Handcuffing your wife during an argument will get you fired if you are a police officer.

As the Green Bay Press Gazette reports, Thomas Benike, a police officer in Ashwaubenon, Wisconsin, has been fired by the Ashwaubenon Police and Fire Commission.

Officer Benike's troubles started when he got into a dispute with his soon-to-be ex-wife regarding the location of Officer Benike's wallet.  Officer Benike could not locate find the wallet.  When he couldn't locate the wallet, Officer Benike did something that I suspect 98% of married people do in similar circumstances:  he blamed his spouse for taking or moving the wallet.  The article is unclear on what evidence—other than the fact that the wallet was not where Officer Benike thought it should be—supported the conclusion that Mrs. Benike took or moved the wallet.

Monday, May 21, 2012

“Costs for lodging and air travel to attend the conference are comparative to those found at mainland venues.”

The quote is the Ninth Circuit's response to a letter the court received from Senators Charles Grassley and Jeff Sessions inquiring why the Ninth Circuit was hosting its annual judicial conference at a resort on Maui instead of, say, a hotel in Billings, Montana.  The Senators' letter notes that the cost of accommodations on Maui will exceed $700,000 assuming that the conference has as many attendees as the court's 2010 conference.  This matters because the travel and accommodations costs for the judges in the Ninth circuit are paid by the government (which gets its money from taxes).

I guess simply answering that Maui is nicer than Billings would have been undiplomatic.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Lawsuit against Westlaw and Lexis takes a hit.

In February Mr. Torvik posted about a lawsuit alleging that Westlaw and Lexis violate copyright laws by publishing briefs without permission.  The Wall Street Journal Law Blog has a post discussing how the judge hearing the case has dismissed a large part of the case.  Lawyers who did not register their briefs with the copyright office--that is, virtually every lawyer on the planet--cannot be part of the lawsuit. 

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Bad editor or bad editing?

As the Daily Kos and others have pointed out, the Greene County, Virgina Republican Committee is attracting some attention for its March newsletter.  You can read the newsletter here (maybe, sometimes the link worked for me and sometimes it did not).  If you are not already on the committee's mailing list, you may be interested to learn that the committee apparently thinks that the GOP-controlled United States House of Representatives is insufficiently conservative and spends a lot of time "sitting on their pantaloons." The same piece makes a reference to the fact that Robert E. Lee would not have tolerated the job performance of, among other people, Greene County's current Representative in the House.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Live free or die.

I'm not sure what to say about this story other than that New Hampshire's House of Representatives is apparently a deeply weird place.  I wonder if Representative Vaillancourt is serious that he will never use another German word again.  I could not keep such a promise because: (a) I like to eat bratwurst; and (b) I know a lot of people with kids in kindergarten.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

1,780 people apparently love money more than they love the U.S.A.

As this article from Forbes point out, the United States has one of the lowest marginal tax rates in the world.  Despite this, as the Miami Herald wrote about here, since 2008 the number of people who have renounced their United States citizenship in order to avoid disclosing foreign account information to the Internal Revenue Service has grown from 226 in 2008, to 1,780 this year.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Helpful Hint: Do not bite state troopers.

The Supreme Court of South Carolina has suspended South Carolina lawyer Michael DuPree.  The suspension is the result of a fracas in which Mr. DuPree allegedly punched and bit a state trooper while Mr. DuPree was on vacation in Utah.  The Charleston Post and Courier has the story.

According to the Post and Courier, Mr. DuPree was a passenger in a car pulled over by a state trooper near Park City, Utah shortly after midnight March 22. The car was allegedly driving 5 miles per hour over the posted speed limit and failing to stay in one lane. Some people I know call those two things “driving.” But they do not live in the Park City area.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Revisionist history: John Travolta

John Travolta is in the news. And his career's arc is being erroneously recounted:
Travolta, who shot to fame in the 1970s on TV show "Welcome Back, Kotter" and had starring roles in movies "Saturday Night Fever" and "Grease," suffered a career lull in the late 1980s.  
But he bounced back with gritty roles in films such as 1994's "Pulp Fiction" and later, action adventure "Face/Off."
Anyone who lived through the 80s knows this is false. In fact, Travolta bounced back long before "Pulp Fiction." Who can forget his tour de force performance as James Urbiacco in "Look Who's Talking" (1989), "Look Who's Talking Too" (1990), and "Look Who's Talking Now" (1993)?

In hindsight, it seems very strange that Travolta was not a cast member of "Three Men and a Baby" (1987). Too soon, I guess. It's been said elsewhere, but it bears repeating: Steve Guttenberg is no John Travolta. (Full disclosure: I saw "Three Men and a Baby" four times. In the theater. It was a boring summer.)

In all seriousness, I recall that at least the first of the "Look Who's ..." movies was a blockbuster, and that it was that film that revived Travolta's career (after the delightful disasters of "Staying Alive," "Two of a Kind" (edible sunglasses!) and "Perfect" (among others)). Sure, Travolta got his street cred back in "Pulp Fiction" (1994) but he had already reestablished himself as box office gold with the "Look Who's ..." trilogy.

By the way, I believe I have seen 27 of the top 28 grossing moving of 1989, which is pretty amazing to me. The first to guess which of the top 28 I've never seen will be awarded 20 Gillette-Torvik Bucks™, which can be used to purchase Gillette-Torvik Paraphernalia (forthcoming).

Old media is apparently still useful.

The big financial news this week is that JPMorgan Chase lost $2 billion since the begining of April.  Apparently, the loss is the result of trading in credit default swaps.  Listeners to the "This American Life" radio show have known that credit default swaps are bad news for several years.   

Some are using the news as a chance to gloat.  I do not want, or intend, to do that as I assume that these losses probably mean that some innocent individual investors have lost money.  However, I was struck by one part of the conference call that JPMorgan's CEO had with analysts and reporters.  The CEO was asked to identify what JPMorgan should have been paying attention to in this situation.  The answer was "trading losses" and "newspapers."  Let that be a lesson to anyone who thinks that the only use for the newspaper is to line the cat litter box.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

"There are some things the state cannot do to direct the moral content of your life"--Part II


On Saturday, Mr. Torvik posted a video of University of Minnesota Law School Professor Dale Carpenter talking about his book, Flagrant Conduct: The Story of Lawrence v. Texas.  Mr. Torvik used the quote in the title as the title of his post. 

While after Lawrence states cannot criminalize private adult consensual sexual intimacy in the home, one of the things that a state evidently can do to direct the moral content of your life is decide whom you can marry.  Nate Silver, the statistician who runs the incredible FiveThirtyEight blog, has a post about how North Carolinians are likely to pass an amendment to the the North Carolina Constitution to say that marriage “Marriage between one man and one woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized.”  Put another way, North Carolina will ban recognition of same-sex marriage, civil unions and domestic partnerships of any kind.  Mr. Silver notes that, assuming his prediction is correct, North Carolina will join the other former members of the Confederate States of America as those states already have similar language in their respective state constitutions.  Mr. Silver also includes a handy chart showing that fifteen states outside of the South also have constitutional amendments banning gay marriage.  So maybe Mr. Silver's reference to the Confederacy was not entirely fair.

In any event, Mr. Silver notes that opposition to same-sex marriage is dwindling rapidly in the United States and national polls indicate that a majority of Americans now support gay marriage.  On the other hand, Mr. Silver's most "accelerated" statistical model (which tries to take into account the speed at which same-sex marriage opposition is declining) shows that more than 60% of the population in nine states opposes gay marriage.  This suggests that supporters of same-sex marriage have a lot of work to do in a large part of the country before citizens in, for example, Mississippi have the same marriage rights as citizens in Iowa.  Of course, depending on how the next round of Iowa elections go, the Iowa/Mississippi comparison might be a bad example.

"The Robing Room"

"Worse than worthless?" That's what the Minnesota Litigator thinks about the website that allows lawyers to post anonymous ratings of and comments about judges.

What do you think, Mr. Gillette?

Profiles in Pizza Parlors

Of all the bad predictions I've made on this blog, one stands out: I predicted failure for the campaign to unseat three Iowa Supreme Court justices who, as part of unanimous court, found a right to same-sex marriage in the Iowa constitution. Alas, the campaign succeeded.

But, hey, at least I'm out here in cyberspace making predictions, and copping to the bad ones. What are you doing, Anonymous?

Anyhow, the Iowa Three are back in the news because the Kennedy Center has bestowed upon them its Profiles in Courage Award, the award named after President Kennedy's ghostwritten book.

This is the ultimate Sportsmanship Award. After all, four other jurists made the same vote as the Iowa Three. Surely they were just as "courageous," no? How come they didn't get the honor too?

I suppose it's because it's unseemly to reward sitting judges for doing their jobs. So the Iowa Three are getting rewarded for getting fired. Period.

Congrats.

Is it unsporting to question how it becomes seemly to reward judges for doing their jobs only after voters de-job them?

Well, what do I know? I make terrible predictions.

By the way, Bob Vander Plaats is, by all accounts, still plugging away in the pizza parlors of the world. Now that's courage.

Monday, May 7, 2012

An answer to a question no one asked.

In case you were wondering how much jail time you might do if you bite off a person's ear, it looks like the answer is six months in jail and five months of probation.  At least, that is what the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports happened to one woman who took things "way too far" at a New Year's Day party.

Friday, May 4, 2012

More on Montana and Citizens United

Earlier this year, Mr. Torvik and I had a Conversation™ about how the Montana Supreme Court stuck its thumb in the eye of the United States Supreme Court regarding the Citizens United decision.  It turns out that the Western Tradition Partnership, Inc., v. Attorney General case was just the the beginning of Montana's attack on the decision.

Live from the courtroom!

Perhaps I've been under a rock, but I learned just today that some federal courts are testing a program to videotape civil hearings and trials and put the videos up on the web for the general public to view. The videos are available here. Anyone who thinks trial lawyering is glamorous work should take a look. Trials are the apogee of a trial lawyer's career. And they are, even in the best of cases, quite boring to watch.

"Previously the only thing named after him was a house cat."

The quote comes from the chambers of Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Richard Posner.  What is the latest thing named after Judge Posner?  According to ABC news it is a kidney that once belonged to Yale law student Eric Parrie.  Mr. Parrie decided that since he has two healthy kidneys, he ought to give one to someone who did not have any healthy kidneys.  Mr. Parrie decided to name the kidney after Judge Posner.  I think this is an astonishingly generous and brave thing to do (donating the kidney, not naming it after Judge Posner).  Mr. Parrie does not see it that way.  As he put it, "It seemed really silly, almost like arithmetic. I have two, you only need one, and someone else really needs it."

We write a fair number of posts on this blog pointing out when lawyers or judges behave badly.  This one is about someone going above and beyond doing the right thing. 

On a lighter note, I have not named any body parts after a judge.  The obvious choice would be to name one's dominant hand "Learned."  What about you, Mr. Torvik, any body parts named in honor of a member of the judiciary?

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Affirming humanity at the Supreme Court

The oral argument at the Supreme Court over Arizona's immigration enforcement law has "utterly depress[ed]" Linda Greenhouse of the New York Times.

Not, she tells us, because the Court seems poised to uphold the law (which she presumably disfavors on policy grounds). No, Greenhouse's depression was caused by "the failure of any participant in the argument, justice or advocate for either side, to affirm the simple humanity of Arizona’s several hundred thousand undocumented residents."

Let me get this out of the way, so as not to contribute to anyone's mental illness: I affirm the humanity of Arizona's several hundred thousand undocumented residents. They are human beings, entitled to be treated with all the respect and dignity that this status necessarily entails.

But what, exactly, did Ms. Greenhouse—a seasoned journalist who has covered the Supreme Court for decades—expect? Perhaps that the Solicitor General would clear his throat, take a moment to compose himself, and say:
Let's take a moment to talk about something other than the federalism issues in this case. Let's talk about humanity. Let's talk about our feelings. Because if we don't, someone in the gallery might get sad. Lookie here: I have a visual aid. It is a picture of a four-year old girl's face. As you can see, her beautiful brown eyes are gigantic. [Clears throat as he chokes back tears.] Stare into them for a moment, Justice Alito. This four-year old is an American citizen because she was born here. But her mother is not an American citizen. She's an "illegal"—an undocumented resident of Arizona who may be targeted under this law. This law may or may not be "constitutional," but I beseech you, Justice Scalia, have a heart!!
What depresses me is that Ms. Greenhouse did apparently expect something like this.

Thankfully, "Lady Madonna" just came on my iTunes shuffle, and I can't stay sad when that song's playing. Ms. Greenhouse, if you're reading: I recommend giving it a spin to help get you out of your funk.

R.I.P. Junior Seau

Following up on Mr. Torvik's post last month, several media outlets are reporting that former NFL linebacker Junior Seau has killed himself.  At least one report indicates that Mr. Seau shot himself in the chest.  This method may have been chosen so that Mr. Seau's brain could be studied to see what effect playing football had on his brain.

It would certainly be notable if Mr. Seau was already experiencing cognitive problems given that he only stopped playing football in 2009.

If you are interested in reading about what cognitive problems some football players experience after their playing days are over, I recommend this GQ article about former Minnesota Viking's linebacker Fred MacNeil.

In case you were wondering when the F-Bomb was last dropped on the Supreme Court.

The New York Times has the answer.  The article notes that lawyers and justices seem unwilling to use the word even when the case hinges on its use.  I find that odd.  What about you Mr. Torvik?  Any fear of using profanity in court if the profanity is part of the case?

Roggensack recuses

Justice Patience Roggensack has recused herself from the disciplinary proceedings against Justice Prosser. From the decision:

¶29  I have thoroughly researched what the law requires of me upon receipt of Justice Prosser's motion, and I conclude that I am disqualified by law from participating in the above-captioned proceeding.  In particular, I conclude that I have no choice but to disqualify myself due to the legislative mandate of Wis. Stat. § 757.19(2)(b), which requires self-disqualification when a justice is a material witness in a matter pending before the supreme court. 
¶30  Further, even though I am the first justice to respond to a motion to disqualify in this proceeding, I have investigated the common law doctrine known as the Rule of Necessity.  The Rule of Necessity provides that there are certain circumstances wherein a justice, who is otherwise disqualified because of a personal interest in the outcome of the proceeding, may participate.  However, when the disqualifying event is the status of the justice as a material witness in the pending proceeding, I conclude that the Rule of Necessity cannot trump the mandatory directive of the legislature.  In that circumstance, the justice is disqualified by law pursuant to Wis. Stat. § 757.19(2)(b).  Accordingly, I grant Justice Prosser's motion, and hereby disqualify myself from judicial participation in the above-captioned proceeding.
Justice Prosser has also filed motions requesting the recusal of other justices, and obviously he has recused himself. If at least two of the other justices consider themselves "material witnesses" and agree with Justice Roggensack's analysis, the Wisconsin Supreme Court will lack a quorum and be unable to hear the matter. In that case, the matter will have to be abandoned.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

“He was out of range to really kill him, but I wanted to put some pellets in him so they could catch him.”

The quote comes from Sam Bardwell, a Titusville, Florida criminal defense attorney.  Mr. Bardwell was quoted in Florida Today describing how he foiled an attempted burglary of his office.

How to double your Google Drive, and other tech tips from a lawyer

The cloud storage wars are on. The big players are Apple, Amazon, Google, and Microsoft, but up-and-comers like Dropbox, Box, SugarSync, and SpiderOak are in the game as well. And I'm sure there are others.

As someone whose Christmas was once brightened by the gift of a 20 megabyte external hard drive (that was the size of a modern laser printer) I can't help but be amazed by the availability of all this online storage space. And much of it is free. Microsoft's SkyDrive gives away 7 GB for free—25 GB to existing hotmail users who upgrade. Other services tend to give away between 2 and 5 GBs, with lots of ways (mainly referrals) to increase your free allotment.

I use Dropbox to backup and sync personal files (including media files) and SpiderOak to backup and sync more sensitive files. But I have an affinity for Google products, so when Google recently released its Google Drive option—with 5 GB free—I was naturally curious.

Google Drive is similar to Dropbox, in that it creates a special folder on your computers, and then syncs everything you put in that folder with your Google account in the cloud. As I investigated the service, however I quickly ran into two potential issues.