‘Lived-in’ look leads to landlord nightmare


[Screencap taken from CBSDFW.com video]

Upon moving to a new home, I’ve heard many people loudly proclaim that they aren’t selling their old one because they’ll just rent it out and make money off of it. Many times, they wind up with a crash course in landlord-tenant law when their tenant turns out to be something less than ideal.

A woman in Texas was sitting on a McMansion she was trying to sell after moving back to Boston. She didn’t want to keep the house, but had a hard time selling it.

Her realtor had a great idea: give the home a more “lived-in” feel by hiring a company to temporarily place a family. And by family, I’m sure the landowner was thinking Mom, Dad, Connor, Tucker and Chloe, a tricycle on the front walk and may even a sandbox in the back.

Instead, she got the Evil Clampetts. [CBSDFW.com

The tenants were supposed to be two brothers. But then they invited the whole family to move in. Then they brought in a  pitbull, despite the lease forbidding pets. Then they parked a pickup on the grass that leaked oil on the lawn. Finally, they started planting crucifixes everywhere, including one that was 10 feet tall.

In other words, this house wasn’t selling.

She had wanted lived in, and she got it. She complained that the crosses violated homeowner association laws. They claimed they were being discriminated against on religious grounds and threatened to go to the Department of Justice.

So just evict them, right? They violated the terms of the deal by having the dog and other family members move in.

She and the company filed for eviction of the family. The brothers left … but Dear Old Dad — the trunk on that family tree — isn’t going anywhere.

It doesn’t matter, [Nathan] Burgess told CBS 11, that he wasn’t expected to be in the home in the first place. He was “invited” by his sons, he said, before the eviction order came down.

“Sometimes, I’ve learned, you can’t run from things. You just have to hit em head on,” Burgess said.

He said he would have likely moved out with the rest of his family if Aji and Castle Keepers had been nice about it.

“They call and said, ‘Oh, you have a dog on the property.’ Ever since then, the level of abuse has gotten worse and worse,” Burgess said.

Burgess is vowing to exhaust all appeals before he leaves, like he’s on death row or something.

When the listing agent brought in a prospective buyer, they were met with a sign instructing them that the house is occupied and that nothing is to be touched.

The house was eventually removed from the market while the eviction mess is sorted out. She claims that neither she, nor her agent, can go into the house until it’s sorted out.

Casual Friday Finds The Most Unlikely Future Law Student

You meet a lot of interesting people in law school, some of whom took long and winding roads to get there.

Consider the case of Shon Hopwood. As a young man, Hopwood was a modern day Butch Cassidy, robbing five Nebraska banks, earning him 10 years in the federal hoosegow. [New York Times].

In prison, he became a paralegal, helping other inmates file certiorari petitions with the U.S. Supreme Court. One of them was so good that it impressed Seth Waxman, who was once the solicitor general.

The court received 7,209 petitions that year from prisoners and others too poor to pay the filing fee, and it agreed to hear just eight of them. One was Fellers v. United States.

“It was probably one of the best cert. petitions I have ever read,” said Seth P. Waxman, a former United States solicitor general who has argued more than 50 cases in the Supreme Court. “It was just terrific.”

Mr. Waxman agreed to take the case on without payment. But he had one condition.

“I will represent you,” Mr. Waxman recalled telling Mr. Fellers, “if we can get this guy Shon Hopwood involved.”

Hopwood is now reformed and out of prison, trying to get into law school. It’s a nice story.

Adventures in Frivolity Above The Law has a great feature called “Lawsuit of the Week” in which they usually make fun of some ridiculous lawsuit. I’ve probably linked to it here or on Twitter every week, because it’s always interesting.

This week features professional celebrity Lindsay Lohan, whose low self-esteem has led her to file a $100 million lawsuit against E-trade over its incredibly unfunny Super Bowl commercial.

The commercial features the regular E-trade baby in a webchat with a girl, who asks him if “that milkaholic Lindsay” was over.

Lohan’s claim is that the milkaholic is her. Even if it was, and boy, is it a stretch (for one thing, the baby is wearing undergarments), knowing what we know about satire and all… good luck with that.

Hopefully, you don’t know these people Inspired by Mitch Albom’s The Five People You Meet In Heaven, Law.com came up with four people lawyers won’t meet in solo practice.  [HT: Legal Blog Watch] (It’s worth a click if only for the great photo.) It’s a pretty good list, but certainly not exclusive.

1. "Jack the partner"

Egomaniac. Narcissist. Takes credit for everything. Belittles and bullies everyone around him. Schorn notes that this type is careful to insulate clients from other lawyers, lest he lose control.

2. "Chad the associate"

Friendly back-slapper and suck-up whose true motivation is to keep track of hours billed by those with whom he is competing for partnership. "Gossips like a junior-high cheerleader and never misses a chance to second-guess a peer’s bad outcome in the courtroom."

3. "James the office manager"

Manages the office "as if it were Yugoslavia circa 1971" with too many forms, arbitrary rules and favoritism. Posts Dilbert-caliber signs in the break room. ("Everyone WILL limit their soda consumption to a REASONABLE amount, or we WILL switch to GENERIC. Thank you.")

4. "Brian the wellness coach"

The "doughy man in an ill-fitting polo" who roams the office once a week badgering people about "good health practices." Also forces chit-chat about diet and exercise and leaves pamphlets on lawyers’ desks about heart disease, Schorn says. (In my own limited experience with the Brians of the world, there is also invariably some effort to create a massage or "chill-out" room that falls apart after about six months when "Jack the partner" needs the room for a document review).

I’m not comfortable being called the wellness coach, but I probably do a little of that (minus the “doughy” part). Any I don’t want a chill-out room. I just want an office.

Legal Blog Watch came up with one of its own:

5. "Eugene the socially inept ‘genius’"

Eugene is incapable of holding a conversation about his visit to Target without side-tracking into a discussion about the potential Sherman Act ramifications. He will never have a client of his own and may never even meet a client. But if you want a 50-page memo on whether federal jurisdiction exists in your new case, Eugene is your man.

What about:

6. Stacy the seductress

Stacy knows she has to do something to step out from the crowd. She eats a diet of only gummi bears and Citroen. There isn’t a partner who doesn’t get a “wink and a smile,” no matter how much he reminds her of her father.

Or my favorite:

7. Joe the Resume Padder

Joe has more titles than Apollo Creed. PhD. CPA. JD. LLM.  Only he didn’t actually earn all of them. Sure, he started the program but he didn’t finish. He wrote a thesis but his professor didn’t accept it because of its lack of anything resembling a point. But people ask him for help in his are of expertise, and he gives it: right after he consults with a friend of his at another firm who tells him the answers and where to find them.

Casual Friday Wants To Know What You’re Doing Right Now

I used do substitute teaching in a couple different public school districts. During that time, I saw several, eh, let’s just call them “Fourth Amendment violations” against students. Heck, one time, I was reprimanded by an assistant principal who didn’t know of my education for not participating in one. (A calculator was missing. *gasp* Even though I knew the class in question couldn’t have taken it, I was told that I should have made them all empty their pockets and bags. For how much would you sell the U.S. Constitution? For that school district? A used $5 calculator.)

imageBut my school district has nothing on Lower Merion (Penn.) School District. That district apparently wanted to know what the students were doing outside of school.  So they gave students new laptop  computers with webcams. Score! Except the computers also had hidden software that allowed the district’s officials to spy on students and their families at home. [Courthouse News, via Above The Law].

The “breach” was discovered when a kid was punished for something he did at home and the assistant principal produced the evidence: a webcam photo [Courthouse News].

The complaint states: "On November 11, 2009, plaintiffs were for the first time informed of the above-mentioned capability and practice by the school district when Lindy Matsko (‘Matsko’), an assistant principal at Harriton High School, informed minor plaintiff that the school district was of the belief that minor plaintiff was engaged in improper behavior in his home, and cited as evidence a photograph from the webcam embedded in minor plaintiff’s personal laptop issued by the school district.
     "Michael Robbins thereafter verified, through Ms. Matsko, that the school district in fact has the ability to remotely activate the webcam contained in a student’s personal laptop computer issued by the school district at any time it chose and to view and capture whatever images were in front of the webcam, all without the knowledge, permission or authorization of any persons then and there using the laptop computer.
     "Additionally, by virtue of the fact that the webcam can be remotely activated at any time by the school district, the webcam will capture anything happening in the room in which the laptop computer is located, regardless of whether the student is sitting at the computer and using it.
     "Defendants have never disclosed either to the plaintiffs or to the class members that the school district has the ability to capture webcam images from any location in which the personal laptop computer was kept."

A class action lawsuit has been filed against the school district. See the entire complaint here.

Flaky people need not apply: As one who spent a good portion of time in the not-so-distant past scouring employment ads, you can find some very interesting qualifiers listed aimed specifically to keep the honestly underqualified from applying. (How’d that work out for you? Still got 1,000 resumes?)

In the UK, some poor woman placed an ad with one qualifier: she wanted someone reliable. The posting site wouldn’t allow her to post the ad because it discriminated against unreliable candidates. [The Telegraph (UK)]

”I placed the advert on the website and when I phoned up to check I was told it hadn’t been displayed in the job centre itself," she said. ”She said ‘oh we can’t put that advert on the job points’. She said it was because they could have cases against them for discriminating against unreliable people.

”I laughed because I thought that was crazy. We supply the NHS with staff so it’s very important for the patients that we have reliable workers.

Who exactly this was going to dissuade from applying, I don’t know.

“I really need a job. Oh, here’s one for a domestic cleaner! I can clean a house like it’s nobody’s business!

“Wait a sec—aw geez. It says ‘must be reliable.’ I like to miss one day a week and being late for the rest of them. There goes that opportunity. You know, that’s crap. I’m calling my attorney!”

On the bright side, through this story, I learned that in the UK, they have something called the Campaign Against Political Correctness. Its website has a link called “Non-PC Nostalgia.”  Here we have Rush Limbaugh. They win.

Worst Idea Ever: Can one person/entity be all three? I don’t know. But some guy in Georgia has decided that the problem with the National Basketball Association is that there’s too much excitement and athleticism. (No, really!)

Meet Don “Moose” Lewis. He is trying to start a new professional league of 12 teams made up of only American-born, white players. Oh, but it’s not because he’s a racist. It’s just because white folk just love our fundamental basketball!

"There’s nothing hatred about what we’re doing," he said. "I don’t hate anyone of color. But people of white, American-born citizens are in the minority now. Here’s a league for white players to play fundamental basketball, which they like."

Lewis said he wants to emphasize fundamental basketball instead of "street-ball" played by "people of color."

No bigotry there at all.

But it’s not just about the fundamentals. White people apparently don’t want to go to games and have to worry about being flipped off or attacked in the stands.

"Would you want to go to the game and worry about a player flipping you off or attacking you in the stands or grabbing their crotch?" he said. "That’s the culture today, and in a free country we should have the right to move ourselves in a better direction."

One thing I know about white people, it’s that they NEVER flip off fans and they never attack fans.

If I can steal a joke from ESPN’s Bill Simmons, the league’s marketing slogan should be “Below the Rim.”* But I, for one, can’t wait. It will be interesting to see what it would look like if the WNBA was an all-male league.

[HT: Augusta Chronicle, via Legal Blog Watch, who already came up with some team names for this league. My suggestions? Moose’s hometown team should be called the Augusta Aryans. Other teams? The Columbia Cross Burners, and, of course, the Biloxi Bigots.]

For employment law attorneys and fans of The Office: Check out That’s What She Said, a blog that reviews each episode of The Office for employment law violations and assesses Dunder Mifflin’s (or should I say “Sab-re” ) liability for Michael Scott’s actions.

Amicus Curiae: Rethinking This Whole Law School Thing

A few summers ago, I met a first year law student and her mother. Her mother asked me if I had any advice for her daughter as she was trying to figure out what kind of law she wanted to practice. Having already been an attorney for six years and seen the legal industry in Michigan begin its decline, I jokingly said, “Quit now, before you owe too much money.”

Her mother was aghast. She pulled me aside a week later when the daughter wasn’t there and went all Gunnery Sgt. Hartman on me, telling me I ripped her daughter’s heart out and stomped on her dreams.1

Anyway, scouring the interwebs for legal trends from across the country has taught me that the legal industry’s downturn is happening everywhere, not just in Michigan. In New York, for instance, BigLaw layoffs are so bad that even the brown-nosers top-performing associates are concerned for their futures.

Even associates who find plenty to do worry that outstanding performance is no longer enough to protect them, said Daniel Lukasik, a Buffalo lawyer who runs an information and outreach Web site called Lawyers With Depression, adding that his traffic is up 25 percent since June, to about 25,000 visitors a month.

Mr. Lukasik recently received a call from a man who said he was a fifth-year associate in Manhattan who complained that he felt expendable even though he was a top performer.

“He said to me, ‘What more do I have to do?’ ” Mr. Lukasik recalled. “ ‘I’m billing a large amount of hours, I’m a team player,’ but he said it’s very possible he might lose his job. And he was a Yale graduate, at a top-20 firm.”

Things are so bad that a Seton Hall law professor thinks that there are only three reasons why anyone should even consider going to law school in this economy.

Yesterday’s New York Times article about the depreciating value of a law degree is presently number one on the Times’ “most emailed” list.  My fervent hope is that the article is being forwarded not just to lawyers, but also to individuals who are considering whether to join a 1L class in 2010.

Because I am visiting at another law school this semester, I don’t have to attend any admissions events this spring.  Yet I’ve been thinking hard about what advice I would give prospective students and this is where I’ve landed:  Only go to law school next year if (1) you have always dreamed of being a lawyer; or (2) you are accepted by a very prestigious institution; or (3) you are offered a full scholarship.

She even goes as far as to advise prospective students that law school may be a baaad idea.

Of course, this year law school applications will be partly driven by the lack of opportunity costs. Graduating college students face generally dismal employment prospects regardless of what field they want to enter.   But I suspect that optimism bias plays just as large a role in student decision-making.   No matter what the economy, some lawyers will be wildly successful.  Many prospective students are inclined to think that they will be part of this group, no matter how daunting the odds against it. On the more rational side of the analysis, it’s also true that law school historically has proven itself a relatively good place to weather out bad economic times.

What is different this time around, however, is that no one is yet sure whether the changes in legal markets and in law firms are permanent, or whether things will eventually return to what we had come to think of as normal.  If you haven’t always wanted to practice law, or if you’re considering a law school that is not one of the best in the nation, or if the law school isn’t offering to pay for you to attend, my advice is to wait to see how this plays out.

Of course, everyone thinks that it’s a great career move no matter what you were planning on going into before, as if it is recession-proof. One in-state law school has even added three law schools in the last few years, pumping even more lawyers into an already crowded job market. But it brings me back to the story of the law student and her mom. The 1L did well in school and graduated, but ended up having to move to another state to work.

1 A little overdramatic? I thought so. But that’s what she said.

Nothing to see here In its never-ending quest to recycle the “Grey’s Anatomy” model into every possible scenario (“What if we remade “Grey’s Anatomy,” but in SPACE!), ABC is debuting “The Deep End” this Thursday. It follows four first year associates at a big law firm in New York as they pursue “potentially actionable relationships” with their bosses their dreams. It’s such a blatant ripoff that I’m surprised they didn’t call it “Black’s Law.” I can’t wait until they figure out how to turn the “Izzy gives her patient-boyfriend a heart attack so that he can move up the heart transplant list” storyline into the legal setting. And by “I can’t wait,” I mean for my wife to tell me about it as I pretend like I’m listening.

Man bites dog No need to count the votes: New York personal injury firm Trolman, Glaser & Lichtman wins the Academy Award for the Best Attorney Commercials Ever Made.

HT: Virginia Lawyers Weekly

And because one Will Ferrell reference deserves another, they get bonus points because one of their partners looks like Ron Burgundy. Click here and go see how good he looks! (FYI, his name is David Corley).

Report: Court hears 1st civil lawsuit against dairy in China tainted milk scandal

The mass tort industry hits China!

BEIJING — A court is hearing the country’s first civil lawsuit by a man whose child was sickened in China’s vast tainted milk scandal, state media reported Saturday.

At least six children died last year after drinking contaminated baby formula and more than 300,000 were sickened in one of the country’s worst food safety crises.

Parents and lawyers have reported pressure from government officials not to pursue lawsuits over the tainted milk, so the start of the trial Friday was seen as a breakthrough.

“Reported pressure from government officials not to pursue lawsuits.” Now that’s tort reform.