Casual Friday presents: Attorneys Behaving Badly

Sometimes it’s not so easy to find a theme for a Casual Friday entry. Other times, it’s obvious.

Like this week, when, for some reason, I found more stories of attorneys in need of attorneys.  Here are the top three, with the requisite mug shots:

Bronze Medal: An attorney should do everything she can to help her client. Unless that includes smuggling drugs into jail for him. Especially if she isn’t really his attorney.

image Nina Backon is a Farmington Hills attorney, but, likely, not for long [The Detroit News]:

A 35-year-old Farmington Hills attorney is facing smuggling and drug possession charges after allegedly smuggling drugs into the Oakland County Jail for her boyfriend.

The charges stem from a visit last week with her boyfriend, Eric Edward Wilamowski, 23, also of Farmington Hills, in the jail.

Wilamowski had recently been sentenced to 93 days in jail for possession of drug paraphernalia. On May 5, Backon represented herself as his attorney in order to visit him. At the conclusion of the visit, police say, Wilamowski let it slip to the deputies that Backon was actually his fiancé, and at the end of that visit she was blowing kisses to Wilamowski.

After deputies confirmed she was not his attorney of record, she was escorted out of the building and told she would no longer be allowed attorney visits.

On May 7, she returned with legal papers that she had filed as an attorney on his case, police said. Deputies were suspicious of Backon and, at the end of that visit, searched Wilamowski and found six Xanax pills and 10 pouches of chewing tobacco. Wilamowski admitted Backon had brought the items to him.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, the police obtained a search warrant [Observer & Eccentric]:

A Farmington Hills attorney and her fiance, already jailed on drug-related charges, face additional charges after an apparent marijuana-growing operation was uncovered in their apartment.

“I would say it was highly unlikely it was just for themselves,” said Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard of the “well-equipped” growing operation found in the pair’s Farmington Hills apartment.

Nina Marie Backon, 35, and her fiance, Eric Edward Wilamowski, 23, were arraigned on the new charges via video this week from Oakland County Jail where both are lodged.

Backon is active in the medical marijuana movement, posting on compassion club sites. But still, without the proper paperwork, it’s, you know, illegal.

And she finished third…

Silver Medal: There’s creepy guy, there’s sleazy guy, and there’s this guy [Atlanta Journal-Constitution]:


A Cobb County attorney has been arrested for allegedly putting a surveillance camera under a woman’s desk.

Cobb County Sheriff’s Office James Frederick Tenney, of Marietta, faces three charges of unlawful surveillance.

A female employee of Merritt & Tenney L.L.P. noticed the device earlier this week and called Cobb County police. The man, James Frederick Tenney of Marietta, turned himself in Friday afternoon, according to Sgt. Dana  Pierce.

Tenney faces three counts of unlawful surveillance for apparently recording the woman three different times, Pierce said.

HT: ABA Journal

Still, there was one better/worse…

Gold Medal: I don’t know how many strikes you get in Texas before you lose your law license, but it’s more than two.

Meet Carolyn Machalac Barnes, a 52-year old attorney from Leander, Texas, a barrister that personifies the idea of “Don’t Mess With Texas,” as well as “You don’t know crazy” (or, as they say in Texas “You ain’t seen crazy”) [Austin American-Statesman]:

Williamson County sheriff’s officials have charged an attorney with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, saying she fired five shots when a U.S. Census Bureau worker visited her home Saturday , court records show.

And this was no mistaken identity either.

After Gittel identified herself as a census worker, Foster said, Barnes came outside with a handgun and told Gittel to get off the property.

Gittel “was apparently not getting off of her property fast enough, and Ms. Barnes decided to shoot five rounds in her direction,” Foster said. He said Gittel was not injured.

She fired five shots after the lady as she was leaving.

This was not a first offense for Barnes. She has a long and disturbing history of striking out at police/governmental workers. Like earlier this year, for instance [MyFoxAustin]:

According to an affidavit, 52-year-old Carolyn Machalec Barnes passed her belongings through an x-ray machine when she entered the courthouse.

As the items passed through, a security officer noticed a multi-use tool with a knife blade in with her things. Barnes was asked to leave and take the tool out to her car.

Honestly, who hasn’t this happened to? (Well, maybe not with a knife blade, but a cell phone or a key chain, certainly). You’re annoyed, sure, but mainly because you know you have to walk back to your car. Not Barnes:

When the guard told Barnes she would have to go outside to place the call, she turned around and hit him in the chest. At that point, officers restrained her and placed her in handcuffs.

Sheriff Office [sic] says that’s when she started screaming like an animal and threatened the officer.

Unhappy with the news coverage, she fired back like a celebrity – with a litany of incoherent messages through Twitter:

According to Barnes twitter page, she says that she never had a knife in her purse and that it was an eyeglass repair toolkit.  Barnes also noted on her twitter page that she never threatened or cursed at the officers.  She said that she was the one that was attacked by officers as she was reporting them for abuse.

It was an EYEGLASS REPAIR KIT! “That’s not handgun in my bag, it’s just a brass cleaner.” She was charged with striking an officer.

Even before that, in 2002, she turned a traffic stop into a scene from “First Blood” [State of Texas v Barnes]:

Koenig approached appellant’s vehicle again and repeated requests for her cooperation. Several times he asked her to roll down her windows or to get out of the truck, but she ignored these requests. More than once, he also told her, “Don’t make this difficult. This is a speeding ticket.”

Approximately forty minutes after the stop, and after consulting by phone with a superior officer, Koenig advised appellant that she was under arrest for evading arrest and refusing to accept the speeding citation. He requested that she peacefully step out of the vehicle and explained that if she did not, he would have to break the window and forcibly remove her. He then said, “Please do not force us to do that.” … When she did not respond, he repeated pleas for her to put the vehicle into park and to step out. After appellant ignored these latest pleas, Koenig broke a window in appellant’s truck and opened the doors. Koenig restrained appellant while Fisher attempted to restrain appellant’s son. Appellant shouted for the boy to run and shouted, apparently to anyone passing by or looking on, “They will kill him.”

And that’s not all. [Austin American-Statesman]

In 2000 , Barnes, frustrated by difficulties in resolving a traffic ticket, wrote a letter to the Cedar Park Municipal Court clerk saying she would “fight to the death” with anyone who tried to arrest her.

“This is why people bomb governmental offices, kill cops, and kill judges because of all the lies and abuses!” she said in the letter.

[End of Attorneys Behaving Badly]

Watch out, Schwarzenegger: Virg Bernero appeared on Fox News a couple months ago and was pretty fired up:

The Skype camera and the green suit makes him look like The Hulk.



And the delivery somewhat reminds me of…


The End: Remember the lady that wanted everyone to pay for her legal education by soliciting donations through PayPal? She has abandoned her quest because of “mean spirited blog posts.”

And finally, because the City of Detroit hasn’t embarrassed itself enough []:

6/03 Year in which Detroit presented Saddam Hussein with a key to the city: 1980

Source: Office of the Mayor (Detroit)


Casual Friday presents: OMG! JUSTIN BIEBER!

Two lawyers on a plane from DC to Chicago were totally(!) excited about being seated on the same plane with next to 16-year-old pop sensation Justin Bieber (ask your kids, or see below). However, had their hearts not been palpitating, they might have noticed someone a little bit more relevant to their profession [ABA Journal]:

What they hadn’t noticed as they passed through first class was the other celebrity aboard the flight—a friendly looking gentleman in a bow tie sitting in an aisle seat: retiring Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens.

When told, the two stared at each other in mutual embarrassment.

"We’re both lawyers," said the husband.

And young.

Because I doubt many of you could pick Justin Bieber out of a lineup, here’s a picture of him impersonating President Obama.

That’s impressive.

Who needs school loans?: The interwebs have many uses (other than porn). Add begging to the list.

Sarah Allen is a North Carolina resident who wants to attend law school at UNC-Chapel Hill. Rather than kill the credit rating with $100,000 in law school debt that she’ll never pay back, she’s going to earn it the hard way (not that hard way) … she’s begging for you to pay for it [ABA Journal again!]

So Allen has set up a PayPal account and is appealing to the public to make donations there to help pay her tuition, McClatchy Newspapers reports. So far, three people have donated, she wrote Monday on her blog, Going to Law School Debt Free.

Maybe this bugs me because I think it’s pathetic that she would have the gall to do this. Maybe it bugs me because I didn’t think of it. Whatever the reason, apparently, I’m not alone. [Allen’s blog]

I’ve been doing some online research and discovered that the N&O and ABA articles have spread through the Internet like wildfire – accompanied by a plethora of extremely unkind and vulgar comments – many seemingly by disgruntled attorneys and law students who have already gone into massive debt. Those so eager to criticize me obviously do not know me and have not read my blog in full. Even so, those who are quick to judge make fools of themselves by displaying their ignorance. Apparently no one ever taught them that if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all. Instead of rushing to judgment, why not get your facts straight and contact me directly?

Aw, now I feel bad. Not only am I displaying my ignorance, but my mother did a bad job raising me. Maybe I should hear her out.

One point that so many people seem to be missing is my desire and intention to start a debt-free scholarship fund to help others get a higher education without going into debt. Regardless of whether I choose to go to law school, this is one goal that I hope to pursue.

Oh, so it’s for other people! Not just yourself! I feel better about myself now.

In another post, she discussed the areas of law in which she’s interested. Unfortunately, one of them isn’t "federal income taxation."

We here in Michigan have a name for a person who gets loans that they aren’t expected to repay :

Finally: U-M Law School students would appreciate it if you would stay out of their library. [The wonderfully titled blog,]

Sonia Sotomayor, comic book hero. [The Legal Times].

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Casual Friday revisits Lawmiss

Judicial recusal, Ohio-style: Remember lawmiss, aka Shirley Strickland Saffold, the Cleveland judge who (allegedly) took to the Cleveland Plain-Dealer website comments to anonymously rip litigators who appear before her?
Obviously, the attorney she ripped, Rufus Sims, sought her recusal, which she refused, claiming that he had no proof.

While Saffold clung tight to her alibi that her daughter wrote those comments, Ohio Chief Justice Paul Pfeifer gave her the hook []:

CLEVELAND, Ohio — Acting Ohio Chief Justice Paul E. Pfeifer removed Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judge Shirley Strickland Saffold from hearing the case of accused serial killer Anthony Sowell Thursday.

Pfeifer made the ruling based on comments posted on about the Sowell case. The comments were posted through a username created with an AOL e-mail address used by Saffold. The judge has denied making the comments, and her 23-year-old daughter has said she posted them.

Pfeifer found no evidence to suggest that Saffold made the postings, but he found the comments have “created a situation that ‘poses an impediment to the judge’s ability to resolve any remaining legal and factual issues in a way that will appear to the parties and the public to be objective and fair.’ “

Finally: Apparently, there’s a Michael Jackson imitator from Allen Park who took his imitation goes too far [The News Herald]:

Picture 3

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Casual Friday presents: The Brutally Honest Judge

Canadian junior hockey player Chris Doyle was charged with hitting his ex-girlfriend in the face with a door, breaking her nose. He claims he punched the door in frustration, but didn’t intend to hit her in the face.

The judge found him guilty … but not as charged. [].

Junior hockey player Chris Doyle was found not guilty of assault Friday, but received some harsh words from P.E.I. Judge John Douglas.

“If he was charged with being a colossal a*****e, I would find him guilty,” said Douglas, chief judge of the provincial court.

“Of assault causing bodily harm, I find him not guilty.”

HT: Deadspin.

I think the hairstyle was enough evidence for the judge’s “verdict.”

Someone told him to wear a suit, but forgot to advise him to lose the fauxhawk.

OMG, you guys! If we’ve learned anything from watching John Hughes1 movies over the years, it’s that parents totally suck. So do siblings. And teachers. And pretty much anyone else who would ever get in the way of skipping school or attending some raucous high school party that would never exist in the real world because a) logistics, b) the neighbors would notice 100 people hanging out on your lawn and loud 80s music blaring and most likely call the police.

But no one’s parents ever sucked as much as this 16-year old Arkansas kid whose mom posted things on his Facebook page, then changed his password. So he filed a harassment lawsuit. First the facts, from the AP:

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — The mother of a 16-year-old boy said she was only being a good mom when she locked him out of his Facebook account after reading he had driven home at 95 mph one night because he was mad at a girl. His response: a harassment complaint at the local courthouse.

“If I’m found guilty on this it is going to be open season” on parents, Denise New said Wednesday.

New, of Arkadelphia,[2] a small college town an hour southwest of Little Rock, said many of her son’s postings didn’t reflect well on him, so after he failed to log off the social networking site one day last month, she posted her own items on his account and changed his password to keep him from using it again. But her son claims what she posted wasn’t true, and that she’s damaging his reputation.

“The things he was posting in Facebook would make any decent parent’s eyes pop out and his jaw drop,” Denise New said. “He had been warned before about things he had been posting.”

Lane New, who lives with his grandmother, filed a complaint with prosecutors who approved a harassment charge March 26. Neither New would say Wednesday which items on his Facebook site the boy had found slanderous.

“I probably made maybe three, maybe four actual postings — the rest of it was a conversation between my son, me and his personal friends,” Denise New said.

OK, this is where it starts getting interesting.

In his handwritten complaint to prosecutors…

And here I was thinking there was a professional involved. I think it looked something like this:


…Lane New asked that his mother have no contact with him and wrote, “Denise first hacked my Facebook and changed my password. She also changed the password to my e-mail so I could not change it. She posted things that involve slander and personal facts about my life.”

Denise New acknowledged changing both passwords to keep her son from getting access to his Facebook page. She denied hacking into the account.

“He left it logged in on my computer,” she said. “It’s not like I stole his laptop.”

Denise New said the boy had written on his Facebook page that he had gone to Hot Springs one night and drove 95 mph on the way home because he was upset with a girl. Several other posts on his site also bothered her, but she refused to elaborate.

She said he has since opened a new Facebook account.

Prosecutor Todd Turner declined to comment because the boy is a minor. His office issued a statement later saying the woman’s alleged statements about her son justified the harassment charge — though he would not describe the comments.

Denise New said Lane moved in with his grandmother about five years ago, after she went through a difficult divorce, was having mental health problems and didn’t feel she could provide her son with the supervision he needed.

She faces a hearing on the misdemeanor at the Clark County Courthouse on May 12.

And an update:

ARKADELPHIA, Ark. (AP) — The lawyer for a 16-year-old who filed a complaint against his mother that resulted in a misdemeanor harassment charge says it’s OK for parents to monitor a child’s internet activities, but impersonation isn’t.

The charge against Denise New of Arkadelphia was filed last month, based on an affidavit her son, Lane New, filed with the prosecutor’s office. In the complaint, Lane New said his mother “posted things that involve slander and personal facts about my life.”

Lane New’s lawyer, Travis Berry,3 told the Arkadelphia Siftings[!!!] Herald newspaper that “monitoring your child’s Facebook is OK.” But he said impersonating someone else, posting inappropriate language or disclosing private facts on the site is not OK.

Neither party has said publicly what specific actions by Denise New upset Lane New.

Anyone who has lived in a dorm room or even with a roommate knows you NEVER leave anything open on your computer, unless you want to come home and find that your roommate just traded Albert Pujols for Gerald Laird. Or that you just posted on Facebook that you love Jane Austen novels. Call that a life lesson, young Mr. New.

Also, as for the things he allegedly posted that set his mom off, your future HR professional will warn you to post things on Facebook at your own peril.  Sure, he was locked out of his page, but, who knows? Post negative things about your office on Facebook and you can get fired. You have no right to privacy for the things you intentionally put out to the public.

1 John Hughes was born in Lansing? Who knew?!

2 Arkadelphia? Is there a city named Ark Angeles? Arkramento?

3 You mean there IS a professional involved?!

Lighting the Batsignal I was checking the AP ticker and saw this:

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — The Missouri House has passed a measure allowing mothers to use deadly force if their unborn children are threatened.

House members passed the bill by a 131-21 vote. It now goes to the Senate.

Some Democrats questioned whether the legislation is necessary because a woman already has the right to protect herself if threatened.

Sponsoring Rep. Jeanie Riddle of Mokane says the bill comes in response to the case of a Michigan woman who was convicted of manslaughter after killing her boyfriend for punching her unborn baby. The conviction was later overturned.

Republicans say they don’t want to leave any chance that a Missouri woman could go through a similar situation.

Oklahoma passed a similar law last year.

When I saw this story, I thought the law was unnecessary and probably political grandstanding (Understanding that I don’t know specific Missouri law here, but the fact that a woman was originally convicted of manslaughter here is disconcerting.), since, in my opinion, it’s beyond reasonable for a juror to presume/imply that an unborn baby is inside the mother’s womb, thus a threat to it would be a threat to the mother, therefore, standard self-defense laws would apply. I recognize the argument that a threat to “punch an unborn baby” may not rise to fear of “imminent death” but the Michigan self-defense statute clearly states”:

(1) An individual who has not or is not engaged in the commission of a crime at the time he or she uses deadly force may use deadly force against another individual anywhere he or she has the legal right to be with no duty to retreat if either of the following applies:

(a) The individual honestly and reasonably believes that the use of deadly force is necessary to prevent the imminent death of or imminent great bodily harm to himself or herself or to another individual.

Without delving into the morass of a futile debate over the morality of abortion, can’t we just agree that forcibly trying to kill a fetus with blunt force not in the interest of saving the mother’s life and against her will would place the fetus into the “another individual” category?

The reason for the Batsignal is that I want to read the case referenced in the story. The article says the conviction was overturned. I’m hoping there’s a COA case out there. Does anyone remember it?

Casual Friday presents: The Judicial Snark Attack

And you thought we had a problem with bickering justices in Michigan…

In California, two judges had it out over whether to a quadriplegic is a dangerous person. The defendant is serving 157 years for kidnapping and forcibly raping a woman.  While in prison, he was rendered a quadriplegic by a stabbing incident.

He requested a compassionate release from prison based on his condition and the likelihood (unlikelihood?) that still posed a threat to the community. As they sometimes do with people who intentionally run over two women with his car, pinning one under the car, grab the other one, shove her in the backseat of the car, punch her in the face, breaking her nose, and then rape her, the parole board said no. He appealed to the California Court of Appeal, which, as they used to say on MTV’s “Cribs”, that is where the magic happened.

The court remanded the case back for a determination of whether the defendant still posed a threat to society. In the opinion, Judge Arthur G. Scotland chided the dissenting judge, Rick Sims, for asserting that the defendant was no longer a viable threat to anyone, and he proved it by doing a Google search [skip to page 27]:

Asserting that it is “utter speculation” to conclude Martinez could enlist the aid of others to harm those who irritate him, the dissent quotes Holmes for the proposition that “The life of the law has not been logic: it has been experience.” Well, experience has shown that quadriplegics can commit violent crimes. (Quadriplegic
Suspect–Police: Pulled Trigger with String in Mouth (Sept. 9, 1987) Newsday [“A quadriplegic confined to a wheelchair thought his bride of two weeks was cheating on him and killed her by firing a pistol using a string in his mouth”]; Yaro, Quadriplegic Con Man Faces Court Again–in Murder Case, L.A. Times (May 7, 1984); Gettemy, Armed Robbery Guilt Admitted by Quadriplegic, L.A. Times (Oct. 31, 1972); People v. Taibi (1991) 174 A.D.2d 585, 571 N.Y.S.2d 88 [quadriplegic tries to arrange for hit man to kill former business partner].)

If you were thinking that it’s probably not logical to base your opinion that a quadriplegic is a violent threat upon anecdotal evidence found in an internet search, so did Sims. He did a Google search of his own [see page 38]:

Citing three newspaper stories and one case, the majority say, “experience has shown that quadriplegics can commit violent crimes.”

I have two points to make with respect to this argument.

The first is it demonstrates that, with the help of a good
Internet search engine, you can prove anything, including that pigs can fly. (See, e.g., Pigs Really Can Fly . . . With the Help of a Trampoline (Dec. 5, 2009) Telegraph Co. UK … [as of Dec. 16, 2009]; When Pigs Fly, They Go 1st Class (Oct. 29, 2000) The Washington Post, A04 … [as of Dec. 16, 2009]; Rowland, Sure Pigs Fly– But is that Art? (Jan. 21, 1995) San Diego Union-Tribune, p. B3 … [as of Dec. 16, 2009].)

And he wasn’t done:

The second point is that the majority’s citation of these
quadriplegic crime stories actually supports my argument. Thus the majority’s four accounts are drawn from the entire country and span a period of 38 years–from 1972 to the present. I am sure that if there were more stories of this ilk, the majority would have found them. Four stories in the country in 38 years is darn few. Indeed, the stories are written and reported because the commission of serious crimes by quadriplegics is so rare and bizarre that they are newsworthy. Thus I am willing to take the risk that petitioner Martinez will fire a pistol with a string in his mouth. Indeed, given the hundreds of thousands of dollars that Martinez is costing the State each year, it is a risk that we all must take.

Well played, Judge Sims.

[HT: Legal Blog Watch, via Lowering the Bar]

It’s a stretch With any new law, there’s some yahoo railing on about some crazy slippery slope argument and how the law is going to mean the end of Western civilization. That yahoo is usually Glenn Beck. But it’s another thing when said yahoo is the district attorney.

In Wisconsin,  a new law mandates that school districts that have sex education classes teach students about the use of about condoms and contraceptives.1

Juneau County DA Scott Southworth said they had better not [Milwaukee Journal Sentinel]:

A district attorney is telling Juneau County schools to abandon their sex education courses, saying a new curriculum law could lead to criminal charges against teachers for contributing to the delinquency of minors.

Starting in the fall, the new law requires schools that have sex education programs to tell students how to use condoms and other contraceptives. Juneau County District Attorney Scott Southworth said such education encourages sex among children, which is illegal, and could lead to charges against teachers.

The new law "promotes the sexualization – and sexual assault – of our children," Southworth wrote in a March 24 letter to officials in five school districts. He urged the districts to suspend their sex education programs and transfer their curriculum on anatomy to a science course.

"Forcing our schools to instruct children on how to utilize contraceptives encourages our children to engage in sexual behavior, whether as a victim or an offender," he wrote. "It is akin to teaching children about alcohol use, then instructing them on how to make mixed alcoholic drinks."

It’s similar to the case in Macomb where the prosecutor is attempting to try a guy who bit a guy on the lip while fighting and said he had AIDS with making terrorist threats.

1 It also must teach about signs of sexual abuse, age of consent laws and the effect alcohol has on decision making. It also allows parents to remove their teenagers from these classes, and school districts to not have sex education programs.

Care to comment, Your Honor? Anyone who has ever waded into the comments at the end of an online article at or knows the level of “discourse” is about as high as what you’d expect from 10-year olds. Anonymity makes it even easier.

“Statement.” “Response.” “You’re a ____.” “No, you’re a ______.”  Then one compares the other to Hitler. It’s Godwin’s law.

In Cleveland, one judge, Shirley Strickland Saffold, didn’t like her press coverage, so she took up a pseudonym and fired back, criticizing attorneys who appeared before her:

Another lawmiss posting, which did not originate from Saffold’s courthouse computer, referenced Saffold’s sentencing of an RTA bus driver to six months for vehicular homicide. The post criticizes Rufus Sims, who defended the woman and is now one of the lawyers on Sowell’s capital-murder case.

"Rufus Sims did a disservice to his client," the Nov. 21, 2009, post reads. "If only he could shut his Amos and Andy style mouth. What makes him think that is [sic] he insults and acts like buffon [sic] that it will cause the judge to think and see it his way. There are so many lawyers that could’ve done a much better job. This was not a tough case, folks. She should’ve hired a lawyer with the experience to truly handle her needs. Amos and Andy, shuffling around did not do it."

The Plain Dealer removed the comment for violating’s community rules, which do not allow personal attacks.

The judge pulled the Isiah Thomas defense and blamed it on her daughter, saying she used the judge’s email address to open an account to make the comments.

Jonathan Coughlin, disciplinary counsel for the Ohio Supreme Court, said he has never dealt with a case involving a judge anonymously commenting online about cases before the bench.

Legal experts contacted Friday said that a judge posting comments about his or her cases — even under the anonymity of a screen name — would be guilty of improper conduct and could be subject to disciplinary action.

Saffold and her daughter filed a $50 million lawsuit against the Cleveland Plain Dealer for disclosing private information. If she’s talking about her secret identity, unless she’s a CIA agent, I question how much of a case she’d have.

[HT: Above the Law, my favorite legal blog.]

Casual Friday Is Unbuttoned At The Collar

Short and sweet on this un-work* day.

* Un-work in that most people are off as evidenced by the lack of other people on the road this morning.

The kid’s a pro And here I thought it took years to develop political corruption skills. Or at least a family pedigree. Brandon Hall is wise beyond his years: [WZZM-13]

GRAND HAVEN, Mich. (WZZM/Grand Haven Tribune) – A Grand Haven school board member received his sentence this morning for stealing money from a school-sanctioned fundraiser.

Our news partner, The Grand Haven Tribune , is reporting 20-year-old Brandon Hall was sentenced today to 24 months probation, 60 hours of community service and a $665 fine.

A jury found Hall guilty of the larceny-by-conversion charge in February. He took the money from a fundraiser for the American Cancer Society last fall.

The first commenter is today’s winner at life:

begoodtome wrote:

Don’t trust anyone with the shirt buttoned to the top

That’s good advice, indeed!

In the same spirit of the “People You Never Meet In Solo Practice” post from a couple weeks ago, Crimlaw blog offers a similar list of “crummy,” “incompetent criminal defense attorneys who “walk [their clients] right off the plank and into the ocean.” Including:

Sturm und Drang: This guy has figured out that the best strategy for attracting clients is to be LOUD AND CONFRONTATIONAL. There is no give in this guy. Everything has got to be a trial and he will holler and fuss and object and object and object and object and his client will be convicted of driving without a license anyway. Then, the thoroughly peeved prosecutor will ask the thoroughly peeved judge to throw the book at his client. Defendant could have gotten a weekend in jail if the attorney had just had a short, civilized discussion with the prosecutor before they went before they went to the bench – now he’s getting a month. This guy doesn’t care. He knows that 50% of the people in the gallery were wowed by him fighting tooth and nail for his client and that they don’t understand how it hurt the client. He knows this will bring business and big fees.

This guy is not exclusive to criminal law.

Miss Empathy: She makes illogical arguments in court, makes ridiculous objections, and does long meaningless cross examinations. Worse, she can’t negotiate with the prosecutor and officers worth a darn. Her client "didn’t really mean to do it" and was "led astray by her friends" and is a nice boy who comes from a good God-fearing family." She believes this and is emotionally invested in her client. The problem is, she believed it for the last 300 clients just as strongly and nobody trusts her judgment. Because she tends to harass prosecutors and officers they try to avoid her if at all possible. At the end of the trial she’s out in the hall talking to Mom about her son’s jail sentence and she’s visibly more upset about it than Mom is; in fact, you’ll sometimes see family members trying to comfort and talk her down. Defendants, and their families, love her because she obviously cares so much.

and of course,

In the Glow: This guy is the partner, associate, or office sharer of a prominent lawyer. As such, he benefits from the Big Guy’s reputation. When people can’t afford Big Guy’s fee or need someone NOW and Big Guy isn’t available, they end up with this guy. After all, he’s connected to Big Guy and therefore the defendant’s going to get Big Guy’s experience at this lawyer’s rates (because this guy is going to talk to Big Guy and follow his advice). The they get to court and this guy is a civil attorney who dabbles in criminal law or a kid six months post Bar passage or they guy Big Guy keeps around out of loyalty because he gave Big Guy office space 20 years ago. Still, the defendant’s happy because he’s represented by someone out of Big Guy Law Offices (even if it’s not Mr. Big himself).

Feel free to nominate one of your own in the comments.

Finally: Welcome to the 2000s, SCOTUS!!! After 13 years of the same antiquated website, SCOTUS has finally upgraded its website to something that doesn’t look like it was made by a web production undergrad in 1997. Check out Legal Blog Watch to see the difference.

Casual Friday Talks Campaigning & Citizens United

Many observers, including President Obama, are concerned about the effect the U.S. Supreme Court’s controversial decision in Citizens United v Federal Election Commission will have on the 2010 federal midterm and state elections. But University of Maryland law professor Sherrilyn Ifill says the real concern should be for judicial elections.

Judicial elections  — especially for state Supreme Courts  — have become been ugly, bitter, partisan battles in which millions of dollars are spent, largely to unseat incumbents in many states.  The result is a judiciary that lacks the appearance and in some instances the reality of impartiality required by the Constitution.

Ifill said the Court created the problem in another decision, 2004’s Republican Party of Minnesota v White, which held a state law forbidding judicial candidates from taking public stances on contested legal issues that may come before them on the court.

Writing for the majority, Justice Scalia conveniently saw only the First Amendment dimensions of the case and none of the 14th.  Yes, judicial candidates have free speech rights.  But those rights should have been balanced by the countervailing due process rights of litigants to appear before an impartial tribunal.

Since that case, she points out, former justice Sandra Day O’Connor, the majority’s swing vote in a 5-4 decision, has publicly regretted her vote and called for an end to judicial elections. Current justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has done the same.

What’s the big deal, you ask? It seems that 85 percent of money poured into the 2006 judicial elections came from business (Chambers of Commerce, etc.) After Citizens United, it will likely get much worse. Much of this money is used for attack commercials by interest groups.

Business advocates argue that this is to counter the influence trial judges had in the 1980s, when they were the largest contributors to judicial campaigns.  Whatever the history, the reality is that there are strong, well-financed forces favorable to business and to conservative political principles that exert powerful influence over state judicial elections.

But what can you really do, short of ending judicial elections? Citizens United says businesses have the same right to contribute to politics as everyone else.  West Virginia recently passed a law to publicly fund judicial elections, but does that really do anything? What does a candidate limited to public funding do against a deluge of attack ads funded by (relatively) unlimited funds of special interest organizations?

Ifill’s answer is to create judicial campaign conduct committees that monitor campaign ads for veracity, tone and “civility.” You mean like the toothless FEC? By the time such a committee could act, the ad would be out there and the damage would be done.

Now, the appointed U.S. Supreme Court is not exactly a bastion of impartiality. But, to me, a political divide caused by governors appointing the most partisan judges possible is less dangerous than an elected judiciary with even a sniff of a debt owed to its campaign benefactors both known and unknown.

When Robocallers Attack It’s early in this election year, yet some are already receiving robocalls from campaigns or special interest groups attacking other candidates. This is with the primary elections still five months away.

Many of the calls are anonymous and negative, particularly against Democrat Virg Bernero and GOP candidates Pete Hoekstra, Michael Bouchard and Rick “One Tough Nerd” Snyder. (Gee, who’s missing?)

Among false or out-of-context accusations leveled in recent robocalls targeting gubernatorial candidates:

• Bernero, who enjoys strong union support, is no friend of labor.

• Hoekstra, a fiscal conservative, supports big government because of votes for the bank bailout.

• Snyder shipped jobs overseas and put Americans out of work, as a former board member and CEO of Gateway.

Attorney General Mike Cox, a GOP candidate for governor, has been roundly accused of connections to the calls and negative ads because the attacks have focused on the other three leading Republican candidates.

Cox’s campaign denied any connection.

The Michigan House of Representatives passed a bill last June to curb robocalling, but it died in the Senate without a vote. It working on a new bill, but the bill in its current form would only require the source of the call to identify itself and forbid calls made between 8pm and 9am. I’m not sure how effective this would be.

The problem is not so much with the calls as the message and source of the message. Heck, it could be those evil Canadian trash shippers paying for the calls. Who’s to know?

Ever heard of Eagle Strategies? Neither have I. Nor has the State of Michigan.

It’s less clear who’s paying the bills for robocalls and radio ads attacking Hoekstra for votes in Congress on the federal stimulus package, gun ownership and other issues. Eagle Strategies is the sponsor named in the spot. Some media accounts have linked the group to Eagle Forum, a conservative Washington-based group launched by Phyllis Schlafly. Not so, the organization’s officials say.

“People assume we’re involved. But, I assure you, we’re not running any ads against Pete Hoekstra,” said Suzanne Bibby, legislative director of the group. She said Eagle Strategies claimed to radio stations to be a nonprofit outfit in Lansing but no such group is registered.

Go ahead and Google it. You’ll get at least seven “Eagle Strategies” companies, none of which are in Michigan. But a so-named company bought these anti-Hoekstra radio ads in the Detroit area. And no one seems to it is.  Still think unfettered, anonymous corporate spending is a good idea?

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, 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 Takes On, Well, Everybody

With unemployment among lawyers already an epidemic, you’d think that maybe, perhaps, someone should tell people advising students to go to law school unless its a passion.

Clearly this isn’t happening. Some schools are actually taking great steps to expand their student bases. Thomas A. Cooley Law School has expanded from one to four locations in the state. I think it’s safe to assume the school isn’t opening new branches because of a lack of students. It’s also stepped up its advertising and recruiting efforts around the state.

It’s not just here, either. In Massachusetts, the University of Massachusetts merged with the Southern New England School of Law (est. 1981!). In February, it found a 132 percent increase in applications from wicked smaaahhht students. And this is before it begins a “robust recruiting effort” later this spring.  UMass Law is hoping to double its annual enrollment by 2017. [Boston Herald]

The law program, which will be established at the Southern New England School of Law, has received 123 applications for the fall, compared to 53 who applied to Southern New England last year. The spike “is based solely on word-of-mouth communication and media coverage of the issue,” the university said.
A “robust recruitment effort” will begin in the next few weeks, the announcement said.

The UMass law school will initially enroll 278 students, slightly higher than its enrollment this year. Enrollment will grow slightly each year, reaching 559 students in fall 2017. UMass Dartmouth originally hoped for 400 applicants for the fall, but on the day the school was approved, Chancellor Jean MacCormack said she wouldn’t be surprised to receive 1,000.

Hope it all works out for these kids. For some, it may be the fulfillment of a life’s ambition to become a lawyer. But for many, they’re looking for options because they can’t find jobs with their undergraduate degrees, under the false assumptions that jobs are more plentiful with a law degree. Do law schools have a duty to temper the expectations of prospective students? No. And I’ve not seen an example of the advertising adding to inflated expectations. But is driving up enrollment for profit based on already inflated expectations, knowing full well the market is not what it used to be, just as bad?

I just hope they don’t wind up like this guy.

[HT: Above the Law].

And you thought your homeowners association was tough Living in a subdivision can be a pain, what with the ridiculous rules dictating what you can and can’t do with your own property (“You CANNOT have a fence to keep your kids/pets in your backyard unless it’s a white picket fence and even then it can only be three feet high with six inch gaps between the pickets so that we can see inside your yard at all times. We wouldn’t want you to be running a meth lab back there! ”) and the nosy neighbors enforcing them.

But if you think that’s bad, consider the case of Quan Ha of Orange, Cal. Orange has an ordinance requiring at least 40 percent of your lawn must be landscaped. From UPI:

Ha said he and his wife, Angelina, removed the lawn in 2008 to take their monthly water bill down from $180 every two months to $48 every two months. He said they put down wood chips and started installing drought-resistant plants after city officials warned them about the code, but officials said wood chips do not qualify as landscaping and took Ha to court.

The penalty? A $1,000 fine and six months in jail.

Assistant City Attorney Wayne Winthers said he has seen pictures of the current state of the yard, which has received several plant donations since Ha’s story first appeared in the Register, and Code Enforcement officers will make a fresh visit to the property.

"We’ll have to see," Winthers said. "My hope is that it’s enough and we can resolve this."

Let’s just hope that, for Ha’s sake, “resolving this” doesn’t require a trip to the court restroom.

Parachutes People who get worked up about corporate CEOs that leave their decimated companies with golden parachutes, prepare yourselves! Jennifer Granholm will hit the unemployment market in January, but won’t be there long, according to The Detroit News.

How about Supreme Court Justice Granholm?

The former Michigan attorney general with a Harvard law degree has been vetted by the Obama administration, which likely will get at least one more vacancy. She has said the high court holds special appeal for her.

Or cabinet secretary Granholm?

President Barack Obama has shown an interest in putting chief executives of states into his Cabinet, which has former governors of Arizona, Iowa, Washington and Kansas.

What about ambassador Granholm?

Obama tapped Utah’s governor, Jon Huntsman, for one of the most important embassy posts — China.

Strange that she would be a hot commodity to the Obama Administration considering she was one of the people leading the charge to deliver the clusterbleep of a 2008 Michigan primary to Hillary Clinton.

Personally, I think Granholm should have to suffer three months of trying to get through to MARVIN between 2-3 pm every other Tuesday before she’s allowed to collect a full paycheck. No, it’s not all her fault, but you don’t blame the folks in steerage for sinking of the Titanic.

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.