May It Please The Court: Weblog of legal news and observations, including a quote of the day and daily updates

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Quote of the Day - All the waste in a year from a nuclear power plant can be stored under a desk. - Ronald Reagan
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Duck-and-Cover, Mushroom Clouds And Nuclear Fallout: Welcome To ... 1950 ... er, 2006

You may have thought explosions that create mushroom clouds are a thing of the past, back when we practiced duck-and-cover drills to protect ourselves from nuclear blasts, as if the drills would do any good.  Back in the 1950's when I was born (well, the very late fifties, if you need to know), nuclear power was a bit of a novelty.  Now, it's just another page on the internet.

You may not have known that the US goverment was exploding nuclear bombs just north of Las Vegas, Nevada as recently as 1992, but if you did, then now you know why that city glows at night.  It may not be just the Hoover Dam that provides the power for all of those lights.  As if it didn't get enough, the government wants to create another mushroom cloud next month, this time about 85 miles north of Vegas, using a 700-ton ammonium nitrate and fuel oil bomb.  The blast is expected to create a 10,000 foot-high mushroom cloud and a shock wave that is expected to travel about 35 miles. 

The shock wave has already hit, however.  The Winnemucca Indian Colony and others who live downwind from the anticipated blast filed a federal suit to block the non-nuclear blast, arguing that they didn't get the opportunity to submit public comments.  The group also claims the blast will pick up and carry nuclear fallout from the desert floor to their homes.

The federal Defense Threat Reduction Agency, who created this bomb, voluntarily delayed the blast.  The DTRA says the blast will provide data to create a "bunker buster" bomb. 

Gives a whole new meaning to the warm and fuzzy term of Homeland Security, doesn't it?



Printer friendly page Permalink Email to a friend Posted by J. Craig Williams on Saturday, May 13, 2006 at 10:40. Comments Closed (0) |

USACOE 3, Turtles 0, Beach Replenishment Still Undone

Hurricane Katrina also wiped away some of Florida's coastline, and in addition to the Army Corps of Engineers' efforts to refortify the dikes in New Orleans, the USACOE is also restoring beachfront in Destin, Florida.  Beachfront homeowners were upset because the beach replenishment plan would create a public beach in front of their previously private beach.  The plan was to add 80 to 100 feet of beachfront anlong a five-mile stetch. 

The ACOE met with some stiff resistance from a citizen property owners group made up of these beachfront homeowners, but the ACOE eventually won the right to drege the seabed and pump the sand onto the Destin beach in Walton County.  

In the course of dredging the seabed, the ACOE apparently has killed three endangered turtles, and dredging is now suspended.  The ACOE has issued advisories about turtles in the past, but it's not a high priority.  There's been nothing about protecting sea turtules posted in the ACOE's newsroom of press releases for the last five years.  The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration issues marine take permits, and it appears the ACOE has such a permit for this project.  The dredging will commence again when the permit renews and takes can recur. 

Maybe this year's hurricane season will shift sand to the beach, and avoid the ACOE's dredging.  Otherwise, the citizens of Florida will have to choose between building up beachfront property and preserving sea turtles.  Otherwise, maybe the ACOE can truck the sand from an inland location and dump it on the beach, or leave Mother Nature to her whims. 

New Orleans can't keep the water out, and Florida can't bring the sand to the beach.  What's the message here?



Printer friendly page Permalink Email to a friend Posted by J. Craig Williams on Friday, May 12, 2006 at 14:44. Comments Closed (0) |

Art Imitates Life: Boston Legal Covers Internet Postings About Jilted Lovers

Alright, I'll admit it:  Boston Legal is one of my favorite shows, even though I don't watch much TV and I'm consequently not very well qualified to make that statement.  But still, it's a funny show.  Last night's show featured a dispute with a fictional website, DateMistake.com.  The site allowed women to post their thoughts about men they dated in order to warn other women off.

Admittedly, Boston Legal is like most TV legal shows:  the legal life on the show is not completely accurate.  One of Yogi Berra's sayings probably describes the legal actions on the show the best, "We made too many wrong mistakes."  But don't get me wrong, Boston Legal is tremendously funny and good entertainment, even for lawyers. 

The show also reflects real life.  There's a similar, real-life site called DontDateHimGirl.com that attempts the same thing:  women warning other women off about bad men.  Just so you don't think all women are against men, the converse is out there too.  It's a site where women recommend men they formerly dated or were engaged/married to; it's called GreatBoyfriends.com, along with its feminine counterpart on the same site, GreatGirlfriends

The problem with the Don't Date Him Girl site is explained (oddly enough) by Julie Hilden on FindLaw.  In the closing line of her article Ms. Hilden says, "In sum, Dontdatehimgirl.com is a brash, inventive site.  But it may be skating on thin ice, legally."  The site allows women to defame men by posting what others take as facts when it really isn't much more than opinion.  Certainly truth is a defense to a suit for defamation and opinion itself is exempt, but the site itself may well be liable for incorrect facts women post, and the site doesn't appear to police what's written. 

Take for example almost any of the postings on this page from DontDateHimGirl.com, and be prepared for explicit references.   There are a significant number of defamatory postings on the site that would easily sustain a libel case.  Yes, some are opinion, but some appear dangerously close to libel:  "then i find out the girl before me was 15 years old and he dated her until she was 18."  If this statement is not true, it constitutes libel per se.   There are other issues with the site, as well.  Detailed descriptions of the allegations of "cheating" come close to an invasion of privacy, if not actually invade it.  A cursory review of the postings in the first link in this paragraph will give you more lurid details that invade the lives of the men who are the subject of the postings.

Not only are the women who post about their former dates liable, but the site is also likely liable as well.  The disclaimers on the site likely can't overcome the presumptions attendant to defamation and the targets of the site may ultimately be able to get an injunction to shut it down, as well as damages.  And yes, there's a Craig Williams listed on the site, but as you can tell by comparing his photograph with those on this site, it's not me.  And no, there's no link here to the statements about Mr. Williams - I'm not going to republish identifiable defamatory statements. 

Don't Date Him Girl probably shouldn't either.  There's a big difference between television entertainment and publishing statements on the internet.  When a lawyer's jilted lover makes it on the site, Don't Date Him Girl may find a class action in its future.  On Boston Legal, a jilted lover who suffered through a posting on the fictional DateMistake.com recovered $25,000 for his troubles.  Will life imitate art?



Printer friendly page Permalink Email to a friend Posted by J. Craig Williams on Thursday, May 11, 2006 at 09:50. Comments Closed (0) |

Resolving The Post-honeymoon Blues Between IT Companies And Management

Maybe you've had the (un)fortunate experience of contracting with an IT company to develop a software application for your business.  Like most courtships, everyone has stars in their eyes as the parties come together to create the solution to end all problems.  Management knows what it wants and the developers think they've heard and understood exactly what is needed.  As an afterthought, someone scratches out the deal on a napkin, and the IT folks start to write the code, while the company eagerly awaits the final product.

And waits and waits and waits.  Frustrated now, management sends a team to the IT company, only to discover that the software program is nowhere near ready, and what management has now more clearly defined as the end product (since they've had a long time to think about it but never managed to communicate to the IT company) is vastly different than what is being created.  Management wants an inventory control program, but the IT company is busily building a program to locate raw materials.

The two couldn't be further apart. 

Whose fault is it?  How did we get here?  Where are we going?  Perhaps most important, who's going to pay for what's been done and what now needs to be done?

If you've ever asked these questions, my bet is that you wish you would have read and implemented this booklet:  Avoiding and Resolving Information Technology Disputes by the International Institute for Conflict Prevention and Resolution.  A handy little guide, but powerful in its advice.  It's a short read that's long on benefits for both IT companies and management who are trying to learn to speak each other's language.

It will help you avoid the scenario outlined above, and get both parties on track to a successful result.  The best problems are the ones you never have. 



Printer friendly page Permalink Email to a friend Posted by J. Craig Williams on Wednesday, May 10, 2006 at 08:41. Comments Closed (0) |

Don't Complain To Me: Write To Your Legislator

As an adoptive parent, if you elect to give up your child in New York, you still have to pay child support, even though an unwed mother who elects to do the same thing is excused from paying similar support for her biological child.  While it doesn't seem right, that's the law. 

The court will tell you that it is just upholding the law, that it didn't enact these laws, and complaints should be directed to the legislature. 

Here's the situation:  three years ago, a divorced woman adopted a special needs child, but found she couldn't cope with the child's daily requirements.  She then asked the court to grant a judicial surrender of the child, which it granted.  The NY Department of Social Services, however, ruled based on a New York statute that apparently requires an adoptive parent to pay support if able, and the court upheld that ruling.  On the other hand, had she been a biological parent, she wouldn't have been required to pay support under New York law.   

Disparate treatment for desperate circumstances?  MIPTC votes to require payment from both parents, and indeed all parents. 

I'd call that the "you gotta pay to play" rule. 



Printer friendly page Permalink Email to a friend Posted by J. Craig Williams on Tuesday, May 09, 2006 at 20:01. Comments Closed (0) |

Hercules Takes On Wal-Mart

You may remember how the Supreme Court razed Suzy Kelo's house in New London last year by approving that City's use of its eminent domain power to condemn her house and turn over her land to a shopping center developer.  You know the city council's mantra:  we'll make more money in tax revenue from the mall-o-rama and bring more jobs to the community.

Hercules (it's not a comic book hero, it's a town some 20 miles north of San Francisco) has turned that theory on its head.  According to the New York Sun, Wal-Mart owns a sizable 17-acre parcel in the town and wants to build there.  Wal-Mart says it will create 275 jobs and bring in millions of dollars of tax revenue to a town of some 20,000 residents. 

In response, the town has initiated an eminent domain action against Wal-Mart's property, and intends to seize it.  The Friends of Hercules and the Sierra Club support the City.  Wal-Mart is predictably none to happy about it, according to news reports.   

There is apparently more than one way to use eminent domain laws.  While Suzy may have lost her house to a shopping mall, Hercules' town council says they have taken steps to preserve their downtown merchants by taking away big box shopping. 

Is turnabout fair play?



Printer friendly page Permalink Email to a friend Posted by J. Craig Williams on Monday, May 08, 2006 at 19:31. Comments Closed (0) |

Professor Beats Team Of Lawyers, Bar Association

Maybe he should take the bar.  Adjunct Professor Brian Woods of Cuyahoga Community College was upset that his son was not receiving care in school.  Brian argued that his autistic son Daniel deserved more but wasn't getting it.  So Brian sued, and the school hired a team of lawyers.  Brian won, and won big.  In addition to numerous concessions, he also won $160,000 for his son.  Brian, however, is not a lawyer.

When the Cleveland Bar Association found out about it, they sued Brian, too.  For the unauthorized practice of law.  While you might think the suit was a vendetta, the Bar thought it was taking a preemptive strike.  The Bar took the position that Brian was helping other parents who couldn't afford or obtain legal help. 

The US Supreme Court is about to hear a case involving a similar issue where parents sued on behalf of their son, also autistic.  The decision is pending, but a stay in that case prevented dismissal because the parents didn't have a lawyer for their son.  Pressure from the Plain Dealer and the yet-unresolved case forced the Bar to back down, and back down a bit apologetically

The federal courts are split on the representation issue, thus the intervention by the Supremes.  Parents argue that they can't afford to pay attorneys fees and costs to secure their children's rights.  Bar associations argue that laws prevent nonlawyers from representing others, which would preclude parents from representing their children.

Tell that to Brian Woods. 



Printer friendly page Permalink Email to a friend Posted by J. Craig Williams on Sunday, May 07, 2006 at 22:58. Comments Closed (0) |

University of Pennsylvania Law Review Solicits Submissions

If you love to write academic articles, here's your chance, directly from UPenn: 

The University of Pennsylvania Law Review is seeking submissions of student-written work advancing a legal argument related to the 2006 symposium topic:  "Liability for Global Warming: Law, Economics, and Science."  The symposium will explore the potential feasibility and efficacy of lawsuits seeking both monetary and injunctive relief against private and public actors responsible for greenhouse gas emissions that have contributed to global warming-induced harm.  The symposium will examine the implications raised by global warming liability from a wide variety of academic perspectives, including law, economics, politics, and environmental science.

The winning paper will be published in the University of Pennsylvania Law Review Symposium Issue in Spring 2007, and the author will be invited to Philadelphia in November 2006 to present the paper at the symposium.  After the presentation, the Symposium Scholar will take part in a question and answer session with scholars in the field.

Entrants must be enrolled in a postgraduate degree program during academic year 2006 - 2007.  Submissions must be the student's own work and must not have been accepted for publication elsewhere.  Citations must conforms to the 18th edition of The Bluebook: A Uniform System of Citation.  Submissions should be 10,000 - 15,000 words. 

More information on the Symposium Scholar Essay Competition can be found here.



Printer friendly page Permalink Email to a friend Posted by J. Craig Williams on Saturday, May 06, 2006 at 12:14. Comments Closed (0) |



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