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 - They were evidently small men, all wind and quibbles, flinging out their chuffy grain to us with far less interest than a farm-wife feels as she scatters corn to her fowls. - D.H. Lawrence
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There are 2033 Journal Items on 255 page(s) and you are on page number 47

Tightly Regulated Crop Dusters Fly Into Fog Of Regulation

Having lived on a farm for a bit, I've seen crop dusters and gotten to know the pilots who fly them.  It's a dangerous business.  Not only are the pilots are bulletproof, flying and cavorting sometimes just feet from the ground, but so are the planes, which used to held together with bubble gum and baling twine, but are now highly specialized machines.  They take off low, fly even lower and then dodge fences and trees at the end of the fields. 

It's like watching a carefully choreographed ballet, especially when the crop dusters fly in tandem, laying down pesticides on the field. 

The work they perform is essential for a successful harvest, and frequently one of the best ways to dust a crop.  Otherwise, you've got to own a fancy piece of equipment, understand how to mix and apply the chemicals and take a lot more time.  Crop dusting is comparatively quick and dirty.

It's the dirty part, however, that can get you into trouble as a pilot, especially on a slightly windy day.  Take Patterson Flying Service, for example, who got fined $5,000 after "enveloping" Elena Ruiz in a fog of pesticides.  Here's how the case reads, according to the Daily Journal summary:  Patterson applied "Dimethoate that drifted onto Elena Ruiz's property.  Based on Ruiz's testimony, her medical records, and laboratory analyses of tree leaves in her backyard, the drift from Patterson's aerial application was substantial. Ruiz heard the plane and was enveloped by fog from a crop duster. She suffered all the symptoms of one exposed to pesticides.  Doctors treated her with atropine, listed on the Dimethoate label as an antidote to the pesticide.  Laboratory results from the leaf samples also showed a substantial pesticide residue six days after Patterson's application."

At that point, again according to the Daily Journal (slightly paraphrased), "the County Agricultural Commissioner fined Patterson $5,000 for failing to follow the label directions to prevent off-site movement of the pesticide, causing a health hazard. Patterson appealed the fine to the Department of Pesticide Regulation Director, who upheld the penalty.  The trial court denied relief, despite Patterson's arguments that substantial evidence did not support the commissioner's findings."

"California Food and Agriculture Code section 12973 prohibits any use of pesticide in conflict with directions in the registered label. Dimethoate's label proscribed application of the product in a way that would contact workers or other persons, either directly, or "through drift." There was  substantial evidence to support the commissioner's finding of substantial drift from the target site onto Ruiz's property and person.  Because this conflicted with the proscription in Dimethoate's labeling, Patterson was properly fined," and the Court properly affirmed the Commissioner's fine.

No more flying under the radar.

Printer friendly page Permalink Email to a friend Posted by J. Craig Williams on Monday, March 31, 2008 at 01:12. Comments Closed (0) |

Rah, Rah, Sis, Boom, Bah; Cheerleading Is Not A Contact Sport

It took the Wisconsin Court of Appeals to weigh in on this one.  Brittany Noffke is a ninth-grader at Holmen High School where she's a cheerleader.  Kevin Brakke is also on the squad, and he was Brittany's spotter during practice while she was working on a stunt.  Unfortunately, Brittany fell and severely injured her head, which Kevin apparently failed to prevent.  The school did not have mats down during the practice and Brittany landed on a tile floor.

She sued the school and Kevin for her injuries.

The Court was called on to determine whether cheerleading is a contact sport.  The court said that because there were no "opponents" directly involved with contact in the sport of cheerleading, it wasn't considered a contact sport.  Now I'm not admitted to practice law in Wisconsin, so I most assuredly don't understand the law there, but when I've seen cheerleaders - especially male and female cheerleaders working together - it looks like a contact sport to me.

Maybe not as rough as football, but there's definitely contact going on there.  After all, the guys are usually holding up the girls, aren't they? 

The issue of whether it's a contact sport matters because there's a statute in Wisconsin that prevents participants in contact sports for suing one another for injuries resulting, of course, from the contact.

So, when the Court ruled that cheerleading isn't a contact sport, they were allowing Brittany's case to proceed against Kevin.  They didn't, however, allow Brittany to sue the school.  It's apparently immune from liability under another Wisconsin statute.

Don't ask me.  I practice law in California, where practically everything's a contact sport.

Printer friendly page Permalink Email to a friend Posted by J. Craig Williams on Sunday, March 30, 2008 at 01:33. Comments Closed (0) |

Lawyer 2 Lawyer Internet Radio Trolls the Patent Blogs

What are the implications of a blogger writing about someone anonymously? Last month, the burning question on everyone's mind in the patent world was finally answered when the identity of the author of the anonymous, Patent Troll Tracker Blog, was revealed as Rick Frenkel, an IP Director and in-house patent attorney at Cisco Systems.  Attorney Frenkel was invited to participate in this podcast, but declined based on the advice of his attorney.

Please join me as I get two different perspectives from the experts. In the first segment, Craig welcomes Attorney Raymond Niro Sr., the attorney who was once a target of Frenkel's blog. In our second segment, Craig speaks with the popular patent blogger, Dennis Crouch from Patently-O, to get his perspective on the Troll Tracker and the dangers of blogging anonymously.  You can download the podcast here or click on the link below.


Printer friendly page Permalink Email to a friend Posted by J. Craig Williams on Friday, March 28, 2008 at 13:04. Comments Closed (0) |

Herb Peterson, Dead At 89

MIPTC typically doesn't write obituaries, this one deserves a moment of silence. 


Herb Peterson, the inventor of McDonald's Egg McMuffin died.  He invented the breakfast sandwich in 1972.  While not a gourmand, he is certainly a hero of the company, even though he worked for McDonald's advertising agency at the time.  It's my favorite item on the menu.

Just goes to show you, not all good ideas come from within.

Printer friendly page Permalink Email to a friend Posted by J. Craig Williams on Thursday, March 27, 2008 at 23:44. Comments Closed (1) |

Pay First, Litigate Later Even If You Already Won Once

Who Made Up These Rules? Oh, Right It's The Government

Litigants would go through the roof if they were required to first pay the claim of the opposing party before even stepping on to the dance floor in the Courthouse.  But, that's the rule when the government sues you:  pay the state before you barely find out who's on your dance card. 

Even if you've already beat back the government's claims against you beforehand.  I kid you not.

Let's get to the facts here:  California Logistics is a delivery company.  It hires drivers on an ad hoc basis to deliver goods belonging to others.  It has classified these drivers as independent contractors.  Several times before both administrative and court proceedings, California Logistics beat the state's challenges against this classification, where the state unsuccessfully tried to classify the drivers as employees.

Not satisfied with losing, the Employment Development Department levied a $1.2 million assessment against California Logistics, who once again employed its attorneys and said, "Not again?  We've won this issue before."

And it has.  Several times.  The EDD, however, is not persuaded it should have lost and challenged those rulings again.  Don't believe it?  Let me explain.

There are two doctrines in the law that we're all familiar with:  res judicata and collateral estoppel.  Ok, you may not be familiar with the Latin term or the procedural term, but as I said before, they mean "I already won this issue in prior proceedings, I shouldn't have to fight about it again."  And that meaning makes perfect sense in most cases.

Except when you're talking about a provision in the California Constitution, the supreme law of the land.  At least in California, that is.  Here's how it works:  the Latin and procedural concepts are common law rules.  In the hierarchy of rules, those two concepts are at the bottom of the legal ladder, and the state's Constitution is at the top.

So, when there's a conflict between the two, the Constitution's requirement to pay first, litigate later wins.  Here, the Constitutional requirement is in Section 32, which relates to taxes.  You know, the funds the government needs to run. 

The requirement makes sense in the abstract.  If we could all challenge our obligations to pay taxes before paying them, then the state would grind to a halt without money. 

The Court looked at it this way, citing to the precedent of a prior challenge brought by several utility companies in support of the EDD's position:  "There, three public utility companies filed an action seeking to compel the State Board of Equalization to adjust the assessment of their real property in accordance with a recently enacted constitutional provision (Proposition 13).  The utilities argued that to bar their suit under section 32 would deny them an adequate judicial remedy because they would be forced to litigate in more than 50 counties in order to recover their alleged overpayments.  The [state's supreme] court declined to recognize an  ' "inadequate remedy at law" ' exception to section 32.  The court cited the policies underlying section 32 and stressed that section 32 ' "means what it says." ' That has not changed. [citations omitted.]"

Call me silly, but it seems to this writer if the Constitutional issue has already been resolved, California Logistics should not be required to pay the assessment first before litigating the same thing again and again and again.  A court higher than me will have to straighten out this one.

Printer friendly page Permalink Email to a friend Posted by J. Craig Williams on Wednesday, March 26, 2008 at 23:07. Comments Closed (0) |

Not So Friendly Skies: Second Circuit Strikes Down New York's Airline Passenger Bill Of Rights

Citing federal preemption laws, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals struck down New York's attempt to restore some friendliness to the skies.  Reacting after two ugly situations where airline passengers were stuck on the tarmac in New York without water, food or toilet facilities for up to 10 hours, the New York legislature passed the Airline Passenger's Bill of Rights.  Both incidents occurred at Kennedy International Airport, the second after passengers were stranded on the ground during an ice storm.

The Second Circuit said such laws were solely within the province of the United States Congress and the Federal Aviation Administration.  I'd add here that the airlines themselves could have employed something called "customer service" to avoid the fiasco, but I'd be repeating myself.

According to Pete Yost's Associated Press article, "A recent federal report showed that about 24 percent of flights nationally arrived late in the first 10 months of last year, which was the industry's second-worst performance record since comparable data began being collected in 1995.  Kennedy airport had the third-worst on-time arrival record of any major U.S. airport through October, behind the New York area's other two major airports, LaGuardia and Newark, according to the report."

Maybe it's time the politicians got off the campaign trail and back into the Senate to pass some laws? 

Printer friendly page Permalink Email to a friend Posted by J. Craig Williams on Tuesday, March 25, 2008 at 23:26. Comments Closed (0) |

Lawyer 2 Lawyer Internet Radio Reacts to Spitzer's Big Oops

Considered a hero to many in the legal community for fighting for the little guy, Eliot Spitzer, the now former Governor of NY, became tangled up in a prostitution ring that led him to resign from office. 

Please join me and my fellow blogger and co-host Robert Ambrogi as we turn to the experts, David Frank from Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly, Attorney Harvey Silverglate, criminal defense and civil liberties lawyer and Dan Slater, lead writer for The Wall Street Journal's Law Blog, to discuss the rise and fall of Eliot Spitzer.

We discuss this scandal, take a look at Spitzer's work as Attorney General, explore the potential criminal charges that he faces and get reaction from the legal community.  You can download the podcast here or just click on the link below.


Printer friendly page Permalink Email to a friend Posted by J. Craig Williams on Thursday, March 20, 2008 at 16:44. Comments Closed (0) |

Tarantulas, Scorpions and Beetles. Wonderful Appetizers, Now What's For Dinner?

Last night at the forever elegant Waldorf Astoria in midtown Manhattan, the Explorer's Club had its 104th annual dinner.  This year marked the passing of two of its greats:  Sir Edmund Hillary and Steve Fossett, although I wondered whether Mr. Fossett was just flying around with Amelia Earhart, a fellow member.

The program focused on "Exploring Planet Ocean," and as famed scuba, deep-sea diver and honoree Dr. Silva Earle closed the program, "onward and downward," she gleefully gave the "thumbs down" sign, a signal universally understood by divers to coordinate the beginning of a dive.  The evening was anything but a downer, but it began that way.

It started from the 34th floor of the Waldorf Astoria Towers, where my room sported an eye-to-eye view of the Chrysler Building, one of the famous landmarks dotting the Manhattan skyline.  Out the other window, the Brooklyn bridge stood stately, gracefully traversing the East river, which flowed slowly toward the ocean.

In the hallway on my way to the event, the elevator doors parted and I stepped on wearing native Scottish garb from head to toe, native being the seemingly preferred matter of dress for attendees, which many there wore.  Once on I met a somewhat shorter but tremendously more charismatic white-haired man wearing an impressive-looking medal around his neck, several small pins I couldn't read, a chrome-plated bow tie and a double-breasted, striped satin tux. 

He was accompanied by an equally elegantly coiffed, stunning woman decked out in a wedding-white long gown with a burnout top full of fingered sparkles and beads.  They were obviously a couple, and well-suited in age and demeanor to one another.  She began the conversation with me first, complimenting my kilt and Prince Charlie tailed coat.  The three of us conversed intently and quickly as the elevator descended and the other riders listened keenly.  He asked about my heritage, which I confirmed as Scottish and Welsh.

As we stepped off the elevator, I caught a glimpse of one of his pins and read "Apollo 11" almost as quickly as I noticed his hand extended, offered in a greeting as he said, "I'm Buzz Aldrin, and this is my wife, Lois."  There he was, the second man to walk on the moon right after Neil Armstrong, and he's walking off the elevator toward a waiting crowd.  I had seen him once before on television when he was wearing a white moon suit when I was twelve.  Now, some 38 years later, I met him in person.  It's a small universe.

My dear friend Sara Shoemaker Lind, a famous underwater photographer and videographer who has quite literally traveled around the world scuba diving on a grant from the Explorer's Club (and the source of my invitation to the event), ribbed me at the end of the evening over my oft-told elevator story.  She overhead once again me telling another member of the Explorer's Club that I had met Buzz Aldrin and his wife in the elevator, saying "Oh, you're telling that story again." 

As the Waldorf Astoria staff escorted us into the event, we passed by the silent auction items, consisting of dinners or diving events in exotic locales around the world with other members of the Explorer's Club.  Travel lust was beginning to stir while I walked up and down the tables with larger-than-life photos of real-life explorers I had only dreamed about becoming as a kid.  Long sigh here.  I'm practicing law, not circumnavigating the globe.

Sara, her husband Kevin and I met up again as we walked into the exotic foods room, where appetizers were served.  No, I'm not kidding.  Take, for example Yak Wellington.  Kangaroo meatballs (quite good).  Elk stroganoff (also quite good).  Stuffed pork bung (no, didn't taste it).  Servers in white gloves whisked around silver trays of tempura wildflowers (orchids, I'm told, very tasty).  But the highlight of the evening were the bugs.

Fried tarantulas, legs and all impaled on a skewer, to be exact.  Beetles speared on top of spring peas.  Scorpions on tomatoes, mozzarella cheese and basil, complete with the stinger (poison in all supposedly removed).  I have photos, since I knew you wouldn't believe me, and once Sara passes them along, they'll get posted, but for now you'll have to be satisfied with the descriptions. 

The black tarantulas were mostly flavorful in a nondescript sort of way given what I was expecting (which I'm not quite sure about, to be exact, other than to say I thought it would taste terrible), but I have to say it was noticeably hairy and crunchy.  The difficult part was dealing with them in several bites, since the little guys are about three inches long.  To put the whole thing in your mouth at once would be, well, impolite.  How much more impolite than staring down at a partway eaten tarantula, I'm not sure, but nonetheless impolite. 

The scorpions were visibly displayed as a bruschetta, their brown bodies with curled tails featured quite in contrast to the white cheese, and for once immobile compared to their live counterparts, which typically scurry away when confronted.  Crunchy little devils, I must say, now that I've had two.

The beetle was the most difficult to stomach, however.  Well not really stomach, but get it through your head you were going to bite what looked very much like a roach.  I got close, but finally drew the line at the spring peas.  They were rather tasty, but I must say the beetle/roach is still perched atop a small toothpick, sans the peas.  I couldn't get it through my head or into my stomach.  There are some things I'll try at least once, and some things I won't. 

Yes, I know.  Once you've eaten a black tarantula and a brown scorpion, why stop at a beetle?  Just look at the photo in those last two links, and you'll understand. I'm not even sure it was cooked.  Beetle sushi, in other words.   Ugh.  Oh yes, the meal worm sushi endive, almost still squirming, was a no go, too. 

The cocktails, and I mean that literally, were the highlight of the evening.  Each on of the cosmopolitans had some type of testicle pearls in the bottom, some blue, some clear, but all laced with testosterone, I'm sure.  There was enough of that in the room, but the drinks made it ever more so evident. 

Dinner was comparatively pedestrian, with a typical couscous-tomato-zucchini-eggplant appetizer, red and white Shark Trust wine from San Diego, a nice slab of rare beef with a medley of root vegetables and a delicious chocolate desert.

But the food is not the reason to go.  Neither is Buzz Aldrin.  The rest of the explorers, like my friend Sara and her friend Michelle, a true-life rocket scientist at JPL in Pasadena who works on the software for the Mars rover, together with many others just like them and just like you and me.  They push the boundaries of exploration and science.  Not everyone can be the first to go the highest, the deepest or the most times around this or that, which is not to discount those who have, but rather to compliment those who haven't yet nonetheless expand our knowledge and discover what we don't yet know.

The program for the evening consisted of awards to other accomplished explorers, each deserving kudos in their own field.  The most interesting aspect, however, was the presentations about the state of the world's oceans.  They should know:  they're out there everyday diving below and on the surface.  They see.  Universally to a speaker, save one comment ("reefs have constantly changed over time"), the picture of our oceans is not pretty.

We've explored only five percent of it.  We take out too much, and what we leave behind will consequently not be able to sustain itself.  We put too much pollution into it.  We're killing the little bit we leave behind.  It's the world's largest repository of carbon, and it may not take much more, which leaves only one place for it to go:  into the atmosphere you and I breathe.

Dr. Earle perhaps made the most poignant comment of the evening when she compared the colossal amount of money we've spent on space exploration to the minuscule amount we've spent on exploring our own oceans - a literal drop in the bucket. 

Maybe it's time to look down and around us instead of up into the sky.

Printer friendly page Permalink Email to a friend Posted by J. Craig Williams on Sunday, March 16, 2008 at 20:00. Comments Closed (0) |

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