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 - Blessed are the young, for they shall inherit the national debt. - Herbert Hoover
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Everyone In Your Family Owes $8,402 In Consumer Debt

Well, if you believe the national average.  Just to top it off, some 37%, or $3,109 of that debt is credit-card debt. 

Ouch.

Just so we're clear on the concept here, that's debt on consumable, non-investment assets that depreciate, not appreciate.  Consumer debt includes money from credit card debt, store-financed consumer purchases, car loans, and family loans that are supposed to be repaid.  I'm not talking about your house mortgage here.

In case you've got your calculator out, this debt totals $2.55 trillion.  To put it in perspective, the federal government's debt is about $9 trillion.   Collectively, the residents of the US carry just a little bit less than one-third of the federal government's debt.

The one difference:  we can't print money.

According to a Columbus Dispatch editorial, it's worse for younger Americans:  "College-educated young adults are saddled with an average of $21,000 in student loans. And they've grown up in a have-it-all-now culture, in which living on credit is the norm. People ages 25 to 34 spend an average 16 percent more than they earn, Fast Company magazine reported in December."

But don't be smug if you're older.  Likewise according to the editorial, older folks are turning to their "401(k) retirement savings accounts to pay off credit-card debt and to meet other ordinary expenses. Retirement-plan administrators saw a 17 percent jump in the number of workers in 2007 asking to withdraw their money prematurely."

What's the message here?



Printer friendly page Permalink Email to a friend Posted by J. Craig Williams on Sunday, February 24, 2008 at 22:03. Comments Closed (0) |

Lawyer 2 Lawyer Internet Radio Checks Lawyers Running for President

Senators Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton are currently  neck-in neck in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination and their experience as lawyers is a source of debate between the two. Please join me and my fellow Law.com blogger and co-host Bob Ambrogi, also a lawyer as we welcome the experts on Lawyer2Lawyer:

Professor Paul Finkelman, the President William McKinley Distinguished Professor of Law and Public Policy at Albany Law School and Robert J. Spitzer, Distinguished Service Professor of Political Science at SUNY Cortland, to discuss lawyers as presidential candidates and presidents. We will also take a look at Obama/Clinton's actual experience as attorneys.  You can download the podcast here or just click on the link below.



Podcast 

Printer friendly page Permalink Email to a friend Posted by J. Craig Williams on Wednesday, February 20, 2008 at 15:32. Comments Closed (0) |

New Orleans Home and Business Insurers Win In Supreme Court

Break In Man-made Levees Causing Flood Damage Not Covered

On February 19, 2008, the United States Supreme Court refused to hear the appeal of Xavier University, New Orleans business owners and homeowners, resulting in the denial of their insurance claims for flood damage arising out of Hurricane Katrina. 

The insurers who had denied coverage won.

While you might think that a Hurricane is an Act of God and covered by insurance, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals denied coverage because the direct cause of the damage was the failure of the man-made levees, not the Hurricane.  The Court determined Hurricane Katrina was not the proximate cause of the injuries suffered.

Man-made disasters aren't covered by insurance.  That ruling leaves New Orleanians with only one avenue for recovery of their losses:  the United States Army Corps of Engineers, and frankly, that claim isn't looking too good, either.

So, if there's going to be any relief for these folks, it will be good old tax dollars.  Might as well be the same thing as insurance.  Just not private coverage. 



Printer friendly page Permalink Email to a friend Posted by J. Craig Williams on Tuesday, February 19, 2008 at 21:04. Comments Closed (1) |

What Rights Are Left For Criminal Defendants? Miranda And Now, The Fifth.

Criminal defense lawyers decry the loss of Constitutional and procedural rights for criminal defendants.  Courts, Congress and law enforcement (if you missed the analogy there, those are the three branches of government) have regularly chipped away at the protections afforded criminal defendants.

The citizenry is generally not fazed by these changes, gradual over time but largely eroding the presumption of innocence.  That is until someone near and dear is accused of a crime, then the system is against all of us and needs to be righted.  But on the whole, only the ACLU and a few other organizations regularly register protests.

So where do we turn for an explanation of criminal rights?  Television.

That's right.  Television. 

Let me prove my point by quoting a recent case from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.  "From television shows like 'Law & Order' to movies such as 'Guys and Dolls,' we are steeped in the culture that knows a person in custody has 'the right to remain silent.  Miranda is practically a household word. And surely, when a criminal defendant says, 'I plead the Fifth,' it doesn't take a trained linguist, a Ph.D. or a lawyer to know what he means," wrote Judge McKeown. 

McKeown, on a three judge panel, reversed the murder conviction of Jerome Alvin Anderson, who claimed the statements after he asked to remain silent were used to incriminate him.  Anderson told an officer, "I plead the Fifth."  The officer then asked, "Plead the Fifth? What's that?" and continued to question Anderson, ultimately drawing a confession.

The judges ruled the officer "violated the Supreme Court's bright-line rule established in Miranda. Once a person invokes the right to remain silent, all questioning must cease."

In other words, the cop's behavior was illegal because "You saw it on TV."  Courts respect these rights just because they're so prevalent on television.  They wouldn't dare directly overrule Miranda, even though for all intents and purposes, the effect of it has been gutted since police can question a suspect even after invoking Miranda.

Now, however, all you have to do is plead the Fifth.  Then they really know you're guilty. 



Printer friendly page Permalink Email to a friend Posted by J. Craig Williams on Monday, February 18, 2008 at 23:50. Comments Closed (0) |

MITPC Book Review: How Many Clients Does It Take To Change A Light Bulb?

If you're Giovanni Diviacchi, then it takes 32 pages.  He's written a great, but über-short joke book  of the same name as this headline, obviously someone who's very tired of lawyer jokes.  The subtitle of the book is "A Lawyer Strikes Back," and is just slightly thinner than the MacBook Air. If you haven't read it, then you'll get a kick out his turn of the phrase. 

The book is chock full of lawyer jokes turned on clients. 

My favorite joke in the book, perhaps because my father was a minister, is this one:  "A lawyer asked his long-time attorney to come to his deathbed with a Bible.

'Would you like me to read to you?' asked the lawyer of the client.

The client shook his head weakly and  said, 'No, I want you to find the loopholes.'"

In case you're looking for a few loopholes, you can find the book on Amazon.  You won't stop laughing until the last page. 



Printer friendly page Permalink Email to a friend Posted by J. Craig Williams on Saturday, February 16, 2008 at 21:46. Comments Closed (0) |

Law Blogging for Fun and Profit: Building Your Audience, Building Your Practice

Law blogs have recently taken hold as a way for attorneys and law firms to differentiate themselves, promote their expertise, and provide added value to their clients. In this upcoming, 90-minute webcast, you will hear practical tips from three leading bloggers on how you can begin a blog, build an audience, and discover new ways to give you and your firm a leg up in today's competitive business development climate.

Don't miss this unique opportunity to hear from a panel of at least two stellar law bloggers on a webcast scheduled for Thursday, February 21, 2008, Webcast: 12:00 p.m. to 1:30 p.m. EST, 9:00 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. PST.

We will share our experience and insights on these topics and more:

                    Starting your blog and finding your niche

                    Building your audience

                    Establishing your reputation

                    Law blog networking 2.0

                    Integrating your blog into your business development plan

Our expert panel of speakers and top bloggers includes :  Kimberly A. Kralowec, Partner, Schubert & Reed LLP, San Francisco,
Howard J. Bashman, Partner, Law Offices of Howard J. Bashman, Willow Grove, PA and me.

Check out these blogs by my co-panelistsAuthored By Ms. Kralowec - The UCL Practitioner and The Appellate Practitioner Authored By Mr. Bashman:  How Appealing.

You can even get a discount:  Add Law Blogging for Fun and Profit: Building Your Audience, Building Your Practice to your shopping cart on West LegalEdcenter. The registration fee is $165.00.  Returning West LegalEdcenter customers should simply log on; if you are new to West LegalEdcenter, simply click New User and continue through the quick registration process.   Once returned to the cart, enter WLW15 in the promotion code box and click Apply to activate your 15% discount. This offer expires on February 21, 2008.



Printer friendly page Permalink Email to a friend Posted by J. Craig Williams on Thursday, February 14, 2008 at 00:06. Comments Closed (0) |

$62,000 On A $6,000,000,000 Franchise? Tolkien Estate Claims Movie Studio Hasn't Paid Its Percentage Royalty Share

Judges won't comment on a pending lawsuit and I won't either, but as we all likely know by now, New Line Cinema has a highly successful franchise in the Lord of the Rings trilogy of movies.  When I was a kid, I read the books, and now as an adult, I not only watched the movies in the theaters, but I also bought the DVDs. 

Like you, I'm part of this dispute.

The Tolkien Trust, a charity established by J.R.R. Tolkien's family, holds the rights to the tripartite story and originally licensed those rights to Saul Zaentz, who in turn licensed the rights to New Line, according a lawsuit filed here in Los Angeles (PACER reports show the complaint is not yet imaged), in return for 7.5 percent of the royalties on the movies.  The Tolkien Trust claims New Line so far has paid only $62,000, which was the initial payment.

You know, it's movie studio accounting.

Tolkien story and Lord of the Rings movie lovers anxiously await the release of The Hobbit, the prequel to the three movies.  Director Peter Jackson is slated to start production of the two-series movies next year, ultimately to be released in 2010 and 2011.

But the Tolkien Trust seeks an order from the court to stop production and for past-due royalties of $150,000,000 and punitive damages.  I can't even imagine that award, if successful.

Zaentz and Jackson have both sued New Line over the company's accounting of the profits from the movies, but both recently settled their lawsuits.  Looks like we'll got one more, and perhaps no Hobbit movies in the meantime. 



Printer friendly page Permalink Email to a friend Posted by J. Craig Williams on Tuesday, February 12, 2008 at 22:49. Comments Closed (0) |

Up Next: Condemnation Action Against California Coastal Commission?

You may not have known it, but the reach of the California Coastal Commission goes inland four-and-one-half miles (maybe even five) from the ocean and it can unilaterally designate environmentally sensitive habitat areas and prevent development. 

Since no one else knew it before either, let's get to the why.

Milos and Trisha Douda filed with the CCC for a coastal development permit to build their home.  Instead, they found their property contained an environmentally sensitive habitat area not previously designated and their proposed home would impair scenic and visual resources.

It was a tough day in Santa Monica. 

Up in the hills above Mulholland drive, some four years ago, the Doudas originally wanted to build and applied in 2003 for a two-story, 7,258 sq.ft. single-family home, three-car garage & studio, pool, driveway, septic system, and landscaping, with 12,000 cu.yds. of grading and 800 cu.yds. of export.  That application was postponed, according to CCC records.

A month later, the Doudas came back to the CCC with a scaled-back 5,804 square foot, 35-foot high, two-story single family residence, a 1,092 square foot garage, a septic system, and a pool and spa.

They needed a permit from the CCC.  Unfortunately for the Doudas, the CCC staff  recommended denial of their second permit application.  The Coastal Commission staff believed the permit was inconsistent with the local coastal plan and since the property had coastal sage scrub and chaparral and was, therefore, an environmentally sensitive habitat, and not conducive to such invasive development. 

The Commissioners voted 8-0 against approval of the second application.

When they were before the CCC, the Doudas did not object to the Commission's authority to protect scenic and visual resources in the coastal zone.  Consequently, the Doudas failed to exhaust their administrative remedies and lost that point. 

Finally, since the Los Angeles County land use plan originally did not designate the Doudas' property as environmentally sensitive, but the Commission still had the authority to make the designation under the LA plan. 

The Commission made the designation of the Doudas' property as environmentally sensitive.

The long and short of this case is a bit hard to predict.  Since the Doudas did not raise objections at the hearing, then they may still have the ability to get a permit, but six years later you have to wonder why they just didn't reapply.  If the CCC denies the Doudas' permit application in its entirety, then the CCC has to buy the property because it will have been inversely condemned.  Inverse condemnation occurs when a government agency prohibits development of a property. 

When the government allows a reasonable use of the land, say in this instance a 2,500 square foot, 15-foot high, one-story single family residence, a 500 square foot garage, a septic system, and a small pool and spa on a portion of the property not visible from the road and on a portion of the property where there's no coastal sage scrub or chaparral, then there's no inverse condemnation.

The facts reported in the appellate court decision are insufficient to tell whether my wild guess is even accurate, but the CCC likely doesn't want to buy a multi-million dollar property and then designate it as open space.  We haven't seen the last of this case, but it's certainly a conundrum at this point.



Printer friendly page Permalink Email to a friend Posted by J. Craig Williams on Monday, February 11, 2008 at 23:17. Comments Closed (0) |



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