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Britons Ask Their Judges: Have You Lost Your Mind? Where's Your Wig?

A five centuries-old tradition in England has gone the way of the horse and buggy.  The Right Honourable Lord High and Mighty Chief Justice of England and Wales, Sir Nicholas Addison Phillips, Baron of Worth Matravers, PC, QC and a host of other pompous and circumstantial (that should read pomp and circumstance, but pompous just sounded better, don't you agree?) awards, has declared them off-limits in courtrooms throughout those two countries. 

Judges in Scotland and Ireland, thank you very much, will be allowed to make up their, er, well, own minds, since the authority of the Lord Chief Justice (I made up the part about being high and mighty, but you believed it, didn't you?) does not extend to these other two British colonies - or whatever they're calling them these days.

Holy hairless judges, Batman, how could this have happened?

Perhaps one explanation lies in Judge (dare I call him just that?) Phillips' own clothing choices.  Scandalous photographs on the Internet show him wearing a leisure shirt, which strangely enough appears to match the leisure shirt worn by his grandson, who due to his tender years, can't be faulted for his fashion faults.  Judge Phillips, on the other hand....

The wigs have apparently gone out of style, according to LCJ Phillips, who said, "while there will never be unanimity of view about court dress, the desirability of these changes has a broad measure of agreement."

The English are masters of the understatement, aren't they?  According to London's Business Times, there is in fact little agreed upon at this point:  "1,300 judges from the High Court down to the rank of deputy district judge, who sit in civil and family cases, will wear a new, simple gown. There is still no agreement on design. One suggestion is for a dressing-gown style of robe with a simple sash coloured according to rank; another is for a European-style gown buttoning up to the neck."

And to ensure they don't go too far in modernizing the legal profession for the first time since the 1600's, wigs, starched collars and robes will be allowed in criminal proceedings.

Whew. 

We don't wear wigs in court in America, and the Chicago Times article linked immediately below, noted one British barrister's opinion who apparently commented on a televised "white-collar criminal trial in the U.S. and complained that without wigs and robes it was difficult to determine who was a lawyer and who was a defendant." 

Just in case you're wondering, there are, according to this Chicago Tribune article, three basic types of wigs, all based on a design patented in 1822 by a London wigmaker named Humphrey Ravenscroft.  England originally adopted judicial wigs in 1685, but Ravenscroft's design created "the barrister's wig or tie-wig, which consists of a frizzed crown, five rows of curls and two tied tails; the judge's bench wig or bob-wig, which is frizzed all over and also has two tails, and a judge's full-bottomed ceremonial wig -- the original bigwig."  In England, the bigwig will only be allowed for ceremonial dress, under the new ruling.

Don't worry, though.  The MIPTC judge above won't lose his wig.  The Lord High And Mighty Chief Justice can't order us around anymore. 



Printer friendly page Permalink Email to a friend Posted by J. Craig Williams on Wednesday, July 25, 2007 at 00:01. Comments Closed (0) |

Time For A Trip Around The Legal Blawgosphere

Blawg Review No. 118 is up today at Blawgletter, and gives a humorous look at this week's posts.  It's well worth your time to peruse it.

Printer friendly page Permalink Email to a friend Posted by J. Craig Williams on Monday, July 23, 2007 at 00:39. Comments Closed (0) |

It's Sunday, And What Does The Real Estate Section Of The Paper Tell Us?

It's Not The Same Thing As MSN's Supposed, Misquoted Reality

Sure, we've all heard The Three Laws Of Real Estate:  location, location, location.  But if you read the news, it's doom, gloom and bust for the housing market.  Just look at this report by Marilyn Lewis for MSN.  First, before you read that report and put too much stock in it, you should realize one of the sources she quoted claims she misquoted him, in his post, ".... and That's Not Exactly What I Said."  Realize too, she's not a specialist:  she covers health and fitness "news," too.

Beyond offering inaccurate quotes, the MSN article looks to two other sources for its information:  Standard & Poors' Case-Shiller Home Price Index and the PMI Mortgage Insurance, Inc. U.S. Market rate index.  The former looks at history, the latter predicts indices over the next two years.

We all know how accurate predictors are. 

Nonetheless, the article comes to the conclusion that home prices in certain areas of the country that have sustained growth in the past will decrease, and others that have had only moderate increases are less risky investments.  To quote the article, "Not surprisingly, the riskiest markets identified by the index are located in areas that saw rapid price appreciation, a reduction in affordability followed by a rapid decrease in the rate of price appreciation," and in a subheading, "The Rust Belt Is Less Risky."

There you have it in a nutshell.  But before you go too far, let's see what MSN has to say its sources claim are the worst areas for real estate investments (the percentages quoted are the predicted chance for a decline):  "Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, Calif. (65.2%); Phoenix-Mesa-Scottsdale, Ariz. (64.6%); Las Vegas-Paradise, Nev. (61.4%); [and,] West Palm Beach-Boca Raton-Boynton Beach, Fla. (60.7%)."

Not to be outdone, there's still more doom and gloom predicted for the boom markets (including Irvine, California where I live):  "Los Angeles-Long Beach-Glendale, Calif. (58.6%); Santa Ana-Anaheim-Irvine, Calif. (57.7%); Oakland-Fremont-Hayward, Calif. (57.2%); Orlando-Kissimmee, Fla. (56.3%); Sacramento-Arden-Arcade-Roseville, Calif. (56.0%); San Diego-Carlsbad-San Marcos, Calif. (55.5%); Fort Lauderdale-Pompano Beach-Deerfield Beach, Fla. (54.2%); Miami-Miami Beach-Kendall, Fla. (52.4%); Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater, Fla. (50.6%); Boston-Quincy, Mass. (50.1%); [and,] Washington, D.C.-Arlington-Alexandria, Va.-W.Va. (50%).

Just so you don't think the news is all bad, there are less risky areas to buy a home.

According to MSN your less risk areas are:  "Cincinnati-Middletown, Ohio-Ky. (9.7%); Columbus, Ohio (9.3%); Indianapolis-Carmel, Ind. (8.4%); Houston-Sugar Land-Baytown, Texas (7.9%); Dallas-Plano-Irvington, Texas (7.5%); Fort Worth-Arlington, Texas (7.4%); [and,]Pittsburgh (6.4%).

Now don't get me wrong here, the real estate economists I've talked to generally agree the housing market hasn't hit bottom yet, but they disagree that the bottom is two years away, despite the much-hyped "subprime market" crash.  Several, including noted real estate economist Dr. Alfred Gobar, believe the downtown will be at its nadir in the next ten to fifteen months, if even that long.  More important, however, is Dr. Gobar's take on the Orange County and Inland Empire areas.  He believes the prices will not accelerate but instead remain nearly flat, and not decrease.

Lewis's sources, in comparison, aren't real estate economists.  They're field-tested real estate agents knowledgeable about their limited "farm" area, not nationwide or even regional trends.

But before you go too far and start checking whether that window on the fiftieth floor of your building can open up far enough to allow you to climb out on the ledge, let's look at what else these two supposed "bust" sources had to say.

Standard & Poors notes that the housing market since 1997 has had an over 10 percent return on investment, second only to a 15 percent return if you had invested in a REIT.  Plus, what MSN is not telling you about PMI's report is significant.

It's a brand-new prediction model that hasn't seen the test of time that would vouch for its accuracy.

Oh yes, and then there's logic.

There's MSN's 2004 Best Places to Live, none of which show up on either list above.  Or the 2005 Safest Places to Live, likewise missing from these lists above.  Irvine is America' safest city, but a bad place for investing, according to MSN. Perhaps it's an oranges/apples comparison, but you can follow the real estate investment trends here.  You'll find the return on investment on a home is scanty at best when compared to a home in a coastal area.

But you already knew that.

Sure, people are still moving out of California at a greater rate than they're moving in, but MSN isn't reporting where that trend is headed.  California's economy, especially in Southern California, is in part driven by rising jet sales.  But that's just part of it.  There's more out there, if you look.

Just don't believe everything you read.  After all, would you rather live in the Golden State or the Rust Belt

The answer lies in the three laws of real estate.



Printer friendly page Permalink Email to a friend Posted by J. Craig Williams on Sunday, July 22, 2007 at 11:10. Comments Closed (0) |

Do We Still Need The EPA? What Will The Future Bring? How About Social Capital?

We've moved from Love Canal where the government had to force cleanup of environmental contamination to commonly understood requirements for current cleanups, and even to Voluntary Cleanups, which were restored to economic viability by the Supreme Court within just the last month after it (I think mistakenly) decimated them three years ago.  Now we're looking to the future of government regulation of environmental contamination as we stare down an upcoming presidential election.

Conventional wisdom wags predict more regulation and environmental cleanup if we switch to a Democratic administration.  But is that really the relevant question?  Where is the current system of environmental regulation headed?

Sure, the USEPA is responsible for clean air, soil, water and even groundwater.  But so are the several states.  Well, more like all fifty of them.  And virtually each one of them has their own "mini-EPA" acts.

Given 50 versions of the same thing, do we still need one big one?

Now I'm not one to invoke either the Federalist papers or even a nationalistic view that more is better and so is centralized administration, but the US Constitution has this little thing called the Commerce Clause (for fellow lawyers, even the Dormant Commerce Clause).  For those who didn't spend at least four weeks in a law school ConLaw class going over in excruciating detail the multitude of variations in the Commerce Clause, I can reduce it to one relevant point for the purpose of this discussion.  If the federal government has evidenced its intent to "occupy the field" of regulation, then the states can't regulate the same thing, unless the states enact stricter standards and don't interfere with interstate commerce, subject to some balancing of discriminatory effect and varying levels of inquiry, but the two latter tests are beyond the scope of this analysis.

It's a lot more complicated than that, but that short little definition should suffice for the purposes of the headline's question.  It's pretty obvious that Congress intended to regulate the environment through the USEPA, as it has since 1972 when it convulsed in reaction to Love Canal and spit out Superfund, one of the first comprehensive set of environmental statutes adopted in the country.  It's equally obvious, however, that the several states wanted their own say.

So that each state could deal with its own unique environmental issues - say burning everglades in Florida (prohibited) and burning fields in Idaho (permitted) - each state subsequently and separately over the last 30 years or so created its own set of environmental laws, each universally more strict than those regulations adopted by the USEPA.  But Federalism has its merits.  There is for the most part an oddly unique similarity of each state's environmental laws to those adpoted by Congress and the regulations promulgated by the USEPA.

Even so, given those 50 sets of stricter regulations, why do we still need the USEPA

It's a massive monster that moves very slowly and produces enormously difficult to understand and even harder to implement guidelines, which are treated as gospel within the industry.  That level of detail simply can't be independently produced by a single state, so collectively, we have the USEPA to create that kind of pain.

On the other hand, by now the consultants and the regulators have that dance down to a science.  We understand what is required to comply, and the consultants, lawyers and businesses comply.  Heck, even the oil companies just voluntarily clean up leaking underground storage tanks in gas stations around the country.  They hardly have to be told to do it any more.

We have even informally developed a system of relegating contamination cleanups between the USEPA and the states based on the logical criteria of the size and amount of the contamination.  The USEPA takes the big ones, the states take the small ones and the ones in the middle are usually kicked back to the states by the USEPA.  But even without this division of responsibility, the marketplace has become a major driver. 

As MIPTC noted just recently, the Supreme Court restored sanity to voluntary cleanups.  Those who cleanup contamination without being ordered to do so by the federal government can sue others who contributed to the contamination, even if the company conducting the voluntary cleanup also contributed to the contamination.  Good old capitalism comes to the rescue.

Certainly cleanups don't always work voluntarily, and the number of lawsuits brought by both the USEPA and the various state enforcement agencies confirm the need for some level of regulation.  Capitalism can't cure everything, but neither can a socialist approach.

But I think a combination of the two can do a better job than either independently.  Imagine an incentive-based government agency.  Sure, it's been proposed before, and dismissed with the alacrity of someone trying to marry Machiavelli's The Prince with Karl Marx's The Communist Manifesto.

But imagine, for a moment, a successful marriage of the two.  In a way, as I've described above with the cooperation of businesses and the government, we've already got a version of it.  There are many kinks in the current process, but the compatibility of social goals of clean air, soil, and water merge with business goals of profit, especially where both goals have a common understanding established by statute and regulation.

MIPTC predicts that the future of environmental law will involve some version of business and government cooperation to replace both the USEPA, the state regulatory agencies and the independence of business to form a new socially capitalistic venture.



Printer friendly page Permalink Email to a friend Posted by J. Craig Williams on Friday, July 20, 2007 at 00:19. Comments Closed (0) |

Lawyer 2 Lawyer Internet Radio Gets Over Depression In The Profession

Depression among attorneys is becoming a serious problem in a high stress profession. On this week's Lawyer 2 Lawyer, we focus on the topic of lawyers and their personal battles outside the court room, specifically in the area of mental health and substance abuse with some first-hand accounts.

Join me and my fellow Law.com blogger and co-host Robert Ambrogi as we turn to the experts, Attorney Dan Lukasik of the firm Cantor, Lukasik, Dolce & Panepinto in Buffalo, New York and founder of Lawyers with Depression and Ellen Murphy, Executive Director of the non-profit website, Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers. Please listen to this important show!



Podcast 

Printer friendly page Permalink Email to a friend Posted by J. Craig Williams on Thursday, July 19, 2007 at 15:36. Comments Closed (0) |

How To Lose A CEQA Appeal, Even When You Win

There's A Difference Between Spin And Mischaracterization

And so goes the appellate court opinion, which not too cryptically notes, "Petitioners do not have to believe the County's evidence, but as appellants they have a duty to confront it.  As Developer and the City point out, petitioners make many such misstatements and omissions."

Wow. In other words, once you abuse our trust, you lose our trust, which is one interpretation of this California Environmental Quality Act appeal.

Sometimes what you may in your wildest dreams think or believe is not what you should write down on paper, especially if you're going to submit that paper in the form of a brief to a court of appeal.   

Here's what the Plaintiffs claim:  "they imply the Project will raze prime farmland and "obliterate" "irreplaceable wetlands."

The appellate court takes issue with that claim:  "Although some land is farmed and some has vernal pools, all has been in the general plan's 'Urban Growth Area' since 1993, only 'isolated' pieces of farmland are considered 'prime' and those are too small 'to be farmed on a practical basis,' and wetlands loss will be mitigated by a preserve and offsite restoration."

Not all that's in your imagination needs to make it to your argument.

The appellate court isn't finished, however.  "As another example, petitioners claim the Project will 'obliterate' Morrison and Laguna Creeks."

While that may be imagined, the court's not buying it:  "Such hyperbole is unsupported by the record, which shows these 'are normally dry creek beds' and that the Project as approved preserves Laguna Creek by creating an open space corridor, and that Morrison Creek crosses 'a small portion' of a corner of the Project land which will be subject to a site-specific design process subject [...] to approval by the Department of Fish and Game."

Needless to say, the resulting opinion doesn't  look too favorably on Plaintiff's arguments, despite sending it back to the trial court for further proceedings, as ordered by the California Supreme Court.  There's a way to get back to the trial court with your arguments intact, and there's another way.

Mischaracterize the facts, and you're likely to lose your legal arguments, too.  MIPTC expresses no opinion on how this case will ultimately turn out other than to observe that there are likely better ways to reach a resolution.  A victory at the Supreme Court level doesn't guarantee a victory at the trial court level, apparently.



Printer friendly page Permalink Email to a friend Posted by J. Craig Williams on Tuesday, July 17, 2007 at 23:24. Comments Closed (0) |

Law School Casebooks To Be Rewritten Given This New Opinion Striking Waivers of Gross Negligence

Waivers of acts of sports-related gross negligence are no longer enforceable, as a sharply divided California Supreme Court held today, upholding an equally sharply divided lower court opinion.  The Court ruled, "an agreement made in the context of sports or recreational programs or services, purporting to release liability for future gross negligence, generally is unenforceable as a matter of public policy."

The opinion is considered by some as a tour de force of Chief Justice Ronald George's writing, and well worth a detailed read, and likely sets a new benchmark in tort opinions across the country.

In other words, that waiver you signed may excuse a negligent act, but it won't work to protect gross negligence.  It's a matter of degree, and largely dependent not only on the sport, but also the injury that occurs.

In the case of Janeway v. City of Santa Barbara, a developmentally disabled 14-year old girl drowned in a City pool when an instructor momentarily looked away.  I'm not sure that amounts to gross negligence, but like I said, it's a matter of degree sometimes more dependent on the injury.  Here, a young girl died in an otherwise safe environment; she had safely participated in the swimming program for the previous three years.  A truly sad occurrence, however, and my heart goes out to the Janeways.  Their advocacy raises questions far beyond this young girl's untimely death.

Those questions are evidenced by the wealth of amicus curiae (friend of the court) briefs filed by several groups, including the League of California Cities, the California State Association of Counties, NASCAR, the Sierra Club and 24 Hour Fitness health clubs supporting the position taken by the City of Santa Barbara.  The City, of course, claimed the waiver of its gross negligence was effective.  The Janeways contended otherwise. 

Admittedly, the Sierra Club is an odd bedfellow in this group.

Even so, how do we deal with the fallout from this opinion?  Will courts and juries now look right past waivers and examine more closely the conduct of the party who caused the injury?  I think we exercise that inquiry now, but one thing will certainly be different. 

There will be no automatic dismissal of plaintiff's cases.  The courts and juries will confront the injury and the act that caused the injury.

Expect your insurance premiums and taxes to go up, and expect those who suffer injuries to recover more compensation.   Perhaps both justifiably so. 



Printer friendly page Permalink Email to a friend Posted by J. Craig Williams on Monday, July 16, 2007 at 23:18. Comments Closed (0) |

Judge: Don't Read Newspapers Or Watch TV While You're On This Jury

Oh Yeah, And Don't Read A Blog, Either

That's right.  Some five government witnesses and one juror got tossed because they read a blog about an ongoing criminal trial:  Grimes & Warwick's coverage of the Peregrine trial in San Diego.  The trial concerns the securities-fraud trial of four Peregrine Systems, Inc. officials.

Someone perhaps interested in the civil side of the case (can we say, "Plaintiff's lawyer?") hired State-certified criminal specialist attorney Bob Grimes to blog about the trial, and he and his wife Linda, a non-practicing lawyer, have done so religiously on their website.  It's not a first for covering trials:  in the Daily Journal, Don J. DeBenedictis's July 16, 2007 article notes that blogs have written about "the trials involving Lewis "Scooter" Libby in Washington, D.C., former Ku Klux Klansman James Seale in Mississippi and lead-paint makers in Rhode Island."

And presumably who better to cover trials than lawyers?

The reporting is more accurate and perhaps more boring at the same time.  Newspapers write to a sixth-grade audience, lawyers write at the graduate school level, and assume (sometimes too much) familiarity with procedure and legal niceties.  Perhaps with a bit of a twist, lawyers Kevin O'Keefe and Anne W. Reed of Milwaukee law firm Reinhart Boerner Van Deuren have written about Grimes' coverage.

And now I'm writing about their coverage, as well as DeBenedictis's coverage.  Will it never end?

But this one's a bit different.  According to rumor (Grimes declined comment), Grimes has been paid $150,000, or $2,500 per day for 60 days of blogging to cover the trial.  Rumors also allege Grimes writes one version for the party who hired him to blog, and another version is posted on the Internet.  Estimates are that nearly $5 billion is involved with the capitalization of Peregrine. 

Interestingly, it doesn't appear that any of Grimes' posts reveal anything about payment to him for his blogging, but I've only skimmed and searched his posts, not read them for the last sixty days of his trial.  Grimes does provide this cryptic note:  "A class action on behalf of Peregrine stockholders is being litigated in front of United States District Judge Roger Benitez. This civil lawsuit involves many of the same issues that will be litigated in the criminal trial in front of Judge Whelan. .... The federal class action is currently stayed, pending an appeal."

There's nearly five billion reasons to want a daily report.

Some journalists postulate that a disclosure of payment to write is necessary to maintain credibility



Printer friendly page Permalink Email to a friend Posted by J. Craig Williams on Sunday, July 15, 2007 at 00:33. Comments Closed (0) |



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