May It Please The Court

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May It Please The Court
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The Million Dollar Comma Used As A Curved Sword

The marriage between contracts and grammar is necessary in order to understand what the parties rights are under those contracts.  So here's today's grammar/contracts question:  how would you interpret the following sentence?

“This agreement shall be effective from the date it is made and shall continue in force for a period of five (5) years from the date it is made, and thereafter for successive five (5) year terms, unless and until terminated by one year prior notice in writing by either party.”

Does it mean:  (A) the termination provision applies only to the initial five-year term; or, (B) the termination provision applies to both the initial five-year term and the renewal?  Be careful here, your decision will swing one million Canadian dollars to one of the two companies in this dispute, either Rogers Communications or BCE, more commonly known as Bell Canada.  One other alternative may be that the termination provision applies only to the renewal. 

Here's a clue:  the interpretation may turn on either how it reads in French or a legal grammar rule known as the "rule of the last antecedent."  So far, the regulators ruled in favor of Bell Canada, which wanted an early termination of its contract with Rogers.  In response, Rogers filed a 69-page declaration regarding the use of commas, arguing that the termination modified only the renewal five-year term. 

MIPTC sides with Bell Canada and the regulator.  As drafted, the modifier seems to apply to the initial term and the renewal.  Perhaps the best way to find out what it meant is to ask the lawyer who wrote it, however.  But that's just me. 

Side note here:  there's no love lost between these two companies, who have been at each other for some time.  They're using commas as swords.

Printer friendly page Posted by J. Craig Williams on Sunday, October 22, 2006 at 15:43 Comments (0) |

Yo! Adrian! Pass The Cheesesteak!

Every city has its signature gorpy food.  LA has Tommy burgersMemphis has barbecue, Boston has chowder and Philly has cheesesteaks. 

And don't let me forget the quintessential, gorpiest food of all time, a grillswith (see flameworker's description).  It's a Charlottesville, Virginia 2:00 a.m. concoction designed to cure all evils and designed to absorb alcohol in UVA college students who visit the White Spot.  It's two glazed doughnuts, slathered in butter and then tossed on the grill until caramelized.  Then, just to make sure you have enough sugar coursing through your veins, it's topped with at least one dollop of vanilla ice cream.  Add chocolate topping at your own risk.

But I'm getting off track.

As a former resident of P A (that's what the locals call Pennsylvania), and when I could afford the calories more, I loved Philly cheesesteaks.  The recipe?  A standard white Italian roll of bread, shaved steak, grilled onions and white cheese.  If you were daring, you'd add a dash of marinara sauce (or just about anything else - everybody's got their own variances). 

It seems, however, that the place to get the best Philly cheesesteak is a matter of dispute.  There seems to be little, if no dispute that Pat Olivieri invented the sandwich back in the 30's.  His two grandsons, who each operate a Philly cheesesteak eatery, disagree over who makes the best one, and who's entitled to use the trademarked name.

But you don't have to travel to Philly to make your own.  The recipe can be easily duplicated, but you have to stick to the recommended main ingredients to get the full effect.

It just tastes better in Philly, but MIPTC won't recommend one Olivieri eatery over the other.  I've had both, and they're both terrific.

Printer friendly page Posted by J. Craig Williams on Saturday, October 21, 2006 at 17:05 Comments (0) |

Should Snarky S's Sneak Into High Court Opinions? We Need A Ruling.

It's a tough philosophical divide, and one that needs a ruling from an entity with more authority than the United States Supreme Court, since the nine justices can't agree on how to handle grammar.  What am I talking about?  That most confounding of all grammatical rules:  whether to add an apostrophe to a word that ends in an "S."  If you count the votes, however, you'll see that the Supreme Court's ruling in its Kansas v. Marsh June 2006 opinion is 7-2 against adding an extra "S" to a word that already ends in an "S."

Say, for example, "Williams."  Admittedly, I have a dog in this fight.

We're led into this debate by Grammarian extraordinaire Jonathan M. Starble, who is an attorney in West Hartford, Connecticut.  He must be a saint to address this issue since he doesn't suffer from the same malady as Justices Thomas, Stevens, Roberts and me, among many others.  Not others'.   And where does that period go anyway - inside or out? 

Mr. Starble's article, headlined Gimme an 'S' (subscription needed) is a grammatical oxymoron in itself, but that's another story.  He offers an insightful look at the High Court's usage of the plural possessive over the course of several cases, and examines in detail how each justice has approached the problem. 

His conclusion indicates that Justice Thomas adopts the hard-and-fast rule that no word ending in 'S' deserves another 'S' after it.  Justice Souter, on the other hand, takes a more flexible approach:  "s should always be added after the apostrophe when forming a singular possessive, regardless of whether the nonpossessive form already ends in s."

Then he examines Justice Scalia's practice, which not surprisingly is all over the map:  "Scalia appears to believe that most singular nouns ending in s still demand an additional s after the apostrophe."  Then Mr. Starble notes, "it would seem that he believes the extra s should be omitted if the existing s is preceded by a hard consonant sound.  So, whereas Thomas makes his s determination based strictly on spelling, Scalia appears to look beyond the spelling and examine pronunciation as well."

Justice Stephens, otherwise avoids the entire issue, in the case and constructed his sentences to avoid the possessive question. 

So what is the answer?

MIPTC consulted the authorities, as well as Messrs. Starble, Thomas, Roberts, Souter and Stevens, and found a series of rules that will drive even the most dedicated grammarian crazy.  The most widely accepted legal grammarian, Brian Garner (who took on the task or rewriting Black's Law Dictionary) puts the basic rule this way in his A Dictionary of Modern Legal Usage:  "A.  Generally.  The best practice, advocated by [Grammar Gods] Strunk & White in The Elements of Style and by every other authority of superior standing, is to add -'s to all singular possessives . . . To form the plural possessive, an apostrophe is added to the -s- of the plural, e.g. Bosses'."

Not all authorities agree, however.  I guess that's what make some less superior than Mr. Garner advocates.  Take, for example, H.W. Fowler's A Dictionary of Modern English Usage.  Here's what Mr. Fowler has to say:  "It was formerly customary, when a word ended in -s, to write its possessive with an apostrophe but no additional s . . . But elsewhere we now usually add the s and the syllable - always when the word is monosyllabic, and preferably when it is longer."  That's Justice Souter's version. 

For the apostrophe-challenged, here's an easy way to think of it:  add the apostrophe and another "S" if you pronounce the second "S" when you say the word.  For my name, it would be Williams's, even though my grammar checker wants to make it William's.    

But be careful.

For Justice Thomas, it's Thomas'.

At least that's MIPTC's ruling.

Printer friendly page Posted by J. Craig Williams on Friday, October 20, 2006 at 20:24 Comments (1) |

The City Ordered To Repay Macy's Overpaid Taxes, With Interest

Taxes can be very . . . well, taxing, to say the least.  Most of us don't like paying them, but then when we find out that we're paying taxes twice on the same thing, well, that's really frustrating. 

Macy's was so frustrated with San Francisco's tax system that it asked for a refund, and when The City refused, Macy's sued.  Here's how the tax system worked in San Fran:  businesses were required to calculate taxes based on both payroll expenses and gross receipts, and then pay the larger (you're not surprised, are you?) of the two calculated amounts. 

There was just one problem with that scheme.  If your business operated only in The City (which is coextensive with The County), then your payroll expenses would almost always outstrip your gross receipts.  On the other hand, if like Macy's, your business operated both in and outside of San Francisco, then your gross receipts would almost always be higher than your payroll taxes, and you would end up paying more than the businesses inside The City.

Macy's saving grace was based on the United States and the California Constitutions, which both prevent discriminatory tax schemes like this one, typically referred to as a "tandem tax."  After a one-day trial, Macy's was able to show that it paid 1.2% more in taxes than local, in-City businesses.  The trial court ordered The City to refund the taxes, and awarded Macy's its attorneys fees and costs. 

But hold on a moment, said The City.

The City appealed, claiming that to refund the taxes would put Macy's in a better position than businesses inside The City and County of San Francisco, and that just couldn't be allowed.  I guess The City missed the part that overtaxing business who operated outside The City wasn't allowed, either, buy hey, I'm just a lawyer.

The Appellate Court understood the argument, and understood the tax scheme much better than San Francisco did.  In the case entitled:  Macy's Department Stores v. City and County of San Francisco, it ordered The City to repay only the increased differential that The City had overcharged Macy's.  The Appellate Court also saw the case as more of a draw than a victory for either side, and ordered the trial court to reconsider its award of attorneys fees and costs to Macy's.  It did, however, uphold the trial court's award of interest on the overcharged taxes at seven percent. 

Call me silly, but an illegal tax scheme is an illegal tax scheme, and The City should be paying all of Macy's attorneys fees and costs, and also giving Macy's a kicker for standing up and fighting City Hall.

Printer friendly page Posted by J. Craig Williams on Thursday, October 19, 2006 at 13:33 Comments (0) |

Coast to Coast Internet Radio Separate Church and State

Weeks ago, Congress removed a provision in a military bill that would have allowed chaplains to offer prayer at mandatory non-denominational events.  Christian conservatives in Congress are expected to renew their fight to allow military chaplains to pray in the name of Jesus at public events, citing First Amendment rights.

Join me and my fellow blogger and co-host Bob Ambrogi as we discuss the spirited topic on Coast to Coast with three lively expert guests: Charles L. "Chip" Babcock, one of the top First amendment lawyers in the country from Jackson Walker LLP, David W. New, Esq., popular speaker for religious freedom issues, the Constitution and the First Amendment and contributor to Faith & Action and Eliot Mincberg, Vice President, General Counsel and Legal Director of People For the American Way Foundation.


Printer friendly page Posted by J. Craig Williams on Wednesday, October 18, 2006 at 11:43 Comments (0) |

Boys And Their Toys: Over Water, Over Land, And Be Fast About It.

MIPTC is going to take a day off from the occasionally mundane word of the law.  But I won't venture too far; at least not far from the world of patents.  Let's look at one company that owns several. 

First, however, I have to admit to something you may already know.  I'm a geek.  Computers fascinate me, but I'm also a diver and a driver.  So, when I saw a website that opens up both possibilities, it intrigued me, and may do the same for you, too. 

How would you like to take a patented car, an RV, a bus and an off-road vehicle, and be able to not only drive them on the road, but also drive them across the water as well?  Cool Amphibious Manufacturers International, LLC has all four, by two - land and water.  The company now plans to mass produce the vehicles, especially the car, called the Hydra Spyder.  The Spyder sells for $155,000, and can be yours with the jet impeller and a fish finder if you want to take a fishing detour on the way home.

The Spyder can travel at 70 mph on land, and 50 mph on water.  An astonishing performance when you consider that one vehicle handles both modes of transportation.  It also gets between 16 to 18 miles per gallon as it zooms across the ground.  Pull one up to your dock.

Printer friendly page Posted by J. Craig Williams on Tuesday, October 17, 2006 at 23:47 Comments (0) |

Who's Running For President Next Term? Don't Use That Bumper Sticker.

Sometimes it's like manna from heaven.  Try as I might, I can't make up the stuff that just falls from above.  Like this one, for example:  the nurse in Georgia who got a ticket for a bumper sticker on her car that read:  "I'm tired of all the BUSH****."   A Georgia cop perceived it as obscene and pulled her over.  Of course MIPTC wouldn't be so lowbrow to reproduce the rest of the actual bumper sticker here, so you'll just have to click on this link to another website to read it.  No, of course you can't say that on TV, it's one of the seven dirty words outlawed by the FCC.  But you can read it on the Huffington Post

According to this Associated Press article on CNN, "Denise Grier, 47, of Athens, Georgia, got a $100 ticket in March after a DeKalb County police officer spotted the bumper sticker ..." 

Fortunately for her, the ticket got tossed, because the law that prevented lewd or profane stickers or decals on vehicles was declared unconstitutional in 1990 (yes, that's 16 years ago), but she wasn't satisfied.  Now, she's filed suit to recover damages from the experience.  Ya gotta love America.  She's being represented by the ACLU and seeking punitive damages. 

You can decide who's behind the times in the South:  the cops or the ACLU.  Or maybe I'm the one behind the times.

Printer friendly page Posted by J. Craig Williams on Monday, October 16, 2006 at 01:24 Comments (1) |

Bail Bond Forfeited Despite Delay In Hearing Requiring Defendant's Appearance

If you're a bail bond company, and you put up a bond to ensure that someone appears in Court, don't be surprised when the court cashes the bond if the defendant fails to appear.  Even if it's been over two years. 

That's exactly what the Court did in the case entitled People v. Ranger Insurance Company.  That's the whole purpose of the bond.

Printer friendly page Posted by J. Craig Williams on Sunday, October 15, 2006 at 18:29 Comments (0) |

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