May It Please The Court

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There are 2034 Journal Items on 255 page(s) and you are on page number 140

You Be The Judge: Approve A Courtroom Stabbing Reenactment?

You be the judge:  the prosecutor wants to stage a reenactment of how a wife stabbed her husband some 200 times.  The prosecutor proposes to bring in the blood-stained mattress, use a "husband" approximately the same height and size as the now-deceased husband, and "act" to show the jurors how she proposes the wife used the knife, straddling the husband on the mattress. 

In a Texas courtroom.

Defense objects on the basis that the State has no personal knowledge of how the murder happened, and cannot stage an accurate reenactment.  Defense also claims the reenactment is more prejudicial than probative.  In other words, the defense attorney believes that the jurors will be unduly influenced by, among other things, the blood-stained mattress and some two-hundred swings of the knife. 

How do you rule? 

Now that you have, let's add in just a few more facts for you:  Defendant Susan Wright admits she stabbed her husband, Jeff Wright, one hundred and ninety-three times.  She claims, however, that she started stabbing him in self-defense after her husband raped her.  The prosecutor claims that Susan instead planned the murder, seducing her husband and tying him to the bed, and proposed to stage the reenactment to demonstrate to the jurors how Ms. Wright tied her husband up before stabbing him. 

Here are some other tidbits you might want to consider before ruling, directly from the appellate opinion:  "On Saturday, January 18, 2003, officers from the Harris County Precinct 4 Constable's Office investigated a report of a dead body in the yard of the Wright home.  In the backyard, they discovered Jeff Wright's partially-buried body in a shallow hole next to a patio.  The officers also found a mattress, box springs, comforter and headboard in the backyard.  The mattress was soaked with blood. Inside the home, one wall of the master bedroom had been freshly painted and a piece of the carpet had been cut out; painting supplies, a box cutter, and scissors were found in the room.  Blood spatters were seen on the curtains and other items in the bedroom.  A receipt for two gallons of bleach, bleach-stained size 6 jeans, and a towel also were found."  The police found these alleged "cover-up" materials five days after Jeff was killed.

Not to be grisly (and you've been forewarned), but if you want more facts, click on that last link and scroll down to the second paragraph of the "Factual Background."  There are some other points, such as how he was tied up, that you'll want to know in considering your opinion.

Did I forget to mention that there was a recently-acquired $200,000 policy on Jeff's life?

The trial court ruled in favor of the demonstration, which was upheld by the court of appeal.  My bet, however, is that your initial reaction was to uphold the objections and deny the prosecutor's request to reenact the murder, but after you read more about how the murder was committed, you changed your mind. 

Should the facts have that kind of influence on the ruling?


Printer friendly page Posted by J. Craig Williams on Saturday, November 26, 2005 at 12:40 Comments (3) |

Don't Worry, The USEPA Will Protect You From Death By Chocolate

Earlier this month, the USEPA declared a new enemy in its fight against air pollution:  chocolate.  That's right; the sweet smell of chocolate can apparently lodge particles in your lungs, supposedly to your detriment.  Blommer Chocolate Co. has been targeted by the USEPA in response to a singular complaint, and has instituted installation of abatement equipment to eliminate the chocolate (dare I say?) odor. 

A quick search turned up no scholarly articles supporting the USEPA's claim, and there's nothing on the USEPA's website about chocolate other than this lone claim.  In fact, other than the consequences of weight gain, it's news to me, and likely you as well.  In a "chocolate" search run on the USEPA's website, the closest I came was to find out that a Monsanto chemical-producing plant is located on the Chocolate Bayou in Texas, which likely has more to do with the color of the water than anything else.  Apart from that, it is apparently well documented that chocolate is toxic to some small animals, but only in very large quantities, and there are no apparent reports of epidemic die-offs of small animals around Blommer's Chicago factory.

So far, MSNBC's informal poll favors Blommer's three-to-one over the USEPA.  Regardless of you're in favor or not, my question is whether you've (or, for that matter the USEPA) ever been to Hershey, Pennsylvania (a.k.a. Chocolatetown, USA)?  There, the smell of chocolate pervades the entire town, but I'm not aware of any USEPA enforcement actions against M&M's or Kisses.   

Gives a whole new meaning to death by chocolate, doesn't it?


Printer friendly page Posted by J. Craig Williams on Friday, November 25, 2005 at 12:54 Comments (0) |

The First Real American Thanksgiving- A Tongue In Cheek Look At The Holiday

Thanksgiving started with the Rockettes' performance for the Pilgrims and Indians that first holiday back in 1627.  They flew them in to Plimoth Plantation from New York after the 135th annual Macy's Day Thanksgiving Parade, which had been continually performed since Columbus discovered America back in 1492, even though Native Americans already knew it was here. 

The Pilgrims' three-day feast started with the balloons, a 4,500 calorie feast, too many relatives and friends from out of town, and an afternoon of Pilgrim men watching three football games on TV (which they called stool ball, but probably bears a resemblance to cricket more than football), followed by the women cleaning up.  The Plymouth High Schools Marching Band finished off the parade, cheered on by the Pilgrims.

Their table was full of turkey, ham, cranberry sauce with the rings from the can still showing, French champagne with Martinelli's apple cider for the kids and of course pumpkin pie for desert.  Massasoit and Squanto showed the Pilgrims how to stuff the turkey, and add in lots of Caribbean rum to keep the stuffing moist and everyone happy.  They passed around the can of spray-on whip cream for those that didn't want any ice cream.  Your favorite vegan, Aunt Edna, visiting from Rhode Island, demanded her tofu turkey and tried to make everyone else feel bad for eating Tom Turkey.  Then there were the distant relatives visiting from New Orleans who brought along their new creation, turducken, combining turkey, duck and chicken all in one bird. 

Here are a few myths to round out our Thanksgiving coverage:  The Pilgrims wore buckles on their shoes (never did).  The Pilgrims were dressed all in black (that was the Puritans).  Americans invented Thanksgiving (that honor belongs to Middle Easterners from ancient times).  The Pilgrims invited a few nearby Indians to their feast (some 90 Wampanoags outnumbered the remaining 47 Pilgrims, after the first winter killed half of the migrants from England).  The Pilgrims ate plenty of turkey at that first feast (the menu included mussels and beer, bread and butter and cider, followed by pompion - Indian pudding - for dessert). 

There are plenty of other myths that surround the Pilgrims and that first Thanksgiving, but you can get the real story at Plimoth Plantation, where MIPTC must tip its hat for some of the "facts" in today's post. 


Printer friendly page Posted by J. Craig Williams on Thursday, November 24, 2005 at 11:30 Comments (0) |

Not Necessarily Neutral On Harley Davidsons

Finding neutral on a Harley is like trying to put an electric plug into a wall socket - blindfolded.  It's not an easy task.  Frequently, a Harley transmission has a mind of its own, and unless you develop the "knack," it's best to keep the clutch engaged instead of stalling the bike out at a stop sign.

For HOG riders, then, today's news of Harley's voluntary safety recall on its 2006 Dyna series motorcycles built between June 9 and Oct. 19 due to a transmission defect didn't come as much of a surprise.  Apparently, the defect allows the green neutral light on the dash to illuminate when the bike is not in neutral.  In response to news of the recall, many of us owners said, "why not mine, too?"

Harley estimates the recall includes only 13,400 bikes, and will cost the company $5.0 million.  If you own one of these bikes, Harley will come to you, pick it up, fix it and return it to you, all free of charge.  Harley's stock rose on the news, at least in some people's eyes. 


Printer friendly page Posted by J. Craig Williams on Wednesday, November 23, 2005 at 12:10 Comments (0) |

Closing Meetings To Discuss Eminent Domain Litigation Puts San Diego's CCDC In Hot Water

You can watch live meetings of San Diego's Centre City Development Corporation online.  Not much of a surprise, but that wasn't previously the case for all CCDC meetings - at least for the ones considering responses to eminent domain litigation.  The problem lay with the distinction in power between the San Diego City Council and the CCDC.  The City Council formed the CCDC as a non-profit corporation to improve the downtown area. 

Because the CCDC did not also get the power of eminent domain when it was established, the City's Redevelopment Agency has to condemn property that the CCDC wants redeveloped.  Just like the Kelo case, the City gets sued every once in awhile when its residents don't agree with the condemnation award.  When that happens, the CCDC sometimes met in closed-door sessions to consider the litigation and give its advice to the City and Redevelopment Agency.

But not anymore.  The Court of Appeal put an end to that practice given the restrictions of the Brown Act.  The appellate court reasoned that because the CCDC was not a named party in the litigation, it had no right to meet in closed-door sessions to discuss litigation that didn't directly involve it.  Avoiding the claim that it was an activist court, the judges noted that if the CCDC wanted any relief from that ruling, it should apply to the legislature. 

Otherwise, in the meantime, it could appeal to the California Supreme Court, which is equally as likely to say the same thing.


Printer friendly page Posted by J. Craig Williams on Tuesday, November 22, 2005 at 18:52 Comments (0) |

Proposition 65 Warnings Inside The Box Deemed Sufficient For Dental Amalgam

Prop 65 law just got a bit more clear, thanks to Associate Justice Stuart R. Pollak of the First, Three (that's the Court of Appeal, First Appellate District, Division Three).  The Environmental Law Foundation sued a manufacturer of dental amalgam, alleging that the manufacturer, Wykle Research, didn't properly provide Proposition 65 warnings to dental patients.

After 1993, Wykle included the warnings on the outside of its box of dental amalgam, and later in 1998 added the warnings to the paper insert inside the box, although it does not appear presently in their online MSDS.  ELF was unhappy with Wykle's Prop 65 warning, and claimed that it was not reasonably designed or clear enough to provide notice to dental patients.  ELF argued that the safe harbor warning was not the best means to reach the patients who might be exposed to the mercury in the amalgam.  ELF also claimed that the warning was not conspicuous enough to assure that it would be read by those who received it.

The First, Three is unclear in one portion of its opinion:  whether a manufacturer must provide notice to the ultimate patient.  The Court termed it an "ancillary issue" that they need not address.  Prop 65 law hasn't yet gone that far, and this opinion doesn't reach that question, but rather leaves it open.  The other portions of its opinion are a model of clarity, and a good read for those trying to navigate a path through this thicket of rules and regulations. 

The appellate court affirmed the trial court's ruling that Wykle provided a clear and reasonable warning and that the notice inside the box was conspicuous enough to comply with the safe-harbor warnings required by the Prop 65 regulations.  The Court squarely rejected ELF's argument that Wykle had to provide a Prop 65 warning sign for the dentists to post in their offices for patients to see.  Associate Justice Pollak also reasoned that the small type in the box insert was sufficient because it complied with OEHHA's regulations that only obligated the use of "one or more" of the methods specified to provide the "safe-harbor warning," although in footnote 8 he expressed some misgivings whether the small font would actually put the dentists on notice of the warning.

Justice Pollak remarked that while the method Wykle chose complied with one of the acceptable methods of transmitting the warning under the regulations, it may be insufficient "to guaranty that the warnings reach the consumer/patient."   He went on, and said, it "may suggest a need for revisions to the statute or the present regulations - a matter not within the province of the court, and as to which we express no opinion..."

Doesn't sound like an activist judge to me. 


Printer friendly page Posted by J. Craig Williams on Monday, November 21, 2005 at 20:17 Comments (1) |

Blogs Or Ads? Clutter That's Not Hard To Pick Out

First we had email spam, then comment spam on blogs, all designed to get you to a particular website that sells, well, everything from Viagra to playing poker to quit-claim deeds.  Deeds? 

Yep.  Quit-claim Deeds.  Have a look in Technorati for Quit-claim deed.  

How did I find it?  Searching for legal news on Technorati.  Shame on Technorati for not catching it. 


Printer friendly page Posted by J. Craig Williams on Sunday, November 20, 2005 at 13:48 Comments (0) |

Catch Me If You Can - And They Did.

Or, Diamonds Aren't A Girl's Best Friend

Here's a riveting story about young girl with humble beginnings who grew up to be an international jewel thief, and finally came to rest in prison at age 75:  turns out diamonds aren't a girl's best friend.


Printer friendly page Posted by J. Craig Williams on Saturday, November 19, 2005 at 13:14 Comments (0) |

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