May It Please The Court

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May It Please The Court
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12/4/2008 - How to Get Sued

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Life On The Open Road: Some Up In The Air About Where To Vote, Some Not

As we slog through the presidential primaries, debates and endless media coverage, there are some folks who are trying to figure out where to vote. 

It's those 100,000-plus (500,000 if you believe one advocacy group) people who drive recreational vehicles, but no longer have roots anywhere but under their RV on a temporary campsite.  The problem stems because they no longer have permanent residency anywhere.  According to Tennessee law, you have to live somewhere, you can't just have a post office box, which is the method chosen by the RVers to handle their mail. 

Instead, the Voter registrar in Tennessee yanked their right to vote there because they live on the open road, so the "residents" of Tennessee filed suit to challenge the registrar's action. 

Now, all 286 of RVers dropped from the Tennessee voter roles can't vote in Tennessee according to U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee Chief District Judge Curtis L. Collier

In Texas, however, some 9,000 RVers can vote, according to a different federal judge, Judge Putnam K. Reiter back in 2000.  You can read about that decision here

The inconsistent opinions is enough to drive any sane lawyer crazy, and the Tennessee RVers, along with the ACLU (who filed the lawsuit), are considering whether to appeal. 

How can we end up with inconsistent decisions that involve the same issue?  Federal trial judge decisions are not required to be reported as precedent that other federal judges in other states can rely on.  If a judge thinks her decision would be of value to other judges in the country, then that judge can have her decision recorded in the Federal Supplement, but not all judges follow this practice.  Unless the case is appealed to one of the eleven circuit courts across the country, then a "trial court"-level decision may never become known. 

Why Tennessee?  According to the Associated Press, most RV full-timers are registered in one of nine states that have no general personal income tax, including Alaska, Florida, Nevada, New Hampshire, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Washington and Wyoming.

But there's an easy solution here for the RVers who are no longer registered in Tennessee:  register to vote in Texas.  They'll still maintain their personal income tax-free status, plus they'll have the right to vote.

After all, they'll probably drive through Texas at some point anyway.

Printer friendly page Posted by J. Craig Williams on Monday, February 25, 2008 at 21:16 Comments (0) |

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. 


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 Posted by J. Craig Williams on Sunday, February 24, 2008 at 22:03 Comments (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 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.


Printer friendly page Posted by J. Craig Williams on Wednesday, February 20, 2008 at 15:32 Comments (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 Posted by J. Craig Williams on Tuesday, February 19, 2008 at 21:04 Comments (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 Posted by J. Craig Williams on Monday, February 18, 2008 at 23:50 Comments (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 Posted by J. Craig Williams on Saturday, February 16, 2008 at 21:46 Comments (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 Posted by J. Craig Williams on Thursday, February 14, 2008 at 00:06 Comments (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 Posted by J. Craig Williams on Tuesday, February 12, 2008 at 22:49 Comments (0) |

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