June 12, 2013
Filing Probate Claim Not Unauthorized Practice
A non-attorney may file a claim on behalf of a business entity in probate court without running afoul of unauthorized practice restrictions, according to an opinion issued today by the South Carolina Supreme Court.
The process for an allowance of claim merely requires the filing of a single page standard form that can be found on a court web page. The form requires an attestation that the claim is valid, timely and unpaid.
None of these activities require the professional judgment of an attorney or entail specialized legal knowledge and ability.
Bravo. (Mike Frisch)
June 10, 2013
Should Ineffectiveness Claims Be Allowed In Termination Of Parental Rights?
The Vermont Supeme Court has affirmed the termination of parental rights of a father who had claimed that his attorney was ineffective and conflicted.
The court summarized the claim
At the beginning of the hearing, father told the court that he was receiving ineffective assistance of counsel. Father argued that his lawyer had failed to pursue various strategies recommended by father to investigate and prepare for the trial, projected that she would not introduce or object to important evidence at trial, and said she would not advocate aggressively for him in the trial because she had been a foster parent and was thus sympathetic to DCF [the Department for Children and Families].
The court explained that it could not assess father’s lawyer’s effectiveness at trial until after the hearing, but did invite counsel to address father’s concerns regarding her preparedness. Father’s lawyer explained that she would, in the hearing, be raising many of the points identified by father, and that she had assessed and made decisions about the appropriateness of various issues raised by father based on her knowledge of the law. She indicated that she was prepared for trial.
The attorney denied being a foster parent and stated she had adopted a child. She had no current relationship with DCF.
The trial court found there was no conflict and the hearing went forward.
We discern no conflict of interest that precluded father’s attorney from representing him. Rule 1.7 deals with a lawyer’s obligation to avoid concurrent conflicts of interest, including not representing a client when there is a “significant risk” that the representation is “materially limited . . . by a personal interest of the lawyer.” V.R.Pr.C. 1.7(a)(2). The comments to the rules explain that such personal interest conflicts may include a lawyer’s business or employment interest with an opponent’s client or law firm, a lawyer’s financial interest in an opponent, or a lawyer’s personal connection to other lawyers in the action. Here, there is simply no conflict. Father’s attorney had no personal interest in the outcome of the case that prevented her from providing father with adequate representation. Counsel had not represented DCF in the past and had no current or past relationship to DCF beyond counsel’s adoption five years previously of a child who had been in DCF custody. This created no inherent bias that would prevent counsel from adequately representing father.
Justice Dooley concurred, stating that he has not decided that ineffective assistance claims should be allowed in termination of parental rights cases. (Mike Frisch)
May 03, 2013
The Emerging Law Of YouTube
The Delaware Supreme Court has affirmed a conviction for Murder by Abuse or Neglect in the First Degree of a defendant in connection with the death of his infant daughter.
The issue on appeal was the admission of a YouTube video posted by the defendant prior to the crime as he "participated in a radio contest by filming himself performing a stunt."
The defendant titled the video "when idiots try to win a contest."
The court here found that the trial court properly admitted the video to counter evidence that the defendant was suicidal. The probative value outweighed the prejudice. (Mike Frisch)
February 11, 2013
Cell Phone Carelessness Sufficient For Negligent Homicide
The New Hampshire Supreme Court has affirmed a conviction for negligent homicide committed by a driver who struck a pedestrian.
The defendant failed to yield to the pedestrian in a marked crosswalk.
The court rejected the argument that "using a cellular telephone while driving does not constitute the requisite wrongful or blameworthy conduct to establish the culpable mental state for criminal negligence..."
Rather, the court concluded that the evidence establishing carelessness was sufficient to sustain the conviction.
The court also rejected the suggestion that court had committed error by admitting the defendant's cell phone records for the period of over one-half hour prior to the impact.
The Boston Glode reported that the Supreme Court argument was held at a high school. (Mike Frisch)
January 22, 2013
Justice Prevails In New Jersey
The New Jersey Supreme Court has reversed the conviction of a middle school librarian on aggravated sexual assault and endangering the welfare of a child charges because of exculpatory evidence that was not known by either prosecutor or defense counsel at the time of the criminal trial.
The court held that newly discovered evidence "severely undercut" the credibility of one of the child accusers.
The child was followed by an adult at all times and was considered a "pathological liar." An informal gag order by the (now deceased) school principal had impaired the ability of the defense to discover these critical facts.
The court noted that the case did not involve either prosecutorial misconduct or ineffective assistance of counsel but concluded that
...even though a defendant is generally barred from presented a claim on [post-conviction review] that has been previously litigated or that could have been raised at trial or on direct appeal, the rules do not require the Court to acquiesce to a miscarriage of justice.
October 14, 2012
Sperm Donor Not Father To Child For Social Security Benefits Purposes
In response to a question certified from federal district court, the Utah Supreme Court has held that a deceased husband who donated sperm to his wife prior to his death is not considered as the father of the resulting child for social security benefits purposes.
The sperm was donated because the husband was ungoing cancer treatments that rendered him sterile. The child was not conceived until after he had died from his cancer.
The court concluded that the signed agreement to donate the sperm did not establish the donor's consent to be treated as a father. (Mike Frisch)
October 07, 2012
Cell Phone In Jail Cell No Crime
The Nevada Supreme Court has affirmed the dismissal of criminal charges brought against a jail inmate who was found concealing a cell phone in his jail cell.
The defendant was charged under a statute that prohibits possesssion of an item that can be used for escape. The court concluded that "it would be virtually impossible to use a cell phone to forcibly break out of, or physically flee from, a jail cell." (Mike Frisch)
September 30, 2012
"Living In Adultery" In Kentucky
A recent decision of the Kentucky Supreme Court turned on the interpretation of the phrase "living in adultery" in determing the disposition of an estate.
The phrase comes from the Statute of Westminster (1285) as adopted by Kentucky in 1796 and most recently codified in 1942.
The deceased was killed in a work-related accident. The only significant asset of his estate was the workers' compensation claim.
At the time of his death, he had been married for four months. His wife (the claimant here) sought a civil protection order and had filed for divorce. They were living apart.
The proofs at trial established that she had engaged in sexual intercourse the night before her husband died.
The trial court found that the single act established that the wife was "living in adultery" and awarded the estate to the deceased's mother.
Both the Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court disagreed, holding that the wife's single act did not constitute "living in adultery."
There are two dissents. Justice Cunningham stated the issue as whether the estate should go to the deceased "loving, nurturing mother" or the "adulterous and absent wife" and said: "Let's be sensible." The dissenters would hold that the marriage was clearly over.
The majority and dissents also disagree over the significance of the wife's post-widow continuing relationship with the person she had slept with on the night before her husband's death.
The majority found that the widow could no longer engage in adultery after her husband's death. The evidence thus was irrelevant. The dissenters would consider the evidence as proof that the marriage was over. (Mike Frisch)
August 10, 2012
Duhl on Dealing with Mental Illness in Law School and Practice
In a revealing and candid essay, and review of the sparse literature on mental illness among law professors, Gregory Duhl (Law, Wm. Mitchell) includes a narrative from the "outsider" experience of his own issues with borderline personality disorder. Among many interesting aspects is his contention that his success is in some senses because of his illness and not despite it--and in that way criticizes some aspects of the pathbreaking book by Louiville's James Jones, A Hidden Madness. Duhl's article is new on SSRN and is entitled "Over the Borderline — A Review of Margaret Price’s Mad at School: Rhetorics of Mental Disability in Academic Life." His abstract:
This essay is about “madness” in higher education. In Mad at School: Rhetorics of Mental Disability in Academic Life, Professor Price analyzes the rhetoric and discourse surrounding mental disabilities in academia. In this essay, I place Price’s work in a legal context, suggesting why the Americans with Disabilities Act fails those with mental illness and why reform is needed to protect them. My own narrative as a law professor with Borderline Personality Disorder frames my critique. Narratives of mental illness are important because they help connect those who are often stigmatized and isolated due to mental illness and provide a framework for them to overcome barriers limiting their equal participation in academic life.
June 07, 2012
Today In Wrongful Death Litigation
The service issue involved a rafting guide who lived a "transient" lifestyle. In response to a summons left at his parent's house in West Virginia, he filed an affidavit claiming not to live there but rather on a boat docked in East Greenwich, Rhode Island. The plaintiffs responded that the self-serving affidavit failed to establish that service was defective.
The court agreed with the plaintiff, noting that the defendant guide claimed the parent's house as his residence on multiple forms filed with the West Virginia motor vehicle authorities.
In an unrelated matter, the New York Appellate Division for the Third Judicial Department affirmed dismissal of an estate's wrongful death action against New York State in a matter in which a visitor to Taughannock Falls State Park had walked past warning signs and was killed by falling rocks.
The incident that led to the litigation can be best understood through this photograph and story at NY Falls.com. (Mike Frisch)
June 06, 2012
One Date Not Enough For Domestic Violence Conviction
The New Jersey Appellate Division has reversed a domestic violence conviction of a defendant who had assaulted another person while on a "birthright" trip to Israel.
The defendant had not known the victim prior to the trip. They "hung out" together on the evening in question at a bar with others and danced together. The "atrocious assault" took place later that evening in the victim's room. The defendant was convicted in Jersalem District Court.
The court here held that the interaction between the victim and defendant may have been a "date" but that they were not in a dating relationship, which is an element of the offense. (Mike Frisch)
May 18, 2012
Maryland Permits Same-Sex Divorce
The Maryland Court of Appeals has ruled that the courts of the state have authority to adjudicate a petition for a divorce in same-sex marriages. The parties involved were married in California.
The court described the approach of the Maryland Legislature to same-sex marriage as akin to a patient that in its "lay diagnosis" is suffering from a "multiple personality disorder." (Mike Frisch)
May 08, 2012
New York Declines To Extend Wieder Exception
The New York Court of Appeals has declined to extend the Wieder exception to the doctrine of at-will employment and affirmed the grant of summary judgment to a defendant hedge fund company and its president, who had fired its chief compliance officer.
The plaintiff had claimed he was fired for reporting misconduct.
The Wieder exception involved an attorney who had been fired from his law firm for reporting unethical conduct.
Chief Judge Lippman dissented:
In the wake of the devastation caused by fraudulent financial schemes - such as the Madoff ponzi operation, infamous for many reasons including the length of time during which it continued undetected - the courts can ill afford to turn a blind eye to the potential for abuses that may be committed by unscupulous financial services companies in violation of the public trust and law. In the absence of conscientious efforts by those insiders entrusted to report such abuses of investors, such behavior can run rampant until a third part outside the company discovers it and takes action. The message that will be taken from the majority's decision is self-evident: if compliance officers (and other similarly situated) wish to keep their jobs, they should keep their heads down and ignore good-faith suspicions or evidence they may have that their employers have engaged in illegal and unethical behavior, even where such violations could cause or have caused staggering losses to their employer's clients. The majority's conclusion that an investment advisor like Peconic has every right to fire its compliance officer, simply for doing his job, flies into the face of what we have learned from the Madoff debacle, runs counter to the letter and spirit of the Court's precedent, and facilitates the perpetration of frauds on the public.
May 03, 2012
Summary Judgment Not In The Cards
The South Dakota Supreme Court has reversed and remanded in a matter where the trial court granted summary judgment to the defendant in an alienation of affection suit.
The plaintiff's spouse had become friendly with the defendant. They talked often on the phone and ran together in marathons. He got divorced in 2005.
The spouse told the defendant that she had filed for divorce at some point over the 2009 Labor Day weekend. They had sex that weekend. In fact, the divorce proceedings were not started until October 2009.
The defendant's summary judgment motion "asserted that [the spouse] had no affections for [the husband] that [the defendant] could have alienated."
The court here found sufficient evidence of affection to defeat the motion.
While the spouse testified at deposition that she had stopped loving her husband in the late 1990s, she had sent him a 10th anniversary card that said "These have been the best 10 years of my life. I'm so blessed to have you for my husband. I love you. Love your wife."
She also told a marriage counselor in 2006 that the marriage had "improved greatly," told another therapist in 2008 that she still loved her husband, and underwent breast augmentation surgery because she thought it would make her more attractive to him: "These facts are inconsistent with the loveless relationship [she] depicted in her deposition." (Mike Frisch)
May 01, 2012
State Beats Off Challenge To Common Law Indecent Exposure Conviction
The Maryland Court of Appeals sustained convictions against a defendant for both common law indecent exposure as well as a statutory offense contained in the Corrections Services Article.
The defendant was incarcerated at the Montgomery County Correctional Facility. He "masturbated in sight of a female corrections officer, while smiling and making eye contact with her, in spite of her orders to stop."
The court majority found that the statute did not preempt the common law offense. Two judges dissented. (Mike Frisch)
April 26, 2012
No Free Bite For Maryland Pit Bulls
A divided Maryland Court of Appeals has held that a premises owner with the right to control a pit bull or cross-bred pit bull dog is liable for damages caused by the dog's attack notwithstanding the absence of prior notice of the dog's attacking nature: "When an attack involves pit bulls, it is no longer necessary to prove that the particular pit bull or pit bulls are dangerous."
The holding in essence creates strict liability for owners of dogs with some amount of pit bull in them. Among the cases cited by the majority is a bar discipline matter from Florida involving the use of pit bull imagery in lawyer advertising.
The court declined to opine on the impact of the opinion on Rottweiler attacks.
There is a dissent of three judges:
Today, the majority holds that a pit bull or any dog with a trace of pit bull ancestry (determined by what means the majority leaves us entirely in the dark) shall be deemed hence forth vicious and inherently dangerous as a matter of law.
A footnote in the dissent:
The majority opinion delivers an unenlightening and unworkable rule regarding mixed-breed dogs. How much "pit bull" must there be in a dog to bring it within the strict liability edict? How will that be determined? What rationale exists for any particular percentage of the genetic code to trigger strict liability?
The dog at issue here was named Clifford (earlier Maryland pit bull cases involved dogs named Trouble and Rampage). Clifford escaped from a pen and attacked two boys. (Mike Frisch)
April 18, 2012
Mistaken For Jew, Employee May Sue
The New Jersey Appellate Division has reversed an order of summary judgment as to two of three defendants sued under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination ("LAD").
The plaintiff (a truck driver) had claimed to be subject to regular anti-Semitic comments from the defendants, who mistakenly thought that he was Jewish. The trial court held that the fact that the plaintiff was not in fact Jewish barred the action.
The court here found that conclusion to be erroneous as a matter of law:
...the individual defendants, all of whom were plaintiff's supervisors, were motivated by their belief that plaintiff was Jewish, and thus engaged in "real discrimination and harassment" of the kind that the LAD seeks to eliminate...That their target happened not to be Jewish should not serve to excuse their conduct.
The defendants had initially denied the comments had been made until a DVD was produced by the plaintiff that had such expressions as "Jew Bag," "F... you Hebrew," "Jew Bastard," "If you were a German, we would burn you in the oven," and "Only a Jew would argue over his hours."
At his deposition, one of the defendants admitted that the DVD was accurate and that he "used the song Hava Nagila as the ring tone for calls on his cell phone from plaintiff." (Mike Frisch)
April 11, 2012
Cynthia Epstein on women in the legal profession
Cynthia Fuchs Epstein (CUNY, Sociology) has republished her classic and foundational study Women in Law as part of the Quid Pro book project. It adds a new Foreword by Stanford's Deborah Rhode. Excerpt on the demise of 'Ladies' Day' in law schools, and other info, found at MsJD blog. And the book itself is at Amazon in paperback or Kindle, plus B&N for Nook and Apple iBooks. Although the book certainly covers women as law students and in law teaching, most chapters are about professional practice as such, in firms, solo practice, public interest work, government, and the judiciary.
Also out in paperback is a book I edited, written by Tulane students: Hot Topics in the Legal Profession 2012. Those two are the newest ones on topic with the U.S. legal profession. Upcoming is a reissue in paperback of Llewellyn's The Bramble Bush, though already in Kindle and other ebook formats. [Alan Childress]
March 06, 2012
Touro Law Hosts Speaker 3/20 on Orthodox Jewish Lawyering and Change in the Profession
Touro Law Center's Jewish Law Institute features Nathan Lewin as part of its Distinguished Lecture Series, on Tuesday, March 20, at 5:30 pm. Lewin, a renowned advocate of religious freedoms and frequent arguer before the U.S. Supreme Court, will deliver a lecture, "The Legal Profession and the Orthodox Jewish Lawyer: Change Over Half a Century." It is open to the public and more information is linked here. [Alan Childress]
February 22, 2012
Keep The Noise Down In Ohio
From the web page of the Ohio Supreme Court:
The Supreme Court of Ohio held today that a provision in the state’s disorderly conduct statute, R.C. 2917.11(A)(2), that prohibits “recklessly causing inconvenience, annoyance or alarm to another by ... making excessive noise” provides sufficient notice for a person of ordinary intelligence to understand what the law requires, and therefore is not unconstitutionally vague.
The Court’s 7-0 decision, authored by Justice Robert R. Cupp, affirmed a decision of the 9th District Court of Appeals.
The case involved a citation issued to Jason Carrick of Wayne County by sheriff’s deputies for a minor misdemeanor count of disorderly conduct. The citation was issued after an incident in which neighbors complained about loud music and particularly “booming” bass coming from a building owned by Carrick at which he was hosting a Halloween party. Carrick initially complied with the deputies’ request that he reduce the volume of the music, but later increased the volume again after the officers departed. After obtaining signed complaints from the neighbors, the deputies returned to Carrick’s property, cited him for violating the state disorderly conduct statute, and warned him that if they had to return again he would be arrested.
After receiving a third complaint at approximately 1:30 a.m., deputies returned to the property and placed Carrick under arrest. He was charged with and convicted of violating R.C. 2917.11(A)(2), the subsection of the disorderly conduct statute that addresses noise-related violations.
Carrick appealed, asserting that his conviction should be vacated because R.C. 2917.11(A)(2) fails to describe the conduct it prohibits with enough specificity that a person of ordinary intelligence can know what the law requires, and the provision is therefore unconstitutionally vague and unenforceable. The 9th District Court of Appeals affirmed the judgment of the trial court, but certified that its ruling was in conflict with a 1985 decision of the 4th District in which that court held that the challenged statutory language was not sufficiently specific, and was therefore void for vagueness.
The Supreme Court agreed to review the case to resolve the conflict between appellate districts.
Writing for the Court, Justice Cupp cited Columbus v. Kim, a 2008 decision in which the Supreme Court upheld as constitutional a Columbus city ordinance that banned keeping or harboring “any animal which howls, barks or emits audible sounds that are unreasonably loud or disturbing and which are of such character intensity and duration as to disturb the peace and quiet of the neighborhood ...”
In Kim, Justice Cupp wrote, “(W)e concluded that ‘Columbus City Code 2327.14 is not unconstitutionally vague, because it sets forth sufficient standards to place a person of ordinary intelligence on notice of what conduct the ordinance prohibits. The ordinance incorporates an objective standard by prohibiting only those noises that are “unreasonably loud or disturbing.” The ordinance provides specific factors to be considered to gauge the level of the disturbance, namely, the “character, intensity and duration” of the disturbance. Further, we recognize that there are limitations in the English language with respect to being both specific and manageably brief, and it seems to us that although the prohibitions may not satisfy those intent on finding fault at any cost, they are set out in terms that the ordinary person exercising ordinary common sense can sufficiently understand and comply with.’”
“We find the analysis in Kim to be applicable here. Contrary to the appellate court’s analysis in the conflict case ... and Carrick’s assertions in this case, the statute at issue here does provide adequate qualifying language to prevent the statute from being unconstitutionally vague. R.C. 2917.11(A)(2) sets forth sufficient standards to place a person of ordinary intelligence on notice of what conduct the statute prohibits. It incorporates an objective standard by prohibiting only noise that is ‘unreasonable.’ This objective standard undermines Carrick’s assertion that R.C. 2917.11(A)(2) permits hypersensitive persons to impose criminal liability on others. Further, it enumerates specific factors – ‘inconvenience, annoyance, or alarm to another’ − with which to judge the level of the disturbance.”
“Additionally, the statute requires a culpable mental state of recklessness. Therefore, in order to violate R.C. 2917.11(A)(2), a person must act ‘with heedless indifference to the consequences,’ in ‘perversely disregard[ing] a known risk that his conduct is likely to cause a certain result or is likely to be of a certain nature.’”
“The record contains sufficient evidence for the trier of fact to conclude that the loud bass music emanating from Carrick’s Halloween party was loud enough to constitute ‘unreasonable noise’ that ‘inconvenience[d], annoy[ed], or alarm[ed] ... another.’ ... More specifically, (the complaining neighbors) were inconvenienced and annoyed by the loud bass music. A person of ordinary intelligence would understand that R.C. 2917.11(A)(2) proscribes playing music at a late hour at such a volume that it keeps the neighbors from sleeping, causes windows to vibrate on a house a quarter mile away, and prompts numerous calls of complaint to authorities. Moreover, prior to citing Carrick, law enforcement officers visited the property to advise Carrick that the music was so loud that it was generating complaints from his neighbors and they warned him to lower the volume. Carrick has failed to establish ‘beyond a reasonable doubt, that the statute was so unclear that he could not reasonably understand that it prohibited the acts in which he engaged.’”
“Accordingly, we conclude that R.C. 2971.11(A)(2) is neither unconstitutionally vague on its face nor as applied to Carrick. We answer the certified question in the negative and affirm the judgment of the court of appeals.”
Justice Cupp’s opinion was joined by Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor and Justices Evelyn Lundberg Stratton, Terrence O’Donnell, Judith Ann Lanzinger and Yvette McGee Brown. Justice Paul E. Pfeifer concurred in judgment only.
The court's opinion is linked here. (MIke Frisch)