Nov 30 2009

White House Party Crashers Must be Arrested

          So much needless attention has been directed to the couple who crashed the President’s first State Dinner that there is only one solution: Arrest them immediately. Two US senators have finally stepped forward to make this pronouncement:

WASHINGTON – Two senators said Sunday that authorities should pursue criminal charges against the Virginia couple who crashed last week’s state dinner at the White House. This time, the picture is the story. “You’ve got to send a strong deterrent that people just don’t do this kind of thing,” Democrat Evan Bayh of Indiana said on “Fox News Sunday.” Republican Jon Kyl of Arizona agreed, saying, “If it’s a federal crime to lie to a federal agent, and these people didn’t tell the truth about their invitation, then they should be in some way brought to justice here, again, as an example to others not to do it.”

          Finally, bipartisanship we can believe in. The DC Criminal Code and the Federal Criminal Code both prohibit trespassing on government property. Case law shows that obtaining permission to enter property under false pretenses amounts to a trespass, so the authorities would not even have to prove that the couple lied to a Federal agent to make an arrest, as Senator Kyl suggests. (Though that is always an easy out for the Feds to make an arrest when they have no other evidence of wrongdoing, just ask Martha Stewart).
          And while the deterrent effect on future copycats is important, it is similarly important that the message be sent to other reality TV star wannabes not to let their desire for their fifteen minutes of fame cross over to illegality. The Amercian public has always endorsed the stupid and idiotic, we should not support the criminal. Maybe the arrest of Balloon Boy’s parents and these upper crust party crashers will keep people from breaking laws to get on TV.
         This couple is presently shopping around an exclusive interview for around $100,000. An arrest may dampen network’s thirsts for their “inside story” if the act is treated as a criminal offense. Of course, I remember when it was taboo for a news program to pay for an interview, but my kids tell me I shouldn’t sound like a dinosaur while blogging.
         Yes, their actions did expose a weakness in the protection of a President who has received 4 times as many death threats as his predecessors, but that was not the couple’s intent; their intent was to increase their chances on getting on “Real Housewives of DC.” The Feds need to move swiftly on this before CNN or Fox News cuts a check to these people and we see them, all smiles and makeup, on national television.

Nov 25 2009

NY Court of Appeals Hearing More Criminal Cases under Judge Lippman

The New York Law Journal reported today that the Court of Appeals,(NY’s highest court), has been accepting more criminal cases for argument than it has in the past twenty years. This increase in opening the court up to criminal defendants was encouraged by and attributed to the Court’s new chief Judge Jonathan Lippman. This is a pleasant surprise to say the least. I was notpleased when Lippman was named to this prestigious position because he had never presided over a trial as a judge and had not ever served as an appellate judge. He was a career administrator. To make him one of the 9 justices of the Court and then Chief Judge besides, was to me the essence (smell? odor? ) of patronage and just the latest in the series of blunders by Governor David Patterson. And when Lippman promised in his speech at his swearing in to focus on increasing access to the Court, particularly in the field of criminal justice, I thought it was just lip service to the crowd of skeptical lawyers. Well, whaddaya know, he kept his promise. I know this sounds like a minor, esoteric little issue but it is not. What’s been happening in the court is that Governor Pataki packed it with upstate conservatives who greatly reduced the number of cases they heard in general and drastically reduced the number of leaves(permissions) of criminal cases that were granted. The Court of Appeals was following the lead of George W. Bush’s US Supreme Court. That ultra conservative bench accept so few cases that its caseload is down to 1960’s level. It has eviscerated the writ of habeus corpus and grants certiorari (permission) in only a handful of criminal cases each term. This practice has greatly reduced the constitutional rights of those accused of crimes. So when Pataki and his court followed suit, criminal defendants in NY were left without a chance to have the highest court in the State hear their issues. Just to put this in perspective, before Pataki began packing the court with his crowd, leave to appeal was granted in about 3% of all criminal appeals. The Pataki court reduced that to about 1.5-1.8% Just about cut it in half. This year under Lippman, leave was granted at 3% again. So in short order Lippman reversed the tightening trend. It’s a welcome sign that maybe as an administrator Lippman understands what the statistics mean and can spotlight what needs to be corrected. It’s also an important message for the populace to understand that whoever is at the head of the government can shape the law of the land by the justices they appoint to the highest courts of their jurisdiction. Here’s a link to the NYLJ story on the issue:

Nov 24 2009

Record Executive Arrested Nassau County for Not Tweeting!

The criminilization of civil wrongs continues in the arrest of James Roppo. Roppo was the Island Records executive in charge of an appearance for some tweenie singer I never heard of, named Justin Bieber. More fans show up than were anticipated at the Long Island mall where the appearance was set up for. Around 3,000 more to be precise. The police allegedly ask Roppo to send out a message via Twitter telling folks to stop coming and go home. They also want him to “tweet” that Bieber is going to be a no-show. Roppo refuses and he is arrested for reckless endangerment after some girls in attendance were hurt by the pushing crowd.

But what was his duty to act and why was he and not the mall owners arrested? Presumably the mall never asked Roppo to arrange for security, that would be the mall’s responsibility. The crime he is charged with requires that the State prove Roppo acted in reckless disregard of a known risk so what he knew about the crowd and crowd control will be critical. But also critical will be whether the State can prove that his failing to tweet caused the injury to the girls.
While Roppo sounds like he may be a good target of a civil lawsuit, this doesn’t sound like it rises to the level of a crime. After all, this is the same DA’s office that took a pass on prosecuting Walmart last year after a Black Friday stampede at the megastore killed a security guard. The Nassau DA allowed the company to avoid charges by setting up a compensation fund for the victims, and promising jobs for area teens. Certainly Walmart knew alot more about how much of a crowd it gets on that day than Roppo knew about a one-time appearance at a mall. Roppo will be ably represented by my friend Scott Leemon, but he should look to the Walmart case as a precedent for not pressing charges in this scenario. Maybe I’ll tweet him a link to the story.

Nov 23 2009

What’s the blog about?

So why did I decide to start a blog with so many legal blogs (“blawgs) out there? Well, many of the other blogs are about very specific legal fields or are just spaces for lawyers to rant about things that tick them off. While some of my posts may be in that genre, I intend to use this blog to talk about issues and stories from a trial lawyer’s perspective. How would I defend a particular case or why is a particular case important? What strategy would I employ were I the lawyer for the person under the gun? I hope this angle will help to generate commentary and discussion. I strongly feel that the most important social issues were addressed and resolved by lawyers and the court system. Integration; women’s rights; free speech; product safety etc. etc, were all shaped by litigation. So I hope this site will be both a defender of law and lawyers as well as a place that points out the flaws and weaknesses of the system. I hope you enjoy it, but if you don’t, just remember this is just my opinion, you can always start your own blog. If that answer doesn’t suit you, sue me!