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The Case of the Teeny Weeny Bikini, and Other Legal Weirdness Print E-mail
by John Browning    Wed, Jun 5, 2013, 09:23 pm

          Any job can get a little boring, doing the same thing day in and day out—even when you’re a federal judge.  I recently wrote an article about a federal judge who issued an order riddled with “Star Trek” references; I guess it was a slow day at the courthouse.  Apparently, he’s not the only judge recently to liven up his opinion with amusing wordplay.  In April, U.S. District Judge Fred Biery in San Antonio creatively confronted a gentleman’ club’s challenge (on First Amendment grounds) to a San Antonio city ordinance requiring dancers to wear pasties to cover their breasts.  Judge Biery had a lot of fun with this opinion, liberally sprinkling it with double-entendres and cheeky references (he also notes that while there were no amicus curiae  briefs filed, “the Court has been blessed with volunteers known in South Texas as “curious amigos” to be inspectors general to perform on sight visits at the locations in question”).


          Among other risqué turns of phrase, Judge Biery notes that “Plaintiffs clothe themselves in the First Amendment” seeking to prevent another “naked grab of unconstitutional power.”  The Plaintiffs, according to Judge Biery, warned that the ordinance would “strip them of their profits” and impact “their bottom line,” while the city wanted these businesses “to be girdled more tightly.”  What the Plaintiffs were seeking, said Judge Biery, was the “erection of a constitutional wall separating themselves from the regulatory power of city government.”  In considering the clubs’ argument that they would be negatively impacted by being forced to choose between having dancers wear bikini tops (or pasties) and not be regulated, or go topless and be considered a sexually-oriented business, Judge Biery opined “To bare, or not to bare, that is the question.”  While he doubted that “several square inches of fabric will stanch the flow of violence and other secondary effects emanating from these businesses,” Judge Biery nevertheless sided with the city and denied the clubs’ request for an injunction.  However, he held out hope for a settlement, saying that if the parties happened to “string” the bikini case out (Judge Biery even entitled his order “The Case of the Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Bikini Top vs. The (More) Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Pastie”), “the court encourages reasonable discovery intercourse as they navigate the peaks and valleys of litigation, perhaps to reach a happy ending.”  Time for a cold shower, judge.


          From a judge dealing with dancers exposing too much to a judge ordered to show more than she wants, we come to the case of Joan Orie Melvin.  Melvin, a former justice of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, was convicted of using public resources—her staff workers—in her political campaign.  The former judge was spared prison time, but has to serve 3 years of house arrest, pay a fine, and work in a soup kitchen 3 times a week.  But the most interesting part of her punishment is a public shaming for what Judge Lester Nauhaus called “stunning arrogance.” Melvin will have to write a letter of apology to every judge in the state—on a photograph of herself wearing handcuffs.


          And if public humiliation is your thing, consider this recent exchange in a high-profile sex trafficking case in New York.  Howard Greenberg was vigorously defending his client, accused pimp Vincent George, maintaining that the women weren’t victims, but instead were happy “hoes” who considered themselves part of George’s “family.”  The prosecutor called a “trauma bonding” expert, Chitra Raghavan, a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, to testify about why prostitutes might put up with and even defend their pimps.  Greenberg suggested that the women’s decision to sell their time was no different from, say, the expert witness herself—bought and paid for by the prosecution.  I’ve referred to experts “whoring themselves out” before, but this takes the cake.


          Some lawyers or witnesses are valuable because of their insider knowledge of a company; as the expression goes, they “know where the bodies are buried” (in New Jersey, that saying is sometimes meant much more literally).  At one British law firm, they really do know where the bodies are.  In May, the body of a 42 year-old man was discovered in the chimney at Moody and Woolley Solicitors in Derby.  Builders called in by the firm to fix a hole on the roof found signs of an attempted break-in and then, in the chimney, the body of 42 year-old Kevin Gough; the body was believed to have been stuck there for several weeks.  Not surprisingly, concerns were raised by staff about flies and a smell at the office, leading to the grisly discovery.


          Moving from the dead to the walking dead, Jerimiah Hartline must watch a lot of TV—maybe too much.  The Tennessee man had a creative defense when he was caught after stealing a big-rig truck in California, causing several accidents and ultimately overturning.  He said he had to speed and swerve because of the zombies that were pursuing him.  The “zombie defense” ultimately didn’t work, leading Hartline to plead guilty; he faces up to 5 years in prison.


          And finally, here’s yet another sign that society feels it is okay to despise lawyers.  Columbia University recently made the newswires with the report that it was trying to get rid of a longstanding scholarship that many perceive as racist.  The Lydia C. Roberts Graduate Fellowship was established at Columbia after its namesake died and left most of her $509,000 estate to the school in 1920.  Up until recently, the fellowship was given out to candidates who met its restrictions, including that the recipient must be from Iowa and must be “of the Caucasian race.”  While the “whites only” aspect is the only part of the fellowship that Columbia administrators now have a problem with, one other restriction in the fellowship’s restrictions apparently was okay with the university and the media: Roberts Fellows are prohibited from studying law.  Mamas, don’t let your babies grow up to be lawyers!

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