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When Funny Things Happen On the Way to the Courthouse Print E-mail
by John Browning    Mon, Oct 14, 2013, 10:59 AM

In case the government shutdown has you worried about missing out on all the strange happenings at our nation’s courthouses, fear not; there’ enough weirdness going on in the legal system to keep you happy for quite some time.  Consider the following strange tales from our justice system:


Justice is Blind—Really


David Holton is a district judge in Jefferson County, Kentucky.  By day he calls the shots in his courtroom, presiding over a wide variety of legal disputes.  But on most Friday nights this time of year, you can find Judge Holton in the press box at local high school football games, where he serves as the stadium announcer calling the contests.  While that may not be all that unusual, consider this—Holton is blind.  That’s right: Kentucky’s only blind judge (who played football as a boy until a tumor caused him to lose his sight) is up in the press box for Western High School in Louisville, announcing the plays and keeping the stadium crowd excited.  Judge Holton is always accompanied by his guide dog Buddy as well as his “spotter,” Louisville attorney and friend Thomas Patteson, who acts as Holton’s “eyes” and whispers the play by play into his ears.  The result is seamless, and most people attending the games have no idea that Holton can’t actually see the game.  Judge Holton says, “I can’t see anything at all.  I try to get across what I would need to know, if I were there in the stadium.”  When you think about it, it’s not that strange to have a blind judge acting as a stadium announcer for football games; after all, judging by some of the calls I’ve seen lately in college and pro football games, blind men have been serving as referees for years.


Do As I Say, Not As I Do


In New York, the state’s Joint Commission on Public Ethics fines lawyers for ethical lapses like not renewing their law licenses.  The Commission’s director of ethics and special counsel, Robert S. Cohen, should be more aware of this than most lawyers.  Yet that didn’t keep him from the very embarrassing mistake of letting his own law license lapse in 2012—oops!  As soon as the oversight was pointed out, Mr. Cohen promptly renewed his license like everybody else.  Leadership by example is apparently a concept they’re still struggling with in New York.


Can I Have Your Autograph?  And a Mistrial?


Oscar-winning actor Tom Hanks is a very down-to-earth guy.  He recently showed up for jury duty in Los Angeles, serving out his civic obligation by serving on the jury of a domestic violence case.  But during a break, a recent law school graduate serving as a volunteer prosecutor with the L.A. City Attorney’s Office (but who was not prosecuting the case Hanks’ panel was considering) approached the actor in a stairwell and gushed over what a great guy he was for serving on the jury.  Oops—lawyers aren’t supposed to have contact with jurors outside the courtroom.  The defense lawyer sought a mistrial, the judge wasn’t happy, and the case ended with a plea deal for the defendant.  The L.A. City Attorney’s Office is “reviewing the incident,” and maybe they’ll realize that by using free labor fresh out of law school, sometimes you get exactly what you pay for.


Now Blow Out the Candles


A woman in Washington state recently had to stop by the local courthouse before continuing on to her child’s birthday party, and decided that the cake would be safer with her than left in the car with her dog.  As it turns out, that was a bad move.  After entering the Cowlitz County courthouse, the woman put the chocolate cake down on a table while she went through the metal detector.  Unfortunately, the cake proved to be too big a temptation for 50 year-old Robert Fredrickson, who was on his way to a court appearance.  Fredrickson attacked the cake, grabbing handfuls of cake and frosting before sheriff’s deputies grabbed him and forced him to the ground.  All’s well that end’s well—a local grocery store provided a replacement cake, and “cake molester” Fredrickson has added an arrest for 3rd-degree theft to his growing criminal body of work.


Really Alternative Dispute Resolution


There are a lot of ways to resolve business disputes, and the legal system provides many of them.  But Seattle-area business owner Mike Hanson is proposing a novel way to settle things between his company and San Francisco-based classifieds website—put it all on the upcoming showdown between the Seattle Seahawks and the San Francisco 49ers.  Lawyers for Craigslist have issued a cease and desist notice to Hanson, claiming his business (a Seattle-based company that connects people who need a truck with someone who has one so they can pick up or deliver items purchased off Craigslist) infringes upon trademarks owned by Craigslist.  Hanson issued his novel challenge to the classifieds giant in a recent video posted to YouTube: he’ll hand over everything—his trademark, the company’s phone number, even the Craigstruck shirt off his back—f the Seahawks lose to the 49ers on December 8 in Candlestick Park.  But if the Seahawks win, Craigslist has to drop the lawsuit, as well as fly Hanson to San Francisco for dinner on it.  There’s been no work on whether Craigslist will accept the unusual challenge, but imagine how the legal system would change if everyone adopted an approach like this.


A Case of Blue Balls


Get your minds out of the gutter, folks.  I’m talking about the recent lawsuit filed by Stan Michelman against Blue Man Group, claiming that he was grievously injured by a “large blue plastic or rubber ball” that was allegedly thrown into the audience at a June 2011 San Francisco performance by the comedy/musical troupe.  The Novato, California man alleges that he was not warned in advance that “items would be thrown into the audience,” and that he suffered “great mental, physical, and nervous pain and suffering” and incurred over $40,000 in medical bills.  I’m not particularly a fan of Blue Man Group, but this seems pretty silly to me—especially since the group’s website features footage from performances where they do a lot of strange stuff, like throw blue rubber balls into the audience.


Let the buyer beware, and duck when those blue balls come hurtling toward you.

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