The bizarre twists and turns that the legal world take would make a great Formula One race course. If you don’t believe me, then just consider the following strange offerings from the justice system.
Just in time for Halloween comes this lawsuit from Vancouver, British Columbia. Jian Liang Hu claims in a breach of contract lawsuit that he bought a 35 percent stake in two Buddhist relic stores owned by Han Xiao, after Xiao demanded $90,000 from him. Jian maintains that Han’s business sells amulets from Thailand blessed by monks and purportedly containing hair, finger nail clippings, or other relics from dead babies, along with ghosts from the dead babies’ souls. Jian’s suit states that Han demanded that he provide the money under the threat of “the defendant using the souls of the baby ghosts in the possession or of the defendant to curse the plaintiff if he did not provide the funds.” Who ya gonna call? Ghostbusters!
How far would you go to avoid a lawsuit? Well, if you’re Alan Knight of Swansea, South Wales, you fake being in a coma for two years. Facing theft and forgery charges for allegedly scamming a neighbor out of nearly $100,000, Knight claimed to be a quadriplegic and even feigned being in a vegetative state. Knight was ultimately caught by police going on shopping trips and vacations with his family, as closed circuit camera footage at local Tesco supermarkets showed him walking around. What tipped off law enforcement? The frequent use of Knight’s customer loyalty card at the grocery chain. Knight now can’t get out of going to court and he’s pled guilty to 19 charges of forgery, fraud, and theft spanning more than a year.
Maybe Alan Knight should have adopted the approach taken recently by one New Zealand woman—if you don’t like what you hear in court, just walk away. In October, a West Auckland woman who learned in court that she would be sentenced to jail time simply walked out of the sentencing box and out the front door of the courtroom. No police or court security staff were in the courtroom at the time. According to an eyewitness, the judge said “Someone stop that woman,” but she “just kept on going. It’s quite embarrassing for them really.” The woman, described as a “low risk offender,” had not been recaptured as of press time.
Appellate judges have been known to fuss over all kinds of things related to the documents they must review, from the length of the brief to the margins and spacing to the color of the paper. But in a recent Indiana Court of Appeals decision, Judge Edward Najam, Jr. took exception to a different feature—the “unpleasant odor” of certain documents in the record that reeked of smoke. In a footnote, Judge Najam wrote that the odor was “consistent with that of cigarette or pipe smoke that is apparent, offensive, and consistent. We kindly remind all those who handle the record on appeal to avoid such contamination.” And it’s not the first time the judge has made note of a smoky odor to the record; he made a similar objection in a 2012 opinion. Courthouse sleuths says that the two cases also share one other feature in common—being handled by the same deputy attorney general. Perhaps it’s time for someone to kick the habit.
Smoky appellate briefs are one thing, but what about the other kind of briefs—as in, underwear? One court in York County, Pennsylvania has actually posted a sign indicating that, with respect to the payment of fines and court fees, “Money from undergarments will not be accepted in this office.” Really? Do people really do that? Apparently, in Judge Ronald J. Haskell’s court in York, it has been a problem—and perhaps there have been other issues as well, since another sign near the court reads “Pajamas are not appropriate attire for district court.” I’ve got to admit that courthouse staff are asked to do a lot of things, but handling the damp dollar bills that someone pulls out from God knows where shouldn’t be one of them.
Partisan elections in judicial races are usually pretty dry, even boring fare. But not this one in Washington state. There, a disbarred lawyer and former driver of a Zamboni ice-smoothing machine at Seattle-area hockey games is making a dark horse bid for the state Supreme Court seat of the very justice who stripped him of his law license. John “Zamboni” Scannell, a long-bearded, ponytail-wearing former lawyer, faces Justice Debra Stephens on the November ballot. Stephens authored the court’s 2010 opinion disbarring Scannell for obstructing a multiyear Washington State Bar investigation into his alleged ethical violations, saying that Scannell’s conduct “poses a serious threat to lawyer self-regulation.” If Scannell were to win the election, state officials would face a quandary (and not just over who drives the Zamboni), since justices are required under the state’s constitution to be admitted to practice law.
Finally, we come to a story that shows where the NBC sitcom “Parks and Recreation” must have gotten its comedic inspiration—the Parks and Recreation Department of St. Paul, Minnesota. On August 4, 2014, Parks and Recreation employee Megan Campbell was driving back to her office in a city vehicle when she struck and damaged a parked car—her own 2001 Nissan Pathfinder. So now Ms. Campbell is making a claim against the city for the damages caused to her car by—her. She rationalizes that “Because I was working for the city and driving the city vehicle, I feel they are responsible for paying the damage done to my car.” The city calls the situation “unusual.” Suing the city that employs you for your own negligence? Yes, I’d call that unusual.