The Lighter Side of the Law
by John Browning    Wed, Mar 13, 2013, 10:28 am

Sometimes, it seems as though the cases that move through the criminal and the civil sides of the legal system run from the sublime to the ridiculous.  As strange as a lawsuit or a criminal charge may sound, I can practically guarantee that there’s an even more bizarre one right around the corner.  Here are some of the more recent examples of the oddest moments recently in the justice system:


An Eyepopping Day of Trial


I’ve seen a lot of verdicts described as “eyepopping.”  But that description became a literal one for the jurors in an assault trial going on in a Philadelphia-area Court of Common Pleas in early February.  The defendant, Matthew Brunelli, was on trial for his role in an August 2011 fight outside of the New Princeton Tavern; during the fight, Brunelli allegedly struck John Huttick, causing the loss of Huttick’s eye.  While Huttick was testifying on the witness stand, his $3,000 prosthetic left eye popped out.  He caught it, crying out as he did so, and as several jurors gasped and started to rise.  Judge Robert Coleman, who called the moment an “unfortunate, unfortunate incident” declared a mistrial and dismissed the shaken jurors.


Shouldn’t She Just Wait for the Lindsay Lohan Designer Ankle Monitor?


22 year-old Rebecca Gallanagh of Staffordshire, England may have gotten in trouble with the law, but that wasn’t going to keep her from getting her bling on.  The young woman was convicted of being disorderly in public for her role in a fight outside a nightclub last November, and as part of her punishment, the court ordered her to wear an electronic monitoring bracelet and observe a strict curfew.  But, Gallanagh thought, the court never suspended her fashion sense, so she “bedazzled” the ankle monitor by decorating it with fake diamonds.  She says she got the idea from a reality show, “Big Fat Gypsy Weddings,” and that she did it “to make me feel better about wearing it. . . . It just matched my style.”  But Gallanagh’s act of decorating defiance didn’t sit well with either the monitor’s manufacturer or the presiding judge, who slapped her with a $220 fine for her action (which the manufacturer said could hamper the electronic ankle bracelet’s effectiveness).


The Force is Strong With This One


Better cast David Canterbury in the next “Star Wars” film.  The 33 year-old Oregon man was arrested in 2011 after an incident in a Portland Toys R Us store, in which he allegedly assaulted 3 customers with toy “Star Wars” lightsabers.  When police arrived, they saw Canterbury swinging two of the lightsabers.  First, one officer tried to subdue the man with a Taser, but Canterbury must have learned from a Jedi master, because he used the lightsabers to sweep aside the device’s wires.  Another officer similarly tried to use his Taser, only to face the same result.  Finally, officers rushed Canterbury and wrestled him to the ground.  Evidently, the Jedi mind trick didn’t work either: Canterbury was taken into custody on charges of assault and resisting arrest.


The Problem With Disability Pensions


The New Jersey Police and Firemen’s Retirement System (PFRS) paid out $175 million to 5,067 disabled retirees in 2011, much of which undoubtedly went to deserving former police officers and firefighters injured in the line of duty.  But some of it went to Timothy Carroll, who retired at age 33 from his job as a sheriff’s officer in Morris County, New Jersey.  Carroll claimed to suffer from depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, emotionally crippled by flashbacks of responding to crime scenes, suicides, and car accidents.  On his disability application, Carroll described the “crime scene flashbacks and hallucinations” that haunted him.  It was successful—he began receiving disability checks after his retirement was approved, effective May 1999.  He currently gets $23,284 annually plus health coverage and his disability payouts could exceed $1 million.  But, just a few years after the checks started rolling in, Carroll started a business, Tragic Solutions, LLC of Linden, New Jersey.  What does this business do?  Why, it cleans up gory crime scenes, specializing (according to its website) in taking care of “bloody and/or messy” scenes, including “murder, suicide, accidental, natural and decomposing deaths.”  Yes, this is the same environment that so traumatized Carroll, and yes, there is something very wrong with New Jersey’s pension system.


Lawyers Behaving Badly, Part One


Most attorneys take cash, check, or credit card payments for their legal fees.  33 year-old Wynnewood, Oklahoma attorney Jeremy Oliver allegedly had a different payment plan in mind for one client.  In February, he was arrested after allegedly offering to reduce a client’s legal fees in exchange for sexual favors from, and/or nude photos of, that client’s two teenage daughters (ages 13 and 18).


Lawyers Behaving Badly, Part Two


Manhattan lawyer Ted McCullough had an unusual reaction to assault allegations against him by his wife’s sister, Adrienne Mesko.  Mesko claimed in family court that McCullough sexually assaulted her (according to police, there is still an active police investigation although no arrests have been made).  McCullough’s response was to file a $7 million defamation suit against his sister-in-law, maintaining that she wanted to get pregnant and that he was simply doing her and her husband a favor by having sex with her.


“Zero Tolerance” Goes Too Far


School shootings are a serious subject, but zero tolerance policies have been taken to a ridiculous extreme.  Case in point: 7 year-old Colorado second-grader Alex Evans, who was recently suspended for throwing an imaginary hand grenade on the playground during recess.  School policies at Mary Blair Elementary School in Loveland, Colorado prohibit “play weapons,” but don’t say anything about imaginary ones in the mind of a little boy who was “pretending to be a hero saving the world.”  If only the world could be saved from idiotic bureaucrats and school administrators who are so busy playing “thought police” that they can’t distinguish real threats from nonexistent ones.

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