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The Lighter Side of the Legal System Print E-mail
by John Browning    Tue, Jul 23, 2013, 10:17 AM

We’ve been deluged lately with weighty, thought-provoking cases in the legal system: the George Zimmerman trial over the shooting death of Trayvon Martin and what it says about race relations in America; the fight over abortion legislation in Texas; and a series of potentially far-reaching U.S. Supreme Court decisions on everything from voting rights to affirmative action to same-sex marriage.  At some point, the mind practically begs for some relief—isn’t there anything out there to lighten things up just a bit?  Well, search no more, faithful readers: here is a roundup of the cute, the funny, and the just plain odd of the legal system.

Wackiest Warning Labels

In June, the Center for America selected their finalists for the Wackiest Warning Label of the Year.  My favorites include the label on a common indoor extension cord—“Wash hands after using” (for those of us for whom the interaction between water and electrical outlets is still a mystery); the warning on a package of rubber worms made for fishing—“Not for human consumption” (thanks for the tip—I thought they were like Gummi Worms, just chewier and without flavor); and the warning on a bottle of spray-on anti-fog cleaner—“Not for contact lenses or direct use in the eyes.”

Having Fun with Lawyers

Perhaps the best way to get back at angry lawyers is to do what Chris Shepherd recently did.  The Houston chef operates Underbelly, a local restaurant that until recently offered a burger called the “UB Double Double.”  When lawyers for California-based fast food chain In-N-Out sent him a letter threatening litigation over the similarity to In-N-Out’s “Double Double,” Shepherd decided not to play David and try to fight Goliath and his army of humorless lawyers.  Instead, he complied with the cease and desist letter by re-naming the burger the “Cease and Desist Burger.”  It consists of two hamburger patties (all of Underbelly’s meat is butchered on-site at the restaurant), two slices of cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, and pickles (Underbelly’s vegetables are locally grown), and just a bit of wry (humor, that is).  Since the controversy, the Cease and Desist burger has become one of the most popular items on the menu.

The Happiest Court on Earth

A family court judge in Arizona recently found the best way to deal with an ex-husband who opposed his ex-wife’s request to take their children out of state to Disneyland.  In granting the mother’s request, the judge wrote “The Court cannot think of any good reason why any parent would refuse to agree in writing for his or her children to go to Disneyland . . . . If in fact Father has refused Mother’s travel requests, then Father’s refusal for the sake of refusal is nothing more than a Mickey Mouse litigation tactic, and just plain Goofy.”  Well said, judge!

I Don’t Know Why She Didn’t See This Coming

Self-professed psychic Jennifer Williams and her Los Angeles company Psychic Readings by Yana have been sued.  The lawsuit by Klarissa Castro claims that the self-styled medium fraudulently took $11,000 from Castro, promising to lift a “love curse.”  The purported psychic was the one who alerted Castro to the “curse” on her love life, and offered to fix it with a series of psychic sessions and the commissioning of a $5,000 painting (to be done by Williams) that would aid in lifting the curse.  Unfortunately, according to the lawsuit, the only thing that got lifted was money from Ms. Castro’s wallet.

 Too Stupid to be a Criminal

There are entrance exams for a lot of jobs, setting a minimum standard of proficiency.  Maybe there needs to be one for would-be criminals as well.  Zachary Tentoni of Southington, Connecticut was recently arrested for the theft of a woman’s wallet in Dorchester, Massachusetts.  How did the police track down the alleged thief—forensic investigation like “CSI,” old-fashioned detective work, or an anonymous informant?  Nope.  It seems that in snatching the wallet, the thief dropped a bag he was holding; in it was the birth certificate of 26 year-old Tentoni and a letter addressed to him from his mother.  Don’t worry, Zachary; you may be too stupid to be a thief, but there’s always the TSA.

I’ve Heard of Taking a Haircut on Fees, But This is Ridiculous

Have you ever needed to get legal advice, but also needed to stop by a barbershop?  Then search no more, my friends, “Legal Cuts” is open for business as a combination barbershop/law office in New Britain, Connecticut.  Attorney Don Howard, who does criminal defense and personal injury law, has an office in the back of the shop.  The Chicago native went to barber school in Illinois before his studies took him to Mississippi State and Wyoming, where he cut hair while studying.  After relocating to Connecticut, he decided to combine his two passions.  Howard says “I love cutting hair and people often talk about their problems in a barbershop.  I think the barbershop is the perfect place to marry law with hair cutting.”  Good luck, Mr. Howard—hopefully no clients will ask you to trim back your legal fees.

Coincidence, or Shrewd Business Development?

The stereotype of the sleazy lawyer is the one who chases ambulances and shows up at accident scenes, pressing business cards into the hands of victims.  But what if the accidents keep coming to you?  For the seventh time (over the past 10 years), the small Iowa City, Iowa law firm of Bray & Klockau has been the victim of a traffic accident.  In the latest incident, an errant taxi cab swerved onto the law firm’s property and crashed into its front porch, damaging it and the foundation.  Previous incidents have resulted in pedestrian injuries and power outages.  The building itself was built in 1902, and sits at what has become a busy intersection.  While the law firm partners have asked the city to put in a four-way stop sign, the city to date has declined.

Now That’s Dedication

How far would a lawyer go to make sure he doesn’t miss a crucial hearing where his client’s interests are at stake.?  Well, if you’re Toronto attorney Howard Levitt, the answer is “pretty far.”  The prominent Canadian employment lawyer was on his way to catch a flight for an important hearing in Ottawa in early July.  Driving through heavy rain that quickly led to a freak storm and flooding, Levitt tried to follow several other cars through an area that looked like a puddle.  Unfortunately, because his $200,000 Ferrari California rides extremely close to the ground, it took just a few inches of water to stop the beautiful machine dead in its tracks.  As the flood water rose, and realizing the tow truck he’d called wasn’t going to arrive in time, Levitt abandoned the vehicle and took a cab to the airport.  After finding out that all flights had been cancelled, Levitt went to a different airport where he got “the last seat of the day” to Ottawa.  He won the next morning in court, though.  Levitt said, “It’s a good ending, except for my poor car.  I guess that’s what insurance companies are for.  But the bottom line was, I had a case to get to.  You can’t let the client down, no matter what personal emergencies you might have.”

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The Dogs of War Still Slipped Print E-mail
by Bob Reagan    Sun, Jun 30, 2013, 03:16 PM





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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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Truth Tellers - RIP Print E-mail
by Mike Giere    Fri, May 24, 2013, 09:16 AM

 "We live in a time where everything is so small that those who believe in nothing are leading those who believe in Something, and the naïveté seems to never end." 


I was a very young executive with the Reagan Administration; they were three wise and seasoned men out of the previous generation.

All were American heroes; accomplished writers, investigators, historians, and operatives - and my frequent luncheon buddies for nearly a decade.


Most importantly, they were all three "truth tellers."


DeWitt "Pete" Copp flew cargo planes in WWII over North Africa and Europe. He would return home to write over 30 books, including several influential, formative books on the Cold War and Soviet espionage, important histories on the development of U.S. airpower, and a variety of novels. He authored hundreds of professional screenplays and articles, worked for the CIA, taught, and finally came to rest in the Reagan Administration in time to be my mentor of sorts.


Joe Dwyer was a teenage Polish-American who was trapped in eastern Poland when the Soviets invaded, two weeks after the Germans had steamrolled into western Poland. Transferred to various Soviet prison camps, he eventually escaped and managed to get to Portugal - mostly on foot - where, with Soviet agents hot on his trail, he was hidden in the U.S. Embassy, and finally delivered in the trunk of a car to a departing boat that would bring him back to his American home. He would return to Europe to fight with the US Army, carrying a Soviet "bounty" on his head as a badge of honor. Joe would spend most of his professional life fighting communism in both Europe and America.


Herb Romerstein, who died this past May 7th - joining Pete and Joe as great heroes of yesteryear, their voices stilled on this side of life - was a giant in the battle against totalitarianism.


Herb grew up to be a Brooklyn communist in his late teens, and then began to question the "cause" as a young adult. Serving with the US Army he saw combat in the Korean War, and returned home to become perhaps the foremost expert on the communist movement in the 20th century, and its transitional "identities" moving into this troubled century.


Herb was a first class investigator, author and lecturer. His knowledge on intelligence matters and investigative expertise led to important assignments in Congress and in the government, including being a lead investigator for the House Committee on Un-American Activities, the permanent Committee on Intelligence, and serving in the USIA. (One of several books he wrote, "The Venona Secrets" written with the late Eric Breindel, remains the gold standard resource for understanding the relationships between Soviet and American communists and their hard left sympathizers.)


Talking to Herb was like taking a walk in an encyclopedia.


These three men and I would meet frequently for long lunches on Capitol Hill, where the intersection of knowledge, history, politics and personalities would be interrupted with thunderous peals of laughter.


I was not so much a student to these wise counselors, but an advocate in training. Looking back at them I realize now just how much they taught me, and I'm grateful for that; but it's what they showed me in their character that leaves me in the deepest debt to them.


These were men who all paid a personal price to sound the alarms of danger over the foreboding presence of totalitarianism - the Soviet menace to liberty in particular, but also to the wider march of Marxism ideology across the world. And they were speaking out in an era starting in the early 1960's and reaching a crescendo in the 1980's where much of the radical left - which is to say almost all of the Democratic party - and the pretend right, didn't want to challenge the communist threat, or worse, wanted to actively collaborate with it. Pete, Joe and Herb were each in their own way regarded as "outliers" and extreme right wingers - they existed professionally on the outer orbit of politics and policy because they told the truth, and they were willing to pay the price for telling the truth.


History, of course, now shows they were exactly correct; the corroding evil of communism had financed, finagled and armed much of the chaos in the post WW11 era, not to mention the long march of cultural Marxism through the political, cultural and religious institutions in the West.


We live in a time of "little" politicians with tiny pedestrian interests of running things for the sake of running things; little minds absorbed with the thoughts of how influential they can be over people who have no way to oppose their influence.


We live in a time of "little" businessmen whose interest seems principally about how to corral markets and governments to do their bidding all at the same time; and "little" businessmen who cringe at nationalism and embrace viewpoints that demand they don't have to have any.


We live in a time of "little" academicians and social professionals, pastors and rabbis, where truth is relative. (Who knew things could be so hard to understand?) We live in a time where everything is so small that those who believe in nothing are leading those who believe in Something, and the naïveté seems to never end.  


My three friends, thankfully for all of us, lived big lives and believed in big ideas. They believed in truth telling and paid the price for truth telling. They missed jobs, lost jobs, and had their reputations shredded. They were laughed at, yelled at, and spat at. They simply cared about the truth more than any of that - even more than their own personal comfort.


They were and they are emblematic of everything we are missing the most of in today's world.


Rest in peace friends, you earned it. 




Mike Giere has written extensively on politics, foreign policy, and issues of faith. He is a former candidate for the US House; worked for Ronald Reagan in 76 & 80; and served in both the Reagan and Bush (41) Administrations.   


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In Memory of Dean John F. Sutton Print E-mail
by John Browning    Tue, May 21, 2013, 10:35 PM

          In the nearly 24 years that I’ve been practicing law, I’ve been fortunate enough to receive some accolades from my colleagues.  A number of these have been for a commitment to legal ethics and improving professionalism.  I look at it as giving something back to the profession that’s given so much to me.  Many of the most important lessons I learned began at the University of Texas School of Law, where so many of the subjects I took were taught by the giants of their respective fields.  To name just a few, I learned constitutional law from the great Charles Alan Wright (of Wright & Miller on Federal Courts), and I learned the intricacies of civil procedure from Michael Tigar, one of the preeminent trial lawyers of the last 50 years.  And my teacher for professional responsibility—legal ethics—was John F. Sutton, Jr., who literally wrote the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct—the bible of an attorney’s professional duties that have been adopted by virtually every state in the union.


          Dean Sutton passed away on April 19, 2013, at the ripe old age of 95.  He is survived by his wife of 72 years, Nancy, as well as a son and daughter, four grandchildren, and seven great-grandchildren.  But he is also survived by a rich legacy—not only the many students he taught over the years, but the legacy he left as a scholar and as an architect of the very tenets by which the legal profession is governed.  John Sutton was raised in San Angelo, the son of a district court judge who was also a rancher.  He inherited a love of the law as well as a love of ranching and agriculture.  Although he lacked an undergraduate degree (law school standards were different then), John entered the University of Texas School of Law, where he excelled and received his degree with honors in 1941.  After briefly practicing law, with the outbreak of World War II he became a Special Agent with the FBI.  After the war, and during the Korean War, John served with the U.S. Army Reserve as a judge advocate general.  From 1950 to 1957, he was in private practice.


          In 1957, legal academia beckoned, and John became a full professor at UT Law School.  He would go on to teach there for 46 years, retiring in 2003 at the age of 85.  From 1979 to 1985, he also served as dean.  He was an accomplished scholar, writing law review articles and co-authoring textbooks on professional responsibility as well as on evidence.  However, his greatest gift to the legal profession was working with the American Bar Association in drafting the ABA Model Code of Professional Responsibility, a task which began in 1965 and lasted until 1970.  At the time, the ethical guidelines for lawyers hadn’t been updated since 1908—and the profession had, to put it mildly, changed quite a bit since then.  A few years later, his work would culminate in the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct, which replaced the Model Code of Professional Responsibility.  A titan among legal ethics scholars, John served for years on the ABA’s Standing Committee on Ethics and Professional Responsibility and on the State Bar of Texas Professional Ethics Committee (including several stints as chairman).  Even at the age of 90, he was serving on the State Bar’s Standing Committee on Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct.


          The honors and accolades bestowed upon John Sutton would fill several articles, and they are just a small part of the rich legacy he leaves.  His name lives on in the endowed presidential scholarship that bears his name, in the Dean John F. Sutton, Jr. Chair in Lawyering and the Legal Process, and in the law society at UT that was named after him in 2004.  His friends and family (including son John E. Sutton and a grandson who are both UT Law School graduates as well) form much more of the lasting legacy of Dean Sutton.  His wife, Nancy Ewing Sutton, was his law school classmate and one-time law partner.  But the part of Dean Sutton’s legacy that I know best was that of a genuinely caring, dedicated teacher who gave the subject of professional responsibility meaning and resonance.  As his son puts it, “What set Dad apart as a teacher was he . . . had some real world life experiences that he loved to share, he made things come alive.  He gave the law relevance.”


          To this day, whether I am serving clients as an advocate or trying to serve the profession as a writer and teacher, I continue to be guided by what I learned as one of John F. Sutton’s many students.  In the classroom, he wasn’t the intellectually intimidating legal scholar whose name was on my textbook.  He eschewed abstract theory, instead reminding us, above all else, to do what was right because our actions would impact real people.  Thank you, Dean Sutton.

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