We’ve occasionally taken note that relators stepping forward under whistleblower laws are not always the public benefactors implied by the term whistleblower. Now here’s this from a suit that a former contractor filed, teaming up with well-connected environmental group Food and Water Watch [Bloomberg]:

“BP never misrepresented — much less knowingly distorted what it was doing,” U.S. District Judge Lynn N. Hughes in Houston said today in a 10-page summary ruling, finding that the case was ultimately about “paperwork wrinkles” instead of engineering shortcuts.

Abbott and the environmentalists “have not blown a whistle,” he said. “They have blown their own horn.”

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September 2 roundup

by Walter Olson on September 2, 2014

  • Police have traced the crime wave to a single micro-neighborhood in the California capital [Sacramento Bee]
  • “Adam Carolla Settles with the Patent Trolls” [Daniel Nazer/EFF, Reason, related eight days earlier and previously] eBay takes on Landmark in the E.D. of Texas [Popehat]
  • Frank Furedi on law and the decline in childrens’ freedom to roam [U.K. Independent]
  • On “ban the box” laws re: asking about job applicants’ criminal records, it’s sued if you do, sued if you don’t [Coyote]
  • Fake law firm websites in U.K. sometimes parasitize the real ones [Martha Neil, ABA Journal]
  • What C. Steven Bradford of the blog Business Law Prof reads to keep up (and thanks for including us on list);
  • As applications to renounce U.S. citizenship mount, many related to FATCA, our government hikes fee for doing so by 422% [Robert Wood, Forbes]

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“…is bad for the rule of law and for capitalism,” opines The Economist, saying regulation-through prosecution has become “an extortion racket,” from hundreds of millions in Google drug-ad settlement money spread among Rhode Island police departments, to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s muscling in to extract money from BNP Paribas in a settlement of legal offenses against U.S. foreign policy as distinct from New York consumers:

Who runs the world’s most lucrative shakedown operation? The Sicilian mafia? The People’s Liberation Army in China? The kleptocracy in the Kremlin? If you are a big business, all these are less grasping than America’s regulatory system. The formula is simple: find a large company that may (or may not) have done something wrong; threaten its managers with commercial ruin, preferably with criminal charges; force them to use their shareholders’ money to pay an enormous fine to drop the charges in a secret settlement (so nobody can check the details). Then repeat with another large company. …

Perhaps the most destructive part of it all is the secrecy and opacity. The public never finds out the full facts of the case, nor discovers which specific people—with souls and bodies—were to blame. Since the cases never go to court, precedent is not established, so it is unclear what exactly is illegal. That enables future shakedowns, but hurts the rule of law and imposes enormous costs.

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The U.S. government was intent on “repatriating” the ancient remains of Kennewick Man for burial to Indian tribes in compliance with the perceived spirit of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA), though any relation between those remains and current tribes is at best notional. The U.S. Department of Justice and Army Corps of Engineers had thrown their full weight on the side of immediate burial, even threatening criminal charges against individual scientists who insisted on litigating the case. “If it weren’t for a harrowing round of panicky last-minute maneuvering worthy of a legal thriller, the remains might have been buried and lost to science forever.” Fortunately, scientists won in the end, leaving the “most important human skeleton ever found in North America” finally free to disclose his secrets. [Smithsonian, earlier]

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The retreat came after Mike Masnick at TechDirt and Joe Mullin at ArsTechnica pointed out some of the reasons the attempt might be problematic, among them that the challenge had been used widely by other charities before it caught on in August in connection with ALS.

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And thinks to blame economic inequality, but not municipal coercion [David Sheff, Time] For a Northern California tow-and-impound saga that makes even San Francisco look mild, see earlier coverage here, here, and here.

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According to the U.S. Department of Justice, a Fremont, Calif. apartment building’s rule against children’s playing in grassy common areas amounted to “family status” discrimination. Resulting settlement: $80,000. [DoJ complaint, press release]

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Revelations that a single senior Houston police officer served on at least ten grand juries have been an eye-opener to those who might have assumed that the grand jury as constituted in Harris County (Houston) was random or representative in its composition. Radley Balko:

…critics allege that the “key-man” system that many Harris County judges use to pick grand jurors selects for law enforcement officials and their friends, family, and acquaintances. Critics say it’s too easily manipulated, and results in grand juries continually picked from the same pool of people — cops, retired cops, friends and family of cops, and older, whiter, wealthier, more conservative people who both have the time and money to serve, and are familiar enough with the system to even know to volunteer to serve on a grand jury in the first place.

Adding to the problem, grand jury members are invited to go on police ride-alongs, are given free time at police shooting ranges, and are invited to participate in 3D shooting simulators designed to make them empathetic with police officers. Those same grand jurors are then asked to assess the validity and credibility of the police officers who testify before them, not just in routine investigations, but in investigations of the killing of police officers, alleged abuse by police officers, police shootings, or police corruption.

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Three columns to read on the subject: Gene Healy, Glenn Reynolds (linking this site), and Nat Hentoff (like Healy, a Cato colleague) in his syndicated column (thanks for mention). I had a letter to the editor yesterday in the Frederick News-Post drawing connections with local lawmakers (as well as a blog post at Free State Notes with similar themes) and the Arizona Republic quoted me Tuesday on the federal subsidy programs that drive militarization, including transfers to the ever-controversial Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office of Joe Arpaio. Earlier here, here, here, here, here, etc.

P.S. Also quoted on NPR.

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And returns accompanied by more victims. After a private car and public school bus were involved in a fender-bender in Jackson, Miss., police say, things began to get a bit wild: “Precinct 4 Commander James McGowan says the driver of a white sedan, the only person in the car at the time of the accident, left the scene, more than once, and returned with people claiming to be involved in the wreck and injured.” After further altercations, two people present were “charged with disorderly conduct, interfering with police and inciting a riot.” [WLBT]

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Labor roundup

by Walter Olson on August 28, 2014

  • What’s wrong with the NLRB attack on McDonald’s franchising, cont’d [On Labor, earlier here, etc.]
  • Postal union calls in American Federation of Teachers, other public employee unions to kill Staples postal partnership plan [Huffington Post]
  • U.S. Department of Labor uses coercive hot-goods orders to arm-twist blueberry farmers, judges say no [Jared Meyer, Econ21 and Salem Statesman-Journal]
  • “Watch Closely Obama’s Treatment of Unions” [Diana Furchtgott-Roth] “Obama ‘Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces’ Executive Order Will Punish Firms in Pro-Worker States” [Hans Bader, CEI]
  • Judge: massive document request signals NLRB’s emergence as litigation arm, and co-organizer, of unions [Sean Higgins, Examiner] Wobblies on top: NLRB sides with IWW workers over poster claiming eatery’s food was unsafe [Minneapolis Star-Tribune, earlier]
  • Academic debate on union issues already wildly lopsided, union-backed labor history curriculum unlikely to help [Alex Bolt, Workplace Choice]
  • Turning unionism into a protected-class category in parallel with discrimination law is one of the worst ideas ever [Jon Hyman, earlier here, etc.]

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As I and many other writers have noted lately, the town of Ferguson like several nearby suburbs in St. Louis County has a reputation for raising revenue through aggressive use of tickets for minor traffic and vehicle infractions, a practice that many suspect weighs more heavily on poorer and outsider groups. Blogger Coyote, who now lives in Arizona, has some reflections about police practice in that state and also adds this recollection from an earlier stint in Missouri:

I worked in the Emerson Electric headquarters for a couple of years, which ironically is located in one corner of Ferguson. One of the unwritten bennies of working there was the in house legal staff. It was important to make a friend there early. In Missouri they had some bizarre law where one could convert a moving violation to a non-moving violation. A fee still has to be paid, but you avoid points on your license that raises insurance costs (and life insurance costs, I found out recently). All of us were constantly hitting up the in-house legal staff to do this magic for us. I am pretty sure most of the residents of Ferguson do not have this same opportunity.

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Because the federal gun-disabilities provision in question, 18 U.S.C. § 922(n), kicks in on bare indictment for a felony, as opposed to conviction. [The Blaze] But is that constitutional? [Eugene Volokh, more; earlier on Perry indictment]

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Apparently 43 percent of Americans now believe there should be a law against that [Lenore Skenazy] Happily, after years of advocacy from Skenazy (especially) and others, we’re seeing more written from the calmly rational side: “Why I let my children walk to the corner store — and why other parents should, too” [Petula Dvorak, Washington Post]

P.S. “Another Mom Behind Bars for Letting Kids Wait in Air-Conditioned Car” [Skenazy; Brandy Becksted, Ky.]

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Environmental roundup

by Walter Olson on August 27, 2014

  • “Fine for killing birds” is susceptible of two meanings, you know [Coyote on energy production]
  • Lacey Act criminal provisions, of Gibson Guitar raid fame, owe much to influence of domestic forest products companies, and that’s just one of the links between crony capitalism and overcriminalization [Paul Larkin, Heritage]
  • Why California shut down its local redevelopment agencies, all 400+ of them [Shirley Svorny, Regulation]
  • “EPA’s ‘Waters of the U.S.’ Proposal: Coming Soon to a Back Yard Near You?” [Scott McFadin, WLF]
  • Taxpayers shell out handsomely to be sued under Endangered Species Act [Higgins]
  • “How Land Prices Obviate the Need for Euclidean Zoning” [Emily Washington]
  • Casting a skeptical eye on Vandana Shiva’s anti-GMO crusade [The New Yorker]

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The many, many pitfalls of wage-and-hour law: “The Los Angeles City Council on Tuesday finalized a $26-million legal settlement to end a lawsuit over a ban on lunchtime naps by trash-truck drivers. … Sanitation officials had imposed the no-nap rule to avoid the bad publicity that would come if a resident, business owner or television news crew stumbled across a sleeping city employee. But lawyers for the drivers said the city, by limiting workers’ mealtime activities, had essentially robbed them of their meal breaks.” [Los Angeles Times]

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CanadaQueenStampRemember when Canada was regarded as the high-tax, big-government country, and we weren’t? How times have changed. Burger King is considering becoming Canadian through a tax inversion deal with donut chain Tim Horton’s, aware that north of the border “corporate tax rates are as much as 15 percentage points lower than in the United States,” in the words of Daniel Ikenson at Cato, who writes: “If the acquisition comes to fruition and ultimately involves a corporate ‘inversion,’ consider it not a problem, but a symptom of a problem. The real problem is that U.S. policymakers inadequately grasp BurgerStamp that we live in a globalized economy, where capital is mobile and products and services can be produced and delivered almost anywhere in the world, and where value is created by efficiently combining inputs and processes from multiple countries. Globalization means that public policies are on trial and that policymakers have to get off their duffs and compete with most every other country in the world to attract investment, which flows to the jurisdictions where it is most productive and, crucially, most welcome to be put to productive use.” And the fact is that the United States, once the domicile of choice for international business, has slipped badly down the ratings of how difficult it is to do business in various countries. Policymakers “should repair the incentives that drive capital away from the United States.” Full post here. More: Stephen Bainbridge.

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