“N.J. Supreme Court to Decide if Leaving Kid in Car for a Few Minutes Equals Child Abuse”

On a cool and overcast day, a mother in New Jersey left her sleeping child in a running car for a few minutes to enter a store, with no injurious consequences — except that she herself was tossed onto a child abuse registry. She is now contesting the denial of a hearing, and David Pimentel summarizes what is at stake [Lenore Skenazy]:

If the N.J. Supreme Court upholds the lower court, child-left-in-car cases in New Jersey will be very straightforward. Even if the investigation shows that no criminal child endangerment occurred (so charges are dropped), absent extenuating circumstances, it will be virtually automatic that the parent will be branded as a “child abuser” for the rest of his or her life. Not only is the parent presumed guilty, the parent is not even entitled to a hearing to prove his or her innocence.

Federal judge: families can sue Philadelphia over its forfeiture practices

“A lawsuit challenging the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office’s use of state civil-forfeiture laws will proceed in federal court after a judge rejected calls from city lawyers to throw it out….Of the four plaintiffs seeking class-action status, three had their houses threatened after relatives were accused of dealing drugs on their properties. None of them have been accused of involvement in a crime.” Under a procedure called “seize and seal,” the city grabs real estate before owners have had a hearing in court. [Philadelphia Inquirer] “The fourth plaintiff’s car was seized after his arrest for possession of drug paraphernalia.”

Brad Pitt options book on Chevron/Ecuador case

“Brad Pitt’s production company has edged out George Clooney’s to win the film rights to a book about the epic, fraud-marred Ecuadorian environmental suit against Chevron, according to two sources with indirect knowledge of the situation.” Back story: “Pitt is known to have been interested in the Lago Agrio pollution for several years, and has visited Ecuador with his wife, Angelina Jolie, to observe the situation and meet with [plaintiff lawyer Steven] Donziger’s team.” However, the book, Paul Barrett’s Law of the Jungle, includes much detail unfavorable to Donziger, who has lashed out against it and numerous other journalistic treatments of the affair such as Michael Goldhaber’s Crude Awakening. [Roger Parloff, Fortune] We’ve been covering the story for years, but alas have yet to hear from any stars interested in optioning rights.

Why would the IRS be outsourcing tax audits to a private law firm?

Sen. Orrin Hatch wants to know why the Internal Revenue Service has hired Quinn Emanuel to assist in auditing Microsoft, with the power to compel sworn testimony [Sean Hackbarth, Institute for Legal Reform] For a sampling of the complications that can arise when governments hire outside law firms to prosecute tax cases, see our coverage of the Mississippi/MCI case or, in another part of the forest, the IRS’s periodic experiments with using private debt collection lawyers.

“Netflix for vinyl” meets a legal stumbling block

There was much excitement about a “Netflix for vinyl” that would send music-minded subscribers a curated surprise selection of records they could listen to, then send back at their leisure for a new set of unexpected picks. No one seems to have reckoned with the part of federal law known as “section §109(b), popularly known as the Record Rental Amendment of 1984, which makes it illegal to rent records.” [Michael Nelson, Stereogum]

Charles Murray’s recommendations for books on the U.S. legal system

Honored that two of mine, The Litigation Explosion and The Rule of Lawyers, are among seven that author Charles Murray (most recently of By the People) has recommended if you’d like to understand the state of the U.S. legal system [Benjamin Weingarten, The Blaze] I can recommend all the other books on the list as well, including the four by well-known author Philip K. Howard, often mentioned in this space, and The American Illness: Essays on the Rule of Law, edited by George Mason lawprof F.H. Buckley, a recent and underappreciated gem. Its contributors include Stephen Bainbridge, Todd Zywicki, Richard Epstein, George Priest and many well-known legal academics.

The petty tyranny of the FDA’s coming trans fat ban

Don’t count on donuts, frozen pizza, coffee creamers, or canned cinnamon rolls to go on tasting the same — and don’t count on the federal government to respect your choices in the matter [Peter Suderman, earlier] And of course it was public health advocates and the federal government who helped push foodmakers into the use of trans fats in the first place. Some choices do remain to you in the realm of food, so say yes to Mark Bittman’s red lentil dal, no to his politics [Julie Kelly and Jeff Stier, Forbes]

May 21 roundup