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Walter Olson

The coroner’s inquest, familiar to readers of Agatha Christie, might be worth importing to the U.S. to look into police-caused deaths [Josh Voorhees, Slate, on ideas of Paul MacMahon]

Related: “The Grand Jury System Is Broken” [John Steele Gordon, Commentary, written post-Ferguson, pre-Garner]; New York Times “Room for Debate“; New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman asks for authority to take over prosecutorial authority in police shootings [WGRZ (auto-plays), New York Observer, Paul Cassell]; Harvey Silverglate via Todd Zywicki (don’t gut grand jury protections). And from Michael Bell, “What I Did After Police Killed My Son,” Politico: “In 129 years since police and fire commissions were created in the state of Wisconsin, we could not find a single ruling by a police department, an inquest or a police commission that a shooting was unjustified. …As a military pilot, I knew that if law professionals investigated police-related deaths like, say, the way that the National Transportation Safety Board investigated aviation mishaps, police-related deaths would be at an all time low.” (& Wisconsin aftermath)

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That’s National Public Radio, summarizing a new report from the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics that tells a very different story from the “1 in 5″ campus sexual assault slogan heard from the White House on down. Earlier here, etc.

P.S. Cato has now posted my Commentary article from last year on federal pressure for universities to reduce the procedural rights of accused students and faculty.

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“The vellum comes from the grass-fed cows of an area farm; to give the cows more agency in the vellum-making process, I let them choose the pumice I will treat their hides with after slaughter. I also make my own ink, using the ink of squid I raise myself in a PETA-approved salt-water aquarium in my office. …Don’t be lulled into a complacent life filled with …lawsuits that don’t reflect your uniqueness.” [McSweeney's, parody]

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I and others had criticized the Susquenita school district (more) for requiring middle schoolers to submit to drug tests as a condition of taking part in extracurricular activities, but the policy is gone now. [Harrisburg Patriot-News]

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“… the political class… uses the multiplication of criminal offenses as a form of moral exhibitionism.” [George Will, Washington Post/syndicated]

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Update: while the resulting regulatory costs could sink kitchen-table-based producers, the regulations don’t appear to be new [Reddit, Medical Daily; links and description updated] “Why aren’t underpants a medical device?” [Reddit commenter]

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Liability roundup

by Walter Olson on December 12, 2014

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“…the Seychelles or Tonga would have worked just as well.” David Rivkin and Andrew Grossman say President Obama is using international law to advance domestic controls on the sly.

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A question of consent: “The case has produced no evidence thus far that the couple’s love faded, that Donna failed to recognize her husband or that she asked that he not touch her, said Rayhons’ son Dale Rayhons, a paramedic and the family’s unofficial spokesman.” Mrs. Rayhons, who suffered from Alzheimer’s disease, is dead now and can’t testify. “In interviews, Rayhons said his life and reputation are already ruined. … He says he’s most distraught about being kept from Donna during the last weeks of her life.” [Bryan Gruley, Bloomberg, via @amyalkon] (& Scott Greenfield, Eugene Volokh)

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  • Supreme Court suggests sanctions against patent practitioner over eccentric if not incomprehensible certiorari petition [Will Baude]
  • Some copyright and patent owners pursue market-based self-help remedies against infringement [Glenn Lammi/WLF, more]
  • DC Comics sues Spain’s Valencia soccer team because its bat logo is too similar to that of Batman [Yahoo]
  • Federal judge dings California lawyer $87K, finding suit against online news aggregator to be baseless [ABA Journal]
  • “Evidence from opera on the efficacy of copyright” [Michela Giorcelli/Petra Moser, SSRN via Tyler Cowen]
  • Go ask Alice: patent litigation takes a hit after SCOTUS ruling [Legal Ethics Forum, Alex Tabarrok]
  • Adam Carolla managed to crowdfund defense against patent plaintiff, usual cautions against trying this at home [Above the Law]

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Ben Edelman has a law degree from Harvard Law School, a teaching position at Harvard Business School, and an economics and business background that has brought him such consulting clients as Microsoft, the NFL, the New York Times. He also seems to think he knows how to make life sheer hell if you’re the owner of a Chinese restaurant in Woburn and Brookline, Mass., that charged him $4 more than your website said because you don’t update your website as often as you ought.

Hilary Sargent at Boston.com has the whole story, including the email trail. (“It strikes me that merely providing a refund to a single customer would be an exceptionally light sanction for the violation that has occurred…. I have already referred this matter to applicable authorities in order to attempt to compel your restaurant to identify all consumers affected and to provide refunds to all of them, or in any event to assure that an appropriate sanction is applied as provided by law.”) Is Prof. Edelman trying to get us to consider him as the new poster guy for Overlawyered?

P.S. Edelman defends himself here. Before the Sichuan affair, the professor was already known for taking an entrepreneurial approach to online complaint [Bloomberg Business Week] “If you think this is bad, you should see his antitrust analysis.” [reader W.R.] And from New York, relevant to a question that may have occurred to some readers: “Can A Business Ban An Attorney Who Has Filed A Lawsuit Against It?” [James Lemonedes, Above the Law]

P.P.S. He’s pulled this before, it seems. More reading: Lowering the Bar; Jordan Weissmann, Slate.

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Should we cheer or boo when outspoken professors at state universities become the target of public records demands filed by antagonists seeking their emails and correspondence? As we had occasion to note during the Douglas Laycock controversy in May and June, there’s plenty of inconsistency on this question on both left and right. Some who cheer FOIA requests when aimed at scholars supportive of the environmental and labor movements, for example, later deplore them as harassment when the tables are turned, and vice versa.

If there’s any group you might expect to take a consistent position on these questions, it’s the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), its members being prospective targets of such requests and thus at the very center of the issue. So what’s their opinion?

In 2011, when politically liberal University of Wisconsin historian William Cronon was the target of a FOIA request by state Republicans, AAUP sent a strongly worded letter on its letterhead denouncing the move as a threat to academic freedom. The group likewise came to the defense of environmentalists targeted by conservatives.

This spring, an AAUP document on “Academic Freedom and Electronic Communications” (see pp. 12-14) was moderately critical of FOIA requests targeting University of Texas sociologist Mark Regnerus and his journal editor over a much-criticized study providing social conservatives with ammunition against changes in family law favorable toward gays. Since no one suspects the AAUP’s leadership of sympathy with the content of Regnerus’s work, this suggested that the skepticism toward FOIA might be founded on principle.

Not long afterward, however, when prominent (and politically unclassifiable) University of Virginia law professor Doug Laycock came under FOIA attack from gay rights activists who disapproved of his courtroom work on religious liberties, the AAUP was quoted in the press talking in a more vague and reticent way of “balance” and saying it weighs in on particular controversies rather than taking general stands.

Now turn to the University of Kansas, where Art Hall, executive director of the Center for Applied Economics at Kansas University’s business school is under FOIA attack, accused of being too close to the free-market economics favored by donors from the Koch family of Wichita (who have also given much support over the years to the Cato Institute, which publishes this site). So what do you know? The state AAUP chapter is actually leading the charge against Hall, its members have raised funds to support the public records demand, and its state president vocally insists that there’s no danger whatsoever to academic freedom in allowing, as a group once put it, “fleeting, often casual e-mail exchanges among scholars to be opened to inspection by groups bent on political attack.”

You might start to wonder whether the AAUP is going to hold to any consistent position at all beyond the convenience of the moment. (& George Leef, Phi Beta Cons; reprinted at Minding the Campus) Update: Judge halts process to review proposed email release [Will Creeley, FIRE]

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December 10 roundup

by Walter Olson on December 10, 2014

  • “Judge dismisses ‘American Idol’ racial bias lawsuit” [Reuters]
  • “Don’t sue your art dealer, because you won’t win” [Shane Ferro, Business Insurance on fate of Ronald Perelman suit against Larry Gagosian]
  • Lawyer with big case pending before West Virginia high court bought plane from chief justice’s spouse [ABC, Charleston Daily Mail, WV Record]
  • Remembering Bruno Leoni, classical liberal known for theory of superiority of decisional law process over legislation [Cato panel this summer, Todd Zywicki/Liberty and Law]
  • “If I ever shoot your wedding, I’ll be sure to add a clause of ‘You cannot sue me for $300,000.'” [@GilPhotography on PetaPixel coverage]
  • “Court Unconvinced by Lawyer Dressed as Thomas Jefferson” [Lowering the Bar]
  • Arizona attorney general to GM: gimme $10K for every vehicle you’ve sold in my state [Bloomberg]

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Great moments in international human rights law: “The European Court of Human Rights says France violated the rights of Somali pirates who had attacked French ships and has ordered compensation for them over judicial delays. The nine Somali pirates should get thousands of euros because they were not immediately brought before a French judge, the court ruled.” [BBC via Eugene Kontorovich]

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House Republicans want answers on how federal agencies’ mega-settlements with issuers of mortgage-backed securities came to include tens of millions of dollars in payments to “housing counseling” groups allied with the Obama Administration [DS News] Earlier on banks’ payments to activists here, here, etc.

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Florida Center for Investigative Reporting via Columbia Journalism Review:

The nonprofit Citizens Awareness Foundation was founded to “empower citizens to exercise their right to know,” according to its mission statement. The South Florida millionaire backing the foundation hired one of the state’s most prominent public records activists to run it, rented office space, and pledged to pay the legal fees to make sure people had access to government records.

But a review of court records and internal communications obtained by the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting shows that the foundation is less interested in obtaining records and educating the public than in working with a partner law firm to collect cash settlements from every lawsuit filed….

The O’Boyle law firm has filed more than 140 requests on behalf of the foundation and a related group this year, including barrages of requests against engineers and road builders. The general counsel of the Florida Engineering Federation wrote in May that it was “debatable whether they are truly seeking records or just attempting to obtain legal fees for a violation,” a concern shared elsewhere:

“It’s a sad game of ‘gotcha,’ the only purpose of which is to generate an attorney fee claim rather than obtain any actual public records,” said Bob Burleson, president of the Florida Transportation Builders’ Association.

A former executive director of the foundation has resigned, citing ethical concerns. Among numerous small government contractors targeted by the demands are charities and social service providers; an environmental remediation firm says the law firm included a nondisclosure demand that would prevent it from comparing notes with others to receive the fee demands. Ten years ago we reported on a practice in California in which bounty-hunting requesters aimed public records requests at school districts in early summer, then followed with legal fee requests based on the districts’ having missed the short deadline for responding.

More: Ray Downs, Broward/Palm Beach New Times (& John Steele, Legal Ethics Forum).

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Yes, that’s really what interim dean Robert Scott announced [Paul Mirengoff, Power Line]:

In recognition of the traumatic effects these events [the non-indictments of officers in the Brown and Garner cases] have had on some of the members of our community, Dean Greenberg-Kobrin and Yadira Ramos-Herbert, Director, Academic Counseling, have arranged to have Dr. Shirley Matthews, a trauma specialist, hold sessions next Monday and Wednesday for anyone interested in participating to discuss the trauma that recent events may have caused….

The law school has a policy and set of procedures for students who experience trauma during exam period. In accordance with these procedures and policy, students who feel that their performance on examinations will be sufficiently impaired due to the effects of these recent events may petition Dean Alice Rigas to have an examination rescheduled.

Lawyers who can’t function after seeing injustice would seem a bit like surgeons who can’t stand the sight of blood.

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