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Walter Olson

The separatism-minded Spanish region of Catalonia has enacted a law under which “the person accused of homophobic acts will have to prove his innocence, reversing the presumption of innocence until proven guilty.” [El Pais, TheLocal.es] The law includes fines for anti-gay occurrences in the workplace. Advocates defended the shifting of the burden of proof onto the accused to prove innocence as a “positive discrimination measure [that] is already in place for other offenses, such as domestic violence against women, in instances when it is very difficult to prove.” [VilaWeb] (& welcome Andrew Sullivan readers)

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Banking and finance roundup

by Walter Olson on November 17, 2014

  • “How Operation Choke Point Hurts the Unbanked” [former FDIC chairman William Isaac, American Banker]
  • A nation of snitches: “U.S. rules would expand white collar crime informers” [Reuters]
  • Courts should stop giving deference to agency interpretations of criminal law: “Justice Scalia’s shot across the SEC’s bow re insider trading” [Bainbridge] Judge Rakoff criticizes SEC for bringing so many enforcement proceedings to in-house adjudicators [Reuters, earlier]
  • Monitor envy: “The biggest U.S. banks have 100 or more on-site examiners from an array of regulators” and now New York’s financial regulator wants to get into the act [WSJ]
  • Seventh Circuit finds Bank of America entitled to ask loan applicants about expected continuing entitlement to disability benefits, but in the mean time bank agrees in DoJ settlement to cease such inquiries [Easterbrook opinion in Wigginton v. Bank of America, see last page]
  • Two SEC commissioners warn that campaigned-for “fair fund” to compensate investors in CR Intrinsic inside trading case “likely to benefit only class-action attorneys and the fund’s administrators” [Daniel Gallagher and Michael Piwowar, WSJ]
  • “U.S. veterans sue [major European] banks, claim they should pay for Iraq attacks” [Alison Frankel, Reuters]

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Police highway stop forfeiture shenanigans continue in the Volunteer State, assisted by dog alerts. [Nashville News Channel 5]

P.S. Comment from @Popehat: “Proposed abbreviation: In future, will refer to ‘Highway Patrolmen’ as ‘Highwaymen.'” (& welcome Tim Cushing, TechDirt readers)

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Paging Lenore Skenazy at Free-Range Kids.

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I was a guest on Ray Dunaway’s program on Hartford-based WTIC discussing (audio) the new Minneapolis plan for race-conscious school discipline, which is likely to be replicated around the country as more cities and states fall into line with the new Department of Justice policy. Earlier here, and a somewhat different view from Coyote, who writes: “By the way, in today’s legal environment, any private employer who says they don’t put extra scrutiny on terminations of folks in protected classes, or don’t increase the warnings and documentation required internally before firing someone in a protected class, is probably a liar.”

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Reports Angus Loten in the WSJ:

Small-business owners face a growing number of disabled-access lawsuits in the wake of a recent appeals-court ruling giving rise to disabled “testers,” as well as the release of detailed federal specifications for curb ramps, self-opening doors and other standards.

…A November 2013 decision by the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals in a case against Marod Supermarkets found that someone who isn’t necessarily a patron could be a “tester” of disabled-access compliance. That cleared the way for individual plaintiffs to bring dozens, even hundreds, of lawsuits against multiple businesses, as serial testers….

The litigation upswing also follows the Justice Department’s release of a set of compliance standards for the 24-year-old federal disability law. Those standards, which came into force in March 2012, include detailed specifications for long-standing requirements, such as the allowable slope of a wheelchair ramp and the exact height of towel dispensers in accessible restrooms. They also introduced a new requirement for hotels with pools to provide a “pool lift” for disabled guests, which went into effect last year.

Some business owners say the lawsuits accomplish little more than providing revenue to attorneys. …

We warned about the pool-lift requirement multiple times. The article reports that plaintiffs are filing multiple suits against hotels in Florida for not having the lifts; along with Florida, California and New York account for a high share of all accessibility actions against local businesses and retailers, in part because of favorable state and city laws that increase complainants’ legal and financial leverage.

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Aware of New York City’s penchant for prosecuting persons found in possession of knives commonly used in construction and design work, sculptor Jonathan W. “therefore chose the Spyderco UK Penknife… a non locking, slip joint folder, which should have been in the clear. But that wasn’t good enough for the NYPD (who arrested him), the DA (who charged him), or even his public defender (who recommended he plead guilty).” [The Truth About Knives] Earlier on NYC’s crazy “gravity-knife” law here and here.

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Liability roundup

by Walter Olson on November 14, 2014

  • Kip Viscusi: current structure of tort law gives firms like General Motors reason not to investigate risks/benefits of their designs [Alison Frankel, Reuters]
  • California woman in trouble after allegedly sending “faked treatment documents and burn photos from a hospital website” to bolster hot coffee spill claim against McDonald’s [ABA Journal]
  • Despite Kumho Tire, Joiner, and amendments to evidence rules in 2000, Eighth Circuit cuts its own liberal path on expert witness admissibility [Bernstein]
  • “In the BP case, the rule of law is on trial” [Lester Brickman, The Hill, on cert petition]
  • “Fighting and Winning Against Pit Bull Defense Lawyers” [Ronald Miller]
  • Business groups savor victory in racketeering suit over concocted asbestos claims [Barrett, Bloomberg Business Week]
  • Peter Spiro adds another favorable review of Paul Barrett’s Chevron/ Ecuador book Law of the Jungle [Opinio Juris]

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The groundbreaking move follows negotiations with the federal government, which sent out a letter to school systems warning that disciplinary patterns with “disparate impact” were under suspicion. There is of course a reformist cast for rethinking some harsh aspects of school discipline systems, zero tolerance policies being one, but not the only, example. Such reforms might well have the effect of narrowing disproportionately high rates of discipline for students in some minority groups. But the Minneapolis system’s move (apparently encouraged by Washington) to consider race explicitly in the suspension process, with minority kids getting an additional layer of review, raises the likelihood of a challenge under the Constitution’s equal protection clause, as does the setting of an enforceable compliance objective of achieving identical suspension rates from one demographic group to the next independent of whether misconduct rates are identical. [Tom Corbett/Star Tribune, Hans Bader/CEI, John Steele Gordon/Commentary, RiShawn Biddle/Dropout Nation (a different view)].

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The United Nations system’s contemplated “takeover of the Internet” may have been shelved, perhaps indefinitely [David Post]

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Welcome Rod Dreher readers

by Walter Olson on November 13, 2014

I once wrote that a highly litigious society is like a civil war in very, very slow motion. Rod Dreher has similar thoughts here about how the structure of mutual trust erodes when people learn (and are taught) to find advantage in setting legal process against each other. Dreher quotes Iranian reader Mohammad:

…the USA system of justice is such an allure! It invites you to sue. One reason is that you can get money this way. The first thing I was taught in the USA (a lesson I did not learn) was to seek occasions for suing people. I was treated like trash couple of times, and I had the golden opportunity to cash in, but I decided it was totally unethical.

However, there are other reasons why litigation is so sexy in the USA. The system gives you a profoundly stupid idea about what is just and what is not, and about your entitlement to your rights.

Also mentions this site [The American Conservative]

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November 13 roundup

by Walter Olson on November 13, 2014

  • Italian appellate court overturns conviction of seismologists on manslaughter charges following 2009 L’Aquila earthquake [Lowering the Bar, earlier]
  • “The most ominous outcome in last week’s election: A band of big-bucks civil attorneys almost picked off an Illinois Supreme Court justice because they believe he’s a threat to their big paydays.” [Chicago Tribune on Karmeier retention] More: lawyers aren’t through with him yet [Madison County Record]
  • They were expecting any different? “Landlords Say de Blasio Ignores Their Plight” [New York Times]
  • “Liberties,” they said: New York Civil Liberties Union represented complainants who got couple fined $13,000 for not renting farm for a same-sex wedding [Ann Althouse]
  • Michael Greve on citizen suits, deadline-forcing consent decrees, and “sue and settle” [Liberty and Law] Why Germany rejects the citizen-suit device [same]
  • Harry Reid planning to push through large number of nominees in lame duck session, few more controversial than Sharon Block at NLRB [On Labor] (7 a.m. Thursday update: White House withdraws Block)
  • Maricopa County, Ariz. sheriff and perennial Overlawyered favorite Joe Arpaio sues building owners after sidewalk trip/fall “as he headed to a restaurant to get a bowl of soup” [AP/Yuma Sun]

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Personally liable in Philadelphia: “A Pennsylvania lawyer has been ordered to pay nearly $1 million in attorney fees for allowing an expert witness to refer to a lung cancer victim’s history of smoking in a May 2012 medical malpractice trial. Defense lawyer Nancy Raynor of Malvern, Pennsylvnia, told the Legal Intelligencer that insurance would not pay the sanction and her personal assets are at risk.” [ABA Journal]

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I know I’m one of the last to catch up with this brilliant show from last month, which has had 3.8 million views, but if you still haven’t seen it, now’s your chance: it’s pricelessly funny and only too real. Cato has been inveighing against forfeiture laws for two decades or more and it’s tremendously satisfying to see the issue take off this year.

P.S. More forfeiture links: excellent Shaila Dewan piece in the New York Times the other day (“Put your valuables where I can see them!”), noting that police deciding to seize property sometimes check it against a department wish list; explosive videos from cop how-to-seize seminars and other government proceedings (“If in doubt…. take it”) tend to confirm a dark view [Nick Sibilla]; Institute for Justice report, Bad Apples or Bad Laws? Testing the Incentives of Civil Forfeiture [Bart J. Wilson and Michael Preciado, September]; “The IRS Has Been Holding This Guy’s $447,000 For 2 Years, And He’s Never Been Charged With A Crime” [Erin Fuchs, Business Insider, on Hirsch brothers case]

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A lawyer who resigned abruptly from the office handling BP oil spill claims has denied allegations he accepted kickbacks from lawyers with claims pending in the process, saying the money was paid for earlier work and that his aim was to hide it from his wife — who also happened to work at the claims office — rather than to conceal anything improper. [New Orleans Times-Picayune]

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Schools roundup

by Walter Olson on November 12, 2014

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The town of Westminster, Mass. considers banning tobacco sales entirely, and the American Lung Association eggs them on [Boston Globe, AP]

P.S. David Boaz: “Does it surprise you to know that this town was founded by Puritans?”

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[cross-posted from Cato at Liberty and expanded with a P.S.]

Even by his standards, Paul Krugman uses remarkably ugly and truculent language in challenging the good faith of those who take a view opposed to his on the case of King v. Burwell, just granted certiorari by the Supreme Court following a split among lower courts. Krugman claims that federal judges who rule against his own position on the case are “corrupt, willing to pervert the law to serve political masters.” Yes, that’s really what he writes – you can read it here.

A round of commentary on legal blogs this morning sheds light on whether Krugman knows what he’s talking about.

“Once upon a time,” Krugman claims, “this lawsuit would have been literally laughed out of court.” [Citation needed, as one commenter put it] The closest Krugman comes to acknowledging that a plain-language reading of the statute runs against him is in the following:

But if you look at the specific language authorizing those subsidies, it could be taken — by an incredibly hostile reader — to say that they’re available only to Americans using state-run exchanges, not to those using the federal exchanges.

New York City lawyer and legal blogger Scott Greenfield responds:

If by “incredibly hostile reader,” Krugman means someone with a basic familiarity with the English language, then he’s right.  That’s what the law says. … There is such a thing as a “scrivener’s error,” that the guy who wrote it down made a mistake, left out a word or put in the wrong punctuation, and that the error was not substantive even though it has a disproportionate impact on meaning.  A typo is such an error.  I know typos. This was not a typo. This was not a word misspelled because the scribe erred.  This was a structural error in the law enacted. Should it be corrected? Of course, but that’s a matter for Congress.

While some ObamaCare proponents may now portray the provision as a mere slip in need of correction, as I noted at Overlawyered in July, “ObamaCare architect Jonathan Gruber had delivered remarks on multiple 2012 occasions suggesting that the lack of subsidies for federally sponsored exchanges served the function (as critics had contended it did) of politically punishing states that refuse to set up exchanges.”

Josh Blackman, meanwhile, points out something incidental yet revealing about Krugman’s column: its homespun introductory anecdote about how his parents discovered that they had been stuck with a mistaken deed to their property, fixed (“of course”) by the town clerk presumably with a few pen strokes and a smile, couldn’t possibly have happened the way Krugman said it did. Property law, much more so than statutory construction, is super-strict about these matters.

If your deed is incorrect, you cannot simply get the “town clerk” to “fix the language”. … Mistakes are enforced by courts. That’s why [everyone] should purchase title insurance. …

So this is the exact opposite example of what Krugman would want to use to illustrate why King is “frivolous.” If courts applied property doctrine to the construction of statutes, this case would be over in 5 seconds. The government loses.

To be sure, there may be better arguments with which to defend the Obama administration’s side of the King case. But do not look for them in Paul Krugman’s commentary, which instead seems almost designed to serve the function of pre-gaming a possible defeat in Kingby casting the federal judiciary itself as “corrupt” and illegitimate.

P.S. “Krugman’s column in today’s NYT on King is the liberal equivalent of a Rush Limbaugh tirade.” [Gerard Magliocca] Krugman not notably consistent on views of statutory interpretation [Simon Lester] ObamaCare architect Jonathan Gruber caught on camera saying “lack of transparency” key to passing the bill; he “may believe that American voters are stupid, but he was the one dumb enough to say all this on camera” [Peter Suderman, Mickey Kaus ("I am big. It's the electorate that got small.")] How to argue the administration side in a less unhinged way than Krugman does [David Ziff via Jonathan Adler]

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