The Wall Street Journal news-section A-hed tackles silly (sometimes deliberately so) disclaimers, such as IKEA’s gigantic sign portraying a hot dog with the disclaimer “*not actual size.” But it also notes the high costs that litigation or regulatory action can inflict when disclaimers are omitted. Our readers discussed the Red Bull case two years ago.

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Harvard lawprof Noah Feldman on the Paris/Fox case: let government sue media for saying (or maybe even for letting guests say) wrong things about government. Sure, what could go wrong?

Related, and outrageous: Morgan State University (Baltimore) journalism school dean wants to classify religiously irreverent speech as “fighting words,” which would throw into doubt its legal protection [DeWayne Wickham, USA Today] More: Allahpundit, Taranto/WSJ, The College Fix; edited to reflect Wickham’s (non)-clarification of his stance in the last-named link).

P.S. Via @benjaminlam: “Today’s Straits Times [Singapore] carried Feldman’s article.”

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Food roundup

by Walter Olson on January 23, 2015

  • “It is one of the first times that two big craft brewers have been in a lawsuit against each other.” [San Francisco Chronicle]
  • Hee hee: poll finds more than 80 percent of public favors “mandatory labels on foods containing DNA,” cf. comparable polls on GMO labeling [Ilya Somin]
  • Chicago crackdown on paid private dinner parties comes after Michelin awards two stars to local restaurant that started that way [Illinois Policy]
  • “Is Foodborne Illness on the Rise?” [Baylen Linnekin]
  • “The Queens’ Tea in Salt Lake City sued by another queen over name” [Salt Lake Tribune]
  • Virginia legislator’s bill would end inspection of home kitchens used to produce food for direct sale [Watchdog, earlier on "cottage food" laws, related E.N. Brown]
  • “There’s a very simple reason you don’t find favors in king cakes anymore: We have too many lawyers in America” [WSJ, earlier]

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According to multiple reports, the FBI has taken New York assembly speaker Sheldon Silver into custody following a corruption investigation. Silver is widely thought to know more about the internal workings of Albany than any other person, so if he begins talking things could get interesting. Our previous coverage of Silver — and there’s been a lot — is here, or chronologically at this tag. My coverage of him 2005-2010 at Point of Law is here.

More: The complaint (courtesy WSJ) alleges improprieties with income both from a real estate law firm and from asbestos legal cases. On the latter, it alleges that Silver directed state research money to a university doctor in Manhattan, and that the doctor referred lucrative asbestos cases to Silver’s firm of Weitz & Luxenberg. The doctor is described as a “well-known expert” who “conducts mesothelioma research” and who had created a center at his university by or before 2002 related to that subject. The doctor, not named in the complaint, “has entered into an agreement with the USAO SDNY [U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York] under which he will not be prosecuted for the conduct described herein, and that obligates him to provide truthful information to and cooperate with the government.” [pp. 24-25] Related post: Cato at Liberty.

Yet more: Remembering when the National Council of State Legislatures awarded Silver its “prestigious” and delightfully named “William M. Bulger Excellence in State Leadership Award” [Howie Carr, New York Post via Margaret Soltan] http://nypost.com/2012/07/23/a-fitting-award-for-speaker-silver/

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“U.S. personal injury lawyers allegedly concealed evidence and induced clients to commit perjury to drive up asbestos-related settlements and garner bigger fees, according to lawsuits unsealed on Tuesday in the bankruptcy of a gasket maker.” [Reuters, earlier] My 1998 piece on asbestos witness-coaching is here.

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Both Oklahoma State University and New Mexico State University use a version of “Pistol Pete” as a mascot. OSU found that although NMSU had agreed to use a variant, some items sold in connection with its school continued to use the version infringing on OSU’s. Suit was filed, but rather than expensively shooting it out in court, the two have now agreed to let a token fee cover a small leeway for infringement, and leave it at that. [Trademarkologist]

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Free speech roundup

by Walter Olson on January 22, 2015

  • Pennsylvania has passed that grotesque new law seeking to muzzle convicts from discussing crimes when “mental anguish” to victims could result. Time for courts to strike it down [Radley Balko, earlier]
  • “First Amendment challenge to broad gag order on family court litigants” [Eugene Volokh]
  • Federally funded Indiana U. program to monitor political opinion on Twitter didn’t much like being monitored itself by critics [Free Beacon, earlier (project "intensely if covertly political")]
  • Holocaust denial laws abridge the freedom of speech. Do they even accomplish their own aims? [Sam Schulman, Weekly Standard]
  • Is it defamatory to call someone a “censorious a**hat”? [Adam Steinbaugh, Eric Turkewitz, earlier on Roca Labs case]
  • We should take up a collection to translate Voltaire into French [Reason, Huffington Post on Dieudonne case, yesterday on talk of "Fox maligned Paris" suit]
  • Some would-be speech suppressers upset over Citizens United ruling also quite happy to drown out Justices’ speech [Mark Walsh, SCOTUSBlog] “Campaign finance censors lose debate to Reddit” [Trevor Burrus] Citizens United “probably the most misunderstood case in modern legal history.” [Ilya Shapiro]

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…curb ADA bounty-hunting [Steven Greenhut, San Diego Union-Tribune, and thanks for mention]

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So the real lesson for tourists is that they should think of Paris as having no-speech zones [Poynter, Volokh]

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State of the Union 2015

by Walter Olson on January 21, 2015

As I did last year I’m tweeting reactions to President Obama’s State of the Union address so you wouldn’t have to watch. Here are Twitter highlights, mostly in regular rather than reverse chronological order:

More: Cato scholars respond in a video:

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By one estimate, “something like 86 percent of the loot that state and local law enforcement agencies receive through federal forfeitures will be unaffected by Holder’s new policy.” [Jacob Sullum, Reason; earlier] “Eric Holder’s Asset Forfeiture Decision Won’t Stop the Widespread Abuse of Police Power” [Jonathan Blanks, New Republic] “New Holder Policy Means Fewer Bal Harbours, More Motel Caswells” [Eapen Thampy, Americans for Forfeiture Reform]

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Missed this one from the fall: a Texas catering business will pay a fine to the U.S. government for having engaged in “citizenship discrimination.” “Culinaire International unlawfully discriminated against employees based on their citizenship status, the Justice Department claimed, because it required non-citizen employees to provide extra proof of their right to work in the United States. Culinaire has agreed to pay the United States $20,460 in civil penalties, receive training in anti-discrimination rules of the Immigration and Nationality Act, revise its work eligibility verification process, and create a $40,000 back pay fund for ‘potential economic victims.'” Employers face stringent penalties if they ask for too few documents, but that doesn’t mean they’re free to ask for any more than the right number. [Rachel Stoltzfoos, Daily Caller; Bill Watson ("Trying too hard to follow bad laws? That's illegal")] Several related cases, from fifteen years ago, here.

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But that’s not the end of the story. Law school fires her. She sues! But loses, at least so far. [Caron/TaxProf, ABA Journal; Hamline Law School, Minnesota]

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January 20 roundup

by Walter Olson on January 20, 2015

  • Grand jury said to recommend charges against Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane [Philadelphia Inquirer, more, earlier here and here]
  • Orin Kerr analyzes Obama admininstration proposals to expand law on computer crime [Volokh Conspiracy and more]
  • “Religious Liberty Isn’t a ‘Dog Whistle’ – It’s a Necessary Practice of a Free Society” [Scott Shackford, Reason vs. Frank Bruni, New York Times]
  • Scalia, Epstein, many others: videos now online from the Federalist Society’s recently concluded 2014 National Lawyers Convention;
  • List of firms with non-disparagement clauses (of highly dubious enforceability) purporting to forbid negative comments from customers [Tim Cushing, TechDirt]
  • “Red Tape Is Strangling Good Samaritans” [Philip K. Howard, The Daily Beast]
  • I’ve written on this irony: antitrust lawyers collude among themselves to boost their fee take [Daniel Fisher]

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Great moments in unsuccessful ADA litigation: a panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld a summary judgment entered against a plaintiff who said his firing by the city of North Las Vegas constituted discrimination against him based on his hearing impairment as well as retaliation [Curley v. City of North Las Vegas]:

As part of the investigation, the Human Resources Department interviewed City employees and asked about their interactions with Curley. The interviews revealed that Curley had repeatedly threatened his coworkers and their families. For example, he threatened to put a bomb under a car, insinuated that he had mafia connections, and talked about giving a “blanket party” — which would involve throwing a blanket over a person’s head and beating him. One coworker reported that Curley threatened to kick his teeth out if the coworker did not join a union. On another occasion, Curley threatened to shoot his supervisor’s children in the kneecaps.

The interviews also revealed details about Curley’s work habits. Multiple coworkers said that Curley regularly conducted personal business while at work, sometimes spending up to three hours on his cell phone. It also appears that Curley was operating an ADA consulting business. Many of the calls he made during work were about the business, and coworkers saw him approach disabled individuals to discuss potential lawsuits.

Update thanks to reader Eric in comments:

I was thinking “He was only fired? Why isn’t he in jail?” so I googled him up. He has quite a history.

Astoundingly after he was fired from the city for his shenanigans, a school district (!) hired him as janitor. Six months later he was arrested for stalking (he kept threatening city employees). Finally (and after appearing in the papers) the school is attempting to fire him.

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State of the Union

by Walter Olson on January 19, 2015

Tuesday evening, tune in to #CatoSOTU on Twitter for a libertarian take on the president’s State of the Union address with me and many others from Cato including David Boaz, Mark Calabria, Ilya Shapiro, Aaron Ross Powell, Nicole Kaeding, Jason Kuznicki, Julian Sanchez, Alex Nowrasteh, and more. Additional details here

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The “equitable sharing” civil forfeiture program (see weekend post) being just one of the more visible corners of a whole scaffolding of bad incentives in law enforcement:

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NYT on auto title loans

by Walter Olson on January 18, 2015

“With a crackdown on payday lenders, subprime borrowers are increasingly using auto title loans, whose high interest rates can lead to repossession and financial ruin.” [DealBook/NYT] Todd Zywicki at Volokh finds much lacking in the article’s analysis: “it turns out that those who use these products are not as stupid as the Times’s reporters imply they are.” Reihan Salam: “Remember when people said that cracking down on payday loans would have regrettable consequences?”

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