Selected as an international music ambassador for her outstanding playing, 13-year-old Avery Gagliano charmed audiences in Munich, Hong Kong and elsewhere with her renditions of Chopin, Mozart and other classical repertoire. Her parents could not charm the District of Columbia Public Schools, however, into treating ten days of travel by the straight-A student as excused absences, although they “drafted an independent study plan for the days she’d miss while touring the world” in performance. They’re homeschooling her now. [Petula Dvorak, Washington Post]

Sequel: The D.C. schools are now trying hard to portray it as all a big misunderstanding. More: Jason Bedrick, Cato.

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Perhaps because it uses police for revenue collection rather than public safety. Last year the tiny town of Beverly Hills issued six traffic tickets and two ordinance violations for each resident. An investigation of the string of towns that includes Ferguson, Mo. finds heavy reliance on speed cameras and intensive traffic enforcement on sometimes-tiny stretches of road, oversized police forces, various anecdotes of assault and misconduct, and, in the case of the town of Edmundson, Mo., a memo from the mayor in April 2014 ordering the writing of more tickets. [Lisa Riordan Seville, NBC News; earlier]

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A new paper estimates that Massachusetts voters’ decision to end rent control added $2 billion to the value of Cambridge, Mass. residential housing stock over 10 years. While some of this represents the improved worth of rental property whose value had been artificially suppressed by the previous law, much of it reflects improvements in the value of other, nearby property that had never been under rent control, as increased rates of renovation and improvement made whole neighborhoods more desirable. “In net, our estimates imply that more than half (55 percent) of the capitalized cost of rent control was borne by owners of never-controlled properties, illustrating both the importance of spillovers in housing markets and the potential unintended side effects of price ceilings.” [David H. Autor, Christopher J. Palmer and Parag A. Pathak, Cato Research Briefs in Economic Policy]

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Public employment roundup

by Walter Olson on September 9, 2014

  • Some wages rise accordingly: “Scott Walker’s Act 10 leads to a ‘teacher marketplace’ in Wisconsin.” [Ann Althouse]
  • Police/fire psychiatric claims: “Retired NYC cop takes plea in $27M disability-fraud case; ex-prosecutor is a claimed ringleader” [Martha Neil, ABA Journal]
  • “Every Day Turns Out To Be Labor Day For Hapless Taxpayers” [Ira Stoll]
  • In Harris case, high court revolted at notion of government inserting itself into family relations to siphon off money for union’s benefit [Budget and Tax News, PDF, p. 9, and thanks for quote]
  • “Overprotecting public-employee pensions, from the Reason Foundation” [Sasha Volokh] “California Embraces Pension-Spiking Bonanza” [Steven Greenhut]
  • “Sure We Hassled Boy Scouts at the Border, But You Can’t Prove We Pulled a Gun, Says DHS” [J.D. Tuccille]
  • “The results show very little difference at age 60 in the life expectancy of police and fire as compared with other public employees.” [Alicia Munnell via Steven Greenhut] “Los Angeles Police Average Total Compensation $157,151 Per Year” [Ed Ring, Flash Report] More: Soaring public safety costs rack California towns [OC Register]

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Like most courts to consider the issue, the California Supreme Court in a case involving Domino’s Pizza has held that a franchisor generally cannot be held liable for the independently made employment decisions of one of its franchisees. Who would disagree with that commonsense view? Well, the Obama National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), as well as three liberal dissenters on the seven-member California court, who would have left it up to case-by-case jury factual balancing, an arrangement likely to coax settlement offers from risk-averse franchisor defendants. [Daniel Fisher, Forbes, also; Shaw Valenza; Fox Rothschild; Gordon Rees; related, Epoch Times last week quoting me; earlier here, here, and here]

Aaron Schepler, Quarles & Brady;

In the supreme court’s view, the fact that Domino’s exercised extensive control over the manner in which the franchisee operates its business was merely a way to ensure the uniformity of the customer experience at its franchised outlets. As the court explained, this uniformity actually benefits both parties to the franchise relationship because “chain-wide variations … can affect product quality, customer service, trade name, business methods, public reputation, and commercial image” and, thus, the value of the brand. And because “comprehensive operating system[s]” are present in nearly every franchise relationship, those systems standing alone could not reasonably “constitute[] the ‘control’ needed to support vicarious liability claims like those raised here.”

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An insurance fraud tip

by Walter Olson on September 8, 2014

Before you file a claim of amputation of all four of your limbs, be aware that such a claim is checkable [Insurance Journal; South Carolina] (& welcome Lowering the Bar readers).

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Politics roundup

by Walter Olson on September 8, 2014

  • California may lead in number of arrested lawmaker scandals but jealous New York vows to catch up [NYDN]
  • Will voters in hotly contested Massachusetts primary remember Martha Coakley’s central role in the Amirault travesty of justice?
  • “State of unions: Illinois’ big unionized workforce has become a big campaign issue” [Peoria Journal Star] Teachers’ union top priority: unseat GOP governors [Politico]
  • In which I’m quoted saying relatively favorable things about left-leaning New York gubernatorial candidate Zephyr Teachout (though “enjoyed interacting with” is a long way from “would consider voting for”) [Capital New York]
  • Meet the trial-lawyer-driven group behind the Rick Perry indictment [Texas Tribune; more of what's up in Texas]
  • Senate incumbents Reid, Pryor, and Durbin and hopeful Bruce Braley among recipients of asbestos law firm money [MCR, Legal NewsLine] Key trial lawyer ally Durbin has slipped in polls [Chicago Sun-Times]
  • Montana Democrats’ candidate for U.S. Senate looking a little Wobbly [Lachlan Markay, Free Beacon; A. Barton Hinkle, Richmond Times-Dispatch; #wobblydem]

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A criminal defendant’s road to lenience? Not if Judge Jeffrey Lanphear has a say about it [Providence Journal]

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“If you say anything remotely critical about the Ecuadorian government, you may face a copyright takedown,” wrote Maira Sutton at EFF in May. A Spanish firm that represents the government of Ecuador, Ares Rights, has sent out many such takedown demands, related to media accounts of surveillance, corruption, and the country’s Lago Agrio legal dispute with Chevron. More recently, following growing scrutiny of its own activities, Ares Rights has aimed takedown demands citing supposed copyright infringement against its own critics, including Adam Steinbaugh. Details: Mike Masnick, TechDirt; Ken at Popehat. It has also represented the government of Argentina.

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“Net neutrality” sounds nice, fair, workable, and so forth, and has been eloquently backed by Google. Reason enough, then, to break with the “Hands Off the Net” policy under which the internet has flourished? Lest we forget: lines of business reduced to public utility status tend to stagnate [David Boaz, Cato]

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On July 24 Cato held a book forum on Sidney Powell’s new book, “Licensed to Lie: Exposing Corruption in the Department of Justice.” Participants included the author Sidney Powell, with comments by Alex Kozinski, Chief Judge, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit; and Ronald Weich, Dean, University of Baltimore Law School. My colleague Tim Lynch, who directs Cato’s work on criminal justice issues, moderated. From the description:

In Licensed to Lie, attorney Sidney Powell takes readers through a series of disturbing events, missteps, and cover-ups in our federal criminal justice system. According to Powell, the malfeasance stretches across all three branches of our government — from the White House to the U.S. Senate, to members of the judiciary. Even worse, the law itself is becoming pernicious. Americans can now be prosecuted, convicted, and imprisoned for actions that are not crimes. And if acquitted, there is no recourse against prosecutors who hid evidence vital to the defense.

Powell gives a detailed account of the prosecution and imprisonment of individual executives of well-known firms such as Merrill Lynch based on creative new theories of criminal liability, following dubious prosecutorial conduct including the withholding of evidence favorable to the defense, so-called Brady violations.

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It’s happening just as warned. Janet Fletcher at the Los Angeles Times:

…cheese counters could soon be a lot less aromatic, with several popular cheeses falling victim to a more zealous U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Roquefort — France’s top-selling blue — is in the agency’s cross hairs along with raw-milk versions of Morbier, St. Nectaire and Tomme de Savoie. …

Of course, French creameries haven’t changed their recipes for any of these classic cheeses. But their wheels are flunking now because the FDA has drastically cut allowances for a typically harmless bacterium by a factor of 10.

The new rules have resulted in holds even on super-safe Parmigiano Reggiano, and the risk of losing a costly shipment of a perishable commodity is likely to be enough to drive many European producers out of the market for export to America entirely. Highly praised artisanal cheese makers in the United States are facing shutdown as well. [Michael Gebert, Chicago Reader] Earlier on the FDA and cheese regulation here and, from Cato, here (2010 predictions, before FSMA passed), here, here, etc.

They told us this administration was going to be run by wine and cheese faculty liberals. Now where are they when they could actually do us some good?

Related, note that the regulatory pressure is coming from both sides of the Atlantic: “Newsweek: French cheesemakers crippled by EU health measures” [Cheese Notes, with discussion of role of giant manufacturers whose processed cheese operations can comply with the rules] (& welcome The Week, Reason readers; cross-posted at Cato at Liberty)

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Disabled rights roundup

by Walter Olson on September 5, 2014

  • Willingness of Connecticut courts to order accommodation of mental disorders is not limitless, as in case of “dazed and confused” teacher who “frequently reported to the wrong school or for the wrong class” [Chris Engler at Dan Schwartz's Connecticut Employment Law Blog; Langello v. West Haven Board of Education]
  • “‘Seinfeld’ diner sued for not being handicap-friendly” [NY Post] Florida lawyers descend on New Jersey to file ADA suits [N.J. Civil Justice Institute]
  • “Plaintiffs want to expand lawsuit against Disney for how it treats guests with autism” [Orlando Sentinel]
  • It’s “sad that we need a federal appellate court to remind us” that ADA’s protection of alcoholism does not actually immunize worker fired after repeatedly driving municipal employer’s vehicles drunk [Jon Hyman, Ohio Employer Law Blog]
  • “Employers beware: EEOC appears to be stepping up disability discrimination enforcement” [Hyman] EEOC sues Wal-Mart over firing of intellectually disabled employee [Rockford Register-Star, EEOC]
  • Nice crowd your ADA racket attracts, California [Modesto Bee]
  • Argument: Employers that use “emotional intelligence” measurement in evaluating job applicants may be violating ADA rights of those with autism [Michael John Carley, HuffPo]

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I’ve expressed skepticism before about William Langewiesche’s 12,600-word 2007 article in Vanity Fair on the Chevron-Ecuador dispute, which took a line relentlessly sympathetic to the case of plaintiff’s lawyer Steven Donziger. (As readers of this site know, Donziger has spent the past few years fighting off allegations as to the means by which he obtained an $18 billion judgment against Chevron; one federal judge has found “clear and convincing evidence” that the judgment was “obtained by corrupt means.”) I’m also pretty familiar with the ways trial lawyers use journalists to go after the companies they’re suing, having written on that topic many times before.

Still, like many others, I was floored by Glenn Garvin’s new column in the Miami Herald based on emails introduced into evidence in the endless litigation. Even knowing how writers habitually butter up key sources, I wouldn’t have expected Langewiesche to assure Donziger that “You and I are now firmly on the same side” and that writing the article had been “particularly satisfying to the extent that it supports your efforts, and you personally.” Nor would I have expected Langewiesche to have sent Donziger a copy of his article weeks before it was published, or for Vanity Fair’s editors to have allowed him to do this on a highly contentious topic of public controversy, assuming they knew.

The emails go on and on, as Garvin summarizes them, depicting

Langewiesche as Donziger’s camp follower at the best of times, his sock-puppet at the worst.

The reporter asks Donziger to prepare lists of dozens of questions to be asked of Chevron. And he begs Donziger to help him prepare arguments about why there’s no need for him to do face-to-face interviews with Chevron officials, as they’ve requested, even though he spent days meeting with Donziger and his legal staff.

“I want to avoid a meeting, simply because I do NOT have the time. But I don’t want to go on record refusing a meeting,” writes Langewiesche. “Perhaps I could say that my travel schedule is intense . . . ” He not only submits his emails to Chevron for Donziger’s approval (“What say, Steve. I gotta send this tonight”) and even lets him rewrite them.

In short, Vanity Fair, which positions itself as the glossiest of high-toned journalistic outlets, got played like a cheap ukulele. And I didn’t know this either, which I’ll quote Garvin on, parentheses and all: “(Department of Extraordinary Coincidences: Donziger’s wife at the time worked in corporate communications at Condé Nast, the magazine’s publisher.)”

By coincidence, I’m part way through an advance copy of the interesting new book by Paul Barrett of Business Week on the Chevron-Donziger-Ecuador mess, titled Law of the Jungle. Not to give away anything, but it fills in many areas of background that were new to me about this incredible (still-in-progress, attempted) legal heist (links to Barrett’s earlier coverage here). There’s also a new mini-book by Michael Goldhaber entitled Crude Awakening: Chevron in Ecuador, unseen by me.

P.S. Bonus Vanity Fair connection: journalist Kurt Eichenwald, whose trial-lawyer-assisted role in the Texaco Tapes affair left such a bad impression, has for some time been ensconced as a contributing editor at Vanity Fair.

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Steps

by Walter Olson on September 4, 2014

StepsTorty

Thanks to Australia’s Tortylicious Facebook stream for this warning sign. As commenter Alexander Cohen notes, the “Sign” sign is missing.

More: Lowering the Bar (“The similar sign at the top is just slightly less ridiculous, because gravity.”)

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Police roundup

by Walter Olson on September 4, 2014

  • Spectacular investigative report from Radley Balko on fines, fees, and revenue-driven law enforcement in the towns north of St. Louis [WaPo] Reading it, I’m pretty confident my two cents a couple of weeks ago was on the right track;
  • Talk about wrong turns: some self-styled progressives want to seize the moment to extend federal government control further over local police management [BuzzFeed, Scott Greenfield ("czar" idea)]
  • More reporting on how we got police militarization [ProPublica, Newsweek]
  • Race, police, and political power in Ferguson [Charles Cobb guest-posting at Volokh] Richard Epstein on not jumping to factual conclusions (link fixed now);
  • N.Z.: “Police union’s election year wishlist” [Radio New Zealand (via @EricCrampton who comments: "Short version: any restriction on liberty that makes their job easier"); yesterday's post]
  • Pretextual pot busts? Zimring’s curious defense of NYC “broken windows” policing [NYP]
  • Yes, there’s a SWAT lobby in Washington, D.C., behaving as you’d expect [Tim Mak, Daily Beast] “If Democrats Seek to ‘Rally Blacks’ Against Police Militarization, They Might Start with the Congressional Black Caucus” [Nick Gillespie; Zaid Jilani, Vanity Fair]
  • “Police Officers and Patents of Nobility” [Coyote] “Man shot, paralyzed over unpaid parking tickets” [Balko; Lehigh County, Pa.]

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The need for police forces isn’t going away, so what practical suggestions do libertarians have in the here and now for discouraging police resort to excessive force? Thanks to Ed Krayewski at Reason for quoting me on the subject of tackling the power of police unions, which not only protect bad actors from removal but tie the hands of well-intentioned administrators in a dozen other ways and exert political pressure against effective reform. (Other suggestions in the piece: increase use of body- and dash-cams, extend the role of civilian oversight boards, and end the Drug War; relatedly, curtail SWAT tactics and the use of other paramilitary force.)

On a perhaps not unrelated note, the Washington Post reports today on the police shooting of an unarmed suburban Washington, D.C. man in his front doorway after he refused to let police into his home following a domestic call. The fact that jumped out at me was that, a year after it happened, the Fairfax County police department is still releasing no information about the incident, not even the name of the officer who pulled the trigger. According to the Post’s account (related lawsuit), police shot kitchen contractor John Geer once but first aid did not arrive until an hour later — he bled to death — and his body remained unmoved for hours, like that of Michael Brown on the street in Ferguson, Mo. The Fairfax chief says his department is just following its own policy by not releasing the officer’s name or other information while an investigation is pending (and pending and pending) — but how that policy came to be adopted, and for whose benefit, are questions worth asking.

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“Recent opinions have cited ‘facts’ from amicus briefs that were backed up by blog posts, emails or nothing at all.” [Adam Liptak, New York Times, Allison Orr Larsen/SSRN]

More: Jonathan Adler (unhappy role of “Brandeis briefs”).

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