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Schools roundup

by Walter Olson on January 26, 2015

  • Illinois school district warns parents that in doing investigations under new cyber-bullying law it may require students to hand over their Facebook passwords [Vice Motherboard; earlier on "cyber-bullying"]
  • Powerful, from Christina Hoff Sommers: how a shoddy NPR / Center for Public Integrity campus-rape study fueled legal fury of Department of Education’s Civil Rights Division [The Daily Beast; more, Bader] Nancy Gertner, retired federal judge and prominent progressive voice, on due process for college accused [American Prospect] Questions for New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand [KC Johnson, Minding the Campus]
  • Smith College: “the word crazy was censored from the transcript, replaced with the term ‘ableist slur.'” [Kevin Cullen, Boston Globe]
  • “Community College Courtesy of the Federal Taxpayer? No Thanks” [Neal McCluskey, Arnold Kling]
  • “Families Of Two Newtown Victims Sue Town And School Board” [CBS Connecticut via Skenazy; recently on suits against gun businesses]
  • More coverage of open records requests as way to go after ideologically disliked professors [Inside Higher Ed, our take last month]
  • Washington Post piece went viral, but it’s dead wrong: “No, A Majority of US Public School Students are Not In Poverty” [Alex Tabarrok] Look, a not-yet-published paper that claims to confirm something many of us want dearly to believe about school finance. But will it have the staying power of Prof. Hanushek’s? [WaPo "WonkBlog"]

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January 12 roundup

by Walter Olson on January 12, 2015

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Prosecution roundup

by Walter Olson on January 9, 2015

  • “Judges seemed to be troubled that prosecutors in Manhattan had secretly searched the entire Facebook accounts of about 300 people who were not charged with a crime” [New York Times]
  • Goshen, N.Y.: “Dozens of speakers thundered against the proposed asset forfeiture law at two public hearings held Monday by Orange County Executive Steve Neuhaus.” [Goshen Chronicle; Neuhaus vetoes measure] Related, forfeiture at work in Pennsylvania [AP/same]
  • Buried lede in breathless story about federal bank fines: “The agency receives a cut of up to 3 percent of its share of the total settlements for its Working Capital Fund, a slush fund common across major government agencies.” [Newsweek]
  • From amid the wreckage: Dan and Fran Keller abuse case [Austin American Statesman]
  • “Missouri’s attorney general announced lawsuits against 13 [St. Louis] suburbs on Thursday, accusing them of ignoring a law that sets limits on revenue derived from traffic fines.” [NY Times via Tabarrok]
  • “It is remarkable enough that an African-American man can be convicted by a jury for breaking into a store that video shows was burglarized by a white female.” [The Open File on Indiana prosecutorial misconduct case via Radley Balko]
  • “Lawyers for California Attorney General Kamala Harris argued releasing non-violent inmates early would harm efforts to fight California wildfires. Harris told BuzzFeed News she first heard about this when she read it in the paper.” [BuzzFeed]

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Social media notes

by Walter Olson on January 1, 2015

If you’re active on Facebook, don’t forget to like Overlawyered’s page there and consider liking my professional page, which has links to new things I’ve written, appearances, etc. I also have a personal page.

Overlawyered is represented on Twitter and so am I. The two accounts have only a little overlap between them; both are aimed at the general reader, and neither is tremendously interactive.

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“Theresa May, the Home Secretary, unveiled plans last month for so-called Extremism Disruption Orders, which would allow judges to ban people deemed extremists from broadcasting, protesting in certain places or even posting messages on Facebook or Twitter without permission.” Who’s an extremist? Funny you should ask. It’s not just preachers of violent jihad:

George Osborne, the Chancellor, has made clear in a letter to constituents that the aim of the orders would be to “eliminate extremism in all its forms” and that they would be used to curtail the activities of those who “spread hate but do not break laws”.

He explained that that the new orders, which will be in the Conservative election manifesto, would extend to any activities that “justify hatred” against people on the grounds of religion, sexual orientation, gender or disability.

He also disclosed that anyone seeking to challenge such an order would have to go the High Court, appealing on a point of law rather than fact.

An outcry has been arising from groups including both conservative Christians and atheists, both of whom suspect that their own controversial speech will be subject to restriction under the new rules. [Daily Telegraph; earlier]

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From the United Kingdom [Camilla Swift, The Spectator]:

Police this week were granted the authority to carry out random, unannounced checks at the home of anyone who has a gun license. Why? They claim that shooters may be ‘vulnerable to criminal or terrorist groups’ and this is the way to tackle the ‘problem’. The new Home Office guidance assures us this won’t occur ‘at an unsocial hour unless there is a justified and specific requirement to do so.’ Some get-out clause.

More: CPSA. Perhaps, in our American Bill of Rights, there is more of a connection between the Second Amendment and Fourth Amendment than is at first apparent.

And: “Watervliet, NY Asks Pistol Permit Applicants for Facebook Passwords. Or Not.” [Robert Farago, The Truth About Guns]

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It did come across as curious when the Facebook acquaintance only seemed to be interested in side effects of medications and whether I had suffered death or injury in an accident. What kind of icebreaker is that? Daniel Fisher at Forbes investigates and finds traces of marketing efforts on behalf of the firm of Parker Waichman. Under New York rules for lawyers, law firm advertising is supposed to be clearly marked as such, nor are its contents supposed to be false or misleading.

P.S. From commenter wfjag: “She wanted to know if I’d died or was suffering a lingering fatal condition. Especial interest in effects on The Brain. No pictures of faces and no information on family lives. I thought I’d finally found Zombie Dating.”

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July 22 roundup

by Walter Olson on July 22, 2014

  • Facebook fought dragnet-with-gag-order subpoena in NY police/fire disability-fraud case [Mike Masnick, TechDirt]
  • Two lawyers charged in alleged plot to extort millions from wealthy sheik [ABA Journal]
  • Judge declares mistrial, plans new trial date in case of allegedly faulty guardrails [Bloomberg, more, background]
  • Last year Overlawyered made the “Hall of Fame” and from now through Aug. 8 you can nominate other sites for the ABA’s annual Blawg 100 honor;
  • Supreme Court, which seldom grants cases raising non-delegation doctrine, agrees to hear Dept. of Transportation v. Assn. of American Railroads [Roger Pilon/Cato, Gerard Magliocca] And Prof. Philip Hamburger, author of bracing new book Is Administrative Law Unlawful (earlier), has just guest-blogged about it for a week at Volokh Conspiracy, and has a related podcast at Law and Liberty;
  • David Henderson writes rave review of new Peter Schuck book Why Government Fails So Often [Regulation, PDF; excerpts also at Econlib and more, earlier on Schuck book]
  • Legal academia stunned, in grief after highly regarded criminal law specialist Dan Markel is murdered in his Tallahassee home [PrawfsBlawg, Dave Hoffman, Marc DeGirolami]

It should realize the privilege of doing so is reserved for other societal institutions, like lawyers and the press. [National Journal]

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We’re closing in on 3,000 likes for Overlawyered on Facebook. Could you take a moment to add one more? You can also like my professional page there (Walter Olson) if you’d like to see more of my writings, podcasts, etc. (especially those at places other than Overlawyered).

If you’re planning an event for your speaker series or a panel discussion, I speak on a wide range of topics including not only subjects found in my books (litigation and its excesses, popular views of the legal profession, legal zaniness in the workplace, law schools) but also on topics that include regulation and the nanny state; food and drink policy; and how law can try to calm rather than exacerbate the culture wars.

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Free speech roundup

by Walter Olson on May 7, 2014

  • How the Progressive movement changed thinking on free speech [David Bernstein]
  • More “bullying” legislation: “A crime for teenagers to excoriate their unfaithful or abusive lovers on Facebook?” [Eugene Volokh on pending Colorado bill] “Crime to spread rumors about under-25-year-olds, to send ‘hurtful, rude and mean messages’ about them, or to make fun of them online?” [same; pending ordinance in Carson, Calif.]
  • “First Amendment protects Internet search results: N.Y. judge” [Alison Frankel, Reuters]
  • Wisconsin + other states too: “Last week, the enlightened citizens of Shorewood, Whitefish Bay and several other communities voted to repeal the freedom of the press and of the free speech rights of organizations ranging from the NAACP to the National Rifle Association.” [Rick Esenberg, Shark and Shepherd]
  • NYC comptroller Scott Stringer, posing in investor hat, demands that Texas firm Clayton Williams Energy Inc. explain its political giving [AP]
  • Look before you leap: some proposals billed as criminalizing revenge porn appear to criminalize far more than that [Scott Greenfield]
  • Consumer secretly videotapes allegedly unneeded repairs at Missouri Chevrolet dealership, litigation ensues [Popehat]

For those who freaked out at those headlines Thursday, Daniel Fisher at Forbes has a corrective to the New York Times’ latest story advancing the trial lawyer campaign against arbitration. More: Eric Goldman. Sequel: General Mills quickly withdraws new policy, perhaps reasoning that even when the New York Times is wrong, a consumer marketing company really can’t win trying to argue with it. Yet more: Dave Hoffman with an analysis of whether the language actually creates a contract.

Huge win for justice and good sense: facing a mounting public furor, “The Social Security Administration announced Monday that it will immediately cease efforts to collect on taxpayers’ debts to the government that are more than 10 years old.” [WaPo] Credit goes above all to the Washington Post and its reporter Marc Fisher for exposing the most outrageous features of the IRS’s refund-interception program last week, as recounted in this space; I like to think I helped as well by beating the drum early and repeatedly since then with Cato’s help. Overlawyered’s Facebook post on the subject has been seen by more than 60,000 people and shared more than 700 times in the past few days. (Have you liked us yet?)

The next step should be to establish for the public record how the provision in question got slipped into the farm bill, and at whose behest. Congress’s refusal to be forthcoming on this topic speaks volumes about its lack of a felt sense of responsibility toward the people it represents.

And a theme I’ve been repeating for almost as long as I’ve been writing about law: statutes of limitations developed in civilized legal systems for a reason. They protect us not only from cost, uncertainty, and the misery of legal process, but from injustice of a hundred other kinds, and they protect society itself from spiraling into a legal war of all against all. Stop trying to abolish them!

More: Ed Morrissey, Megan McArdle. And here’s a Cato podcast just out on the subject in which Caleb Brown interviews me on the topic:

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Eighteen-year-old guys have been known to say stupid things online, especially when engaged in displays of flaming and one-upmanship. Criminal-sentence kind of stupid? “I guess what you post on Facebook matters,” says Justin Carter of San Antonio, jailed after an all-caps flourish about how he was ready to “shoot up a kindergarten.” [Dallas Observer]

P.S. A related Missouri story from last year.

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Tune in Tuesday night as Cato colleagues and I liveblog the State of the Union, or check Twitter at #CatoSOTU.

While you’re at it, do follow me on Twitter at @walterolson and @overlawyered, and at Facebook on both author and blog pages.

Surveillance roundup

by Walter Olson on December 12, 2013

  • “That Thing They Said They’re Not Doing? They’re Totally Doing.” [Daily Show with Jon Stewart] “Exactly What the State Says to Deceive You About Surveillance” [Conor Friedersdorf]
  • “Warrantless Cellphone ‘Tower Dumps’ Becoming Go-To Tool For Law Enforcement” [Tim Cushing, TechDirt; Ellen Nakashima, Washington Post; David Kravets, Wired; USA Today (local law enforcement using, not just federal)]
  • Google, Apple, Microsoft, Facebook, Twitter, Yahoo, AOL, LinkedIn, but telecoms absent: “U.S. Tech Industry Calls for Surveillance Reform” [Corporate Counsel, EFF, Marvin Ammori/USA Today]
  • New Federalist Society symposium on NSA/FISA surveillance and bulk data collection includes names like Randy Barnett, Jim Harper, Jeremy Rabkin, Stewart Baker, Grover Joseph Rees [Engage, Randy Barnett]
  • Nowadays “law enforcement can feel free to admit their traffic stops are pretextual” Thanks, Drug War! [Popehat] “Sobriety Checkpoints Paved Path to NSA Email Spying” [Wired]
  • FATCA, the intrusive overseas tax enforcement law, isn’t couched in public controversy as a federal data-snooping issue, but it should be [Radley Balko, McClatchy]

The Supreme Court has declined review in Marek v. Lane, a case arising from the settlement of a privacy lawsuit against Facebook, which had presented questions about the proper use of cy pres distributions (in which money goes not to victims of the sued-over conduct, but to non-profits or other third parties). Writing in a separate statement, however, Chief Justice John Roberts indicated that the issues are of genuine concern to him, whether or not this case was the right one in which to address them. Excerpt:

I agree with this Court’s decision to deny the petition for certiorari. Marek’s challenge is focused on the particular features of the specific cy pres settlement at issue. Grant­ing review of this case might not have afforded the Court an opportunity to address more fundamental concerns surrounding the use of such remedies in class action liti­gation, including when, if ever, such relief should be con­sidered; how to assess its fairness as a general matter; whether new entities may be established as part of such relief; if not, how existing entities should be selected; what the respective roles of the judge and parties are in shaping a cy pres remedy; how closely the goals of any enlisted organization must correspond to the interests of the class; and so on. This Court has not previously addressed any of these issues. Cy pres remedies, however, are a growing feature of class action settlements. See Redish, Julian, & Zyontz, Cy Pres Relief and the Pathologies of the Modern Class Action: A Normative and Empirical Analysis, 62 Fla. L. Rev. 617, 653–656 (2010). In a suitable case, this Court may need to clarify the limits on the use of such remedies.

[Adam Steinman, Civil Procedure and Federal Courts Blog, earlier here, here; see also Archis Parasharami, Mayer Brown "Class Defense"] Relatedly, “Taking on Class Action abuse: A conversation with Ted Frank, founder of the Center for Class Action Fairness” is a new podcast at Liberty Law.

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I’ve got a new piece at Reason.com expanding on my earlier reports on the new pilot program by which Facebook will give Maryland school officials a dedicated channel with which to seek takedown of posts and other material that in their view contributes to the problem of “cyber-bullying.” I think the program represents a disturbing step toward a wider government role as arbiter of what is allowed to be said in social media, the more so as it will be difficult or impossible to know whether takedown decisions at Facebook’s discretion are an entirely neutral application of the service’s “Community Standards” or are swayed in part by the wish to keep government bodies happy. I quote various press accounts, some affording additional insight into the existing and proposed takedown process, as well as commentary by Scott Greenfield, TechDirt, and the Daily Caller in which I’m quoted. Some additional commentary: Joy Pullmann/Heartland, Josh Blackman. More: Instalanched, thanks Glenn Reynolds.

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