Posts tagged as:

Maryland

That’s the gist of an announcement this morning from the office of Maryland attorney general Doug Gansler, following on the passing into effect of the state’s groundbreaking “cyberbullying” law, which I criticized earlier this year. The National Association of Attorneys General (NAAG) is involved too in the Educator Escalation Channel, which will start with a pilot Maryland program. Gansler says those targeted for post takedowns will include Facebook users who are “not committing a crime… We’re not going to go after you, but we are going to take down the language off of Facebook, because there’s no redeeming societal value and it’s clearly hurting somebody.” Although the rationale is to protect Maryland juveniles from unwelcome and hurtful online communications, the initial press reports offer no indication that the Facebook users whose speech is targeted for takedown will necessarily be other Maryland juveniles.

What could possibly go wrong? I’ve got some thoughts on the question at Cato at Liberty. More: Scott Greenfield (“Facebook becomes the agent of the state. … Welcome to the start of something big.”)

Speaking in Baltimore Thursday

by Walter Olson on September 16, 2013

I’m speaking in downtown Baltimore this Thursday at 12 noon about my most recent book, Schools for Misrule. I’ve given versions of this talk many times around the country but I think this marks the first time I’ve done so in my own state of Maryland. It’s free and lunch is served, but you’ll need to RSVP to the Federalist Society Baltimore Lawyers’ Chapter. Details here.

A natural experiment: Virginia law allows foreclosures to happen rapidly, Maryland law delays them. Which state has bounced back more smartly from the housing crash? [Michael Schearer, earlier]

Maryland roundup

by Walter Olson on August 8, 2013

  • Error-plagued speed camera program even more error-plagued than had been realized [Fox Baltimore]
  • Del. Joseph Vallario, Jr. [D-Prince George's] chairs House Judiciary panel while practicing criminal defense law, but as conflicts of interest go we’ve heard worse [Washington Post]
  • Theme of recent dramshop, contributory-negligence rulings by Maryland Court of Appeals is restraint [Michael Schearer, more; my WaPo letter on the alcohol-serving case; for a view different from mine, Donald Gifford]
  • Pleading guilty in massive Baltimore jail scandal, Tavon White says “many other” guards involved in misconduct, 13 have been indicted [City Paper, Baltimore Sun/CorrectionsOne, AP/HuffPo]
  • One view from the other side on unpopular “rain tax” on impervious surfaces [Tom Coale, HoCo Rising]
  • “Alas, The Maryland Court of Appeals Has Reversed Ford v. Dixon” [on "every fiber, every breath" asbestos theory; David Oliver]
  • What is it with Maryland and surveillance, anyway? State police zealously collect license plate-cam data [J.D. Tuccille]

The Maryland high court recently declined an invitation to discard the common-law rule against server liability in a case where a patron of a Gaithersburg craft brewery got on the road and caused a fatal accident. Washington Post columnist Robert McCartney wrote in favor of the wider liability rule, and I responded in a letter to the editor just posted at the newspaper.

{ 26 comments }

Some had urged the state’s highest court to abandon the old common-law standard in favor of a comparative negligence standard, but the court said any such move will need to come from the Maryland legislature. [Daily Record, earlier; Coleman v. Soccer Association of Columbia]

Maryland roundup

by Walter Olson on June 25, 2013

Yesterday the Supreme Court decided it was okay to require arrested persons to submit to DNA testing meant to match them to unsolved crimes. [Maryland v. King; Robert Kaiser, Washington Post; Nina Totenberg, NPR] In an impassioned dissent joined by liberals Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, Justice Antonin Scalia warned that an important civil liberties line is being crossed as the Court now approves suspicion-less searches of persons at a stage at which the law presumes them innocent, without any primary motivation except to gather evidence of unrelated crime.

I’ve got an article in The Daily Beast this morning on the Scalia dissent and its warnings that lawmakers may soon embrace a genetic surveillance state in the name of security. Excerpt:

In his dissent, Scalia warns of such a “genetic panopticon.” (The reference is to Jeremy Bentham’s idea of a prison laid out so that inmates could be watched at every moment.) And it’s closer than you may think. Already fingerprint requirements have multiplied, as the dissent points out, “from convicted criminals, to arrestees, to civil servants, to immigrants, to everyone with a driver’s license” in some states. DNA sample requirements are now following a similar path, starting reasonably enough with convicts before expanding, under laws passed by more than half the states as well as Maryland, to arrestees. (“Nearly one-third of Americans will be arrested for some offense by age 23.”) Soon will come wider circles. How long before you’ll be asked to give a DNA swab before you can board a plane, work as a lawn contractor, join the football team at your high school, or drive?

With the confidence that once characterized liberals of the Earl Warren–William Brennan school, Scalia says we can’t make catching more bad guys the be-all and end-all of criminal process:

“Solving unsolved crimes is a noble objective, but it occupies a lower place in the American pantheon of noble objectives than the protection of our people from suspicionless law-enforcement searches. The Fourth Amendment must prevail. … I doubt that the proud men who wrote the charter of our liberties would have been so eager to open their mouths for royal inspection.”

More: I’ve got this related piece in Newsweek on the Justices’ shifting Fourth Amendment alignments. Thanks to Glenn Reynolds for the Instalanche. And other commentaries from Daniel Fisher, Lowering the Bar (on the Jeremy Bentham angle; Scalia’s dissent mentions Bentham twice; Scott Greenfield; Julian Sanchez; Jacob Sullum). And Mississippi has just announced plans to match offspring of underage mothers to responsible fathers through DNA database checks based on umbilical cord blood. [NPR]

{ 4 comments }

Maryland roundup

by Walter Olson on May 19, 2013

  • After Gov. Martin O’Malley signs one of nation’s most restrictive gun laws, Beretta says it intends to move out of state [Guns.com]
  • Unfortunately, high cigarette taxes promote this sort of thing: “Ocean City cigarette smuggling ring had ties to terror groups, police say” [Baltimore Sun, Tax Foundation]
  • Responding to critics (such as), legislature caps the vessel excise tax in hopes of reviving ailing boating industry [Annapolis Gazette]
  • New law backed by O’Malley will require educators to pay dues to teachers’ union whether members or not [Trey Kovacs, Open Market and Workplace Choice; Harford County Dagger]
  • State has among nation’s highest per capita medical malpractice outlays, behind only five Northeastern states (NY, PA, NJ, MA, CT) and D.C. [Diederich analysis of annual payouts via TortsProf]
  • Chronicle of Rogues: Maryland gets a D minus, ranking a dismal 40th among the 50 states, on corruption-rating State Integrity Report Card [Center for Public Integrity via Tom Coale]
  • It’ll be held in D.C. this year rather than Annapolis, but that’s no reason you shouldn’t join us for the acclaimed Cato University [Jul. 28-Aug. 2]
  • Politicos scramble to defend “correctional officers’ bill of rights” after FBI affidavit blasts measure for helping entrench corruption at Baltimore jail [AP, earlier]

{ 1 comment }

Last month 13 guards and 12 others were indicted on charges of letting a gang effectively take over management of the Baltimore City Detention Center; according to the indictment, corrupt guards allegedly smuggled in drugs, cellphones and other contraband and had sex with the gang leader, several becoming pregnant by him. Since then the public and press has been asking what went wrong. A Washington Post editorial suggests one place they might look:

The absurd situation described in the indictment took root at least partly because of a “bill of rights” for corrections officers, backed by Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) and enacted by the Maryland legislature in 2010 at the behest of the guards union, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. This bill of rights grants extraordinary protections to guards, including shielding them from threats of prosecution, transfer, dismissal or even disciplinary action during questioning for suspected wrongdoing.

While Gov. O’Malley has sought to minimize the relevance of the 2010 law, the Post notes that FBI recordings suggest that a guard who was deemed “dirty” was transferred to another facility, rather than fired — transfers-instead-of-firing being a less than optimal way of dealing with public employee corruption, but one typical of systems with strong tenure entrenchment. AFSCME, which boasted at the time of its “relentless lobbying” on behalf of the law, is now doing damage control. More: “those protections left officers at the jail without fear of sanctions for allegedly smuggling contraband or having relationships with inmates, the FBI said in an affidavit.” [Baltimore Sun] Union-allied lawmakers defend the measure [AP]

{ 6 comments }

Scarecrows for speeders?

by Walter Olson on April 18, 2013

The town of Laurel, Maryland tries using fake traffic cameras. “Maryland law restricts most jurisdictions from putting speed cameras anywhere other than near schools, and they can only operate Monday through Friday from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m.” Other neighborhoods wanted cameras installed in hopes of reducing traffic speeds, so the town set up empty boxes. [DCist]

{ 6 comments }

Schools roundup

by Walter Olson on April 12, 2013

  • Appalling: pursuing the logic of equality arguments, prominent constitutional law scholar Erwin Chemerinsky has proposed abolishing private/religious/home K-12 schooling [Eugene Volokh, Rick Garnett, Marc DeGirolami]
  • How wrong is the NRA on school security? So wrong that even Marian Wright Edelman makes more sense [Gene Healy]
  • Schools, marriage, and self-replicating elites: Ross Douthat tells some secrets of the NYT-reading class [NYT]
  • Critics flay Connecticut bill to require school mental health checkups of children [Raising Hale]
  • “How the Anti-Bully Movement is Hurting Kids: An Interview with Bully Nation’s Susan Porter” [Tracy Oppenheimer, Reason]
  • Montgomery County, Maryland pols concerned some public schools might become unfairly good [DC Examiner] Also in Maryland, there’s a push to emulate a truly bad New Jersey idea by shifting the burden of proof onto schools in special education disputes [WaPo]
  • Telephone frustration in New Haven: “How public schools drive us away…” [Mark Oppenheimer]

{ 3 comments }

Back to the gravel walk? A new environmental program pressures populous Maryland counties to levy assessments on property owners based on their square footage of impervious surfaces such as roofs, patios or driveways that prevent rainwater from sinking into the soil [Blair Lee, Gazette; Maryland Reporter; Frederick News-Post; Anne Arundel County]

P.S. While some of the Maryland commentary has treated the idea as new and experimental, thanks to commenters for pointing out that it’s already a familiar part of the scene elsewhere.

{ 12 comments }

He follows up on my criticism from yesterday:

Under the First Amendment, the government has far less power to restrict speech when it acts as a sovereign (such as when it criminally prosecutes people for their speech) than when it uses non-criminal disciplinary tools to regulate speech in its own government offices or (in certain circumstances) the public schools. …

… Maryland’s law restricts speech in society generally, by both minors and adults. The government obviously cannot rely on public school officials’ custodial and tutelary power over student speech to restrict the speech of adult non-students, much less their speech outside the schools. … The fact that speech is emotionally distressing may be a factor in whether to discipline a student for it under school rules, but it is not a justification for criminal prosecution, or even, generally speaking, a tort lawsuit. …

Activists claim bullying is an “epidemic” and a “pandemic.” But in reality, the rate of bullying has steadily diminished in the nation’s schools.

More: Mike Masnick at TechDirt criticizes the new law and kindly quotes my piece.

I’ve got a short critique up now at Cato (earlier on the topic here). Proponents styled the enactment “Grace’s Law,” after a Howard County teenager who committed suicide; here’s Radley Balko on why “Laws named after crime victims and dead people are usually a bad idea.” While I believe the courts will eventually get around to striking it down, in the mean time the law will operate to chill some online speech.

P.S. Some recent thoughts from EFF’s Hanni Fakhoury on how laws can address the problem of harassment without being speech-unfriendly.

{ 3 comments }

Given the bossiness of the legislature in Annapolis these days, I had to check the calendar on this one. [Anita Park, Greater Greater Washington, April 1]

P.S. And from The Onion, where every day is April 1: “Mississippi Bans Soft Drinks Smaller Than 20 Ounces.

Yet more: Didn’t Ilya Shapiro predict this? “Supreme Court upholds same-sex marriage as a tax” [Tax Foundation]

{ 12 comments }

In the aftermath of a controversial decision by the state’s highest court (earlier here, here, here, here), etc.) the Maryland legislature is proceeding in its task of devising new rules to govern lawsuits over dog bite injuries:

But the House and Senate versions differ markedly on legal liability for a pet owner when his or her dog bites someone. The House bill would allow an owner to show a “preponderance of the evidence” that a pet did not have a tendency to bite. The Senate version requires a stricter legal standard of “clear and convincing” proof that the dog is not aggressive — making it easier for victims of bites to sue and win.

It does not require a law degree to figure out that without clear rules on what makes a dog safe, lawyers will see bite victims as cash cows. [Sen. Bobby] Zirkin, a Democrat from Baltimore County, [who sits on the Judicial Proceedings Committee that crafted the bill,] apparently already does. A visit to his website, http://www.bobbyzirkinlaw.com/, makes it clear. One of the first images is a white dog that looks like a pit bull, teeth bared, lunging against its leash.

After noting that victims of dog bites should seek medical attention, he suggests they “Call the Law Office of Bobby Zirkin at 410-356-4455 immediately and come in for your free consultation on this important matter.”

The committee’s chair, Sen. Brian Frosh of Montgomery County, also practices with an injury firm, though his own practice tends toward commercial disputes. [Marta Mossburg, Frederick News-Post] Incidentally, the weekly adopt-an-animal feature of the same newspaper is now filled with pictures of ownerless dogs with pit bull lineage.

{ 8 comments }

Guns roundup

by Walter Olson on March 25, 2013

  • Defeat of proposed assault-weapons ban is setback for demagogy [Taranto] “If You Don’t Support an ‘Assault Weapon’ Ban, You Hate Children and Want Them to Die” [Jacob Sullum on New York Daily News columnist Mike Lupica]
  • New York snitchline offers $500 rewards for turning in neighbor in possession of unlicensed gun [USA Today] “Andrew Cuomo Realizes He Mandated Gun Magazines That Don’t Exist” [Sullum]
  • “Colorado’s New Gun Controls Promise Dubious Public Safety Benefits and Lurking Legal Perils” [Sullum] Democratic sponsor “didn’t realize that her bill would outlaw practically every magazine currently for sale in the state” [Daily Caller] In empty gesture, inevitably to be pre-empted by PLCAA, some Colorado Dems sought to legislate liability for “assault weapon” owners, sellers and makers for crime [Denver Post, Daily Caller]
  • Maryland state senator J.B. Jennings introduces bill restraining school discipline of students who simulate “guns” by way of pointing fingers, nibbling breakfast pastries into shapes, etc. [Easton Star-Democrat, Joanne Jacobs, earlier]
  • “Survey: Federally licensed firearms retailers overwhelmingly oppose ‘Universal Background Checks’” [Daily Caller]
  • “Science and gun violence: why is the research so weak?” [Maggie Koerth-Baker, BoingBoing]
  • Hope springs eternal on legal mandates for personalized guns, though even the Violence Policy Center doesn’t think much of the idea [San Francisco Chronicle]