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NYC

Liability roundup

by Walter Olson on December 20, 2014

  • From the Manhattan Institute “Trial Lawyers Inc.” project, “Wheels of Fortune” (PDF), twin report on lawyers’ exploitation of SSDI (Social Security Disability) and ADA cases;
  • Theodore Dalrymple on the flaws of the US litigation system [Liberty and Law]
  • Testimony: “after he inquired about the 40 percent fee charged by [co-counsel] Chestnut, [Willie] Gary threatened to ‘tie up [client] Baker’s money in the courts for years so he would never live to see it.'” [Gainesville Sun]
  • ATRA takes aim at rise of asbestos litigation in NYC ["Judicial Hellholes" series, Chamber-backed Legal NewsLine, New York Daily News ("national scandal")]
  • Another reminder that while plaintiff’s lawyers conventionally assail pre-dispute employment arbitration agreements, they routinely use them themselves [LNL]
  • New U.S. Chamber papers on litigation trends: “Lawsuit Ecosystem II“; state supreme courts review;
  • Changes ahead for class action rules? [Andrew Trask]

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Eric Garner, asphyxiated during his arrest on Staten Island, had been repeatedly picked up by the NYPD for the crime of selling loose cigarettes. Washington Examiner:

The crime of selling “loosies” was not considered a serious one in the past. Many corner stores in New York City once sold them quietly upon request. But former Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s cartoonish anti-tobacco crusade changed that and everything else. Smoking in public places was banned. Punitive taxes and a legal minimum price of $10.50 were imposed in an effort to push prices ever-upward, so that a brand-name pack of 20 cigarettes now costs as much as $14 in New York City.

As a result, the illicit sale of loose and untaxed cigarettes became more commonplace.

I noted at yesterday’s Repeal Day panel at Cato that according to figures last year, New York’s unusually high cigarette taxes had brought it an unusual distinction: an estimated 60 percent of consumption there is of smuggled or illegal cigarettes, much higher than any other state. Another way to think of it is that New York has moved closer to prohibition than to a legal market in tobacco. [earlier 2003 Cato study]

In his history of Prohibition, Last Call, Daniel Okrent cites (among many other law enforcement misadventures) the fatal shooting of Jacob Hanson, secretary of an Elks lodge in Niagara Falls, New York, in a confrontation with alcohol agents — though Hanson had a clean record and was not carrying alcohol. At the time, many saw Hanson’s death as reflecting poorly on the Prohibition regime generally. For some reason, though, Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.) has drawn fire from some quarters for making a parallel observation about Garner’s death. [BBC; note however that while Garner's frictions with the local NYPD seem to owe much to his repeated cigarette arrests, the proximate event leading to his arrest seems to have been his attempt to break up a fight]

Yale’s Stephen Carter: “On the opening day of law school, I always counsel my first-year students never to support a law they are not willing to kill to enforce.” [Bloomberg View via Ilya Somin]

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Even when it’s all caught on video, in daylight, with witnesses. Even when the cop blatantly broke the NYPD’s very clear ban on chokeholds. Even when the victim was heard “gurgl[ing] that he could not breathe” and the cop was heard bantering afterward with colleagues.

The confrontation between officer Darren Wilson and Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. had several elements that worked to bolster Wilson’s defense, including evidence that Brown had assaulted Wilson in his car and contradictions in the testimony of eyewitnesses. By contrast, the case for a Staten Island grand jury to return at least some charge in the choking death of Eric Garner at the hands of officer Daniel Pantaleo would seem considerably stronger. (Garner had tried to break up a sidewalk fight before police intervened, then argued with police and was uncompliant when they intervened; in accounts after the death, police said he had frequently tangled with law enforcement because of his habit of hanging out on the sidewalk selling “loosies” — single cigarettes out of their packages, a tax violation.)

Some of yesterday’s Twitter discussion:

(This morning, New York Post columnist Bob McManus does defend it.)

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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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New York law “mandates that the city pay for storing furniture and personal belongings for homeless people.” The city has paid more than $200,000 so far for Andrea Logan’s, part of a program whose costs to the city now exceed $14 million a year. [New York Post]

Horror story in Queens points up flaws of the city’s deed-transfer system, and also of its pro-tenant housing court regime: “After Darrell Beatty failed to appear in August, a judge approved an eviction, but it was stayed last week when Beatty claimed he had health problems.” [New York Post]

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October 10 roundup

by Walter Olson on October 10, 2014

My new Cato piece on New York’s crazy “gravity-knife” law, picking up on an excellent Village Voice investigation by Jon Campbell. More: Scott Greenfield.

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September 26 roundup

by Walter Olson on September 26, 2014

  • Was California workers’ comp claim against NFL by former Tampa Bay Buccaneer-turned-P.I.-lawyer inconsistent with his mixed martial arts prowess? [Tampa Bay Times, Lakeland Ledger, earlier and more on California workers' comp and professional football]
  • Salt Lake City’s $6,500 stings: “Secret Shopper Hired to Punish Lyft & Uber Actually Prefers Them” [Connor Boyack, Libertas Institute]
  • Are libertarians undermining public accommodations law? (If only.) [Stanford Law Review, Samuel Bagenstos and Richard Epstein via Paul Horwitz]
  • Why NYC is losing its last bed and breakfasts [Crain's New York via @vpostrel]
  • U.S. continues foolish policy of restricting crude oil and gas exports, time for that to change [David Henderson first and second posts]
  • So it seems the New York Times is now committed to the theory that Toyotas show mechanical unintended acceleration;
  • OK, the future Kansas politician was at the strip club strictly on attorney business when the police arrived. Was he billing? [Politico]

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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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.]

Back to school roundup

by Walter Olson on August 25, 2014

  • Pending California bill would impose “affirmative consent” requirement on sex between students at colleges that receive state funding [Elizabeth Nolan Brown/Dish] “New Startup Connects Students With a Lawyer the Minute They Get In Trouble” [The College Fix] Yale vs. wrongly accused males [KC Johnson/Minding the Campus, related on due process] Provision in proposed “Campus Accountability and Safety Act” (CASA) would incentivize fining colleges by letting Education Department’s Office of Civil Rights keep the proceeds [Hans Bader; more on CASA] Idea that campuses are gripped by “rape culture” having wide-ranging effects, even off campus [Bader, Examiner]
  • Not only that, but the body was missing: “HS student says he was arrested for killing dinosaur in class assignment” [Summerville, S.C.; WCSC]
  • Is Mayor de Blasio really willing to sacrifice NYC select schools like Bronx Science and Stuyvesant in the name of equality? [Dennis Saffran, City Journal]
  • Administration trying to hold for-profit colleges to standard few public colleges could meet [WaPo editorial]
  • Progress of a sort: UC San Diego “has determined that most projects by historians and journalists need not be submitted to the IRB [institutional review board].” [Zachary Schrag; related speech]
  • “At Appomattox County [Va.] High School, the staff spent the summer changing its block-letter ‘A’ logo on everything from sticky notes to uniforms after the licensing agency representing the University of Arizona sent the school a cease-and-desist letter claiming potential confusion among consumers.” [Washington Post Magazine]
  • “Fifth Circuit Disobeyed Supreme Court in Allowing Racial Preferences at UT-Austin” [Ilya Shapiro, Cato]
  • Note that the pile-up of parking signs at a Culver City school is still “towering and confusing” even in the “after” photo following response to complaints [L.A. Times via Virginia Postrel]

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Lawyers are warning that a bill to restrict consideration of criminal records in business hiring now pending in New York City would be even more burdensome to business than similar bills enacted in other cities and states, applying, for example, to businesses with as few as four employees, a lower threshold than usual. [Crain's] The bill prohibits inquiry about criminal record until after a provisional job offer is made, at which point a reluctant employer must withdraw the offer, painting a large “Sue Me” target on its chest.

To be able to reject an applicant because of a past conviction, employers would have to go through a rigorous process that, if not followed, would result in the presumption that a business owner engaged in unlawful discrimination, [Reed Smith's Mark] Goldstein said….

Additionally, the City Council bill would allow an applicant rejected because of a past crime seven days to respond. The job would have to be held open during that time….

In the bill’s current form, the business would bear the burden of proof in any resulting lawsuit by the job applicant, Mr. Goldstein said.

More: Nick Fishman, Employee Screen on unusually burdensome provisions of San Francisco “ban the box” law (“Employers can’t just sit back anymore and think that these laws are benign. At the least, they are creating an administrative nightmare. At worst, the plaintiff’s attorneys are standing by waiting for your first misstep.”)

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  • “The tie that binds public employee unions and Wall Street” [Daniel DiSalvo] “Unions Manipulate New York City’s Public Pension Funds To Punish Their Enemies” [NYT via Jim Epstein, Reason]
  • Illinois latest state to pass “ban the box” law restricting employers’ inquiries on criminal records [Workplace Prof]
  • Two ex-football pros file suit claiming union conspired with owners on concussions [Bloomberg]
  • Average Illinois public retiree’s pension rapidly narrowing gap with average salary of worker still on job [Jake Griffin Daily Herald via Reboot Illinois] By 2006, 1,600 California prison guards were making $110K+, plus more on tendency of state/local government pay to outrun private [Lee Ohanian via Tyler Cowen]
  • Great moments in employment law: Seventh Circuit says other employees’ having sex on complainant’s desk not hostile work environment when not targeted at gender [Eric B. Meyer]
  • Next step signaled in SEIU fast food protest campaign: unlawful property occupations [AP, Chicago Tribune, arrests in May]
  • Trial lawyer win: Obama federal-contractor fiat will forbid pre-dispute agreements to submit bias claims to binding arbitration [AP, AAJ jubilates]

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Ramsey Orta, whose street video of Eric Garner’s chokehold death at the hands of NYC cops became a worldwide sensation, has only days later been nabbed by that same police force on grounds of an unlawful gun infraction in what the police describe as a known drug location. “To decipher some of the police jargon, every location in New York other than St. Patrick’s Cathedral is a ‘known drug location’ as far as the police are concerned,” writes Scott Greenfield [Simple Justice]

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It’s nice to know that in Manhattan’s super-expensive West Village there’s a transplanted farmhouse with a doggy chute opening in the door and a connection to the late Margaret Wise Brown, author of children’s classic Goodnight Moon. It’s less nice to know that New York City preservation law parlays this cute historic footnote into the potential imposition (if development is blocked) of an opportunity cost that the property owner thinks might be as high as $20 million [Scouting New York]

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If you last saw it in the small town of Hamlet, N.C., it might have been impounded by the police on low-level charges and then sold for scrap to junkyards in a series of what appear to be irregular and under-monitored transactions. “In police files were two court orders, signed by a state district court judge, but otherwise left mostly blank. Those pre-signed court orders, which judicial experts say are extremely unusual and do not seem appropriate, appear to have been copied and then used to dispose of at least seven vehicles.” [News and Observer last November via Balko]

More from New York City: “TLC Wrongly Accused Hundreds of Being Illegal Cabbies in Past Year.” And when they accuse, they can and do seize your car, which you may have to go to a lot of trouble to get back. [DNAInfo] Related: “City investigators wrongfully accused a black man of being an illegal taxi driver after they spotted him dropping off his wife at work, believing she was a white livery cab passenger, a lawsuit charges.” [DNAInfo via Alkon]

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Schools roundup

by Walter Olson on July 18, 2014

  • Harris v. Quinn aftermath: California teacher’s suit might tee up renewed challenge to Abood [Rebecca Friedrichs, earlier here, here, etc.] Recalling when CTA spent its members money trying to convince them their voting preferences were wrong [Mike Antonucci]
  • Calcasieu parish school board in Louisiana votes to stop paying insurance on student athletics [AP/EdWeek]
  • “Maryland Tested Kids on Material It No Longer Teaches, Guess What Happened?” [Robby Soave, Common Core transition]
  • Sexual harassment training of college faculty: a professor talks back [Mark Graber, Balkinization]
  • Eighth Circuit orders new trial in Teresa Wagner’s lawsuit charging Iowa Law discriminated against her because of her conservative views [Paul Caron/TaxProf, earlier]
  • “The 4 NYC teachers banned from classrooms who rake in millions” [Susan Edelman, New York Post] Adventures in Bronx teacher tenure [New York Daily News]
  • New Jersey: “Expensive New School Security System Traps Teacher in Bathroom” [Lenore Skenazy, Reason]