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Philadelphia

Another scandal from its seemingly bottomless depths [CNN, earlier here, etc.] “Are Narcotics Corrupting the Police Force?” [Joel Mathis, Philadelphia magazine] And the police union wants an investigation of reporters investigative reporters Barbara Laker and Wendy Ruderman, whose exposure of misconduct by narcotics squad members won a Pulitzer prize, on the grounds that some anonymous source has allegedly charged that they might have made payments to sources [NewsWorks]

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In Philadelphia, the city has seized a widow’s home and car for forfeiture after her son was nabbed on charges of selling pot [Inquirer] “Minneapolis police plan to keep $200,000 seized in a raid of a tobacco shop, even though they didn’t find any evidence to merit criminal charges. Meanwhile, a former Michigan town police chief awaits trial on embezzlement and racketeering charges for allegedly using drug forfeiture money to buy pot, prostitutes and a tanning bed for his wife.” [Radley Balko] Nebraska cops seize nearly $50,000 from a Wisconsin man driving from Colorado, “a known source state for marijuana,” but a court orders it returned [same]. Connecticut police use forfeiture proceeds “to buy new police dogs, undercover vehicles, technology, fitness equipment — and to pay for travel to events around the country.” [New Haven Register]

More: Half-forgotten history of how the feds pushed the states to embrace forfeiture [Eapen Thampy, Forfeiture Reform] And for once good news: “Rand Paul introduces bill to reform civil asset forfeiture” [Balko again] And: Rep. Tim Walberg introduces a bill on the House side; video of Heritage panel today with Balko, Walberg and IJ’s Scott Bullock, Andrew Kloster of Heritage moderating.

July 29 roundup

by Walter Olson on July 29, 2014

  • Say nay, laddie: Unsettling new Scotland law will assign each child state interest guardian (“named person”) [BBC, Scottish government, Josie Appleton/Spiked Online, opposition group and another] More: Skenazy.
  • Why Judge Alex Kozinski doesn’t like jury nullification [Reason interview last year]
  • “Asbestos Ruling Boosts Transparency —- and Threatens Plaintiffs’ Attorneys” [Paul Barrett, Business Week, on Garlock ruling]
  • Winona, Minn. town cap on rental conversions violates property owners’ rights [Ilya Shapiro, Cato]
  • Challenger claims Ohio attorney general’s hiring of debt collection firms amounts to pay to play [Columbus Dispatch]
  • Mixed verdict in Philadelphia traffic court prosecutions [Inquirer, ABA Journal, earlier]
  • Save the date! Cato’s annual Constitution Day returns Wed., Sept. 17, with panelists and speakers like P.J. O’Rourke, Nadine Strossen, Tom Goldstein, Judge Diane Sykes, Roger Pilon, and a host of others [details]

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After two insurance companies noticed patterns of suspicious claims associated with the same Philadelphia body shop, 41 persons were charged in what prosecutors say was a multi-faceted array of fraud schemes involving the participation of insurance adjusters, police, a municipal official and tow truck drivers. “According to investigators, Galati Sr. routinely created false accounts of vehicles being damaged by accidents involving falling objects, deer, and other animals to increase amounts received for insurance claims. Investigators say Galati Sr. went as far as to have employees gather and store deer blood, hair and carcasses in the shop’s garage to be used as props in photos that were later submitted with insurance claims.” Other misconduct charged includes deliberate crashing and vandalism of vehicles, and the obtaining of a $1.8 million contract with the city of Philadelphia for which investigators claim Galati’s shop lacked the contract requirements. [NBC Philadelphia, Auto Body News]

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Free speech roundup

by Walter Olson on July 7, 2014

  • Why are PEN and Index on Censorship luminaries supporting Hacked Off press control campaign in UK? [Brendan O'Neill]
  • Religious offense, hate speech and blasphemy: meet India’s self-appointed “Ban Man” [WaPo]
  • “Like a free press? Thank corporate personhood.” [Dylan Matthews, Vox]
  • Participant’s memoir: “spontaneous” mob violence against Danish cartoons was anything but [Lars Hvidberg, Freedom House]
  • Floyd Abrams testifies at Senate hearing on proposed constitutional amendments to curtail First Amendment for purposes of limiting campaign speech [Volokh]
  • Ruling: Pennsylvania high court judge can proceed with libel suit against Philadelphia newspapers [Philadelphia mag, Inquirer]
  • Missouri gun activist ordered to remove material from internet about police encounter wins settlement [Volokh, earlier]

From her threat to sue the Philadelphia Inquirer over its reporting to her use of elected office to pursue quarrels with political foes, it’s a record that makes a case all by itself for demoting the office of Pennsylvania Attorney General to something appointive and lower-profile. [Joel Mathis, Philadelphia Magazine, earlier]

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  • Radley Balko weighs in on Philadelphia bodega-robbery scandal: “I want to refer to these thugs as ‘rogue cops,’ but given that [they've thrived] how rogue can they really be?” [Washington Post, earlier here, here, here, etc.]
  • Speaking of Philadelphia cops: “16 Philly police, firefighters earned more than $400,000 in overtime since ’09″ [Brian X. McCrone and Emily Babay, Philly.com]
  • Also from Balko: “Police cameras are great, except when the video goes missing“; “Police shooting 377 rounds into a car occupied by two unarmed men “raises concerns.” That’s one way of putting it.” And a not very funny t-shirt;
  • “Mission creep”: Department of Homeland Security has its fingers in many more pies than you might realize [Albuquerque Journal]
  • Felony murder rule: “Sentenced To Life In Prison For Loaning His Roommate His Car And Going To Sleep” [Amy Alkon] Sentencing reform is bipartisan issue on both sides [L.A. Times]
  • How many parents and caregivers are behind bars on scientifically bogus “shaken-baby” charges, and is there any urgency to finding out? [Matt Stroud, The Verge; earlier]
  • Milwaukee cop drives into sober woman’s car, charges her with DUI [WITI via Greenfield]

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May 15 roundup

by Walter Olson on May 15, 2014

  • “Sign Installer Cited for Violating Rule on the Sign He Was Installing” [Lowering the Bar, Santa Barbara]
  • YouTube yanks exhibit from public court case as terms-of-service violation. How’d that happen? [Scott Greenfield on controversy arising from doctor's lawsuit against legal blogger Eric Turkewitz]
  • Philadelphia narcotics police scandal (earlier) has an alleged-sex-grab angle; also, given the presence of compelling video clips, shouldn’t the story be breaking out to national cable news by now? [Will Bunch, Philadelphia Daily News; Barbara Laker and Wendy Ruderman, PDN 2009 Pulitzer series, on Dagma Rodriguez, Lady Gonzalez and "Naomi" cases]
  • The most dynamic part of the economy? Its endangered “permissionless” sector [Cochrane] Call it subregulatory guidance, or call it sneaky regulation by agencies, but either way it can evade White House regulatory review, notice and comment, etc. [Wayne Crews, CEI "Open Market"]
  • What’s Chinese for “Kafkaesque”? Dispute resolution in Sino-American contracts [Dan Harris, Above the Law]
  • In another win for Ted Frank’s Center for Class Action Fairness, Ninth Circuit reverses trial court approval of Apple MagSafe settlement [CCAF]
  • Mississippi’s major tort reform, viewed in retrospect after ten years [Geoff Pender, Jackson Clarion Ledger]

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I’ve got a longer write-up at Cato at Liberty (earlier) on the extraordinary outcome of a federal investigation into larcenous raids on bodegas by Philadelphia narcotics cops pursuant to sales of banned plastic zip-lock bags: U.S. Attorney Zane David Memeger has closed the case without charges, the statute of limitations now having run.

This was a story that really got to me on many levels, as with this passage from the Philadelphia Daily News’s coverage: “Anh Ngo, like the Nams, said that she was never interviewed by investigators about what unfolded in her family grocery store in the Lower Northeast during a 2008 raid. Ngo, 30, said the officers smashed the [security surveillance] cameras with a sledgehammer and stole about $12,000, taking her mom’s diamond ring and emptying their wallets.” They took her mother’s ring! “‘To think that some light was shined on this by the Daily News and then the investigation just died, it’s really very frustrating,’ she said…. ‘[The cops] are living nice off of the money they stole from us.’” Notes one journalist: “The shop owners were all legal immigrants. None had criminal records. Nor had they ever met – they hailed from four corners of the city and spoke different languages.” Yet they told essentially the same stories.

The local press, specifically the Philadelphia Daily News, did everything one could reasonably wish to bring the story to light. In fact reporters Barbara Laker and Wendy Ruderman won a Pulitzer Prize for their investigation, “Tainted Justice,” and in March published a book on the scandal. The paper’s coverage of the dropping of charges has been likewise hard-hitting, including video of a bodega raid. In the end, none of it seemed to have worked in obtaining justice for the store owners.

I go on in the Cato piece to ask a few other questions about whether laws banning common items like mini-zip-lock bags are really a good idea given that they readily allow police to obtain search warrants against unsuspecting businesses; and whether we insist that store owners like these organize to defend their interests in the political process because the legal process will afford them no protection. Read it here.

And one other question: If we told these immigrant store owners that the American legal system works, would they believe us?

P.S. Internal police department discipline? The local Fraternal Order of Police union, according to its president, has been “standing behind the officers from the minute it happened.” Some don’t expect much:

“This is no big deal,” [the president of the police union lodge] said. “They’ll be handed some discipline and we’ll probably win in arbitration. . . . I don’t see anyone losing their jobs.”

On the other hand

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Infuriating: Rogue Philly cops who robbed bodega owners won’t face charges. [Philadelphia Daily News, earlier here, here, and here]

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Pennsylvania attorney general Kathleen Kane dropped a longstanding corruption “sting” probe that had snagged several Philly officials. The Philadelphia Inquirer raised questions about her decision in its reporting, which contributed to a public outcry over the episode. Then Attorney General Kane brought a prominent libel litigator with her to a meeting with the Inquirer editors, and that lawyer announced that Kane was exploring her options of suing the paper and others that had reported on the matter, and that he was going to do the talking for her.

On Sunday the paper continued to cover the sting story here and here. Ed Krayewski comments at Reason. Longtime Overlawyered readers may recognize the name of Kane’s attorney Richard Sprague.

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Product liability roundup

by Walter Olson on January 21, 2014

  • “Furniture company founder files federal chair-collapse suit against rival manufacturer” [ABA Journal]
  • Wrangling over Pennsylvania tobacco settlement aftermath “a never-ending buffet for attorneys” [Allentown Morning Call] Florida $27 million smoking award upheld [Daily Business Review]
  • Autonomous cars and tort liability [Kyle Colonna, Case Western RJLTI/SSRN]
  • Asbestos: Death of single fiber theory [Sean Wajert, Pa.] Radiologist Herron says he did nothing wrong [W.V. Record]
    Peculiar tale of Russian asbestos-mining town [Foreign Policy] More: Lester Brickman on smokers’ asbestos cases [Chamber-backed LNL]
  • From the defense side, Beck chooses favorite and least-favorite drug and medical-device decisions of 2013;
  • One can always hope: Will 3-D printing end product liability litigation as we know it? [Nora Freeman Engstrom, SSRN] “Philadelphia Becomes First City To Ban 3D-Printed Gun Manufacturing” [Zenon Evans] Once again on the vacuous but oft-repeated “NRA is a front for gunmakers” line [Tuccille]

And has now been awarded $18 million on the theory that although there was some warning signage, there should have been more. The 23-year-old driver was traveling “admittedly 15-20 miles per hour over the speed limit” when he encountered a rough patch of roadway at a resurfacing project. The claimant’s attorney, Gerald A. McHugh Jr., “a current nominee for U.S. district judge on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, declined to comment on the case.” [Philadelphia, Legal Intelligencer]

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“…can be stripped of their cash, cars, and even homes.” Sarah Stillman’s new article in the New Yorker is making a stir, and I write up some of its highlights at Cato at Liberty, including the traffic-stop scandal in Tenaha, Texas, a curious raid on a Detroit art museum, and the plight of a Philadelphia couple whose son sold $20 of pot from their front porch (& Don Boudreaux, Cafe Hayek).

Bonus: “The Civil Forfeiture Implications of the DEA-NSA Spy Program” [Eapen Thampy, Americans for Forfeiture Reform]

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Free speech roundup

by Walter Olson on May 1, 2013

  • More on Mayor Michael Nutter’s investigation of Philadelphia magazine for sin of committing unwelcome journalism [Mark Hemingway, Weekly Standard, earlier]
  • Standing on principle: liberal speech scholars defend right to use “gruesome images” in abortion protests [Volokh]
  • GreenTech Automotive files libel suit against Franklin Center’s Watchdog.org [Jim Geraghty]
  • “Dear Mr. Sahota… Your pompous yet feckless bluster distinguishes you.” [Ken at Popehat, Lesley Kemp case]
  • “Plaintiff Who Keeps Suing Search Engines Still Not Clear on Streisand Effect” [Lowering the Bar, earlier here, etc.]
  • “Government Can’t Condition Federal Contracts on Giving Up Constitutional Rights” [Ilya Shapiro on Agency for International Development v. Alliance for Open Society International; SCOTUSBlog] Speaking of compulsory sex positions, the problems with an Ohio legislative proposal on sex-ed are many, among them that government isn’t constitutionally free to bar hiring teachers of whose views it disapproves [Chris Geidner, BuzzFeed]
  • Partial fee award to attorneys Paul Alan Levy and Cathy Gellis in case where attorney Charles Carreon menaced blogger [Michael Masnick/TechDirt, Paul Alan Levy, Popehat, earlier here and here]
  • For most private-sector employers it’s illegal to let workers take comp time off in lieu of overtime; H.R. 1406, the Working Families Flexibility Act of 2013, would fix that [Hyman]
  • Christine Quinn take note: laws requiring paid sick leave do not constitute social progress [Richard Epstein]
  • Occupational hazards of bagpipe playing (other than being chased out of your neighborhood) [Donald McNeil Jr., New York Times]
  • “Phoenix ‘Not Looking for Strong Swimmers’ for Lifeguard Jobs” [David Bernstein; earlier on discrimination against deaf lifeguards]
  • Decline of full-time work in retail sector in response to ObamaCare: year’s biggest employment story? [Warren Meyer, FoxNews (largest movie theater chain cuts hours for thousands of employees)]
  • City of Philadelphia not doing well on workers’ comp program, to say the least [Workers' Compensation Institute]
  • “New labor rule will violate attorney-client privilege” [Diana Furchtgott-Roth, D.C. Examiner]
  • “Calling a Co-Worker ‘Stupid’ Not Enough to Prove ‘Disability’, Court Says” [Daniel Schwartz]
  • After bank trespass, Occupy Philadelphia benefits from jury nullification and a cordial judge [Kevin Funnell]
  • Cato commentaries on Cyprus crisis [Steve Hanke and more, Dan Mitchell, Richard Rahn podcast]
  • “NY Court Reinstates Foreclosure, Chides Judge For `Robosigning’ Sanctions” [Daniel Fisher] “Impeding Foreclosure Hurts Homeowners As Well As Lenders” [Funnell]
  • SEC charging Illinois with pension misrepresentation? Call it a stunt [Prof. Bainbridge]
  • “Plaintiff Lawyers Seek Their Cut On Virtually All Big Mergers, Study Shows” [Fisher] As mergers draw suits, D&O underwriting scrutiny escalates [Funnell] “Courts beginning to reject M&A strike suits” [Ted Frank]
  • Will Dodd-Frank conflict minerals rules actually help folks in places like Congo? [Marcia Narine, Regent U. L. Rev. via Bainbridge, earlier here]
  • “Securities Lawyers Gave To Detroit Mayor’s Slush Fund”; city served as plaintiff for Bernstein Litowitz [Fisher]