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Rhode Island

November 6 roundup

by Walter Olson on November 6, 2014

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

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“…is bad for the rule of law and for capitalism,” opines The Economist, saying regulation-through prosecution has become “an extortion racket,” from hundreds of millions in Google drug-ad settlement money spread among Rhode Island police departments, to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s muscling in to extract money from BNP Paribas in a settlement of legal offenses against U.S. foreign policy as distinct from New York consumers:

Who runs the world’s most lucrative shakedown operation? The Sicilian mafia? The People’s Liberation Army in China? The kleptocracy in the Kremlin? If you are a big business, all these are less grasping than America’s regulatory system. The formula is simple: find a large company that may (or may not) have done something wrong; threaten its managers with commercial ruin, preferably with criminal charges; force them to use their shareholders’ money to pay an enormous fine to drop the charges in a secret settlement (so nobody can check the details). Then repeat with another large company. …

Perhaps the most destructive part of it all is the secrecy and opacity. The public never finds out the full facts of the case, nor discovers which specific people—with souls and bodies—were to blame. Since the cases never go to court, precedent is not established, so it is unclear what exactly is illegal. That enables future shakedowns, but hurts the rule of law and imposes enormous costs.

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  • In banking and FCPA cases, targets of DOJ prosecution are disproportionately firms domiciled abroad, and other countries do notice that [Jesse Eisinger, NYT "DealBook"]
  • “Los Angeles’ Confused Suit against Mortgage Lenders” [Mark Calabria, Cato] Providence also using disparate impact suits in hopes of making banks pay for its housing failures [Funnell]
  • Podcast discussion on Operation Chokepoint with Charles J. Cooper, Iain Murray, and Todd J. Zywicki [Federalist Society, earlier]
  • New round of suits against banks based on ATMs’ imperfect wheelchair accessibility [ABA Journal, earlier here]
  • Walgreen’s could save billions in taxes if it moved to Switzerland from U.S. Whose fault if anyone’s is that? [Tax Foundation]
  • “Left unmentioned: how fed regulation and trial lawyers deter banks from protecting themselves with overdraft fees.” [@tedfrank on NYT report about banks' use of databases to turn down business from persons with records of overdrawing accounts, a practice that now itself is being targeted for regulation]
  • Scheme to seize mortgages through eminent domain stalling as cities decline to come on board [Kevin Funnell]

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  • As condition of bail, federal magistrate orders arrestee to recant charge of government misconduct [Eugene Volokh]
  • Possible life sentence for pot brownies shows “utterly irrational consequences of pretending drugs weigh more than they do” [Jacob Sullum, Radley Balko] Life sentence for guy who sold LSD: “the prosecutor was high-fiving [the] other attorneys” [Sullum]
  • Do low-crime small towns across America really need MRAP (mine-resistant ambush-protected) armored vehicles and other military gear, thanks to federal programs? [Balko]
  • Minnesota reforms its use of asset forfeiture [Nick Sibilla, FIRE] Rhode Island, Texas could stand to follow [Balko]
  • If not for video, would anyone believe a story about Santa Clara deputies “spiking” premises with meth after finding no illegal drugs? [Scott Greenfield]
  • Falsely accused of abuse: “He Lost 3 Years and a Child, but Got No Apology” [Michael Powell, NY Times "Gotham"; Amine Baba-Ali case]
  • Two federal judges denounce feds’ “let’s knock over a stash house” entrapment techniques as unconstitutional [Brad Heath, USA Today]

“…They’d traded dignity for money. That’s what lenient retirement boards do to people.” An ex-fireman has drawn criticism by suing the city of Providence for $7 million, saying it unfairly cut off his check after a TV station filmed him “doing a muscular weightlifting workout,” calling his claimed shoulder-related disability into doubt. [Mark Patinkin, Providence Journal]

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April 30 roundup

by Walter Olson on April 30, 2014

  • “7 Reasons U.S. Infrastructure Projects Cost Way More Than They Should” [Scott Beyer, Atlantic Cities]
  • Gov. Jerry Brown’s appointments could reshape California Supreme Court [Mark Pulliam, City Journal]
  • Critics say hiring of outside counsel in Pennsylvania government is an insider’s game [WHTM]
  • Could “Bitcoin for contracts” replace legal drafters’ expertise? [Wired with futurist Karl Schroeder]
  • “Getting state out of marriage” makes for neat slogan but results would be messy in practice [Eugene Volokh]
  • Lobbying by auto body shops keeps Rhode Island car repair costs high [Providence Journal, PCIAA press release and report in PDF]
  • “Bipartisan, publicity-hungry members of Congress want the FTC to investigate Photoshopping in ads” [Virginia Postrel on this WaPo report; Daily Beast; earlier here, here, etc.]

Schools roundup

by Walter Olson on April 8, 2014

  • “Zero Tolerance Hurts Kids and Ruins Schools” [A. Barton Hinkle] “Teen’s military plans on hold after spending 13 days in jail” [WOIO, Ohio]
  • Who knew the visiting scholar of conservative thought would turn out to be conservative? [Boulder Daily Camera re: U. of Colorado attacks on Steven Hayward]
  • Case by case, courts take away right of taxpayers, lawmakers to regulate school spending [Steve Gunn, EAG News; earlier here, etc.]
  • Heather Mac Donald on gangs and the case for school discipline [NRO] More: Ruben Navarrette, CNN.
  • Editorial board endorses parent liability for school bullying [Newark Star-Ledger]
  • States to GAO: feds’ school lunch changes aren’t going well [Jason Bedrick, Cato; Washington Post]
  • Proposed Rhode Island law: “No Child Under 7th Grade Shall Get On or Off School Bus Without a Guardian” [Free-Range Kids] St. Louis: “Mom Arrested for Not Signing School Sign-In Book” [same]

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Free speech roundup

by Walter Olson on February 25, 2014

  • Cato Institute reissues Jonathan Rauch’s classic Kindly Inquisitors: The New Attacks On Free Thought after 20 years, with new introduction by George F. Will and new afterword by the author [Jason Kuznicki; Reason Foundation] The free-speech Supreme Court decision without which there would have been no gay-rights movement [Rauch guestblogging at Volokh Conspiracy]
  • Important stuff: Ken White vs. Mark Steyn on how to respond to lawsuits against speech [Popehat]
  • “Blogger: Go Ahead and Sue; I’ve Got Nothing To Lose” [Greensboro, N.C., sued by developer; Romenesko] Is it possible to defame a business by putting up a Craigslist post linking to an online docket showing lawsuits against it? [Cook County Record]
  • U.K. aims to tweak existing X-rated internet filters to block “extremist” websites [TechDirt] Europe’s hate speech laws may actually prepare the ground for sowers of hate [Jamie Kirchick, Tablet]
  • Public Citizen’s Paul Alan Levy, ACLU of Maryland assist anonymous blogger targeted by Brett Kimberlin [Consumer Law & Policy]
  • “Rhode Island Cops Vigilant In Face of Scourge of People Making Fun of State Representative Scott Guthrie” [Popehat]
  • “If you are determined to sue 1,200 people for linking to a newsworthy article, you may begin with me.” [John Scalzi]

The Costa Mesa Syndrome

by Walter Olson on January 24, 2014

Reuters on the phenomenon of police harassment of local political opponents (earlier here, here, etc.) By no means are the reports limited to California:

There also have been allegations of intimidation by police in Cranston, Rhode Island.

On Jan. 9, Cranston Mayor Allan Fung announced that state police will take over an investigation into a flurry of parking tickets issued in the wards of two council members. The pair claim the tickets were issued as retribution after they voted against a new contract for police that would have given them a pay raise….

Major Robert Ryan, a spokesman for the Cranston Police Department, said: “The matter is under investigation, and pursuant to law enforcement’s bill of rights, no-one is going to comment on this.”

As readers may recall, those high-sounding “law enforcement bill of rights” gimmicks serve mostly to entrench law enforcement personnel against consequences or accountability for misbehavior, and thus have less than nothing to do with the Constitution’s actual Bill of Rights. More: Radley Balko.

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Under first-in-the-nation legislation enacted by the legislature of Rhode Island this summer, it becomes illegal for landlords or employers, as well as many providers of public services, to “discriminate” against anyone because of their status as homeless. “Among other steps, the Rhode Island law would guarantee homeless people the right to use public sidewalks, parks and transportation as well as public buildings, like anyone else ‘without discrimination on the basis of his or her housing status.'” [Reuters] Churches and Brown University students took part in the campaign for the law, opening a soup kitchen within the statehouse building: “‘The whole idea was to put it in their face: this is homelessness,’ says Karen Jeffreys, Associate Director of the Coalition.” [Mother Jones] Rhode Island is the smallest U.S. state: “‘Now we’re a leader in something,’ said state Sen. John Tassoni, D-Smithfield.” [AP] In a sense, Rhode Island is already a leader in something: for the second year in a row, it holds the distinction of having the worst business climate in the country in CNBC’s annual survey, and it has ranked poorly in other business surveys as well. [Scott Cohn, CNBC; NFIB/Forbes; Tax Foundation] Also: Aaron Renn on the R.I. business and cultural climate.

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“Cranston Mayor Allan Fung says he’s ‘utterly disappointed’ the school district ended the gender-based events after the state affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union sent a letter of complaint last spring.” [CBS Boston]

P.S. Or, to sum up in a different way: “It became necessary to destroy the village in order to make it more inclusive.” (& Alkon)

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August 3 roundup

by Walter Olson on August 3, 2011

  • Central Falls, R.I. lands in bankruptcy court [NYT; my Cato take]
  • Less efficient patdowns? Man with one arm files complaint after being turned down as TSA inspector [MSNBC via Hyman]
  • Don’t join the Mommy Mob [Ken at Popehat]
  • Montana high court upholds failure-to-warn verdict against maker of aluminum baseball bat [PoL link roundup, Russell Jackson; earlier here and here]
  • Finally some good news from Connecticut: state enacts law protecting municipalities from lawsuits over recreational land use [BikeRag; earlier here, etc.]
  • Claim: climate-change tort suits will require radical changes in tort law and that’s a good thing [Douglas Kysar (Yale), SSRN]
  • Attorney keen to go on TV, will take any case, either side [Balko]

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I’ve got a new blog post up at Cato on the article in yesterday’s New York Times tracing how unsustainable police and fire contracts — the product, more specifically, of a pro-union state law imposing binding arbitration on municipalities — have driven the city of Central Falls to the brink of bankruptcy. Read it here. Matt Welch discusses the same article at Reason “Hit and Run.”

By a mostly partisan vote of 50 to 44, the U.S. Senate confirmed Rhode Island plaintiff’s lawyer and political kingmaker Jack McConnell to a federal district judgeship. McConnell made his Motley Rice law firm, based in South Carolina, into Rhode Island’s biggest political donor during the same period that state officials were hiring him to run, on contingency fee, what it was hoped would be a hugely lucrative suit against former makers of lead paint. The Motley firm, with associated law firms, is credited with having made billions from tobacco and asbestos litigation and has recycled large sums into the campaign coffers of state attorneys general and other friendly politicians. [Daily Caller, Plains Daily (North Dakota contributions), Politico, ShopFloor] Earlier here, here, here, etc.

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April 11 roundup

by Walter Olson on April 11, 2011

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November 21 roundup

by Walter Olson on November 21, 2010

  • Federalist Society annual convention (which I attended) included panels on anonymity and the First Amendment, judicial recusals, many other topics;
  • Nomination of R.I.’s McConnell to federal bench could soon reach Senate floor [ProJo]
  • “Why U.S. Taxpayers Are Paying Brazilian Cotton Growers $147 Million” [NPR via Popehat]
  • “Litigation Governance: Taking Adequacy Seriously” [Trask, Class Action Countermeasures]
  • “Family” groups vs. a family, cont’d: Vermont Supreme Court upholds Miller-Jenkins custody ruling [Volokh, BTB]
  • OSHA allows more comment on what could be an extremely expensive mandate against noise in the workplace [ShopFloor]
  • Cops who inform on cops are often left to twist in wind [Balko]
  • Interview with Mark Zaid, collector of comic book art with law/legal themes [Abnormal Use]

July 15 roundup

by Walter Olson on July 15, 2010

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