Hacking the Law

Read about one lawyer’s path from government attorney to legal hacker in Innovate by Embracing Your Inner (and Outer) Hackers. This is one way to promote access to justice – ability to code is optional.

The Dangers of Innovation

Read about the MIT students who were investigated by the New Jersey Attorney General for their student project. The university was unable to provide legal assistance to the students while they faced legal challenges for months. As a result, a new conference on the Freedom to Innovate will be held at MIT in October.

Law Day

May 1 is Law Day. This year’s theme for law day is the Magna Carta. The “Great Charter” is 800 years old this year. As the American Bar Association says: “Perhaps more than any other document in human history, Magna Carta has come to embody a simple but enduring truth: No one, no matter how powerful, is above the law.” The ABA site also has a tool kit and coloring pages for the enjoyment of people of all ages.

April is Poetry Month!

Ven-Fuel was convicted of fraudulent acts,
By the Trial Court’s finding of adequate facts.
We think it likely that fraud took place,
But Materiality was not shown in this case.
So while the Government will no doubt be annoyed,
We declare the conviction null and void.

U.S. v. Ven-Fuel, Inc., 602 F.2d 747, 748 (C.A.Fla., 1979). Written by Judge John R. Brown.
Ven-Fuel had been convicted of importing fuel oil under an import license obtained by fraudulent statements, but the appellate court found the statements not material. The entire poem is 14 lines, and an elegant summary of the case.

April is Poetry Month!

We thought that we would never see
A suit to compensate a tree.
A suit whose claim in tort is prest
Upon a mangled tree’s behest;
A tree whose battered trunk was prest
Against a Chevy’s crumpled crest;
A tree that faces each new day
With bark and limb in disarray;
A tree that may forever bear
A lasting need for tender care.
Flora lovers though we three,
We must uphold the court’s decree.

Fisher v Lowe, 122 Mich.Ct. App. 418, 419, 333 N.W.2d 67 (1983), written by J. H. Gillis for a three judge panel. The trial court had granted summary judgment for the defendant.

If the poem sounds familiar, it is based on Joyce Kilmer’s Trees.

Justice Scalia Immortalized on Stage

Justice Scalia is the subject of the new play “The Originalist.” “The play is set in the Supreme Court term that ended in June 2013 with a major victory for gay rights. In the play, Justice Scalia debates that case and others with a liberal law clerk, and their odd-couple relationship, with antagonism shading into affection, gives the play its shape. ‘This is a boxing match,’ said Ms. Smith, the director. ‘What the play does is what any good play does: It humanizes the combatants.'”

Methow Valley Cabin Fight Brings Property Rights Issues Into Focus

Seattle architect Tom Kundig built a cabin on a ridge near Mazama, causing a groundswell of outrage among valley property owners. While other Methow Valley areas have the controversial “Ridge Buster” homes, Mazama prides itself on preserving and respecting the natural landscape. Residents have called the cabin “an extended third finger,” a “boil,” a “blight” and a “wart” to a Mazama area. A week long trial was held in August. “Fans of property law can peruse 180 pages of trial documents about who has standing in the lawsuit, and what the wording in the covenant actually meant.”


Justice Scalia Gets His Facts Wrong??

OB-ZE637_scalia_D_20131007110802In what Berkley law professor Daniel Farber termed a “cringeworthy mistake” Justice Scalia attributed the position of the trucking industry to the EPA is his dissent in the EPA v. EME Homer City Generation L.P. case.

From the Volohk Conspiracy website: “Case Western Reserve University law professor Jonathan H. Adler notes the irony.

“The worst part of it is that Scalia should know this because the author of the Supreme Court’s decision in Whitman v. American Trucking Assns was none other than Scalia,” he said.”

To read more see the Wall Street Journal Law Blog.

Families of Inmates Now Can Have Free Video Visits via the Public Law Library of King County

From the King County Law Library’s Press Release:

Inmates with family support during incarceration are less likely to reoffend, according to the Washington Department of Corrections (DOC). One of the family support programs offered through the DOC allows for video visits with inmates at most facilities, at a cost of $12.95 for a thirty-minute visit.

The Public Law Library of King County is now offering free video conferencing between inmates housed in a DOC facility and their friends or family members who are on an approved visitors list.  The Law Library was awarded funds from a class action settlement regarding inmate collect calls. The settlement funds are generally limited to projects that directly benefit inmates and their families. The Law Library has used a portion of these funds to purchase video conference equipment at both library locations (at the King County Courthouse in downtown Seattle and the Maleng Regional Justice Center in Kent). Each private video visit meeting room is equipped with a large flat-screen television, web camera with audio, and computer.

In addition, the settlement funds will be used to reimburse video visits participants for the cost of the visit. To qualify for reimbursement, the video visit must be scheduled in advance and take place at one of the Law Library locations. A participant will first schedule and pay for his or her appointment through the third party vendor’s website and then contact the Law Library to schedule a video visit appointment.  At the end of the visit, the participant will receive a cash payment of $12.95 as provided by the settlement funds.

For more information, visit http://kcll.org/services/inmate-video-visits, email videovisits@kcll.org or call 206-477-1305

Do Comedians Have Legal Recourse for Joke Stealing?

Photo of a gun by Tanjala Gica/Thinkstock, photo illustration byApparently not.  Slate has an interesting discussion of the long history of joke stealing going back to the oldest known humor book, Philogelos from the 4th century. Two law professors even managed to get a scholarly piece out of the topic.  See Dotan Oliar and Christopher Spirgman, There’s No Free Laugh (Anymore): The Emergence of Intellectual Property Norms and the Transformation of Stand-Up Comedy, 94 Va L. Rev. 1787 (2008). Interestingly enough there does seem to be effective self policing among stand up comedians.  Whoever tells the joke on television first get to claim it.  If two comedians are collaborating and one develops the set-up and the other the punch line, the punch line creator gets to claim the joke.