A DISCUSSION OF LAW AND JOURNALISM

Archive for July, 2010

Who’s Your Daddy: LeBron Faces Heat From…His Father?

http://www.bballcity.com/images/2008/01/lebron-james.jpg

By Jeremy Potter

You probably saw “LeBron” in the headines and thought “This is just what the Internet needs, another story about LeBron James.”  It’s understandable.  After all, we’ve all had enough of The Decision LeBron made “to take [his] talents to South Beach and play for the Miami Heat.

But there was another story about LeBron last week, which, while not headline news, piqued our interest.  Seems a Washington D.C. attorney has filed a lawsuit against LeBron and his mother, Gloria, in which he claims that he is LeBron’s father, and that LeBron and Gloria tampered with his 2007 paternity test that came back negative.  He is seeking $4 million in damages.

This story drew attention from the American Bar Association (ABA) Journal, the Daily News, and CNN.com.  But none of these outlets took the time to examine the lawsuit, preferring instead to run with the headline and let the details work themselves out later.  In fact, it was the celeb site TMZ and not a traditional news site that actually located the court documents, though it stopped short of analyzing the law.

We weren’t satisfied with that.  We wanted to know- how much heat this lawsuit packs.   So we read Leicester B. Stovell’s allegations of paternity.   Very carefully. (more…)

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Bed Bugs: To Tell or Not to Tell, That is the Question

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By Tafiya Khan

“Such [bed] bugs and goblins in my life!”  So groused Mr. Melancholy himself, Shakespeare’s Hamlet, which tells us that bed bugs are not a new, 21st century phenomena.  These tiny wingless insects feed on blood, multiply quickly and hide in crevices, mattresses, books, Abercrombie & Fitch, and hospitals.  Extremely difficult to exterminate, they move from room to room, person to person, and generally, make the Ten Plagues of Egypt seem like a holiday. So, forget Twilight and True Blood.  These blood suckers are the real deal, and they’re not going anywhere.

Last month, The New York Times Magazine’s resident Ethicist, Randy Cohen (that’s right, he’s back!), dished out some advice on bed bug disclosure.   His correspondent, “Name Withheld,” wrote Mr. Cohen asking whether she should tell her NYC coop neighbors that her apartment had been infested with, and treated for, bed bugs.  She’d already checked with her coop board, which had left it to her discretion.  She’d also checked with the coop management company, which had discouraged disclosure to avoid panicking the residents.  Mr. Cohen was disappointed.  After all, he answered, isn’t the management company responsible for preventing things like bed bug infestation?

Hmmmm…This sounds like we’re bordering on a legal obligation.   But are we?  Does a management company have a duty to disclose prior bed bug infestations to coop residents?

(more…)

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Unhappy Meals: Industry Watchdog Says “No” to Toys

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By Jeremy Potter

On June 23, the LA Times and Associated Press reported that the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) issued a demand letter to McDonald’s.   The public interest group stated that it would sue the fast food chain unless it immediately stops offering toys with its Happy Meals.

“McDonald’s is the stranger in the playground handing out candy to children,” said CSPI litigation director Stephen Gardner.  Marketing unhealthy food by offering the inducement of toys to children says CSPI, is deceptive, inappropriate, and illegal.   According to CSPI, McDonald’s actions are “a creepy and predatory practice that warrants an injunction.”

As soon as news about the possible lawsuit was announced, reactions came in from mainstream media, bloggers, and industry watchers alike.  The LA Times simply reported the story factually with no mention of the validity of the legal threats.  The pro-business bloggers at BNET.com came to McDonald’s defense; one called CSPI’s case “weak” while another advocated compromise.

But most mainstream stories were silent on the legal matter.   And that’s the question we have:  Even if we all agree that  Happy Meals are not vitamin-packed and nutritionally sound, is McDonald’s violating any law?

(more…)

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What Not To Wear: Courtroom Edition

WTF I KW?

By Jillian Raines

Political buttons, hats, jeans and shirts referencing female genitalia have all previously been contested when worn in U.S. courtrooms. In New York, a recent incident added another item to the “What Not To Wear” list: T-shirts with the F word.

According to a New York Post article, a 19-year-old female alternate juror was excused from duty when the judge noticed she was wearing a shirt that read “Who the f*** is Kanye West?”

The Post reported that the young woman, Nneka Eneorj, claimed it was “supposed to be a First Amendment issue” which provided her the right to wear anything she wanted in court. But since she did not press the matter further (read: She was content being released from jury duty), it seems that neither did The Post reporter.

This, of course, leaves the reader wondering: Were Miss. Eneorj’s First Amendment protections actually violated when she was ejected from the courtroom?

We all know you can’t falsely shout “Fire” in a crowded theater, so there are instances in which expression can be curtailed.  But when?  And why?

Some background is in order. (more…)

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Legal Violation or Healthy Democratic Dealings at Work?

http://voices.washingtonpost.com/thefix/senate/joe-sestaks-short-campaign.html

By Jeremy Potter

After months of speculation surrounding whether Rep. Joe Sestak (D-PA) was offered a job in exchange for dropping out of Pennsylvania’s Democratic primary election, the Obama Administration confirmed that former President Clinton, at the behest of President Obama’s chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, held exploratory discussions with Sestak about potential jobs Sestak might accept as part of a deal.

President Obama and his top lawyer, Bob Bauer, insist that “nothing improper took place” and discussions were “fully consistent with the relevant law and ethical requirements.” On May 28, 2010, Mr. Bauer released a memo to the White House staff evaluating each possible job offer but did not cover the applicable law.

Some stories about the offer referenced illegal activity, potential illegal offers or “a felony” without mentioning anything further about the law.  Other stories and blogs caught onto one or both of the U.S. Code’s applicable regulations.

But almost all the stories dismissed the violation, or alleged violation, as meaningless.

Left Wing media bias or fair assessment?  We will examine each of the two U.S. Code regulations in turn.

(more…)

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