A DISCUSSION OF LAW AND JOURNALISM

Archive for March, 2011

Quit Whining!

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By Usheevii King

A student at the University of Miami wants its Student Bar Association to adopt a Bill of Rights that essentially relieves law students from any and all obligations. Thank you to Above the Law for bringing this to my attention. The site did a great job of mocking the student, but without seriously explaining why the demands seemed ridiculous. We have some ideas about that.

Now, admittedly, not all the “rights” demanded in the student’s Bill of Rights are outrageous. For instance, I understand students wanting to receive their grades in a reasonable period of time after taking an exam (“Students shall not have to wait an unreasonable amount of time to receive a grade on any graded assignment.”), and the desire to receive a real explanation about how tests are graded (“The right of a student to receive a clear explanation from the professor as to how the student received their grade on any graded assignment…shall not be infringed upon.”) I’m not sure about a Bill of Rights for these desires, but still, at least I understand where the student is coming from.

Regarding some of the other student demands: Not so much. Apparently, this student is not familiar with The Paper Chase (the book or the film) and even Legally Blonde. Law school is rigorous. Get over it. To demand a Bill of Rights to protect students from the rigors of law school? Even Elle Woods would have seen the folly in that.

But, if I had to pick one provision that really drove me crazy, one would win, hands down. Here it is: “Students shall not be expected to know material that was not covered in the assigned reading for that day’s class, nor covered in any of the lectures and/or assigned readings to that day’s class.” Seriously? How would that work? (more…)

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Word Up! Deconstructing Our Legal Vernacular

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By Tara Krieger

Nevermind assault and battery, public drunkenness, or possession of a narcotic. Someday soon you could potentially be booked for “sheening.”

Sheening, n., \shēn-iŋ\ 1. partying, questionable decision making and public humiliation.

2. getting high on pain pills and sleep aids. 3. the new name for wasted.

Pulling a sheen, v. phr., to ridiculously try to defend oneself in the public media

Yes, as in Charlie. The name of the gnarly tiger-blooded warlock, whose winning ways have been all-too-publicly documented, has already become a common colloquialism. And, according to some word mavens who proffered the above definitions in a recent New York Times piece, “to sheen” could end up in the newest edition of Webster’s. Or even Black’s Law Dictionary.

Indeed, Black’s editor Bryan A. Garner (who contributed “pulling a sheen”) has “no doubt” that the name of the self-imploding Hollywood badboy “will spawn one or more meanings besides getting drunk.”

As the Times points out, Charlie Sheen wouldn’t be the first personality whose name made it into our legal lexicon. Just ask Judge Robert Bork, who was vigorously blocked by political opposition from a U.S. Supreme Court nomination in 1987.

Today, “bork” actually has its own entry in Black’s: “1. (Of the Senate) to reject a nominee, esp. for the Supreme Court, on the grounds of the nominee’s political and legal philosophy. 2. (Of political and legal activists) to embark on a media campaign to pressure U.S. senators into rejecting a President’s nominee. 3. Generally, to smear a political opponent.”

How does a well-known name or event enter into our legal discourse? (more…)

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Citizens United & Snyder: A Rebuttal to the WSJ

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By Paul Irlando

On March 2, the Supreme Court decided Snyder v. Phelps, a First Amendment case upholding Westboro Baptist Church’s right to protest at the funeral of Lance Corporal Matthew Snyder, a Marine killed in Iraq. Westboro is known for its extreme stance against homosexuality and its protest activities, which include picketing funerals. On the day of Cpl. Snyder’s funeral, Westboro notified local police of its intention to protest, received permission, and held up signs that read, “Thank God for Dead Soldiers,” “Fags Doom Nations,” “You’re Going to Hell,” and other similar hateful language.

Mr. Snyder’s father sued, alleging, among other things, a state tort claim of intentional infliction of emotional distress. A jury awarded $2.9 million in compensatory damages and $8.1 million in punitive damages. The district judge reduced the punitive damages to $2.1 million, but left the verdict otherwise intact. The federal appeals court in Richmond, Virginia, reversed, holding that Westboro’s actions were protected by the First Amendment. The Supreme Court, 8-1 (Justice Alito dissenting), affirmed.

On March 3, the Wall Street Journal opined on the Westboro  decision as follows:  “If the Court’s four liberals are willing to defend free speech for antiwar, antimilitary philistines, perhaps they’ll rethink their contradictory willingness to limit the political speech of businesses and other issue advocates in Citizens United (2010). Just asking.” (more…)

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A Solution to the Problem of Supreme Court Recusals

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By Trevor Timm

On March 2, in just one of a series of recent controversies over judicial recusals, Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly and New York Congressman Anthony Weiner got into a heated argument over whether Justice Clarence Thomas should be allowed to participate in the inevitable Supreme Court case involving the health care bill.

Rep. Weiner accused Ginny Thomas, Justice Thomas’ wife, of having “received more than $700,000 from organizations whose existence is based on making sure the health care bill is ruled unconstitutional.

“And it [gets] even worse,” Rep. Weiner continued, “because Justice Thomas basically said he agrees with his wife…and under the clear letter of the law he must recuse himself.”

Ms. Kelly countered that, “What I’m told by Supreme Court expert contacts, and these folks are on the left I want to state for the record, is that having any sort of professional interest in a case as his wife arguably does, is not grounds for recusal. It’d be a different thing if Clarence Thomas himself had stock in some company…and this is not that.”

The conversation devolved from there. At one point, Ms. Kelly stated, “We have trust in our justices,” and Rep. Weiner interjected, “No, we have a law.” It turns out we may have neither.

The past year saw Justices Thomas, Scalia, Kagan, and Ginsberg each been involved in controversies (of varying degrees of seriousness) involving judicial recusal, so LASIS thought it time to investigate, what exactly determines whether a Supreme Court Justice must recuse him or her self? (more…)

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I’ll Get You (for Copyright), My Pretty!

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By Sarah Berent

The 1939 classic film The Wizard of Oz, based on the first novel of L. Frank Baum’s Oz series, is so beloved, so intertwined with our popular culture that it’s hard to envision another version or even sequel or prequel without thinking of the world the original film created. Judy Garland is and forever will be Dorothy; same for Frank Morgan as Oz, Bert Lahr as the Cowardly Lion, and so on.

There are nine Wizard of Oz-related projects in development, which is due both to the quality of the material and to all fourteen books in Baum’s Oz series residing comfortably in the public domain — that is, the books are no longer protected by copyright laws and anyone has the right to recreate the stories in any medium.

Yet the 1939 film is firmly protected by copyright. Warner Brothers currently holds the rights and as Eriq Gardner of the Hollywood Reporter Esq. reported, the studio is willing to vigorously defend its interests in the film. In 2009, Warner Brothers successfully sued a company that used images from the movie’s 1939 publicity posters to make t-shirts for copyright infringement.

What does this mean for all of the other Wizard of Oz-related films in the studio pipelines? (The most anticipated being Disney’s version: the Sam Raimi directed Oz: The Great and Powerful with James Franco attached.) Will they be able to use or reference Dorothy and friends without triggering a copyright infringement lawsuit from Warner Brothers? (more…)

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