A DISCUSSION OF LAW AND JOURNALISM

Archive for January, 2012

Don’t Chalk it Up to Free Speech

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By Russell Smith

Timothy Osmar, an Occupy Orlando demonstrator, was arrested on December 15 for writing, “The revolution will not be televised,” in chalk on the sidewalk outside of City Hall in Orlando. The Orlando police claim they asked Mr. Osmar to stop “defacing” the sidewalk and even checked with the department’s legal advisor before arresting him for violating a city ordinance.

After posting bail, Mr. Osmar, undeterred, returned to the scene of the “crime” on December 22, chalking, “All I want for Christmas is a revolution.” Mr. Osmar was arrested again (video); this time the judge was annoyed with the unrepentant scribbler and refused to set a bail amount. Mr. Osmar sat in jail for 18 days before retaining attorney Dick Wilson, a former chairman of the First Amendment Lawyers Association, to represent him.

Whether or not as a result of Mr. Osmar’s new representation, I can’t say, but the Orlando prosecutors then decided not to pursue the case, dismissing both charges and stating that the time Mr. Osmar had already served in jail was an “appropriate punishment.” (Indeed, some might say 18 days was a disproportionate punishment.)

In any case, the prosecutors probably felt confident that they wouldn’t be seeing Mr. Omar’s thoughts on the sidewalks of Orlando again.  They were wrong.

Mere hours after his release, Mr. Osmar wrote chalk messages on the sidewalks outside the courthouse, and then more outside City Hall. “I am ready and willing, after a bit of a breather, to do it all again,” Mr. Osmar said. “I would really look forward to challenging this in court, to striking the ordinance so people can express themselves with chalk on the sidewalk.”

Mr. Wilson, advocating for his determined client, told the Orlando Sentinel that Mr. Osmar’s arrests were a clear violation of his First Amendment rights, and the newspaper left it at that. LASIS investigated.   (more…)

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ACTA: A Treaty by Any Other Name

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By Ryan Morrison

Grab your pitchforks and torches, folks, it’s time once again for the internet to get angry! It was barely over a week ago that the web went dark in protest of SOPA and PIPA, evoking a grass roots movement unlike any other. Millions of angry citizens called, e-mailed, or petitioned their representatives to pull support from the two bills, and many did just that. So, alright! We win!

Well, actually, we don’t. Not yet, anyway. We may be an angry mob, but we’re also much less experienced down the rabbit hole of the political wonderland that our representatives call home. Allow me to introduce the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement. Imagine a version of SOPA or PIPA, agreed to on an international level.

Since it was made public by Wikileaks in 2008, there have been strong opponents of ACTA, but far fewer than the multitudes who railed against SOPA or PIPA. The best-known piece to have come out against ACTA is a 2010 letter signed by over 75 legal academics, including New York Law School’s own Professor David Johnson.

In recent weeks, a large number of online protestors came forward, begging the president not to sign ACTA, but turns out he had already signed it last October — (whoops! A little late guys!) —  at a signing ceremony in Tokyo.  Also in attendance and signing on:  heads of state from Australia, Canada, Japan, Morocco, New Zealand, Singapore, and South Korea.

In addition, as I’m writing this article, there are reports that ACTA was just ratified by 22 European nations with the rest expected to follow shortly. This has led to many large-scale protests (some Polish Parliament members even showed up in Guy Fawkes masks) throughout the continent.

With ACTA signed into law by President Obama, American protestors, realizing they were a little late to the protest party, claim, in effect, that the party ain’t over yet.  Petitions and articles are cropping up, questioning the constitutionality of President Obama signing ACTA with no intention of letting Congress ratify it.

The issue comes down to this:  Does President Obama need this “treaty” ratified by Congress as protestors claim, or is this an “executive agreement” within his power to sign into law as the administration claims? Plenty of opinions out there. (see here, here, and here).  LASIS sticks to  the facts.   (more…)

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Catholic Teacher Fired for Having a Baby

Madonna and Child

By Katherine Lazarow

In one way or another, we agree to contracts with fixed terms every day: before downloading music on iTunes, buying a cell phone plan, or taking out a student loan. More and more, another area in which the terms of contracts may be non-negotiable is in the area of employment, as individuals desperate for a job agree to an employer’s conditions or risk not being hired. But what if—in addition to a set number of vacation days and an agreement not to publically disparage the employer—potential employees were also asked to commit to other, more fundamental provisions?

In fact, many employees already do.

For example:  When Christa Dias of Cincinnati, Ohio, was hired as a part-time technology teacher in 2008 at Holy Family School, and in 2009 at St. Lawrence Catholic School, she had to sign employment contracts agreeing to comply with the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church.

Ms. Dias is not, herself, Catholic.

In October 2010, shortly after Ms. Dias asked for maternity leave, she was fired from both schools for breaching her employment contracts. Her violation? Well, it’s confusing.

Ms. Dias alleges that the schools first informed her she was being dismissed “for becoming pregnant outside of marriage,” but upon realizing that this might violate federal and state anti-discrimination laws, the schools quickly changed their tune. They now claim that they fired her for having undergone artificial insemination, which the Church views as a grave immoral act, and, they say, is in direct violation of her employment agreements, which require employees to “comply with and act consistently in accordance with the stated philosophy and teachings of the Roman Catholic Church,” part 1F. (According to Catechisms 2353, 2366, and 2376, premarital sex and pregnancy outside of marriage are frowned upon, but only artificial insemination is labeled “gravely immoral.”)

In response, Ms. Dias filed an employment discrimination suit against the two schools and the Archdiocese of Cincinnati in the U.S. District Court in April.

Does Ms. Dias have a case? Are these employment contracts enforceable? If a teacher can be fired for engaging in behavior that violates Catholic teachings, can she lose her job for using birth control? What if she has an abortion? How do courts balance employment discrimination laws against the First Amendment’s protection of religious freedom? Questions the press did not tackle. LASIS will.   (more…)

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Fighting Megaupload Piracy With…Piracy?

Pirate

By Asher Hawkins

Last week, the Obama Administration criticized SOPA and PIPA for their associated risk of fostering censorship. At the same time, the Administration stated it would combat online piracy perpetrated by foreign websites.

Looks like the promise to crack down on piracy was more than mere saber-rattling.

Yesterday, less than 24 hours after the conclusion of the Stop-SOPA Blackout, the U.S. Department of Justice announced a sweeping indictment targeting the leaders of Megaupload.com, a popular Hong Kong-based file-sharing site that, according to the feds, allows users to access pirated copies of movies, music and other copyright-protected works.

Megaupload’s top seven honchos – none of them U.S. citizens, and four of them arrested Thursday by local New Zealand law enforcement upon a request from American authorities – are accused of heading up an organized criminal enterprise whose main goal was criminal copyright infringement.

But the feds’ actions may just be outside the scope of existing U.S. statutory law. The whole idea behind the Stop Online Piracy Act (the House of Representatives version of the controversial legislative initiative) and the Protect Intellectual Property Act (the Senate version) is that our existing laws don’t give the feds the legal weaponry needed to protect works under U.S. copyright from the scourge of foreign online piracy.

Does U.S. law apply to wrongdoing committed (or primarily committed) overseas? It’s a complicated issue that our judicial system has increasingly grappled with in recent years. Thursday’s news reports about the shutdown of Megaupload – here’s a run-of-the-mill mainstream-media report from ABC News, and here’s a more in-depth piece from Wired – didn’t address this “extraterritoriality” issue.

So we decided to do just that.   (more…)

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Best 2011 ABA Niche Blawg Crowned

Winner

By LASIS Staff

Thank you, Friends, Romans, Countrymen, for voting for (and getting your moms to vote for) Legal as She is Spoke in the 2011 ABA Blawg 100 Competition. We won in the Niche category and had the most popular votes overall.

We know how hard it is to put out a blog, and we congratulate all the nominees for being singled out by the ABA.

A toast to all the winners and to an interesting 2012!

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