A DISCUSSION OF LAW AND JOURNALISM

News

Spike Lee’s Twitter Vigilantism

By LASIS Staff

Back in April 2012, then LASIS  reporter (and now Credit Suisse attorney) Jessica McElroy examined the death threats made against an elderly Florida couple (who as it happened, had nothing to do with the shooting of Trayvon Martin), after filmmaker Spike Lee tweeted their address to all his followers, under the mistaken belief that it was George Zimmerman’s address.

As Ms. McElroy put it: “Mr. Lee is lucky that nothing happened to the McClains or their property. As it is, the McClains could have sued Mr. Lee for his negligent actions, and if they prevailed, the court would have reached into his deep pockets for compensatory damages (money that the defendant pays to cover the out-of-pocket costs of the plaintiff’s injury) and possibly punitive damages (to punish Mr. Lee).”

Mr. Lee’s luck may have run out.

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When Seeking Help Can Get You Evicted

By Anthony Vento

There’s an ordinance in Norristown, Pennsylvania that says if the police are called to respond to “disorderly behavior” on a tenant’s property three times within a four month period, then the landlord must evict the tenant. If he doesn’t, he could lose his rental license.

Enter Pennsylvanian domestic abuse victim Lakisha Briggs. The New York Times recently reported the story of Ms. Briggs, a tenant in federally subsidized housing. Police responded to two domestic disputes at her home and warned her if they were called to her house once more, she would be evicted. Not long after the warning was issued, Ms. Briggs was attacked and severely injured by her boyfriend. Before slipping into unconsciousness, she plead with her neighbor not to call the police out of fear that she’d be evicted. Her condition was so bad though, that the neighbor called the police anyway.

Ms. Briggs’ fears were justified; the landlord brought eviction proceedings against her. Although reluctant to evict his tenant, he dared not risk losing his rental license.

The ACLU chose to represent Ms. Briggs arguing that the ordinance incentivizing landlords to evict “nuisance” tenants was illegal. Is the ACLU correct? Is the ordinance illegal, or can municipalities penalize landlords for not evicting tenants when police are called too frequently to their property?

LASIS investigates.

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Mugshots-for-Ransom: An Update

By LASIS Staff

A recent story by reporter Zachary Edelman analyzed the legalities of pay-for-us-to-remove-your-mugshot-off-our-websites businesses.

Our conclusion: “In reality, the websites aren’t exposing anything or anyone. Rather, the mug shots are public records that anyone could find if they knew where to look. The websites are simply putting the pictures into focus, if you will. This might not sound ethical. But it may well be legal.

“So Google is taking action. In response to complaints from victims of mug shot highway robbery, on October 3 Google changed its algorithm so that these pay-to-delete mug shot websites no longer appear near the top of Google’s search results. Some credit card companies have decided to discontinue service with these sites, as well. Without the ability to collect payments from individuals wanting their pictures removed, the sites may be forced out of business.

“And that might be a better solution, at least in the short term, than any court can offer. Because a picture isn’t worth anything if it doesn’t get the right exposure.”

In today’s New York Times, The Haggler updates us with some good news, some bad news, and a bit of irony to go with your Sunday brunch.

The good news: Some of these websites seem to have closed shop. And (with the exception of Visa) credit cards are refusing to have anything to do with processing payments for the mugshot-removal transactions.

The bad news: The attorney who brought the class action against the mug-shots has received a death threat via email. The person who sent the death threat, which apparently used the kind of language the New York Times doesn’t publish, also posted reviews of the attorney’s work on a consumer complaint website, accusing Mr. Ciolek of racism, alcoholism, and, according to The Haggler, “a few other isms.”

And the irony:  These consumer sites charge big bucks to remove such reviews. Mr. Ciolek, therefore, is now suffering the very same fate his clients have suffered. You’ve heard of Method Acting? Mr. Ciolek is now the poster child of Method Lawyering.

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Willy Wonka, Philatelist-Style

By Nicole Rowlands

In 1918, a U.S. Postal Office mistake changed one man’s life forever.

Stamp collector William T. Robey lucked into a golden ticket when he bought a sheet of 100 stamps, sold it to a dealer, and used to proceeds to purchase a new home.

Nearly a century later, the Postal Service has reissued the classic stamp error (intentionally, this time) known to collectors as the “Inverted Jenny,” which shows a Curtiss JN-4 biplane, or a “Jenny” upside down. The new stamp has a face value of two dollars and sold in mini-sheets of six. More than two million sheets were made, but included in the press run are 100 new sheets showing the plane flying right side up. The sheets are each wrapped with opaque paper so buyers can’t know if their purchase holds one of the valuable rarities. Worst case scenario:  they’ve bought stamps worth their face value and can do something really novel these days: mail a letter.

Last month, a New York Times article about the stamps noted that the “decision to intentionally produce an instant rarity, sure to rise drastically in price, is a reversal of past policy, when the Postal Service fought to keep valuable errors out of collectors’ hands, even going to court to do so.”

LASIS was curious. When has the Postal Service gone postal trying to keep its errors out of collectors’ hands?

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The Ghost of Public Records

By Alex Noble

Let’s face it – we’ve all done things we’re not proud of. But what happens when your past follows you everywhere, because it is a matter of public record? That’s what’s happening to Yasmin Rahman, a 27 year-old New Yorker who says that as a consequence of trying to commit suicide 12 years ago, today she can’t land a job.

Yasmin Rahman was 15 years old when she tried to kill herself by jumping from a crowded subway platform in front of an oncoming train. The NYPD saved her life that day – they rescued her from the tracks and she spent six months recovering in the hospital. She learned to cope with her mental health issues, finished high school, enrolled in and completed college —  and says that 39 employers have refused to hire her because they found detailed reports of her suicide attempt when they searched her name in the public records.

If you ask Ms. Rahman, this is unfair. And since she can’t erase the past, she has settled on the next best thing – filing a multi-million dollar lawsuit against the NYPD for releasing her information to the public in the first place. Yes, this is the very same department whose officers saved her life. And yes, Ms. Rahman is suing for invasion of privacy though she tried to kill herself in one of the most public ways imaginable.

But before you gather a posse with torches and pitchforks, remember that Ms. Rahman was a minor at the time, and that a person’s mental illness is a personal and very confidential matter.

Several media outlets have reported the facts behind Rahman’s lawsuit, but only LASIS explores the merits of her claim.

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