opinions, everybody's got one...
Friday, August 23, 2002
little known court
The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. I have never heard of it before today. I suppose there isn't much worth hearing about a court that only decides cases in the same way...always...no matter what. Well that changed. They have finally rejected an application by the jack-booted thugs, and they publicized it. Thank you.
Wednesday I took the self-guided tour through the new courthouse, to familiarize myself with the general lay-out of the building. Thursday I had my first hearing in the building. And so, I knew where to go. All is well.
Thursday while I was standing in the lobby waiting for my client, I noticed 5 firemen hanging out as well. I wasn't quite sure what they were doing and I figured that it wasn't my business anyway. But I did hear them explain their hanging out status to another fellow sporting a badge. They jokingly indicated that they were having their morning briefing.
It all became clear to me this morning when I read that since the sound of the fire alarms is so muffled by the sound reducing insulation in some of the administrative offices, they have hired 7 firemen to walk the halls until the modifications to the alarm system can be made.
What a cushy assignment.
Several of the rumors that I had heard about the new courthouse are wrong. I heard that there was no lobby seating area for the Family Court Courtrooms. I found the seating areas. They appeared to be adequate.
Overall, I like the new building. I look forward to the time when it is completed and all of the courts have settled in.
copyright bibliographical blog
There's a new blog in town on the subject of copyright called Current copyright readings. Its author, Claire Stewart, is keeping track of online articles dealing with copyright. Rather than much commentary on the content of the articles, she includes bibliographic details such as the author's name and place of publication. It's an interesting approach to a blog and she links to a number of articles I hadn't seen in my travails online, like a link to yesterday's Washington Post article, The Flute Case That Fell Apart: Ruling on Sampling Has Composers Rattled This could be a really terrific resource on issues like the Digital Millenium Copyright Act. (link via Tuffy Stone)
Thursday, August 22, 2002
trillion dollar lawsuits
I'm not certain I can even imagine that much money. The Christian Science Monitor says that the "amount of damages sought by victims of 9/11 attacks is unprecedented." The amount, which by clerical error was originally reported as 100 trillion dollars, is an effort by family members of victims to strike back economically at those they perceive as the sources of terrorism:
US law allows victims of terror attacks to recover from assets held in the US by foreign sponsors of terrorism identified by the State Department. Mr. Gerson says the trillion-dollar figure comes from multiplying the 3,000 victims in the Sept. 11 attacks by the average of $30 million recovered in such suits and then multiplying it by three as allowed under US law that provides for triple damages for terror victims.That amount didn't remain unprecedented for long. On its heels comes another suit requesting almost twice as much, from a very different source. This action was filed by a California business man, and may achieve class action status:
In suits filed today in state and federal courts, software company owner Steve Kirsch and another plaintiff seek the damages provided by law, $500 for each unsolicited commercial fax over the last four years. If a judge certifies either suit as a nationwide class action on behalf of all recipients, the figure can be multiplied by 3 million, the number of faxes that the company boasts it sends each day, Kirsch said.When the damages are presented that way, it almost sounds reasonable. Counting the number of zeros in the equation's total brings it an almost surreal quality.
Sometime after the great fire, the population of Chicago increased at a tremendous rate in a very short period of time. The center of a surging industrial movement, many of the the City's new residents were immigrants, moving to blue collar jobs. A troubled economy in the early 1880s lead to widespread unemployment. In 1886, a nationwide railroad strike triggered a reaction in Chicago. One of the most infamous legal proceedings in America's history happened in Chicago in response. Labor protestors and police clashed in a violent confrontation after a home made grenade exploded, killing a number of police officers:
The unknown bomber's act resounded nationwide. Public opinion was instantly galvanized against the radical left, resulting in the first "Red Scare" in America. In a climate of political paranoia fueled by the popular press, the police arrested eight prominent Chicago anarchists and charged them with conspiracy to murder. The eight were tried before Judge Joseph E. Gary in the Circuit Court of Cook County. Although no evidence emerged to tie any of the men to the bombing, the jury returned a verdict of guilty after deliberating for less than three hours. The court sentenced Oscar Neebe to fifteen years in the penitentiary and the others to death by hanging.The Library of Congress, the Chicago History Society, and Northwestern University have all played a part in putting online a great amount of information about the events leading to the case, the proceedings themselves, and their aftermath. Chicago Anarchists on Trial: Evidence from the Haymarket Affair displays a very large volume of photographs and documents, including many pages from the legal proceedings resulting from the death of the police officers from the grenade. The identity of the person who threw the grenade was never uncovered.
A fantastic presentation by the Chicago History Society and Northwestern University called The Dramas of Haymarket, provides an intriguing history of the events. Memories of Haymarket exist within Chicago, and labor protestors to this day. (image from the Dramas of Haymarket, Act Three -- Toils of the Law, The Court of Public Opinion)
Wednesday, August 21, 2002
state court records
How much information should be available to the public on civil and criminal cases in state courts? How much information can be accessed online, or in person at a state courthouse? Should there be different standards for civil and criminal cases? How much information about the individuals involved should be disclosed? This Nando Times article discusses a report issued by the Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT) earlier today. The Nando Times article remarks about some of the differences between particular states, and some of the unintended disclosures of information that can be discovered by the mere presences of cases --
All of these court records can have unintended consequences. Some courts delete obviously sensitive data like social security numbers, but one could also find bank account numbers as well as a person's name and address, information that could help an identity thief.The CDT's nationwide survey shows a very wide range of standards and views as to the types of information that is accessible to the public online or off:
CDT recently conducted a nationwide survey of the practices of state and local courts in making information public via the Internet. We found a wide variety of practices and policies. This is attributable partly to our federal system, under which state and local governments are the laboratories of democracy. But even taking federalism into account, the process of putting court records online has proceeded in remarkably disparate ways. Courts have made records available in many forms ranging from statewide services to many instances of single jurisdictions providing access to their records. Some states provide access to both criminal and civil records while others restrict users' access to records that may contain sensitive personal information. And while some states offer free comprehensive access to their court records, many others charge users a range of fees for online access.The CDT also writes about an effort to try to develop some standards that all states could adopt, under a project funded by the State Justice Institute. While it looks as though a fair bit of effort has gone into this Model Policy on Public Access project, a quick look through it raised a few red flags in my mind. When I have a chance to read it more in depth, I'll try to address some of those issues. The latest newsletter (pdf) of the agency funding this project also caused me a bit of concern regarding its future. An opening headline reading "SJI Struggles to Survive" will do that.
Where does Delaware stand when it comes to sharing court records with the public, and how reliable does the CDT survey appear? The CDT's description of public availability to Delaware's court records looks pretty accurate. Note that there's not a mention of Family Court records -- disclosure of that court's information is very limited. I'd add that access to criminal and civil dockets for Superior Court and the Court of Common Pleas cases is available at the New Castle, Kent, and Sussex County Court Houses free of charge. As for the reliability of the information provided in the CDT survey, I recognized the email address provided with their information as that of the Chief Technology Director of Superior Court of the State of Delaware. I would call that a pretty good source.
just how much domestic spying is going on?
An expedited Freedom of Information Act request (pdf) was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) today, asking the Department of Justice a number of questions about the "pervasiveness of domestic spying." They were joined in making the request by the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) and the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression(ABFFE).
I think that this is an important request. It's information that we should know. As the ABFFE states in their June 21st update on their web site:
The Sensenbrenner/Conyers letter, asks Ashcroft questions about how the Justice Department is implementing 50 provisions of the PATRIOT Act, www.house.gov/judiciary/ashcroft061302.htm. With respect to the business records section of the act, it asks how many court orders have been issued to bookstores, libraries and newspapers. (Reporters' notes can also be subpoenaed under the PATRIOT Act even if they are protected by state "shield laws" designed to protect their confidentiality.) The letter also asks whether the Justice Department has put in place any safeguards like requiring supervisory approval before the records are sought or "requiring a determination that the information is essential to an investigation and could not be obtain through any other means."There was a limited response from the DOJ to Congress from those 50 questions. It's possible that Congress will subpoena Attorney General Ashcroft if more answers aren't forthcoming by Labor Day weekend.
The types of information that the FOIA request is asking about includes how many times the government has:
Conducted "sneak and peek" searches, which allow law enforcement to enter people's homes and search their belongings without informing them until long after;I understand that it has to be difficult to conduct a domestic war on terrorism under a microscope. But I'm worried about living under a government that would refuse to answer those types of questions.
Tuesday, August 20, 2002
search engines respond to ftc
We've written a couple of previous entries about search engines. One, in January, on the "politics" of search engines included a quote which mentioned the benefits of a disclosure from search engines "of the underlying rules (or algorithms) governing indexing, searching, and prioritizing, stated in a way that is meaningful to the majority of Web users." Another, in June, focused upon a complaint filed by a consumer advocacy group with the FTC, asking for better disclosure from search engines.
On a number of the engines, it isn't always easy to tell which results were based upon relevance to a search performed, and which results were returned because the site's owners paid to have the results shown. The Federal Trade Commission responded to the complaint by sending a letter to a number of search engines asking them to make that distinction easier for their visitors to see and understand.
News.com has a followup, which looks at how the engines have responded. They also raise some other issues.
carding friends and customers
In the course of my work-day, I notarize many signatures. We among the Delaware Bar have been well warned by the Delaware Supreme Court that no short cuts are permitted in this notary process. You can't mail me something with your signature on it for me to notarize. Nor can I notarize a document that you just signed in the other room, even though you walk it in to me. The notary process requires that I actually see you put the ink on the page. That much is quite clear.
But who are you? How and when do I ask for identification, where do I store the copies of your driver's license? What type of identification is sufficient? Does it really matter if an identification card has expired? How long must I know a person before I can say that I really know who they are? I have friends that I have known all the way from kindergarten through law school, but I have never actually inspected their identification. Is it enough that I have gone through 20 years of school with them? I have been to their homes and had meals with their alleged families (after all, I haven't examined the birth certificates and identification of the parents). If that many years is enough, what about someone I have known for 10 years? Or 5? Or 2? Or 3 weeks? Or 3 Days? Where is the cutoff? At what point do I have to ask for identification? If I know someone for 15 years, but I only see them about once a year, is that better or different from someone I have seen every day for 2 weeks?
I am serious.
Monday, August 19, 2002
shareholder activism on the web
Web sites attacking corporate practices have been around almost as long as the web. This news article takes a short detour from its main story, and points to some sites where minority shareholders can use the web to try to gain more power over the direction of a corporation:
Nell Minow, co-founder of The Corporate Library, which focuses on the relationship between shareholders and corporate boards and management, sees the Internet as a way small shareholders can unify.Corporations are fictional legal entities, given certain rights by law. But, behind the fiction, behind the corporations are people, and there isn't always agreement amongst those people on the direction that a corporation follows.
The most publicized bit of recent corporate activism involved the HP and Compaq merger. As Walter Hewlett said:
At the very least, boards must be pried loose from the grip of management and their hired hands. Despite more than 200 years of political practice in the United States, democracy remains an ideology strangely alien to many corporate boardrooms. And too many corporate executives still fail to distinguish dissent from disloyalty...Above all, too many corporate managers too readily forget who owns the company--the shareholders.Such action isn't always initiated by the heirs of founders of corporations. Environmental group Friends of the Earth have a page on some of the forms that socially oriented shareholder activism can take. Other groups have posted information on the web to help people use their positions as shareholders to effect change in a corporation, including the As You Sow Foundation, the Shareholder Action Network, and The Corporate Library.
The last group has a list of Shareholder Action Campaigns that can give you a good idea of the different types of complaints shareholders have, and the ways in which they are trying to make change happen. And, don't miss eRaider.com, where "If they won't take care of business, we will."
federal judges decry low wages
If I follow the logic of the argument, which I think I do, Federal District Judges' pay, adjusted for inflation has decreased since 1969. It started out as $40,000 , and is now $150,000 per year. When we compare this to the wage for a Harvard Law professor moving from $28,000 to $250,000 in that same time period we can see how poverty has struck the federal bench. When I look at the Census Bureau statistics, I can see what they mean [sic]. The average 1969 wage earner made $29,166 per year (in 2000 dollars) compared to the $40,290 that the average person earned in 2000. The article really brings it into focus by pointing out:
Now, $150,000 sounds like a lot of money to most Americans, and it is. But the real crunch comes for many judges when they have to send a couple of kids to college. Tuition is rising much faster than inflation, and $30,000 a year for each child comes right off the top of a paycheck. And, notes Breyer, ?there are no scholarships for people who earn $150,000 a year.?I can understand the statistics, and how we can twist them. I have kids and bills too. But no matter how many times I read the article, all I hear is let them eat cake.
foreign language ballots
Maybe it's time to stop calling them "foreign" language ballots, as the Seattle Post-Intelligencer does. That newspaper reports that four counties in Washington State have been ordered to provide voting materials and ballots in languages other than English. In Yakima, Franklin and Adams counties, Spanish materials are required, and in King County, Chinese.
The federal Voting Rights Act provides the impetus behind these additions, which aren't just limited to Washington.
Under the federal Voting Rights Act, foreign language ballots must be provided if the Census shows more than 10,000 people or more than 5 percent of the voting age population in a single language group don't speak English well.A full list of the jurisdictions where non-English voting materials or oral language procedures are required is here from the Bureau of the Census. The Bureau also has a more detailed description of the requirements under Section 203 of the Voting Act.
As the Seattle paper notes, it's important that care and attention to detail goes into the translations:
In March, a sample primary ballot in Orange County, Calif., translated into Vietnamese, described the sheriff as a "low-level officer who examines dead bodies." A district attorney was described as a hamlet prosecutor while the county clerk-recorder was called an office secretary.With the growth of the hispanic population in Delaware, especially Sussex County, perhaps Delaware should start considering the possibility of being required to have Spanish voting materials ready before they are required by the next census.
shopping in cuba
The first American brand food to be sold directly from the US to Cuba since 1961 arrived at Havana on Sunday:
The U.S. House of Representatives recently voted to lift restrictions on Americans traveling to Cuba and to allow U.S. financing of food sales to Havana, among other embargo weakening measures, with the Senate expected to adopt similar legislation later this year.Forty-one years is a long time. I know that while there is a growing group of people willing to end the embargo, there are still those who want to see it continue. But, I can't see change happening, and improved relationships between the US and Cuba without an end to the trade barrier that's been in place for so long.
Sunday, August 18, 2002
asleep in the law library
I was setting out to blog in response to one of my several favorite blogs, Held In Contempt, more particularly her article about the liability of a lessor for the negligent accident of the lessee, when I got sidetracked. I was backtracing her links and trying to figure out why she didn't link directly to the case opinion, thinking all the while about describing a parallel argument successfully made in Delaware with respect to sovereign immunity not being waived by the state unless it goes out and buys insurance, when I finally tracked down the Opinion. Apparently the opinion was either scanned in backwards, or the pages were numbered backwards. Trying to figure it out bored me to distraction. It really drove home the essence of the article I stumbled upon in my search...about sleeping jurors and judges...and what you can or cannot do about it. I vote that it is the lawyers' job to keep the jurors awake, and the judge just has to look out after herself. Now if I can just find that darned voting box...