opinions, everybody's got one...
Saturday, January 04, 2003
juries and terrorism
Terrorism and juries. Is there a problem with the mix?
When it comes to petit juries, maybe. An article from the New York Times looks back at a trial against terrorists (reg. req'd) which started in December, 2000. The author managed to find most of the anonymous jury, and asked the jurors questions about their deliberations. The article could be looked at as an argument for having military tribunals hear terrorism cases.
But the information gleaned during interviews from nine of the twelve jurors could also be helpful in instructing participants in future terrorism cases in civilian proceedings. Are the concerns raised from this particular case really that much different from cases where defendants may be part of organized crime?
A slight different matter, but still related, is the involvement of a grand jury. An article on the web site of the University of Dayton looks at federal grand juries, and the benefits of their use for investigating terrorism cases.
MSNBC's Hardball College Tour will be coming to Delaware on January 15th, with Delaware's US Senator Joseph Biden as a special guest. The show will be telecast live from the University of Delaware's Mitchell Hall at 9:00 pm. (Campus map here) The show is free to the public, and the hall will open at 7:30. Guests for previous stops on the tour included Governor Jesse Ventura, Rep. Dick Armey, John McCain, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Rudy Giuliani, Hillary Clinton, and Al Gore.
never never land or public domain?
Peter Pan is property. Or is he? When does an artistic creation become part of the public domain? Does that depend upon its time and place of creation? Publication? Whether or not the expression was used in a series of works, spread out over time? If one of those later works is still under copyright?
The Standford Law School Center for Internet and Society is representing the author of a book that involves a modern day rescue of Peter Pan from Neverland. Will the Center be able to save the author and Peter Pan from Never Never Land? They filed a complaint for declaratory judgment in a California Federal Court on December 20th, asking the Court to hold that Peter Pan is in the public domain in the United States, and to enable Emily Somma to have her book published.
Last week, I just didn't get my bid in on time over at eBay to purchase the California town of Bridgeville. The winning bid for the town was $1.8 million from an undentified buyer. I guess time will tell if it was a good purchase, or a utopia that just wasn't meant to be, sort of like New Harmony, Indiana, which was sold in 1824 for $135,000.
Friday, January 03, 2003
turn off your car lights
If you're driving through Seattle, and you decide to park, make sure that you turn your lights off. (via blogdex)
next generation state web sites
The Stamford Advocate is reporting that Connecticut has relaunched its web site at a new location, and with a new focus. The new address is CT.gov, and the shift has been from providing information to supplying services.
"This next-generation state Web site is moving from an information-based site to a more service-based portal," she said. "It's organized around the user rather than the state bureaucracy."I like the Connecticut redesign, and reorganization a lot, and I'm hoping that just maybe the folks running Delaware's pages will take a peek and gather some ideas.
sailors needed in delaware
The call has been sent out to muster a volunteer crew for Delaware's tall ship, the Kalmar Nyckel. Training is provided, and a course starts on January 11th.
The ship originally set sail in 1637 (Cannon shot and midi audio warning -- you may want to turn your volume down low) to a destination that would become New Sweden, and eventually Delaware.
If you have the time, volunteering to sail the tall ship sounds like a considerable amount of fun, and work. Enthusiastic visitors are welcomed, too!
didn't I see you online?
An interesting business practice has been adopted by a car rental agency in the UK. When you pick up a car that you've rented from easycar.com, they take a picture of you. If the car is more than 15 days past due, the picture goes up on their overdue cars page. Ananova reported on the first success of this practice back in November. A technology report from the BBC looks at that as one example of how images of ourselves may end up appearing in places that we don't want them to be.
Mark Twain's writing career sprang into life with a tale overheard in a bar, which he captured on paper and sold as his first short story. The story behind the tale has lead to an annual frog jumping contest, first held in 1928. Frogtown is home to the 39th District Agricultural Association and the Calaveras County Fair & Jumping Frog Jubilee. The very first year, 15,000 people showed up. Thousands still attend.
What happens when the contest ends? Or, as the Napa News asks, "What to do with 2,000 slightly used frogs?"
Mary Robinson in Delaware
On January 20th, the City of Wilmington will play host to President Mary Robinson, who is this year's guest speaker at the Primo Lecture Series. Her presentation, entitled Today's Challenges in Achieving Human Rights, will begin at 7:00 pm at The Playhouse Theatre of The Hotel du Pont.
President Robinson won the 2002 Sydney Peace Prize in early November. The Guardian UK named her as one of their Women of the Year in 2002. She left her position as the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in September. (An April interview with a reporter from the Village Voice focuses upon her decision to leave the UN.)
The former High Commissioner moved to the United Nations after serving seven distinquished years as the President of Ireland. She was named the laureate of the 2000 Félix Houphouët-Boigny Peace Prize, and awarded the 1999 J. William Fulbright Prize.
In November, Oxfam International named her their Honorary President around the same time that she was being awarded the Sydney Prize.
The Primo Lecture Series is named for The Right Reverend Quintin E. Primo, Jr., and its focus is to "uproot racial discrimination and injustice, and to promote racial reconciliation at all levels of society."
DE blog article takes off
The recent Wilmington News Journal article regarding Delaware Blogs went global with a reprinting in USA Today.
Thursday, January 02, 2003
If you're from Delaware, and you haven't heard of the Free State Project, you may want to know that they have your home State scouted out as a possible takeover target. The project is:
a plan in which 20,000 or more liberty-oriented people will move to a single state of the U.S., where they may work within the political system to reduce the size and scope of government.An August, 2002 report from a Virginia attorney discusses the many reasons why Delaware is the best choice for the success of the movement. A Delawarean filed a new report in December explaining other reasons why Delaware is an ideal candidate for the Free State Project.
good words, bad words
Lake Superior State University and the American Dialect Society should play each other in softball, or at the very least, compete against one another in a spelling bee. They seem to be working at cross purposes. The University just published their 2003 list of banished words. The Society will choose their favorite amongst all of the new words coined this year, to determine a Word of the Year from this group. And yes, there is at least one phrase that is on both the banished list, and the American Dialect Society's list from 2002. I'm fond of one of last year's phrases -- second-hand speech. as a word of the year. The term stands for "cell phone conversations heard by others in public places."
smyrna and dover upgrade
The Wilmington News Journal reported today that the web sites for Smyrna and Dover have recently been given new looks. They have. We linked to the Dover web site a few weeks back, and the new version is considerably more interesting looking. I hadn't visited Smyrna's site in a while, but I'm considering sending them some ideas on what else they might want to do with their new site. If you're from those towns, and you have comments and ideas about their online presence, let them know.
Wednesday, January 01, 2003
small businesses on tv
If you haven't seen Craigslist before, you've been missing out on something worth taking a peek at. Craigslist has spread out to seventeen different geographical locations, centering around cities in North America. The closest to us is Philadelphia, and it sometimes includes events, jobs, and other opportunities in Delaware.
One that looked like it might be fun to respond to is dated December 22, 2002, and is a call for small businesses (less than 20 employees) to contact the makers of a new documentary television program about American small businesses. While there is no compensation, it does present the possibility of nation-wide exposure on TV.
It's a bit of a mystery as to who the web master is for the topical directory Crime Spider. A paragraph on the front page of the site states that this directory of crime, criminal justice, and law enforcement sites was created to help him or her conduct research for the crime stories and thrillers that he or she writes. If you like true crime books, CSI style forensics, or criminal law, there are loads of interesting links at Crime Spider.
emails to attorneys
LegalEthics.com points to an Arizona State Bar Opinion with a rare dissent. The opinion focuses upon an attorney's obligations regarding unsolicited emails that they may received, and disclaimers that should be posted on law firm web sites for individual attorney's email addresses. Should an attorney be held to a duty of confidentiality when receiving an email out of the blue?
The Delaware River runs from the base of the Catskill Mountains to the Delaware Bay. The Delaware Riverkeeper Network (DRN) is a nonprofit organization working in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Delaware to help protect and restore the Delaware River and its tributary watersheds. The DRN is involved in advocacy all along the Delaware's watershed. Their web site describes how you can become a member of the network, or a student intern or volunteer. The Delaware Riverkeeper since 1996 is Maya K. van Rossum, who received her Juris Doctor degree from Pace University School of Law; and a Masters of Law degree in Corporate Finance from Widener University School of Law.
What does it mean to be pardoned by the Governor? Not a whole lot. Not nearly as much as having your innocent criminal record expunged. And innocent is the key. A pardon is something that may be granted to someone who is guilty of a crime. This does not erase the fact that the person committed the crime, nor does it erase her record. In Delaware, it is merely an acceptance of the apology of the criminal.
An expungment, on the other hand, is an erasure of the record of someone who was not adjudicated guilty of a crime. They were either acquitted, or their case was dismissed. If a person has no other criminal record, and they fall into this category, then they may be granted an expungment order which erases clean their record. They can legally even deny that they were arrested on that expunged charge.
There is a huge difference between these two processes. As shown in the News Journal, where an individual tries to get his civil rights back after a pardon, just to find out that a pardon doesn't mean much.
Tuesday, December 31, 2002
Happy New Year
May your year be filled with health, prosperity, and happiness.
For our French readers, a recent article of note discussing Delaware as an incorporation State...
Aux Etats-Unis, l'Etat du Delaware fait figure de "business lover"
La Tribune - édition du 23/12/2002
Les avocats de l'Etat du Delaware, aux Etats-Unis, se frottent les mains. Plus les scandales à Wall Street décrédibilisent la "corporate America" aux yeux de l'opinion, plus ils peuvent espérer faire des affaires. En effet, depuis 1899, ce petit Etat de la côte Est (783.600 habitants) s'est fait une spécialité d'attirer les entreprises qui veulent non seulement se créer à moindres frais (75 dollars suffisent pour déposer un dossier d'enregistrement contre plusieurs centaines dans d'autres Etats), mais aussi savoir comment elles seront traitées en cas de litige.
D'autres avantages, en termes de flexibilité laissant la possibilité à une société d'héberger plusieurs types d'activités, aux actionnaires d'avoir le choix de venir ou non en personne aux conseils, ou à la comptabilité de ne pas avoir ses livres de comptes présents physiquement dans le Delaware -, sont ainsi recherchés, sans compter les avantages fiscaux.
Spéc! ialistes du droit. Mais pour les professionnels du Delaware, tel Russell Rozanski, spécialiste des "incorporations" au cabinet Delaware Intercorp. Inc., l'aspect fiscal il n'y a pas, par exemple, de taxe sur les ventes est accessoire. "Notre avantage premier, c'est notre expertise en matière de droit des affaires", explique Lawrence Hamermesh, professeur de droit de l'université de Wydener, à Wilmington. De fait, ajoute Russell Rozanski, "les cas ici sont jugés par une cour spécialisée, la Court of Chancery, dont les juges sont nommés au mérite et non pas élus, et qui ne fonctionne pas avec une quinzaine de jurés n'ayant aucune expérience en matière de droit des affaires et censés pourtant donner leur avis sur des dossiers parfois compliqués".
Du coup, les décisions écrites des juges du Delaware servent de référence pour d'autres cas à travers les Etats-Unis et l'avis de ces experts est recherché. Toute b! onne faculté de droit s'enorgueillit d'avoir des professeurs formés à cette école. Et tout bon avocat d'affaires américain a étudié les cas du Delaware, qui servent de précédents dans le système de jurisprudence américaine.
Certes, la crise économique pèse sur les affaires actuellement. Ainsi, en 2001, seules 39.289 nouvelles sociétés se sont faites enregistrer au Delaware, contre 53.687 en 1999. Il n'empêche, si les spécialistes disent ne pas avoir remarqué une augmentation de leur activité, certaines entreprises, hébergées auparavant dans des paradis fiscaux comme les Bermudes, réfléchissent à un retour aux Etats-Unis. Pour montrer à l'opinion publique qu'elles rompent avec leur passé. Tyco, dont le PDG est inculpé de détournement de fonds, est de celles-là. Si toutefois elle passe à l'acte, elle pourrait bien choisir le Delaware, ou le Nevada, qui offre quelques avantages aussi, comme nouveau port d'attache.
Lysiane J. Baudu, à New York
Did Delaware Supreme Court Chief Justice Veasey extend an invitation for a case to challenge an unreasonably high CEO compensation package? Some commentators think so. In a Fortune article, by Jerry Useem, Chief Justice Veasey is credited with offering to break 60 years of legal tradition by allowing Court review of CEO compensation.
Was this just a warning to corporate executives, or will we now begin to police the boardroom? The latter would be a dramatic departure from current law. See, for example, this article from the New York Law Journal about the dismissal of the stockholder derivative suit concerning the severance package for the President of Disney. This brief article shows how the "business judgment rule" has been applied to these cases in the past.
Will it continue?
Monday, December 30, 2002
sticks and stones
By, and republished with the permission of: Ian Connor Bifferato, Esquire, of Bifferato Bifferatto & Gentilotti, as published in, In Re (The Journal of the Delaware State Bar Association) Volume 26, No. 5, December 2002
It seems like the general public?s fixation with lawyer bashing goes back almost as far the beginnings of our honorable profession. How many times have you been assailed with William Shakespear?s most mis-quoted line from King Henry VI (?The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers?) by some misguided guest at a social gathering? Some lawyers are probably tempted to respond by saying ?most educated people know that Dick the Butcher?s line from that play comes from a discussion among rebels about how they would have overthrown the government and made themselves lords.? In the end though, most of us come to the conclusion that the irony of that retort would likely be lost in the ensuing discussion, and we simply let the comment slide.
Most Americans have heard the sensationalized story of the lady who received a jury award of 2.9 million dollars after she spilled hot coffee in her lap. When retold completely out of context, that story is generally predicated with some statement along the lines of ?the problem with America today is . . ..? I did not even know the real story of Stella Liebeck of New Mexico until relatively recently. Apparently in 1992, Ms. Liebeck, then seventy-nine years old, purchased a small cup of coffee at a McDonald?s drive through. She parked and placed the coffee cup between her knees to remove the lid when the contents of the cup spilled into lap causing third degree burns over 6% of her body, including her inner thighs, pertineum, buttocks, groin and genitals. She was hospitalized for eight days where she underwent skin graft and debridement treatments.
At trial, evidence was presented that McDonald?s company policy required their coffee to be served at 180-190 degrees, just short of boiling, and that in the ten years prior to Ms. Liebeck?s 1992 accident, McDonald?s received at least 700 complaints per week of burns from their coffee. A McDonald?s executive testified at trial that McDonald?s was aware of the danger of serious burns from their coffee, but that they decided not to warn customers or change their stated policy regarding the temperature at which their coffee was served. Ms. Liebeck tried to resolve her claims against McDonald?s prior to retaining counsel for $20,000, probably to help defray her medical expenses. Jurors who were interviewed following the trial claimed that it was the seriousness of Ms. Liebeck?s injuries coupled with the callous attitude of McDonald?s that resulted in their verdict. What about that verdict? The $200,000 in compensatory damages awarded to Ms. Liebeck was reduced to $160,000 based upon a finding of 20% comparative negligence and the 2.7 million in punitive damages, which was apparently based on the company-wide revenue from two days sales of coffee, was reduced by the trial judge to $480,000. Take from these facts what you will, but it doesn?t seem to me to be evidence of a legal system run awry.
Civil litigators are not the only subject of lawyer bashing. Criminal defense attorneys, prosecutors and judiciary alike are most often attacked for ?letting criminals run free.? I was recently out of town, sharing a cab with another Delaware lawyer on our way to a hearing. We happened to be talking to each other about the then recent arrests of the snipers in Montgomery County, MD. The cab driver chimed in with something along the lines of ?it doesn?t matter anyway. They?ll just plead insanity and some lawyer will have them out on the streets in no time.? The underlying tone of that comment was indicative of the biggest prejudice and misconception in certain segments of our society: lawyers protect the guilty while the innocent suffer. Would it have made a difference to that cab driver if one of us had launched into a dissertation about how the provision of a competent defense to every person put on trial for a crime carrying significant penalties is really intended to protect every innocent person, not the criminals? Probably not.
None of us can ever single handedly take on the task of changing deep rooted mis-perceptions about lawyers. In reality, many people just love to hate lawyers. They do not really know why. No one can ever rationally explain or justify a prejudice. Maybe it is just because it is one of the few remaining prejudices in America that have not finally become morally unacceptable or politically incorrect. In my opinion, at the heart of the matter, every prejudice is really just an irrational means by which people target the intangible frustration and hatred that festers when they feel at a loss to control the things that they do not like about society. Everyone wants someone to blame.
It is difficult to say what we can do to improve the public?s perception of our image. Obviously, not being the stereotype is the first step, but that is rarely a problem in Delaware. Maybe during this holiday season you will not let that ?harmless,? but disparaging comment from a distant relative at a family gathering slide without a quick but friendly reality check. One thing that is certain, however, is that we can never tolerate any of our own members acting to exploit or proliferate the irrational misconception that the public carries about our profession. Tolerance of that type of behavior is tantamount to acceptance of the concept that there is something wrong with what we do, rather than something very laudable and necessary.
Derogation of lawyers never sounds so offensive as it does when it comes from one of our own. Perhaps even worse, it is never so accepted as true in the public?s eyes and ears as when it is advertised by a fellow lawyer. As lawyers we are so often vested with the public?s trust that we have become a very highly self-regulated profession to ensure our integrity. As members of the Bar of the Supreme Court of Delaware, we should also be confident that we can trust one another to be honorable.
Sunday, December 29, 2002
just don't call it "finger printing"
Picture this: You've spent the afternoon filling up a shopping cart with things you want to buy. You pull up to the checkout line, and realize that you've left money, debit cards, and credit cards at home. Do you abandon the cart? Ask someone from the store to keep an eye on it while you rush home to get some cash or a card? Or do you just put your index finger on a finger image reading pad, and your purchase is complete?
A couple of Kroger stores in Texas are experimenting with letting people use finger image technology to make purchases. They don't like using the term finger printing because of the law enforcement image it evokes. Is this a wave of the future? They do have 10,000 participants, but it is still in the testing phase.
political web site edits?
A couple of changes to the sites of the National Cancer Institute and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have some critics concerned (NY Times, reg. req'd) that the sites have abandoned reliable scientific statements with politically influenced ones:
The National Cancer Institute, which used to say on its Web site that the best studies showed "no association between abortion and breast cancer," now says the evidence is inconclusive.The world wide web presents another issue that political figures will have to address in some meaningful fashion. When web sites become a primary means of disseminating information to the public, what type of oversight will need to included when pages change, and information is revised?
[later -- more on data disappearing from government web sites, from searchenginewatch, in the December 19, 2002 edition of Searchday.]
crafting on the web
The internet is a great entry point for people who want to start businesses online. Small businesses can start out as a hobby, and grow to something larger. I came across a nice article about people who have found some success selling homemade crafts online from the writers of the Wall Street Journal. If this is something that you might want to do, there are a good number of sites that offer help and suggestions. In addition to the groups and message boards indicated in the article, you can check out the classes and resources available from your local Small Business Administration. There is also a very informative, and free, online business course on the pages of My Own Business.