Friday, January 29, 2016

TOP SECRET TWENTY-ONE - Janet Evanovich [Book recommendation]

Book obtained from: Library New Books shelf, Audio book

Description: Stephanie Plum, the protagonist, is an inept but very lucky bounty-hunter. She also moonlights for her friend Ranger, a security expert and also bounty-hunter. In this story, she's looking for a used car dealer who skipped out on his bail.

Plot: Stephanie is looking for a used car dealer. Despite 21 “numbered” books and several “between-the-numbers” books, Stephanie really hasn't learned much since she started working as a bounty hunter. She's still inept and extremely lucky. But she and her friends also hysterically funny. Additionally, I am always amazed that Evanovich can weave together so many apparently unrelated storylines and have them related by the end of the book.

Characterization: The characters are reasonably well developed and had their own personalities, altho they are mostly the same characters from previous stories. I've read most of the Plum books, and I've read some reviews which state the characterization isn't as well-developed in this book as in previous books. So I guess it's best to read the books in order.

Setting: Trenton, New Jersey. The descriptions were good, I was able to picture every scene without it being over-described.

Other: Evanovich has received many reviews indicating that a certain percentage of readers are getting bored with the stories because Stephanie doesn't learn much about her job, and still hasn't made up her mind which, if either, of her boyfriends she'll choose. I suppose there is a bit of truth to that harsh criticism, but I enjoy her ineptitude and her inability to decide. I guess it hasn't gotten old for me yet.

Overall: A good, light mystery. Funny. I would read more by this author. In fact, I've read quite a bit by this author.

Grade: B+

Monday, January 25, 2016

Incompetent judges

I don't even know where to start on this one.

An “octogenarian senior federal judge” in Virginia apparently has a “history of screwing up trials.”

Federal judges are appointed for life, so the only ways they can be removed from office are (1) die, or (2) voluntary retirement, or (3) impeachment. So basically, they hold that position for as long as they want it.

Now, most federal judges can tell when they need to retire. But, unfortunately, there are some who can't. This apparently includes Judge Robert G. Doumar.

The circuit judges [Court of Appeal] really hammered Judge Doumar in their latest opinion, including citing opinions where they had benchslapped him in the past. The case on appeal was sent back down to the district court for resentencing before a different judge.

In my own practice in state court [I am rarely in federal district court], I encounter judges every week who appear to be at least as incompetent as this federal judge. It is theoretically easier to remove a state court judge because they are elected for 8 year terms, but they can be (1) voted out, or (2) recalled. Also in state court, judges are subject to peremptory challenge. Each party can ask to be reassigned away from a judge they don't like, within 10 days of the case being assigned to that judge. The court will then assign a different judge to hear that case. My firm does this quite frequently, because there are certain judges for whom the phrase “incompetent” is an understatement.

Because my area of practice [evictions] is one that almost no judge voluntarily wants to be assigned to hear this calendar, most of the time the bench officers we are assigned are (1) commissioners [who we don't have to accept, but we generally do because they usually want to do a good job], (2) brand new judges [who most of the time have no clue but want to do a good job], and (3) what we call “disciplinary assignments” [judges who irritated the presiding judge sufficiently that they are assigned to a calendar that no one else wants]. It's this third set of judges that we most often file a peremptory challenge against.

The number of incompetent state court judges who are assigned to the calendars that no one wants is sometimes amazing. Not all of the judges on these calendars are bad, but there sure are a lot who are. These calendars include evictions, small claims, traffic, criminal misdemeanors, and juvenile dependency.

Yes, judges are human too.  But you'd think that after two or three problems like this, someone would pay attention.


Friday, January 22, 2016

ME AND EARL AND THE DYING GIRL - Jesse Andrews [Book recommendation]

Book obtained from: Library, original hardcover [2012]

Description: Greg, the protagonist, and his friend Earl, high school seniors, like to make films. Another friend, Rachel, has leukemia.

Plot: Greg's mother “makes” him be friends with Rachel, a girl who has leukemia. Greg and Earl make a film for Rachel. Despite the sad subject matter, the book is actually a lighter read and funny.

Characterization: The characters are well developed, had their own distinct personalities, and sound exactly like high school students. Greg is a loner with self-esteem issues. Earl is a “black kid from a troubled home” but he is a good friend and likable. Rachel is not as developed as the boys but the book really isn't about her, it's about Greg and to some extent Earl.

Setting: A high school in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania. The descriptions were good, I was able to picture every scene without it being over-described.

Other: I read the first release of this book [the one with the cover above] and NOT the revised/re-issued book. I have not seen the movie, this is a review of the book only.

Overall: I'm not someone who enjoys “tear-jerker” stories. I was pleasantly surprised by this book. It's a good story, on the lighter side of the serious subject matter. Funny. Made me laugh quite a few times. Greg, the narrator, often speaks directly to the reader with lines like “this book sucks” and “I don't know why I'm even writing this.” I would read more by this author.

Grade: A-

Monday, January 18, 2016

Illegal to lie about earning a military honor?

Lying is protected by the First Amendment [freedom of speech], unless the lie causes tangible harm, like fraud or perjury. There is also a problem with a lie told with intent to profit or defraud.

On the surface, this sounds like a good rule. However, in context, this philosophy made the laws against wearing an unearned military medal unconstitutional.

So, unless you intend to profit, or you cause tangible harm, you can wear a purple heart, even if you never earned one and even if you've never even served in the military, and that's not illegal.

Although I can understand where this ruling comes from, I think I agree with the dissenters:

Dissenters from Monday’s ruling said falsely wearing medals is conduct, not speech, and is potentially more harmful than lying about them.

“The wearing of an unearned medal dilutes the message conveyed by the medal itself,” making the public less likely to accept the legitimacy of any medal, said Judge Jay Bybee, who was joined by Judges N. Randy Smith and Paul Watford. “The lie here is told in a more effective way.”

Friday, January 15, 2016

THE GIRL WITH THE DACHSHUND TATTOO - Sparkle Abbey [Book recommendation]

Book obtained from: Library New Books shelf, Large Print edition

Description: Mel, the protagonist, owns a doggie boutique shop, and she operates a booth at a regional dachshund race called the Dachshund Dash. Before the big race starts, one of the dog owners is found dead and Mel's assistant is the prime suspect. Mel investigates the killing to clear her assistant's name.

Plot: Mel tries to clear her assistant's name by interviewing dog owners, race officials, and other folks. Her fiance is an FBI agent and he's at the race, too, but he won't tell her why. Mel uncovers cheating, doping, gambling, and other activities at the doggie racetrack.

Characterization: The characters are reasonably well developed and had their own personalities. Betty, Mel's assistant, is pretty wild and crazy and fun to read about.

Setting: Beach town of Laguna Beach California, which isn't too far from where I live. The descriptions were good, I was able to picture every scene without it being over-described.

Other: This is the sixth book in the series. The books alternate between Mel and her cousin Caro as the protagonist. I haven't read any other books in the series, but I was able to follow along and understand the story.

Overall: A good, light mystery. Funny. I would read more by this author.

Grade: B+

Monday, January 11, 2016

Employment bans for criminals - unconstitutional?

The Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court ruled the state's lifetime ban on employment of felons in certain occupations, specifically in this case being a caregiver for the elderly, is unconstitutional.

The lawsuit was brought by five men convicted of crimes including drug possession, theft, writing bad checks and disorderly conduct. All of the crimes occurred between 15 and 34 years ago. None of them had re-offended since.

In an interview, one of the Plaintiffs said he was convicted of riding in a stolen car 32 years ago. He's had a clean record since that time, but has been unable to hold a job as a caregiver because of his record.

The law "makes no provision for consideration of any other factor, such as the nature of the crime, the facts surrounding the conviction, the time elapsed since the conviction, evidence of the individual’s rehabilitation, and the nature and requirements of the job," Judge Mary Hannah Leavitt wrote for the court.

I understand the desire to screen potential caregivers for the elderly and disabled. But I agree with the court here. A lifetime ban, without regard for any other factors, does not seem right. If people are rehabilitated and/or have not re-offended for that many years, they should be able to at least apply for employment. If there are other reasons they shouldn't be hired, then so be it. But a conviction that old shouldn't be the sole deciding factor.

Kudos to this court for believing in the possibility of rehabilitation.

Friday, January 8, 2016

MURDER COMES CALLING - CS Challinor [Book recommendation]

Book obtained from: Library “new books” shelf

Description: Four murders take place in a secluded English village. All four victims were selling their houses at the time of their deaths, so at first the police suspect the house [real estate] agent. Scottish barrister Rex Graves is called on by an old friend to help solve the puzzle.

Plot: This is a murder mystery set in a small community in England. Solving the mystery requires the MC to delve into the happenings of the past. It's compared to Agatha Christie, and that comparison is mostly accurate, altho this story has fewer characters to keep track of than a typical Christie book, which made it easier to follow along.

Characterization: The characters are reasonably well-developed. The protagonist is a Scottish barrister [attorney] visiting an old friend in a small community in England. The old friend, a physician/pathologist, gets himself mixed up in the murders by finding the bodies.

Setting: Small community in England, late November through late December, so late fall / early winter. The descriptions were good, I was able to picture every scene without it being over-described.

Other: This is a small paperback of 200 pages, so it was a quick read.

Overall: A good English cozy mystery. I would read more by this author.

Grade: B+

Monday, January 4, 2016

Judicial thought control?

New Jersey. Father and mother share legal custody of 8yo son. Father has primary physical custody.

Mother objects because (1) she opposes her ex-husband’s desire to have his fiancee become more involved in parental decisions, and (2) her 8-year-old son was beginning to call her ex-husband’s fiancee “Mom.” 

Mother is upset that another lady is playing a prominent role in her son's life. I get it. Divorce is hard on people, especially when children are involved. Mother feels displaced. I know I'd be, especially because Father has primary physical custody, is newly engaged to be remarried, and the boy is calling the fiancee “Mom.”

But asking a judge to make this type of ruling seems a little too paranoid.

The judge found both parents, as well as the father’s fiancee, played a positive role in the boy’s life. It sure beats quite a few divorces I'm aware of [family, friends, and acquaintances], where it cannot be said that both parents are positive role models. And we apparently don't have a Cinderella stepmother here. This lady wants to be a positive part of this young boy's life. In fact, she appears to be doing a fine job, if the boy is starting to call her “Mom.”

The judge ruled (1) the father may consult with the fiancee for her opinion on matters, but the father and mother must make the final decisions. This sounds reasonable. It lets Mother know she is part of the final decision, but it also allows Father to hear input from his fiancee, who will shortly be stepmother with more responsibility for the child. 

He also ruled (2) the child gets to make the decision on what to call his father’s finance. This also sounds reasonable. So long as no one is forcing the boy to call either of these ladies “Mom,” let the boy, in consultation with both ladies, determine what to call them. 

“At this challenging point in his growth and development, he certainly does not need his parents, or a stepparent, or the court, hoisting further unnecessary burdens upon his fragile shoulders by micromanaging his words and thoughts, or commanding him how to address his stepparent in order to please his mother or father.”

A judge not wanting to micromanage words and thoughts. This is refreshing.


Friday, January 1, 2016

2015 in Review

Happy New Year 2016!


It's cold and windy here in SoCal this morning. Cold being a relative term, as today's high will ONLY be in the 60s.  Every year on December 31, many thousands of people camp out overnight on the sidewalks of the city of Pasadena, overnight low temperature in the 30s, to save a seat to watch the Rose Parade in person.  The rest of the world watches the Rose Parade while packing their suitcases [we in SoCal realize we are weather wimps, and our cold isn't even close to the cold everywhere else].  Once the parade ends, the rumble of vehicles headed to SoCal has been rumored to set off a chain of earthquakes here.

I live about 50 miles from Pasadena.  On January 1, my family has a tradition of watching the Rose Parade on television [because we're too wimpy to spend the night on the street in the cold] while taking down our Christmas tree and decorations.  That's what I'll be doing today.

Just for fun, I thought I'd give a summary of this blog since 3/23/2014 when I started.

Most-viewed posts:

Small claims trials can be head shakers
A to Z reflections 2015
No photography in court
Respect the lady in the wheelchair

As of this post, my blog has 123 posts.

My top 10 countries for blog visitors, most common first:

United States
United Kingdom
New Zealand

My IT husband says the Brunei hits [which just started showing up in the last 7-10 days] are probably people trying to hack into the Google server.  I reported it to Google.  Apparently it isn't something they care about too much.

I hope all my blog readers have a safe, healthy, happy, and prosperous new year!