Monday, February 29, 2016

Birthdays are happier now

Have you ever wondered why waiters don't sing the original “Happy Birthday to You” when you dine out on that special day? It's because the restaurant would have had to pay a royalty to Warner/Chappell Music, a subsidiary of Warner Music Group, who claimed ownership of the song. Yep, until just a week ago or so, Warner collected approximately $2 million per year licensing the use of that song.

Not any more.

Last September, law librarians at the University of Pittsburgh found an old manuscript of the song, older than anyone had realized. Older than the 1935 claim of Warner Music Group. Which made the song old enough to belong in the public domain.

A federal judge in California is now set to approve a settlement between class action plaintiffs (folks who claim to have paid royalties to use the song), and Warner. The $14 million settlement includes (1) payments to the plaintiffs “and all others similarly situated”, (2) a judicial declaration stating the song belongs in the public domain, and (3) a payment to the plaintiffs' attorneys of $4.62 million.

I definitely practice in the wrong area of law..................

But now when you sing “Happy Birthday to You” in that restaurant, instead of another, not-as-much-fun song, you can thank the librarians at the University of Pittsburgh, and my colleagues who chose a more lucrative legal career path than I did.

Friday, February 26, 2016

WONDER - RJ Palacio [Book recommendation]

Book obtained from: Library, E-book [2012]

Description: This is a middle grade book about August Pullman, a kid with a facial difference who has been homeschooled because of all the medical procedures he's had to endure. But now he is starting fifth grade in a private school, and all he wants is to be treated like a normal kid.

Plot: The story tracks August from the summer before he starts fifth grade, through his first year in a regular school environment. He endures stares and taunts, and makes a few friends.

Characterization: The book is mostly written in August's first person POV, but it does include several other first person narrators, including his older sister and several of his friends. All of the narrators are true to life, and portray the various practical and emotional aspects of living with, or having a brother/friend living with, such a noticeable difference.

Setting: New York City. The descriptions were good, somewhat minimal at times, but I was able to picture every scene.

Other: I know a kid like August, he's 17 now. I don't pretend to know what his life's been like, but I pictured him while I was reading this book and lots of things made sense. Also, middle school in my area is usually grades 7-8, or sometimes 6-8. I did find it odd that middle school in this book started in grade 5.

Overall: This book is amazing. The author is able to portray the conflicting feelings of the characters, and simultaneously making the reader laugh and cry. The only negative I can find, is that there wasn't really an overall story goal or question, beyond “will August make it through his fifth grade year, and will it be overall a positive or negative experience.”

Grade: A

Monday, February 22, 2016

Don't aim a firearm at law enforcement personnel

This story is sad on so many levels.

A police constable in Pennsylvania, in full uniform, served an eviction notice on an apartment. This was not the first notice served, and the occupants allegedly were fully aware of their status as “about to be evicted.”

Answering the constable's knock, the male occupant opened the door, shut it, then opened it again and aimed a loaded rifle at the constable.

The constable fired a shot at the man. The bullet shattered his arm on its way through, and lodged in the body of the man's 12yo daughter, standing behind him, who was home from school because she was sick. She died.

We can all do Monday-morning-quarterbacking, saying the constable should have “stood down” or basically done anything other than shoot back, but that may not have ended well either. He was standing at an open door, staring into the business end of a loaded rifle. Turning away may have cost him his own life.

"The father put the constable in a situation where he had to make a decision to use deadly force," the trooper said. "And he did.”

"He was put in a position from which he couldn't retreat safely," another constable said of the shooting, calling it "every constable's worst nightmare." "He had no other option, really, than what he did."

The constable is heartbroken.

Investigators recovered the rifle the man had been carrying and found it with "a loaded chamber and a magazine containing 30 rounds."

The man now faces charges including homicide, involuntary manslaughter, aggravated assault, recklessly endangering another person, and a firearms charge, because under state law he was not allowed to have a gun because of past mental issues.

I practice eviction law. I have a client who had had occupants of its buildings shoot at the sheriff officers who come to evict them. Fortunately, this is not common. But it does happen.

Don't aim a firearm at law enforcement personnel. It never ends well.

Friday, February 19, 2016

THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE EMUS - Donna Andrews [Book recommendation]

Book obtained from: Library, audio book [2014]

Description: Meg Langslow, the protagonist, helps a private investigator, Stanley, find her long lost grandmother, and helps her grandfather coordinate a round-up of emus escaped from an abandoned farm.

Plot: Meg and Stanley learn the long lost grandmother is recently deceased, but promise a cousin to find the grandmother's killer. While searching for the killer, Meg helps her grandfather organize a large group to round up the feral emus and transport them to a sanctuary.

Characterization: The characters are reasonably well developed. Meg's grandfather is a hoot. I'm a bit disappointed in Meg's husband Michael, who seems to be relevant to the story only as a babysitter for the kids.

Setting: A small town in Virginia. The descriptions were good altho sometimes a tad over-described, I was able to picture every scene.

Other: Sometimes I'm completely surprised by the whodunnit in a mystery, altho most of the time I can figure it out about 2/3 or 3/4 of the way thru the book. For this story, I had it figured out before the half-way point. However, this was NOT disappointing for this story. It was actually kind of exciting that I “got it right.”

Overall: The books in this series are sometimes a little slow paced, but not so slow that I would stop reading.

Grade: B+

Monday, February 15, 2016

Stand up for your Fourth Amendment rights

This is scary.

In Minnesota [and apparently also California], cities are enacting laws allowing their housing departments to obtain an “administrative warrant” WITHOUT ANY EVIDENCE OF VIOLATIONS, to grant the city access to a rental unit to perform an inspection.

“Municipalities across the country have instituted these inspection regimes, enforced by administrative warrants, which do not require inspectors to have proof of criminal violations in order to demand entrance into somebody's home. While they are sold to communities as public safety measures to fight slums and dangerous housing, they are used to enforce a whole host of arbitrary city codes that have little if anything to do with public safety, and they are violations of residents' privacy. Police have also been known to abuse regulatory inspection processes to conduct searches without getting warrants.”

Fortunately, the Minnesota judge who is cited in this story, remembered her Constitutional Law class and denied the warrant, because it was not supported by probable cause [a good reason to suspect there was a problem].

Stand up for your Fourth Amendment rights, or soon you won't have any. 

Tenants, Owners Resist Mandatory Rental Inspections in New Minnesota Fight 

Friday, February 12, 2016

A FISTFUL OF COLLARS - Spencer Quinn [Book recommendation]

Book obtained from: Library, audio book [2013]

Description: Bernie, the protagonist, is a private investigator. He and his dog Chet are hired to “babysit” an actor with a drug problem and a big head while he's filming a movie.

Plot: Chet and Bernie investigate a total of three deaths while attempting to keep a bad-boy actor out of trouble. One of the deaths was quite a bit in the past, and all of the deaths appear somehow related to the actor.

Characterization: The characters are well developed. Chet is a funny narrator. Bernie is often clueless altho Chet reports him as “always the smartest human in the room.” Supporting characters have their own personalities and are well-written. The actor owns a cat with his own personality, much to Chet's dismay.

Setting: “The Valley.” Never specifically identified but obviously a desert community in the southwestern US, like Arizona or New Mexico. The descriptions were good, I was able to picture every scene without it being over-described.

Other: In the previous books, Chet and Bernie are looking for a missing person and are separated for a period of time. In this book, no missing person and they are never separated. This makes for a different type of story, which was good because the previous stories were a little too similar. A great read.

Overall: This is a really fun series.

Grade: A-

Monday, February 8, 2016

Is there a dress code for court?

Many types of hand-written paper signs decorate the courtrooms where I practice. Most of them include things like “No shorts, tank tops, eating, drinking, smoking, reading, gum-chewing, and use of cell phones in the courtroom.” Some include a few more-creative restrictions, like no sleeping.

No sleeping in the courtroom? Well, I've actually been guilty of that at least once, when the bailiff had to nudge me awake and send me into the hallway to borrow toothpicks to prop open my eyelids.

One Pennsylvania judge has found it necessary to remind persons in his courtroom of at least one apparently esoteric rule. 

Pajamas are not appropriate attire for district court.

“Lest you think the judge is overly gung-ho on respectability politics, he explains that this doesn’t apply if you’re just picking up paperwork or paying a fine at the courthouse, but only if you are making an appearance in front of a judge.”

And then a note from the other side –

“I don’t think it should matter,” said Michael Phillips of Catawissa Township. “If you want to wear pajama pants, wear pajama pants. It’s the person’s discretion as far as I’m concerned.”

This whole controversy strikes me as odd for several reasons, the most prominent is the fact that district court equals federal court. People are wearing pajamas in federal court? And they think that's okay?

Question: What's the difference between God and a federal judge?

Answer: God doesn't think he's a federal judge.

The judge also states it isn't an enforceable rule, more of just a reminder. 

I'm all for people taking individual responsibility for their actions.  But I'm having a hard time getting past the notion that people voluntarily wear PAJAMAS to federal court. Maybe it's because I'm an attorney, but I always thought the dress code for ANY court would be at least a shade higher than Wal-Mart.

Friday, February 5, 2016

THIRTEEN REASONS WHY - Jay Asher [Book recommendation]

Book obtained from: Library, E-book

Description: Clay Jensen, the protagonist, comes home from school one day to find a box of audio tapes on his porch. They are recorded by a classmate, Hannah Baker, who died two weeks prior. The tapes tell about her life, the parts played by thirteen people, and why she decided to kill herself.

Plot: The book enfolds mostly over a 24 hour period. Clay listens to the tapes and learns why he and twelve other people contributed to the suicide of Hannah Baker.

Characterization: The characters are well developed and sound just like high school students.

Setting: A small town, not specifically named [that I noticed] but the theater was called Crestmont Theater. Most of the book takes place in one night at various locations throughout the town.

Other: This was an emotional read. Not what I usually enjoy reading, but I did like this book.

Overall: The way the book was organized was really unusual. Hannah “talking” on the tapes was printed in italics, and Clay's response and what he was doing were in regular type. The book alternated, sometimes as often as every other line, between Hannah on the tapes and Clay's immediate response. In the E-book version I read, there were no paragraph breaks or indentations. All lines were flush left. But it worked.

Grade: A-

Monday, February 1, 2016

Being female in the legal profession

Here's a recent story out of Kansas

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A dress code imposed by a Kansas Senate committee chairman that prohibits women testifying on bills from wearing low-cut necklines and miniskirts is drawing bipartisan ridicule from female legislators.

Sen. Mitch Holmes' 11-point code of conduct does not include any restrictions on men, who he said needed no instruction on how to look professional, The Topeka Capital-Journal reported.

"Oh, for crying out loud, what century is this?" Sen. Laura Kelly, a Topeka Democrat, said Thursday.

I'm glad to see “bipartisan ridicule.”

Then there is a judge in California –

One California judge who seems to have a bad habit of disrespecting women in his courthouse recently received a gentle slap on the wrist — a public admonishment — for his behavior from the state Commission on Judicial Performance.

Judge Joseph Bergeron, an 18-year veteran of the San Mateo County Superior Court, has a history of “treat[ing] certain women at court inappropriately,” dating back to at least October 2013, when he was told by the court’s presiding judge to stop treating female court employees in a “rude, abrasive and condescending” manner after six of them came forward with complaints. Less than one year later, Judge Bergeron was back to his old tricks.

The article goes on to describe similar behavior to a female attorney appearing in his courtroom.  I suppose you can say at least he's consistent in his treatment of ALL women in the courthouse.

Thankfully, it's been a loooooong time since I've had to deal with this sort of behavior.