trial lawyers and outrageous paydays

Circuit Court of Cook County
Circuit Court of Cook County

We get class action notices in the mail all the time, and mostly just throw them out. I suspect most of them are bogus lawsuits that mostly benefit the lawyers filing the case. I wonder if their days are numbered…

But this week, the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals put a damper on the business model of legal extortion by trial lawyers filing frivolous lawsuits. It sent this particular class-action settlement back to the lower court for reconsideration. It was the court’s first failure to rubber-stamp such a class-action settlement in eight years.

Ted Frank of the Center for Class Action Fairness had filed the objection to the settlement. “We have been saying all along that this is an abuse of the class-action process,” Frank told me. He said that the case could be a milestone in his fight to prevent such abuses.

“A defendant is willing to throw a million dollars at a case to make it go away, because it’s often more expensive to defend it,” Frank said. “And the attorneys are OK with settling for that million dollars, if they get the million dollars. But if most of the money has to go to their clients, they won’t bring the crummy cases in the first place. They’ll only bring meritorious cases.”

Frank has become the proverbial fly in the trial lawyers’ ointment, objecting again and again to bogus nuisance settlements that make up the bread and butter for some. In January, his objection helped convince a court to throw out a settlement between (the online social site with the annoying popup ads) and some users who felt they had been duped into signing up.

In that case — whose merits appear much stronger than the Bluetooth case — the lawyers had negotiated $117,000 for the aggrieved class, and a million-plus-dollar fee for themselves.

Frank’s organization, a nonprofit 501(c)(3), is currently fighting settlements that are overly generous to trial lawyers in cases against Kellogg, Volkswagen and Toys “R” Us, among others.

(click here to continue reading Days numbered for trial lawyers getting outrageous paydays | David Freddoso | Columnists | Washington Examiner.)

and from the Center for Class Action Fairness:

Victory: court rejects settlement We’d like to think our objection had at least a little to do with the end result.

This decision is not a big surprise after the court was severely critical of the settlement during the December 16 fairness hearing. We won’t know for a while why the court rejected the settlement, but Judge Richard Jones today issued an order stating that he did so, that the parties should return to litigation, and that a formal opinion would be forthcoming. (The parties might reasonably murmur that they’re hard pressed to have productive settlement negotiations until they know where they fell short in the court’s eyes.)

(click here to continue reading Center for Class Action Fairness, LLC: Victory: court rejects settlement.)


mafia-like aspects of the Murdoch Empire

Federal Bureau of Investigation Chicago Division
Federal Bureau of Investigation Chicago Division

Michael Wolff of Adweek has been a follower of the Rupert Murdoch News Corporation for a long time, even written a book1 about Murdoch a while ago (before the current, seemingly ever-escalating scandal). Mr. Wolff is not surprised that the FBI and the DOJ are considering pursuing RICO statute investigations into News Corp.

In my biography of Rupert Murdoch, I referred to News Corporation as Mafia-like, provoking the annoyance of my publisher’s libel lawyers. I explained to them that I did not mean to suggest this was an organized crime family, but instead was using “mafia” as a metaphor to imply that News Corp. saw itself as a state within a state, and that the company was built on a basic notion of extended family bonds and loyalty.

But just because it’s a metaphor doesn’t mean it isn’t the real thing, too.Well-sourced information coming out of the Department of Justice and the FBI suggests a debate is going on that could result in the recently launched investigations of News Corp. falling under the RICO statutes.

RICO, the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, establishes a way to prosecute the leaders of organizations—and strike at the organizations themselves—for crimes company leaders may not have directly committed, but which were otherwise countenanced by the organization. Any two of a series of crimes that can be proven to have occurred within a 10-year period by members of the organization can establish a pattern of racketeering and result in draconian remedies. In 1990, following the indictment of Michael Milken for insider trading, Drexel Burnham Lambert, the firm that employed him, collapsed in the face of a RICO investigation.

Right Turn Ahead
Right Turn Ahead

Michael Wolff continues with some more details about the criminal culture of News Corporation, and Rupert Murdoch:

As it happens, much of this pattern of conduct at News Corp. has long been hiding in plain site. How the company has gotten away with such behavior is, in fact, a subtext of the investigations that are now unfolding.

Partly, the company has escaped legal scrutiny because this is a boys-will-be-boys sort of story. News Corp.’s by-any-means aggressiveness has become so much a part of its identity that it seemed almost redundant to find fault with it. Everybody knew but nobody—for both reasons of fear and profit—did anything about it; hence its behavior has become, however unpleasant, accepted.

And partly, it’s because the fundamental currency of the company has always been reward and punishment. Both the New York Post and Fox News maintain enemy lists. Almost anyone who has directly crossed these organizations, or who has made trouble for their parent company, will have felt the sting here. That sting involves regular taunting and, often, lies—Obama is a Muslim. (Or, if not outright lies, radical remakes of reality.)

Threats pervade the company’s basic view of the world. “We have stuff on him,” Murdoch would mutter about various individuals who I mentioned during my interviews with him. “We have pictures.”

Similarly, the Post and Fox News heap praise and favors on partisans, who in turn do them favors (the police, in New York as well as London, receive and return the favors). This reward and punishment has translated into substantial political power, both in terms of regulatory advantages and, too, in the ability of the company to shield itself from the kind of scrutiny that it has taken a perfect storm of events to have it now receive.

Then, too, as one of the largest media organizations, it has insured a hands-off attitude (if not policy) from other media organizations—those which have business with it, or whose executives want to protect their prospects of working for it, or that extend courtesies in the hope they will be extended back. There’s also the money. Ultimately, if you have the goods or the savvy with which to damage the company, you get paid off. In London, that’s how News Corp. thought it could contain the hacking scandal, with big cash payments to and confidentiality agreements with the hacking victims.

In the U.S., Floorgraphics, the company that News America Marketing tried to extort, was bought for far more than its value when it persisted in its suit against News Corp. Judith Regan received an outsize settlement when she pushed her claim that Ailes had pressured her to lie about her relationship with Kerick.

(click here to continue reading Michael Wolff on the State of the Murdoch Empire | Adweek.)

  1. The Man Who Owns the News: Inside the Secret World of Rupert Murdoch []
Business government

Tyson Foods Corporate Criminal

Chickens Being Grilled
Chickens Being Grilled

Don’t you love how corporations want to be accorded the same rights as people in some areas, but not others? Able to donate unlimited cash to lobbyists and their politician lackeys, yet able to wantonly break the law without consequence. Sort of a rigged system, isn’t it?

For instance, Tyson Foods:

The issue of the payments resurfaced in November 2006, and this time, Tyson did what it should have done two years earlier: it retained an outside law firm, Kirkland & Ellis, conducted an internal investigation and, under a government program intended to encourage voluntary disclosure of white-collar crime, turned the results over to the Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission. The government’s investigation ended this February, when Tyson was charged with conspiracy and violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. Tyson agreed to resolve the charges with a deferred prosecution agreement in which it “admits, accepts and acknowledges” the government’s statement of facts, and paid a $4 million criminal penalty. The company paid an additional $1.2 million and settled related S.E.C. charges that it maintained false books and records and lacked the controls to prevent payments to phantom employees and government officials.

But what about those at Tyson responsible for the bribery scheme?

Corporations may have assets and liabilities, but they don’t commit crimes — their officers, executives and employees do. And the 23-page letter agreement between Tyson and the Department of Justice, the criminal information, and the S.E.C.’s public statement of facts all withheld names, identifying the participants only as “senior executive,” “VP International,” “VP Audit” and so on.

It would seem self-evident that if Tyson engaged in a conspiracy and violated the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, then someone at Tyson did so as well. The statute specifically provides for fines of up to $5 million and a prison term of up to 20 years for individuals, as well as fines of up to $25 million for companies.

I assumed the names were withheld because the investigation was continuing and further charges might be forthcoming. I was wrong.

When I called this week, press officers for both the Justice Department and S.E.C. said the investigation was over and no one would be named or charged. This seems to reflect the belief that the deferred prosecution agreement, penalty and S.E.C. settlement largely achieved the government’s objectives, which were to stop the illegal conduct at Tyson and deter future instances. The decision not to pursue cases against individuals seems also to reflect budgetary constraints at both agencies (cases involving foreign witnesses can be especially costly) and, for the Justice Department, the burden in a criminal case of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. But surely bribery, not to mention other forms of corporate wrongdoing, would be more effectively deterred if someone was actually held accountable for it.

(click here to continue reading Tyson Foods Agrees It Made Illegal Payments, but No One Was Charged –

I think Tyson shouldn’t be able to evade penalty for their crimes, no matter what their and the SEC’s excuse.

Business government

Cigarette Makers Could Recoup $2 Billion From States

Smokers Always Welcome
Smokers Always Welcome

Such a strange settlement in the first place, but 1998 is a lifetime ago, and tobacco attorneys have been billing millions of dollars in the ensuing years. State budgets in 1998 were a lot more robust as well.

Big cigarette makers could recoup $2 billion under a proposed deal with state attorneys general to resolve a long-running dispute over payments required by the landmark 1998 tobacco settlement.

Negotiators for Altria Group Inc.’s Philip Morris USA and other tobacco companies have reached a tentative deal with officials representing the 46 states that signed the 1998 Master Settlement Agreement, say people familiar with the matter.

The accord would allow big tobacco companies to keep part of the money they have withheld from states or otherwise disputed under the 1998 pact, under which they agreed to pay more than $200 billion to help states recover the costs of treating sick smokers.

States and the companies have battled over $7.1 billion that the companies argue they shouldn’t have to pay on sales from 2003 through 2010. The dispute revolves around the companies’ contention that they have lost business because states haven’t adequately sought payments from smaller competitors not party to the 1998 pact.

The bigger companies say some of those rivals enjoy cost advantages that allow them to sell cigarettes at lower prices, luring more customers in a sluggish economy. The states maintain that their authorities have done what is required under the 1998 pact.

Under the new deal, cash-strapped states would collect several billion of the disputed dollars. The deal also would rewrite rules related to how states collect fees and taxes from smaller companies that haven’t joined the 1998 settlement.


If it goes through, the biggest loser could be Native American cigarette companies, which have become strong competitors with their low-priced brands. The deal would require states to adopt rules forcing these companies to start paying state excise taxes and fees for sales on tribal lands, which could force them to boost prices. Lawyers representing Indian cigarette interests are threatening legal challenges.



(click here to continue reading Cigarette Makers Could Recoup $2 Billion From States –


government religion

Atheist in Florida Files Suit Citing Harassment in Arrest

Picasso on The Cross

Picasso on The Cross

Sheriff Grady Judd sounds like a real jerkstore. He should move to Yemen or Afghanistan if he’s so intent upon living in an intolerant country. Or Arizona…

MIAMI — An atheist in Central Florida filed suit in Federal District Court in Tampa on Friday, accusing the Polk County sheriff, an evangelical Christian, of harassing and unnecessarily arresting her as retaliation for not believing in God and for her efforts to keep prayer out of public meetings.

EllenBeth Wachs, the legal coordinator for the group Atheists of Florida, asked the court to prevent the sheriff, Grady Judd, from conducting any new investigations, arrests or complaints resulting from her “nonreligious, atheist viewpoint in the predominantly Christian-oriented Polk County, Fla.” The sheriff’s actions, including two arrests and searches of her house, violated her First Amendment rights and her right to due process, the suit states.

A nonpracticing lawyer, she signed the requests with the designation Esquire after her name. Sheriff Judd sent a team of officers to arrest her and charged her in March with illegally posing as a lawyer, a felony.

“This does not violate any bar rules,” said her lawyer, Lawrence G. Walters. “She is allowed to use esquire.”

(click here to continue reading Atheist in Florida Files Suit Citing Harassment in Arrest –


Business Food and Drink

Vienna Beef Sues Grandson of Founder

Vienna Pure Beef Hot Dogs Polish Sausage

Scott Ladany must have really been causing Vienna Beef trouble behind the scenes for a long time, or else they wouldn’t have reacted this way.

Chicago hot dog maker Vienna Beef has a beef with a grandson of one of the 118-year-old company’s founders.

Vienna says the grandson, Scott Ladany, is trying to make consumers think hot dogs made by his newer, separate company are the same as theirs.

In a suit filed Monday in federal court in Chicago, Vienna Beef says that Ladany “has embarked upon a deliberate, multi-faceted campaign to promote [his] products” by trying to convince hot hog vendors to sell his hot dogs by misrepresenting them as Vienna hot dogs — or by telling vendors that his company’s hot dogs are made with Vienna’s original recipes.

The suit claims Ladany and his company, Red Hot Chicago, are guilty of trademark infringement, false advertising and unfair competition.

Ladany was a Vienna Beef employee and shareholder, the suit notes, until 1983. At that point he sold his entire 10 percent interest in Vienna, resigned his position as a salesman and left the company. He signed employment and severance agreements that acknowledged, among other things, that Vienna’s recipes were trade secrets that he would never use or divulge.

In 1986, after his non-competition agreement with Vienna ended, Ladany opened Red Hot Chicago (RHC), headquartered at 4649 W. Armitage, to sell hot dogs and other products.

Vienna Beef says “for more than 25 years, Ladany and RHC made few inroads into Vienna’s position of dominance of the hot dog stand market. Vienna’s reputation among consumers was simply too strong. … Accordingly, Ladany and RHC recently decided to take a different tack: they decided they would avoid the enormous long-term expense associated with building their own brand. Instead they would lay claim to Vienna’s recipes, pretend to be Vienna, and sell their products by misappropriating the enormous power of the Vienna name and reputation among consumers and vendors.”

Vienna says Ladany, of Highland Park, and RHC have “made numerous false and misleading statements in their print and Internet advertisements and marketing materials” that intend to mislead the public into thinking that RHC and its products are affiliated with Vienna and its products, the suit states.

“Among other things, Defendants state in these advertisements that RHC’s products are made with Vienna’s family recipes. If these statements in their advertisements are true, then Defendants are admitting that they have stolen and are using Vienna’s trade secrets. If RHC is not in fact using the Vienna family recipes, as stated in their advertisements, then Defendants’ advertisements are false.”

(click here to continue reading Vienna Beef suit: kin of a founder misrepresenting his new company – Chicago Sun-Times.)

Give the Gift of Chicago

government politics

Scalia and Thomas Should Be Impeached


At the least because of their refusal to behave in an ethical manner.

Even the editorial page of the NYT is concerned

The court is still not addressing the issue despite months of questions about possible cozy friendships, suspected political biases and family ties. Last week, Justice Antonin Scalia was asked to recuse himself from an upcoming case about alleged gender bias at Wal-Mart Stores because his son is co-chairman of the labor and employment practice at the law firm representing the company.

A bipartisan group of 107 law professors from 76 law schools have made their own proposal for how the court should solve its recusal problem. They argue that justices should follow the ethical code that applies to other federal judges. (Under the rule about avoiding the appearance of impropriety and not letting others “convey the impression that they are in a special position to influence the judge,” Justice Antonin Scalia would not have been able to go duck hunting with Vice President Dick Cheney in 2003 after the court agreed to hear a case involving Mr. Cheney.)

If a justice denies a motion to recuse, he or she should have to issue an opinion explaining why and that could be reviewed by some as yet unspecified group.

The professors’ proposal is a good start. Representatives Chris Murphy and Anthony Weiner are working on a bill based on it. It would be better for the justices to come up with their own similar proposal and adopt it — including a review process by a committee of justices to ensure accountability. That would not interfere with the court’s independence and would strengthen its credibility.


(click here to continue reading The Court’s Recusal Problem –

It's About Judge Ment

and re: Justice Thomas

Supreme Court spouse Ginni Thomas recently opened a lobbying firm which promises to give “voice to…the tea party movement in the halls of Congress.” The job will likely lead her to lobby in favor of repealing the Affordable Care Act. Meanwhile, conservatives are mounting a nationwide litigation strategy to convince Ginni’s husband to give voice to the tea party movement in the halls of the Supreme Court.

In response to Ginni Thomas’ involvement with groups trying to repeal the Affordable Care Act, 74 Members of Congress signed a letter to Ginni’s husband — Justice Clarence Thomas — pointing out that his wife’s new job could have ethical consequences for him:

As an Associate Justice, you are entrusted with the responsibility to exercise the highest degree of discretion and impartiality when deciding a case. As Members of Congress, we were surprised by recent revelations of your financial ties to leading organizations dedicated to lobbying against the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. We write today to respectfully ask that you maintain the integrity of this court and recuse yourself from any deliberations on the constitutionality of this act. […]

Given these facts, there is a strong conflict between the Thomas household’s financial gain through your spouse’s activities and your role as an Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court. We urge you to recuse yourself from this case. If the US Supreme Court’s decision is to be viewed as legitimate by the American people, this is the only correct path.

(click here to continue reading ThinkProgress » 74 Members of Congress Seek Justice Thomas’ Recusal From Affordable Care Act Lawsuits.)

the full letter available here


Climate Scientist Sues Skeptic for Libel

Sitting in the Clouds

Wonder if any interesting evidence will be unearthed during discovery? Like oil corporation involvement, or Koch Industry payments to Tim Ball? Curious to see what happens.

A prominent Canadian climate scientist is suing a leading climate skeptic for libel, arguing that an article published online in January contained false and malicious claims.

Andrew Weaver, a climate modeler at the University of Victoria, filed the lawsuit against Tim Ball, a former professor of climatology at the University of Winnipeg and a vocal critic of the science linking man-made emissions to global warming, over an article published by the Canada Free Press, a conservative Web site.

The article described Dr. Weaver, who was lead author for the 2007 United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, as lacking a basic understanding of climate science and incorrectly stated that he would not take part in the next I.P.C.C. panel because of concerns about its credibility. Dr. Weaver is already involved in the preparation of the next report from the panel and has never said that he was ending his involvement with it.

Dr. Ball’s article has been removed from the Canada Free Press site, which published a long retraction and apology to Dr. Weaver after being contacted by the scientist’s lawyer.

The article contained “untrue and disparaging statements,” the site’s editors wrote, adding that the attacks on Dr. Weaver’s scientific credibility were unjustified. “We entirely accept that he has a well-deserved international reputation as a climate scientist and that Dr. Ball’s attack on his credentials is unjustified.”


(click here to continue reading Climate Scientist Sues Skeptic for Libel –

As an internet wag said somewhere, this must mean that we can discredit all of the climate deniers now since they acknowledge committing an error, right?1

  1.  Reached by phone, Dr. Ball acknowledged that he had made “one small mistake” with his statement that Dr. Weaver was bowing out of the I.P.C.C. process, []

Chase at Very Center of Bernie Madoff Fraud

A Fool Too Long

In a perfect world, the white collar crooks involved in this fraud would lose their freedom, and their business would be disbanded. As we all know, this won’t happen, J.P. Morgan Chase will pay a token settlement, and all the bankers will go home to their country estates unscathed.

Senior executives at JPMorgan Chase expressed serious doubts about the legitimacy of Bernard L. Madoff’s investment business more than 18 months before his Ponzi scheme collapsed but continued to do business with him, according to internal bank documents made public in a lawsuit on Thursday. Enlarge This Image

On June 15, 2007, an obviously high-level risk management officer for Chase’s investment bank sent a lunchtime e-mail to colleagues to report that another bank executive “just told me that there is a well-known cloud over the head of Madoff and that his returns are speculated to be part of a Ponzi scheme.”

Even before that, a top private banking executive had been consistently steering clients away from investments linked to Mr. Madoff because his “Oz-like signals” were “too difficult to ignore.” And the first Chase risk analyst to look at a Madoff feeder fund, in February 2006, reported to his superiors that its returns did not make sense because it did far better than the securities that were supposedly in its portfolio.

Despite those suspicions and many more, the bank allowed Mr. Madoff to move billions of dollars of investors’ cash in and out of his Chase bank accounts right up until the day of his arrest in December 2008 — although by then, the bank had withdrawn all but $35 million of the $276 million it had invested in Madoff-linked hedge funds , according to the litigation.

The lawsuit against the bank was filed under seal on Dec. 2 by Irving H. Picard, the bankruptcy trustee gathering assets for Mr. Madoff’s victims. At that time, David J. Sheehan, the trustee’s lawyer, bluntly asserted that Mr. Madoff “would not have been able to commit this massive Ponzi scheme without this bank.”

(click here to continue reading JPMorgan Said to Have Doubted Madoff Long Before His Scheme Was Revealed –

WSJ adds:

J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. stood “at the very center” of Bernard Madoff’s fraud, according to a lawsuit unsealed Thursday that reveals for the first time how bank employees’ concerns allegedly went unheeded and irregularities in his accounts were overlooked.

The $6.4 billion lawsuit, filed in December and unsealed in federal bankruptcy court Thursday, says J.P. Morgan reported its long-held suspicions of Mr. Madoff to British authorities in late October 2008, less than two months before he surrendered and the fraud was exposed.

The 115-page lawsuit, which seeks the return of $1 billion in J.P. Morgan’s profits and fees, and $5.4 billion in damages, also goes into great detail about the bank’s efforts, starting in about 2006, to make money by offering products tied to Mr. Madoff through investment funds that fed money to him.

It also says the bank didn’t pay attention to billions of dollars passing through the Madoff’s firm’s main J.P. Morgan account, much of it by hand-written check, or discrepancies in the account balance and unreported obligations, including a $95 million loan.

“They had, legally, an obligation to make inquiry, and they didn’t,” said David Sheehan, an attorney for Irving Picard, the trustee recovering losses for victims of the Ponzi scheme. “You’re literally seeing millions of dollars going in and out on a daily basis, and not one phone call is being made.”

(click here to continue reading Madoff Trustee’s Suit Says J.P. Morgan at ‘Very Center’ of Fraud –


Netflixed: Roman Polanski- Wanted and Desired

Didn’t quite know what to expect from this documentary, though I was aware of the broad details of Polanski’s eventful life – Sharon Tate’s husband when she was brutalized by Charlie Manson, surviving concentration camps, and so on. Quite watchable, if a bit disquieting.

This penetrating documentary explores the tumultuous events of director Roman Polanski’s personal life, including the murder of his pregnant wife, Sharon Tate, and the controversial sex scandal that prompted him to flee the United States for France. Highlights include an interview with Polanski’s victim, Samantha Geimer, as well as candid conversations with Chinatown screenwriter Robert Towne and actress Mia Farrow.


(click here to Netflix Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired.)

Polanski’s sexual encounter with a 13 year old is distasteful, whether or not is was consensual; 13 year old girls might be sexually active, but adults should have enough sense to keep their pants on. However, the film makes a pretty strong case for judicial misconduct on the part of Judge Laurence J. Rittenband.

Worth a view.

Roger Ebert:

The tragic story of Roman Polanski, his life, his suffering and his crimes, has been told and retold until it assumes the status of legend. After the loss of his parents in the Holocaust, after raising himself on the streets of Nazi-controlled Poland, after moving to America to acclaim as the director of “Chinatown,” after the murder by the Manson family of his wife and unborn child … what then?

He was arrested and tried for unlawful sexual intercourse with a 13- year-old girl, one of several charges including supplying her with drink and drugs. Then he fled the country to avoid a prison sentence and still remains in European exile for that reason. That is what everybody remembers, and it is all here in Marina Zenovich’s surprising documentary, “Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired.”

But there is so much more, and the story she builds, brick by brick with eyewitness testimony, is about crimes against the justice system carried out by the judge of Polanski’s case, Laurence J. Rittenband. So corrupt was this man that the documentary finds agreement among the three people (aside from Polanski) most interested in the outcome: the defense attorney, Douglas Dalton; the assistant D.A. who prosecuted the case, Roger Gunson, and Samantha Gailey Geimer, who was the child involved.

Their testimony nails Rittenband as a shameless publicity seeker who was more concerned with his own image than arriving at justice. Who broke his word to attorneys on both sides. Who staged a fake courtroom session in which Gunson and Geimer were to go through the motions of making their arguments before the judge read an opinion he had already prepared. Who tried to stage such a “sham” (Gunson’s term) a second time. Who juggled possible sentences in discussions with outsiders, once calling a Santa Monica reporter, David L. Jonta, into his chambers to ask him, “What the hell should I do with Polanski?” Who discussed the case with the guy at the next urinal at his country club. Who held a press conference while the case was still alive. Who was removed from the case on a motion by both prosecution and defense.

(click here to continue reading Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired :: :: Reviews.)

Manohla Dargis:

The sharply argued documentary “Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired” isn’t about the innocence or guilt of its title subject, who after pleading guilty in 1977 to having “unlawful sexual intercourse” with a minor flew from Los Angeles to London, never again to return to America. Neither is it about Mr. Polanski’s likability, his tragic past, morals, short stature, brilliant and bad films, the sleaze factor or your personal feelings on whether there’s anything wrong with a 43-year-old man’s having sex with a 13-year-old girl. All these elements come teasingly into view here, but really this is a movie about a very different kind of perversion.

“Wanted and Desired,” which opened on Friday without advance press screenings, was bought by HBO at the Sundance Film Festival in January. Its one-week theatrical run will make it eligible for Academy Award consideration, though given that organization’s often pitiful record when it comes to nonfiction film, it seems unlikely that a movie this subtly intelligent would make its short list. That’s especially true because the director, Marina Zenovich, refuses to wag her finger at Mr. Polanski, even when presenting the sordid and grimly pathetic details of his crime, like the Champagne and partial Quaalude he furnished the 13-year-old girl and her repeated nos.

Mr. Polanski’s guilt isn’t in doubt, arguments about the age of consent notwithstanding. In March 1977, he was arrested at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel and charged with raping the girl at the home of his friend, Jack Nicholson, the star of his film “Chinatown.” (Mr. Nicholson was away.) He was released on $2,500 bail and eventually indicted on six felony charges, including child molestation and sodomy. In August, after agreeing to a plea bargain, he pleaded guilty to one felony count of illegal sex with a 13-year-old girl. Her family’s lawyer, Lawrence Silver, told the judge that his clients were not seeking a prison term for Mr. Polanski, only an admission of wrongdoing and rehabilitation. By Feb. 1, 1978, Mr. Polanski had fled.

As Ms. Zenovich forcefully explains — using talking-head interviews, a wealth of archival material and generous clips from Mr. Polanski’s films, including “Rosemary’s Baby” and “Chinatown” — he had every reason to run. The story of what happened between the initial charges and his flight has been sketchily told before, including by his victim, Samantha Geimer, who in 2003 wrote a commentary for The Los Angeles Times in which she stated that she believed that he and his most recent film at the time, “The Pianist,” should be honored on their own merits. She added, “Who wouldn’t think about running when facing a 50-year sentence from a judge who was clearly more interested in his own reputation than a fair judgment or even the well-being of the victim?”

“Wanted and Desired” answers Ms. Geimer’s bombshell question with shocks of its own, notably corroborating interviews from Douglas Dalton, Mr. Polanski’s lawyer, and Roger Gunson, the assistant district attorney who led the prosecution. Together these two former opponents pin the blame for Polanski’s flight directly on the presiding judge, Laurence J. Rittenband (who stepped down in 1989 and died in 1994). Aided and abetted by an avalanche of fluidly organized visual material, the lawyers fill in the appalling details of what was effectively a second crime, one largely perpetrated by a celebrity-dazzled judge and the equally gaga news media he courted. This crime left two victims, Mr. Polanski, who was denied a fair trial, and Ms. Geimer, who was denied justice. As she wrote, “Sometimes I feel like we both got a life sentence.”


(click here to continue reading Movie Review – Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired – The Judge, the Director and the Vagaries of Justice –


Chicago-esque politics

Rahm Emanuel To Stay on Ballot

Seven Memories

The Illinois Supreme Court ruled 7-0 that Rahm Emanuel is to remain on the ballot. I haven’t decided who I might support in the mayoral race, but am pleased with this result:

On Thursday, the Supreme Court’s seven justices overturned the ruling of the appeals panel, though two of the justices issued their own reasoning for allowing Mr. Emanuel to run. In the majority’s opinion, which was written by Justice Robert R. Thomas, a Republican, the justices raised sharp questions about what the appellate court had concluded, suggesting that such issues of residency had essentially been settled in this state for 150 years — until this week.

“Things changed, however, when the appellate court below issued its decision and announced that it was no longer bound by any of the law cited above,” Justice Thomas wrote, continuing later, “but was instead free to craft its own original standard for determining a candidate’s residency.”

The opinion repeatedly cited a case from 1867, in which an Illinois resident had been appointed as a judge, but had been challenged for not meeting a five-year residency requirement because his family had lived in Tennessee for eight months. That long-ago ruling — in the judge’s favor — focused on his intent (he refused to sell his Illinois law books, for instance), not on his physical location, the justices found. The same principles, the justice wrote, control Mr. Emanuel’s case, “plain and simple.”

Under the appellate court’s decision, the justices said, all sorts of circumstances would now come into question: Where does a member of Congress who spends several days a week in Washington reside legally? What about a state legislator?

“Under the appellate court’s test, considerable doubt would arise as to whether any of these people could meet a residency test that requires one year of ‘actually living’ or “actually residing’ in the municipality,” the majority wrote.


(click to continue reading Court Allows Emanuel on Ballot for Chicago Mayor –

and from the WSJ:

Mr. Emanuel was born in Chicago, owns a house here and represented the city’s North Side for three terms in Congress before he moved to Washington in early 2009 to work for President Obama. He didn’t move back to Chicago until October.

Objectors cited his absence to disqualify him. Mr. Emanuel argued that even though he moved to Washington, he maintained his residency by renting out his house instead of selling it, paying property taxes, keeping his cars registered in Chicago and voting in city elections. He also stored family heirlooms in a locked crawl space in the basement of his home.

Mr. Emanuel further argued that Illinois law provides an exception for candidates who leave the state on business for the U.S. government. The appellate court ruled that a person running for office must be physically present in the city and the government exception applied to voters but not to candidates.

In their opinion, five of the Illinois Supreme Court justices chastised the appellate court for its “mysterious” analysis that it said resulted in “tossing out 150 years of settled residency law in favor of its own preferred standard.”

The justices said that under the appellate court’s analysis, congressional representatives living in Washington or state representatives living in Springfield would be constantly subjected to “confusion” with respect to their residency.

Instead, the court upheld the long tradition of using “physical presence” and “intent” when interpreting residency questions in Illinois. It also said that the only way to lose residency once established is through “abandonment” of the physical presence, also a question of intent.

In Mr. Emanuel’s case, the court said, he did not abandon his residency because his intent was clearly to remain in his Chicago house. “The candidate left many personal items in the Hermitage House, including his bed, two televisions, a stereo system, a piano, and over 100 boxes of personal possessions,” the court said.

(click to continue reading Rahm Emanuel Can Stay on Ballot, Court Rules –

I also object to the residency law on principle. Voters should be allowed to make up their own minds if a carpet bagger would best represent the interests of the city. Chicago should not have this silly paternalistic law on the books. Once in office, or serving as police or whatever, then perhaps1 residency rules could pertain: does seem to make sense that an Alderman should reside in the district the Alderman is representing, at least after the election. Would it really matter if a police officer lived in Gurnee, but worked in the Lakeview district?

But the one year prior to running rule seems a bit bogus, to me.

  1. maybe []

E-Mail and Letters Should Have Equal Legal Protection

Soviets Lithuania

Seems like a simple question, but law enforcement doesn’t want to accept that electronic communications have replaced handwritten documents. There shouldn’t be a distinction based solely on the medium the communication uses. If I have a safe in my house with personal documents,1 the police need a warrant to open it. Why should my email folder be any different?

The question boils down to this: Should personal information that people store online, from e-mail messages to photos to location updates, be treated the same as telephone calls or paper documents stored in a person’s home?

Right now, they often aren’t, in part because the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, which governs surveillance of what people do online, was written in 1986 — well before Twitter direct messages, Facebook status updates or Foursquare check-ins.

And Web users generally do not understand when and how law enforcement can access their information, said Ryan Calo, director of the consumer privacy project at Stanford Law School’s Center for Internet & Society.

“People have no idea that with a relatively small amount of process, people can get all this information that they’ve been storing for more than 180 days,” Mr. Calo said. “If they were to go and look at a privacy policy, it would say, ‘We comply with lawful requests for your information,’ but you don’t know what that means.”

(click to continue reading Should E-Mail and Letters Have Equal Legal Protection? –

Unfortunately, the Supreme Court of the US currently has a reactionary majority, and will predictably side with the police over civil liberties, every time. There’s always hope…

So far, updates to the law have been piecemeal. For example, last month, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, considering a fraud case, ruled that law enforcement cannot access e-mail messages stored online without a warrant because they are protected by the Fourth Amendment, which guards against unreasonable searches.

  1. which I actually don’t, but I want one to store my passport and some similar papers in case of fire or other calamity []
government News-esque

1986 Privacy Law Inadequate For 2011 Digital Society

Popo Starry Pants

The mentality of law enforcement is that since there is information available about suspects, law enforcement officers should have free reign to sift through it, no matter what. However, if one is a suspect, and a warrant is executed for one’s home, the officers are usually limited to certain areas as precisely described by the warrant, they are not1 allowed to look through every single nook and cranny, unless the warrant has been constructed this broadly. Why isn’t digital data treated the same way?2

SAN FRANCISCO — Concerned by the wave of requests for customer data from law enforcement agencies, Google last year set up an online tool showing the frequency of these requests in various countries. In the first half of 2010, it counted more than 4,200 in the United States.

Google is not alone among Internet and telecommunications companies in feeling inundated with requests for information. Verizon told Congress in 2007 that it received some 90,000 such requests each year. And Facebook told Newsweek in 2009 that subpoenas and other orders were arriving at the company at a rate of 10 to 20 a day.

As Internet services — allowing people to store e-mails, photographs, spreadsheets and an untold number of private documents — have surged in popularity, they have become tempting targets for law enforcement. That phenomenon became apparent over the weekend when it surfaced that the Justice Department had sought the Twitter account activity of several people linked to WikiLeaks, the antisecrecy group.

Many Internet companies and consumer advocates say the main law governing communication privacy — enacted in 1986, before cellphone and e-mail use was widespread, and before social networking was even conceived — is outdated, affording more protection to letters in a file cabinet than e-mail on a server.

(click to continue reading Privacy Law Is Outrun by Speed of Web’s Progress –

For some reason, The New York Times didn’t actually link to this Google tool, I’m not sure why. Anyway, after a few minutes of searching3, found it.

Like other technology and communications companies, we regularly receive requests from government agencies around the world to remove content from our services, or provide information about users of our services and products. This map shows the number of requests that we received in six-month blocks with certain limitations.

(click to continue reading Google Transparency Report: Government Requests.)

As of the current moment, Google has received 4287 requests for information in the United States alone4 from law enforcement in the last six months (an average of 714.5 requests a month, or nearly 24 requests a day).

  1. officially []
  2. I am not a lawyer, and all my information comes from stupid television shows, so don’t laugh too loudly if I’m wrong []
  3. longer than I thought, actually []
  4. that Google is allowed to mention – perhaps not including some alleged participants in the War on Terror []

Thomas Cox – hero of 2010

A Little to the Left

Perhaps hero too strong a word, but still, Thomas Cox should be feted by all those steam-rolled by bankers in pursuit of profits…

Mr. Cox1 vowed to a colleague that he would expose GMAC’s process and its limited signing officer, Jeffrey Stephan. A lawyer in another foreclosure case had already deposed Mr. Stephan, but Mr. Cox wanted to take the questioning much further. In June, he got his chance. A few weeks later, he spelled out in a court filing what he had learned from the robo-signer:

“When Stephan says in an affidavit that he has personal knowledge of the facts stated in his affidavits, he doesn’t. When he says that he has custody and control of the loan documents, he doesn’t. When he says that he is attaching ‘a true and accurate’ copy of a note or a mortgage, he has no idea if that is so, because he does not look at the exhibits. When he makes any other statement of fact, he has no idea if it is true. When the notary says that Stephan appeared before him or her, he didn’t.”

GMAC’s reaction to the deposition was to hire two new law firms, including Mr. Aromando’s firm, among the most prominent in the state. They argued that what Mrs. Bradbury and her lawyers were doing was simply a “dodge”: she had not paid her mortgage and should be evicted.

They also said that Mr. Cox, despite working pro bono, had taken the deposition “to prejudice and influence the public” against GMAC for his own commercial benefit. They asked that the transcript be deleted from any blog that had posted it and that it be put under court seal.

In a ruling late last month, Judge Powers said that GMAC, despite its expensive legal talent and the fact that it got “a second bite of the apple” by filing amended foreclosure papers, still could not get this eviction right.

Even the amended documents did not bother to include the actual street address of the property it was trying to seize — reason enough, the judge wrote, to reject the request for immediate foreclosure without a trial.

But Judge Powers went further than that, saying that GMAC had been admonished in a Florida court for using robo-signers four years ago but had persisted. “It is well past the time for such practices to end,” he wrote, adding that GMAC had acted “in bad faith” by submitting Mr. Stephan’s material:

Filing such a document without significant regard for its accuracy, which the court in ordinary circumstances may never be able to investigate or otherwise verify, is a serious and troubling matter.”

(click to continue reading Out of Maine, a National Foreclosure Freeze –

You can read the Judge’s order here, and Jeffrey Stephan’s deposition here (both PDF files)

  1. Thomas A. Cox, a retired lawyer who volunteers at Pine Tree []

Missouri Judges Take Prison Costs Into Account in Sentencing

This policy has all sorts of implications, both positive and negative. Will lesser sentences be meted out for deserving criminals because of their inherent costs? What about non-violent offenders?  Isn’t probation and counseling cheaper than incarceration?

Prairie Restoration in Progress

ST. LOUIS — When judges here sentence convicted criminals, a new and unusual variable is available for them to consider: what a given punishment will cost the State of Missouri. Enlarge This Image

If For someone convicted of endangering the welfare of a child, for instance, a judge might now learn that a three-year prison sentence would run more than $37,000 while probation would cost $6,770. A second-degree robber, a judge could be told, would carry a price tag of less than $9,000 for five years of intensive probation, but more than $50,000 for a comparable prison sentence and parole afterward. The bill for a murderer’s 30-year prison term: $504,690.


(click to continue reading Missouri Judges Take Prison Costs Into Account in Sentencing –

Our nation’s jails are full beyond the point of exploding, yet we keep locking up folks as a first resort. Not mentioned in this article ((except in passing) is how many drug cases are adjudicated, and at what cost. How much do we spend locking up teenagers caught with a couple of grams of marijuana?

Reading between the lines in the article, seems as if many officials are uncomfortable with the implications of the policy, so instead of changing the system, they are just going to cease discussing costs. Ignore the big picture, instead maintain the status quo.

Still, money worries loom. This year, in an annual address, even the chief justice of Missouri’s Supreme Court, William Ray Price Jr., warned that the system would be threatened if budget cuts persisted.

“Perhaps the biggest waste of resources in all of state government is the over-incarceration of nonviolent offenders and our mishandling of drug and alcohol offenders,” he said.

Mr. McCulloch, the prosecutor, said the state’s prisons were filled with anything but harmless people. “You show me the college kid with a perfect record and a dime bag of weed who has been sent to prison, and I’ll get him out,” he said. “Find me him.”

When Missouri lawmakers meet next year, Mr. McCulloch says that he expects he and others may push to abolish the sentencing commission.