Jury Verdicts

May 18, 2011

Former Alabama governor Don Siegelman was convicted of various offenses committed during his governorship of Alabama. His case achieved notoriety beyond Alabama because of allegations that the prosecution of the governor was motivated and perhaps engineered from Karl Rove’s White House office. Siegelman’s case has already made one trip to the United States Supreme Court which sent it back to the Circuit Court. That court recently affirmed – again – the conviction.

That court, in affirming, explained the role of judges and juries in our system with some eloquence. Here is what the judges said:

But [the case] has arrived in this court with the “sword and buckler” of a jury verdict. The yeoman’s work of our judicial system is done by a single judge and a jury. Twelve ordinary citizens of Alabama were asked to sit through long days of often tedious and obscure testimony and pour over countless documents to decide what happened, and, having done so, to apply to these facts the law as the judge has explained it to them. And they do. [sic.] Often at great personal sacrifice. Though the popular culture sometimes asserts otherwise, the virtue of our jury system is that it most often gets it right. This is the great achievement of our system of justice. The jury’s verdict commands the respect of this court, and that verdict must be sustained if there is substantial evidence to support it. Glasser v. United States, 315 U.S. 60, 80 (1942).
Furthermore, to the extent that the verdict rests upon the jury’s evaluations of the credibility of individual witnesses, and the reasonable inferences to be drawn from that testimony, we owe deference to those decisions. In our system, the jury decides what the facts are, by listening to the witnesses and making judgments about whom to believe. This they have done, and, though invited to do so, we shall not substitute our judgment for theirs.

That is as good a summary of the role of juries in our judicial system as I’ve seen for a while.


Hawaii’s Weather

May 15, 2011

A friend is visiting Hawaii. She sent me this weather forecast which, I expect you’ll agree, is more imaginative than most local weather forecasts. (You’ll have to click twice to get to the YouTube page where this forecast lives.)

The Doppler Effect

May 13, 2011

Here’s a bumper sticker seen by someone and recorded for posterity:


May 9, 2011

Both readers of this blog have no doubt noticed the paucity of posts – I say “paucity of posts” because it alliterates so nicely – since the summer.

It is the usual custom of bloggers, unpaid and under-appreciated, to nonetheless apologize for long absences from blogging. I suppose this practice results from bloggers’ mistaken idea that anyone cares.  Bloggers seldom read what Judge Alex Kozinski of the United States Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has to say about bloggers:

I just think it’s so self-indulgent, you know. Oh, I’m so proud of what I’m saying, I think the world instantly wants to know what I’m thinking today. People wake up thinking, hmm, what does this person, whoever the blog, the question is — I wonder what great thoughts have come into his mind this morning that I can feel myself edified by. I can’t really have breakfast, really enjoy my day until I hear the great thoughts of Howard Bashman — I don’t think so. I go for months without ever knowing what Howard has to say. So I don’t know. I find it sort of self-indulgent. And I find it so grandiloquent.

Well, to Judge Kozinski I say “Nuts!” He already has a writing platform  – judicial  opinions – and a captive audience – lawyers who have to read them. Not all of us can be federal judges and so have to slog onward, out here in the wilderness of the internet where even the USGS has yet to publish an accurate map.

Nor can he accuse me of being grandiloquent. However, you may have noted that my hiatus from blogging has corresponded almost exactly with the finding and hunting and killing of Osama bin Laden. Coincidence? You decide. I couldn’t possibly comment.

And So It Began

April 12, 2011

150 years ago this morning a note was delivered to Robert Anderson, Major, Commanding at Fort Sumter in the harbor at Charleston.  It read:

Fort Sumter, S.C.
April 12, 1861. 3:20 a.m.
Major Robert Anderson
U.S. Army
Comdg Fort Sumter


By authority of Brig General Beauregard commanding the provisional forces of the Confederate States we have the honor to notify you that he will open the fire of his Batteries on Fort Sumter in one hour from this time.

We have the honor to be

Very Respectfully


James Chesnut Jr., Aide de Camp
Stephen D. Lee, Capt., S.C. Army, Aide de Camp

And so it began, that great American tragedy.

Drifting into Divorce

March 20, 2011

Justitia by Cranach the Elder - 1537

For pure, raw, unadulterated emotion, nothing beats a courtroom in which a divorce or child custody trial is in progress. Lawyers and judges who specialize in such work often burn out. The ones who last over the long haul tend to be people able to use their senses-of-humor to maintain a little distance from all that emotion that erupts in their courtrooms.

One such judge presides over domestic relation matters in Ontario’s Superior Court. In a recent case a couple – Catherine and Larry – were duking it out in a particularly nasty divorce. Catherine had once attempted to drive over Larry in the family van.  According to Judge Joseph Quinn, “ This is always a telltale sign that a husband and wife are drifting apart.”




Corporate Privacy

March 1, 2011

In the last two days, three remarkable things – in my life, anyway – have occurred. Justice Scalia has written two straight opinions with which I agree and Justice Roberts has made me laugh. Normally, of course, I don’t trouble you with my personal reactions to judicial opinions; they are what they are and when one piques my interest, my job is to explain it as best I can.

Both of the opinions by Justice Scalia require a longer post than I have time for today. The chuckle from Justice Roberts came in the Court’s opinion today holding that corporations – however much they get preferential treatment as real people – do not get treated as real persons with a right to “personal privacy” under Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. The corporation in the case, AT&T, argued that it was entitled to personal privacy. Here is the last paragraph of Justice Robert’s opinion for the Court.

We reject the argument that because “person” is defined for purposes of FOIA to include a corporation, the phrase“personal privacy” in Exemption 7(C) reaches corporations as well. The protection in FOIA against disclosure of law 12 FCC v. AT&T INC. enforcement information on the ground that it would constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy does not extend to corporations. We trust that AT&T will not take it personally.

The judgment of the Court of Appeals is reversed.

It is so ordered.

150th Anniversary of Lincoln’s Inauguration

February 28, 2011

Zachariah Chandler, LOC Photo

In four days we reach the 150th anniversary of the inauguration of Abraham Lincoln as President of the United States. During the four months that had passed since his election, seven states had seceded from the Union and Congress had debated several compromises which, some hoped, would either lure the seven back into the Union or at least avoid a civil war. But many representatives and senators were no longer interested in a compromise by the first of March that year. Senator Zachariah Chandler of Michigan took to the floor of the United States Senate:

“This is not a question of compromise,’’ he said. “This is a question of whether we have, or have not, a government. . . . We are told that six states have seceded, and that the Union is broken up; and all we can do is send commissioners to treat with traitors with arms in their hands; treat with men who have fired upon your flag; treat with men who have seized your custom-houses, who have erected batteries upon your navigable waters and who now stand defying your authority. Sir, I will never submit to this degradation. I would rather join the Comanches.’’

“God forbid, I hope not,’’ quipped Senator Louis Wigfall of Texas, who had not left the Senate yet even though Texas had, “they have already suffered much from their contact with the whites.’’


If you haven’t already found it, I highly recommend the “Disunion” series on the web pages of the New York Times, from which this anecdote comes. “Disunion” is following the Civil War as it unfolded 150 years ago and is a marvelous series of blog posts. And, as yet, the NYTimes has not retreated behind its pay wall, so it remains available at no charge.



The Jackalope’s Legality

February 19, 2011

Anyone who visits the western United States will eventually come across a postcard of the jackalope, a mythic cross between a jack rabbit and a Pronghorn antelope. But, as far as I know,  the jackalope had never made an appearance in a legal opinion from any court anywhere. But last week, the animal was immortalized by the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago. Confronted with a case involving a group of former employees seeking penalties under Indiana law against stockholders of their former corporate employer,  the court ruled against the employees.  In disposing of the claim, Judge Easterbrook wrote:

Plaintiffs want to combine the Indiana statute, which makes employers liable for penalties when they do not pay wages on time, with the New York statute, which makes some equity investors directly liable to workers for wages and benefits. Yet neither state passed such a hybrid law, which the district judge likened to a griffin or jackalope. (A griffin is a mythical creature, but a jackalope is the main character in the short film Boundin’ and therefore must exist. Surely Pixar would not mislead millions of children.)

Valentine’s Day and Sex

February 14, 2011


Roadrunner Hors d'oeuvre

For Valentine’s Day the folks at Enature have contributed a mating game for we humans to discover which members of the other species our romantic behavior most closely emulates. Play their Mating Game and discover for yourself. However, even if you turn out not to resemble a bird romantically, be sure to click on the bird species descriptions. There you will learn, for instance , that the male Greater Roadrunner dangles a tasty food morsel – a mouse, say – in front of his intended but won’t let her have it until after they’ve mated. Or that Sandhill Cranes, which mate for life, go through elaborate courtship rituals when young. They dance, display, hop, flap, and strut. But after many years together, they simply jump up and down a couple of times before mating.