Posts In "Legislation"

Legislation




Cameras in the Courtroom: Access to Justice or Media Circus?

Our loyal Law Law Land readers already know about the intrigue that surrounds so-called court “reality” shows like Judge Judy and The People’s Court. (For those who missed it, I broke the shocking news that — brace yourselves, people — those “courts” aren’t really courts at all.) So where can avid followers turn for a glimpse of real-life justice? In many cases, the public’s view of the inside of a court trial is limited to the lifelike renderings of the courtroom’s sketch artist. But occasionally, a judge decides to allow a video camera into the courtroom and we can watch the proceedings for ourselves.

Last month, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Michael Pastor ruled that a television camera will be allowed in the courtroom for the involuntary manslaughter trial of Michael Jackson’s former doctor, Conrad Murray, for which jury selection began last week. Judge Pastor asked for the “absolute least-intrusive placement” of the camera and prohibited cameras from being present at jury selection.

Judge Pastor was able to make that ruling because in state courts in California, pursuant to California Rule of Court 1.150, “Photographing, recording, and broadcasting of courtroom proceedings may be permitted as circumscribed in this rule if executed in a manner that ensures that the fairness and dignity of the proceedings are not adversely affected.” Specifically, a judge “in his or her discretion may permit, refuse, limit, or terminate media coverage.”

In making his decision, the judge must take into account a whole litany of factors, including: the importance of maintaining public trust and confidence in the judicial system; the importance of promoting public access to the judicial system; the parties’ support of or opposition to the request; privacy rights of participants; the maintenance of the orderly conduct of the proceeding; and any other factor the judge deems relevant. In sum, a state court judge has a ton of discretion, especially because he can consider “any factor [he] deems relevant.” (I, for one, would propose a few additional factors for consideration, like “how to best avoid an O.J. Simpson trial-style media circus” or, a closely related inquiry, “how to not be Judge Lance Ito.”) Continue reading the full story . . . »

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Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Privilege?

You may not know it to look at me, but I have a very macabre sense of humor. I adore the books of Edward Gorey and, in particular, The Gashlycrumb Tinies, a spot-on and (for those who are into tragic juvenile demise) hilarious parody of children’s ABC books in which each of the rhyming couplets recounts various unusual ways in which children have met ghastly fates: “A is for Amy who fell down the stairs. B is for Basil assaulted by bears. C is for Clara who wasted away. D is for Desmond thrown out of a sleigh…” (Not that I’m ever bored at work, but I’ve had a photocopy of “N” posted on my computer for years: “M is for Maud who was swept out to sea. N is for Neville who died of ennui.”)

I’m also a huge fan of Shockheaded Peter, a nightmarish and (again, for those who love young children meeting ironic fates…should my own daughter be concerned by this?) hilarious spectacle/stage production based on a 19th Century German book of children’s cautionary tales by Heinrich Hoffman, in which rude and naughty children all meet gruesome, yet well-deserved ends. Take, for example, “Fidgety Phil,” the tale of a boy who refuses to sit still at the dinner table and is impaled by cutlery when he pulls off the tablecloth at dinnertime. Or “Snip Snip,” in which an incessantly thumb-sucking boy bleeds to death after an evil tailor cuts off his thumbs (his mother reacts simply by saying toldya so!). The last line of virtually every song concludes with the matter-of fact sentiment: “And he was DEAD.” “And she DIED.” The end. You can imagine what happens in “The Dreadful Story of Harriet and the Matches”…

Well, remember the Troubling Tale of the Two-Steppin’ Toddler? No, it isn’t in the Second Act of Shockheaded Peter, but it certainly qualifies as a Litigation Cautionary Tale in my book.

This Dreadful Story — or, as it is more commonly known in legal circles, the Lenz v .Universal case — began with a dancing baby. We’ve covered this ground before, but let’s review the highlights: Continue reading the full story . . . »


No, It’s Not 1984, but, Amazingly, Everyone Is Again Asking: Where’s the Beef?

You’ve probably heard about the recent class action lawsuit filed against Taco Bell, alleging that their tacos don’t really contain beef (or, rather, contain only 33% beef, plus a variety of “extenders” and “non-meat substances” ranging from “autolyzed yeast extract” to silicon dioxide, a.k.a. sand). (Presumably, this will be an easier plaintiff class to recruit than the potential plaintiffs in the YouPorn/“History Sniffing” lawsuit we reported on last month. But maybe I’m overestimating people’s willingness to admit eating Taco Bell.) According to the lawsuit, Taco Bell is misleading the public by saying its products contain “real beef” when, in fact, the products only contain the appetizingly-named “taco meat filling.” Although I find it hard to believe that anyone might have actually decided to go to Taco Bell thinking their taco was going to be 100% beef (it’s fast food, people!), these types of lawsuits are quite common, and the legal foundation of the claim is fairly straightforward.

Boiled down to its essence, Taco Bell is accused of trying to mislead the public about the quality of its product. Legally, Taco Bell’s statements about its meat are considered “commercial speech” — Taco Bell is trying to get people to buy tacos (well…“tacos,” anyway). The First Amendment provides limited protection for commercial speech, and rule #1 is: you have to tell the truth. So, the Food and Drug Administration and the Federal Trade Commission can pass laws restricting what fast food chains can and cannot say about their food. The same is true for other products, like vitamins, weight loss supplements and the like (hence the lawsuits against the makers of Men’s One-A-Day and Airborne, as well as trainer/TV personality Jillian Michaels, endorser of Calorie Control). So the question for Taco Bell is simple: did it comply with applicable regulations when touting its tacos as having “real beef” in them?

Taco Bell’s response, on the other hand, was fascinating. Taco Bell took out full-page “Thank You For Suing Us” ads in major newspapers across the country denying the allegations in the complaint. That’s not too surprising. But, Taco Bell did more than just offer facetious thanks and deny the allegations. Continue reading the full story . . . »


How the Law Lets Me Trick You Into Thinking I’m Wearing Chanel When It’s Really from Forever 21 (For Now)

Ever drooled over something you couldn’t afford at Neiman Marcus, then walked into another cheaper store (cough, Forever 21, cough) and saw basically the exact same thing (except, perhaps, made out of highly flammable material) at a fraction of the price? I know I have (and maybe squealed for joy at my discovery). While the fashionista in me was doing a little dance, the lawyer in me was thinking, “This looks like some blatant copyright infringement to me!”

Forever 21 is at the top of the fast fashion game — not least when it comes to “borrowing” from high-end brands. As a result, it is constantly being sued for copyright infringement (herehereherehere, and, oh yeah, here). In total, over 50 designers have sued Forever 21. However, it has never been found liable for copyright infringement (leading to a wee bit of bitterness). Why is that? Continue reading the full story . . . »


Online Impersonation Law: Cyber-Bullies Beware?

In a recent episode of CBS’ The Good Wife (which this blogger will go ahead and admit she loves, particularly for its disciplined realism — because obviously, all fresh-out-of-law-school first year associates get to try murder cases by themselves), Zachary Florrick (the teenage son of the title character) was pressured by ne’er-do-well vixen Becca into setting up a fake Facebook page in the name of a classmate. (Another reason I love this show: gives me an excuse to use the phrase “ne’er-do-well”.) Not coincidentally, this classmate was the teenage son of Zach’s dad’s opponent in the race for State’s Attorney, Glenn Childs. Zach also created a video mocking the third candidate in the State’s Attorney race, while making it look like the video came from Childs.

In the show, hapless Zach’s actions resulted in harm to his father’s campaign: what he thought was a harmless prank was taken by the Childs campaign as a declaration of war from the Florrick campaign. But thanks to a new law on the books in California, the real-life ramifications of such actions may now be even more serious — to the tune of monetary fines and prison time.

Effective January 1, 2011, California Penal Code section 528.5 makes it a crime to impersonate another person online. Specifically, “any person who knowingly and without consent credibly impersonates another actual person through or on an Internet Web site or by other electronic means for purposes of harming, intimidating, threatening, or defrauding another person is guilty of a public offense.” Violation can result in a prison sentence of up to one year and a fine of up to $1,000 — plus a civil lawsuit from the aggrieved party. Of course, because our readers are all fine, responsible, upstanding citizens, I’m confident that none of you need to fear this new law. But let’s say you, too, were a dastardly ne’er-do-well (twice in one post!) embarking on a campaign of Internet impersonation. What would you need to know? Continue reading the full story . . . »


(History) Sniffing and (You)Porn: The Continued Crusade for Internet Privacy

What do you do if you discovered that your favorite website, YouPorn, is secretly gathering information about your Internet use? If you were California residents David Pitner and Jared Reagan, it seems you would sue the website in federal court and accuse it of violating your privacy, thereby announcing to the world that you are an avid porn watcher. (Privacy FAIL! Pitner and Reagan are not alone in their interests — according to the lawsuit, YouPorn ranks #61 in website popularity [other sources place it in the mid-70s…so now we’re no longer impressed] — but they are alone in having announced it to the world…until more individuals join the potential class action, that is.)

Let’s rewind. What exactly did YouPorn do and how did the plaintiffs figure it out? According to a recent study conducted by the Department of Computer Science and Engineering at the University of California, San Diego, YouPorn is one of 46 major websites that is engaged in “history sniffing” — a technical term that sounds just about as salacious as “YouPorn” itself, which is probably why some people prefer “history hijacking.” As you may have noticed when surfing the Web, links corresponding to URLs that you’ve visited before render differently than URLs you’ve never visited. According to UCSD’s study, history hijacking attacks occur when a site inserts invisible links into its web page and has Java Script inspect the links’ properties to determine whether the user has visited that URL — they will appear purple if the site has been visited and blue if they haven’t. Out of the Alexa global top 50,000 websites, the study discovered at least 46 (and possibly as many as 63) occurrences of history sniffing, on websites covering a wide range of topics from sports to finance to news to…whatever YouPorn is about. Continue reading the full story . . . »