Law blog roundup

Dzhokar TsarnaevWelcome to Monday, and the 110th anniversary of the first game played by the New York Highlanders (later, and better known, as the Yankees). Here are some news items to get your week started.

– Where should Boston bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev be tried?

– Should Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy apologize to gun makers?

– Does a car passenger have the right to leave the vehicle after the driver’s arrest for alleged drunk driving?

– Justice might be delayed but not denied in Brazil.

Scalia on the wrong side of parking laws

Supreme Court justices: They’re Just Like Us!

While their job requires them to consider some of the most important laws in the country, they are not, apparently, immune to parking laws.

Justice Antonin Scalia received a parking ticket this week in Philadelphia while speaking at the private club, the Union League of Philadelphia, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports.

The Philadelphia Parking Authority ticketed Scalia though he displayed an official police business sign on his dashboard, as evidenced by a photo of the ticket

The ticket, however, is only for $26, which, compared to parking fines in the Baltimore-Washington region, seems like justice after all.

In-House Interrogatory

Asked: Our weekly question to the In-House community

The most talked about general counsel in the news in the last week was, of course, former Penn State general counsel Cynthia Baldwin.

Former FBI Director Louis Freeh compiled a report after investigating the university’s handling of Jerry Sandusky. When the report was released last week, Baldwin was repeatedly mentioned for not dealing with the situation correctly.

Sandusky was convicted and jailed on 45 counts of abusing boys and is awaiting sentencing.

Baldwin served as the interim general counsel from January 2010 until June 30. Freeh criticizes Baldwin for downplaying the grand jury investigation into Sandusky to the university’s board of trustees. The report also says she failed to find an expert for the university’s internal investigation or to lead it through the criminal investigation.

The report singles Baldwin out for attending the testimony of Senior Vice President Gary Schultz and Athletic Director Tim Curley during the grand jury investigation. Baldwin said she attended simply to represent the university, but Schultz and Curley thought she was there as their attorney.

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Lawyer vanity plates 4U

It’s one thing for lawyers to brand themselves with ads on the back of buses. It’s another to showcase their careers on the backs of their cars.

The ABA Journal asked readers to submit photos of lawyer vanity license plates last week and came up with  a wide range of attorney and courtroom sayings people have stamped to the back of their Mercedes-Benzes.

Some just have their initials, followed by “ESQ.” Others get more creative. Some of our favorites: “ICNVCTU”; a lawyer with a pair of plates on two cars reading “SUYAL8R” and “SUYATOO”; “I DO LAW”; and “ISUE4U. The full gallery is here.

Former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky’s attorney is even on the bandwagon. The plates on Joe Amendola’s BMW read “JLA ESQ.”

Who knows, maybe Amendola decides to get new plates, his client will be the one stamping them out.

Share the road

Last week, I read an Above the Law post that really got my blood boiling. A North Carolina man was sentenced to just 120 days in prison after he shot a bicyclist in the head during a roadside confrontation — in front of the rider’s three-year-old daughter.

The ATL blog referred readers to the full Alt Transport article, aptly titled, “Want to Get Away With Murder? Just Run Over A Bicyclist.” Using the North Carolina case, along with a couple unaddressed hit-and-runs, to illustrate his point, the author argued for nationwide laws to command justice for cyclists and other “vulnerable road users” who are injured or killed by motorists.

Fast forward to one week later: A Howard County man who hit and killed a teenage boy last August pled guilty Tuesday to driving while impaired during the incident. Police said he had heroin in his pocket and failed a field sobriety test after he struck the cyclist. The punishment for taking a child from his family? Six months in the clink.

I am sick to death of motorists getting a slap on the wrist when they significantly and fundamentally alter the lives of cyclists — and the lives of their surviving family members. In the Howard County case, their son’s death caused both parents to lose their jobs, leading to foreclosure and, for the mother, a personal bankruptcy filing, according to The Baltimore Sun.

It’s not as if this sort of tragedy is an anomaly. In fact, accidents involving bicycles have become so commonplace that one D.C. website reports the number of cyclists struck each week in the district. There were six — reported — just last week. Anecdotally, having had the conversation with bike commuters in various cities, I have not personally spoken to anyone who rides more than recreationally and has not been hit or at least clipped by a vehicle.

I don’t mean to vilify all drivers. Yes, there are plenty of motorists out there who give cyclists a wide berth on the road, just like there are plenty of bike riders who wait at every stop light and plenty of pedestrians who never jaywalk. But the next time you’re barreling down the street in a two-ton piece of metal and come upon a cyclist, remember that you’re sharing the road with someone who, unlike you, doesn’t have the added protection of a steel exoskeleton.

Incentive program changes to rev up in Annapolis

I wrote in November about a law change that resulted in hundreds of car salespeople not getting manufacturers’ incentives for their sales. Those connected with the law called it an unintended consequence that they promised to address as soon as possible when the General Assembly reconvened in January.

An amendment to the law is now Senate Bill 18, and a hearing will be held Jan. 21 before the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee. Aides to Sen. Jamie Raskin, D-Montgomery, the bill’s sponsor, are confident it will ultimately pass through both the Senate and House of Delegates with little problem.

You can see a copy of the proposed legislation here; the new law would allow manufacturers to directly give incentives to salespeople, but the incentives must be disclosed to the dealerships.

The dealer and manufacturer associations have signed off on the changes, according to Raskin’s office. Also supporting the bill is Honda, the only manufacturer not to adopt an interim solution to the incentive problem.

Stay tuned for more news next week following the hearing.

Cops rolling in (cookie) dough

The stereotypical sweet for cops is a doughnut, but that has changed in Maryland – at least until the New Year.

My colleague, Liz Farmer, passed along a press release from the state’s Mothers Against Drunk Driving chapter announcing its fourth annual “Cookies for Cops” campaign. From now through Dec. 31, thousands of cookies will be delivered to law enforcement agencies throughout the state, a sugary way of thanking officers for their work.

There were 152 drunk-driving fatalities in Maryland last year, down from 178 in 2007, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

You can visit MADD’s Web site if you’re interested in contributing to the cause. (And if you need people to test the cookies you bake, feel free to send them to our office.)

Monday law blog round-up

Happy Monday!

  • Ron Miller takes issue with The Ethicist’s advice to a doctor who doesn’t want to treat a medical malpractice lawyer.
  • In the context of why most great blawgs aren’t written by big-law types, Carolyn Elefant has this to say: “Big firm lawyers are very, very good at practicing law, but I suspect that for many, their time spent at big law is just a job (albeit an intellectually stimulating, financially rewarding one), not their life’s work or a calling or a part of the legacy that that they want to leave behind. Let’s face it — without passion,  you can’t do much more than phone it in on a blog.”
  • Be careful out there, readers: lawyers have a higher rate of car accidents than anyone but doctors.
  • Ohio is set to execute a man using only a barbituate on Tuesday. The three-drug cocktail most states use for execution has drawn criticism for what some say is the potential for excruciating pain. HT: How Appealing.
  • I would totally watch this show.

This opinion’s gotta have some of your attention

I did not know The Pretenders had a song called “Brass in Pocket” until last week. Sure, I’d heard the song, where lead singer Chrissie Hynde vows to woo a gentleman using various body parts and inanimate objects. (I also remember the ’80s music video where Hynde plays a waitress.) 

But I learned the song title, naturally, from the latest opinion by Judge Glenn T. Harrell Jr. of the Court of Appeals. As my colleague Steve Lash reports in today’s paper, the case decided whether Harford County police unreasonably conducted a search-and-seizure of a car. Officers stopped the car in part because the driver, Garry Dennis Crosby Jr. was “slumped down” as he drove.

In his brief, Crosby said he was using a “Detroit Lean” while he was driving and pointed to a definition in Urban Dictionary: “driving with one hand on the wheel while slouched over to the right.”

Harrell, in a footnote, said an “independent endeavor to determine whether such a phenomenon exists” led to the Pretenders’ song, which he quoted:

Got motion, restrained emotion

I been driving, Detroit Leaning

No reason, just seems so pleasing

Gonna make you, make you, make you notice

“As the song predicts, Crosby’s ‘Detroit Leaning,’ if that is what he was doing, succeeded in getting him noticed,” Harrell concluded in his footnote.

License plate gets washed clean

Quick - what’s the first thing that comes to mind when you see this proposed license plate?

For those of you with your minds in the gutter, it was actually Kelley Coffman-Lee’s attempt to announce her fondness for tofu. But the proposed vanity license plate could be interpreted as her fondness for… um… something else, which led the Colorado Deparment of Revenue to deny Coffman’s request last month.

Now comes word the state actually keeps a list of unacceptable letter combinations under a law allowing authorities to ban potential license plates that are “offensive to good taste or decency.” The list currently has close to 3,000 entries.

This does not sit well with the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado, which obtained the list and believes authorities are unjustly censoring residents. The organization now has a section on its Web site devoted to vanity license plates and teases a “Vanity Plate Game” will soon be added.

Sounds gr8 to me.