Spray-paint artist headlines MdVLA fundraiser

An artist at the center of battles challenging peddling laws in Baltimore and Ocean City will be the center of attention at a Maryland Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts fundraiser Thursday night.

Spray-paint artist Mark Chase will be performing and donating his works to the fundraiser, “Fiesta de los Abogados y Artistes” in the courtyard at Baltimore’s Union Mill. (“Abogados” is Spanish for “lawyer.”)

Chase, the man behind Stellar Paintings, successfully challenged Ocean City’s regulations for street performers, which will be in effect if you’re walking on the Boardwalk this summer. (That’s his painting, “Jupiter Rising,” at left.)

In February, Chase was acquitted on charges of peddling without a permit in Baltimore when a federal judge ruled officers never saw him selling anything.

Chase also has plans to challenge Baltimore’s peddling restrictions much like he did Ocean City’s.



ACLU tackles Snyder libel lawsuit

A few interested parties have entered the Dan Snyder-City Paper libel lawsuit with (rhetorical) guns a-blazin’.

The Washington chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union filed an amicus brief in support of City Paper’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit filed by the Washington Redskins’ owner in response to a November 2010 article.

Among the dozen organizations joining the ACLU in the filing are the American Society of Newspaper Editors, Society of Professional Journalists and the publishers of Politico and National Journal.

The brief argues in part that Snyder’s complaint is a “SLAPP,” a “Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation.” The D.C. City Council passed an “anti-SLAPP” law in December designed to protect people who “speak and write about issues of public interest,” according to the ACLU.

Lawsuits filed against such people (in this case City Paper writer Dave McKenna) should be dismissed unless “the person bringing the lawsuit can show that he is likely to win the case if it is allowed to go forward,”  according to the ACLU.

But the brief goes beyond legal arguments, attacking Snyder using cultural references that would make Court of Appeals Judge Glenn T. Harrell Jr. proud. Continue reading

Give thanks or go to jail

It was all over the news in October –  Mississippi Chancery Judge Talmadge Littlejohn jailed an attorney who refused to recite the Pledge of Allegiance in his courtroom.

I was nothing short of baffled to hear that an officer of the court in his 70s — who spent his long career as a state lawmaker, prosecutor and judge — could get the Constitution so completely and appallingly wrong. Even someone with the most basic understanding of the First Amendment should realize that compulsory unification of opinion is unconstitutional.

To make matters worse, Littlejohn stubbornly stuck to his guns, requiring all in his courtroom to again recite the pledge just one day after the national uproar over his treatment of lawyer Danny Lampley.

The Mississippi Commission on Judicial Performance last week recommended to the state Supreme Court that Littlejohn be publicly reprimanded and pay $100 in court costs for jailing Lampley, according to the Clarion Ledger.

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Shirvell fired; lawsuit next?

If you’ve never heard of Andrew Shirvell, I’ll let Anderson Cooper tell you about him in the video below.

(If you’d like Shirvell with a side of snark, check out this Daily Show story from last week.)

Shirvell was fired Monday from his position as an assistant attorney general in Michigan. His lawyer says Shirvell was exercising his First Amendment rights, but Attorney General Mike Cox said Shirvell’s conduct was “unbecoming for a state employee, especially an assistant attorney general.”

“Shirvell repeatedly violated office policies, engaged in borderline stalking behavior and inappropriately used state resources, our investigation showed,” Cox said, according to the Detroit Free Press.

Philip Thomas, Shirvell’s lawyer, said Shirvell has received excellent performance reviews and said the firing “smelled political.”

“There’s been a tremendous piling on against Andrew,” Thomas told the Free Press. “The liberal media started this tempest in a teapot.”

Sounds like this kettle might be boiling for the foreseeable future.

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Defamation lawsuit can go forward, but will it succeed?

I wrote last week about the defamation lawsuit Rick Reinhardt filed Julie Ensor, his rival for clerk of the Baltimore County Circuit Court. The article prompted some online discussion, and the big question was one my editor posed when I initially told her about the story: Can a person be sued for defamation based on something he or she tells a police officer?

The short answer – yes. A divided Court of Appeals ruled in 1993 that statements to police are not afforded absolute privilege, meaning they are not immune from defamation lawsuits. (The case is Caldor v. Bowden if you’re scoring at home.)

Robin Leone, a media law lawyer with Saul Ewing LLP in Baltimore, said Reinhardt’s bigger challenge will be proving he was defamed. (Full disclosure: Leone has represented The Daily Record in a First Amendment matter.) Reinhardt has to show Ensor’s statement was false and that she intended to harm him when talking to police.

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Is a nose piercing fashion or faith?

A North Carolina teenager made national news Wednesday when the ACLU filed a lawsuit on her behalf, claiming her public high school violated the girl’s constitutional rights by suspending her four times this year because she wears a piercing in her nose.

The Johnston County school system has a dress code that bans facial piercings, among numerous other fashion choices it considers to be distracting or disruptive. Reaching back into the recesses of my brain to my second semester of Con Law, I seem to recall that school dress codes will hold up under judicial scrutiny so long as they are reasonable and rationally related to a legitimate educational purpose, such as maintaining safety or discipline.

Surely Clayton High School isn’t the first in the nation to put an across-the-board content-neutral ban on body art, claiming it’s distracting to others and disrupts the pedagogical process. So why did the ACLU choose this case?

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Sharron Angle gets endorsement, lawsuit

I blogged last month about The Las Vegas Review-Journal’s “copyright enforcement partner,” who sues websites and bloggers that post the newspaper’s stories in their entirety, rather than just the links.

The Review-Journal’s strategy raised a whole bunch of legal questions. Now, it might raise some ethical questions because of one of its newest defendants: Republican U.S. Senate candidate Sharron Angle, who is challenging Democrat and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in one of the most hotly-contested and closely-watched elections of the fall.

Vegas-based blogger Steve Friess raised the ethical questions last week:

- [M]ust Nevada’s largest paper now include a passage in every news story it does on Angle’s race against Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid acknowledging that its owners have sued her?

- Can the R-J, whose publisher and editor have been outspoken supporters of the Tea Party darling, actually endorse her for Senate after having publicly accused her of stealing from them?

The Review-Journal alleges Angle posted two stories on her website without the newspaper’s permission. As of Tuesday, her website only had a paragraph from a story followed by a link, but that wasn’t always the case, as Friess has documented.

“[T]he Review-Journal has placed itself in journalistically uncharted territory,” Friess wrote Saturday. “No political or media experts I contacted could recall a mainstream newspaper ever suing a major-party candidate in the heat of a hotly contested election campaign.”

Something to watch as the general election nears.

(Speaking of elections, did you, Maryland Voter, cast your ballot in today’s primary election? You’ve got until 8 p.m.)

Critic’s lawsuit struck a chord

Longtime Cleveland Plain Dealer classical music critic Don Rosenberg last week lost his lawsuit against the paper and the Cleveland Orchestra, which he alleged forced him out of his position because of negative reviews in 2008. (Rosenberg has been re-assigned on the paper’s staff.)

Many in the classical music world have already weighed in. But I thought the best takes were those that spoke of the larger issue at play here: the role of the arts and the arts critic in society. It’s something Glenn Beck has discussed in recent weeks, taking Baltimore to task for maintaining funding levels on the Lyric despite all of its budget woes.

Martin Bernheimer, a Pulitzer Prize-winning critic, wrote in the Financial Times that Rosenberg’s case is an “alarming sign of the times”:

As government cuts of arts subsidies start to bite all over Europe, especially in Britain, there is talk of relying on “the American model.” That means an increased reliance on individual contributions – which goes along with an acceptance, presumably, of the individual powers that accompany substantial donations. Where does critical independence fit into this?

Chicago Tribune movie critic Michael Phillips wrote it’s a healthy sign when the triangular relationship between critic, newspaper and art community gets “sticky.”

There is so much fear and self-censorship in the critics’ ranks in America today. There are so few full-time salaries. You can smell the caution and paranoia in too many reviews weighed down by generalities and a stenographer’s devotion to “objectivity,” which isn’t what this endeavor is about at all. It’s about informed, vividly argued subjectivity.

Phillips also responded to Beck:

Criticism is a way of writing about life, and the world, and a symphony’s place in it, or a performer’s, or a photograph’s. …[N]o matter how frightening the economy, we must remind ourselves that we demonize the humanities… at the risk of becoming a nation we don’t want to become.

Legal news from Down Under

From a man at work who enjoys Men at Work, here now some news tidbits from Australia.

  • The headline says it all: “Ninja students foil Aussie mugging.” Three blokes in the middle of beating a man for his iPod and cell phone fled the scene of the crime when “five black-clad ninjas” came to the rescue. The ninjitsu students were training at a nearby hall when one saw the mugging in progress. Two of the men have been arrested.
  • People entering Australia must now declare at customs if they are carrying pornography. An affirmative declaration allows customs officials to search the luggage to determine if the material is legal. The move has drawn protest as an invasion of privacy by the Australian Sex Party, which notes there is no formal definition of pornography on the customs form.

Now, if you’re like me, your first thought about the second story was, “Australian Sex Party? Really?” At the risk of getting fired, I performed a quick Internet search which indicates that it does in fact exist.

G’day to everyone.

Law blog round-up

Here are some tidbits to take your mind off Maryland’s heartbreaking loss yesterday:

  • Jeffrey Toobin at The New Yorker gives three immediate observations about the legal implications of the health care legislation, including how it might affect the Supreme Court.
  • Above the Law has more on the potential, legal fallout of the bill.
  • Speaking of SCOTUS, an Iowa lawyer provides an interesting take in today’s Baltimore Sun about its upcoming Snyder v. Phelps case.
  • Encyclopaedia Britannica files a $250 million lawsuit against Dickstein Shapiro LLP for allegedly botching a patent application. (HT: Law Shucks.)
  • A former Wisconsin state employee has won a discrimination lawsuit against his employer… the State’s Equal Division. (HT and “Dept. of Irony” headline to Overlawyered.)
  • Today’s business tip – prevent profit “leaking” by recording all of your time while in the office.