Law blog roundup

Ally McBealHappy Monday to everyone and a special welcome back to the office to those who attended the Maryland State Bar Association’s Annual Meeting. Here are some links to peruse while you rub aloe into your sunburn:

– The federal judge who ruled Microsoft was “a monopoly” died Saturday.

– The New York Times has a profile of the federal judge in the morning-after pill case.

– The problem with a new state law in Florida that speeds up the execution process.

– A Tennessee judge is reminding female lawyers of appropriate courtroom attire. (HT: Above the Law)

Evidence suggests potential snags in forensic use of social media

Paul Grimm

U.S. District Court Judge Paul W. Grimm

It’s one thing to hear lawyers talk about the “CSI effect,” where jurors expect to see prosecutors present the high-tech evidence that regularly cracks cases on television.

It’s another thing to hear one of the foremost authorities on evidence and discovery say it.

“It’s more powerful than a great opening statement or a tear-inducing closing,” U.S. District Court Judge Paul W. Grimm told a packed seminar during the Maryland State Bar Association’s Annual Meeting in Ocean City.

The Criminal Law and Practice Section’s panel mixed a discussion of the newest technologies with references to Popeye, Mr. Peabody and several utterances of the phrase “if you are of a certain age.”

Those of a certain age could recall where prosecutors needed someone on the witness stand to identify the suspect as the person who committed the crime.

Now, “cell phones are the new, best way to solve crimes,” said Baltimore County State’s Attorney Scott Shellenberger. The first three questions investigators ask a suspect is for his name, if he has a cellphone and if he always has his cellphone on him, he added.

Shellenberger described a case where four people were convicted in connection with a murder based on a suspect’s cellphone address book and recent calls. Surveillance cameras helped corroborate the defendants were at the scene of a crime.

In another case, Baltimore County prosecutors were able to obtain a murder conviction by mapping the victim’s and defendant’s cellphone “pings” to cell phone towers to prove they were in the same location at the same time.

“Technology not only solved the crime, it proved the crime,” he said.

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Referendum on referendums still on hold

Del. Jon Cardin

Del. Jon Cardin, D-Baltimore County

The legal issues surrounding voter referendums are as nuanced as the signatures that often come under scrutiny during court battles over the petitions.

John Henry Smith, for example, can sign and print his name on a petition and it would be counted. But if he were to sign “Jack Smith” and print “J. H. Smith,” the signature wouldn’t be permitted.

It’s why Del. Jon Cardin, D-Baltimore County, wants to make easier the signature requirement for referendum, despite the objections of Democratic leadership in the General Assembly.

“Predictability is important in this process for petitioners and government,” Cardin said during the Administrative Law Section’s panel discussion at the Maryland State Bar Association’s Annual Meeting in Ocean City. “If you create a system that creates certainty, we are doing the right thing in terms of public policy no matter your politics.”

Cardin, who chairs an election law subcommittee in the House of Delegates, said legislation to reform the petition process was not passed in the General Assembly this year because of the “volatile nature” of the session (including the gun control and death penalty bills) and because Democratic leaders felt it would be too partisan to pass such legislation so close to next year’s election.

Speaking of the 2014 election, the primary was moved up to June in part to accommodate a federal law that requires ballots to be finalized 45 days before an election so they can be sent to military personnel overseas. (The September date was too close to November’s general election.)

The legal timeline to appeal a ballot question moves at a breakneck pace by legal standards. A case can go from a circuit court to the Court of Appeals in 30 days, members of the panel said.

But “can” does not mean “will,” especially at the trial court level. How much evidence is admissible at trial varies from judge to judge, with some allowing very little evidence and others allowing six months of discovery, the panelists said.

One thing most judges don’t want to do, according to Francis J. Collins, is go through tens of thousands of signatures that might be contested.

“Form takes over substance,” said Collins, of Kahn, Smith & Collins P.A. in Baltimore. “Circuit court judges and clerks don’t have the time.”

A final fun fact from the panel: Maryland is one of two states that solely have a referendum, meaning voters cannot adopt new laws, only repeal laws passed by the legislature.

Join us in Ocean City without leaving your office

MSBASorry, In-House Interrogatory fans: We’re taking a week off as we’re down in Ocean City for the Maryland State Bar Association’s Annual Meeting.

The festivities kick off in a bit with the Young Lawyers’ Section Happy Hour (co-sponsored by The Daily Record). Check out the website the rest of the week for stories and blog posts about the annual meeting.

You can also can follow me and Kristi on Twitter and look for the #MSBAOC hashtag.

And, if you’re heading “downy ocean,” be sure to stop by our booth at the Clarion. Two words: Prize. Wheel.

Law blog roundup

RockwellA happy soggy Monday to you on a week where many of the state’s lawyers will be heading “downy ocean” and we all celebrate Old Glory. Here are some law links to chew on:

– As online privacy dominates the news, Ron Miller of the Maryland Injury Lawyer Blog has details on a new Maryland Rule concerning personal information and court records.

– Why some lawsuits over Obamacare will come from the health care legislation’s supporters.

– “A Cuyahoga County prosecutor was fired this week after he admitted posing as a woman in a Facebook chat with an accused killer’s alibi witnesses in an attempt to persuade them to change their testimony.” (HT: Above the Law)

Steve Martin and his banjo (HT: Lowering the Bar)

Chewbacca and his light-saber cane

And Maryland’s newest lawyers are…

Earlier this month in this space, we noted how the bar exam results had been released. At the time, all that was available was a four-digit ID number.

Now, however, we have the full list of 462 names from the State Board of Law Examiners, which was also published in Tuesday’s paper.

Congratulations to Maryland’s newest lawyers!

Family law that is not rated G

I don’t know much about family law, but I do know a good double entendre when I hear one. And there were plenty heard Friday during the Family and Juvenile Law Section’s program at the Maryland State Bar Association’s Annual Meeting in Ocean City.

The theme for the session was exploring custody issues through parodies of the “Real Housewives” reality TV series. Only these episodes took place in Hagerstown, Dundalk and Salisbury, the latter of which featured the man pictured wearing a chicken on his head (naturally).

Each sketch featured some not-for-courtroom words, caricatures, some risque dialogue and, particularly in the case of the Dundalk sketch, some great accents.

(I filmed the two Hagerstown sketches as well as the Dundalk scene. Apologies for the video and audio quality, but I hope you can get the gist.)

The sketches were followed by a brief discussion by “erudite panel members” (really, that’s what it says in the program) on issues raised in the sketches. Here’s what I gleaned from the panel:

If a custody case involves the possibility of a child moving, the lawyer should remember the child “is going to lose one of their parents,” said Keith N. Schiszik of Day & Schiszik in Frederick. “You have to look very-fact specific as to how the kid is going to be hurt or not.”

When it comes to comity and where cases should be tried, the “good manners rule” should be followed, said Montgomery County Circuit Court Judge Cynthia Callahan.

“If they did it right in [another] state, we’re not going to run them over,” she said.

Judges do pick up the phone and talk about who should hear the case, according to Court of Special Appeals Judge Patrick L. Woodward.

“Most judges are practical. [They think,]‘One less case in my court is better,’” he said.

When working on custody agreements, Schiszik has made it practice to include a clause seeking the status quo in the child’s school, medical providers and religious activities unless both parties agree to a change.

The panel, plus the lawyers in attendance, all agreed the longer a lawyer waits to seek an emergency hearing, the less of an “emergency” it appears to be to the judge.

Judges talk contested elections

Not the judge in the photo, however. I really just wanted to share with you the sartorial splendor of Chief Judge Robert M. Bell on Thursday morning during the reception for new judges at the MSBA’s Annual meeting in Ocean City. (He wore a hat, he said, in honor of outgoing MSBA President Henry Dugan).

Four other judges and people involved in the judicial nominating process talked judicial elections in a session called “So you want to be a judge?”

Ted Staples, the panel moderator and co-chair of the MSBA’s Judicial Appointments Committee, said the real possibility of having to campaign “has got to be at the top of your list” when considering if you want a seat on the circuit court.

Montgomery County Administrative Judge John W. Debelius had to run in 2002 after just a year on the bench. He and his fellow sitting judges were out every night “campaigning,”meaning all they could really do was show up at events.

Debelius said the key is to be involved in the community to build up support.

“The only way to carry off an election is to have people,” he said, adding the sitting judges, with the help of the Montgomery County Bar, were able to have supporters at every polling place in the county and win their elections.

Despite the criticism, efforts to abolish judicial elections are “almost going backwards,” according to Richard Montgomery, MSBA’s legislative director for nine years.

“It’s going to take a constitutional amendment,” added Andy Radding, who has served on several judicial nominating commissions. “I don’t think [the General Assembly] has the guts.”

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‘Going geek’ at MSBA

Lots of options during the first educational session at the Maryland State Bar Association’s Annual Meeting in Ocean City. But, this being a blog, I felt I would not have been doing my duty if I did not attend the session on technology.

There was lots of talk of gadgets (Livescribe smart pens), apps (FastCase, Clio) and social media at the session, sponsored by the Solo and Small Firm Practice Section.

The big takeaway from the speakers was to embrace the technology. One audience member asked Hughie Hunt, a presenter, how secure cloud-based case management is.

“That’s a very 1980s question,” Hunt replied to laughter. “How secure is anything?”

The audience skewed older, many taking notes with pen and paper (although there were a few iPads in the crowd). So there was a lot of Tech 101. Dropbox, for example, was a “bigger and dumber version – in a good way” of Evernote for storing and sharing files, said presenter Bruce Godfrey.

There were also plenty of reminders that new technology doesn’t mean you can forget old ethics.

“FindLaw made me do it is not a defense” before the Attorney Grievance Commission, Godfrey said. “If you delegate marketing, you delegate ethics.”

Godfrey was also skeptical of lawyers marketing themselves online.

“We’re not cans of soup,” he said. “Our brand is our name on our letterhead.”

But that doesn’t mean you can’t make a name for yourself in social media, according to presenter (and Generation J.D.’s own) Heather Pruger.

Setting up a Facebook page, Twitter account or LinkedIn profile is OK, she said, but being engaged is a better way to enhance and expand your professional network and reputation.

“Social media is very much a two-, three-, four- and five-way street,” Pruger said.

The standard warnings you’ve probably heard a million times already still apply — don’t mix professional and personal conduct in social media and don’t do advise your client to do anything online you wouldn’t advise them to do in the real world. Pruger told the story of one lawyer fined $700,000 for advising a client to delete her Facebook profile during litigation.

Pruger recommended lawyers advise clients to stay off social media during litigation “unless they have a really good reason not to.”

A prequisite for pro bono?

Lawyers across the country have been talking about New York’s new mandate requiring those seeking to join the bar to complete 50 hours of pro bono work.

New York will be the first state to institute such a requirement, which will take effect starting next year. New York Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman announced the requirement May 1.

Since then, lawyers have been discussing the pros and cons of the rule. Some say it won’t do anything to help needy clients and unnecessarily burden incoming lawyers. Others contend it will turn new lawyers on to pro bono service.

Bloomberg BNA asked lawyers around the country what they think.

Ben Trachtenberg, professor at the University of Missouri School of Law: “While I completely appreciate the motive behind Chief Judge Lippman’s plan, and there’s a tremendous access to justice problem, I don’t think this is a particularly effective or fair way to solve the problem.”

Michael Millemann, professor at the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law: Chief Judge Lippman’s decision to require 50 hours of pro bono service for admission to the bar is a good step in the right direction.”

Robert N. Weiner, partner, Arnold & Porter in Washington, D.C.: “The issue is whether there will be enough resources to ensure that the people doing the pro bono are getting supervised, and getting to represent the right clients, and actually serving their clients The existing infrastructure will need to be supplemented dramatically to have the capacity to accommodate all this pro bono service.”

Questions remain about the implementation and organization of the requirement (some lawyers even want to extend the rule to existing lawyers) and the New York State Bar Association has created a task force to address the issue. What impact New York’s move will have on other states also remains to be seen.

Do you think Maryland should make pro bono work a prerequisite for admission to the bar?