Law blog roundup

tomb of the unknown soldierWelcome to a Monday on which we continue to give thanks to those who fought to protect the freedom we hold so dear. Here are some news items to get the week started.

– Will Kirk Douglas play this London fraud defendant in the movie?

– Warning: This post is rated X (as we used to say before NC-17).

Mr. Mayor, are you recording this call?

– In Detroit, a convicted murderer may get the chance to clear his name after 23 years.

Law blog roundup

Welcome to Monday, a day on which two movies immediately come to mind. And let’s not forget the roundup. Here are some news items to get your week started.

– A New York Times obituary recalls the Pentagon Papers case.

– DNA evidence reaches a milestone.

– How has the BP oil spill affected class-action litigation?

– Detroit newspaper continues battle to get public records on parolees and probationers.

In-House Interrogatory

Asked: Our weekly question to the In-House community

A new survey found 90 percent of in-house counsels found useful computer coding used to sort through legal documents. Of the 24 attorneys surveyed, however, the results were mixed as to how much money using such coding saved their companies.

The predictive coding technology uses specific case searches to find legal documents related to litigation. Many said the coding was helpful in that it sped up the process of reviewing documents and was helpful in big cases when sorting through thousands of documents.

Many general counsels were worried the technology would replace human review and were concerned how the courts viewed using this technology. About 27 percent said they were not sure how much the technology saved the company, but another 27 percent thought it saved more than $500,000. Another 27 percent thought the technology saved between $25,000 and $250,000. About 18 percent thought it saved between $250,000 and $500,000.

So, here’s our question for you:

Do you use predictive coding at your in-house jobs? If so, how much does it save your company?

Leave a comment below or email me.

Need to Know:

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D.C. lawyer (chicken) dances around political debate

When it comes to defending same-sex marriage, one Washington, D.C., lawyer is no chicken.

Attorney Ted Frank, who also blogs, has come up with a way to support same-sex marriage and consume controversial Chick-fil-A chicken.

The country has been abuzz about the Georgia-based fast-food chain in the past few weeks after its president, Dan Cathy, told a Baptist newspaper in an interview that he only supports marriage between a man and a woman.

Since then, each side of the political spectrum has jumped into the issue. Opponents of same-sex marriage declared a “Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day” and encouraged those supporting Cathy’s views to head to their nearest Chick-fil-A and order a chicken sandwich and waffle fries. Those in favor of same-sex marriage responded with Chick-fil-A “Kiss-Off” day, where same-sex couples smooched outside chicken chains across the country.

Frank has found himself, like many Americans, facing a conundrum: he loves Chick-fil-A food, but dislikes the company’s stance against same-sex marriage. So Frank decided to take a stand — all for the love of chicken and same-sex marriage.

Frank started the website, Chicken Offsets, where people can donate every time they eat at Chick-fil-A. The money will then go to a number of LGBT nonprofits. Every $1 donated equals an offset of one chicken sandwich, and $6 is worth 10 chicken sandwich offsets, according to the website.

As Frank explains on the website:

Chick-fil-A sells $4,100,000,000 of chicken a year and donates about 0.04% of that to Christian organizations that are only anti-gay in a collateral sense. Buying a chicken offset does far more for gay rights than boycotting the chain because someone asked a business executive so religiously Christian that he insists that the stores be closed on Sunday what he thought about gay marriage and people are pretending to be surprised by the answer.

At least 90 percent of the money donated goes to the It Gets Better Project, which focuses on helping LGBT teens, and The Williams Institute, a think tank at the UCLA School of Law that researches gender identity and sexual orientation law. Only a small amount of money is kept by the website for operating expenses.

Frank launched the website Saturday night and reportedly had raised $100 by late Monday.

So now, thanks to Frank,  gay rights supporters hankering for a spicy chicken sandwich bathed in signature Chick-fil-A Sauce can consume the 630-calorie meal guilt-free. Well, morally, anyways.

Glass ceiling?

For many journalists, making the transition into a law career is an easy, if not common one.

That is, unless you are disgraced former reporter Stephen Glass.

Glass made waves in the media world in 1998 after it was discovered that 42 of the articles he had written for The New Republic in two years were fabricated or partially fabricated. (The saga is chronicled in the movie, “Shattered Glass,” starring Hayden Christensen in a role that portrays Glass as savvy and manipulative.)

Glass, however, turned to the law after being collectively shunned by the journalism world. Glass had been taking night classes at Georgetown Law while working for The New Republic and started day classes after the scandal broke. He later passed the New York bar exam, but when he applied for his law license he found out it would be rejected on moral grounds and withdrew.

Glass eventually moved to California and applied for his law license there in 2009. His request was denied, which he appealed in a closed trial. The judge ruled in favor of Glass and his opponents appealed to the California Supreme Court, where the case was opened in December. No hearing date has been set.

In the meantime, Glass found work at a California law firm, and Paul Zuckerman, the trial lawyer who hired Glass, wants to eventually make him a partner. Zuckerman, who has a history of substance abuse, said he wanted to give Glass a second chance.

According to an article on TheRecord.com, though, law professors are divided on whether Glass, with his reputation, should be able to become a lawyer.

“What grates me is the idea that he is not honorable enough for journalism, so let the lawyers have him,” a New York University law professor told the publication. “Why should the legal system bear the risk?”

Updates on the secret Shapiro settlement

Keith Merryman

Keith Merryman

While Baltimore City Solicitor George A. Nilson and Steven Kupferberg, the attorney for mistakenly arrested violinist Yakov Shapiro, still differ as to the origin of the confidentiality of their settlement, allow me to offer a few updates related to the case.

There’s been a strong reader reaction to the story of Shapiro’s travail — which started when a detective investigating claims of child molestation by Yisroel Shapiro posted a warrant for Yakov Shapiro — and the city’s efforts to keep it quiet. While many Baltimore elected officials have kept to themselves about the questions the case raises about government transparency and training at the police department, a few city council members have spoken up:

  • Baltimore City Councilwoman Belinda Conaway, who has taken an interest in the costs of police negligence, said last summer she understood the need for such a confidential settlement “under extraordinary circumstances, once in a blue moon.” But, she said, “this should not happen again anytime soon.” Last week, after finally hearing the details of the Shapiro case, her first reaction was “Oh my God.”

“It’s a terrible, terrible thing to happen and I would hope the necessary steps are taken so something like this doesn’t happen again,” she said. “A settlement is nice but there’s no way that that settlement can undo the damage that was done.”

“If we could all walk away from this with one lesson learned, I would hope that it would be a shared recognition of the importance of transparency in government proceedings,” Henry wrote in an e-mail Wednesday evening. “Perhaps the Board of Estimates needs to develop a better policy of how to deal with confidentiality concerns when allocating City funds. Perhaps we should be trying to record and broadcast not only the actual Board of Estimates proceedings, but the mini-meetings ahead of time when more detailed briefings are given for many of the issues before the Board.

“The Administration has claimed to be supportive of this initiative of the Council President’s (recording and broadcasting B/E meetings, Liquor Board hearings, and BMZA hearings),” Henry continued, “but also claims to be unable to come up with the operating funds needed – less than $50K – leading to the reasonable suspicion that they must be sufficiently comfortable with the status quo.”

Mr. Kupferberg has shielded Yakov Shapiro from press inquiries but he described his client’s reaction to the stories published in yesterday’s paper.

“Yakov was in here today, and I asked him if he wanted to speak to you and he started to cry,” Kupferberg said by phone from his office. “I showed him the story, and he just teared up.”

One detail I wasn’t able to determine before we published Tuesday evening was the identity of the judge who presided over Shapiro’s bail review that November morning three years ago. Well, it seems the voice on the recording was that of C. Yvonne Holt-Stone. According to an e-mail from Baltimore City District Court Administrative Judge John R. Hargrove Jr., Judge Holt-Stone was on the schedule for that morning at Central Booking, where Hargrove says Shapiro’s bail review took place. Holt-Stone, who has been on the city district court bench since 1991 is on leave through the end of the year and could not be reached to confirm her part in the case.

The other person I’ve yet to hear from is Baltimore City Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III. He was at the White House yesterday and is out of the office through Christmas, according to his spokesman.

I’m less optimistic about ever hearing from Detective Keith Merryman (who posted the warrant for Yakov Shapiro instead of the real offender, Yisroel Shapiro) or police lawyer Neal M. Janey Jr., who negotiated the settlement, but stay tuned on those fronts.

Artist's court sketch of Yisroel Shapiro (left, with glasses and Kippah)

Finally, if you’re interested in learning more about Yisroel Shapiro and how his misdeeds came to light in the generally close-knit and tight-lipped Orthodox Jewish community, have a look at Standing Silent, a documentary that will premier at the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival in February. Phil Jacobs, the executive editor of the Baltimore Jewish Times who has covered the topic extensively, stars in the film.

Thanks for reading and Happy Holidays!

University of Georgia student newspaper editor drinks, gets sacked

I’ll be speaking with some college journalists at my alma mater tonight and next week about social media, but I’m also going to offer this pearl of wisdom: Don’t drink – even a sip – if you’re scheduled to see the university president and governor at a football game.

Just ask Daniel Burnett, editor-in-chief of the University of Georgia’s student newspaper. He was asked to leave the president’s box during Saturday night’s game against Georgia Tech and resigned Monday from his post at The Red And Black.

An assistant to Georgia’s president said Burnett’s behavior was “disruptive enough to the point” he was escorted out. Guests in the box included the governor and governor-elect of Georgia.

Burnett, 22, said he had been drinking at a tailgate prior to entering the president’s box. He said he did not think he was being disruptive but university officials also had the right to remove him.

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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.

Copyright sleuthing (or, What happens in The Las Vegas Review-Journal…)

If I had a time machine, one of my first stops would be newsrooms across the country in the mid-1990s. (My second stop? Where Hall met Oates, of course.)

“This ‘Internet thing’? Not only is it here to stay but it is the future of information sharing,” I’d tell the assembled newspaper people. “Start charging people for your online content now or you’re going to be in a heap of trouble in 20 years.”

I thought about this while reading a story in The Las Vegas Sun about its rival paper’s attempt to prevent websites and bloggers from posting entire stories instead of just links to the source. The Las Vegas Review-Journal‘s “copyright enforcement partner” has sued at least 86 websites for copyright infringement, seeking $75,000 in damages and forfeiture of the domain names.

Here’s how it works, according to the Sun: the R-J’s partner, Righthaven LLC, scours the Internet in search of a copyright infringement. It then purchases the copyright of that specific story from the R-J’s owner and sues the website owner.

Critics acknowledge the paper and Righthaven have copyright claims but accuse them of using heavy-handed tactics on “mom-and-pop” websites, like the lawsuit filed against the cat-centric blog. One journalism professor calls the lawsuits “the McDonald’s coffee cases of copyright litigation — lawful but preposterous.”

I recommend the Vegas Sun’s story, if only for the fantastic analogies involving a 1967 Corvette and a pig. The lesson here is always give credit and link to an original source in your blog posts. (Thanks for the tip, Above the Law! Thanks for the illustration, e-how!)

Because you never know when private eyes are watching you.