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Tweet-sized Tuesdays #5

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Sep 29, 2009 in Tweet-sized Tuesdays

LRA test seemed easy — makes me worry. Grilled in Property, but knew the material enough to almost enjoy it :) Plus I know BlackAcre now :D

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The not-always-plain meaning of “Plain Meaning”

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Sep 26, 2009 in The 1L Life

[Edit @ 09/28/09:  Apparently for at least the last 3 entries I’ve been hitting “Save Draft” instead of “Publish”, and since I went out of town for the weekend I never checked the blog to make sure they were online.  So you’re getting this a couple days late.  Sorry :P]

The forecasted love/hate relationship with Legal Reasoning & Analysis was already drifting closer to the “hate” side of the pendulum.  Yesterday morning it pretty firmly stuck itself there.

We’re going over statutory analysis and various “canons of construction,” e.g. a bunch of Latin phrases that I’ve never seen any attorney actually use in practice like “noscitur a sociis”.  One useful item though is the “Plain Meaning Rule” — if a statute has a clear and unambiguous meaning, that’s the interpretation you ask the court to use.

So we were given a hypothetical case about a mom with two children, an 18-year-old and a 15-year-old (both in high school), and a deadbeat dad who left her to up a career publicizing musicians.  He has a wealthy benefactor who flies him out to various parties worldwide, a new wife who’s a doctor and provides for all the living expenses, and so on.

We’re provided a copy of NC General Statutes Chapter §50-13.4 on child support actions, and told to use the Plain Meaning Rule to make an argument as to whether or not the mom should be entitled to child support for the 18-year-old child.

Now if you remember that second entry linked up at the top in the first paragraph, on the first homework assignment we had, we broke down statutes into their pieces to check all of the “tests” embedded in them.  In other words, stuff tailor-made for a computer science person who can do Boolean algebra in his sleep.

So although I’m initially seduced by the section of exceptions relating to continuing child support payments for children over the age of 18 but still in high school, the CSC in me recalls one of the rules I learned in programming:  your program can’t throw an exception if it’s not running.  Applied to this case, in other words, the mom couldn’t rely on an exception to continue payments if she didn’t have payments coming in the first place.  Which leads me to what (I think) is the core question: what’s the common law definition of a “minor child” in NC?

Poking around Black’s Law Dictionary gives me “[a minor child is an] infant or person who is under the age of legal competence. . . . In most states, a person is no longer a minor after reaching the age of 18[.]” Just to make sure that’s applicable to North Carolina, I do a little thumbing around the statutes and come across NCGS Chapter 48A on Minors, where the first section reads “The common‑law definition of minor insofar as it pertains to the age of the minor is hereby repealed and abrogated.”  I go on to the second section, which reads “A minor is any person who has not reached the age of 18 years.”

And just to make sure I’m on the right track, I go poking around Google for some controlling NC case law and come across Crouch v. Crouch (14 N.C. App. 49) which offers the following:

When G.S. 48A-1 which repeals the common law definition of minor is construed with G.S. 48A-2, the effect is that wherever the term “minor,” “minor child” or “minor children” is used in a statute, the statute now refers to age 18. The statutes concerning child support, G.S. 50-13.4 et seq., all use the term “minor,” “minor child” or “minor children,” never referring to age 21. Therefore, in substituting the new meaning of “minor” into the statutes, the legal obligation to support one’s child ends at age 18, absent a showing that the child is insolvent, unmarried and physically or mentally incapable of earning a livelihood as was true in the Wells and Speck cases, supra, and as contemplated by G.S. 50-13.8.

Thinking I just have to be on the right track, I write my assignment from the premise that the mom can’t get child support because the son is already 18, and therefore is not a minor child for the purpose of initiating a child support action under NCGS §50-13.4.  The fact he’s still in high school doesn’t trigger the relevant exception if we’re going with the plain meaning of the statutes, since the exception is based on continuing a pre-existing obligation to pay.

I get to class on Friday, Professor LRA’s Twin posts the model response, and… absolutely nothing I have is in there.  The model argues that the mom would be entitled to child support by virtue of the exception for high schoolers.  And everyone in the class apparently put that in their analysis except for one guy (folks have been referring to him as “The Lone Gunner” so that may become his nickname here), who evidently was the only one in the entire class to agree with my perspective on the issue.

In talking to a couple family law attorneys since the class, every one of them agreed with my approach.  In talking with Professor LRA, I was told I was completely and totally wrong based on some non-statute-based explanation she provided… in other words, something not related at all to the “plain meaning” of statutes.

Thankfully this assignment wasn’t graded, because had it been an exam question I would have been screwed. So yeah, I officially hate this class.

Have a great day folks! :D

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Tweet-sized Tuesdays #3

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Sep 15, 2009 in Tweet-sized Tuesdays

TDot == marked man. Torts yesterday: fail. Contracts today: fail++.  More details tomorrow.  LRA test in AM, studying then to bed. Night! :D

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Tweet-sized Tuesdays #2

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Sep 8, 2009 in Tweet-sized Tuesdays

Weather: great! LRA went well, get to sleep in tomorrow. Joined study group…argued entire meeting. And we were both “right”. Off to bed :)

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Speaking French… in Russian

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Sep 2, 2009 in The 1L Life

Glad to be back out on the deck enjoying this amazing North Carolina weather :) Those of you who are reading this from colder climates really are missing out:  it’s currently 78º F with low humidity and a slight breeze.  It doesn’t get much better than this (except when it goes back to the upper-80s this weekend, when it’s time to hit the pool) :D

I had a feeling from the traffic stats that this blog was getting passed around among my fellow Legal Eagles at the NC Central University School of Law — for both of the past two weeks there’s been an otherwise unexplainable spike in Wednesday traffic, which I realized today is probably due to the break in between CivPro and Property.  Also got confirmation from one of my classmates in Legal Reasoning & Analysis that it was getting “passed around.”

That’s not a bad thing of course — I’ll say anything I write here just as quickly in any other public forum — but someone asked me earlier today why I didn’t bother blurring out my name on the pic of my campaign poster I included yesterday.  Basically I know I’m not going to be able to stay anonymous anyway so there’s no real point in trying.  At some point I’ll add more info to the About section of this blog, but for now for the sake of the search engines I’ll throw out that (i) I am T. Greg Doucette, (ii) a native of Virginia Beach, (iii) graduate of N.C. State University, and (iv) aspiring lawyer extraordinaire :)

And someone downstairs just started cooking on a charcoal grill, so let me get to the point of this post before my stomach starts to demand food…

I mentioned in my reflections a couple weeks ago that my Legal Reasoning & Analysis lab section was my love/hate class:  the teacher’s nice and my classmates are all chill people who I probably wouldn’t mind having a drink with or joining at an NC State football game, but the course material itself clashes with my inner-Computer Science nerd.  On top of that (i) I’m just not very good at it relative to my peers, and (ii) there is usually dead silence when the Professor asks for volunteers so I’ve offered myself up as a sacrificial lamb twice now (I may not like being publicly exposed as wrong on homework, but I hate awkward silences).

Someone wanted me to explain how CSC and LRA clash, so that’s what today’s post is all about.  You’ve probably seen this Dos Equis commercial about the Most Interesting Man in the World.  One of the jokes of the script is that “[h]e can speak French… in Russian” — meant to be humorous, but from a CSC perspective actually makes sense; basically imagine a user typing English into a Java program and the bytecode in turn gets compiled into C to run on the host machine, and they’d be speaking C… in Java.  The concept applies to interfaces in general.

LRA is the same type of translation process in my mind.  After spending the past 4 years debugging code, checking Boolean algebra and conditional logic is almost habit.  Coincidentally, Boolean algebra and conditional logic are essentially the core of all of the law we’ve learned so far in the first 2.5 weeks.  So spotting rules and analyzing fact patterns should be pretty easy right?

Not so much.  Mentally flipping from plain English to read the rule, over to CSC to dissect the rule, then to LRA “English” to write the rule out, and back to plain English to understand it seems to lose a bit in translation.  Imagine a lawyer with a Heisenbug.  That’s me.

Consider the following from our first homework assignment; bear in mind these aren’t actual statutes, but just test language to see if we can properly dissect things.

Here’s how it’s written out:

“A person is liable for battery when she intentionally causes a harmful or offensive contact with the person of another, or to anything so closely connected with the other’s body as to be regarded a part of it.”

And this is how Professor LRA wants the rule broken down:

Rule:  a person is liable for battery when she

  1. intentionally causes a
    1. harmful OR
    2. offensive
  2. contact
    1. with the person of another OR
    2. to anything so closely connected with the other’s body as to be regarded a part of it

If I were trying to write this as a computer algorithm, here’s typically how I’d do it (I apologize in advance if any of this pseudo-code wraps or isn’t properly nested, I’m accustomed to a fixed-width terminal):

public boolean isLiable() {
     if (isIntentional() && (contact.equals(harmful) || contact.equals(offensive)) && (target.equals(Person) || target.equals(Person.connectedItem)) {
          return true;
     }
}

The CSC version just seems simpler and easier to understand… but instead I get to bang my head against my computer screen until my brain oozes out.

At least it’s amusing for those around me to watch :)

That’s my rant for the day. Heading out to the American Tobacco Trail to go jogging with a friend, trying to get my rotund former-CSC self into shape. Have a great evening everybody! :D

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TDot’s Tips #7: Own your awkwardity

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Aug 23, 2009 in TDot's Tips

Law school, in many respects, reminds me of kindergarten. Your entire grade is divided up into a few groups. You stay in one room for the entire day and different teachers come to you instead of the other way around. Several professors have you fill out index cards with basic info and facts about yourself (I even had to buy a glue stick for 2 of them — first time I’ve used glue in well over a decade). You have your teacher’s pets in the front of the room (not me), your cool kids in the middle (not me), and your miscreants in the back (me).

And awkwardity seems to be everywhere you look.

My guess is that it’s a result of everyone being in a foreign environment studying foreign material and not knowing what answers to provide to the professor’s foreign questions, but even the suave kids find themselves thrown off their game.  And I, being the incredibly suave guy I am (no snickers please), seem to have already enjoyed my fair share of awkward moments.

The first week of school was kind enough to continue that trend.  On Friday mornings we have a lab section for Legal Reasoning & Analysis, which is the only class where our 60ish students are divided up into groups of 20 or so.  Professor LRA announced the sections we were in on Wednesday and passed around an attendance sheet that included info on it.  I signed it, then dutifully wrote down the room number I was to report to on Friday.  Friday morning arrives, I get to class on time (barely), see DMoff and M.P. (both part of the Gang of Eight) in the back, go to join them… then get quizzical stares from several people.  DMoff asks if I’m in the right section, pulls up the roster on his computer, and sure enough it says I should be in a different one than I am.

The professor, ready to start class, wants to know what we’re talking about.  Now with the light shined firmly on me, feeling like a goober (again), I note that it appears I’m in the wrong section, re-pack my stuff, and walk myself across the hall.  Come in to the new class late, hand the professor in there my homework assignment, and tell her it seems I wrote down the wrong section info yesterday and should have been there instead.  She starts class as the attendance sheet is going around.  The attendance sheet gets to me… and my name isn’t on it.  Turns out I was right the first time, and that the roster which was posted online was an older edition.  So I gently raise my hand, tell the teacher about my  now-2nd screw-up, grab my assignment from her and go back to the class I was at the first time.

Ordinarily I would have been beet red from embarrassment before walking into the other class, but I realized after orientation last week that I was/am destined to end up being “that guy” (not to be confused with That Guy).  So before I left that first class the first time, I cordially announced that knowing my track record I was probably wrong and would be back shortly (which of course I was), and upon my return intentionally waved in an idiotic fashion to the professor and the other students in the room.  Apparently at least a few folks thought it was endearing.

I suspect the overwhelming majority of us are socially awkward creatures, and the reason we laugh at someone else’s faux pas is out of a nervous gratitude that “at least it’s not me!”  So the easiest way to preemptively cope with that reality is to take ownership of your awkwardity. Make a joke out of it.  Self-deprecating humor is a staple of lawyers and politicians alike precisely because it disarms people and builds a bond between you and them.  It conveys to the other person that you know exactly why they’re laughing, and it’s OK because you agree that it was pretty damn funny.

That’s my take on it at least, and it seems to be working well so far :)

I’m off to read Civil Procedure and Torts cases for the rest of the night.  Have a great evening folks! :D

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This is why I don’t read for fun…

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Aug 19, 2009 in The 1L Life

[Edit @ 1:36pm: apparently while revising this thing a few hours ago I somehow deleted half the post and turned off comments without realizing it — added the rest of the post back in and turned comments and trackbacks back on.  Sorry for the confusion to those of you who already read it >_<  –TDot]

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My day so far:

1:32am: Stay up late reading the federal and NC Rules of Civil Procedure for fun, because I’m pretty fascinated by process.  Forget that I tend to oversleep when I go to bed late.  Download some tracks from iTunes for a new mixtape, set alarm on cell phone, and go to bed.

7:03am:  Open eyes, thinking it’s only 6 and I can snooze for a bit.  Notice the sunlight is brighter than normal in my room.  Wonder why my alarm hasn’t gone off.

7:04am: “Shit…”

7:06:13am: Realize I can’t recall alarm going off.  Roll over to check clock on night stand; blocked by something so I can’t see all the numbers, but can tell the first number is clearly not a ‘6’.

7:06:16am: “…shit…”

7:06:58am: Find cell phone underneath my pillow with my daily news email from the Chronicle of Higher Education opened.  Clearly I’ve already been awake at some point, cut off my alarm, and gone back to bed.

7:07:01am: “…shit!”.  Almost break the sound barrier jumping out of the bed.

7:10am: Decide to skip wearing slacks and a polo for jeans and a t-shirt.  Make up the bed.
7:11am: Change my mind on the jeans and a t-shirt.  Pull out slacks and a collarless polo. Start burning the new mixtape CD while the iron heats up.  Iron clothes.

7:15am: Realize I’ll have to skip breakfast.  Jump in the shower before waiting for water to heat up.  Curse.
7:33am: Stomach reminds me it doesn’t approve skipping breakfast.  Go throw 2 waffles in the toaster before getting dressed.
7:35am: Flip waffles and press the lever again.  Toaster only has 2 settings: “barely warm” and “charcoal.”  Note to self:  get new toaster.

7:37am: Start eating waffle by hand, without syrup (one of the greatest culinary injustices possible).  Grab keys, cards, phone holster, sunglasses.  Realize this is probably one of those reasons why the food gods invented paper plates.

7:39am: Throw half-eaten waffle and uneaten waffle on a plate, grab a can of Diet Mountain Dew, grab bookbag and books, scoop everything all up and run downstairs.  Awkwardly.

7:43am: Hit first red light (1 out of 1).  Curse.
7:46am: Hit second red light (2 out of 3).  Curse.
7:48:15am: Hit third red light (3 out of 6).  Curse.
7: 48:46am: Hit fourth red light (4 out of 7).  Curse.

7:50am: For a rap and hip-hop guy, conclude that Nickelback is actually pretty good to blast early in the morning.

7:53am:  Hit fifth red light (5 out of 13).  Don’t curse upon realization I’m slightly earlier than yesterday, when I had to sprint from the parking lot to make it in the class right as Professor LRA was getting ready to shut the door.

7:57am:  Get to side door of law school.  Remember that said door requires card access.  Use Karate Kid crane technique to balance books / soda / pocket contents and swipe the keypad.

7:58am:  Make it to class with 2 minutes to spare. w00t.

8:09am:  Conclude Professor LRA is a good high-energy professor for an 8am class, but she’s flying through these PowerPoint slides.  Couldn’t even finish reading the text on that last one.
8:10am:  Rockstar (one of my new 1L friends who sits in the back of the room with our group I’m starting to call the Gang of Eight) raises his hand and tells the professor she moved too quickly past that last slide.
8:11am:  Rockstar gets gently chewed out by Professor LRA. “I’ll post the PowerPoint on TWEN.  You blindly typing this all down doesn’t do anything.  Just sit there and listen. Let this marinate.”  She might want to have a conversation with Dr. Psyche about learning styles.

8:55am:  Done with LRA.  Grabbing a Diet Mountain Dew from the machine downstairs, posting this entry, and waiting for Civil Procedure to start… so far my favorite course, both for the content and the professor (already dubbed by some students as Mean Dean Green — no pseudonym I could think up would do justice to something that rhymes that well :))

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May or may not post another entry today, I’m already feeling behind even though I’m up on the readings.  Guess you’ll just have to come back later to find out ;) (or just use an RSS reader :P)

One last note:  this city is my home now (you might notice it if you read the Drudge Report).  I’m going to love this place :D

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