3

Are all California police just nuts?

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Nov 21, 2011 in Randomness

I surfaced briefly from under the pile of end-of-semester homework to catch up on the news, and just now stumbled upon this whole UC Davis pepper spraying incident via a friend posting this YouTube video on Facebook:

Now I’m no fan of the Occupy movement and Occupiers’ tendency to willfully violate the private property rights of others to try and make a point.1 Even so, this is downright insane :crack:

The university’s claim that the pepper spraying was prompted by a “hostile” situation is thoroughly debunked by the video. There’s nothing here but a bunch of wannabe hippies sitting there linking arms thinking it’ll make a difference in tuition increases.2

They weren’t preventing the ingress or egress of vehicular traffic, presenting a safety hazard, or causing any other public disturbance to a level that demanded the use of force. Totally, shamelessly, incontrovertibly outrageous — what seems to be a recurring theme among California law enforcement agencies.

Remind me not to visit California again any time soon…

  1. I’ll concede I wholeheartedly agree with the Occupy folks with respect to crony capitalism bearing some responsibility for the economic mess we’re in — but they don’t seem to grasp that the reason crony capitalism persists is because it’s incredibly lucrative when the federal government has its tentacles in every cookie jar available. A regulation costing you or I a nickel apiece might cost a given industry millions of dollars, which prompts companies to buy legions of lobbyists to push for special favors from the government. That’s why things turn into a mess. End crony capitalism, but also end the government overreach that promotes crony capitalism. []
  2. Though I suspect most of them aren’t registered to vote, and I doubt they’ve tried any of the tactics we successfully deployed in UNCASG. []

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2

Maybe I could do a career in radio?

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Nov 18, 2011 in The 3L Life

Good evening y’all, and welcome to the weekend! :D

Posting on law:/dev/null will be hit-or-miss until around December 9th or so — I’ve currently got 6 papers, 2.5 oral arguments, and an in-class final exam in the next 2 weeks alone, leaving me with almost no time to blog.1

Without the luxury of coming up with something new and pithy, I’ve taken the luxury of linking to a “Behind the Mic” webstream of an online radio show I hosted with my classmate Hahvahd2 on Wednesday for our ConLaw II class :)

Each week during the academic year, we host something call iSpeak Blog Radio talking about a variety of First Amendment-related topics. You can access the main website, including the archived shows, online at http://www.blogtalkradio.com/ispeak.

My topic was California’s Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) shutting off all cell phone service within their subway stations, as a way of squelching an alleged protest that they claim was going to take place.3 We also brought in ECU’s Peter Romary4 to help give a lawyer’s perspective on the issues. Personally I think BART’s decision was shamelessly illegal and I’m a bit disappointed no one’s filed suit over it yet, but until someone does I decided to comment from my perch in the law school  :angel:

Before we get to the video, if you’re interested in the factual background and links for more info, here’s what I included in the Facebook event listing I cobbled together for the radio show:

[FACTUAL BACKGROUND]
The operators of California’s Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) public transportation subway system pay mobile phone providers to offer mobile phone service throughout the Transbay Tube. Mobile transmitters/towers exist throughout the BART system providing cellular coverage. BART maintains physical control over the towers, including providing electrical power.

On July 3rd, 2011, BART police shot and killed Charles Hill at its Civic Center Station in San Francisco. Hill was a homeless man who was allegedly inebriated, and was reportedly armed with a bottle, two knives, and was “acting aggressively” toward police when he was killed. The official security camera video released by BART is inconclusive (the YouTube video can be seen at the link below).

This was the third fatal shooting by BART police in three years. The first, occurring in the early morning hours of New Year’s Day 2009, resulted after police arrested and handcuffed Oscar Grant for disorderly conduct at the Fruitvale Station in Oakland. While Grant was handcuffed and prostrate [face-down] on the ground, Officer Johannes Mehserle pulled out his revolver and shot Grant in the back. Grant later died for his injuries and Mehserle served 11 months in prison for involuntary manslaughter: Mehserle claimed in court he intended to pull his Taser instead.

Following Hill’s July 2011 death, the group “No Justice, No BART” organized a protest at several metro stations beginning at 4:30pm calling for BART to be disbanded and the officers who killed Hill to be criminally charged for yet another killing. As the crowd grew in size, some protestors attempted to prevent trains from departing and service was eventually disrupted. Several stations were closed entirely as a result of the protest.

A month later, BART claimed “[o]rganizers plann[ed] to disrupt BART service on August 11, 2011… us[ing] mobile devices to coordinate their disruptive activities and communicate about the location and number of BART Police.” BART officials cut off electricity to all mobile phone towers from 4:00pm to 7:00pm at four stations in an attempt to thwart the alleged protest. In the process, everybody (including non-protestors) lost mobile phone service in BART stations.

[LEGAL ISSUES PRESENTED]
==> Did the alleged “credible information” obtained by Bay Area Rapid Transit, claiming an impending August 11th protest, satisfy the 3-pronged test articulated by the Supreme Court in Brandenburg v. Ohio (intent / imminence / likelihood) for infringing upon speech rights?

==> Assuming arguendo the Brandenburg test was satisfied, was the BART decision to end mobile phone service nonetheless an unconstitutional prior restraint on speech, particularly when BART acknowledges portions of its stations are “free speech zones” for lawful protest?

==> Assuming arguendo the Brandenburg test was satisfied, was ending mobile phone service for everybody (including innocent commuters) an overbroad — and therefore unconstitutional — restriction on protected First Amendment activities?

[NEWS & RELATED SOURCES]
==> “BART Video: Civic Center Shooting,” YouTube.com, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fCVj-GIBu6k

==> “BART Police shooting of Oscar Grant,” Wikipedia.org, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/BART_Police_shooting_of_Oscar_Grant

==> “Oscar Grant Riots: 86 Arrested, Downtown Oakland Smashed,” SFWeekly.com, http://blogs.sfweekly.com/thesnitch/2010/07/oscar_grant_riots_86_arrested.php (07/09/2010)

==> “Latest BART Shooting Prompts New Discussion of Reforms,” New York Times, http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/17/us/17bcbart.html (07/16/2011)

==> “BART Protest Shuts Down Several SF Stations,” KTVU.com, http://www.ktvu.com/news/news/bart-protest-shuts-down-several-sf-stations/nDb2w/ (07/11/2011)

==> “Statement on temporary wireless service interruption in select BART stations on Aug. 11,” Bay Area Rapid Transit, http://www.bart.gov/news/articles/2011/news20110812.aspx (08/12/11)

==> “BART Officials Blocked Cell Phones During Transit Protest,” CBS Sacramento, http://sacramento.cbslocal.com/2011/08/12/bart-officials-blocked-cell-phones-during-transit-protest/ (08/12/2011)

==> “A letter from BART to our customers,” Bay Area Rapid Transit, http://bart.gov/news/articles/2011/news20110820.aspx (08/20/2011)

==> “BART Pulls a Mubarak in San Francisco,” Electronic Frontier Foundation, https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2011/08/bart-pulls-mubarak-san-francisco (08/12/2011)

==> “Cell Phone Censorship in San Francisco?,” American Civil Liberties Union, http://www.aclu.org/blog/free-speech/cell-phone-censorship-san-francisco (08/12/2011)

Now for the fun stuff!

If you just want to access the audio-only feed from the Blog Talk Radio website, go to http://www.blogtalkradio.com/ispeak/2011/11/16/can-you-hear-me-now-ca-silences-phones-to-silence-protests

But if you’re a visual learner like me, enjoy the video (and requisite facial expressions) below ;)

Have a great night y’all! :D

  1. And a heaping pile of regret for trying to be an overachiever academically :beatup: []
  2. New person added to the law:/dev/null pantheon, previously referenced indirectly (and so named) for being the partner to my SBA predecessor noted in this Site Stats entry. []
  3. Yes, you read that right — supposedly we do stuff like that here in America now? :crack: []
  4. Long-time law:/dev/null readers might recognize Peter from this entry mentioning his new blog, The True Verdict. []

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A conservative’s [brief] case for higher education funding

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Nov 9, 2011 in Unsolicited Commentary

After more than 2 years of writing here at law:/dev/null, I’ve done a reasonably decent job of keeping the “real world” politics to a minimum1 — not because I’m averse to talking about those sorts of issues, but because law school is enough of a headache without me going into AN ALL-CAPS RAGE2 about the latest controversy du jour.

Even so, every now and then I feel a slight urge to rant ;)

Earlier tonight I took a break from drowning in homework to visit Chapel Hill for “An Evening with Five Presidents”, an event put together by the UNC Board of Governors featuring a panel discussion with the 5 folks who have led the consolidated University of North Carolina since it was established in 1972. Former BOG members were asked to attend as “special friends” of the University — and since I’m more likely to find a job lead from one of these folks than anything my GPA will get me, I figured making the academic sacrifice was a rational choice :beatup:

Anyhow, the wide-ranging discussion included more-than-a-few remarks about the proper way to fund the University and the totally absurd tuition increases being discussed behind closed doors (e.g. $4K+ increase at UNCCH for in-state undergrads over the next couple years :crack: ). Unfortunately those are the kinds of conversations that happen when newly-Republican-led state legislatures gore the higher education system and nuke $1 of every $7 overnight.3

It’s obvious from the General Assembly’s actions that legislators have a dim view of the university system, I’m just thoroughly flummoxed as to why. It’s always made intuitive sense to me that the education sector is one of the few options that are a sensible and eminently capitalist choice for investing taxpayers’ money.

Yes, I just said “eminently capitalist.” Maybe I’m biased because of the modest upbringing and former dropout status, but consider two brief reasons:4

The Social Network Effect:
Folks who’ve spent time in a computer science class have probably already heard of the “Metcalfe Effect”, named after Ethernet founder Robert Metcalfe. He argued that a critical mass of users was necessary to create any value in any particular network; for example, one person having a telephone is worthless, but as more people get telephones all current telephone users benefit.5 Economists refer to this as a positive network externality.

The Metcalfe Effect in computer science: for a network of (n) nodes, the total number of possible connections is (n * (n - 1)) / 2

You can see a visual depiction in the photo on the right. The Metcalfe Effect can actually be expressed as a mathematical formula — (n * (n-1)) / 2 — indicating the total number of possible connections between n nodes in a network. 2 nodes: 1 connection. 5 nodes: 10 connections. 12 nodes: 66 connections. And so on.

Universities are essentially big incubators for a human-centric Metcalfe Effect, creating what I’d describe as a Social Network Effect. Thousands of people voluntarily choose to come into a given geographic area, sharing a common institutional affiliation for 4 years at a stretch, and in the process inevitably form connections (their social network) with those around them.

Now is every one of N.C. State‘s 33,000+ students going to connect with the other 32,299+? Of course not. But in the aggregate, more connections are formed than would be otherwise.

I’ve seen this Social Network Effect get routinely derided by conservative pundits for years — “We’re supposed to be teaching kids to get jobs! Not to have fun!” blah blah blah rabble rabble rabble.

But the criticisms overlook basic realities of how economics works: information asymmetry is an impediment to maximum economic efficiency, and our personal networks help to distribute information and reduce that asymmetry as a result. This is the reason why the extent and quality of your personal network influences the resources you can obtain.

To make a long story short (these kinds of debates can get über-long), basically with the Social Network Effect at universities you get more people forging more numerous and economically higher-quality connections with more other people, producing a greater quantity and quality of economic interaction — better matches between employers and employees, producers and consumers, new business ventures, and so on.

The Foundational Knowledge Effect:
I couldn’t come up with a cool-sounding name for this one :beatup:

One of my minors at N.C. State was in economics, and to get there we had to read a lot of different books / essays / writings / etc. Out of everything economics-related that I’ve read, economist William Easterly’s The Elusive Quest for Growth ranks among my Top 2 favorites.6

A former economist with the World Bank, Easterly’s book discusses the various “panaceas” touted by the developed world for trying to improve third-world countries (things like debt forgiveness, building schools, and the like) and why most of them simply don’t work. While the book overall is excellent, what particularly jumped out to me in reading it was Easterly’s thorough exploration of the role of knowledge in the economy.

In a nutshell: knowledge is cumulative and builds off of itself.

This is why, if you look at the economic growth rates of various countries over the last century, countries tend to hit a certain point where their per capita GDP accelerates exponentially rather than just linearly — the “core” level of knowledge among the populace hits a threshold point where it can then take greater advantage of new advances and discoveries, accelerating growth further and leading to even more such discoveries.

As an example, you couldn’t simply teleport back to California in 1900, give someone the laptop you brought with you, and expect Silicon Valley to spring up decades ahead of time when the country hasn’t seen a radio or TV yet. Easterly discusses this reality in the context of African tribes cut off from the outside world, suddenly immersed in modern tech innovations when approached by missionaries: they pick up on it eventually, it just takes a long time when that foundational knowledge doesn’t exist.

Just like universities are great voluntary creches for nurturing social networks, so too are they among the most-effective means for building “core” knowledge in the populace. The widespread ubiquity of technology, access to the latest research, the exposure to knowledge that comes from building a social network in itself — all of this contributes to everyone’s foundation of knowledge, enabling a higher degree of economic growth at a faster pace than we’d have otherwise simply from mere exposure to it (and even more if it’s retained).

***

I have to cut this entry here because WordPress says I’ve already hit 1,300 words, but my main point is this: the Social Network Effect and the Foundational Knowledge Effect, taken together, lead to a situation where the economic loss that comes from taxing away private money and diverting it to a public purpose is recouped and then outweighed by the economic gain from reducing information asymmetry and increasing the scope and speed of innovation in the marketplace.

In other words, just looking at the economics alone and ignoring any other incidental benefits, funding the University of North Carolina is a net benefit for the State and its taxpayers.

The conservatives in the North Carolina General Assembly should take notice and give embodiment to the words written in Article IX, Section 9 of the State’s Constitution: “The General Assembly shall provide that the benefits of The University of North Carolina and other public institutions of higher education, as far as practicable, be extended to the people of the State free of expense.”

And I might be going out on a limb here, but I’d guess cutting 15% of the University’s budget and prompting 4-figure tuition increases don’t really mesh with that.7 ;)

Have a good night y’all! :D

—===—

From the law:/dev/null Unsolicited Commentary archives:

  1. A mere 2.5% of our 467 entries. Even less when you consider 5 of the 12 Unsolicited Commentary posts are exclusively law school-related, and another 2 of 12 are predominantly law-oriented. []
  2. Hat tip to Ray William Johnson for the phrase :) []
  3. A hair’s breadth under $2,000,000.00 at NCCU Law completely gone. :crack: []
  4. I concede at the outset I haven’t gone searching for empirical studies to back up my arguments here; I’m sure they exist and I could found them if I felt like spending the time to do so, but I don’t need empirical confirmation to know when something basic makes sense ;) []
  5. Or, for the younger generation of folks reading this entry: the more people who join Facebook, the more each individual Facebook user benefits :P []
  6. The other, read during the time I had dropped out of school, is Henry H. Hazlitt’s Economics in One Lesson — hands down the greatest economics tome I’ve ever read, and one I strongly encourage everyone to read from cover-to-cover regardless of your political philosophy :D []
  7. That’s not to say I think all tuition increases are per se bad. I firmly believe students should be expected to fund a portion of their education (and even take out loans :eek: ) so they have some “skin in the game” as it were, and universities should have flexibility to deal with inflation and other cost issues. But I’ve also advocated for years that any tuition increases need to be predictable and capped. Better to have a 6.5% increase every year like clockwork than no increase one year and a 40%+ increase out of the blue the year after. []

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5

I officially apologize…

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Mar 14, 2011 in Randomness

…to everyone with whom I’ve ever shared a meeting, meal, or car ride where I incessantly looked down at my BlackBerry and *tappity tap tap*‘d away at my phone rather than enjoying the presence of your company :beatup:

I was recently reminded of how profoundly discourteous the practice is and how annoying I must have been — and while I’ve surely racked up enough bad karma that I’ll likely be getting repaid for years,1 I want you to know I truly am sorry and hope you’ll forgive me :heart:

Law school-related content to resume tomorrow :D Have a great night y’all!

  1. Though, in fairness to me, since switching to an iPhone I’ve finally gotten into the habit of turning the ringer off whenever I’m with other people :) []

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1

An insane weekend

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Jan 9, 2011 in Unsolicited Commentary

By now I’m guessing all of you have heard about the horrific massacre that happened yesterday in Tuscon, Arizona. I was oblivious to what was going on until the NCSU-WFU basketball game I was watching got interrupted for a news alert.

The rush to be wrong first was nothing short of disgusting. Within minutes of me updating my Facebook status to express my bewilderment, wondering aloud if Mexican drug cartels were involved — what I thought was a rational question given Arizona’s immigration debates and Tuscon only being 60 miles from the border — a colleague felt the urge to explain that it was “a teabagger hit,” a refrain repeated across Twitter, Facebook and the media as shameless liberals seized on the tragedy moments after it happened to score political points and attack people they don’t like (while apparently forgetting they were often the exact same folks urging people not to jump to conclusions about the Ft. Hood terrorist attack last year).

Then someone somewhere stumbled across the psycho’s YouTube page and discovered he was a flag-burning atheist who listed among his favorite books Mein Kampf and The Communist Manifesto, not exactly common character traits and reading materials among the tea party set or the broader conservative/Republican bloc. Turns out that the guy is an utter fruitcake (as most rational people assumed) who defies political pigeonholing.

As one person commented on Twitter, “[b]oth sides miss the hypocrisy of their political gamesmanship in tying a mentally ill person to the other aisle’s politics.”

But the disgraceful hypocrisy of the political discourse created by the very people whining about the political discourse isn’t the reason I bring up that tragedy, so that’s all I’m gonna say on that particular aspect of it.

Later that same day, I found out that the Pennsylvania police discovered Sister of TDot wandering along the side of a highway. When they asked what in God’s name she was doing, she explained that everything in the house (that she shares with my parents) was radioactive and making her sick. She was committed to a psychiatric institution — but not before having thrown away everything in the house while my parents were out of town, from family photos and kitchen utensils all the way down to the food in the refrigerator.

Things can always be replaced and I’m thankful no one was physically hurt. I come from a family of limited means (hence why I had to drop out of college back in 2000) so I’m not sure what my parents are going to do, but they and my sister are all alive.

The bigger issue is that things shouldn’t have been allowed to get that far. My sister’s mental condition has been steadily deteriorating over at least the last 10 years. She’s intentionally broken things around the house. She’s threatened to kill my mother. She’s rummaged through my mom’s purse when mom was in surgery, reading her text messages in search of conspiracies while taking money to buy drugs. But while other family members (myself included) pointed out that things weren’t right, my parents and my brother have either been in denial or just unwilling to take serious action — Sister of TDot was involuntarily committed once before (after the death threat if memory serves me correctly), but because she’s over 18 she successfully petitioned to be released and within the week was off her meds and back living with my parents.

Now it’s déjà vu all over again, and I really don’t know what to think or feel about the situation.

We live in an overly-medicated society focused on avoiding personal responsibility at all costs, one where psychiatrists and doctors have developed a syndrome for almost every vice. Do poorly on a test? You must have ADHD. Drowning in credit card debt? You’re a compulsive shopaholic. Can’t keep your marriage vows and f*cking anything with two breasts and a vagina? Gotta be a sex addiction.

But when it comes to serious mental illness, the stuff that can get someone killed — schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, depression and so on — it seems folks are content ignoring it or making excuses for it or doing the bare minimum possible to avoid legal liability without actually fixing the problem. Just scroll back to that AZ shooter story for an example: the would-be assassin’s community college had him thrown out because he was mentally ill and the armed services rejected him for the same reason, yet no one reported him to any mental health authority to get help… and now at least a half-dozen people (including a 9-year-old girl) are dead because of it.

I’m sorry for the downbeat and dour entry tonight y’all, I’m just in a really despondent and “ugh” mood right now. If you think you or a loved one might have a mental illness, please talk to someone about it and try to get help before something happens and it’s too late.

And I’ll have something more chipper tomorrow, I promise :)

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A half-million pageviews later

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Jan 3, 2011 in Site Stats

I bet y’all never thought you’d see one of these entries again :D

2nd month of 6,000+ visitors!

law:/dev/null crossed the 500,000 pageview milestone back in mid-November and I’ve been meaning to do another one of these entries ever since. Then studying and taking finals and working and vacation snuck in and I never got around to it :beatup:

But December 2010 was our 2nd-best-trafficked month since we started — despite two 5-day absences — so I figure that calls for celebration! :spin:

Quite a bit has changed on the server backend of the blog since July, including an increasingly aggressive (and thus far successful) effort at stomping out spammers.

Take a look at one of the new graphs I created below, which shows the number of spammy visitor sources I’ve added to the .htaccess file for banning. I recently started throwing in some keyword bans just to reduce the number of directives the server is processing; for example, instead of banning every spammer coming here from a buythisrandomdrugplz.com address, I’ve just decided to ban all the referers with “buy” in the URL.1

The net result? While July featured an almost comically-absurd abundance of spam comments and we had a couple recurrence spikes in August and October, we’ve “purified” the traffic enough that December had the lowest number of spam visitors in the entire history of law:/dev/null :D

The downside is that the bans kill our pageviews-per-day and Alexa traffic stats, the latter of which are used for determining things like avvo.com’s Top Legal Blogs.

Over 1,000+ spammy domains banned!

Our ranking has steadily dropped like a stone over the past two months while sites like Bitter Lawyer — which has become spam-blasted and hasn’t had fresh content in 3+ months — actually find their stats going up over that same timespan :crack:

But, just between you, me, and the interwebz: I’d prefer having 6,000+ flesh-and-blood visitors a month actually reading this stuff instead of tens-of-thousands of spammers just crawling for comment forms ;)

We’ll see if we can keep our current anti-spam success going in the new year. Honestly I’m just pretty amazed / impressed / blown away that we had as many visitors as we did in December, especially given my infrequent posting. So thanks to all of you :*

***

On the search query front, we’ve had over 1,000 new queries since the last time I did one of these lists :surprised:

Here are 20 of the 240+ unique search terms that brought folks here in December 2010:

  • time magazine decade from hell picture: the picture was more thoughtful than the story itself ;)
  • 1l grade wait: will be at least a month for most law schools, sorry
  • human shooting target: didn’t survive my concealed carry qualification shooting :D
  • nccu law school grades: aren’t due until January 12th :beatup:
  • badass eagle: was briefly considered for my new gravatar — but I decided to stick with my current colonial eagle instead
  • is law school worth it: yes
  • is law school really worth it: yes
  • t4 law school worth it?: probably
  • essay explaining why i would attend north carolina central university: here’s a tip: if you can find it on Google, the admissions staff can find it on Google too ;)
  • if you turn in your tag for lapse in north carolina can you turn around and get a 30 day temporary tag: I could, so you probably can too
  • gpa ncsu computer science: hopefully yours is higher than mine :beatup:
  • final exam advice: check out this entry and this entry — and GOOD LUCK!
  • 1l gpa for top 10%: depends on where you’re going to school, but for the NCCU Law Class of 2012 it was around 3.28
  • hey tar heels… kick rocks: please :angel:
  • people v andrew madison mock trial keys to win: villify the Queen of Hearts :D
  • first kid movie: was my first/only foray in a Hollywood movie (check #19 on that list and see my FB profile for the pics :) )
  • how can a 24 year old get money for law school: apply for students loans. Lots of loans. :beatup:
  • do classmates know your 1l grades: usually no, unless they do really well
  • grading curve nccu law: follows a strict-C, which I’m apparently the only one supporting
  • can’t stand law students: then you’re probably reading the wrong blog ;)

I missed going through these monthly… :spin:

***

And finally, here are the Top 5 most-viewed posts for the month of December 2010:

  1. On tackling finals: TDot’s Tips: More Final Exam Advice (11/30/10)
  2. On Fall 2010 grade expectations: Halfway done! (12/12/10)
  3. On combating spammers: Fight WordPress comment spam with .htaccess (08/04/10)
  4. On law students around the web: Law School Roundup #247 (12/19/10)
  5. On figuring out what to do with my life: Straddling the fence (12/13/10)

*THANK YOU* again to each of you for your continued support of us here at law:/dev/null! :D

—===—

Past Site Stats entries:

  1. On the ever-so-slim chance you happen to get here from a legit source with “buy” (or any other banned keyword) in the URL and you get one of our lovely error pages, just reload law:/dev/null manually and you should be able to see everything :) []

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2

Assorted Miscellany

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Dec 14, 2010 in Weekend Roundup

Good evening folks! :)

I’m trying to make my way through the 2nd book for my internship (Six Thinking Hats) so I don’t have time to write much, but I did have a few bullet points to toss your way:1

  • Had to go pick up registration materials for the MPRE today. For some reason, knowing I’ve got this exam looming in the near-term future kinda makes the whole “omg I’m gonna be an attorney. Who let that happen?!” thing ever-so-slightly more tangible… and prompting me to freak out accordingly :beatup:
  • Speaking of exams, I discovered that I’m a compulsive snacker when I study for finals. I’ve somehow managed to pack on +15lbs in between Thanksgiving and now despite -0- change in my activity level :crack:
  • Lots of stuff going on in the blawgosphere here recently. A quartet of tidbits for you to check out:
    • The weekly Law School Roundup — a years-old gathering of posts from law students around the interwebz that used to alternate between Evan Schaeffer’s Beyond the Underground and ImNobody’s Thanks, But No Thanks — has found a new home over at KatieLuper.com. Katie’s a graduate of SMU Law out in Dallas and getting ready to knock out the TX bar exam herself, which is presumably so monotonous that she reads blawgs for the occasional sanity check ;) If you’re new to the blawgosphere, the Law School Roundup and ClearAdmit’s Fridays from the Frontline are both an excellent source for discovering new law students!
    • One of those newcomers is Jose, a 1L at Ave Maria Law who has been actively engaging us blawgers on Twitter for awhile now. His new blog is online over at Law of Jose — definitely swing by when you get a spare minute or two :)
    • Madame Prosecutor also posted her first update in months, giving folks a breakdown on how her semester turned out. We’ll see if she ends up disappearing again :P
    • And another brand new blawg, but from a lawyer this time, is Peter Romary’s foray into the blawgosphere over at The True Verdict. Peter’s done a lot of work on behalf of students here in North Carolina and I consider him a friend, but (just in case that’s not enough reason to go read his blawg) he’s good at strongly wording his strongly-held opinions. Plus he’s from the UK, that’s gotta be worth something right? :beatup:
  • Peter’s most recent entry is on Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks who’s been all over the news for awhile now. The issue of Assange being a sexual predator notwithstanding…2 am I the only one disappointed with WikiLeaks in general? The libertarian in me loves the concept, because I’m fairly certain all governments are doing things they have no business doing — and if someone happens to leak that fact, it’s more-than-slightly dishonorable on the part of the government to complain when its own hands aren’t clean. But for the all the value of the concept, and the “cool factor” of the various technologies used in its implementation, the near-exclusive/obsessive focus on the United States really robs the website of its moral virtue (at least in my feeble mind). Despite histrionics to the contrary, the U.S. is still a mostly-open society with a mostly-open government. If our government’s documents get leaked, sure feel free to post them. But where are the documents on Iran, which has a tendency to execute dissenters? Or China, which prefers jailing them instead? Or any of dozens of other countries that people flee by the thousands every year… to come to the United States? :roll:  The whole enterprise is a disappointment, and it saddens me as a tech guy to see hacktivisits across the globe rally to Assange’s defense. </rant>
  • Now that I’ve gotten that particular rant out of my system, I’ve made some more blog tweaks here at law:/dev/null too:
    • On the anti-spam front I’ve started closing old entries to comments if they kept getting spammed. This isn’t a site-wide policy yet (and hopefully it won’t become one) but I figure the odds of an uncommented entry from [#] months ago suddenly getting legitimate interest is pretty slim ;)  In any event, if for some reason you happen to venture to an old entry that you want to comment on but don’t see the comment box, shoot me an email and I’ll re-open the entry to comments. Trackbacks and pingbacks should still work, so you’re also free to blast me from your own blawg too :*
    • You should also see the <title> of each page now reversed, listing the post title and then the blog title. They used to be the other way around, but it got really @#$%ing annoying having to constantly expand the textbox in Google Analytics to see which posts were getting traffic since all I kept seeing was “law:/dev/null – Blog Archive – …”. So I flipped them :beatup:
  • I just found out yesterday that I’m using a different book in CrimPro next semester than what I used in CrimLaw… which means, since I’m taking one class and tutoring the other, I’ll have to bring both to school every day :mad:
  • And I’m still waiting on grades :mad: :mad: :mad:
  • But other than that life is going pretty well :)  I’ve got a lot of friends with birthdays coming up, 雅雅 is coming to visit, I’m heading out west this weekend for firearms training, and the internship is pretty cool. I’m definitely blessed — and actually looking forward to the upcoming semester! :spin:

That’s it for tonight y’all! Hope all of you have a great rest-of-the-week! :D

  1. And yes, I realize it’s not the weekend and putting this entry in the Weekend Roundup category is technically inappropriate. But since I usually post things late — and I can pretty much rename the categories willy-nilly whenever I want anyhow — I’m just gonna put it here and let y’all pretend it was posted 2 days ago ;) []
  2. Reminds of a L&O:SVU episode… []

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“So sue me”

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Sep 24, 2010 in Student Government

Folks, I know y’all get sick of me complaining about a certain campus newspaper, but the effort it expends to manufacture controversy about the UNC Association of Student Governments really perplexes me at times — and unfortunately it’s one of the few publications regularly read by folks at UNC General Administration.

Yet another example comes to us in today’s paper (original story available here at dailytarheel.com):

ASG actions may be illegal
Lobbying may violate state law
By ISABELLA COCHRANE | The Daily Tar Heel

The body that voices the students’ views to administrators and elected officials could be carrying out its top priority — lobbying legislators — illegally.

The UNC Association of Student Governments, which includes delegates from 17 UNC system institutions, has been meeting with legislators and presenting them with petitions to keep tuition low for students.

But association President Atul Bhula was unaware of a N.C. law requiring organizations that fulfill certain criteria to register with the N.C. Secretary of State’s Office before lobbying.

Bhula received a notice from the office Wednesday reminding him of the law. The department has not yet determined whether the association fits the definition of a lobbyist group.

If the organization fits the definition of a lobbyist group and does not register, it could be banned from lobbying for up to two years as well as face a $5,000 fine, spokeswoman for the office Liz Proctor said.

State statutes define a lobbyist as someone who is paid to engage in lobbying for a governmental purpose.According to the statutes, a lobbyist must spend more than 5 percent of his or her time per month actively trying to influence legislative or executive decisions.

If lobbying is the association’s top priority, they could fall under that category.

Bhula’s stipend as ASG president is $7,000 per year, which is paid for by student fees — a $1 fee from every student in the UNC system. Other officers in the organization are paid $1,000 to $5,500.

Christy Tillery, a paralegal with the N.C. Ethics Commission, said true unregistered lobbyists violate state law.

“If you’re a true lobbyist in regards to the definition you should be registered,” Tillery said. The state law requiring organizations to register went into effect in 2007.

Continued lobbying without being registered in North Carolina is a misdemeanor offense.

“I never registered, and I’d be skeptical of anyone saying they have to do so,” said former ASG President Greg Doucette.

Doucette said he doubts that ASG members fit the definition of a lobbyist because they don’t spend that much time persuading legislators.

“Right now the legislation isn’t even in session until January,” Doucette said. “Basically we’ll only have a couple of months to lobby.”

Doucette said an argument could be made that because ASG officers receive compensation, they need to be registered.

“Everyone who does not receive a stipend doesn’t even meet the definition of a lobbyist because no money is changing hands,” Doucette said.

Bhula said he had not looked into registering with the state earlier because he was unaware that the organization fit the criteria of a lobbyist.

“Regardless, we’re going to lobby this year. We’re going to get that taken care of as soon as possible,” Bhula said.

The organization plans to have someone lobbying in Washington, D.C., but focus for this year will be state legislators, he said.

“At the federal level we’d be looking at Pell Grants to ensure we have more money,” Bhula said. “The federal stimulus money is going to run out so it’s a hard battle to fight there.”

Bhula said he plans to discuss the registration process at the organization’s next meeting Saturday so ASG can lobby legislators in the future.

“We hope to more effectively use our dollar for internal investments,” Bhula said.

“Lobbying in North Carolina is our main concern.”

Proctor said that despite the group’s past lobbying actions, the state department was unaware of the association’s actions with legislators.

“This is the first time that we have heard anything about it,” she said.

Contact the State & National Editor at stntdesk@unc.edu.

Published September 23, 2010 in Association of Student Governments, News, State

Now I know the news reporters don’t usually write their own headlines so I can’t be too upset about that part, but weasel words are generally bad form for something purporting to be news. Just about anything “may” be illegal.

Then there’s the mischaracterization of what the law actually says (something I’ve suspected may be common with most media outlets). You can read the current lobbying laws in North Carolina for yourself, but the synopsis is that they just don’t apply to the UNC Association of Student Governments.

The main reason is that we’re a unit of government under the UNC umbrella. We don’t get to manage our own budget; a $1/student fee is paid to UNCGA who handles all the accounting and places numerous (onerous) restrictions on what UNCASG can do as a result. The group’s President is an ex-officio member of the University system’s policy-making Board of Governors. The group’s office manager, employed by UNCASG, is a state employee.1 I could happily list other criteria explaining why we’re a government entity — and thus exempt from the lobbyist registration law — but you get the idea.

Let’s assume though, for the sake of argument, UNCASG isn’t a government agency and is in fact a private non-profit: the lobbying law still wouldn’t apply because none of the UNCASG personnel meet the criteria of a “lobbyist.”

Under the relevant subsection that would apply to UNCASG, the statute’s two elements required to be a “lobbyist” include being an employee who “a significant part of [his/her] duties include lobbying” and “in no 30‑day period less than five percent (5%) of that employee’s actual duties include engaging in lobbying”. None of the UNCASG personnel meet both elements.

First, contrary to the article’s claim, lobbying the N.C. General Assembly isn’t UNCASG’s “top priority” and lobbying simply doesn’t constitute a “significant part” of anyone’s duties — something the DTH already knew.

How did they know? Because their substandard Editorial Board attacked me in one of their hit pieces last year2 for my “piggybacking” strategy with the Legislature, where UNCASG relied on the professional (and registered) lobbyists of UNCGA to do the bulk of the lobbying work, then have student leaders dropping in when it would be politically effective for us to do so.

UNCASG’s top priority is keeping in touch with the 215,000+ students it represents. It’s second priority is representing those voices on the UNC Board of Governors. Lobbying state legislators is quite a bit further down the totem pole, if it’s even on there at all.

Assuming arguendo that lobbying was a “significant part” of anyone’s duties in UNCASG, they still wouldn’t meet the second element required to be “lobbyists.”

Even at the height of my lobbying activity during my two terms in office — when we were successfully saving students over $25+ million dollars — I doubt I spent more than a few hours in an entire month at the N.C. General Assembly. That’s just how the political game gets played. You don’t talk to everyone in the Legislature; you talk to the key leaders who can pull votes, and since everyone else is doing the same thing you’re usually only going to get 10-15 minutes of their time.

If you assume the UNCASG Presidency is a 40-hour-a-week job,3 the President has up to 8 hours a month to lobby without becoming a “lobbyist” under this statute.

And if any President is spending more time than that on lobbying, they’re doing it wrong.

One final point before I wrap up:  I was working for a lobbyist when the lobbying laws were drafted. I know who they were intended to affect, and I know who they did affect. Student-run student advocacy groups weren’t in either of those categories.

So if the N.C. Secretary of State’s Office or the Ethics Commission or anyone else is seriously concerned about UNCASG’s past lobbying efforts, I encourage them to file a claim against me. They’re going to be exceptionally hard-pressed to find anything even vaguely resembling the slightest scintilla of evidence that I or anyone on my staff was ever a “lobbyist” within the letter, the meaning, or the spirit of this statute.

And given the DTH Editorial Board’s lingering bitterness over my “aggressive character attacks” and their almost-comical efforts to rebuke me after-the-fact for them, I give them a week or so at most before they write an op/ed saying I was wrong and UNCASG should waste spend $100/person of student fee money to register their people as lobbyists…

  1. I’m unaware of any non-government entity whose full-time staff are considered state employees protected under the State Personnel Act. []
  2. Conspicuously absent from their online archives… []
  3. A number that is far too low if the job is being done properly. []

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The caffeine made me do it…

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Sep 20, 2010 in Randomness

Every now and then you come across something in the legal news that makes you stop and go “wtf? Really??”

This is one of those (original story here at Yahoo! News):

Caffeine consumption an issue in Ky. murder trial
By BRETT BARROUQUERE, Associated Press Writer – Mon Sep 20, 7:23 pm ET

NEWPORT, Ky. – The lawyer for a Kentucky man accused of strangling his wife argued at trial Monday that excessive caffeine from sodas, energy drinks and diet pills left the defendant so sleep-deprived and mentally unstable that he falsely confessed to the killing.

Attorney Shannon Sexton said in opening statements at the murder trial of Woody Will Smith, 33, that he did not kill his 28-year-old wife, Amanda Hornsby-Smith, on May 4, 2009. The lawyer also told jurors that the man’s statements to police were made under high stress prompted by large amounts of caffeine and a lack of sleep.

“As a result of his altered state, Woody Smith provided a false confession,” Sexton said.

The argument was a twist on Sexton’s previously stated defense as outlined in earlier court documents — that a high intake of caffeine rendered Smith temporarily insane and unable to form the intent to kill his wife.

In arguments Monday, Sexton said DNA evidence taken from the victim’s fingernails points away from his client, whom she described as lethargic, “in a zone” and “not himself” when he spoke with police.

Prosecutors, meanwhile, portrayed Smith as an angry man who attacked his wife during a fight, then strangled her with an extension cord.

Assistant Commonwealth Attorney Vanita Fleckinger told jurors that paramedics, hospital personnel and police officers saw Smith after the killing.

“Not one of them will tell you they saw any signs of insanity,” Fleckinger added.

If convicted of murder, Smith could be sentenced to life in prison.

A legal strategy invoking caffeine intoxication is unusual but has succeeded at least once before, in a case involving a man cleared in 2009 of charges of running down and injuring two people with a car in Washington state.

Dr. Roland Griffiths, a professor of behavioral biology at Johns Hopkins University has noted in an unrelated study that there is a diagnosis for “caffeine intoxication,” which includes nervousness, excitement, insomnia and possibly rambling speech.

Smith told Dr. Robert Noelker, a psychologist from Williamstown hired by the defendant, he remembers taking his children to school that morning. But Noelker reported that Smith remembers little else about the ensuing hours.

In the weeks preceding May 4, 2009, Woody Smith told Noelker, he hadn’t been sleeping, in part out of fear his wife would take their two children and leave him.

Fleckinger said Smith found out his wife was having an affair with a co-worker. Sexton said knowledge of the affair led Smith to rely on caffeine and not sleep out of fear his wife would take the children and leave.

“The next several hours of Mr. Smith’s life, were described to me as if he were in a daze,” Noelker wrote in his report.

After sleeping intermittently, Smith had nap with one child he picked up from school at midday at a school near their home in Dayton, Ky., across the Ohio River from Cincinnati. After picking up the second child later that day, Smith said he went to his mother and stepfather’s house.

He described feeling “out of control,” weeping to the point of being unable to communicate. Smith eventually confided in his stepfather, Noelker wrote, “I think my wife is dead.”

Reports and case records say at that time that he was drinking five or six soft drinks and energy drinks a day, along with taking diet pills; it all added up to more than 400 milligrams of caffeine a day.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders — published by the American Psychiatric Association showing standard criteria for the classification of mental disorders — defines overdose as more than 300 milligrams. That’s about three cups of coffee.

Noelker said in his report that he determined Smith was open to “brief psychosis” brought on by sleep deprivation, which was caused by the heavy ingestion of diet pills and caffeine in the weeks before his wife’s death.

The defense strategy recalls the case of Daniel Noble. The 31-year-old budget analyst at the University of Idaho Foundation awoke Dec. 7, 2009, after a restless night and weeks of hard work on the foundation’s budget to head to a Starbucks shop, downing two large cups of coffee.

A judge concluded the caffeine-ingesting budget analyst was unable to form the mental intent to commit a crime, after authorities accused him of injuring two pedestrians with a car.

Now I’m all for creative defenses and making sure the government can meet its burden of proof, but based on the details provided in this story I down about as much caffeine as this guy on a daily basis just to stay awake through class :beatup:

Last I checked I haven’t killed anyone. Maybe he can enroll in my ZombieLaw course if he needs a cure for his purported insomnia.

But I guess that’s just my prosecutorial instincts kicking in ::shrug::

If any of you have the urge to keep up with this trial, let me know how it goes. I hope he gets convicted, otherwise there’s no telling how many law school students might claim caffeine made them do something stupid if they get hauled into court…

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Random snippets from today

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Aug 9, 2010 in Randomness

Not enough time to polish up a full entry for tonight, so I figured I’d go with bullet points of random things that crossed my mind today:

  • I made some minor behind-the-scenes changes to the blog, mostly to correct bad coding practices I was too lazy to fix before now :beatup:  The only thing you might notice is the blog heading: instead of “law:/dev/null – Musings of a Computer Scientist turned Law Student” as one über-huge title string, it’s now just “law:/dev/null” with the second half as a lower-level heading underneath it. It should still visually look the same, but if it doesn’t hit refresh on your browser to make sure your computer isn’t using a cached version of the stylesheet.
  • The spam problems that prompted this entry on .htaccess files also appear under control (fingers crossed). Spam comments are still annoyingly frequent, but at least with a fleshed-out .htaccess file I’m only averaging 4 a day instead of 50+ :spin:
  • I’ve met 3 incoming 1Ls over the past 4 days; two are folks I corresponded with through this blog before I knew they were coming to NCCU Law, and the 3rd today just happened to visit the SBA office while I was in there. It’s a lot of fun being able to answer their questions, but it also reminds me how little (translation: none) exploration I did before Orientation. Maybe I wouldn’t have been so nervous if I had? :beatup:
  • After that 2-mile run the other day my muscles were tighter than a Nancy Pelosi facelift. It was a remarkably unpleasant experience. Lots of stretching and untold milligrams of ibuprofen later, I knocked out another 2 miles today. We’ll see how I feel tomorrow… (fingers crossed again)
  • Speaking of politicians — horrible segue, I know :P  — I’ve been really disappointed in this recent GOP talk of trying to amend the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution to eliminate birthright citizenship. I mentioned back on Cinco de Mayo that to me there was something fundamentally un-American in penalizing a child for the sins of his/her parent(s). In re-reading the Constitution for ConLaw I next week, I noticed in Article III Section 3 that it bans “corruption of blood”, an old British punishment where the offspring of a parent convicted of a high crime were themselves sanctioned by being disinherited by the government and often condemned to a life of poverty as a result. How sad that the Founding Fathers (who crafted the Constitution) and the ancient Republican Party (who crafted the Fourteenth Amendment) both agree with me on this principle, but the modern Republican Party (of which I’m a member) does not — and would advocate needless tinkering with the most effective and enduring governing document on God’s Earth for the sake of one election… :roll:
  • I’m also disappointed that “Pretty Boy Swag” ranks as high as it does on the iTunes Top 100. When did sh*t like this become mainstream rap? :crack:
  • To close on a more upbeat note, while I was handing out those Orientation t-shirts I met a 3L who came in asking for one. My admittedly-untrained eye thought she looked like she needed a Small, so I apologized and told her we were out of the Smalls and a Medium would be the best I could do. That comment triggered a huge grin and a laugh that I mistook her for someone who needed a small t-shirt (turned out I was off a bit :beatup: ). My face turned beet red — I don’t really know why in hindsight, I guess just embarrassment for sticking my foot in my mouth? — but I’m glad I brightened her day :)

That’s it from me y’all — I’m heading to bed so I can get up in the morning and head to the law school to help out with Orientation! :D

Have a great night! :)

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