Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Don't read before lunch.

An appetite-decreasing tour of criminal law definitions, out of Wisconsin. "Animal", according to the judge in this case, means a living or dead non-human species. Dark humor and/or salaciousness aside, the decision seems to be a good example of legal writing, which is the reason for the posting.

(Courtesy of the Smoking Gun).

Monday, November 27, 2006

People wonder why long hours, low pay, no respect fails to draw applicants.

Facetious headline aside, there's actually something new I didn't know in this recent article out of Springfield, IL: the correct term is apparently "Illinoisians". Who knew?

Onto the actual article: a study in Illinois found that the mounting cost of law school combined with the low salaries of legal services jobs prevents lawyers from taking jobs in those fields. Not exactly a stunning revelation.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Two from the Times

NY's top court has ruled that the method planned for involuntary confinement of sexual offenders was improper and ordered hearings to determine whether the persons who brought the suit should be held or released under existing law. What is important to take from this is that it was a fairly narrow questions of law--if the Mental Hygeine Law permitted such confinement. Much more will be said on this topic, but hopefully most of the commentary realizes the narrow basis of the decision and isn't laden with hyperbole.

On a second topic, the Unified Court System has released a plan to reform the Justice Court system. The Justice Courts, as profiled in a recent series of stories, apparently suffer from a lack of trained justices and irregularly applied justice.

CFE Litigation

The Court of Appeals, the state's top court, recently issued an opinion closing out (at least for now) the lawsuit filed by the Campaign for Fiscal Equity over a decade ago. The suit alleged disparities in how public schools were funded, resulting in inequitably underfunded schools in inner cities. Specifically the suit was focused on NYC, but related litigation was filed concerning Rochester. This appeal concerns the NYC litigation, and found that an additional $1.9 billion would be required to provide a "sound basic education", which is the benchmark required by the law.

It's unfortunate that this has been cast as an upstate/downstate issue as if money is being taken from one to provide for the other. The result should benefit all schools in rural and urban areas where the existing tax base isn't sufficient to support top flight education.

Hevesi Probe

The Times-Union is reporting that the appointed investigator has now been given subpoena power to further his investigation by calling the witnesses who formerly testified before the Ethics Commission.

From the brief quotes in the paper, it would appear the procedure is much like a federal impeachment proceeding, where the State Senate would sit as the jury. It's not surprising, then, to see that the author of the piece spoke to two Democratic senators from politically split districts. David Valesky recently won a second term by a comfortable margin after winning in a three-way race two years ago against longtime Senator Nancy Larraine Hoffman, a Dem turned Rep. Andrea Stewart Cousins hasn't taken her seat as a Senator yet after defeating longtime GOP Sen. Nick Spano, but she had a narrow margin of victory after losing by 18 votes two years ago. It's going to be a political zoo before there is any resolution.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Serial Killer

When I was a student at UB, there was an annual run for charity in memory of Linda Yalem and a general word-of-mouth prohibition against women being out on the bike paths alone. What was seemingly neglected from those stories, and now coming to light, is that 7 cases, including Yalem and a recent murder, have been linked by DNA evidence. It appears that this story is soon to get a lot more national news.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

How not to do a SEQR review

NNYFollies, a Watertown-area blog, posts a take on the recent (re-)passage by the Lewis County legislature of a proposition opening certain roads and forested areas to ATV use. The previous legislation has already been challenged in the courts, and I'm sort of in awe of the process described in the blog post. Repassage of the exact resolution, with little done in the way of formal impact review, seems geared to make a political point and not perform the review required under the law.

IMO, the process seems so far from what any learned person would describe as a serious inquiry that it really seems it was done to thumb noses as someone. Not exactly efficient government.

Rooftop Highway

The Development Authority of the North Country (DANC, said "dank", a fitting homonym) has a new website promoting their goal of a limited access roadway across the northern part of the state.

This issue has interested me for a long time. As someone who was on the road constantly in a former career, a faster way across northern NY would have been nice. At the same time, the rainbows and kittens version of how a new road would make Jefferson, St. Lawrence, Franklin, etc., counties the peachiest sunniest economies ever falls flat. The ability to zoom from Potsdam to Plattsburgh in 1.5 hours instead of 2 doesn't mean much if there isn't any reason to go there. Such a roadway may mean easier access to Watertown's mall, for example, which probably isn't something Massena's struggling mall is too happy about. Likewise, gas station and convenience store owners in Moira, Philadelphia or Malone probably aren't sold on a new route carrying traffic around their towns at high speed. Even if there are local exits and off ramps, experience shows that roadside sites are the most visited and go at a steep price.

The entire project, which appears to be basically a pipe dream that eats up federal grants on occasion, is a SEQR nightmare waiting to happen. In fact, I'd guess that there are briefs and requests for injunctions waiting to be filed as soon as the first SEQR-bound agency takes action.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Random Advice

I figure that I don't want to talk to the person on the other end of, roughly, 75% of the telephone calls I get in the average workday. I exaggerate, but I point that out to emphasize the nugget of advice I want to put out there, for relatively new attorneys or anyone else, really: return phone calls. It's one of those glaringly obvious things that is said a lot in law school, usually in the context of avoiding grievances. At the same time, it's entirely true.

That isn't to say you need to respond within minutes to the fifteen calls Panicked Client makes on a given day, nor even respond to each individually. Some calls, admittedly, aren't easy to make. I've been cursed, cussed and lambasted for telling people, even my own clients, that they were in the wrong. In the big picture, though, it's better to do it and have it over with than hanging over one's head. Or alternately, if it isn't something you dread, but are just too busy or unwilling, delegate. Quite often I ask the assistant in my office to call Difficult Client and say "Mr. Lawyer saw you had questions for him, could you be more specific so he can work up answers in advance?" In reality, there probably aren't legal questions that need my attention, and the client just wants to rant for a bit.

Contact with opposing counsel is much the same. Yes, Mr. Isnthedisbarredyet is going to rant and rave about your meritless motion and horrible client and allege you're a crook. Yes, Mr. Imtoocheaptohireanassociate will have forgotten why he already called you, with his 1,500 open cases, and Ms. Sixfiguresornothing won't care at all about your matter unless it directly involves the when and where of her 33%. Calling back is, first, just the right thing to do, unless it's a stonewall for strategic reasons. Secondly, there's always the chance of resolution or finding out some new fact/info on the phone. I honestly don't believe I've ever had a case where something relevant didn't come up in these sort of conversations, usually that hadn't been mentioned before. And lastly, it's often quite nice, when the judge asks, to say "Well, your honor, I called him yesterday and blah blah blah is why we can't reach settlement." When the judge wonders why this hasn't yet settled, not returning calls isn't too high on the list of acceptable reasons. There's nothing wrong with calling back to say "I haven't had a chance to talk to my client" or "I'll need more time" or "Can I get back to you this afternoon?" or whatever.

As some of you may have guessed, I spent most of the day waiting for a return phone call. Nothing is worse, as the party who left the message, than the unknown. If our settlement proposal is rejected, I can do something. If it's accepted, I can do something else. If they need more time, I can always wait. Basic civility, even if one doesn't have any human kindness (we are, after all, lawyers) should lead to at least picking up the phone.


Dicker isn't always the most reliable source, but I wish my clients would get deals like this.

Not to take off on a class/race/status-based rant, especially as official misconduct can't really be compared to a guy lifting a tv from a buddy's house, etc., but it's sort of the 800 lb. gorilla in the world of criminal justice. Those without money and resources are the ones that are staying in jail because they can't make bail, and then showing up at a trial in their jailhouse uniform, immediately making an impact on the jury.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Speeding, again

Jesse at York Staters recently wrote a thoughtful post on speed traps and the complicated intersection of law enforcement and raising needed revenue.

Traffic Tix

Small Town Lawyer follows up on an oft-discussed topic with a link to a recent story (story link available through his post). It seems the town judge who dismissed 70-odd traffic tickets for failure to prosecute due to the NY State Police new policy banning troopers from negotiating is getting some support from at least one other colleague on the bench.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Big Box Development

An interesting article from West Ellicot, where there is a proposal to expand one of the shopping strips to include major retailers. The part that caught my eye? Councilman Miller's comments about how civil and well-researched the concerned citizenry were at the meeting. Keeping one's cool, whether outraged pro or con a land use decision, is pretty rare and goes a long way toward legitimatizing one's perspective.

Election Day

The people in and goals of government are directly related to the people who are pulling levers (or pushing buttons) on election day. Please take a few minutes to cast your ballots.

In other news, happy birthday, Mom.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Mug Shot

The Smoking Gun is famous for posting interesting mug shots. This, while technically an evidence photo and not a mug shot, is someone I never expected to see busted for meth possession.

Light Posting

Sorry for the light posting (read: "complete inattention to the blog world") of late.

A quick note, before I get back on track with some articles I want to link: Jamestown City Court has apparently altered their schedule on the civil calendar, although I have yet to see confirmation. Additionally, Family Court is now being held on the City Court floor, schedule unknown, so expect crowding and confusion on those days.