Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Personal Responsibility

Maggie Rizer is a nationally-known supermodel (whatever that term means) who was in the news not too long ago after it was revealed her stepfather, a compulsive gambler, drained her accounts to play Quick Draw in Watertown bars. She sued the bars who let him gamble as well as the banks that were handling the money, claiming they were not performing necessary duties. A Supreme Court decision just came down in the case, declaring that there was no duty on the bar owners or the banks. In part, this decision refused to impose a duty on the bank where Ms. Rizer had been sent regular statements reflecting her account activity. The moral of the story is that, even if you've hired someone to handle a job for you, it's probably good to not abdicate all responsibility for important affairs.


The Buffalo News is reporting that the State Assembly has been considering a bill which would attempt to put some controls on the rent-to-own industry. Currently, the industry is accused of engaging in practices which inflate the cost of goods and result in low income consumers making significant payments under threat of immediate repossession without accruing any equity in the item. The industry responds that higher prices are required due to the risk they are undertaking in serving their target population and the additional expenses they face.


Jamestown Mayor Teresi's latest State of the City address included a call, and some specific proposals, for more attention to the idea of regionalism. I first encountered this idea in Buffalo, where a cash-strapped city was considering various mergers to alleviate budgeting concerns. In general, though, it is an idea that should be considered. The various municipal laws in NY (General Muni, Town, Village, etc) provide differing mechanisms for sharing services or for wholesale consolidation of towns/villages. A hundred years ago, our system of local government made more sense, pre-telephone and pre-motorized transportation. A local town government was needed to maintain the roads and bridges and see that necessary services were implemented. With the growth of county government and the growth of state agencies (ie, the DOT and their maintenance of roads), there's less need for the vast number of local governments we have in NY. Regional and shared-services planning, be it merging towns or sharing an assessor's office, is a wise, budget-conscious descision.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

NY Times revisits justice courts

Monday's NY Times contained a new episode in the continuing coverage of NY's system of town and village courts. This article concerns the lack of oversight and training for financial matters, citing several cases or negligence or criminal acts. While not every justice court should be painted with the same brush, it certainly is troubling to know there's so little oversight or control.

Thursday, January 25, 2007


Joel at Small Town Lawyer has recently posted a number of interesting stories on the issue of municipal consolidation. NY's 932 towns and 1100+ villages are leftovers of an archaic system that was probably necessary pre-mass transit and communications. Shifts in society (ie, suburbs) and technology should require a ground-up rethinking of how we deliver services on the local level. Consolidating towns and/or villages is one way to reduce overhead and expenses through an established legal procedure.

Attorney Retirement, Competence

The NY State Bar Association has just released a report (likely chronicled in your local paper, official link here) regarding mandatory retirement, as required by some firms. While it isn't a widely applicable report as it's only a portion of the BigLaw world that has such policies, it is interesting food for thought. Most importantly (and correctly) the report apparently states that age itself isn't a determinant of ability to practice.

On a digression fueled by this report, I would love to see more attention paid to attorney competence. The current system--take the bar, try not to get called to the Grievance Commission-really isn't a productive framework for learning and effective practice. It seems to be a remnant of the old apprentice system, wherein one was required to work with a lawyer before being able to practice. Today, there's no guarantee that anyone will have a mentor/master, much less an effective teacher. There are attorneys of all ages who make the rest of the bar collectively scratch our figurative heads and wonder why they haven't been disbarred. It would be great, though, if there was some scenario other than "try not to get caught screwing up" as a way of policing the profession.

As far as age, though, I think it is a relevant concern, but only as part of a number of factors. Age can mean many years of practice and experience. It can also mean being passed by trends and new developments, in society and in the law. It seems every Supreme Court decision is met by at least one pundit commenting on the age of the panel as coloring their decisions. Mandatory retirement isn't good, for state judges, private lawyers or anyone who still is able to actively contribute to the practice of law and delivery of justice.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Legislative Priorities

The Chautauqua County Legislature's majority caucus recently announced their goals/priorities for the coming year. There is a regionalism focus again this year, including consolidation of the municipal courts. It's nice to see more attention paid to this issue even after the NY Times story has faded from memory.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Fun Link

Just a random link to an interesting blog I ran across: a blogger with an attorney's eye view of the legal and other issues in sports today.

Warning, though, that it contains some off-color material and other not-safe-for-work material.

(and another lawyer/sports blogger)

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Potsdam Wal*Mart

To revisit a topic covered in the past, the Watertown Daily Times (subscription required to do anything but look at the homepage) is reporting a citizen SEQR suit has now run the town $50,000-plus.

A couple thoughts occur to me: First, it's nice to see a St. Lawrence County muni hiring a Syracuse megafirm. They need the work so much more than the people who live and work in the community. Second, while I'm no fan of Wally World's reputedly shady practices, I'm also not a fan of frivolous lawsuits. It'd be a public relations nightmare for the muni to seek attorney's fees from those that oppose the siting, but at the same's the abuse of SEQR by anyone who has a NIMBY problem that helps generate the myth that environmental concerns are strictly anti-business.

"Bike Path" Suspect in Custody

It's not truly a Southern Tier story, but news out of Buffalo is that a person has been detained in connection with the well-publicized attacks.

To take the opportunity to ponder for a moment, what do you do with a convict (assuming this is the guy and he's found guilty) in middle to late-middle age? Do you put him in the pen with 18, 22, 28 year old toughs? Does he spend the rest of his life in solitary? Once he's locked up, what about when he needs a hip replacement in ten years, angioplasty in fifteen or develops dementia in 30?

There's certainly a strong emotional and economic argument behind a "lock them up and throw away the key" sort of mentality. However, the prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment alone would seem to indicate you can't deny necessary medical care solely because someone is a prisoner. So, if he's too infirm to repeat at 75, do you cut him loose so it's a Medicaid issue and not coming out of the prison budget?

There aren't answers, as far as I'm concerned, but only an infinite array of increasingly complicated questions filled with shades of grey.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007


No sites, links or stunning insight today. Just some rambling.

Opposing counsel might point out numerous gaps in my legal education, but there is one area I'm going to admit today. I am not very good at relating to staff. In law school, our sole training on this topic was "be nice to the secretaries." Which...yeah, I know that. My mom is a secretary and I have a lot of respect for the people that actually keep offices running. If law school were truly a professional school, ie, teaching a profession, I think there should have been a little more mention of this. Not that it could be a comprehensive seminar, as every office and every personality makes things different, but perhaps some basic guidelines.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Unbundled Legal Services posted an article on the increasing use of "a la carte" or "unbundled" legal services in some jurisdictions. Traditionally, one was either represented by a lawyer or wasn't--laws and rules prevented "behind the scenes" advice and assistance. This new model recognizes that such actions have gone on and are perhaps a necessary part of today's legal marketplace. In an unbundled model, the lawyer is retained for certain pieces of the legal matter and not the entire issue. For instance, if I want to evict a tenant, I can go to a lawyer to have the papers drawn up and explained, but then I can appear at court without an attorney since I'll need to be there anyway as a witness, provided there are complex legal matters at hand.

In some ways, I heartily endorse this step. In an ideal world, I'd actually like a more formal legal system, back to the (UK) days of robes and wigs and a bifurcated legal profession of solicitors and barristers. Knowing that the glut of lawyers and the growth of litigation prevents such pipe dreams from having a chance of coming to pass, I still think the profession needs to evolve.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Inflated resume earns suspension

The market for legal jobs, especially the top tier positions with megafirms, is very tight. Making up honors and distinctions to appear more qualified is not recommended. Neither is creating multiple lies, as this applicant did, and sending both versions to the same place.