COVID-19 kills courthouse fun

“Kentucky ‘frat house’ judge kicked off the bench” (New York Post, August 31) is an article that may cause some future readers to wonder how it was ever possible that humans mixed at such close quarters in our legal system, now mostly moved to Zoom (for the entertainment of the Chinese?).

From the article:

A Kentucky judge accused of using sex and booze to turn her courtroom into a virtual frat house was kicked off the bench by a judicial panel on Monday.

A five-member judicial commission voted unanimously to remove Kenton County Family Court Judge Dawn Gentry, who was suspended with pay in December pending a misconduct probe, the Cincinnati Enquirer reported.

Gentry, 39, was accused of creating a rowdy atmosphere at the courthouse, hiring her boyfriend and bandmate, allowing drinking during work hours, and using sex, coercion, and retaliation against lawyers and court employees who didn’t back her political campaigns, the outlet said.

Courthouse custodians, clerks, and other staffers testified to finding empty liquor bottles inside the chambers, and would also hear singing and guitar playing coming from behind the door.

One attorney, Katherine Schulz, told the panel that Gentry kissed her in a courthouse bathroom and also propositioned her for a threesome, which the lawyer said she turned down.

Will these kinds of activities ever be possible again in our age of shutdown and masks?

Related:

  • Kentucky family law (child support profits capped at around $15,000/year, even for plaintiffs who had sex with a billionaire)
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Tsarnaev appeal might go to the Supreme Court

In April 2015, I wrote the following:

Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev has been convicted by an impartial jury of 12 locals wearing “Boston Strong” T-shirts. Now they are deciding what to do with him.

In July, the appeals court agreed with me that a local jury was unlikely to be impartial (NPR):

The higher court noted that the judge who presided over Tsarnaev’s trial had rejected the defense team’s request for a more distant trial venue where prospective jurors might be less likely to be prejudiced against the Chechen immigrant. That judge did so, the ruling maintained, promising that local jurors would be adequately screened.

But the three-judge panel ruled that the trial judge had failed to impanel an impartial jury.

In another part of the opinion, Judge Juan Torruella wrote that the District Court judge relied on “self-declarations of impartiality” by prospective jurors, calling that “an error of law and an abuse of discretion.”

Today we learn “Justice Department asks Supreme Court to review decision to vacate Boston bomber death sentence” (CNN). The Marathon bombing was more than 7 years ago and featured a governor’s “shelter-in-place” request:

Readers: Does the epic length of proceedings against/related to Mr. Tsarnaev reveal a defect in the U.S. legal system? From the Wikipedia page on the trial:

Tsarnaev’s attorney, Judy Clarke, opened by telling the jurors that her client and his older brother, Tamerlan, planted a bomb killing three and injuring hundreds, as well as murdering an MIT police officer days later. “There’s little that occurred the week of April the 15th … that we dispute,” Clarke said in her 20-minute opening statement

In other words, the defense and the prosecution actually agreed regrading most of the facts. Shouldn’t we have had a resolution long before now?

Related:

  • “Boston Marathon Bombing Trial: Why Are Judges Loath To Change The Venue?” (Harvey Silverglate, 2014)
  • “Brothers’ Classic Immigrant Tale Emerges as Relatives Speak Out” (NBC, 2013): Tamerlan Tsarnaev was an outspoken athlete who spoke three languages, played the piano, studied engineering, was a devout Muslim and aspired to represent the United States at the Olympics. … The brothers were part of a family refugees who fled the war-torn Chechnya region of Russia and immigrated to America a decade ago. … “They immigrated and received asylum,” Ruslan Tsarni, the brothers’ uncle, told reporters outside his home in suburban Maryland.
  • “Russia’s Warning on Bombings Suspect Sets Off a Debate” (NYT, April 2013): In March 2011, the Russian security service sent a stark warning to the F.B.I., reporting that Tamerlan Tsarnaev was “a follower of radical Islam” who had “changed drastically since 2010” and was preparing to travel to Russia’s turbulent Caucasus to connect with underground militant groups. Six months later, Russia sent the same warning to the C.I.A. … F.B.I. officials have defended their response to the Russian tip, which prompted agents to interview Mr. Tsarnaev and his parents and check government databases and Internet activity. The bureau found nothing.
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Supreme Court spreads a big rainbow flag over the word “sex”

“Civil Rights Law Protects Gay and Transgender Workers, Supreme Court Rules” (NYT):

The Supreme Court ruled Monday that a landmark civil rights law protects gay and transgender workers from workplace discrimination, handing the movement for L.G.B.T. equality a stunning victory.

“An employer who fires an individual merely for being gay or transgender defies the law,” Justice Neil M. Gorsuch wrote for the majority in the 6-to-3 ruling.

Until Monday’s decision, it was legal in more than half the states to fire workers for being gay, bisexual or transgender. The vastly consequential decision extended workplace protections to millions of people across the nation, continuing a series of Supreme Court victories for gay rights even after President Trump transformed the court with two appointments.

Personally, I think that any law like this actually reduces employment opportunities for the category of people whom such a law purports to help. The law highlights to employers the inferior nature of workers in this category and that, if the employer is unwise enough to hire someone from this category, a lawsuit is an ever-present possibility. Absent a substantial discount, therefore, a rational employer, even one who is completely without prejudice, should thus do everything possible to avoid hiring someone who might fit into the protected category.

In our neighborhood… (“Love is Love” in a larger font than “Black Lives Matter”; significant?)

Gary Drescher, an MIT computer science PhD who is also interested in cognition and philosophy, posted this analysis on Facebook:

Today’s 6-3 Supreme Court ruling on sex-discrimination is encouraging, and not only because the outcome is good (and not only because Trump’s appointee Gorsuch wrote the opinion rebuking the Trump administration’s position). It’s encouraging because the legal reasoning is correct and straightforward: discrimination against someone for being gay or transgender is an instance of sex discrimination, even if Congress did not understand it as such when they banned sex discrimination in the Civil Rights Act of 1964. That is, it’s sex discrimination to fire someone for, say, wearing a dress or having a male spouse, if those same behaviors would not be penalized if the person’s own sex were different than it is.

By fanciful analogy, imagine if Congresspersons were all numerologists who in the 1960s passed a law saying that a person must pay an income-tax surcharge in any year for which the person’s taxable income was a prime number of dollars, due to some mystical property of primes. But imagine that at the time, 23,069 was widely believed to be a prime number, so Congress expected the surcharge to apply to that income. Nonetheless, upon discovery of the factorization of 23,069, a court today would have to hold that income exempt from the prime surcharge, even though the exemption contradicts Congress’s expectation when they passed the law. It’s not that Congress was using the term ‘prime’ differently back then–rather, they had a factually incorrect belief about a particular number’s primality. Even originalism regarding the meaning of a legal text does not necessarily bind us to false beliefs held by the text’s framers.

Gary has persuaded me! Readers: what about you? Is this the dawning of a great new era in American employment litigation?

(Separately, I wonder if the new interpretation of the law leads to a logical contradiction among some American religious beliefs. Transgenderism is as “real” as science, per the sign above. Belief 1: If Joe Linebacker decides to identify as a “woman” starting tomorrow, she immediately becomes a completely successful 6’3″ tall, 275 lb. woman, indistinguishable from a cisgender woman. Belief 2: Employers, being more interested in after-work sexual activities and gender IDs than in profit, will ferret out the transgendered and, as the NYT says, “fire workers for being gay, bisexual or transgender”. How can Beliefs 1 and 2 be consistent? According to Belief 1, absent a DNA kit, nobody can discern the difference between a transgender woman and a cisgender woman. If that is true, how does the prejudiced employer figure out whom to fire?)

Finally, what if the Equal Rights Amendment had been passed?

Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.

With this new interpretation of “sex”, what else would change had the ERA been ratified?

Finally, what is the practical effect of the righteous elites passing laws like these? Here’s a private text message from a small business owner, responding to the NYT article:

Except transgender is mental illness. Do you really think a company should be forced to hire a 6 foot tall man who thinks he is a woman?

From an immigrant physician, near the beginning of coronapanic:

We have a transgender psychiatrist health secretary. We r f**ked

(she is from a conservative culture)

Will these people (Deplorables?) be persuaded to abandon their prejudices via threat of litigation? Or will they just hide behind Silicon Valley-style “not a culture fit” (regarding an over-35 applicant) cover stories?

To sum up: I am persuaded by Gary and think the Supreme Court made the right legal decision, but I also think this decision will end making it harder for a transgender person to get a job in the U.S.

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American courts during the Coronashutdown

People sometimes ask how work as an expert witness (mostly in software patent cases, but also in some aviation matters) is going during the coronashutdown. I tell them that things are slow and deadlines are typically pushed back by six months because most courts have shut down except for emergencies, though sometimes hearings will be held via Zoom. “The Chinese must be laughing their asses off when they see how Americans spend their time,” was one response to this news.

Related:

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Judge questions how marijuana shops came to be essential

From the Chicago Sun Times, the transcript of a southern Illinois judge’s ruling against some of the governor’s dictates:

Selling pot is essential but selling goods and services at a family- owned business is not. Pot wasn’t even legal and pot dispensaries didn’t even exist in this state until five months ago and, in that five months, they have become essential but a family-owned business in existence for five generations is not.

Doctors and experts say different things weekly. The defendant cites models in his opposition. The only thing experts will agree on is that all models are wrong and some are useful. The Centers for Disease Control now says the virus is not easily spread on surfaces.

The Science-denying judge is like a black-robed version of Adley!

He highlights some apparent logical contradictions:

A family of six can pile in their car and drive to Carlyle Lake without contracting COVID but, if they all get in the same boat, they will. We are told that kids rarely contract the virus and sunlight kills it, but summer youth programs, sports programs are cancelled. Four people can drive to the golf course and not get COVID but, if they play in a foursome, they will.

Sadly, he does not attempt to answer the stay-at-home mom’s question: “If masks work, why aren’t we back at work? If masks don’t work, why are we being asked to wear them?”

He does throw in some philosophy:

The defendant in this case orders you to stay home and pronounces that, if you leave the state, you are putting people in danger, but his family members traveled to Florida and Wisconsin because he deems such travel essential. … When laws do not apply to those who make them, people are not being governed, they are being ruled.

A good thought to ponder as Americans make their way to their neighborhood marijuana stores….

I’m still waiting to hear what the standard is for terminating young healthy Americans’ First Amendment right of assembly. If one “expert” predicts that 10 million people will die unless young healthy people are imprisoned, that’s sufficient for a governor to imprison them? How about 10 experts predicting 1 million deaths? What about 100 experts predicting 200,000 deaths and the potential for a shutdown to defer 50,000 of those deaths by a year? Are there any thresholds for how many experts one needs or what death rate (can’t use absolute number due to rapid population growth) justifies the suspension of what had been Constitutional rights?

(And what if there are experts on the other side? Is the former chief scientist of the European CDC outweighed by one American academic forecasting unprecedented doom and demanding shutdown? How about all 15 epidemiologists on the Swedish government’s team? Against those 15, how many Americans does it take for a governor to say “the science is settled so I will terminate the First Amendment”? How about Sunetra Gupta and her team at Oxford? Is a statement by Dr. Fauci worth 20X a statement by Professor Gupta?)

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Expert witnesses and lawyers: book a vacation trip starting the same day as any trial

Life of a software expert witness: I carefully arranged my calendar this fall so as to be available at four scheduled trials.

  • Trial 1: moved to April 2020
  • Trial 2: settled two weeks prior
  • Trial 3: canceled by the judge, who promised to inform the parties, perhaps early in 2020, regarding a new date
  • Trial 4: case stayed due to withdrawal of counsel on one side (not the folks who hired me)

Instead of the excitement of talking to 12 interested people (upgrade from the usual 0), traveling to a different part of the country, and working intensively with smart people, it is a week or two of the home-based routine with absolutely nothing on the calendar (having refused all invitations from friends and family for various activities during the trial block).

My latest idea: actually schedule an interesting mostly refundable trip starting the very same day as the trial. If the trial is canceled, take the vacation trip. If, by some miracle, the trial occurs on the scheduled day, absorb whatever refund/change fees are imposed by the airline and hotels. The likelihood of the trial going forward on the scheduled week and actually having to pay any fees, based on my experience, is at most one quarter. If the fees for canceling the trip are $500, therefore, the statistical cost of implementing this strategy is only about $125 per trial.

Readers: Where else can this strategy be employed? Who else has to block 1-3-week periods of time that probably won’t be needed after all?

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Felicity Huffman and the discretion in our criminal justice system

“Felicity Huffman sentenced to 14 days in prison in nationwide college admissions scandal” (Salon) provides a good illustration of how much discretion there is for the people who run our criminal justice system:

The conspiracy charge carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, but prosecutors said they recommended a sentence at the “low end” of the range — between four and 10 months — for the actress. They also recommended a fine of $20,000 and 12 months of supervised release.

In other words, if either the prosecutor or the judge had disliked Ms. Huffman for any reason, she could have been imprisoned for 20 years (longer than a typical murderer). Or, on the other hand, it might have been no prison/jail time if everyone showed up to court in a great mood. Or perhaps 14 days or any other number of days between 0 and 7,305.

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Why don’t our cars text the police when we’re breaking the law?

Volodymyr Zhukovskyy killed seven motorcyclists in New Hampshire recently. He had a long history of driving erratically, presumably at least partly due to his passion for consuming alcohol, cocaine, and heroin (see USA Today and WCVB).

Driving is something that happens in public. We don’t expect or receive privacy when we’re on a public road in a vehicle that is 15′ long. Why wouldn’t the vehicle, now packed with electronics, simply text the police when the vehicle was speeding or weaving? This guy might have been off the road a few years earlier, thus sparing 7 lives, if the cars and trucks he’d been driving had ratted him out.

The police aren’t allowed to run video continuously everywhere and then arrest all of the criminals thus discovered, but at least in a lot of European countries they seem to do this in public (signs indicate that video recording is in use).

What’s more public than driving on a public road? Why do we have an expectation that our vehicle’s track over the road is private? Why do we spend a huge amount of tax dollars on traffic law enforcement when electronics in cars could do this for us at zero cost?

[The situation is different when people are indoors. For example, “‘Bungled from the beginning’: How Robert Kraft’s sex sting was marred by cops’ missteps” (South Florida Sun Sentinel, May 18, 2019):

In all previous prostitution stings at South Florida massage parlors — including a few with similar sneak-and-peek warrants for secret cameras — the cases resolved quietly and mostly out of the spotlight. Few if any people charged ever challenged the prosecutions. They paid fines and performed community service hours, to avoid embarrassment. … But Aronberg’s office walked back the claims, telling Kraft’s judge that there was no evidence of human trafficking. It was just misdemeanor solicitation of prostitution charges for the men, and felony charges of making money from prostitution for the women. … After judges approved the sneak-and-peek warrants, police used “tactical ruses” to clear out the businesses so they could install the cameras in the massage rooms and the lobby. The cops said they needed to investigate a suspicious package, creating a bomb scare. … But Hanser concluded the warrant still broke federal law, because police didn’t do enough to focus only on crimes and to minimize the cameras’ intrusiveness. At all of the spas with the secret cameras, police wound up recording people receiving lawful services, even though the focus was supposed to be only on men paying for sex acts. … All massage-parlor customers have a reasonable expectation of privacy under the U.S. Constitution, regardless of whether or not they went there for a lawful massage, the judge found.

(One never-answered question raised by the Robert Kraft case is why it was legal for him to pay a 40-year-younger woman in Los Angeles by the month (PEOPLE magazine on the “girlfriend” who lives in a house Kraft owns) but it was illegal for him to pay a woman in Florida by the hour.)]

Related:

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Don’t use Facebook Messenger if you’re a criminal

I’m reading The Last Stone, by the journalist behind Blackhawk Down.

The book concerns an extended family of degenerates and criminals and their involvement in the kidnapping and murder of Katherine and Sheila Lyon back in 1975. This was a cold case that was reopened in 2013.

[one suspect] would often hitchhike out to Hyattsville, another edge city northeast of Washington, in the district’s other Maryland suburban county, Prince Georges. His father, Lee, and stepmother, Edna, and many other members of Lloyd’s large extended family lived there, clustered around his grandmother’s house. They were part of what has become known as the Hillbilly Highway, the migration of largely Scotch Irish Appalachian families to northern cities after World War II. Many of these families retained the insularity, habits, and dialect of their native region.

Parents, aunts, uncles, and cousins of the suspect were all themselves suspected. Few of them were upstanding citizens:

Teddy Welch made little sense as the kidnapper, but his story afforded a glimpse into the curious Welch family. What the detectives found shocked them. The abuse that Lloyd had suffered in his father’s house and Teddy had suffered in his was not an aberration. It was the norm. Few family members had escaped it. Fathers beat and raped their children, brothers terrorized and raped their sisters and cousins. Alcohol, drugs, and violence colored every relationship. It was not much of a stretch to see teenage Lloyd and perhaps even Teddy as pawns enlisted by the older, more practiced predators in their family. The clan had two branches, one in Hyattsville, Maryland, and the other five hours south on a secluded hilltop in Thaxton, Virginia, a place the locals called Taylor’s Mountain. Here the family’s Appalachian roots were extant, even though some of its members had gradually moved into more modern communities in and around Bedford, the nearest town.

The Welch family, with its country ways, lived shoulder to shoulder with city dwellers seeking affordable housing close to jobs inside the beltway. The clan had sunk its roots here wide and deep, with enough Welches, Overstreets, Dooleys, Esteps, and Parkers to fill Magruder Park when they gathered for a reunion. If they had a look, it was generally pale and blue-eyed, with small pinched features in a broad face. Their men were scrawny and their women wide.

Taylor’s Mountain and Hyattsville may have been radically different places, but the family was the same in both. Its mountain-hollow ways—suspicion of outsiders, an unruly contempt for authority of any kind, stubborn poverty, a knee-jerk resort to violence—set it perpetually at odds with mainstream suburbia. Most shocking were its sexual practices. Incest was notorious in the families of the hollers (hollows) of Appalachia, where social isolation and privation eroded social taboos. The practice came north with the family to Hyattsville. Here, where suburban families had turned child-rearing into a fetish, some adults in Lloyd’s immediate family exploited their offspring and ignored barriers to incest. It was not uncommon for Welch children to experiment sexually with siblings and cousins.

Criminal behavior rarely warranted family censure, much less a report to the police. Indeed, the more shocking the conduct, the stronger the impulse to hide it. Protecting the family from outsiders was more important than protecting its members, including children, from each other. And the Welch women, often victims, were its fiercest guardians.

The police used phone taps, but also got into Facebook Messenger.

Otherwise, Connie seemed uninterested. She offered this single memory and that was it. She repeated that she had little or nothing to do with Lloyd or any of the other members of his immediate family. But the squad found something different on her Facebook account. Connie was conferring frequently with her Maryland cousins about the case. Soon after she was questioned, she wrote to Teddy’s wife, Stacy, about what she had been asked and what she had said. She also phoned Pat and Dick’s daughter Patricia Ann. She later wrote on Facebook to another cousin, Patricia Ann’s daughter, Amy Johnson, and explained that her story was, in part, meant to absolve her uncle Dick. “I called Pat last night to let her know I talked to police,” she wrote. “I know Dick did not bring him [Lloyd] down. He walked down with his pregnant girlfriend. That’s for having our back.”

In one of her Facebook exchanges with her cousin Amy, Connie confided, “My biggest fear is that my last family member Henry was part of it on the mountain.” She had told the grand jury that her brother often hung out with Lloyd when the latter visited. When asked how Henry might have been involved, she said, “Henry wouldn’t murder the child. He wasn’t in Maryland. I meant help bury it. If he helped bury the bodies on the mountain.” “Why do you think Henry would bury the bodies on the mountain?” “Because his momma would tell him to do it. We always did what Momma told us to do.”

If the family had used an encrypted messaging system, they might have escaped justice!

[Separately, the book provides support for the idea that criminality is heritable. It didn’t matter that this family ended up in the D.C. suburbs, surrounded by good-hearted social welfare policies and a fountain of tax dollars collected from folks in the Midwest, Florida, Texas, and California. If this family is anything to go by, the 3rd and 4th generation descendants of the Central Americans who come to the U.S. because of their involvement in violent criminal gangs will themselves be involved in violent criminal gangs.]

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Why is Roundup still for sale?

The California legal system has determined that Roundup causes cancer. See, for example, “$2 Billion Verdict Against Monsanto Is Third to Find Roundup Caused Cancer” (nytimes):

The jury, in state court in Alameda County, reached its verdict two months after a federal jury in San Francisco awarded $80 million to a man who claimed that Roundup had caused his non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. In August, a state court in San Francisco found that Roundup had caused the cancer of a school groundskeeper, awarding him $289 million. A judge reduced that figure to $78 million.

Yet the German owners of Monsanto (safe to assume they wish they’d spent their hard-earned dollars in some other country?) still make the stuff and Amazon still sells it (example). Glyphosate from a variety of manufacturers is available at Home Depot.

How are the retailers immune from liability? If we have faith in our legal system to come up with correct answers to scientific questions, such as “Does glyphosate cause cancer?” then why are millions of Americans apparently still buying and using it?

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