Could coronashutdown help people forget old scandals?

“Former Sequoia Partner Wins Extortion Suit Against Ex-Mistress” (Bloomberg, January 3, 2020):

A salacious three-year legal battle involving a former partner at Sequoia Capital, a onetime exotic dancer and a promised $40 million hush money payment has come to an end.

A California Superior Court judge ruled in favor of venture capitalist Michael Goguen, finding his former mistress Amber Laurel Baptiste committed fraud and extortion when she threatened to publicize false claims, including that he gave her a sexually transmitted infection. The judge ordered Baptiste to pay back the full $10.25 million she got from Goguen. After a three-day trial that Baptiste didn’t attend, the court also approved a restraining order to protect Goguen and his current wife, Jamie Goguen.

She said she has already spent nearly $5 million of the money Goguen gave her on legal fees…

How complex is the case?

Goguen and Baptiste have said they met in 2002 at strip club in Dallas where she was working, and they began spending time together. In 2014, Goguen paid Baptiste $10 million in what was to be the first of four installments to sever communication and keep details of their affair and other allegations under wraps.

In her 2016 complaint, Baptiste alleged that Goguen sexually abused her for more than a decade, infected her and then reneged on a promise to pay the full $40 million. Goguen countersued, calling the affair consensual and accusing her of extortion. Goguen claimed he stopped paying her because she violated their contract by continuing to contact him and then broke their confidentiality agreement with her suit.

Stripping and sex can be complex, no doubt, but $5 million would ordinarily be considered a reasonable outcome in compensation for a wrongful death. If we assume that his fees were twice hers, that’s $15 million in transaction costs.

Leaving the question of why we’re happy with a legal system in which it costs $15 million in fees to settle a seemingly straightforward dispute of how much someone should be paid for having sex, does coronashutdown help people such as Mr. Goguen (his site is goguentruth.com and suggests that he is still lying low)? Can people who’ve been locked into their apartments for a year get excited about an old scandal?

Related:

Full post, including comments

Julian Assange cannot be held in isolation, rules a judge in the locked-down UK

“Julian Assange cannot be extradited to US, British judge rules” (Guardian):

Julian Assange cannot be extradited to the US to face charges of espionage and of hacking government computers, a British judge has decided.

Delivering her ruling the judge said said the WikiLeaks founder was likely to be held in conditions of isolation in a so-called supermax prison in the US … “I find that the mental condition of Mr Assange is such that it would be oppressive to extradite him to the United States of America,” she said.

But she accepted the evidence of prominent medical experts, including details of how Assange had suffered from depression while in prison in London. “The overall impression is of a depressed and sometimes despairing man who is genuinely depressed about his future,” said Baraitser.

My Facebook friends assure me that government-imposed isolation is no hardship whenever the person who is isolated has access to Zoom. Perhaps the U.S. could obtain Assange if we promised the UK that we would let him have access to unlimited video chat?

Separately, Jan Steen’s painting of Londoners (those fortunate enough to live in a multi-person household) trying to make it through their Nth lockdown… (from the (real) National Gallery)

From London, 2017, #AheadOfTheCurve:

And a Messerschmitt car to keep you safe while traveling solo during COVID-19 (London 2007):

The Sitting Ducks of St. James’s Park (2007):

Related:

Full post, including comments

Facebook reminds us how lucky we are

A post from Donald Trump, edited by Facebook:

I’m not sure how the identity of the president who takes over in January 2021 is relevant to a post regarding a coronaplague vaccine, but it is comforting to be reminded how lucky we are to have Joe Biden. #ThankYouFacebookEditorialDepartment

(The above was highlighted by a friend: “This is like AT&T listening to your call and editing.”)

From our local supermarket, Joe Biden is already an “American Legend”:

Full post, including comments

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)
Full post, including comments

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.
Full post, including comments

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.

Full post, including comments

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:

Full post, including comments

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?)

Full post, including comments

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?

Full post, including comments