Expatriate Owl

A politically-incorrect perspective that does not necessarily tow the party line, on various matters including but not limited to taxation, academia, government and religion.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Missed the Coronation

I was out of town for a few days. I basically had a good and productive time, though not without several hassles and frustrations. There was a rendezvous with some Obamatron relatives of mine who, notwithstanding their status as such, were quite pleasurable company. Above all, I was nowhere near Washington, and therefore avoided all of the hasslements of being in that city for Obama's big coronation event. [And, BTW, the situation could easily have turned disastrous with all of the crowds in the tunnel in Washington.]

One acquaintance of the family, whose husband is connected, went to Washington, cleared the security, and got a good seat at the coronation. Not everyone was so lucky (if getting to watch the coronation festivities can be called luck), and indeed, many Obamaniacs got screwed by the poor planning of the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies. And they all still worship the very urinal where Obama pisses!

The meeting I attended (the primary impetus for the excursion) was quite good as far as such meetings go. A former business partner of mine came down with a very bad cold, so I scrubbed the get-together with him. But I caught what he describes as the same bug anyway, so now I'm trying to shake it before I start teaching in a few days.

I also got together with my brother, visited with some friends, did a little sightseeing and returned home a day earlier than planned.

It is now 2 AM, I am now mostly caught up on my correspondence, and now, after this posting, will try to get some sleep because there are several things on the agenda for later today.

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Friday, January 16, 2009

Duck, Duck, Duck, Goose!

Today's news of Flight 1549 is now all over the Internet. The plane lost its engines shortly after take-off from LaGuardia, and landed in the Hudson River. All passengers and crew were rescued, thanks to the flight's accomplished and valiant pilot, and, of course, to the FDNY and the other boats that made the emergency response.

I join all in expressing gratitude for the miraculous rescue.

It seems that the cause of the engine failure was bird ingestion. Specifically, a flock of Branta canadensis, commonly known as Canada Geese, crossed paths with the aircraft.

The Canada Geese are protected birds under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. The problem is that most of the Branta canadensis in the New York area are no longer migratory, but have, for many generations, lived all of their lives here.

And, quite frankly, their numbers are too great for the health of the human population. There is, for example, a flock that congregates at the Courthouse of the New York Supreme Court of Nassau County, and they leave lots of their droppings there. And, within the past 10 years, a flock has taken up residence near the local school, pooping all over the soccer field.

I am not a sport hunter, and those who are would know more about this than I, but one needs all kinds of Federal and State licenses and permits to hunt Branta Canadensis.

According to a New York Daily News sidebar article to the Flight 1549 story,

" For years, Port Authority officials have tangled with animal activists about efforts to cut down the number of geese that live on Rikers Island near LaGuardia. Back in 2004, more than 400 geese were killed. By 2006, the number netted and gassed had dropped to 165. Animal activists have fought the effort, urging officials to find non-lethal methods to manage the population."

Rikers Island, for the untraveled and unread, is a land mass in the East River where the City of New York has located its major prison facilities. Amidst the current great budget deficit, why not use the Rikers Island flock of Branta canadensis to feed the inmates? Surely the culinary-minded can come up with some Canada Goose recipes.

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Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Trial By Jury

I was in court today, only this time it was to discharge my jury duty obligation. Since 1996, there have been no automatic exemptions from jury duty, which I think is a good thing. Everyone should be able to serve.

Inconveniences to my law practice and teaching notwithstanding (I don't go back to teaching for another 2 weeks anyway), I considered myself ready, willing and able to serve on a jury panel. I had been given a month's notice, and was able to arrange my law practice schedule accordingly.

This was the third time in my life I reported for jury duty (not counting some of the telephone standby years where I never actually had to show up). The first time, when I was in law school, all cases settled and they sent everyone home early. The second time, I knew one of the attorneys at voir dire, so we exchanged the pleasantries and I was sent back to the Central Jury room, where, about 2 hours later, everyone was sent home.

This time, the telephone message posted Friday evening (a few minutes before Shabbat) told me that a range of juror numbers in which mine fell was to show up today. I planned my schedule accordingly.

They now have an orientation video narrated by Ed Bradley from "60 Minutes," which showed a few clips from the old Perry Mason TV series I enjoyed when I was growing up. Bradley explains that these were overdramatizations of the real thing. But I liked them anyway. Much of the video consisted of various people, obscure and famous, telling us all how great the jury system is (which was the main purpose of this "orientation"). And then, the HDTV monitor in the Central Jury room shifted to the CNN News (the big story today, of course, was Bernie the Goniff Madoff). Interestingly, there were several commercials for law firms. I wonder what the implications of this would be if one of those law firms were actually involved in one of the cases heard by a jury that day.

They finally called us, so a Court Officer escorted us to the courtroom on the 5th floor (I walked the stairs, and beat most of the people taking the elevators). Looking at the judge's calendar outside the courtroom, I realized that this was a criminal case.

One of the jurors was an Assistant DA (who also seemed to know the defense attorney), so she was immediately excused. After some general discussion of the case by the Judge (criminal misdemeanor leaving the scene of an accident case, trial scheduled 2 - 5 PM, estimated trial time 5 days), His Honor asked if anyone would be unable to serve. Several people came forward (child care, self-employed tradesman, etc.), most of whom were excused.

Then the first 15 jurors on the list, myself included, were called up for individual voir dire. His Honor asked the usual questions, such as whether we were able to decide the case objectively; whether, if the evidence were sufficient, we could vote to convict without regard to the sentence to be imposed; whether we were willing to consider all of the evidence; whether we could attach no significance to the fact that the defendant doesn't testify if she so elects; et cetera.

Then came the question of whether we would be able to apply the law as instructed by the judge. So I raised my hand and said, in substance, the following:

"Your Honor, I have been admitted to the bar for more than 20 years. My practice does not entail criminal law, so I don't have too many preconceived notions as to what the law is here. However, Your Honor, in what I believe to be the unlikely event that Your Honor were to give a legal instruction that differed from my understanding of what the law is, then, Your Honor, I would have significant problems with that!"

One of the Court Officers seemed to suppress a grin, while His Honor took a second or two to compose himself. The Judge then asked me (and not without a tinge of anger) "Are you saying that you would not apply the law as I instruct you if you disagree with me?"

"Your Honor," I replied, "I stress that I consider such an eventuality quite unlikely. But if Your Honor's instruction as to the law in New York were, perchance, to differ from my understanding of it, then I at least would want to know the legal authority, and look up the legal citation, for such an instruction. On account of my training and experience."

I could almost detect little wisps of smoke emerging from His Honor's ears. He called the ADA and Defense Counsel to the bench, and, after about 10 seconds, glared at me and said, "You are excused!"

I can empathize with His Honor. He was damned if he did, and damned if he didn't. On one hand, he had asked, nay, put us all under oath, to be honest and candid. I was honest and candid. And judges are not infallible; indeed, on any given business day, a trial judge who misapplied the law is overturned by an appellate tribunal in the State of New York. If he were to chew me out, then none of the other prospective jurors would have been honest and candid.

[Also playing into the equation, I suspect, was the fact that I have been admitted to the bar about 9 years longer than His Honor (and, apparently, longer than either the ADA or the defense attorney). I have had 9 more years than His Honor has had to develop an understanding of the law.]

On the other hand, if he were to excuse me (which he did), then wouldn't such a precedent effectively serve to reinstate the automatic exclusion of attorneys from jury duty (remember, the other attorney in the jury pool had been excused, right before everyone's eyes, just a few minutes earlier)?

Note that if the Judge did not wish to make a wholesale practice of excusing attorneys, I did give His Honor an out. I stated and restated that I considered the odds of a conflict between His Honor's instructions and my understanding of the law to be rather long. His Honor could, with the agreement of counsel, gone ahead with me anyway. And, His Honor could have seated me, and instructed me to pass him a note if my understanding of the law differed from his instructions, so that he could apprise me of the legal authority for his instructions.

And, perhaps, there may have been the fear of a kingpin juror (though my personality is definitely not that of a kingpin juror).

And so, I am not subject to jury summons for another 6 years.

While it's good to get my schedule back, I'm a little bit disappointed. A major part of me does want the experience of serving on a jury panel.

We'll see what happens when I get called up the next time.

Ironic Postscript: En route back home from the courthouse, I stopped at a nursing rehab facility to visit a member of our congregation who incurred a nasty foot fracture. Other than his depressed mood, he's doing fine medically. And he is a retired physician (with a daughter who has been admitted to the bar a few years longer than I have been). It kind of made his day that there he was, doctor in the patient's bed, was being visited by a lawyer who sat in the jury box.

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Monday, January 12, 2009

Susan Atkins (Part 2)

The 13 June 2008 posting on this Blog was about Susan Atkins, one of Charlie Manson's girls, and California's most senior woman inmate. You will recall that Ms. Atkins sought compassionate release because she had been diagnosed with terminal illness (and that previous March had, according to the medical pundits, three months remaining). The folks on the California Parole Board, in their wisdom, denied the compassionate release for the brutal mutilatrix-murderess.

Well, it is already more than a week into 2009, and Susie Q still hasn't clocked out.

My compliments and plaudits to the able medical staff at the Central California Women's Facility in Chowchilla, for the fine care they have thus far rendered. Who says that the government doctors don't know how to practice medicine?

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Sunday, January 11, 2009

No Tip for This Waiter

The story in Newsday (to which I unhappily subscribe because it is (maybe) a half-step better the New York Times, the only other viable daily rag on Long Island now that the New York Sun has folded) is "Waiter Serves Fear at Wedding" by Matthew Chayes, Newsday, 10 January 2009, p. A13.

The first paragraph is as follows:

"A waiter at a Jewish wedding who is considering converting to Islam interrupted the celebration's final prayers with recorded Arabic chants of "God is great," sparking fear among the 700 guests of a terrorist attack, Nassau police said Friday."

And now Thomas H. Spreer, Esq., Stephen Buttafuoco's lawyer, trained in the art of criminal defense, is calling the felony aggravated harassment charge "heavy-handed."

My first impulse is to agree with Mr. Spreer. Buttafuoco claims, and not without credibility, that he wasn't aware that the sound bite would be piped over the PA system throughout the building. Seems like a sophomoric prank by a 23-year-old of teenage maturity. It's kind of picayune and penny-ass.

But the deeper I read, the more convinced I am that the DA is coddling Buttafuoco a bit too much. Specifically, (1) Buttafuoco admits that he was trying to privately disrespect Judaism; and (2) Buttafuoco is now curious about converting to Islam.

Those of you from Denmark might correct me if I am mistaken, but it is my understanding that according to Islamic teachings, Muslims are required to kill those who insult Islam.

But this is America, where there should be no religious favoritism. Accordingly, Buttafuoco should be charged not merely with a felony, but with a capital offense!

Unfortunately, even wanton premeditating cop-killers are not subject to capital punishment in New York, thanks to the sob sisters on the New York Court of Appeals.

Probably the most realistic scenario is that Buttafuoco will exhibit enough contrition (or at least appear sufficiently contrite) to do a plea deal for no jail time. And if the hosts of the wedding (and/or the bride and groom) are so inclined, they might file a purely civil lawsuit against Buttafuoco and sue the beitzim off of him.

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Friday, January 02, 2009

What's in a Name? [Part 2]

The Second Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld the conviction and sentence of William Bullock, Jr. under the Armed Career Criminal Act. The case is United States v. Bullock, 2008 U.S. App. LEXIS 25355, and, for the moment at least, is posted on the Internet here and here.

Essentially, Bullock, a three-time felony conviction loser, was found to be in possession of 8 rounds of ammunition. His conviction mandates, per 18 U.S.C. Section 924(e), a minimum 15-year sentence. The pertinent quote from Judge Jacobs's opinion is as follows:

"Bullock argues that there was insufficient evidence to establish his constructive possession of the ammunition found in the bedroom dresser drawer and that the government proved no more than that Bullock and his fiancee shared the bedroom and that Bullock had access to the dresser.

Bullock understates the quantum of evidence, which included: (1) that correspondence addressed to Bullock was found in the drawer with the ammunition; (2) that the ammunition was
discovered in a drawer with men's underwear in a dresser with only men's clothing; and (3) that $1,543 cash was found in the drawer, including $30 of pre-recorded buy money given to Bullock a few days earlier. Given this evidence, a 'rational trier of fact could have found the essential elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt.'"

So what's in a name? Bullock's defense attorney was Bryan E. Rounds, Esq., of the Kingston, NY law firm of Rounds & Rounds. Should the name of one's attorney matter? Theoretically, it shouldn't. But I cannot help but wonder whether the fact that an attorney named Rounds was defending a client accused of possessing rounds of ammunition made some sort of subconscious impact upon the jury.

This isn't the only criminal case where the defense attorney's name might have dropped some subliminal suggestions to the jury. In State v. Smith, 1980 Ohio App. LEXIS 10946 (OhioApp. 1980), the defendant was convicted of felonious assault with firearm. His defense attorney was named Michael T. Gunner.

And the defendant in United States v. Schlesinger, 390 F. Supp. 2d 274, the defendant was convicted of arson. Nat Schlesinger's defense attorney was Douglas T. Burns, Esq.

As for the famous Miranda v. Arizona case, 384 U.S. 436 (1966), where Ernesto Miranda's conviction on a rape charge was vacated (but he was convicted at subsequent retrial), one of the attorneys on the amicus brief (effectively arguing against Ernesto Miranda) was the Attorney General of Wyoming, John F. Raper, AG of Wyoming. 384 U.S. 436 (1966).

And then, there is the matter of Straight v. Dykes , 418 S.E.2d 65, 1992 Ga. LEXIS 354 (Ga. 1992), affirming, without published opinion, some sort of civil dispute.

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