Monthly Archive for February, 2010Page 2 of 3

A Space Rock Hits Your Leased Office: Who Owns It?

Here’s a bit of legal news that’s out of this world! Seriously, you’d have to be pretty spaced out to not find it interesting. You might say it’s a real space case.

I regret none of the above.

But moving on, here’s the situation: last month, a tennis-ball-sized meteorite crashed through the roof of a doctor’s office in Virginia. It then smashed into a chair in which the doctor would probably have been sitting if he was seeing a patient (as luck would have it, the patient he would have been seeing at that very moment had canceled his appointment). It’s amazing that this rock hit a populated area (it’s very rare), and even more amazing that nobody was hurt.

Initially, the Smithsonian Institution offered to buy the rock from the doctor for $5,000. However, the doctor’s landlord notified the Smithsonian that he is the legitimate owner of the rock, and will be retrieving it from them. I’m sure it’s just a coincidence that he had just recently found out that meteorites are highly valued by collectors, and that this specimen could easily fetch $50,000 on the open market. While several tons of rocks and dust from space reach Earth’s surface every day, most of it is in pieces too small to be found, and often the larger pieces land in the ocean or uninhabited areas, also never to be found. An expert quoted in the Washington Post estimates that a meteorite large enough to be detected hits a man-made structure anywhere in the world around once per year. In short, they’re very rare, and this contributes to their value.

I guess it’s understandable that people are willing to pay so much for these things (novelty, their scientific value, etc.), but looking at that picture, they sure don’t look like much more than boring old rocks. I wouldn’t want to decorate my house with them.

Both the doctor and the landlord have hired lawyers, and it seems certain that a court is going to decide who owns the meteorite. This raises some pretty fundamental, but still complex, issues of property law.

Generally, when a person leases property, the owner delegates many core property rights to the renter, such as the right to physically occupy the property, the right to exclude others from the property, and, most relevant here, the right to any personal property which is abandoned on the land.

However, things which have come to the property through “natural” forces are generally considered part of the real estate, and the owner of the land retains ownership and control of them even when the property is being rented. Normally, this includes trees, standing water, wild animals, and the like. I doubt the common-law courts that developed these rules over time contemplated meteorites. Presently, the rock is being held by the Smithsonian until a court decides who owns it.

Assuming that this impact is treated as a natural occurrence, and I don’t see why it wouldn’t be, the landlord probably has a decent case. On the other hand, the landlord would most definitely not have a claim of ownership over, say, money that was abandoned in the doctor’s office. Whatever the result, this case will definitely be interesting, and it will probably find its way into property casebooks.

As of the writing of this post, the meteorite remains indifferent.

Ways To Get A Cheaper Divorce

“Money makes the world go round.”  This old cliché rings especially true in these tough economic times, and it doesn’t take a psychic to tell you that everyone worries about having or making enough money.  But if it did then I suggest you go back and get your money.  Any who, penny-pinching and belt-tightening aren’t the only side effects that accompany money woes.  What else logically flows from a lack of cash flow?  Why divorce of course (and yes, I’m aware of the numerous puns and annoying word play I’ve levied on you so far – deal with it).

Why does divorce go so naturally with not having enough of the green?  Well, for one thing, money problems top pretty much every list out there regarding topics most argued about by married couples.  It’s ironic too since getting a divorce can end up costing most couples more money than they can afford to spend.  According to the latest divorce surveys and comments on the LegalMatch forums, when you add up the cost of litigation, division of assets, child support, alimony, spousal support (you heard me, though it typically cannot exceed 3 years), court fees, and a whole load of other miscellaneous fees, divorces can range anywhere from $15,000 and up.  And when I say “up,” I really mean up.

Now that’s not to say that if you’re in a bad relationship and you truly want and/or need to get out of it, that you shouldn’t pack up and leave.  All I’m saying is that there are a number of other things that you should consider before taking the plunge, so to speak.  Also you should note that divorce costs, though high, are typically in proportion to your combined income, so don’t stress too much when you see those $168 million settlements.

So what should you consider before getting a divorce?  The LegalMatch Law Library has some tips for you.

First, you should ask yourself whether or not you really want a divorce, or if your marital problems can’t be resolved through non-legal means.  Sometimes it’s more effective to just go to marriage counseling or simply sit down with your spouse and discuss why you feel you want a divorce and track down the real problem plaguing your relationship.

Second, you should also consider your children, if you have any, and how a divorce will affect them.  They shouldn’t be the only reason you decide to stick it out with your significant other, but they should be taken into consideration before you make your choice.  Questions like custody, visitation rights, child support, and most important of all, the emotional toll on your children, should all be considered before you decide to end a marriage.

Should you decide to ultimately divorce, then you should keep in mind the cost considerations I mentioned earlier.  Divorce doesn’t need to be an adversarial event, in that you don’t and often shouldn’t look at it as trying to prevail over your spouse.  In my opinion, the best divorce resolutions come about in the same way as the best lawsuit resolutions.  What does that incredibly cryptic statement mean?  Simply that you should keep the lines communication open with your partner.  Divorce doesn’t mean you need to each get a lawyer; you can also try to cut costs along with emotional pain by hiring one lawyer to act as a mediator to help you and your spouse reach an amicable resolution, then draft up all the necessary paperwork.

And if all else fails, then I suppose you can go through the ugly route, but do you really have $168 million to spare?

Why You Should Check Foreign Laws Before You Take Off For Vacation

With the holiday season long over, everyone is now firmly back at their jobs, staring longingly at their tropical desktop wallpapers while getting ready for another long, long, *sigh* long day at work.

Depressed?  No, why do you ask?

Anyway, it won’t be long before people start grasping desperately for any reason to plan their next vacation, if they haven’t done so already, in order to escape the monotony of work and everyday life.  And believe me folks, particularly all you guys out there, there are (is) some (a) pretty good reasons to plan a vacation or do anything right now in order to save yourselves from a potentially disastrously situation in the very near future.  It’s like forgetting Mother’s Day.  Only that on top having to walk around with the guilt of saddening and disappointing an important woman in your life, you also get yelled at for an indefinite amount of time.

But depending on where you go this year (or month) you might want to take a precaution that not many people do when they take off for holiday, particularly those whose destination lies outside of this fine country.  And that is to check out your vacation spot’s local laws.

Sounds weird, huh?  I know.  But go with me for a second.  For many of you, when travelling aboard there are certain precautions that you take in order to protect yourself against the unfamiliarity and dangers that may accompany going to a foreign locale.  Getting vaccinated, ensuring that all your travel documents and identification are up to date, learning some of the local language, familiarizing yourself with the local customs, and so forth, are all intuitive second-nature responses when one decides to go somewhere new.

Why do you do these things?  Well because, like I said earlier, to protect yourself against the unfamiliar and unexpected.  Therefore, doesn’t it also make sense to also check out a country or city’s local laws before you depart since acceptable and legal behavior here might not necessarily be legal somewhere else?  The last thing you need is to be stuck in some foreign jail waiting for the foreman to choose the proper stick to beat you with.

Okay, not everything may be that extreme, but there are some surprising activities that are considered illegal outside most people’s home state.  Here’s a few of them courtesy of the United Kingdom’s Telegraph newspaper.

  • In Milan, it is a legal requirement to smile at all times, except during funerals or hospital visits.
  • In Massachusetts, taxi drivers are prohibited from making love in the front seat of the car during their shifts.
  • In Denmark, people are legally obliged to honk the horn and check for small children underneath the car.
  • In Thailand, it is illegal for anyone to leave a building without wearing their pants.
  • In Michigan, anyone planning on bathing in public must have their swim suit inspected by a police officer.
  • In Florida, any unmarried woman who parachutes on a Sunday could be jailed. Singing while wearing a swimming costume is also prohibited.
  • In Portugal, it is unlawful to urinate in the sea.
  • In Hong Kong, the wife of a husband who commits adultery is legally entitled to kill the mistress in any manner desired, and the husband with just her bare hands.
  • In Switzerland, flushing the lavatory after 10pm is illegal.
  • In Canada, if you are arrested and then released from prison, it is a legal requirement that the felon is given a handgun with bullets and a horse, so they can ride safely out of the town.

Yes, this list is real.  It’s not an Onion joke.  Just remember people travel safe and smart, and don’t forget to use the internet.  On top of being a porn distribution device, it’s a great way to research your vacation destination’s local law.  Because how much street cred are you going to have when you tell the other inmates in the Italian prison that you’re doing 3 to 5 for not smiling when you checked out of your hotel?

Judge in Prop 8 Case is Probably Gay: So What?

I’m a bit reluctant to blog about this story, because it seems like it should be a non-issue. However, it’s already been covered in places that get far more attention than our little corner of the Web, so I guess I’ll throw in some of my thoughts.

A column in the San Francisco Chronicle claims that it is something of an open secret that Vaughn Walker is gay.  Judge Walker is the chief Judge of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, and is presiding over the trial which will ultimately determine if Proposition 8, which banned same-sex marriage in the state, is constitutional.

Apparently, in his private life, Judge Walker makes no effort to hide his sexual orientation, but does not advertise it, either. On the record, he consistently refuses to comment on the matter, which seems like a perfectly reasonable position to take: if it doesn’t affect his legal judgment, he has every right to keep it private. Indeed, by all accounts, Judge Walker is an independent, unbiased, and highly principled judge. He was appointed to the federal bench in 1989 by the first President Bush, and has been a reliably conservative jurist, though with a strong libertarian bent.

It’s also worth noting that Judge Walker did not seek out this case. It was assigned to him at random.  He also raised the ire of the gay community several years ago when, as a practicing attorney, he represented the U.S. Olympic Committee in its successful attempt to prevent the organization promoting an event called the “Gay Olympics” from using that name, on grounds that it would constitute trademark infringement, and under a law that gives the USOC the exclusive right to use the word “Olympic” in the U.S.

Suppose, however, that Judge Walker does find Proposition 8 to be unconstitutional. Whatever the result, the losing side is sure to appeal until it is finally resolved in the Supreme Court. Would Judge Walker’s sexual orientation be an issue on appeal? Opponents of Proposition 8 suspect that its supporters might claim that Judge Walker’s orientation created bias. On their part, lawyers for the proponents of Prop. 8 insist that they will not make an issue of this, regardless of the result.

But should we be concerned about potential bias? Probably not. After all, imagine if the case was being presided over by a straight judge, and the opponents of Prop. 8 claimed that he would be biased because of that fact. That argument would not even pass the laugh test.

Similarly, if an African-American judge were presiding over a case involving racial discrimination, or a Jewish judge heard a case to which the Anti-Defamation League was a party, there would probably not be any serious concerns of bias (or, at the very least, the judge’s race would not, by itself, raise the issue).

Unless there is some clear indication that Judge Walker’s sexual orientation has influenced his decisions, it should be a complete non-issue on appeal. And if the losing side attempts to raise it as an issue, the Court of Appeals should dismiss the argument outright.

It’s impossible for a judge to completely divorce his or her own views and experience from the decision-making process. However, most judges are aware of this fact, and do their best to minimize the effects of their personal biases on their judgment. Judges are human beings, and this is really the best we can ask for. Until we come up with a way for legal disputes to be solved by omniscient computers, we’re going to have to make do.

To Plea or Not to Plea, That Is The Bargaining Question

As the old saying goes, “don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time.”  There’s a lot of truth to the adage, but in this country you don’t necessarily have to do all the time for your crime, if you get what I’m saying.

If you managed to decipher my deviously clever insinuation by answering with “plea bargaining,” you’re right and you get a cookie.  In fact, take as many as you want because I still believe they’re a food appropriate for any time of the day despite what some former cookie proponents might say.  For those of you who answered good behavior coupled with letters of recommendations from your prosecutors and a positive parole review, then you should stop reading this post right now, you square.  Psshhaw…

All joking aside, plea bargaining is an incredibly important and some would say integral part of America’s criminal justice system.  It reduces court congestion by allowing prosecutions against criminal defendants to be carried out outside of court without going through a lengthy trial.  This resolves each matter quickly and at less cost to the public whose tax dollars fit the bill.  It can also benefit defendants by getting rid of the frightening uncertainty of leaving the terms of your sentence to a fickle jury or judge.

Sound great, right?  Well, not necessarily.  The intricacies of plea bargaining are many and the way the process works is something everyone should know regardless of which side of the law you normally find yourself falling on.  Personally, I’m with the law-abiding citizens of Team Coco.

But why is it important?  It’s simple.  Because hiding beneath any benefit, there are always a multitude of negatives waiting to catch you off guard.  In the case of plea bargaining, defendants are almost always at a bargaining disadvantage against the more powerful government prosecutors.  Plea bargaining also shifts the court away from pursuing justice and toward quick resolutions that can result in poorer investigations by the police, the court, and all the attorneys involved, which all leave defendants in a prejudiced position.  This can also force innocent defendants into pleading guilty for crimes they didn’t commit due to fear of being found guilty and receiving a harsher sentence.  And let’s not forget about the whole seemingly unconstitutionality of it all.

The plea bargaining process itself is uncomplicated, but the subsequent choice on how to proceed is complex.  Usually the lawyers for the prosecution and defense will sit down with the judge and both sides will present their case.  Based on how strong the initial evidence is for or against, the defendant usually determines the type of deal the prosecution and judge will give.  The negotiation time varies like in any bargaining situation.  But once an agreement is reached the lawyer for the defense will approach the defendant with the deal and advise them whether or not to take it.  One important note to remember is that it’s always the defendant’s choice whether to take or leave the deal.  This is where the situation can become difficult.  What should you do in this situation?

The easiest and best answer is to get a good lawyer who can advise you on the best course of action.  One that can give you a reasonably certain picture of what can happen in your particular case. And with good reason, as over 90 percent of all criminal cases are resolved via plea bargaining.  It’s a shockingly high figure, which makes it all the more important to get a qualified attorney to help you navigate through the process.