Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Hearsay 101

The experienced criminal defense lawyer’s worst nightmare is having a great case with great evidence of innocence, and then being shut down by the trial judge who won’t let you present that evidence to the jury.  (Inexperienced criminal defense lawyers, on the other hand, don’t yet have this fear; they still operate under the assumption that judges will know and follow the law.)  The single biggest source of this fear is judicial misunderstanding of the hearsay rule, which was on full display in State v. Prineas

Drugs: Another Failed War

The thing about wars is that you need enemies in order to have them.  But what if you don’t have any enemies?  No worries; you can just make them up.  That’s what New York police did so they could wage their war on drugs.  Their first tactic was nothing new: they simply stole drugs from real drug busts and then planted those drugs on innocent people.  This helped them make their arrest quotas and kept their war on drugs going.  But their second tactic was a little more creative.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Happy Bowl Season!

Knightly prepares
for the Sugar Bowl
The Legal Watchdog previously reviewed Death to the BCS, which highlighted some of the problems with college football.  In part, the book demonstrated how schools in lower- and mid-tier bowls were losing their shirts, while the bowl executives were raking in huge sums of money.  (Since reading that book I've been even more aware of the near-empty stadiums at these early bowl games—a depressing sight, to be sure.)  But CBSSports.com just reported that even Clemson, winner of a major conference, will loose money by going to the BCS Orange Bowl.  But instead of crying out for a playoff, what does the Clemson AD say?  He repeats the mantra about the intangible benefits of going to bowl games, including the exposure they give to participating schools.  Tom Fornelli responded, "Yes, and that exposure for the program helps in things like recruiting, which helps bring even better players to Clemson.  Players that will help Clemson consistently win and get to bowl games and lose more money."  Tom has a point: The Orange Bowl is as prestigious a bowl as Clemson (and nearly every other school) can realistically hope for, so what good is the additional exposure?  The current system does appear to have failed everyone except the bowl executives.  When even the top-tier bowl games don't produce any money for the participating schools, it might be time for a playoff.  

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Is It Science or Pseudoscience?

Alchemy Air Symbol
In two recent posts, here and here, I discussed a book and a couple of articles that challenged some basic principles of physics.  Little did I know that the posts would ruffle the feathers of physics professor Brian Blais of Bryant University.  In a scathing response titled “Faster than light . . . why the lawyer is wrong,” he employs a series of mathematical formulas so precise that the Bowl Championship Series would be jealous.  But aside from that, his response to my posts should serve as a cautionary tale for scientists everywhere. 

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Christopher Hitchens, R.I.P.

Photo by Hugh Greentree
Christopher Hitchens (1949-2011) might well have been the most prolific journalist, essayist, contrarian, atheist, provocateur, critic, polemicist, and all-around intellectual bad ass the world has seen.  My favorite quote about Hitch is from Richard Dawkins: “If you are invited to debate . . . with Christopher Hitchens, decline.  [He] would threaten your arguments even if you had good ones to deploy.”  A close second comes from Time Out New York: “True democracy could not exist without Christopher Hitchens and his ilk.”  The Dog highly recommends Hitch’s essays on Slate, Vanity Fair, and The Atlantic, as well as many of his books, including my favorite, Letters to a Young Contrarian.  

R.I.P., Hitch.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Judges-Gone-Wild, Part II: The Supreme Court Version

Yours truly with Justice David Prosser in 1999.
Judicial shenanigans aren’t limited to circuit court judges; even our lofty Wisconsin supreme court justices have jumped into the act.  While The Dog was on hiatus, journalists reported that Justice David Prosser and Justice Ann Walsh Bradley engaged in a heated debate that, by all accounts, turned physical.  Some who witnessed the throw-down said that Prosser aggressively put his hands around Bradley’s neck, while others reported that Bradley first charged Prosser, causing him to react.  In any case, I have no intention of rehashing what did or didn’t happen, or even discussing the negative effect this incident had on an already battered judiciary.  (The Trial Lawyer magazine [Fall, 2011] has already captured the popular view of this incident: “[Prosser is] certainly a hero to all of the shirtless, beer-swilling, wife-beating men living in trailers across America.  Maybe they too can be elected to Wisconsin’s high court!”)  Instead, what caught my eye were some post-incident acts and comments by the justices that call into question their basic knowledge of the law.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Judges-Gone-Wild, Part I: The Circuit Court Version

On the topic of misbehaving judges, I have to begin with circuit court judge Linda Van De Water.  But I must admit that I have a soft spot for this judge.  After all, it was her outrageous behavior on the bench that motivated me to start The Legal Watchdog about one year ago.  (You can read The Dog’s inaugural post, here.)  And after that, her honor turned out to be the gift that keeps on giving.  Soon she was charged with her own crime for allegedly storming a residential neighborhood in her pajama bottoms, screaming, jumping on moving cars, and chasing down her ex-boyfriend who had, to her honor’s dismay, moved on to another relationship.  So, whatever happened in her criminal case?

The Dog’s Hiatus is Over

Photo by Amy Kushner
My second book, Tried and Convicted: How Police, Prosecutors, and Judges Destroy Our Constitutional Rights, is now complete and in the hands of the editors at Rowman & Littlefield, with an expected publication date of September, 2012.  I am therefore freed up—at least temporarily—to return to work at The Legal Watchdog for some judge-bashing blog posts.  And it turns out there is plenty of bashing to do.  Several Wisconsin judges have been behaving badly lately and, even worse, they’ve been getting away with it.  Please enjoy the two-part “Judges-Gone-Wild,” with part one following soon after this post.