Here’s another digest of some articles I collected this week that are either funny, interesting, or just plain weird.
- Wiltshire vicar revives ancient archery law – BBC
A vicar in England has relied on an unrepealed law from the middle ages to require all men in her village to report to archery practice. Residents complying with the law were rewarded with a BBQ. No word on what happened to the violators.
- San Diego Christian lawyers lose bids to be judges – CBS
A quartet of Christian lawyers vowing to be “God’s Ambassadors on the bench” will not be donning judicial robes — at least not in this electoral cycle. Critics raised concerns that the lawyers’ religious agenda would threaten the impartiality of the court system and violate the separation of church and state. Nevertheless, the candidates won between 35-40% of the votes in their respective districts.
- Cop Caught Flashing Lights, Speeding To Get Coffee – CBS
A New York City traffic cop is under investigation for abusing his power to get to a Dunkin Donuts. The donut-desiring cop was spotted unnecessarily using his emergency lights, speeding, blowing through stop signs, and weaving in and out of traffic, all while chatting on his cell phone. When a city councilman caught this misbehaviour on camera, the cop stopped to give him a ticket for his troubles!
- Predictions are fine, but there are better ways to protect a population – The Guardian
After a magnitude 6.3 earthquake struck Abruzzo, killings hundreds, the Italian government swung into action. Its response was to issue manslaughter indictments for seismologists who failed to predict the quake! Not surprisingly, the international scientific community is protesting the charges, given that earthquakes are presently impossible to predict.
The previous installment of Weird Legal News is here.
Here’s another digest of some articles I collected this week that are either funny, interesting, or just plain weird.
Just two years after being constructed, a new courthouse in the Bronx is already falling apart. Stairwells are cordoned off, windows are boarded up, sewer flies are infesting the lower levels, and the parking garage is “sinking.” The project is now the subject of a “legal quagmire” of litigation. I wonder if the cases will be heard inside the building, or whether the judges would have to recuse themselves for being too self-interested in the outcome.
- Rapping Your McDonald’s Order Is Not A Crime – Consumerist
A teenager in Utah has been found not guilty of disorderly conduct after he rapped his order at a McDonald’s drivethru. The defence argued that “singing an order, whether profanity was used or not, is speech that is protected by both federal and Utah constitutions.” The judge reserved decision on whether local police should be making better use of their time.
- Officer arrested for pulling motorists over, charged ‘roadside fee’ – Sun Sentinel
An enterprising Florida police officer was arrested for offering motorists the opportunity to pay traffic fines in cash… directly to him. Upon payment of the “roadside fee”, the cop would void the offender’s traffic ticket. He even escorted one motorist to an ATM so that the “roadside fee” could be paid forthwith. Amusingly, the Sheriff’s department is referring to motorists who paid as “victims,” even though they were in a better position than if they had simply pled guilty to the traffic offences and paid the legitimate fine — the “victims” received no demerit points and no insurance penalty.
Following up on a New York Times article about the rapidly depreciating value of a law degree, Concurring Opinions has some advice on whether going to law school is a good career choice.
The gist of Sarah Waldek’s opinion is:
I’ve been thinking hard about what advice I would give prospective students and this is where I’ve landed: Only go to law school next year if (1) you have always dreamed of being a lawyer; or (2) you are accepted by a very prestigious institution; or (3) you are offered a full scholarship.
Of course, this year law school applications will be partly driven by the lack of opportunity costs. Graduating college students face generally dismal employment prospects regardless of what field they want to enter. But I suspect that optimism bias plays just as large a role in student decision-making. No matter what the economy, some lawyers will be wildly successful. Many prospective students are inclined to think that they will be part of this group, no matter how daunting the odds against it. On the more rational side of the analysis, it’s also true that law school historically has proven itself a relatively good place to weather out bad economic times.
What is different this time around, however, is that no one is yet sure whether the changes in legal markets and in law firms are permanent, or whether things will eventually return to what we had come to think of as normal. If you haven’t always wanted to practice law, or if you’re considering a law school that is not one of the best in the nation, or if the law school isn’t offering to pay for you to attend, my advice is to wait to see how this plays out.
Some of the comments on the article are also deeply troubling. Here’s a sampling:
Native JD: Don’t bother. There are no jobs for you. It’s a racist profession dominated by white men (I’m Native and Biglaw wouldn’t even interview me (Top 50 school, 3.0+, 5 years of Capitol Hill experience and heavily involved in ABA diversity efforts).
This profession is doomed.
Unemployed OVER A YEAR NOW: MEMO TO PROSPECTIVE LAW STUDENTS: THERE ARE NO JOBS! I have been out of law school three years now. I spent 2 years at Big Law (Cravath) and the past 14 months looking for work and doing lousy temp jobs. I had a 4.0 in college and law school (that is how I landed the Big Law job) and all the volunteer, pro bono, language skills, etc you could dream of. None of that matters. THERE ARE NO JOBS FOR LAWYERS. Go to Med School if your brain works.
LAC: I have been giving people who wanted to go to law school this advice since my 1L year. Except I say that you shouldn’t go to law school unless you are already rich (meaning you have about $200k just lying around), you can go to a Top 10 school, AND you can go for free or for less than $30k.
I was one of those poor kids who decided to be a lawyer when I was young so that I could grow up and support myself and my family. I went to law school with no debt—my college education was paid for with federal grants. I am now-$100k, and that only accounts for 70% of my tuition, which means NONE of my living expenses. The last $40k is one year of tuition in my LL.M program. One year. Frankly, I was in a better financial position when I was on Welfare. And at this rate, I will be again soon enough.
There are no entry-level jobs anymore for anyone. Not for finished fed clerks, not for LL.Ms (like me), and not even for Harvard grads. I have a degree in tax from one of the best programs in the country and about 10 people in my graduating class of more than 100 are employed 6 months later—more than half of those people are foreign nationals who have jobs in their native lands. Now, my friends who were lucky enough to get government jobs to take advantage of the public service loan repayment program are being told they make too much money to qualify (less than $70k/yr) and are left with $100k+ of student debt and a low-paying job. Frankly, many of us are taking paralegal jobs (and some firms now only hire JDs for such positions), thus effectively nullifying our credentials and Bar status just to put food on the table. At this point, my education is a curse. It automatically disqualifies me for lesser work elsewhere, and the loan load is oppressive to say the least.
There is no upside any longer. There needs to be a moratorium on law school admissions for at least 5 years to stop the excess flood of lawyers into an economy that cannot remotely support the supply it currently has.
I’m not sure how applicable Waldek’s concerns (or those of the commentators) are to the Canadian context.
First, Canadians pay far less for a quality legal education than Americans do. Tuition at the most expensive law school in Canada (U of T) is roughly $22,000. It’s considerably less at other law schools. You can get a top notch education at McGill, for example, for under $7000/yr (it’s even cheaper for Quebeckers). Out west, you can hit up UBC for under $10,000. Or try Dalhousie out east for under $13,000. American tuitions are 3-5x higher!
Second, the job market here appears to be better. To be sure, Bay Street recruitment has definitely dropped, salaries have dropped, and hire-back is no longer guaranteed for summer and articling students. But even so, the impression I get from my colleagues on the Street is that we are far from the nightmare scenario being described above.
Most importantly, it appears that although this past year was one of the worst in recent history, the storm is passing. The economy is now improving. Legal recruitment and salaries should begin to rise. Of course, it will be a long while before firms are throwing around money and perks like candy, as they were before.
I’d say the Canadian situation calls for cautious optimism.
Here’s a digest of some articles I collected this week that are either funny, interesting, or just plain weird.
- Blind Justice? Attractive Get Breaks with Juries – CBS News
In completely unsurprising study results, Cornell researchers have found that juries are significantly more likely to convict an ugly person than an attractive person in identical circumstances. Where evidence is strong and the case is serious, attractiveness plays less of a role. But where the charges are minor, or the evidence is ambiguous, ugly people are at a serious disadvantage. They get higher sentences too — way higher!
- Toilet Brush ‘Blunder’ Death – The Sun (UK)
A man is taking legal action after an inquest found that his wife died due to serious errors by her examining doctors. The woman had somehow fallen onto a toilet brush handle which embedded itself in her buttock. The foreign object was missed by doctors. The woman died of complications during surgery to finally remove the handle — four years after she had fallen on it.
- Pizza in Naples ‘cooked with wood from coffins’ – Telegraph (UK)
Prosecutors in Italy are claiming that the oak wood being used in Naples’ pizza ovens has come from a grisly source. It is alleged that gangs are digging up coffins from the local graveyard and selling the wood to owners of local pizza parlours looking to save on costs.
- U.S. rights group sues to protect right to swear – Vancouver Sun
The American Civil Liberties Union is taking action against Pennsylvania police. Apparently, the cops have been arresting (and in some cases jailing) about 750 people per year simply for uttering profanities or making profane gestures. The ACLU claims that the disorderly conduct charges are unconstitutional, because swearing is protected speech under the First Amendment.
I’ll post more articles when I get some free time.
While I really should be studying for the bar exam right now, I couldn’t pass up on the opportunity to share a great article appearing in the current issue of Canadian Lawyer 4Students Magazine.
The article, entitled “So You Wanna Be a Criminal Lawyer, Eh?” is about the challenges facing current law students who plan to practice in criminal law. There is a particular focus on the lack of articling opportunities in the field, and the ever-decreasing emphasis on criminal law education at law schools. I can tell you first hand that these issues are very real and very troubling.
The author quotes my former Career Services Director, Robyn Martilla, on the difficulties in finding employment opportunities in criminal law:
It is also possible students are not so much turned off the practice area’s dark side, but instead diverted from it by large firms’ powerful recruitment strategies. Robyn Martilla, director of Western Faculty of Law’s career and professional development office, says it’s difficult for students to find information on criminal law articling positions. “The schools tend to get a lot of information from private firms, like the large Bay Street group,” says Martilla. “So that information is easily available to students. But it’s much more difficult to find information about positions in either family or criminal law.”
There is a choice quotation from Montreal criminal lawyer Isabel Schurman on what we stand to lose as our criminal defence bar shrinks and ages:
She suggests this much-maligned area of practice has been given a bad rap over the years, and more students should open their eyes to a career in criminal defence. “It’s a shame that the field is so misunderstood,” says Schurman. “I think it’s a shame that people never realize the important role that defence counsel play until they, or someone in their family, needs representation, and then realize that it’s not simply this television or movie image of defence counsel. We are in fact the watchdogs for the fairness in our system of criminal justice, and without a strong defence bar, the whole system suffers, and so does the citizen’s right to be left alone by the state.”
The article concludes with some practical tips on breaking into the field, many of which I can endorse from personal experience. If you’re considering criminal law, I recommend checking the article out here.
The criminal lawyers I know tell me that although the challenges are many, they are more than offset by the rewards of practicing in this exciting field. This was summarized in one of my favorite admonitions from a criminal defence lawyer: “trust me, you don’t want to practice criminal law. That being said, I absolutely love my job, and can’t imagine myself doing anything else.”
Hot on the heels of the victorious Canadian women’s hockey team is the men’s team, which is aiming for its own hockey gold. The game against the rival United States promises to be an Olympic classic!
Beginning at 12:15 p.m. PST (3:15 p.m. EST), you can watch USA v. Canada online at CTV’s Olympics website. The site offers full HD streaming video, which is perfect for me, since I don’t have a TV. The link to the video is here.
And since this is a law blog, I’ll see if I can do a haphazard legal tie-in to end this post.
If you ever had any doubt that hockey was one of Canada’s true national sports — not just lacrosse — check out the National Sports of Canada Act, S.C. 1994, c. 16. The Act provides:
2. The game commonly known as ice hockey is hereby recognized and declared to be the national winter sport of Canada and the game commonly known as lacrosse is hereby recognized and declared to be the national summer sport of Canada.
Another sign that Canadians are obsessed with hockey: have a look at how many times “hockey” comes up on a CanLII case law search. I come up with over 7000 results, beginning with a case called Hockey v. Hockey from the BC Court of Appeal. You can’t get much more Canadian than that!!
Go Team Canada!
What’s it like to live on Death Row? What’s it like to die there?
I wonder how a person can stand to wait in a small cell, watching the second hand of a clock tick down to their execution? After an average 10 year wait, the person is finally led down a hallway, strapped to a gurney, and injected with a lethal cocktail of drugs.
Since 1982, when Texas began utilizing lethal injections to kill people, 441 people have been executed by the State. Moments before the execution, the warden asked each of these inmates whether they had any last words. All of their last statements have been recorded.
A friend of mine sent me a link to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice’s Death Row page, which contains every last statement given since 1982.
I have to admit that I sat for an hour and read over a hundred of these last statements. There was something incredibly powerful and compelling about the final words that a person speaks when they know they are about to die. I had a hard time pulling myself away from them.
It doesn’t matter whether you are for or against capital punishment. If we move beyond the cold statistics of the offender’s height, race, and education level, their last statements poignantly remind us that these convicts are human beings that bleed and feel pain like you and I.
Many of the statements express remorse. Others are shocking. Some are even funny. But the common thread that ties all of the statements together is the foreboding sense of inevitability, resignation, and acceptance of a pre-determined fate. I have reproduced some of the statements below (in their entirety):
The boycott of legal aid by the Criminal Lawyer’s Association continues. I reported a few days ago that the CLA would not endorse the government’s plan to inject $150 million into Legal Aid on the basis that the funds did not come close to making up for losses against inflation that criminal lawyers have endured since 1987 (among other reasons).
Below is the latest letter from Ontario’s Attorney General Chris Bentley in response to the CLA’s rejection of the plan.
Dear Member of the Bar:
As many of you know, legal aid has been an ongoing passion of mine, throughout my 25 years as a criminal defence lawyer and during my time in government. That’s why I was pleased to announce that the McGuinty government is investing $150 million over the next four years. This 21% increase to Legal Aid Ontario’s base funding means that Legal Aid Ontario will receive an additional $60 million in year four and every year thereafter. This investment means that the government’s contribution to Legal Aid will rise from $288 million per year to $348 million per year.
We understand that to get legal aid to a better place, we have to properly support lawyers.
This is the largest investment that the province has made since the beginning of legal aid. We are committed to ensuring that the poorest Ontarians get the legal support that they need, when they need it and in the way that they need it. I am confident that the Bar shares these goals. This investment will support poverty alleviation. It will also help drive significant reforms in our family and criminal courts—which will themselves help Ontarians needing assistance.
The transformation plan targets four key areas: creating a central role for legal aid clinics in poverty alleviation; fostering a faster, less confrontational and simpler family justice system; promoting justice effectiveness through the use of block fees; and improving the approach to big cases.
The members of the Bar, including the Alliance for Sustainable Legal Aid, asked us for two things: an additional investment and an assurance that they would not simply be presented with a reform plan that was a fait accompli. As a result, we will immediately establish an Advisory Group in each of five areas: family, clinics, large criminal case management, standard criminal cases and immigration law. Your advice as front-line service providers, on the advisory groups will inform how best to achieve our mutual goals.
There are a few parts of our announcement that I would like to clarify:
- We have been explicitly given direction to develop and seek approval of an indexation mechanism. This has always been part of our legal aid renewal plan. The implementation would take place in 2013 (our investment rises every year until then);
- We understand that appropriate support is required for service providers to assist Ontario’s vulnerable and are open to the Advisory Working Group’s advice on the best way to provide that support so that we get experienced counsel in family and criminal matters. There was a specific commitment to look at models such as the British Columbia big case model if the advisory group so advised;
- This historic investment in legal aid is not the government’s “opening proposal” as some have suggested. This is the single largest increase to legal aid funding ever in Ontario. In fact, it is one of the largest single justice sector investments in history. The discussion from here forward needs to be about how to make the funding work as well as possible; an over 20% increase to LAO’s base budget is unprecedented and significant in the best of times. It is extraordinary in these times.
- The Major Case Management Office is being created to provide the required accountability and quality control that the Bar has supported. The government is responsible to ensure that cases progress and that the rights of the accused are protected.
- Legal Aid is responsible to ensure that the accused who need counsel to defend themselves on serious charges but cannot afford them have access to counsel. To the extent that members of the private bar remain unavailable to do these cases, a large case office will have to develop the permanent capacity to do them. The capacity and role of this office, will, therefore, depend, on the availability of private counsel.
We are committed to a legal aid system that provides support to Ontarians when they are at their most vulnerable. This investment will ensure that a vibrant legal aid system is able to assist those in need, now and in the future.
[Original Signed By Hon. Chris Bentley]
Hon. Chris Bentley
I spoke too soon when I congratulated the Criminal Lawyers Association on convincing Ontario Attorney General Chris Bentley to boost funding to Legal Aid Ontario to the tune of $150-million over the next four years.
It turns out that the battle will be continuing. Despite the funding boost, the Criminal Lawyers Association board has voted in favour of maintaining the boycott of legal aid.
Frank Addario, President of the CLA, argues that the cash infusion is merely a stop-gap measure which does not address the underlying concerns of the criminal defence bar. In a communique to Association members, Addario pointed out that when broken down, legal aid lawyers would be receiving a raise of 5% or less over the next four years.
This wouldn’t come close to correcting the income disparity between legal aid lawyers and Crown attorneys. It also wouldn’t address the many years of funding freeze and funding rollback that sparked the boycott in the first place. Addario explains:
If the population, the crime rate, the complexity of cases and inflation all remain stable in the next 4 years a 20% increase in funding will not eliminate the 60% loss against inflation since 1987.
Besides the money, there were other important reasons for the board’s decision to maintain the boycott. Expect a formal announcement later this week or next.
After years of neglect, the Legal Aid system in Ontario has been scheduled for an overhaul. On Tuesday, Attorney General Chris Bentley will announce $150 million in new funding for Legal Aid, as well as significant changes to the way the system works.
Legal Aid Ontario (LAO) is an independent, publically funded organization which is dedicated to improving access to justice in this province. With a current budget of about $288 million, the infusion of $150 million into the system over the next four years represents a huge boost.
Kudos are due to the Criminal Lawyers Association and senior defence lawyers across Ontario for taking dramatic steps to raise the public’s awareness of the ongoing injustices in the Legal Aid system. Kudos are equally due to AG Chris Bentley for listening and taking action to correct them.
Many members of the public don’t realize what legal aid money is actually spent on. The new funding will not only be used for criminal defence. In fact, much of the money will probably be directed towards family law services, such as helping people below the poverty line protect the best interests of their children. Among other things, LAO also funds: community clinics (such as the one I work for), duty counsel in court, aboriginal services, compensation for injured workers, tenant rights protection, compensation for victims of crime, and other victims services.
As for the actual changes, we can only speculate until they are officially announced on Tuesday.
However, Bentley has hinted that he will be moving towards a block-fee system rather than an hourly rate for criminal lawyers. Interestingly, this is the system that was previously in place; it was rejected in favour of the hourly wage with maximum hour caps for particular types of work, such as trials, bail hearings, and Charter applications. The block-fee system was criticized for creating an incentive to work as many cases as possible while putting in as few hours of work as possible into each. It remains to be seen how the AG will address these concerns.
It is also expected that in the family law arena, changes will promote more collaborative dispute resolution, such as mediation. This would be a positive step that would free up court resources and make the family law process much less adversarial.
Another change which I am personally hoping for is a Provincial program under s. 802.1 of the Criminal Code that would allow student legal aid clinics to work on summary conviction cases which are punishable by more than 6 months in jail. Having smaller clinics do this type of work would relieve some of the burden on more experienced lawyers, who could direct their efforts towards defending more serious offences.
See also: $150m More Legal Aid for Ontario
I have huge news for anyone interested in criminal law (and indeed, many accused persons).
After years of anticipation, the Supreme Court of Canada is finally set to release some of the most important criminal law Charter of Rights decisions since the Charter was introduced. This will have implications across Canada for thousands of criminal cases currently before the courts.
According to the latest bulletin, decisions in the following cases will be released on Friday, July 17, 2009:
- Musibau Suberu v. Her Majesty the Queen (Crim.) (Ont.) (31912)
- Donnohue Grant v. Her Majesty the Queen (Crim.) (Ont.) (31892)
- Curtis Shepherd v. Her Majesty the Queen (Crim.) (Sask.) (32037)
- Bradley Harrison v. Her Majesty the Queen (Crim.) (Ont.) (32487)
These cases promise to redefine the way that evidence is excluded from a criminal trial after a Charter breach has been found. The application of Charter, s. 24(2), and specifically the test for whether the adminstration of justice would be brought into disrepute by the admission of the evidence, is expected to be significantly different after Friday. The old test in R. v. Collins,  1 S.C.R. 265 was certainly overdue for a review after over twenty years of application and modification by trial and appellate courts.
Summaries of the four cases and the issues can be found here.