Judicial Independence Remains Under Fire

Efforts to curb judges’ independence suffered some Election Day setbacks, but supporters pledged to keep fighting against a judiciary they say has lost touch with America. The problem, critics say, is that judges too often make laws rather than interpret them. On Tuesday’s ballots, the possible solutions ranged from term limits to prison time. All failed, most by wide margins.

Judges say such efforts threaten their autonomy and some legal scholars see them as part of an organized campaign to persuade voters that judges, like legislators, governors and presidents, are policymakers who need political oversight.

The frontier of the movement was South Dakota, where voters considered allowing judges to face lawsuits or jail time for their opinions.

”People are not going to allow judges to take over this county,” said Ron Branson, who conceived the South Dakota measure and is promoting it nationwide. ”They talk about judicial independence but they’re getting involved in things they have no power to order.”

Nine out of 10 voters rejected the idea but Branson predicted it would take hold in one of several states with active chapters in the ”Jail4Judges” campaign.

Details here from the AP via the New York Times.


Abuse Trial Opens for 2nd Army Dog Handler

FORT MEADE, Md. (AP) — Close-up photos of a bloody leg are part of the government’s arsenal as it tries to convict an Army dog handler of abusing detainees at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

Sgt. Santos A. Cardona is accused of letting his tan Belgian shepherd, Duco, bite detainee Mohammed Bollendia on the leg badly enough to require stitches, according to charge sheets and investigators’ reports. Cardona also is accused of using his dog to harass and threaten another detainee, Kamel Miza’l Nayil, in violation of the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

A jury was chosen Monday for Cardona’s trial at Fort Meade, between Baltimore and Washington. Opening statements were set for Tuesday.

Cardona, 32, of Fullerton, Calif., is charged with assault, dereliction of duty, maltreatment of detainees, conspiracy to maltreat detainees and lying to investigators in late 2003 and early 2004. He faces up to 16 1/2 years in prison if convicted on all counts.

Details here from the AP via the New York Times.


A Judge Tests China’s Courts, Making History

LUOYANG, China – Judge Li Huijuan happened to be in the courthouse file room when clerks, acting on urgent orders, began searching for a ruling on a mundane case about seed prices. “I handled that case,” Judge Li told the clerks, surprised that anyone would be interested.

But within days, the Luoyang Middle Court’s discipline committee contacted her. Provincial officials had angrily complained that the ruling contained a serious political error. Faced with a conflict between national and provincial law, Judge Li had declared the provincial law invalid. In doing so, she unwittingly made legal history, setting in motion a national debate about judicial independence in China’s closed political system.


Gulf Coast Isn’t the Only Thing Left in Tatters; Bush’s Status With Blacks Takes Hit

From the political perspective of the White House, Hurricane Katrina destroyed more than an enormous swath of the Gulf Coast. The storm also appears to have damaged the carefully laid plans of Karl Rove, President Bush’s political adviser, to make inroads among black voters and expand the reach of the Republican Party for decades to come.

Many African-Americans across the country said they seethed as they watched the television pictures of the largely poor and black victims of Hurricane Katrina dying for food and water in the New Orleans Superdome and the convention center. A poll released last week by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center bore out that reaction as well as a deep racial divide: Two-thirds of African-Americans said the government’s response to the crisis would have been faster if most of the victims had been white, while 77 percent of whites disagreed.

Details here from the New York Times.


Microsoft Accuses College Student of Illegal Software Sales

Threatens to Seize His 2002 Ford Escort Over $143.50 In eBay Profit

This is too much. Kent State undergrad David Zamos enrolled in a course at the University of Akron and bought Microsoft Windows and Office XP Pro for $60 at UA’s bookstore with his student discount.

But when he got home, “he realized that he’d have to reformat his hard drive to install it. Rather than lose years of term papers and mp3s, he decided to stick with his old operating system.”

When the store wouldn’t take it back, he decided to sell the unopened software he’d bought at UA on eBay.

Microsoft found out, and came after him with both guns blazing, filing an 18-page complaint against Zamos, accusing him of unfair competition and “irreparable injury to its business reputation and goodwill.”

Unable to afford an intellectual property lawyer, and convinced that he was in the right, Zamos went to the law library and went to work.

Although he ultimately got no money from Microsoft, Zamos did get them to drop their suit and apologize. And Microsoft got some really bad PR, including what you’re reading now.

The entertaining details are here from the Cleveland Scene. (via The Obscure Store)


Schiavo Appeal to Reconnect Tube Denied

ATLANTA – A federal appeals court refused early Wednesday to order the reinsertion of Terri Schiavo’s feeding tube, denying an emergency request by the severely brain-damaged woman’s parents.

The three-judge panel ruled 2-1 to deny the request, a day after a federal judge in Florida also refused a similar appeal.

Schiavo’s parents, Bob and Mary Schindler, vowed yet another appeal Wednesday.

That was quick. Details here from the AP. Or read the Court’s 2-1 Opinion here.

The majority opinion concludes with this:

There is no denying the absolute tragedy that has befallen Mrs. Schiavo. We all have our own family, our own loved ones, and our own children. However, we are called upon to make a collective, objective decision concerning a question of law. In the end, and no matter how much we wish Mrs. Schiavo had never suffered such a horrible accident, we are a nation of laws, and if we are to continue to be so, the pre-existing and well-established federal law governing injunctions as well as Pub. L. No. 109-3 must be applied to her case. While the position of our dissenting colleague has emotional appeal, we as judges must decide this case on the law.


Ugliness Surrounding Jackson Allegations Going Full Steam

CNN reports:

The boy who accuses singer Michael Jackson of molesting him grew up in a turbulent family where violence “was a daily occurrence,” according to court documents filed by the boy’s mother two years ago upon her divorce from the boy’s father. . . .

[T]he court documents, filed October 16, 2001, with the Los Angeles Superior Court, included the filing of a temporary restraining order by the boy’s mother against her husband in which she alleged that he “has assaulted or attempted to assault me or another member of my household … caused, threatened or attempted bodily injury to me or another member of my household” and “made me or another member of my household afraid of physical or emotional harm. . . .”

[H.] Russell Halpern, who represented the father during the divorce, said the father pleaded no contest to two misdemeanor domestic abuse charges. At the same time, the attorney said the mother is “very vindictive” and “deceitful” . . . .

“[T]he father has told me in the past that his children will say and do whatever their mother tells them to do,” the lawyer told CNN.

This is going to get much worse before it gets better. Details here from CNN.


Group Contends Record Labels Have Wrong Guy

An online civil rights group has adopted the cause of a Playa del Rey man who believes he has been mistakenly accused of improper file trading by the record industry, setting up a possible showdown over the music business’ methods for identifying suspected pirates.

The San Francisco-based Electronic Frontier Foundation on Monday asked lawyers for three record labels to drop their suit against 35-year-old Web site designer Ross Plank, asserting that he is the second target of 261 high-profile suits who is the victim of mistaken identity.

Sounds to me like Mr. Plank my be correct, and a further embarrassment to the record industry. Details here from the L.A. Times.


ACLU Asks Kansas Court to Overturn 17-Year Prison Sentence of Bisexual Teenager

Arguing that excluding gay teenagers from the Kansas “Romeo and Juliet” law is unconstitutional after the recent Supreme Court decision striking down sodomy laws, the American Civil Liberties Union today asked a state appeals court to free a bisexual teenager who is serving 17 years in prison for having oral sex with another young man.

Matthew Limon is appealing a 17-year prison sentence he received because shortly after he turned 18 he performed consensual oral sex on another teenager at a residential school for developmentally disabled youth where they both lived in Miami County, Kansas. If he had instead performed oral sex on a female of the same age, he would have received no more than 15 months in jail under the Kansas law. But because the “Romeo and Juliet” law applies only to heterosexuals, Limon was convicted under the much harsher state sodomy law.

The sentence was just wrong — with or without Lawrence v. Texas, as I blogged earlier here. The US Supreme Court reversed and remanded Limon’s sentence within a day of the Lawrence decision. But the Kansas courts still haven’t decided what to do with Mr. Limon, which is what the ACLU’s brief addresses. If you don’t already, you should consider supporting the ACLU. Even if you don’t always agree with them, they are an important counterpoint to John Ashcroft.


Winnie the Pooh

California Appellate court lets stand ruling that Disney is bad, bad, bad, and leaves open door for plaintiff family to potentially collect hundreds of millions of dollars in Pooh royalties. Oh, bother! (Nice move by Bert waiving the sanctions award, and thus limiting the issues on appeal . . . .) Read the unpublished decision of the court here. (PDF format)