Ashcroft Is Undeterred in Push for Capital Cases

Shortly after arriving at the Justice Department nearly four years ago, Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft was faced with a new internal study that raised serious questions about the application of the federal death penalty.

A small number of federal districts, including pockets of Texas and Virginia, were accounting for the bulk of death cases. Experts decried the geographical disparities.

For Ashcroft, an ardent supporter of capital punishment, the solution was to seek the death penalty more often and more widely.

Attorney General Asshat is an evangelical Christian and is vehemently “pro-life.” So when he sees that too many people are being killed by the federal government in Texas and Virginia, what’s his solution? Kill more people everywhere else, so it won’t look so bad. Fortunately, his plan hasn’t worked very well.

Details are here in an excellent (and timely) piece from Richard B. Schmitt of the Los Angeles Times.


In the Streets, a Shadow Lifts

Some thoughtful words from John F. Burns of The New York Times in Baghdad:

As Iraqis struggled to grasp the impact of Saddam Hussein’s humiliating capture in a darkened spider hole near Tikrit, it was the television images of the fallen leader that kept replaying in their minds throughout the day on Sunday, just like the images played on their television screens.

The videotape taken by his American captors showed a disheveled old man, more like a hapless, disoriented vagrant than the tyrant whose quarter of a century in power bludgeoned 25 million people into cringing submission. A mythic strongman, so feared that his name set people trembling until only a few months ago, was suddenly reduced to pitiable, mumbling impotence.

On the streets of Baghdad, and across Iraq, people who danced out of their homes with paper American flags and raised their rifles for staccato bursts into the clear winter air paused to tell one another again and again what they had seen. They acted as if ceaseless repetition would make real what many called a dream, as if testing their sanity by checking that others had also experienced what they had seen.

Long into the night, the images replayed on televisions at kebab houses and grocery stores, in homes and hospitals. They showed the captured dictator opening his mouth obediently to an American doctor’s beam, sitting passively as his unkempt hair was searched for lice, patting his face as if to identify an aching jaw or troublesome teeth, pulling on his straggly beard as if pondering his fate.

As the mocking shouts grew louder in a thousand Baghdad streets, and across almost all Iraqi towns outside the sullen precincts like Tikrit that are still loyal to Mr. Hussein, it was possible to believe that Iraq’s nightmare had finally ended.

That is what President Bush proclaimed. The hope, as fervent among millions of Iraqis, was that the shadow Mr. Hussein cast for a generation over the Iraqi soul had passed, never to return.

Yet Americans may be wise to restrain hopes that Mr. Hussein’s capture will generate an early downturn in the insurgency that has taken the lives of more than 190 American soldiers since May 1, the day Mr. Bush proclaimed an end to major combat operations. At the same time, many more Iraqis have died.

And listening to the voices in Baghdad’s streets on Sunday suggested that the end of Mr. Hussein’s months as a taunting fugitive may not contain the other forces that have eroded American popularity. Mr. Hussein’s capture brought a surge in popularity for Mr. Bush and the American occupation, yet the inflexions in what the revelers said often sounded like a warning that the tide could just as easily break on the stony shores of unfulfilled Iraqi expectations.

The scenes that played out across much of Iraq were replicated in the celebrations that greeted the American capture of Baghdad, and the toppling of Mr. Hussein, eight months ago.

This time, American troops have done more than help topple a statue, having caught the man himself.

But few who witnessed the statue falling could have imagined the speed with which Iraqi opinions began to turn against the Americans as problems accumulated with failing electricity supplies, looting and lawlessness on the streets and lines outside gasoline stations that have stretched into days. Judging from the undertones in what many people said on Sunday, there was little reason to think that something similar could not happen again.

Read the rest of Mr. Burns’ long piece here.


Trademark Lawsuit Over “Cheeseburger, Cheeseburger!”

Billy Goat, the tavern beneath [Chicago’s] Michigan Avenue made famous by the “cheezborger, cheezborger” skits on “Saturday Night Live” in the late 1970s, sued Cheeburger Cheeburger Restaurants Inc. on Monday for trademark infringement.

The federal lawsuit comes as Cheeburger Cheeburger, a Florida-based chain of 32 family-style restaurants mostly in the South and East, plans to open its first location in suburban Chicago. . . .

[T]he famous phrase comes from [owner Sam] Sianis and Greek immigrant co-workers barking out the orders of customers during busy lunch hours [at the Billy Goat].

It became immortalized when comedian John Belushi, in a series of skits on “Saturday Night Live,” would tell customers hoping to order something else: “Cheezborger, cheezborger, cheezborger � no Pepsi–Coke. No fries–cheeps.”

Citing a Tribune story, the lawsuit said Don Novello, better known as “Father Guido Sarducci,” another long-running “Saturday Night Live” character, wrote the “cheezborger, cheezborger” skit based on Billy Goat’s.

In a Tribune story commemorating Billy Goat’s 50th anniversary in 1984, Novello said he had regularly visited the Lower Michigan Avenue tavern in the late 1960s when he worked in Chicago as an advertising copywriter.

And now, this. Didn’t that phrase enter the public domain back in 1976 (now 27 years ago) when Saturday Night Live put it on the map? Details here from the BillingsGazette.com. (via FARK)


Internet Quotation of the Week

“Forget about it, dude–even genocidal litigation can’t stop file sharers.”

Grokster president Wayne Rosso.

I stole this awesome quotation from Donna Wentworth of COPYfight.org, a great blog straight outta Harvard Law School. Donna has done us a great service by blogging from (something called) ILAW. Thanks, Donna!


Dear Trial Lawyers, it’s me again. Pay attention this time.

Remember a few days ago that I said climate change would be the Achilles heel for the Chamber of Commerce and the anti-consumer, anti-lawsuit hacks who run it?

The White House and environmental groups are turning up the heat on the Chamber of Commerce, and some of its member companies are feeling the burn.

At a National Press Club event last week, seven different reporters tried to ask the chairwoman of Royal Dutch Shell how her oil company could push for climate legislation while maintaining its membership in the Chamber.

Toyota has been inundated with calls and e-mails from Prius owners, pushed by MoveOn.org to demand an explanation of how the automaker’s membership in the Chamber squares with the green vibe it wraps around its hybrid cars.

And New York-based Mohawk Fine Papers — “the largest premium paper manufacturer in North America” — pulled out of the Chamber this week. It was the seventh company to resign over the business lobby’s opposition to climate change legislation.

Source: Firms take fire in war on Chamber – Lisa Lerer – POLITICO.com

I cannot emphasize enough how incredibly stupid it would be of trial lawyers not to take advantage of this situation to drive members and membership dollars away from the Chamber.  Look, the Chamber is already blaming defections of companies like Apple on trial lawyers anyway.  So instead of standing on the sidelines and playing the scapegoat, why not go on the offensive and hit them where it hurts?

Put the pressure on.  Make them spend their dollars defending their (outlandish) position instead of advocating for the dismantlement of the civil justice system.

Get to it!



Spector’s Former Lawyer May Be Held in Contempt

Sara Caplan

Sara Caplan, a former lawyer for Phil Spector, will be held in contempt of court if she refuses to testify about whether she saw a defense expert mishandle material that could be evidence in the music producer’s murder trial, the judge ruled this morning. The decision carries criminal penalties, but the contempt ruling was immediately stayed until June 22 to allow Caplan time to appeal to a higher court. Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Larry Paul Fidler also gave the parties until Monday at 9 a.m. to work out a compromise.

Fidler said it was the first time in his 25 years on the bench that he has had to punish an attorney with contempt. The jurist was clearly sorrowful that the dispute over Caplan’s testimony led to his decision.

“It goes without saying that nobody wants to be here today,” Fidler said as he recited his ruling from the bench. “Nobody has any personal animus against Miss Caplan. “I admire her for taking the stance she is taking; I don’t agree with it,” Fidler said, adding later that as a judge he had no choice. “You often have to do things you don’t like.” “I see no reason why Miss Caplan should not testify,” said Fidler, who was a defense attorney for 10 years. “There is no other person who can testify to what she saw.”

Details here from the Los Angeles Times.


In the Roberts Court, More Room for Argument

This is the week that the Supreme Court, done with its regular argument sessions, enters the stretch run.

While it is too soon for substantive appraisals of the first year of the Roberts court, it is not too soon for stylistic observations about what is clearly, in the view of lawyers who have appeared there this term, a different court.

“The tone has changed,” Prof. Richard J. Lazarus of the Georgetown University Law Center, where he runs the Supreme Court Institute and teaches a course on Supreme Court advocacy, said on Tuesday.

In common with every other Supreme Court specialist contacted for this article, Professor Lazarus listed several obvious changes. “They’re not stepping on each other,” he said of the justices. “They take longer before someone asks the first question. They give the lawyers more time to answer.”

Beth S. Brinkmann, like Professor Lazarus a veteran of the solicitor general’s office, who now represents private clients before the court, said of the new courtroom experience: “You sit there and think, ‘Whoa, isn’t anyone going to ask a question?'”

Details here from the New York Times.


Justice Weighs Desire v. Duty (Duty Prevails)

Justice Stevens

WASHINGTON, Aug. 24 – It is not every day that a Supreme Court justice calls his own decisions unwise. But with unusual candor, Justice John Paul Stevens did that last week in a speech in which he explored the gap that sometimes lies between a judge’s desire and duty.

Addressing a bar association meeting in Las Vegas, Justice Stevens dissected several of the recent term’s decisions, including his own majority opinions in two of the term’s most prominent cases. The outcomes were “unwise,” he said, but “in each I was convinced that the law compelled a result that I would have opposed if I were a legislator.”

In one, the eminent domain case that became the term’s most controversial decision, he said that his majority opinion that upheld the government’s “taking” of private homes for a commercial development in New London, Conn., brought about a result “entirely divorced from my judgment concerning the wisdom of the program” that was under constitutional attack. . . .

[J]ustice Stevens said he also regretted having to rule in favor of the federal government’s ability to enforce its narcotics laws and thus trump California’s medical marijuana initiative. “I have no hesitation in telling you that I agree with the policy choice made by the millions of California voters,” he said. But given the broader stakes for the power of Congress to regulate commerce, he added, “our duty to uphold the application of the federal statute was pellucidly clear.”

Don’t miss this rare and fascinating glimpse of Justice Stevens from Linda Greenhouse of the New York Times.


GOP Worries Ethics Issue May Hurt Party in ’06

From page A1 of today’s Washington Post:

Tom Delay

ZANESVILLE, Ohio — After enlarging their majority in the past two elections, House Republicans have begun to fear that public attention to members’ travel and relations with lobbyists will make a potent issue that could cost the party seats in next year’s midterm races.

In what Republican strategists call “the DeLay effect,” questions plaguing House Majority Leader (R-Tex.) are starting to hurt his fellow party members, who are facing news coverage of their own trips and use of relatives on their campaign payrolls.

It’s simple. When you sell out your own values and your constituents’ interests and become a paid whore for corporate and evangelical goals instead, you eventually pay the price. The only questions is: when is “eventually”? It looks like the Republicans are about to find out. Details here from The Washington Post.


Secret Tapes Allowed in Case Against Lawyer

Secret tape recordings made by a lawyer at the behest of federal agents can be used as evidence against indicted bankruptcy attorney Daniel J. Gates, who is accused of embezzling millions from his clients, including former Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback Rod Woodson.

U.S. District Judge Joy Flowers Conti recently ruled that all but one of the incriminating recordings made by attorney Patricia L. Blais in 2002 are admissible.

Gates, former owner of Gates & Associates, had tried to argue that Blais was his lawyer and that the tapes were illegal because they violate the attorney-client privilege.

Another one bites the dust. Details here from the Pittsburgh Post Gazette.