Legally Speaking: And the envelope, please �

John G. Browning May 13, 2008, 10:42am

Forget the Oscars, the Emmys, the Grammys, and the Tonys of the entertainment world.

If you ask me, many of the more unusual goings-on in the legal world have proven just as entertaining as some of the shows on television or the movies crowding your local multiplex this year. I think they deserve some, shall we say, special recognition all their own.

In honor of last week's celebration of Mother's Day, the "Mom Always Liked You Best" award goes to Judge Robert Eaton.

The Wisconsin judge was recently vindicated for his 2006 decision to allow his own mother to serve as a juror in a criminal traffic case in his courtroom. The defendant, Mark Tody Jr., complained about the presence of the judge's mother after he was convicted of being party to operating a vehicle without the consent of the owner, and sentenced to sixth months in jail and three months probation.

Tody felt allowing the judge's mother on the jury had robbed him of his right to a fair trial. The appeals court disagreed, noting that Judge Eaton's mother hadn't done a bad job as a juror, and that just because a blood relationship existed between a judge and a juror it didn't automatically create bias. Of course, it might have helped if Mrs. Eaton hadn't kept yelling out "but we wanted him to become a doctor" from the jury box.

The "Jenny Craig" award goes to Broderick Lloyd Laswell, who is currently in an Arkansas jail awaiting trial on a murder charge. Acting as his own lawyer, Laswell has filed a lawsuit against the county claiming that his rights are being violated because the county jail serves only cold food. As a result, Laswell claims he and his fellow inmates "are literally being starved to death."

The 308-pound accused murderer has lost over 100 pounds in the eight months that he's been incarcerated. Forget about the lawsuit, Broderick, and come out with your own diet book – that's where the real money is. I can just see it now: "Chapter One – Commit a Felony."

The "Unmitigated Gall" award goes to Jeffery Ely of Minnesota. Apparently, it wasn't enough for Mr. Ely to run over little Fester, a brain-damaged miniature pinscher, with his Honda Civic in January 2008.

Now, Ely has filed a lawsuit against Fester's owners for the $1,100 cost of repairs to his car. Ely claims to "love" dogs, but blames the Munthe family for letting the little canine get out. The Munthes are countersuing for $2,400 in damages associated with Fester's death.

Speaking of dogs, don't look for Kelly DeBrocky of Mahopac, N.Y., on any list of dog lovers either. The woman has filed a claim against the city of Norwalk, Conn., seeking damages because her 1-year-old son stepped in dog feces while visiting Norwalk's Maritime Aquarium. City attorney M. Jeffry Spahr says the claim stinks, and questions why Mrs. DeBrocky believes she's entitled to the cost of replacing her child's shoes and clothing.

As he states, "Some wacky stuff comes across. I don't know if people are more litigious. My opinion is two things are at play. Number one, people are resistant to taking responsibility for their own actions and number two, they feel there always has to be somebody to blame."

It's not the only frivolous suit the city of Norwalk has faced.

In January 2007, boxer Travis Simms claimed he had been injured due to city negligence while playing a basketball game on city property. Of course, Simms' allegations might have been a bit more convincing if he hadn't won the world super-welterweight title two days after filing his lawsuit.

As for Mrs. DeBrocky, she wins the "It Happens" award.

The "Striking Out" award goes to the Manhattan law firm of Belluck and Fox. After working out a deal with the radio station that broadcasts New York Yankees games, the law firm took their sponsorship of the baseball broadcasts a little bit too far.

The lawyers transformed their Web site,, calling themselves the "official legal sponsor" of the Yankees. Their site included such features as the Yankees logo, a photo of Yankee Stadium, a baseball bearing the firm's name, and a clipboard with a mock "lineup" of the firm's "power hitters" like "Mesothelioma & Asbestos Injuries," "Car and Motorcycle Accident Claims," and "Construction Accidents."

After a "friendly conversation" with Yankees officials about inappropriate use of trademarks, the law firm took down the website and halted references to being the team's legal sponsor. Belluck and Fox may know personal injury suits, but it looks like their trademark lawyer may need to be benched.

Baseball has its shrine at Cooperstown, but if there were a "Frivolous Lawsuit Hall of Fame," Roy Pearson would certainly gain admittance on the first ballot. The former Washington, D.C., Administrative Court judge gained notoriety with his unsuccessful $54 million lawsuit against a local dry cleaner for allegedly losing a pair of his pants. Pearson's latest foray into the civil justice system is modest by comparison.

After being let go from his judgeship, and evidently with time on his hands while he appeals the lost pants verdict, Pearson filed a $1 million federal lawsuit against the District of Columbia claiming that he was wrongfully dismissed. Pearson maintains that the city used the fact that he was being "vilified in the media" as an excuse to fire him, "confident that the media storm would provide cover for a retaliatory demotion."

Pearson also claims to have been a whistleblower who exposed corruption within the Office of Administrative Hearings, and that his employer's "wrongful actions" caused him to suffer "physical illness." For his entertaining if frivolous lawsuits over lost pants and now lost judicial robes, Roy Pearson gets the "Clothes Off My Back" award.

The "This Still Won't Get You on the Howard Stern Show" award goes to the three citizens of the Greek island of Lesbos who have sued a gay rights group for using the word "lesbian" in its name.

The plaintiffs claim that gay women's groups, particularly the Homosexual and Lesbian Community of Greece, "insult the identity" of the people of Lesbos, who are also known as Lesbians. According to Dimitris Lambrou, one of the plaintiffs, natives of the island in the Aegean Sea have been known as Lesbians for thousands of years, while gay women have been using the term for mere decades; as he puts it, "Our geographical designation has been usurped by certain ladies who have no connection whatsoever with Lesbos." The case is scheduled to be heard in an Athens court on June 10, 2008.

The "Here's a Bar of Soap to Wash Out Your Mouth" award goes to Aaron Wider and his attorney Joseph R. Ziccardi of Chicago. In a deposition taken in a lawsuit between GMAC Bank and HTFC Corp., Mr. Wider (HTFC's chief executive officer) engaged in "hostile, uncivil, and vulgar conduct" through nearly 12 hours of deposition testimony, according to U.S. District Judge Eduardo Robreno.

The conduct included dropping the "F-bomb" an astounding 73 times during the depositions (I'm not positive, but I think that eclipses Al Pacino's feat as Tony Montana in "Scarface", as well as the average Quentin Tarantino film).

Judge Robreno sanctioned not only Wider but his attorney as well, because Ziccardi failed to stop his client's tirades and allegedly chuckled and snickered at Wider's behavior. According to Judge Robreno, "the nature of Wider's misconduct was so severe and pervasive, and his violations of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure so frequent and blatant, that any reasonable attorney representing Wider would have intervened in an effort to curb Wider's misconduct."

Ziccardi has since asked the judge for permission to drop Wider as a client, and for the sanctions against him individually to be lifted.

It looks like the only "f-word" Mr. Ziccardi is interested in now is "forgiveness."

John Browning is a partner in the Dallas office of Gordon & Rees, LLP. He may be contacted at:

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