Legally Speaking: Signs That The Apocalypse Is Upon Us

John G. Browning Dec. 30, 2008, 12:00pm

Some prognosticators of gloom and doom point to the predictable signs that the world is coming to an end: global warming, war in the Middle East, economic meltdown and so forth.

But don't look for me among the robed, bearded prophets toting "The End is Near" signs.

I don't need something as obvious as an asteroid on a collision course with Earth to tell me we're on borrowed time; after all, the legal system offers us more subtle harbingers of an impending apocalypse.

Don't believe me? Then consider some of these latest oddities from the legal realm.

Hokey Religions and Ancient Weapons Are No Substitute for a Good Blaster, Kid

England has some of the most restrictive laws governing not just the sale of real guns, but imitation firearms as well. Apparently, some people think they're even more restrictive then they really are.

This past Christmas, Woolworth's banned the sale of plastic toy lightsabers from "Star Wars" to anyone under the age of 18.

The reason?

The company felt that the extendable toy would be mistaken for a gun.

Yeah, right. Try robbing a convenience store with one of those, and you'll need more than the Jedi mind trick to avoid a beatdown from an indignant cashier.

Woolworth's, the Force is not with you.

Next Thing You Know, Willy Wonka Will Be Public Enemy Number Once

In Prescott, Ariz., attorney Damon Rossi was arrested Dec. 18 – for giving a piece of candy to his client. Rossi's client was one of the shackled inmates in court, and Rossi asked two detention officers if he could give the prisoner a piece of candy.

Despite being warned not to, Rossi went ahead and gave his client the treat anyway, saying "What are you going to do, arrest me?" Apparently, yes.

Prescott was arrested the next day at home and booked into county jail on a felony charge of providing contraband to an inmate.

Yavapai County Sheriff's spokesman Dwight D'Evelyn stated "If we allow attorneys to feed our inmates it would be a security issue – they get fed three squares a day and we don't feed them in court."

I guess Sheriff D'Evelyn wants to make sure no inmate craftily makes a rope out of Twizzlers and licorice whips and uses it to escape.

This Can Not Be Good for Business

In December, U.S. security consultant and anti-kidnapping expert Felix Batista was abducted by gunmen in northern Mexico. Batista, who worked for Houston-based security firm ASI Global, had been in the country teaching local police officials and businessmen how to prevent or avoid kidnapping.

There is reportedly no word yet on whether a ransom demand has been made or received, but there is already enough irony to go around.

At Least You Didn't Supersize Your Order

Showing that stupidity, questionable judgment and a lack of personal responsibility can indeed co-exist, Phillip and Tina Sherman of Fayetteville, Ark., have sued McDonald's over nude photos of Mrs. Sherman.

It seems that Tina thought it would be cute to send nude photos of herself to Phillip on his cellphone, and Phillip thought it would be cute to store them on said phone.

But then Phillip carelessly left his phone behind at a McDonald's restaurant on July 5; shortly thereafter, his wife began receiving text messages from the phone and the photographs were posted on a Web site.

The Shermans claim McDonald's is to blame for their "severe mental and emotional distress, physical injury, pain & suffering, embarrassment, damage to their reputations, and fear."

They want over $3 million in damages, as well as the cost of moving to a new home.

Hey, Phillip and Tina, here's an idea: (a) don't take nude photos of yourselves; (b) don't store them on a cellphone; and (c) if you do, don't let the cellphone out of your sight.

McDonald's had no comment about the pending lawsuit, but let's hope a jury tells the Shermans the naked truth about the questionable merits of their lawsuit.

And You Thought Where There's Smoke, There's Fire

Great American Insurance Company is facing the potential of $25 million in liability coverage for a March 2007 office fire in Houston that claimed the lives of three people.

But it's making a rather novel argument in federal court in order to avoid any obligation under the insurance policy it provided to the building's owners. According to the insurance company's lawyers, the damages (including the three deaths) were caused by smoke, fumes, and soot from the fire, and not by the flames themselves.

Under their interpretation of the policy language, "smoke" equals "pollution" and the policy excludes payments for pollution.

Randy Sorrels, an attorney representing several families in the wrongful death lawsuits, calls Great American's argument "shocking. It's an extraordinary effort to avoid paying on account for insurance."

Don Jackson, lawyer for the building owners facing these lawsuits, concurs. "We think it is wrong. It's inappropriate for the insurance company to try to run and hide now."

The Address Was Only the First Clue

Ernest L. Dixon recently had his $500 million federal lawsuit against the Virginia Division of Motor Vehicles thrown out as frivolous.

Besides the outlandish nature of the claims (which arose out of the DMV'S alleged failure to reinstate Mr. Dixon's driver's license), federal judge James Robertson was tipped off by something else that was odd about Dixon's case: he gave his residential address as 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. – the address of the White House.

Clearly, There's No Teenage Boy in This House

A Rhode Island couple is suing Verizon Communications because they received access to the pay-per-view Playboy Channel.

Robert Bourne and wife Denise Ray, along with minor daughters Elice Ray and Danielle Bourne, are claiming that they received unauthorized transmissions of the Playboy Channel between March and August 2008, and that despite repeated efforts to stop the transmissions, Verizon was "inattentive and did not take reasonable steps to monitor its equipment."

The family claims to have suffered "great pain, anxiety, nervousness and mental anguish," and of course wants lots of money, including costs incurred for "current and future medical bills."

I have two observations about this: first, the televisions in the Bourne household must be the first ones in America not equipped with "On/Off" buttons; and second, there are definitely no teenage boys in their household.

This is one "Bourne Ultimatum" that the court should deny.

Beat Me, Whip Me, Make Me File Lawsuits

Finally, in a lawsuit that sounds like something concocted for the very channel that the Bournes would like blocked, two sex clubs in the Tampa, Fla., area are battling it out in court.

It seems that James Jordan, owner of a fetish club called Quest, is suing former business partner Perry Edge and Edmund Mitskevich (the individual who sold Jordan and Edge the club in 2007) for breaching a non-competition agreement that was part of the Quest club's sale.

According to Jordan, Edge and Mitskevich have allegedly started a competing fetish club called Phoenix, where customers can engage in role-playing fantasies like "naughty nurse", "airport security", and the ever popular "mad scientist."

Edge and Mitskevich maintain they've done nothing wrong, but Jordan insists both have violated obligations to him. He wants them punished, because they've been bad – very, very bad.

Kind of predictable for this sort of establishment, if you ask me.

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

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