Legally Speaking: Catching Up With Columns Past

John G. Browning May 6, 2010, 10:44am

One of the challenges of writing a column like this is the fact that time marches on, resulting in some often interesting developments that took place later after a particular article ran.

Even though it wasn't possible to bring you these tidbits at the time, I think it helps to complete the picture begun by the original column by sharing them now.

Not long ago, for example, I wrote a column entitled, "Brought To You By the Department of Irony." Since then, as it turns out, there's practically been a deluge of real life stories that are the epitome of irony, and which I couldn't have made up if I tried.

For example, we all know that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is supposed to serve as our nation's watchdog on all matters of environmental issues. One of those issues is the danger of lead exposure, particularly in residential areas. Lead exposure has been known to cause brain damage in children, and adults can suffer neurological damage as well at high levels of exposure.

Evidently, someone at the EPA isn't familiar with the old adage about first making sure that your own house is in order. Just days before the EPA was about to impose new lead cleanup restrictions on the construction industry, it was revealed that the EPA's own Ariel Rios headquarters building is contaminated with lead.

Dust samples taken from the building pointed to levels that were in many cases significantly higher than federal government limits for commercial buildings. One sampled showed lead levels 92,500 percent higher than the EPA's equivalent regulatory standard.

The suspected cause is the Secret Service shooting range in the basement of the Ariel Rios building (most bullets are made of lead, and commercial shooting ranges usually feature complex air-filtering systems to avoid contamination).

A representative of the union that represents most EPA employees said, "I'm shocked. We're the EPA - who's supposed to be the agency that regulates lead."

Sometimes the irony is found in the individual who's held up as standing for a certain principle. For example, in April the Oklahoma Supreme Court reprimanded a lawyer, Dan Murdock, for ethical violations. Among other things, it was alleged that Mr. Murdock groped and bit a woman at a racetrack and casino.

The ironic twist is that Mr. Murdock had served as the general counsel of the Oklahoma State Bar, and part of his job was overseeing misconduct allegations involving lawyers.

If that's not ironic enough, consider the "fox watching the henhouse" example of New Hampshire State Liquor Commissioner Richard Simard. Simard was arrested and charged with driving while intoxicated in April in Gilford, N.H.

Gov. John Lynch quickly fired Simard, saying that while he may be innocent until proven guilty, Simard's presence on the Liquor Commission would "compromise the integrity" of that body, and that "It is simply unacceptable for a liquor commissioner, stopped by the police on suspicion of driving under the influence, to refuse a Breathalyzer test."

How many times has someone felt that a judge wouldn't have been so lenient on a criminal defendant if he or she had been the crime victim? Maryland Judge Edwin Collier had such a brush with karma on Aug. 21, 2009.

Collier, who recently retired from the bench, and his wife Ellen suffered serious injuries after their Chevy Tahoe was struck by a drunk driver with a blood alcohol level twice the legal limit.

The driver was Rene Fernandez, who got a break from Judge Collier in 1998 in connection with a previous drunk driving case. Even though Fernandez had been arrested twice in three months on DWI charges, Collier gave him a suspended sentence instead of jail time and ordered him to undergo alcohol and drug treatment.

Eleven years later, the very same driver crashes into, of all people, the judge who showed him leniency. As Collier's lawyer put it, "It's just a total irony."

Besides the "Department of Irony" column, another one that struck a chord with readers was "Take the Money and Run," a humorous look at some pretty inept bank robbers. Albert Bailey and his teenage accomplice in Fairfield, Conn., would have fit in perfectly with that motley crew.

Perhaps the laziest bank robber ever, Bailey literally "phoned it in." He called ahead to Peoples United Bank, telling the bank employee to have a bag of money ($100,000) ready because he was on his way over for a robbery. What's more, he had a special request for his takeout order: "No dye packs in the bag."

True to his word, Bailey showed up with his sidekick about 10 minutes later. By that point, however, the police were waiting as well, and they arrested the "not too bright" suspects. You know, they never get these special orders right in the drive through window.

That same column advised would-be robbers to put in more effort when it come to disguises. The advice didn't make much of an impression on a thief in Lincoln, Neb., who robbed a convenience store in May 2009 wearing a Bud Light beer box on his head to conceal his identity.

Another popular column dealt with bizarre 911 calls. They don't come much stranger than Chicago's Carly Houston. In March, after getting into a fare dispute with a taxicab driver, the 29-year-old woman was arrested by police in Naperville, Illinois. She was taken to the police station for processing, and police dutifully allowed her to make her one phone call.

But instead of calling a family member or a lawyer, Ms. Houston decided to dial 911. The disturbed woman made her call to emergency dispatchers to complain that she was "trapped inside the detention facility."

Needless to say, that didn't get her anywhere, although Ms. Houston was ultimately released on bail and arraigned on charges that included theft and disorderly conduct.

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U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
1200 Pennsylvania Ave NW
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