Legally Speaking: It's Summertime, and the Litigating is Good

John G. Browning Aug. 25, 2010, 1:00pm

A judge friend of mine swears that the strangest lawsuits in his court always seem to happen in the summertime.

I don't know how much empirical evidence there is to back up this theory, but it does sometime seem like an upsurge in the "legally weird" takes place during the warmer months.

Just within the last few weeks, for example, we've witnessed an epidemic of bizarre bank robberies and attempted robberies. Around the country, bank robbers have conducted heists while wearing everything from Darth Vader masks to clown suits. Other stick-up artists have tried to obscure their appearance using everything from a bouquet of flowers to a set of Spanxx (the girdle-like ladies' undergarment).

Few bank robbers, however, seem as poorly suited for a life of crime as Nathan Wayne Pugh of Sachse, Texas.

On July 26, the 49-year-old Pugh allegedly tried to rob a Wells Fargo Bank branch in Dallas. According to a federal criminal complaint, Pugh entered the bank holding a Whataburger bag and approached a teller, saying he wanted to make a "withdrawal."

When asked how much, Pugh reportedly passed her a note informing the teller that what he was holding was "not a bag of food," but rather that it contained a "bom." [Helpful bank robber tip #1: Spelling counts.]

The note further directed the teller to put money into an envelope and not to "make any move till after I have left for ten minutes."

The quick-thinking teller told the alleged would-be stickup artist that she couldn't give him any money without seeing his ID. Incredibly, Pugh provided his Wells Fargo debit card. When asked how much money he wanted, Pugh allegedly said $2,000. (Helpful bank robber hints #2 & #3 – Handing over your ID is likely to make your criminal career a short one, and the answer to the question of how much money you want is "all of it").

The teller then told Pugh that, for that amount, she needed a second form of identification.

Now, at this point, any self-respecting bank robber would've thought to himself, "Hey, this isn't how it's supposed to work" or perhaps "She doesn't respect me for the budding criminal mastermind that I am. I'm outta here."

But not Nathan Wayne Pugh, who reportedly handed over his Texas-issued state identification card to the teller, who by now had pressed the silent alarm. Noting the sudden appearance of uniformed Dallas police officers, Pugh belatedly realized that things had not gone according to plan.

So, perhaps thinking that a hostage might make it easier to make his escape, Pugh walked over to a woman holding a small child and grabbed her from behind in a chokehold. At that point, the woman wrestled Pugh to the ground, enabling police to arrest him.

This leads me to my fourth and final helpful bank robber hint: work out, lift weights, do some cardio – do something so that you're not wrestled to the ground by some soccer mom with a baby on her hip, making you a pathetic punchline for late night talk show hosts and guys like me. Show some pride, man!

It takes a certain amount of bravado – or stupidity – to try to pull off a bank robbery like that. It takes the same kind of bravado or stupidity to shoplift at a store, and then go for a job interview at that same store – wearing the very clothes you stole! Yet that happened last month in Ontario, Canada.

According to police in Toronto, a 40-year-old woman was caught on security videotape shoplifting several items of clothing. Store security later recognized the woman when she returned the next day – for a job interview.

After the interview, she was seen allegedly taking several more items, and ran from the store when confronted, prompting management to call the cops. The police had no problem finding and identifying her using her resume, which had been left behind.

She's been charged with multiple counts of theft. Something tells me this is going to hurt her chances of getting the job . . .

Those police had more evidence than the Dublin shopkeeper who accused then 5-year-old Tadhg Mooney of stealing a bag of crisps (potato chips) last summer. The little boy "lawyered up," suing for defamation of character for being wrongfully accused.

A few weeks ago, he won 7,500 euros (about $10,872) in court for the "distress, inconvenience and injury to his credit and reputation."

This is one 6 year-old you don't want to mess with . . .

Sometimes, the weirdness in the court originates with the judges. In 2007, the Philippines Supreme Court fired Judge Florentino Floro Jr. because of his rather unconventional beliefs (a medical clinic later determined that the jurist was suffering from some form of psychosis).

It seems that Judge Floro believes that three elves communicate with him and even help him predict the future. This includes an elf named "Luis," who, according to Floro, is an "avenger" who has caused illnesses and car accidents to befall some of the Supreme Court justices who fired him.

For those of you who think that we'd never have to worry about such silliness in American courts, well, maybe you need to meet Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin.

Justice Melvin is currently embroiled in controversy. Her sisters, Janine Orie and Jane Orie, are charged criminally with ethics violations, theft and conspiracy in connection with the alleged use of state resources for the political campaign that got Justice Melvin elected last November.

Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen Zappala Jr. accused the jurist's sisters of using senate staffers to work on the campaign on the state taxpayers' dime (Jane Orie is a state senator, and Janine Orie is a former aide to Justice Melvin).

Although Justice Melvin has not been charged with any crime, her credibility has taken a beating with the revelation that she and her sister Jane consulted an "angel lady" psychic for help in determining the outcome of one or more meetings.

The alleged psychic, Carolann Sano, claims to be a "clairaudient" who hears whispered advice from angels.

The news about the psychic prompted political activists (and state House candidates) Gene Stilp and Dennis Baylor to file an ethics complaint against Justice Melvin with Pennsylvania's Judicial Conduct Board.

According to Stilp, "The people of Pennsylvania want to know their justices of the Supreme Court are not relying on soothsayers and angel whisperers."

I don't know any judges who rely on "angel whisperers," psychic hotlines, elves, witch doctors or the like. On the other hand, that would explain some of the rulings I've seen over the years . . .

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