Legally Speaking: Never a 'D'oh' Moment

John G. Browning Sep. 29, 2010, 6:26am

Let's face it - life in general, and the legal system in particular, would be a lot more
boring without the comic relief provided by the occasional criminal defendant, litigant, or even lawyer making mistakes.

When I hear about some of these blunders, I picture a Homer Simpson-like "D'oh!" being blurted out by these dim bulbs as they realize what just happened.

For example, the folks behind the new Los Angeles-area school named after Al Gore and environmental pioneer Rachel Carson (the Carson-Gore Academy of Environmental Sciences) probably hadthe best of intentions for the $75.5 million building.

Unfortunately, in an ironic twist that I couldn't have made up if I tried, it seems the school was inadvertently built on an environmentally contaminated parcel of land.

Beneath the school, it turns out, were underground tanks from a nearby gas station as well as soil that once held more than a dozen industrial storage tanks that allegedly had contaminated the site's groundwater.

In response from an outcry by environmental groups over potential health risks posed by the site, workers were frantically trying to replace any possibly tainted soil with clean soil, so that everything would be safe for the roughly 700 students enrolled in the school.

Despite the screw up, maybe Al Gore will get a happy ending after all.

If you think failing to check and make sure that your school for environmental studies is environmentally sound is stupid, then you'll really appreciate a few examples of how crime doesn't pay, especially for the criminally moronic.

The teenage boy in Helena, Mont., who sent a text seeking to buy $20 worth of marijuana in August probably envisioned a very different audience for his message than the person he inadvertently sent it to - Lewis and Clark County Sheriff Leo Dutton.

A sheriff's department detective played along, scheduling a meeting at a nearby store. The detective called the telephone number three times to make sure he had the right person; then when he approached the teenager and showed him his badge, the boy fainted.

And why not? After all, when you're looking to score some drugs, it's probably best not to call the cops.

That Montana teenager has some company in the bad judgment department, like the two men who decided to shoplift at a Portland department store in August.

Unfortunately, on the same day they chose to fill up their backpacks with stolen merchandise, the store was holding its annual "Shop With a Cop" back-to-school event, with more than 60 uniformed officers helping more than 150 children choose school supplies and clothes.

As a result after allegedly trying to steal clothes, shoes, tools, and even blenders, 20-year-old Shane Alexander and 30-year-old Jason Vantress were arrested.

Portland police sergeant Pete Simpson said, "Common sense didn't play into their decision-making today. As is so often the occasion with crooks, they think they're smarter than the average bear, and they're not."

And how about 24-year-old Lucas Wright of Naperville, Ill.? When he was stopped by police in the Chicago suburb for speeding in August, he didn't make much of an effort at an excuse for allegedly going 100 mph in a 50 mph zone. Wright told police that he had just gotten his car washed, and he was trying to dry it off.

Wright is now free on bail and awaiting arraignment, and his car was impounded. I bet it's dry now.

Lawyers aren't exactly immune from such "D'oh" moments, either. Cincinnati Bengals cheerleader Sarah Jones probably thought she had a lot to cheer about after a court entered a default judgment for $11 million in her favor in a defamation lawsuit.

Ms. Jones, who's also a schoolteacher in Kentucky, had sued Los Angeles-based Dirty World Entertainment Recording for reports on a gossip website that alleged she had contracted two sexually transmitted diseases and had an affair with an NFL player.

Unfortunately, Jones' lawyers had meant to sue Dirty World LLC, a Scottsdale-based company that operated website, where the allegedly libelous comments appeared. Dirty World Entertainment owns a different site,; people involved with were apparently never served with legal papers in the case.

As a result, this judgment will likely be thrown out, and it's back to square one for Sarah Jones and her attorneys, who'll have to high kick and pom-pom shake their way back into court at least one more time.

Finally, we come to Arizona lawyer Charna Johnson, who gets my Sixth Sense "I See Dead People" award for worst lawyer.

After a disciplinary hearing, Arizona Bar authorities have recommended that Ms. Johnson's law license be suspended for six months.

The reason? She claimed she was possessed by the spirit of a client's deceased wife, and then she allegedly lied about it to other disciplinary authorities.

Johnson began representing the client during his 1999 divorce case (after meeting him in a ballroom dancing class), and after his wife committed suicide in 2000, Johnson later served as his probate lawyer.

According to the official disciplinary report, Johnson began telling her client soon after his wife's suicide that the deceased wife's spirit was "inside" her, and that she (Johnson) was channeling her. Johnson then allegedly pressured the client into a sexual relationship, saying that it was what his dead wife wanted.

Unfortunately for her, the Arizona State Bar believes that seances are no substitute for, or more traditional ways to meet Mr. Right.

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