Legally Speaking: You Have the Right to Remain Strange

John G. Browning Apr. 5, 2011, 6:00am

One of the benefits of writing a column like this is that when I don't feel like tackling a serious issue, I know that I can always count on the legal system to provide a seemingly never-ending stream of bizarre cases and truth-is-stranger-than-fiction litigants.

If you don't believe me, just check out the following examples.

Somebody Didn't Get the Memo

Keith Gruber missed one of the fundamental concepts about appearing in court for a DWI hearing. You're not supposed to show up drunk, with a beer in hand. The 49-year-old Swan Lake, N.Y., man arrived one and one half hours late, intoxicated, holding an open can of beer and a bag containing four more cans. The judge asked if Gruber had enjoyed his "liquid lunch" before throwing him in jail without bail (Gruber had been out on $30,000 bond for his drunk driving charge).

Burglar Calls 911 & Gets Arrested

Maybe Keith Gruber should hang out with John Finch. The 44-year-old Delaware man broke into a house, stayed for several days (it was unoccupied), and drank several bottles of the homeowner's gin and whiskey. When Finch tried to leave through the same broken window he had used to enter he was too drunk to actually exit. Apparently stuck and helpless, the inebriated burglar called 911—on himself! The police arrived shortly thereafter, and arrested Finch.

Maybe She Should Try "Extreme Makeover"

Not long ago, I wrote about a case in which a judge approved—at taxpayer expense—the hiring of a makeup artist to cover up a murder defendant's profane and violent facial and neck tattoos, so that the accused wouldn't be prejudged on his appearance by the jury. A criminal defense lawyer in Chicago recently tried a similar request. Attorney William Hedrick claimed his client Mami Yang (accused of killing the pregnant girlfriend of former Chicago Bears player Shaun Gayle) would be unfairly judged by her unkempt mane of gray hair. He said, "she looks frankly like a crazy woman." He asked for a stylist at taxpayer expense to cut and color his client's hair, and for Ms. Yang to be allowed makeup. Judge Christopher Stride was not exactly sympathetic. He denied the request, saying "If having gray hair means you are crazy, then I am the craziest person in this court."

A Healthy Prison Glow

On the other hand, some countries may encourage defendants to show up for court appearances in an unnatural shade of orange a lá Lindsey Lohan. At Moscow's centuries-old Butyrskaya prison (notorious for its primitive conditions), they are installing tanning beds. Inmates wanting to compensate for inadequate sunlight in their cells can pay 10 rubles a minute (about 33 cents) for the privilege.

Mom Always Did Say to Have Clean Underwear

Joseph Nacchio, the former Qwest Communications CEO who was convicted of insider trading, is not happy with his former lawyers. Currently serving a 70-month prison term after his 2007 conviction for illegally selling $52 million of stock based on inside information, Nacchio claims to be the victim of professional negligence. He's filed a legal malpractice suit against attorney Herbert Stern and his firm, Stern & Kilcullen LLC, maintaining that—among other things—the firm wildly overbilled him in the course of running up his over $25 million legal tab. Nacchio claims that the firm charged him for things like in-room movies and underwear during his trial in federal court in Denver. I've heard of charging for legal briefs, but this is ridiculous.

Maybe He Should Go Back to His Magic Beanstalk

Dutch lawyer Bas Martens may have been inspired by the justification for government bailouts. His client (convicted last September of financial fraud) isn't "too big to fail" but rather is "too big for jail"—literally. Martens claims that the nearly 7 foot, 500 pound inmate is too big for his 12 square yards jail cell, its small bed and low toilet. Martens insists that the conditions for his giant client violate European human rights law, and he's seeking house arrest with an electronic monitoring device. Good luck finding an electronic monitoring bracelet that fits.

If We Can't Have Toy Soldiers, Than the Terrorists Win

Mr. & Mrs. Ken Lloyd of Canada recently found out how overzealous airport security can be. While visiting the Royal Signals Museum in England (a military museum), the couple purchased a souvenir figurine of a crouching soldier, complete with tiny radio and plastic rifle. But when they went through security at London's Gatwick Airport, security personnel declared the 3-inch plastic gun a "firearm," and refused to let the Lloyds through with it (they also scanned the tiny antenna as suspect as well). Mrs. Lloyd was forced to trudge back through the airport concourse, buy a padded envelope, and mail the tiny rifle home. While the ridiculously overzealous security officials did not find a small terrorist hiding in the box, they somehow didn't have a problem with Mrs. Lloyd blatantly carrying the "firearm" through the airport as she searched for a way to mail the offending toy home. A spokesman for the Royal Signals Museum called the airport search "more than a little excessive," dryly adding that "It's probably just as well we didn't sell her a toy tank."

Anywhere But . . . New Jersey!

Okay, I've poked my share of fun at the state of New Jersey—how the state motto is "fugeddaboutit," how the TV guide lists "The Sopranos" under "Documentary," and so forth. But then I was born and raised in New Jersey. It annoys me to hear people from outside dissing the Garden State as though the entire population is one big "Jersey Shore" casting call. The latest such individual is Thomas Horodecki, a manager for fashion design house Elie Tahari. The 36 year old has filed a $2 million arbitration claim against his employer, claiming he was unfairly passed over for promotions at the ritzy designer. When he complained, Horodecki says he was "exiled" from the fashion mecca of Manhattan to the hinterlands of—gasp—New Jersey. Horodecki maintains that being forced to work at Tahari's in-store boutiques at Saks Fifth Avenue and Bloomingdale's in Hackensack, N.J., and at Neiman Marcus' Paramus branch caused him to have an emotional breakdown, and he's now on disability. Horodecki says, "It was the smog. It was the depressing drive to Jersey. The traffic was horrendous on Route 4, and they are pretty bad drivers. The stores are kind of cheesy for the most part. New York City has everything when it comes to fashion . . . when it comes to styling, let's just say Jersey is difficult. Fashion it is not!" Horodecki claims his sojourn in the fashion wasteland of New Jersey led to depression, medication, treatment with a psychologist, and now his disability leave. The Elie Tahari fashion house has no comment on the claim.

What do I think Horodecki's chances are for his claims of mental anguish for his Jersey "exile?" As they say in New Jersey, fugeddaboutit.

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