Legally Speaking: The Good, The Bad and the Just Plain Weird

John G. Browning Apr. 26, 2011, 5:43am

I like to write about some of the brighter, more confidence-inspiring aspects of our legal system. Human nature being what it is, however, sometimes I'm stuck shining a light on the less heartwarming tales from the civil and criminal trenches.

But I know one thing for sure—I'll never run out of material to write about the just plain weird cases out there.

Michelle Astumian recently showed up for sentencing in a San Luis Obisco County, Calif., court. The 41-year-old woman had pled no contest back in January to multiple felony counts of forgery and of using a fraudulent check, and was facing nearly five years in prison (the forgery in question was of prescriptions).

But instead of being ready to pay her debt to society, Astumian asked for a postponement on medical grounds. She even brought a doctor's note.

Figuring "once a forger, always a forger," prosecutor Dave Pomeroy contacted the doctor, who confirmed that the note was a forgery.

After the judge ordered Astumian taken into custody, she "collapsed" and was taken to the hospital. Looks like sentencing will have to wait, after all.

Discrimination claims are usually no laughing matter. An Irish citizen working for Northern Trust recently filed an employment lawsuit in San Francisco Superior Court for race discrimination.

It seems she was emotionally scarred by a "Mr. Potato Head" contest organized by her employer, in which potatoes were allegedly decorated to resemble "drunken Irishmen." At least they weren't after her pot of gold or her lucky charms.

My 6-year-old nephew used to believe that putting a blanket over his head had the magical result of rendering him invisible. When you get a little older, though, that sort of behavior goes from cute to moronic.

Take Angela Ferranti of Florida, for example. The 25-year-old woman was returning home with her boyfriend after a night out at Mickey Finn's bar in Port St. Lucie in April.

Her boyfriend, who was on probation, became alarmed at the sight of police following them; Angela was concerned, too, since she was driving despite having consumed "4 to 4.5 beers and 1.5 vodka cranberries" that evening.

Angela's boyfriend jerked the wheel, causing them to strike a median. Each of them made a run for it, and rocket scientist that she is, Angela decided to run off into the woods, stripping off her clothes to "conceal her scent" from K-9 dogs.

Not surprisingly, a K-9 dog had no problem finding the disrobed drunk girl, nor did officers have a problem finding a glass pipe with marijuana.

Angela (who according to her Facebook page is no stranger to taking her clothes off or drinking) now faces charges of DUI, leaving the scene of an accident, possession of drug paraphernalia, and property damage. Fortunately for her, stupid isn't a crime.

Speaking of police dogs, 25-year-old Ryan James Stephens of Mason, Ohio, is no friend of "man's best friend."

Stephens was charged with "animal harassment" for going up to a K-9 dog inside a patrol car (human partner, Officer Bradley Walker, was investigating a car crash) and "barking and hissing" at the dog.

Stephens (who police say appeared "highly intoxicated") said "the dog started it." Stephens has his day in court on April 1; let's hope the judge muzzles him.

Some people just don't get it. Apparently, it wasn't bad enough that a college senior in Colorado decided to cheat by paying of Farmington, Minn., $23 per page for a "custom-written" term paper authored by someone else.

She felt "cheated" when it didn't arrive within the timeframe promised (oh, the irony!), so she decided to file a complaint with the Better Business Bureau.

Now everybody, her professor included, knows that she's a plagiarist (not that that will necessarily hold you back in life, right Vice-President Biden?).

What's next—a bank robber suing the auto manufacturer when his getaway car doesn't start?

In case that's not enough irony for you, then meet Robert E. Lee—not the Civil War general, but the Montana justice of peace.

Judge Lee serves on a local DUI task force, and in fact was set to preside over a special DUI court later this year. Montana may have to find someone else, however.

The 66-year-old jurist was charged earlier this month with driving under the influence of methadone (a synthetic narcotic used to ease the withdrawal symptoms of drug addiction).

According to police, Judge Lee stumbled, sweating and disoriented, into a police station. He allegedly gave "confused answers" to the officers' questions, did "poorly" on a field sobriety test, and a blood test purportedly confirmed the presence of methadone.

Officers found a methadone tablet in his car, and a search of Judge Lee's house turned up an empty, 60 tablet prescription bottle of methadone that had been filled only nine days earlier.

For the record, Judge Lee (a retired police officer) says "I'm not on any drugs."

So much for the old saying "sober as a judge."

John Browning is the managing partner of the newly-opened Dallas office of the national law firm, Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard & Smith. He may be reached by calling (972) 638-8659 or by emailing

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