Legally Speaking: The Good, The Bad and the Just Plain Weird - Part 2

John G. Browning May 2, 2011, 2:35pm

Last week, I treated you to a round-up of some of the bizarre cases and developments around the world. There were so many, in fact, that I couldn't fit it all into one column.

So, here we go again:

The "Just Kidding" Defense

I've previously written about the strange defenses that criminal suspects and their lawyers have come up with, but new ones are always popping up.

Case in point: Leah Hinton.

This 49 year-old Vermont woman is accused of trying to rob a local gas station.

A clerk at Simon's Premium Gas Station in Winooski, Vt., told police that Hinton had told him "give me all your money;" when the clerk tried to alert her manager, the would-be robber fled.

Using the store's surveillance cameras, police were able to identify Hinton's car. A person who saw local media reports about the attempted robbery identified Hinton and told police she and a companion were staying at a local motel.

When police confronted Hinton, she said the incident was "just a joke" and a misunderstanding. Police found drugs and drug paraphernalia in Hinton's motel room, and took her into custody.

Now she gets to try her "just kidding" defense in front of a judge, and see if he or she has a sense of humor.

I'm Sure He Would've Made a Good Juror

Among all the potential jurors lined up for jury duty in the Trumbull County, Ohio, Courthouse last February for the beginning of Curtis Dorsey's trial on drug and weapons charges, many no doubt had valid excuses for why they couldn't serve.

None, however, had a better reason for Judge Peter Kontos than Juror No. 22. That prospective juror just happened to be assistant prosecutor Chris Becker, who was prosecuting the case.

Needless to say, the judge promptly excused Juror Becker so that Prosecutor Becker could focus on the trial (the case ended with a plea bargain shortly before jury selection began).

Court officials say the fluke of an assistant prosecutor being called to serve on one of his own cases was the result of Ohio's random computer selection done by voting records.

Who Said Video Games Were a Waste of Time?

Legal employers have wrestled with the best way to spot emerging legal talent, since performance on exams doesn't always indicate who's likely to succeed in the real world practice of law.

Now a Dutch law firm, Houthoff Buruma, has teamed up with Ranj Serious Games to create "The Game," a video game in which graduating law students are given a complex legal scenario in which they must represent a foreign company as it schemes to take over a Dutch family-owned concern.

The players are divided into five-person teams, given 90 minutes to deal with assorted problems, and must persuade enough shareholders to sell their stock.

All the while, players are bombarded with emails, CNN news flashes, more than 100 fictional documents, and other obstacles as the game tests how well they cope with stressful situations.

Around 600 of the roughly 800 law students who graduated in the Netherlands last year played "The Game," which has won awards from various technology and gaming companies.

And to think your parents said that all that time playing video games was a waste of time?

Maybe He Named It After An Ex-Wife

The owners of Flying Dog Brewery are waging a legal battle with the Michigan Liquor Control Commission.

It seems the Commission rejected Flying Dog's license application to sell its "Raging Bitch" 20th Anniversary India Pale Ale, on the grounds that the product is "deemed . . . to be detrimental to the health, safety, or welfare of the general public."

Flying Dog has sued the Commission, alleging censorship and that "its members have taken it upon themselves to control not merely alcoholic beverages, but speech as well," according to lawyer Alan Gura, who represents the brewery. A Seattle-based nonprofit, the Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise, has also taken up Flying Dog's cause.

Flying Dog maintains its First Amendment rights have been violated by the Commission's arbitrarily imposing their personal tastes in banning "Raging Bitch."

They may have a pretty good point, based on other beer names and labels that have previously been given the state of Michigan's blessing. Flying Dog introduced two other brews, "Doggie Style" Classic Pale and "In Heat Wheat" Hefeweizen Ale, that are currently sold in Michigan.

And the state has previously allowed sales of alcoholic beverages with an arguably vulgar word on the label, including Founders Brewery's "Dirty Bastard."

Maybe to settle this, President Obama should hold another "beer summit."

Don't Post About The Crime If You Can't Do The Time

Finally, it's no secret that social media has transformed the world in which we live.

There are over 600 million users on Facebook, the largest social networking site, and over half visit the site at least once a day. In December 2010 alone, Americans spent 49.3 billion minutes on Facebook.

Apparently, the criminal element is just as social networking-obsessed as the rest of society.

On March 23, the International Bank of Commerce branch on Eldridge Parkway in Houston was robbed of $62,000 by two armed, masked suspects. But as detectives investigated the theft, incriminating posts on Facebook made it appear to be an inside job orchestrated by two teenage bank tellers, the 18-year-old boyfriend of one teller, and the 22-year-old brother of another.

Two days before the heist, 19-year-old teller Estefany Martinez posted the cryptic status update "GET $$$" on her Facebook page.

Two days after the robbery, she posted "IM RICH . . ."

Meanwhile, her boyfriend Ricky "Ricko Gee" Gonzalez posted "WIPE MY TEETH WITH HUNDEREDS . . ." (as well as a reference to wiping another part of his anatomy with $50 bills) the day after the robbery.

He also posted "U HAVE TO PAST THE LINE SOMETIMES!!! TO GET DIS MONEY!!!" the day after the heist.

Incidentally, "Ricko Gee's" Facebook page also reads under employer, "Make money both ways Dirty and Clean!!"

Police arrested Gonzales, tellers Estefany Martinez and Anna Margarita Rivera, and Rivera's brother Arturo Solano.

According to the criminal complaint filed in Houston federal court, Martinez and Rivera began planning the robbery approximately a month before and made sure that they would be working when the hold-up occurred.

The defense attorney for Estefany Martinez says, "I've always heard that you shouldn't post pictures of yourself on Facebook smoking pot or drinking because employers are now looking at Facebook pages. But I never knew there should be a warning not to post about a bank robbery that's been committed."

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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