Legally Speaking: More Disorder in the Court

John G. Browning Sep. 12, 2011, 1:43pm

If you thought that last week's roundup of the legally bizarre contained some of the strangest things to ever hit the justice system, then as the saying goes, "you ain't seen nothin' yet."

The lawsuits and criminal cases just get stranger and stranger. . . .

Where's Wile E. Coyote When You Need Him?

It's a given that smoking crystal meth is a bad idea. It's an even worse idea when your lighter of choice is a blowtorch. But when you decide to smoke crystal meth using a blowtorch near a container of gunpowder, then all you're missing is Wile E. Coyote, the Roadrunner, and a detonator from the Acme Explosives Company.

Sixty-five-year-old John Blanchard—who in his mugshot bears a passing resemblance to Yosemite Sam—recently pleaded no contest in San Mateo County, Calif., to drug and weapons charges. Last October, Blanchard was arrested after he caused a fire in a storage yard. Blanchard was using a defective propane blowtorch to smoke methamphetamine, and left the blowtorch on a dryer near a container of gunpowder, causing it to explode and start a fire. He's been sentenced to 45 days in jail, with limited access to "Looney Toons" cartoons.

Dude, Where's My Country?

Twenty-six-year-old Illinois prison inmate Johnathan Pinney, who is currently serving a four-year sentence for aggravated battery (he bit a police officer—don't ask), has filed a lawsuit against a long list of government employees and agencies. The convict claims that he was falsely arrested and that his civil rights were violated in myriad ways by both state and federal authorities.

But, as a cursory review of his 18-page lawsuit reveals, he's willing to be reasonable.

All he wants are $50 billion, his own country and "recognition as a forign soverinty (sic) with diplomatic immunity," a treaty of non-aggression between his country (Alaska will do, he says) and the U.S. and United Nations, and certified clearance to "access of all scientiffic (sic) advancements and developments made on American institutions," including such top secret facilities as "Area 51."

By the way, his new country should have enough arable land for 5,000 people who would provide the start for its "future population." Pinney, it should be noted, has been a patient in a mental health facility before and, on multiple occasions, has been found mentally unfit to stand trial. Color me surprised.

Death By Chocolate—Really

"Death by Chocolate" has been the name given to a number of different, decadently rich chocolate desserts offered by various restaurants. But for most of us, the closest we've come to a true "death by chocolate" is watching the gluttonous child Augustus Gloop sucked up into the recirculating river of chocolate in the movie "Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory."

Sadly, however, at least one person has fallen victim to a real-life death by chocolate. In July, the parents of a 29-year-old candy factory worker in Pennsylvania filed a wrongful death lawsuit after their son fell into a vat of chocolate. The decedent allegedly slipped on a platform made slippery with chocolate and fell into the vat, which was "processing, mixing and melting chocolate at extremely high temperatures at the time," according to the lawsuit.

The young man's co-workers were purportedly unable to shut the vat down because the switch wasn't located on the platform. The surviving parents have sued the company that owns the plant, as well as a number of defendants who were involved in manufacturing and servicing the allegedly faulty equipment.

A Lawsuit Straight from the Playground

As a child, I remember playing any number of "cops and robbers" or "cowboys and Indians" games that involved my friends and I pointing our fingers at each other and shouting "Bang, bang, you're dead." I never knew I could be sued for that.

In Cassotto v. Aeschilman, a Connecticut appellate court was recently asked to weigh in on the allegedly "extreme and outrageous" workplace conduct made the subject of an employment lawsuit. Among other things, the employee claimed that on one occasion, his superior had "look[ed] directly at the plaintiff and stat[ed] 'Bang. Bang.'" Ever the voice of reason, the appellate judges said that while the employee may have found this "upsetting," it didn't constitute extreme and outrageous conduct.

What's Next—the Rockin' Pneumonia and the Boogie-Woogie Blues?

Forty-two-year-old Roger Tullegren of Hassleholm, Sweden, has an explanation for why he "needs" to dress in black leather and skull and crossbones jewelry, attend nearly 300 concerts a year, and listen to heavy metal music at work.

According to Tullegren, several pyschologists, and now Sweden's Employment Service, the part-time dishwasher is officially addicted to heavy metal. Tullegren now gets a special dispensation for his heavy metal lifestyle clothing, gets to listen to music at work, and even receives special income supplements such as Swedish state benefits for his "disability."

Tullegren lost a number of jobs because of attire and absences to attend concerts as he fought for 10 years to get his heavy metal "addiction" classified by government agencies as a handicap. Now receiving government wage benefits and enjoying greater protection from being fired, Tullegren says, "Some might say that I should grow up and learn to listen to other types of music, but I can't. Heavy metal is my lifestyle."

The Right to Wear a Pasta Strainer on Your Head

Those hip-hop poet laureates, the Beastie Boys, taught us that you have to fight for your right to party. And now in Austria, you have the right to wear a pasta strainer on your head in your official driver's license photo, thanks to Mr. Niko Alm.

Alm waged a three-year legal battle based on religious discrimination—he claims to be a "Pastafarian" who belongs to the "Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster" (no, I'm not making this up). After the years of legal wrangling, including submitting to a medical interview to determine if he was mentally ill, Alm finally was permitted to have his driver's license photo taken wearing a pasta strainer on his head.

Looking to start your own country? Don't like people going "bang, bang" at you? Want the "right" to wear a pasta strainer on your head? Then go to court—it's not like there are more important things going on, are there?

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