Legally Speaking: A funny thing happened on the way to the courthouse (Part 3)

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

Just in case my previous two columns weren't enough evidence to demonstrate that yes, pretty much anything can and does happen in the justice system, here's a fresh set of "exhibits."

Exhibit A – Penmanship Counts

I've written before about the critical errors made by would-be bank robbers—stopping for a nearby lunch instead of making their getaway, wearing a painfully obvious and ineffective disguise, and even showing up just after the bank had closed.

Apparently, penmanship counts, too, just like teachers used to tell us. Tomas J. Love walked into the WSFS bank in New Castle, Del., in October and handed one of the bank tellers a demand note scrawled on a deposit slip.

But the teller was unable to decipher Love's handwriting, and handed the note back to the would-be holdup artist and told him to rewrite it. Humiliated and empty-handed, Love fled the bank on foot only to be apprehended by New Castle police and charged with attempted robbery.

You know, he could have avoided this by just watching the same thing happen in the Woody Allen movie "Take the Money and Run."

Exhibit B – Just Text "No" to Drugs

According to police in Marion, N.C., 35-year-old Amy Leigh Brown really got her wires crossed on October 6, 2011. The woman allegedly texted someone by mistake in an attempt to illegally sell the prescription drug Xanax—that someone being Deputy P.V. Alkire of the McDowell County Sheriff's Office. Although Alkire didn't recognize the phone number, he knew a potential drug bust when he saw one, so he responded and set up a meeting to buy from Ms. Brown.

She arrived at the appointed spot, but when the police approached, Brown deleted all of her texts and denied texting the deputy. So Alkire called the phone number from which the texts had originated, and Brown's phone rang. Oops!

Brown was taken into custody, and 25 pills were found in her possession. Oddly enough, Brown lives on a street called Scooby Doo Drive; maybe she should just stick to Scooby snacks.

Exhibit C – Is Listening to Rush Limbaugh Cruel & Unusual Punishment?

On Oct. 3, Bridget Boyd filed a civil rights lawsuit against Harris County and Sheriff's Deputy Mark Goad in federal court in Houston. According to her lawsuit, Boyd was experiencing car trouble during her morning commute and decided to drive on the shoulder of the freeway.

Deputy Goad arrived and ticketed her for driving on the shoulder. When Boyd protested the ticket, Goad allegedly arrested her.

Boyd claims that she suffered an "increased heart rate," as well as emotional distress and mental anguish.

The cause? Boyd (who is African-American) says she "was placed in the back of the police car and forced to listen to Rush Limbaugh make derogatory racial remarks about black people through Deputy Goad's radio on her way to jail."

Good luck with that, Bridget—I don't recall anything in the Constitution about a right to NPR.

Exhibit D – Bravo for Life's Little Ironies

The plaintiffs in the Wisconsin class action lawsuit against Taylorville Chiropractic Clinic and its director probably thought they had scored an important legal victory recently when they convinced St. Clair County (Ill.) Circuit Judge Lloyd Cueto to certify the class and notify potential class members of the lawsuit.

The Plaintiffs filed in 2009, claiming that the defendants had violated the federal Telephone Consumer Protection Act by sending unsolicited fax advertisements. But they might have done a double take when they saw the method Judge Cueto specified for sending out notices to other prospective members of the class action suit—fax, of course.

Exhibit E – Keep Your Clothes On, Lady Godiva

Holly Van Voast, a photographer who disrobes in public to challenge the stigma against nudity, has stripped everywhere from Times Square to Grand Central Terminal. Her Lady Godiva act at Grand Central earned the New Yorker a date in court.

When she tried to describe her actions to Judge Rita Mella, Van Voast did what comes naturally: she removed her coat, revealing that she had nothing on above the waist.

Judge Mella was not amused, and told the defendant she would be punished for contempt if she didn't apologize. Although Van Voast apologized for exposing herself, Franklin Schwartz—her 89-year-old court-appointed lawyer—said he'd never seen anything like it in his 62 years of law practice.

Be careful, Ms. Van Voast; when they give you a lawyer that old, you don't want to give the poor guy a heart attack.

Exhibit F – From the Department of "Well, Duh"

Maybe Franklin Schwartz should stick to representing people closer to his age, like Ms. Elsie Pawlow of Edmonton in Alberta, Canada.

Ms. Pawlow sued Kraft Canada, the parent company of Cadbury Adams, the makers of Stride chewing gum, for $100,000. According to Pawlow, she deserves the money because the gum (marketed as "ridiculously long-lasting") stuck to her dentures and she suffered depression for all of 10 minutes.

Seriously, grandma? The obvious and predictable happens, and you want $100,000 for it? Try the Canadian lottery instead.

Exhibit G – Wigs No More

Centuries of tradition in Irish courts are about to come to an end. Judges in the Emerald Isle will no longer wear wigs. Acknowledging the costs of the tradition (the horsehair wigs cost the government $3,000 each), not to mention the discomfort, Ireland's Superior Courts Rules Committee officially decided to discontinue the practice, which has been in place since the 17th Century. Anybody want to buy a wig?

Exhibit H – Maybe They Saw "Deliverance" Once Too Often

One of my law professors once told me, "When the law is on your side, pound the law. When the facts are on your side, pound the facts. When neither are on your side, pound the table."

And if there's no table, insult the other side's ancestry and accuse them of being inbred. At least that seems to have been the thinking by lawyers at Washington, D.C.'s Crowell & Moring. The law firm, which represents major players in the mining industry like Massey Energy, prepared a memo in response to an academic study that discussed possible links between the controversial process of mountaintop coal mining and birth defects in the Appalachians.

The Crowell & Moring memo criticized the study, saying it "failed to account for consanquinity (sic), one of the most prominent sources of birth defects."

First of all, if you are a bunch of ostensibly high-powered Washington lawyers who want to insult an entire region's inhabitants by accusing them of inbreeding (a.k.a. consanguinity), you should learn to spell.

Second, you should get your facts straight—consanguinity is no more prevalent in Appalachia than it is in other parts of the country, according to experts.

The memo ignited a firestorm of controversy and protests against the law firm, the controversial "client alert" memo was withdrawn, and Crowell & Moring issued a formal apology.

But that wasn't enough for Jason Huber, a law professor from Charlotte, W. Va., who filed an ethics complaint against four Crowell & Moring attorneys with Washington's Office of Bar Counsel.

The complaint accuses the lawyers of running "afoul of their ethical and moral obligations as attorneys in soliciting business from the mining industry" by making "material misrepresentations about the Appalachian people."

I'm not sure about their ethics, but those lawyers certainly aren't the sharpest knives in the drawer.

More News