Legally Speaking: A funny thing happened on the way to the courthouse (Part 4)

John G. Browning Dec. 13, 2011, 4:00am

As the previous installments of this series have shown, some pretty strange things can happen in civil and criminal cases.

Sometimes, the weirdness factor is there from the beginning and, occasionally, the unexpected happens in the courtroom itself. As the following examples illustrate, the legal system won't run out of "crazy" anytime soon.

This Is a Courtroom – Laws Don't Apply Here

Breastfeeding mothers have it tough—your infant has to eat and, sometimes, the baby's sense of timing leaves something to be desired.

Natalie Hegedus of Michigan was recently in court to contest a boating ticket, and while waiting for her case to be called, she began nursing her 5-month-old son.

When her case was announced, though, she approached the bench with her baby still suckling away, at which point Hegedus had the following exchange with Judge Robert Hentchel:

Hentchel: "You think that's appropriate in here?"

Hegedus: "It's not against the law; I have to feed my son."

Hentchel: "Ma'am, it's my courtroom, I decide what's appropriate in here . . . . You have to understand that a judge—the laws don't apply in a courtroom. The judge's law applies, do you understand that?"

Hegedus says the judge humiliated her and she has contacted legal counsel.

Public breastfeeding is legal in 45 out of 50 states, although I am not sure if Michigan is one of them. In any event, I cannot wait to go into court and cite Judge Hentchel as authority for the "laws don't apply in a courtroom" concept.

At press time, supporters of Natalie Hegedus were planning a "nurse-in" protest at the courthouse.

This Magician Couldn't Make the Lawsuit Disappear

In the Netherlands, Dutch magician Hans Klok was sued for copyright infringement by his former assistant (and now fellow magician) Rafael van Herck.

Van Herck claimed he developed a magic routine in which he fights with a waiter, reaches "through" his body to grab a glass of water off a tray, and then "knocks off" the waiter's head. Van Herck alleged that Klok stole the illusion and passed it off as his own.

Klok responded that the trick was hardly original and had even been used in Vegas by Siegfried & Roy. But a Dutch court disagreed and ordered Klok to pay $16,725.

Looks like this magician couldn't pull a rabbit out of his hat (in legal terms) and make this verdict disappear.

The Lawyer, the Cockroach and the Lawsuit

This story involves one of the most reviled creatures on earth; but besides a lawyer, it also features cockroaches.

Harry Marsh, a lawyer, and his fiancee Kaitlin Rush were aboard an Air Tran flight in September from Charlotte to Houston when they allegedly saw cockroaches climbing out of the air vents and overhead compartments.

Marsh and Rush claim they brought the creepy-crawly invasion to the attention of flight attendants, but were ignored. Fearing the bugs had gotten into their luggage, the couple later threw away or washed their belongings.

They also sued the airline for all kinds of things, including negligence, intentional infliction of emotional distress, fraud, false imprisonment, and deceptive trade practices.

Marsh and Rush (who also took photos of the bugs as proof) are seeking $100,000 plus the cost of their tickets. Insert your favorite lawyer joke here.

If You're Going to Blame Your Secretary, It Helps to Actually Have One

Twenty-nine-year-old Rhode Island family law attorney Milan Azar was facing disciplinary charges before the Rhode Island Supreme Court recently. He blamed the billing dispute that had inspired the charges on "staff error."

There was just one problem: an investigation revealed that he did not have any staff.

Azar claims embarrassment led to his falsifying the excuse. The Rhode Island Supreme Court has ordered him to complete 20 hours of pro bono work as punishment.

There's No Crying in Baseball; Closing Arguments, However, Are Another Matter

In June 2008, prosecutors in southwest Ohio filed an odd motion against criminal defense attorney Greg Howard, asking a judge to order that there be no crying during closing arguments on the death penalty.

Prosecutors accused Howard of strategically crying on cue and begging for his clients' lives during other closing arguments (with some success—one client only received a life sentence).

Howard referred to the motions as "petty" and the product of prosecutors who are "tired of losing."

Don't cry for me, Argentina.

One Strange Ticket

The Al-Anba Daily recently reported on what may be the strangest ticket ever issued.

A traffic cop in Kuwait City issued a citation against a Kuwaiti motorist for "having bad breath." Authorities are unsure how to handle this, since there is no penalty specified under the law.

Here's an idea: how about time off for good behavior, conditional upon consumption of a tin of Altoids?

Some Questions Shouldn't Be Asked

The old saying that "He who represents himself has a fool for a client" is usually true. Just ask Philome Cesar of Bethlehem, Penn.

On Nov. 15, the 32 year-old was defending himself before a Lehigh County jury on charges that he had robbed 25 area hotels, convenience stores and other businesses over a three-month period in 2010.

Cesar had claimed he is innocent, and was only charged because police searching for an African-American male suspect happened upon him while he was driving to his girlfriend's house.

Yet one after another, the 19 witnesses who testified that Tuesday identified Cesar as the person who had robbed them at gunpoint.

Doing his best to cross-examine the witnesses, Cesar asked ones like Daryl Evans (who was robbed at a Holiday Inn Express) to describe what the robber sounded like. Evans responded "He sounded like you," at which point the jury erupted in laughter.

With the next witness, Charlotte Sire (who was robbed while working the graveyard shift at a Sunoco station), Cesar asked the same question. Sire answered, "It sounded exactly like you," which led to more laughter from the jury box.

Cesar quit asking that question; when even the jury is laughing at you, sometimes you just have to quit while you're behind.

The Master of Your Domain

Finally, we have another odd circumstance landing in court. Karen Royce is a 60-year-old medical technician working on a degree in social work at Western Nevada College. She enrolled in a freshman-level Human Sexuality class to fulfill a social science requirement, only to find out that instructor Tom Kubistant had a bizarre approach to homework.

Kubistant's assignments included assigning students to pleasure themselves and write about it, as well as to write a 12–14 page sexual case study on themselves.

Uncomfortable with the assignments, Royce complained to the instructor, then to the college administrator, and then filed a complaint with the Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights.

Among other concerns, Royce is worried about students who will feel pressured to compromise their sense of values in order to meet the class requirements.

College officials maintain that Royce's claims are unfounded and that many students speak highly of Kubistant's class, calling it one of the best offered at the school. I don't even want to ask about what "extra credit" involves.

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