Legally Speaking: Oh, what a year it was (Part 2)

John G. Browning Jan. 10, 2012, 12:39am

In my previous column, I gave you a rundown of some of the year's most bizarre legal twists and turns.

But 2011 was so chock-full of legal oddities, there wasn't room for them in just one column.

So, here we go with the rest of the strangest legal stories from 2011.

Irony Alert

Hypocrisy is never a pretty sight. The Dutch copyright lobbying group BREIN (sort of a Netherlands version of the RIAA that went after music downloaders) commissioned a musician, Melchior Rietveldt, to compose a song as a theme for an anti-piracy video.

There was just one problem: BREIN had, according to Rietveldt, only licensed his work for that one single use. The musician later discovered that the Dutch film industry has been using his music in those anti-piracy ads that run before a movie on DVD.

Rietveldt alerted his music royalty collection agency, which contends that tens of millions of Dutch DVDs are carrying Rietveldt's composition. Rietveldt is seeking more than 1 million euros.

So Much For That New Car Smell

Margarita Salais of New Baltimore, Mich., is suing a car dealership, Suburban Ford, over the 2006 Ford Expedition she bought from them in March 2011. The car runs fine, but Salais noticed a smell as soon as the weather started to warm up—the smell of a dead body, she says.

Salais says she filed a claim with her insurer, State Farm, which in turn hired a biohazard cleanup company (Elite Trauma Clean-up, Inc.) to investigate the stench. They determined that the "rotten meat" odor was of human origin.

Salais' lawyer, Dani Liblang, theorizes that because the dealership itself bought the used car in December 2010, the same cold weather that temporarily hid the smell from her client might have kept it from being noticed by the car dealer.

It's no fun when the "new car" scent you expect is replaced by "decomposing body."

Salais is suing the dealer and the credit union that financed the vehicle for over $25,000.

Not the Best Casket-Side Manner

Speaking of dead bodies, I was raised to believe that one should never speak ill of the dead. Apparently, however, in Michigan that is not just good manners, it is the law.

Under Michigan law, funeral directors can lose their license for disrespecting the dead, or "using profane, indecent, or obscene language in the presence of a dead human body, or within the immediate hearing of the family or relatives of a deceased, whose body has not yet been interred or otherwise disposed of."

That statute has come up in a lawsuit brought by Sarah Brown-Derbah, a former employee of Westland, Mich., Husband Family Funeral Home. Brown-Derbah claims that her former boss, Roger Husband, not only sexually harassed her, but that on one occasion he commented to her that a deceased client "could really show a girl a good time when he was alive with a body like this," and that the deceased "looked like he should be a college kid, not a prison inmate."

Brown-Derbah is seeking an unspecified amount of damages for Husband's alleged conduct and unwelcome comments.

If More Jails Were Like This . . .

You might expect to find stripteases, booze, cash, and even sexual favors at a seedy strip club—but at downtown Miami's maximum security Federal Detention Center?

That's the accusation leveled by Miami media, quoting several Florida criminal defense attorneys.

The reports claim that for wealthy drug lords imprisoned in the facility, attorneys have brought in pole dancers posing as "legal assistants," who, according to one attorney "take off their tops and let the guys touch them."

In one incident, one woman was caught on video stripping for an inmate in the jail's Special Housing Unit.

Attorney Hugh Rodriguez says, "Any lawyer can sign a form and designate a legal assistant. There is no way of verifying it. The process is being abused."

FDC spokespersons declined to comment on the accusations.

What, Did Our Time Together Mean Nothing to You?

Finally, in a bizarre lawsuit that has drawn nationwide attention, a kidnapper is suing his former hostages for breach of contract.

Jesse Dimmick is currently serving an 11-year sentence after bursting into the Topeka, Kan.-area home of Jared and Lindsey Rowley in September 2009, and taking the couple hostage.

Dimmick's lawsuit alleges that he told the Rowleys he was being chased by someone who wanted to kill him, and that he "asked the Rowleys to hide me because I feared for my life. I offered the Rowleys an unspecified amount of money which they agreed upon, therefore forging a legally binding oral contract."

A few facts might help put Dimmick's wild claims into context. He was being chased, but by the police.

Dimmick was wanted for questioning in the beating death of Michael Curtis (he's since been charged with murder). Dimmick had a knife (and possibly a gun) on him when he took the couple hostage.

Under contract law, we call that "duress."

The Rowleys reportedly fed Dimmick snacks and watched movies with him until he fell asleep (maybe they watched "The Fugitive"?), and they were able to escape from the house unharmed.

The Rowleys themselves filed a civil suit against Dimmick for trespass and for infliction of emotional distress, seeking a minimum of $75,000. Needless to say, the Rowleys' attorney has filed a motion denying that there was any "contract."

With stories like these crowding the court dockets in 2011, I can't wait to see what 2012 brings.

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