Legally Speaking: As weird as they wanna be

John G. Browning Jan. 31, 2012, 1:11am

Sometimes, the bizarre aspects of the legal world stand out.

There are the outrageous lawsuits, like the convicted drunk driver who sues the family of the motorist he killed or the burglar suing the business he was trying to rob when he hurt himself on their premises.

Then there are the litigants themselves, who often seem like refugees from a bad TV reality show. Other times, however, you have to dig a little deeper into a police report, an indictment, or a civil suit to arrive at the truly weird kernel at the heart of the matter.

This week, I'd like to bring you my own little roundup of the legally weird.

Police reports can often make for dull reading—that is, until you get the name of the criminal suspect. When police in San Rafael, Calif., stopped a car for speeding in January, they smelled the strong odor of marijuana.

A search revealed 7 pounds of marijuana inside a rear seat, prompting the arrest of a passenger in the car who claimed ownership of the pot. His name was Peace Baba Aquarius, and when you stop to think about it, discovering someone with a name like that in Marin County, Calif., who's holding enough weed to supply a Snoop Dogg/Willie Nelson jam session really isn't all that strange after all.

An even odder name to surface on the police blotter also appeared in January when Madison, Wisconsin police arrested a man for drug use and possession of drug paraphernalia.

The suspect's name? Beezow Doo-Doo Zopittybop-Bop-Bop (he had it legally changed in October 2011). Let's face it—if you're going to be busted on drug charges and your name sounds like David Lee Roth scat-singing in the shower, then you're just making it easier on the prosecution.

Speaking of making it easier on the prosecution, late January also saw arrests in one of the biggest global online piracy stings ever. Seven defendants and two companies, including the popular, were charged with multiple counts of copyright infringement, conspiracy and money laundering in connection with the online distribution of movies, music, software, and books.

About $50 million in assets were seized, and federal investigators are looking for a lot more, including luxury cars like Maseratis, Mercedes-Benz, and even a Rolls Royce.

According to one search warrant, the license plate on one of the vehicles sought has the license plate "GUILTY."

Again, if you are driving around, wanted by federal authorities, maybe that particular license plate isn't such a good idea.

Employment litigation is yet another source of the bizarre. It is probably a given that running around waving a fake penis (or a real one, for that matter) at work is likely to result in a sexual harassment claim.

But what happens when the employee waving the fake genitalia is the one suing? That is what J&J Snack Foods of Pennsauken, Penn., is trying to figure out.

The snack food maker has been hit with a federal civil rights lawsuit by a former factory worker, 45-year-old Pauline Davis. It seems the employee is contemplating gender reassignment surgery and undergoing hormone treatments, and she told several co-workers about it, right down to the prosthetic penis that she wears.

Davis claims she was fired by J&J wrongfully, and accuses them of gender-identity discrimination. The snack food maker hasn't commented publicly on the litigation, but I'm pretty sure that anyone caught showing off their equipment (real or fake) to fellow employees would be in for an unpleasant sitdown with H.R.

In another workplace-related suit, a former Chevron employee sued the company for harming his reputation and "hurting his feelings." It seems that the employee, Richard Duste, shared with a co-worker about his "hobby" of visiting strip clubs and brothels.

The co-worker told others about it, leading to an internal investigation that resulted in Duste's termination. Duste sued Chevron, and in October, an apparently clueless jury awarded Duste $100,000 for his hurt feelings (maybe they made him feel better by giving him a "participant" ribbon as well).

In January, U.S. District Judge Maria-Elena James overturned the jury's award, since the evidence showed that Duste's reputation wasn't actually harmed at all.

When some Chevron clients heard about Mr. Duste's "hobby," they said they actually would have gone out to such adult establishments with him!

In many cases featuring so-called "expert witnesses," the source of such "expert" testimony is either a quack or an academic of questionable repute who's become a "thought leader" in an esoteric field of his own making.

This invasion of the courtroom by such "junk science" is why the courts in Texas and elsewhere have adopted procedures to challenge an expert's qualifications and have a judge rule on whether a jury will ever get to hear from him or her.

But even before the Daubert/Robinson challenges (as they've become known, from the cases that articulated such a standard) came into vogue, legislators were expressing frustration with some types of expert testimony.

In 1995, former New Mexico State Sen. Duncan Scott introduced a satiric bill that would require a psychologist or psychiatrist testifying during a defendant's competency hearing to "wear a cone-shaped hat that is not less than 2 feet tall" and "imprinted with stars and lightning bolts" as well as "a white beard that is not less than 18 inches in length."

Moreover, during the expert testimony, "the bailiff shall contemporaneously dim the courtroom lights and administer two strikes to a Chinese gong. . . ."

The satiric piece of legislation passed unanimously, but unfortunately was taken out before being considered by the house and never became law. I would have paid good money to see the results of that law in action.

Finally, what do you do when you are a local TV news station, eager to do your First Amendment duty by covering a high-profile political corruption case, but the judge has ruled that no cameras are allowed in the courtroom?

If you are Channel 19 Action News of Akron, Ohio, you ridicule the judge's "no cameras" ruling by airing reenactments of each day of trial using puppets!

Faced with having to obey the letter of the court's ruling, but also with a desire to share with the public the newsworthy events of former county commissioner Jimmy Dimora's trial on bribery and corruption charges, the news station gave the public "The Puppet's Court."

Each day, the testimony—word for word—was reenacted by puppets that appeared straight out of a Jim Henson estate sale (honestly, watching it, I kept expecting Kermit and Miss Piggy!).

Not surprisingly, the judge wasn't rendered particularly flatteringly.

One day, I'd like to see a personal injury trial reenacted in Claymation; Mr. Bill from "Saturday Night Live" would be the perfect plaintiff.

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