It seems like no matter where I look around the legal system nowadays, I am bound to find some pretty bizarre characters and circumstances.
Here are some examples illustrating that when it comes to our courts and those who frequent them, there truly is a "right to remain strange."
There's Gold in Them Thar Courthouses
You don't often find criminal masterminds plotting a heist at the courthouse; after all, the whole point to them is staying out of the courtroom. But on Feb. 1 the Siskiyou County Courthouse in Yreka, Calif., was the scene of a daring robbery.
Thieves made away with $3 million in gold nuggets, which were apparently part of a mining history display at the courthouse (back in 1851, a gold rush in this part of northern California was known as "the second Mother Lode").
I've known a lot of people who hoped to strike it rich at the courthouse, but usually there's a jury involved.
My Kingdom for a Gavel
They are pretty serious about having all the trappings of justice in the justice courts of Utah (equivalent to Texas' justice of the peace courts, where small claims are heard). No gavel, no service.
In January, the Utah Judicial Council gave the Heber Justice Court until February to come into compliance with the mandate that each justice court has a gavel—or risk being decertified. Heber Justice Court Judge Randy Birch learned that the court was about to lose its official status, so he ventured onto the Internet and purchased a gavel. Problem solved.
That had a happier ending than the Hildale Justice Court—that court had its judge, Walter Steed, removed from office by the Utah Supreme Court in 2006 for "engaging in a plural relationship with three women."
Well, after all, it is Utah.
Truth in Advertising?
If you've spent any time on or near a park bench in Pittsburgh lately, you may have seen an ad for a network of plaintiff personal injury lawyers known as Injury Law Group LLC.
I wouldn't exactly call these ads classy—they tout their "Successful, Greedy Attorneys" who "won't let you settle cheap."
Greedy lawyers—well, at least they'll be no truth in advertising dispute.
Blame It On the Cat
I had a friend once who tried to blame his flatulence on his dog. Brett Nash of Pontoon Beach, Ill., may have taken this approach to a new extreme. The 45 year old was recently arraigned on felony charges of interference with commerce by violence and attempted extortion.
According to federal investigators, Nash plotted with a paroled killer to kidnap, extort, and then kill a wealthy man. The would-be accomplice backed out, notified the FBI, and then helped trap Nash by recording conversations with him.
According to federal agents, Nash's plan was to extort money out of the victim before forcing him into a hot tub and electrocuting him with a radio tossed into the water, followed by sprinkling kitty litter onto the scene to prompt investigators into believing the cat was actually responsible for the killing.
Not surprisingly, this criminal mastermind (who has prior convictions for robbery, home invasion, forgery, and drug possession) remains in jail without bond. The cat remains free.
Not Your Run of the Mill Adoption
Wealthy polo club founder John Goodman of Palm Beach, Fla., is in a lot of trouble. Goodman, who founded the International Polo Club Palm Beach in Wellington, Fla., faces a criminal trial on March 6 on charges of DUI manslaughter, vehicular homicide and leaving the scene of an accident after allegedly running a stop sign on Feb. 12, 2010, and killing 23-year-old Scott Patrick Wilson.
If convicted, Goodman is looking at up to 30 years in prison. He is also facing a wrongful death civil suit from the victim's parents, Lili and William Wilson; that trial is set for March 27, 2012.
The judge presiding over the civil action has already ruled that a financial trust set up for Goodman's children is off limits and can't be considered part of Goodman's net worth if a jury returns a verdict against him.
But in a maneuver that has shocked many observers, last fall Goodman legally adopted his younger girlfriend, Heather Laruso Hutchins, making her his daughter. Under the terms of the adoption papers, Hutchins is immediately entitled to at least a third of the trust's assets (Goodman's two biological children are both minors).
The move has plaintiffs' lawyers crying foul, and Judge Glenn Kelley wrote that the turn of events "border on the surreal and take the Court into a legal twilight zone."
He went on to write "The Court cannot ignore reality or the practical impact of what Mr. Goodman has now done. The Defendant has effectively diverted a significant portion of the assets of the children's trust to a person with whom he is intimately involved at a time when his personal assets are largely at risk in this case."
I don't know if the Wilsons' civil attorneys can think of a way around this, but I know what I would do if I were the prosecutor: add incest charges to the litany of criminal counts that Goodman currently faces.
He Pulled This Lawsuit Out of His Butt - Literally
Finally, just when you thought it couldn't get any weirder, we have a lawsuit straight out of MTV's "Jackass." According to a civil complaint filed in Cabell County, W. Va., on Jan. 23, Louis Helmburg III was injured at the Alpha Tau Omega fraternity house. The plaintiff was startled by an incident that caused him to move back, falling off the fraternity house's deck and sustaining physical injuries.
But what is really bizarre is the incident that startled him in the first place: one of the defendant frat boys, Travis Hughes, "decided in his drunken stupor that it would be a good idea to shoot bottle rockets out of his anus on the [Alpha Tau Omega fraternity] deck."
Hughes placed a bottle rocket in his anus and ignited the fuse, "but instead of launching, the bottle rocket blew up in Defendant's rectum." Ouch!
As a result, the lawsuit claims that the defendant owed a duty "not to . . . fire bottle rockets out of his anus."
I'm pretty sure the law will agree with a duty like that, even if it isn't specifically covered in a statute somewhere. I've heard of having a lawsuit blow up in your face before, but never the other end.