Legally Speaking: Wacky warning labels, and more legal oddities

John G. Browning Jun. 11, 2012, 5:40pm

As "Legally Speaking" readers know, I always try to keep you updated on the internationally-recognized annual Wacky Warning Labels contest.

Sponsored by Bob Dorigo Jones and the Center for America, it shows the extraordinary and often ridiculous lengths to which manufacturers selling products in the U.S. must go in an effort to protect themselves from frivolous lawsuits.

This year, the top five finalists are:

  • An electric skillet that warns: "Caution: griddle surface may be hot during and after cooking."
  • A neck pillow for children (in adorable frog and teddy bear-inspired designs) with the warning: "Keep product away from infants and children."
  • A 7-inch decorative globe that cautions: "These globes should not be referred to for navigation."
  • A men's razor bearing the warning "Never use while sleeping" (I've heard of sleepwalking, but is "sleepshaving" really a growing problem?)
  • Finally, a "Laptop Steering Wheel Desk" that warns "Never use this product while driving."

    And naturally, just when you thought that was as odd as things might get, strangeness always abounds in the legal system.

    For example, I've shared news of controversially-named alcoholic beverages before that state authorities have tried to ban, like "Dirty Bastard Brew." From Idaho comes word that state liquor regulators there have banned the sale of Five Wives Vodka, whose label carries that name and an image of five women in an apparent reference to polygamy.

    Idaho State Liquor Division administrator Jeff Anderson says the brand's concept is "offensive to a prominent segment of our population" (Mormons constitute over 25 percent of Idaho's population).

    Ironically, the vodka is made by Ogden's Own Distillery in Utah, where the Mormon Church is based, and nobody in Utah is making a fuss over the beverage. Ogden's Own Distillery says the ban is unfair, pointing out that Idaho stores already stock a Utah beer named "Polygamy Porter." It's vowed to fight the Idaho decision.

    While recent courthouse shootings in Beaumont, Texas, and other states remind us that courthouse security is vital to the administration of justice, sometimes people can be a little too cautious. The federal courthouse in Pocatello, Idaho, was recently evacuated when someone reported a magazine containing a "suspicious device." Between 30 and 40 people were evacuated from the building, and the bomb squad sent a robot in to deal with the package.

    The culprit turned out to be an insert with a musical chip similar to those in greeting cards. I'm not sure what tune it played, but maybe the U.S. Marshals can start with "I'm Not Afraid" by Eminem.

    Couples divorce for all kinds of reasons, and the all-encompassing term "irreconcilable differences" can cover a multitude of sins. I'm pretty sure the Rabbinical Court in Beersheba, Israel, will have no problem honoring the divorce request of a husband seeking to end his marriage because of his wife's love for cats. The wife refuses to part with her cats—all 550 of them!

    The husband says he's unable to sleep in his bedroom, access the bathroom, or prepare meals in the kitchen due to the kitty overcrowding situation.

    I've written before about grammatical mistakes and typos that have proved costly in legal and government documents. Although I'm a loyal Longhorn, my own alma mater, the University of Texas, is not immune from these same foibles.

    At the graduation ceremonies this year for the University's Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs, the commencement program contained an embarrassing typo—calling the school the one of "Pubic" Affairs.

    Susan Binford, the assistant dean for communications at the LBJ School, said "Obviously, we are mortified. It's beyond embarrassing."

    Although an apology was issued and corrected programs were later distributed, maybe the school should look on the bright side—it could lead to increased enrollment from those wanting to study "pubic affairs."

    Judges can be known for stiff punishments, which may be why the bond terms recently imposed on 23-year-old Otis Mobley Jr. by Oakland, Calif., federal judge Yvonne Gonzales Rogers has attracted attention.

    Mobley is accused, along with two other defendants, of conspiring to sell a grenade launcher to an undercover Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agent (the planned sale was apparently just a ruse for a robbery of the agent).

    In addition to posting $150,000 bond and wearing an electronic ankle monitor, Mobley was ordered by Judge Rogers to read and write daily book reports.

    There has been no word on what books will be on Mobley's reading list, but may I suggest "Crime and Punishment" or perhaps "The Little Convict that Could?"

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