Legally Speaking: Stranger than fiction

John G. Browning Aug. 14, 2012, 4:43am

Whenever I'd watch one of those TV shows with a legal theme, like "Boston Legal" or "Ally McBeal" (or pretty much anything else springing from the fertile mind of David E. Kelley), inevitably there would be some case, litigant or legal circumstance that would not just strain credibility, but actually make me laugh out loud at how preposterous it was.

But if the latest goings-on in the legal system are any indication, then maybe I laughed too soon.

Sometimes, reality really is stranger than fiction, as these examples show.

Was This Judge Racist or a Frustrated Comedian?

Sheikh Khalid Ben Abdfullah Rashid Alfawaz is a wealthy individual, and probably used to a certain amount of deference. So imagine his surprise when he heard some of the comments directed his way by the judge presiding over his divorce in a British court.

The judge commented that the sheikh might "depart on his flying carpet" to avoid paying costs, that the sheikh should be available to attend future hearings since it was a "relatively fast-free time of the year," that the sheikh's case was "a bit gelatinous . . . like Turkish Delight," and that the sheikh should remain in court to make sure "every grain of sand is sifted."

Sheikh Alfawaz was not amused, and when the judge would not recuse himself, the sheikh appealed and won. Not only was the judge removed from the case, he was ordered to apologize as well.

Is This an Unfortunate Comment on Legal Education?

This headline actually appeared recently in the Jamestown Sun: "Krapp graduates from law school."

Rather than a commentary on the quality of newly-minted graduates of the University of North Dakota School of Law, it led into an article about the achievement of Kelsey Krapp, a 2012 graduate of the law school.

Kelsey's first order of business as a lawyer, though, should probably be to change that name.

Watch What You Wear to Court

I've written in the past about observing decorum and showing respect for the justice system by wearing appropriate attire, rather than what one would wear to a backyard barbecue.

Apparently, it's not just witnesses but also journalists covering the courthouse beat who need a reminder of this.

In June, 25-year-old reporter Laura McQuillan was ejected from a Wellington, New Zealand, courtroom for wearing "gold sparkly pants."

Apparently, the courthouse staff felt that the tight sequined "disco pants" were better suited for late night clubbing than for a murder trial.

McQuillan, a journalist for NZ Newswire, protested on Twitter, tweeting "I'm sitting under a table! No one even sees my legs!"

By that reasoning, judges wouldn't have to wear pants.

And speaking of pants, make sure they fit. Alabama circuit Judge John Bush found a criminal defendant appearing to enter a plea in contempt of court for wearing saggy pants. Twenty-year-old LaMarcus Ramsey was sentenced to three days in jail, which should be enough time to contemplate the importance of buying either a belt or pants that fit.

I Hope She Didn't Offer to Show the Judge

Just when I thought I'd heard every defense possibly, here comes a new one. Forty-nine-year-old Maureen Raymond of Port St. Lucie, Fla., was stopped in January on suspicion of DWI.

According to the police report, a deputy smelled alcohol on her breath and observed that she had glassy eyes, slurred speech and staggered when she walked.

When asked to walk a straight line and complete other field sobriety tests, Ms. Raymond complained that her "big breasts" put her off balance and were responsible for her failing these tests.

She also began to dance and started taking her clothes off before the deputy stopped her. Raymond was taken to jail before being released on bond.

I can only imagine what her defense will be in front of the judge.

Welcome to New York—We're No Fun

It's probably just as well that Ms. Raymond wasn't stopped in New York City because, apparently, the dancing alone can get you thrown in jail. Fifty-five-year-old Caroline Stern and her 54-year-old boyfriend George Hess were returning home last July from the "Midsummer Night's Swing" jazz concert at Lincoln Center.

While waiting on the subway platform at the Columbus Circle station, the couple heard a musician playing steel drums and began to boogie.

"We were doing the Charleston," Stern says, before "eight ninja cops came out of nowhere."

Hess was tackled and thrown to the floor, and both Hess and Stern were handcuffed and taken to jail for disorderly conduct (they were "impeding the flow of traffic" at the nearly deserted subway platform) and resisting arrest.

Although the charges were later dropped, the couple filed a lawsuit against the city in Manhattan federal court. I can't believe someone got arrested for dancing (no matter how bad your moves might be).

Has New York City turned into that small town from "Footloose?"

When This University Says Stay in School, It Means It

Marcel Pohl is a young man in a hurry to complete his education (a lot of American college students could probably learn a few things from him). The 22 year-old German wanted to complete his bachelor's and master's degrees from a private German economics and business university, a task that requires passing 60 examinations.

At the Essen-based School of Economics and Management, that usually takes 11 semesters. Pohl did it in three semesters, with a 2.3 grade point average.

But rather than congratulate their turbocharged newest alumnus, school administrators have taken a very different approach: they're suing him. The school wants the total costs for how long the course of study should have taken, regardless of how long it actually took.

Pohl is shocked.

"When I got the lawsuit, I thought it couldn't be true. Performance is supposed to be worth something," he says.

So it is, Marcel, so it is.

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