Readers of “Legally Speaking” know that I delight in finding some of the most bizarre, did-that-really-happen moments in actual court cases in the civil and criminal justice systems.
Some of the more recent instances, however, stand out so much that they ought to have their own distinctions. Here are some awards I’d give out if I were in charge.
The “Dog Ate My Homework” Award
If you’ve ever seen one of those spy movies where someone swallows the microfilm or data chip to keep it from falling into the wrong hands, then you’ll appreciate the strange diet of Frank Tamayo.
The 41-year-old former mortgage broker recently pleaded guilty to securities fraud in a New York City insider trading case. According to prosecutors, Tamayo and a former law school classmate working at a Wall Street firm engaged in a five-year insider trading scheme that allegedly produced $5.6 million in profits off of $33 million in stock trades.
Tamayo allegedly jotted down ticker symbols on Post-it notes or napkins, showed them to his stockbroker, and then ate the notes to destroy the evidence. With a diet like that, at least he won’t complain about prison food.
The “Fashion Victim” Award
Twenty-two-year-old Jeremiah Jakson of Philadelphia was taken aback recently when he showed up for a preliminary hearing in the case of the strangulation murder of 23-year-old Laura Araujo (Jakson is accused of murdering Araujo last July).
Jakson appeared for the hearing wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with the saying “Crime Pays.”
Judge Teresa Carr Demi was not amused, commenting “That’s a very interesting choice of shirt” (Jakson claims he had been given the shirt while in prison, and that he hadn’t thought to turn it inside out).
Perhaps after trial, someone can give Jakson a new shirt that reads “No, Crime Doesn’t Pay.”
The “We Saw This Coming” Award
Thirty-four-year-old Kelly John Lange of Sioux Falls, S.D., caused quite a commotion in court on Sept. 2, inexplicably tipping over the counsel’s table and attacking his public defender.
The defense attorney sustained a cut and swollen lip, but was otherwise okay, although her client now faces additional charges of simple assault.
What, you may ask, was Lange originally in court for? He had failed to complete court-ordered anger management classes in connection with a prior arrest.
The “What Am I Thinking Now?” Award
With the uncertain job prospects facing many recent law school graduates, it’s never a bad idea to have a back-up plan. Maybe that’s what Florida lawyer Mark Anthony was thinking after graduating from Mercer University’s Walter F. George Law School.
Anthony holds himself out as the “psychic lawyer,” charging $250 an hour for a telephone reading. Anthony says there’s a six-month waiting list for such readings, which usually begin with a prayer to raise “the vibrational frequency that lets spirits know I’m trying to reach them and attracts them to me.”
Wouldn’t it be great to have a lawyer who will not only handle your case, but use his “psychic powers” to tell you how it will turn out?
The Pop Culture Award
This one goes out to Justice Debra Lehrmann of the Supreme Court of Texas, who has not only authored some well-written and important decisions recently on free speech and online defamation, but also outed herself as a fan of the cult favorite film “The Big Lebowski.”
In delivering the Court’s opinion in late August in the case of Kinney v. Barnes (involving alleged online defamation and freedom of speech), Justice Lehrmann noted the bedrock First Amendment principle that prior restraints on speech are strongly disfavored.
Justice Lehrmann observed that First Amendment protection against prior restraint has been reaffirmed time and time again by the U.S. Supreme Court, Texas appellate courts, “and even popular culture”—as she quoted from the 1998 film “The Big Lebowski,” starring Jeff Bridges as a slacker known as The Dude.
As a fan of the movie myself, I say brava, Justice Lehrmann, and I toast you with a symbolic White Russian. May you bowl a perfect game and find yourself a rug that “really ties the room together.”
The Dude abides.