As regular readers of this column know, it's been an especially rewarding month for "Legally Speaking," as honors have poured in from organizations like the Houston Press Club, the Press Club of Southeast Texas, and the Texas Press Association.
Yet as I've made my way from one awards gala to the next, I couldn't help but wonder: shouldn't the many bizarre stories and characters from the legal world get awards of their own? For livening up an otherwise mundane system of justice, don't the litigants, lawyers, and judges who are beyond the norm deserve a little recognition themselves? I think so.
And so, without further ado, I bring you law's answer to the Grammys, the Emmys, and the Tonys – The Justies.
The "This Is a Product Liability Lawsuit Waiting to Happen" Justie goes to the nice folks at Kellogg's & Lego. How many times have you stopped your kid from putting a toy in his mouth, admonishing him that "You're not supposed to eat that" and thankful that your parental vigilance has kept him/her from choking to death?
Well, the fun people at Kellogg's, in conjunction with toy building block manufacturer Lego, have decided to make your life more difficult by blurring the line between food and toy. They've come out with Kellogg's Lego Fruit Flavored Snacks, which are little brightly-colored edible Lego bricks made out of corn syrup, gelatin, and various artificial flavors. Yummy!
Being the astute little consumers that they are, blessed with discriminating palates, I'm sure young children will avoid putting real Legos (the plastic kind, that is) in their mouths. And if you believe there's no choking hazard waiting to happen here, give me a call about some swampland in Florida that I've got for sale.
The Justie for "Most Creative Defense" goes to Robert Schultz of Salina, Kan. Remember the "junk food defense" advanced by some criminal defense lawyers in the 1970s, in which it was argued that a diet of junk food had left some defendants with a diminished capacity to distinguish right from wrong?
Well, Robert Schultz has gone one better. After crashing his car into a house, the 66 year old told police that after drinking from a flavored, frozen drink purchased at a nearby Sonic, he experienced the sudden sharp pain in his head known as "brain freeze" (followed shortly thereafter by a "chest freeze").
The sensation from the slushy drink supposedly caused Schultz to momentarily lose control of his car. Will a judge and jury buy this defense? Or will they give Mr. Schultz and his story the cold shoulder? Only time will tell.
Moving from brain freezing to brainstorming, the Justie for "Politically Correct Laws Run Amok" belongs to the Tunbridge Wells Borough Council in Kent, England. Afraid that using the term "brainstorming" might somehow offend the mentally ill and people with epilepsy, council leaders for Tunbridge Wells have ordered staff to use the term "thought showers" instead, and given them training to promote the alternative, if ridiculous and ambiguous, terminology.
How stupid is this example of extreme PC thinking? Even the people the borough council (which takes "diversity awareness very seriously," according to its spokesman) is worried about offending don't share their concerns. Margaret Thomas of Britain's National Society for Epilepsy says that "Brainstorming is a clear and descriptive phrase…Any implication that the word brainstorming is offensive to epileptics takes political correctness too far." Maybe the voters will brainstorm a way to vote these morons out of office.
The Justie for "Stupidest Criminal" never suffers from a shortage of worthy candidates. But this year, the award's got to go to 20-year-old Marcus George of Pine Bluff, Ark. Like many recent parolees, Mr. George wanted to comply with the law requiring him to report to a meeting with his parole officer shortly after being released from prison.
However, unlike other parolees, Mr. George showed up to the meeting – in a stolen car! As a result, he's been arrested again on suspicion of theft by receiving and theft of property, after it was established that the Dodge Charger George was driving had been stolen from a nearby car dealership.
The "Now We Know They Must Be Serious" Justie goes to the nation of Iran. Embroiled in a contentious dispute with the U.S., U.N. inspectors, and most of the Western world over what Iran considers to be unfair scrutiny of its nuclear program, Iran has threatened to use the most dangerous weapons of them all – lawyers.
Iran has actually threatened to sue the United States and other nations for "damaging its reputation" by making what Iran contends are false statements about its nuclear weapons research and development. I have just one question – how do you damage the "reputation" of a country that has repeatedly called for Israel to be "wiped off the face of the earth," and made similarly endearing comments to the world community?
The "Next Time, Try American Idol" Justie goes to Chicago attorney Mike Roman. During the recent trial of R&B superstar R. Kelly on child pornography charges, Roman – a criminal defense lawyer who in his spare time fronts the Latin rock band "Mike Roman and the Tellstars" - decided it was time for his big break.
While R. Kelly was sitting alone at the defense table during a meeting of the lawyers and prosecutors in the judge's chambers, Roman approached Kelly and attempted to give him a copy of the aspiring musician's CD "Cha Cha Time."
Despite R. Kelly's polite efforts to fend off the lawyer's overtures (and comply with a gag order imposed by the judge), Roman persisted to the point where other lawyers in the room noticed the disturbance and alerted deputies. Roman had to be escorted out – but not before attempting to hawk one of his "Cha Cha Time" CDs to a member of the Kelly defense team.
Says Roman, "I'm a lawyer and I'm a musician. What's wrong with that?" More than you know, Mr. Roman – more than you know.
Finally, the "In Loco Parentis" Justie goes to Justice Suzanne Tessier of the Quebec Superior Court in Canada. When a father decided to punish his 12-year-old daughter for excessive chatting on Internet sites and posting "inappropriate" pictures of herself online using a friend's computer, Justice Tessier decided that this was not a case of "Father Knows Best."
In response to being grounded by her father from going on a school trip, the daughter took the parent to court. Justice Tessier decided to substitute her "wisdom" for parental judgment, and finding the punishment too severe overturned the father's ban. Kim Beaudoin, an attorney representing the father, has initiated an appeal of the ruling "to ensure that this case doesn't set a precedent."
Ms. Beaudoin noted that the punishment was for the girl's own protection, and that when children test their limits, "it's up to their parent to set boundaries." I wonder how Justice Tessier would feel if someone told her how to raise her kids?
If you think the legal world can't get any stranger than these stories, check out next week's installment: The Justies – Part II.
John Browning is a partner in the Dallas office of Gordon & Rees, LLP. He may be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org