Legally Speaking: More Believe It or Not Moments

By John G. Browning | Sep 17, 2009

Last week, I shared some of the recent cases from around the country that were shocking, odd, even unbelievable � but true.

Last week, I shared some of the recent cases from around the country that were shocking, odd, even unbelievable – but true.

And if there's one thing I've learned about our wonderful world of justice, it's that it can be like a theater of the absurd that never has an intermission, a curtain-closing or an off-season. If you don't believe me, just consider the following instances.

Believe It or Not: Immigration Lawyer Was in the U.S. Illegally

You might say that nobody knew illegal aliens quite like Ravi Kanwal. The Denver immigration lawyer, a graduate of Tulane Law School whose Web site lists him as admitted to practice in Colorado, Louisiana, Illinois and Ohio, had a thriving practice appearing before immigration tribunals.

That is, until he found himself facing the same kind of charges routinely faced by his clients. It seems Kanwal was representing individuals, despite the fact that he had failed to comply with the conditions of his own non-immigrant visitor visa (a temporary visa issued to those who maintain their permanent residence outside the U.S.).

Since Dec. 30, 1995, Kanwal has been in the U.S. illegally, and immigration authorities have begun removal proceedings.

The U.S. Department of Justice recently suspended him from practicing before immigration courts, and the state of Colorado has suspended his law license for failing to disclose his legal status to clients and courts.

You've got to wonder what his law firm's motto was: "It takes one to know one?"

Believe It or Not: Tax Lawyer and Professor Charged With Tax Evasion

Hamline University law professor Robin Magee practiced tax law while she was in the private sector and later taught criminal law. That may prove to be good experience for the Minnesota attorney, since she was recently charged with 11 felony counts including failure to file a tax return, filing a false or fraudulent return and income tax evasion.

According to prosecutors, the supposed tax expert claimed eight exemptions – pretty impressive for someone who is single with no dependents.

Magee's excuse for allegedly not completing her tax returns? Extreme attention deficit disorder.

Magee's salary as a law school professor is believed to be in excess of $112,000 a year. That could buy a lot of Ritalin.

Believe It or Not:Could Body Odor Get You Thrown in Jail in Honolulu?

If you're going to ride public transit in Honolulu, be sure to shower first. The Hawaiian city's council is considering a bill that would make it illegal to "bring onto transit property odors that unreasonably disturb others or interfere with their use of the transit system, whether such odors arise from one's person, clothes, articles, accompanying animal or any other source."

Councilman Rod Tam, who co-sponsored the legislation, feels the measure is needed because "as we become inundated with people from all over the world, their way of taking care of their health is different. Some people, quite frankly, do not take a bath every day and therefore they may be offensive in terms of their odor."

Others on the City Council, like Transportation Chairman Gary Okino, are troubled by the proposal.

"How smelly does a person have to be?" he says. "Just to base things on smell, I just don't feel good about that."

Even the local chapter of the ACLU is concerned that the bill is unconstitutionally vague. Maybe the Honolulu transit odor ban won't pass the legal "smell test."

Believe It or Not: Convicted Thief Sues Store He Robbed!

Twenty-two-year-old Scott Thomas Zeilinski and his lawyers just might be the very embodiment of chutzpah.

Zeilinski is serving an eight-to-22-year sentence for the November 2007 armed robbery of Nick's Short Stop Party Store in Clinton Township, Mich.

According to court records, Zeilinski threatened several employees at knifepoint before grabbing cash and cigarettes from the store. As he was leaving, one of the clerks grabbed a gun and shot Zeilinski in the arm and back.

Now the convicted felon is suing the store owner and some of the clerks for more than $125,000 for "pain and suffering and emotional distress."

Let's hope a ridiculous lawsuit like this gets laughed out of the courtroom.

Criminals shouldn't be allowed to use the judicial system to victimize people twice. Besides, here in Texas we know that you don't bring a knife to a gunfight.

Believe It or Not: "Alberto Gonzales: The Musical!"

Few people find Senate Judiciary Committee hearings interesting, let alone the stuff that could inspire playwrights and composers. But don't tell that to Melissa Dunphy, who was inspired to write the "Gonzales Cantata," a 40-minute choral work, after hearing Sen. Arlen Specter grill former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales in 2007 over the firings of U.S. attorneys around the country.

The cantata takes its libretto directly from the disgraced Gonzales' testifying "I don't know" more then 71 times during the hearing.

According to Dunphy, the operatic piece is a "humanist drama, not a partisan statement. We see Gonzales' mistakes, but we also feel some real pathos for a man who has dug himself into a terrible hole."

The "Gonzales Cantata" has been given three performances in September as part of the 2009 Philadelphia Fringe Festival.

Believe It or Not:Bank Requires Armless Man to Give Thumbprint!

Fifty-four-year-old Tampa, Fla., resident Steve Valdez simply wanted to cash a check at his local Bank of America branch recently. He presented two forms of identification, but ran afoul of the bank's additional requirement – that he provide a thumbprint.

You see, Mr. Valdez was born without arms, and he uses prosthetic limbs.

The bank refused to cash the check. Its insistence on a thumbprint brought Bank of America into legal hot water for potentially violating the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The resulting publicity led to a quick reversal by the bank, and BofA spokeswoman Nicole Nastacie said "The bank has apologized to Mr. Valdez and his family for any inconvenience this may have caused. This is an isolated occurrence and does not represent the bank's policies for accommodating customers or non-account holders with disabilities."

Believe It or Not: Mom Sues For Son Being Voted Out of Kindergarten

Florida resident Melissa Barton has sued the St. Lucie County School Board, teacher Wendy Portillo and various other school administrators in federal court.

The reason? She claims that her 5-year-old son Alex was kicked out of his kindergarten class, "Survivor"-style, after the teacher held a classroom vote about Alex's allegedly disruptive behavior.

Alex Barton was later diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome, a form of autism.

According to the complaint, Ms. Portillo forced Alex to stand in front of his classmates and hear why "they hated him," with such penetrating character insights as "he eats his boogers" before "voting him off the island" by a 14-2 vote.

Mrs. Barton says her son didn't return to class, had to finish the year in homeschooling and has suffered a traumatic loss of self-esteem.

Although school officials suspended Ms. Portillo for a year, the reaction by them as well as the teachers' union is that "there was no wrongdoing," and that Barton's allegations are "absolute untruth."

I guess we'll have to wait for a federal judge to tell us whether , as far as this lawsuit is concerned, "the tribe has spoken."

John Browning is a partner in the Dallas office of Gordon & Rees, LLP. He may be contacted at:

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