Legally Speaking: Catching Up With Columns Past (Part 2)

By John G. Browning | May 27, 2010

As I mentioned in the first installment of this series, some of the best examples of the point I was trying to make in a particular column didn't come along until after the article had already run.

Take my column on creative excuses for speeding tickets, for example. I would have loved to include the recent case of 72-year-old Sandra Powell of South Carolina. Ms. Powell was clocked going 102 mph in a 45 mph zone.

When pulled over by police, Ms. Powell explained that she was running late for her hair appointment. Now she'll have to explain her "bad hair day" to a judge.

An excellent candidate for my column "Brought to You By the Department of Irony" would have been Argentinian politician Gerónimo Vargas Aignaisse. Aignaisse apparently feels so strongly about plagiarism that he introduced legislation criminalizing it (including jail time of three to eight years).

Unfortunately, the text that Aignaisse used in explaining his bill was not exactly original. In fact, the first three paragraphs appear to have been copied word for word from the first three paragraphs of the Spanish Wikipedia page for plagiarism.

It looks like Gerónimo Vargas Aignaisse may have violated the very law he was introducing. Perhaps he'll have three to eight years to think of something original.

My column "Lawyers Need Love, Too" got quite a reaction, but I can think of at least two people who didn't read it.

The first is the person who visited the office of Florida lawyer Gary Dorst recently, and left an unusual if chilling message: a hand grenade dangling in plain view from the door knob!

The second is 28-year-old Joseph Velardo of Port St. Lucie, Fla. Velardo was arrested in April for stealing merchandise from a local Staples.

When asked why he did it, Velardo claimed he committed the theft because he wanted a third degree felony on his record so that he would not be allowed to go to law school.

Here's a thought, Joseph: just don't apply – the last time I looked, no one's being forced to go to law school.

Not surprisingly, Mr. Velardo is reportedly on medication for an unidentified mental disorder.

Incidentally, Mr. Velardo didn't quite succeed in his bizarre quest. The value of the stolen merchandise was $276.88, and in Florida theft involving less than $300 is a misdemeanor, not a felony.

I've previously written about the importance of living up to the civic duty that is serving on a jury.

Nineteen-year-old Houston college freshman Kelsey Gloston has now learned that lesson the hard way. In late April, Gloston was summoned to jury duty in federal court, to serve on a panel of 60 potential jurors in a health care fraud case.

When she didn't show up, a jury clerk called, and Gloston said she had a flat tire. The clerk offered to pick her up, at which point Gloston said she intended to go to class instead of appearing in court.

When clerks called back again to tell her the judge wanted her to appear and explain herself, Gloston allegedly was rude and hung up on court staffers.

That was the last straw for U.S. District Judge David Hittner, who taught Ms. Gloston a little civics lesson by ordering federal marshals to haul her from school into court in chains.

When the teenager was brought before him in ankle and wrist restraints, she began to cry as Judge Hittner told her "Nobody hangs up on our people."

He ordered her to come back two days later with a lawyer to explain herself. Gloston's father said she plans to sue, saying "Don't treat her like she murdered 25 people along the freeway. She's 19, she's ignorant, she's a kid. They don't take anything seriously."

I have a news flash for you, Mr. Gloston: your daughter's legally an adult, and she needs to start acting like one. Showing up for jury duty would be a good start.

Another of my previous columns dealt with unusual defenses being used by criminal defendants. Now there's a new one – the "skinny jeans" defense. Nicholas Gonzales of New South Wales, Australia, is charged with sexually assaulting a woman who was consoling him after a breakup with his girlfriend.

Gonzales maintains that the sex was consensual, claiming that the victim was wearing skinny jeans, which he could not have removed without her assistance and cooperation.

The defense has outraged victim's advocates groups, including Australia's National Association of Services Against Sexual Assault, which released a statement that a woman's outfit should not be an issue in rape cases and that any article of clothing can be removed with force.

As the judge in Australia ponders whether to allow such a defense, he might consider that courts in other countries have split on this issue. In 2008, a court in South Korea recognized the "skinny jeans" defense and overturned a man's conviction, while that same year in Italy judges rejected the defense, ruling that "jeans cannot be compared to any sort of chastity belt."

Finally, I've written previously about the importance of reading the fine print in contracts. About 7,500 online shoppers in Great Britain may have wished they'd paid closer attention.

On April 1 (yes, April Fool's Day) computer game retailer GameStation updated its terms of service adding an "immortal soul clause" to the contract signed by shoppers making online purchases, requiring purchasers "to surrender your immortal soul, and any claim you may have on it, within 5 (five) working days of receiving written notification from or one of its duly authorized minions."

The contract goes on to stipulate that "we reserve the right to serve such notice in 6 (six) foot high letters of fire, however we can accept no liability for any loss or damage caused by such an act. If you a) do not believe you have an immortal soul, b) have already given it to another party, or c) do not wish to grant us such a license, please click on the link below to nullify this sub-clause and proceed with your transaction."

Although all shoppers could have simply opted out, very few did so, proving GameStation's point – no one reads the online terms and conditions of shopping, and retailers can insert whatever language they want.

GameStation whimsically noted it would not be enforcing the ownership rights, and would send customers an e-mail nullifying any claim on their soul.

Just in case, I'm going to pay more attention to the fine print from now on.

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