Legally Speaking: The lighter side of the law, Part II

By John G. Browning | Mar 18, 2014

Just before the start of Lent and all the Mardi Gras revelry, I saw a reminder of the amusing absurdities that characterize the legal system. 

Just before the start of Lent and all the Mardi Gras revelry, I saw a reminder of the amusing absurdities that characterize the legal system. 

On the box containing Mardi Gras King cake (which, of course, has a figure of a baby Jesus baked inside, awaiting the lucky person who finds it) is the warning label “Choking Hazard: Caution! Non-Edible Baby Inside This Cake.” 

Now, a label like this one is absurd on a number of levels.  “Non-edible baby?”  As opposed to all of those “edible babies” included with other baked goods to appease the cannibals in the population?  Come on—it’s a King cake, and if you’re buying it without the expectation that there’s going to be a plastic baby Jesus figurine in it, you shouldn’t be buying it at all. 

The legal system has other absurdities that amuse me and infuriate me at the same time. Take Webster Lucas, for example.  The California man purchased a meal at a McDonald’s in Pacoima on Jan. 29 and received one napkin.  He went to the counter to ask for more napkins, and allegedly the manager refused this request before making a comment along the lines of “you people.” 

Lucas, who is African-American, interpreted this as a racist comment.  He is now suing McDonald’s for “emotional distress” and wants $1.5 million, claiming he is “unable to work.” 

$1.5 million over a napkin and a comment that might not have even been made—you’ve got to be kidding me!  Perhaps the story makes a little more sense when I tell you that Lucas is reportedly a vexatious litigant—a “frequent filer” of lawsuits—who has sued a number of businesses over the past decade, including Walmart, Denny’s, and at least one auto body shop.

For another example of a lawsuit that seems more for hurt feelings than for any real damage, keep your eyes open for possible legal action by Canadian rock band Skinny Puppy against the United States government.  The band claims they received word that their music was used to torment detainees at Guantanamo Bay, being played at high volumes “for up to 12 hours at a time.” 

Alleging unauthorized use of their music without payment of royalties, the band sent the Pentagon a bill for $666,000 (666 equals “the devil,” or at least in this case, the U.S. government, according to Skinny Puppy).  Good luck collecting that, guys. 

Someone who had better luck turning his hurt feelings into a winning ticket in the litigation lottery is former Gwent, Wales, police constable Mike Baillon.  Officer Baillon engaged 74-year-old stroke victim Robert Whatley in a high-speed chase that ended with the elderly pensioner pulled over by the side of the road. 

Infuriated, Baillon and his partner took it out on Whatley’s Range Rover, kicking in the windshield and pounding on the car at least 15 times with his police baton.  YouTube video of Baillon’s battering of the old man’s car went viral, and Baillon was removed from “front-line duties” because of concern over his mental state. 

Colleagues at the police station allegedly made Baillon the butt of jokes over “the Whatley incident.”  Claiming that this teasing and bullying caused him great stress and anxiety, reducing him to a “laughing stock,” the 42-year-old former traffic officer was awarded over 429,000 pounds for the loss of the value of his pension (had he remained on the force).  Apparently, sometimes it pays to go postal on your job, if you’re a Welsh traffic cop.

Expressing yourself with a police baton on someone else’s car may not be the wisest idea, but two lawyers have recently attracted attention for how they chose to express themselves.  Everett, Wash., attorney Royce Ferguson isn’t too happy with county leaders’ plans to use eminent domain proceedings to acquire and then demolish a row of buildings to make room for a new, nine-story, $162 million courthouse.  That’s because one of the buildings belongs to him, and has been his law office for 20 years. 

So he spray painted a message to Snohomish County leaders on the side of his building: “Building for sale, $1,750,000 (includes plans and dreams) No taxpayer borrowing!”  Ferguson knows that he may be in for an uphill battle, saying “You can’t beat city hall.  They have a bottomless pit of money.”

Lawyer Christopher Millea of Providence, R.I., was a little more successful at bluntly expressing himself, channeling his inner “My Cousin Vinnie.”  While defending a client on alleged conspiracy and bribery charges last November, Millea tossed bean bags representing the prosecution’s case into a box during closing argument, arguing that the state’s case amounted to nothing more than the throwing of feces (he may have used a different term). 

Judge William Caines was not too pleased, saying that it was important “to keep this particular trial from degenerating into a circus”; however, he declined to hold the defense lawyer in contempt.

And finally, nothing sums up the fickle winds of justice more than a recent revelation by Oscar-winning actor Matthew McConaughey.  The native Texan and 2005 People magazine’s “Sexiest Man Alive” recounted how, as a teenager, he and his parents filed a $35,000 lawsuit over an acne treatment McConaughey had taken. 

The product consisted of oil of mink, and not surprisingly, it didn’t help the young man cure the zits that resulted from excess oil blocking his pores.  But poor judgment aside, by the time the lawsuit came to trial, young Matthew had blossomed into the heartthrob he would later become. 

All it took for the defense attorney to win the case and toss plaintiff McConaughey’s case out into the cold was to flash a picture of the future Academy Award winner from his senior yearbook, in which he was voted “Most Handsome.”

Sometimes, a picture really is worth a thousand words.

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