Southeast Texas Record

Monday, March 30, 2020

Legally Speaking: Even stranger than fiction

By John G. Browning | May 19, 2014

Browning john 2013

There is a lot of weirdness in the legal system, with strange-but-true figures and events that even a fiction writer would be prone to dismiss as too outlandish. If you don’t believe me, just check out the following examples.

Baby Charged with Plotting Murder

In April, a 9 month-old baby was among those charged with “planning murder, threatening police, and interfering with state affairs” in Lahore, Pakistan after an incident in which stones were thrown by members of a crowd at police who were raiding homes of people accused of not paying for electricity. An estimated 30 people were charged, including 9 month-old Mohammed Mosa Khan. The boy’s grandfather pointed out “He does not even know how to pick up his milk bottle properly—how can he stone the police?” The inspector who charged the baby has been suspended and the charges have since been dismissed—in other words, the baby walked (or maybe crawled).

Get Me to the Court on Time

Forty-nine-year-old James Manning and 45-year-old Teresa Castillo wanted to make sure they made it to court in Tuolumne County, California for a hearing on James’ charge of possession of a controlled substance. They were so determined that they stole a car from an auto dealership in order to make it there. But, alas, the 2001 Mitsubishi was equipped with a GPS tracking device, the dealership called police, and they found the car parked in front of the courthouse. Although the couple initially denied the theft, they soon ’fessed up. Now they’re facing charges of possession of stolen property to go with the original drug charges.

Murder, He Wrote

A lot of people who have gotten tattoos have come to regret them later on. But few probably had as much reason to question their choice of tattoos as Jeffrey Wade Chapman of Kansas. Chapman recently made national news in connection with his trial on charges of murdering a man in 2011. It seems Chapman’s lawyer felt that the defendant’s neck tattoo might prove “extremely prejudicial” in a murder case—perhaps because it spells out “MURDER” in big bold letters. Chapman requested that the court—at taxpayer expense—have a tattoo artist either remove or cover up the tattoo before trial. The judge decided that Chapman would be allowed to cover the disturbing image, but that a turtleneck would have to do—no tattoo artist on the government’s dime.

Seems Like Old Times

Moths are drawn to flame, and Christopher M. Miller is apparently drawn to the Stride-Rite shoe store in Toms River, New Jersey. Miller, aged 40, was released from prison in March 2014 after serving 15 years in state prison for robbing that shoe store. But only a day after his release, Miller was back at the scene of his original crime robbing the very same shoe store of $389. Employees notified police, who tracked Miller down on a nearby street. History really does have a way of repeating itself.

The Next Round is on the TSA

Speaking of history repeating itself, New York attorney Timothy Fasano probably could use a refresher course. In April, the 49 year-old lawyer was a passenger on board a Lufthansa flight from Munich to New York when he allegedly engaged in drunken, abusive, and threatening behavior that resulted in the flight being diverted to Dublin, Ireland. Now, if you think Dublin may not be the best place to put a person with alcohol management issues (and you’d be right), then you won’t be surprised at what comes next. Fasano allegedly failed to appear for court in Dublin to face the “air rage” charges, and apparently was eventually found at a nearby police station—where he was facing new public intoxication charges.

What’s In a Name?

The difficult bar exam of the Philippines always attracts attention for the successful applicants who pass each year. But in 2013, the passing scores received more press than usual because of several uniquely-named individuals who became full-fledged lawyers. One such newly-minted lawyer had an appropriately “legal” name: Habeas Corpuz. The 35 year-old Corpuz endured teasing as a child and wanted to change his name, but now the moniker has gained him social media fame. For 34 year-old Nat King Coles, he has an easier explanation for his unusual name: his father was a fan of the famous American crooner.

What’s Next, A Whoopee Cushion on the Witness Stand?

Maybe California attorney Don Howarth was trying to prove a point. Maybe he just has a warped sense of humor. But on April 26, the litigator was sanctioned for shocking an expert witness with a trick pen capable of administering an electric charge of up to 750 volts. The case involved the shocking of cattle, and the expert in question, Dr. A.P. Meliopoulos, had just testified that a 1.5 volt charge was the equivalent of an AAA battery and could not even be felt by a human being. Mr. Howarth, on cross-examination, handed the expert witness a pen containing an AAA battery and asked him to press it and feel the shock. The judge sanctioned Howarth $1,000 for his “harmful or offensive contact” with the witness, pointing out that the shock pen’s own packaging says it should not be used for adults over age 60 or in poor health (Dr. Meliopoulos is over 60), since it can cause death or serious injury. Judge James Brady further deplored Howarth’s conduct, saying it had no place in a courtroom. Perhaps a squirting flower boutonniere instead?

Somebody Really Likes the Movie “Office Space”

Finally, we come to another example of judges incorporating pop culture references in their judicial opinions. In the case of Todd Duffey v. 20th Century Fox Film Corporation, et al., New York federal judge J. Paul Oetken had to address the claims brought by small-time actor Todd Duffey, who had a brief but memorable appearance in the 1999 cult classic film Office Space. The movie was all about “the soul-crushing experience of working under incompetent management” at an Austin tech firm, and Duffey had a small part as a waiter at a Bennignan’s-like chain restaurant where the servers had to wear “flair”—buttons that served as a mode of corporate-mandated expression. In 2007, the studio that owned the rights to Office Space marketed a “Box of Flair” that featured a photo of Duffey’s character on it. Duffey sued for the use of his likeness. In rejecting Duffey’s claim and finding that he had already signed away all rights, the judge decided to have a little fun by sprinkling Office Space inside jokes throughout the opinion. If you’re an Office Space fan, read the opinion, replete with case references to singer Michael Bolton, red Swingline staplers, and the master of Kung Fu, Bruce Lee.

Want to get notified whenever we write about ?

Sign-up Next time we write about , we'll email you a link to the story. You may edit your settings or unsubscribe at any time.