Author: Deven Desai

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Sharing Information for Anti-terrorism or for Domestic Crime?

informationsign2.JPGThe Associated Press reports that after 9/11 43 so-called fusion centers were established to improve information flow in part of an anti-terrorism strategy, but according to the Government Accounting Office only two centers, one in Kansas and one in Rhode Island, focus exclusively on antiterrorism. “Other centers focus on all crimes, including drugs and gangs GAO found [sic].” As the article details the centers operate via state police or other law enforcement agencies and often are in the same buildings as federal agencies.

Perhaps most odd is that each center is supposed to be independent and not controlled by the federal government but the Bush administration now has guidelines encouraging a more general sharing of information about criminal activity under the theory that terrorists need funding and will use criminal activities as sources of income. Of course the system raises privacy concerns and even if one thought that using information gathering and sharing techniques with some reduction in privacy was justified to fight terror, the system is now being used under the theory of preventing anything that could cause harm, an immature idea.

Ironically, the article also notes that information technology problems currently hinder the ability to have a Tom Clancy-style, perfect tech center. In addition, the bureaucracy sounds like an updated version of the Keystone cops as reports are often duplicated, staff is hard to find and train, and clearances take time to process and are often not honored by federal agencies. Nonetheless, it is probably better to assume that these glitches will be reduced if not essentially eliminated and that the larger privacy issues will increase in their impact and importance as the systems become more efficient. Put differently, is there a reason to fully realize the Digital Person? For it seems that although better systems to fight crime could be a good thing in the abstract, when the threat is not a more fully realized version of an attack on our society, the sacrifice in terms of freedom is massive. One book to read on an era with similar issues is Secrecy: The American Experience by Daniel Moynihan. Its reflection on Cold War policies in the face of real threats and how the policies made little sense offer an analog to some the issues faced today in the terror context.

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Just How Independent? Blogs, Judges, and Courtroom Behavior

scales2.JPGWhen one encounters the local, local rules, the ones that a judge may put in place just for her court, or watches the withering comments a counsel receives or worse yet suffers under such reprimands, the image of judges as irrational or dictatorial law makers seems correct. Unfortunately that image probably undercuts the deference judges deserve if not the respect the bench requires. A New York case and a Florida-based blog present some light on the topic. The New York Law Journal reports that a city judge went into a two hour tirade to find one person whose cell phone went off in his court and then took 46, yes 46, people into custody. The Commission on Judicial Conduct has recommended the judge’s removal from the bench. “‘In causing 46 individuals to be deprived of their liberty out of pique and frustration, respondent abandoned his role as a reasonable, fair jurist and instead became a petty tyrant, abusing his judicial power and placing himself above the law he was shown to administer’.” The judge in the case attributed his behavior to stress in his personal life, but only one commissioner thought the argument merited a sanction less than removal.

In Flordia the chief judge of the Broward County circuit court has stepped down in part because JAA Blog has documented the bad behaviors of judges under his supervision including “a judge arrested for smoking pot in a park, another judge making an off-color sexual remark and another judge allegedly taking a loan from a defense lawyer appearing before him.” The National Law Journal reports that several blogs in South Florida document the in courtroom and out of courtroom deeds of judges. Some argue that the blogs provide a spotlight on how the courts work and have effected change. Others note that some of the blogs allow anonymous posts “about judges routinely not showing up for work, judges and lawyers having affairs with each other and other salacious rumors.” Regardless, it appears that attorneys and judges are reading the blogs.

All of this attention on judges and courtrooms reminds me of the opening to Tarzan Lord of the Jungle the animated series by Filmation (click here for the audio file). It was a long intro but the key was “This is my domain, and I protect those who come here; for I am Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle.” A judge’s independence is supposed to be part of protecting everyone who enters the court. The examples above show that judges are after all human, but we expect them to be a little better than the average person. The blogs offer more information about acts in which judges should not engage and that could improve the bench. Yet, society’s willingness to gossip and smear almost anyone could easily further politicize the bench and interfere with the independence judges require to protect all who enter a court. At a more abstract level the trend in having more information about judges online raises privacy and autonomy concerns. Several people including Dan and his recent work The Future of Reputation examine this idea. An excellent article about the need for privacy and its relationship to autonomy is Julie Cohen’s Examined Lives: Informational Privacy and the Subject as Object which appeared in the Stanford Law Review.

[Ed. note previously I had thought the voice over for Tarzan was from the Ron Ely version of the show. A comment noted that this recollection was incorrect. The text now reflects the proper source of the memory].

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What To Do With Left-Over Class Action Money

Adam Liptak has a nice piece in today’s New York Times about the growth of left-over money from class action suits. Judges are finding that after a case is complete there is often a large pool of money that is unclaimed, and the judge must then decide what to do with the money. In one case involving models the judge designated an eating disorder and a drug abuse charity as recipients of the money. The problem is that the Second Circuit and some academics think the plan to use cy pres as a way to dispose of the money has flaws. Judges are being lobbied for money which raises corruption concerns according to Professor Issacharoff of NYU. As Dean Levi of Duke notes, this role “is not a true judicial function and can lead to abuses,” and requests to give an instiution money as a cy pres award put judges in “uncomfortable” positions. The awards can be large. For example, according to the article, George Washington University Law School and The Illinois Institute of Technology have each received $5 million from law suit settlements. Whether judges are best-placed to dole out the money might merit some research and writing. In addition, some argue that the money must go to plaintiffs. Yet, if only a handful of plaintiffs end up filing the paperwork and receive a windfall the system is apparently flawed again. Nonetheless perhaps allowing such windfalls will provide incentives to others to claim their otherwise small payments. It seems that the system fails to provide a good way to get the money to the plaintiffs which alone suggests that judge should not be in this position in the first place. That alone might be worth some writing and thought.

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Transition From Prisoner to Exonerated: Times Tracks Difficulties in New Life

The New York Times has interviewed 115 people whose convictions have been overturned based on DNA evidence. Apparently support systems for these people are often thin and in some cases the resources for those who did commit crimes are better than for those who did not: “despite being imprisoned for an average of 12 years, they typically left prison with less help — prerelease counseling, job training, substance-abuse treatment, housing assistance and other services — than some states offer to paroled prisoners.” The article details the compensation claims, the employment status, and the re-incarceration rates. I do not research in this area of the law but if anyone has studied this issue please send along a cite. The article highlights that once someone has the conviction some states are slow to remove the conviction after the error is found. In addition, earlier facts such as a college degree or a good job history are overshadowed. That point raises the question of when society truly forgives or forgets what came before. In these cases it seems that the vague knowledge that someone was convicted even though now found innocent is enough to hinder if not thwart efforts to rejoin society. Although the article focuses on what sort of compensation if any these people can receive and that issue is important, the Les Miserables aspect of being hounded by one’s past even if that reputation is undeserved poses problems. Dan’s work on online reputation and his earlier work about digital persons intersect here. The continual access to this information interferes if not prevents someone from re-establishing their identity, Whether society wants to provide the space to allow such acts may be what the lack of support for the exonerated points to.

The Times also has a multi-media, interactive feature that allows one to hear many of the voices and stories of the exonerated.

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Ah the Good Life: Firms and Keeping Associates Happy

massage2.JPGIt seems that associates are not so grateful to be associates. At least the ones at the corporate or mega firms paying $160,000 plus a year are not so happy. But fear not, as the New York Times reports, law firms serve not only clients but their employees as well. So some firms have “happiness committees” to pick up these abused workers with candied apples and milkshakes when they least expect it. Others allow the use of concierge services to “pick up theater and sports tickets, the dry cleaning, take a car to the repair shop or even choose a Halloween costume.” All of these efforts are aimed at winning the talent war and providing a balanced life. A balanced life? The story reminds me of an on campus interviewed a friend had.

A partner sat across from a law student and told the tale. The firm had suspended the use of messengers to pick up dry cleaning. An associate came in his office and was furious. How dare the firm suspend this service? He had no wife to take care of these details! He worked hard. The partner beamed as he told his quick response: no committee meeting needed; policy revoked; messengers for everyone.

The friend smiled and appreciated the partner’s perspective: “We love and support an associate who gives us her life,” while thinking “Wow, you need a messenger to do your own errands? What kind of job is this?”

Of course megafirms lose talent all the time. And yes, the job is difficult such that high burnout rates are common. But the firms that offer training and a real shot at having a life might keep talent longer. Less pay might even be possible if a firm really cared about giving an associate a life. With the focus on profits per partner and other useless AmLaw criteria that concern will likely be given lip-service only. In addition, the rising cost of law school means that associates will likely want the high pay. Whether the law firm recipe for success means happiness for the young attorney is up for grabs. Still given the changes in training programs (albeit based on client pressures) and the need for happiness committees, maybe it is time to rethink what being an attorney means. One way to start the reflection is to remember there are many who struggle to have jobs and many who work just as hard if not more so to serve their deserving, non-corporate clients. Talent exists in these contexts as well but they battle in wars outside the zone of why didn’t I receive the in-house massage?

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Great Name But Is It a Great Product? Thoughts on Amazon’s Kindle

library 2.JPGJeff Bezos is an impressive manager. The recent Harvard Business Review interview with him, The Institutional Yes: The HBR Interview with Jeff Bezos, (payment required) shows someone offering real insight about how innovation functions at his company. So when I saw that Newsweek had an article detailing Bezos’s latest take on books, I had to read it. The product is called the Kindle, and it is supposed to be the latest reason to think digital books will replace analog ones. One possibility of the new technology is that books will continually evolve as authors change their mind or update a text. This idea brings images of revisionist Greedo shootings; more on that later. Now back to the Kindle.

First Kindle is a great name. It evokes images of fire and light which seem to travel with thought and creativity (the Newsweek article suggests that was the idea behind the name). Plus for me it reminds me of spindle which has several different practical and quite useful contexts. Second, as opposed to Sony’s eReader, the Kindle seems more useful. Both use E Ink but the Kindle does much more than the eReader. One thing that stopped me from buying the eReader was that one could not mark the text. In addition, the Kindle allows one to change font size and search within the book. The search within the text feature could be great. Sometimes when I want to find a cite or know a passage exists but not its exact location Amazon’s search the book feature is most useful. Having the same ability for my library would be even better. Perhaps the most revolutionary idea is the wireless aspect of the Kindle. Now one can read a book and enjoy what Amazon calls its service. The upside of this service could be finding related information or having easy ways to look up a definition while reading. One option was that one might even annotate a book highlighting both accurate or inaccurate aspects of it (the article notes the idea of a Coulter book annotated for misstatements). As Gizmodo points out, however, the Kindle poses some problems as far as format and cost go (apparently the Kindle does not easily support pdf, doc, rtf, etc.).

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A Song in Praise of Lessig

Could this be a new sign of reputation and prestige? The folks at monochrome have a video and song dedicated to Larry Lessig. The video is part of a Boing Boing TV two part webisode. The first part is a fun demonstration of a Curie effect heat engine. At about 2 minutes 30 seconds is where the song begins. Hat tip: Boing Boing

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Pew on Race and Class Issues

NPR’s piece Redefining What It Means to Be Black in America examines a new Pew Research Center poll regarding perceptions within the African-American community about the community. From the summary: “African Americans see a widening gulf between the values of middle class and poor blacks, and nearly four-in-ten say that because of the diversity within their community, blacks can no longer be thought of as a single race.” The full report is here. The NPR story provides an overview of the poll which among other findings indicates that “67 percent of black men and 74 percent of black women think rap music is a bad influence on black America,” “37 percent of African Americans now agree that it is no longer appropriate to think of black people as a single race,” and “53 percent of black Americans now agree that ‘blacks who can’t get ahead are mostly responsible for their own condition.'” I have not read the report yet. There could easily be flaws in the methods used. Still, for those interested in race issues, my guess is this report provides numbers with which one will have to engage.

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Veterans Day, World War I, Land Mine Legacy

Mines_warning_sign.jpgToday is Veterans Day. The day started as a way to honor the end of World War I and those who fought in it and now honors all veterans. World War I ended almost 90 years ago. Nonetheless, as NPR reports people in France still encounter unexploded, active mines some with mustard gas and sometimes deminers die trying to remove the dangers. The story focuses on the Western Front. People living in the area near places like where the Battle of the Somme occurred still find remnants of the war: “There’s not many places you can’t walk out … and pick up old rifles, munitions, shells of all types, grenades, [and] bodies. Sadly, we’re still digging up a lot of bodies.” Perhaps most amazing is the following:

“About 1.5 billion shells were fired during the war here on the Western Front. Colin and his colleagues bring in between 50,000 and 75,000 tons of them a year. At that rate, they’ll have enough work to keep them busy for the next 500 years.”

Using the law to limit the effects of war poses odd questions. The idea of a law of war that seeks to have humanitarian limits on conflict can appear oxymoronic. Still, considering the lasting effect of World War I in just one area, the idea behind the U.N. efforts and treaties to eliminate old mines and end the use of them in the future offers the possibility that if conflict occurs societies can try and maintain some semblance of mitigating effects on civilians.

Given the use of homemade mines in Iraq and the possibility that the United States will face similar encounters in the future the United States’ position on mines is ironic.

image source and license information: wikicommons

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