5

From the Work-Life Balance Front

Right around the same time venerable law-blogger Denise Howell announced she had been fired by Reed Smith, evidently for reasons related to her part-time status, this interesting article (sub. req.) appeared in the New York Law Journal:

Faced with sharp criticism from the state and county women’s bar groups, Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice yesterday defended her decision to let go a dozen part-time women prosecutors unless they agree to work full-time….

All of the part-timers are mothers, although the D.A.’s office has said that some have older children….

Responding to the criticism, D.A. Rice “said two of the top three executive positions in her office are held by women, compared to none under her predecessor…. She also said seven of the 14 management positions in her office are held by women, compared to just two under Mr. Dillon.” On the issue of the part-time program:

“We’re dealing with life and death,” said Ms. Rice, who said full-time attorneys are better able to form the relationships with witnesses that are key to many trials.

You can’t have part-time litigators,” said Ms. Rice, adding that some of her part-time lawyers have been allowed to leave trials at 2 p.m. while the judge and the defense are still in the courtroom.

Over the weekend the New York Times ran a follow-up article that gives more of Rice’s side of the story, and a letter from a reader appeared last week that basically says, “Having a child is a choice, so tough noogies.”

8

Specter Looking to Sue President Bush Over Signing Statements

Apparently Arlen Specter “plans to introduce legislation this week that would give the U.S. Congress the right to bring a lawsuit against Bush’s ‘signing statements.'” The move comes on the same day that the ABA’s taskforce on the matter issued its report and recommendation. To date President Bush has used the device more than 750 times. For a recent discussion of the matter and some links to Richard Esptein’s defense of the device go to this page on the ACSblog.

From the ABA’s press release:

Presidential signing statements that assert President Bush’s authority to disregard or decline to enforce laws adopted by Congress undermine the rule of law and our constitutional system of separation of powers, according to a report released today by a blue-ribbon American Bar Association task force.

The task force is bipartisan. The list of members is: Neal Sonnett, William S. Sessions, Patricia M. Wald, Mickey Edwards, Bruce Fein, Harold Hongju Koh, Charles Ogletree, Stephen A. Saltzburg, Kathleen M. Sullivan, Mark Agrast, Tom Susman, and adviser Alan Rothstein. Their bios may be found here.

10

Florida Travel Ban Update

Here’s a memo that just went out from the University of Florida the other day, implementing the State’s new prohibition on academic travel to terrorist states:

July 21, 2006

MEMORANDUM

TO:

Deans, Directors, and Department Heads

FROM:

Michael V. McKee, University Controller

SUBJECT:

Travel to Terrorist States

Senate bill 2434 relating to travel to terrorist states was

approved and signed into law by the Governor effective

July 1, 2006 and contains the following restriction:

Florida Statute 1011.90 (6) – Prohibits the use of state or

non-state funds made available to state universities to

implement, organize, direct, coordinate, or administer

activities related to or involving travel to a terrorist state.

Travel to a terrorist state shall not be allowed under any

circumstances.

The bill defines “terrorist state” as any state, country, or

nation designated by the United States Department of State as

a state sponsor of terrorism. Currently, the State Department

assigns that designation to five countries:

Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Sudan and Syria.

Prior to the passage of this bill, travel to these countries

was allowed, but only from non-state funding sources.

No official business-related travel to the above countries

from any funding source will now be allowed by the University.

If you have any questions, you may contact Randy Staples,

Ted Griswold or Brett Wallen at 392-1245.

============================================================

NOTE: This and other DDD Memos are maintained on the WWW at:

http://www.admin.ufl.edu/DDD/

(ALL ATTACHMENTS TO ORIGINAL MEMOS ARE POSTED HERE)

============================================================

13

Tin Men

As a follow-up to my post about an apparently sleazy car sales tactic a few days ago, I thought I’d point you to a fascinating undercover look at the world of car sales from Edmunds.com. The reporter spent 3 months as a new car salesman, part of it at a high-pressure showroom dedicated to a Japanese brand, and the other at a “no-haggle” dealership for an American brand. In general, the article reminds me of the movie Boiler Room, as well as my own brief career in high-pressure sales (don’t ask). The traditional car lot is a shark pit of deceptive maneuvers aimed at separating marks from their money. The “no-haggle” lot seems much better, but it also seems like it’s not doing a lot of business.

There’s evidence the Internet is changing the whole business:

I was already beginning to see the impact of the Internet because of something that happened during my first few days there. [The reporter talked to a man waiting in the maintenance area, who tells him he got an “awesome deal” on one of the dealership’s new SUVs — $300 below invoice.] I asked how he did it. He said he checked prices on the Internet. He then called the fleet manager and made the deal over the phone.

I had a schizophrenic reaction to this. Part of me admired the fact that he had outfoxed the dealer. But the car salesman side of me was angry that I never “got a shot at him.” It seemed like just a matter of time before people who, in the past, walked onto our car lot, would be on the Internet making deals.

The salesmen are only vaguely aware of this developing trend. I was standing on the curb next to George and we saw one of these high-demand SUVs ready for delivery.

“Another damn Internet sale,” George said. “Why don’t they turn that car over to us? We’d get a grand over sticker. Instead they’re selling it at invoice. Does that make sense?” As the days passed I noticed more and more cars marked “carsdirect.com.” And as I approached people on the car lot they often informed me that they were here to see the fleet manager. More Internet customers.

This indicates that wealthier, computer-savvy customers may be circumventing the sleazy sales tactics, leaving the sharks to prey only on poorer, less-informed customers. It could develop into yet another element of the “poor tax.”

HT: Consumerist

2

Amazon’s Text Stats and a Little Orwell

abacus 2.JPG

Watching changes on Amazon.com is a good way to see how much one’s information can be stretched. The continual refinement of suggested books and other items is a little disturbing, but it often yields titles that I find useful. The Gold Box with its game show approach to sales is an example of the information mining. To use the Gold Box one clicks on the box and then one is offered an item that ususally relates to something you purchsed before or at least looked at. When the item is on screen, one must choose between accepting the sale offer or passing on it to see the next offer with no chance to go back to the previous offer. All decisions must be made within one hour of opening the box. I have opened the box a few times and am often surprised by some of the items that show up in there. Given how often Amazon seems to correlate interests, when what seems to be an aberration pops up, I wonder whether it is a random shot to see if it will stick or whether in some deep way Amazon has discerned that I have a hidden desire for vitamins, herbal remedies, or hairdryers. So when I saw that Amazon had added Text Stats I had to poke around. After all who knows what information would come my way by seeing the statistics (whatever they may be) on a book?

I found that not all books have this information but it seems that when publishers play along Amazon will give a book’s statistics including syllables per word; words per sentence; total number of characters, words, and sentences; and my favorites, the “Fun Stats,” words per dollar and words per ounce. Amazon takes this information and gives scores for Readability (explained below). Apparently the Bible, depending on the edition, requires either a twelfth grade reading level or a tenth grade reading level . Yet, one study of government Web sites states that “half of Americans read[] at no higher than the 8th grade level.” You may draw your own conclusions.

Text stats also gives information about where the book is in relation to all other books (and in some cases one can compare within classes of texts). So I started to poke around and it seems that (if we take the numbers seriously and there is reason not to do so when one examines exactly what readability means) perhaps the best writing correlates to simpler writing which reminded me of Orwell’s Politics and the English Language but I’ll get to that later. To have fun and play with that idea I looked at the Modern Library’s list of 100 best novels to see how they compared to all text in the Amazon set and then within literature.

Read More

0

Update on AT&T Surveillance Class Action

Orin Kerr has written about the case:

[T]his is (as far as I know) the first judicial opinion to express a view of the merits of the NSA program. Even if it’s dicta, the reasoning is unimpressive, and it is based only on facts alleged in the EFF’s complaint, Judge Walker’s statement that it “cannot seriously [be] contended” that “the alleged domestic dragnet was legal” based on the complaint seems likely to impact the debate.

You can read how Orin reached this conclusion here.

0

J’Accuse!

Dreyfus's Induction into the Legion of Honor J’accuse enfin le … conseil de guerre d’avoir violé le droit, en condamnant un accusé sur une pièce restée secrète….

Today is the 100th anniversary of the end of one of the more astounding legal episodes in modern history, the Dreyfus Affair. French President Jacques Chirac marked the occasion on July 12 (Fr.; BBC coverage) by giving a speech honoring Alfred Dreyfus, a French artillery captain convicted of treason in 1894. July 12, 1906, was the date on which the Supreme Court of Appeal reversed Dreyfus’s conviction and finally proclaimed him innocent; on July 21, in recognition of all he had been through, Dreyfus was made a Chevalier of the Legion of Honor in a ceremony held at the Ecole Militaire. In response to cheers of “Vive Dreyfus!”, Dreyfus famously responded, “No, gentlemen, I beg of you. Vive la France!”

The Dreyfus Affair is a story about an egregious abuse of the legal system, driven primarily by a powerful current of French antisemitism and by a desire to shield the French military from its own mistakes. It involves procedurally flawed court-martials, secret evidence, conspiracies, theft of government secrets, deportation to a brutal island prison, leaks to the press, leak prosecutions, riots by antisemitic mobs, and a cover-up and whitewash perpetrated at the highest levels of the French military. As that list should indicate, the affair is ripe with allegorical potential, for all sorts of different purposes, but Americans aren’t very familiar with it.

Read More

13

Claim of Unilateral Mistake Confers Right to Repossess Non-Financed Car?

A quick contracts/property/tort/consumer law hypothetical for incoming first-year law students (and their professors) to ponder over:

Car dealer sells a used pick-up truck to Buyer for $8,100 and a trade-in. Buyer pays the full amount by personal check and drives the truck off the lot. Dealer then calls Buyer at home and tells him that they looked up the wrong number in their book; the truck actually costs $10,000 more. Dealer tells Buyer that either he has to return the car and they’ll pay him $500 for his trouble, or he needs to cough up the extra $10,000. Buyer refuses.

In the middle of the night, the Dealer comes and “repossesses” the truck from Buyer’s driveway. Buyer’s trade-in is returned to him. Buyer’s check is not cashed.

Dealer claims that the contract was invalid because “one party ma[de] a mistake, and the other party knew or should have known that a mistake was made.” (See here for more details from WTVF-Nashville, and note the video link on the upper right. The file-dropping bit seems right off the Daily Show.) Assume that the Blue Book value of the truck is $21,240, and the trade-in was worth only a nominal amount.

Discuss; was there a valid contract? What claims does Buyer have, and even more important, what remedies should he get?

(HT: Consumerist)

5

The U.N. Human Rights Commissioner Who Cried Wolf

wolf.jpgU.N. Commissioner Louise Arbour said today about Hezbollah, Gazan forces, and Israel that:

Indiscriminate shelling of cities constitutes a foreseeable and unacceptable targeting of civilians. Similarly, the bombardment of sites with alleged military significance, but resulting invariably in the killing of innocent civilians, is unjustifiable. International humanitarian law is clear on the supreme obligation to protect civilians during hostilities. This obligation is also expressed in international criminal law, which defines war crimes and crimes against humanity. International law demands accountability. The scale of the killings in the region, and their predictability, could engage the personal criminal responsibility of those involved, particularly those in a position of command and control.

I am not in any way an expert in the laws of law. These folks are, but they haven’t blogged the story yet. Is the theory that the laws of war require laser guided bombing? And, in any event, did the region really need more asymmetric, empty, blundering threats? (Hezbollah and the Gazan militants are, in domestic parlance, judgment proof as against war crime tribunals).

[Update: Lynn’s comment below suggests I ought to have been less glib and more clear. Isn’t the commissioner’s statement at least very premature, given that the fog of war is still blooming?]