Thursday, February 25, 2010

Tribute to Percy Sutton, Class of 1950

Marking the end of Black History Month, the Black Law Students Association (BLSA) is celebrating the life and legacy of Percy Sutton this Friday, February 26th, 6pm - 9pm at the Subotnick Center on the 10th Floor of 250 Joralemon Street. He passed away at the age of 89 on December 27, 2009. Sutton, who graduated Brooklyn Law School with the Class of 1950, was a pioneering civil rights attorney, political leader and one of the nation’s most influential African-American leaders. The son of a slave, he became a Tuskegee Airmen in World War II. After graduating Brooklyn Law School, he opened a law office in 1953 and represented Malcolm X and the slain activist's family for decades. When he served as Manhattan borough president between 1966 and 1977, Sutton was New York state's highest ranking black elected official. Aside from his law practice, Sutton built a small media empire. In 1971, Sutton and his brother bought WLIB-AM, the first black-owned radio station in New York City. His company Inner City Broadcasting Corp. then acquired WBLS-FM, which became New York's top-rated radio station. He also had stations in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Detroit and San Antonio along with Harlem's landmark Apollo Theater. For more about Sutton's life, see the National Visionary Leadship Project's page with links to ten video clips of Sutton discussing aspects of his life. Shortly after Sutton's passing, President Barack Obama issued a Statement remembering him for his service to the country.

BLS Alum former New York Mayor David Dinkins, Class of 1956, will make the opening remarks. Dinkins was the Mayor of New York City from 1990 through 1993 and was the first African American to hold that office. The Keynote speaker of the evening will be BLS Alum Errol Louis, Class of 2005. Louis is a columnist for the New York Daily News and is also on the editorial board, and also hosts a radio program on WWRL in New York. He is frequent guest on CNN's Lou Dobbs Tonight, as well as other CNN news programs as a CNN contributor. In the past, he has been a contributor on many local news programs in New York City.

Dinner will be served with a cocktail hour set to begin at 6pm. Those who want to attend should RSVP to

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Privacy and Google

Today's post on the Official Google Blog, Serious threat to the web in Italy, has background on an Italian court convicting three Google executives in a trial over a YouTube video showing an autistic teenager being bullied. The Google employees were accused of breaking Italian law by allowing the video to be posted online. While the judge cleared the three Google employees of the the defamation charges, he convicted them of privacy violations and imposed suspended six-month sentences. A fourth defendant was acquitted. Google claimed that pre-screening all YouTube content was impossible. The video was posted on YouTube in 2006 shortly before Google acquired YouTube for $1.65 billion in an all stock transaction.

Italian prosecutors argued that Google violated Italian privacy law in not obtaining the consent of all the parties involved before allowing it to go online. Google's lawyers said that the video was removed as soon as it was brought to its attention and that it provided information on those responsible for posting it, four students who were later expelled from their school in Turin.

The NY Times article Google Loses in Italian Privacy Case has more detail on the facts of the case. Google plans to appeal the findings of the Italian court. More than the fate of these three employees are at stake. It seems that Italy may pursue similar cases against other net giants, such as eBay, Yahoo and Facebook. Broader legal issues are the subject of a post at Concurring Opinions, Google Officials Criminally Culpable for YouTube Video, where the author Daniel Solove suggests that the case go to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) under Article 8 and Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Jurist reports that the Italian case is just part of Google's privacy-related legal troubles. Last week, an internet privacy group filed a complaint with the US Federal Trade Commission to investigate whether Google Buzz violates privacy laws. Canada's Privacy Commissioner also issued a press release asking Google to explain how Google Buzz has addressed privacy issues since its recent launch. The privacy concerns about Google Buzz are spelled out in detail in a Jurist post Google's "Buzz" should have required consent for secondary use of private information. The new product has led to inadvertent disclosures of personal information to unintended people. Google Buzz links to Gmail so that if a new user accepts the default options and does not opt-out or edit this Gmail list during profile creation, the whole list becomes part of the user's profile available to the public.
This video explains Google Buzz.

Monday, February 22, 2010

CARD Act of 2009

Nine months after its enactment, the Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure Act of 2009 or the Credit CARD Act of 2009 (Public Law No. 111-24) becomes effective today. The CARD Act, introduced by Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), was signed into law by President Obama on May 22, 2009. Consumer advocates praised the new legislation for putting restraints on a loosely regulated industry. Among its most prominent features, the law bars retroactive rate increases, requires more notice of impending increases and limits how quickly banks can impose late fees. In addition, it includes changes aimed at protecting young consumers from excessive credit card debt.

The Federal Reserve Board approved its final rule last month. Among other things, the rule:

  • Protects consumers from unexpected increases in credit card interest rates by generally prohibiting increases in a rate during the first year after an account is opened and increases in a rate that applies to an existing credit card balance
  • Prohibits creditors from issuing a credit card to a consumer who is younger than the age of 21 unless the consumer has the ability to make the required payments or obtains the signature of a parent or other cosigner with the ability to do so
  • Requires creditors to obtain a consumer's consent before charging fees for transactions that exceed the credit limit
  • Limits the high fees associated with subprime credit cards
  • Bans creditors from using the "two-cycle" billing method to impose interest charges
  • Prohibits creditors from allocating payments in ways that maximize interest charges.

The new rule amends Regulation Z to address CARD Act amendments to the Truth in Lending Act, For more information, visit the Federal Reserve’s page What You Need to Know: New Credit Card Rules.

Unfortunately, the CARD Act's delayed effective date has resulted in the legislation falling short of its consumer protection goals in significant ways. If the bill had become effective on the day after it was signed, it would have achieved what it set out to accomplish. Many of the new law's important provisions do not become effective until August 2010 allowing credit card companies ample time to escape most of the provisions with real teeth.

Another major flaw of the legislation is it does not set a cap on credit card interest rates. While the new legislation puts curbs on when and how the industry can increase interest rates, it does nothing to limit card issuers’ ability to charge interest rates in excess of 30%. An amendment to put a ceiling on credit card interest rates at 15% was rejected by the Senate by an overwhelming majority. In advance of the law's effective date, some credit card companies have tested 39.9% 59.9% and even 79.9%APR cards in recent months in the sub-prime market or people at the very bottom credit rung. See Cost of Bad-credit Credit Cards Rising Due to Reform Law posted at Personal Finance News. Interestingly, reports that one of the card companies offering the 79.9% APR has called the response to its offer "phenomenal" saying that 2% of people receiving the offers have applied for the cards compared to the normal response rates of 1% to 1.2%.

Starting in August of 2010, card issuers will no longer be able to increase the interest on existing credit card balances, unless the cardholder falls 60 days behind on payments on any bill, not just their credit card bill. Credit card companies will be able to raise interest rates on future purchases at their discretion, as long as they provide 45 days notice. Further, credit card companies will not be able to increase interest rates at any time in the first year after issuing a credit card.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Uganda Anti-Gay Bill Explained

The controversial Uganda Anti-Homosexuality Bill of 2009 has generated a great deal of attention. The proposed law would sentence HIV positive homosexuals to death for having sex and punish homosexuals by life imprisonment. International pressure on Uganda is mounting to withdrawal the bill. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in a speech on human rights, said that the “law should not become an instrument of oppression". Even President Obama called the proposed law "odious" in a recent speech saying "We may disagree about gay marriage, but surely we can agree that it is unconscionable to target gays and lesbians for who they are -- whether it's here in the United States or ... more extremely in odious laws that are being proposed most recently in Uganda." See Reuters report.

A close reading of the proposed law shows it to be more wide-reaching than its proponents suggest. Ugandans don't have to be gay or have gay sex to face the death sentence under the law which makes being a "serial offender" punishable by execution. A serial offender is a person who has "previous convictions" for "homosexuality OR RELATED OFFENCES." In other words, if a Ugandan has one prior conviction for a violation under the Bill and then has a subsequent conviction he or she will be classified as a serial offender and face execution. "Related offences" in the Bill include non-sexual acts such as:

    • aiding and abetting homosexuality
    • advocating same-sex relationships or LGBT rights
    • having a same-sex marriage
    • publicising or funding pro-LGBT organisations
    • using the internet or a mobile phone for the purpose of homosexuality or its promotion
    • being a person in authority who fails to report an offender to the police within 24 hours

Under the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, all convicted serial offenders are liable to execution, regardless of their sexuality so that not just LGBT Ugandans are subject to this legislation. This YouTube video explains the Uganda Anti-Homosexuality Bill in an instructive analysis .

Monday, February 15, 2010

190th Anniversary Susan B. Anthony Birth

This President's Day falls on the 190th birthday of Susan B. Anthony, born to a Quaker family on February 15, 1820 near Adams, MA. She died on March 13, 1906 at the age of 86 in Rochester, NY. The Susan B. Anthony House in Rochester was her home during the most politically active period of her life and the site of her famous arrest for voting in 1872. When she was 52 years old, Anthony was arrested, put on trial and found guilty for illegally voting in the presidential election. The judge ruled her incompetent to testify on her own behalf because of her gender and fined her $100. "If it please your honor," she said at her sentencing, "I will never pay a dollar of this unjust penalty." She never did. For more about the trial, see The Trial of Susan B. Anthony for Illegal Voting by Professor Douglas Linder of the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law where he writes that she revealed to her close friend and fellow suffragist, Elizabeth Cady Stanton that she "the straight Republican ticket" and that she had been planning to vote long before 1872.

The Brooklyn Law School Library has two items in its collection on the famous trial. The Trial of Susan B. Anthony with an introduction by Lynn Sherr (Call #KF223.A58 A58 2003) contains the Indictment and the subsequent trial which became one of the most famous trials of the 19th century due in large part to Anthony's clever stratagem of publishing a one-volume edition of the trial proceedings, then using it as a public relations ploy for a campaign to rally women to the cause of women's suffrage.

The other book is The Susan B. Anthony Women's Voting Rights Trial: a Headline Court Case by Judy Monroe (Call #KF4895.Z9 M63 2002) in which the author provides family history and background for Anthony's interest in voting rights for women, abolitionism, and temperance along with chapters on the history of suffrage, the events leading up to Anthony's court trial, the trial itself, and her continued fight for women's rights up to the time of her death. It was only after her death and only 90 years ago, on August 26, 1920, that the 19th Amendment to the US Constitution became law, and women could vote in the fall elections, including in the Presidential election.

The Susan B. Anthony Birthplace Museum in Adams, MA. opened today for a one-week preview until it begins its full-time schedule. The museum's panels describe Anthony's involvement in the temperance movement, abolition, suffrage and women's rights in the workplace. It houses items such as a small metal hammer used by prohibitionist women workers in a candy factory for smashing the windows of drinking establishments, and anti-suffrage posters like one aimed at men that says: "Once Women Get The Vote, your life is doomed." On the pro side is a poster saying "Women bring all voters into the world. Let women vote."

The opening of the museum was not without controversy as its Board consists of members of Feminists Choosing Life of NY (formerly Feminists for Life of NY) who bought Anthony's birthplace and seek to insure that the pro-life part of Anthony's views remain part of her biography. This has led to the launching of a counter website by liberal feminists. Even today, Susan B. Anthony remains a controversial figure.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Happy Birthday Mr. Lincoln

Today marks the 201st anniversary of the birth of Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the US. Born in 1809 and known historically as president and politician, Lincoln spent most of his life (nearly twenty-five years) as a practicing lawyer. Students and scholars can access several items in the Brooklyn Law School Library collection to learn more about Lincoln the Lawyer. The newest item about Lincoln in the BLS Library collection is Lincoln the Lawyer by Brian Dirck (Call #E457.2 .D575 2007) which uses items from a database of Lincolns documents to give an overview of Lincoln's practice. One of the most interesting chapters is the one on Lincoln's debt practice which concludes that "insofar as Lincoln specialized in any area of law, he was a debt-collection attorney".

The author makes two basic points about Lincoln the lawyer: one, that Lincoln kept his distance from his clients. This may well have been the result of professional detachment or objectivity but the author provides instances where Lincoln became emotionally invested when personal considerations were involved. The second point the author makes is that Lincoln's law practice taught him the value of "grease" which Lincoln used to lubricate the market economy by reducing friction to acceptable levels. These points aside, the book contains a vast collection of documents including form books, demurrers, and proposed judgments. While the author does not dwell on any cases, he does provide imagined client interviews by Lincoln.

This accessible account of the lawyer Abraham Lincoln suggests that legal historians should not overlook the usefulness of the Lincoln Legal Papers project which photocopied thousands of documents, that are now categorized, indexed, and digitized. In 2000, the fruits of this prodigious labor were published as a three-DVD set. The Lincoln Legal Papers project has spurred new interest in Lincoln's law practice and are accessible online.

Another item accessible available in the BLS Library is the Hein Online version of Lincoln the Lawyer by Frederick Trevor Hill originally published in 1906. At page 102 of this book, Lincoln is quoted as saying "Discourage litigation. Persuade your neighbors to compromise whenever you can. Point out to them how the nominal winner is often a real loser — in fees, expenses, and waste of time. As a peacemaker the lawyer has a superior opportunity of being a good man." This is a book that would be of interest to anyone interested in Lincoln; it is even of greater interest to lawyers and future lawyers.

Monday, February 8, 2010

US Senate Rule XXII: Filibuster

Stories like this one (registration required) in the Washington Post report on Democrats from Vice President Joe Biden to freshman Sen. Tom Udall (NM) calling for changes to the filibuster, a century-old parliamentary device used by the minority party to draw out debate and block the wishes of the majority party. In his column in today’s NY Times, Paul Krugman states:
The truth is that given the state of American politics, the way the Senate works is no longer consistent with a functioning government. Senators themselves should recognize this fact and push through changes in those rules, including eliminating or at least limiting the filibuster. This is something they could and should do, by majority vote, on the first day of the next Senate session.
What to do about the filibuster is a topic that has been around for a long time. The US Senate website has a brief history of Rule XXII on filibusters and cloture. Views about amending the rules governing its use change depending on whether the speaker is part of the majority party or part of the minority party. The Washington Post article contrasts Minority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell, (KY) on his effort, five years ago when he was Majority Leader, to change nearly century-old filibuster rules with his oppostion to the move now. As a US Senator, Biden supported filibusters to block President Bush’s judicial nomination, most notably the nominations of Miguel Estrada, Caroline Kuhl and Priscilla Owen. Likewise, Mr. Krugman, in his March 29, 2005 column, warned of efforts by extremists to eliminate the filibuster to pack the courts with like-minded judges. Clearly, one’s opinion on the topic changes depending on whether one is in the majority or the minority.

The Brooklyn Law School Library has in its collection two worthwhile items for students interested in the history of the filibuster. Politics or Principle?: Filibustering in the United States Senate by Sarah A. Binder and Steven S. Smith (Call #JK1161 .B56 1997) has a Table on page 7 showing the Major Rule Changes Affecting the Senate Filubuster dating back to 1806. The book dispels much of the conventional wisdom about the filibuster and focuses on five major myths: that unlimited debate is a fundamental right differentiating the Senate from the House of Representatives; that the Senate's tradition as a deliberative body requires unlimited debate; that the filibuster was once reserved for a few issues of the utmost national importance; that few measures are actually killed by filibuster, and that senators resist changing the rules because of a principled commitment.

The more recent item is Filibuster: Obstruction and Lawmaking in the U.S. Senate by Gregory John Wawro and Eric Schickler (Call # JK1161 .W39 2006). The introduction to the book has a section titled “The Centrality of Obstruction to Senate Lawmaking” that says “Whatever the reason, the Filibuster is deeply ingrained in the political culture of the United States.” It goes on to say “Even though the filibuster is the most popularly known procedural maneuver in the Congress, it has received scant scholarly attention.” Its recitation of the history of the filibuster tells the reader that before 1917, there was no way to end a Senate filibuster. In that year, the Senate adopted its first “cloture rule,” which enabled a two-thirds majority to end debate.

PrawfsBlawg recently had an interesting post The legal debate over the Senate's rules: a dialogue that begins to discuss scholarly aspects of the US Senate as a continuing body, arguably the most powerful constitutional consideration in favor of the permissibility of entrenched Senate rules. There is a link to an SSRN paper Burying the 'Continuing Body' Theory of the Senate by Aaron-Andrew P. Bruhl of the University of Houston Law Center.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

DNA Testing and Wrongful Convictions

This week, the Innocence Project released 250 Exonerated: Too Many Wrongfully Convicted detailing 250 exoneration cases along with statistics on common causes of the wrongful convictions. The release of the report coincided with the exoneration of Freddie Peacock, a 60 year old man from Rochester, New York wrongfully convicted of rape 33 years ago. The exoneration was the result of DNA testing in what the Innocence Project said is the 250th DNA exoneration in the United States. Convicted in 1976 of rape, Peacock was sentenced to 20 years in prison and released on parole in 1982. Even though no longer incarcerated, he fought to prove his innocence since he left prison 28 years ago.

Some interesting findings in the report include:
    • DNA exonerations in 33 states and the District of Columbia
    • States with most DNA exoneration: New York (25), Texas (40) and Illinois (29)
    • 76% of wrongful convictions involved eyewitness misidentification
    • 50% involved either improper forensic science or forensic science without validation
    • 27% relied on a false confession, admission or guilty plea
    • 70% of the 250 people exonerated are people of color; Black (60%), Latino (9%), White (29%)
The Brooklyn Law School Library has additional reading on the subject of wrongful convictions in New York. See Lessons Not Learned: New York State Leads in the Number of Wrongful Convictions but Lags in Policy Reforms that Can Prevent Them, An Innocence Project Report (Call # KFN6102 .L37 2007 (INTERNET).

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

New from Bloomberg Law

Bloomberg Law is sponsoring a training session Bloomberg Law on Securities: Advanced Research Session on how to use Bloomberg Law for securities research on Wednesday, February 3, 2010 (8:45am - 10am). The session takes place at its headquarters at 731 Lexington Ave., New York. Interested Brooklyn Law School students should RSVP by calling Adi Hermoni at (212) 617-4132 or to Bloomberg will provide breakfast for all attendees.

Another new feature on Bloomberg Law is the newly released Bloomberg Law Reports Student Edition, Volume 1, Number 1 of which contains items targeted for law students:
Law School Fundamentals
Public Interest Law
Clinics (The Securities Arbitration Clinic at St. John’s University School of Law, Advocates for Victims of Investment Fraud)
Career Profile
A Day in the Life of a Legal Aid Attorney
Law Firm Profile
Developing Advocates, Addressing Need, and Making the System Work
Legal Research
Bloomberg Points of Law — Building a Legal Precedent Database
Career Development
Training (Howrey’s First Tier Program Combines Theory and Practice for New Lawyers)
What to Do — What Not to Do
Lasting Impressions
Bloomberg Law Podcasts
December 2009/January 2010
Bloomberg Law
Bloomberg Continuing Legal Education

Monday, February 1, 2010

Global Gender Gap Report

For those who enjoy lists, BeSpacific links to a World Economic Forum press release about the Global Gender Gap Report for 2009 which measures the size of the gender inequality gap in four critical areas:

  • Economic participation and opportunity – outcomes on salaries, participation levels and access to high-skilled employment
  • Educational attainment – outcomes on access to basic and higher level education
  • Political empowerment – outcomes on representation in decision-making structures
  • Health and survival – outcomes on life expectancy and sex ratio

The report shows that no country in the world has achieved gender equality and that Scandinavian countries top the annual list. With other countries making progress, the United States lost four places in the rankings this year coming in at number 31. In the US, labor force participation of women fell from 70% to 69% and the percentage of women among professional and technical workers fell from 57% to 56%. Countries which scored higher than the US on the 2009 Global Gender Gap Index in total and in order of best to worst are Iceland, Finland, Norway, Sweden, New Zealand, South Africa, Denmark, Ireland, Philippines, Lesotho, Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland, Latvia, United Kingdom, Sri Lanka, Spain, France, Trinidad and Tobago, Australia, Barbados, Mongolia, Ecuador, Argentina, Canada, Mozambique, Costa Rica, Bahamas, Cuba and Lithuania. The 20 worst countries in the ranking reading down from 115 to 134 are: South Korea, Bahrain, Algeria, Cameroon, Mauritania, Burkina Faso, Syria, Ethiopia, Oman, Morocco, Qatar, Egypt, Mali, Iran, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Benin, Pakistan, Chad and Yemen.

Another take on the gender gap comes in a new paper called The State of American Boyhood published by Judith Kleinfeld in the journal Gender Issues which is available to Brooklyn Law School members through the Library database EBSCO Academic Search Premier. The paper says that stereotypes and lack of information hold back high school boys from going to college. After interviewing high school seniors in Alaska, the author found that some high school boys were unaware of the likely need for a college degree and that many believed that boys are just lazy or prone to peer pressure. In her article, Kleinfeld suggests that stereotypes may be limiting boys' ambition. Kleinfeld, from the University of Alaska at Fairbanks, has clashed with women's groups by questioning research showing discrimination against female students and faculty members and hopes her current work will offer more insight on the reasons why boys are struggling. Her newest study focuses on pressures on men in American society and changing concepts of manhood and challenges us to recognize that there is neither a "girl crisis" nor a "boy crisis" when it comes to education and that we need to pay attention to the difficulties of both girls and boys and bring these problems to the attention of families, teachers and mental health professionals.