Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Santa Claus, You Better Watch Out

The King County Law Library in Seattle, WA started producing podcasts about the same time that the BLS Library Blog and Podcast began, the fall of 2007. KCLL’s Sidebar posts monthly podcasts of 20 minutes covering topics from legal news, research tips, interviews, music and other fun stuff.

As BLS closes for the winter break and prepares for the arrival of Santa Claus, this is a good time to listen to the 25th Podcast episode of KCLL’s Sidebar entitled: Up on the Housetop: The Risks for Santa where we find out about the potential liabilities and risks that Santa might encounter during his annual trip. Happy Holidays! Listen here: KCLL’s SideBar: Episode 25: Up on the Housetop: The Risks for Santa.mp3

Monday, December 22, 2008

Msg: Txtng & Drvng Agnst Law

In 2008, text messaging has become the preferred method of communication for millions of Americans of all ages. Text-messaging, also known as SMS (for short message service), started in Japan, because the cost of texting there was less than that of making cell phone calls. This year, President-elect Obama used the medium to announce his running mate and American Idol fans used texting to vote for their favorite contestants. Generation X has become Generation Text as students use text messages to save time in a wide range of communication from simple chatting to sharing legal citations for scholarly writing. Jennifer Alvey from Word Solutions wrote an interesting post about how text messaging can help lawyers and law students improve their writing skills.

The past year has seen new state laws regulating texting while driving (TWD). Nine states have new laws going into effect that relate specifically to cell phone use and text messaging by the driver of a vehicle. Most new laws are secondary enforcement laws that will not be enforced unless the driver is violating a primary law such as speeding, reckless driving or running a red light. The laws provide exceptions for emergencies, reporting illegal activity and use by public safety officials.

As states like Alaska, California, Illinois, Louisiana, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Jersey (whose 2008 amendment makes TWD a primary offense), Oregon, Washington have passed or strengthened laws on TWD, similar legislation in the New York legislature has languished. In May 2008, the NY State Senate passed a bill (S3195-C) introduced by Sen. Carl Marcellino (R, Syosset) to amend the Vehicle and Traffic Law to ban cell phone use while driving prohibiting drivers from writing, sending or reading text messages on a mobile telephone or any other mobile device. A companion bill (A7299-B) introduced by Assemblyman Felix Ortiz, (D, Brooklyn) awaits action in the Assembly. The New York legislation was given more attention last July, after five high school graduates died in an upstate crash. Police said text messages had been sent and received on the 17-year-old driver's cell phone moments before her SUV rammed a truck.

While legislation awaits passage at the state level, local governments have addressed the issue of TWD. Westchester County, just north of New York City, has just enacted Local Law 12 2008 prohibiting text messaging while driving, making it illegal to compose, read or send text messages while driving any type of motor vehicle, including automobiles, trucks, vans, and construction vehicles. The law goes into effect on March 10, 2009. Schenectady County also enacted a TWD ban last week when its county Legislature approved a local law making it a violation to send text via a cell phone while driving. The violation comes with a $150 fine if convicted and becomes effective on March 1, 2009. Monroe County and Suffolk County have already passed similar bans.

Most bans on TWD have minor fines and are aimed only at younger drivers. Whether these limitations will effect behavior is an open question. It is more likely that violations that carry points and insurance surcharges will alter driver behavior. New technology that limit cell phone use while driving, like the Key2SafeDriving wireless car key device, is a more effective way to stop motorists from talking on their cell phone or sending text messages while driving. Thanks to BeSpacfic for this press release on the device.

Here's a scripted video demonstrating how the device works:

Friday, December 19, 2008

AALS Private Screening on Human Trafficking

LexisNexis has announced that it will host an exclusive private screening of the film Holly at the January American Association of Law Schools (AALS) Annual Meeting in San Diego. By showing the film, Lexis Nexis hopes to raise awareness about human trafficking and to show its support of efforts to combat and raise awareness of this global problem.

LexisNexis' promotion of the private screening of Holly estimates that one million people, mostly women and children, are trafficked around the world each year. The gross and unjust economic exploitation of vulnerable people is a direct result of absence of Rule of Law - an accessible, independent and transparent legal system, along with a set of laws that everyone, including the government, follows - in the countries where this traffic thrives.

Article Three of the UN Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons defines trafficking as the "recruitment, transportation, harboring or receipt of persons by threatening, force, or coercion, abduction, fraud, deception, the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the receiving and giving of paymen to a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation". The International Organization for Migration says as many as 800,000 people may be trafficked across international borders annually, with many more trafficked within the borders of their own countries.

A 2005 report called "Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000: Trafficking in Persons Report" issued by the US State Department , estimates that of the 600,000 to 800,000 men, women and children trafficked across international borders each year, about 80% are women and girls. Most traffickers are people with close ties to their victims who use the promise of employment, marriage, and a better life to lure the victims into a life of slavery. Weak legislation and the absence of effective deterrent penalties against this crime contibute to the growth of the problem.

Here is the trailer for Holly which is due to be released in April 2009.

For reading material in the BLS Library collection, see SARA, the library catalog, for a recent acquisition: Trafficking in Humans: Social, Cultural and Political Dimnsions edited by Sally Cameron and Edward Newman (Call # HQ281 .T717 2008).

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

N.Y. Adopts New Attorney Conduct Rules

A NY Law Journal article and a Law.com article report today that Chief Judge Judith S. Kaye and the four presiding Appellate Division justices have formally adopted a new set of attorney ethics rules. Proponents of adoption of the Rules of Professional Conduct (full text) say that the change will subject New York lawyers to the same standards governing lawyers in the rest of the country. The new Rules, based on the ABA Model Rules, replace the existing Disciplinary Rules and introduce important ethics changes for New York lawyers.

The change will make it easier for New York attorneys to reference ethics rules and advisory and legal opinions nationwide when researching issues, supporters of the new rules say. The standardized format, used in 47 other states, is organized according to a lawyer’s role as litigator, counselor, negotiator, and will facilitate a lawyer’s ability to assess specific ethical issues in context. The Rules have generated a national body of ethics law that will ease ethical research and guidance by New York lawyers as well as out-of-state lawyers seeking to research and follow New York’s rules. The effective date of the Rules of Professional Conduct is April 1, 2009 when they replace the New York Code of Professional Responsibility.

The BLS Library has on reserve at the circ desk the Sixth Edition of the Annotated Model Rules of Professional Conduct (Call # KF306 .A7484 2007) as well as the current edition of Legal Ehics: the Lawyer's Deskbook on Professional Responsibility (Call # KF306 .R68).

Monday, December 15, 2008

Bill of Rights Ratified 217 Years Ago

On December 15, 1791, the legislatures of three-fourths of the states of the newly formed United States ratified what is now known as the Bill of Rights. When first proposed, the Bill of Rights contained 12 amendments. The first two of them, dealing with proportional representation in Congress and compensation of its members, were not ratified. The Bill of Rights as ratified protected the fundamental rights of the citizens of the new country. The First Amendment guaranteed freedom of religion, speech, and the press, and the rights of peaceful assembly and petition. Other amendments guaranteed the rights of the people to form a "well-regulated militia," to keep and bear arms, the rights to private property, fair treatment for accused criminals, protection from unreasonable search and seizure, freedom from self-incrimination, a speedy and impartial jury trial, and representation by counsel.

The first official Bill of Rights Day was December 15, 1941 declared by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in Proclamation 2524 to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the ratification of the Bill of Rights. Most Americans largely ignore the historical significance of the anniversary of the Bill of Rights and many American politicians neglect the spirit of the Bill of Rights on a day-to-day basis. Consider the Patriot Act and other laws passed to wage the War on Terror. Think about wiretap abuses and expanded search and seizure by the police in the War on Drugs, the broad use of eminent domain, the government’s ability to exercise civil asset forfeiture, the limitations on jury trials in criminal cases and other recent developments. These kinds of expansive governmental actions are arguably what the drafters of the Bill of Rights intended to curb. Bill of Rights Day is an opportunity to reverse the increasing intrusion on the individual rights of American citizens.

For additional reading in the BLS library on the history of the Bill of Rights, see SARA the library catalog for James Madison and the Struggle for the Bill of Rights by Richard Labunski (Call # KF4749 .L23 2006) with chapters including: Madison introduces the Bill of Rights -- Congress proposes the Bill of Rights -- Ratification of the Bill of Rights.

The BLS Library also has in its collection The War on the Bill of Rights and the Gathering Resistance by Nat Hentoff (Call # JC599.U5 H46 2003) with chapters that include: Why Should We Care? It’s Only the Constitution (USA PATRIOT Act, John Ashcroft, Operation TIPS); How We Began to Lose Our Liberties; A Society Under Surveillance; The FBI Eyeing What You Read (USA PATRIOT Act, gag order, George Orwell).

Friday, December 12, 2008

BLS Moot Court Team Coach Wins Award

The BLS Moot Court team has achieved national prominence over the years by winning numerous awards in moot court competitions throughout the country. The members of the Moot Court team have had the assistance of some prominent local attorneys. Among them is Charles M. Guria, chief of the Kings County District Attorney’s Office’s Civil Rights and Police Integrity Unit.

This past week, Guria received the fourth annual Thomas E. Dewey Award at the headquarters of the New York City Bar Association in Manhattan. Every year the NYCBA presents the awards to outstanding assistant district attorney in each of the city’s District Attorney’s offices and Guria won the award for his work in Kings County. Guria has worked at the Kings County D.A.’s Office for over 17 years and spent most of his time investigating and prosecuting cases involving hate crimes and corruption within the police departments and city government. As chief of Civil Rights and Police Integrity Unit, he prosecutes cases of immigration fraud, bias crimes and police misconduct, most notably the recent indictment of three police officers in the subway platform sexual assault case stemming from October.

Brooklyn District Attorney and BLS Adjunct Professor of Law Charles Hynes said in a press release “Charles Guria’s excellent work and dedication to public service make him an ideal recipient for this award. I have been honored to work with him and am pleased to see that the rest of the legal community also recognizes his abilities.”

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

60th Anniversary of Genocide Convention

This December marks the 60th anniversary of the Convention to Prevent and Punish the Crime of Genocide. On December 9, 1948, the General Assembly of the UN at New York approved a resolution adopting the treaty. It is one of the most important documents in the creation of an international criminal jurisdiction by the UN immediately after WWII. On December 11, 1948, President Harry Truman signed the document on behalf of the US and sent it with a letter to the US Senate for ratification. Although a sufficient number of UN member states ratified the treaty on January 12, 1951, it was nearly 40 years later when it went into effect for the US.

The 100th Congress passed the Genocide Convention Implementation Act of 1987 (also known as the Proxmire Act), Public Law No. 100-60, codified at 18 USC 1091. That section defines genocide:

(a) Basic Offense. - Whoever, whether in time of peace or in time of war, in a circumstance described in subsection (d) and with the specific intent to destroy, in whole or in substantial part, a national, ethnic, racial, or religious group as such -

  1. kills members of that group;
  2. causes serious bodily injury to members of that group;
  3. causes the permanent impairment of the mental faculties of members of the group through drugs, torture, or similar techniques;
  4. subjects the group to conditions of life that are intended to cause the physical destruction of the group in whole or in part;
  5. imposes measures intended to prevent births within the group; or
  6. transfers by force children of the group to another group; or attempts to do so, shall be punished as provided in subsection (b)

(c) Incitement offense. - Whoever... directly and publicly incites another to violate subsection (a) shall be fined not more than $500,000 or imprisoned not more than five years, or both.

The 108th Congress reaffirmed its support of the Convention in House Report 108-130 explaining why the 1987 law was known as the Proxmire Act.

The Convention was submitted to the Senate for advice and consent to ratification in 1949. For many years, no action was taken on ratification in part because of unfounded fears that adherence to the treaty would undermine U.S. sovereignty. Senator William Proxmire was the leading proponent of ratification of the Convention. In reaction to the lack of movement by the Senate to give its advice and consent, Senator Proxmire vowed to speak every day on the need to ratify the Convention until the Senate took action. He made over 3,000 statements on the Senate floor urging ratification of the Convention. His commitment was so crucial to the ratification effort that the law is known as the “Proxmire Act”.
Consult SARA, the BLS Library catalog for further reading on the Genocide Convention where you will find The Genocide Convention: An International Law Analysis by John Quigley (Call # K5302 .Q85 2006).

Monday, December 8, 2008

PRO-IP Act and the Copyright Czar

A Nation Law Journal article reports on the PRO-IP Act ("Prioritizing Resources and Organization Intellectual Property Act") which became law in October. This new legislation, codified at 15 U.S.C 8101 et seq., is a substantial change in current copyright law and strengthens prosecution for the theft of intellectual property in the US with new civil and criminal enforcement measures and reforms by:

· increasing the statutory damages for the sale of counterfeit goods to a inimum of $1000 per trademark to a maximum of $200,000 per trademark;
· increasing the ceiling on statutory damages for the willful sale of counterfeit goods to $2 million;
· expanding the availability of treble damages for providing the equipment or services necessary to commit a counterfeiting violation where the provider intends them to be used for such purposes;
· creating the position of a “IP Czar” or Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator (IPEC) within the White House to chair an committee overseeing anti-counterfeiting efforts; and
· making money available for criminal enforcement of intellectual property laws by the FBI, the DOJ and local law-enforcement

The sense of the Congress in passing the law in Section 602 of the PRO-IP Act was that “counterfeiting and infringement results in billions of dollars in lost revenue for United States companies each year and even greater losses to the United States economy in terms of reduced job growth, exports, and competitiveness”. The facts supporting this assertion are not clear as the only factual legislative history of this law is House Report 110-617 citing statistics provided by proponents of increased copyright protection like the US Chamber of Commerce, the Coalition Against Counterfeiting and Piracy (CACP) and the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA).

Opponents of the PRO-IP Act like the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) question those statistics and argue that while prosecuting commercial pirates is a good idea, copyright law should distinguish between commercial counterfeiters and private users – like those caught up in the RIAA's anti-downloading litigation dragnet, urging lesser penalties for noncommercial, personal copying for the latter.

Speculation on whom President-Elect Obama will nominate as IP Czar and how the new Administration will act on these reforms is the subject of reports in a Reuters and the National Journal.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Prohibition Repeal

December 5th is the 75th anniversary of the ratification of the Twenty-First Amendment when the State of Utah became the final state needed to ratify the amendment and President Franklin D. Roosevelt announced the Repeal of Prohibition by Presidential Proclamation 2065 in 1933.

In our time, the growing realization is that our new Prohibition, the war on drugs, is not working any better than the old Prohibition. A Los Angeles Times article from last week cites a report by the Brookings Institution that the war on drugs has failed. The LA Times article includes comments from an interview with former Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo who supervised the Brookings report and says that the US war on drugs has failed and will continue to do so as long as it emphasizes law enforcement and neglects the problem of consumption. The report urges the US to expand drug prevention programs in schools and redirect anti-drug messages to young people by emphasizing health risks and further to enhance drug courts that will incorporate treatment into prosecution.

Commemorating the 75th anniversary of the repeal of alcohol prohibition with an event at the National Press Club, a group of former police officers, judges, and prosecutors known as Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) issued a press release urging support of repeal of the new Prohibition. The press release has links to WeCanDoItAgain and its report Repealing Today’s Failed Prohibition.

Here is a video featuring members of LEAP:

The BLS Library has several items in its collection dealing with the topic of drug legalization including Federal Narcotics Laws and the War on Drugs: Money Down a Rat Hole by Thomas C. Rowe (Call # KF3890 .R69 2006).

Federal Drug Control: the Evolution of Policy and Practice, Jonathon Erlen, Joseph F. Spillane, editors (Call # KF3885 .F43 2004).

Monday, December 1, 2008

World AIDS Day 2008

Today, the Department of Health and Human Services Office of HIV/AIDS Policy's AIDS.gov is recognizing the 20th annual World AIDS Day. The focus is on reducing HIV/AIDS-related stigma and promoting HIV testing through blogs, virtual worlds, and social networks. This World AIDS Day also marks the second anniversary of AIDS.gov which provides access to Federal HIV/AIDS information through a variety of new media channels, and supports the use of new media tools by Federal and community partners to improve domestic HIV programs serving minority and other communities most at-risk for, or living with, HIV.

AIDS.gov: Access to U.S. Government HIV / AIDS information

Visit AIDS.gov: Access to U.S. Government HIV/AIDS information.

The site suggests four ways to take action to reduce the stigma around HIV/AIDS by using blogs, podcasts and RSS feeds Facebook, Flickr, mashups and other social networking tools to remind people that HIV/AIDS is still a critical issue in the U.S. and around the world, and to promote HIV testing.

Take a picture of yourself wearing a red ribbon

Add the photo to your social network profiles on Dec 1

Add your photo to the “World AIDS Day 08” Flickr group

Encourage your friends to do the same and to promote HIV testing

The site also notes that Second Life World AIDS Day is celebrating World AIDS Day with the opening a new island named Karuna that will be open to the public today.

The BLS Library has several related items for further reading including AIDS and the Law, David W. Webber, editor (Call # KF3803.A54 A915 2007);

Victimizing Vulnerable Groups: Images of Unique High-risk Crime Targets, Charisse Tia Maria Coston editor (Call # HV6250.25 .V535 2004); and

AIDS and the Sexuality of Law: Ironic Jurisprudence by Joe Rollins (Call # KF3803.A54 R65 2004).