Subscribe to Blog feed
Updated: 47 sec ago

2015.82: More Gaslamp Legal Follies

Sat, 09/26/2015 - 14:03

Email to me from Gaslamp’s lawyer Tim Sutherland, subject “post comments”:


I called your office to discuss the post on your website. If you would, please provide me with a time that you are free.



My response:

Sure, Tim. As soon as you release the full door video.

I have not yet received a response. I’m not holding my breath because my bet is, as I’ve said before, that the full door video will show that Sutherland and his client Gaslamp are lying about what happened on the night of September 11th, 2015.

Meanwhile, the Houston Press reports that Gaslamp owner Ayman Jarrah “wants out, says allegations of racism have ‘hurt me more than anybody else.'”1

In Sutherland’s original video he referred to extortion and criminal charges filed against a former employee. The Houston Press article elucidates:

Tim Sutherland…claims Matte “asked us for $10,000 in order to not go and speak with Brandon Ball and he would say whatever we wanted and put whatever we wanted in writing. We refused, and my understanding is that he’s gone out and is working with them or something like that.”

Sutherland says the club has filed an extortion complaint with the Houston Police Department against the former manager and turned over copies of the text messages to the authorities.

Here are more text messages, allegedly between Jarrah and Matte, which Jarrah provided to the Houston Press:

Houston Press / Ayman Jarrah

There may be more to this, but I don’t see enough here to prosecute either Matte or Jarrah. At the end Matte says, “You know none of that is legal,” which could mean that he’ s justifying his $10,000 price, or could mean that he was just kidding with Jarrah. The words following “I am” could be important in determining which is the case, as could the words before “tomorrow at noon.”

Did Jarrah provide more to Phaedra Cook, the author of the Houston Press article? If not, what is he hiding? I’m pretty sure the Harris County DA’s Office wouldn’t file charges against Matte without seeing the rest of the text messages. They might file felony charges against Jarrah, though, if this is all he gave them.

How is that? If either Jarrah or Matte is serious, these are clearly negotiations to tamper with a witness:

A person commits an offense if, with intent to influence the witness, he offers, confers, or agrees to confer any benefit on a witness or prospective witness in an official proceeding…to withhold any testimony, information, document, or thing.

Does Jarrah offer, confer, or agree to confer a benefit? I would say so. He’s offering to confer some indeterminate benefit, though the parties don’t seem to be able to agree on the amount. It looks as though Jarrah was perfectly willing to tamper with a witness at the right price, and only went to the police when he couldn’t negotiate a good enough deal.

If Matte solicited a benefit to withhold evidence, he also committed a couple of felonies. But without the context of the emails, it’s hard to tell.

It wouldn’t be a great case against either Matte or Jarrah — before filing charges for witness tampering, you want to know how the discussion started and how it ended — but judging from these messages it’s a better case against Jarrah. In Texas a person (e.g. Matte) can’t be convicted on the uncorroborated testimony of an accomplice (e.g. Jarrah). These text messages are likely not corroboration because only Jarrah (arguably an accomplice to Matte’s acts—he’s not saying “no”) can testify to who was asking for the $10,000.

The accomplice-witness rule doesn’t come into play if the State charges Jarrah with witness tampering because Jarrah has provided the State with his own incriminating words. The State needs Jarrah to prove the case against Matte, but doesn’t need Matte to prove the case against Jarrah.

I doubt that the State will charge anyone here, but putting your client in jeopardy is almost always worse than not putting your client in jeopardy. So today’s protip for aspiring cook / lawyers: there’s a difference between extortion and a conspiracy gone awry. If your client’s real complaint is that his coconspirator wanted too much money to commit the crime with him, he might be better off not getting the government involved.


  1. Boo fucking hoo. 

2015.81: Campaign to Eliminate Air Hand Dryers

Fri, 09/25/2015 - 17:26

Hot air dryers have the potential for depositing pathogenic bacteria onto the hands and body of users. Bacteria can also be inhaled and distributed into the general environment whenever dryers are running. It is recommended therefore that the use of hot air dryers should be carefully considered on health grounds, especially in sensitive locations such as hospitals, catering establishments and food preparation areas.

Hot air hand dryers do not dry as well as paper towels (leaving hands damp and welcoming to pathogens). When a toilet flushes it sprays a mist of shit-laden water droplets into the air. An air dryer sucks in this air, warms it up (bacteria love that), and blows it out again onto your damp hands. Several studies have found that paper towels do a better job of reducing bacteria on hands than do hot air driers; some find that air dryers increase bacteria on hands. “From a hygiene standpoint, paper towels are superior to air dryers; therefore, paper towels should be recommended for use in locations in which hygiene is paramount, such as hospitals and clinics.” (Interestingly, it appears that rubbing your hands together under the dryer, per instructions, makes things worse.)

Air hand dryers are a public-health menace. If you go to a restaurant that uses air hand dryers, you don’t only have to worry about the cleanliness of your own hands; you should be more worried about the cleanliness of the hands of the stafff—the cooks who cook your food, the waiters who serve it, the dishwashers who handle your dishes. If the restaurant has only hand air dryers, these people have bacteria from human feces all over their hands. Add to that bathroom doors that open inward, so that you have to touch the door handle to get out of the bathroom, and you might as well not wash your own hands.

So why do public places—restaurants and bars—have air hand dryers instead of paper towels? Money. Installing air dryers is cheaper (more than 2.3 cents per bathroom-using customer!) than buying and cleaning up paper towels.

Conclusion: Restaurants that use only air hand dryers are selling our health. They’re risking making us sick for a buck.

What can we do about this? I’m glad you asked. If someone is selling your health, make it more expensive for them.

How? Again, I’m glad you ask. The Internet has given us the tools to make air hand dryers prohibitively expensive to restaurants. We can make it more expensive for restaurants to use air hand dryers by reducing the reputation of the restaurants that sell our health. But we have to do it en masse.

Here’s my proposal: when you happen upon a restaurant that has only hand air dryers, leave a one-star review on Yelp. Explain in your review that it is based on the restaurant’s willingness to risk your health for a few pennies. Discuss that risk. Link to this post. Promise to change the review when the restaurant comes clean.

I promise you that it won’t take many one-star reviews to get these restaurants to put our health ahead of a few cents of profit.

2015.80: #MasculinitySoFragile? Man Up.

Thu, 09/24/2015 - 11:30

Those of you who have not yet been sucked into using Twitter may not be familiar with hashtag activism.1 Someone has some point he wants to make, so he says something and attaches a hooky hashtag—a string of letters following a pound sign: #NotAllMen, for example, to either a) make the point that generalizations of the evils of manhood do not apply to all of us; or b) mock “not all men” as a deflection of discussion of the evils of manhood.

As you can see, the point of the hashtag is not always explicit; sometimes it’s ironic.

There are three types of user of activist hashtags.

  • People who agree with the point that the hashtag explicitly makes. I’ll call these (arbitrarily) the “Earnest Pros.”
  • People who disagree with the point that the hashtag explicitly makes (but who might agree with the intended ironic point). I’ll call these (conformingly) the “Earnest Cons.”
  • People who hijack the hashtag looking for entertainment. I’ll call these (fondly) the “Trolls.”

The Earnest Pros and the Earnest Cons are on the same axis of earnestness, arguing with each other as though it’s serious business. The Trolls are using the hashtag just to get a reaction from the Earnest Pros, the Earnest Cons, or both.

It’s not always possible to tell the difference between the Trolls and the Earnest Pros or Earnest Cons. When you point out to what appears to be an earnest hashtag warrior the silliness of hashtag, he might retreat to “LOL you don’t appreciate good trolling.” Maybe. Roll your eyes and walk away.

Sometimes, though, an Earnest Con really is an Earnest Con:

I see. It’s insecurity to defend myself, and totally masculine when I shut up and let people trash me.

— Brandon Morse (@TheBrandonMorse) September 23, 2015

That’s a guy named Brandon Morse’s surreply to someone’s reply to his response to the #MasculinitySoFragile hashtag. Morse sees the hashtag as “people trashing him,” and thinks he needs to “defend himself” against a hashtag that isn’t even directed at him.

Morse went on to write an article about how #masculinitysofragile is “dumb,” complete with high-school writing ability (“infer” for “imply, “is” for “are,” and so forth).

There’s a bit of self-fulfillment here. Let me take this out of the realm of the gender wars to demonstrate:

#HairSoGreen you look like the Grinch.

“My hair isn’t green. In fact, most men’s hair isn’t green. You’re just hanging out with green-haired beta men.”

“If you weren’t insecure about your hair, you wouldn’t respond.”

“It’s not insecurity to defend myself.” [Writes 1000-word blog post explaining.]

Take it as a given that some people’s hair is green. If your hair isn’t green, you aren’t being “trashed” by #HairSoGreen. If you know that you don’t have green hair, you know that you aren’t being trashed. You don’t have to be offended; you can let the slight slide. #HairSoGreen only hits home if it’s plausible to you.

Likewise with fragile masculinity. Take it as a given that some people’s masculinity is fragile: they harbor secret doubts about whether they are “masculine enough.”2 If your masculinity isn’t fragile, you aren’t being “trashed.” If you people can trash your masculinity by suggesting that masculinity is fragile, your masculinity is fragile.3

“Taking offense” is an active verb.4 If Morse didn’t choose to take offense at #MasculinitySoFragile he wouldn’t. “Taking offense at the words of women” is not traditionally a component of masculinity (else the species would have self-destructed long ago). Morse wants a strong masculinity … that can be trashed by words.

Sorry, Brandon. Pick one. Be secure in your masculinity, or choose to feel that it is threatened by #MasculinitySoFragile. The two are mutually exclusive. All over the world men are going about their archetypally masculine business—providing for their loved ones, protecting the weak, making the world better however they can. #MasculinitySoFragile doesn’t affect masculinity in the least.


Later Morse wrote:

By feminist logic, the reaction to my trashing #MasculinitySoFragile is not indicative of women secure in their femininity. #foodforthought

— Brandon Morse (@TheBrandonMorse) September 23, 2015

Morse is fighting the wrong war. The #MasculinitySoWeak folks don’t care about femininity any more than they care about masculinity. It’s all a social construct to them. To the current wave of feminists gender is fiction, which each of us can write and rewrite freely. It’s not just fragile, it’s insubstantial.

Masculinity isn’t entirely a social construct, though. Men and women are biologically different. Evolution has put us together to do different jobs. Woman got the uterus and the nurturing. Man got the upper-body strength and the violence. Together we made an unstoppable team for tens of millennia when the short-term survival of the species was iffy. Now that we’re living in civilization—about the last 10,000 years of our species’ 150,000-year history—we’ve had to make allowances to allow us to live together without being in a constant state of war with the next block over.

So masculinity isn’t entirely biological, either. Modern masculinity is biological masculinity covered with a veneer of civilization: wolves in nice suits. Survival is easy enough for homo sapiens that we can take roles that their ancestors 600 generations ago weren’t free to explore. Men can be stay-at-home dads, and women can provide for them. We can celebrate that without forgetting that there’s no guarantee that survival will continue to be easy.

The veneer of civilization could plausibly be erased in a single generation. It’s not masculinity that’s fragile; it’s the constraints that society puts on masculinity. And when survival of the individual or the group is doubtful, we’ll all count ourselves lucky that underneath the nice suit, the wolf abides.

  1. Do they do that on Facebook too? 

  2. Answer, for whatever it’s worth: screw the archetypes and just be yourself. You can’t do more than that. 

  3. The hashtag is not a kafkatrap for several reasons. Most importantly, because there’s a win/win: don’t respond to it, and it doesn’t affect you. “#BrandonsFragileMasculinity” would arguably be a different story. If someone announces to the world at large that your hair is green, you might reasonably correct the facts. 

  4. We call this “giving up your power.” 

2015.79: Cook / Lawyer Tim Sutherland’s Attempts to Cover Up Gaslamp Racism

Tue, 09/22/2015 - 13:57

Ayman Jarrah runs into the kitchen of his Gaslamp gastropub, waving a Houston Press. “Oh, shit. They’re saying we’re racist. I need a lawyer on the fly.”

Tim, working the fry station, finishes a batch of onion rings, plates them next to a cheeseburger, wipes a spot of grease from the plate with a terrycloth, and puts the plate in the passthrough. He wipes the sweat from his face with the same terrycloth, unties his apron, lets it drop to the kitchen floor. Beneath it he wears a red-and-green plaid shirt and a black tie.

I’m a lawyer, boss. Got a video camera?”

An hour later, this is on Youtube:

When I saw the video, first I thought, “that’s pretty clever PR at the end, suggesting that if people don’t like Gaslamp’s discrimination they ought to get a law passed to forbid it” But then I took a look at the Civil Rights Act, and discovered that—contrary to Sutherland’s bald-faced assertion—federal antidiscrimination law covers nightclubs. It doesn’t cover “private clubs,” but there really isn’t an argument that Gaslamp is a private club. It doesn’t cover bars, but Gaslamp serves food, and serving food makes it a “public accommodation” that can’t discriminate on the basis of race.

Federal antidiscrimination law applies no less to Gaslamp than to Kung Fu Saloon, and if Sutherland couldn’t be bothered to read the Civil Rights Act, at least he could be expected (as a self-professed “food and hospitality” lawyer) to know about Kung Fu Saloon’s consent judgment for doing what Gaslamp was accused of doing.

(Today I learned from Tamara Tabo that Houston already has the city ordinance that Sutherland calls for in the video. So not only does he misstate federal law, but he misstates municipal law as well.)

In light of Sutherland’s misstatements of the law (I’m not sure which would be more charitable: assuming that he lied, or assuming that he’s just incompetent, but Hanlon’s Razor dictates the latter) the PR didn’t look so clever.

In light of those misstatements, the video looks more like a “fuck you” to people who wouldn’t voluntarily do business with a racist business, and a nudge-and-wink to Gaslamp’s preferred clientele: white people who would rather do business with a racist business.

At this point Gaslamp’s stories have been: 1) that the three black lawyers were trying to get onto the rooftop, where everyone must pay a cover; and 2) that the three black lawyers didn’t have any women with them, so they were asked to pay a cover. The lawyers didn’t even know about the rooftop, so they couldn’t have been trying to go there. And lest you believe that they were charged a cover because they didn’t bring any women, check this out:

The hispanic deputy who is standing idly by while Gaslamp requires a cover charge from the black women but not from their white friend is Jojo Flores. The Sheriff’s Office has since decided that it won’t allow our public servants to work at Gaslamp. There’s no indication that Flores has been reprimanded or otherwise disciplined yet.

In his first video, you may have noticed Sutherland opening the door for the gastropub to throw its bouncers under the bus by citing “too much discretion.” That’s probably a strategic choice. About a week ago this popped up:

as well as this:

Those are text messages posted to Facebook by Ryan Matte, purporting to be communications between Ayman Jarrah (a/k/a David Yurman) and him. Matte writes:

I am former management and can testify, and have proof, stating that both Ayman, as well as management gave direct orders to the door staff to not let minorities in, except he used much more vulgar terms. And to Mike Ross and Jacob and Neil. Here is a screen shot of messages of Ayman trying to throw y’all under the bus.

Matte admits having another bone to pick with Jarrah: he says that Jarrah stole his and other employees’ wages. But unless the video and the text messages are fabricated, this is just Ayman Jarrah’s and Gaslamp’s racist hens coming home to roost.

Speaking of fabricated, Tim Sutherland has released another video “on behalf of” his “client”; now the story is that the three lawyers were trying to get in through the VIP entrance instead of waiting in line:

In case you’re not the type who pays attention to cinematography, what you’re seeing there is a video that’s been cropped in three dimensions. Not only is Chef Tim showing you only the time that he wants you to see (not before the three guys walk up, nor after) but he is also showing you only the frame that he wants you to see. It looks like the camera moves from one shot to another, but what’s really happening is that the video has been edited to show only a bit of the recorded frame, so that Gaslamp is showing you only part of the screen at a time.

My bet is that when the whole video comes out, we’ll see that when the three guys walk up to Gaslamp, there is nobody in line. The people who appear to be in line at the end of the snippet are the overserved-looking white folk you see crossing the street before. We’ll see, in other words, that Tim Sutherland is a liar.

The coverup is always worse than the crime.

2015.78: A Taxonomy of Bad Writing

Sun, 09/20/2015 - 22:37

Writing is thinking. People who know you only by your writing will judge you by your writing. If you write sloppily, people will judge you a sloppy thinker. If shallowly, shallow. If boringly, boring.

You can write better. If you want to write up to your potential, read on. I’ll introduce four levels of bad writing and discuss how to diagnose them.

Bad writing on the word level is characterized by misspellings, incorrect punctuation, and incorrect hyphenation. Word-level bad writing may, to the reader, be indistinguishable from typing error. The difference between word-level bad writing and typos is that the latter are accidental.

Much word-level error can be caught by your word processor’s spell-check function. Much of it will slip through. Diagnose word-level bad writing by reading your sentences carefully and looking up in the dictionary any words that you are unsure about. Read and absorb Strunk & White or a more comprehensive modern usage guide such as Garner’s Modern American Usage.

Bad writing on the sentence level reveals itself in disagreement between parts of a sentence. Misconjugated verbs, busted parallelisms (“I went to Paris, to London, and Rome”), and incorrect prepositions (“between 1900 to 1910”) are all symptoms of bad writing on the sentence level. Poor word choice is a sentence-level error rather than, as you might suspect, a word-level error.

What appears to be bad writing on the sentence level is often editing error: you have written a sentence, found a better way to write part of it, and not rewritten the rest of it to match. I do this all the time, and will probably do it in this post.

The diagnosis and cure for sentence-level bad writing are the same: read your sentences aloud. If your ear is not attuned to sentence-level error, reading Strunk & White might help, but if “between 1900 to 1910” sounds right to you, you need a writing course. Either find one at your local university or, if you can’t be bothered to do that, curse your high-school English teachers and resign yourself, like this guy, to sentence-level mediocrity:

@MarkWBennett @Cernovich To each their own. You’re the only person I’ve ever heard these criticisms from.

— Brandon Morse (@TheBrandonMorse) September 21, 2015

One level of writing does not depend on another. There are people who can’t spell their way out of a wet paper bag, but who can put their misspelled words together into coherent sentences, paragraphs, and essays. They force their readers to work harder than they ought to to tease out the meaning, and bad writing is — at least to a reader who is also a good writer — distracting, but their writing may still be worth reading. Likewise those who can’t put together a sentence to save their lives.

In bad writing on the paragraph level the sentences may be well-formed, but they do not fit together.

Paragraph-level errors are more difficult to diagnose than lower-level bad writing. At the paragraph level your writing becomes more reflective of your conscious cognitive processes (as opposed to habit or reflex), so errors at the paragraph level are less susceptible to conscious diagnosis. If your errors are paragraph-level they look right to your eye and sound right to your ear. To diagnose paragraph-level errors ask of each sentence, “How does this follow from the previous sentence? What transition would I use between them?”

So, for example, if I suspected I might be prone to paragraph-level errors, I would ask of the paragraph I just wrote:

  1. How does the second sentence follow from the first?1 It explains the rule. If I used a transition between the first and second sentences, it would be, “That’s because….”
  2. How does the third sentence follow from the second? It illustrates the explanation. If I used a transition between the second and third sentences it would be, “That is,….”
  3. How does the fourth sentence follow from the third? It provides a solution to the problem that the third sentence illustrated. If I used a transition between the third and fourth sentences, it would be “So….”

In conducting this interrogation of my own writing, I would recognize a paragraph-level error if a sentence did not follow from the preceding, or if the transition were more than a couple of words.

If a sentence does not follow, that’s not the right place for it. It may belong elsewhere in the paragraph, it may need to be in another paragraph,2 or it may belong on the editing-room floor.

You know by now where this is going: when writing is bad on the essay level each paragraph may be well-written, but they don’t make sense together. On the essay level, writing reflects even higher-level thought processes than on the paragraph level. Can you put paragraphs, each of which develops an idea, together into a cogent argument or exposition?

The process for diagnosing essay-level writing error is much the same as that for diagnosing bad writing on the paragraph level: question each paragraph’s relationship to the surrounding paragraphs, and question each paragraph’s relationship to the whole.

Almost always, recognizing essay-level error requires objectivity — more objectivity than I have immediately after writing an essay, and I suspect more than you have at that point. If it is important to you to get a writing just right,3 come back to it after you’ve occupied your mind with other tasks. Either that, or get someone else to read it for you.

In fact, a good editor is an excellent tool for learning to write better. Red pencil on a page of your best prose will help you find your weaknesses, which is the greater part of eliminating them. And while you will learn more from someone who is better at writing than from someone who is not, even someone who does not write as well as you can improve your writing by editing it. You are writing for readers, and what a reader thinks is wrong with your writing matters even if she is wrong.4

Beyond the chapter level, we would get to bad writing on the book level. While I have read a few badly written books, and started reading a whole lot more, I am not qualified to expound on this, not having written a book.


  1. Notice that I could break the second sentence into two sentences at “so.” Not doing so was purely a style choice. 

  2. I prefer more and shorter paragraphs with discrete ideas. 

  3. My posts here are first or, at best, second drafts. My briefs get much, much more attention. 

  4. Yes, have at it. 

2015.77: Texas’s Hoax-Bomb Law

Sat, 09/19/2015 - 17:23

Free your mind from the false notion that the Texas Legislature knows what it is doing.

(13) “Hoax bomb” means a device that:

(B) by its design causes … reaction of any type by an official of a public safety agency ….

Yes, reaction of any type. So this device, which might by its design causes a reaction by a police officer (it’s intended to do so, in fact), could be a hoax bomb. (Image from

A Hoax Bomb

As could this:

Another Hoax Bomb

And this:

Yet Another Hoax Bomb


And even this:

Still Another Hoax Bomb

Whether something is a hoax bomb depends on whether it “by design causes … reaction of any type by an official of a public safety agency.” So you don’t know what a hoax bomb is until a cop or firefighter sees it. If the wrong cop sees it, anything could be a hoax bomb. There might be a cop who loves cars; to that cop, a car is a hoax bomb because it causes a reaction.

A telephone is not a hoax bomb until it is used to call a cop.

Just possessing a hoax bomb is not a crime, though. It is only a crime to possess a hoax bomb with the intent to use it to “cause … reaction of any type by an official of a public safety agency ….”

Yes, reaction of any type.

So if a person uses any of those hoax bombs pictured above with the intent to get a reaction from some cop, and succeeds, he has committed a Class A Misdemeanor.

I sometimes think about writing dystopian legal fiction, but we all might confuse it with the news.

2015.76: Citron’s Baby is Unconstitutionally Ugly, Says Koppelman

Tue, 09/15/2015 - 18:11

In Revenge Pornography and First Amendment Exceptions, to be published in the Emory Law Journal, Northwestern law prof Andrew M. Koppelman says (PDF) what I’ve been saying all along: revenge-porn statutes

restrict speech on the basis of its content. Content-based restrictions (unless they fall within one of the categories of unprotected speech) are invalid unless necessary to a compelling state interest. The state’s interest in prohibiting revenge pornography, so far from being compelling, may not even be one that the state is permitted to pursue.

While praising Danielle Citron’s model revenge-porn statute and negging Mary Anne Franks’s (“I worry,” Koppelman writes, “that Franks’s statute may be overbroad”;1 this will be the harshest criticism Franks has received from within academic circles), and noting that revenge porn does not fit into any recognized category of unprotected speech, Koppelman writes that “There is, and should be, a presumption that such a statute is unconstitutional”2 before launching himself from scholarship to editorial:

Free speech law goes wrong when it declares that the presumption cannot be overcome.

Koppelman’s philosophical thesis is that the Court should add a new category of unprotected speech. He supports his thesis with his reading of John Stuart Mill.

Koppelman’s philosophical argument is unexceptional. I have no quibbles with it, but Koppelman’s prescription is light on the law.

First, Koppelman’s proposes a thinly-disguised balancing test of the sort explicitly rejected in Stevens. He says “it misdescribes the problem to say that these harms are to be balanced against the imperatives of the liberal political order.” But that’s a straw man: the Stevens court did not reject as “startling and dangerous” the proposition that the value of speech should be balanced against the imperatives of the liberal political order. Rather, the Court rejected the proposition that

Whether a given category of speech enjoys First Amendment protection depends upon a categorical balancing of the value of the speech against its societal costs.

It is inescapable that Koppelman’s philosophical judgment — that we ought to be able to protect people from the unwanted disclosure of intimate photos that they have privately shared — is based on the low value of the speech against its societal costs. His philosophical argument is a legal nullity.

Forbye, decent people might agree that revenge porn is bad, and decent people who are also authoritarians3 might agree that the state oughta do something. But the judgment of whether the Supreme Court should recognize another category of unprotected speech depends — this really should go without saying — on what the category is. If the proposed category of unprotected speech is “nude pictures,” so that all nude pictures will be unprotected, then the Court should not recognize that category.

The problem of advocating for a new category of unprotected speech is one of unforeseen consequences. If you have no idea what the category is, you have no idea what else it’s going to render unprotected.

Koppelman recognizes the problem:

That leads us to a lawyer’s question: can the category of unprotected speech be crafted with sufficient precision that clear notice is given as to which speech is protected and which is unprotected? Categories of low value speech must be “well-defined and narrowly limited.” That responds to familiar concerns of “chilling effect” and “slippery slope.” If, however, a category of unprotected speech can be crafted with enough precision, then exceptions to ordinary free speech principles, even the prohibition of viewpoint discrimination, can be consistent with the broader purposes of the system of freedom of expression.

Even explicitly recognizing that he is unable to answer the question ((Yes, it’s a lawyer’s question. Leave the answering of it to the lawyers, okay?)) of whether a narrow-enough category could be crafted,  Koppelman blithely recommends that something be done.4 Why does Koppelman go to the trouble of finding a philosophical reason that revenge porn is bad — I mean really bad — and that the Supreme Court oughta recognize a categorical exception, without proposing a category?5 Easy: he’s gertruding.6 Having called Franks’s and Citron’s revenge-porn babies unconstitutionally ugly, he throws them a little bone of philosophy with no legal meat on it because he doesn’t want to be called a misogynist.

The takeaway for practitioners, legislators, and judges from Koppelman’s article is that revenge-porn statutes — like Texas Penal Code section 21.16 — are unconstitutional under current First Amendment law, which is what I’ve been saying here, Cassandra-like, for years.

  1. By “overbroad” Koppelman presumably means “even broader than I would allow,” rather than “overbroad under current First Amendment law, which he concedes both Citron’s and Franks’s model statutes to be. 

  2. None of Koppelman’s legal conclusions will surprise readers of this blog, and this is how things should end in every court but the highest. 

  3. Bear with me here. 

  4. Maybe in response to Koppelman’s article Franks and Citron will propose some exception, but until now they’ve been so busy pretending that some already-recognized exception will save their baby that they haven’t even tried. 

  5. I discuss the problem of defining such a category here. Scroll down to “So how would we….” 

  6. Please upvote the Urban Dictionary entry. 

2015.75: Phil Grant’s Ethics, or Lack Thereof

Wed, 09/09/2015 - 16:59

Montgomery County First Assistant DA Phil Grant is running for judge. Which means that he has to follow the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct, which says:

A judge shall abstain from public comment about a pending or impending proceeding which may come before the judge’s court in a manner which suggests to a reasonable person the judge’s probable decision on any particular case. This prohibition applies to any candidate for judicial office, with respect to judicial proceedings pending or impending in the court on which the candidate would serve if elected.

Which means that Phil Grant cannot ethically say the things that he says here. ((Yes, that’s my case. It’s a First Amendment case in Texas; the odds of my having a hand in it are good. Steve Jackson had the good sense to bring me aboard as his Law Lawyer for this issue. Unlike Phil, Steve has a handle on the First Amendment issue: it’s not about what that defendant did. As he says, “The statue does snare the guilty. But it also snares the innocent.”))

Phil and I have always gotten along just fine. We’ve never butted heads. He has commented here. But in 2012 I gave Kelly Case hell for dishonestly pandering to Scared White Republican Voters, and I’m not going to cut Phil any more slack than I’d cut Kelly.

Phil, is it too much to ask that you read the ethical rules that you have to follow as a judicial candidate?

2015.74: Kim Davis is a Greedy Bureaucrat

Fri, 09/04/2015 - 18:57

Hier stehe ich, ich kann nicht anders. Gott helfe mir. Amen.

That’s Martin Luther, who’d had it up to here with the Church, defaced its doors, and been declared a heretic, excommunicated, and declared an outlaw.

Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me. Amen.

Martin Luther had a choice, with two options:

  1. Act in accordance with his principles.
  2. Remain a member of church and under the protection of the state.

Kim Davis, the Rowan County Clerk jailed for contempt of court in Kentucky, also has a choice, but she has three options:

  1. Act in accordance with her principles.
  2. Keep getting paid at her government job.
  3. Stay out of jail.

Davis cannot do all three. There is nothing in the Bible, the Constitution, or the Uniform Commercial Code1 that says she gets to have it all. But she does get to pick any two.

  • If Davis keeps her government job and continues refusing to issue marriage licenses2  — the job that she is getting paid for and that a U.S. District Judge has ordered her to do  — she stays in jail.
  • If Davis gives up her government paycheck, she can refuse to participate in gay marriage and get out of jail.
  • If Davis sacrifices her principles at the office, and issues marriage licenses to all comers, she gets paid and gets out of jail.

I wouldn’t criticize any of these choices. How Davis values these three goods — principle, money, and freedom — is a personal matter. I wouldn’t judge her for making accommodations at work to stay out of jail. I wouldn’t judge her for giving up a paycheck to live her principles. And I don’t judge her for giving up her freedom to live her principles and get a paycheck.

But while the calculus that led Davis to choose jail over freedom is a personal matter, neither these variables3 nor the result are private matters. We know the options that she had, and we know her choice.

A digression that may well end up devouring this post:

Davis’s lawyer now says, discussing marriage licenses issued to same-sex couples today:

… that they are “void,” because they did not come under Davis’ authority.

“They are not worth the paper that they are written on,” Staver said.

Exploring that idea, he said the county clerk has the authority to distribute marriage licenses — and Davis hasn’t ceded that authority to her deputies who issued licenses Friday.

Lest you think — as Davis’s lawyer seems to think — that Davis can gum up the sodomy works by remaining in jail so that marriage licenses can’t be issued: under Kentucky law, a county judge executive can issue licenses when the county clerk is absent.

The lawyer’s statements today might suggest that Davis seeks to stop gay people from getting licensed, but that appears to be his agenda rather than his client’s. Davis’s pre-incarceration arguments suggest that she is interested only in avoiding participation herself: she argued that her religious scruples rendered her “absent” so that the county judge executive could issue marriage licenses in her county. The judge rejected that argument.

Well, she’s certainly absent (“not present at a place, job, etc.,” according to the dictionary definition the U.S. District Judge quoted) now, so the county judge executive can issue licenses in her county. Can he delegate that duty to Davis’s deputies? Mere details.

End digression.

We see three variables to Davis’s decision, and we see the decision. Rationally, she should choose the combination of two options with the highest value to her.

People have been known to swap freedom, money, and principle for each other. Just taking a job is giving up a bit of freedom for money. I make a living because people give up money for a bit of freedom.

We can infer from Davis’s choice that at the moment she values principle over freedom. P>F. We can also infer that at the moment she values her sweet government job over freedom. J>F. If her freedom were more valuable to her than her job, she could resign (or take a leave of absence) and be out of jail Tuesday.4

So we know that Davis values principle over freedom, which might make her hero material if we didn’t know something else about her, which is that she also values her government job over freedom. We don’t know whether there is a price at which Kim Davis would sell her principles, but we know that she has sold her freedom cheaply.

If valuing principle over freedom makes you a hero, valuing a government paycheck over freedom makes you just another greedy bureaucrat.

  1. PBUI. 

  2. Davis is refusing to issue any marriage licenses; she argued that her refusal to issue licenses caused only an incidental burden on the (gay and straight) plaintiffs’ right to marry because they could go to one of the surrounding counties for a license 

  3. There may be other factors of which we are not aware — for example, someone may be promising her some benefit for staying in jail, or threatening some detriment for not doing so. But these are just parts of the three major variables: P, J, and F. 

  4. The injunction was against Davis in her official capacity; when she is no longer the Rowan County Clerk, the injunction no longer applies to her. 

2015.73: Opportunist Dan Patrick and the Goforth Murder

Wed, 09/02/2015 - 21:30

Yesterday, as those of you who follow me on The Twitter Machine know, I had jury duty. I didn’t get picked, of course—in fact, didn’t even make it to the courtroom. But I did learn some things, about which I will blog later, and I ran into an old friend, whom I’ll call “Frank.”

I met Frank in martial arts class. Frank, who lives in Cypress, Texas, is a a Harris County Deputy. Many times he has filled his patrol car with gas, while in uniform, at West Road and Telge in Cypress. I know Frank’s oldest kid. Good kid. Frank is five years from retirement, and has a couple of businesses he’s building in anticipation. We’re not close, but we like each other and we always take a few minutes to catch up when we run into each other at the courthouse.

It appears that the murder of Deputy Darren Goforth was not motivated by any relationship between him and his killer. If that is true, then it’s just dumb luck that Goforth got killed, and not Frank. It’s just luck that I didn’t lose a friend. Some guy who knew Darren Goforth like I know Frank — not well, but well enough to take personally the wound of his passing — is grieving today instead of me. Frank’s kids aren’t fatherless, his wife isn’t husbandless. Just dumb luck. And if Fortune had frowned on Frank instead of Darren Goforth, Frank’s wife and kids and friends wouldn’t be grieving because Frank was a cop, but because Frank was their own. Just as Darren Goforth’s wife and kids and friends (including Frank) are grieving because Darren Goforth was their own.

But you can expect politicians to make political hay of this personal tragedy.

Our brains try to make sense of things. If Darren Goforth had been murdered out of uniform and had his private car stolen, we might have explained his killing to ourselves as a robbery gone overboard. If he had been murdered in uniform by a white man, we might have explained his killing to ourselves as an act of madness. But because he was murdered in uniform, we explain his killing as being because of his uniform, and because he was murdered by a black man, we explain his killing to ourselves as racially motivated. Because, in the part of our brain that is trying to make sense of the senseless, correlation might as well be causation.

If you combine “motiveless murder of cop” with “black-on-white crime,” it’s natural to think that the murder was a political assassination, retaliation for something that white cops have done to black men. It could have been that. Or it could have been an act of madness — the killer might have seen the Deputy sprout wings and horns, and might have acted to save humanity from the vanguard of the demonic invasion. Or the truth could be somewhere in between — for example, the killer might have confused the deputy with someone else against whom he had a real grievance. Smart money always says that the truth is somewhere in between, but sometimes smart money is wrong. We don’t know what motivated the killer. The accused man has a history of petty offenses1 and some mental-health diagnoses.

So why does the first explanation — political assassination — seem like the best one? And why would the political-assassination theory not seem like the best explanation if, ceteris paribus, the killer had been a white man? Because white people aren’t perceived as having a grievance against the (white-dominated) government, and black people are.2 “Guilty conscience” isn’t the right phrase, because the government is sociopathic and feels no guilt, and anyway those who serve the government would deny with every fiber of their being that the grievances are legitimate. But the government and those who serve it recognize the grievance.

And, recognizing the grievance, they do something about it: they take advantage of it. Here’s Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick’s prescription to “put an end to this violence against law enforcement – now!”:

As more details of the tragic death of Harris County Sheriff Deputy Darren Goforth unfold, a morbid reality is unveiled about America’s negative attitude toward our law enforcement officers. It must end now or we run the risk of fewer men and women willing to go into the profession and families insisting their spouses change careers.

Police officers are judged 24/7, 365 days a year for their entire career. One mistake can get them sued, fired or killed. I want to remind Texans and the rest of our country that these brave souls are the thin line between a country of law and order and a society of total lawlessness where no one is safe.

I challenge all Texans to think about how underappreciated our officers must feel, how dangerous their jobs are, how they leave their families everyday not knowing if they are coming home and more importantly, if there is anything you can do to help make their job a little easier.

Join me in changing this negative attitude toward those that protect us, by practicing the following:

Start calling our officers sir and ma’am all of the time. It’s a show of respect they deserve.

Every time you see an officer anywhere, let them know you appreciate their service to our community and you stand with them.

If you are financially able, when you see them in a restaurant on duty pick up their lunch check, send over a dessert, or simply stop by their table briefly and say thank you for their service.

Put their charities on your giving list.
If your local law enforcement has volunteer-citizen job opportunities, sign up.

Join me in a special prayer service to honor our fallen law enforcement heroes on Wednesday, September 2nd at the First Baptist Church of Conroe, 600 N Main St. Conroe, TX 77301 at 5:15pm.

All lives matter and we need to put an end to this violence against law enforcement – now!

This is ripe for fisking — to begin with, “fewer cops” would not be a problem if we also had fewer criminal laws. Legalize drugs, fire two thirds of the cops, judges, prosecutors, and defense lawyers, and we’ll have less crime. Laws require more cops and cops require more laws and pretty soon the prison-industrial complex has eaten our world.

But I won’t fisk Patrick’s statement today.

Instead I’ll note that he is singing to the choir, the majority of Texas voters, who don’t have a problem with law enforcement. In fact they adulate it, because they are scared. Patrick’s base of Scared White Republican Voters kisses law enforcement butt already; their doing so a little more passionately at his instruction is not going to change anyone’s negative attitude toward police officers.

Actually, that’s not true. SWRVs kissing law enforcement butt will change negative attitudes toward cops. It will make those attitudes worse by increasing the gulf between the police and the people who are not Patrick’s base. Patrick’s statement is for his voters, and for the praetorian class.

You know what will improve the negative attitude toward police officers? If they stop shooting innocent people and their dogs. What kind of man shoots someone else’s dog? The most common internal investigation I see in Harris County Sheriff’s Office personnel files is the discharge of a firearm in the direction of a dog. White people bribing cops with pie is going to save neither an unarmed person nor a dog.

What kind of man buys pie for a dog murderer?

If Darren Goforth had been a black logger (doing the most dangerous job in America, compared to police work, which is not in the top ten3) gunned down at a gas station, it would have been no less of a tragedy, but I would wager a great deal that Dan Patrick would not have piped up.

One of my Twitter friends, a firefighter, commented on Dan Patrick’s statement:

if only all the dead firefighters in Texas (there are a lot) got a sliver of this support!

— firehat (@firehat) September 2, 2015

The answer is obvious: Patrick is of the political class, which  relies on the praetorian class to maintain power. Firefighters (and loggers) are not of the praetorian class.

The value of the praetorian class — and its good will — to the political class is obvious. Patrick is seizing the opportunity to remind the praetorian class that he is on their side, and to remind his voters to fear the bogeyman (“a society of total lawlessness where no one is safe”) so that they will increase their support for the praetorian class.

At the same time Patrick’s statement is a reminder to the aggrieved that he doesn’t give a damn about their grievances: You say black lives matter? That’s cute. Hey, waitress, more pie!

Patrick can take this attitude because he doesn’t really want to improve attitudes toward police officers. There is no benefit to him in it. The more police officers get murdered, the more the SWRVs will fear the barbarians, the more police they will demand to keep them safe, and the more liberty they will be willing to give up. Libertarians know that the murder of a police officer will be used as an excuse to curtail liberty.

Curtailing liberty is the agenda of both the left and the right; there is no political downside to a right-winger like Patrick in the death of a cop.

  1. These, when I saw them, screamed “mentally ill!” The explanation-seeking part of my brain didn’t even need to hear that he’d been found incompetent in the past to jump to that particular conclusion. 

  2. Frankly, I think both white and black people should hold a a laundry list of grudges against the government, but blacks indubitably get the worst of it. 

  3. The murder rate amongst cops — that is, how many cops are murdered every year per 100,000, is about 3. That compares favorably to the baseline murder rate for just living somewhere like Houston (9.8). 

2015.72: Black Lives, Cop Lives, Dangerous Rhetoric

Mon, 08/31/2015 - 13:18

Black lives matter.

This is not to say that other lives don’t matter.

It’s gertruding, sorta. Saying “black lives matter” calls attention to the question of whether black lives matter like white lives matter. Responding “all lives matter” denies the importance of the question.

And it is a fair question: do black lives in America matter the way white lives do? The question has been raised lately in the cases of police shootings, with account after account of cops getting away scot-free after killing black people.

A digression: I’m not nearly as interested in writing about unjustified police killings as Scott Greenfield and the boys at F?a?u?l?t? ?L?i?n?e?s-  …

F?a?u?l?t? ?L?i?n?e?s? …

F?a?u?l?t? ?L?i?n?e?s?  …

Fault Lines (whew!) are. What used to be the criminal-defense practical blawgosphere has turned into the police-misconduct blawgosphere.

It is tragic, but killings by cops are banal, a predictable symptom of the predominant cultural diseases of the 21st century, in which fear leads to trust in government leads to more fear, and police mistreatment of the citizenry leads to public resentment leads to more police mistreatment of the citizenry. Prosecuting cops for their killings would at best be an aspirin, temporary treatment of a minor symptom while the disease eats the rest of our freedom.

Maybe it’s a topic of such compelling importance that criminal-defense lawyering pales in comparison; maybe they love writing about it; or maybe blogging criminal-defense lawyers fetishize police misconduct for other reasons.

End digression.

The truth is that cops are going to get away with their killings regardless of their victims’ race. Which is not to say that black lives don’t matter less than white lives to the American criminal-justice system, but only that cop lives matter more than either.

Harris County Sheriff Ron Hickman says, “cop lives matter too.” Yeah. No shit. The law and society already treat cops like special snowflakes with their own set of rules. It’s a felony to assault a cop; it’s a capital felony to kill a cop; when a cop is killed every other cop in town drops everything to find the killer; a cop can’t get indicted for murder in this town; corrupt judges will not find lying cops to be dishonest because they fear the judgments of police unions. That our society treats cop lives as mattering more than others is beyond obvious to anyone who is paying attention.

Hickman also

said the attack “strikes at the heart of law enforcement” and noted the “very dangerous national rhetoric that’s out there today.”

And when it gets to a point where cops are being assassinated, he said, this rhetoric is “out of control.”

A guy kills a cop for no obvious reason, and we immediately jump to the conclusion that it’s because he was a cop. I don’t think it’s an unreasonable conclusion, but would we jump to it if police didn’t think and behave like occupiers?

In truth, police officers are safer now than ever before: in 2013 there were 107 law-enforcement deaths in the US, the lowest annual number since 1912, when the population of the U.S. was less than a hundred million. It’s hard to see how the national rhetoric is “very dangerous.”

But rhetoric is speech. It ought in any case to be out of the control of people like Hickman. What Hickman and his ilk seek is two things: for the rhetoric to be controlled, and for cops to be treated even more specially than they are now. “It is time to come forward and support law enforcement,” says our DA, Devon Anderson.

Right. In Harris County, people don’t support law enforcement. I don’t know whether Anderson is delusional or cynically manipulative. The American public, out of irrational fear fed by people like Anderson, give law enforcement obeisance and tribute enough already.

That obeisance and tribute fuel anti-cop rhetoric. Treat cops like they are a class above, and the classes below will resent it, will talk about that resentment. Their talk will do no good, and they will occasionally resort to violence in their frustration. Calling for more obeisance and more tribute will do nothing to diminish the resentment and frustration.

We human beings are in no position to name anyone who deserves to be gunned down from behind. Goforth didn’t deserve it, and his wife and kids didn’t deserve to lose him. Killing him was a shitty thing for the killer to do.

Turning his killing into a political platform is a shitty thing for Hickman and Anderson to do, and ultimately counterproductive.


2015.71: The Judo Lesson

Fri, 08/28/2015 - 10:56

My oldest child and I were standing at the meat counter. I bumped him sideways with my shoulder. Not enough to knock him over, just enough for him to notice. He retaliated with a little more velocity (because teenager, plus I’m bigger than him). I sidestepped, and he overbalanced. I caught his fall, but it was still very amusing to me (almost as amusing as the time he advised my brother, who was trying to open our securely locked front gate, “pull harder”).

This morning Scott Greenfield quotes Emily Bazelon, in Bazelon Forfeits Her Credibility:

“The discrepancy [between what is called rape on campus and what is called rape off-campus, Deborah Tuerkheimer] argues, diminishes the violation of victims outside universities, even though studies show they are actually more vulnerable to sexual assault than college students.”

Follow along:

  • There is an epidemic of rapes on campus, so
  • We broadened the definition of rape on campus, so
  • The discrepancy between definitions on campus and off diminishes the violation of victims outside universities, who are more vulnerable to rape than their undergraduate counterparts, so
  • We must broaden the definition of rape off campus rape allegations.



2015.70: Okay, Stan. Okay.

Sun, 08/16/2015 - 21:33

(Go to the bottom of the post and click play.)

When I first read this, I have to admit, I had an ego reaction. Hey, I’m in my 40s!:

(That’s an interview of Stan Schneider by Brandon Ball in the Summer 2015 HCCLA Defender.)

It’s not the “you’re not like Dick and Dan” that bothered me — I bring different skills to a practice of law that is different than it was when Dick DeGuerin or Dan Cogdell were my age.

It’s the “leaders” comment that poked my ego.

Maybe Stan is being uncharacteristically inaccurate in his words — maybe by “leaders” he simply means “great lawyers.” Dick DeGuerin, Dan Cogdell, Kent and Randy Schaffer, Jack Zimmermann, Jim Lavine, Mike Ramsey: all (and more of that generation whom Stan hasn’t named — Tyrone Moncriffe, Katherine Scardino, Candy Elizondo, Lonnie Knowles, as well as these guys) are great lawyers who have gotten great results for their clients.

If by “leaders” Stan means “great lawyers,” then I would argue that Stan needs to look around to see that this generation has its great lawyers. Not like Dan and Dick — not white dudes, for one thing, and products of a different time — but great lawyers nonetheless, who have quietly racked up victories that compare to anything Dan and Dick accomplished at that age.

Except for Jim Lavine (who was mentored by Jack Zimmermann), the lawyers Stan named all were mentored by Percy Foreman or Racehorse Haynes. If each of them had paid it forward, there would be a cloud of great lawyers making their own names at the criminal courthouse.

Mentoring makes the next generation great. If there is indeed a deficit of “amazing” lawyers in their 40s, the blame is squarely on Stan and those he names. Can you name one lawyer in her 40s mentored by each of the lawyers that Stan lists? I doubt it; I know that I can’t. If I have my memealogy right, Percy mentored Racehorse, and Racehorse mentored Dick and Dan and Jack and Mike. Dick mentored Neal Davis; Dan mentored Rob Swofford (who’s out of the game); Jack mentored his daughter Terri; Mike mentored Chip Lewis. I’m sure Kent and Randy have mentored associates as well.

I don’t think “leaders” means “great lawyers.” Being a great lawyer — or even an amazing lawyer — is not the same as being a leader. A lawyer can rack up an impressive record of wins without inspiring the next generation of lawyers to greatness.

The 20th Century raised a few stars in the Houston criminal-defense firmament. Those stars have for the most part failed (as evidenced by Stan’s concern) to elevate the next generation. The media, also, do not make stars of criminal-defense lawyers as once they did. But I would argue that while it has fewer stars, my generation of Houston criminal-defense lawyers has at least as many leaders as the generations that came before us.

I have not seen the stars that Stan listed seek out opportunities to mentor young lawyers. They sometimes hire associates, and train them up, but I don’t believe they look for opportunities to mentor protégés if their mentorship will not directly benefit them. That is, they’ll mentor their associates, but not outsiders. Mentoring makes the staff better, so being mentored is a benefit of being hired.

For the leaders of my generation, by contrast, mentoring is a raison d’être. They mentor young solos not because there is anything in it for them, but because they want the whole criminal-defense bar to be a little better.

I see two contrasting (but not mutually exclusive) memetic strategies: the old strategy of mentoring one or two associates at a time; and the new strategy of mentoring as many people as you can.

My own criminal-defense mentor, Jim Skelton, subscribed to the new strategy. He was always available to answer questions, and he had young lawyers over to his house on Wednesday afternoons for brainstorming sessions. I learned from watching him, and I’ve tried to pay it forward to as many young lawyers — in Houston and anywhere else — as will listen.

The old-school strategy produced a short list of stars; the new strategy will produce an army of instigators.

2015.69: The Montgomery County Online-Solicitation Litigation

Thu, 07/30/2015 - 22:51

Yesterday Kelly Case, Judge of the 9th District Court in Montgomery County, Texas, found the remainder of Section 33.021 of the Texas Penal Code unconstitutional, and dismissed the case against a defendant charged with that crime.1

Scared White Republican Voters are up in arms. Phil Grant is up in arms.2

Judge Kelly Case and prosecutor Phil Grant both took the same oath: to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States and of this State. In holding the remainder of Section 33.021 unconstitutional, Case kept his oath. In his criticism of the decision, Grant calls into question his ability to keep his own oath.

Section 33.021 is a content-based restriction on speech. A content-based restriction on speech is presumptively invalid. Unless the State shows that the statute meets strict scrutiny — that it is, that it is narrowly tailored to further a compelling governmental interest, a judge is bound by his oath to find it unconstitutional. Absent any authority binding him to hold the statute constitutional, Judge Case was bound by oath to do what he did yesterday.

There should be nothing special about a district court judge holding a statute unconstitutional. It should happen regularly. Constitutions trump statutes, and appellate courts have found three Texas statutes unconstitutional under the First Amendment in the last two years alone.3 Yet when Judge Case follows his oath to defend the Constitution, people are surprised. Phil Grant gnashes his teeth, and the defense bar cheers.

There is a word for a judge who violates his oath to defend the Constitution. That word is corrupt. A judge who fails to defend the Constitution, for fear of losing his job or for hope of pecuniary gain or for any other reason, is a corrupt judge.

A judge who takes into account the wishes of the voters or of prosecutors in deciding not to hold a statute unconstitutional is as corrupt as a judge who takes money to rule a certain way. It avails the corrupt judge nothing to say that he would have ruled the same way regardless of the corrupt influence.

I can count on one hand the Harris County judges who are willing always to do the right thing despite how it will look to the voters. To most of my judicial readers: what’s it like, being corrupt? How does it feel to know that I know that you’re corrupt?

Judge Case is not corrupt. Phil Grant wishes Judge Case were corrupt, and rants against Judge Case because Judge Case is not corrupt and does not subordinate his oath to reelection. Phil Grant would incite corruption in the judiciary. Phil Grant wants to be a judge himself. Because of his visceral reaction to Judge Case following his oath, we can safely assume that when Phil Grant is judge he will relegate his own oath.

The Montgomery County Criminal Lawyers Association responded to Phil Grant’s statements in the Conroe paper. Here’s my favorite bit:

if Mr. Grant is incapable of protecting the children of Montgomery County without the help of unconstitutional statutes, then he is incapable of keeping his own oath, and is unfit to be either a prosecutor or judge.

Can you not see the problem here, Phil?

  1. You can stop calling and emailing to tell me about it. I was there. 

  2. To hear Phil Grant tell it, you would think that Montgomery County is a hotbed of pedophilia. Why is that? Are the SWRVs who flee the scary diversity of the city for the scared whiteness of MoCo especially prone to kiddy diddling? 

  3. District judges have held another two statutes unconstitutional; three including 33.021(c). 

2015.68: A Texas Online-Solicitation Law Roadmap

Thu, 07/30/2015 - 18:15

Here’s a quick summary (more than a soundbite, less than a brief) of the status of the remains of Texas’s online-solicitation-of-a-minor statute.

The statute forbids adults soliciting people whom they believe are minors to have sex, but it also forbids their soliciting other adults whom they believe to be adults to have sex, as well as soliciting people to not have sex (that is, fantasy communications or communications with no intent to meet).

Soliciting a child to have sex, with the intent that a crime be committed, is unprotected speech.

Soliciting someone you believe to be a child to have sex, with the intent that a crime be committed, is probably unprotected speech.

But soliciting an adult to have sex is generally protected speech. And making solicitive noises to a child, with no intent to actually carry through, is protected speech. It’s the intent to commit a (non-speech) crime that makes the speech unprotected.

So section 33.021, as it currently stands, forbids protected speech as well as unprotected speech.

The law will change as of September first, to correct this problem.1

Here’s what Joan Huffman, the sponsor of Senate Bill 344, wrote in her Statement of Intent:

The current statute is overbroad. Though the statute was enacted to impose sanctions upon those who engage in Internet conversations with minors with an intent for physical contact to take place, the statute’s sexually explicit communication provision contains no requirement that an actor ever possess the intent to meet the child.

Like Section 33.021(b), the current Section 33.021(c) contains no requirement that an actor ever possess the intent to meet the child. It appears to, but the requirement that subsection (c) gives, subsection (d) takes away:

(c) A person commits an offense if the person, over the Internet, by electronic mail or text message or other electronic message service or system, or through a commercial online service, knowingly solicits a minor to meet another person, including the actor, with the intent that the minor will engage in sexual contact, sexual intercourse, or deviate sexual intercourse with the actor or another person.

(d) It is not a defense to prosecution under Subsection (c) that: …

(2) the actor did not intend for the meeting to occur; or

(3) the actor was engaged in a fantasy at the time of commission of the offense.

“The actor did not intend for the meeting to occur” would, if not for (d)(2), be an inferential-rebuttal defense: it negates the “intent that the minor will engage…” element of the offense. If “the actor did not intend for the meeting to occur” is not a defense, then “intent that the minor will engage…” is not an element (because inferential rebuttal of an element is always a defense).

Likewise, “The actor was engaged in a fantasy at the time of commission of the offense” would inferentially rebut intent; if “fantasy” is not a defense then “intent” is not an element.

So what have the courts said about this argument? There are four cases:

In Ex Parte Lo, the Court of Criminal Appeals addressed 33.021(c) in dicta:

Section 33.021 of the Texas Penal Code is titled “Online Solicitation of a Minor.” It includes subsection (c) — a provision that prohibits and punishes an actor who uses electronic communications to “solicit” a minor, “to meet another person, including the actor, with the intent that the minor will engage in” certain sexual behavior.[20] Such solicitation statutes exist in virtually all states and have been routinely upheld as constitutional because “offers to engage in illegal transactions [such as sexual assault of a minor] are categorically excluded from First Amendment protection.”[21] Thus, it is the conduct of requesting a minor to engage in illegal sexual acts that is the gravamen of the offense. The First Court of Appeals previously upheld the constitutionality of the Texas online-solicitation-of-minors statute.[22] That specific provision is not at issue in this case, but it provides an excellent contrast to the provision that is at issue.

Subsection (c) was not at issue in Lo; to my eternal embarrassment I hadn’t yet looked closely at the interplay of (c) with (d) and (a), so I held out (c) as an example to the Court of Criminal Appeals of a constitutional statute, which resulted in this bit of dicta. Fortunately, though, dicta are not binding.

Footnote 22 of Lo links to Maloney v. State, the First Court of Appeals’ 2009 case upholding 33.021(c) in the face of overbreadth and vagueness challenges. Maloney, a published opinion, is the major obstacle to relief. Justice Higley wrote the opinion in Maloney, and made the same mistake that that intermediate court later made in Lo: “applying an incorrect standard of review.” That is, a content-based restriction on speech is presumptively invalid, and the First Court in Maloney treated 33.021(c) as presumptively valid. When the burden shifts to the State, everything changes.

At the end of April I had oral argument in Ex Parte Wheeler, in the First Court of Appeals. The panel to which I argued included Justice Jennings (who wrote the erroneous opinion in Ex Parte Lo) and Justice Higley (whose opinion in Maloney v. State the First Court will have to overrule to invalidate the statute). We’re waiting for an opinion on that case, which will — thanks to the court hearing oral argument — at least apply the correct standard of review. If the court reaches the correct result, the Court of Criminal Appeals will most likely grant discretionary review; if the court applies the correct standard but reaches the wrong result, I will petition for discretionary review, and hope the Court of Criminal Appeals is interested.

So Lo‘s 33.021(c) language is dicta and is not binding. Maloney‘s 33.021(c) language is published and binding on courts within the First Court of Appeals’ geographic jurisdiction, but Maloney applied the wrong standard of review and will be revisiting 33.021(c) in light of Lo.

There are two other cases that the State relies on in support of the remnants of Section 33.021. First, there is the published San Antonio opinion in Ex Parte Zavala. In Zavala the defendant argued that the statute was vague, but not that it was overbroad. In finding that the statute, with conflicting subsections (c) and (d), was not vague, the San Antonio court made this baffling statement:

The crime of soliciting a minor under section 33.021(c) is committed, and is completed, at the time of the request, i.e., the solicitation. … Indeed, it is the requirement that the defendant must solicit “with the intent that the minor will engage in sexual contact” that operates to make otherwise innocent conduct, i.e., soliciting a minor to meet, into criminal conduct. It follows then, that for purposes of a subsection (c) solicitation offense, … it does not matter … that the defendant did not intend for the meeting to actually occur, or that the defendant was engaged in a fantasy at the time of the solicitation.

Zavala didn’t answer the overbreadth question; it’s a published opinion, but it is binding only on courts within the geographic jurisdiction of the San Antonio Court of Appeals.

The case that did answer the overbreadth question is Victorick, out of the Beaumont Court of Appeals. In Victorick the Court of Appeals, like the First Court in Lo and Maloney, applied the wrong test:

Victorick makes a facial challenge to the statute and he must therefore prove the statute is unconstitutional in every application, and that it could never be constitutionally applied to any defendant under any set of facts or circumstances.

This is not the law. When the statute is a content-based restriction on speech, the burden is on the State to show that the statute is constitutional, and the State must prove that the statute meets the very high standard of strict scrutiny.

The Beaumont court ignored this standard, writing:

On the other hand, if the statute punishes conduct rather than speech, the courts apply a “rational basis” level of review to determine if the statue has a rational relationship to a legitimate state purpose.

For this proposition the Beaumont court cited Broadrick v. Oklahoma. Neither on the cited page nor on any other does Broadrick say anything about a “rational basis” test. The Beaumont court seems to have pulled its proposition from thin air.

The Beaumont court and others (including the State in every brief they’ve filed anywhere in Texas) reads far too much into this line from Broadrick:

where conduct and not merely speech is involved, we believe that the overbreadth of a statute must not only be real, but substantial as well, judged in relation to the statute’s plainly legitimate sweep

They read too much into it because recent Supreme Court cases2 make clear that whether speech or expressive conduct is involved the overbreadth of a statute must be real and substantial.

The Supreme Court does not treat expressive conduct differently than speech, and speech does not become unprotected merely because you call it conduct. But the State’s defense of Section 33.021(c) hinges on this:

A conduct based restriction is presumed constitutional and requires a rational basis standard of review.

For this proposition the State cites Victorick, which in turn cites Broadrick, which doesn’t say that.

In any case, Victorick is an unpublished opinion, and is not binding authority anywhere.

To sum up: Lodicta, not binding; Zavala — vagueness only, binding only in San Antonio area; Maloney — under attack in Wheeler, binding only in Houston appellate district; Victorick — goofy, unpublished, not binding.

Next I’ll talk, in light of this roadmap, about the litigation this week in Conroe that has brought Judge Kelly Case unfair and unethical criticism from Phil Grant and the Montgomery County District Attorney’s Office.

Then I’ll talk about why Phil Grant’s criticism was unethical, and what it shows about his fitness for office.

  1. The new law comes close to being right; it may be close enough to survive an as-written challenge, but I can envision as-applied challenges. 

  2. Such as Ferber, in 1982, but there’s no reason the State should know about that. 

2015.67: Texas Legislature Outlaws Sex

Sat, 07/18/2015 - 11:51

From Texas Penal Code Section 43.02, effective September 1:

(a) A person commits an offense if, in return for receipt of a fee, the person knowingly:
(1) offers to engage, agrees to engage, or engages in sexual conduct; or
(2) solicits another in a public place to engage with the actor in sexual conduct for hire.
(b) A person commits an offense if, based on the payment of a fee by the actor or another person on behalf of the actor, the person knowingly:
(1) offers to engage, agrees to engage, or engages in sexual conduct; or
(2) solicits another in a public place to engage with the actor in sexual conduct for hire.
(b-1) An offense is established under Subsection (a) regardless of whether the actor is offered or actually receives the fee. An offense is established under Subsection (b) regardless of whether the actor or another person on behalf of the actor offers or actually pays the fee.

So if you engage in sexual conduct in return for receipt of a fee, you commit a crime regardless of whether you received or even were offered a fee.

We might guess what the Texas Legislature meant to do here:

An offense is established under Subsection (a) whether the actor is offered or actually receives the fee. An offense is established under Subsection (b) whether the actor or another person on behalf of the actor offers or actually pays the fee.

Unfortunately, elections select for neither writing ability nor intelligence, so we wind up with grammatical abominations such as this (thanks again, Joan Huffman!).


2015.66: The Unlawful Sweetcakes Order

Sun, 07/12/2015 - 20:28

You’ve probably heard about the bakers in Oregon penalized $135k for refusing to bake a wedding cake for a lesbian couple. You probably haven’t read the order. I have so that you won’t have to.

(It’s long—3,000-plus words—so tl;dr: The facts are fascinating, but if you must, jump over the facts to the conclusion.)

You may have heard that the bakers were also ordered not to talk about the case (true) or that they were fined for doxxing the couple (false).1

The Kleins violated Oregon Revised Statute 659A.406; this is pretty clear: acting “on behalf of a place of public accommodation” they “denied full and equal accomodations” because of the Bowman-Cryers’ sexual orientation when they refused to bake a wedding cake for them. The Kleins do not appear to have disputed that they (actually, he, but she was held jointly and severally liable) violated 403; the issue is whether their right to exercise their religion trumps the statute.2

The Kleins were also found liable for violating Oregon Revised Statute 659A.409: publishing a communication to the effect that services would be withheld on account of sexual orientation. This finding is on shakier ground: their strongest indication that they would continue withholding services on account of sexual orientation was this note on their door:

This fight is not over. We will continue to stand strong. Your religious freedom is becoming not free anymore. This is ridiculous that we cannot practice our faith. The LORD is good and we will continue to serve HIM with all our heart. [heart symbol]

If 409 is not facially unconstitutional, it is unconstitutional as applied; by finding that statements like that violate 409 and enjoining further violations of 409 the Commissioner of the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries, Brad Avakian, enjoined the Kleins from making statements like “the fight is not over.” (See also Popehat on the subject.)

But I want to talk about the damages in this case. The Commissioner could not order a fine or penalty. In fact, he gertrudes:

In [this] order, the forum considers the extent of Complainants’ emotional suffering and the cause of that suffering; and the appropriate amount of damages. Any damages awarded do not constitute a fine or civil penalty, which the Commissioner has no authority to impose in a case such as this. Instead, any damages fairly compensate RBC and LBC for the harm they suffered and which was proven at hearing. This is an important distinction as this order does not punish respondents for their illegal conduct but, rather makes whole those subjected to the harm their conduct caused.

So $135,000 is, in his opinion, fair compensation to RBC and LBC for the emotional suffering caused by Aaron Klein’s refusal to bake them a wedding cake.


This is Commissioner Avakian sending a message—a message that, as he notes, he has no authority to send—to people who would politely decline to participate in gay marriages. To justify the huge sum, he goes at length into the Bowman-Cryers’ mental suffering, most of which has only a tenuous relationship to the Kleins’ conduct.

When RBC asked AK to bake her a cake, AK “stated that he was sorry, but that Sweetcakes did not make wedding cakes for same-sex ceremonies because of AK’s and MK’s religious convictions.” Not exactly the stuff of nightmares.

RBC began crying. She felt that she had humiliated her mother, CM (who was with her) and was anxious about whether CM was ashamed of her. (CM had come to terms with RBC’s homosexuality recently—she “had believed that being a homosexual was wrong until only a few years earlier” than the cake incident.) CM walked RBC out of the store; RBC “became hysterical and kept telling CM ‘I’m sorry’ because she felt that she had humiliated CM.”

“In the car, CM hugged RBC and assured her” that RBC had not humiliated her. Just kidding. CM assured RBC that “they would find someone to make a wedding cake.”3

CM drove a short distance, then returned to Sweetcakes to talk to AK alone, leaving RBC in the car “bawling.” CM told AK that she used to think like him, “but her ‘truth had changed’ as a result of having ‘two gay children.’ AK quoted Leviticus 18:22 to CM, saying ‘You shall not lie with a male as one lies with a female; it is an abomination.'” Which would be a pretty shitty thing to say to the mother of two gay children, unless said mother had subscribed to the same philosophy herself until recently.

So that’s the end of the matter, right? RBC, already bawling in the car, doesn’t need Leviticus quoted at her; she needs a mother’s love. It would have been a crappy cake anyway. I mean, how could a heterosexual pastry chef possibly be any good?

Oh, no. Because, apparently addicted to drama, CM returns to the car, where her child has been bawling while CM discusses theology with AK, and tells RBC “that AK had told her that ‘her children were an abomination unto God.'” Since she had raised RBC as a Southern Baptist, her telling RBC that AK thought she was an abomination (a message that RBC had surely gotten from church and family, including CM, for most of her life) “made her feel as if God made a mistake when he made her, that she wasn’t supposed to be, and that she wasn’t supposed to love or be loved, have a family, or go to heaven.” In other words, all of the feelings that had made her flee Texas (whence she and her brother had moved so that they “could be more accepted in the community”) for the Pacific Northwest.

CM drove RBC, still crying, home, where LBC asked what had happened, and Drama Mama CM related to LBC what AK had told RBC and what AK had told CM—”your children are an abomination.” Raised Catholic, LBC recognized the Leviticus quote, and was “shocked.”4 LBC took AK’s words to mean “‘this is a creature not created by God, not created with a soul; they are unworthy of holy love; they are not worthy of life.’ She immediately thought that this never would have happened if she had not asked RBC to marry her and felt shame because of it. She also worried that this might negatively impact CM’s acceptance of RBC’s sexual orientation.”

LBC tried to soothe RBC. RBC pushed her away. “LBC lost her temper and started yelling that she ‘could not believe this had happened’ and that she could ‘fix’ things if RBC would just let her.”5

One of LBC and RBC’s two foster daughters was “extremely agitated from events at school that day.” LBC could not calm her, and RBC was unavailable (presumably because she “continued crying and spend much of that evening in bed”). LBC did not know how to handle the situation. That night, she was “very upset, cried a lot, and was hurt and angry.”

CM called Lauren at the wedding venue and told her that Sweetcakes, whom Lauren had recommended, had refused them cake service. She also posted a review on Sweetcakes’s Facebook wedding page and on another wedding website recommending that gay couples avoid Sweetcakes’s “because they discriminate against gay people.”

Lauren emailed RBC and LBC wanting the details. That evening (same evening she was unavailable to console her young daughter) RBC emailed Lauren back: “This is twice in this wedding process that we have faced this kind of bigotry”; this is an interesting detail unexplained in Avakian’s order.

LBC, the partner who got the story from CM, filled out an online complaint form with the Oregon DOJ. She stretched the truth ((In his order, Avakian found that LBC “had a strong tendency to exaggerate and over-dramatize events…Her testimony was inconsistent in several respects with more credible evidence.” In short, she was not a truthful witness.)) a bit: “Today…we went for our cake tasting…. We were then informed that our money was not equal, my fiancé reduced to tears.”

RBC’s brother AC got home and had a 30-minute conversation with LBC and RBC about what happened.

All of that happened on the first day, January 17, 2013.

The next day, RBC “felt depressed and questioned whether there was something inherently wrong with the sexual orientation she was born with and if she and LBC deserved to be married like a heterosexual couple.”

The church she came up in would say that she and LBC did not deserve to be married; her mother would, until recently, have agreed; but these thoughts became Aaron Klein’s fault when he refused to sell her a cake.6 RBC spent most of the day in her room, trying to sleep.

The days following were rough. RBC had difficulty controlling her emotions and cried a lot; LBC and RBC argued because RBC couldn’t control her emotions. “They had not argued … since moving to Oregon.”

RBC became more distant in her family relationships. She and her brother AC were not as close “for a little bit.” She questioned whether she could be a good mother because of her difficulty controlling her emotions.7 She was still “very sad and stressed” a week later.

LBC felt “extreme anger, outrage embarrassment, exhaustion, frustration, intense sorrow, and shame as a reaction to AK’s refusal to provide a cake. She felt sorrow because she couldn’t console E, she could not protect RBC, and because RBC was no longer sure she wanted to be married.… she was not sure she could protect RBC if any similar incidents occurred.”8

Drama-queen CM took over responsibility for contacting the wedding vendors. She found a gay-friendly bakery (amazing!) and made an appointment. CM did most of the talking until they got to the design of the cake; the bakery charged $250 for the cake (which AK would have charged $600 for).

The Oregon DOJ sent a copy of the complaint to AK; AK posted a copy on his website. He had only seventeen friends (though the page was apparently public), and he took down the posting the same day. Meanwhile, one of LBC’s friends9 emailed her to tell her to look at the posting. LBC did, and called the couple’s lawyer.10

On February 1, LBC found out that AK’s refusal to make their wedding cake had made the news. She may have found out because RBC got a call from a talk radio host and called LBC.

The couple became afraid that their foster children would be taken away.11 LBC’s headaches increased; she felt intimidated and became fearful. Their lawyer sent out a press release requesting privacy.

There was a protest outside the bakery on February 9th; RBC and LBC both made comments on the Facebook page organizing the boycott “in which they indirectly identified themselves as the person who sought the wedding cake and thanked people for their support.”

On February 12, 2013, the Oregon Department of Justice emailed a copy of the complaint to the media. The findings of fact do not mention whether DOJ redacted the complainants’ names and addresses first—a fact that Avakian surely would have mentioned had it been true.

After the DOJ publicized their complaint, LBC had a confrontation with “an aunt who had physically and emotionally abused her as a child and also owned all of the family property”: “the aunt insisted through social media that LBC drop the complaint. She also called LBC and told her she was not welcome on family property and she would shoot LBC ‘in the face’ if LBC ever set foot on the family’s property in Ireland or the United States.” LBC was devastated “as it meant she could not visit her mother or grandmother, both of whom lived on family property.12

Meanwhile, “RBC’s sister, who believed that homosexuals should not be allowed to get married, wrote a Facebook message to teh Kleins to tell them that she supported them. This was a ‘crushing blow’ to RBC, and it hurt her and made her very angry at her sister.”

From February 1, 2013, “many people have made ‘hate-filled’ comments through social media and in the comments sections of various websites that were supportive of Respondents and critical of or threatening to Complainants. These comments and the media attention caused RBC stress, anger, pain, frustration, suffering, torture, shame, humiliation, degradation, fear that she would be harassed at home because the DOJ complaint with Complainants’ home address had been posted on Facebook, and the feeling that her reputation was being destroyed.”

“The publicity from the case and accompanying threats from third parties on social media made RBC ‘scared’ for the lives of A, E, LBC, and herself.”

I assume that Avakian included all the facts “necessary to provide context to Complainants’ claim for damages” and omitted all the facts irrelevant to that claim. For example, if he hadn’t considered, as part of their damages claim, the fact that people were shitty to them on the Internet,13 he would have omitted that fact. If someone had harassed the complainants at home he would have included that fact.

Consider how things might have been different had CM—who until recently might herself have quoted Leviticus to LBC and RBC—kept her mouth shut after talking to AK. While RBC was very upset by the denial of cake, it was CM’s words to her that had her doubting her worthiness. LBC’s reaction, too,  was not triggered only by AK’s refusal to bake the cake, nor by AK telling RBC that she was an abomination (he didn’t), but also and more significantly by CM telling LBC that AK had told her, CM, that “her children” were an abomination.

What’s really going on here? CM’s recent acceptance of RBC’s sexual orientation is so tenuous, in the view of RBC’s life partner, that the baker quoting scripture is a threat to it. I hunch that, consciously or not, CM wanted LBC and RBC to feel shitty about their sexual orientation.

If someone says something shitty to you about me, and you relay it to me, you are not doing me a favor; any emotional harm I suffer as a result is on you. The burden should have been on the BOLI to show that any emotional harm was caused by the Kleins. But Commissioner Avakian made no effort to distinguish between the effect of the denial of accommodation, and the effect of CM stirring up trouble.

AK never initiated contact with the media. He did not give the complainants’ names to the media. He never told the media anything but the truth. Even if he had  done more to spread the story than post the complaint for a few hours and respond to media inquiries, it would not be appropriate to hold him responsible for the Internet’s reaction to the story: if you sue someone and people find out and say mean things about you, the defendant is not liable for your hurt feelings. Yet Avakian did not try to distinguish between the effect on the complainants of the denial of accommodation and the effect on them of filing a complaint with the state.

We take our victims as we find them, and someone breaking the law by refusing accomodation based on a forbidden distinction assumes the risk that the potential customer is on the edge of breakdown already because of incompetent parenting and a repressive upbringing. But he doesn’t and shouldn’t assume the risk that the potential customer’s family will make things worse.

So the Kleins are not responsible for CM telling RBC and LBC that AK told CM that her gay children were an abomination. Nor are they responsible for any of the effects of that statement.

The Kleins are not responsible for LBC’s aunt threatening to shoot her in the face.

The Kleins are not responsible for RBC’s sister not supporting her against the Kleins.

The Kleins are not responsible for the community’s response to LBC and RBC’s complaint. They are especially not responsible for others’ hateful comments.

RBC and LBC were not harassed at home. The Kleins are not responsible for RBC’s fears that they would be.

The Kleins should no more have to pay for the harm that Rachel and Laurel Bowman-Cryer suffered because of the complaint they filed than they should get credit for the free cake the Bowman-Cryers got from Charm City Cakes.

By including in his assessment these myriad effects that the Kleins had nothing to do with, Avakian shows his true and unlawful intent: to punish the Kleins and make an example of them disproportionate to the damage that they caused.

  1. Posts to that effect are based on this language in the order:

    The Agency’s theory of liability is that since Respondents brought the case to the media’s attention and kept it there by repeatedly appearing in public to make statements deriding Complainants, it  was foreseeable that this attention would negatively impact Complainants, making  Respondents liable for any resultant emotional suffering experienced by Complainants. The Agency also argues that Respondents are liable for negative third party social media directed at Complainants because it was a foreseeable consequence of the media attention.

    That is the Agency’s theory of liability, that is, one party’s argument. What did the Commissioner think of that theory?

    The Commissioner concludes that … the facts related solely to emotional harm resulting from media attention do not adequately support an award of damages.

    So the wildly popular theory that the Kleins paid damages for doxxing the Bowman-Cryers is based on a reading-comprehension failure. (See also Eugene Volokh on this subject.)

    Should the Kleins have paid damages for doxxing the Bowman-Cryers? Well, no, if for no other reason than that they didn’t dox them. They published the first page of the Bowman-Cryers’ complaint, on which the Bowman-Cryers had put their address, on their Facebook page for less than a day at a time that they had 17 “friends.” The Oregon Department of Justice sent the same information to the media two weeks later.

    Even if the Kleins had researched and published the Bowman-Cryers’ identities, liability would not be appropriate: people seeking state to have the state punish other people risk community scorn, and ought to. 

  2. My view is that it does. The Kleins should be free not to do business with the Bowman-Cryers, just as I am free not to do business with the Kleins. 

  3. Protip: when your grown child becomes hysterical about a cake, it’s not about the cake.

    This is mostly true of non-grown kids too. 

  4. Gambling in Casablanca? 

  5. We are getting a clear picture of unstable people raised in dysfunctional families. 

  6. As though by compelling us to treat strangers nicely the state could erase all our self-doubt and emotional pain. 

  7. What parent hasn’t? 

  8. It’s interesting how people fall into stereotypical gender roles. 

  9. More drama! 

  10. The complainants had lawyered up. 

  11. The “Love Joy Feminism” blog post that started the “doxxing” rumor also said that “State officials told the Bowman-Cryers that if they couldn’t protect the foster children in their home from the harassment that resulted from the Klein’s public posting of their home address, etc., they would lose the children.” This is untrue: they had been instructed, before the cake incident, that it was their responsibility to make sure that the foster children’s “information was protected.” 

  12. See the note above about Commissioner Avakian’s comments on LBC’s testimony. 

  13. Gambling in Casablanca? 

2015.65: Teach. For America.

Sat, 07/11/2015 - 14:44

I described in An Apostrophe too Far why, despite the undeniable truth that the criminal justice system would crash if every defendant refused to plead guilty, defense lawyers cannot crash the system. Tl;dr: “Prisoner’s dilemma writ large.

I hypothesized a criminal-justice system, ours in micro, processing 100 defendants a year, with capacity for four jury trials (for Harris County, multiply by about 300). Twenty defendants of the hundred don’t plead guilty, and eighteen of those twenty get their cases dismissed. Of the last two, one defendant is convicted and one is acquitted.

Each additional defendant who doesn’t plead guilty will force the State to try or dismiss a case—his or someone else’s. There is theoretically capacity for another two jury trials, but the system doesn’t love jury trials, so a dismissal is more likely than another jury trial. For every additional defendant who refuses to plead guilty, there will likely be another dismissal.

I observed that The cases that are tried or dismissed are those in which the defendant assesses a trial as more valuable than the government does (or the government assesses a trial as essentially valueless). If we can increase defendants’ assessment of the value of trial, more defendants will refuse to plead guilty. How do we do that?

Defendants get their cues for valuing trial from society (including their cellies), from the radio receivers in their heads, and from their lawyers. We can’t do anything about the receivers in their heads; we can do a little (like writing blog posts about how many cases get dismissed) about society’s messages about the value of not pleading guilty; we can do more about the lawyers.

Every lawyer communicates to her client her own assessment of the value of pleading not guilty. She might do it explicitly, or she might do it without knowing it. The client relies on the lawyer’s assessment because it is the best information the client has. At best, the lawyer’s assessment is objective and accurate. At the worst, the lawyer’s irrational fear of trial or her unwonted self-confidence poisons her assessment.

If the lawyer’s assessment is accurate, the client can rely on it. If the lawyer has an irrational fear of trial, she’s probably going to lose,1 so the client can rely on that assessment as well. The danger for the client lies in relying on the lawyer’s inappropriately optimistic prognosis.

For purposes of this post we are not worried about that last situation—for the sake of the system it’d be better if more lawyers had pathologically rosy outlooks, because then fewer defendants would plead guilty. In fact, one way that we might get more defendants to refuse to plead guilty is to get lawyers to believe more in their ability to win more cases. If our concern is the clients’—rather than the client’s—interest then we want to encourage criminal-defense lawyers to view trial more optimistically, whether or not that optimism is merited.2

How might we encourage criminal-defense lawyers to view trial more optimistically? One way would be to pretend to teach them to be better lawyers—to teach fake CLE, and pretend to give them more tools to use to win their trials.

There may be a downside to this brilliant idea: that some lawyers might, as a result of fake education, wind up trying cases that they shouldn’t have, losing them, and losing their optimism because losing sucks. Such lawyers may might discouraged and view trial even more pessimistically than they did before. So fake education may3 be detrimental to the system in the long run.

Besides, fake CLE seems like a lot of work. If we’re going to go to the effort of putting on a show, we might as well give teach them to be better trial lawyers.

There are a very few criminal-defense lawyers who are natural-born trial lawyers. I don’t know many of them. There are a few criminal-defense lawyers who are flat-out incompetent, beyond all hope of repair. The vast majority of us can learn to be better.

Training better trial lawyers will have an exponential effect because society’s view of trial will feed back the results of our tweak to the system: the more cases are dismissed, the more defendants will refuse to plead guilty, and the more cases will be dismissed.

When we see injustice, we can ignore or accept it (and, like Anita Hill, “get as much as you can out of it”), we can make a big show of our outrage, or we can take action to fix it. “An Apostrophe Too Far” was inspired by @NormDeGuerreEsq’s tweet. Reading Norm, the outrage is palpable, but the action is wanting.

I favor action over outrage. Outrage is easier, but it never fixed anything. Norm, you want a solution to the problems of overcriminalization, of overprosecution, of overimprisonment? You and I are not the first lawyers to discover that the system is broken, and that by setting everything for trial we could bring it to its knees. But we have wargamed this time after time, and we cannot ethically take general action at the client’s potential expense.

You’ll never go on strike because you know that if you’re the only one you’ll just get hammered down. So if doing a conscientious job for each client isn’t enough for you, get out there and start teaching.

  1. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. 

  2. So: Go you! You can win that trial! 

  3. It amuses me that whether fake education is harmful might be subject to discussion. 

2015.64: Functional Mindfulness II

Thu, 07/09/2015 - 15:14

In medieval Europe litigants would arm themselves and beat the hell out of each other to resolve what might now be considered legal issues. The loser was obviously in the wrong. Some litigants could select champions to do their fighting for them. I doubt that this happened often1 but it would have been in both the litigant’s and his champion’s interest for the champion to be as good at his job as possible: shattered bones aren’t healed by “I spent all the time I possibly could to prepare for this. I did the best I can. And I am a good champion.

Anyway, “trial lawyer as swordsman” is not a huge metaphorical stretch.

In Keith Johnstone’s Impro for Storytellers 2 he relates:

A Japanese swordsman wrote that if you fight someone who has no plan, you’ll be thinking, I’ll do such and such! as your severed head bounces down the temple steps!3

Johnstone is, I suspect, paraphrasing this Munenori quote:

Once the fight has started, if you get involved in thinking about what to do, you will be cut down by your opponent with the very next sword blow.

Doing without thinking is functional mindfulness (or being “in the moment” on stage, “in the zone” on the sports field, or “in the flow” in the studio). When you’re mindful, you do everything that needs to be done at the right time but nothing that doesn’t need doing, all without thinking about it, and it all goes by effortlessly. You start trial, you notice everything, you respond appropriately, and suddenly it’s time to go home for the night and you’re not ready to stop telling your client’s story yet.

Does that sound like something you might like? Being the guy with no plan, aware of everything going on around you and dealing with it unhesitatingly, instead of the guy whose head is bouncing down the steps? Flowing through trial, and winning?

Would you like to learn the One Cool Trick for doing without thinking in trial? If someone who taught mindfulness for lawyers could teach you that, how much would it be worth to you?

Well, you’re out of luck. Life is pain, princess. Anyone who tells you otherwise is selling something.

Functional mindfulness is not a means but an end. The swordsman is not deadly because he is mindful; it is his deadliness that makes him mindful. He can do without thinking because he has practiced every parry and cut a thousand times learning and ten thousand more times polishing. The swordsman doesn’t think about what he is going to do because he doesn’t have to. In battle his training and experience will take over. Like his breathing, his technique will take care of itself. In the honing of his craft, he has found mindfulness.

Have you done your ten thousand reps? If not, get to it.

If the stresses of life interfere with your doing your job—helping your clients—you might try meditation to help you deal with those. An abstract mindfulness practice is good for making everything else less stressful so that you can focus on the thing of paramount importance. Defending people will be stressful. Defending people should be stressful. Your client’s future is at stake, and you will make mistakes. “I did the best I can. I am a good lawyer.” is not an appropriate response to the mistakes that you made that might have harmed your client.

If you want to be a better lawyer, do your ten thousand reps, and beat yourself up about every loss or almost-loss. Once you’ve done your ten thousand reps and have technique to burn, you’ve probably found functional mindfulness on your own.

  1. Most lawyers are exceedingly trial-averse; how much more trial-averse would litigants and their representatives be if losing meant disfigurement or death? 

  2. Swordsmanship, trial, improv: it’s all the same thing. 

  3. Then Johnstone adds, “Well, he didn’t put it exactly like that.”  

2015.63: Functional Mindfulness for Trial Lawyers I

Thu, 07/09/2015 - 10:37

This is totally adorable:

Jim, a litigator with a busy practice, spends 20 minutes each morning practicing something called mindfulness meditation.

Meditation is great, but meditation is to mindfulness as “litigators” are to trial lawyers.

I’ve written about mindfulness before; the topic is getting some attention now. Scott Greenfield sees two threads of discussion: a) stress release for lawyers (which should be uncontroversial; and b) “put[ting] personal happiness ahead of … responsibilities, … claim[ing] under the guise of mindfulness that stress is an excuse to fail to do your job, to fail to fulfill your responsibility to your client.” Scott picks this quote as an exemplar:

Practice cognitive restructuring. Recognize that your thoughts are not facts. Let’s imagine you’re at a hearing and the judge says, “Well, what about the decision in Smith vs. Jones? Why shouldn’t that apply in this case?” Assuming you have no idea what the judge is talking about, your mind might think, “I didn’t prepare enough. I’m a bad lawyer.” You can use cognitive restructuring and challenge your thoughts by saying, “I spent all the time I possibly could to prepare for this hearing. I did the best I can. And I am a good lawyer.”

While you probably guessed, “Stuart Smalley,” it‘s by Jeena Cho, who “offers training programs on using mindfulness and meditation to reduce stress while increasing focus and productivity.” But it isn’t couched as mindfulness advice, so it might not be the best example for Scott to choose.

(If it is intended as mindfulness advice, it’s shitty mindfulness advice. The mindful lawyer in that situation isn’t going to be thinking about whether she’s a bad lawyer or a good lawyer. She’s going to be lawyering, and saving judgment for the postmortem, when she will, if she is worth her salt, accept that she screwed up and resolve not to do so again, even though the path to that acceptance and resolve is through regret and self-doubt. Our mistakes that hurt our clients should hurt us too.)

There is nothing mystical or magical about mindfulness. It’s just an altered mental state, “altered” not because it’s unnatural, but because mostly we spend our lives outside it, judging ourselves or thinking about what happened before or what happens next. Before we called in mindfulness we called it “the zone,” or “the moment,” or “the flow,” as in, “I was in….” It’s a focus on the job at hand, and only that.

Meditation is easy. When you meditate, there is no job at hand, except to breathe. You get into the zone, focusing only on your breathing and then—since your breathing will, left alone, take care of itself—on nothing. Meditation can teach you what mindfulness feels like.

The trick is getting into that focused state, and staying there, when there is a difficult, stressful, and frightening job to be done. Being mindful while you are sitting on a cushion in your living room focusing on your breathing is a whole nother thing than being mindful when your client is facing life in a cage, a cop is making shit up on the stand, the judge is threatening you with contempt, and your second chair just passed you a note saying that your key witness decided not to honor her subpoena.

Complete focus on the job at hand in that situation is functional mindfulness. It’s a third way, which Scott doesn’t acknowledge, probably because the hucksters of mindfulness for lawyers are not selling it.

Easy solutions sell. Stress relief sells. Affirmation sells. Functional mindfulness doesn’t sell, and I’m going to show you why.