Making a Murderer: Oh-So-Many Talking Points

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Category: Civil Rights, Constitutional Law, Criminal Law & Process, Evidence, Judges & Judicial Process, Legal Ethics, Legal Practice, Legal Profession, Popular Culture & Law, Public, Wisconsin Law & Legal System
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635874987555624158-XXX-IMG-NETFLIX-MAKING-A-MUR-1-1-VGCTGMDU-78432434As the winter break winds down, it’s definitely worth your time to start binge-watching Making a Murderer, a recent Netflix documentary on a real-life criminal case. A very close-to-home criminal case, at that.

The documentary, filmed over 10 years, follows Steven Avery, who was convicted in 1985 of sexual assault. He maintained his innocence and, indeed, 18 years later DNA evidence exonerated him. After he was released, he sued Manitowoc County for his wrongful conviction. It looks as though that lawsuit starts digging up some very unsavory conduct among officials in Manitowoc County.

But then—Avery is arrested for the murder of photographer Teresa Halbach. Several months later, his nephew Brendan Dassey is also arrested.

I’ll stop there with plot. If you’ve been around Wisconsin, you’ve probably heard of the case. If you’ve been on the Internet in the last couple of weeks, you’ve almost surely heard of it. But you must watch it.

For law students, there’s so many teachable moments. For everyone, there’s so much to talk about. Read more »

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Atticus Finch Revisited

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Atticus_and_Tom_Robinson_in_courtHarper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman has an undeniably odd publication history. Ms. Lee wrote the novel in the 1950s, well before she wrote and published her beloved To Kill a Mockingbird. When she finally agreed to publish Go Set a Watchman in 2015, it registered on critics and readers as a sequel of sorts for To Kill a Mockingbird.

Go Set a Watchman involves the moving rebuilding of a parent-child relationship after the child has lost respect for the parent, and this account deserves contemplation and reflection. However, the novel as a whole is only mediocre. Furthermore, many readers will be shocked and disappointed by the novel’s suggestion that Atticus Finch is not the heroic man they thought he was.

In particular, Finch is hardly a staunch defender of civil rights for the people he calls “Negroes.” He tells his daughter Jean Louise, who was known as Scout as a young girl, “Negroes down here are still in their childhood as a people.” He also reveals he is taking the case of an African American defendant so that the case does not fall into the hands of NAACP lawyers. In Finch’s opinion, the latter are too eagerly seeking cases they can rush into the federal courts.

If Finch is not the champion of civil rights people took him to be in To Kill a Mockingbird, his attitude about the law has supposedly remained consistent. Uncle Jack Finch tells Jean Louise: “The law is what Atticus lives by. He’ll do his best to prevent somebody beating up somebody else, and then he’ll turn around and try to stop the Federal Government if it is breaking the law . . . . [B]ut remember this, he’ll always do it by the letter of the law. That’s the way he lives.” Read more »

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Jekyll, Hyde, and Criminal Law

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Category: Criminal Law & Process, Marquette Law School, Popular Culture & Law, Public
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I am looking forward to Professor Nicola Lacey’s public lecture at Marquette Law School tomorrow. Lacey’s presentation, the annual George and Margaret Barrock Lecture on Criminal Law, is entitled, “Socializing the Subject of Criminal Law? Criminal Responsibility and the Purposes of Criminalization.”  More information and registration are available here.

For an engaging and succinct introduction to Lacey’s important writing on criminal responsibility, I would recommend “Psychologizing Jekyll, Demonizing Hyde: The Strange Case of Criminal Responsibility,” 4 Crim. L. & Philosophy 109 (2010). In this article, Lacey uses the classic Robert Louis Stevenson story of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde to illustrate some fundamental tensions in thinking about criminal responsibility.

First published in 1886, Stevenson’s novella concerns a distinguished Victorian doctor, Jekyll, who despairs over his urges to indulge in vice. Jekyll devises a potion that splits the good and evil sides of his personality into distinct identities.   The animalistic Hyde may gratify his lusts without any risk to Jekyll’s reputation, or so it seems. The plan unravels, however, as Jekyll loses the ability to control the transformations, and the Hyde identity becomes dominant. Along the way, Hyde commits a murder and eventually kills himself (and thus Jekyll, too) in order to avoid arrest.

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NEWaukee and How to Create the Most Awesome City on the Planet

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Category: Milwaukee, Popular Culture & Law, Public, Speakers at Marquette
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Angela Damiani has a clear goal: “To make this the most awesome city on the planet.”

Note that we didn’t say “an easy goal,” we said “a clear goal.” But don’t tell Damiani that it can’t be pursued and there can’t be progress in getting there. In the six years since it began, NEWaukee, the organization she leads as president, has become a fast-growing  energizer and catalyst for community-building activities, particularly among young professionals.

At an “On the Issues with Mike Gousha” program at Eckstein Hall on Wednesday, Damiani said the jargon term for NEWaukee is that it is a social architecture firm. What does that mean? In short, NEWaukee is an organization aimed at consciously designing ways to shift a population toward a goal – and that goal is to make Milwaukee a place people think is attractive and appealing.  Which is where the ”awesome city” ambition comes in. Read more »

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Israel Reflections 2015: Vienna to Israel and the Lady in Gold

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Category: International Law & Diplomacy, Popular Culture & Law, Public
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adele-bloch-bauerWell, I had very high hopes for being able to blog while in Israel and those were quickly dashed between the total lack of sleep and need to reflect on what we were seeing!  So finally, now that we have been back for a week, I will start posting about the sights and visits that we had.  We stopped over on the way and spent about 8 hours running around Vienna.  This proved to be a terrific stop because we were able to link two different visits in Israel to what we saw in Vienna.  We started at the Belvedere Museum in Vienna where the famous Klimt painting, The Kiss, is shown.  Up until very recently, the Belvedere also housed a painting known as the Lady in Gold (seen above).  And you can still see t-shirts and mugs bearing the likeness of this painting through downtown Vienna.  But this painting is now longer there.

It turns out the Lady in Gold is actually The Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer, a well-known society woman in Vienna who commissioned the portrait at the turn of the century.  Unfortunately for her and her heirs, Adele was Jewish.  The painting was looted during the Holocaust, the name changed to hide its original identity, and it took a U.S. Supreme Court case in 2004 (Republic of Austria v. Altmann)  to get this painting back to the family — a niece by the name of Maria Altmann. Read more »

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Paul Taylor: A Positive Look at Big Changes in America’s Population and Sociology

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The title of Paul Taylor’s recent book refers to “a looming generational showdown” as America changes. But Taylor, a senior fellow at the Pew Research Center in Washington, didn’t strike a particularly ominous tone as he described what lies ahead during an “On the Issues with Mike Gousha” session at Eckstein Hall on Tuesday.

There were three reasons for that. First, Taylor described himself as “a glass half-full guy,” generally inclined to be optimistic. Second, he said America has dealt successfully with many challenges in its history. And third, he said the foremost challenge – how a big surge in Social Security and Medicare benefits for retirees will be supported by the workforce of a few years from now – can be handled successfully if Congress and the president are willing to do so.

In his book, “The Next America: Boomers, Millenials and the Looming Generational Showdown,” and in his conversation in the Appellate Courtroom, Taylor gave a wide-ranging, insightful, and occasionally light-hearted tour of big changes in the demographics of America. Read more »

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The Most Popular Hollywood Law Movies

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Liar LiarThe consensus among film critics seems to be that the “law movie” does not constitute a shaped genre comparable to the thriller or the romantic comedy. However, we can still speak more generally of movies in which a lawyer is a major character, a courtroom proceeding occurs, and the law itself has some role in the plot. Which are the most popular law-related movies of this sort in the history of the American cinema?

One answer to the question can be found on the International Movie Data Base website and on that website’s “All-Time USA Box Office Ranking.” The latter derives exclusively from theatrical box office sales and does not include video rentals, television rights, and other revenues. As of 2014, the most popular law-related movies are in order: “Liar Liar” (1997), “Chicago” (2002), “The Firm” (1993), “A Few Good Men” (1992), “Erin Brockovich” (2000), and “Kramer vs. Kramer” (1979).

I’m surprised by the list and by how few of the movies on the list correspond to what I consider the “best” law-related films. I’m also struck by how different the six movies are from one another. Indeed, going back to the notion of genre, with which I began this post, the six movies represent a wide range of genres.

Here’s how I would categorize the movies: Read more »

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Disney and Phase 4 Films Settle Lawsuit over Frozen Logo

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Earlier this year, Disney and Phase 4 Films settled a lawsuit over Phase 4’s attempts to capitalize on Disney’s latest animated success, Frozen. Phase 4’s film was originally titled The Legend of Sarila. According to the complaint filed by Disne​y, it was released November 1, 2013, a few weeks before Frozen’s release, to dismal box office revenues. Phase 4 then changed the film’s name to Frozen Land, and redesigned the film’s logo to mimic that of Disney’s Frozen. For a side-by-side look at the logos, see the complaint filed by Disney here. 

In the settlement, Phase 4 agreed to immediately stop marketing and distributing its film under the name Frozen Land, and pay Disney $100,000. At first I was skeptical of Disney’s claim, but after comparing the separate logos, it seems highly unlikely that this was anything but a blatant attempt to profit off of Frozen‘s success. The logos contain the same color scheme, the same shape, and almost identical fonts.

As far as the Lanham Act violation claim, it seems almost certain that consumers would be confused as to the relation between the two movies, perhaps reasonably assuming that Frozen Land is a spin-off of Frozen. They also settled an unfair competition claim that was based on Disney’s claims that Phase 4’s Frozen Land caused irreparable damage to Disney’s goodwill and reputation.

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Law Day Gives High Schoolers Glimpses of Lawyers in the Movies — and In Real Life

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Category: Education & Law, Marquette Law School, Popular Culture & Law, Public
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If you are a typical high school student, where do you get your ideas on what attorneys do? Television and movies – that’s a pretty likely answer. So let’s role the tape and look at the reality of being a lawyer versus what the movies show.

For example, consider a clip from the 1998 movie, “A Civil Action.” After viewing it, Milwaukee Circuit Judge Carl Ashley’s reaction was, “It’s pretty sensationalized, but partly true.” Court rooms and law firms may not have movie-like drama often, but lawyers in real life do help people and can “make something right,” Ashley said.

In the movie, the lawyer played by John Travolta called some lawyers “bottom feeders.” But Marquette Law School Professor Rebecca Blemberg, a former prosecutor, said lawyers she has worked with almost all have been people who really want to help others, and a lot of people genuinely benefit from lawyers.

Milwaukee County Judge Joseph Donald said he wished some aspects of the movie were matched in real life. “I’d love to have theme music playing every time I’m in court,” he said.

And Marquette Law Professor David Papke said the real case that was the basis of “A Civil Action” didn’t turn out so well for the attorney for the plaintiffs – he tried to do the right thing and ended up filing for personal bankruptcy.

Joining the four in watching that movie clip (and several others) were 180 students from eight public and private schools that took part in Youth Law Day at Marquette Law School’s Eckstein Hall on March 12. The event was sponsored by the Law School, the Saint Thomas More Lawyers Society, and the Milwaukee County district attorney’s office. Even during their spring break week, about 20 Marquette Law students assisted during the mock trial and shared their educational experiences with the high school students. Law student Lindsey Anderson took a leading role in organizing the event.  Read more »

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The Sources of Anti-Gay Sentiment in Uganda

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Category: International Law & Diplomacy, Popular Culture & Law, Public, Religion & Law
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American politicians and journalists have sharply criticized Uganda’s apparent hostility toward gay men and lesbians. When in February Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni signed into law a bill imposing harsh criminal penalties for homosexual acts, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry criticized the Ugandan law as a violation of international human rights. When a tabloid in Kampala, the nation’s largest city, published a list of “Uganda’s 200 Top Gays,” American newspapers reported that this mass “outing” led those on the list to fear for their lives and to seek desperately to flee the country.

In response to this criticism, the Ugandan government characterized the political comments and journalistic reports as disturbingly arrogant. Once again, the U.S. seemed to be trying to control Ugandan lawmaking and public opinion, the government said. Museveni himself insisted “outsiders” should leave his nation alone and vowed he would not give in. “If the West does not want to work with us because of homosexuals,” Museveni said, “then we have enough space to ourselves here.”

Is the dispute simply a matter of American support for gay rights colliding with Ugandan homophobia? As is usually the case in an international dispute of this sort, the controversy involves more than the purported enlightenment of the West on the one hand and the narrow-mindedness in the developing world on the other. There is ample evidence that American evangelical Christians heavily influenced Uganda’s political and religious leaders, who as a result of this influence turned on the nation’s gay men and lesbians. Read more »

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A Conceptual Approach to Advising High-Profile Clients

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This blog post concludes the series on the Fantex, Inc. IPO by analyzing the need for competent, and honest, financial attorneys with respect to managing the wealth of high-profile clients.

It is hard to imagine that NFL running back Arian Foster received legal or financial counsel before signing his brand contract with Fantex. Under the terms of the agreement, Foster assigns 20 percent of his gross earnings to the company in return for a one-time payment of $10 million, intended to be raised through the company’s IPO. The contract remains effective indefinitely and grants Fantex the right to audit Foster’s finances. Moreover, the only earnings excluded from the 20 percent assignment provision are any movie and TV roles where Foster does not portray a football player, as well as any music that he produces or writes. The one-sidedness of this contract—and the fact that Foster actually signed it—shows that Foster’s advisors, if any, did not have his long term financial interests in mind. Read more »

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Adding Context to the Fantex Public Offering

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Category: Business Regulation, Popular Culture & Law, Public, Sports & Law
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Part 1 of 3: Legitimate or Emotional Investment?

During the NFL season, millions of fans are emotionally invested in their favorite teams and players. But since Fantex, Inc. filed a preliminary prospectus with the SEC on October 17, the notion of financially investing in professional athletes has generated considerable buzz. After letting the dust settle, a careful reading of the company’s prospectus reveals numerous red-flags regarding this IPO – most notably to potential investors.

At first glance, Fantex’s strategy to raise capital appears pretty straightforward. The company will raise $10 million by selling ten-dollar shares to the general public. Fantex also entered into a “brand contract” with Houston Texan’s running back Arian Foster. Under the terms of this contract, Fantex will make a one-time, $10 million payment to Foster in exchange for 20% of his future earnings. The company expects to enter into similar brand contracts in the future with not only athletes, but also entertainers and other high-profile individuals. If Fantex’s efforts are successful, it will issue dividends to investors. Therefore, the more shares that are purchased, the more dividends investors can expect to receive – right?

As with most IPOs, nothing is ever quite so clear. The details in the prospectus reveal that Fantex lacks any clear business model. More importantly, there is no clear plan for generating a return for investors. Based on the prospectus, it is safe to conclude that any reasonable investor would not purchase shares under this IPO. However, this offering is perfect for those investors who do not actually intend to make any profit. Read more »

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