Deposition Weirdness

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Photocopiers

If you haven’t yet watched this reenactment of a deposition segment about the meaning of the word “photocopier” on the New York Times website, you should.  The New York Times summarizes the lawsuit in which the deposition was taken as follows:

In 2010, the Cuyahoga County Recorder’s Office in Ohio changed their policy about copying records. Digital files would no longer be available, and the public would have to make hard copies of documents for $2 per page.  This would prove to be prohibitively expensive for Data Trace Information Services and Property Insight, companies that collect hundreds of pages of this public information each week.  They sued the Recorder’s Office for access to digital versions of the documents on a CD.  In the middle of the case, a lawyer representing them questioned the IT administrator of the Recorder’s Office, which led to a 10-page argument over the semantics of photocopiers.

The deposition segment starts with a question about whether the Recorder’s Office used “photocopying machines – any photocopying machine?”  The deponent attempts to turn the table: “When you say photocopying machine, what do you mean?”  The ensuing dialogue would not be out of place in an absurdist play. Continue reading “Deposition Weirdness”

The Fragility of Strads

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266x180xlipinski-strad-300x204_jpg_pagespeed_ic_-vowBH2CskBravo to the Milwaukee Police Department and everybody who cooperated to ensure the safe return of the Lipinski Stradivarius! What an impressive feat.  The recovery of the violin ends several days of anxious speculation about the violin’s fate. Was it still in Milwaukee, as former FBI officer Robert Wittman (founder of the FBI’s National Art Crime Team) believed? Or in a vault of an extremely wealthy and unscrupulous person in a remote country, perhaps side by side with the missing Vermeer painting “The Concert”? Did these robbers know what they were doing or were they a group of blundering amateurs—and which of the two would be more favorable? Continue reading “The Fragility of Strads”

Why Orchestras Matter

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MSOWhen orchestras hit the headlines, the news is rarely good. The latest example is the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra (MSO), which announced in December that it must raise $5 million just to complete the season. Although management and the musicians have cooperated to come up with substantial cost savings, the orchestra’s survival has become highly uncertain.

But why should you care? More to the point, why should a community support an institution that cannot finance its operations out of ticket sales?

Continue reading “Why Orchestras Matter”

Culture and Racism: Some Reflections on “Zwarte Piet”

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PietitieI don’t think I will ever forget the look on my roommate’s face when I offered her some pepernoten.

It must have been late October or early November. I was an exchange student in New York and my parents had mailed some much-missed Dutch goodies, including pepernoten, the tiny spicy cookies associated with the Saint Nicholas (Sinterklaas) celebration. Saint Nicholas—not to be confused with Santa Claus even though both are white men with long beards who dress in red robes—is the patron saint of children. Historically he was a Greek bishop from Myra in present-day Turkey, but for unknown reasons Dutch children are told he hails from Spain. The Saint’s grand arrival in the Netherlands by steamboat is followed by a few weeks of fun and excitement, which culminate in a big celebration on the evening of December 5. Continue reading “Culture and Racism: Some Reflections on “Zwarte Piet””

In (Partial) Defense of Liz Cheney

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Cheney sisters

Is it possible to support a loved one’s life choices if you believe those choices should not exist? Consider the following hypotheticals:

Scenario #1: Your teenage daughter tells you she is pregnant from her no-good former boyfriend, and that she wishes to terminate the pregnancy. You are pro-life. Yet you realize that your daughter is the only one who can decide what to do (assuming she is not subject to parental consent laws, and perhaps even if she is). So you drive your child to her doctors’ appointments. You also tell her that despite your fundamental objections to abortion, you will do your best to make peace with her decision.

Scenario #2: You strongly believe children are entitled to information about their genetic parents. For this reason, you think sperm and egg banks should be allowed to work only with donors who consent to the disclosure of their identity and some basic information, and who agree to a minimum number of visits with any genetic offspring. Your sister has a baby conceived with sperm from an anonymous donor. You were beyond thrilled when she told you about her pregnancy, and you love your new nephew to pieces. Your views on the need for regulation of sperm and egg donor banks have not changed.

If these scenarios sound plausible, it is because our moral convictions don’t always dictate our personal interactions. Nor should they. The ability to appreciate that others may embrace values that are different from our own, and to react to their decisions with understanding and even respect, is a sign of maturity. Continue reading “In (Partial) Defense of Liz Cheney”

Lewd and Lascivious Behavior Laws: A Milwaukee Story

Posted on Categories Civil Rights, Constitutional Law, Criminal Law & Process, Milwaukee, Public, Wisconsin Criminal Law & Process, Wisconsin Law & Legal System3 Comments on Lewd and Lascivious Behavior Laws: A Milwaukee Story

The Accused

Lee Erickson’s bio attests to his national prominence. Among other things, he served on the Choral Panel of the National Endowment of the Arts and as dean of the American Guild of Organists. But in Milwaukee, he is best known as the conductor of the chorus of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra (MSO). Erickson was appointed associate director of the MSO Chorus in 1978, and he has served as the chorus’s director since 1994. By all accounts, the group has flourished under his leadership. The MSO website quotes music director Edo de Waart as saying: “The MSO has the good fortune of having a first-class volunteer chorus. With a chorus of this caliber, the options for performing great works in the repertoire are immense.” Frequent guest conductor Nicholas McGegan has called the chorus “a real gem,” and Tom Strini of the ThirdCoast Digest referred to it as “the jewel in Milwaukee’s cultural crown.”

If you type Erickson’s name into the Google search box, however, these achievements aren’t among the first results that appear on your screen.

Continue reading “Lewd and Lascivious Behavior Laws: A Milwaukee Story”

Not an Ordinary Day

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Campus walkTwelve years ago, around 8:45 am, I entered the subway station on Broadway and 86th Street. A busy day lay ahead of me: an orientation meeting of the New York State Bar, followed by callback interviews for a summer job, then maybe class if I could make it back uptown in time. But when I emerged from the subway, the world had changed. As I started walking east on 23rd Street I was startled to find clusters of people standing still on the sidewalk, all facing the same direction, many with their mouths wide open. I turned to see what they were seeing, and gasped when I saw the two World Trade Center towers, a ring of smoke around them.

The aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks has given us lawyers a lot to chew on: two wars of debatable legality, Guantanamo Bay, and the precarious balance between civil rights and national security, to name just a few things. But today is for remembering. My thoughts are with those who died, those who were left behind, and those who so bravely stepped up on that day.

Culpa in Causa and the Zimmerman Acquittal

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Culpa in causa. The Latin phrases I learned many moons ago as a law student in the Netherlands rarely enter my consciousness, but these three words kept flashing through my mind while reading about the Zimmerman trial. The term appears to have been coined in the 1930s by Willem Pompe, an influential criminal law professor in Utrecht at the time, who may well have thought that Latin sounds fancier than Dutch. Literally, culpa in causa means “fault in the cause.” The notion is that someone who voluntarily—and wrongfully—places herself in a situation in which it is reasonably foreseeable that she may commit a crime cannot successfully invoke defenses to criminal liability. Put differently, the intent or fault that is implicated in creating a risky situation extends to the subsequent crime. A relatively straightforward example of how the doctrine operates is in self-intoxication cases: Under Dutch law, a defendant who commits a crime under the influence of voluntarily consumed drugs can be convicted for crimes that require specific intent, even if the drugs rendered her incapable of understanding her actions. Continue reading “Culpa in Causa and the Zimmerman Acquittal”

(Marriage) Equality and the Popularity Paradox

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=Writing for the majority of the Supreme Court in United States v. Windsor, Justice Kennedy stated that “[t]he Constitution’s guarantee of equality ‘must at the very least mean that a bare congressional desire to harm a politically unpopular group cannot’ justify disparate treatment of that group.” Under this test, the Court struck down a key provision from the so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which defined “marriage” and “spouse” for purposes of federal law as referring only to opposite-sex marriages and spouses. The opinion concludes that DOMA’s very object was “to ensure that if any State decides to recognize same-sex marriages, those unions will be treated as second-class marriages for purposes of federal law.”

It is almost trite to say that the result in Windsor would have been unthinkable just a few years ago. Yet this observation strikes at the heart of a paradox in the test applied by the Court: It suggests that a group has a realistic chance of being classified as a “politically unpopular group” deserving of protection only after it has acquired a certain level of popularity. Of course, the recent shift in popular opinion on same-sex marriage in the United States has been spectacular. In 2004, bans on same-sex marriage (and in many cases, also civil unions and other contractual protections of same-sex relationships) were adopted by popular vote in all of the eleven States where such bans had been put on the ballot during the general elections. Today, the States that have same-sex marriage bans on the books outnumber the States in which same-sex marriage is legalized by thirty-five to twelve (plus D.C.). Yet starting in 2010 or 2011, nationwide support for same-sex marriage began to exceed opposition to it. The increased popularity of the cause translated into political action: In 2012, for the first time voters approved initiatives to legalize same-sex marriage in three States (Maine, Maryland, and Washington). In that same year, voters in Minnesota voted down a proposed same-sex marriage ban. In sum, it is safe to say marriage equality has become a mainstream cause, albeit one that is still met with ardent opposition. Continue reading “(Marriage) Equality and the Popularity Paradox”

Of Queens, Kings, and Inherited Destiny

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Koningin_Beatrix_in_Vries Kings, queens, princes and especially princesses are subjects of eternal fascination.  From fairy tales to the Sissi movies to glossy royalty magazines, we can’t seem to get enough of royalty. And as Amsterdam is getting ready for Queen Beatrix’s abdication and the investiture of King Willem-Alexander, I feel some pangs of regret about not being around other Dutch people during this last Queen’s Day. This sentiment took me by surprise: Not only have I never attended a Queen’s Day party since I moved to the United States, but I am also not a monarchist.

My objections to the Dutch monarchy stem in no small part from the undemocratic nature of an unelected head of state. The notion that my fellow Dutch citizens and I are “subjects” of our queen or king seems not only outdated, but also fundamentally at odds with self-government. Even those who defend the monarchy tend to emphasize its ceremonial character–which, ironically, makes it harder to justify the significant expenses associated with the institution. Continue reading “Of Queens, Kings, and Inherited Destiny”

Today’s Most Important Assignment

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About a month ago, Anna Kloeden raised thought-provoking questions about how a compulsory voting system might affect the candidates’ substantive positions as well as the ways in which campaigns are conducted. Her post made me wonder what is known about nonvoters. How numerous are they? Where are they on the political spectrum? What are the reasons they don’t vote?

According to a report from the U.S. Census Bureau, 64% of voting-age citizens voted in the 2008 presidential elections, and 71% were registered to vote. The report notes significant variations in voting turn-out depending on race / origin (non-Hispanic blacks and whites had significantly higher voting rates than Asians and Hispanics), age (voting rates increased with age), and education level (higher education levels corresponded with higher voting rates). Nonvoters are not without opinions. A recent survey by the Pew Research Center suggests that non-voting hurts the Democrats: nonvoters overwhelmingly favor Obama (59%) over Romney (24%), and the Democrats (52%) over the Republican Party (27%). Nonvoters express stronger support for a more active government and for the 2010 health care law. As for foreign policy issues, withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan finds significantly more support under nonvoters than under likely voters. Nonvoters are less supportive of an aggressive stance toward Iran because of its nuclear program. Continue reading “Today’s Most Important Assignment”

Hurricane Sandy, What You and I Can Do, and the “Invisible” America

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Update (11/5) — The following address is preferable for Councilman Sanders: 234-26 Merrick Blvd., Laurelton, NY 11422.  Another option is to send supplies using a wedding registry (!) set up by the resourceful folks at Occupy Sandy. Much like the local station set up by Councilman Sanders, this off-shoot of the Occupy Wall Street movement appears to be out-performing FEMA and the Red Cross at this time.

When I returned to Milwaukee from New York City on Thursday evening, it was clear that the devastation left behind by hurricane Sandy was tremendous. But it is only in the past two days that I have gotten a glimpse of the extent of the continuing crisis, as news reports about the hardest-hit parts of the city start getting out (e.g., here and here). In addition, I received several eyewitness reports on Facebook from friends who decided to take action and do whatever they can to offer practical help. Before I get to those, I want to proactively address a question a situation like this often raises: “What can I do to help those who are in a crisis situation as effectively as possible?” Here’s what my friends recommend:

Order basic supplies on amazon, drugstore.com, or a similar online store, and have them delivered to the following address (if possible using the fastest delivery option): Councilman James Sanders, Jr., c/o Rockaway Revival Center, 1526 Central Ave., Far Rockaway, NY 11691 (718-614-8866).

Here’s what the hurricane victims need most:

  • Blankets
  • Non-perishable, processed food (something like this)
  • Bottled water
  • Warm clothes, socks, underwear
  • Diapers, formula (preferably of a type that doesn’t require water) and other baby needs
  • Wipes

David Bernard, who went out to Far Rockaway yesterday, wrote the following about Councilman Sanders: “His shelter not only disburses the goods to these people, but he also has contacts in the local neighborhoods. We were able to help these people directly.”   Continue reading “Hurricane Sandy, What You and I Can Do, and the “Invisible” America”