Turnabout Is Fair Play: Judge Holds Himself In Contempt For Cell Phone Violation

It’s that moment every lawyer dreads.  It’s a quiet court room, a lawyer is examining a witness, and then you hear it.  A rogue cell phone.  Someone forgot to turn off the ringer.  As if the situation itself was not embarrassing enough.  You know the judge is one of those that treats a cell phone in his courtroom as the equivalent of a dirty bomb.  You hold your breath for a moment, wondering if you are guilty party.  Luckily it’s not your phone, but the judge does let lose on the perpetrator and holds him in contempt. And so it goes.

Well, it happened recently in a Michigan courtroom, except it was the judge himself who was the offender.  To the judge’s credit, he held himself in contempt.

According to an account at MLive, Judge Raymond Voet had recently purchased a new phone, and apparently, he didn’t lock it properly before court.  He surmises that he bumped the screen, and it began asking him who he wanted to call.  You know, the old “please say a command” prompt.  This was, of course, in the middle of the prosecution’s closing argument.

To make matters worse, Judge Voet reportedly had trouble turning it off.

The judge is apparently known for being a real stickler about cellphones.  In fact, he has signs posted outside his courtroom warning cellphone users that they face  a $25 fine and could lose their electronic device if it does off during a hearing.  He is even said to have taken phones from police officers and personal friends.

So what did the judge do about his own indiscretion?  Apologize and move on?  Consider becoming a little less strict on others?  Nope.  Judge Voet held himself in contempt and walked downstairs during a court recess to pay the same $25 fine he imposes on other offenders.

Judge dismisses Suit against Cooley Law School

A few months ago, we ran a series about the ongoing debate about higher education, including legal education – ts merits, cost-benefit analysis, and interviews with those in the field.  In those posts, we remarked that several lawsuits had sprung up around the country against law schools for misrepresenting data about their job placement numbers and salaries. One such suit was filed by a dozen graduates of the Thomas M. Cooley Law School, who alleged that they would not have spent the money to attend the school if they had known the truth about job prospects coming out of the school.  The plaintiffs sought $250 million in damages.

On July 20, 2012, the Michigan federal court where the case was pending dismissed it after the law school filed a 12(b)(6) motion.  A full copy of the Court’s decision can be found here [PDF].  As Judge Gordon J. Quist, the author of the opinion, notes, this dismissal follows the same result in a nearly-identical suit against the New York Law School.  A copy of that decision can be found here [PDF], and our friends at Above the Law make some great points about that decision in this post.

So why are these lawsuits failing?  Well, according to these two decisions,  the schools did not make false representations.  As the Michigan court quoted, “[a] plaintiff’s subjective misunderstanding of information that is not objectively false or misleading cannot mean that a defendant has committed the tort of fraudulent misrepresentation.”  Ouch.  Judge Quist apparently does not think much of the prospective students’ reasoning abilities.

Judge Schweitzer, the author of the case out of New York, reached the same conclusion, but for an opposite reason.  He called applicants to law schools “a sophisticated subset of educational consumers, capable of sifting through data and weighing alternatives before making a decision regarding their post college options.”  It appears that Judge Schweitzer believes these students to be very capable of weeding through the data, but too lazy to do so.  Again, not the best depiction of prospective law students.

And yet all is not lost.  The Wall Street Journal’s Law Blog updated its original post on the issue with a quote from Jesse Strauss, an attorney for the plaintiffs in the Cooley Law School case.  Even though Mr. Strauss seems ambivalent about appealing the decision to dismiss the case, he claims a small victory:   “It’s important to know what this litigation has helped to accomplish. Students applying to law school now have more and better information than ever before.”

True, the ABA has changed some of its reporting requirements to add some transparency, and even Cooley is reporting statistics differently.

The crucial question, however, remains:  if the value of higher education (and legal eduction) is potentially lower than expected or reported, can schools continue to charge more and more tuition?  And will the microscope that has been placed squarely on higher education result in lower enrollment down the line?  We’ll have to wait for the statistics, I guess.

Victoria’s Secret Knows Collegiate Rivalries

Victoria’s Secret has created many products.  In the past, our personal favorite has always been the “Very Sexy for Him” men’s cologne line, obviously.  After discovering Victoria’s new collegiate apparel, however, we are rethinking our opinions.  The PINK Collegiate Collection features women’s t-shirts, sweats, and under-garments (of course) for many of your favorite colleges.

Even though we adore the entire collection, we hear that Victoria made a slight error in the design of the Michigan State line.

At first glance, the shirt looks completely normal.  Low cut design.  Vintage font.  What East Lansing co-ed would not love this shirt?  One with any knowledge of the Michigan-Michigan State rivalry, that’s who.   You see that “Hail to the Victors” logo?  That’s Michigan’s motto.  You know, Michigan State’s in-state rival?  Unless Victoria is trying to mock those in Ann Arbor, we imagine this was an error.  If it was intentional, then Victoria clearly doesn’t understand the landscape of collegiate rivalries.

Rivalries are intense.  Back in 2006, a South Carolina man killed his friend over the Clemson-South Carolina football game.  For most of us, rivalries aren’t life-or-death situations.  However, we can all agree that wearing the merchandise of an arch rival is the equivalent of a scarlet letter.

According to reports, Victoria’s Secret pulled the shirt from its web site within hours of notification of the mistake.  We only wish we knew how many uninformed MSU fans purchased the shirt before it was pulled.  We imagine the shirt will show up as a piece of memorabilia in an Ann Arbor sports bar.

“Drive” Sued for Failure to Live Up to “Fast and Furious” Legend

Last month, the thriller Drive starring Ryan Gosling opened in theaters nationwide.  From what we can discern from the film’s trailer, its follows a Hollywood stunt driver and his perils following some dirty-handed contract work.  For those who need a touch of romance alongside their action, the driver falls in love with the married woman whose family he entered the contract to protect.  Or something like that.  We here at Abnormal Use have not seen the film, but we think it looks somewhat entertaining.  One litigant, however, wants her money back.

A Michigan woman has filed a lawsuit against the film’s distributor, FilmDistrict, and the Michigan theater in which she saw the film, seeking a refund of her ticket price.  Yes, we know it sounds absurd to accumulate legal fees and court costs over an $8 ticket.  The movie can’t be that bad, right?  After all, it did gross nearly $12 million (with a $15 million budget) during its opening weekend.  If people can sit through three hours of The English Patient without feeling the need to sue its distributor, Drive must be horrible. Oh, and here’s the best part: She wants to certify the suit as a class action!

What could possible make Drive so horrendous that a federal class action lawsuit becomes necessary to save cinema goers from seeing it?  According to the lawsuit, the woman claims that FilmDistrict marketed Drive as being very similar to The Fast and the Furious when, in actuality, the film “bore very little similarity to a chase, or race action film . . . having very little driving in the film.”  Oh, the horror!

After you have regained your composure, let’s take a closer look at these allegations.  First, is the plaintiff really claiming she has been damaged because Drive did not meet the high standards of The Fast and the Furious?  Seriously?  While Fast was the career high point for both Vin Diesel and Paul Walker, it is a movie that can only be enjoyed along side a $3 bottle of gas station wine.  Claiming that a movie is dissimilar to Fast should be considered a compliment.  If the plaintiff claimed she had been duped into watching a pseudonymous Fast sequel, we would feel her pain.  After all, the fact that five Fast films have already been made is a grave injustice to the film industry.  But the fact that the plaintiff is actually complaining that the move is not like Fast is beyond our comprehension.

Second, even if we assume Fast has some cinematic merit, was Drive really trying to market itself as such?  Take a look at the Fast trailer from 2001. To the plaintiff’s credit, there are a lot of similarities between the two trailers.  Both have cars.  Both show people kissing.  Both have dramatic music as a background.  We can see how the plaintiff might see a resemblance.  Despite all these similarities, however, the movies are not marketed as one in the same.  In the Drive trailer, it is apparent that the movie has some story line.  After watching the Fast trailer, all we know about the film is that the actors do something in cars, and they like to do it fast.  Of course, it was probably hard to reveal a plot in the Fast trailer considering the film’s utter lack thereof. Oh, well.


Lawyer Advertising Rules Update

Late last month, the South Carolina Supreme Court amended its Rules of Professional Conduct to address several lingering issues related to lawyer advertising. The amended Rules are meant to be consistent with the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct.  You can read them here. The amendments delete the previous ban on testimonials, eliminate a mandatory solicitation filing requirement and fee, and add requirements for electronic solicitations.

Specifically, advertisements for legal services can now include testimonials IF the ad specifically identifies that the statement is a testimonial, discloses whether or not it was paid for by the lawyer or law firm, and if it was made by an actual client.  Most importantly,  the ad must “clearly and conspicuously” state that the any result achieved in one case “does not necessarily indicate similar results” in another.   Sounds like a really long commercial.  Right?

For a full summary of the new rules, check out blogger Greg Forman’s recent post on the subject here.  He does a great job of laying it out for us.

In the meantime, here is a brief update on what is happening in other states on similar issues:

Florida -  On May 27, 2011, the Florida Bar proposed new rules for attorney advertising which would also allow for the use of some testimonials. See here.

Virginia – Virginia State Bar’s Standing Committee on Legal Ethics has issued proposed amendments to their Rules of Professional Conduct and seeks comments by September 14, 2011.  That’s next week! For a summary of those changes, click here.

Michigan – On July 19, 2011, the Michigan Supreme Court rescinded its previous order that amended that state’s Rules of Professional Conduct and proffered these new amendments. They also provide for a comment period which ends November 1, 2011.

Here’s the deal: the rules have not changed THAT much.  Things have just been clarified a little and updated to include web advertisements and electronic communication.  The same rules of thumb still hold true.  If a statement is a lie, or even stretching the truth, you probably shouldn’t put it in an advertisement pushing your legal services.  You also shouldn’t make any promises or guarantees.  Oh, and keep it classy.  Like this.