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Author: Dave Hoffman

17

A Philadelphia Story

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This story from the Philadelphia Inquirer caught my eye. (And gave me an opportunity to steal a picture from Dan’s airline screening playset post.) Janet Lee, a Bryn Mawr student, was on her way home from the holidays. At the Philadelphia Int’l Airport, she was arrested because her checked bags contained condoms full of flour, which the police mistakenly identified in two field tests as cocaine and amphetamines. According to Lee, she and hall-mates had created the bags as stress balls as an exam-time gag. The system held Lee in jail for three weeks on $500,000 bail:

Lee acted tough to protect herself. She did modern-dance moves to keep limber. Inmates saw this and gossiped: “Everyone thought I knew karate because I’m Asian.” She certainly didn’t discourage the stereotype.

Inmates saw the high volume of visitors and figured she was important. Again, she did not discourage the notion. She did not tell her cell mates that the visitors were actually volunteers from Catholic churches in Philadelphia who had taken up her cause.

The volunteers helped her hire [a lawyer, and former prosecutor, named David] Oh.

“I believed her story because things just didn’t add up,” Oh said. For one thing, Oh said, the field tests were odd because they detected the presence of not one drug but three.

“People don’t mix drugs like that,” Oh said.

First, Oh contacted Bryn Mawr and confirmed that Lee’s dorm mates had, in fact, made the condoms together during a pre-exam session they call a “hall tea.”

Then, Oh said, he called Assistant District Attorney Charles Ehrlich, who agreed to expedite laboratory tests. Ehrlich also agreed to help seek reduced bail, Oh said. A day after the new test came back and confirmed that the substance was flour, Lee was released.

She flew home first class.

There are a few notable things about this story. The draconian D.A.’s office (all considered) gave Lee a huge break because of her connections – a social capital that most defendants do not have. It is also surprising (and heartening) that Philadelphia Airport is screening luggage well enough to catch this (potential contraband). I also wonder about the remarkably high bail set for a college student who had no prior record that we know about, and the jail authorities apparent decision not to put her into protective custody. On the other hand, I’m not surprised at all at the error with the tests. I wonder if the police department has studied the false positive rate carefully.

Needless to say, Lee has now filed a civil rights claim against the police (and probably a claim against the city for their poor drug-testing training). Given her story, the City should settle. But knowing the City Solicitor’s inflexible litigation strategy, I doubt they will anytime soon.

1

Ribstein Is Back

Larry Ribstein has returned to his roost at Ideoblog, and is posting about the race to bottom regulatory competition in the market for securities regulation. For those of our readers who may be uninterested in that topic, he’s also writing about how to reduce the deadweight loss produced by Christmas (and presumably other seasonally related holidays.)

Larry’s guest bloggers have been provocative and interesting, and it is worth checking out what’s happened at the blog over the last few weeks. Kate Litvak’s post on racism, golf and boating was my personal favorite. I hear that most of those folks will soon be starting a new blog called Truth On The Market, which I’m sure I will enjoy, and disagree with, often.

0

The Gorilla Award for 2005

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It’s award season. Not a suprise. The end of the year encourages thoughts of reflection and rankings.

I thought it might be fun to institute an award for the corporate news story that won’t make anyone’s list of top events this year: the 2005 Gorilla Award. The award is named for a famous video testing “inattentional blindness.” As professors who teach Enron are fond of relating, experimenters asked students to watch a video of folks playing basketball and to to count the total number of times that the people wearing white pass the basketball, while not counting the passes of folks wearing black.

Go ahead, click on the video and perform the test. Then come back.

Read More

0

Grading Exams and Other Fun Activities

I started grading exams today. As most Profs. will tell you, grading is the least pleasant aspect of law teaching. Fortunately, at my current rapid pace of 2.5 hours per exam, I will be finished at the latest by mid-March.

On the plus side, I’ve almost finished writing my syllabus for next semester’s new seminar in Law and Economics. In preparing the course, I was reminded again of McCloskey’s fantastic little essay on The Rhetoric of Law and Economics, 86 Mich. L. Rev. 752 (1988). Well worth reading if you have a WL or Hein account.

0

Immigration Appeals in the Times

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Adam Liptak of the Times caught up today on the blawg-headlining Posner opinion from a few weeks back on immigration appeals. Considering the lead-time, I’m surprised at the weakness of the responses to Posner’s opinion offered by the BIA’s defenders. The bottom line answer to appellate anger: “You guys are falling victim to the fundamental attribution error.”

Jonathan Cohn, a deputy assistant attorney general in the Justice Department, said the quality of the decisions rendered by the immigration courts on the whole was good, noting that the government won more than 90 percent of the cases in the federal appeals, or circuit, courts.

“The circuit courts do not see any of the tens of thousands of correctly decided cases that aliens choose not to appeal,” Mr. Cohn said. “They’re only seeing a fraction of the cases, and only a small fraction of those give rise to criticism.”

I think this response is misleading.

First, the article tells us that immigrants appeal 7 to 30 percent of the time. This is the source of Cohn’s intuition that only the “bad cases” for the government end up on appeal. But I can’t imagine that Cohn’s equation of the failure to appeal with being “correctly decided” has much basis in known fact. It might be that Cohn is correct. But I’d assume instead that costs (financial, emotional, and otherwise) prevent appeals, and not being compelled by the force of the government’s arguments.

Second, just because the government wins 90% of the time in the appellate courts doesn’t mean the BIA is right 90% of the time on the merits. Most of those wins depend either on procedure or on the operation of the standard of review, which is why the overall success rate for the government on appeal is exceedingly high. Even this success rate appears to depend on the amount of attention appellate judges pay to BIA procedures. As Posner’s opinion revealed, in the Seventh Circuit in 2005 the government’s win rate was around 60% in BIA cases, as compared to 82% in all other civil cases.

Third, Cohn’s rebuttal is aimed at the wrong target. Almost all judicial review of administrative agency decisionmaking will produce the pyramid structure he describes, where the “worst” cases are the most likely to result in published appellate reversals. But what is striking about the BIA is (1) that it has appeared, to date, undeterred by Circuit Court tongue-lashing; and (2) that the problem is occupying more and more appellate time. That’s why we get statements like this one from Posner’s opinion: “the adjudication of these cases at the administrative level has fallen below the minimum standard of legal justice. Whether this is due to resource constrains or to other circumstances beyond the Board’s and the Immigration Court’s control, we do no know, though we note that the problem is not of recent origin.”

27

The Role of the Solicitor General

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We here at Concurring Opinions occasionally provide an important service for our readers: we analyze uber-left-blog-Dailykos’ views on the legal system so you don’t have to.

Armando of Dailykos, who I have previously criticized here, has a new post up on the role of the Solicitor General’s Office. Armando appears to be taking on Ed Whelan’s short argument in the National Review that Judge Alito’s SG wiretapping memo’s were advocacy pieces on behalf of his administration. But on closer examination, Armando’s argument sweeps quite farther than that.

Armando quotes extensively from David Strauss’ article on the SG’s office, which had questioned the commonly-expressed institutionalist account of its role. He (Armando) appears drawn to the institutionalist view – holding that the SG should be and is somewhat independent of the White House. [Where is he on the Days-Clinton dispute, I wonder?] But, he argues, the executive branch has soiled this role by politicizing the SG [whatever that means] and by appointing more partisan lawyers to the job. [He cites to a book by Rebecca Salokar that I have not read.] Armando does not distinguish between employees of the office and the SG him/herself. He then continues:

Alito was chosen to be in the Reagan Justice Department and the Reagan Solicitor General’s office BECAUSE he believes the things Ed Meese believes. [Ed: How does Armando know this?] So yes, he was acting as an advocate for Reagan Administration legal policies, but he was chosen to advocate for them because he believes in those policies. So looking at the opinions he expressed and positions he advocated for while serving in the Reagan Justice Department and in the Solicitor General’s office is not only fair, it is perhaps the fairest approach we can take. After all, it was in those roles that we likely heard Alito’s true views. While a sitting judge, bound by precedent, Alito’s true views were muted at best, and masked at worst. [This sounds lovely. What does it mean?]

So, to sum up, Armando argues that as early as the 1980s the SG’s office was a mere extension of the White House political directorate, and that SG lawyers writing memoranda supporting administrative positions always personally supported those positions, by virtue of their status as SG employees. While Judges, actually appointed by the President in a nakedly political process, somehow are bound by “precedent”. This is an odd position considering Armando’s previous writing that embraced a cynical type of legal realism. I wonder if readers of this blog with personal experience in the SG’s office would agree with the picture of it drawn by the most popular blog on the planet.

0

Back From Vacation

I’m back from a week’s vacation with family, and ready to rejoin the blogging world. Not entirely coincidentally, Dan will be blogging “more lightly” in the near future as he has vacation and conferences to attend. Whether “more lightly” translates to less than once an hour remains to be determined.

I, and the rest of us here at Co-Op, were happy to see us getting a nod as “Best New Blawg in 2005″ at the BlawgReview. It is true that the award list is long, suggesting my fourth grade baseball league most-improved trophy (no shame in that!), but it was still very exciting to be recognized after only three months in existence. Thanks!

In the coming weeks, apart from a little less Dan, we’ll be joined by several exciting new guests, and hope to provide wall to wall coverage of the Alito/Spying/Patriot Act hearings in Congress. Don’t change that channel.

0

Alito and the ECMH

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For more evidence of Judge Alito’s strong support of the efficient capital market hypothesis, read this recently released Third Circuit opinion in the Merck & Co. Sec. Lit. that Alito joined (Ambro was the writing judge). The relevant discussion is on pages 15-20. The opinion follows Burlington and Oran, which (as I noted in the past) Alito did write. Obviously, this isn’t as useful evidence of the Judge’s views as his own work, but any product released in this highly sensitive period is surely something he gave a careful look at.

Merck interprets Oran and Burlington to mean that price movement must occur in the period “immediately following disclosure”. Plaintiff had argued that the market failed to appreciate the nature of the disclosure at issue until the Wall Street Journal had added up some figures that revealed (allegedly) $4.6 billion in inflated revenue.

The court, conscious of its status as having one of the “clearest commitments” to the ECMH of the appellate courts, applied what I’ve called in my work the “understand consequences materiality technique”* and dismissed plaintiff’s allegations out of hand. It noted that multiple analysts followed Merck, and queried:

“If these analysts-all focused on revenue-were unable for two months to make a handful of calculations, how can we presume an efficient market at all. [Plaintiff] is trying to have it both ways: the market understood all the good things that Merck said about its revenue but was not smart enough to understand the co-payment disclosure. An efficient market for good news is an efficient market for bad news.”

This is an interesting claim. It might not actually be true – there is evidence that individuals are significantly more resistant to incorporating evidence of bad news than evidence that confirms the optimism they naturally feel, which suggests that it is possible that market irrationality, if it exists, may not go in both directions. But, on the other hand, Ambro’s basic theory – that disclosure of underlying facts about a well-known stock followed by dozens of analysts should be curative – makes intuititve sense.

In any event, another data point suggesting that securities plaintiffs may not win lots of battles with (a Justice) Alito, but on the big, class-enabling, issue, he’s solid.

(Hat Tip: Naturally, Howard B.)

Related Posts:

1. Hoffman, Alito and Securities Law: Part II;

2. Hoffman, Alito: The Business Friendly Justice?

*No, it wasn’t my most catchy and inspired naming day.

1

The Contractual Freedom to Prohibit Football

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This buzzworthy newstory about celebrity pre-nups has a few examples of bizarre clauses that couples have agreed to before marriage:

• “Limiting the wife’s weight to 120 pounds or she must relinquish $100,000 of her separate property.”

• “Requiring a husband to pay $10,000 each time he is rude to his wife’s parents.”

• “Mandatory sexual positions”, “No mother-in-law sleepovers.” “Only one football game per Sunday.”

Attorneys quoted in the article suggest that all such provision are

“legal unless you’re dealing with custody of children or child support.” This might be right, but since these agreements are almost never evaluated in written opinions (the parties usually hired retired judges to ensure privacy) I’m not sure whether I’d be so definite. Of course it isn’t my area of law, but I usually teach my contract class that there are limits – public policy and otherwise – to what you can contract to, even in the pre-nup context. The one that really gets me here, of course, is “one football game per Sunday.” What kind of judge would enforce that kind of tyranny?

(Hat Tip: Huffington).

2

Welcome to the Blogosphere

To Joel Jacobson, and his new blog “Judging Crimes.” Jacobson, an assistant attorney general in New Mexico, has a number of great posts up already, including this empirical investigation into deterrence and the Fourth Amendment. Here is a taste:

The Supreme Court has repeatedly told us that the suppression of evidence deters wrongdoing by police. Lower court judges accept this as fact for a very good reason: the Supreme Court says so. But the rest of us can be little more skeptical. Using the sabermetric principle that if a phenomenon exists, it must inevitably show up in the statistics, I looked for evidence that the judiciary’s fourth amendment jurisprudence has had a deterrent effect.

My working hypothesis was that if the exclusionary rule has any overall tendency to deter police from making unconstitutional searches and seizures, the number of cases in which the legality of a search/seizure was challenged should have peaked relatively soon after 1961 and then gone into a steady decline. As more and more officers were deterred, it seems reasonable to suppose, ever-fewer would still need deterring.