14

Finding God in Chess and the Appellate Brief

chess_piece_photo.jpgWhen my professional life is going well it consists of reading and writing appellate briefs. Fortunately, this is not nearly as pathetic as it sounds.

At its most basic, an appellate briefs is a written argument presented to a court explaining the claims of your client and how those claims are supported by the law. As such, it represents one of the great triumphs of human civilization. I am serious. Law rests on a basic commitment to resolving the disputes of human life by resort to reason rather than violence. In the days before appellate briefs (or something like them) we resolved disputes through blood feuds, trial by combat, or by throwing women into ponds to see if they floated. Deliciously dry and intricate arguments about precedent, controlling authority, pleading, and statutory construction represent one of the few unequivocal leaps forward in human history. Post-modernism, historical relativism, and skepticism of Whig history all have their place, but at the end of the day, the rule of law is simply a lot better than trial by combat. Generally speaking, the progress of reason is told in Enlightenment terms as a story about the ebb of faith down the shingles of Dover Beach. However, it is possible to see the triumph of reason in the brief in terms of an older vision of reason: The trace of the divine.

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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.

7

The Gifts You Can No Longer Return

My-Date-With-Drew.jpgIn the fun and light documentary, My Date With Drew, an average guy named Brian Herzlinger chronicles his attempt to get a date with Drew Barrymore. The documentary was made on a shoestring budget of just $1100, and Brian cut costs by buying a video camera at Circuit City, using it until the 30-day return window was up, and then returning it to the store for his money back.

But Herzlinger’s documentary may one day be notable not for his quest to meet a celebrity but for capturing what might be a quaint piece of nostalgia — the easy and hassle-free ability to return merchandise.

Returning merchandise has become much harder these days. Those unwanted gifts you received this holiday season might be much more difficult to return. According to a WSJ article (don’t bother clicking the link, as the article can’t be accessed without paying a massive fee):

Retailers are further clamping down on return policies, imposing penalty fees and using sophisticated computer databases to flag serial returners trying to game the system. Some are also adding exceptions and caveats to their return policies — for instance, making it particularly hard to return certain kinds of products, such as electronics.

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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.

1

Fine Print from the Experts

signcontract.jpgThose wacky contracts professors over at the AALS’s contracts section have appended the following bit of boilerplate to their website:

IMPORTANT SMALL PRINT LEGAL DISCLAIMER

This web site is a forum for the exchange of information and points of view. Opinions expressed here are not necessarily those of the Section on Contracts or of the Association of American Law Schools, which when you think about it are really only reified abstractions that have no independent existence and therefore can’t really have any “opinions” about anything at all, so we’re not sure why we have to say this. All statements herein are the sole responsibility of the authors, except for any that are inaccurate, irresponsible, tasteless, or actionable, which are solely the responsibility of student editorial assistants who are working as independent contractors and for whom we will accept absolutely no responsibility whatsoever. There are no warranties, either express or implied, for the use of this site. Nothing on this site should be taken as legal advice, since only an idiot would take free legal advice on an important issue from the casual musings of a law professor instead of paying a practicing lawyer who actually knows the law of the jurisdiction you’re in. Any disputes arising as a result of your use of this site shall be decided by arbitration under the rules of the International Chamber of Commerce in Japan, unless you happen to be somewhere in or near Japan, in which case it shall be decided in Belgium. Your reading of this provision signifies your assent to all its terms.

I will leave the analysis of its legal effect to the academics, although I would be happy to offer an opinion for a reasonable fee…

(Hat tip to Ben Davis for pointing this out.)

0

AALS Blawg Happy Hour: More Details

drink2a.jpgHere are more details about our happy hour, in conjunction with PrawfsBlawg, during the AALS conference in Washington, DC. It will be held at Cloud, on Wednesday, January 4th at 9:30 PM.

Cloud is at 1 Dupont Circle NW, which is on New Hampshire Avenue just south of Dupont Circle. Click here for directions.

I hope to meet many readers of the blog in person.

2

Adultery and Polygamy

wedding.jpgAn article (sorry no link) in this week’s Economist (aka “The Greatest News Magazine in the World”) suggests a link between polygamy and Turkey’s recent efforts to pass a law criminalizing adultery. Back in September, the Turkish parliament debated a proposed law criminalizing adultery. After Kamal Ataturk came to power in the wake of World War I, Turkish law moved in an aggressively secular direction, mainly by importing western-style civil codes. Most strikingly, Turkey essentially adopted the Swiss family law code and among other things criminalized polygamy, which had been allowed under the previous shar’ia-based law. (In theory, under shar’ia a man may have up to four wives provided that he has the means of supporting them and treats all of them equally.) The post-Ataturk laws also criminalized adultery, however this law was struck down by Turkey’s Constitutional Court in 1996 because it treated men and women differently. (As I understand it, the law required proof of a long-term affair in the case of male adultery, but a single act of sexual intercourse was sufficient in a case of female adultery.) The new adultery law was to remedy this infirmity by applying equally to both men and women, but women’s rights groups opposed the law arguing that it would not be applied equally and violated the right to privacy. More importantly, from the point of view of Turkish politics, the law was not popular with the Europeans, who saw it as an attempt to Islamicize Turkish law. Turkey very much wants to become a full member of the EU, so staying in the good graces of the elites in Brussels is very important.

Enter polygamy. Although the Turkish prohibition on polygamy is now about eighty years old, in many areas — particularly in the rural, Kurdish, anti-Turk, south-eastern portion of the country — polygamy is alive and well. More surprisingly, a certain amount of discrete polygamy continues among urban elites, including former ministers in the Turkish cabinet. The Economist suggests that adultery law may have been pushed in part as a way of shoring up the anti-polygamy prohibition. If this is the case, then the Turkish parliament was walking a path previously trod with great enthusiasm by the U.S. Congress.

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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.

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42

A Tale of Two Blogospheres: The Red and the Blue

politicalparties1a.jpgI’ve been quite surprised that the vast majority of the larger blogs linking to us at Concurring Opinions have been conservative blogs rather than liberal ones. After all, many (though not all) of us at Concurring Opinions consider ourselves to be liberals. Despite criticisms of the conservative blogosphere as an echo chamber, I’ve been impressed that conservative bloggers are linking to us. Many of us have tried our best to be balanced rather than partisan, and perhaps this is why we’ve received many links from the conservative blogosphere. What continues to strike me as a bit odd, however, is the great disparity in links from the prominent conservative blogs versus the prominent liberal ones.

This phenomenon got me thinking more broadly about the liberal blogosphere versus the conservative blogosphere. With the caveat that this is just my personal impression, I think that the conservative blogosphere is much better integrated in its intellectual and activist dimensions. For example, the conservative political blogosphere seems much more deeply connected to the legal blogosphere, where political bloggers seem to more routinely tap into the expertise of law professors about various legal issues. Indeed, many of the prominent political bloggers in the conservative blogosphere are academics; fewer of the liberals are.

This strikes me as representative of a larger difference between the Left and Right. The Left must better connect its intellectual and activist sides. Indeed, an article about Markos Moulitsas Zuniga, the founder of Daily Kos (one of the largest and most influential liberal political blogs) states:

Moulitsas is just basically uninterested in the intellectual and philosophical debates that lie behind the daily political trench warfare. By his own admission, he just doesn’t care about policy.

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