Alternative Sentencing: Judge Approves A Punishment of Reading

Five teenagers in Loudoun County were caught and pleaded guilty to vandalizing a historic schoolhouse in Ashburn, Virginia with racist graffiti.  As punishment, the prosecutor compiled a list of books for the teenagers to read and write reports on.  The Virginia judge condoned the sentence and probation agreed to enforce this alternative form of punishment.  The New York Times published an article about this with further details about the sentence, reasons behind this arrangement, and the full list of books approved.  The article is available here.  In addition, Loudoun County’s Attorney’s Office released a press statement available here.

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Bill to Terminate Department of Education

The first question that went through my mind when I saw in the news that there is a bill pending in Congress to terminate the Department of Education:

What will happen to my student loans?

Here is a link to the bill that was introduced by Representative Thomas Massie (R-Kentucky).  The Congress.gov website does not have the text of the bill available yet.  But, a local news outlet reported that this Republican sponsored bill proposes termination of the Department of Education on December 31, 2018.  The article goes further to explain the past history of legislators trying to dismantle the Department of Education with little success.

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How Do You Organize Your Business Cards?

Over the years, I have amassed a box full of business cards from various professionals.  I do the traditional method which is to write how I met the individual on the back of the business card and a few key facts about them (or name pronunciations).  Then, I put them in this box that sits in my desk drawer.

I am thinking of converting these cards to an electronic format, but I would rather not add them to my mobile phone contacts.  What type of programs do you use to organize your business contacts and business cards?

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ABA Releases Top Blawgs List

The results are out.  The American Bar Association released their list of 100 of the top law blogs as of this year.  The full list is available here.

A shout out to Procedurally Taxing for finally making the list this year!

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Impending Tax Bomb of Student Loans

I posted about this last year, but I think it bears repeating.  Back in 2015, law professor Gregory Crespi coined the term “tax bomb” in reference to student loans.  A “tax bomb” is oftentimes unexpected and seen when a taxpayer has surprise income that will be taxed.  It can blow up a taxpayer’s taxes and result in money owed to the IRS.  This concept of a “tax bomb” is also seen in retirement planning.

In the context of student loans, a “tax bomb” can be when a taxpayer has student loan debt that gets forgiven either through the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program (PSLF) or Income Based Repayment (IBR).  But, it becomes a bomb when the cancellation of student debt is viewed as income under 26 U.S.C. sec. 108(f) which results in a tax and requires payment to the federal government.  However, in Professor John Brooks’ Tax Notes article, he confirmed that current interpretation allows an exception for PSLF, but not IBR.  This means that if you have student loans forgiven under the PSLF program, then you will presumably not have to pay taxes.  But, if you have student loans forgiven under IBR, then you may be stuck with a tax bill.  The Treasury Department issued guidance on the issue in Rev. Proc. 2015-57.  Brooks’ article does a great job explaining the nuances.  Check it out here.

On a happier note, Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR), Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), and Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) introduced the Student Loan Tax Relief Act which would exclude income created from the cancellation of student debt or student loan forgiveness.  The bill is available here.

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Legal Biscuit Returns From Brief Hiatus

Hello, readers!  My Tax Court internship has officially concluded, so I have returned to my blogging platform.

Two more disclaimers:

  1. These views on my blog are my own and not my employers’ views.
  2. My posts are not legal advice.  If you would like legal advice then feel free to contact me directly.  Advice, strategies, and tactics may vary depending on a person’s situation and a lot of legal advice contingent on a person’s specific facts.

Thanks for reading!

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Updates and Disclaimers

First, the postings on my blog are my own words and Legal Biscuit’s words.  Second, I will be taking a brief hiatus from providing legal advice and posting on my blog because tomorrow I start my judicial internship/summer law clerkship.  Third, because I consider myself an ethical person and I abide by the rules of professional responsibility, during the duration of my internship/clerkship, I will not be publishing or blogging.

Thank you for being my avid readers and followers.  I hope to return once my employment is completed.

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Microsoft Sues DOJ

In order to sue the Department of Justice, Microsoft has brought out the big guns by hiring law firms Covington and Burling LLP, where partner James Garland used to work for former Attorney General Eric Holder, and Davis Wright Tremaine LLP.  Yesterday, Microsoft’s complaint was filed in the Western District Court of Washington State and the complaint is available on the Wall Street Journal website here.  The complaint is also available on Pacer, but the Wall Street Journal has the free version.

In the past, the U.S. government has requested information about certain users from Microsoft, presumably when warranted Microsoft complied with the production of information, and then the U.S. government could temporarily bar Microsoft from telling its users about the request for data.  Under 18 U.S.C. Section 2705, a governmental entity, with a court order, may delay notification to customers for a period not exceeding 90 days if the government has reason to believe that the notification would result in adverse results.  So, a customer would not be notified that a provider, like Microsoft, supplied information to a governmental authority until well after the production of information.  Adverse results include endangering the life or physical safety of an individual, flight from prosecution, destruction of evidence, tampering with evidence, intimidation of a potential witness, or otherwise seriously jeopardizing an investigation or unduly delaying trial.

Microsoft argues that this is unlawful and that tech companies should be allowed to tell their users when their cloud database and private information has been turned over to the government.  The U.S. government may argue that the disclosure to users would compromise an investigation.  However, Microsoft asserts that the U.S. government’s behavior is a violation of the Fourth Amendment.  But, is it?

This lawsuit is no easy feat.  It can be difficult to sue the U.S. government due to sovereign immunity issues.  Furthermore, the lawsuit boils down to a fundamental right to privacy argument that seems almost basic and may merit standard Fourth Amendment treatment regardless of all the discussion about cloud computing and the digital age.

Under F.R.C.P. 12, a U.S. governmental agency has 60 days from when they were served to file an answer.  It will be interesting to see who from the DOJ is assigned to the case and what the DOJ’s answer will be.

Furthermore, this case is not likely to settle.  Rather than Microsoft’s typical way of hiring lobbyists to change the law through Congress, it looks like Microsoft is using the courts and this lawsuit to change Fourth Amendment law.  Read more about this new case in this Wall Street Journal article here.

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George Mason to Rename Law School After Justice Scalia

After an approximately $30 million dollar donation, one of the largest the school has ever received, George Mason University has agreed to rename its law school after the late Justice Antonin Scalia.  As part of the terms of the donation, with money partially received from the Koch brothers/Koch Foundation, the George Mason University School of Law will convert its name from Mason Law to the Antonin Scalia School of Law or Scalia Law School for short.  The Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post both published articles about the change on or around April 1st, but the name change is no April Fool’s joke.

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Upcoming Supreme Court Decisions and the Further Impact of Justice Scalia’s death

While the country is deeply saddened by Justice Scalia’s death, many are still in shock over the loss of a truly influential judge.  It is Article II, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution that gives the President, with advice and consent of the Senate, the authority to appoint judges of the Supreme Court.  As the current President Obama fights with Republicans in the Senate over the appointment of a new Supreme Court Justice, it will be interesting to see how upcoming case decisions will change due to the loss of such an outspoken legal figure.

Forthcoming Supreme Court decisions will, for the most part, be reviewed as an eight judge panel.  This means that decisions that were originally 5-4 could result in a 4-4 even split.  That being said, Tom Goldstein from SCOTUS Blog wrote a piece addressing this issue.  Read his article here.

Most notable of Goldstein’s post is this:

If Justice Scalia was part of a five-Justice majority in a case – for example, the Friedrichs case, in which the Court was expected to limit mandatory union contributions – the Court is now divided four to four.  In those cases, there is no majority for a decision and the lower court’s ruling stands, as if the Supreme Court had never heard the case.  Because it is very unlikely that a replacement will be appointed this Term, we should expect to see a number of such cases in which the lower court’s decision is “affirmed by an equally divided Court.”  (emphasis added)

Also, please be sure to check out SCOTUS Blog’s other coverage on Justice Scalia’s death available here.

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