Tag Archives: Courts

Facebook Forced To Turn Over Account Info, Photos, and Conversations

The New York Court of Appeals, its highest state court, approved in a 5-1 decision a search warrant that forces Facebook to turn over material on 381 accounts including account information, private photos, and conversations.  This ruling is based significantly on New York law which the court interpreted to mean search warrants issued by judges cannot be appealed to a higher court and the proper venue for challenging search warrants is during a pretrial hearing when a party argues the search warrant is an illegal search.

Read more about this case in this New York Times article here.  The underlying case deals with disability fraud and the Brennan Center provides a concise summary, along with its amicus brief, on its website available here.

One could argue that this opens the door to New York search warrants giving prosecutors access to users’ data on other social networking sites.

The full slip opinion is available here.

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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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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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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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Justice Scalia passes and the Supreme Court enters a new era

Yesterday, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia passed away.  While I missed my opportunity to meet Justice Scalia in person when he spoke at my school, he has had an impressive impact on all Americans through his literal, originalist, textual interpretations of the law and written decisions.  His death marks the end of an era on the Supreme Court.

Further details about Justice Scalia’s life and passing are detailed in this New York Times article and this NPR broadcast.  While this comes as shocking news to a lot of people since his death was so unexpected, the upcoming presidential election now takes an interesting turn as both parties fight to obtain power to appoint the next Supreme Court justice if current President Obama does not appoint a new justice soon.  Things are about to get a lot more interesting in the current presidency and in the upcoming presidential elections.

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American Apparel Files for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy

Earlier today, American Apparel filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.  The LAist published a post with further details about the filing available here.  The article cites to the company’s debt issues and the legal bills related to the sexual harassment lawsuits, defamation, corporate shareholder disputes, and an unlawful termination lawsuit involving their former CEO, Dov Charney, as the root of the need for a bankruptcy filing.  With a lack of liquid assets and huge amounts of debt resulting in significant interest payments, the corporation created a financial restructuring model which they hope to have accepted by the Delaware bankruptcy court and trustee.  Read more about the bankruptcy details in this recently published LA Times article.

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The Justice Gap and Community Lawyering

The New York Times published an opinion piece on the Justice Gap today written by a non-profit leader, Theresa Amato.  The full article is available here.

I took our new, summer intern to court today and she was surprised by the number of pro se litigants in civil cases.  I told her it was not uncommon because a lot of people can not afford an attorney.  Hours later, I read this article and these particular lines stood out to me:

Throughout the country, millions of low-income people have no access to free or affordable lawyers, even for life-altering civil matters like child-custody disputes or home foreclosures, where legal representation really matters.  This “justice gap” is vast.

That being said:

To create the entire sector of sustainable, affordable legal service providers that the legal profession needs will take much more entrepreneurship. There’s no shortage of lawyers to bridge the justice gap. For the last four years, less than 60 percent of law-school graduates have found full-time jobs requiring a bar qualification… Without help, the drag of this [law school] debt makes it near-impossible for willing graduates to take lower-paying legal services jobs….We must help law students graduate without a ball and chain of debt. And we need to create jobs that let new graduates practice law either pro bono or “low bono” (cut-price) for clients who can’t afford most attorneys’ rates.

Lastly, the other section that stood out to me was when the author of the article talked about being seen as a lawyer.  She described the set up of her office.

[T]his was community lawyering on a lean budget. Our first office was below ground, with an old pink carpet. We cleaned up secondhand chairs from my high school and used my parents’ old kitchen table. My father painted, my stepdad provided accounting help and my mom answered the phones.

She also begged me to hang my diplomas on the wall. She worried that no one would believe I was a lawyer.

Too often, legal aid lawyers are mistaken as non-lawyers.  Either through popular television, media, or long-standing preconceived notions of the legal profession, when people think of lawyers they imagine a corporate lawyer in a glass office and finely-tailored suit.  Community lawyers do not fit this stereotype, but they are just as fierce and knowledgeable as corporate attorneys.  We, community lawyers, probably have better social work skills (I jest… sort of).

In short, as the author mentioned in her piece, contrary to regular market practices, the legal profession has a high need for lawyers, but not enough financial viability to sustain pro bono/low-income/public interest work.  Invest in legal aid!

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Emojis in Evidence and Testimonies

Because most people are sick and tired of dealing with the abundant amount of snow in Massachusetts, I wanted to post a non-snow related topic today.

Earlier, NPR released a three minute piece about the use of emojis and emoticons in evidence and witness testimonies in court.  Check out the broadcast and transcript here.  Attorneys argue that emoticons are “part of the evidence of a document” as described in this New York Times article about testimony in the Silk Road trial.  Courts in California and New York are recognizing these symbols as part of the conversation culture.  Emoticon meanings in trials is shifting away from the literal meaning of words and towards a more holistic and slang interpretation of a phrase with emojis.

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Court Closures?

Snowmageddon 2015 or the Blizzard of 2015 occurred and is still happening. In case you are trying to determine whether or not you have court tomorrow, click on this link to see which Massachusetts State Courts are open (and which are closed).  This link is also helpful for any serious Massachusetts Court System alerts.

Stay safe in this weather and happy snow shoveling!

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