I was called to jury duty this week in the Circuit Court of the City of St. Louis. This happens every 2 years for me; this was my fifth or sixth time. Although I’ve sat through voir dire several times, I’ve never been chosen. This probably has to do with the fact that I’m a lawyer. Today’s case was a criminal case, and I come with special baggage, since I was a prosecutor for the state of Missouri for four years, after working for the state juvenile court two years before that. This is the kind of background a defense attorney would rather not deal with, so I was not chosen to hear the case.
In today’s proceeding, the defendant was charged with the sexual assault of several teenage girls, while using a gun. These were very serious charges, indeed.
The reason I’m writing this post is that I was overwhelmed with the amount of serious crime that has touched the lives of the 75 people on the jury panel. Ubiquitous crime appears to be the new normal.
We were only asked about two types of crimes, gun violence and sexual offenses, but it seemed as though most of the prospective jurors were victims or at least their close friends and families were victims of these types of crimes. About 20 jurors discussed their encounters with sexual predators. About half of the 20 approached the judge to discuss their experiences in private—you could tell from their faces that these were, and still are, emotionally wrenching experiences. Many of the jurors openly discussed their experiences in front of the full courtroom. The victims includes young and old, men and women. Two men on the panel stated that when they were children they had been sexually violated by babysitters. Several of the jurors had difficulty speaking of the incidents, because they were overcome by emotion. More than a few prospective jurors stated that they would be unable to sit in judgment of today’s defendant because of the continuing emotional impact based on their own history.
[More . . . ]
How pervasive are binding pre-dispute arbitration clauses imposed by for-profit businesses upon consumers? Herman Scwartz of The Nation reports:
Two reports issued at the end of last year show how effective the Court’s arbitration rulings have been. Last December, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) issued a preliminary report, which found that contract clauses mandating pre-dispute arbitration are a “common feature of consumer financial contracts”; a final report is due by year’s end. The agency found such clauses in over 50 percent of credit card loans, 81 percent of prepaid charge cards and in checking accounts covering 44 percent of all insured deposits.
The CFPB found further that about 90 percent of such contracts, including almost all credit card loans, insured deposits and prepaid cards, also prohibit participation in current or future class or other joint actions in both judicial and arbitration proceedings. This usually forces consumers who have been injured in small amounts to drop the matter entirely, even though the defendant may have harmed many others the same way, for too little is at stake for each individual to justify the time, trouble and expense of individual arbitration. . . .
These two clauses are not just in consumer financial contracts, but are standard in cellphone and nursing home contracts, individual employment contracts, shipping agreements, passenger tickets and in many other areas. They have also been imported into the exploding commercial traffic on Internet websites. When consumers click their assent to the conditions imposed by a seller online, few if any realize they are often acceding to these limitations on their rights to a judicial resolution and a class action. Some merchants have gone so far as to claim that just opening a box for a computer, for example, is enough to constitute the necessary assent to such conditions in an “agreement” placed in the box.
What is the bottom line?
The Supreme Court has given financial institutions, businessmen, unscrupulous employers and others a license to do wrong. As the California Supreme Court put it, they have been given an “exemption from responsibility for [their] own fraud.”
My daughters and I are in Las Vegas after a wonderful trip to 3 national parks. I bid for and prepaid for a hotel in Las Vegas, “New York, New York.” Priceline told me that my “Total Price,” including “Room Cost,” “Taxes” and “Fees” was $80.88. When I stepped up to to register for the room. the NY NY employee told me that I owed a “Daily Resort Fee” of $24. She pointed to a pamphlet on her desk (see the attached photo) and told me that the “fee” is for these items, including “unlimited local and 800 number calls.”
I told her that I already paid the “Total Price,” and I would not pay this “Fee.” She told me “Everyone pays this fee.” I told her that I wouldn’t pay this “Fee,” because I already paid all “fees.” She said I needed to take it up with Priceline. I told her I needed to speak with her manager. The manager (another woman) came to the front desk and told me “All of the resorts in Las Vegas charge the fee.” This was no consolation to me. She told me that I had to pay the fee. She told me that Priceline discloses that I would be responsible for paying this additional fee (this is false). I told her that I wouldn’t pay the fee, that it was fraud to charge the fee, and that I would pay it under protest, contesting it through my credit card company. I told her that I was a class action attorney and that they should be sued for a class action. The manager finally admitted to me that since Priceline told me that I had prepaid my “Room Cost,” “Taxes” and “Fees,” that it would be “unfair for me to pay an additional “fee.” She wagged her finger at me and stated that she would waive the fee this time only.
I am disturbed that this is going on. I assume that hundreds or thousands of people are being hit for this “Fee,” and that most of them are paying it rather than making a scene at the registration desk.
For any of my FB friends who are using Priceline to book rooms in Las Vegas (or elsewhere), beware that this is going on. In my experience as a consumer lawyer, merchants are increasingly tacking on these BS fees for illusory services, fraudulently making millions of dollars in the process.
The U.S. Supreme Court decision to refuse to hear our case concerning Section 1021(b)(2) of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which permits the military to seize U.S. citizens and hold them indefinitely in military detention centers without due process, means that this provision will continue to be law. It means the nation has entered a post-constitutional era. It means that extraordinary rendition of U.S. citizens on U.S. soil by our government is legal. It means that the courts, like the legislative and executive branches of government, exclusively serve corporate power—one of the core definitions of fascism. It means that the internal mechanisms of state are so corrupted and subservient to corporate power that there is no hope of reform or protection for citizens under our most basic constitutional rights. It means that the consent of the governed—a poll by OpenCongress.com showed that this provision had a 98 percent disapproval rating—is a cruel joke. And it means that if we do not rapidly build militant mass movements to overthrow corporate tyranny, including breaking the back of the two-party duopoly that is the mask of corporate power, we will lose our liberty.
How long are the iTunes terms and conditions? 32 feet. The set of iTunes disclosures was printed out in 8 pt font and measured by Omri Ben-Shahar’s and Carl E. Schneider. They have written a new book on the failures of consumer disclosures titled: More Than You Wanted to Know. In the following video, Ben-Shahar characterizes mandated consumer disclosures as the “most common and possibly the least useful form of regulation.”
Watch the demonstration of the physical length of the iTunes contract here.
The Brennan Center for Justice recently published this history of the Second Amendment and the NRA. The Second Amendment was construed entirely differently in years past than it is now. The NRA was an entirely benign organization until a few decades ago. It’s amazing to see how something can evolve into its opposite, but that is par for the course for a symbolic species like human animals.
In the end, it was neither the NRA nor the Bush administration that pressed the Supreme Court to reverse its centuries-old approach, but a small group of libertarian lawyers who believed other gun advocates were too timid. They targeted a gun law passed by the local government in Washington, D.C., in 1976—perhaps the nation’s strictest—that barred individuals from keeping a loaded handgun at home without a trigger lock. They recruited an appealing plaintiff: Dick Heller, a security guard at the Thurgood Marshall Federal Judiciary Building, who wanted to bring his work revolver home to his high-crime neighborhood. The NRA worried it lacked the five votes necessary to win. The organization tried to sideswipe the effort, filing what Heller’s lawyers called “sham litigation” to give courts an excuse to avoid a constitutional ruling. But the momentum that the NRA itself had set in motion proved unstoppable, and the big case made its way to the Supreme Court.
The argument presented in District of Columbia v. Heller showed just how far the gun rights crusade had come. Nearly all the questions focused on arcane matters of colonial history. Few dealt with preventing gun violence, social science findings or the effectiveness of today’s gun laws—the kinds of things judges might once have considered. On June 26, 2008, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that the Second Amendment guarantees a right to own a weapon “in common use” to protect “hearth and home.” Scalia wrote the opinion, which he later called the “vindication” of his judicial philosophy.
After the decision was announced, Heller stood on the steps of the court for a triumphant press conference. Held aloft behind him was a poster bearing that quote from Patrick Henry, unearthed by the scholars who had proven so important for the successful drive: “Let every man be armed.”
Who takes the time to read all of the disclosures that comes with software and products? Not most of us. A new book reviewed by Bloomberg says that this is not only ineffective, but harmful.
[I]s mandatory disclosure really that beneficial? During the housing bubble, having to sign 50 documents stuffed with financial disclosures didn’t stop people from taking out ill-advised subprime loans on overpriced houses. An alarming number of female college students are still attacked on campuses despite the federal Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act, which imposes stiff crime reporting obligations on school administrators. And disclosure forms in routine transactions, from getting a car fixed to signing for a FedEx package, have become meaningless annoyances. A new book, More Than You Wanted to Know: The Failure of Mandated Disclosure, takes the critique one step further: It argues that mandatory disclosures aren’t just useless but outright harmful in many cases.
This man and I do have some differences of opinion, it seems. It wouldn’t bother me much except that he is the Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court.
“Speaking at the Pastor for Life Luncheon, which was sponsored by Pro-Life Mississippi, Chief Justice Roy Moore of the Alabama Supreme Court declared that the First Amendment only applies to Christians because “Buddha didn’t create us, Mohammed didn’t create us, it was the God of the Holy Scriptures” who created us.
“They didn’t bring the Koran over on the pilgrim ship,” he continued. “Let’s get real, let’s go back and learn our history. Let’s stop playing games.””