Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Ohio Supreme Court: Doctor's Words of Sympathy Not Admissible

When patient Jeanette Johnson was transferred to a new facility following complications with her gall bladder surgery, Dr. Randall Smith took her hand and said, "I take full responsibility for this.  Everything will be okay."

During the subsequent medical malpractice trial, the statement was not admitted, due to Ohio's "apology statute," R.C. 2317.43.  The jury found in favor of Dr. Smith.

Last week, the Supreme Court of Ohio overruled the Eleventh District Court of Appeals and reinstated the jury's verdict, finding that the apology statute did apply to Dr. Smith's statement.

You can read the full opinion here and watch the oral argument here.

Court News Ohio

Legal Newsline

Monday, April 29, 2013

Online Privacy - New Tech Developments - Part I

Two recent news stories raise new legal issues regarding online privacy. If you're an attorney (or soon-to-be) looking for work, mining the news to discover these developments can put you ahead of the curve.

First, Reddit, a website that bills itself as "the front page of the internet," crowd-sources news stories, sometimes with wildly inaccurate results. According to a recent NY Times article, "[a]fter site members, known as Redditors, turned into amateur sleuths and ended up wrongly identifying several people as possible suspects, Reddit went from a font of crowdsourced information to a purveyor of false accusations, to the subject of a reprimand by the president of the United States himself, to the center of another furious debate about the responsibilities of digital media."

While Redditors may argue they're not responsible for misinformation or they have the right to say whatever they want, they might be wrong from a legal standpoint. Conceivably they could be held liable for defamation, violations of privacy, or other torts. And Reddit may or may not be contributorily liable. If you're counsel for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the surviving Boston bombing suspect, or an individual whose privacy was invaded by over zealous Redditors, can you sue and get redress?

To find out, try researching four subjects: right to privacy generally, online/Internet issues (including online privacy), contracts (e.g., can terms of service protect an online company like Reddit?), and good old fashion tort law. There may be limited case law in this area, so working by analogy to create a new legal cause of action may be your best bet. Here are a few resources to get you started:
Check back Wednesday for the second online privacy story with cutting-edge legal issues.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Miranda Warnings

The question of when to read the Boston bombing suspect the Miranda warnings raises an interesting issue for attorneys: in order to build a case, they're left with the work of police officers and other investigators who acted before attorneys were brought in. Whether, when, and how Miranda warnings were given is at the crux of a huge percentage of criminal cases. For example,
What does this mean for you? Your job as an attorney is to work with the case and the facts you're given. If a criminal law practice is in your future, become expert on Miranda law and keep current on any changes in the law. Also, get to know law enforcement and what they're taught with respect to the Miranda warnings.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Judge Holds Self in Contempt

When his new phone began speaking during a trial, Chief Ionia (MI) Judge Raymond Voet held himself in contempt (and to the same standards as everyone else in his courtroom).  In violation of his own rule against cellphones, Judge Voet filled out a contempt of court form, fined himself the usual $25, and went downstairs to pay it.

ABA Journal

Wall Street Journal Law Blog

Lowering the Bar

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Pet Law

When I moved to Columbus almost a year ago, one of the things I looked into was whether the city or Ohio had breed-specific legislation in place. My pooch came from the Humane Society, and who knows what breed she is, though she could be perceived as a "pitt bull." Fortunately, Ohio had recently amended its laws regarding breed-specific legislation right around the time I was considering moving.

Laws affecting pets are numerous, and one could start a practice dedicated exclusively to assisting pets and their owners. Consider it the perfect kind of general practice. Here are a few recent headlines for news stories where legal issues and pets have arisen:
And though these stories deal mostly with dogs, a number of firms have made a name addressing the needs of horse owners.

So, what do we have in the library to assist you?

Monday, April 22, 2013

DLA Piper Settles

A few weeks ago in the e-Record, we wrote about DLA Piper's $675,000 fee dispute in which a client was suing the firm for excessive billing. The parties have settled the case.

For more coverage of the suit, check out the ABA Journal.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Criminal Homicide, Negligence Research

Two very different deadly explosions this week, one in Texas and one in Massachusetts, have probably left many people with the desire to seek retribution. Prosecutors in both states will have to decide whether criminal charges can and should be brought in both instances, and plaintiffs' counsel will need to research the law to determine what, if any, claims can be brought by their clients.

In the Massachusetts case, it seems increasingly clear that jurisdiction will be a big issue---the two suspects may not be U.S. citizens, it certainly seems the federal government has asserted jurisdiction over criminal matters, but what about any private citizens pursuing tort claims against the suspects (or other entities)?

In Texas, one of the biggest legal questions is whether (or how), under Texas law, a corporation can be prosecuted for criminal negligence. Perhaps the fertilizer company is not at fault; at this stage, however, any attorneys looking to resolve claims (wither civilly or criminally) have quite a few legal issues to work through.

If you're in this position, where would you start? How would you research an area with which you are unfamiliar? First, you could look for similar cases. You might start with news stories about similar incidents so that you can track down docket numbers and party names, then review those files to determine the claims brought in those cases and whether they are applicable in your situation. Bloomberg Law is a great resource available to you for free at law school to research dockets.

You might also look for an article, a great treatise, or other book. For Texas, try these:
For Massachusetts, it's a little trickier. You could start your search with specifics---is there a private cause of action against alleged terrorists? (For a possible answer, try Terrorism Law: Materials, Cases, Comments.) If that's too specific, go back to basics and research ordinary criminal liability for bombings. Sometimes understanding the framework of the crime itself is the best first step before you dig into the more complicated questions.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

A Lesson on Local Laws

In law school, you’ve probably focused mainly on federal and state law.  Municipal laws can be very important in practice as well.  Today’s Columbus Dispatch illustrates with this article: Watterson’s firing of gay teacher may violate city law

The facts:  Carla Hale was fired by a school after her mother’s obituary identified Hale’s partner, also a woman.  The Dispatch summarizes the relevant law:  “A Columbus city ordinance makes it a misdemeanor for an employer to discriminate against an employee based on sexual orientation. City law also states that an employer cannot have a policy that discriminates based on sexual orientation. Those who are found guilty could face up to 180 days in jail and a $1,000 fine.”
Curious to find the text of this law?  Explore the text of the Columbus Municipal Code here.

For more on local law research, read this short piece by fellow law librarian Mary Whisner, a Greenbag honoree.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Exam Stress

With exams right around the corner, anxiety and depression seem inevitable. It's a lot of pressure to be under, and sometimes it seems like there's no one to talk to for perspective. Friends and family not in law school don't really get it, and your law school colleagues are, for all intents and purposes, competition.

Here are a few resources to help you address the stress:

Monday, April 15, 2013

What Else to Do With a Law Degree

A new survey indicates almost half of those seeking a law degree plan to use their degree to advance a career other than the practice of law. If you fall in this category, stop by the library to check out the following books:

Friday, April 12, 2013

Google Estate Planning

Facebook has terms of service and mechanisms to allow users to determine what happens with their accounts when they pass away; now Google is joining in. As Slate.com puts it, "in an age where some of our most personal assets live online—our emails, our photos, our social-media identities—few of us stop to think about who will have control over this information."

This raises (at least) two legal questions:

1) Are estate planning attorneys ethically obligated to consider a client's digital data (and potentially valuable intellectual property) when writing a will or creating a trust? Could an attorney be sued for malpractice for failing to account for this digital data?


2) What ethical obligations are imposed on attorneys who conduct business in the cloud? How does or should an attorney factor digital data (some of which may be a client's property) into his or her succession planning in the event he or she passes away?

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Good News for the IRS: Some Americans Actually Like Doing Taxes

Not all of us dread tax day.  A new Pew Report announces 30% of Americans like doing their taxes—5% even love it!  Reasons vary from a lofty sense of duty to the more practical refund anticipation. 

Here are a few more recent Pew reports lawyers might find insightful:

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

What to Say

Words' meanings matter, and even though carelessness with grammar and spelling hardly seems significant, it can be a big deal to be accurate and precise when you are an attorney. This is especially true if you draft legislation, but it also matters in contract drafting and in writing briefs to the court or judicial opinions. Hybrid words, portmanteaux, mondegreens, and crash blossoms are all nefarious traps into which an attorney's writing can fall. But even simple meanings can lead one astray. (Perhaps that's why Scripps, arbiters of the National Spelling Bee, are now introducing a vocabulary bee!)

If you find yourself troubled by words or having trouble with words, stop by the law library to peruse a few good works on law and language.

Monday, April 08, 2013

Doctor-Lawyer Collaboration

Some professionals seek to treat the whole person to help them solve their problems. For example, in collaborative divorce, attorneys work with mental health professionals, child psychologists, financial planners, and other experts to help transition a couple from being married to being divorced. The goal is to ensure communication and a win-win outcome for the family. (See Divorce Without Court: A Guide to Mediation & Collaborative Divorce or Collaborative Family Law for more information.)

Doctors and lawyers are the latest collaborators, working together to ensure that patients have the tools they need to continue treatment and recover:

"Watts works for Community Legal Aid, a nonprofit that gives free legal help to low-income people in eight Ohio counties. Her firm is housed in a downtown office tower. But Watts prefers working out of the clinic.

"So if somebody comes in to the clinic and they get sent to me and it's a housing problem and I'm here, I can give them advice directly on site," she says.
Watts' role on the team is to help solve issues that might affect a patient's health but are outside a doctor's control.

"Let's say you're under threat of eviction because of something that happened," she says. "That's going to cause a significant amount of anxiety, potentially, and then you're suffering from these anxiety problems that wouldn't have happened if we had been able to intervene and perhaps help with the eviction problem," she says."

Friday, April 05, 2013

Grassbaugh Veterans Project

The Economist published one of many reports calling attention to the increasing number of Veterans Affairs claims and the long waits to receive benefits.  Today, the Moritz College of Law announces the creation of the Captain Jonathan D. Grassbaugh Veterans Project, which project aims to provide help to veterans facing a range of legal issues, from those drawn out VA disaibility claims to foreclosures. 

Here are some useful starting points for veterans law research:  The Ohio Department of Veterans Services offers a some resources, including a link entitled Ohio Veteran Law, and Ohio's Attorney General provides "services for military and veterans."  The State also has several veterans' courts

As always, lawyers practicing in this area need to stay current.  Congress continues to consider new legislation to support veterans, including the Careers for Veterans Act (S. 492), which encourages states to take military experience into account when issuing licenses, as many veterans return to find that states and civilian employers do not recognize their considerable military training, from medicine to manufacturing.

What Do Lawyers Really Need to Know?

The answer might surprise you. Over lunch with a law librarian who has worked in a firm, I learned that many of the research requests she received from attorneys concerned nonlegal materials. Trial attorneys needed data and stats on sports, various commercial industries, and psychology in order to paint a picture for a jury. Trial attorneys often argue their clients abided by or deviated from particular standards---so where do they get those standards? Research in other disciplines.

Next time you're looking for nonlegal data, call a librarian. Any librarian. Consider the Health Sciences Library, 18th Avenue Library (for all your dance, music, and engineering needs), or even the Cartoon Library. Or get creative and reach out to the NPR music library, the CNN Media Library, the library for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, or the Baseball Hall of Fame library. For a listing of some of the more interesting libraries out there, check our the Special Libraries Association.

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Ohio Speed Limit Raised

It may have happened on April 1, but it is not an April Fool's joke: the speed limit on certain rural Ohio highways will increase from 65 mph to 70 mph.  Gov. Kasich signed the legislation on Monday, but don't hit the accelerator just yet--the new limit takes effect on July 1.

Columbus Dispatch

Dayton Daily News

WDTN Dayton

Monday, April 01, 2013

The IRS Enterprise

As tax day nears, you undoubtedly yearn for IRS documents!  The IRS recently released its statistics from last year.  And of course this year’s forms and publications can be found on the IRS website.

The IRS produces much more than forms and numbers, however.  And while some of the forms and publications may seem to be written in Klingon, other IRS material is not ... at least not entirely.  (See a tax law dictionary for translations.)

At the request of Congress, the agency recently released a training video that parodied Star Trek.  Take a look here (along with a couple of Social Security videos featuring George Takei).  Live long, prosper, and many above the line deductions to you!