Tuesday, June 28, 2011

More salmonella sprouts

This time from the Northwest. Idaho-based Evergreen Produce sprouts have been linked to 20 cases of salmonella poisoning in five states, including Washington. Evergreen is not planning a recall.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Roundup Causes Birth Defects

And industry regulators have known for years. At least 30 years, in fact.

The active chemical, glyphosate, has been known to cause birth defects and malformations in lab animals since 1980, and in repeated studies since then. Nevertheless, the European Commission and other global industry regulators hid the evidence and denied any connection.

See the report and related article.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Don't Facebook-Friend Defense Counsel, Judge Says

The crux of my WSAJ presentation last year about the discoverability of online social media was that Facebook content fits well into existing civil rules regarding the limitations of discovery, without the need for new legal privileges or constitutional arguments. Regardless of whether the judge eventually decides to protect or release profile information, the results are usually reasonable under the circumstances if counsel fully explain the use of the social networking site, and if counsel do not ask for too much protection (a legal privilege), or alternatively, too much unnecessary personal information. A Pennsylvania judge confirms, in one instancy anyway, that this is true.

In Piccolo v. Paterson, the plaintiff sustained permanent facial scars after an auto collision. She had 95 stitches the day of the collision to repair her lip and chin, which were torn away from her face. The defendant admitted liability, but disputed damages.

Defense counsel argued that he should be able to send a "neutral friend request" to Ms. Piccolo so that he could monitor her daily postings. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette sums up the rest:

Ms. Piccolo allowed the insurer to come to her home in 2008 and take photographs of her face. She also gave the defense 20 photos of her face from the week following the accident as well as five photos from the months just before the accident. She allowed the defense to take more pictures at the September 2010 deposition.

"Defendant Paterson has not made a prima facie showing of need for access to the non- public pages of [Piccolo's] Facebook account," Mr. Lipman said in his motion.

"She has all the photographs she can reasonably use from every different period before and after the accident and she has not asserted that there is likely to be any text in the non- public postings that is material or will likely lead to the discovery of material evidence."

The judge agreed, adding,
"'the materiality and importance of the evidence ... is outweighed by the annoyance, embarrassment, oppression and burden to which it exposes' Ms. Piccolo."

In this instance, counsel averted the fatal flaw of arguing for too much, i.e. a privilege:

Mr. Lipman said Ms. Piccolo concedes that her Facebook account "is probably not protected by any evidentiary privilege that has been recognized in Pennsylvania." But he cited Rule of Civil Procedure 4011(b), which precludes discovery that would cause unreasonable annoyance, embarrassment, oppression or burden.

Being reasonable prevails!

Saturday, May 14, 2011

The Ultimate Job Security: SPD and Sheriff's Deputies

Everything else being equal, in what other profession are you not fired for yelling racial slurs at people on the job or for repeated, well-documented acts of unnecessary violence?

SPD Refuses to Fire Cop Who Yelled Racial Slurs at Innocent Man

Monday, April 25, 2011

KC Sheriff, SPD to implement training to reduce physical conflict

Seattle Times article

Some highlights:

"Sanford said officers need to be taught how to slow down situations and reduce the flow of adrenaline. Rahr acknowledged previous training has focused on quick physical compliance without considering less dangerous methods."

"People need to be able to "tell their side of the story," and officers need to explain what they are doing, and even more why they are taking certain steps."

The idea that an arrest or police stop involves two way interaction, and that officers need to observe, not just give orders, is exactly what I was addressing in my older post, "Citizen's Handbook on Police."

The executive director of the police training commission also offers this puzzling explanation:

"Hawe said a key element of the program is to develop interpersonal-communication skills among recruits in an era when texting and social media have hindered verbal abilities."

Is Facebook really the cause of a person's actions in fight or flight situations? Have we evolved that quickly? Such an inane excuse. The former quotations offer a better, more earnest explanation. Prior training failed to emphasize that citizens have a perspective too, and are not programmed to respond in exactly the right way.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

No Facebook For Debt Collectors

A judge in Florida has prohibited a debt collection agency from using Facebook or other social media to contact a debtor or her family and friends over a $362 unpaid car loan. The debtor's lawyers successfully argued that posting on her Facebook page invaded her privacy and violated Florida's consumer protection laws against collection agency harassment.

According to this News Tribune article, social media is becoming increasingly popular among debt collectors, not just to get the debtor's attention, but to shame him:

"In one Chicago case, a man was friended on Facebook by a young woman in a bikini. The account turned out to be a debt collector's, something the man realized only when the 'friend' posted a message on his wall: 'Pay your debts, you deadbeat.'"

Friday, March 4, 2011

$3 Million Settlement for Shooting Unarmed Bystander in the Face

In 2003, Chicago police officer Alvin Weems was late for work. He was not in uniform and did not have his utility bag or belt as he was walking through a Chicago transit station. Nevertheless, he attempted to stop a fight. The incident ended with him shooting an innocent bystander, 23 year old Michael Pleasance, in the face, killing him. Not realizing CTA video caught the shooting, Officer Weems lied in his report about Mr. Pleasance's involvement in the fight.

A $12.5 million dollar verdict was overturned by the Illinois Court of Appeals based on the repeated and supposedly prejudicial use of the term "willful and wanton" to describe the officer's conduct, according to Fox News Chicago. This is puzzling given that excessive force cases typically involve intentional conduct or willful and wanton disregard for safety. In any event, subsequent to the Appeals decision, Chicago has agreed to settle the suit, brought by the victim's family, for $3 million.

The entire incident was caught on video [graphic]:

Friday, January 28, 2011

Who Watches the Watchmen--Seattle Police

The Seattle Times recently reported that, in response to a Public Disclosure Act request, the Seattle Police Department withheld correspondence from Seattle City Councilman Tim Burgess to Chief of Police John Diaz. Mr. Burgess emailed Chief Diaz urging him to allow an outside agency to investigate the John T. Williams slaying. Of course, that never happened. Instead, the internal SPD investigation was peer reviewed.

The Seattle Times now reports that SPD received "high marks" for its internal review of the John T. Williams shooting, from peer reviewer, the San Diego Police Department. Another peer review investigation is still pending.

The review was not all glowing, however. The Times explains, "the four-page review faulted the department for doing too many telephone interviews that produced confusing information, and for initially putting out "factually inaccurate" information about the shooting, forcing a retraction of its statement that Williams advanced on Birk before the shooting."

Factually inaccurate information about whether Williams was a threat to the officer when the officer shot him multiple times? This is the central issue of the entire investigation. The SPD either knowingly misrepresented the facts of the case to the public or failed to investigate evidence in its own possession. If a lawyer did this, he would be punished for ethics violations. When a police department does it, it gets "high marks" on peer review.

Every specialized profession has some kind of internal and/or peer review system, some more effective than others. Only the profession of policing, however, entails the authority to take away life and liberty. Peer review of an internal review is not enough, especially when it looks like this.