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December, 2011:

Undeniable Recap of 2011

It’s been quite an eventful busy year. Thank you to all my family and friends who supported me through this year, even during my moments of pure stressed out insanity. Here are my top five events and experiences of 2011.

Photo by AJ Grucky

  1. I Passed The Bar! The process of graduating from law school, studying for, taking, and passing the Arizona Bar Exam and the process of applying and being admitted to the State Bar of Arizona took about 7 months of my year. It was exceptionally stressful – easily the hardest thing I’ve done in my professional life. It was a huge relief when I learned that I passed the Bar and Character and Fitness.
  2. Personal Record at the Half Marathon Injuries prevented me from training the way I would have liked for the 2011 Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon in Arizona. Despite being in pain starting at mile 2, I had the same rule for this race as my previous half marathon – no stopping or walking. Around mile 9, I realized that I was close to being on pace for a personal record, so I kicked my speed and finished 3 minutes faster than the previous year.  I was in so much pain by the end of the race, but it was an incredible lesson in determination.
  3. Sponsor A Law Kid I succeeded in getting my blog sponsored for 46 days during the beginning of the year to offset the cost of my last semester of law school. It was a challenge to create quality content every day and to face the backlash from some members of the legal community. I love that I was able to do this. My only regret is not doing it sooner.
  4. I Wish Your Wish One of the most powerful experiences this year was attending Rivane Neuenschwander’s I Wish Your Wish exhibit. It took me down to my core level and connected me with what I want for my life. For over two months, I had a pink ribbon tied around my wrist that said “I Wish To Die With No Regrets.”
  5. Photo by Jamey Peachy

    Big Brain Award Nomination I was shocked and overjoyed when I learned that I was nominated for a New Times Big Brain Award for my work behind the scenes with Improv AZ, the flash mob/prank troupe I co-founded in Phoenix. Ever since I expressed interest in flash mob law, I questioned whether it was a viable area of law. Just being nominated validated my professional aspirations and showed me that there is a need for the work I’m interested in.

 

Celebrity Encounters in 2011:

 

Firsts in 2011:

Oppose the Salvation Army’s Discrimination

I generally enjoy Christmas. I like the decorations, seeing family and friends, and I absolutely love the music.

One thing I don’t like about Christmas is the incessant sound of Salvation Army bells.

The Salvation Army is a Christian organization that provides a variety of services for the poor and homeless. They are also against same-sex marriage and have a history of refusing services to same-sex couples. You can check out Dan Savage’s blog to read about the gay couple who was told they had to break up before the Salvation Army would help them. In one town, the Salvation Army provided the only shelter for families. They told a homeless family headed by a lesbian couple that the children and one partner could stay at the shelter but that the other partner had to stay out in the cold.

I generally allow people to have their beliefs, but I can’t wrap my brain around homophobia. Why should anyone care who someone else loves? Why do they find it so threatening?

I cringe every time I hear a Salvation Army’s bell.  To me they proclaim, “Gays are wrong.  Give us money to perpetuate discrimination. This business promotes homophobia by welcoming us onto their property.” I feel angry deep into the core of my being every time I hear it.

This year, I decide to do something about this problem. Whenever I see a Salvation Army bell ringer, I take their picture and post it on Twitter with a message about where homophobia is being promoted that day.  I also will not spend any money at any business that has a bell ringer in front of it.

I started asking the bell ringers if they were aware that the Salvation Army opposed same-sex marriage. None of them knew. One of the ringers told me that she personally supported same-sex marriage, and I informed her that by being a bell ringer, she was perpetuating homophobia. I hope it made her think.

I do not oppose charity or charitable giving; however, people have an obligation to know where their money is going and to align their pocketbooks with their beliefs. Please find charities that do not discriminate against same-sex marriage or the LGBT community and give your money to them.

Bloggers Beware: Lessons from the Crystal Cox Case

(cc) MonsieurLui from Flickr

Many of us got into blogging because we like having a proverbial soapbox we can jump on to share our thoughts with the universe. The recent Crystal Cox case has made me wonder how many bloggers know the legal risk they take when they share their views.

For those of you who missed it, Crystal Cox is an “investigative blogger” in Montana who writes a blog called Bankruptcy Corruption. In one of her posts, she called Kevin Padrick, an attorney in Oregon, “a thug, a thief, and a liar.” Padrick sued Cox for defamation and won . . . $2.5 million!

The interesting thing for bloggers to note is that Cox lives and writes in Montana but she was sued in Oregon and Oregon law applied to the case.

If you write about other people, you open yourself up to the possibility of being sued for defamation or invasion of privacy. These cases are generally based on state laws. The good news is that there isn’t much variation between the laws. The bad news is that there are exceptions.

The really bad news is that the person who claims to have been injured by your blog gets to sue you in the state where they were injured, which is usually their home state. And it’s their home state law that applies. So, if you’re a blogger in Mississippi, and you write about someone in Alaska, and they sue you for defamation, you have to go to Alaska to defend yourself and hire an attorney who can defend you in Alaska. (Another lesson from the Crystal Cox case: don’t be your own attorney!)

Let’s look at the shield law, one of the laws Cox tried to use to defend herself. This is the law journalists invoke to prevent a court from forcing them to reveal an information source. There isn’t one national shield law. There are 40 different state shield laws, and some states don’t have a shield law. Cox tried to use the shield law to defend herself; and in another state, her argument may have held water. But unfortunately for her, the Oregon shield law specifically states that you can’t use the law as a defense in a civil defamation case.

Another challenge surrounding the legalities of blogging is that sometimes the laws are old, really old, as in the-internet-wasn’t-invented-when-the-law-was-written old. In a lot of these cases, the court has to decide how the laws apply to these new situations didn’t exist before we had the internet. You and the other side can propose your interpretation of the law, but there’s no guarantee that the court will accept your interpretation. And you might get really lucky and get a judge who barely knows how to turn on their computer and has no concept of what a blog is.

Someday the laws will be updated to account for the internet and blogging practices. Even when that happens, we will still have to be conscientious of the fact that each state has its own laws, and that we run the risk of being sued in any of the 50 states depending on who and what we write about.

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Porn Stars Can Be Effective Teachers

Kevin Hogan is the head of the English department and the crew coach at Mystic Valley Regional Charter School in Massachusetts. He’s on paid leave after he was ambushed by Mike Beaudet of Fox 25 News in Boston with photographs from his performances in pornographic films that were released last year.  

Hogan appears to be well-respected by his students and their parents. It’s understandable that parents would be surprised to learn about Hogan’s past, but once the initial shock wears off, will they care that a teacher has participated in porn? As long as he doesn’t discuss his past in porn in the classroom, I don’t think his previous work should be an issue.

Image by coolhunting "tapas" via Flickr

Being an adult film actor is not illegal as long as it is produced legally and it appears that Hogan participated in these films before accepting the position at Mystic Valley. If Hogan acted in a film after becoming a Mystic Valley teacher and his teaching contract forbid him from working in adult entertainment, then there would be a case for firing him for violating his contract. If all his contract has is a clause that prohibits “immoral behavior” during employment, that shouldn’t be enough to fire him. A blanket clause like that allows too much room for interpretation.

The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education is investigating this situation. Its spokesman said, “We expect teachers to hold a very high moral standard. They are role models for students.”

Let’s break this down. Can you have high moral standards and have sex? Have gay sex? Have sex while being filmed? Have sex while being filmed and get paid for it? Have sex while being filmed, get paid for it, and allow it to be available for public consumption? The adult entertainment industry is stigmatized, but participating in it does not mean that you are an immoral person.

The next argument is always that teachers are role models for students. Being a former or current porn star does not threaten the health or safety of any student. It might give the teacher a reputation that they have to manage, but it doesn’t interfere with their ability to teach.

Moreover, teachers do lots of things that I’m sure parents don’t want their children emulating. Should we fire any teacher that has engaged in any act that parents dislike? If parents and schools are so concerned about having teachers who are exceptional role models for students, then they would fire every teacher who smokes, is bad at managing their finances, is obese, is a weekend binge drinker, and every teacher who has ever gotten a speeding ticket or driven while talking on their cell phone.

One of my totally awesome liberal friends is studying to be a teacher. She said, “Doing gay porn while teaching is unacceptable . . . . Pornography and teaching do not mix, no exceptions.” While I respect that some people think that there’s no place for a porn star in the classroom, I disagree. I’m not a parent, but if I were, I’d let my child be taught by a good teacher who happened to do porn as long as they kept their porn life out of the classroom.

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