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April, 2010:

Unsolicited Advice: Think Before You Post

Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer.  I am a law student.  In accordance with ABA policy, this blog should not be viewed as legal advice.  It is simply my experiences, opinions, and stuff I looked up on the internet.

Laptop at a Cafe
Image by workshifting via Flickr

Never before has Bill Wilson’s advice, “Nothing pays off like restraint of pen and tongue” been more appropriate.  In the past, we expressed how we felt mainly in-person or via phone calls.  If something was important enough to write about, it took time to draft a letter or write an article.  Now with email and social media sties, we can jump on our proverbial soapboxes whenever the feeling moves us and blast our opinion to the universe from anywhere.  More than ever, it is essential to think before we send an email, update our Facebook status, post a blog, or tweet – because it’s permanent!!!

I will never cease to be amazed by what people say in email or post online.  A quick glance at my friends’ profiles revealed a smattering of pictures of people getting drunk and posts filled with hateful language.  For the most part, these aren’t stupid people, but they have done stupid things – and documented it.  It immediately reminded of what my Dad says: “You can’t coach dumb.”

It seems lately that people need to be reminded that there is a permanent record of every single email they send. Even if you delete all of your “sent items,” they are still backed up on a server somewhere, and probably backed up on the receiver’s server too.  Therefore, “if you are dealing with something that could come back to bite you later, pick up the phone, or better yet, go talk in person, but avoid email.”  Don’t leave a paper trail.

And don’t think that deleting your Facebook account will remove all the evidence of any past wrongdoings you posted.  Deleting your account, doesn’t actually delete it.  It just makes it inaccessible to other users.  It’s still in the database. What’s even more frightening is that I’ve heard a rumor that employers are hiring hackers to tell them what’s on job applicants’ Facebook and Myspace profiles.  Don’t assume that changing your privacy settings will protect you.

Too many people treat email and social media sites like casual conversation, but worse because they ignore the fact that they are writing to and about real people.   The fact that the sender doesn’t have to look the person in the eye seems to lower their inhibitions and remove the filter that ordinary blocks them from saying everything that they think.  The result is abusive behavior and harassment.

Cyberstalking, cyberbullying, and/or cyberharassment are crimes in 41 of the 50 states.  In Arizona, cyberharassment is a Class 1 misdemeanor, punishable by up to six months in jail, and/or a $2500 fine.  Often when the perpetrator is a minor the crime is cyberbullying.  When the perpetrator is an adult, it’s cyberharassment.  The behavior is the same, just different names.  The courts have allowed lawsuits to be filed in criminal and civil court related to these acts.

Here’s my two cents when it comes to electronic communications: if you feel the need to vent when you’re upset about something, the way to do it without getting in trouble is to simply say how you feel about it.  When I say, “I’m frustrated,” no one can say that that’s inappropriate or that it isn’t true.  It’s a feeling, the fact of my mental state.  You may have a different reaction, but neither person is wrong.  It’s how we act on them that gets us into trouble.

So think whatever you want.  Be careful about what you say.  But assume everything you say electronically, regardless of where you post it, is viewable by the general public and will follow you for the rest of your life.  Don’t send anything via email or post anything online that you wouldn’t want your family, friends, co-workers, or employers to see.

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Adventures in Baseball – Tortured by Singing Children

On March 20th, I auditioned to be a national anthem singer for the AZ Diamondbacks Major League Baseball Team.  I’ve been a singer for 15 years and I was picked to be one of their singers in 2005 and 2006.  The announcer who was running the show at the auditions said that they expected to have 400-500 people and groups audition for the 60-something home games this season.

Intérieur du Chase Field
Image via Wikipedia

There were some really talented people at auditions.  I wasn’t surprised when I got the email that said that I wasn’t selected for this season.  I don’t mind when others are selected above me as long as they are better than me.

One of my pet peeves is singing children.  It is a rare child who can sing well.  I was annoyed last year when I heard that a nursery school class was selected to sing at the Diamondbacks game.  My guess was the team picked them because they would come to the game with their parents and siblings, and spent lots of money on tickets, hotdogs, and beer.

I went to the Diamondbacks vs. Pirates game on April 11th with my parents and they did it again.  As I was looking down on the field during the pregame, I saw a large group of small children gathering near the backstop behind home plate.  They looked like they were about 4 years old.  They sang the national anthem and they were absolutely dreadful.  They couldn’t sing a single note on key and we could hardly hear them.  Mom and I drowned out the sound by singing the song ourselves.  We got a lot of thankful grins from people standing near us.

After the national anthem was over, I was annoyed.  This group of horrible nonsingers was chosen over other talented performers.  If the team wanted to feature child singers this year, that’s fine.  There were enough talented child singers at the anthem auditions that the team didn’t have to use these nursery school kids.  One fan sitting near me said it was a “disgraceful.”

There was a big sign in the stadium that said, “Report Guest Conduct Issues by Texting “DBACKS”<space>location & issue to 69050.  Given the atrociousness of the performance, I thought it was appropriate to notify the stadium about it.  I sent a text that said, “Dbacks home plate singing kids were terrible.  Please don’t do it again.”

The response text I received said, “We’ve recorded your number & ask you only text again for legitimate issues.  You’ll be blocked if another fraudulent message is received.  Thank you!”

I also sent an email to the team on the Diamondbacks website.  If we’re going to call baseball America’s favorite pastime, they should at least get the anthem right.

The rest of the game was awesome. The Dbacks beat the Pirates 15-6 with 13 runs scored by the Dbacks in one inning.  Go Dbacks!

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Summer School – Is it 65% better than regular school?

Recently I learned about ASU law school’s Tech Ventures Clinic.  It’s an awesome program where law students get to work with entrepreneurs who don’t have the capital to hire a lawyer to get legal assistance with their start-up companies.  As soon as I heard what this clinic did, I wanted to participate in it.  This is definitely an area of law where I think I would be successful working after law school.  The clinic is 6 credits and requires 20 hours of work each week.

Money Grab
Image by Steve Wampler via Flickr

I was planning on taking three classes during spring semester next year – Business Organizations, Tax, and Decedent’s Estates.  Ideally, I’d like to take no more than 12 credits total if I’m going to participate in a clinic.  I decided to look into taking one class over the summer to decrease my course load next year.

It was hard to find the tuition rates for summer school.  I started digging around on the law school’s website and stumbled onto the 2007 summer tuition rates.  In 2007, a 3-credit class cost $2,164.   That seemed to be a reasonable price.  I figured the price might have gone up a bit with the state’s budget crisis and inflation.  I requested the 2010 summer rates from the law school’s financial aid office.  I was shocked when I saw that the cost for a 3-credit class this summer is $3,499!  That’s a 62% increase!

I did the math.  Currently, I pay $705/credit.  If I went to summer school, I’d be paying $1166/credit.  That’s 65% higher.

I took my concerns to the law school.  They said that the cost is the same whether you’re taking a class for credit or  auditing it.  One higher up in the school said the cost has risen so much that they encourage students not to take summer school because the cost is so high.  It has become cost-prohibitive to go to summer school.

I want to give the school money this summer, but they’ve set the minimum so high that I can’t do it.  This is unfortunate because so many law firms and agencies don’t have the means to hire summer clerks.  For a lot of law students, going to summer school is one way to gain legal experience by doing an externship; however they have to pay for that experience.  I know multiple students who are looking for volunteer positions so they don’t have to pay to gain legal experience this summer.

The law school said there’s basically nothing they can do to help me in this situation.  I sent an email to Michael Crow, President of ASU, informing him about the alarming tuition rates this summer and asking him what advice he can offer to students who want to take advantage of all ASU can offer without spending an atrocious amount of money or going horribly into debt.  I look forward to hearing what he has to say.

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Global Warming – We Didn’t Cause It

My Dad is a voracious reader.  Every afternoon he sits in his chair and reads all kinds of books.  It’s a huge benefit for me because I have an endless supply of free second-hand books and I get an intelligent review of the content before I start reading.  Sometimes he’s so impressed by a book that he sends out an email telling everyone why we should read it.  When he’s really moved by a book, he’ll order it and it will magically appear on my doorstep whether I have any interest in reading it or not.

Dad’s most recent book-related email was about Ian Plimer’s book, Heaven and Earth.  It’s a complicated text about climate change and global warming.  In a nutshell, the planet has been in existence for 4.6 billion years.  During that time, it’s gone through all types of climate changes.  Humans have only been around for the last 200,000 years.  For the non-math types, that’s only 0.004% of the history of Earth.

This past week I went to a great seminar with Ryan Kretschmer and Chester Klotz, transactional attorneys from Squire Sanders and Dempsey.   They shared the process of getting approval from the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) for a company to make an initial public offering (IPO).  One of the questions a company has to answer is its effect on global warming and vice versa.  My first thought was, “What if the company doesn’t buy into the global warming hoopla?”

A company can have an effect on its surrounding community by creating dust, pollution, and noise, but, according to Plimer, human behavior has little impact on the global environment.  Here are some of the highlights from his book:

  • The Earth’s climate has always changed with cycles of warming and cooling long before humans appeared on Earth. Numerous overlapping cycles range from 143 million years to 11.1 years.  These cycles can be greatly affected by sporadic unpredictable processes such as volcanoes.
  • Measured global warming in the modern world has been insignificant in comparison with these natural cycles.
  • Contrary to nearly two dozen different computer models, temperature has not increased in the last decade despite accelerated input of CO2 into the atmosphere by human activities.
  • Dangerous warming is not occurring on the planet.
  • Thermometer and other measurements do not indicate that the planet is warming.
  • Human emissions of CO2 have not created a rise in sea level.
  • The oceans will not become acidic.
  • The speed and amount of modern climate changes are not unprecedented.

Apparently, one company said in its application to the SEC that global warming could affect it if the polar ice caps melt enough, the oceans would flood their coastal facilities.

Seriously?

Entire industries have been built around the concept of “going green.”  If Plimer is right, it’s all a gimmick to get us to spend more on hybrid cars, solar panels, and recycled toilet paper.  Al Gore won a Nobel Prize for preying on the fears of the impressionable public.

Some would say, not only did Gore win the Nobel Prize based on bad science, but he’s making tons of money with has cap and trade scams.  Maybe we can stop the wasteful spending to limit CO2 emissions and use the money to give increased economic opportunity to countries that are not as wealthy as the United States.

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Is That Legal – Improv AZ Coroner Prank #2

Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer.  I am a law student.  In accordance with ABA policy, this blog should not be viewed as legal advice.  It is simply my experiences, opinions, and stuff I looked up on the internet.

Last week the Improv AZ crew decided to revise their world –famous coroner prank, only this time instead of having four people in “coroner” shirts carry a stuffed body bag on the light rail, we took it for a walk through Chandler mall.

We were hoping to raise a lot of eyebrows and get a lot of double takes and surprised stares of disbelief.  We succeeded in that, but we also spent just enough time in the building to get the attention of mall security.  Not wanting to cause any trouble, we offered to leave.  They refused our offer and called Chandler Police instead.  A mall cop claimed we committed “a dozen felonies.”  The real cop said we could have been charged with disorderly conduct.  In the end, they let us go with a warning and the mall cops banned us from Chandler mall for three months.

Of course as the group’s CLS, I did my usual research before doing this prank, and after our run in with the law, I rechecked everything.

What can mall cops really do?

Mall cops are citizens and can only make citizen arrests.  If they are an agent of the property owner, they can ask people to leave and call law enforcement to arrest them for trespassing if the patrons don’t comply.

Did we commit trespassing?

I don’t think so.  Shopping malls open themselves up for members of the public to enter and shop.  We are, in legalese, “invitees.”  If we had been asked to leave by a property owner or their agent and then refused to go, then we would have been trespassing.

Were we illegally impersonating a government official?

The way Arizona law is written, we would have to pretend to be a public servant and engage in conduct “with the intent to induce another to submit to [our] pretended official authority or to rely upon [our] pretended official acts” to be charged with impersonation.  We did nothing to assert our authority against any mall patrons or anyone else.

A mall cop tried to tell us that our fake coroner badges made us guilty of a felony, but anyone looking closely at them would have seen that they were made with someone’s laminator at home.  Our badges had our pictures – mine was my Twitter avatar – and the words “Coroner” and “All Access Pass.”  The mall cop took our badges from us and turned them over to the Chandler police officer.  After looking at them briefly, he gave them back to us.

FYI – Arizona doesn’t have coroners.  It has medical examiners.

Did we commit disorderly conduct?

I think that’s a stretch at best.  Arizona law defines disorderly conduct as engaging in certain behavior “with the intent to disturb the peace or quiet of a neighborhood, family, or person or with the knowledge of doing so.”  The only behavior they could have tried to pin on us was “fighting, violent or seriously disruptive behavior.”   Our conduct could have been considered disruptive, but probably not deserving of being in the same category as violent behavior.  The other behaviors on the list for disorderly conduct didn’t seem to apply since we weren’t making noise, using offensive language, carrying weapons, or preventing business transactions from occurring.

Could the mall cops make our camera guy prove he’d erased the footage he shot with his phone?

Mall cops are just civilians so they probably don’t have that authority.  Real cops, however, can search your phone if it’s related to an arrest.  Otherwise, it looks like they’d a search warrant.

Is it illegal to walk around with a fake dead body?

I looked through Arizona statutes and didn’t find any laws against having fake dead body.  I find out about some of the things you can’t do with an actual dead body:

  • You can’t move a dead human body with the hopes of abandoning or concealing it.
  • You can’t move a dead body from its grave without authority of law.
  • You can’t steal stuff off or from a dead body.
  • You can’t have sex with a dead body.

For now the four coroners are banned from Chandler mall.  The mall cop gave each of us a card with the Chandler mall code of conduct on it.  I’d share this list with you (it’s pretty funny) but it’s too long, and surprisingly, Chandler mall doesn’t have it available on their website.

Related Articles:
Official Improv AZ Blog: When Mall Cops Swarm – The Coroner Prank #2
Video: Improv AZ – Coroner Prank 2, “Bob Goes To The Mall”