Wednesday, April 27, 2011

It's About Time: Cameras in Federal Courts are Long Overdue

By Professor Laurie Levenson

Federal judges in the Northern District of California have applied to be part of a pilot project that would allow cameras in federal, civil cases. It is a proposal that is long overdue. The public has a right to see what happens in our courtrooms. It would be far better for the public to see what really happens in a federal court than to believe that our courtrooms operate like the courtrooms they see on television. Federal judges are not "Judge Judy." The issues they deal with are incredibly important, such as the right to same-sex marriage, civil rights cases and class action lawsuits. We have done a great disservice to the public by dragging our heels on cameras in the courtroom and the judges should be applauded for being willing to move into the 21st Century on this issue.

Some judges have been reluctant to allow cameras in the courtroom because they fear that the cameras will change the atmosphere in the courtroom. There is no reason for that to happen. Judges have the power to control the conduct of those appearing before the court. From my experience as a former federal prosecutor, one quick glance by a judge is more than enough to bring lawyers back into line. Moreover, with today's technology, there is no reason that the camera even has to be noticeable in the courtroom. Pinpoint cameras, no larger than the size of a pen, can capture what is happening in the courtroom. These cameras will be no more distracting (and probably less so) than a courtroom artist or reporter sitting in the courtroom.

Finally, we need to recognize this proposal for what it is -- only a baby step toward allowing cameras in the courtroom. The current proposal would only allow cameras in civil cases where the parties and judge agree. Sensational criminal cases are not at issue. We need not worry that cameras will affect a criminal defendants' right to a fair trial. The proposal for cameras in federal criminal cases is not yet on the table.

Perhaps what is most remarkable about the current effort is that it is being spearheaded by the trial judges. The United States Supreme Court, which decides the most momentous cases in our country, still remains closed to the idea. Hopefully, successful efforts in the lower courts will convince the Justices that the time has come for the country to see how our highest court works as well. Whether it is Bush v. Gore or a major terrorism case, the public wants to know how the Court operates. A small television camera can at least give them a glimpse into the process.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Does WikiLeaks have anything to do with the Internet?

By Associate Professor Aaron Caplan

This is the second in a two-part series originally published in the April 21, 2011 edition of the Los Angeles Daily Journal.

Anonymous sources: One piece of information journalists often wish to keep secret is the identity of their anonymous sources. This is not a new phenomenon. In the early 1970s, Branzburg v. Hayes held that journalists have no constitutional privilege to keep sources confidential from a criminal investigation (although later cases have found a partial privilege in civil cases). Some states reacted to Branzburg with journalist shield statutes, and proposals for a federal counterpart arise in Congress with some regularity.

The current architecture of the Internet is not designed for anonymous communication. For every exchange of data over the Internet, be it via e-mail or by viewing a website, a trail of metadata is automatically logged that includes among other things the IP (Internet Protocol) addresses of the computers involved. In many ways, it is easier to be an anonymous tipster using older media, such as oral communication, an unmarked envelope, or a phone call on a landline. The Internet makes it far easier than before for law enforcement to attribute communications to particular speakers and listeners - including communications between sources and journalists.

WikiLeaks claims to have developed methods for truly anonymous uploading of source documents by leakers. If this is true, it creates a practical means of evading the Branzburg rule - journalists cannot be compelled to reveal identities of sources they don't know. It is open to question how effective this anonymous sourcing is, given the widely reported allegations of prosecutors that Pfc. Bradley Manning was the source of the leaked State Department cables. It appears he was identified in part by the paper trail he left on his work computer, and in part by oral testimony of an acquaintance, and not from evidence from the WikiLeaks dropbox itself. Regardless, the story shows the continuing difficulty of accomplishing truly anonymous speech.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Prof. Kowal's article in The Atlantic tells readers, 'Relax, Your Roth IRA is Safe'

By Jennifer Kowal

Given our budget problems, nearly everyone agrees that the federal government must ultimately collect more in taxes, whether by raising rates, closing loopholes, or some combination thereof. Tax increases would likely affect all types of earnings -- from salaries to investment income. The 3.8% Medicare surtax on "unearned income" of high income taxpayers (which effectively raises the long-term capital gains tax rate from 15% to nearly 19% on most investment assets) is scheduled to take effect in 2013, and it is a harbinger of things of come.

Does this mean you should reconsider your investment strategies? Almost certainly no. Making major financial decisions based on hypothetical future tax policy changes is risky and would be particularly unwise if done to anticipate changes in the tax treatment of IRAs.

Read the complete article at The Atlantic.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Loyola Law School's Fidler Institute on Criminal Justice

Loyola Law School hosted the fifth-annual Fidler Institute on Criminal Justice on Friday, April 8. This year's institute focused on cyberbullying, managing celebrity clients and trials, cutting-edge investigative techniques and developments in Miranda. The day was capped by a judges' reception and the presentation of the Fidler Awards.

"We were very excited about the amazing speakers and honorees who joined us," said Professor Laurie Levenson, organizer of the event and the David W. Burcham Professor of Ethical Advocacy. "From Lindsay Lohan's lawyer to a retiring California Supreme Court Justice, this year's Fidler program had it all. Attendees were treated to panel discussions on cutting-edge issues in criminal law, including cyberbullying, new developments in Miranda, investigative techniques and managing celebrity clients and trials. Finally, the program was topped off with a luncheon speaker by a death row warden who gave his perspective on the death penalty."

Removing Barriers - One Class Action at a Time

By Paula Pearlman and Shawna Parks

Brown v. Board of Education marked a watershed moment in this country's legal history-- separate is not equal. That moment was equally noteworthy for people with disabilities who have spent the last six decades fighting for full inclusion and equal participation in society and its institutions. Despite longstanding California law, the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990, physical barriers continue to pervade both private businesses and government programs and services. The pervasiveness of these barriers often calls for a comprehensive and thorough response, which is often achieved through a class action.

In both the courts and media, these disability issues are often derided as less important, not worthy of judicial attention, or simply the realm of vexatious litigants. However, in our work, we see physical access barriers directly impact the lives of our clients in very real ways-- preventing a person with a disability from accessing a domestic violence clinic, a classroom, a neighborhood grocery store, or a doctor's office. Even in the U.S. Supreme Court's recent cases involving these issues, it is apparent that real and dramatic barriers persist even in the most critical of government services. Indeed, in Tennessee v. Lane, heard in 2004, the plaintiff who used a wheelchair was forced to crawl up a flight of stairs to appear in court, only to have the court recess. The judge then arrested him when he refused to crawl up a second time.

Fortunately, it is well settled that class certification is appropriate in cases involving systemic challenges to physical access barriers under the ADA and similar disability nondiscrimination laws. Both the ADA and other state and federal disability nondiscrimination statutes require people with disabilities be provided with full and equal access to the benefits afforded to the public by government entities and public accommodations. Many courts, including the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, have repeatedly held that actions that challenge failure to remove architectural barriers are suitable for class certification.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Rochelle C. Dreyfuss to deliver IP talk during Loyola's Faculty Workshop Series

Rochelle C. Dreyfuss, Pauline Newman Professor of Law at New York University School of Law, will present "The WTO, WIPO, ACTA, and More: Fragmentation and Integration in the International Intellectual Property Regime" at today's edition of the Faculty Workshop Series."

Friday, April 1, 2011

FPPC fine for good-faith attempts to comply with the law

By Professor Laurie Levenson

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's recent agreement with the Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) to pay $42,000 to cover the costs of gifts he received, but had not reported, highlights the need for that agency to clarify its regulations. The taxpayers expect the mayor to be a strong presence in this city and even nationally. To do so, he will inevitably be attending events in which he has a "ceremonial role." Technically, if he is performing such a role, the reporting act requirements are not triggered. The big problem is that there is no clear definition as to when an official act is a "ceremonial role."

An infinite number of examples come to mind. How about when the mayor throws out the first pitch at Dodger Stadium or presents a plaque to sponsors of a Lakers game? How about free tickets to Disneyland to attend a conference of potential city investors? How about donning his tuxedo to attend the Academy Awards, which is a critical lifeline for Los Angeles' entertainment industry? Gifts or ceremonial duty?

Some people will want to make political hay over the mayor's recent agreement with the FPPC, but the truth is that his penalty was relatively modest, and even the commission acknowledged that he acted in good faith. In order to guide this mayor and future ones, we need to be more specific as to when the mayor must report "benefits" received by attending such events. No city wants a public official who acts out of self-interest and not the interest of the citizenry. But, nothing about the recent agreement indicates that Mayor Villaraigosa did so. It does indicate, however, that if we want our public officials to follow the laws, we need to make clear what those laws are.