Thursday, June 21, 2007

Legal Blog Watch

Legal Blog Watch

How Congress Is Kept Offline

Politicians have fallen in love with the Web. Political candidates use blogs, videos and social-networking tools to win votes and fill coffers. But for candidates elected to Congress, their victory means they must curtail their use of cutting-edge technologies.

In an op-ed yesterday in The Hill, "Modern World, Ancient Websites," David All and Paul Blumenthal discuss how congressional franking rules restrict members of Congress in their official Web sites.

"Due to such restrictions, most member websites function as little more than online brochures, when they could better serve as a place to share information about the member's activities in Congress, or even as a vital community center. Under these rules, members cannot use Google maps to provide visuals for district information important to constituents. Neither can members use non-congressionally provided blogging tools, nor link to other blogs that may be deemed to be of a political nature."

The authors, both bloggers, note that the franking rules were created decades ago to restrict the use of snail mail at taxpayer expense. Last updated in 1996, the rules prohibit use of outside Web services and ban links to personal or political Web sites.

The harm in this is to the public, the authors say, blocking the free flow of information to constituents and others. They call on Congress to convene a bipartisan task force to review this situation. "The time has come," they write, "to re-imagine the world of the wired elected official."

Posted by Robert J. Ambrogi on June 20, 2007 at 03:13 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Our Judicial Imperialism

Imperialism is a word that suggests power fitting of an empire or of an emperor. An op-ed out of Australia today uses the phrase "judicial imperialism" to describe the U.S. legal system's increasing extension of its power overseas. The term might also have fit a story earlier this week out of Washington describing the increasingly imperial stance being taken by some judges towards the news media.

In the opinion piece from The Sydney Morning Herald, Lawyers Without Borders is Justice American-Style, Mark Coultan, the newspaper's New York correspondent, describes how the United States is giving new meaning to the phrase, "long arm of the law." There is Hew Griffiths, the Australian forcibly extradited to a Virginia prison last month even though he never committed a crime on U.S. soil; he is charged with helping to crack copy-protected software and media products and distribute them for free. There are three British bankers -- the so-called Natwest Three -- extradited to the United States for allegedly taking part in a scheme involving former Enron executive Andrew Fastow to acquire ownership of a Cayman Islands investment company at far below worth. "If there was a crime," Coultan writes, "it was committed against a British company, in Britain by British citizens." After citing other examples, he concludes:

"The point about this judicial imperialism is not that any of these cases is without merit. In the Natwest case, prosecutors have emails in which the accused refer to the transaction as 'robbery'.

"Nor is it that US courts are unfair or unjust. But justice systems vary widely. US prison sentences tend to be longer, particularly for white-collar crimes.

"Extending the reach of courts may be the answer to a globalised economy. But we will have to wait and see."

In Washington, meanwhile, Legal Times correspondent Tony Mauro writes about the increasing number of libel cases brought by judges. He sets the stage:

"Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia once said judges should adopt a 'rope-a-dope' posture when criticized, taking the hits passively until their adversaries wear themselves out.

"But with 25 judges suing for libel in 2005 alone — nearly 10 percent of all libel suits filed nationwide — that form of judicial restraint is fading, raising questions about the role, and the ethics, of judges and whether they have a right to be as litigious as everyone else."

Last week, the news media began to push back, Mauro reports, "questioning when and whether judges should be able to use their own court systems as a tool to retaliate against the media." One leader in that pushback is media lawyer Bruce Sanford, a partner with Baker & Hostetler in D.C. He tells Mauro: "If these suits lead the public to feel that judges are taking care of their own, it will only add to cynicism about the judicial process."

No question, judges sometimes find themselves stuck between a rock and a hard place when it comes to the news media. But even Gary Hengstler, director of the Reynolds National Center for Courts and the Media at the National Judicial College, tells Mauro that judges nowadays "are more emboldened to sue." In some cases, it seems to me, this attitude begins to approach imperiousness. Judges themselves differ widely in their dealings with and attitudes towards the news media. But I say Justice Scalia got it right. Becoming a judge opens you to criticism; it does not raise you above it. Judges need to understand that going in.

Posted by Robert J. Ambrogi on June 20, 2007 at 03:12 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

A Blawger, a Priest and a Rabbi ...

This is no laughing matter. In fact, it is getting darned right serious. At her blog Legal Antics, New York lawyer Nicole L. Black is running a competition to name the funniest law blog. Why? Well, it seems we have our own Carolyn Elefant to blame ... er, thank. Last week right here at Legal Blog Watch, she suggested that other bloggers follow the lead of Jamie Spencer at Austin Criminal Defense Law Blog and poll readers on the best blogs in a given field. (Last November, I had a similar poll on top law blogs at my LawSites blog.) The same day, Black picked up on Elefant's idea and announced her funniest blawg poll. As of today, it is down to 10 finalists, with polling set to close June 25 at 10 p.m. Eastern. Still in the running for yuk-iest law blog are Above the Law, Anonymous Lawyer, Buffalo Wings and Vodka, Legal Antics, Legal Reader, Lowering the Bar, Overlawyered, PhilaLawyer, Quizlaw and Say What?

As the deadline nears, the competition heats up. At Above the Law, Billy Merck says he didn't care about it at first, but now urges readers to cast their votes because "we're getting jacked around" (pointing a finger at PhilaLawyer). And Quizlaw, amid rumors of voter fraud and ballot stuffing, says shenanigans have officially been declared. Quizlaw effectively challenged PhilaLawyer to a blogging duel when it expressed surprise at the site's standing, "considering that its 723 votes are probably more than the number of readers the blog actually has, coupled with the fact that I hadn't even heard of the site before this poll."

If you're wondering what's at stake to drive otherwise upstanding blawgers to such lengths, this is not merely about crowing rights. The winner gets his or her choice of any item from The Billable Hour.

Rodrigo González Fernández
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