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NYPD Seeking to Implement New Video Surveillance System

According to this article, the NYPD is considering implementing a video surveillance system around lower Manhattan that would track hundreds of thousands of people per day.  The video surveillance system is referred to as a "ring of steel" and is modeled after the system used in London's financial district.  There are already thousands of cameras in place in NYC:    

New York cops already have about 1,000 cameras in the subway, and 2,100 more should be in place by 2008. Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly strongly backs the increased surveillance, along with the 3,100 cameras that are up and running in city housing projects. Security cameras at office buildings and apartment towers also train thousands of lenses at unsuspecting New Yorkers and often provide invaluable aid to cops.

Apparently the impetus behind the installation of the "ring of steel" was the London terror attacks last July:    

New York cops became more aware of the value of London's "ring of steel" during the terror attacks of last July 7, when the cameras quickly provided images of suspected bombers.

What I find interesting about that statement is that the video surveillance system in London didn't help to prevent the attacks, but simply helped to identify and round up suspects after the attacks had occurred.  If we must erode our civil liberties in the name of terrorism, shouldn't the primary goal be prevention?


Homeland Security Opening Private Mail

I  came across an article today that I find to be somewhat disturbing, entitled Homeland Security Opening Private Mail.  According to this article, a spokesman from the Customs and Border Protection division of Homeland Security stated that:

“All mail originating outside the United States Customs territory that is to be delivered inside the U.S. Customs territory is subject to Customs examination,” says the CBP Web site.  That includes personal correspondence. 

“All mail means ‘all mail,’” said John Mohan, a CBP spokesman, emphasizing the point. “This process isn’t something we’re trying to hide,” Mohan said, noting the wording on the agency’s Web site.  “We’ve had this authority since before the Department of Homeland Security was created,” Mohan said.

However, Mohan declined to outline what criteria are used to determine when a piece of personal correspondence should be opened, but said, “obviously it’s a security-related criteria.”

It's comforting to know that if you correspond with someone from another country, your letter is subject to inspection by a representative from the very-official-and-somewhat-ominous-sounding Customs and Border Protection division of Homeland Security.  You can't be too safe.  (In case you missed it, the previous phrase was spoken in the spirit of the SNL skit  about the nuclear reactor and the direction that "You can't have too much water in the nuclear reactor.")


Define That Term #23

Yesterday's term was remittitur, which is defined as:

n. 1) a judge's order reducing a judgment awarded by a jury when the award exceeds the amount asked for by the plaintiff (person who brought the suit). 2) an appeal's transmittal of a case back to the trial court so that the case can be retried, or an order entered consistent with the appeals court's decision (such as dismissing the plaintiff's case or awarding costs to the winning party on appeal). See also: remand.

Slickdpdx got it--the second half that is, which is close enough.

Today's term is:

negative pregnant.

I've never heard of this phrase before and am curious as to whether anyone else has. And, if nothing else, it gives everyone good fodder for creative definitions!


Senators in Need of a Spine

An editorial from the New York Times published yesterday summarizes quite nicely the reasons for my strong opposition to Alito's nomination to the Supreme Court .  Here is the editorial, in its entirety:

Senators in Need of a Spine    

Published: January 26, 2006

Judge Samuel Alito Jr., whose entire history suggests that he holds extreme views about the expansive powers of the presidency and the limited role of Congress, will almost certainly be a Supreme Court justice soon. His elevation will come courtesy of a president whose grandiose vision of his own powers threatens to undermine the nation's basic philosophy of government — and a Senate that seems eager to cooperate by rolling over and playing dead.

It is hard to imagine a moment when it would be more appropriate for senators to fight for a principle. Even a losing battle would draw the public's attention to the import of this nomination.

At the Judiciary Committee hearings, the judge followed the well-worn path to confirmation, which has the nominee offer up only the most boring statements and unarguable truisms: the president is not above the law; diversity in college student bodies is a good thing. But in what he has said in the past, and what he refused to say in the hearings, Judge Alito raised warning flags that, in the current political context, cannot simply be shrugged away with a promise to fight again another day.

The Alito nomination has been discussed largely in the context of his opposition to abortion rights, and if the hearings provided any serious insight at all into the nominee's intentions, it was that he has never changed his early convictions on that point. The judge — who long maintained that Roe v. Wade should be overturned — ignored all the efforts by the Judiciary Committee's chairman, Arlen Specter, to get him to provide some cover for pro-choice senators who wanted to support the nomination. As it stands, it is indefensible for Mr. Specter or any other senator who has promised constituents to protect a woman's right to an abortion to turn around and hand Judge Alito a potent vote to undermine or even end it.

But portraying the Alito nomination as just another volley in the culture wars vastly underestimates its significance. The judge's record strongly suggests that he is an eager lieutenant in the ranks of the conservative theorists who ignore our system of checks and balances, elevating the presidency over everything else. He has expressed little enthusiasm for restrictions on presidential power and has espoused the peculiar argument that a president's intent in signing a bill is just as important as the intent of Congress in writing it. This would be worrisome at any time, but it takes on far more significance now, when the Bush administration seems determined to use the cover of the "war on terror" and presidential privilege to ignore every restraint, from the Constitution to Congressional demands for information.

There was nothing that Judge Alito said in his hearings that gave any comfort to those of us who wonder whether the new Roberts court will follow precedent and continue to affirm, for instance, that a man the president labels an "unlawful enemy combatant" has the basic right to challenge the government's ability to hold him in detention forever without explanation. His much-quoted statement that the president is not above the law is meaningless unless he also believes that the law requires the chief executive to defer to Congress and the courts.

Judge Alito's refusal to even pretend to sound like a moderate was telling because it would have cost him so little. Chief Justice John Roberts Jr., who was far more skillful at appearing mainstream at the hearings, has already given indications that whatever he said about the limits of executive power when he was questioned by the Senate has little practical impact on how he will rule now that he has a lifetime appointment.

Senate Democrats, who presented a united front against the nomination of Judge Alito in the Judiciary Committee, seem unwilling to risk the public criticism that might come with a filibuster — particularly since there is very little chance it would work. Judge Alito's supporters would almost certainly be able to muster the 60 senators necessary to put the nomination to a final vote.

A filibuster is a radical tool. It's easy to see why Democrats are frightened of it. But from our perspective, there are some things far more frightening. One of them is Samuel Alito on the Supreme Court.

Let's hope the Democrats come through.  I'll be watching with bated breath.


Define That Term #22

Yesterday's term was nisi prius, which is defined as:

(nee-see pree-us) adj. Latin for "unless first," in some jurisdictions it means the original trial court which heard a case as distinguished from a court of appeals, as in court nisi prius. "Court of original jurisdiction" is often substituted for the term nisi prius. See also: original jurisdiction trial court.

Quite a few guesses, but no one got it. 

Today's term is:

remittitur.

And remember, no dictionaries, just brain power.


Where Was the Writing on the Wall?

All that was needed was a simple sign to prevent a tragic death. 

In Penn. v. Jaros, Baum & Bolles, 2006 N.Y. Slip Op. 00213, a bank employee was locked in a vault after regular business hours.  She was unable to obtain assistance by telephone, so she pulled the fire alarm.  Unfortunately, the alarm functioned exactly as was intended and, in addition to summoning the fire department, also activated the carbon dioxide fire suppression system which quickly filled the vault with the poisonous gas that caused her death.

A wrongful death action was brought against the manufacturer of some of the components of the alarm system, the designer of the suppression system, the service contractor that performed inspections of the alarm system and the company that designed the vault.  The First Department denied each defendant's motion for summary judgment and concluded that there were issues of fact as to whether each defendant bore some culpability for her death, including liability for the the failure to post a sign warning that the activation of the alarm would also resulted in the release of a poisonous gas. 

The Court stated that:

There is no showing that a sign, alerting the decedent or any other potential user to the specific consequences of utilizing the alarm in a closed vault without an escape mechanism, should not have been displayed. It cannot be said, as a matter of law, that decedent's death was unforeseeable under the circumstances.

This is such a tragic case that could have been easily prevented if someone, anyone, had exercised common sense.  Hopefully, the defendants are making generous settlement offers as we speak.   I doubt a jury would view any defense in this unfortunate case in a favorable light.


Define That Term #21

Yesterday's term was champerty , which is defined as: 

n. an agreement between the party suing in a lawsuit (plaintiff) and another person, usually an attorney, who agrees to finance and carry the lawsuit in return for a percentage of the recovery (money won and paid). In common law this was illegal on the theory that it encouraged lawsuits. Today it is legal and often part of a "contingent fee" agreement between lawyer and client. It is not the same as barratry, which is active encouragement of lawsuits. See also: barratry contingent fee.

Both Slickdpdx and Joltbklyn were close.  Based upon their comments, I italicized the portion of the definition regarding the term "barratry."

Today's term is:

nisi prius.

Hop to it, my Latin-scholar-readers.  Everyone else is welcome to guess as well, but as always, no dictionaries.


Movement to Allow Orders of Protection to be Obtained Against Non-family Members in Family Court

I came across an interesting article today, which outlined a college student's efforts to amend the  Family Protection and Domestic Violence Prevention Act to allow  victims or potential victims of domestic violence to  seek an order of protection against a non-family member in Family Court.    The current status of the law is explained in the article:

Currently, New York law prohibits Family Court from issuing restraining orders unless the parties are or have been related, or have a child together. This forces people who are being stalked or threatened by others—such as their ex-boyfriends or ex-girlfriends— to initiate an arrest and ask for a restraining order in criminal court.

A bill has been introduced by Assemblywoman Helen Weinstein of Brooklyn that would amend the current law.  The reason behind the move to amend the current law was reported as follows:

“The law should reflect the times we live in,” he says. “Domestic violence is an ongoing problem in today’s society. It’s affecting a broad range of relationships, reflects more than just marital instability, and afflicts younger age groups [than when the law was enacted].” In New York State, the law states that criminal courts can issue orders of protection only in connection with a criminal proceeding, he explains. Only after an incident occurs that’s deemed severe enough to warrant protection can someone obtain an order of protection. The matter is best handled by Family Court, he believes, which should offer protection against non-family members.

Assuming that the Orders of Protection are not handed out indiscriminately, this might be a good idea for a number of reasons.  It would arguably reduce the huge influx of domestic violence cases in the criminal justice system that bog down the criminal courts.  Additionally, family court judges may very well be in a better position than criminal court judges to address the underlying issues that resulted in the need for an order of protection.  Finally, it goes without saying that it certainly makes sense to issue an order of protection in order to prevent domestic violence from occurring in the first place rather than to prevent it from continuing.

However, one of the problems encountered in criminal courts at the misdemeanor level is that orders of protection are handed out like candy.  And, in the typical scenario, the order of protection is granted based solely upon the complainant's version of an event for violation level offenses such as harassment.  Shortly after the Order is issued, the couple, more often than not, reconciles and then gets in another fight, at which point the complainant calls the police, alleges that she was slapped or threatened, and either a felony or misdemeanor a Criminal Contempt charge is filed.  After the defendant is carted off to jail, they of course reconcile yet again, and the complainant then seeks to have all charges dropped.

My hope would be that the proposed amendment might give family court judges the ability to exercise discretion when addressing these types of situations and the jurisdiction to impose conditions upon both parties, such a requiring that the couple seek counseling or that neither party may contact the other if an order of protection is granted. 

Alternatively, perhaps domestic violence courts should be established across the state in order to better address the unique and complex situations presented by domestic violence.


Define That Term #20

Yesterday's term was jurat, which is defined as:

(jur-at) n. Latin for "been sworn," the portion of an affidavit in which a person has sworn that the contents of his/her written statement are true, filled in by the notary public with the date, name of the person swearing, sometimes the place where sworn, and the name of the person before whom the oath was made. It reads generally: "Sworn to this 12th day of October, 1994, by Martha J. Milner, before me, a notary public for said state and county. Barbara A. Stenerson, Notary Public." A jurat is not to be confused with an "acknowledgment" in which the signer of a document such as a deed to real property has sworn to the notary public that he/she executed the document, and the notary signs and seals the document to that effect. See also: declaration notary public acknowledgment .

Once again, Slickdpdx got it correct.  And, Richard wins again for creativity.

Today's term is: 

champerty.

As always, no dictionaries allowed.


Two Great Resources For NY Criminal Defense Attorneys

I recently discovered two great resources available online for New York criminal defense practitioners (and prosecutors as well), written by two very talented attorneys located right here in Rochester, New York. 

First, a series of articles on a variety of interesting criminal defense issues written by Gary Muldoon.  The articles can be found here.

The second resource is Ed Fiandach's articles on DWI issues, which can be found here.

There's a wealth of information available at both sites and the best part--it's free!