Thursday, February 28, 2002

blackhawk serial

Haven't seen the movie Blackhawk Down yet. I wasn't aware that before it was a movie, it was a newspaper serial in the Philadelphia Inquirer. Audio, video, pictures, and "questions and answers with the author" accompany the article, which starts off with a first chapter, entitled: Reliving a firefight: Hail Mary, then hold on.

commencement hijinks

The commencement speaker from my winter graduation at the University of Delaware didn't show up. I don't remember his name, but he was a journalist who won a pulitzer prize, and he was unavoidably detained. His non appearance didn't leave much of an impression. This year's commencement speaker (another pulitzer prize winner) might have left more of an impression, if she hadn't been uninvited.

Historian Doris Kearns Goodwin was to give the commencement address in May. Over the past few months, it was uncovered that some text made it into her writings that she hadn't authored, or credited to the proper author. I wonder if this year's graduates will remember her name in a few years. The request that she not speak came after the University's student newspaper, the Review, criticised her appearance, and the $ 20,000 speaker fees her presence demanded.

grammys misunderstand

It made me a little angry tonight listening to the last hour or so of the grammys, when I got to hear a rant about how ripping music from cds, and downloading songs from the internet, is taking food off of the plates of the children of millions of recording artists, sound engineers, and record executives. The problem isn't electronic distribution of music. The problem isn't that the Grammy staff could have three college students successfully download 6,000 songs from the internet in the period of 24 hours without paying for the music. The problem isn't that people are making archival backup copies of their cds to be stored offsite (under the supervision of friends).

The problem is that an industry is acting myopic. There's a very large market out there waiting for industrious people to release music in mp3 format. The format has been out for five years, and players are becoming common. Where are they getting this music? Where are they supposed to get it if no one will sell it to them?

An excellent foray into the problem with music and mp3s today from Matt Haughey brings a message to those who produce music. On their web site, the Recording Industry Association of American (RIAA), answers the question: What is your stand on MP3? Maybe they should read Matt's article and try answering again.

Wednesday, February 27, 2002

chilling language

If you have a web site, you can learn more about legal issues that you may run face first into in the shape of cease and desist orders, subpoenas, or disputes involving your domain name. A site on those subjects, and copyright, trademarks, defamation, and others, has been put together by the Electronic Freedom Foundation and law school clinics from Harvard, Stanford, Berkeley, and the University of San Francisco Law Schools.

The name of the site is and the title is an apt description of what happens to people afraid to express themselves when they are fearful of oppression in the form of legal actions against them. The Frequently Asked Questions section has some great information on a number of topics. For example, check on the section on John Doe lawsuits.

Office Help

Part time or full time office position available for a responsible, honest, reasonable person with good people skills, who isn't afraid to learn and work. Send resume to L.D. Sullivan, Esquire, 111 Barksdale Professional Center, Newark, De 19711 or fax to (302) 286-6337 or email to:

freedom of information

I remember the first Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request I ever made. Looking up information on Delaware's DUI statute, I accidentally opened the Delaware Code to a random page in the section on Civil Defense.

And there it was - the Communist Registration Act of 1953. The title stopped me in my tracks. I was compelled to read the Act, before going on to discover whether Delaware's DUI statute would call for the automatic revocation of someone's driver's license for a specific period of time, or merely gave the Division of Motor Vehicles the right to take a license away for a time determined at their discretion.

Older versions of the Delaware Code are filled with treasures of legislative history, and often offer an glimpse into the minds of our legislators. For instance, pick up an old copy of the Code, and you might just come across the section which made it a crime to bring a camera with you to a public whipping. Up until 1967, it was legally possible in Delaware to sentence someone to be whipped as a punishment. (What types of crimes were eligible for such a sentence? One I came across was Wife Beating.) There's something just wrong about a state sanctioning a punishment when they would then make capturing the sentence on camera a crime.

The Communist Registration Act required any communist plotting to overthrow the government of Delaware, or of the United States of American, to register with the Office of Public Safety every year, within the first 15 days of the year. This was regardless of whether they were a card carrying member of the Communist Party, or just a communist intent on hiding their allegiance to the communist party, acting in sympathy with the Soviet Republic, while causing (or just planning) the downfall of democracy.

Since the Soviet Republic had been a defunct governmental body for at least a couple of years at that time, I thought that it might have been a good thing to let the law find its way out of the Delaware Code, and into the social studies textbook that it belonged within. The best thing to do might have been to write a letter to a state senator, calling it to his or her attention.

But curiosity got the better of me. Instead, I considered it interesting determining if the law had always been useless, and not just one that was now useless because it was obsolete. I wrote a letter to the Head of the Department of Public Safety requesting to find out if anyone had ever been prosecuted under the law. I didn't want names, just numbers. I mentioned my interest in writing an article about the subject. Never did write that article (until now).

About a week later, I received a response for the Delaware Attorney General's Office letting me know that they had deemed my request worthy of a response. Three weeks later, a letter was in my mailbox from the headquarters of State Police Intelligence. To the best of their knowledge, no one had ever registered under the statute. My guess was that no one had ever been prosecuted under it either from that response. I occasionally wondered from that point on, when within the eyesight of someone from the Attorney General's Office, whether they thought I was harboring secret thoughts about bringing the camaraderie of communism to America.

A few months after my letter, one of the editors from the Wilmington News Journal asked the same questions I had been asking myself about the Communist Registration Act. But he did it within the confines of the editorial page. The law didn't last on Delaware's books too much past his musings about its continued need.

Regardless of my experience with Delaware's Freedom of Information Act, I've always been happy that there was a way for people to ask about such things. And the last couple of years has shown the government providing information online that would have been unimaginable until recently. But, we really do have to be concerned about the types of information that should be disclosed.

Should a detailed map of New York City's power grid be online? What about a map of the reservoirs of the city, or floor plans of government buildings? These are the types of things that might have been released through a Freedom of Information Act request. These are things that were online recently, and have been taken away. The State of New York has been reviewing the information people have access to (registration required) and it's made them nervous. And they have every right to be.

I just hope that someday we can look at the policies being issued now about restricting access to information and find them as obsolete as I thought the Communist Registration Act was when I stumbled across it.

Monday, February 25, 2002

Tricks of the Trade

by Private Investigator Michael T. O'Rourke

Question: I am a Paralegal with a law firm that occasionally utilizes to locate media articles pertaining to individuals or corporations.. The site is expensive. Are there any free sources on the net we could check out?

Answer: Yes, is a great site, and it's free! The web site is a collaboration between LookSmart and the Gale Group. Although the site isn't as content rich as Nexis, it is very useful, and the cost makes it worth a look. Findarticles provides access to 300 publications (Nations Business, Chicago Reporter, PR Newswire, etc.).

Question: Anything new to help a paralegal working in the real estate law arena?

Answer: Absolutely! Check out These people have optically scanned over 800 million deeds, mortgages, and other public filings and delivers them instantly to you for about 3 dollars per document. Coverage areas include California, Arizona, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah, and Washington State. In addition, the 5 counties in the Philadelphia metro area (Philadelphia, Bucks, Montgomery, Chester, and Delaware) are included. To entice you to check out their site, datatree is offering 25 free searches. I have found this site very helpful in skip tracing as well.

Question: A copy of a defendant's credit report would be helpful to our case. How could I obtain a copy?

Answer: You should be aware the release of credit information is regulated by the Fair Credit Reporting Act and various state statutes. Understand the law before attempting to obtain this information. The best way is to obtain a copy is with a signed release from the defendant. If that is not possible you may mail a subpoena (signed by a judge) to the addresses below. The report is free. You must provide a ssn and current address. There are three major sources:

Attn: Custodian of Records
1600 Peachtree St.
Atlanta GA 30309
Ph: (770) 375-2613

Attn: Custodian of Records
P.O. Box 1240
Allen TX 75013
Ph: (972) 390-4016

Attn: Custodian of Records
555 W. Adams St.
Chicago IL 60661
Ph: (312) 466-6401

Det. Michael T. O'Rourke is a Member of the National Association of Investigative Specialists, The National Association of Professional Process Servers, and Sustaining member of the Delaware Paralegal Association.

A Court Certified Special Process Server, and a Licensed Private Investigator in DE and PA, Michael specializes in Insurance and Criminal Defense. He invites your questions to:

Loss Solutions, Inc.
824 N. Market Street, Suite 425,
P.O. Box 368,
Wilmington DE 19899-0368.
(302) 427-3600.

Or you may e-mail him at DE Irish

Saturday, February 23, 2002

contract attorney crisis worse than reported

Recently the Wilmington News Journal reported on how a shortage of budgeted funds for state-paid attorneys is resulting in long trial delays. The article says that Superior Court contracted attorneys are being paid $60 per hour and that this is less than the $100 an hour rate for federal cases and less than some attorneys charge in their private practice.

The reporter in this case missed half of the story. Some attorneys charge more than $60 per hour? Are you kidding me? The State is getting a tremendous deal at the $60 an hour rate, because there are very few attorneys in this county, if any, that charge less than $150 per hour and most are probably significantly above it.

What about the rate that is paid to the private attorneys who represent the patients at the Delaware Psychiatric Center at Superior Court mental commitment hearings? Those attorneys are paid even less. Perhaps this is one reason we have lost about half of the attorneys who practice in this arena, while the number of mental patient hearings dramatically increases every year.

But we shut those cases out of the public view along with the mental patients and their attorneys. Lock them up and shut them up. Are these attorneys paid less for this work because their clients are less important? Or are these just sub-standard attorneys? There has to be a reason, doesn’t there? Perhaps they just don’t lobby as effectively.

What is an hourly rate, anyway? Many people confuse an attorney’s hourly rate with the attorney’s salary. This is a grave miscalculation, as there is very little connection between the two.

The hourly rate is a number calculated to cover the expense of maintaining an office, paying for staff, maintaining insurance, paying taxes, buying office equipment and office supplies and a wide variety of other costs associated with running the business - yes, the business, of a law practice. And if there is anything left after the expenses are paid, the attorney may get to keep some.

What impact is there then when the State pays less than the going rate for legal services? Simply speaking, it automatically jacks up the rate that the attorneys must charge their private clients.

And what about the attorneys that Family Court pays to represent parents who don’t pay their child support when the case becomes serious enough as to merit jail time for the non-paying parent? These cases are called the Black v. Black cases, named after a Delaware Supreme Court Case with that caption. More than rumor has it that these attorneys are paid even less.

The State has admitted that the Courts are the ones who will need to resolve this problem on their own. The story reported was only the tip of the iceberg. The problem that was discussed in the News Journal isn't just confined to criminal defense cases, and it's getting worse by the day.

Friday, February 22, 2002

interview with a terrorist

On Wednesday night, I rushed off with a friend to the University of Delaware, at Clayton Hall, to listen to Peter Bergen. The place brought back some memories.

It's been a few years since a speech given by ex-president Gerald Ford. An evening filled with anecdotes about golfing with Skip O'Neil and memories of the White House (Gerald Ford once quipped, "I know my game is getting better because I'm hitting less spectators.") We amused ourselves by trying to spot secret service agents by the handguns concealed in holsters under their jackets.

Another lecture I saw there back in 1995, was Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., on the topic "Are We Turning Isolationist Again?" What was America's role in the world after the fall of the Soviet Union? A speech by Mr. Schlesinger from about the same time, on Winston Churchill, in Boston, captures some of his eloquence.

Wednesday night, the speaker was a reporter, best know for meeting in 1997 with an obscure Saudi (at the time) named Osama Bin Laden. It was refreshing to hear an eloquent viewpoint from a person unafraid to report on the shortcomings of Democrats and Republicans in recognizing the potential danger that terrorists from the Middle-East posed. Peter Bergen, terrorism analyst for CNN talked in front of more than 600 people from Delaware as part of the Global Agenda 2002 lecture series, with a theme of "Understanding International Terrorism Today."

Perhaps the chance to sit in the seat usually reserved for Paula Zahn, as questioner, was enticing for the crowd. Many people were enthusiastic to pose questions to CNN's Middle East terrorism expert Bergen. Amongst the intelligently phrased queries was one that asked about the role of Al-Jazeera in the media community in light of their holding back on releasing a video tape from Bin Laden. Bergen had begun to address that issue on February 1st, at the probing of Zahn. It appears that the student who asked that question had done some homework before attending the function.

Bergen had a number of things to say about his meeting with Bin Laden in 1997. Amongst them was that hindsight had made his interview a much larger story than he could have imagined. Bergen and a camera man secreted thousands of dollars worth of film equipment into Afghanistan shortly after the Taliban had made the taking of photographic images of people a crime. They had a guide who had some rudimentary "school-boy's" french in common with them.

They waited around in Jalalabad a couple of days before they were contacted by armed people who told them that they had to leave all of their cameras behind, in case they contained tracking devices. They weren't allowed to bring watches, and other implements that might similarly be bugged. Blindfolded with goggles, they were driven around for hours, up and down mountainous areas, and past guards who asked for passwords, at different points. Upon arriving, they were left indoors, until sometime around the middle of the night, armed men came in and searched, and interrogated them. Quietly amongst them, came a tall, thin, unimposing man who spoke softly, and allowed them to ask him questions.

You could tell from Peter Bergen's face that he would like to have that interview all over again. He didn't repeat much of the dialogue he had with Bin Laden on Wednesday, but said in an conversation with an Atlantic Magazine reporter of the interview:
We did the interview with him in 1997 on CNN, and basically no one paid any attention at all. It got a little write-up in some wire services, but it was not a big deal. Bin Laden's actions made him into a big deal. Not the media. Without the simultaneous bombings of the U.S. embassies in Africa in 1998 and the U.S. cruise missile attacks two weeks later against his terrorist training camps, no one would have noticed him.
Bergen finished writing a book on Osama Bin Laden at the end of August of last year. It was scheduled for release about five or so months later. After September 11th, he was asked to update and revise the book for release to the public in mid-November. After hearing Peter Bergen's lecture, I'm interested in reading some other of his views on the subject. I might have to purchase the book online. I'm certain that the local neighborhood bookstore has probably sold out of copies to some of the other visitors to Clayton Hall on Wednesday night.

The lecture series has a number of other speakers who look like they are worth spending an evening listening to, including Barbara Bodine on March 27th, and Egypt’s ambassador to the United States, Nabil Fahmy, on April 10th, and a number of others. The series ends on Feb. 27, with Marcelle Wahba, U.S. ambassador to the United Arab Emirates. If you're in Delaware one of those nights, drop on by the University of Delaware's Clayton Hall. Maybe we'll see you in the crowd.
- William Slawski

Latvia in the 1920's and 1930's

The Picnic


Just what is the Office of Strategic Influence? This newly formed government agency may be out on a mission to engage in tactics of misinformation to spread propaganda. Is the spreading of untruths to combat terrorism a bad idea?

Brigadier General Simon P. Worden heads an agency that the New York Times has called an Office of shady influence.

If our government is going to invest ongoing efforts in spreading false information, maybe we are going to have to learn more about how propaganda works.

- William Slawski

Thursday, February 21, 2002

anthrax suspect?

During a lecture at Princeton University on Monday, Barbara Hatch Rosenberg, (director of the Federation of American Scientists' Chemical and Biological Weapons Program) claimed that the FBI had a suspect in the anthrax mailings last year.

- William Slawski

Wednesday, February 20, 2002

supreme court actions

There are many more cases brought before the US Supreme Court every year than they have time to hear. What does the Court think about when deciding whether or not to hear a case? How is a request made to the Court? The answer to the first question is sometimes difficult to ascertain, though there's no denying that the chosen cases are interesting.. The second is easier to answer. You file a Writ of Certiorari when asking them to review a decision from a lower court. You can also try to file a Writ of Certiorari before a judgment has been filed in a case. The court has total discretion over which cases they will hear.

Recent decisions made by the Court can be found on the Slip Opinions page from the Court's web site. Orders on writs of certiorari are found on another page. Four writs were issued today (pdf), and I counted 417 being denied (I may have missed a couple).

Here's some information on a couple of the ones granted:

Eldred v. Ashcroft
The writ of certiorari raises the following questions:

  • Did the D.C. Circuit err in holding that Congress has the power under the Copyright Clause to extend retrospectively the term of existing copyrights?

  • Is a law that extends the term of existing and future copy-rights “categorically immune from challenge under the First Amendment?

  • May a circuit court consider arguments raised by amici, different from arguments raised by a party, on a claim properly raised by a party?

The counsel of record in the case is Lawrence Lessig, and the lead plaintiff builds free web libraries based upon public domain works. A nice summation of the case can be found in the Wired article; High Court Hears Copyright Case.

John Doe v. Ronald Otte and Bruce Botelho

The impact of the original ruling in the Alaska Court of Appeals has a possible impact upon many of the states that have online registries of sex offenders.
U. S. District Court Judge H. Russel Holland issued a preliminary injunction on January 29, 2002, enjoining the state from the enforcement of the Alaska Sex Offender Registration Act against persons whose crimes were committed before August 10, 1994. This website is now limited to information about persons who committed qualifying offenses on or after August 10, 1994.

Guam was forced to remove 75 per cent of their registered profiles. The docket of the case shows that the writ was filed on November 21, 2001, and that California filed an amici curiae brief.

The Supreme Court will hear the case in the next term which begins in October. The controversy is over whether people who were convicted of crimes before the registration law went into effect should be required to register, and shown on the website registrar.
- William Slawski

Tuesday, February 19, 2002

Hatfield v. McCoy

Today's News Journal reports on a feud between Department of Transportation Secretary Nathan Hayward III and developer Frank Acierno. If you would believe Frank Acierno, he knowingly put up a 45 foot high lighted sign on state property because he thought he could work out a deal with the state. And you would also believe that Frank doesn't understand the two lighted signs that the state put up in its place that said "scofflaws note", after the state ordered Acierno's illegal sign removed.

If you believe Hayward, the scofflaw signs were in the public interest, not a personal attack from him on Acierno. If I hadn't seen the sign being removed in the middle of the night (knowing that you don't hire that many people and a crane to work late at night unless there is a problem), I wouldn't have understood the two portable "Scofflaws Note" signs that endangered our safety at that intersection for a week or so later. If the signs were in the public interest, shouldn't the public have been able to understand what they meant? Clearly, it was only the people who were privy to the problem that were the intended audience (or target?).

I don't believe either of these fellows. And without getting into a chicken or the egg analysis, I think they deserve each other. But lets try to keep it from costing the taxpayers and endangering our safety, eh?

The Hatfield Clan

understanding international terrorism lectures

One of the nice things about living in or near a college town is that some interesting people come to visit and lecture upon occassion. The following message is from the University of Delaware Public Relations Department:

Subject: Understanding International Terrorism Today

Would you like to meet:

  • one of the few Westerners who has actually met Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan?

  • the U.S. Ambassador on whose watch the U.S.S. Cole was bombed in Yemen?

  • the Ambassador from Egypt, whose country strikes a delicate balance between friendship with the U.S. and leadership of the Arab world?

  • an Israeli expert who is critical of Middle Eastern studies in the United States?

  • a former top Pentagon official who, for more than a decade coordinated terrorism-preparedness?

  • a U.S. Ambassador who has been a hands-on observer of "the Arab street" for decades, the Ambassador to the United Arab Emirates, through which much of al Qaeda's money traversed?

  • a nationally known syndicated columnist from The Washington Post who critiques terrorism policy?

All this and more will be part of the 2002 Global Agenda lecture series on "Understanding International Terrorism Today," scheduled at 7:30 p.m. on selected Wednesdays, from Feb. 20 through May 8, in Room 128 Clayton Hall. The series is free and open to the public.

Take advantage of this extraordinary opportunity to learn from practitioners of political, diplomatic and military policy and from the media who cover international terrorism.

Opening the series on Feb. 20 will be Peter Bergen, author of the current best-seller "Holy War, Inc: Inside the Secret World of Osama bin Laden" and the producer of CNN's 1997 ground-breaking interview with Osama bin Laden, who is now being hunted for organizing the Sept. 11 attacks and others. Bergen is one of the few Westerners who has actually met bin Laden. He has traveled frequently to Afghanistan, Yemen, Pakistan and Kashmir, where the al Qaeda network flourished. His topic will be "The Mind of a Terrorist."

For complete information on the series, speakers and dates, check the link from the University's home page at [] or visit UDaily at [].
- William Slawski

Monday, February 18, 2002

the importance of a swing vote

One of the best choices I made while in law school, was to read the Brethren the summer before my second year, when we studied constitutional law. The book, unfortunately now out of print, is an excellent introduction to the people behind some of the most important judicial cases of our time, including Roe v. Wade, Miranda, and many others. It also has the power to give its readers a good sense of how the Court functions.

Because of this book, Constitutional law was one of my favorite classes. But I may have learned more about the constitution from the book than from the class. See Movie Day at the Supreme Court “I Know It When I See It” (pdf), for the types of insights that the book provides. Or even better, find a copy of the book somewhere, and read it, if you're interested in learning about how the Supreme Court works.

One thing The Brethren taught well was the value of a swing vote. And there may be no person in the history of the Court who has understood the role of a moderate in deciding final outcomes than Sandra Day O'Connor

The Washington Post's article The O'Connor Factor; Justice Plays Pivotal Role on High Court describes the growing popularity and influence of the Justice. It also asks a number of questions, such as whether she will retire soon, or become Chief Justice.

Delaware Justice Randy Holland (President of the American Inns of Court) was recently involved in honoring Justice O'Connor (scroll down) in Arizona for her service to the American legal community.

moving justice

The time of the move to the new courthouse in New Castle County is fast approaching. This article states that the Delaware Supreme Court will also move into the Building. I had heard otherwise, and I suspect that they are wrong.

an apple candybar a day...
The type of story that you like to hear every once in a while tells us that Dark chocolate may help fight off heart attacks.

people who live in glass houses...

Best title for any article I've seen on the net in quite a while. After three years of labor and 42,000 bottles, "Stones Least of Worries For Glass House People," from the Moscow Times. [sorry. upon revisiting this story, I've discovered that anything older than a day on the Moscow Times English Language site requires a subscription. Some fascinating stuff there, regardless.]

who's on first

Stealing a pizza in California might no longer be the means of earning a twenty-five-year to life sentence as a third felony, in light of a Ninth Circuit decision made last week. The federal court asked for more proportionality in sentences when habitual offender statutes are used to enhance sentencing orders. Draconian measures of sentencing someone should not be based upon failed attempts to apply baseball metaphors (three strikes) to justice. Nor should they be based upon failed attempts to use the legal system to "rehabilitate" someone, when many measures aimed at rehabilitation are aspirational at best, and total failures at worst; often without sufficient funds or resources to make them successful.

- William Slawski

Sunday, February 17, 2002

around the law

expanding families
The concept of family and parental rights is in a constant state of change.

In Delaware, Family Court ruled on a case in which may have the impact of expanding who may be held responsible for a child. A lesbian couple had a child through in-vitro fertilization. Now, four years later, the couple has broken up, and the custodial parent is suing the other for child support. A Family Court commissioner ruled that both should be considered mothers to the child that they chose to have together. While this will probably be reviewed upon an appeal, I think that this result is indeed in the best interests of the child involved.

In Britain, a study has been released which looks at the possible legal implications of cohabitation without marriage. One of the authors of the study opines that cohabitants should have same legal rights as married couples.

sovereign immunity in the military

Should members of the armed services be allowed to sue the military for violations of privacy? Courts have recognized the use of sovereign immunity to shield the government from lawsuits when there has been a violation of privacy related to a service person's duty in the military. However, the issue in this case stems from the unauthorized use of a flight evaluation in a book.

cloned kitty at heart of debate

The first cloned domestic pet is a kitten. One of the things I found interesting about this story is that it has the Audubon Nature Institute's Center for Research of Endangered Species pitted against the Humane Society of the United States. I can't resist the pun this story brings (sorry). New meaning for the phrase copycat?

questioned judicial nomination

The first federal judicial officer recommended by the Bush administration to get a less than favorable recommendation from the American Bar Association was confirmed this past week. One of the things that people are pointing to is that he is also a Senator's son. The American Bar Association may make recomendations to the Senate Judiciary Committee, but that doesn't always mean that they are listened to. Three of President Clinton's appointees to the federal judiciary also failed to get positive recommendations, but were confirmed.

ftc calls upon miss cleo

The Federal Trade Commission complaint was filed last Thursday after the agency received over 2,000 complaints in the last 18 months. Callers who dialed the service, which was advertised as a free reading, had their phone lines directed to a 900 number with charges of $4.99 per minute. An average reading would cost approximately $60.00. Miss Cleo wasn't a named party in the complaint. Maybe she did see this coming.

justice moving quickly

With a move to a new courthouse scheduled for later in the year, and overcrowding in Delaware's prisons, Superior Court is taking action. Over 400 cases have been set for trial in a four-week blitz, which is equivalent to 6 months worth of scheduling in previous years.

slavery in delaware

While Delaware fought on the side of the Union during the civil war, its attitudes about slavery might have been described as reflecting more those found in the southern states. Slavery was still legal in the state at the end of the war between the north and the south. The Emancipation Proclaimation only applied to Confederate states, and it wasn't until eight months after the civil war ended that slavery was declared illegal in Delaware by the passage of the 13th amendment. Why did slavery linger in the first state, and what treatment did freed slaves face in Delaware?
But Delaware's gradual liberation of slaves also worked against free blacks, Williams said. The state had one of the highest percentages of free blacks by 1800, which led to many laws restricting their rights.

"They now had to pass restrictive legislation to keep blacks in their place," Williams said. "And that restrictive legislation was probably stricter than any other legislation in the United States, north or south."

For instance, free blacks in Delaware could not carry guns or gather in large groups without a white person present. And if free blacks were idle, the sheriff could seize them and offer their services to a white employer.

patenting genomes

An excellent discussion of the patentability of genetic material from Denise Howell of Bag and Baggage is
You Don't Own Me But I'm Your Genome - A Primer On Why Genetic Material Is patentable The links she provides for further research are also well worth following.

mention in other blogs

We recently added a few links on the main page of Delaware Law Office to some other blogs that we like to look at, and were ecstatic to see that a couple of them linked back to us.

We didn't know about the Delaware connection from Outside Counsel before our link, but the blogging going on there by William C. Altreuter was something that inspired us to put together a weblog. (thanks!)

Another inspiration to blog was an essay by Rebecca Blood, called weblogs: a history and perspective. I particularly liked the section where she describes the impact writing a blog had on her own personal life; how it caused her to focus upon and think about her interests, or as she called it, a, "journey of self-discovery and intellectual self-reliance." We started this blog for a couple of reasons. One was try to focus upon and keep track of legal issues in the world around us, and the other was to try to have fun. It was great to see her point us out as a law blog. Thank you, Rebecca, for the link and for the inspiration.

We also found ourselves linked to by John Steven in Trance Gemini where he offers intelligent commentary, mixed with a large element of fun. (thanks for the cite!)

- William Slawski

Saturday, February 16, 2002

state songs and state birds
The despot's heel is on thy shore,
His torch is at thy temple door,
Avenge the patriotic gore
That flecked the streets of Baltimore,
And be the battle queen of yore,
Maryland! My Maryland!

The beginning of Maryland's State song is rousing, and embodies the State's willingness to fight against cruel tyranny. Woe that the tyrant in this case is Abraham Lincoln.

There's a debate going on in Maryland's State Legislative halls on this subject. It's been going on for years.

It's time to end it. The question poised is "should a song that has embarassing historical significance continue to be the official song of the state?" If most of the state's residents are too embarassed to sing the song, then maybe it is time to look for a replacement.

The last battle over the the changing of the song was the result of a homework assignment, last year.

The rest of the song appears on the Maryland web site: "Maryland, My Maryland"

Should that despot Lincoln continue to be immortalized in Maryland's confederate anthem? I hope not. But that's not my choice. The people, and the legislators, of Maryland should decide.

I'm glad to say that the Delaware State song appears to hold no such controversy. If it reads a little like a high school anthem, that's ok. Most of us like it anyway.

But, it's easy to make that argument against Maryland's State Song as an outsider. How would Delaweareans feel if an organization like PETA urged us to change our state bird, the Blue Hen Chicken (scroll halfway down the page) because it reflects a barbaric and cruel custom of cock fighting.

Or was it named as state bird to immortalize those who fought in the revolutionary war on our behalf, the men who became known as the Delaware Blue Hens?
- William Slawski

Thursday, February 14, 2002

black horse

February 12 started the chinese new year. A friend told me that this is an unlucky year for he and I (as we have the same birthday) is the year of the water horse or the black horse. I took the news with the skepticism I reserve for such things. Last night, as I was driving home with a large vase of flowers carefully perched on the back seat, I began to hear the water horse's hooves bearing down on me. It sounded like water pouring into the floor. It was. So today another accomplice helped me to research chinese astrology a little further. I found out that I am a brown pig, that my lucky element is metal, and that I've used it all up. Great.

But luck is not everything, Jenny T. Liu, M.A. says that I have paid my karma dues and that I will prosper in reputation beyond my expectations. She also predicts that I will travel frequently and eat well. That's not all bad.

every breath you take

Have a great Valentine's Day!

Lately, it seems like privacy is often in the news:

on video

In response to the Washington, D.C., police action to build a network of surveillence cameras, the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) has filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to find out what type of information will be collected by the cameras, and who will have access to it. Hopefully the EPIC web site will let us know if their request has been fulfilled.

The NYC Surveillance Camera Project News page has some great articles on the subject of surveillance. One of them, on the failure of facial recognition technology in Tampa, Florida (pdf) may hold less than stellar news for the District of Columbia's Police force. According to the ACLU, Tampa police's use of cameras and face recognition software ended with less than great results: no hits, no arrests, and many false positives. The data the ACLU received was with the use of FOIA requests. The Tampa force used dozens of cameras. The D.C. endeavor includes hundreds of cameras, but they haven't decided upon which "face-matching" software they will use yet.

In Britain, where there are over 2.5 million surveillance cameras, the results aren't seen to be very spectacular also, as an article in the Aspen Daily News reports:
Far from reducing crime, however, Britain's violent crime rate has risen. Cameras seem to have an initial deterrent effect but that often decreases over time. They tend only to prevent opportunistic, or spur of the moment, crimes and otherwise displaces crime to a different area. Indeed, the crime reduction statistics have been declared "wholly unreliable" by Professor Jason Ditton, director of the Scottish Center for Criminology, and without credibility by the British Journal of Criminology.
The Aspen article refers to a report by Jeffrey Rosen, entitled: Being Watched: A Cautionary Tale for a New Age of Surveillance.

on the web

So you're at home browsing the web, when you read a report that your cable company is tracking your every click of the mouse. Do you: (1) call customer service and complain, (2) drink a beer, and offer a toast to evaporating privacy, (3) send a letter to your Senator (4) sell your computer, pack up your belongings and move to some place where no one knows your name? On the heels of news that the Comcast cable company was tracking the viewing habits of their users came a column in the Washington Post that Comcast will stop tracking their users. It appears that someone chose option number three above, as this letter probably had something to do with Comcast's decision.

as you read

If you've read any good books lately, it's possible that the government might want to take a good look at your reading list. Should the government be able to demand that a bookstore turn over a list of books that you've purchased? Or require that an online bookstore provide a list of all of the purchasers of a particular book or cd.
In fact, according to Finan, less-publicized demands by law enforcement for customer information have become "alarmingly" more frequent over the past two years. And not only independent booksellers, but giants like Borders and Amazon, have been subpoenaed. In perhaps the most egregious case, authorities ordered Amazon to give them a list of all customers in a large part of Ohio who had ordered two sexually oriented CDs. Independent booksellers have been especially hard-hit by these cases. And fighting them without the benefit of a corporate budget or in-house counsel means hefty legal bills and months, if not years, of hassle.

on the phone

At least the telephone companies aren't selling information about your account. What? They could be? Customer proprietary network information (CPNI)? There's a misunderstanding involving the information collected by telecommunications corporations about their customer's telephone calls. CPNI includes:
the time, date, duration and destination number of each call, the type of network a consumer subscribes to, and any other information that appears on the consumer's telephone bill.
And telephone companies have been considering selling this information. Should you have to opt-out of the phone company's sale of this type of information about you? Here's hoping that a slight change to the Communications Act of 1934 will end that confusion.

- William Slawski

Wednesday, February 13, 2002

southern fimmaking
I’ve been reading Oxford American Magazine since their spring 2002 issue, which was the Southern-music issue, and was accompanied by a cd filled with some excellent music. Their Winter 2002 issue hit the shelves this week and its topic is Southern Movies. While we try to focus upon subjects related to Delaware or the law (or both) here, I really enjoyed an article from this issue of Oxford American by writer and filmmaker Gary Hawkins, called Chicken House Cinema.

Oxford American has nothing at all to do with the law, unless you consider that its founder and publisher is John Grisham, who is a former lawyer, and has written a few books with law-related themes. That’s a bit of a stretch though.

Delaware really has very little to do with the south, though some people consider it a southern state rather than a mid-atlantic state. Delaware is the only State in the union which is divided in half by a man-made waterway. The Delaware canal splits the State into a northern half, and a southern half. The area above the canal tends to be filled with more industry and offices than the agriculturally inclined southern half. And when I talk with someone from below the canal, I often detect a note of a southern accent in their voice. But that still doesn’t make Delaware a southern state

While you could probably fit the population of Delaware in Times Square on a new year’s eve and have room for a few-hundred thousand more people, in many ways, the population of Delaware is representative of the rest of the population of the country. People who study demographics tend to like to conduct surveys and polls in Delaware because of the way that results of Delaware-wide polls tend to echo the results of country-wide polls. Maybe we have a little southern attitude in that mix.

I think what I enjoyed about this article was that the author willingly took on a number of restraints in his craft to capture the local flavor of the region he was telling a story about with his filmmaking.

From Chicken House Cinema:

Oddly, the filmmakers who most strongly advocate regional filmmaking are Danish. A few years ago a movement called dogme (dogma) sprung to life in Denmark. It began as a joke, then it caught on. Their manifesto listed ten requirements that must be met if your film is to qualify as dogme-worthy. A few of them are:

(1) handheld cameras only; no tripods or dolly tracks.

(2) The cameras must remain near the action.

(3) Available light only.

And my favorite:

(4) No props can be brought to the set; only found props may be used.

When I read the full list of requirements, I thought, Well, that’s just what I need to make a better film, a litany of thou-shall-nots. But when I actually began filming Five Mile Drive according to the dogme specs, I found them not only freeing but a valuable contributor to the film’s sense of place. An example: I wrote a scene where two sisters go to a graveyard and trade out the artificial flowers on their mother’s grave. The older sister says it’s got to be done, the younger thinks it’s ridiculous. Real flowers, sure, but plastic flowers, what’s the point? It’s a bickering scene. On the day of the shoot, I jumped in my car and headed down to Shopper’s Paradise to pick up the flowers and realized, Wait a minute, those Danes won’t let me do this....I could cheat. Naw, I’ll have them lift the flowers that are already there. Naw, that’s pretty low and doesn’t work for the characters either. Then I hit upon the solution, which takes me back to Nunez in Panama Beach. I wrote a scene where the two sisters go to Shopper’s Paradise and buy artificial flowers. And I liked the solution, because it linked the sisters to the flowers to the store to the graveyard, all in a sequence. Southern filmmakers who dissed dogme when it first arrived might want to take a second look. There’s something kindly southern about it.

The dogme rules are an interesting approach to telling a story on film. For all of their restraints upon filmmaking, in some ways this approach frees the person making the film to focus upon the tale being told.

around the law

internet law in spain
It looks like a Spanish law regulating the internet may be going before the parliment. There is an aspect to the law that has some concerned:
Controversy surrounded one article in the law that said that a "competent authority" would be given the power to close down any website that violates principals of personal and family privacy, personal data, and freedom of expression and information.

verdict awarded to motor duty deputy who questioned quota
A California jury found in favor of a police officer who refused to follow an order to write a minimum of at least 100 citations per month, and who lost his position because of the refusal.

smuggled sperm in court
A New York mobster in prison in Pennsylvania; his wife wanted to use his sperm to get pregnant. A guard was willing to take a bribe to help smuggle the prisoner's sperm out of the prison. The frozen sperm has been impounded by federal prosecutors and the government is asking that it be destroyed. If you were the judge hearing this case, how would you decide?

incarcerating dangerous people
The US Supreme Court issued an opinion in a case at the end of last month that ventures along a dangerous ground. The case is Kansas v. Crane, and in the decision, the court sought to distinquish between people who are incarcerated as a punishment for a crime, and people who are confined without a criminal conviction in order to prevent any future harm. The author of the findlaw article calls the highest court's decision a failure, in that it didn't give any guidance to distinquish between the two:
Nine Justices at least profess to believe that the ordinary dangerous criminal should be subject exclusively to the criminal justice system. They claim to believe as well that despite the Crane decision, civil confinement remains a limited instrument for dealing with the unusual case. But all nine are wrong - for they have opened an Pandora's box that allows civil commintment of a wide range of ex-criminals, mentally ill persons, and even those who are simply considered "abnormal." Kansas and other states that have, or enact, similar laws are now free to show just how wrong the Justices are.

Who will next be confined without having done anything to justify that confinement? The answer to this question depends upon who scares us the most - and that group may no longer form an exclusive club whose members all boast some form of mental illness.

ftc busts chain mailers
Why am I so underwhelmed by this story of the FTC busting seven people for their involvement in a chain letter email? It's true that this paticular chain involved more than 2,000 participants from almost 60 countries. The settlement the FTC reached with the seven participants appears to be more of a slap on the wrist than anything else. My guess is that this enforcement action will have as much impact as a rare (but successful) prosecution of a jay walking case.
- William Slawski

Tuesday, February 12, 2002

around the law

sea turtles
A reader of Delaware Law Office sent in the following link. The Ocean Conservancy's Ocean Action Network has issued a call to action regarding regulations involving sea turtles and shrimp trawler nets. They are asking for help in influencing the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) in that ageny's shaping of proposed changes to regulations that would make Turtle Excluder Devices (TEDs) on shrimp trawls larger, so that larger sea turtles can escape the nets used to catch shrimp. Research shows that many smaller and medium sized turtles are escaping, but large ones are still getting caught up in nets. The size of the escape mechanism doesn't affect the number of shrimp that are caught by the shrimp nets. They've set up a letter for you to use, and edit, to send to the NMFS if you are interested. (Thank you, Rachael)

death penalty errors
Another submission we've received, from Jessica Fitzpatrick (thank you, Jessica), on an alarming study about the rate of errors in death penalty cases:
Calling agressive dealth penalty sentencing a "magnet for serious error," a study released by law professors from Columbia Law School reports that more deadly errors involving innocent people are likely to manifest in states where the death penalty is sought zealously. The study also found that other factors, such as areas that have higher African American populations, areas where judges face political pressure, and overburdened legal systems can also lead to to errors, where innocent people are sentenced to death.

The study follows a similar one, released in 2000, which reported that 68% of all death penalty cases reviewed from 1973 to 1995 were found to contain errors and reversed. Relying on those findings, as well as the fact that since the re-introduction of the death penalty in 1973, nearly 100 death row inmates were later exonerated (some in the nick of time), the study concluded by recommending a death penalty sentence for only the "very worst of the worst."

certification, standards, and labels on food
In what has the makings of a good beginning to a useful resource guide, the Consumers Union Group has issued a Guide to Environmental Labels. Many people like making environmentally sound choices when they shop for food. This is an information source to help those people find out more about the products they've chosen, to let them see what the label on the product actually means. Information about certification programs and standards is also covered by the data base provided. (via metafilter)

replacement tire safety problems
This is disturbing. Claims of tread separation are springing up in tires being used to replace the 13 million recalled from Firestone.

creative commons licenses
Stanford professor Lawrence Lessig, who has written a couple of books on legal issues relating to the internet, is involved in a venture called Creative Commons, which will be unveiled in a few months.
In a boon to the arts and the software industry, Creative Commons will make available flexible, customizable intellectual-property licenses that artists, writers, programmers and others can obtain free of charge to legally define what constitutes acceptable uses of their work. The new forms of licenses will provide an alternative to traditional copyrights by establishing a useful middle ground between full copyright control and the unprotected public domain.
This approach will address some of the problems that Lessig sees in the present application of copyright law.

tracing spam
Just how do you find the company behind that spam in your inbox? A report on MSNBC from a Wall Street Journal reporter called Tracking spam to the source discusses some of the problems the author faced when he tried to find out more about the people and companies behind the spam.

I received an email today asking if I had heard more about a program called mailwasher. It included a link to the site where this software is available for free. I checked a number of sites which had reviews of the program, and they all seem to be positive. Mailwasher allows you to review your emails while they are still on the server, and return some of them as if they had bounced because the address was bad. What this should do is to hopefully have a spammer remove your email address from his or her list because they believe that it is a bad email address. The program also lets you set up your own black list to filter out emails from certain addresses. It looks like a useful program.

Another site to consider visiting if you're interested in tracing and reporting spam is Spam Cop, which provides a useful service to help you identify and send complaints to the networks where spam originates.
- William Slawski

Saturday, February 09, 2002

the supreme court waltz

Just how many justices can dance on the head of a pin? This is asked, analyzed, and discussed in Affirmative Action or Reverse Discrimination: Trick or Treat, by Professor Thomas E. Baker. Professor Baker discusses how the U.S. Supreme Court is tackling with the logical inconsistancies of allowing racial discrimination on one hand, while declaring it unconstitutional on the other.

In effect, a different set of laws for people of different races. Isn't that what we were trying to eradicate with Brown v. Board of Education? Have we achieved nothing but dipping the brush in another color? Shouldn't we be looking for Martin Luther King's dream? be judged 'based upon the content of [our] character, rather than the color of [our] skin'.

[The Supreme Court, in November of 2001 Dismissed, as Improvidently Given, Certiorari in the underlying case. This means that The Supreme Court declined to hear the case. There were substantial reasons for this dismissal. This issue will now be moved lower on the dance card.]

brown v. board of education

In a couple of years, we will be celebrating the 50th anniversary of one of the most important decisions that the US Supreme Court has made.

Today's local Wilmington News Journal carries a story about the two Delawareans nominated by the State's Congressional Delegation to serve on the national committee which will commemorate the date in two years. Delaware is very well represented by the selection of Littleton Mitchell and Superior Court Judge Charles H. Toliver, IV.

When reading over pages about previous celebrations of the decision, I came across an editorial called Marks and Markers of Remembrance, by O. L. Davis, Jr., of The University of Texas at Austin. Mr. Davis had the following to say on the 40th anniversary of the landmark ruling:
Maybe 40 years is not a long enough period for mindful remembrance. Perhaps the 50th anniversary of the Brown v. Board ruling will be the appropriate event for remembrance. Both these possibilities vulgarize and demean our profession. The judicial decision and its consequences merit regular remembrance, routine observance unattached to a particular year. Other important events and individuals deserve no less. Without such markers, individuals and the entire community will forget.

Our profession, its practice and scholarship, has forgotten so very much. Most of our colleagues recognize the names of John Dewey and Jerome Bruner, but few have read their substantial works. All but forgotten, for example, are the reports of the Committee of Ten, Terman's genetic studies of genius, the Eight-Year Study, and the Virginia curriculum study. Shrouded in pure mystery are the origins of the American high school, the Carnegie unit, the year-round school, vocational education, and much, much more. We are not alone. Few of our predecessors remembered. A people forgets unless it is called to remember together.

The points that Mr. Davis makes are strong ones, and I hope that in some way whatever comes out of the 50th anniversary celebration can act to serve as a more constant reminder of the fight for rights of people than a celebration every half century. As Mr Davis tells us in the introduction to his essay, "A people knows itself by what it remembers together."

The Statement of J.C.Watts, Jr., who introducted the Bill creating the Commission, to the House of Representatives.

President Bush's press release on the "Brown v. Board of Education Anniversary Commission."
The Commission will advise the Secretary of Education on activities to help celebrate one of the most important decisions ever issued by the U.S. Supreme Court -- the decision that recognized the constitutional right to freedom from racial discrimination in our public schools.

The Brown Foundation for Educational Equity, Excellence and Research publishes a newsletter for classroom teachers called the Brown Quarterly. Titles from some past issues: Native American Issue, Black History Month Issue, Ellis Island/Immigration Issue, Asian American History Month. Their Brown v. Board 45th Anniversary Issue covers the efforts involved in building the Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site in Topeka, Kansas.
- William Slawski

Friday, February 08, 2002

guest commentary

On Tuesday, Larry posted an invitation for commentary from the community at large. We received a passionate email that covered a subject that is of considerable importance in our community. The author asked that it be signed "a concern parent." I'd like to thank the author for submitting this message. They are some words for us all to think about carefully. Here's the message:

How safe is the school bus your children ride on every day?

We all want to believe that everyone has safety and concern for others set as priorities, especially when it comes to the ones we love and care for; our children. We cannot fathom anyone caring any less for them than we do.

However, it seems that transporting our children to and from school everyday may not entirely be about safety. Have the bus companies, our school districts and local governments been lulling us into a false sense of security? How safe realistically are our children when they walk up the steps of the big yellow bus every single school day?

Just think of the immense responsibility that weighs on bus drivers. They may carry upwards of fifty children at a time. They are however barely paid above the minimum wage. We also expect them to drive defensively, follow school and bus company procedures while babysitting and taming our cherubs during every trip. Most of us can relate to having to drive down the highway with a couple of screaming kids in the backseat. Can you imagine thirty, forty, even fifty?

Are we certain it is realistic to expect one person to assume all these responsibilities? Which brings me to my next concern; which criteria are used to select a bus driver? Is it his or her love for children, his or her impeccable driving record, his or her clean police record or his or her stable employment history? What are the school bus companies and school districts actively doing every day to ensure that any bus driver can be completely trusted with your child?

Let's not kid ourselves. If parents did their homework, bus companies, school districts and government would uphold sound safety rules and regulations. We must make our children's safety the bottom line and for once not the all-mighty dollar.

We cannot afford to wait for a child, maybe yours, to get hurt before "something good comes out of it". We can make something good happen right now for our children and their children. Talk to your school officials, your Senator. Find out what the law is when it comes to our childrens' safety on and around the school bus. We, as parents, must do more to guarantee the safety of our children because it is OUR responsibility, WE THE PEOPLE.

Transporting our children should not be a business. The buck must stop here or we are looking at many accidents to happen. One of them may even involve your child. It did mine!

- A concerned parent

Thursday, February 07, 2002

internet friendly state court

The Justice of the Peace Courts took a giant leap forward for mankind by taking the one little step of making their primary complaint form not-only online, but usable online. What I mean is that you can go to the JP Court site, bring up the form on your computer, and fill in the blanks. You then print the form, and you are off to the lawsuits. It is wonderfully convenient and simple. Why don't all the courts do this?

around the law

judicial battle

The first major judicial confirmation battle faced by the Bush administration? A New York Times opinion piece (free registration required) has less than flattering words about the nominee.

implanted chips

They want their ID chips now. About a family desperately wanting to be the first to have chips implanted in them, which can be detected up to four feet away by a special antenna. Scientifically, this chip technology is intriquing. Legally, it's more than a little frightening.

science behind the myth?

You've possibly read greek mythology, and came across a passage where an adventurer consulted with the Oracles at Delphi, to find his or her destiny. Geographic studies cast a new light on this subject, and raise the question, "were the Oracles at Delphi High?"

delaware's legal community has the blues

Make that Dem Courthouse Blues, as the director of the Delaware Community Legal Aid Society (CLASI) gathered together a number of Delaware attorneys and produced a cd to benefit the Society. Some features of the album include artwork by the talented Commissioner Mark Vavala, and Superior Court Judge Carl Goldstein playing guitar. CLASI provides free legal services to poor, disabled, or elderly residents in Delaware.

thumbnails are fair use

A federal District Court ruled that the image search company doing business as can continue to show thumbnails, or smaller renditions, of images used as links to a full-sized image's page of residence. However, a discussion of linking and framing without permission made it appear that the court wasn't keen on the concept of displaying someone else's work within a frame as if it were your own property.

harmless household tools?

Sometimes you come across something on the internet, and you find yourself wondering whether it's parody or not. I own plenty of tools, and yet when I go looking for a screwdriver, I can never seem to find the one I want when I need it. Maybe that's a tie-in to the next article, but I find myself questioning whether these folks are serious when they advocate the boycotting of screwdrivers. (And, by all means, watch out for those assault screwdrivers).


Will teleportation become something commonly used in our lifetimes? This could make some profound changes in the way we live.

- William Slawski

Wednesday, February 06, 2002

some federal services online

The Federal government is getting more friendly to internet users:

gifts of money

The Bureau of Printing and Engraving has a number of unique gift ideas available online in the As far as I can tell, they are the only (legal) manufacturers of many fine products, including Lucky 777 Notes, and uncut sheets of currency in many denominations. If you visit the, make certain that you view their flash enabled description of how to detect counterfeit money. The bobble headed Treasury Agent displayed would make a great addition to the fine paper products that they produce and sell. If you prefer metal gifts, visit the U.S. Mint's online catalog.

check out beach weather from home

When you ask people what the seven uniformed services of the United States are, they usally leave out the smallest of the bunch. It's not easy to think of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in the same light as Army, Air Force, Navy, Marines, et. al. (Just what are the other two?). Check out the history resources on their pages if you want to find out the roles they've played in working with the American military. One of the services they offer online is the ability to check on the water temperature at the beach. At the time I wrote this, the Lewes, DE, waves rolled in at a frosty 46 degress farenheit, as measured by buoy 44009.

send a valentine, to someone in the armed forces

Since a letter found its way to Abigail Van Buren of Dear Abby in 1967, from a service man asking for a christmas present in the form of a letter from home, Operation Dear Abby has been busy bringing letters to service man and women. With recent concerns about mail delivery, this year's letter writing campaign has been suspended. But Operation Dear Abby is now on the net. Send a valentine to someone, and let them know how things are at home.

social security

Any idea how much you might be entitled to in Social Security benefits? You can request a copy of your social security statement online. You don't receive the information directly over the net, but a copy of the document will be mailed to you within 2 - 4 weeks.

plain english guide

The United States Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) have put together a document in pdf format called A Plain English Handbook: How to Create Clear SEC Disclosure Documents that is worth looking at by anyone interested in writing well. The document does describe how to write a disclosure statement well. But it also provides a couple of other functions that make it worth looking over. It incorporates some really great ideas about how to write within the frame work of its subject matter. It also is an excellent guide for people who are working together on a project that involves writing. It gives some great strategies for organizing, and overseeing the production of a multi-person generated document.

buy a home (or former federal building)

The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is in the real estate business. As are a number of other federal agencies. Homes for sale is a page on the HUD web site that can lead you to agencies selling land and houses. So, if you're looking, why not check out some of the homes for sale by Customs. The store front apartment building in Harrisburg, Pa., looks mighty interesting. The U.S. General Services Administration has some nice looking homes and former federal properties for sale, too. The only thing listed in Delaware was a 60' tall steel light tower, which is on the registry of historic places. Someone beat me to it though. I did see a former post office and court house in Eureka, California.

travel tips and warnings

Interested in visiting another country? Willing to take travel suggestions from the U.S. Depatment of State? They have a full list of Services and Information for American Citizens Abroad.

- William Slawski

Tuesday, February 05, 2002

court records online

Online Journalism Review probes the question, "Should Court Records go online?" While asking this question, they point towards a web site that posts commentary about five or six appellate court decisions daily, including the awards in the cases. is the product of a Tulsa civil rights attorney, and provides the type of information that only larger law firms were able to afford in the past.

There is debate over different types of data from court cases being placed on the internet. A great amount of information is collected during civil suits for witnesses, defendants, and plaintiffs. While most of it doesn't get reported in a judicial opinion, it is possible that some states will include more about cases online than just the official opinions of the courts.

Some say that releasing the addresses of jurors and witnesses could lead to intimidation. Somehow, I don't see that type of information being made public on a web site.

Certain jurisdictions in California have placed abstracted information online; avoiding giving all details of a civil or criminal case. Other states, like Oklahoma, are working towards publishing considerably more of the facts and circumstances online.

Should all the information that would be available to you if you visited the courthouse in person also be obtainable from the Court's home page?

christmas lights

If you haven't taken down your christmas lights yet, it might be time.

space budget

The President's recommendations to Congress over a budget have been released, for fiscal year 2003. I've always been entranced by our space program, and the thought of people going into space on a rocket, and having their lives sustained while in a hostile environment amazes me everytime I think about it.

One back door means to information about what an agency is planning for the coming year is to sneak a glimpse at its budget request. The NASA budget request includes a pretty good status report of their many programs. Though, the Planetary Society has some words about some of the proposed cutbacks in NASA's budget.

- William Slawski

opinions, everybody's got one

If you would like your opinion published here, forward it for editorial review to: We encourage the exchange of responsible ideas.

Monday, February 04, 2002

danny sullivan's take on the lawsuit over paid placements

The litigation that Mark Nutritionals filed against four search engines last week is the subject of an article by Danny Sullivan in the latest Search Engine Report. It's excellent, in-depth analysis of some of the issues involved in the suits.

Can failure to include the Mark Nutritional site in the top results for their trademarked product be considered trademark infringement? Is the fact that the advertisement based sites have the appearance of relevance based search engines important? Does Altavista fit with the other three named defendants? Is the old "bait and switch" tactic taking place? What is Google's opinion of the suit?

Interesting questions. Good answers. The Search Engine Report also links to the actual complaints filed.

- William Slawski

slight pollution or light pollution?

A recent report of an oil spill at a southern Delaware DuPont plant at first said that there was no impact upon the environment, and then later said that there was not yet any confirmation of impact upon wildlife.

Can there be a fuel oil spill in a river that doesn't hurt the environment?

I applaud the worker who risked his neck to turn off the pump and limit the amount of the spill. It was in the middle of the night, on a slippery barge, and he was being sprayed with fuel oil. He was courageous.

But let's not dance around whether there is an environmental impact - of course there is. Is it less of an impact because of the efforts of the barge operator and other workers? Yes, and thank goodness.

While this pollution was on my mind, and while web surfing for a replacement light fixture, I came across a list of web sites dealing with light pollution. At first I didn't understand (not being an enviromental attorney by specialty). Were they talking about a little pollution?

No, it turns out that there is a thing called light pollution dealing with too much light, or light of the wrong color, or light during the wrong hours of the day. There are even ordinances controlling all of these things (pdf), in some jurisdictions.

Just another argument to buy a 100,000 acre ranch in Montana and hunker down smack dab in the middle.

vexatious litigants

I noticed a news article today about an attempt in the UK to allow people to file lawsuits online. Here's the beginning of what I was going to write:
An Online cybercourt is in the works in the UK. See the pilot page for the service, which is called Money Claim Online."
That's when I saw that "Vexatious Litigants cannot use the service." So what, exactly, is a Vexatious Litigant?

It's not something that we have in Delaware, but it seems to have found its way into other state courts.

It appears that legislatures have passed laws limiting, or denying, the use of the courts to people who pursue pro se actions that may seem to be an attempt to use litigation as a weapon to harm others. People are put on an official blacklist, barring them from filing any litigation, except possibly in small claims court.

California has such a statute, as does Florida. I stopped looking for others after I found out next that Texas also has a similar statute.

These statutes are aimed at people who aren't represented by an attorney. One of the means of being declared a "vexatious litigant" under a number of these statues, is to lose five (pro se) civil actions in a span of five years.

Is there a constitutional right to access to the courts? Does a statute like this deny that right? Or, is the statute a necessary evil, used to protect against those who would use civil litigation to frivilously harass others? I hope that we don't see something like this come to Delaware.
- William Slawski

Saturday, February 02, 2002

hear ye hearsay? we hear hearsay

One of the most confusing set of rules of evidence are the ones that deal with hearsay. The concept of hearsay is a little difficult to explain (and understand), and it has more exceptions than swiss cheese has holes. And, sometimes there are certain types of hearings where the rules of evidence aren't always applied, or are applied in a way that makes you tilt your legal head.

Hearsay is "an out of court statement used to prove the truth of the matter asserted." What that means is that the courts want to use the best evidence available to them that they can - the evidence that is the most reliable. So when you have someone saying something, or making a statement by their words or gestures, you should have that person on the stand testifying as to what they said or meant. Having someone else on the stand testifying to the other person's statement is much less reliable, because you can't ask that someone else the motivations behind the statement, or cross examine them very effectively.

Hearsay doesn't even need to be words. It can be the act of another person. So, for instance, if I wanted to prove that it was raining on a certain day, and I brought someone in to testify that it was raining because they were looking out a window and saw someone opening an umbrella, that act of opening an umbrella would be hearsay. If the person testified that they saw raindrops, that would be direct testimony, and would bring very little possibility of objection.. But the umbrella testimony could be objected to under the hearsay rule.

Keep in mind that everytime an objection is made to a statement involving hearsay, there is the possibility to overcome that objection by referring to one of the exceptions. The exceptions are important because they can limit the way the "out of court statement" is interpreted by the judge or jury.

Hearsay can also be a written statement. You want the author in court to testify about what is written, if possible. Not having the author there means that you might have difficulties using the document to prove what is said within it. You might be able to use it to prove something else, such as what the state of mind its author was in at the time of writing. The rule of hearsay can be frustrating, and limiting, but it is valuable because its use produces good results. The idea is that such hearsay is inherently unreliable, and that allowing the testimony would violate our constitutional right to hear and question witnesses brought against us.

There are many exceptions to that rule. Most of the exceptions reflect circumstances where we might tend to give more weight to the words, such as the last few words of a dying person (if he knew he was dying), or a spontaneous excited utterance, or papers kept as normal business records.

In Delaware Civil Commitment Hearings, a doctor can testify that the social worker told her that the social worker heard a neighbor say another neighbor said that you were walking around naked in your back yard.

And this will be heard officially by the Court with only the doctor's testimony and nobody else available to ask about what happened. We aren't usually given a practical opportunity to question either the social worker nor the neighbors because the first time we hear about some of this is in the middle of a hearing. And these hearings usually only have one witness, the State Hospital's witness, a psychiatrist.

This is the only type of hearing that I am aware of that hearsay is so freely admitted, and makes up such a high percentage of the overall case. I recall my first hearing of this nature, almost 10 years ago now, where I jumped up to object to what I thought was inadmissible hearsay. It was that day that I learned that these types of Court hearings are mostly hearsay and opinion.

Since then, I have worked on thousands of mental commitment cases. There are a small number of attorneys and judicial officers who work on these matters. Once in a while an attorney who is not familiar with the process will appear for a hearing, usually as a favor to the client or a family member. I see the same bewildered expression on their faces that mine must have displayed years ago...thinking "this can't be right".

We conduct hearings that are not open to the public, not publicized, and rarely appealed. I think that everyone in the process does have the best interests of the mental patients at heart, but I also am continually reminded as to the vastly different manner in which these hearings are conducted as compared to "normal" cases.

This application of hearsay rules in civil commitment hearings serves the interests of the State by shortening the hearings and moving the calendar along more efficiently. And those are legitimate things.

But it does so at the cost of the rights of our citizens. These are our silent citizens though. They usually don't vote and nobody pays them any mind. We don't really want to know about the mentally ill. We just want them put away out of sight.

silence please

The Delaware Constitution guarantees a stronger constitutional right to remain silent than does the U.S. Constitution. The recent case cited below, in which the Delaware Supreme Court overturned a lower court decision, was decided based upon the right to remain silent and not because the defendant's request to talk with his mother in some way was the same as a request to talk with an attorney.

Robert W. Draper, the Defendant, repeatedly said to police that he wanted to talk to his mother before he talked to police. This left it ambiguous as to whether he was invoking his right to remain silent, according to the Delaware Supreme Court decision. Under the federal constitution, the police would have been authorized to continue to question him. But Delaware's Constitution requires that when it is ambiguous, the police must clarify the situation before they may proceed with interrogation. In this case, there was never a clarification and the police continued with interrogation until there was a confession. Therefore the State must go back and proceed without the confession. It wouldn't have made any difference if the Defendant had said, " I won't talk with you until after I have had a drink of water", the legal point is that he said he didn't want to talk. This really had nothing to do with his mother.

Now, if his mother was an attorney we would have a different kettle of fish. Chinese Translation

Friday, February 01, 2002

miranda and mom

The Delaware Supreme Court ordered a retrial in a case in which police officers ignored a man's repeated request to talk to his mother before they took his confession. (opinion - pdf)

pay for placement = extortion?

A Texas diet pill manufacturer has brought a number of search engines to court, claiming that people who search for their products are being sent to competitors who pay for higher placement on the engines. This is a major challenge to the way that some search engines conduct business. The suit is requesting $440 million in damages. Named as defendants are: AltaVista, Overture, FindWhat and Kanoodle. One example, quoted in the article:, for example, recently paid Overture 72 cents per click to be the top result for queries about Mark Nutritionals' Body Solutions, though it does not sell that product. It was followed in the rankings by Visionizin' America, a shopping site that paid 71 cents for each person sent to a sales pitch for its own brand of diet pills.
If the suit is successful, it might trigger some extreme changes in the way that pay-for-placement search engines conduct business. Perhaps they will switch to a search method that returns results based upon relevance. You know, people might like that.

russell peterson revisited

Energy efficiency without pollutants is within reach, by Russell Peterson. A well written summation of the message Delaware's former governor began to present on Wednesday night at the University of Delaware.

shaggy dog tale

The following from the ever interesting
After getting nailed by a Daisy Cutter, Osama makes his way to the pearly gates. There, he is greeted by George Washington. "How dare you attack the nation I helped conceive!" yells Mr. Washington, slapping Osama in the face.
Patrick Henry comes up from behind. "You wanted to end the Americans' liberty, so they gave you death!" Henry punches Osama in the nose.
James Madison comes up next, and says "This is why I allowed the Federal government to provide for the common defense!" He drops a large weight on Osama's knee.
Osama is then caned by John Randolph of Roanoke and soundly thrashed by James Monroe, Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, and 65 other men who love liberty and America. As he writhes on the ground, Thomas Jefferson picks him up and hurls him back toward the gates, where he is to be judged.
As Osama awaits the ferry to take him to his final, very hot destination, he screams, "Aieee! This is not what I was promised!"
An angel replies, "I told you there would be 72 Virginians waiting for you! What did you think I said?"

legal essay contest

The Bench Bar Media Conference of Delaware is sponsoring a contest for high school students in 11th and 12th grades. The conference includes members of the media, the Delaware Judiciary, and the Delaware legal community.
The Bar-Bench-Media Conference of Delaware is sponsoring a 500-word essay contest on the importance of an independent judiciary and free press for 11th and 12th grade Delaware public high school students. Three students (one from each county) will win the opportunity to intern with a Delaware judge or justice, a Delaware lawyer, and the electronic and print media for one day each during a one week period. Each winner will also earn a $500 stipend. A maximum of one entry from each school will be considered. The three winning essays will be published in The Delaware Lawyer magazine, various Delaware newspapers and posted on the web site of the Bar-Bench-Media Conference hosted by the Supreme Court of Delaware.
For more details, visit their Programs page.

- William Slawski

Enron Met Cheney Six Times in 2001, and Other Ecological Catastrophe's

It isn't easy to argue with some of the common sense that is coming out of Washington, D.C. these days. Especially the words we hear about lessening dependence upon foreign sources of oil. The University of Delaware was host to a presentation sponsored by a number of environmentally conscious organizations on Wednesday night, and it was interesting to hear viewpoints expressed over our nation's proposed energy plan.

Attached is a press release issued prior to the event, but unfortunately, it misses some of the issues raised during the forum held at the University. What it fails to capture is the plain spoken honesty and integrity of Floris Johnson, representing the Gwich'in people of Northern Alaska, who rely upon the wildlife of Alaska for much of their sustenance, and the inclusion of Tom Evans, former congressman for Delaware.

Floris Johnson spoke of life in Alaska for a people who live upon a land that they respect immensely. She talked about the beauty of Alaska, and the reverance her people hold for the land which they live upon. Gathering berries in the wilderness was rough but was also part of the happiest times she has lived. Many of her people rely upon the land to provide food, clothing, and shelter. She spoke of the elders who guided her people, and how they have given up on the Congressmen of Alaska, who are in favor of drilling in the Arctic Refuge.

As I listened to the words of Russell Peterson and Tom Evans, I wondered if their plain speech on this subject could be considered the words of the elders of Delaware. The words they used were filled with reasonableness and common sense.

Tom Evans mentioned the controversy over Vice President Dick Cheney, and Enron. He said that Mr. Cheney had met with Enron six times to discuss our country's energy policy, and that the Vice President should disclose information about the meetings, and about with whom he met. He said that legally, the Vice President was probably on firm ground, but from a public relations standpoint, he was causing himself and the President a considerable amount of damage.

Sponsoring Organizations:

Delaware Chapter of the Sierra Club
Delaware Audubon Society
Delaware Clean Air Council
Alaska Coalition
Union of Concerned Scientists
Delaware Nature Society
University of Delaware Students for the Environment
State PIRGs
National Environmental Trust


Russell Peterson
Former Delaware Governor, elected in 1968.
Past Chairman of the President's Council on Environmental Quality
Past Director of the Office of Technolgy Assessment of the U.S. Congress
President of the National Audubon Society (1979 - 1985)
Chaired the Center on the Biological Consequences of Nuclear War, working with Carl Sagan and Paul Ehrlich.
Served on the National Commission to investigate the nuclear accidnet at Three Mile Island.

Tom Evans
Former member of Congress, representing Delaware from 1977-1983, and former co-chairman of the Republican National Committee.
Author of the Coastal Barrier Resources Act
Board member of the Alaska Wilderness League and the Coast Alliance.

Dr. John Byrne
Director of the Center for Energy and Environmental Policy.
Co-founder and co-executive director of the Joint Institute for a Sustainable Energy and Environmental Future.
Coordinator of the Delaware Climate Change Consortium (pdf). See their Action Plan (pdf) for an idea of what they do.

Floris Johnson
Southeastern Regional Coordinator for the Gwich'in Steering Committee.
Former Administrative Director for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Clinic for the Council of Athabaskan Tribal Government in Fort Yukon.

Edwin L. Mongan, III
Manager, Environmental Stewardship for DuPont
Responsible for worldwide environmental management systems, including planning, performance measures, pollution prevention programs and goals, public reporting and auditing for DuPont. Represents DuPont on the Partnership for Climate Action, and is a member of the American Chemistry Council's Product Stewardship Team, and the National Pollution Prevention Roundtable.

The Press Release:
January 30, 2002

Delaware's Energy Future Debated at Public Energy Forum
Panel Features Former Governor Russell Peterson

Wilmington, Delaware -- Russell Peterson, Former Governor of Delaware; Dr. John Byrne, Director of UD Center For Energy and Environmental Policy; Edwin L. Mongan, Dupont's Manager of Environmental Stewardship; and Floris Johnson, representative of the Gwich'in people of Northern Alaska today participated in a public energy forum held at the University of Delaware's Student Center Bacchus Theatre. The discussion centered on America's energy future during this time of great concern over national security and a need to reduce our dependence on oil. The panelists presented reasonable energy solutions that would benefit Delaware and the nation.

Anerica uses a quarter of the world's oil, but has just 3 percent of known reserves. Sixty-five percent of reserves lie beneath the Persian Gulf States. The only way to end the economic and security risks caused by this imbalance is to reduce our oil dependence by increasing the use of renewable energies like wind and solar to meet our electricity demands, building better cars, and making better fuels. The panelists tonight outlined some of these alternatives to domestic drilling and highlighted Delaware's role in creating those alternatives.

"We are leaving an energy era with too many brownfields, blackouts and waste, and too little environmental and economic sense. Importantly, a new era is before us that will rely on environmentally benign sources such as solar energy and wind, and smart technologies such as high-efficiency vehicles and the fuel cell," said Dr. John Byrne, Director of University of Delaware's Center for Energy and Environmental Policy. "The implications for Delaware are great: we have the largest U.S. manufacturer of solar cells - Astropower - and the industry leaders in fuel cell development - W.L. Gore and DuPont. In this case, what's good for Delaware is good for the country and for our environment.

"DuPont has already recognized a need to position itself in a marketplace calling for an ever increasing demand for a smaller environmental footprint and thus has steered down a corporate path of sustainable development, establishing a set of tangible business goals that create both shareholder and societal value; goals which include using renewable energy sources to meet its global energy needs and achieving an increasing amount of revenues from non-depletable resources," said Edwin L. Mongan, DuPont Manager of Environmental Stewardship.

The alternative solutions to drilling on sensitive areas like the Arctic Wildlife Refuge have roots and important ties right here in Delaware. These practical steps include fuel economy standards and implementation of a nationwide Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard (RPS), which requires electricity producers to gradually increase the potion of electricity produced from renewable resources such as wind and solar.

"The Big Three U.S. auto companies promise to improve the fuel efficiency of their passenger trucks. They have been promising to do so for years. Our government should require them to meet a much higher efficiency in the near term. A fleet average of 40 miles a gallon is a good target," said Russell Peterson, former Delaware Governor.

By raising fuel economy standards to a technologically feasible 40 mpg for the entire fleet of new cars, SUV's and light duty trucks, the U.S. could save about one billion barrels of oil annually. Experts from industry, government, and academia have all estimated that average fuel economy of about 40 mpg is achievable for the entire U.S. fleet, including SUV's, minivans, and pickup trucks within 10 to 15 years using existing and emerging technologies. The potential oil savings from such an achievement represents 2.7 times the likely yield of economically recoverable oil from the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Delaware's large number of autoworkers would benefit from the investment in producing more efficient cars and trucks.

- William Slawski