Monday, May 22, 2006

Going to Court for Nothing: Consumer Activists in CCP

A couple of years ago, we wrote about a small group that protested at Christiana Mall, in Buy Nothing and Get Arrested

The activists returned to the same mall this past November, to protest consumerism, and were arrested again. Two members of the group were set to appear in the Court of Common Pleas this morning.

The attorney representing the members of the group, Joe Hurley, informed the Wilmington News Journal that he would be asking for a continuance on todays' trial for two of the members, so that all four cases could be combined into one.

The group started a web site, and have been collecting money for their legal defense through the site. If you would like to find out more about them, and why they are protesting, they also have a new blog: Much Ado About Nothing.

The "Buy Nothing Day" movement seems to have spawned more than a couple of protests this past winter., which has been promoting the event has pictures and stories from more protests around the globe: Buy Nothing Day 2005.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Delaware's Restrictions on Freedom of Information in Federal Court Today

A Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request is an interesting beast. Sometimes it's the only way to get information in a timely manner from a government agency.

There's a Federal Act for the Federal Government, and individual Freedom of Information Act requests for the states. After working for the courts in Delaware for a number of years, I saw more than a couple of Federal Freedom of Information Act requests directed at Delaware agencies. I can't tell you how they were treated ultimately, since I was responsible for passing those along, instead of making any decisions at all upon them. But, ideally FOIA requests for State Information should follow the state law governing it.

There's an issue with Delaware's Freedom of Information Act that presently has a review of the law in Federal Court right now. It was only available to residents of the State of Delaware, when a Federal District Court Judge decided that the restriction to state residents was inappropriate and unconstitutional.

In a State like Delaware, where so many Fortune 500 companies are incorporated, it's likely that information requests made to Delaware's Government will arrive from residents of other states. The request at the heart of this dispute involved an activist who had questions regarding a merger of two financial companies. His request was denied because he lived in New York. He brought the case to Federal court, where that limitation was removed.

The Delaware Department of Justice appealed that decision, and a three judge panel held oral arguments on the issue. Is this type of restriction an unconstitutional limitation on interstate commerce? See: Judges skeptical of Delaware's limits on public records access.

I don't understand the restriction myself. Maybe someone could articulate a reason for it to me. It sounds like the judges asking the Delaware Attorney present were having problems with that, too.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Common Cause Forum to Discuss Family Court Records

A forum hosted by the Delaware branch of Common Cause tomorrow will take a close look at Delaware's Family Court, their secrecy, and some allegations involving record keeping in the Court.

The meeting will be held at the Dover Public Library, located at 45 South State Street, Dover, Delaware. It begins at noon.

The Delaware Court Reform Initiative will also be involved in the meeting.

Testimony received at the meeting tomorrow will be forwarded to the State's Family Law Commission, for their meeting on Thursday, so if you attend and would like to speak, you may want to bring a copy or your testimony on paper so that it can be forwarded to the State agency.

Delaware Watch has a copy of the Press Release issued by Common Cause about the meeting.

(note: Issues with our Blogger software caused the posting of this message to be delayed a number of days, and after the forum meeting. The Wilmington News Journal reported on the meeting on Tuesday, and around 35 people attended, many of them bringing stories with them of their court events in Family Court. The Family Law Commission meeting is today, and maybe some of the testimony from Monday's forum will persuade a reaction of some type. Apologies for the delay.)

Friday, May 05, 2006

Getting Squeezed At The Gas Pump?

It's frustrating enough having seen the price of a gallon of gasoline rise from $0.25 to $3.00, but that's not what's got my shorts in a bunch today. What irks me is what I consider to be a deceptive trade practice. I have seen it at a variety of stations over a variety of time periods. It goes something like this:

You have 3 grades of gasoline to choose from at the pump. From your experience, if you choose the highest grade... you will be filled up and on the road in about 2 minutes. If you choose the middle or basic grade of fuel, it will take you 15 minutes to fill the tank. The pump speeds are manipulated by the station to work faster for their high grades and slower for their lower grades.

Yesterday I topped off my tank, and it took me 16 minutes and $52.50. I not arguing about the money today, but I mind being pressured to buy the higher grade because of the slower pump speed. And, I feel that the station's practice in this regard is deceptive.

Deceptive trade practices are monitored by the Federal Trade Commission ( FTC ), and also by state law. In Delaware, it appears to me that the relevant sections are in Title 6 of the Delaware Code. I don't practice in those areas of the law, but it appears my case will be difficult to enforce.

I stand ready as a Plaintiff if there is a licensed attorney out there who can bring this action. And I stand ready as a listener if there is an engineer out there who can explain to me how I am wrong about my observations.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Bad Ads are Bad for Profession

Republished here in its entirety with the permission of the author, Richard A DiLIberto, Jr, Esquire, from the Winter/Spring edition of the Advocate, a publication of the Delaware Trial Lawyers Association:








This advertisement, emblazoned in vibrant hues of blue, red and yellow appeared on a billboard high above 4th & King Streets in Wilmington. It included a photo of fanned $20.00 bills in a tightly gripped fist. It was directly adjacent to the New Castle County Courthouse, and in plain view for jurors at the Courthouse performing their services. The billboard also gave a toll-free number and website, but did not identify a lawyer or law firm. The website claims to refer people to experienced Delaware personal injury lawyers as well as healthcare professionals. It has many of us disappointed and frustrated.

I cannot imagine how ads such as this do not harm our image, perhaps irreparably, and even poison the jury pool against our clients. Your DTLA Board of Governors and Legislative Committee members have a Herculean task trying to improve our image and maintain credibility with the public and elected officials. DTLA Boards and Committees labored for 27 years before us to build our reputation and good will. Crass lawyer advertising can undo years of work and goodwill in the blink of an eye (or the glance at a billboard).

Everything we do and say no matter where or when we do or say it reflects on each of us. We are always lawyers. We are never 'off duty.' When we scream at the Little League umpire for making a 'bad call;' insult the waitress; fail to hold the door open for an elderly man; or exhibit rudeness to the janitor, we do it with the title 'lawyer.' And people notice. And people talk about it. Some of those people wind up on our juries. Many talk with their elected officials.

I am not advocating for eliminating lawyer advertising. Many members do it, and do it with dignity. But, we must put ourselves 'in the shoes' of the public, and imagine the reaction, not only to the ad, but to the profession.

Ads which trivialize our important duties, and cheapen or belittle our clients' tragedies, are an insult and an embarrassment to us all. And while some may reap short term gain from a few cases received via the ads, each of us, and our clients, pay an immeasurably long-term price in return.