Category Archives: Legal Affairs

Claim Check: Pornography, TV Ratings, and the WWE’s Curious Campaign

by Categorized: Claim Check, First Amendment, Legal Affairs, Media, Politics Date:

I’m beginning to think Brian Flinn, the freshly hired marketing whiz at World Wrestling Entertainment, is involved in a supremely crafty publicity game with his unrelenting campaign against pundits and politicians who dare suggest that WWE’s TV fare is anything but wholesome entertainment.

His protestations, principally to Chris Powell, the feisty managing editor of the Journal-Inquirer of Manchester, are not likely to prompt any editorial revisions, nor to make criticism of the faux-wrestling empire off-limits in the Senate race involving former CEO Linda McMahon.

But Flinn’s thin-as-air threat of legal action has succeeded in generating hundreds of mentions on news websites, blogs and other Internet spots – all repeating his insistence that not only is WWE neither pornographic nor violent, but that anyone who offers an opinion to the contrary is breaking the law.

Is it all a publicity stunt? Or is it possible CEO Vince McMahon secretly doesn’t want his wife trotting off to Washington, D.C.?

Whatever the motivation, Flinn could use a refresher course in pornography, libel law and television ratings.

The current dust-up was prompted by a Powell column shortly after the Republican nominating convention, opining that McMahon’s qualification for office “did not extend beyond her fantastic wealth, and that wealth derived from the business of violence, pornography, and general raunch.”

That put Flinn’s keyboard on overdrive, and prompted an angry letter stating that Powell’s assertion was objectively and maliciously false. Flinn demanded a retraction, and floated the possibility of a libel suit if one weren’t forthcoming. The letter, of course, made Powell’s day.

WWE’s performances are choreographed, Flinn explained, so they’re not really violent. (By that logic, Flinn would presumably consider it a lawsuit-worthy fib to describe Natural Born Killers as a violent movie.) Most of Flinn’s irritation, however, is aimed at claims that WWE is, or ever was, in the business of pornography. But in making his case, he misstates the relevance of WWE’s TV ratings, and confuses reasonably well-defined obscenity laws with thoroughly undefined notions of what can be described as pornographic.

“Since 2008, all WWE broadcast programming has been rated TV-PG and prior to that some of our programming had a rating of TV-14,” Flinn wrote in a statement issued Wednesday. “According to the TV Parental Guidelines established by the television industry and adopted by the Federal Communications Commission, neither TV-PG nor TV-14 content would be considered pornography or anything close to it. In addition, the FCC would not permit our content to air on network or basic cable television if it were pornographic.”

Well, that’s not quite true. In fact, under the formal FCC-approved guidelines, “sexual situations” are permissible in both TV-PG and TV-14 programming. (Even “intense sexual situations” for TV-14). Intense sexual situations in the absence of actual nudity might reasonably fall outside Flinn’s definition of pornography. And they might fit within Chris Powell’s. The WWE photo above of Trish Stratus — who famously stripped and barked like a dog during a 2001 WWE television show – might fit one person’s definition of soft-core pornography and not another’s.

Courts have tried to develop a meaningful legal definition of “obscenity” – to cover material so offensive and so lacking in artistic merit that it can be banned from the airwaves. That’s not the issue here. Instead, Powell’s assertion that WWE’s programming fits his definition of pornography is clearly an opinion. And as the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a 1974 case (before Trish Stratus was even born): “Under the First Amendment there is no such thing as a false idea. However pernicious an opinion may seem, we depend for its correction not on the conscience of judges and juries but on the competition of other ideas.”

Translation: Write a letter to the editor, Brian.

Flinn surely knows he cannot sustain a libel or defamation suit, and he is sorely and naively mistaken if he thinks someone like Chris Powell would ever be spooked by a heap of legalese.

But if it’s all just a stunt to keep WWE’s name in the media – Brilliant.

Appeals Court Blocks Illinois’ “Broadest of Its Kind” Law Banning Recording of Police

by Categorized: First Amendment, Legal Affairs, Media, Public Safety, Transparency/FOI Date:

A federal appeals court Tuesday blocked an Illinois law that made it a felony to record police officers performing their duties in public, saying the broadly worded statute likely violates the First Amendment.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit issued the preliminary injunction in a lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union, which has plans to record police activities during protests in the Chicago area. Fearing arrest, the ACLU put those plans on hold, and filed suit.

Illinois officials argued that the law was necessary to protect the privacy rights of police officers and those they are speaking to. But in a 2-1 decision, the court ruled that the law’s broad reach — making it illegal to record any conversation without consent, regardless of whether the parties have any expectation of privacy — went too far.

“The expansive reach of this statute is hard to reconcile with basic speech and press freedoms,” the panel wrote. “The Illinois eavesdropping statute restricts far more speech than necessary to protect legitimate privacy interests; as applied to the facts alleged here,  it  likely violates  the  First  Amendment’s free-speech and free-press guarantees.”

Under Illinois law, eavesdropping is a Class 4 felony. But it is elevated to a Class 1 felony — with a maximum penalty of 14 years in prison – for anyone recording police officers, even if they are within earshot and the recording is not surreptitious. The law applies only to audio recording. Taking pictures or recording silent video is not illegal;  but turning on a microphone criminalizes the act.

Last month, the Connecticut Senate gave its support to a bill that would make police officers subject to civil litigation for interfering with a person recording the officer or a colleague performing police duties.

Buyer Beware: Used-Car Scammers Still Rampant on Craigslist

by Categorized: Consumer Affairs, Finance, Legal Affairs, Public Safety, Technology Date:

The showroom-clean 2004 Toyota Avalon offered on Hartford’s craiglist site may seem like a steal at $2,135. But that stealing, sadly, will come at the expense of any overly eager car buyer willing to fork over the money.

The craigslist ad is a fake — one of scores of bogus car ads that continue to pop up every day on the popular classified-ad site. Last October, I wrote about the craigslist used-car scam, describing the clever methodology crime rings in Romania have perfected to steal nearly $50 million from more than 15,000 victims.

Six months later, the scammers show no sign of letting up, as illustrated by a spin through Hartford’s craigslist offerings. The 2005 Acura TL for $2,617? Fake. The 2007 Lexus IS 250 with air-conditioned seats for $2,350? Fake. The 2006 Nissan Altima “Janice Johnson” is willing to let go for the same $2,350? Fake, fake, fake. Continue reading

Tweeting Health Care

by Categorized: Data, Health, Legal Affairs, Politics Date:

From the Tweet counters at Twitter comes this graph showing growing interest in the health care debate (or at least a growing number of Tweets about it), from President Obama’s inauguration through last week’s Supreme Court arguments on the Affordable Care Act.

The two spikes: the March 2010 passage of the Act, and last Tuesday’s court arguments on the constitutionality of requiring individuals to obtain health insurance .

Click the graph for a larger view.

New Haven to Occupiers: Stop Destroying the Environment!

by Categorized: Environment, Legal Affairs, Politics, Poverty, Public Safety Date:

In court battles, there are the legal skirmishes, and then there are the somewhat extra-judicial appeals to emotion and senses of fair play. Lawyers for New Haven — headed to court tomorrow for Round 2 in their efforts to boot the Occupy New Haven protesters off the Green — are trying both approaches.

In more than 100 pages of freshly filed court papers, the city makes it case that it has the legal authority to shut down the tent city and that its regulations are narrowly tailored and content-neutral. But beyond the legalese, the filings also includes affidavits from city employees bemoaning the environmental damage they say Occupy New Haven has caused. Continue reading

Should Supreme Court Justices Be Held to the Same Ethical Standards as Other Judges?

by Categorized: Legal Affairs, Politics, Transparency/FOI Date:

As the Supreme Court wades into President Obama’s controversial health-care law, U.S. Rep Chris Murphy, D-5th District, is hoping to shed a little light on a controversy closer to home for the nine jurists in the black robes.

Murphy is again trying to draw attention to his bill, introduced a year ago, that would subject the Supreme Court justices to the same code of conduct as all other federal judges, with rules that enhance financial disclosures while limiting political activity and the acceptance of gifts from litigants.

That may not seem terribly controversial, but the “Supreme Court Transparency and Disclosure Act of 2011’’ has been jammed up by partisanship. The bill followed criticisms of political activities involving conservative Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito. And so far, dozens of Democrats have supported the legislation while Republicans have kept their distance. Murphy has insisted the legislation should not be seen as aimed at one wing of the court.

The bill also tackles the contentious issue of when justices should recuse themselves from hearing cases. Liberals have called on Thomas to recuse himself from the health care case because his wife is paid by a group that opposes the law. Conservatives have said Justice Elena Kagan should step back because she served as solicitor general in the Obama White House when the law was drafted. Both declined.

Under Murphy’s proposal, justices who voluntarily recuse themselves would have to disclose the reason for the recusal. Likewise, if a request for recusal is denied, the reason for the denial would have to be made public. The bill would also create a process by which other federal judges could hear challenges to a decision permitting a justice to stay on a case. Currently, recusal decisions are left to the discretion of the court, which no mechanism to oppose those decisions.

“The public’s trust in the Supreme Court has been damaged because of the political activities of some of the justices,” Murphy said when the bill was unveiled a year ago. “Americans deserve to know that this increasingly activist court is blind to outside influence.”

UConn’s Tate George Indicted for Running Ponzi Scheme (with Complaint)

by Categorized: Legal Affairs, Public Safety, UConn Date:

One-time UConn basketball hero Tate George has been indicted on charges of running a Ponzi scheme that collected $2 million from investors to fund real-estate development projects that allegedly never existed.

Among the allegations: that George “used a portion of investors’ monies to fund home improvement projects on his personal residence and to pay his day-to-day living expenses, such as meals at restaurants, clothing, and gas.” Other money allegedly went toward mortgage payments and child support to his ex-wife.

After UConn, George played in the NBA for the Milwaukee Bucks and the New Jersey Nets. In 2000, he registered “The George Group” with the Connecticut Secretary of the State’s office, though the operation was based in New Jersey. Federal authorities say that from 2005 to 2001, George presented the outfit as a legitimate real-estate development firm, collecting cash from a variety of investors, including professional athletes. But they allege the firm actually had “virtually no income-generating operations at all.”

Read Ed Mahony’s story here, and the original federal complaint here.

And watch George’s buzzer-beater here:

Retired Forensic Specialist: I’ve Seen Cases Like Brouillard’s

by Categorized: Health, Legal Affairs, Public Safety Date:

The Courant’s Josh Kovner reports:

A retired forensic specialist at the Whiting Forensic Division with more than 20 years’ experience has commented  on our Sunday article about Bryan Brouillard, who was acquitted by reason of insanity of a 20-year felony. Brouillard has filed a multi-million dollar lawsuit against Connecticut Valley Hospital, saying his confinement there for six years was illegal because he was never insane.

Brouillard’s lawyer was adamant that his client was not exploiting the system, but the specialist, Don Donati of Clinton, wondered what else you would call it.

“I saw a few cases at Whiting like Mr. Brouillard’s. The parents have money and some influence … (T)hey cannot bear to see their child go to prison and look for a way out. This is where ‘mental issues’ arise. With money, a good lawyer can be hired who in turn can always find a psychiatrist who will provide supporting testimony. A little power is exercised, agreements are reached. ‘You won’t have to go to prison, get some treatment, behave yourself and you’ll be out soon.’ But when the (Psychiatric Security) Review Board takes over, sometimes people end up ‘doing more time’ than if they went to prison. Brouillard didn’t get his way soon enough … so he tried to escape. Now HE wants to sue. Unbelievable.

    “The solution would seem to be a verdict something like ‘guilty but not mentally responsible’ so someone would get a sentence to be served at Whiting. BUT if they regain their mental health, the remainder of the sentence would be served in prison.

    “The Review Board has an awful responsibility. For instance, in the David Messenger case, is a violent loss of control mental illness or a bad temper? When he calms down is he no longer mentally ill? Does he then have to be legally released? Who can predict if he will do it again? These are disturbing questions that are hard to answer because human behavior can never really be predicted.”

City Fights Back on Occupy New Haven Tent City

by Categorized: Legal Affairs, Politics Date:

Occupy New Haven won’t be pulling up stakes for at least two more weeks, following a U.S. District Judge’s decision this morning granting a two-week stay of plans by the city to clear the tent city and its 30 to 40 residents.

The ruling by Judge Janet C. Hall means the protesters, facing a noon deadline to pack up the tents, live to fight another day — and a fight is what they might have; legal papers filed by the city give the impression that government officials are ready to abandon their let’s-settle-this-amicably stance.

Over the last month, the city has had discussions with leaders of the protest in an effort to wind things down on the Green. They offered to let protesters return for short periods some time down the road. They provided information about homeless shelters for those whose outdoor living was not by choice. On Monday, in announcing the Wednesday deadline to move on, the city was still using its polite voice. “Both the City of New Haven and the Proprietors of the Green appreciate the dedication you have brought to the cause of economic justice, and we wish you well as you move forward elsewhere.”

But while the tents are still there, the legal gloves may be coming off. “From their response to the City’s Notice, it is not clear whether plaintiffs believe they can ever be asked to leave the New Haven Green,” the city wrote in testy legal papers filed this morning. “Plaintiffs seek nothing less than unlimited and unfettered use and access of lands open to all for their private purpose. No court has ever recognized such a right and there is no basis under the law for granting one now.”

The parties will duke it out in Federal court March 28. In the meantime, read the protester’s complaint here and the city’s full response here.

Occupy New Haven – The Legal Battle

by Categorized: First Amendment, Legal Affairs, Politics Date:

The Occupy New Haven movement, along with the Connecticut bar’s reigning agitator, Norm Pattis, takes it case to federal court this morning, seeking an injunction to keep city officials from clearing the Occupy tent city from the New Haven Green.

With a noon eviction deadline, the Occupiers are asking a federal judge for a temporary restraining order to keep the city from kicking them out until a full hearing on various Constitutional issues.  In the complaint, Pattis writes that the tents not only facilitate speech on everything from homelessness to bank bailouts, but that the tents are themselves acts of speech.

“The tent city is itself a direct and tangible reminder of the reality of homelessness and the hardship of povery, facts often swept out of sight and out of mind in urban areas,” the complaint states. “The city is an ostensive representation of the forgotten American that has little stake in the status quo that regards them as little more than chattel.”

As for the eviction notice, Pattis reaches into his admirable bag of literary tricks to take a swipe at Yale, alleging the eviction is “part of an annual effort to create a Potemkin-like aura of serenity in downtown New Haven for those coming from around the world to celebrate commencement ceremonies.”

Beyond free-speech and right-to-assemble arguments, the legal papers also take aim at the curious ownership of the New Haven Green. Technically, the square is controlled by the Committee of the Proprietors of the Common and Undivided Land in New Haven, a self-perpetuating group set up in the 1600s. Among the lawsuit’s requests: Dissolving the Proprietors and having the Green declared property of the city or a public trust.

The New Haven Independent’s Paul Bass has a thorough examination of the issue here. Click the links above to read the complaint and the memorandum in support of the temporary restraining order. And check out Rick Green’s take here.