Learn more about Peltz-Steele v. UMass Faculty Federation at Court Listener (complaint) and the Liberty Justice Center. The case is now on appeal in the First Circuit as no. 22-1466 (PACER paywall). Please direct media inquiries to Kristen Williamson.

Monday, August 31, 2020

Horrors at Oak Ridge Psychiatric amounted to assault, battery, but lacked intent for IIED, Ontario court rules

From 1963 to 1988, patients involuntarily committed to the maximum-security Oak Ridge Mental Health Centre at Penetanguishene, Ontario, were subject to barbaric experimentation.  (From CBC (2016), above.) Treatments included LSD, other mind-altering drugs, and corporeal maltreatment, such as "the Capsule":

a soundproof, windowless, and constantly lit 8’ x 10’ room, with no furniture and an exposed toilet, where groups of patients, had their interactions monitored through closed-circuit television and a one-way mirror by patient observers outside....

Patients ... were frequently restrained or strapped to each other, and were most often injected with DDT drugs to lower their inhibitions. They were often paired so that patients diagnosed with schizophrenia experiencing a chaotic range of emotions where placed together with patients with antisocial personality disorders....

So egregious were the methods employed at Oak Ridge that 28 former patients now suing the Crown could have made out a fair case for medical negligence.  But the Ontario court was willing to find intentional torts, assault and battery, instead.  Notwithstanding lawful involuntary commitment and seeming express consent to treatment procured from patients, the extreme nature of the medical experimentation rendered the patients' informed consent impossible, the Ontario Superior Court ruled in June.

At the same time, the patients could not prove intentional infliction of emotional distress, for want of "double-duty intent" (my words); that is, although medical staff inflicted emotional distress intentionally in the short term, and notwithstanding the lasting psychological trauma that resulted, the defendants, however misguided, acted with the greater goal, or intent, of making the patients well.

Hat tip to Private Law Theory, which reported an examination of the case against an historical analysis of battery in Canadian common law by Omar Ha-Redeye, executive director of the Durham Community Legal Clinic in Oshawa, Ontario.

The case is Barker v. Barker, 2020 ONSC 3746 (CanLII) (Ont. Super. Ct. June 25, 2020) (Canada).

Watch and read more about Oak Ridge with Canadian Broadcasting (2016) (above) and in other sources.

Saturday, August 29, 2020

Conservationists battle to curb wildlife trade in wet markets, attorney Venckauskas writes

Prawns at a Marché Kermel in Dakar, Senegal, in February
(RJ Peltz-Steele CC BY-SA 4.0)
Attorney Kayla Venckauskas wrote an overview of conservationists' efforts to curb wildlife trade in wet markets since the emergence of coronavirus.

China's ban has loopholes for research, pets, and medicinal purposes, Venckauskas reported.  Conservationists are pushing for legislation elsewhere, too, for example, Vietnam and Australia.  But some observers argue that tight restrictions will only foster an unregulated underground market.

Based in the Boston area, Venckauskas (Twitter) is the first Rena Roseman Legal Fellow with Mercy for Animals.  She was once leader extraordinaire of the Student Animal Legal Defense Fund at UMass Law, and she seemingly effortlessly aced my 1L Torts classes.  Her piece, "COVID-19 Forces Countries to Reexamine Wildlife Trade in Wet Markets," appeared in the summer 2020 edition of the newsletter of the Animal Law Committee, a division of the Tort Trial and Insurance Practice Section of the American Bar Association.

Read more about wet markets at Mercy for Animals, "What do wet markets and factory farms have in common?," by Hannah Bugga (Apr. 20, 2020).

Friday, August 28, 2020

Conditions of criminal pretrial release shouldn't abate civil abuse prevention order, Mass. court rules

In a decision today, the Massachusetts Appeals Court reversed and remanded a trial judge's refusal to extend an abuse prevention order.

The order meant to protect a woman who had testified to physical abuse by her husband, who blamed her for the premature birth of their daughter.  According to testimony, "[a]s she tried to nurse the baby, the defendant painfully grabbed at her breast"; he shoved the woman; he threatened her and the baby; and he called the woman "'a horrible mother because [she] wasn't fat enough and wasn't eating enough.'"  The man was charged with (criminal) assault and battery.

The trial judge refused to extend the abuse prevention order because he improperly considered conditions of pretrial release and involvement of the Department of Children and Families as duplicative of the order.  The court explained:

Conditions of pretrial release are within a judge's broad discretion, and the civilian victim has no right to be heard on the matter. Furthermore, conditions of pretrial release are terminated automatically when the criminal case is disposed.

For these reasons, conditions of pretrial release, even if they encompass the same conditions as an abuse prevention order, are no substitute for an abuse prevention order. The same reasoning applies to DCF involvement. DCF has no power to incarcerate a person for engaging in abuse of a household or family member. At most, DCF can take custody of a child and refer the matter to law enforcement....

Rather than rely on these factors, a judge should simply determine whether the plaintiff has shown "a reasonable fear of imminent serious physical harm[,]" ... or whether the plaintiff has "suffered physical abuse" or "past sexual abuse" and "an order [i]s necessary to protect her from the impact of that abuse." [Citations omitted.]

The ruling thus marks the significant differences among civil, criminal, and administrative processes, each with its separate aims, even when all three are implicated in a case of domestic violence.

The case is Vera V. v. Seymour S., No. 19-P-1674 (Mass. App. Ct. Aug. 28, 2020).  Justice Joseph M. Ditkoff wrote the opinion for himself, Justice Gregory I. Massing, and Justice Sookyoung Shin.

(U.S. Air Force graphic by Staff Sgt. Michael Means.)

Monday, August 24, 2020

Corcos probes symbiosis of law and pop culture

My colleague at Louisiana State University Christine Corcos has published "Three Ways of Looking at Law and Popular Culture," appearing in Propriete Intellectuelle et Pop Culture: Nouveaux enjeux, nouveaux defis (IRPI 2020) (conference proceedings) (Amazon France).  The full work is not available online at present, but, meanwhile, the abstract from SSRN is a worthy lesson in itself:

In 1989 the Stanford University Law School professor Lawrence Friedman offered a definition of “popular legal culture.” In an often-cited article, he wrote that, “In the first place, legal culture acts as an intervening variable, a mechanism for transforming norms of popular culture into legal dress and shape. In the second place, legal and popular culture, as images of each other, help explicate and illuminate their respective contents”. He notes that law and culture interact in two ways. Law is outward-looking; it depends on and interacts with the society from which it springs. At the same time it shapes that society. We can and do also talk about at least two current and differing uses of law and popular culture in legal education. We can use law and popular culture to teach legal principles. This use makes legal doctrine entertaining and accessible. We can also dig for the messages it gives us about the interaction of law and society. This second method requires us to interact with the texts of both law and popular culture.

Currently in legal education we can and do examine at law and popular culture in both of the ways Friedman identifies. I suggest that we can identify and should examine a third intersection of law and popular culture that scholars have begun to study, that I suggest we should formally acknowledge as a part of law and popular culture studies. This third intersection is the actual trans-formative effect or trans-formative turn that popular culture and law have on each other. I would suggest both that certain types of intellectual property studies and certain types of activity fall into this category. One example is law’s response to the creation of fan fiction and of fan use of copyrighted and trademarked materials that force a response from the rights holders, or force fans to cease a particular activity because the rights holders refuse permission to proceed. We have many examples of the legal responses and changes in norms that illustrate these interactions. What we don’t yet seem to have in the general theory of law and pop culture is a definition for this third intersection. It may be that this third intersection is now most obvious in intellectual property law, perhaps because of the accessibility and spread of technology as well as the overwhelming importance of social media in our lives today. It exists in other a
reas of law as well, for example in family law, in criminal law, in privacy law, and has for some time. I would suggest that this intersection creates the possibility for the working out of the tensions between law and culture, as the public through pop culture identifies how the law works, what the law is, and then reacts to the law, makes demands on the law, and in some cases, forces changes in the law.

Professor Corcos has been my role model for teaching law with popular culture since we met 20 years ago.  Recently she published, as editor and contributor, The Media Method: Teaching Law with Popular Culture (Carolina Academic Press 2019) (Amazon), to which I was fortunate to be able to contribute a chapter on 1L Torts (abstract).

Friday, August 21, 2020

Law students embrace bad lawyering

My colleague Amy Vaughn-Thomas gave a terrific assignment to students in her Professional Responsibility (Legal Ethics) class this summer:  Make a bad (unethical) lawyer ad, then write a paper about its faults under the rules of professional responsibility.

Students ran with the assignment, including the team that invented bad lawyer "Jeb Dundy."  From content producer Fatiga Mental (friend of the blog: Ig, Tw) and law students Noah Aurelio, Ricardo Serrano, Sebastian Garcia, and Samantha Tuthill, here is a lawyer for our times. See if you can spot the ethics issues.

Credits:

Suffice to say, the paper practically wrote itself.

Saturday, August 15, 2020

'Our Side': Short film on immigration crisis in Italy earns Academy nomination in narrative


Last year, my daughter, Morgan Steele, worked as a script supervisor on a short film in Sicily.  Our Side (2020), directed by Nicola Rinciari, is an intriguing and timely snapshot of fictionalized human drama amid the very real immigration crisis in Europe.  The film has been nominated for the Student Academy Award in narrative.  Here is the trailer:

 

"Our Side" Trailer from Nicola Rinciari on Vimeo.

Thursday, August 13, 2020

Knowles, Metroka enter the fray on free speech today

My friend and colleague Dr. Helen J. Knowles, SUNY Oswego Political Science, has just published, as co-editor with Dr. Brandon T. Metroka, the compelling and timely collection, Free Speech Theory: Understanding the Controversies (Peter Lang 2020) (Amazon).  The editor-authors gave me an advance look at this one, and my well earned endorsement humbly graces the back cover.  Here is the précis:

The rallying cry of "Free speech!" has long served as a touchstone for liberals and conservatives, alike, engaged in political polarization conflict and discourse. The democratization of media and the feverish pitch of political polarization, however, have contributed to the weaponization of free expression. From Colin Kaepernick to "fake news," boycotts of partisan television programming to removals of Confederate monuments, internet neutrality to the silencing of college professors and all points between, citizens and pundits all too frequently wield the slogan of "Free speech!" as the sword and shield of political discourse. Oftentimes, ironically they do so with little regard for the views of their opponents. As a result, society risks trading a substantive value for an empty slogan or, far worse, blind authority.To rediscover the underlying assumptions and social values served by free expression, and to move current controversies beyond rhetorical flourishes, Helen J. Knowles and Brandon T. Metroka assemble an impressive group of legal and political scholars to address one overarching question: "Why should we value free speech?" Through analyses of several recent controversies invoking concerns for free expression, the contributors to this volume make complex political theory accessible, informative, and entertaining. Beginning with internet neutrality and ending with an overview of developing free expression controversies in comparable western democracies, experts reestablish the link between free expression and the underlying values it may serve. In doing so, this volume unearths values previously unexamined in our modern—but increasingly impoverished and bitter—political discourse.

I can't heap enough praise on Dr. Knowles, whose work in law, history, and political science is uniformly superb.  I featured another book of hers just one year ago.  And in the spring of 2019 (back when I was allowed to be around other people), I had the privilege of seeing firsthand how she inspires passion in her students in the classroom and on campus.  It is evidence of her talents as a teacher that I have in the last year counseled several of her students in their desire to pursue graduate studies. 

Coincidentally!, I was wearing my SUNY Oswego shirt just last week, when I learned about this book's appearance.  Below is me with Park Ranger Jordyn Steele (no relation) in Glacier National Park.  Woe to the persons who asked me, "Where is that?," and then got an unsolicited nonfiction book recommendation.