Prove genetic predisposition and American courts more likely to give a psychopath a break

Criminal psychopaths in the United States whose lawyers provide biological evidence for their brain condition are more likely to be sentenced to shorter jail terms than those who are simply said to be psychopaths…

A study published in the journal Science found that if judges were told a criminal was a psychopath, they considered it an aggravating factor. But if they also heard biological explanations for the disorder, they gave shorter sentences.

Researchers from the University of Utah who conducted the study said the findings were surprising and worrying, and external experts said they had problematic implications for how brain science might affect criminal justice in future.

“In the coming years, we are likely to find out about all kinds of biological causes of criminal behavior, so the question is, why does the law care if most behavior is biologically caused?” said Teneille Brown, an associate professor at the university’s college of law…

Several studies in recent years have found that psychopaths who have committed serious crimes like murder and rape have faulty connections in their brains which show up on functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scans.

These and other advances in neuroscience have led some to worry that such scientific evidence may be used increasingly in court to explain criminal actions or argue mitigating circumstances…

Brown and her colleagues said their study raised ethical questions: Whether it was right to reduce a criminal’s sentence because defective genes or brain function meant he had less self-control and ability to tell right from wrong. Or whether such evidence should be an argument for a harsher sentence because the criminal may be more likely to reoffend.

Though I have an abiding interest in the law – and justice – the topic raises new and interesting conflicts between the two. Teneille Brown’s questions put it to the test of ethical decisions that are going to have to be written into legal precedent.

So far, I haven’t an opinion. Though, having spent a few years BITD immersed in studies of the value of sociopathy in the creative arts – I recall what conclusions I came to at the time. Norman Mailer and Nietzsche were wrong.

Lawsuit settled for $3.8 million — Lawyers want $4.7m in fees

Early last year, Toyota agreed to settle the class-action lawsuit with about 2,500 people who complained that high intensity discharge headlights in the second-generation Prius sometimes turned off for no reason…By settling, Toyota avoided having to go in front of a jury or declaring a recall…

Now, five law firms representing plaintiffs in a class-action lawsuit against Toyota over the alleged defects say the firms have a right to collect $4.7 million in attorneys fees on the $3.8 million settlement…

Lead firm Girard Gibbs, in a July 30 brief, said the judge with the U.S. Court of Appeals’ Ninth Circuit didn’t properly account for the actual amount billed by the lawyers, which Girard Gibbs estimated at $1.25 million for its 2,900 hours — that’s $431 an hour — and which the other four firms collectively estimated at $1.85 million. No, we’re not sure where the other $1.6 million is coming from either.

The judge estimated that the settlement – which involved cash reimbursements for bulb replacements made within the last five years and extended warranties – was worth about $3.8 million, and that the attorneys had a right to 20 percent of that figure…

So, the judge in the case figured the lawyers were worth about $760K. The lawyers want over six times that amount.

I don’t think those lawyers are worth the powder to blow ’em to Hell.

The patent system is out of sync

The U.S. judge who tossed out one of the biggest court cases in Apple’s smartphone technology battle is questioning whether patents should cover software or most other industries at all.

Richard Posner, a prolific jurist who sits on the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago, told Reuters this week that the technology industry’s high profits and volatility made patent litigation attractive for companies looking to wound competitors.

“It’s a constant struggle for survival,” he said in his courthouse chambers, which have a sparkling view of Monroe Harbor on Lake Michigan. “As in any jungle, the animals will use all the means at their disposal, all their teeth and claws that are permitted by the ecosystem…”

Posner said some industries, like pharmaceuticals, had a better claim to intellectual property protection because of the enormous investment it takes to create a successful drug.

Advances in software and other industries cost much less, he said, and the companies benefit tremendously from being first in the market with gadgets – a benefit they would still get if there were no software patents.

It’s not clear that we really need patents in most industries,” he said…

Posner’s idea of examining whether industries like software should receive patent protection is a mainstream one, especially in the computer industry, said John Allison, a professor at University of Texas at Austin who studies intellectual property rights.

However, recent patent law reforms passed by the U.S. Congress did not directly address the issue, and Allison said classifying industries for the purposes of intellectual property protection – as Posner suggests – was “completely impractical” because talented lawyers could game the system.

RTFA for examples and anecdotal references. Posner makes the legal case for an opinion held by most involved geeks.

Patent trolls cost US tech companies $29 billion last year

The direct cost of actions taken by so-called “patent trolls” totalled $29 billion in the US in 2011, according to a study by Boston University…It analysed the effect of intellectual rights claims made by organisations that own and license patents without producing related goods of their own.

Such bodies say they help spur on innovation by ensuring inventors are compensated for their creations…But the study’s authors said society lost more than it gained.

The research covered industry bodies that refer to themselves as “non-practising entities”. They include businesses that buy patents with the sole aim of licensing them out, individual inventors, universities and companies that assert patent rights unrelated to the products they make.

The “direct costs” included lawyers’ bills and licence fees. But authors James Bessen and Michael Meurer – both from Boston University’s school of law – said other charges meant their study only reflected part of the impact.

“This figure does not include indirect costs to the defendants’ businesses such as diversion of resources, delays in new products, and loss of market share,” they wrote…”Even so, the direct costs are large relative to total spending on [research and development], which totalled $247 billion in 2009, implying that NPE patent assertations effectively impose a significant tax on investment in innovation.”

The academics said that actions by NPEs meant 2,150 companies had to mount 5,842 defences to lawsuits last year, according to figures from RPX – a business that rents out patents but has promised never to launch a lawsuit of its own.

They noted that corporate giants were not the only ones to suffer. Their research suggested companies earning less than $100 million a year in revenue accounted for half of all cases. Such firms – they said – subsequently had less money to invest in their own research.

The authors added that about one quarter of the cost of NPE litigation consisted of legal fees – money, they said, that could otherwise be used to fund innovation.

Patent Trolls offer their predictable range of patent leather excuses, trying to justify their existence. IMHO – they are parasites who have discovered a way to make money through legalized extortion.

Conservatives set out to repeal California execution law they passed in 1978 — the biggest mistake of their lives

The year was 1978, and the California ballot bristled with initiatives for everything from banning gay teachers to cracking down on indoor smoking. Both lost. But one, Proposition 7, sailed through: expanding the state’s death penalty law to make it among the toughest and most far-reaching in the country.

The campaign was run by Ron Briggs, today a farmer and Republican member of the El Dorado County Board of Supervisors. It was championed by his father, John V. Briggs, a state senator. And it was written by Donald J. Heller, a former prosecutor in the New York district attorney’s office who had moved to Sacramento.

Thirty-four years later, another initiative is going on the California ballot, this time to repeal the death penalty and replace it with mandatory life without parole. And two of its biggest advocates are Ron Briggs and Mr. Heller, who are trying to reverse what they have come to view as one of the biggest mistakes of their lives…

“At the time, we were of the impression that it would do swift justice, that it would get the criminals and murderers through the system quickly and apply them the death penalty,” Mr. Briggs, 54, said over tea in the kitchen at his 100-acre farm in this Gold Rush town, where he grows potatoes, peppers, melons, watermelons, cherries and (unsuccessfully, so far) black Périgord truffles.

“But it’s not working,” he said. “My dad always says, admit the obvious. We started with 300 on death row when we did Prop 7, and we now have over 720 — and it’s cost us $4 billion. I tell my Republican friends, ‘Close your eyes for a moment. If there was a state program that was costing $185 million a year and only gave the money to lawyers and criminals, what would you do with it..?’ ”

Try that out on the nutballs now in charge of the Republican Party.

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Montana man awarded $311,000 damages from bill collectors

An appellate court has affirmed a $311,000 federal jury award to a Laurel man who sued a North Dakota law firm over its debt collection practices.

The case of Timothy McCollough v. Johnson, Rodenburg & Lauinger was argued in Billings in July before a special panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor along with Judges Sidney R. Thomas of Billings and William A. Fletcher of San Francisco heard the case.

Thomas issued the 30-page opinion, in which the court upheld all of the rulings made by the presiding judge, U.S. Magistrate Judge Carolyn Ostby, and the jury’s verdict.

In April 2009, a jury awarded McCollough $311,000 in damages, finding that JRL had violated the Montana Unfair Trade Practices Act and that its prosecution of McCollough was malicious and an abuse of process. The damages included $250,000 for emotional distress, a statutory maximum of $1,000 for violating the law, and $60,000 in punitive damages, which was the maximum under Montana law.

… McCollough’s attorney, John Heenan noted…”I’m very proud of Tim for hanging in there for as long as he has.”

McCollough said he hoped the case showed debt collectors that “people are going to know they don’t have to take the garbage. They can fight back…”

McCollough had old credit card debts from the 1990s and worked with companies to pay the debts, despite a head injury that left him disabled and on Social Security, which is exempt from collections.

One of the old debts was sold to a collection company, CACV of Colorado, which sued him in Yellowstone County in 2005. Representing himself in the state case, McCollough said the statue of limitations had expired, he had no money and he had been harassed by the credit card company. The case was dismissed.

Two years later, JRL, which has offices in Fargo and Bismarck, sued McCollough for $9,800, which included $6,000 in attorney fees and interest. McCollough fought back a second time, got the case dismissed and then sued JRL for violating debt collection laws.

Good for you, dude. Standing up to creepy usury-hustlers who ignore laws should wrangle a lot more help from state and local governments than folks usually get.

Governments don’t mind helping out bankrupt corporations. It’s just citizens who generally get screwed.

Foreclosure lawyers guarantee their fee – with a 2nd mortgage!

For some Florida residents, the price of getting out of foreclosure will include taking on a second mortgage — payable this time to their lawyers.

The new mortgage, which takes effect only if the foreclosure is dismissed and the homeowner’s debt to the bank is reduced, is controversial among defense lawyers, some of whom call it “creepy” and “crass.” Yet even they acknowledge it offers a solution to a vexing question: How do they get paid?

After recent revelations that banks were sloppy in processing many foreclosures and in some cases lack standing to seize a house, potential clients seeking to challenge their lenders are flocking to lawyers. But while these distressed homeowners might have a case, they generally lack the resources to pay legal fees. Being in foreclosure usually means being broke…

Foreclosure defense is a new legal specialty whose strategies and techniques are still being worked out. Peter Ticktin, who has some 3,000 foreclosure clients, says his plan to collect fees by taking another mortgage on his clients’ properties has already been copied by other firms.

The Ticktin mortgages resemble the loans that the clients originally got from Countrywide, GMAC and other lenders. Each will be a contractual obligation with the law firm, labeled as a mortgage and structured like one, too, with the client paying a certain sum every month and using the house as collateral…

Mr. Ice, Mr. Ticktin and many other Florida foreclosure lawyers typically receive a few hundred dollars a month from each client. To supplement that, they seek legal fees from the banks they successfully challenge as well as contingency fees…

In foreclosure cases, however, the client pays the contingency fee. While such an approach is sometimes used in commercial litigation, this is a first for consumer cases, said Lester Brickman, a professor at Cardozo Law School in New York.

“For a lawyer to supplement or replace the banks as a long-term mortgage creditor of homeowners leaves me a little queasy,” said Mr. Brickman, an expert on contingency fees. “It’s an invitation for the public to say, ‘There go the lawyers again.’ ”

That’s exactly what I would say – here and now. When the only solutions to problems in a troubled economy guarantee reward to only one group of participants – lawyers – I’d say there’s something as corrupt with the solution as there was in the creation of the problems.

Islamist lawyers want to ban Arabian Nights

Egyptian writers have condemned a call by a group of Islamic lawyers for the classic book Arabian Nights to be banned because it is “obscene”.

The group, Lawyers Without Shackles, filed a complaint with Egypt’s prosecutor general after the collection of folk tales was republished. They called for the new edition to be pulped and the stories to be banned.

But the country’s writers union has said it will fight the group in the courts if they try to proceed.

“I was shocked at the offensive phrases it contains,” Ayman Abdul Hakim of Lawyers Without Shackles was quoted by the TV station Al Arabiya. They catalogued several references to sex in the book and said they were “calls to sin”…

Those who want to destroy our heritage are taking the same path as the Taliban when they destroyed Buddha’s statues,” Mohammed Salmawy told the news agency AFP, referring to the destruction of the giant sculptures of Buddha in Bamiyan.

The books publishers, the state-run General Organisation Cultures Palaces, said the republishing had been very popular and the print run had sold out.

“Egyptians are avid readers and they will not be influenced by a bunch of people who take advantage of Islam in order to suppress freedom,” Ahmed Megahed, Chairman of the GOCP was quoted by Al Arabiya.

Bravo! For the Writers Union that is.

Lawyers Without Shackles should rid themselves of the religious chains weighting their hearts, the dedication to sectarian dogma obscuring their vision.

Switzerland rejects move to provide lawyers for animals

Voters in Switzerland have rejected a proposal to introduce a nationwide system of state-funded lawyers to represent animals in court.

Animal rights groups had proposed the move, saying that without lawyers to argue the animals’ case, many instances of cruelty were going unpunished.

But the measure was rejected by around 70% of voters in a referendum.

Voters were almost certainly swayed by worries about how much such a system might cost taxpayers, and by objections from Switzerland’s farmers already struggling with reduced subsidies and falling milk prices.

Switzerland already has some of the strictest animal welfare legislation in the world: Pigs, budgies, goldfish and other social animals cannot be kept alone; horses and cows must have regular exercise outside in summer and winter; and dog owners have to take training courses to learn how to care for their pets.

Most sensible people realize the need to protect the lives of our fellow critters – especially those who are domesticated.

Maybe Swiss lawyers could be trusted to that end? Seems to me representatives of the state should have that trust – watched closely by the people.

Saudi women lawyers to be allowed to argue cases

Saudi Arabia is planning to bring in a new law to allow women lawyers to argue cases in court for the first time.

Justice Minister Mohammed al-Eissa said the law was part of King Abdullah’s plan to develop the legal system.

The law – to be issued “in the coming days” – would allow women to appear in court on family-related cases, including divorce and child custody…

Under a system of male guardianship, Saudi Arabian women are required to be kept separate from men they are not related to.

All are veiled to a greater or lesser degree in public, they are not allowed to drive, and women under 45 must receive permission from a male when they travel.

Opportunities for education and employment are also dependent on male guardianship.

Hey, Saudi Arabia. Welcome to the 19th Century!