|Legal Tales Stranger than Fiction:
I Sue, You Sue, We all Sue
A San Antonio, Texas home builder is suing one of its customers. Sitterle Corporation filed a libel suit against homeowner Army Col. Jay Hirata, asking for $500,000 in damages. The company accuses Hirata of writing defamatory statements on a consumer advocacy website about the company's alleged refusal to fix a leak problem in Hirata's home.
The two-year old dispute started after the Hiratas bought the home and soon noticed water leaking into the basement after rains. According to news reports, Sitterle tried to fix the problem. Unsatisfied, the Hiratas filed a formal complaint with the Texas Residential Construction Commission. The Commission's independent inspector sided with the Hiratas.
When Sitterle tried to make repairs, the Hiratas rejected them because the builder was not specific as to what was going to be done. Then the Hiratas sued, claiming they would like Sitterle to either buy back the home or repair the leaking problem in a more conventional manner.
The company defended, saying the Hiratas are at fault for not maintaining the house properly and altering the drainage pattern or soil grade. Sitterle's attorney, William Oliver, says the Hiratas' house no longer leaks.
Last month, the Hiratas posted complaints about Sitterle on the website Home Owners for Better Building. Sitterle filed a defamation suit, charging that "tens of thousands" of people could have read the comments and the company's reputation could be harmed. The comments included such statements as: "We are the victims ... of a company that is unwilling and unable to accept responsibility and accountability for this defective foundation and home. ... Sitterle Corp. does not admit any fault and are unwilling to remedy the situation."
Janet Ahmad, head of the website that posted Hirata's comments, said Sitterle is trying to suppress Hirata's free speech rights.
The Hiratas suit is scheduled to go to trial this week.
âSource: San Antonio Express-News (Texas)
Judge's Behavior Deemed Unacceptable
Circuit Judge Richard Albritton, Jr. of Panama City, Florida was reprimanded this week by the Florida Supreme Court for 14 admitted ethics violations. Initially accused of 36 violations, Judge Albritton admitted in an agreement with the Judicial Qualifications Commission to 14 violations. He received a public reprimand, will serve a 30-day unpaid suspension, and pay a $5,000 fine and $1,203 in costs.
Among the violations alleged against Albritton include ordering a probationer to attend church, jailing a young mother because she was unable to remember her address, and telling a woman in open court that she "needed to close her legs and stop having babies." In other instances, Judge Albritton asked parents in dependency cases whether they used drugs and if they answered no, he would order a drug test on the spot and jail the parents for contempt if they tested positive. Judge Albritton also admitted to soliciting gifts and invitations to lunch and getting hunting trips from lawyers.
Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice R. Fred Lewis told Albritton that his "behavior was unacceptable. It's a stain on all of us."
âSource: Pensacola News Journal
Lawsuits Flying Around Over Foie Gras
The Illinois Restaurant Association has joined forces with Chicago-area chefs and restaurants and filed a lawsuit against a ban on foie gras in restaurants. The lawsuit charges that the Chicago City Council's ban oversteps legal authority and is unconstitutional.
The lawsuit argues that the city is violating home rule powers because foie gras is not produced in Chicago. Barry S. Rosen, attorney for the restaurant group, claims the lawsuit is about "the bounds of local government power." Chicago's Mayor Richard M. Daley suggested the ban was the "silliest law" passed by the council.
The Chicago City Council passed the foie gras ban last spring, joining California (ban begins in 2012) and several European countries that have outlawed foie gras. Animal rights' activists claim that foie gras production constitutes animal cruelty because the "fatty liver" is produced by force-feeding grain to ducks and geese with a tube until their liver enlarges to as much as 10 times its normal size.
The lawsuit claims that since foie gras production is approved by the federal government, it should be up to the diners to decide for themselves and the city council should not be allowed to tell diners what they can and cannot eat. Rosen added that Chicago's ban "seeks to outlaw a particular food where there are no health or safety concerns whatsoever, and where the production of that food is entirely lawful."
The ordinance bans only the sale of foie gras, so restaurateurs claim that they can get around it by giving it away or serving it at private parties.
Another foie gras lawsuit was recently filed in New York. This one has The Humane Society seeking to end state subsidies to the nation's foremost foie gras producer. "We're focusing our legal efforts on not only preventing the facility from expanding, we consider them to be in violation of many laws including the cruel food law . . . and eventually we'd like them out of the state," said Society official Carter Dillard.
âSources: Chicago Sun Times and The New York Post
Fired for Being Too Fat
A suburban New York school teacher is suing his former employer claiming that he was fired because he was too fat.
Michael Frank, who is 6'4" tall and weighed 325 pounds at the time of his dismissal, charges the school district with violating the Americans with Disabilities Act because obesity is a medical condition. Last fall, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which reviewed Frank's complaint, agreed that there was "reasonable cause to believe" Frank was discriminated against because of his obesity.
Frank, who taught seventh-grade math for four years at Lawrence Middle School, claims that he had glowing reviews until his tenure hearing. Frank says that the assistant superintendent who evaluated his classroom performance as part of the tenure process told him "you are so big and sloppy" and "your appearance is not conducive to learning."
"It was devastating," Frank said about his firing. "It had nothing to do with my teaching. It had to do with how I looked." Frank's attorney, Scott Gilly, added that "what this case is really about is a fundamental rule that all of us sitting around the dinner table teach our children. Don't judge others by their appearance, but rather by the content of their character and their abilities."
Frank is now working a lower-paying job in a different school district.
âSource: Daily News (New York)
A Doggone Huge Settlement
The City of San Jose, California, has agreed to pay nearly $800,000 to Hells Angels motorcycle club members to settle claims that police killed three dogs during raids on the club's headquarters and nine members' homes. The 90-police officer raids were in an effort to gather evidence against Steve Tausan, a Hells Angels member who served as a strip club bouncer, accused of killing a patron.
In a civil-rights lawsuit filed by the Hells Angels, the club charged that the dogs were killed after police refused to give owners and caretakers a chance to secure the animals. The Appeals Court ruled that shooting the dogs violated constitutional protections against unreasonable search and seizure.
"We sincerely hope the city will engage in changes to its policy and training to make sure that this doesn't happen again," said Karen Snell, one of the club's lawyers.
San Jose Chief of Police Rob Davis said that since the court's ruling, police now make plans to avoid shooting dogs at homes being searched.
Mr. Tausan was acquitted of murder by a jury.
âSource: San Jose Mercury News (California)
Doughnut Offer Leaves Big Hole
A convicted child molester in Washington State is getting a new trial because the judge accepted a juror's offer of a doughnut and other food from a jury-room potluck.
According to the Court of Appeals' decision in Washington v. DeGroff, the exchange of food "opened a line of communication" between judge and jurors that "undermined the integrity" of the trial. Judge Richard Strophy, who has been on the bench for 20 years, was faulted for having contact with jurors outside the presence of the defendant.
Additionally, the Appellate Court found troubling the fact that Judge Strophy met with another juror in his chambers to discuss the juror's request to be dismissed due to a scheduling conflict. Judge Strophy's impartiality was also questioned because he responded to a note received from another juror regarding a potential conflict and did not discuss the note with the attorneys.
"The constitution requires an ironclad wall between judge and jury," wrote Judge Christine Quinn-Brintnall.
DeGroff was ordered to be retried by a different judge.
âSource: The Columbian (Vancouver, Washington)
Droopy Drawers Thief's Downfall
Loose, baggy jeans are credited with catching a would-be robber in Henderson, North Carolina. It seems that when 24-year-old Noah Donell Brown tried to jump over the counter of a Subway shop during an armed robbery attempt, his loose trousers tripped him up and he came crashing down in front of employees.
Brown then fled to a nearby residential neighborhood, with police in chase, only to get held up again. As he tried to climb a picket fence, Brown's pants got caught. Police, who found him dangling upside down, his pants at his ankles, had to cut him loose.
"He didn't make a good jump," said Hendersonville police Chief Donnie Parks, who spotted Brown on the fence. "The only reason we caught the guy was because his pants fell down," he said, adding: "He was wearing underwear, thank goodness."
Brown pleaded guilty to attempted robbery with a dangerous knife.
âSource: Wall Street Journal
An Ugly Lawsuit
A Massachusetts family is suing former friends because their friends' niece was too ugly for marriage.
In the lawsuit, Dr. Vijai Pandey of Belchertown, Massachusetts sued Lallan and Kanti Giri after the arranged marriage suggested by the Giris did not work out. According to the lawsuit, the 37-year-old prospective groom, his mother and sister traveled to New Delhi, India to meet the Giris niece. When they arrived, they were "shocked" to discover the prospective bride was "ugly with dark complexion and protruded bad teeth and couldn't speak English to carry on a conversation."
The Pandeys are seeking $200,000 from the Giris to cover travel expenses and emotional distress and charge them with fraud and conspiracy. "I felt cheated, really, and there was no remorse from the other side, like it was our mistake,'' Pandey said. "I felt taken advantage of."
News reports indicate that when contacted about the lawsuit, Lallan Giri said, "We plead guilty, 120 percent."
âSource: Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly
Fired Up Over Lawsuit
Two women have filed separate lawsuits against rum-maker Bacardi for burns sustained in a Miami bar in 2002. Agata Macierzynska and her friend Danielle Alleyne each sustained serious burns after a customer lit a menu and placed it in the stream of the Bacardi 151 alcohol shots being poured by the bartender, sending flaming rum all over the women.
According to their lawsuits, the women claim that Bacardi 151 rum is defective and dangerous. A statement issued by the wine and spirit maker said, "Bacardi 151 carries a very clear label that warns against any flaming of the product."
âSource: The Miami Herald
An Engaging Lawsuit
A South Carolina woman has won a lawsuit and will get to keep a $40,000 engagement ring, despite the fact that she called off the wedding. Seems the man, Brian Callahan of New York, was still legally married at the time he proposed to Dana Clyburn Parker with a 3.41-carat diamond engagement ring.
After learning that her fiancÃ© was still married and that he spent time searching the Internet for other women, Ms. Parker called off the wedding. Callahan sued Parker to get the ring back.
State Supreme Court Justice Rolando T. Acosta ruled that Parker can keep the ring because the agreement to marry was void and his gift of a ring could not form a contract.
The couple first "met" in 2001 on an online dating service that listed Callahan as "divorced."
âSource: Buffalo News (New York)
Lawsuit Sparks National Debate
A Chicago-area lawsuit is cutting apart the medical community and parental rights' groups. An undisclosed father of an eight-year-old boy is suing his ex-wife in an attempt to prevent his son's circumcision. The parents were divorced in 2003 and awarded joint custody, giving them equal input on medical decisions.
The boy's father believes the circumcision is unneeded and describes the operation as mutilation. The mother claims that the operation is medically necessary as the boy has suffered at least four genital infections in the last year.
Doctors for both sides have testified, with one side arguing there is no medical reason to remove the boy's foreskin, and the other side offering expert advice on circumcision as a way to prevent further problems. Tracy Rizzo, the mother's lawyer, says that the father is opposed to procedure because he resents his former wife's remarriage to a Jewish man. "The father has made this more of a political issue and nothing to do with medicine," she said.
A decision is expected later this summer.
âSource: Chicago Tribune
An Oregon man has filed an $832 million civil lawsuit against basketball star Michael Jordan and Nike founder Phil Knight, claiming that he has been subjected to harassment, discomfort, unpleasant feelings and permanent injury because he physically resembles the basketball icon. The plaintiff is seeking $52 million from each defendant for "defamation and permanent injury" and $364 million from each in punitive damages for "emotional pain and suffering."
The nearly six-foot tall Allen Ray Heckard filed suit last month in county court claiming to have been mistaken for Michael Jordan (who is six inches taller) nearly every day for the past 15 years. According to Heckard's suit, he cannot attend religious services and public functions, ride public transportation, go to a restaurant, play sports in public parks, attend movies or walk the streets without people thinking he's Jordan. Heckard, who is representing himself, said, "I'm constantly being accused of looking like Michael, and it makes it very uncomfortable for me."
Theresa Tran, the director of communications for the Jordan division of Nike, said, "The only comment I can offer you is that we don't believe the suit to have merit and will move to dismiss it."
âSource: The Sunday Oregonian (Portland, Oregon) and Chicago Tribune