There is much to be learned from today’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling in the so-called “Obamacare” case, and one of the more important lessons has to be that most predictions of what the Court might do are pretty much worthless on cases like these, where the Court is deciding multifaceted legal matters involving unprecedented legal issues. The fact that the Court upheld the law based on a tax analysis rather than a Commerce Clause analysis seemed to surprise everyone, and nobody predicted that Chief Justice John Roberts would end up with the Court’s liberal wing without taking along Justice Anthony Kennedy, who is normally thought of as the swing vote.
No matter how much we say this here, most of the public still won’t believe it: Judges are not as predictable as they are commonly portrayed in the media, particularly when they’re dealing with novel questions that do not have clear precedents. Certain judges may think like other judges, or take similar approaches, but it has not been uncommon for Justices to rule in unforeseen ways throughout the history of the Court. And that shouldn’t surprise anyone. In fact, it’s why so many Supreme Court opinions are so long and cite so many cases. Anyone who thinks judging is easy should read not only the opinions, but the Appellants’ briefs, the Appellees’ briefs and the Amicus briefs as well, which illustrate the countless opportunities for opinions and approaches to diverge.
The New York Times ran an excellent piece earlier this week correctly predicting that the prevailing wisdom was likely to be wrong. Approximately ¾ of the bettors at an online betting market thought that the individual mandate would be struck down, largely because of what transpired during oral arguments. Many people might be surprised to find that, in the words of the Times:
“ . . . studies have found that predictions made by “expert” commentators on the Supreme Court do barely any better than a coin flip and are beaten by the statistical methods (a finding that follows the poor overall track record of experts in making predictions under many other circumstances). These experts are irrationally confident about their ability to read the tea leaves, and their predictions suffer for it.”
And that’s the way it should be. Certain politicians and members of the media may not like it, but the day that judges become too predictable is the day we no longer have a functional and independent judiciary.
Posted: 6/28/2012 2:12:56 PM by On the Merits Editor | with 0 comments
Despite the importance of jury service – both for the involved parties and our overall justice system – it seems that some of those called for jury duty will never learn the rules, no matter how explicitly judges instruct them in hopes of avoiding costly mistrials and other courthouse calamities. This week, we’re highlighting the story of a Houston woman who managed to clear more than 200 potential jurors from the Harris County courthouse with one simple text message.
Cynthia Creed, 51, had just been released from jury duty on June 12 when she sent a message to a co-worker that read “Call the courthouse (1201 Congress) Tell them there is a bomb . . . Pleeese.” Yes, you read that correctly. A 51-year-old woman who already had performed her civic duty by showing up and being excused for jury service somehow decided to send a joke about a courthouse bomb to her co-worker using a text message. The co-worker responded by calling the authorities, who understandably descended on the downtown courts building with bomb-sniffing dogs and a team of concerned deputy constables. As the search for a nonexistent bomb was taking place a couple blocks away, Creed sent a follow-up message to her co-worker that read “Just kidding.”
Her misguided attempt to be funny landed Creed in the Harris County lockup facing charges of filing a false report and $5,000 in bail. No word yet on the costs involved for the local courts after having to prematurely dismiss more than 200 jurors, or for the many parties whose cases were not heard because of the misplaced joke.
As ridiculous as it seems, we’re now wondering whether potential Harris County jurors will be instructed in the future not to send fake bomb threats related to their jury service. Good grief.
Posted: 6/27/2012 2:45:56 PM by On the Merits Editor | with 0 comments
The Texas Center for Legal Ethics will be actively participating at the upcoming State Bar of Texas Annual Meeting in Houston with a series of informative continuing legal education courses and book signings with two of the state’s top authors on legal ethics issues.
TCLE will be providing complimentary breakfast for attendees who sign up for one of three continuing education ethics programs that will run from 7:30 to 9:00 a.m. during both days of the annual meeting on June 14-15. The programs at the George R. Brown Convention Center will include 1 hour of ethics credit. Call (512) 427-1444 for registration information or visit the TCLE booth at the convention center.
On June 14 at 1:30 p.m., Austin attorney William Chriss will be at the TCLE booth to sign copies of his new book “The Noble Lawyer,” a compelling examination of public misconceptions about lawyers and the legal profession as told through the lens of popular culture. Mr. Chriss previously served as TCLE’s executive director from 2007-2009. At 1:30 p.m. on June 15, Dallas attorney Talmage Boston will be signing his book “Raising the Bar,” which focuses on the real-life and fictional iconic figures who have brought integrity and honor to the legal profession.
“The State Bar Annual Meeting is a great opportunity for lawyers to learn more about the Texas Center for Legal Ethics and meet with our staff to talk about the important ethics issues that they deal with in their practices every day,” says TCLE Executive Director Jonathan Smaby. “Our goal is to be a trusted resource for every practicing lawyer in Texas.”
Posted: 6/11/2012 11:14:53 AM by On the Merits Editor | with 0 comments
A group of Dallas lawyers and judges are taking to the stage for a worthwhile cause over the next few days on the campus of Southern Methodist University.
Starting tonight, the Dallas Bar Foundation and the Dallas Bar Association will be hosting the first of four performances of the popular “Bar None” annual song-and-dance revenue at the Greer Garson Theatre at SMU. Proceeds from year’s program, “Bar None XXVII: The Girl with the File-Stamp Tattoo,” will benefit the Sara T. Hughes Diversity Scholarship at the SMU School of Law. Overall, Bar None has raised more than $1.5 million for this worthwhile scholarship program, which provides educational funding for minority law school students who plan to remain in the Dallas-area and serve the community. Scholarship recipients are encouraged to meet the personal mission Ms. Hughes set for herself: "Pick out your goal, and then use determination and courage to reach it."
Tonight and tomorrow, the program will begin at 7:30 p.m. The Friday and Saturday shows start at 8 p.m. Musical performances will include Dallas judges and attorneys trying their hand at music from West Side Story, the Temptations, Kelly Clarkson, and more. For more information or to order tickets visit the Bar None website linked above or call the Dallas Bar Foundation at 214-220-7487.
Posted: 6/6/2012 1:37:19 PM by On the Merits Editor | with 0 comments
While trial by jury is a fundamental right enshrined in the Constitution, most non-lawyers are unaware of how much extra work this creates for judges and lawyers to ensure that each and every criminal defendant gets a fair trial based only on the evidence presented in court. Sometimes jurors fail to make this job any easier by ignoring the judge’s explicit instructions, including the recent Dallas County capital murder case where a juror bragged about reading trial news coverage despite being told not to.
A new twist on this old story was provided by the recent high-profile case involving John Goodman, a millionaire polo mogul from Houston who got into trouble in Palm Beach, Fla. Goodman was convicted of DUI manslaughter and vehicular homicide following the death of a 23-year-old man who drowned when his vehicle was pushed into a canal after being struck by Goodman’s luxury car. Goodman, who reportedly adopted his 42-year-old girlfriend in an attempt to shield his assets from a civil lawsuit filed by the victim’s parents, recently introduced new evidence of potential juror misconduct in hopes of refuting his March 2012 conviction.
The new evidence came from a book published by a juror who helped convict Goodman. In the self-published book, the juror admitted to drinking three vodka tonics the night before the verdict so he could see for himself whether that amount of alcohol would impair his driving ability. Prosecutors had alleged that Goodman had a similar amount to drink on the night of the fatal accident. Based on the juror’s unauthorized experiment, Goodman’s lawyers argued that their client deserves a new trial. The trial judge disagreed and sentenced Goodman to 16 years in prison on May 11.
Now, it’s unlikely that the judge’s instructions included an admonition against getting drunk to simulate the defendant’s state of mind or body, but it certainly prohibited jurors from performing their own independent research or investigation. That one act threatened to throw out a verdict that was reached only after many people devoted a lot of time and resources to ensure a fair trial.
Perhaps the only good thing here is that the offending juror wasn’t doing his own research on an armed robbery case.
Posted: 6/5/2012 6:11:21 AM by On the Merits Editor | with 0 comments
About This Blog
Thanks for stopping by On the Merits, the first blog from the Texas Center for Legal Ethics. On the Merits will take a close look at significant legal stories with an eye toward addressing the legal myths and misconceptions that turn up in news stories, movies, TV programs, websites, anonymous emails and other forms of mass communications. Our goal at On the Merits is to provide readers with a thoughtful examination of what the media and others are saying about the legal profession and to apply the frequently-absent context of how the legal system actually works.
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