February 2012

And You Thought Lawyers Were Expensive . . . .

At first glance, a threatened lawsuit against The Cheesecake Factory restaurant in Massachusetts sounds like it could be yet another the-sky-is-falling example of lawsuit abuse from those who are – shall we say – not big fans of the legal system.

Posted: 2/29/2012 2:48:29 PM by On the Merits Editor | with 0 comments

Phil Mickelson Hits Another Impressive Shot Out of the Rough

Courts in the U.S. and around the world have been working overtime to keep pace with a growing number of novel legal disputes created by the Internet. Unfortunately, people and businesses continue to fall prey to electronic mischief – including cybersquatting and online defamation – because few of us have the time and/or resources to go after the architects of mayhem on the World Wide Web.

Pro golfer Phil Mickelson does have the resources, however, and he recently did everyone a favor by using a portion of his considerable fortune to take a hardline stance against tawdry, anonymous online allegations against him.  In November, one or more people began using the pseudonyms “Fogroller” and “Longitude” on the Yahoo! Sports website to assert that Mickelson had fathered an illegitimate child and that his wife had an affair.

The pro golfer responded by filing a complaint against a Canadian Internet service provider, which has agreed to reveal the anonymous commenter’s identity, according to media reports. The broader implications of Mickelson’s action are unclear, but as his attorney told reporters: “If we can stop one person, then it’s one less person who can get away with this.”

Mickelson’s legal battle is just the latest example of a well-heeled sports star relying on the courts to help create new parameters for online conduct. Former Dallas resident and current professional basketball standout Chris Bosh famously won a 2009 federal court claim over the rights to the online domain bearing his name. A California judge awarded Bosh his domain and 800 additional domains that used the names of other pro sports stars. In turn, Bosh returned them to their rightful owners for free.

Sports heroes are sometimes criticized for making vast fortunes for merely playing a game, but the actions of both Mickelson and Bosh – and the persistence and creativity of their lawyers – may well end up making the Internet a better place for everyone.


Posted: 2/23/2012 6:07:23 AM by On the Merits Editor | with 0 comments

Real World Troubles for High Court Justice

Supreme Court Justices are sometimes accused of being disconnected from the world in which the rest of us live, thereby compromising their ability to make legal decisions that properly take into account the impact upon “ordinary” people. 

Posted: 2/22/2012 7:13:10 AM by On the Merits Editor | with 0 comments

Justice Scalia Opines on the Difference Between Law and Politics

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia was predictably queried about the usual political issues when answering questions posed by lawyers at the American Bar Association’s recent Midyear Meeting in New Orleans.  On the Merits was there to observe the proceedings, where the topics covered by Scalia included those you might expect, including his take on Roe v. Wade (Scalia described the opinion as a “mess”), the effect of his Catholicism on his decisions (none, he says), and same-sex marriage (which he appropriately declined to discuss since the issue likely will be before the Court soon). 

But when asked point-blank about the effect of politics on the Court’s decision-making, Scalia strongly reiterated a consistent theme of other Supreme Court Justices, even those who often vehemently disagree with him. He said politics don’t affect decisions at all; what the public and media regard as political ideology is really what Scalia describes as the “fault line” of theories of constitutional interpretation, or the vast differences in philosophical approach to constitutional issues that that each individual Justice brings to his or her judicial opinions.  Scalia says his philosophy is to follow the “original meaning” of the Constitution, which he contrasted with others’ support for a “living” Constitution that allows for constitutional principles to adapt to specific situations not anticipated by the Founding Fathers.  

The debate over the proper approach to constitutional interpretation will rage on long after we are all gone, but a primary reason we have nine justices with lifetime appointments is the hope that many viewpoints will be at the table when these fundamental and long-lasting decisions are made.  Having judges who feel removed from politics is a good thing. The alternative is much worse. 

Posted: 2/16/2012 5:45:32 AM by On the Merits Editor | with 0 comments

"Mockingbird” Anniversary Brings Important Reminder for Lawyers

Believe it or not, this month marks the 50th anniversary of the iconic movie that has probably drawn more attention to the legal profession than any other. Universal Pictures’ “To Kill a Mockingbird” debuted in February 1962 with Hollywood great Gregory Peck playing the role of Atticus Finch, perhaps the most fabled attorney in the history of American cinema.

Posted: 2/15/2012 7:20:59 AM by On the Merits Editor | with 0 comments

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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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