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Can a government shutdown pose a danger to the public?

Monday, 30 September 2013 11:58 AM Written by

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Matt Mangino, who posts The Cautionary Instruction here each Friday, offers some thoughts at his own blog examining the potential for a federal government shutdown to impact public safety:

"There is no question that a shutdown can be inconvenient and a hardship, but can it be dangerous? The double whammy -- sequester and a government shutdown -- will have an impact on public safety."

(Top image: The Capitol in Washington, Monday, Sept. 30, 2013, as the government teeters on the brink of a partial shutdown at midnight unless Congress can reach an agreement on funding that meets presidential approval.  (J. Scott Applewhite/Associated Press)

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Panic Street Lawyer: In a van down by the river

Sunday, 29 September 2013 06:00 AM Written by

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This is a fun week to be living in (or visiting) Pittsburgh. It started with that 40-foot yellow rubber duck on the Allegheny River and was quickly followed by fireworks in Oakland, the Pirates on the North Shore, Billy Bragg in Millvale, and the Penguins in Uptown.

I spent the weekend here packing and moving my law office.

While the Steelers flew its operations overseas for a few days to play one Sunday football game, my firm is maneuvering that same Sunday in a rental van through the Great Racers and relocating long-term ten blocks away, in a building that overlooks the Monongahela River. Unlike Matt Foley, I will not be living down there.

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20130927wap stevenstaley 150Imagine a delusional, psychotic inmate on death row being forced to take medication so that he becomes lucid enough to execute. Does such a scenario seem cruel or farfetched? Not so fast, it is the law in Pennsylvania and other states as well.

In 2003, a federal appeals court ruled that Arkansas could force a prisoner on death row to take antipsychotic medication to make him sane enough to execute. Without the drugs Charles Laverne Singleton, could not be put to death. A 1986 Supreme Court decision prohibited the execution of the insane.

''Singleton presents the court with a choice between involuntary medication followed by an execution and no medication followed by psychosis and imprisonment,'' Judge Roger L. Wollman wrote in his anything but compassionate opinion.

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Panic Street Lawyer: The true North

Sunday, 22 September 2013 06:00 AM Written by

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This week’s PSL starts out in one direction (not to be confused with One Direction):

-- Soon the Pittsburgh Penguins’ NHL regular season will begin, and when clubs from Montreal, Ottawa, and Toronto come to town, fans at Consol Energy Center will be treated to two national anthems. One of the lines in “O Canada” – the official English language version only – says “… we see thee rise/ the True North strong and free…”

-- On Sunday September 29, the NFL sends the Pittsburgh Steelers (a member of the AFC North division) to London UK to play the Minnesota Vikings (a member of the NFC North division) at Wembley Stadium. Odds are good that someone will win this game.

-- One week earlier – in fact, right now, if “right now” for you is Sunday September 22 at 11:00 A.M. Pittsburgh time – is the start of the Manchester derby: Manchester United v. Manchester City at The City of Manchester (a/k/a Etihad) Stadium. The two clubs are from the same Northern city and are the last two English Premier League champions (City in ‘11-’12, United in ‘12-‘13). It would be exactly like a 2013 New York Giants versus New York Jets regular season NFL game if (1) both teams played its home games in New York City, (2) both teams had played each other in the regular season 165 times since 1881, (3) both teams had their own stadium, and (4) both teams were good.

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20130920wap cyberbullying 490Authorities are investigating the role of cyberbullying in the suicide last week of Rebecca Ann Sedwick, a 12-year-old Florida girl who jumped to her death from a platform at an abandoned cement plant near her home.

Friends and family said she suffered constant online harassment from friends who had turned against her in a dispute over a boy. Rebecca was "absolutely terrorized on social media," Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd told reporters.

Gone are the days when spiteful words and banter between students was traded in middle-school bathroom stalls and by notes passed in the hallways.

About 20 percent of young people have been the victim of cyberbullying, according to the Cyberbullying Research Center, a clearinghouse of information on cyberbullying. About 15 percent of teens have admitted they have bullied or ridiculed others on social media, photo-sharing and other websites.

"It's now 24-7. It's not just something you can escape after the school day," said Sameer Hinduja, co-director of the Cyberbullying Research Center.

Cyberbullying can include, but is not limited to:

-- Sending cruel, vicious or threatening e-mails.
-- Creating Web sites that have stories, pictures and jokes ridiculing others.
-- Posting pictures of other students/kids online with derogatory phrases or questions attached to them.
-- Using someone else's e-mail to send vicious or incriminating e-mails to others.
-- Using instant messaging tools to harass others.

When the Pennsylvania House of Representatives reconvenes in Harrisburg for the fall session, a proposal on cyberbullying will be one of the issues that legislators address.

"The consequences can be ... very devastating to a child. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has characterized cyberbullying as an emergency public health problem," said State Representative Ron Marsico.

At a recent hearing, the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association voiced support for the plan, but said it should be changed to ensure that anyone prosecuted under it must be shown to have a malicious intent.

Every state but Montana has an anti-bullying law. However, only 18 states actually have laws that mention cyberbullying.

Not everyone is behind the crusade to eradicate cyberbullying. The Pennsylvania chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union opposes the legislation, saying it isn’t constitutional to censor free speech online just because it is mean-spirited and directed at a child.

However, Audrey Rogers, a professor at Pace Law School says words can be criminal. "You're not allowed to use your words to harass, annoy or intimidate someone," she said. "It's clear the law allows you to outlaw certain kinds of speech."

(Image: Aimee Galassi holds a sign during a carwash fundraiser in memory of cyberbullying victim Rebecca Ann Sedwick in Lakeland, Fla, Sunday, Sept. 15, 2013.  (AP Photo/The Ledger, Rick Runion/The Ledger via Associated Press)

Matthew T. Mangino is of counsel with Luxenberg, Garbett, Kelly & George, P.C. He is the former district attorney of Lawrence County and just completed a six year term on the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole. His weekly column on crime and punishment is syndicated by GateHouse New Service. You can read his musings on the criminal justice system at www.mattmangino.com and follow Matt on Twitter @MatthewTMangino.

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