Panic Street Lawyer: Jam on the Job, Part II

Sunday, 04 August 2013 06:00 AM Written by

20130804msclip contract150So let me get this straight …

Last week I observed that it was the opinion of a unanimous Supreme Court of Iowa that a female dental assistant could be legally fired by her male dentist employer because the employer (and his wife) found the assistant too attractive. Also, last week an Atlantic County, New Jersey Superior Court judge ruled that female cocktail servers could be legally fired by their casino employer because the business owner found the servers not attractive enough.

While these two state court decisions consistently held that neither situation constituted job discrimination “on the basis of sex,” I worry about one consistent message being sent by these (male) judges to girls and young women who are thinking of future careers: remember that employee appearance is still an employer trump card.

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20130802 hairanalysis photocom146735884 150The Cautionary Instruction has periodically examined the fallibility of long accepted forms of scientific evidence used in criminal cases. This blog has explored fingerprint analysisbite mark identification and even eyewitness identification.  Last month, the FBI announced that the agency will review thousands of old cases in which microscopic hair analysis helped secure convictions.

More than 2,000 cases processed from 1985 to 2000 will be re-examined, including some in which execution dates had been set.

The study will focus on whether analysts exaggerated the significance of their hair analyses or reported them inaccurately. Defendants will be notified and free DNA testing offered if errors are unearthed.

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Panic Street Lawyer: Jam on the Job, Part I

Sunday, 28 July 2013 06:00 AM Written by

20101010supremecourtbuilding 150The United States Supreme Court issues a handful of employment law decisions every term, and the October Term 2012 was no different. Most of these opinions are judicial interpretations of federal statutory laws such as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and the National Labor Relations Act. The Supreme Court’s latest term ended in late June, and the October Term 2013 does not begin until the first Monday in October.

But other American courts – trial as well as appellate, state as well as federal – continue to work during the “hazy, lazy, crazy days of summer.” Many of the cases these judges, law clerks, staff, and juries process fall into the category of employment law. These cases do not often get the same sort of public attention that Supreme Court employment law pronouncements get, but sometimes they do. Here is the first of two state court employment law rulings – coincidentally, both issued this July 12 – involving two younger (ex) employees who found themselves in job-related jams.

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20130726 prisoncalls photocom86485205A telephone may be a prisoner’s only connection with the outside world. Often incarcerated far from home, some prisoners don’t get visitors -- the telephone is a lifeline.

That connection maybe the difference between a former prisoner becoming a productive member of society or returning to prison.

According to the NAACP, studies have demonstrated that maintaining a connection with loved ones, friends and families while incarcerated is a key component in reducing recidivism

Phone calls from the outside do more than keep prisoners entertained. They've actually been shown to keep them from re-offending, maintaining family connections that prove vital when inmates leave prison.

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The Cautionary Instruction: Murder doesn't pay

Friday, 19 July 2013 06:00 AM Written by

20120719lfpg colinabbottC 150 Abraham Lincoln once bemoaned the guy who killed his parents and then wanted the court to take mercy on him because he was an orphan. The story may be apocryphal, but it is not far-fetched.

In February, Colin Abbott pleaded no contest to killing his father and stepmother whose charred remains were found on their property in Butler County in July 2011. Abbott killed his parents to cash-in on his father’s $4 million estate.

His plea to third degree murder resulted in a sentence of 35 to 80 years in prison. Abbott then filed a motion to withdraw his guilty plea citing concerns that he was under "emotional distress" at sentencing and did not have enough time to consider the decision.

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Panic Street Lawyer: Mr. Tough and Legal Man

Sunday, 14 July 2013 06:00 AM Written by

20130714sm yoletengo490

Two acts performed outdoors last night at Stage AE, a venue located on the North Shore of Pittsburgh: Yo La Tengo and Belle & Sebastian. These critically acclaimed indie rock/pop musicians with loyal fan bases come from very different backgrounds. Yo La Tengo was founded in Hoboken, while Belle & Sebastian (the group, not the French TV series) hails from Glasgow.

The hometowns of these two bands are located within larger geographic jurisdictions that, interestingly, have been in the news the past few weeks for two different sports stories that have legal twists to them. And while these two stories are not directly related to either of the aforementioned musical acts, the two main characters in these stories can be fairly described by the two song titles that I borrowed from Saturday night’s set lists.

New Jersey

The sports news out of The Garden State has not been good as of late. The NBA Nets left for Brooklyn last year, the NHL Devils have been “struggling” (off the ice now, and on the ice very soon), and the Rutgers University athletic program has been “embarrassed” by scandals. Good thing they will be hosting the NFL Super Bowl XLVIII outdoors this coming February 2 – what could possibly go wrong with that from a meteorological standpoint?

20130714wap chrischristie150Gov. Chris Christie. Associated PressThe PSL New Jersey sports story – in the aftermath of a loss, appropriately enough – actually has a Philadelphia dateline. On June 26, oral argument took place before a three-judge panel of the Third Circuit Court of Appeals in the case of NCAA et al. v. Governor of New Jersey, et al. This is the governor’s appeal of a federal district court ruling that the federal 1992 Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) did not violate New Jersey’s right to allow some form of pro and college sports betting. The lower court said PASPA was a proper exercise of Congressional power to prohibit sports gambling in every state but those four (Nevada, Delaware, Oregon, and Montana) that allowed it twenty years ago.

The lead defendant-appellant in this case, Governor Chris Christie, has “doubled down” on gambling as part of the state’s economic development plan, particularly in Atlantic City. In addition to fighting to bring sports betting, Christie recently signed a bill to allow gamblers to place bets online at Atlantic City’s casinos.

Christie, a 50-year-old former U.S. attorney born in Newark and educated in Livingston, is famous for his bravado. He says he would appeal an unfavorable decision by the Third Circuit in this case to the United States Supreme Court. The Third Circuit’s decision should be announced sometime later this year.

No U.S. court ruling will affect sports wagering in Great Britain, where it is legal for more than football (soccer). For example, it was perfectly legal in the United Kingdom to bet on the outcome of matches at the 2013 Wimbledon professional men’s and women’s tennis tournament. At this year’s championship, the gambling industry lost $22.35 million -- on one player.

20130714sm belesebastian490Belle & Sebastian frontman Stuart Murdoch performs at Stage AE. Scott Mervis/Post-Gazette


Sports fans in this part of the world put news from the football transfer market on the back burner while they followed 26-year-old tennis pro Andy Murray all the way to his men’s singles championship. That straight sets finals win last Sunday, which caused the breaking of a U.K. Twitter record, was the first for a British man at Wimbledon in 77 years.

20130714wap murray150Andy Murray at the Wimbledon Champions Dinner in London. AP/InvisionMurray was born in Glasgow and attended school in Dunblane, and those biographic facts were very important to many people in Scotland last Sunday. That is because in a little over fourteen months, Scots will be asked if they want to break away from the U.K. and become an independent country.

A discussion of the mixing of sports and politics (FYI, Christie is part Scottish) also came up following Murray winning a gold medal for Team GB at the Games of the XXX Olympiad (London 2012). For his part, Murray has been cautious and unemotional in his most recent comment on the upcoming referendum – although the language he used was rather, uh, “colourful.” Scots will have opportunities on home soil to cheer for Scottish athletes besides Murray between now and next September: the British Open at Muirfield Golf Links is next week, and the XX Commonwealth Games are in Glasgow next summer.

The legal framework for the holding of the Scottish independence referendum on September 18, 2014 – five days before the start of Scotland hosting the Ryder Cup for only the second time ever -- was the result of the “Edinburgh Agreement,” reached in October 2012 between U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron and First Minister of Scotland Alex Salmond.

If that was not enough of a second sports story with a legal twist, then feel free to read an advice piece “For the Lawyers Negotiating the Other Side of Andy Murray’s Sponsorship Deals.”

(Top image: Yo La Tengo frontman Ira Kaplan at Stage AE. Scott Mervis/Post-Gazette)

The Panic Street Lawyer is a personal opinion column by attorney Jay Hornack. Contact him right here at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and follow Jay on Twitter: @panicstlawyer

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20130712 misslibertyarrested photocom157971580 150At a time of historically low rates of crime, the federal prison system is operating at almost 40 percent over capacity. A recent report by the Congressional Research Service found that the federal prison population has grown by almost 790 percent since 1980.

Congress wants to know why federal prisons are bulging at the seams. They have launched an investigation into the proliferation of federal criminal statutes.

Federal lawmakers have been creating on average 55 new “crimes” per year, bringing the total number of federal crimes on the books to more than 5,000, with as many as 300,000 regulatory crimes. Back in 1790, the first federal criminal law passed by Congress listed fewer than 20 federal crimes.

The problem is known as overcriminalization and it is not just a federal problem. There is no dearth of criminal statutes on the state level. For instance, Texas lawmakers have created over 1,700 criminal offenses.

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Panic Street Lawyer: Driving me backwards

Sunday, 07 July 2013 06:00 AM Written by

20130707ds sixteenthstreetbridge 490

Although direction is a theme of this week’s PSL, I will not be previewing tomorrow’s performance in Pittsburgh by British boy band One Direction. However, the band’s scheduled July 19 performance in Kansas City produced a hate-filled statement this week that, in its own way, connects to another PSL theme: freedom.

It is the celebrations in Pittsburgh for two leading historians that makes “reverse” my one direction this week. Today is David McCullough Day in the city, and yesterday was Charles McCollester Day here.

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