Apr 01 2009

Fashion statements and other legal issues of the day in America

In a throwback to medieval sumptuary laws, House Bill 2099, locally known as the ‘Saggy Pants Bill’, is now under consideration in the Tennessee legislature. The Bill makes it a criminal offence to “knowingly wear pants below the waistline, in a public place, in a manner that exposes the person’s underwear or bare buttocks.Underwear is defined as “clothing worn between the skin and outer layer of clothing, including but not limited to boxer shorts and thongs.” The maximum penalty for a first offence would be a fine of $200 with 40 hours community service. Having been approved in the Criminal Practice and Procedure Subcommittee of the Tennessee General Assembly last week, the Bill will be considered in its Judiciary Committee later today. Opposing the bill, Representative Karen Camper (Democrat, Memphis) was quoted as saying: “We may not agree with the fashion statement they’re making… [but] what you’re proposing is to put government in that process.” Moving it, however, Representative Joe Ford (also Democrat, Memphis) saidIt has nothing to do with fashion. It has to do with decency and hygiene” and denied claims the bill was “targeting demographics“.

No such government regulation in Massachusetts. Zabin v Picciotto, a decision of the Superior Court in a recent civil appeal, contains this passage:

As the trial approached the end of October, the jurors asked the judge if he would allow them to wear costumes on Halloween. After consulting with counsel for all parties and hearing no objection, the judge allowed the request. The defendants contend that the presence of jurors in costumes turned the trial into a circus and denied their rights to due process. With or without the consent of counsel to the parties, it is regrettable that the trial judge agreed to the jurors’ request. The introduction of Halloween costumes cannot but have detracted from the seriousness and gravity of formal court proceedings. However, as to the defendants’ claim of a due process violation, the judge did not merely accommodate the jurors’ request; he consulted with counsel for all parties before doing so, and all counsel agreed. The issue is waived. … The defendants also assert that some of the plaintiffs’ counsel handed out candy to the jurors. They further claim that, on another occasion, a proposed “cast list” was circulated for a Hollywood movie version of the trial. The record reveals no objection to counsel to any party handing out candy to the jurors.

There’s a less casual attitude in Texas, where there are firm rules as to ‘courtroom decorum’ for jurors: “It is the policy of the court that male jurors wear coat and tie, and female jurors wear dresses or pantsuits. Jeans are not considered appropriate attire for jury duty… No bottles, beverage containers, paper cups or food shall be brought into the Courtroom… No gum chewing, reading of newspapers and magazines (except as part of evidence in a case).

Still in Texas, the Presiding Judge of the Court of Criminal Appeals faces impeachment. She bunked off work early to see a man about some house repairs, and ordered that the court’s offices be closed before an application to halt an execution that evening could be lodged. In answer to disciplinary charges laid by the Texas Commission for Judicial Conduct, she asserted that the charges were unconstitutional because she was “denied the right to counsel guaranteed by the Texas constitution“. On closer examination, her moan was that the Commission would not agree to pay her counsel of choice his “customary fees“. This, she girned, meant that she was faced with a “financially ruinous legal bill1. Nice, some will think, to have a constitution that protects lawyers’ right to charge ‘financially ruinous legal bills’ to the government.

West to California, where in the case of Kim v Son the Court of Appeal last month considered a promise to pay which had been written after the parties “met in a sushi bar where they consumed a great deal of alcohol.” Translated into English, the promise read “Sir, please forgive me. Because of my deeds you have suffered financially. I will repay you to the best of my ability.” Although written in human blood, specially extracted for the occasion, the promise was held to be unenforceable for lack of consideration. California applies the English concept that a unilateral promise has no legal effect; and, as every Anglo-American lawyer knows, blood for contract drafting should be drawn from all parties to constitute consideration in law2.

Finally, in New York, Bernie Madoff was sentenced after ‘victim impact statements‘ were produced to the court by the US Attorney. One of these read:

My Name is Mr. [redacted] but my origin is from Republic of Congo. I have an inherited fund I want to invest in a business in your country with a help of a local. I don’t know about what business but I found it wise to invest the funds in your country with your collaboration with me. Ever since I move to Dubai due to the problem in my country, I have not been able to invest the funds in Dubai due to security reasons. Now I am seeking foreign assistance to transfer the funds in your country based on the news of their development. If you can assist, I am willing to give you 10% of the funds that is US$3.5Million. You will understand that my entire life and future depend on this money and I shall be very grateful if you can assist me. The major thing I demand from you is the absolute assurance that the funds will be safe and you will not sit on it when it is transferred into your account. I will be willing to coming to your country once everything has been done and the funds are in your bank to discuss on lucrative investment in your country. I hope to hear from you so that we might get to talk better on this issue. Please do give me your contact information in order for me to call you ASAP. If this email offends your moral value, do accept my apology.

Have a nice day!

  1. Unlike the Commission, whose counsel are paid $1 per hour. [back]
  2. Human blood is not an easy medium in which to write. See Goethe’s Faust, Part One, in Luke’s translation, page 156, for full instructions, and boilerplate clauses. [back]

2 comments published

2 comments published to “Fashion statements and other legal issues of the day in America”

  1. Derek O'CarrollNo Gravataron 02 Apr 2009 at 12:15 am

    Incredible; despite the date it’s all true!

  2. MephistophelesNo Gravataron 02 Apr 2009 at 11:29 am

    There is a style for a contract written in blood in my firm’s library which we have found efficacious, although signed only by one party:

    I, JOHANN FAUSTUS, Dr., Do publicly declare with mine own hand in covenant & by power of these presents: Whereas, mine own spiritual faculties having been exhaustively explored (including the gifts dispensed from above and graciously imparted to me), I still cannot comprehend; And whereas, it being my wish to probe further into the matter, I do propose to speculate upon the Elementa; And whereas mankind doth not teach such things; Now therefore have I summoned the spirit who calleth himself Mephostophiles, a servant of the Hellish Prince in Orient, charged with informing and instructing me, and agreeing against a promissory instrument hereby transferred unto him to be subservient and obedient to me in all things. I do promise him in return that, when I be fully sated of that which I desire of him, twenty-four years also being past, ended and expired, he may at such a time and in whatever manner or wise pleaseth him order, ordain, reign, rule and possess all that may be mine: body, property, flesh, blood, etc., herewith duly bound over in eternity and surrendered by covenant in mine own hand by authority and power of these presents, as well as of my mind, brain, intent, blood and will. I do now defy all living beings, all the Heavenly Host and all mankind, and this must be. In confirmation and contract whereof I have drawn out mine own blood for certification in lieu of a seal.

    Our firm accepts no liability for the content of this message, or for the consequences of any actions taken on the basis of the information provided, unless that information is subsequently confirmed in writing. If you are not the intended recipient you are notified that disclosing, copying, distributing or taking any action in reliance on the contents of this information is strictly prohibited. No attorney-client relationship is hereby constituted.