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257 posts categorized "Law"

January 09, 2009

Madoff "victims" may have unwittingly profited from Ponzi scheme

Some of the investors who lost money when Bernie Madoff' $50 billion Ponzi scheme imploded may still have turned a profit after all. Investors who withdrew money from their accounts may have taken out more money than they originally invested, even they lost whatever was left in their accounts when the scheme finally went bust:

What they thought were profits was likely money stolen from other clients in what prosecutors are calling the largest Ponzi scheme in history. Now, they are confronting the possibility they may have to pay some of it back.

The issue came to the forefront this week as about 8,000 former Madoff clients began to receive letters inviting them to apply for up to $500,000 in aid from the Securities Investor Protection Corp.

Lawyers for investors have been warning clients to do some tough math before they apply for any funds set aside for the victims, and figure out whether they were a winner or loser in the scheme. [AP]

Madoff investors who made a profit face an ethical quandry. It appears that the "returns" on their investment were not ROI, but rather, the proceeds of a Ponzi scheme. Investigators believe that Madoff didn't invest the money, but rather that he he paid old investors out of the money that he collected from new clients. Madoff's  scheme was a giant financial chain letter.

This situation raises interesting ethical questions. One man quoted in the AP story came out ahead, even though Madoff held on to the final $1 million in his account. Should this guy be eligible for compensation under the new program that's being set up to help Madoff's victims? After all, he already profited from a crime by accepting money that Maddoff stole from his other clients. Yet, he did lose a million dollars through no fault of his own.

Here's a legal question for you guys. Is there any way that the authorities could come after Madoff "investors" in an attempt to retrieve the money? After all, these profits were the proceeds of a crime.

November 21, 2008

Obama's likely pick for Drug Czar opposes needle exchange


Needle Exchange, originally uploaded by Todd Huffman.

Barack Obama supports needle exchange programs for intravenous drug users, which have been clinically proven to slow the spread of HIV and other illnesses.

In fact, the president-elect wants to lift the ban on federal funding for needle exchanges.
So, why is he be leaning towards a Drug Czar who opposes these lifesaving programs, despite an otherwise pragmatic and compassionate approach to drug policy, Maia Szalavitz wonders.

Update: Ta Nehesi notes that Obama's designated Attorney General, Eric Holder, favors lengthy mandatory minimum sentences for some first-time drug possessors (i.e., 5-year mandatory minimums for anyone possessing marijuana with intent to distribute).

Update II: Ramstad voted in 1999 to prohibit needle exchange in the District of Columbia.

November 11, 2008

God suit probably not Ernie Chambers' finest hour

Now that I know more about the motivation for Ernie Chambers' lawsuit against God, I'm really disappointed in him.

Apparently, he launched the suit to protest an earlier suit by a rape victim who sued a judge who said she couldn't use the word "rape" in her own testimony.

If we asked Chambers, I bet he'd say he objected to fact that any defendant was suing a judge after the issue had already been resolved by another court. But if he was looking for a test case, was it really necessary to hold a rape victim's suit up to public ridicule? She's not a lawyer. Maybe her suit was legally dubious for procedural reasons, but her underlying grievance is serious.

I wonder whether there's more context to the God suit story that hasn't made its way into the national media--because the motivations for the stunt that have been reported don't make sense and seem to contradict each other.

Chambers has also said that he sued God to make a point that the court house should be open to all. Which, unless he was just being sarcastic, seems to be anathema to the rape-suit protest motivation.

"Nobody should stand at the courthouse door to predetermine who has access to the courts,'' he said. "My point is that anyone can sue anyone else, even God,'' said Chambers, in explaining his cause of action. "If I had just stood here and said, 'The courts should be open to everybody,' then you would all have yawned. This lawsuit grabbed attention".  [LFB]

In general, Chambers is opposed to greater restrictions on the public's access to the courts. Some people think he filed the lawsuit to prove that there's no such thing as a frivolous lawsuit, but that interpretation doesn't square with the idea that he sued God to make fun of the rape victim's suit.

November 10, 2008

Plaintiff in God suit appeals to higher legal power

God_suit When I first read the RSS headline, "Plaintiff in God suit appeals to higher legal power," I wondered what the plaintiff's god costume looked like (Zeus? Yaweh? Kali?) and why they'd worn a deity costume to court.

As it turns out, the plaintiff in question is my hero Nebraska State Senator and civil rights crusader Ernie Chambers.

Chambers is suing God:

Nebraska State Senator Ernie Chambers (D - Omaha) filed suit against God Friday, asking a court to order the Almighty and his followers to stop making terrorist threats.

The suit (.pdf), filed in a Nebraska district court, contends that God, along with his followers of all persuasions, "has made and continues to make terroristic threats of grave harm to innumerable persons." Those threats are credible given God's history, Chambers' complaint says.

Chambers, in a fit of alliteration, also accuses God of causing "fearsome floods, egregious earthquakes, horrendous hurricanes, terrifying tornadoes, pestilential plagues, ferocious famines, devastating droughts, genocidal wars, birth defects, and the like."

Likewise the suit accuses God of having his chroniclers "disseminate in written form, said admissions, throughout the Earth in order to inspire fear, dread, anxiety, terror and uncertainty, in order to coerce obedience to Defendant's will." [Wired]

If you're going to sue God, how do you serve God with papers.

Last month a Douglas County judge rejected Chambers' argument that God's omnipresence and known attention to human affairs enabled a would-be litigant to serve God with lawsuit papers anywhere. Nebraska law says that service may be effected "by any manner reasonably calculated under the circumstances to provide the party with actual notice of the proceedings and an opportunity to be heard." I think Chambers sould have prevailed. The only logical counter-argument would be that Douglas County is God-forsaken.

September 03, 2008

Sheriff buys tank for raids

Don't tell Bob Fletcher and the Ramsey County Sheriff's Department...

July 16, 2008

Accused drug dealers in Baltimore embrace radical legal theories

Kevin Carey has a fascinating piece in the Washington Monthly about the a radical legal theory taking hold among Baltimore's accused drug dealers, the "flesh and blood defense"...

In the previous year, nearly twenty defendants in other Baltimore cases had begun adopting what lawyers in the federal courthouse came to call “the flesh-and-blood defense.” The defense, such as it is, boils down to this: As officers of the court, all defense lawyers are really on the government’s side, having sworn an oath to uphold a vast, century-old conspiracy to conceal the fact that most aspects of the federal government are illegitimate, including the courts, which have no constitutional authority to bring people to trial. The defendants also believed that a legal distinction could be drawn between their name as written on their indictment and their true identity as a “flesh and blood man.” [WM]

Ironically, as Carey discovered, the flesh-and-blood theory has its intellectual roots in white supremacist conspiracy theorists who argued that the 14th Amendment nullified the US government's power over them.

July 11, 2008

Are musicians owed royalties for performance of their music in torture chambers?

Good question...

Would that such questions didn't arise.

June 30, 2008

States designate police, firefighters, and EMTs as "terrorism liason officers"

Federal tax dollars are going to coopt public servants to spy on unpromising photographers and videographers:

Colorado is one among of handful of states where hundreds of firefighters, paramedics, police, and even corporate employees are being trained to hunt down and report a broadly defined range of “suspicious activities.” They’re called Terrorism Liaison Officers. The federally supported initiative trains them to look out for “observed behavior that may be indicative of intelligence-gathering or pre-operational planning related to terrorism.”

The federally supported initiative trains them to look out for “observed behavior that may be indicative of intelligence-gathering or pre-operational planning related to terrorism.” The list of suspicious behaviors includes taking photographs or videos of no apparent aesthetic value; making measurements, drawings, or taking notes; and conversing in code.
[Democracy Now!]

AT&T site jokes about warrantless wiretapping

"Ms. Suspicious Has Nothing to Hide. Well, she has a little to hide, but her love of online billing isn't one of them. [sic]. She and the other members of the Online Liberation Movement (tm) have made online billing work for them..." Via BoingBoing.

June 25, 2008

The first thing we do, let's kill all the rapists

As far as I know, Barack Obama doesn't generally support the death penalty for rape. So, why does he support capital punishment for child rapists, specifically?

Democrat Barack Obama says he disagrees with the Supreme Court's decision outlawing executions of people convicted of raping a child.

Obama told reporters Wednesday that he thinks the rape of a child, ages six or eight, is a heinous crime. He said if a state makes a decision, then the death penalty is potentially applicable. [AP News]

Rape is a heinous crime. The United Nations recently acknowledged rape as a weapon of war.

If we're going to have a death penalty, and if the death penalty is reserved for the most heinous crimes, then rape should be punishable by death.

Does Obama think that the rapists who sodomized prisoners at Abu Ghraib with chemical lights should be put to death? Given his views on child rape, I should hope so. Consistency requires him to call for the executions of the American soldiers who committed these crimes. If he's not serious about putting all rapists to death, he is trivializing rape by calling for the death penalty only for those who rape children.

If you're going to support the death penalty for child rape alone, you need to explain why child rapes are so morally special compared to the rapes of adult human beings.

The only morally consistent "law and order" position for Obama would be to assert that rape should be punishable by death, across the  board.

Wouldn't that make the wingnuts' heads explode? If violent rape were punishable by death, then date rape without lethal force should be at least comparable to bank robbery.

Why is child rape morally special compared to woman rape, or man rape?

If he thinks its the rape of the defenseless that deserves special punishment, Obama should call for the death penalty for the American soldiers and contractors who participated in the rapes of Abu Ghraib detainees, because those men were as helpless as free seven-year-old children.

Let's have Democrats ask John McCain whether he favors the death penalty for all violent rapists. You can bet the Republicans will choke before the Democrats on this one.

Now, I'm a death penalty abolitionist across the board, but I figure if we're going to have the death penalty at all, violent rapists are as deserving as murderers. Why let Republicans off the hook on this one?

[HT: Digby.]