The law blog, "Above the Law" has recently posted their list of the top ten law songs as determined by their survey. While I applaud the effort, the list is pretty limited - including mostly very obvious songs that make the list simply out of notoriety (though "Lawyers, Guns and Money" should make anyone's list). Some of the more obvious omissions, to name a very few, are Jackson Browne's "Lawyers in Love," Weird Al Yankovic's "Don't Download This Song," Bob Rea's "The Law," Dance Hall Crashers' "So Sue Us," Vickie Lawrence's or Reeba MacEntire's "Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia," Throwing Toasters' "Nursery Rhyme Lawyer," Joe Lima's "Drivin' Lucinda to the Courthouse," The Diamonds' "You Are My Judge and My Jury," Kitty Wells' "Will Your lawyer Talk to God For You," Judas Priests' "Breaking The law," The Who's, "It's a Legal Matter," David Lindley's "Talk to the Lawyer," The Allman Brothers' "The Judgment," Tom Paxton's "One Million Lawyers" - whoops!, I guess that's way more than 10. Hmmm - I guess I will have to add a page to my website and start my own list. Here is a link to Weird Al's "Don't Download This Song" which is a quality piece of social commentary (Youtube embedding was disabled by request). For other law songs, see my website, Errors of Law.
Judge Alex Kosinski, Chief Judge of the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, sitting as a trial judge on a case involving distribution of obscene material may have to recuse himself as he himself has been a regular contributor to a website containing questionably pornographic material. The NY Times article is available here . The article, and those put out by the wire services contain some unfortunate quotes from the judge (i.e. “It’s not a porn site. There’s some funny stuff on there.”) According to the Times, "the site, now disabled, included a video showing a sexually aroused animal, a photograph of naked women painted to look like cows and images of masturbation and public sex." Ouch!!
The legal system does not need this kind of publicity. Yet, as a legal educator, I see this incident as another opportunity to help students see judges as people, with all the capabilities and failings that are inherent in humanity. These types of incidents damage the legitimacy of the system by exposing one of its inherent potential weaknesses - it's humanity. One of the reasons why we retain certain traditions in our system, like robes for judges and the strange language of court openings ("oyez, oyez . . .") is an attempt to disguise the court's humanity in mystique. A college educated person should understand this.
This "Mallard Fillmore" cartoon ran in newspapers this week. The incident referred to is one where an employee of SuperAmerica convenience stores in Minnesota grabbed a robber whom the employee believed was attacking the cashier. SA fired him because his actions in fighting off the robber violated SA's policies. These situations do arise from time to time and they are difficult for students to understand. Under the "at-will-employment doctrine," employers may fire employees for cause, or for no reason at all, or even for a reason that most people would consider to be a bad reason. Many states have carved out narrow "public policy" exceptions to this rule to protect employees who are engaging in conduct that should be encouraged, rather than discouraged, by society.
I don't have any idea where this employee's claim will end up under Minnesota state law. However, one thing is clear. In order to get the justice that this employee deserves, he will need to get the assistance of a trial lawyer. The attached cartoon erroneously attributes the effects of the at-will-employment doctrine to the work of trial lawyers. In fact, trial lawyers would be the ones representing fired employees who are making claims of wrongful discharge against employers who fire them for bad reasons. The effects of the at-will-employment doctrine are the result of corporate lawyers representing large corporations and wealthy employers who prefer to be free from any obligations to employees. At-will-employment promotes reliance on free-market forces in the labor market - forces which result in periodic injustices. It is the trial lawyers who seek justice for the fired employees. This cartoon suffers from a common disability: the "knee-jerk reactionary, blame the trial lawyers for everything" syndrome. I guess it is an example of just one more "error of law" about which students will have to be educated.
I feel that the greatest challenge in the undergraduate law classroom is overcoming durable yet misleading impressions of the law created in popular culture. I will post here and invite your comments on:
- Teaching law to undergraduates - Popular culture's images of law, lawyers and the legal system - Using popular culture constructively in the classroom