Wednesday, June 17, 2009


My client in the so-called "murder for hire" case that was featured on Nancy Grace a year or so ago entered a no contest plea this week. She will serve 15 days in the county jail and can serve the time on weekends. Pretty good outcome considering that she could have received 25 years in prison if found guilty as charged.

There must have been a reporter in the courtroom since the entire plea exchange with the judge was printed up in the paper this morning. They got it correct for the most part, including the part where the DA credited the motions I had filed as being the reason why they were giving such a good deal. He said they were "not without merit."

In any event, my client in this case got treated roughly in the media when the case first began. I was not her lawyer at that point, she changed to me right after the preliminary hearing. If I had been a publicity seeking hound I could have played this one for all it was worth, but I value my privacy and that makes me value hers just as well.

Still, it would have been nice to tangle with Nancy Grace.


Sunday, June 14, 2009

Traffic Cameras

Callers to my radio show continue to be intrigued by the issue of cameras installed at traffic lights and intersections so that you can be mailed a ticket for any infraction. A local city. Mt. Juliet, is considering installing them.

I happened to wonder, just the other day, exactly how the photo could be admitted. After all, in order to admit a photograph, you have to elicit testimony that it accurately depicts the conditions at the time it was taken. In the case of an automated traffic camera, who would authenticate it? No one is present when it was taken and the driver can refuse to testify.

Here is what I imagine is the case. Most cities, and states, consider violation of the traffic laws to be civil, not criminal, in nature. I expect that they will argue that the rules of evidence don't apply to the proceedings to enforce infractions caught on camera.

I don't see that the issue has been litigated in Tennessee and I haven't looked elsewhere. Perhaps someday a case will present itself and I can raise the issue (and the client will fund an appeal). Until then, it makes for interesting conversation amongst us lawyers.


Monday, June 8, 2009

Supreme Court Requires Recusal in Campaign Donations Case

The U.S. Supreme Court just ruled in the case of Caperton v. A.T. Massey Coal Company that a judge is required to recuse himself in instances where a litigant made substantial contributions to his election campaign.

In a scenario straight of of Grisham's "The Appeal" the A.T. Massey coal company, who lost a jury trial, made $3 million in campaign contributions to someone running for a seat on the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals. Given that much money, the outcome of the campaign was a foregone conclusion and their candidate won.

When the case arrived at the appellate court, the newly elected judge refused to step aside and then joined the majority in overturning the lower court's decision. Today, the U.S. Supreme Court said that this action violates the due process clause. The Court stated:

There is a serious risk of actual bias when a person with a personal stake in a particular case had a significant and disproportionate influence in placing the judge on the case by raising funds or directing the judge’s election campaign when the case was pending or imminent. The proper inquiry centers on the contribution’s relative size in comparison to the total amount contributed to the campaign, the total amount spent in the election, and the apparent effect of the contribution on the outcome. It is not whether the contributions were a necessary and sufficient cause of Benjamin’s victory.

Interestingly enough, the decision was only 5-4, indicating that four justices apparently think it's OK to buy a judge. Those four are Roberts, Scalia, Thomas and Alito.