Solitary: Followup

There’s an update to the story about the two Louisiana prisoners who’ve spent 36 years in solitary confinement. It comes via an NBC News press release:

NBC News has confirmed that after 36 years in solitary confinement, inmates Herman Wallace and Albert Woodfox have been moved out of solitary into a shared dormitory setting at Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola with approx 17 other inmates. The rules and requirements of their new living situation are unclear but they are now allowed outside for a few hours a day in a group setting. Wallace and Woodfox are still appealing their original convictions and maintain their innocence but at least the issue of their “Cruel and Unusual punishment” in solitary confinement seems to be resolved for now. Wallace and Woodfox were moved into their new living quarters on Monday March 24, 2008. Their civil and criminal cases are still pending.

The press release came to me from my sister-in-law twice-removed (or whatever her kinship is) who produced the original story. Kudos to her for exposing this story to the light.

Foreclosure and vengeance

Today’s Wall Street Journal reports (subscription required) on a growing practice: foreclosing lenders and auction purchasers of foreclosed homes are paying the former owners cash to leave the properties without vandalizing them. The payments, which range from hundreds to thousands of dollars, are considered a “win-win” because they give the foreclosed owner some cash while saving the foreclosing lender or purchaser from many thousands of dollars in damage to the foreclosed asset. An experienced eye can distinguish between random violence by trespassers–graffiti, broken glass, etc.–from the “frenzy of destruction” caused by an “enraged, delinquent mortgagor:”

Light switches, outlet covers and thermostats were smashed. There was what looked to be crowbar damage along the staircase. A large pool of paint had hardened on the living-room carpet. It appeared that someone had dripped motor oil in a trail that wound its way through every carpeted room. The appliances were gone, as were most light fixtures. A cabinet door had been removed and left soaking in a full tub of water. Not a wall was left without a hole the diameter of a closet rod, including the pink child’s room once carefully decorated with a floral wallpaper stripe.

The story closes with the tale of a foreclosed owner who, when offered $500 to vacate quickly, points out that it will cost the bank a lot more if he stays. He said he did not intend to damage the house, he was merely pointing out that eviction is more expensive than a cooperative move-out. The bank upped its offer to $2,800 and the man left, the house broom clean and undamaged.

Another environmental concern

Over the past decade law enforcement has cracked down on the production of methamphetamine, shutting over 100,000 homemade meth labs. Many of these labs were located in private homes. During production methamphetamine residue lodges in carpets, upholstery, drapes and other surfaces. When these former meth labs are sold unwitting buyers are exposed to the residue and suffer respiratory problems, severe enough in some cases to require the residents to vacate the homes. As reported in The National Law Journal on March 17 some buyers have sued the sellers and brokers involved in the sale for their failure to disclose the property’s former use as a meth lab. The article cites two state trial court decisions–Taylor Bean & Whittaker Mortgage Corp. v Wagner in Ohio and Bloor v Fritz in Washington–involving such claims; the Washington case is on appeal following the trial’s award of $94,000 in damages from the seller and broker to purchasers who were forced to move because of methamphetamine contamination. Fourteen states have passed laws mandating that owners disclose their property’s use for production of methamphetamine, and 13 states require that sellers clean up such former labs before selling them.


Here’s an NBC News story about two inmates who’ve spent 36 years–that’s not a typo–in solitary confinement in Louisiana’s Angola prison. My first legal job involved representing prisoners in the Massachusetts prison system, and I had many clients in solitary. The first client I represented in a disciplinary hearing spent five years in solitary, which I considered to be inconceivably long–and I represented that client in 1975, an inconceivably long time ago, when the subjects of this story had already been in solitary for almost three years. Like most worthwhile TV news stories this one deserves more depth. Full disclosure: I am related by marriage to the the producer of the story.

CDA s230 Protects Craigslist

Last Friday the Seventh Circuit applied Section 230 of the Communications Decency Acto to uphold a trial court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of Craigslist on claims that it violated Section 804(a) the Fair Housing Act. The Chicago Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights argued that Craigslist caused discriminatory ads that violated the Act by maintaining an electronic bulletin board on which they appear. Writing for the panel Chief Justice Easterbrook rejected the claim that there is a meaningful causal relationship between Craigslist and any discriminatory ads: “Doubtless craigslist plays a causal role in the sense that no one could post a discriminatory ad if craigslist did not offer a forum. That is not, however, a useful definition of cause. One might as well say that people who save money “cause” bank robbery, because if there were no banks there could be no bank robberies. An interactive computer service “causes” postings only in the sense of providing a place where people can post.”

The court stated that Section 230(c)(2) cannot be understood to create general immunity from civil liability for websites and other hosts of online content. Craigslist’s role as a passive intermediary is central to its reasoning. The court states that “§230(c)(1) says is that an online information system must not “be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by” someone else. Yet only in a capacity as publisher could craigslist be liable under §3604(c). It is not the author of the ads and could not be treated as the “speaker” of the posters’ words, given §230(a)(1).”

The court reaches its decision without referring to the Ninth Circuit’s decision in Fair Housing Councils v The Ninth Circuit held that met Section 230’s definition of information content provider by limiting its users’ responses to choices available in drop-down menus and by collating and selecting user-provided information in emailed newsletters. Craigslist, on the other hand, provided a forum for user-created ads without shaping their content.


Some spend spring break–an event that makes my friends with non-academic jobs question their career choices–in fair-weather climes. I’m a New Englander in my bones. All of that sun, sand, warm water, easy living, and relaxation are frivolous when you can spend a character-building week in March with this:




Attractive nuisance

Black’s Law Dictionary (5th Edition–yes, it’s old) defines attractive nuisance as “an instrumentality, agency, or condition . . . which may reasonably be apprehended to be a source of danger to children . . .” The law requires a person who creates or maintains an attractive nuisance “to take such precautions as a reasonably prudent man [I said it was old] would take to prevent injury to children of tender years who he knows may be accustomed to resort there, or who may, be reason of something there which may be expected to attract them, come there to play.”

For instance–

Attractive nuisance 1

Attractive nuisance 2

Vista Resista

One year after Microsoft released Vista, its newest operating system, I am like most Windows users. I continue to use Windows XP, and continue to resist the alleged upgrade to Vista. This story explains why resistance is a good move. It explains the woes of Jon, Steven, and Mike who upgraded or purchased what were labeled as Windows Vista Capable hardware only to encounter typical Vista woes: failure to provide drivers for printers, scanners and other peripherals, the need for brand-new graphics chips to operate at full capability, slow boot-up, inability to run XP-enabled software. The punch line is that Jon, Steven, and Mike are all Microsoft executives. Mike is the VP for Windows product management, Jon is a Microsoft board member, and Steven is a senior VP responsible for Windows.


You’ll Never Walk Alone

The NSA is not the only one monitoring every move you make, every breath you take. In their desire to anticipate our wants and needs before we know them ourselves, the New York Times reports that major web companies–Yahoo!, Google, AOL (it’s still around? I’ll be damned)–are “gathering clues about the tastes and preferences of a typical user several hundred times a month.” They too are ever-careful not to abuse our privacy and besides, “the data [they collect] is a boon to consumers, because it makes the ads they see more relevant.” You know what would be even more of a boon than more relevant ads? Fewer ads.