No More Endorsements

Last year a few students asked for my endorsement on LinkedIn.  I wrote a few, growing more uncomfortable with each about their lack of a specific audience and permanence online.  I decided last fall not to endorse anyone else on LinkedIn or comparable sites.  I didn’t have to apply my decision until yesterday, when I rejected a former student’s request for a LinkedIn endorsement.  I explained that I would be happy to recommend him to a specific employer or graduate school; he was a terrific student.  My rejection has nothing to do with his merits.  I am rejecting the concept of permanent, open-ended, recommendations.

Repo Madness II

People whose cars are being repossessed are not the only ones frustrated.  The Wall Street Journal reports The Recession’s Gotten So Bad, Even the Repo Man’s Singing the Blues.  Despite an increase in the number of repossessions repo company revenue fell 23% from 2007 to 2008.  Competition is forcing companies to cut their per-car fees.  Where debtors once just gave back the keys because credit was loose, “many debtors are desperate to keep their vehicles”–which increases the likelihood of confrontations.  The article details a hunt for a red Jeep whose owner owed $2,100.  After searching for hours the repo men found the owner’s address, located the vehicle, and towed it away at–you guessed it–4.15 a.m.

Juror #131

I’ve not had jury duty for at least a dozen year.   A jury summons used to arrive in the mail every three years and then–nothing.   Last year the jury commissioners rediscovered me but the date, October 9, conflicted with teaching.  (That conflict existed only in my eyes.  It would not likely have excused me from serving.)  I rescheduled to today, March 9, the first Monday of spring break.  The numbers worked in my favor.  Most of those summoned for jury duty are not seated on a jury and if I were to be seated the average trial in Middlesex Superior Court lasts four days.  I could satisfy my civic responsibility and not miss any class time.  I would like to be a juror.   In recent years my wife and two of our three sons have sat on juries and they all thought it was interesting and rewarding.  I’m jealous.

Then a hitch developed.  Judy wanted to visit her father this spring in Florida, I have this week off from teaching, so why don’t we go?  We dealt with the potential conflict with jury duty by scheduling the trip for the end of the week and next weekend.  Not much margin but how likely was it that I’d be selected for a jury?  I’m a lawyer, a college lecturer, once a defense counsel used a peremptory challenge to bounce me from a criminal case because family members have been victims of crime–the numbers made actual jury time unlikely.   I approached today with an odds-maker’ s confidence.

I drove through fog, heavy wet snow, and morning rush hour traffic to arrive on time at Middlesex Superior Court in Woburn.  After passing security–my hip set of the metal detector–I checked into the jury assembly room with 143 other souls.  After the obligatory judge’s welcome and instructional video I opened the privacy text I’m using in a seminar starting next Monday and read while I waited for something to happen.  We were told that eight judges had jury trials starting today–that would be 112 jurors at 14 jurors (12 +2 alternates) per panel.  With conflicts, challenges, and excused dismissals and factoring in the number gaps caused by absentees my #131 looked vulnerable.

The court officers made an announcement: 40 jurors were needed upstairs for a criminal trial.  Numbers were called out, ending at 48 because of absentees, and the pool walked up two flights.  I returned to reading about digital searches and seizures.  Twenty minutes passed.  Another announcement:  70 jurors were needed upstairs for another criminal trial.  I packed my bag before they called my number.  Seventy of us climbed two flights of stairs to Judge Fahey’s large, light, and airy courtroom and I took a seat in the first row on the visitors side of the bar.  The Woburn courtooms are much nicer than those in the old courthouse in East Cambridge.   Judge Fahey entered, we all rose, the judge sat, we all sat, and then she told us about the case.  Three counts: attempted murder, assault with a deadly weapon, assault.  She read the list of prospective witnesses:  there were more than 20.  Uh-oh.  There go Florida and maybe the first few days of post-break classes if I am chosen.  The judge questioned us aboutour  potential bias, conflict of interest, difficulty understanding the proceedings, and substantial hardship if selected for the jury.  With a dozen others I raised my hand on the last question, prepared to mention my non-refundable airline tickets to visit my 88-year old father-in-law.  The clerk recorded our numbers–if we were called we could explain our hardship to the judge and counsel, and the judge would decide whether to excuse us from this trial.

The clerk called the first number.  The juror rose and took seat #1 in the jury box.  The clerk called another number, and another, repeating the process until jurors filled 14 seats.  The judge excused a few before they were seated.  Her sidebar conversations with the jurors were out of our earshot.  The prosecutor and defense counsel studied the juror questionnaires for five minutes, then approached the judge with their peremptory challenges.  The judge excused the challenged jurors and new jurors were called in sequential order, seated in the box, and subjected to the same scrutiny.  In this fashion it took almost an hour to select a jury.  The last one chose was juror #88.  Plenty of warm bodies before they would have gotten to me.  I was disappointed because it looked like an intersting trial, but relieved not to have to explain to Judy that I couldn’t come to Florida.  All of us not chosen returned to wait in the assembly room.

Twenty minutes later there was another call for jurors, 70 for a civil case.  I did the math. 28 jurors had been selected for two trials, they needed 70 more, there were a number of gaps in the number sequence–I might be called for another impanelment.  The court officers read out the numbers:  “44 . . . 48 .  . . 49 . . . 52 . . . ”  I cheered when a string were called in sequence:  “90, 91, 92, 93, & 94.”  The numbers rose from 100 to 110 to 115.  It was getting close.  “120 . . . 121 . . . 122 . . . Okay, that’s it.  The 70 jurors called report to the 6th floor with the court officer.”

Whew.

I returned to privacy law and read for a while, until another court officer spokeinto the podium microphone.  “Two more judges upstairs need jurors.   Unfortunately, there are not enough of you left to fill the pool so one trial is put over to tomorrow and the other is putover to Wednesday.  This completes your jury duty for three years.   Thank you.”   Two minutes later the room was empty.  It was 11:50 AM, unprecedently early to be excused from jury duty in my experience.

Writing this and watching heavy snowflakes fall through gray mid-afternoon light, I’m happy to be home.  I have much work to do before next Monday and will enjoy a few days by the ocean in Florida weather.  Part of me would like to be seated in that criminal trial hearing the prosecution’s case.  Not the most part, but a part.

Rich on Excess

Frank Rich on the “layers and layers of nonsense” that characterized our recent history (Some Things Don’t Change in Grover’s Corners):

“The once-lionized lifestyles of the rich and infamous were appallingly tacky. John Thain’s parchment trash can was merely the tip of the kitschy iceberg. The level of taste flaunted by America’s upper caste at the bubble’s height had less in common with the Medicis than, say, Uday and Qusay Hussein.”

Repo Madness

Some students will remember Griffith v Valley of the Sun Recovery, 126 Ariz. 227 (1980), the case in which the plaintiff was accidentally shot during a botched, chaotic automobile repossession.  Valley of the Sun’s employee, Gorney, attempted to repossess a car in the midde of the night after previous attempts ended in violent confrontations and failure.  The trial court granted the repo company’s motion for summary judgment, Griffith appealed, and the Arizona Court of Appeals reversed:

Gorney’s actions in setting off the car alarm around 4:00 a. m., unscrewing the spotlight and then hiding while police investigated what appeared to be a burglary, created an explosive atmosphere in the immediate neighborhood. His persistence in again setting off the burglar alarm and his attempts to remove the car amid the created confusion set the stage for the resulting injury. Since this is a case in which reasonable minds could differ and in which the “foreseeability of harm varies as a result of factual distinctions”, we hold that a jury question was presented as to whether a reasonable man could have foreseen that his actions were creating a confrontation where someone could be injured.

I thought of Griffith when a friend sent me this article from the Associated Press:  Violence between repo men, car owners on the rise.  The article reports that automobile respossessions are expected to increase by 5% this year after 2007 and 2008 increases of 9% and 12%, respectively.  Last year there were 1.67 million automobile repossession, or 1.67 million opportunities for often-untrained repo men to encounter frustrated and angry car owners.  The article reports on a fatal shooting of a car owner in Alabama, “a state considered a Wild West territory even by the standards of an industry that’s largely unregulated nationally.”  There have been three repossession-related shootings in Alabama since last summer, two fatal.  All took place in the middle of the night.  The car owners heard noises, grabbed their guns to confront suspected car thieves/troublemakers (who else makes pokes around your car at 3:00 AM?), and then someone got shot.

Economic distress, frustration, repo men, firearms, the dark of the night–it’s a deadly mix.

Open Source 1, Proprietary Software 0

I bought a new HP laptop this week after my old one died.  I decided on the HP after looking at Macs, Dells, Lenovos, and a few others.  I was tempted but couldn’t justify the extra expense of the Mac, both for the computer itself and for the Windows XP or Vista I would need to run the PC-specific software I use.  The HP dv3 weighs about 4.5 pounds and has all the space, speed, and features I need from a laptop.   Like most PCs these days it came with software pre-installed that I immediately including  Norton Anti-Virus and a demo edition of Microsoft Office Suite.  I’ve committed to weaning myself from Word, Excel, and Power Point and using the OpenOffice Suite.  It is open source, opens documents created in Microsoft Office, saves documents in multiple formats including .doc and .xls, fully-featured, and free.  I’ve been using it on my desktop PC for about a month.  Its menu is similar to Word but not identical, so there is a learning curve.  After 20 minutes trying to format and print labels I put that learning experience aside and printed them from Word, where I know all of the steps.  I’ll conquer that task another day.  It feels very good not to pay Microsoft–or any company–the hundreds of dollars I would spend on Office 2007.

Maryland Protects Anonymity Online

A Maryland appellate court this week rejected a subpoena request by the owner of a Dunkin Donuts restaurant who sought the identity of anonymous online posters for criticizing the restaurant’s cleanliness.  I’ve not seen the court’s decision yet, but based on a Washington Post article the court appears to have extended the four-part test articulated in the New Jersey Appellate Division’s 2001 decision in Dendrite v Doe.  The Dendrite test’s purpose is to prevent a plaintiff from filing suit (for defamation, disclosure of trade secrets, unfair competition, or a similar claim) in order to wield subpoena power to engage in a fishing expedition to unmask the speaker.  The article quotes Sam Bayard of the Citizen Media Law Project:  “Courts are going to require the plaintiff or others seeking identities to make a heightened showing that they have a valid cause of action.”  More details on the court’s five-part test when I read the opinion.

Will the SSTP Gather Momentum?

Declining tax revenues have state governments searching for new funding sources.  Retail Internet sales are an obvious target.  Hawaii is considering legislation to make its tax code consistent with the Streamlined Sales Tax Project, in exchange for which some participating retailers would collect and remit Hawaii’s 4 percent tax on sales in the state, even if the retailer does not have the minimum contacts and substantial nexux with the state required by Quill v North Dakota for a state to impose sales tax liability on out-of-state retailers.  The state estimates it could raise $166 million a year from such taxes.  The linked article notes that 1,100 retailers have agreed to cooperate with the Streamlined Sales Tax Project, which 22 states have adopted.   Idaho, meanwhile, is headed in the opposite direction.  Its House Revenue and Taxation Committee just voted against joining the SSTP.   Congress holds the ultimate card in this game;  I won’t be surprised if Congress repeals the Internet Tax Moratorium and allows states to impose new taxes on Internet sales transactions.

How long till email chains warning of the U.S. Postal Service’s  “email tax” crawl out of the Urban Myth dungeon and get back in circulation?  (See Snopes article)

Music’s Future

What Lies Ahead, last night’s panel discussion on the future of music, was informative and altered my thinking about the future of the  delivery and consumption of information in general.  The venue was too large for the size of the audience but the audience, which included musicians and others in the music biz, was knowledgeable and opinionated.  The event’s student organizers deserve great credit and should be proud of what they pulled off.

Some random thoughts:

  • Moderating this panel of five passionate, experienced music industry participants was not easy.  Keeping the conversation close to the topic was like herding squirrels.  Balancing audience questions and panel responses was almost impossible.
  • The spirited, and at times heated, discussion of the roles of “gatekeepers” and “tastemakers” was fascinating.  The relevance of radio and the major record labels as vehicles for breaking new artists have waned.  Independent labels, blogs, genre magazines and e-zines have all taken on a role in getting out the buzz on new artists but the mass of information is overwhelming.  One panelist rejected the idea of tastemakers–those who influence others’ choices in music, fashion, etc.–even though he runs an independent label, produces hip hop artists, and is himself a tastemaker.
  • I have no desire to sample Crunk Juice.
  • The panel talked for an hour before music piracy came up — and was dismissed quickly.  “It’s too late” said Duran Duran’s manager.  Piracy is a fact of life.  RIAA lawsuits were mentioned even more briefly.
  • There may be a market for vinyl, but most of the panelists saw the future of distribution as all-digital.
  • The role/need for/identity of gatekeepers and tastemakers applies to all digital information.  Who will be trusted sources for news?  Some current media brands will survive, many will not, and something will come along to fill the role.  Individual blogs are too diffuse, but blog aggregations may form and acquire followings.
  • The co-founder of Newbury Comics warned of Big Brother-esque changes in the Internet.  “If 200 Airbuses crash because some hackers thought it would be cool, we’ll have fixed IP addresses within a year.”