Law and Daily Life: January 2011 Archives
Law & Daily Life - The FindLaw Life, Family and Workplace Law Blog

January 2011 Archives

Top 3 Things to do Before Filing for Divorce

Having thoughts of filing for divorce? Did you know that January is divorce month? No, it's not like an official holiday or anything. January is just a very big divorce month. Once the holidays are over, New Year's Resolutions are made and clean starts abound.

And divorce lawyers report big surges in January. In fact, now some people use the term "Black Monday," as a reference to the Monday after the New Year, when divorce lawyers see an increase in clients filing for divorce.

"Absolutely. January consistently sees the most divorce filings. It just really amazes me, though it probably shouldn't. . .my own husband left in January," said certified divorce consultant Cathy Meyer, Yourtango.com reports.

Paid tax preparers beware. You may think you're ready to start working on your clients' 2012 tax returns -- but are you ready for the new IRS rules?

New IRS rules for paid tax preparers take effect Jan. 1. They include education requirements, background checks, and competency exams, depending on what kind of tax preparer you are.

The biggest change affects all paid tax preparers, including attorneys and certified accountants. Anyone who is paid to prepare a tax return must now apply for a Preparer Tax Identification Number, or PTIN.

But there's a catch.

Ex-Gov. Jesse Ventura Sues Over TSA Pat-downs

Jesse "The Body" Ventura is known for a lot of things. Being bombastic, bold, becoming governor of Minnesota and appearing on Larry King Live. 

Now he is making headlines against after suing the Department of Homeland Security, the Transportation Security Administration, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and TSA Administrator John Pistole. Ventura, alleges that the full-body scans and pat-down being conducted at the airports violate his Fourth Amendment rights against illegal search and seizure.

We all hear about the Fourth Amendment in the news, but what does the actual text say? Let's have a look:

'Brothel Law' has Northwestern Students Upset

What do off-campus student housing and running a brothel have to do with each other? Good question.

Students at Northwestern University are asking the same question due to the enforcement of an old Evanston law regulating the number of people living in a house, which threatens to leave students without a place to leave.

The "brothel law" zoning regulations would bar more than three unrelated people from living in the same house, NBC Chicago reports.

Boom Boom Room Waitresses Not Hot, Tall Enough?

We recently covered the tale of a Chicago car salesman who was fired for wearing a Green Bay Packers tie. Now two New York Boom Boom Room cocktail waitresses claim they were fired because they did not look enough like "willowy, svelte and statuesque runway models."

Faye Rex and Stephanie Jaggers, former Boom Boom Room waitresses are suing The Standard Hotel over allegedly only hiring women with model looks.

"There's definitely a type at the Boom Boom Room - and that type is beautiful, tall and skinny ... They were excellent employees who were terminated for one reason - their body type." said Richard Roth, a lawyer for the women, the New York Daily News reports.

Legal to Fire for Wearing a Packers Tie?

What is the price to pay for wearing a Green Bay Packers tie to work in Chicago? For John Stone, the price was his job at Webb Chevrolet.

Stone says he wore the tie to honor his late grandmother, who loved the Packers. Stone's grandmother was buried on Friday. However, general manager Jerry Roberts ordered Stone to remove the tie or else he would be fired.

Stone, believing that Roberts had to be joking, returned to work with the tie intact. He was approached by Roberts an hour later while on the showroom floor. Roberts demanded that Stone remove the tie. John Stone declined, and Roberts fired him.

Pot Soda: New Soda Pot Coming to Dispensaries

If there is one area where there is no shortage of innovation, it's in mixing drugs with food and beverages. That's especially true in the business of medical marijuana, where you can buy pot cupcakes, pot brownies, pot lollypops, and much more. Now there is a new item that could be coming to a shelf near you: Canna Cola, a medical marijuana pot soda, or soda pot.

Clay Butler, a California entrepreneur, plans to market an artesian line of medical marijuana soft drinks in several flavors, including Dr. Pepper-like Doc Weed, lemon-lime Sour Diesel, grape-flavored Grape Ape and orange-flavored Orange Kush, the Associated Press reports.

A 12-ounce bottle will cost $10 to $15. The soda will contain 35 to 65 milligrams of THC. That sounds like a lot, but getting accurate data on pot dosages was not easy. The initial starting dose of Marinol®, the oral THC pill, is 2.5 mg.

Elena Kagan Jury Duty: They're Just Like Us

We recently learned that Batman has to pay his taxes. Now we learn that even U.S. Supreme Court Justices have to show up for jury duty.

Newest Justice Elena Kagan was recently seen waiting for jury duty in the D.C. Superior Court jury lounge, ABC News reports.

"Sporting dark trousers and a checkered patterned sweater jacket, she sat quietly, reading through what appeared to be a legal brief and making handwritten notes in the margin,"ABC News reported.

Texas' Affirmative Action Approved by Fed Court

Everything is bigger in Texas; even their lawsuits.

The University of Texas admission policy that included race based admission was upheld as passing constitutional muster by the 5th Circuit Court, the Wall Street Journal reports. The reason that this case seems bigger than most is because in 1996, the same court ruled that the University of Texas was banned from using race based admission.

Family Told To Break Back Into Foreclosed House

What would you do if you were evicted from a foreclosed house?

After Jim and Danielle Earl failed to make their mortgage payments on their 6-bedroom home in Simi Valley, they were evicted, the Los Angeles Times reports. With their 9 children and nowhere to go, their attorney Michael Pines had a very unorthodox solution: he threatened the judge that he would hire a locksmith and enter the foreclosed house illegally. "I'm going back there. And I hope I get arrested," Michael Pines told the judge.

This is an unusual tactic for the attorney. Michael Pines advises his clients to break into their foreclosed houses and illegally squat in them, Newser reports. And it seems like he has a few attorneys who admire his chutzpah: "Most attorneys won't admit it, but they admire his convictions," said Ventura lawyer Doug Michie.

NJ Cyberbully Jailed For Forwarding Lewd Photos

How serious are cyberbullying laws in your state? Well, if you live in Pennsylvania or New Jersey, you could serve jail time for it.

A New Jersey cyberbully will be facing 45 days in prison as a result of forwarding sexually explicit photos of a teenage boy to the boy's school, AP reports. Matthew Bean, a 20-year-old from Bergenfield, N.J., is accused of attempting to drive the teen to commit suicide.

This latest New Jersey cyberbully was part of an "electronic mob." They formed a web group that taunted the teen victim and even posted "[L]et's make this kid want to die," according to court documents quoted by the AP. The case has shown just how serious cyberbullying laws have become in the recent wake of suicide tragedies such as Rutgers student Tyler Clementi and others like Phoebe Prince.

Abortion Dr. Kermit Gosnell Charged With Murder

Imagine a doctor's office that had jars of aborted fetuses and severed babies' feet lining shelves. It is not a scene out of a horror movie; the Philadelphia district attorney's office has charged Dr. Kermit Gosnell with 8 counts of murder, specifically of newborn babies and a patient, The New York Times reports. The clinic specifically treated low income minority and immigrant women and offered late-term abortions.

Gay Divorce Ruling Upheld for Texas Lesbians

It's a victorious, albeit confusing court ruling for gay rights advocates.

A three judge panel ruled that Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott lacked the standing to appeal a divorce that was granted to a lesbian couple in Austin last year, the Dallas Voice reports.

Attorney General Greg Abbott attempted to block the gay divorce by claiming that the judge who granted the divorce lacked the jurisdiction to do so because Texas has a constitutional ban on gay marriage, the Washington Post reports.

Tucson Shooting Video: Judge Roll Died A Hero

The FBI has analyzed Tucson shooting video gathered from two dozen surveillance videos. The footage shows Judge John Roll getting shot in the back while trying to push a Congressional aide out of the way, The New York Times reports.

The Tucson shooting video in FBI custody shows U.S. District Judge John Roll may have died trying to save one of U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords' staff members, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Judge John Roll's heroics were clear in the video as he pushes Ron Barber out of the way and was then shot in the back by alleged shooter Jared Loughner.

Woman Must Split Jackpot With Estranged Husband?

An Idaho bank clerk who won half of the $380 Mega Millions lottery may have to split the jackpot with estranged husband Josh Lahti. While the two have had a checkered past, there is no record of a divorce on file, USA Today reports. As a result, under Idaho community property law, Joshua Lahti may be entitled to half of Holly Lahti's winnings.

Holly Lahti married Joshua Lahti in 2001 and they were legally separated but not divorced, according to MSNBC.com. During their marriage, Joshua Lahti was arrested for violating a no-contact order and battery in 2002 and 2003. In January 2003, both Holly Lahti and Joshua Lahti were arrested on battery charges. Joshua Lahti has been convicted of domestic battery, drug possession, and buying alcohol for a minor. He has been arrested more than 12 times. The pair have two daughters ages 10 and 12.

Average 2010 Tax Return up to $3,036

Want some good economic news that might apply directly to you? Tax refunds are up!

In fact, on average, income tax refunds are up 10% from a year ago, due to tax credits included in the economic stimulus package according to IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman. In 2010, the average tax refund was $3,036, up $266 from 2009, USA Today reports.

"The Recovery Act is a major factor behind these larger, record refunds," Shulman said. "About half of all Americans haven't filed their taxes yet, so we urge them to look carefully at these Recovery provisions."

Pet Custody Laws: Divorces Tackle Pet Custody

So who gets the pet when a couple divorces? Does your state have pet custody laws?

Attempting to answer the recurring question of pet custody laws, a Saskatchewan judge felt that it was an insult to the court that the matter would be presented at all. He called the court custody case over a Labrador retriever a waste of time, saying "A dog is a dog."

"It is demeaning for the court and legal counsel to have these parties call upon these legal and court resources because they are unable to settle, what most would agree, is an issue unworthy of this expenditure of time, money and public resources," Court of Queen's Bench Justice Ted Zarzeczny said, the National Post reports.

Veteran's Court: Graduates Avoid Prison

As more and more veterans return from Iraq and Afghanistan, the need for a veterans' court consistently increased. Most Americans know that veterans tackle mental health issues such as post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, homelessness and substance abuse after returning from war. All of these mental health issues obviously hinder veterans transitioning back to a civilian life. 

Unfortunately, veterans are more likely to fall into criminal behavior because of military specific mental health issues, Reuters reports.

Wyoming Divorce: New Bill To Require Marriage Counseling

If you want in a divorce in Wyoming, you may have to wait a year to get one if a new bill is passed.

Couples seeking a Wyoming divorce may have to complete 3 hours of counseling before they can divorce. This is what Wyoming legislators are proposing in a new bill, the Wyoming Tribune Eagle reports.

If passed, the bill would require that divorcing couples complete 3 hours of premarital counseling at their own expense. If couples choose to forgo the counseling requirement, they will be required to wait one year before they can obtain a divorce.

Illinois Tax Increase 66%: More States to Follow?

An enormous Illinois tax increase is making news and has some wondering if other states will follow suit.

Legislators approved a massive Illinois tax increase on income tax, Reuters reports. The Illinois House passed an income tax increase that is aimed to help the state tackle its $13 billion deficit. The measure passed by a tight margin of 60 to 57 and was sent to the Illinois Senate where it's predicted to pass, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Glock Sales Soar After Arizona Shooting

There's nothing like free press to drive a boost in sales. That holds true for just about any good or service, apparently including Glock sales. Sales of handguns, specifically Glock handguns, are up across Arizona and a number of states in the aftermath of the Arizona shooting. The Glock handgun used in the Tucson, Arizona shooting goes for $499 and is apparently selling like the proverbial hotcakes.

While it is too early to determine whether the jump in Glock sales and handguns will be sustained, the scale of the increase after the Arizona shooting is surprising. According to FBI figures provided to POLITICO, gun sales rose by 60 percent in Arizona on Monday, Jan. 10, compared with the same Monday in 2010. Gun sales also rose in 2007 after the Virginia Tech shooting.

House Members Carry Guns Post Arizona Shooting

Two lawmakers say it's shoot or be shot, and they're carrying guns for protection in the aftermath of the Arizona shooting that killed a federal judge and has left Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in critical condition. In addition to the congresswoman shooting, three other people were killed and 14 more were wounded. Reps. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, and Heath Shuler, D-N.C., a former Washington Redskins quarterback, announced that they were arming themselves at public events according to Politico. Chaffetz and Shuler have "conceal and carry" gun permits, making their possession legal.

Heath Shuler also announced that he was encouraging his staff members to apply for carry permits, the Washington Post reported. "You never think something like this will happen, but then it does," Shuler said after the Arizona shooting.

"After the elections, I let my guard down ... Now I know I need to have (my gun) on me," said Shuler.

Arizona Blocks Westboro Baptist Church Protest

Arizona legislators quickly approved emergency legislation Tuesday to head off picketing by Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kan. The church planned to protest near the funeral service for a 9-year-old girl who was killed in the Tucson shootings. Unanimous votes by the House and Senate sent the bill to Gov. Jan Brewer for her expected signature. It would take effect immediately.

The new law (once signed by Gov. Brewer) makes it illegal to protest within 300 feet of any home, cemetery, funeral home, or house of worship while a funeral ceremony or burial takes place, according to the Arizona Daily Star. The law would also prevent protests shortly before the funeral and immediately after. It is largely aimed at the planned protests by the controversial Westboro Baptist Church.

Arizona Gun Law: Shooting Reignites Gun Debate

America's Gun Debate has reignited in the aftermath of the Arizona shooting that left 6 dead and 14 wounded, including U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. Details of alleged shooter Jared Loughner mental state, and how he obtained the gun, have critics claiming the newest Arizona gun law is too lenient.

Gun owners in Arizona can carry their guns in cars and public places like restaurants. This lax Arizona gun law compelled Pima County Sheriff Clarence W. Dupnik to speak out and say that the law may have contributed to the Tucson tragedy:

"We're the Tombstone of the United States of America. I have never been a proponent of letting everybody in the state carry weapons wherever they are. That's almost where we are."

Pet Wills: Should We Provide for Furry Friends?

Pet owners in Massachusetts are rallying behind a proposed law that would allow them to designate a caretaker for their pets in their wills, Reuters reports. Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick has a Jan. 9 deadline to sign the bill into law. 

The proposed legislation would allow Massachusetts residents to include pets in their wills, leave trust funds for those pets, and allow pet trust law to be enforced in court, according to the Boston Herald.

"It's become clear this is something that's important to people," Kara Holmquist, director of advocacy for the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, told Reuters. In fact, there are approximately 40 states in the U.S. that allows pet owners to create a legal trust for their pets, according to FindLaw.

Arizona Transplant Patients Die on 'Death Panel'

A second Arizona transplant patient has died. Gov. Jan Brewer's passed extreme budget cuts that stop paying for seven types of transplants, ABC News reports. The Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System, the state's Medicaid agency, offers healthcare programs such as transplants for state residents.

Gov. Jan Brewer along with a Republican-led legislature made the cuts because they said that the state could no longer afford paying for the transplants.

Autism Study: Fraud Led to Measles Outbreak

The British Medical Journal (BMJ) has announced that Dr. Andrew Wakefield's autism study is fraudulent. The controversial autism study said that the MMR vaccine is somehow linked to autism in children. Parents who heard about the autism study panicked and led to a sharp drop in the number of children who received the MMR vaccine. The MMR vaccine prevents measles, mumps, and rubella.

As a result, the Baltimore Sun reports that while MMR vaccinations dropped, the number of measles cases increased in the United States. In 2008, there were more measles cases reported than any other year since 1996. According to the CDC, more than 90% percent of the infected patients did not receive an MMR vaccine or their vaccination status was not known. In the U.K., vaccination rates fell almost as low as 80%.

Birthright Citizenship: Babies of Illegals

Republican state legislatures are gearing up to cancel birthright citizenship for children born to illegal immigrants. Another crackdown on illegal immigrants, supporters say that is necessary in order to secure the border with Mexico. "The federal government has absolutely, totally and completely fallen down on its responsibility of protecting our nation's borders," Randy Terrill, an Oklahoma Republican, told Reuters.

There are currently at least 14 states that are working together to challenge U.S. birthright citizenship granted by the 14th Amendment.

Elizabeth Edwards' Will: Ex-Husband Deleted

Elizabeth Edwards' will and testament has been made public, and John Edwards' wasn't left a dime. The will was signed just six days before Edwards' died, The Huffington Post reports. Instead, Edwards left everything to her four children, Cate, Emma Claire and Jack.

"All of my furniture, furnishings, household goods, jewelry, china, silverware and personal effects and any automobiles owned by me at the time of my death, I give and bequeath to my children." - Elizabeth Edwards' will.

Gun Rights: Handgun, Assault Rifle Law Defeated

Gun rights advocates all over the country have a reason to shoot a few rounds in celebration.  Ohio's Supreme Court shot down Cleveland gun laws that banned assault weapons and mandated the registration of handguns. The Cleveland Plain Dealer reports that while gun rights advocates claim that this decision protects a fundamental constitutional right, there are others who claim that the decision just prevents Cleveland from protecting its citizens from violence.

The Ohio Supreme Court decision upheld the 2006 law that prevents cities and other municipalities from enforcing ordinances that are stricter than state gun laws. It now seems that residents of Cleveland can walk in public places with rifles, handguns, and assault weapons. The safety rules on possession of guns near children have now been removed as well. 

Tax-Filing Deadline Extended

Three extra days. That is the additional time taxpayers get to file their 2010 taxes. The 2010 tax day delay was recently announced by the IRS making midnight on April 18 as the new deadline for taxpayers to post or electronically send their taxes for the past year.

The rationale behind the new tax deadline has little to do with giving an extension or break to taxpayers and more to do with the calendar. Because tax deadlines cannot fall on a holiday or weekend, the usual April 15 deadline is the Emancipation Day holiday in the District of Columbia, according to USA Today.

Creationist Theme Park Funded by Taxpayers?

Bringing the pages of the bible to life. That is the concept behind a for-profit creationist theme park located in Williamstown, Kentucky.The 800-acre park includes everything from a life-size Noah's ark to a 100-foot replica of the tower of Babel.

But the most controversial aspect of the park has to do with the fact that it is partially funded by taxpayers.

The theme park will be eligible for $37 million worth of state tourism incentives once it is completed, according to MSNBC.

Cops Don't Need Warrant to Search Cell Phones

What would you do if a police officer conducted a cell phone search without a warrant? While that should not happen in states like Ohio, it is completely within the bounds of California law.

The ABA Journal reports that the California Supreme Court recently ruled 5-4 that police can conduct a cell phone search on a suspect's cell phone without a warrant. The ruling states that police had the authority to look at text messages on a cell phone in the pocket of Gregory Diaz.

Mr. Diaz was arrested in 2007 on suspicion of selling the drug Ecstasy to an informant in the backseat of his car. One of the texts that police found read: "6 4 80." The text possibly references to a sale price of $80 for 6 pills.

Capt. Owen Honors Relieved of Duty Over Videos

After an investigation into Capt. Owen Honors' USS Enterprise racy videos, the New York Times reports that the Navy has decided to relieve Capt. Owen Honors of duty. Capt. Owen Honors will be relieved of his duty before the USS Enterprise leaves its home port in Norfolk, Va. for Afghanistan this month.

The scandalous videos contained footage deemed "clearly inappropriate" by the Navy such as simulation masturbation, women appearing to shower together, gay slurs, and sailors dressed in drag.

While the videos were produced and aired on board the USS Enterprise three to four years ago, no formal investigation of Capt. Owen Honors was launched at the time, CBS News reports. Currently, investigators still have to determine why Capt. Owen Honors was never reprimanded, punished, and was even promoted despite the Navy being aware of his offensive videos.

Caught By Facebook: Mass. Car Wash Locates Thief

A thief who tried to make off with a flat screen television from a Mass. car wash was caught by Facebook friend request.  The manager of a car wash in Taunton, Mass. was able to track down a thief who stole a 27-inch flat screen television from a men's restroom through the popular social networking site.

Nicole Telles, the manager of Prestige Car Wash and Gas Station in Taunton, was able to track down the thief's name after piecing together his gas purchase with a credit card along with some surveillance video footage, Gather.com reports.

Once armed with that information, Ms. Telles was able to track down the thief on Facebook.

Cursing on Bus: Man Fined $500 for F-Bomb

"I cursed, and it cost me $500. Are you serious? Where in America do you get charged $500 for two words?" Terry Duncan said after receiving a ticket for swearing on the city bus. "'What do I get this for? What did I do wrong?"

So said Mr. Duncan after receiving a ticket from an undercover officer riding the bus with him in Milwaukee. (No, it wasn't a sting operation).

Terry Duncan told WISN-TV that he finds it un-American to be cited for disorderly conduct for cursing on the bus. Duncan was unaware that swearing on the bus was against the law and pointed out that the law is not posted on the bus. Surprisingly, it turns out that at least seven other states have similar laws on the books.

USS Enterprise Video: Navy Looks Into Scandal

While the term "cuss like a sailor" seems like a cultural norm, what happens when a commanding officer acts inappropriately in a series of video clips that feature gay slurs, simulated masturbation, and women appearing to bathe together?

It leads to an investigation by the Navy. CBS News reports that Capt. Owen Honors is being investigated for a series of videos made in 2006 and 2007 while he was Executive Officer of the USS Enterprise. This means he was second in command when the USS Enterprise video collection was made.

He was made the ship's commander in May.

Jilted Bride Sues Groom: $95K Over Cold Feet

Little girls dream of their wedding day. The white dress, flowers everywhere and of course the diamond ring. But cold feet can do worse than ruin what is supposed to be their special day. It can also lead to a lawsuit. Such is the case for a jilted bride that sued her groom for $95,000 after he got cold feet on their big day.

Dominique Buttitta, an attorney, was informed by her ex-fiance four days before her wedding that there would be no wedding. His reasoning: he did not want to marry her. And now she believes he owes her for the amount of money that she put into the wedding including renting out the location, flowers, an orchestra and her non-returnable wedding dress.