Law and Daily Life: May 2012 Archives
Law & Daily Life - The FindLaw Life, Family and Workplace Law Blog

May 2012 Archives

Download Our Free Guide to Renting an Apartment

Renting apartments is a year-round event. Whether you're a college student searching for a temporary study hovel, a swinging bachelor wanting to impress, or a lovey-dovey couple looking to roost, finding a place can be tough.

But don't worry, FindLaw is here to help. We've just rolled our latest guide "The FindLaw Guide to Renting an Apartment: Know Your Rights as a Tenant."

You can download, view, and share the PDF brochure for free.

The guide offers quick summaries of FindLaw's numerous in-depth articles on apartment renting. It features concise explanations to common landlord-tenant issues, because let's face it, sometimes you just don't want to read a lot. So what's inside?

There are times when a tenant is forced to break a lease for reasons she can't control. Though the general rule is that a tenant must abide by a lease's terms until it expires, some situations allow a tenant to break a lease without any legal consequences.

Even if you believe you're within your rights to break a lease, a landlord may still try to sue you for damages.

That's why it may be wise to consult a landlord-tenant attorney if you attempt to break a lease for one of the following reasons:

'Neighbor From Hell' Gets 90 Days for Terrorizing Family

The real neighbor from hell lives on a quiet cul-de-sac in White Bear Lake, Minnesota. Or so says the neighbors of Lori Christensen, some of whom have taken out restraining orders against the 49-year-old woman.

Christensen was back in court on Wednesday to deal with one of those orders. Neighbors Greg and Kim Hoffman accused her of violating its terms, which led prosecutors to charge the woman with aggravated stalking.

Christensen got a 90-day sentence and some national notoriety for her criminal antics. She's also been ordered to stay at least 1 mile away from her home.

How to Fight a Security Deposit Deduction

Moving into a new apartment can be a lot of fun. Everything is different and it can be exciting to turn a unit into your own cozy home. Moving out, however, can be a hassle. And nowhere is this more evident than fighting to get back security deposit deductions.

Not every landlord is an honest person. Sometimes, even if you clean a place from top to bottom, your building's owner will still find a way to take cash from your deposit. You have to accept and move on, right?

Wrong.

5 Smart Legal Moves Before You Sign a Lease

With the housing market in a slump, high unemployment and a disturbing amount of student debt, there's no question that more and more people are turning to the rental market. Got to live somewhere, right?

It's not uncommon for first-time renters to feel overwhelmed by the prospect. It's a lot to take in -- the hunt, the move-in, the possibility of bad neighbors and horrible landlords.

Now, we can't promise you won't land in rental hell. But taking the follow steps before you sign a lease can go a long way in helping you avoid such a situation.

What Happens if John Edwards' Jury Deadlocks?

Is John Edwards' jury deadlocked?

As jurors reconvened on Tuesday for the seventh day of deliberations, some commentators are starting to believe that this may be the case. The jury's inability to come to a decision suggests that the votes are split, or at the very least, some jurors can't quite wrap their heads around complicated federal election laws.

Though this seems like a good thing for Edwards, it may not get him off the hook.

Is There a First Amendment Right to Beg for Change?

Everyone knows the First Amendment ensures your right to free speech, but does it also protect the right to ask for change? Eight Chicago panhandlers think so. They've filed a federal lawsuit alleging their constitutional rights were violated.

The group is seeking class action status against the city of Chicago. They're accusing local cops of regularly forcing them to relocate their activities away from the ritzy Michigan Avenue, the Associated Press reports.

The area is dubbed the "Magnificent Mile." The plaintiffs claim police intimidated them with arrest and false assertions that their actions were illegal. But is panhandling protected under the First Amendment?

5 Things to Do Before You Move Out

It's move out time, which means you're spending your days planning your move and your nights packing your life into dozens of boxes. No fun at all.

Unfortunately, there are a few more things you need to add to your to-do list. If you want to protect yourself against a landlord lawsuit and an unreturned security deposit, that is. If you do, don't forget to do the following five things before you move out. In the end, you'll be glad you did.

Sorry Gore-Tex Heiress, You Can't Adopt Your Husband

Some people will go to great lengths for money. Gore-Tex heiress Susan Gore adopted her ex-husband in order to claim a bigger stake in her family's billion dollar inheritance.

But her decision didn't change the Delaware Supreme Court's opinion, Reuters reports. The court ruled Susan's adoption wasn't enough to increase the number of company shares her family would receive. The waterproof fabric company earns $3 billion in annual revenue.

Gore secretly adopted Jan Otto, her former spouse, in 2003. He was 65 years old at the time. But why did she think this would net her more of the family inheritance?

Smokers Have Hard Time in NYC Rental Market

It's incredibly difficult for smokers to find a rental unit these days, even in large metropolitan areas like New York City. A quick Craigslist search by The New York Times only netted four units in all five boroughs.

As a result, many smokers have taken to hiding their habit. Some discretely violate their leases, while others just flat out lie. Should they have to do this? Can landlords discriminate against smokers, or does the smoking public have rights?

Shouldn't All Wealthy People Have a Prenup?

The world is talking about Mark Zuckerberg's prenup -- or the lack of one, as the Facebook creator's spokesperson has declined to comment about its existence. The multi-billionaire wed his longtime girlfriend Priscilla Chan Saturday soon after becoming one of the 25 richest people in the world.

As the media continues to speculate about whether such a document exists, we here at FindLaw are going to consider a different question.

Should all wealthy people have a prenup? Or is it fine to get married without one?

Waitresses' 'No Fatties' Lawsuit Can Go to Jury

Two former New York City waitresses will soon be meeting with a jury. A state appeals court has agreed that Kristen McRedmond and Alexandria Lipton can sue South Place Restaurant & Bar for retaliation and discrimination. They claim they were fired after complaining about the bar's "no fatties" policy.

Managers are accused of forcibly weighing female employees and then posting the results on the Internet.

The bar's owner instead claims the women were fired for breaking rules, but the appeals court found the evidence to be suspicious. The judges believe a jury should decide whether the women should collect the $15 million asked for in the "no fatties" lawsuit.

Illegal to Drive Barefoot?

Is it illegal to drive barefoot? This question pops up from time to time on our FindLaw Answers traffic law forum, and may be on drivers' minds as summer approaches.

The short answer is no: There are no federal or state laws that prohibit driving a car without shoes. But state laws may be different for other types of motor vehicles like motorcycles. And local jurisdictions may also put their foot down when it comes to driving barefoot.

While driving a car barefoot may technically be legal, law enforcement officers generally don't recommend it because of safety concerns. For example:

Casey Anthony, the Florida mom convicted of lying to police as they investigated the death of her 2-year-old daughter, is set to be served with a defamation lawsuit.

Anthony has been in hiding since a jury acquitted her of murder, manslaughter, and aggravated child abuse in July 2011. But investigators for a woman named Zenaida Gonzalez tracked Anthony down, The Huffington Post reports.

Gonzalez is suing Anthony for allegedly ruining her life with a sordid lie, but she had trouble finding Anthony in order to serve a subpoena. A judge's ruling changed that.

Padding Your Resume Can Get You Fired

Landing your dream job can be tough. Sometimes it seems like the only way to set yourself apart is to embellish your credentials. But fight the urge to pad your resume, because as a new FindLaw survey shows, doing so can get you fired.

More than one in four people who padded their resumes lost their jobs as a result, FindLaw.com's survey shows. Eight percent of Americans admit to exaggerating information on their resumes. 

As for those whose lies were discovered before they secured work, three percent said they weren't offered a job.

But don't think just because you've been hired that you're home free.

Notre Dame Sues Over Birth Control Rule

Along with a number of other Catholic institutions, the University of Notre Dame has filed a lawsuit challenging the Obama administration's birth control mandate. At its heart, Notre Dame's birth control lawsuit is about religious freedom.

The school is arguing that both the original birth control mandate and the subsequent compromise violate its constitutional rights. If enforced, the school would be "compelled to act in a way contrary to Catholic teachings."

The nation's housing crisis has hit another member of Congress. Utah Sen. Mike Lee was forced to sell his home in a short sale, resulting in a $400,000 loss, The Salt Lake Tribune reports.

"It's not fun," Lee told the Tribune. "But you do what you have to do when income doesn't match your outlays. You have to pare your outlays down."

Lee's wife and three children are now living in a rental home in Alpine, Utah, where they used to live in a "dream home" Lee bought for $1.1 million in 2008. But Lee soon found himself underwater.

Ex-Time Warner Employee Sues Over Porn at Work

Time Warner Cable has been hit with another discrimination lawsuit, this time by a former employee in New York. Keith Reid worked in the company's New York City maintenance department for about 9 years before he was fired earlier this year.

He says he was terminated because of his religion. He was allegedly dismissed for complaining to human resources about a number of co-workers who were watching porn at work.

SF Fire Chief's Wages Garnished by Judge

San Francisco Fire Chief Joanne Hayes-White has been ordered by a judge to have her wages garnished to pay spousal support to her ex-husband. Where else, but the City by the Bay can you see this level of gender role-reversal?

Hayes-White will have $3,300 taken from her paycheck every month to pay past due alimony to her former spouse, Robert "Sean" White. The fire chief stopped paying White 14 months ago, the San Francisco Chronicle reports.

Why did she have the change of heart?

Can U.S. Ban Facebook's Eduardo Saverin?

Senators Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Bob Casey (D.-Pa.) took aim at Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin last week. The Brazilian-born entrepreneur says he renounced his U.S. citizenship to help facilitate a permanent move to Singapore, where he has been living since 2009.

But the Senators don't believe him, and have accused him ditching the U.S. in an attempt to avoid paying post-IPO taxes. Upset by this, they've introduced legislation known as the Ex-PATRIOT Act. If passed, it would ban Eduardo Saverin from the U.S.

Can Congress do this?

Parents Can Be Arrested for Drunk Teen Parties

If you don't think you're responsible for underage drinking in your home, think again. Social host laws impose liability for drunk teens. In many jurisdictions, you're required to supervise any minors in your care. That includes ensuring that they don't engage in illegal behavior.

Liability doesn't end here. If you knowingly furnish teens with alcohol, or should have known they were drinking while under your care, you may be arrested.

5 Things Everyone Should Know About Their Will

Guest post by Jennifer K. Halford, Esq.

Every time I meet with a client to discuss an estate plan I am reminded that no one likes to think about what will happen after they have passed away.

It is unpleasant to think about those difficult questions: What will happen to your family? What will happen to your home and assets? Who will take care of your business?

Because it is so difficult, I find that many people choose to avoid the tough questions. Or they copy a will that they found online because they believe that it will protect them and their family. But they may be wrong.

You may think your will protects you in ways that it really does not. So what things should you know about your will?

More US Women Paying Child Support, Alimony

The glass ceiling for women may finally be shattering, but not in the way you may think. A new survey indicates that more American women are now paying alimony and child support to their ex-spouses, Reuters reports.

The survey was conducted by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers. The group discovered that 56 percent of divorce lawyers surveyed reported seeing an increase in mothers paying child support over the last three years. Additionally, 47 percent said women were paying alimony.

Why the sudden change?

Dog Custody Battle Has Cost NY Man $60K in Legal Fees

Talk about dedication to your pooch. New Yorker Craig Dershowitz has spent more than $60,000 on a dog custody battle, The Washington Post reports.

Dershowitz, 34, is embroiled in a legal fight with his ex-girlfriend, Sarah Brega, over Knuckles the dog. Dershowitz views the half pug, half beagle like a son. He claims Brega kidnapped Knuckles following their break-up. But Brega says the dog was a gift.

Dershowitz's money has gone toward his legal fees. However, the sad part about all of this is that both parties could've easily saved themselves a lot of heartache.

Texting While Walking Legal in NJ, Jaywalking Is Not

Texting while walking is illegal! Or at least the news media recently implied it was in the town of Fort Lee, New Jersey. But that isn't so, according to Police Chief Thomas Ripoli.

The chief says his officers aren't ticketing residents for texting while walking -- unless they're also jaywalking.

Chief Ripoli and Fort Lee made the news earlier this month when word got out that his officers had issued 117 tickets for texting while walking. But the story actually goes a little bit deeper.

FindLaw's Free Legal Guide to Applying for a Job

No one likes the process of applying for a job. There's no real guide on how to find work. The search alone can wear people down and writing cover letters is no picnic. But what about your legal rights?

It's probably not what most people think about when it comes to getting a job. But it should be.

Whether you know it or not, job applicants have rights. And they don't just come after you're hired either, some attach before.

Don't Bother Avoiding Process Servers

Many people think they can avoid a lawsuit by avoiding a process server. After all, a lawsuit can't officially commence until the defendant has been given proper notice.

Unfortunately, many people are wrong. The law knows these tricks and has made provisions for those difficult to serve defendants. Just because you avoid a process server, it doesn't mean you can't be served and sued. It just means the plaintiff has to opt for Plan B or C.

NY Considers Transgender Discrimination Bill

New York legislators recently debated a bill that would prohibit discrimination on the basis of gender identity and gender expression. The NY transgender bill would amend all of the state's anti-discrimination laws, including those that cover employment and housing.

The State Assembly passed the legislation with overwhelming support, but it is currently sitting in the Senate Rules Committee. Supporters are trying to mobilize a floor vote before the end of the current legislative session.

$500K Loan to Medical Pot Company Not Enforceable: Judge

Don't lend money to a medical marijuana company. Don't even contract with a medical marijuana company. If a recent Arizona case is any indication, it's a pretty bad idea.

A state judge has dismissed a lawsuit brought by two individuals who lent a Colorado medical marijuana company $500,000. Michele Hammer and Mark Haile sued the company, Today's Health II, after it failed to repay the loan and interest fees.

Unfortunately, the judge has refused to enforce the underlying contract.

NY Landlord to Pay $2M in Sex Harassment Suit

The owners of a Manhattan apartment building have agreed to pay $2 million to settle a sexual harassment lawsuit brought by a group of female tenants. Landlord Stanley Katz, his son Stephen Katz, and superintendent William Barnason are all part of the agreement.

The women accused the landlord of sexual harassment and of allowing his son and Barnason to target them with "humiliating and abusive behavior." All three have also been accused of calling female tenants "whores looking for a free ride."

When is Breastfeeding Against the Law?

The latest Time Magazine cover is stirring up some controversy over breastfeeding. While it's a practice that has gone on for ages, it hasn't always been on the right side of the law.

The cover shows a woman breastfeeding her almost 4-year-old son. While the photo was no doubt meant to provoke, the article is actually about attachment parenting. A movement inspired by Dr. William Sears. He wrote a book about the subject 20 years ago.

Attachment parenting is a method meant to allow parents to form tighter emotional bonds with their children. And breastfeeding kids into their toddler years is one aspect of it.

But when does breastfeeding go too far in the eyes of the law?

Sheriff Joe Arpaio Sued Over Civil Rights Violations

Sheriff Joe Arpaio has been sued by the federal government for civil rights violations, National Public Radio reports. The lawsuit was filed by the Justice Department.

They accuse Arpaio of "violating the civil rights of Latino drivers and inmates in the county jail." Among the allegations, Justice Department lawyers say the sheriff pulled over Latino drivers for no reason. They also claim he retaliated against judges and lawyers critical of him and gave no services to non-English-speaking inmates.

Arpaio isn't going down quietly though. He's fired back with choice words regarding the suit.

'NJWeedman' Convicted of Pot Possession

A New Jersey jury convicted NJWeedman of possession of Monday, but was unable to decide whether he intended to sell it or keep it for himself. For the uninitiated, NJWeedman's real name is Ed Forchion, and he's a California resident who operates a medical marijuana dispensary in Hollywood.

NJWeedman is a bit of an Internet celebrity and active in the medical marijuana scene. He also tried to legally change his name to NJWeedman.com last year, but his request was denied by a judge.

If you're under orders to pay child support, can you automatically stop paying when your child turns 18? This question has come up recently in our FindLaw Answers family law discussion forum. The answer isn't as simple as it may seem. In fact, before going any further you may want to download FindLaw's free guide to getting child support payments.

State laws determine when a parent or guardian can automatically stop paying child support. Many states allow a parent to stop payment upon a child's 18th birthday, or when a child graduates high school, whichever occurs later.

But that's not the case with all child support orders. Here are some factors that may affect whether you can stop paying child support when your kid turns 18:

Americans Too Broke to File For Bankruptcy

It's a common complaint amongst the broke -- you're simply too poor to file for bankruptcy. It may be true. New data submitted to the National Bureau of Economic Research suggests that the cost of bankruptcy will prevent between 200,000 and 1 million Americans from filing this year.

Another 200,000 are expected to rely on their tax returns to cover the fees.

Bankruptcy, on average, costs about $1,500, according to CNNMoney. Though some of this covers court fees ($300), credit counseling and education courses, the rest is paid to the attorney.

A California woman's nearly $10,000 small-claims judgment over her Honda hybrid's mileage has been overturned on appeal.

A judge Wednesday ruled in favor of American Honda Motor Co.'s appeal of Heather Peters' $9,867 small-claims judgment, the Associated Press reports.

Peters, an ex-lawyer, argued Honda overstated the fuel economy of its hybrid cars when she won her small-claims case in February. But on appeal, another judge arrived at a different conclusion.

Chic NYC Salon Hit With Discrimination Lawsuit

A former stylist has accused a hip and exclusive Manhattan salon of racial discrimination in a new lawsuit filed in state court. Zandra Bennett claims her boss and a fellow employee at Orlo Salon in the Meatpacking District made racial comments before she was fired via text message in January 2011.

Boss and part owner George Casson allegedly called her hair "nappy," while receptionist Alfred Malavo is accused of calling her "Blackie Chan" and "Blackquisha." These comments, Bennett asserts, created an illegally hostile work environment.

May is National Bike Month, and thousands of amateur cyclists are set to hit the streets on Bike to Work Day — which actually falls on different days, depending on where you live — and, for the first time this year, Bike to School Day.

But before you strap on that helmet (you are wearing a helmet, right?) and head out the door, you may want a quick refresher in bike laws that you may not know about.

Here are four types of bike laws, and how they generally apply nationwide:

Considering a divorce? You're not alone, and like many Americans, you may be looking for help to get your case started and see it through to the end.

You can start by helping yourself to some free information about the law. FindLaw's new "Guide to Getting a Divorce: Starting the Divorce Process" is a great introductory resource. It's a PDF brochure that you can view and download for free.

The free download offers a concise summary of FindLaw's in-depth articles about divorce, available at our website's "Learn About the Law" section. The mini guide answers some of the most common divorce questions, including:

3 Legal Issues You Should Handle for Your Mom

With Mother's Day approaching, sons and daughters nationwide are thinking of the best way to show their appreciation. Finding new ideas to impress your mom can be tough. But perhaps the best way to care for your aging Mom is to take care of her legal issues.

And no, that doesn't mean pay off any pending lawsuits against her. Though that'd be nice (other than your Mom being sued, of course). The kind of issues contemplated here relate to your mother's long-term care.

So here are three important future-planning needs you can handle for your Mom:

Surrogate moms are in the news, with E! host Giuliana Rancic recently announcing her use of a surrogate. But if you're looking to become a surrogate mom yourself, you'll want to give careful consideration to your surrogacy contract.

Many surrogate moms are more than happy to help and experience no complications, legal or otherwise. Take, for example, the North Dakota woman who carried 11 surrogate children over the last 16 years. "We never went into it to make money," the surrogate mom told ABC News.

But money -- and emotions -- can make surrogate motherhood a complicated legal arrangement. Here are some issues you'll want to iron out ahead of time in a surrogacy contract:

Bullies forcibly tattooed a New Hampshire teenager's buttocks two years ago. Now the victim's parents are suing their son's school for failing to protect him from bullying, Reuters reports.

Michael and Tammy Austin filed suit against the school district in Concord, N.H., where their son was assaulted and forcibly tattooed in May 2010.

Two adults and two older students from Concord High School lured the victim, then 14, to a house near the school where they tattooed a drawing of a penis, along with the words "Poop" and a profanity, onto the boy's buttocks, Reuters reports.

Is Snooping on Your Spouse Legal?

Technology makes it increasingly easy for a husband or wife to snoop around their loved one's digital accounts. But, tracking your spouse's digital and physical movements may be crossing a line. Reading a spouse's e-mail may seem innocent enough, but it can land you in some trouble.

In fact, one Michigan man faced a harsh price for some digital spying: felony charges. He found out that his wife was cheating on him by reading some of her e-mails. He was charged with unauthorized access of a computer.

Whether or not a crime was committed is unclear.

NYC Teachers Can't Friend Students on Facebook

New York City is going to be a lonelier place for public school teachers. The city's Department of Education has ruled that NYC teachers can't become Facebook friends with students or follow their Twitters.

The new guidelines prohibit teachers from interacting with students via social media Websites, The New York Times reports. However, the rules don't ban NYC educators from using social media services in their personal lives. Also, teachers may still interact with students through professional online accounts approved by their school.

So why did the city's DOE institute the changes?

Want to Vote? Update Your Voter Registration

Have you moved since the last time you voted? In fact, when was the last time you even voted? If you can't answer either of these questions, or answered the first one affirmatively, it's probably time to update your voter registration.

Well, that is if you want to vote in the next election.

Voter registration laws generally require residents to vote in their precinct and at a specified polling location. If your voting information isn't up to date, you might be turned away.

Tennessee lawmakers want teenagers to just say no to premarital sex -- along with "gateway sexual activity" that may be interpreted to include hugs and hand-holding, critics claim.

The Volunteer State's House and Senate have approved a bill that would revamp the state's sex-education curriculum, The Tennessean reports. The proposed curriculum would focus on abstinence, and would prohibit teachers from promoting "any gateway sexual activity."

But the bill, as passed, doesn't spell out exactly what acts are considered to be "gateway sexual activity." It's also not clear whether Tennessee's Republican governor will sign the bill into law.

5 Things You Must Do After Writing Your Will

Guest post by Jennifer K. Halford, Esq.

You are more prepared than the average person if you have a will.

However, a will is not enough. A will tells how your assets and property will be distributed when you die. But it does not tell where the assets are located or how to get to them.

Too often I have worked with family members that had to dig through the desk of a deceased relative to determine which bills needed to be paid or if there was a life insurance policy. Don't make unnecessary stress for your loved ones when you are gone.

Instead, be sure to complete these five things in addition to your will:

A Georgia girl is suing two classmates and their parents in a Facebook cyberbullying case. The girl's parents hope their daughter's online bullying will lead to changes in the law.

Alexandria Boston, then 13, cried when she found a fake Facebook page in her name, with photos that were distorted to make her look fat, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports. The fake page also contained videos and posts that suggested Boston was racist, sexually active, and smoked marijuana.

Two classmates, a boy and a girl, allegedly created the page and were given in-school suspensions for using cell phones to take pictures at school, the Journal-Constitution reports. The fake Facebook page, however, stayed up for nearly a year.

So You Want to Be an Organ Donor

Want to declare yourself as an organ donor on Facebook? Well, now you can.

In a bid to increase awareness about organ donation, Facebook will now allow users to publicly mark themselves as organ donors. CEO Mark Zuckerberg was reportedly inspired by the social network's role in recent disasters -- connecting people and people with their things. With 114,000 individuals in the U.S. waiting for a transplant, he thought donation would be a good next step.

So, how do you become an organ donor?

Legal to Change the Locks on a Rental House?

Can a tenant change the locks on their rental? Tenants may have multiple reasons why they'd like to change locks. Maybe there have been a number of burglaries in the area. Or, maybe a tenant would just feel more secure with a heavy-duty bolt.

Landlord-tenant laws vary depending on your state. And, you may need to read your lease agreement closely. It's possible you signed a provision in your lease that forbids changing locks under certain circumstances.

What are some relevant rules you should be aware of?

ACLU Sues Border Patrol for Stops in Pacific Northwest

The American Civil Liberties Union has had enough of the U.S. Border Patrol's antics in Washington's Olympic Peninsula. The ACLU has sued the agency for unjustifiably stopping people based on race .

The ACLU is seeking class-action status for their lawsuit, Reuters reports. They claim the "Border Patrol's actions have created a climate of fear and anxiety." Among the accusations, two Latino and a black man claimed they were subjected to racial profiling. Two of men are correctional officers and one was in uniform at the time of his stop.

But is the Border Patrol allowed to racially profile suspects?

When Is School Drug Testing Legal?

Introduced in the late 1980's as part of the war on drugs, school drug testing has become commonplace in public schools across the country. Still, some think school drug testing polices go too far and violate a student's Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures.

Though a perfectly reasonable assertion, it is incorrect. The U.S. Supreme Court has articulated three ways in which drug testing does not violate the constitutional rights of students who attend public junior high and high schools.