Law & Daily Life - The FindLaw Life, Family and Workplace Law Blog

May 2011 Archives

South Dakota Abortion Law Challenged in ACLU Suit

On behalf of Planned Parenthood, the ACLU filed suit late last week, challenging a South Dakota abortion law that imposes a 3 day abortion waiting period and forces women to receive counseling from unregulated "pregnancy help centers."

The civil rights organizations are arguing that the law severely restricts women's access to health care, violates a patient's right to privacy, and impinges on a doctor's First Amendment rights against compelled speech.

The South Dakota abortion law, passed in March, is thought to be the strictest in the country.

Do I Have to Record my Will Somewhere?

Is recording a will one of the requirements to make your will valid? Do you need to go file a will down at some county government building?

The answer is a simple no.

What many do not realize is that officially recording a will is not one of the requirements to making a valid, enforceable will. Neither is getting the will notarized.

So, what do you actually need to get a will completed? After the will is drafted according to the proper guidelines, the will needs to be witnessed by at least two witnesses who will then sign the will indicating that they were present when the will was signed by the writer.

Do Landlords Have to Provide Air Conditioning?

It's pretty obvious that landlords are required to provide the basics: locking doors, hot water, and heating.

But one of the questions that gets asked the most in landlord-tenant law is whether a landlord is required to provide tenants with air conditioning.

The answer? Probably not.

Huguette Clark's Will: Who Will Get Her Fortune?

Who's in Huguette Clark's will?

The reclusive copper heiress died on Tuesday in the Manhattan hospital she's been calling home, leaving people to wonder about the fate of her estimated $500 million fortune.

With questions about her mental health and an ongoing investigation into the attorney and accountant that have been handling her affairs, the answer to the above question can mean the difference between a drawn out court battle and a quiet ending.

Legalese 101: What is a Mistrial?

We here at FindLaw know that legal jargon can be confusing. We hear people misusing legal words and phrases all the time. So we've decided to help you better understand all the legal phrases tossed around on Law & Order. Here is a new educational series we like to call FindLaw's Legalese 101.

Many of you have probably hear the term mistrial. But could you explain why a judge might declare a mistrial?

A court declares a mistrial when a legal irregularity has led to some reason why the trial cannot be completed.

To say it another way, a mistrial is a spoiled trial.

Wisconsin Anti-Union Law Struck Down by Judge

Is Wisconsin's anti-union law legal? Apparently not, says one judge, who struck down the Wisconsin anti-collective bargaining law that had been given so much negative publicity from pro-labor advocates.

Judge Maryann Sumi ruled that the rushed way the legislature passed the bill made the bill void.

The law prevented public-sector unions, like teachers, from using powerful collective bargaining tools in negotiating for their health benefits and pensions. Police and firefighters were excluded from the law, reports The New York Times.

Can I Lose my Property to Eminent Domain?

If the government wants your land, thanks to eminent domain, it can have it.

While we often hear of local governments buying up property to expand roads or build a public facility, the fact of the matter is that these transactions are often involuntary on the part of the landowners. That darn eminent domain can a pesky law for citizens.

Under the Fifth Amendment's "Takings Clause," federal, state and local governments can seize private property if they are doing so for public use and if they provide just compensation.

Under eminent domain jurisprudence, "public use" has been interpreted to mean "public welfare."

Majority of Americans Support Gay Marriage

Does the average American support gay marriage? And, conversely, how many American oppose gay marriage? Recent polls have suggested that the majority of Americans actually do support same-sex marriage.

Support for gay marriage has been on the rise in recent years. A Gallup survey, the most recent, found that 53% of Americans support gay marriage, reports the Los Angeles Times.

In California itself, the increase seems to be even higher - a CNN survey last month showed that 61% of Americans polled in the Western states supported gay marriage, according to the Los Angeles Times.

New Legal Resources for Military Families

The American Bar Association (ABA) has announced a new website to help military families, including information about the Servicemembers' Civil Relief Act.

As part of its military family support services, the ABA has created the ABA Home Front, to provide legal resources for military families.

The site has three main parts:

  • Information Center: Information about a variety of legal issues military families face every day.
  • Directory of Programs: A state-by-state map showing legal programs available to military families.
  • Military Pro Bono Center: A resource to link up with attorneys who have registered to provide services pro bono (at no cost) to military families.

These resources focus on a whole spectrum of legal issues faced by military families.

Do I Get Overtime Pay as a Summer Employee?

School's letting out for the summer, and malls and amusement parks will soon be packed again. If you're looking for seasonal employment, now is the time to start.

In this down economy, many would-be summer employees are asking the same question - do I get paid overtime?

The seasonal employment market is thriving, and is often perfect for those who want to make a little extra cash during busy months. Overtime pay, usually 1.5 or 2 times more than your regular hourly salary, can be a great boost to your paycheck or financial health.

US Law on Vacation Pay Among Lowest in World

If you ever wonder what the U.S. law on vacation pay is, it's actually quite simple. There is none. The U.S. is one of the few top countries in the world that guarantees employees no paid vacation time.

For most Americans, even if a company offers paid vacations - we do not often take them. Only about 57% of U.S. workers use all the vacation time they are given, according to a poll by Reuters/Ipisos as reported by CNN.

Compare that figure to the 89% of French employees who take their full vacations, according to the same poll. Are Americans just work-hungry? Or should there be a new policy that would implement mandatory paid vacations?

Adoption Bans Abroad: Non-Orphans Being Adopted

Even though Mother's Day is behind us, many Americans don't need a reason to feel nostalgic and grateful for their mothers.

For many orphaned children abroad, a mother's love is something they have never experienced. Foreign countries are now facing increasing reports of fraudulent activity and child trafficking in overseas adoption practices. Many have now started implementing and considering adoption bans.

Overseas governments have been placed in a difficult situation. On one hand, there has been disturbing news in the adoption front. Falsified documents, children put up for adoption without their parents consent, and child trafficking - all parts of global corruption that governments are trying to combat.

Destination Weddings: Legal Issues to Remember

It's almost summer and brides across the country are picking out flowers, mailing invitations, and subjecting bridesmaids to ugly dresses.

But for that bride who has chosen a destination wedding, there's something else to think about.

Potential legal issues. That's right, a destination wedding legal reminder is in order this time of year.

If you've chosen to have a wedding in a different state from which you reside, here's a list of state-by-state requirements.

SBA Disaster Loans: Homeowners, Renters Qualify Too

After a natural disaster like the Mississippi River floods or tornadoes in the Midwest, who qualifies for SBA disaster loan assistance? Does the SBA make these loans only to small businesses? Or can homeowners and renters qualify for disaster loans too?

SBA makes disaster loans to homeowners and renters, as well as businesses. You do not have to own a business to get a disaster loan from the SBA.

Renters and homeowners alike may borrow up to $40,000 to repair or replace clothing, furniture, cars, appliances, etc. damaged or destroyed in the disaster.

And homeowners may also apply for up to $200,000 to repair or replace their primary residence to its pre-disaster condition, advises the SBA on its website.

No Right to Carry Concealed Gun, Judge Rules

A federal judge in Sacramento, California has upheld a portion of California's concealed gun law.

The decision likely sets battle lines for an appeal on Second Amendment grounds, which could eventually go to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Gun rights advocates challenged a policy set by Yolo County Sheriff Ed Prieto that requires applicants to state a reason, such as a safety threat, to obtain a concealed weapons permit.

Plaintiffs, the challengers to Yolo County's policy, claimed requiring a reason to get a permit infringes their right to keep and bear arms, as stated in the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, reports AP.

Legalese 101: Freedom of Speech

We here at FindLaw know that legal jargon can be confusing. We hear people misusing legal words and phrases all the time. So we've decided to help you better understand all the legal phrases tossed around on Law & Order. Here is a new educational series we like to call FindLaw's Legalese 101.

It's called freedom of speech!

How many of you have heard that response when you've not-so-politely requested that someone stop talking?

A lot of you, I'm sure.

But guess what? That's actually an improper use of the term, and here's why.

Paternity Laws: Establishing Legal Paternity

A week after the Arnold Schwarzenegger and Maria Shriver break-up, it turns out that the couple split after Shriver learned that her husband had fathered a child with a long-time staff member 10 years ago.

Though Arnold has acknowledged that the child is his and has dutifully paid child support, one has got to wonder what would have happened if he had denied paternity.

What are the applicable paternity laws and how would one establish paternity?

Texas School Lunch Cameras to Monitor French Fries

You are what you eat, and when you eat - guess what will happen? In the Lone Star State, a photo of your food is snapped, courtesy of a school lunch camera. A Texas school has decided to go high-tech in its fight against obesity with a $2 million grant.

Their plan is to install high-tech school lunch cameras at the elementary school lunch line, capturing what students are eating for lunch. And, when lunch is over, the cameras are going to be rolling again, capturing what leftovers they have, reports Reuters. The cameras and underlying technology will identify the food, and capture the nutritional content.

Officials want to study the eating habits of children so they can better design meal programs that can combat widespread health problems like obesity and diabetes, according to the AP. But is this an invasion of privacy?

Legalese 101: Mens Rea, Latin for a Guilty Mind

We here at FindLaw know that legal jargon can be confusing. We hear people misusing legal words and phrases all the time. So we've decided to help you better understand all the legal phrases tossed around on Law & Order. Here is a new educational series we like to call FindLaw's Legalese 101.

It's a term thrown around in movies like Legally Blonde, but the fact is that even fake Harvard Law students aren't exactly sure what mens rea really means.

And though the translation above is technically correct, the definition of mens rea is a lot more subtle than it seems to suggest.

Secret Service Question Boy, 13, Over Facebook

If you want to keep things private, do not put it on Facebook. Vito LaPinta, 13, learned this the hard way after he was paid a visit by agents from the Secret Service. A Facebook post spurred the Secret Service into action, and landed LaPinta in a police interview at his school in Washington.

The post in question simply stated that President Obama should be careful about possible retaliation against him after the killing of Osama Bin Laden.

The 7th grader was questioned by agents at his school, reports CNet. LaPinta's mother claims that he was interviewed for 30 minutes without her present, and without her consent. What many people do not realize is that police and law enforcement officials can generally question children without their parents' consent.

Seattle Law Lets People Opt Out of Yellow Pages

Yellow Pages! What are they good for?

Absolutely nothing!

Well, unless you count doorstops and booster seats. But even then, most people would jump at the chance to opt out of yellow pages deliveries.

Actually, if you live in Seattle, you can--and with the blessing of a federal judge to boot.

Late last year, Seattle's city council passed an ordinance that requires yellow pages and phonebook publishers to pay the city a 14 cent fee for every directory delivered, reports The Seattle Times.

Considered Bankruptcy? 1 in 8 Americans Have

When saddled with a mountain of debt and bills to pay, most people start thinking about their options. Some will consider bankruptcy. And, according to a new survey, about 1 in 8 Americans, or approximately 13% of us, have either contemplated or filed for bankruptcy.

The survey finds that age is a factor. Those between the ages of 35 and 54 were 50% more likely to have considered for bankruptcy than those between the ages of 18-34 or 55 and older.

In fact, in the past year around 1.5 million Americans have filed for bankruptcy, according to the National Bankruptcy Research Center. Bankruptcy can help reduce debts and assist people in their time of need. But, when filing for bankruptcy - or considering filing for bankruptcy - there is a whole host of questions that you need to address.

Feds Sue Starbucks for Firing Dwarf

With the popularity of shows like Little People, Big World, you'd think that sensitivity to the issues of dwarfism would be at least somewhat heightened.

Not so if you work for Starbucks, it seems.

Dwarf Elsa Sallard was fired from her barista position after she requested a stool to help her do her job.

The company is now being sued by the government.

Judicial Watch Sues for Bin Laden Death Photo

Conservative group Judicial Watch has filed the first lawsuit against the U.S. government asking for the release of the Bin Laden photos.

The lawsuit follows the group's Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, which it sent to the Department of Defense. The Department of Defense denied Judicial Watch's FOIA request on May 9th.

In its denial, the Department of Defense stated that the 20-day statutory time limitation on providing the requested information would be impossible to comply with - even given the statutory 10-day extension period attached.

Can Texas Arrest TSA Agents for Groping?

Since the TSA introduced its "enhanced" pat down procedure in November, there has been a lot of uproar, likening airport pat downs to sexual assault and federally sponsored groping.

One too many groped children (and a former beauty queen) later, and Texas legislators have apparently had enough.

Late last week, the state House of Representatives passed a Texas TSA pat down ban, criminalizing airport pat downs that it feels go too far.

The federally-funded TSA isn't amused, or particularly worried.

Which States Have Medical Marijuana Laws?

Smoking medical marijuana can help cut down on your pain - especially if you have a terminal disease, or an illness that has painful side effects. State medical marijuana laws vary on how much a person can legally possess to how many plants you are allowed to cultivate.

Currently, there are 16 states (plus Washington, D.C.) that have now legalized medical marijuana. These states include: Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington.

Medical marijuana in most states is only for those patients who have a prescription or recommendation from a licensed physician. And, these patients are usually those that are suffering from cancer, AIDS, or other serious diseases.

Delaware is 16th State to Legalize Marijuana

It's official, pot proponents can add one more state to their victory list - Delaware. Marijuana will now be legalized in the state for residents with serious medical conditions.

Delaware's SB 17, legalizing medical marijuana, was signed into state law by Gov. Jack Markell this week. The 16th state to legalize medical marijuana, the bill legalizes the use of marijuana for people diagnosed with cancer, HIV/AIDS, multiple sclerosis and other diseases that have treatments with debilitating side effects.

Patients will be able to hold up to 6 ounces of marijuana without being arrested, reports Opposing Views.

Employees Sue Mario Batali Over Waiters' Tips

The server and waiter staff at Del Posto, the super-swank Manhattan Italian eatery owned by Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich, don't like the portions they are getting.

Not food portions. We hear the grub is four-star.

A group of 40 Del Posto restaurant workers claim they suffered wage theft, discrmination, abuse and retaliation at the hands of Del Posto, and its owners, reports

Chuck E. Cheese Sued Over Arcade 'Gambling'

To some, a casino is like an adult version of an arcade. 

To one San Diego mom, the resemblance is a little too much - she is suing the Chuck E. Cheese's pizza chain for promoting games that have her children gambling tokens like they were playing slots.

The lawsuit was filed in federal court last month. Denise Keller, mother of two young daughters, is asking for a jury trial, damages, and restitution of up to $5 million.

"We don't think that children should be exposed to casino-style gambling devices at an arcade," says Eric Benink, Keller's attorney, to The San Diego Union-Tribune.

Millionaire's Heirs Wait 92 Years for Inheritance

Annoyed with his family, the will of lumber baron Wellington R. Burt forbade the distribution of his multi-million dollar estate until 21 years after the death of the last of his then-living grandchildren.

Ninety-two years after his own death, the time has finally come. His remaining descendants are about to become multi-millionaires.

From all accounts, before his death in 1919, Wellington R. Burt was in conflict with his family. Despite leaving annual allowances for his favorite son, cook, housekeeper, chauffer and secretary, ABC News reports that he placed the rest of his fortune in a trust, prohibiting distribution until his family died off.

Utah Immigration Law Blocked by Federal Judge

Earlier this month, the ACLU and National Immigration Law Center filed suit in federal court, arguing that a new Utah immigration law was unconstitutional, inviting racial profiling and violating the Supremacy Clause.

Late last week, federal Judge Clark Waddoups stepped in, granting the plaintiffs a temporary restraining order, effectively preventing the controversial law from being enforced until the court says otherwise.

Amongst other things, the Utah immigration law made it mandatory for law enforcement to verify citizenship of those arrested for felonies and serious misdemeanors. It also granted officers the discretion to make such inquiries in less serious cases, such as during traffic stops.

Legalese 101: What is a Trust?

We here at FindLaw know that legal jargon can be confusing. We hear people misusing legal words and phrases all the time. So we've decided to help you better understand all the legal phrases tossed around on Law & Order. Here is a new educational series we like to call FindLaw's Legalese 101.

What is a living trust? What's the difference between a trust and a living trust? And, do you need a trust lawyer to draft your trust?

All of these are questions that most people find themselves asking about at some point, especially when you start planning for your future. And, many of you might have heard these terms get tossed around by friends and family.

Jonestown Massacre Monument Spurs Lawsuit

A memorial built at Evergreen Cemetery in Oakland over a mass grave interring 409 unidentified victims of the 1978 Jonestown massacre was completed this week.

To the shock of Jynona Norwood, the granite markers not only list cult leader Jim Jones as a victim, but were partially paid for by his son.

She's now suing.

If you were a child of the 80's (or 90's), Jim Jones led a cult, known as the Peoples Temple. Along with over 900 followers, Jones moved to Jonestown, a settlement that he erected in Guyana.

Mississippi Flood: Insurance, Safety Issues

Mississippi flooding has come again--historic, unprecedented, with all Nature's fury. In a rolling catastrophe like this, first comes the water, then come the rescues. Then the insurance claims.

By any measure, the situation along the Mississippi is grave and about to get worse. Water is cresting at or above flood levels.

At Natchez, Miss., for instance, Mississippi flooding reached a record 58.3 feet, and is expected to crest at 64 feet. Flood stage there is 48 feet. At Vicksburg, Miss., the National Weather Service projects the river will rise to 57.5 feet on May 19th. Flood stage there is 43 feet, reports the Washington Post.

At Baton Rouge, the river ran this morning at 42.4 feet. Flood stage is 35 feet. At New Orleans, the river ran exactly at 17-foot flood stage, and is forecast to crest at 19.5 feet on May 23rd. Levees protect the city to 20 feet. Six inches to spare, reports the Los Angeles Times.

How to Get a Restraining Order

Whether you're a victim of harassment, stalking or domestic violence, you may be entitled to a restraining order, requiring your harasser to refrain from contacting you.

Unlike some legal processes, you can easily obtain a protective order without an attorney. Here's how.

Restraining Order Step 1. From your state court's website, or the local branch, obtain a petition for a restraining order and an affidavit. Fill out both forms thoroughly, telling your story as specifically as possible. Use dates, times, witness names, and any other relevant details.

7.5 Million Underage Facebook Users

The words "Facebook" and "privacy concerns" seem to go hand-in-hand these days. The spotlight is again shining on the social networking site, as Facebook's underage users have risen to nearly 20 million strong. Of those 20 million minors, approximately 7.5 million were under the age of 13, according to a survey by Consumer Reports.

According to Facebook policy, users must be at least 13 years old to register for the site. Clearly, this policy is not stopping tech-savvy kids. All you really need to do is lie about your birthday, and you're in.

Puppy Mill Ban Proposed in Los Angeles

O pet store, if puppy mills are banned, where did you get that doggie in the window?

Los Angeles City Councilman Paul Koretz has proposed the City of Los Angeles study prohibiting the purchase and sale of pets bred in puppy and kitten mills, reports the Los Angeles Times.

Navy Reverses Course on Allowing Gay Marriages

In a recent move by officials in the Navy, gay marriages will no longer be permissible on naval bases. Originally, a policy had been in place that spelled out what would happen after the transition away from "don't ask don't tell" in military branches including the Navy - same-sex marriages were to be permitted by Naval chaplains.

Military attorneys are now reviewing the policy, and in a memo by Rear Admiral M.L. Tidd, the policy is effectively suspended until the review is completed, reports Reuters.

In Tidd's April memo that paved the way for same-sex marriages on bases, he originally stated that allowing Naval chaplains to perform these ceremonies would be legal, so long as they only took place in states that had already legalized gay marriage.

Navy OKs Same-Sex Marriages on Naval Bases

As part of the military's transition away from "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," plans are in the works to permit naval chaplains and facilities to be used to conduct same-sex marriages.

Though it was expected, some members of Congress are not amused with the upcoming change, arguing that the Defense of Marriage Act bars Naval facilities from being used to conduct same-sex marriages.

Getting Married? A FindLaw Legal Checklist

Jack and Jill sitting in a tree, K-I-S-S-I-N-G, first comes love, then comes marriage...No wait, scratch that. 

Before you get to the "marriage" part of your relationship, you should take some time to make sure you have the legal aspect of getting hitched sorted out. We've got a FindLaw marriage checklist for you. After all, marriage is not only a union of souls, but a legal union. So, here's a simple list of questions you might want to address before the big day:

Gay Adoption Bill Introduced to Congress

With 25,000 teens aging out of the foster care system annually, placing them at greater risk of poverty and incarceration, it's clear that America's adoption and foster care system needs an overhaul.

Taking a step in that direction is Rep. Pete Stark, who introduced a bill into Congress last week that would make it illegal to discriminate against same-sex couples who wish to adopt.

Laptop Spying: Rental Store Put Webcam on Rental

Aaron's, Inc., a national rent-to-own retailer, is being sued by a Wyoming couple in Pennsylvania after the couple realized that a laptop it had purchased was equipped with software that was secretly snapping pictures via the computer's webcam.

Why, exactly, has nothing concrete been done about laptop spying?

Can a Court Force Release of Osama Photos?

When news broke about the killing of Osama Bin Laden, many Americans asked the question - "where are the Osama photos?"

Conspiracy theorist and others wanted to see proof. Many still do.

As it turns out, some news agencies are asking the same question and are petitioning the government to release the photos using the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

Will Airport Security Tighten Post Bin Laden?

We may have killed Osama, but we have not stopped al-Qaeda. After the death of Bin Laden, airport security has been stepping up to respond to the public's unease over the possibility of a retaliatory attack.

The federal government seems hesitant to incite fear or panic. So will airport security tighten now that the 9/11 mastermind is dead?

US Sues Deutsche Bank: Lied About Home Loans

A lot of people have been wondering when the government would finally start prosecuting the companies responsible for the home loan and mortgage crisis of the last few years.

In one of the Department of Justice's first actions, it filed a suit against mega-lender Deutsche Bank on Tuesday, accusing the company of lying and recklessly approving mortgages for federal insurance.

In other words, mortgage fraud.

Judges Cuts Court Fees to Mark bin Laden's Death

If you happened to be on the hook for a misdemeanor in Arkansas this week, the killing of Osama bin Laden saved you some money.

Judge Brad Karren, a district state judge in Rogers, Arkansas, commemorated Osama bin Laden's death by giving some citizens a lucky break.

Karren gave misdemeanor violators a $51 discount on court fines and fees.

Utah Immigration Law Illegal, ACLU Says

In March, Utah followed in the footsteps of Arizona, enacting a strict new immigration law that requires criminal suspects to prove U.S. citizenship or legal residency when arrested.

In response to the law, the ACLU, along with the National Immigration Law Center, has filed suit, arguing that the Utah immigration law violates the Supremacy Clause, prohibitions against unreasonable seizures, and equal protection.

Top 3 Strategies to Fight a Traffic Ticket

Traffic tickets are the bane of every driver's existence, adding potentially hundreds of dollars to already expensive gas prices and maintenance.

Which is why, if you've decided to fight a traffic ticket, you need to go into court prepared with arguments and evidence at the ready.

To help you make the most of that traffic ticket court date, here are the top three things you should focus on prior to and during your fight.

Was Killing Osama bin Laden Legal?

While some are taking the time to celebrate the death of Osama bin Laden, others are beginning to ask questions about the President's decisions and their basis in law.

The U.S. was arguably on shaky ground when it covertly entered a foreign country to carry out a military mission, but, as of now, the general consensus amongst legal scholars is that killing Osama bin Laden was legal.

For the curious, here is where the law stands at this time.

Should US Release Dead Osama Bin Laden Photo?

Osama bin Laden is dead, and it seems as though the entire country is celebrating.

But on the outskirts remain his supporters and our nation's conspiracy theorists, people who are demanding proof that the 9/11 mastermind has actually been killed.

With his body somewhere out at sea, the only proof that remains is DNA evidence and photographs. Should they be released?

Summer Jobs for Teens: 3 Things to Keep in Mind

Its summer job hunting season and teens are looking for work.

Whether the decision to get a summer job is motivated by financial needs or imparting the age-old lesson of responsibility, teen jobs are a lot more complicated than you may think.

To help you get through the initial summer job hunt phase unscathed, here are some things to keep in mind.

Divorcing Couple Built a Wall Through House

Ever wonder who gets the house in divorce proceedings?

Well, it might be no one.

After nearly 5 years of living in a Brooklyn brownstone divided by a wall, a judge has finalized the divorce of Simon and Chana Taub, ordering the pair to sell their oddly constructed real estate.