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

June 2012 Archives

How to Choose a Contractor You Won't Have to Sue

Summer is here and it's probably time to take some steps to address the neglected home repairs issues that you ignored all winter.

For most repair jobs and additions, you'll probably have to work with a contractor. While there are a lot of really good contractors out there, there also are a lot of really bad ones. And if you're stuck with a bad contractor, be prepared for months of struggle, stress, and fights.

So how do you choose a contractor that you probably won't have to sue? Here are some tips.

Roberts Reminds Us Justices Aren't Politicians

The Supreme Court's decision upholding the Affordable Care Act is a momentous ruling, and not just because of its immediate effect.

The politically charged case was not decided along party lines and could be remembered as an important part of Chief Justice John Robert's legacy.

Chief Justice Robert's majority opinion is a reminder to us all that the Supreme Court is not ruled by ideology. Justices' opinions are not a product of politics, either liberal or conservative.

Many Americans may be surprised that the man who delivered the swing vote was the "conservative" Roberts appointed by George W. Bush. But that at his 2005 confirmation Roberts said:

5 Ways Supreme Court's Health Care Ruling Affects You

The Supreme Court of the United States has upheld the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

This decision upholds President Obama's hallmark legislation and will have an impact on almost every American from a newborn to the elderly.

Here are five ways that the Obamacare impacts the average citizen:

How to Change Your Lawyer

You've hired a lawyer -- but now you've had a disagreement, or perhaps just buyer's remorse. So when are you allowed to change your lawyer, and how do you do that?

As a client, you generally have the right to get rid of your lawyer for any reason, at any time before your case is over. All you have to do is follow the procedure set by the court where your case is being heard.

Each court is different, but here are some general steps a client must take to fire her lawyer -- and what the lawyer must do after she's been let go:

Thousands of Lawyers Prep for Voter ID Issues in Nov.

New Voter ID laws and other voting restrictions have raised concerns and Obama has recruited a small army of attorneys to deal with potential voter discrimination.

Since the 2008 election, a fair number of states have changed their voting requirements. Some states have put in ID requirements or ended same day voting registration. Others have added a proof of citizenship requirement and a few have restricted early and absentee voting periods.

All this will make it harder to certain groups to vote and Obama is aiming to ensure that no one is left out of the election.

Protestors Publically Curse Ban on Public Swearing

Much ado about nothing? A small Massachusetts down put in place a swearing ordinance that would allow police officers to issue a $20 fine to individuals caught cursing in public. The ordinance replaces a little enforced (and little known) town bylaw that criminalized swearing that had been in place for decades

So protesters from around the country descended upon the small town of Middleborough to express their outrage.

While public dissent can be good (see Occupy Wall Street), this swearing ban protest is hardly the stuff of legends.

Orbitz Sends Mac Users to More Expensive Hotels

You have to pay a premium if you're a Mac owner.

A Macintosh computer costs significantly more than similarly spec'd PCs.

But does this premium end after purchasing the hardware? Apparently, not. As it seems that Orbitz hotels booked by Mac users tend to be of the pricier variety than those booked by PC users (depending on a few factors). 

Child custody agreements and summer vacations can sometimes clash and blow up into contentious legal battles. It's no fun for you, the other parent, and especially not for your child.

But it doesn't have to be that way. Here are some tips on how to deal with summer vacations and child custody agreements in an amicable way:

1. Create a vacation schedule.

A common way to deal with summer vacations and child custody is to agree on a vacation schedule.

Green Card for Illegal Wife?

Boy meets girl. Girl overstays visa (or never had a visa). Boy marries girl. Green Card for illegal wife?

The above is a common scenario that many couples face.

For a variety of reasons, many foreign nationals enter the U.S. and end up marrying a U.S. citizen. But contrary to popular belief, simply being married to a U.S. citizen does not confer a general right for the non-citizen spouse to remain in the U.S.

Planning a Hawaiian Beach Wedding Just Got Pricier

Guest post by Jennifer K. Halford, Esq.

Saying "I do" on the beaches of Hawaii still requires a permit, a federal appeals court ruled this week.

The Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resource (DLNR) began requiring permits for commercial weddings in August 2008.

Since then applicants have paid 10 cents for each square foot of beach requested up to $20. The permit limits the wedding to two hours and requires couples to purchase event insurance. Attendees are told they cannot disturb other beachgoers and they must leave the beach in its natural condition.

The U.S. Supreme Court has upheld, for now, part of Arizona's SB 1070 immigration law that requires officers to check a driver's immigration status during a traffic stop in some situations.

"There is a basic uncertainty about what the law means and how it will be enforced," the Court's opinion states. But at this stage, "it would be inappropriate to assume" the statute will be enforced in an unlawful way, the Court explained.

Critics, however, fear SB 1070 could lead to racial profiling. "People with the last name Roberts, Romney, or Brewer" probably won't be targeted, "but if your name is something like Gutierrez or Chung or Obama, watch out," one Democratic lawmaker told CNN.

So what can drivers expect if they're pulled over in Arizona?

Judge Orders Utah Mom to Cut Daughter's Ponytail

A Utah mom is speaking out after a judge asked her to cut her daughter's hair in court in exchange for a lighter sentence.

In a hearing, Kaytlen Lopan, age 13, admitted that she and an unnamed 11-year-old friend befriended a three-year-old and cut several inches off her hair. She also admitted to making harassing phone calls to another teen over several months in a separate case.

Judge Scott Johansen sentenced Lopan to pay restitution to the victims, and to serve 30 days in detention and serve 276 hours of community service.

But then he made a bizarre offer to Lopan's mom, Valerie Bruno.

Husband Sues Ex-Wife Over $1M Shoe Collection

Beth Shak's ex-husband is hitting where it hurts - her shoe collection. Shak is being taken back to court over her allegedly $1 Million shoe collection. Her ex-husband claims the shoes weren't declared in their divorce three years ago.

Shak, a professional poker player, has a love of beautiful footwear and a shoe collection to match. Her closet full of designer heels and flats has appeared all over the media, including MTV Cribs.

Now her ex is claiming that she hid the collection from him and that she owes him more money in the divorce.

Immigration Decision Will Affect Other States Too

Many states have been waiting for the Supreme Court's ruling on the Arizona immigration law for direction on what they should do with their own laws.

And with the Supreme Court's recent ruling, these states now have an answer -- immigration law is a federal issue, not something for the states to legislate or penalize.

So Congress now needs to step up on immigration reform. Otherwise it's the status quo for frustrated states, reports CNN.

Health Care Ruling Could Paralyze Medicaid

The forthcoming health care ruling will have far reaching effects, including a potentially significant impact on Medicaid.

The new health care law expands Medicaid's reach and forces states to comply with those expansions or lose their federal match dollars. Obamacare would drastically alter eligibility for the program and allow more Americans to qualify for benefits, according to The Washington Post.

It's worth taking a second here to review some federal benefits vocabulary.

Facebook Not For Serving Lawsuits, Judges Say

Some lawyers at Chase Bank must of thought themselves pretty clever when they came up with the idea to serve papers on Facebook to a particularly hard to find adversary.

But not so fast, said a federal judge.

While everyone and their grandmom may be on Facebook, U.S. District Judge John Keenan found that the world was still not ready for Facebook as a place where someone could be slapped with their legal papers, reports CNET.

Could Bullied Bus Monitor File Suit?

New York bus monitor Karen Klein caught the nation's attention when she was bullied by a group of middle schoolers. So far, the 68-year-old grandma is not considering a lawsuit against her attackers even though the harassment and bullying she endured would likely entitle her to pursue charges.

A video of the incident shows four middle school boys harassing Klein, calling her names and insulting her. At one point in the video, she cries as a result of the abuse, but she never lashes out at the boys.

As sad as the incident is, the public support for Klein has been heart-warming.

Sex Offender Law to Require Facebook Status Update

Facebook already bans sex offenders but a new law in Louisiana may help them enforce that policy. The law, which goes into effect August 1, requires sex offenders and child predators to identify themselves on social networking sites.

Major social networking site try to remove profiles belonging to registered sex offenders and some of them forbid sex offenders from registering at all. But with the high number of users, it's possible that some will slip through the cracks.

Louisiana's new law not only requires sex offenders to self-identity, it allows the public to identify them in return.

Latinos Targeted by FL Voter Purge, Lawsuits Say

Advocacy groups are claiming voter discrimination in Florida's push to remove noncitizens from voting records. The state is facing lawsuits from both the federal government and voter advocacy groups for its attempt to remove noncitizens from its voting registration records.

Florida isn't under fire for ensuring that noncitizens don't vote. It's the method they're employing that is raising eyebrows.

GlaxoSmithKline's drug representatives are "salesmen" who aren't entitled to overtime pay, the U.S. Supreme Court has held in a 5-4 decision.

The Glaxo overtime ruling affects about 90,000 drug company representatives who visit doctor's offices to make pitches for their company's drugs, The Washington Post reports. Pharmaceutical companies can now save billions of dollars a year by not paying overtime to sales reps.

The Court's ruling turned on whether a drug company representative should be considered an "outside salesman" under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act -- a question that divided the Court.

What is Executive Privilege?

What is executive privilege? President Barack Obama is asserting executive privilege as a House committee investigates a Justice Department gun-tracking program called Fast and Furious, the Los Angeles Times reports.

Executive privilege is the president's right to keep information confidential. It's typically invoked because of national security concerns, or because disclosure would be contrary to the interests of the executive branch.

The president's right to assert executive privilege is actually not explicitly stated in the Constitution. So where does this privilege come from?

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder should be held in contempt of Congress, a House committee asserted in a party-line vote. The contempt resolution now moves to the full House for consideration, USA Today reports.

The committee's 23-17 contempt vote came after Holder refused to comply with a subpoena seeking documents related to a controversial Justice Department gun-tracking program called Fast and Furious. Hours earlier, President Obama had asserted executive privilege to keep the documents confidential.

So what is contempt of Congress, and how is it different than contempt of court?

5 Hardest Countries for Americans to Get a Visa

With adventure tours that take you to pretty much every country that you can imagine, the days of impressing your friends with a safari vacation in Africa or visiting the Coliseum in Rome are over.

Instead, average Joes are now starting to go to Antarctica, climb Mt. Everest, and rekindle their spirituality in Israel.

Still, not every door is open. There are some countries that make it very difficult for Americans to enter. Here is our list of the five hardest countries for Americans to get a tourist visa.

Texas Teacher Has 24 Kindergarteners Hit Bully

It's not often that teachers are bullying students but that's exactly what happened at Salinas Elementary School near San Antonio, Texas.

A kindergarten teacher sought help from a more experienced coworker on disciplining a perceived bully. Rather than suggesting the teacher contact his parents or speak to Aiden, age 6, about his behavior, she gave an unorthodox suggestion.

Have the other students hit him to "teach him why bullying is bad."

Needless to say, this didn't go over very well with Aiden's mother, Amy Neely.

School Stripped Boy, 8, Forcibly Bathed Him

Peaster school district outside Fort Worth Texas forced a student to shower at school, according to charges filed by the boy's parents.

The eight-year-old student was allegedly taken out of his third grade class and brought to the nurses' office. He was forced to remove his clothes in front of school officials and take a shower.

Michael and Amber Tilley, the boy's parents, are suing Peaster school district for what they view as completely unwarranted and inappropriate actions by school officials.

If the specific allegations listed in the complaint are true, the behavior of Peaster school officials is shocking.

The 10 Worst Cities for Renters

If you know anything about economics, you'll know that when the real estate market tumbles, the renter's market skyrockets.

Unless your credit score falls closer to 800 than 700, you could have a hard time getting a mortgage. Banks and homebuyers got burned in the 2008 real estate bubble, and they're trying to avoid that mistake again by only giving out loans to the most qualified.

What that means for everyone else is that the rents have surged. But when you pay your monthly rent, just be thankful you don't live in one of these top 10 worst cities for renters, as compiled by Forbes.

Rodney King's autopsy will include toxicology tests to help determine what caused King's death, which police believe was an accidental drowning.

King's fiancée called 911 when she found him at the bottom of his small backyard swimming pool in Rialto, Calif., about 5 a.m. Sunday, the Los Angeles Times reports. Rescuers pulled King's lifeless body from the pool, and he was declared dead at a hospital. Rodney King was 47 years old.

King, the face of the Los Angeles race riots some 20 years ago, had struggled for years with drug and alcohol abuse, police found no alcohol or drug paraphernalia near the pool, Fox News reports.

$1,000 Fine For Not Mowing Your Lawn

There are now a thousand reasons to fix your lawn mower.

In this depressed real estate market, sellers need granite countertops and new stainless steel appliances just to compete. And sellers better hope they live on a street with white picket fences and ornate gardens to obtain fair market value.

But what happens if you have neighbors who just refuse to tidy up their lawn? A town in New York thinks it found the solution with a lawn mowing fine.

Stand Your Ground Insurance for NRA Members Only

Stand your ground insurance. Have some peace of mind when you kill someone in a homicidal act of self defense.

NRA members receive all sorts of perks and benefits including the exclusive right to purchase insurance for killing someone.

That's right, for $165, you will insure yourself if you kill someone in a perceived act of self defense. So what exactly do you get for your money?

Hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants who entered the United States as young children no longer face deportation, and will soon be able to apply for work permits under new rules announced Friday.

"These are people who study in our schools, play in our neighborhoods, ... pledge allegiance to our flag," President Barack Obama said at a White House event trumpeting the rule changes. "They are Americans in their hearts, in their minds, in every single way but one: on paper."

The policy change comes as President Obama and GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney campaign for Latino and minority votes ahead of November's election.

But not all young illegal immigrants will be eligible under the new plan.

Even speed limits are bigger in Texas. Or at least they could be, as the state ponders posting an 85 mph limit for a new freeway that would be the highest speed limit in the nation -- not to mention the Western Hemisphere.

Texas State Highway 130 is under construction between San Antonio and Austin, the state capital. Once it's finished, transportation planners hope drivers will take Highway 130, a toll road, instead of Interstate 35, one of the Lone Star State's most congested freeways.

A proposed 85 mph speed limit on Highway 130 would offer a speedier option for drivers sick of I-35's gridlock. But not so fast, critics contend.

Homeless Man Can Keep $77K He Found by River

If you're looking to improve your luck, you may want to seek out Timothy Yost. This homeless Texas man recently found a large sum of money - while walking through the park.

Yost found a bag partially buried near the Colorado River in a park in Bastrop, Texas. When he kicked it, he realized it was full of money, almost $77,000 in various currency.

But for the last few months it wasn't clear if the city would let him keep the money.

This seems unheard of: One of the nation's largest insurers going above and beyond what they have to do.

But that's exactly what UnitedHealth Group announced they planned to do.

It's a rather timely announcement. The Affordable Care Act is under attack, and the Supreme Court of the United States is expected to rule on the validity of this law later this month.

More new dads are taking advantage of paternity-leave benefits and laws where available, but it’s still not an option for all men in the United States.

At companies where paternity leave is available, nearly six in 10 new fathers used the benefit, according to a 2007 survey by career website So if you’re a new dad, how do you know if you’re eligible?

In general, look to these three sources to determine if you get paternity leave:

North Dakota Property Tax Will Not Die

North Dakota voters opted to keep the state's property tax system intact this election in spite of the outspoken support in favor of abolishing it.

Local and national news sources brought attention to the measure which early polls indicated was a long shot to pass. While most North Dakotans opposed abandoning property taxes, a vocal minority kept the measure in the public eye right up to the vote on Tuesday.

Being the first state to ditch property taxes would make a great headline, but the legal implications for North Dakota might have made them wish for a do-over.

U.S. Commerce Secretary John Bryson is taking an immediate medical leave of absence to focus on "resolving" health issues after two car crashes in California, Reuters reports.

Bryson, 68, was found unconscious behind the wheel after he allegedly crashed three times into two cars within a five-minute span in suburban Los Angeles on Saturday. A Commerce Department spokeswoman said Bryson suffered a seizure.

It's not clear how long Bryson's medical leave will last. But in general, federal law may protect a worker's job when he takes a medical leave of absence.

No %#&$? Mass. Town Imposes $20 Swearing Fine

One has to wonder just how bad the cursing was in the small Massachusetts town of Middleborough to prompt residents to pass an ordinance imposing a $20 swearing fine.

The small town of about 20,000 residents is near Plymouth in pilgrim country. It's perhaps best known for its cranberry bogs. Perhaps it was well known for its potty mouths too?

Well, now we'll never know.

Driving while rocking out to your favorite tunes is perfectly legal when you’re blasting your car stereo. But is it illegal to drive with headphones or earbuds?

Using headphones or earbuds behind the wheel may seem safe — after all, you’re technically complying with all those “hands-free” laws that keep popping up in more states and local jurisdictions nationwide. Right?

Well, it depends where you’re driving. Some states specifically cite safety concerns in making it illegal to drive with headphones or earbuds — while laws in other states are much more hands-off. Here’s a brief summary of those laws:

5 Things to Know to Avoid Being Called a 'Deadbeat Dad'

There's probably no worse position as a parent than being called a "deadbeat dad."

If you have children who are not living with you, you may have an order requiring paying child support. To ensure that you avoid that "deadbeat dad" moniker, here are five things that you should know:

U.S. Commerce Secretary John Bryson was cited for felony hit and run in a series of crashes Saturday that his agency blamed on seizures.

Bryson, 68, was driving a Lexus in Los Angeles and allegedly rear-ended a Buick that was stopped at a railroad crossing about 5 p.m., the Los Angeles Times reports. Bryson was alone in the vehicle.

Bryson spoke briefly with the men in the Buick, but then allegedly left the scene — crashing into the Buick a second time as he drove away, investigators told the Times.

Those bright bluish-looking headlights in your rearview mirror may be from a high-end luxury car that came equipped with such lights. But they may also be a sign of an aftermarket modification that's technically illegal, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says.

Federal customs agents have seized millions of dollars' worth of shipments of high-intensity discharge (HID) conversion kits since 2009 because the kits fail to meet federal standards, according to the Specialty Equipment Market Association, a trade group that represents motor-vehicle aftermarket companies.

What federal standards are at issue? The answer gets a bit complicated, but a series of NHTSA letters to consumers has shed some light on the topic.

Where Should You File for Divorce?

Where should you file for divorce? This question might be important to those looking to end their marriage. Oftentimes, a state's divorce residency requirements may come into play.

Where you choose to file is important. The state or superior court you file in will hold jurisdiction over any residual issues. This can include issues related to child custody, child support, or future amendments to these agreements.

So it's important to file in a convenient jurisdiction. You wouldn't want to be forced to make a far trek to a different state whenever issues crop up.

Can Doctor-Patient Confidentiality Be Broken?

You might have heard the phrase "doctor-patient confidentiality" or "physician-patient confidentiality" tossed around on some of your favorite television shows like Law & Order or CSI.

But, like most things on television, what you see isn't exactly reality.

Doctor-patient confidentiality doesn't necessarily mean you can go and spill your guts to your physician with the assurance your secrets will never come to light. It's not an absolute right.

What does this mean exactly? This means that there are times when your right to confidentiality might be overridden.

Can You Lose U.S. Citizenship?

As the 2012 presidential election nears, there's little doubt that some members of the populace will begin making plans to leave the country should their preferred candidate lose. These threats -- or jokes -- have become common election fodder over the past decade, yet few understand just what is involved in abandoning one's U.S. citizenship.

Though you can't involuntarily be stripped of your citizenship, you can still lose citizenship should you engage in specific types of behavior. And for those who choose to renounce their U.S. citizenship, it's irrevocable and very difficult to resume. Let us explain.

My Workplace is Filthy. Should I Call OSHA?

Most employers strive to keep their offices clean and safe. Others, not so much. If your boss won't do anything about your filthy workplace, a call to OSHA may be what's needed to get them to act.

The Occupational Safety and Health Act is a federal law that requires employers to maintain safe and clean workplaces. The law is enforced by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. OSHA regulations apply to all states and failure to comply can result in fines, imprisonment, or both.

But there are some caveats. OSHA's protections only go so far. So depending on how dirty your office is, you may or may not get any relief.

San Francisco will soon be the first U.S. city to extend the right to free counsel to civil cases in a year-long pilot program, the San Francisco Examiner reports.

A defendant’s right to counsel currently applies to criminal cases nationwide, thanks to a 1963 U.S. Supreme Court decision. It’s described when a criminal suspect is read his rights: “You have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed for you.”

Soon the right will also extend to civil cases in San Francisco, including domestic violence, child-custody, and eviction cases, the Examiner reports. But not everyone will get a free lawyer.

Should Facebook be Able to Friend Children?

Guest post by Jennifer K. Halford, Esq.

Parents are worried about their children's safety on the internet. And for good reason.

Facebook currently prohibits children under the age of 13 from using its site. But children are smart enough to know how to lie about their age to gain access.

Facebook's general prohibition keeps it from having to comply with the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) mandate that parental consent be obtained prior to collecting personal information from a child under the age of 13.

But according to the Associated Press, there are an estimated 7.5 million children under the age of 13 on Facebook. And those children can give personal information on their profiles without parental consent.

Neiman Marcus Sued for Not Refunding Purchases

Shopping never looked more scandalous. A woman has filed a lawsuit against Neiman Marcus after the luxury store refused to take back $1.4 million worth of merchandise.

Patricia Walker was showered with gifts from her then-husband Robert Tennison. Walker was bedridden at the time after surviving a car accident in 2007, ABC News reports. Tennison allegedly made the purchases at the retailer's Dallas location using Walker's account.

Unfortunately, Tennison was also reportedly carrying on an affair with Walker's Neiman Marcus personal shopper, Favi Lo. Walker wasn't aware of it until later. So why wouldn't the chain take the purchases back?

Student loan debts topped a record $1 trillion in 2011, and even filing for bankruptcy generally won't get a student loan debt discharged. That is, unless a student can prove "undue hardship" in repaying the loan -- a standard that's "almost impossible to meet," USA Today reports.

In the past month, however, cases involving two former college students have successfully used the "undue hardship" argument, resulting in the discharge of student loans totaling nearly $400,000.

In a May 1 decision, a bankruptcy judge in Maryland discharged a law school dropout's student-loan debt because of the woman's severe autism.

5 Sneaky Ways Your Neighbors Can Hurt You

Neighbors can be the greatest people in the world, or they can be your worst enemies. But the reality is that most neighbors fall somewhere in between -- yes, even if you think you love them.

There are dozens of ways your neighbors can hurt you or your property value without ever letting it be known. That's not even including the usual ways, such as noise and failing to maintain their homes. Consider the following five examples.

What is a Fault Divorce?

What's the difference between a fault divorce and a no-fault divorce?

Sometimes you don't necessarily need a reason to get divorced. After decades of marriage, sometimes even the sight of your spouse's face can ignite an inexplicable feeling of rage. It's not that your significant other cheated on you or abused you. Your irritation is simply the result of years of quiet resentment.

Enter the no-fault divorce. Many Americans have heard of the term, but aren't sure what it means. Some states also recognize fault divorce. What are some key differences -- and are there benefits for filing for one over the other?

Unemployment benefits are ending sooner than expected for nearly half a million Americans, a result of actions by Congress and by state lawmakers across the country.

Congress in February renewed an extension of federal unemployment benefits, which supplement state funds for the unemployed, until the end of 2012. But the renewal also cut back the duration of federal aid, and made it more difficult for states to get the maximum amount of aid, The New York Times reports.

As a result, 23 states have lost as much as five months' worth of federal unemployment benefits, according to The Times. About 70,000 jobless will get their final unemployment checks in June, according to the National Employment Law Project.