Ind. Legislative Action Not Involving the You-Know-What Amendment

Vapor doesn’t have the lung cancer-causing impact of cigarettes because–wait for it–they aren’t cigarettes.

Just in case you were wondering, there are a few things going on in the Indiana General Assembly that have nothing to do with HJR 3, the Resolution formerly known as HJR 6.  Here, in no particular order, are some goings on under the dome.


Bill: HB 1141
Boring Name: Methamphetamine Lab Disclosures in Property Sales House List.
Fun Name: Meth House. (♪It’s a meth . . . house. It’s mighty-mighty. Just letting it all hang out.♪)

Summary: If any house is used for meth-manufacturing purposes, it would go on a list maintained by the state police. It comes off the list 90 days after it is declared clean. The law also requires homeowners to disclose if a property has been used to manufacture meth.

What’s good: Presumably nobody wants to buy a house that has undiscovered anhydrous ammonia in the spare bedroom closet just waiting for a chance freeze your appendages off.

What’s not-so-good: It seems duplicative or unnecessary.  The State already licenses home inspectors.  Couldn’t consumers start to demand that a meth-house check be part of an adequate home inspection?  Couldn’t banks that finance home purchases demand that title searches–which already search for judgments in various databases–also inquire with law enforcement about any manufacturing history?  Of course.  If the market already demands something, and there are no legal prohibitions to providing it, the market tends to get what it wants.  This well-intentioned bill will create another special inspector. And in a housing market that needs to decrease transaction costs, this will have the opposite effect–making it more difficult to buy and sell houses, particularly in rural and poor urban neighborhoods.  Even property with zero contamination will not be sold until someone has paid the costs of an inspection.

StatehouseBill: HB 1174
Boring Name: Taxation of Electronic Cigarettes
Fun Name: If it Quacks Like a Duck, Tax it Like a Duck.

Summary: Vapor-producing machines, commonly called “electronic cigarettes” would be taxed just like cigarettes.

What’s good: This is the closest Indiana has come since it’s controversial state-wide smoking ban to showing respect for smokers, of sorts, in that it promises to tax them at the same level once they become former smokers. Ah, parity.

What’s not-so-good: Whatever one’s reaction to the word “tax,” taxing goods to raise revenue is at least logical. Taxing behavior to offset the state’s costs of cleaning up after that behavior is also logical.  This tax is neither. About 2.5 million people in the entire country use e-cigarettes, and even assuming Indiana’s trends are equal to the entire country, that’s just over 50,000 people in Indiana using vapor machines. So a few bucks a month from a population roughly the size of Elkhart Indiana is hardly a budget-saving measure. Nor can the state be jumping in to protect consumers from health dangers of water vapor, unless dumber-than-dirt teens are putting their faces over boiling pans of water hoping to “ride the vape” high. On second thought, give it time.  That’ll probably happen.

Instead, this measure seems designed to keep the perceived competitor (e-cigs) from having a significant cost advantage over conventional cigarettes because its customers would otherwise not have to pay taxes.  Vapor pens are what economists call “substitute goods” which are a natural part of how markets respond to innovation. Vapor doesn’t have the lung cancer-causing impact of cigarettes because–wait for it–they aren’t cigarettes. They don’t contain tobacco. Come on, why should a little thing like not actually being cigarettes stop them from being taxed like cigarettes?  Right. That’s a bit like taxing bicycles like cars just because someone might choose to ride a bike to work instead of driving.  Nevermind that bicycles don’t cause potholes, and don’t pollute.  They commit a greater sin.  They compete.

On July 1, 2012, when Indiana relegated smoking to private homes, clubs, outdoors (sometimes) and at least 8 feet from every door in the state, we were told that public health was paramount.  Apparently, that concern does not extend to the state’s tax policy, as taxing vapor machines will create a completely artificial disincentive to those trying to kick the habit. Dear Hoosier Health Crusaders: You’ll have to speak louder. I can’t hear you over these these crickets.

Bill: HB 1351
Boring Name: Welfare matters; drug testing.
Fun Name: Keep a stash, get no cash.

Summary: Some TANF recipients would be required to undergo drug testing.  Those who fail the tests could risk losing benefits if they refuse to seek treatment for addictions.  Those supporting the law believe it will weed out (pun intended) drug users from the deserving welfare recipients.  Opponents claim that the costs will exceed the savings achieved.

What’s good: Someone is still willing to put it in writing that using drugs is bad.  And paying people to use drugs is idiocy.

What’s not-so good: While I’m not sure the “this experiment has failed in other states” criticism takes the deterrent effect into account, it is not hard to imagine that the costs of drug testing would exceed the benefits that can be measured.  Instead of creating a new program, we should find a way to use metrics already known and inexpensively gathered, like drug convictions, serving as a basis to limit or monitor benefits.

UPDATE:  As if reading my mind, I noticed today that the bill has been amended to include only those with drug convictions within the prior 10 years.  Probably to lower costs.

Bill: SB 101
Boring Name: Agriculture Operations and Criminal Trespass
Fun Name: Ag Gag

Summary: Undercover videotaping of farm activities would be a crime.  Recent changes limit the crime to situations in which a trespasser causes property damage.

What’s good: Protection of private property, though last year’s version had more teeth.

What’s not-so-good: The limitation of the crime to incidents that have caused property damage seems to effectively gut this bill.  It’s already a crime to cause property damage.  And it’s already a crime to trespass.  Surely creating a new category of crime by doing them both at the same time is a not a net benefit.

Bill: HB 1143
Boring Name: Environmental Rules and Standards
Fun Name: The IDEM Leash

Summary: Prohibits the Indiana Department of Environmental Management from adopting any rule or standard that is more stringent what its federal equivalent.

What’s good: Consistency.  While Indiana can’t prevent the feds from doing anything, it can give businesses and individuals some predictability in knowing that IDEM’s rules won’t be more restrictive than their federal counterparts.

What’s not-so-good: If this becomes law, expect significant litigation.  Interest groups will parse the shades of meaning in the ample volumes of federal environmental regulation to fight over what is or is not more restrictive than the fed’s version.

So Is it Harder or Easier to Buy a Gun Now? Answer: Yes

The New York Times published an interesting article yesterday detailing the results of the approximately 1500 new gun-related bills that have been proposed in states in the past twelve months, or as the Times measures it, “since Newtown.”  Only 109 such bills were signed into law.  While that might not seem like many, it’s slightly higher than the average 5% chance of a bill has of becoming law.

Aside from being a good example of why graphic-friendly, statistical-based news articles just work better online, it’s a pretty even-handed piece for the Times. The article divides the legislation into two camps: laws that “tighten” gun restrictions and those that “loosen” them.  However, like a cartographer flatening a globe into a map, the result of separating legislation into two simple categories can be a bit distorting.

iStock_000016146459SmallThough the only reference the Times makes is Newtown, I think the tapestry of state legislation reveals two motivations, which are not at odds, but are working simultaneously.  First, there is the post-Sandy Hook reaction.  It is revealed in the laws of at least 15 states which made it harder for the mentally ill to obtain handguns, either by increasing some form of reporting requirements from the mental health community, or by releasing mental health records into criminal databases, or both.  Also, the 6 states that passed so-called “assault” weapons laws probably did so largely in response to Sandy Hook.

The second motivation is likely a longer trend of protection of lawful gun ownership. These laws include authorizing more offices to issue permits, making handgun permit records confidential, and allowing concealed firearms in more locations.  Ever since District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U.S. 570 (2008), in which the Supreme Court definitively held that the second amendment conveyed a personal right to use of a firearm for lawful purposes, and its 2010 sibling, McDonnell v. Chicago, 561 U.S. 3025 (2010), voters have become more aware the breadth of anti-gun legislation.  Add to this the Obama administration’s use of agencies as disparate as the EPA and OSHA to effectively curtail the availability of guns and ammunition, and voters collectively started to take notice.

The Times suggests a certain inconsistency in the data.  But states are the laboratory of ideas, and most labs have many experiments running at the same time.

What You Can’t Say Can Hurt You: How Talking Politics Became the First Amendment’s Red-Headed Stepchild.

A Millennial is someone who reached young adulthood around the year 2000.  Someone who has only a vague notion that Will Smith used to be something before he was an actor, and who types into a phone more than he talks into one.  Youth tends to have myopia when it comes to comparing history and recent history, because the lenses aren’t that far apart yet.

If you ask a Millennial about the history of political speech, he’s liable to have a distorted view. He might believe that before his time, politicians never engaged in personal attacks.  Or that the era of Lincoln-Douglas debates occurred long before “big money” supposedly corrupted the political system. He might even believe that the Founding Fathers viewed political expression as a crass but necessary evil of the First Amendment, valuing instead avant-garde fine arts and personal expression as the end-all-be-all of freedom of speech.

Of course, as evidenced by dub step music and organic foods, the average Millennial probably has Nutella® for brains.

RushmoreThe truth is that old school politicians slung political mud in ways that would make James Carville blush.  For instance, backers of John Quincy Adams’s re-election campaign of 1828, eschewed the gentlemanly image of 19th Century society in favor of the simpler, “His wife’s a bigamist and his mother’s a whore,” approach. Likewise, spending in politics has never been a non-issue.  Although Lincoln nearly bankrupted himself spending on his own campaign, he also pooled his money with that of many wealthy supporters.

But perhaps the most hazardous misconception about politics and free speech is that elections, once driven by ideas, are now easily and pervasively manipulated by money.  The electorate used to be skeptical of the influence the wealthy might have on politicians.  That sort of eyebrow-raising can be healthy, even useful. But aimless skepticism leads to cynicism.  Now The Voter believes The Voter himself is untrustworthy, so gullible as to pull the lever for the candidate with the slickest campaign ad, or the best celebrity endorsement.

In a misguided effort to “level the playing field” between candidates, campaign finance laws sought to root out the perceived evil of one person spending too much on a candidate’s campaign.  Since all campaigns are about ideas–personalities notwithstanding–any restriction on campaign spending is necessarily a restriction on speech.

The Squeeze is On

Restricting an individual’s ability to spend money in support of a political candidate is relatively recent. While early campaign finance reform began with prohibiting corporations (Tillman Act, 1907), and then unions (Taft-Harley Act, 1947) from donating directly to campaigns, and enacted disclosure requirements (Federal Corrupt Practices Act of 1925), these did not cap gifts from individuals. But the reformers simply could not contain themselves.  Primary elections, which by definition are an internal mechanization of a political party, soon fell under the implausibly long arm of Congressional control (Hatch Act, 1939, amended 1940).  Despite all of this litigation, the Federal Election Commission’s “Thirty Year Report,” issued in 2005, summarized these attempts as naive and ineffective for not creating “an institutional framework” that would administer and enforce campaign finance provisions effectively.

Q:    Wait, what?  You mean all the years since 1907 Congress just forgot to pass the part of the law that allowed enforcement?

A:    Um, yes.  That’s right.  Silly early 20th-Century folks. Too concerned with Prohibition, I expect.

Q:    What about the Justice Department, the U.S. Attorneys, federal district courts?  I’m pretty sure they would’ve been able to enforce those laws.

A:    Don’t be obtuse.  Every right-thinking person knows that there’s no point in passing federal legislation without a system of well-educated experts to monitor citizens.

Q:    Sounds more like the FEC trying to justify its budget if you ask me.

A:    Look, a squirrel!

Not until the post-Watergate era did Congress create the Federal Election Commission, originally charged with enforcing the 1971 Federal Election Campaign Act.   The FECA was important because for the first time it limited spending, rather than just requiring reporting of expenditures and limiting donations from certain sources.

PAC-Man Fever

The FECA created Political Action Committees, or PACs.  It allowed corporations and labor unions (but mostly labor unions) to create separate funds consisting of voluntary contributions (and some not-so-voluntary) from individuals, which could then be donated to a campaign.  Some opponents of free-flowing speech in politics criticized the PACs for being puppets of their corporate or big labor masters.  In a sense, this was true.  But it was also inevitable. If voluntary contributors to a PAC, such as shareholders, also ran a corporation, the two entities would have had many shared goals.

During the 80s and 90s, the media portrayed PAC spending as a corrupting evil to grass roots politics.  It seemed that the political voice of an individual was sacred, but when pooled collectively and expressed with the force of thousands or millions, the opinions became tainted and ugly. Whether on a particular issue–abortion, gun control, whether ketchup is a vegetable–or for a particular group–the Moral Majority, retirees, the Friends of William “The Refrigerator” Perry–a hideous monster arose from the operating table of populism.  It was even given a name: special interest. Even today, this label is the near-perfect smear for the other guy’s opinion.  It reeks of Abramoff-style lobbying, inappropriate influence, and the mythical smoke-filled back room where the old boys network still runs the show.  It’s the all-in-one villifying tool that no political hack, press secretary, or talking head can live without.  It’s also a lie.

Be careful…if you accidentally spell “Benghazi” 30 days before the general election, you’re probably going to jail.

Opinions are not invalid because they are expressed collectively–sung from a choir, as it were, instead of by soloists. We should have learned from the PAC experience that trying to categorize political speech by its method of delivery (individual or collective) is foolish.  We should have looked at our hole card, and folded.  We should have finally stepped away from gambling with free speech, chalked the FEC up to one of those (many) post-Watergate overreactions.  We should have walked away.

Unfortunately, we doubled down.  And now Millennials may never think it’s strange that they can spend $12,000 on the World’s Largest Scrabble Board, but if they give more than $2,600 to support a political candidate they are breaking the law.  They may live their entire lives thinking that the Founding Fathers really went to the mat for the First Amendment rights of Robert Mapplethorpe “art” depicting a crucifix dipped in urine, but that television advertisements which actually influence–gasp!–someone’s vote are somehow an unseemly perversion of free speech.

We have a lot of work to do.


Next time: Why campaign spending matters for Millennials, Citizens United, and a guy named Ed.

Playing the Man Card

A recent Wall Street Journal piece spotlighted the growing trend of family law attorneys who market themselves to just one-half of the market for divorce attorneys: Men.  Doing so reinforces the perception that family courts are not a friendly habitat for those with Y chromosomes. That’s not good.  Of course, the fact that such a perception is rampant is a problem in itself.

Although I am in the process of winding down my family law practice to make room for growth in municipal, appellate and estate law, our firm’s associate attorney is still heavily involved in domestic litigation.  With 15 years as a law clerk and attorney, I can attest that the attitude of disenchantment with the courts is more common among men than women.

“The system is rigged against Dads.”

“Men do not get a fair shake in the courts.”

“Courts always side with the Wife.”

As someone who have seen both favorable and unfavorable outcomes for men, I cringe at these statements.  Mostly because the alleged bias is not consistent with my own experience. But also because courts and lawyers have much work to do if the perception is still so common.

Are family courts biased against men?

But court statistics are notoriously difficult to quantify.  Who “won” a divorce depends on what was requested, what evidence was presented, what the other side’s desires were, and a hundred other factors.  When I was speaking at a local school once, I took some Q and A from the 8th or 9th graders.  One of the students asked me, “What’s your win rate?”   Not having twenty minutes to detail the misconceptions inherent in the question, I shot back, “One hundred per cent.  Every time I have a client who asked the court for a divorce, the client got one.”

The System

There are two reasons the phrase “the system” even exists.  The first is laziness.  The second is ignorance.  In my mind my car has an “exhaust system” perhaps because I am too lazy to study up on what a catalytic converter does exactly.  Or, maybe I use the vague phrase “system” because I decide that the time spent learning about my car could be better served learning about the law.  Or watching Burn Notice.

Whatever the individual choice, it’s natural to lump the unknowns into a pile.  Forming categories helps the brain operate.  By explaining my car’s problem as a malfunction in the exhaust “system”, my mechanic provides me with some specifics, but doesn’t waste his time–and mine–providing details that I can’t understand.

The same is true of the law.  To someone familiar with the family court system, there are distinct and important moving parts: the family court judge, the bailiff, the court clerk, the court reporter, the Sheriff’s deputy, the mediator, the family counselor, the child counselor, the volunteer child advocate, the guardian ad litem, the child custody evaluator, and the other attorneys.  They each have a different role, a different interest, and different protocols.  To Tom the mechanic, however, it’s “the system.”  It is a giant dysfunctional blob of people mindlessly pushing papers and making excuses as to why Tom can’t get what he wants.  He might want to keep his pension, to keep his house, to see his kids more, or to live in peace.  If any cog in this wheel does not work, he has neither the time nor experience to fix it–nor should he, as a mechanic.  He sees only that the system is malfunctioning.

A Teachable Moment

The best response to someone frustrated at “the system” is an offer to educate.  I tend to be less frustrated when I understand why something does not work.  And even less frustrated if I can fix it.  That being said, there are a few reasons why these perceptions persist.

Invariably, the “system is broken” crowd draw their opinions from anecdotal evidence: a brother, a cousin, a guy from work.  To a sympathetic ear, these folks all had bad experiences and that means the system is broken.  But business schools and online reputation defenders love to remind us that while a satisfied customer will tell one person about a business, a dissatisfied customer will tell six people.  So the brother, cousin and guy from work are going to grouse about their outcomes more than the man who quietly reaches an amicable settlement with his spouse during a divorce.  Misery loves company.  But sad resignation to a failed marriage just sighs and moves on–it doesn’t rent a megaphone.

Part of all education is empowerment.  The biggest mistake that most family law litigants make is assuming the “system” divorces them.  But if parents and spouses believe the path is predetermined and beyond their control, it is no wonder legal struggles are analogized to a roller coaster.  Stepping into the cart, being strapped down and having someone else flip the lever to send the rider through loops and valleys until vomiting ensues. . . no wonder it causes anxiety.  But it causes passivity, too, and that leads to helplessness.

The truth is that parents and spouses divorce each other.  The legal system is a boundary, not a path. With some exceptions, courts allow the parties a great deal of freedom to craft their own agreements.  I have never seen a judge claim to have a better plan than the parties themselves.  Spouses enduring family law cases do themselves no favors by making broad generalizations.

Due Process and Don’t Process

I’ve written before about small claims court.  Lawyers don’t get into small claims court often, but I have to confess that I find it fascinating.  Big boy court is expensive enough that it naturally filters out smaller disputes.  But in the small claims world, the unfiltered view can be enlightening.

Small claims courts are simpler by design. By suspending normal rules of evidence, the law allows judges more freedom to ask their own questions.  The judge’s experience typically allows for sorting issues quickly.  Most issues, even in the illumination of small claims court, are not new. The judge has probably seen it before and often knows what each side will say before he says it.

Who makes small claims decisions? The judge, the court reporter, or somebody–wait, is that Alfred Hitchcock?

But the judge still has to show up.  In Reynolds v. Capps, a May 23, 2012 Indiana Court of Appeals case, the Court chastised the trial judge for the practice of apparently allowing the court reporter to conduct court in his absence.  The Reynolds case was an eviction and request for damages–pretty run-of-the-mill stuff. Indiana has a special law that allows a landlord to allege that he shouldn’t have to wait until the whole case is over to get the tenant out, but that law also allows a tenant to oppose the landlord’s request for immediate possession before the court decides it.

At an “Initial Hearing” both the landlord (Capps) and tenant (Reynolds) showed up, and according to the Court of Appeals, some Constitutionally-impaired hijinks ensued:

The court reporter verified the nature of the action, and the parties discussed their allegations, including Reynolds’s concerns about the condition of the premises. The court reporter repeatedly explained that evidence relating to the parties’ allegations would be heard later. In her statement of the evidence, the court reporter explained, “I advised the parties the reason for the Initial Hearing was to set a date for the Defendant to vacate the Plaintiff’s rental property . . . .” . . . According to the court reporter, when Reynolds made statements about the problems with the apartment, the court reporter responded, “all evidence was to be heard at the trial of this matter . . . .”

(P.3). The apparent authority of the court reporter did not end when conducting the hearing, but the reporter also filled out “a pre-signed ‘INITIAL HEARING/JUDGMENT ORDER’ form requiring [tenant] Reynolds to vacate the premises.”  So, not only was the judge not present at the hearing, the court reporter walked in with the judge’s decision already made. The tenant was getting kicked out.  No presentation of evidence, no chance to argue her case–just get out.

This is bad.  Look, I’m no technocrat. I believe that the rules that govern court procedure should be used to clarify and not stifle the evidence.  Courts have difficult caseloads and finding ways to streamline the process is good for judges, litigants, and taxpayers.  But at the risk of sounding picky, courts really do need to hear actual evidence before reaching a decision. Really.

The Court of Appeals was not impressed.  It said that the lower court failed to meet the minimum due process requirements because the tenant had a right to have her side of the case heard by a judge.  Not only is a court reporter not a judge, and not authorized to make judicial decisions, the court reporter repeatedly told Reynolds that no evidence would be taken.  The Court of Appeals then gave the trial court some constructive criticism. Well, more like a judicial smackdown:

Even taking into account the informality of the small claims process, if the hearings on evictions are regularly conducted without a judicial officer present, we pointedly and directly express our concern and expect that situation to be remedied.

(p.6).  It is normal for court staff to help sort out the deluge of small claims cases for a judge.  I practice in a county where a court staff member talks with both parties at the small claims initial hearing to determine whether their agreement will actually require the judge’s participation.  (Surprisingly, many people come to small claims court having never attempted to resolve the dispute themselves first.)  If both sides appear and report they are still in dispute, the court staff will schedule another day for the judge to hear the case.  If only one side appears (typically the Plaintiff), the court staff will advise the judge, who can then enter a default judgment.  From what I know of surrounding counties, this process is pretty typical.

However, the Reynolds case involved (1) a meaningful decision (2) without evidence (3) made by a non-judge.  It’s unclear if the judge was condoning this as a normal small claims procedure, or whether the court reporter misunderstood her role.  Either way, in my opinion the pre-signed judicial order is never a good idea.

A Jury of Your Piers Morgan

“Oh, you’re a lawyer!  Lemme ask you somethin’. . .”

Lawyers usually respond to this statement by smiling politely, nodding, and enduring the next several minutes.  Occasionally the questions are novel.  Occasionally the talks produce business for the attorney. One question, however, is neither novel nor productive.  But that doesn’t stop nonlawyers from fantasizing about getting the inside scoop from a practicing attorney:

“What’s the best way to get out of jury duty?”

I think I get asked this question about twice a year.  I always find it a bit puzzling why, somewhere within the mind of this inquisitive soul, a lawyer is the best person to ask.  An attorney’s job depends upon jury duty.  Even legal matters that rarely see the inside of a courtroom often depend on how juries would react if the case were presented to a jury.  In that sense, it’s like asking a chef the best way to get a free meal at his restaurant, or a police officer the best way to avoid a speeding ticket.  Imagine this exchange:

Inquisitive Soul:    Excuse me, soldier.  Thanks for your service, by the way, in defending our country and all.  Um, I was wondering if I could ask you a question.  I received this notice that Uncle Sam is re-instituting the draft, and I might have to join the military.  Here’s the thing, though.  I really don’t want to miss work. Do you have any idea how I could get out of it?

Soldier:        Well, sir, I’m not sure I’m the right guy to ask.

Inquisitive Soul:    I know a guy that got out because he moved to Canada; and another who said he believed he was Abe Vigoda.  In my case, I figure I might have a chance to get out of the draft because I have a hereditary condition that completely prevents me from being able to gargle.  I know, strange, right? I’m hoping it does the trick.

Soldier:       I’m going to punch you in the face now, Sir.

Twitter: @abevigoda
Stop "Fish"-ing for Excuses to get out of jury duty.

So why would someone want to know how to best avoid a simple civic responsibility that helps buttress society against the imminent threat of despotism and tyranny and for which the founding fathers bled and died?  Alright, that’s overselling it a bit.  Still, while it’s hard to imagine that jury duty is as critical to the continued existence of the republic as a standing military in a time of war, neither was it the embodiment of bureaucratic evil that it has become today.

Jury duty has been both over-glamorized and unduly feared.  It is unlikely to land you a book deal or an interview with a real life reporter (or Nancy Grace).  Your chances of being the center of the CNN bubble for a news cycle are slim.  Listening to other people talk can be tedious.  You won’t be able to text or twitter while it’s going on.  Jury duty is usually devoid of the cutting edge special effects and surround sound that the American infotainment diet feeds upon.   On the other hand, most who serve on juries report a more positive experience than they had expected. Most juries are not sequestered.  Most trials take a couple of days, not a couple of months. The size of the commitment is typically not as onerous as many expect.

So serious is the recent increase in jury-dodging, that the Indiana Courts have put together a series of You Tube videos to help educate prospective jurors and encourage jury duty participation.

One last word of advice for the jury avoider at the proverbial cocktail party: the only person less likely than a lawyer to give you a good answer on how to get out of jury duty would be a judge.  Do yourself a favor and never, ever ask a judge this question.  In a recent Indiana Lawyer article, reporter Michael W. Hoskins, notes that Judge Michael Scopelitis of the St. Joseph Superior Court directed over 700 people to come to court to explain why they did not answer prospective juror questionnaires. More than 100 did not respond, and Judge Scopelitis promptly issued body attachments (essentially arrest warrants) for them.  Needless to say, judges take jury duty very seriously.

Sign of the Times

It started with No Parking signs.  Then came Fire Zone and Handicapped Parking.  All reasonable restrictions, to be sure.  Soon after, the list expanded:  Employee-of-the-Month, Tow Away Zone, Compact Car Parking, Hybrid Car Parking, Carry-Out Parking Only, Compact-Hybrid-Deathtrap Car Parking, and No Parking 6 A.M. to 9 A.M. on alternate Tuesdays except during Rosh Hashanah, etc.

Then businesses decided that multicultural was insufficient. They must be post-cultural, and remove all actual words from signs.  Particularly the English words, which surely represent an evil form of western hegemony. Men’s restrooms received only a shape.  Women’s restrooms the same.  Baby-changing stations, trash and recycling receptacles — all now relegated to a series of triangles or circles mashed together to form an amorphous personoid.  Inoffensive to be sure, but also directionless and bland.  Soon you’ll go into Starbucks to order a tall peppermint mocha by just pointing to a rhombus.

The convergence of Parking Oversign Syndrome and Business de-Anglification has produced the illegitimate offspring featured here:

"Woman with large goiter strangles small child."

I don’t really care what it means.  I suppose I resent not being able to simply read a sign.  I bemoan the ever-increasing parking restrictions of the nanny state.  But most of all, I fear that at this rate, geometry will simply run out of shapes around 2029.

If you are serious about learning more about how parking and street signs are supposed to look (and I pity you), the Manual on Uniform Control Devices is the U.S. Dept. of Transportation standard.

Brave New World: Cameras and the Local Courts

Futurists generally approach technology in one of two camps: Complete fear, certain that all new innovations are harbingers of doom; and child-like glee, with little thought of the long-term impact.  For those of us who have daily responsibilities that don’t generally include naval-gazing, technological advances must undergo a pragmatic approach: they either help us do our work or they do not.

The “Cameras in the Courtroom” debate has been around since at least the 80’s, but it is the affordability of the Internet, as opposed to complicated and more costly public access programming, that now makes broadcasts a reality.  Even Indiana’s own Court of Appeals and Supreme Court have been broadcasting oral arguments for several years.

Initial hearings in criminal cases are likely the fastest-growing segment of court-employed video conference in Indiana. As more rural counties build larger jail facilities, financial pressure often prevents expanding old jails near the courthouse.  As a consequence, jails are farther outside the county seats and video conferencing has helped many counties cut costs. In Howard County, a judge even recently attended court via video conference. Eventually, I expect Indiana courts will expand use of this technology to most non-trial matters.

I had the experience of trying something similar recently, using Skype. I had a client based out of state who was not able to come to Indiana for what was going to be a fairly simple matter, but one for which his input was important.  Although we resolved the issues without going on the record, I think that the video conferencing technology made this possible.  A video conference is more personal and interactive than a telephone; one gets a sense of the pauses, the facial expressions, and hand gestures we depend on to express ourselves. Those human elements are important in negotiations, particularly when financial issues may be secondary for the participants. 

I do have a few suggestions for participants or fellow attorneys who might use video conferencing in a professional setting.  1. Consider investing in a quality web camera and/or microphone.  Most webcams that are built-in to laptops are mediocre (and microphones are even worse) and HD webcams can be easily purchased for under $100.  I use this Microsoft version that worked quite well.  2. Like any camera that uses no flash,  consider your lighting.  Nothing looks more amateurish than extreme backlighting.  3.  Finally, consider having the remote party use headphones rather than speakers, to minimize feedback.