Entries in Laws (8)


Judge Slaps Attorneys for Alleged Porn Shakedown

Comstock/Thinkstock(LOS ANGELES) -- A federal judge has sanctioned four alleged perpetrators of a porn shakedown scheme -- all of them attorneys.

In a scathing decision, Judge Otis Wright for the central district of California earlier this week imposed sanctions against a group of lawyers who, he said, had "outmaneuvered the legal system" by figuring out a way to squeeze money from hundreds of people they accused of having illegally downloaded porn from the Internet.

The persons, rather than face the ignominy of having their porn habits made public, and lacking the resources to mount a legal self-defense, opted instead to settle with their accusers -- typically for around $4,000 per case. The result: the alleged perpetrators of the scheme, described by Wright as a "porno-trolling collective," made millions of dollars, according to Wright's May 6 order.

The four lawyers named in the case are John Steele, Paul Hansmeier, Paul Duffy, and Brett Gibbs. They routinely falsified court papers and testimony to advance their suits, the judge wrote, even using the identity of one of the lawyers' gardeners to fake documents submitted to courts. He recommended that the lawyers be disbarred for "moral turpitude" and systematically lying to the courts.

The genius of the scheme, according to Wright, was that the alleged perpetrators had "discovered the nexus of antiquated copyright laws, paralyzing social stigma, and unaffordable defense costs. They exploit this anomaly by accusing individuals of illegally downloading a single pornographic video. Then they offer to settle -- for a sum calculated to be just below the cost of a bare-bones defense."

Downloaders were accused of having failed to pay royalties due the copyright holders of the pornography, who in many cases, according to Wright, were the attorneys themselves, a fact that the lawyers worked to conceal from the courts and the defendants in the cases they filed.

"So, now," Wright writes, "copyright laws originally designed to compensate starving artists allow starving attorneys in this electronic-media era to plunder the citizenry."

A request by ABC News for further comment from Judge Wright went unanswered, as did similar requests to the accused attorneys.

The judge wrote that any resistance at all from the defendants in the porn trolling cases was swiftly met with a dismissal of the case. The lawyers were not willing or able to meet the high hurdles needed to prove in court that the people they sued had actually downloaded the porn, the judge wrote. The lawyers would simply put out their flypaper video clips on sites like Bittorent, and then file papers seeking the identities of the downloaders through IP addresses.

Star Trek references festoon Wright's order, which opens with a quote from Spock: "The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few." The trolls are rebuked for having "cloaked" their fraud in such a way as to cause Judge Wright to go "to battlestations."

In imposing his sanctions, which include punitive fees totaling more than $81,000 and a promise to report the four attorneys to their respective Bar Associations, Wright, sticking with his Star Trek analogy, warns that far more serious punishments may lie ahead:

"Though plaintiffs boldly probe the outskirts of law, the only enterprise they resemble is RICO. The federal agency eleven decks up is familiar with their prime directive and will gladly refit them for their next voyage. The Court will refer this matter to the United States Attorney for the Central District of California [and] to the Criminal Investigation Divisions of the Internal Revenue Service."

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


New Year Welcomes Oddball State Laws

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Many new, unusual state laws will take effect when the ball drops at midnight and millions of Americans ring in the New Year, including one that will limit the number of cats in a household.

Turns out 2013 will be unlucky for cat lovers in Wellington, Kan., where the city will be restricting the number of cats in a household to no more than four.  The law was put in place after 231 cats were sent to animal clinics in 2012, Wellington Police Chief Tracy Heath told the Wellington Daily News.

“Those are cats that go to the animal clinic, they’re there for the allotted time and then, unfortunately, they are euthanized,” Heath told the newspaper.

Another unusual law taking effect at midnight is Public Act 97-743 in Illinois.  This law imposes a fine of $1,000 on anyone who pops a wheelie on a motorcycle while speeding.  While this law might upset some motorcyclists, the state is now giving them a free pass to go through red lights.

Motorcycles are often not heavy enough to trigger magnetic sensors at traffic lights to inform them a vehicle has pulled up.  Motorcyclists usually have to wait for a car to pull up before the light turns green.

The new bill states that after a “reasonable” amount of time, the motorcycle could pass the red light if the coast is clear.  The law doesn’t apply to cities where the population exceeds two million people.

Illinois is also imposing a law cracking down on those who posses, sell or distribute shark fins.

Come 12:01 a.m. Tuesday in Concord, Mass., plastic bottles will be considered contraband.  Concord will be the first town in the nation to outlaw plastic bottles.

As of Jan. 1, it will be illegal to flash your headlights in Florida to warn drivers about a speeding trap set by police.

In California, more than 800 laws are about to take effect, including one that allows driverless vehicles on the road.  But a human must be present in the passenger’s seat of all computer-driven cars.

As for those Californians who are still driving, you can now whip out your proof of insurance on your smart phone if police pull you over.

Those who love deep fryers in North Carolina need to take into consideration that it’s a misdemeanor to steal unused cooking oil, according to Torbett’s Grease Law.  It’s a felony if the value of the stolen grease -- or the grease plus its container -- is worth more than $1,000.

If you want to stay out of trouble in Kentucky, don’t release pigs into the wild.  The state’s growing population of feral pigs has caused officials to slap a fine on any person caught releasing hogs into the wild.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Massachusetts Town Swears Off Swearing

Digital Vision/Thinkstock(MIDDLEBOROUGH, Mass.) -- Middleborough, Mass., is like many small American towns with its white picket fences, kids playing in the park ... and swearing.

There's too much swearing, according to 63-year-old Mimi Duphily, a Middleborough resident and member of the town’s Downtown Business Coalition. She decided to do something about it.

“Kids were standing on the sidewalks, well, adults too, really, and yelling at someone like 100 feet down the block, using incredible profanity,” Duphily said. “It was gradually getting worse and worse.”

So Duphily brought up the issue to the Downtown Business Coalition and word eventually got around to Middleborough Police Chief Bruce Gates.

And now Chief Gates has called on the citizens of Middleborough to give police the authority to fine swearing citizens with a $20 ticket.

And this isn’t the first time the issue has been brought up in Middleborough.

“We used to have a law against swearing but it wasn’t enforced because that meant it was criminal,” Duphily said. “But now, if you pay the ticket, then it’s done and over with.” That, she says, makes the law more enforceable.

Duphily said she has heard many negative reactions, but that the intention was never to infringe on anyone’s rights.

“We don’t want to do anything about your private conversations, that’s between you and whoever you talk to,” Duphily said. “It’s mainly for aggressive behavior or verbal assault of someone who’s a distance away from you. It’s really just about when it rises above what is acceptable behavior.”

Duphily said she and the Downtown Business Coalition began to complain about the use of profanity in Middleborough because it was affecting businesses in the area.

“It was so appalling that customers weren’t comfortable and businesses were suffering,” she said. “Older people and parents with kids wouldn’t even walk by anymore because it was so uncomfortable.”

And despite the negative reaction from some, Duphily says people in other states are curious about the new proposition.

“I’m getting emails from people saying, ‘Let us know how it goes,’” she said. “People all over -- from Virginia, to out West, all the way to California.”

But the proposition first has to be agreed upon by the people of Middleborough, who vote on it at the annual Town Hall meeting.

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Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


N.J., Other States Turn Focus to Pets in Fight Against Distracted Driving

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- First, it was pedestrians distracted by their cellphones and other gadgets. Now, New Jersey is taking a hard look at drivers who travel with their pets unrestrained.

Under a new law, police and officers with the state’s Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals could fine a driver $250-$1,000 for giving a four-legged family member free rein of the car while it’s moving.

Some in the Garden State scoffed at the news, but New Jersey is not the only state to consider or take up legislation to curb what transportation experts consider another contributor to distracted driving.

Arizona, Connecticut and Maine residents can be penalized under distracted-driving laws if they’re driving with a pet in their lap. In Hawaii, drivers are not allowed to drive with pets in their laps; Rhode Island and Oregon are considering doing the same.

According to a 2011 pet passenger safety survey by AAA and Kurgo pet products, 65 percent of dog owners admitted to engaging in at least one potentially distracting activity while driving with their dog.

In that group, 52 percent said that activity included petting their pet, even when the animal was in the back seat. According to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, looking away from the road for just two seconds can double a driver’s risk of being in a crash.

“The devastation to your pet and any other passengers can be incredible” in the event of an accident, Heather Hunter, a AAA spokeswoman, told ABC News Tuesday.

In Cranberry, Pa., David Reed ran a red light in April and crashed into another vehicle after his dog crawled into his lap. His 2-year-old basset hound hit the windshield and landed on the dashboard but didn’t sustain any injuries.

He and his daughter were not hurt but the other driver had to be treated for injuries.

“You see people doing it [driving with a dog] all the time,” he said. “You just don’t think it’s going to happen....I never gave it a thought -- my pet being a distraction to me when I was driving or anything.”

AAA’s Hunter said restraining a pet while traveling in a vehicle minimized distractions to the driver, protected other passengers and also allowed emergency personnel to get to the vehicle and treat passengers if an accident occurred. Restraints also stop a pet from running off when a door is opened.

Gordie Spater, Kurgo’s president, said that many pet owners simply didn’t know that car restraints existed for their pets and that they were easy to use and relatively inexpensive.

He said that even though his company did not advocate laws such as New Jersey’s, it had partnered with AAA and Toyota to get the message out.

“Our biggest thing is to get the word out that [restraints] are available,” he said. “Things are available [and] the cost is low. You should be doing this.”

Click here for a 25-percent discount off harnesses at the ASPCA’s online store using the code SAFETY. The deal is available through Friday.

And click here for tips on traveling safely with your pet this summer and any time of the year.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


States Set to Enact Controversial Laws on January 1 -- Congress may have been bogged down in a quagmire this year, but states across the country actively passed a slew of new laws -- ranging from conventional to controversial -- that are set to go into effect in 2012.

California takes the lead in the number of new laws that will be enacted on Jan. 1, according to a list compiled by the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL).

The ideological divide between conservative and liberal states is stark when it comes to the new regulations.  It is most evident in the issue of immigration and the dueling laws that will go into effect next week.

Four states -- Louisiana, Tennessee, South Carolina and Georgia -- passed laws requiring businesses to enroll in the federal E-Verify program to determine whether their employees are legal residents and eligible to work in the United States.

But California took the opposite route.  Starting Jan. 1, city and county governments in the state will be barred from requiring private employers to use E-Verify, unless it's required to receive federal funds or is mandated by the federal government.

The California Dream Act will also go into effect in 2012.  The legislation expands eligibility for in-state tuition and non-state scholarships to students who may not have legal status but have attended high school in the state for at least three years, have graduated from high school, or are attending a college or university.  Another legislation allows such students to participate in student government.

But California stands alone when it comes to more lax requirements on illegal immigration. Most new state laws lean on the conservative side and that's not a surprise, observers say.  In 2010, a wave of elections swept conservatives to power across the country, and a majority of legislatures this year were Republican, says Jon Kuhl, a spokesman for NCSL.

This conservative uprising is also reflected in new election laws that will kick off next year.  Four states -- Kansas, Rhode Island, Tennessee and Texas -- will require voters to present a photo ID before voting.

California, however, again went in the opposite direction, passing a law that allows new U.S. citizens to both register and vote on election day, a system opponents say invites voter fraud.

California also took the lead in passing other controversial laws that could either set the precedent for the rest of the country or face national backlash.  New legislation requires social science curricula to include, "a study of the role and contributions of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Americans, persons with disabilities, and members of other cultural groups."  It also expands laws against discrimination in textbook materials to include gender, religion, disability, nationality, and sexual orientation.

Outside of ideological motivations, several new laws are indicative of the economic hardship states are facing.

Under a new law in Delaware, people who become members of the state's pension fund on or after Jan. 1 will be required to contribute more than earlier members.  It also ups the retirement age for pension beneficiaries.

Arizona will also reduce benefits under its retirement plan for those who enroll at the start of the new year.  North Dakota, meanwhile, raises the contribution requirement for its state retirement plan by two percentage points.

Here are some other noteworthy laws that will take effect on Jan. 1:

-- A new law in California expands the definition of cyber bullying to include certain posts on social networking sites.

-- Two new laws in Oregon and California prohibit the possession, sale, trade, or distribution of shark fins, a practice that some advocates of the law say has reduced certain species of sharks.

-- Starting Jan. 1, it will be illegal for Nevadans to write text messages or use handheld phone devices while driving.

-- In North Dakota, drivers under 18 years of age will be barred from using cellphones in their cars, and everyone will be prohibited from text messaging.

-- In California, people under the age of 18 will not be allowed to use ultraviolet tanning devices.

-- Delaware and Hawaii will both allow same-sex couples to marry and receive the same benefits as other married couples.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Exotic Animal Laws Vary from State to State

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(SACRAMENTO, Calif.) -- Incidents involving exotic animals kept in private may appear to be an oddity but, according to Born Free USA, a national animal advocacy and wildlife organization, they are not rare.

In fact, this week's incident in Ohio could be a cautionary tale for states across the country.

"It's up to the states to pass strong laws prohibiting the citizens that live there from keeping these dangerous exotics," said Adam Roberts, executive vice president of Born Free USA. "Ohio is one of the bad actors as far as we're concerned -- a state that has very limited regulations on the keeping of exotic animals, especially as pets....We've been pushing in Ohio for them to change their law for many years."

Some states are playing catch-up as exotic animals have become more prevalent, said David Favre, a professor of animal law at Michigan State University.

"The animals are becoming more available -- Internet sales, auctions, things like that," he said. "The market for exotic animals has been growing and with that, of course, comes the damage as well."

Born Free USA estimated that there are more tigers in private hands, not including accredited zoos, in the U.S. than there are left in the wild in the entire world.

"The ease of access to these animals is astounding and, of course, they are reasonably affordable," Roberts told ABC News. "Some of the animals could go for a few hundred dollars, some for a few thousand, but I think there are probably purebred dogs that cost more from some places than a tiger in this country."

Since 1990, Born Free USA said, there have been more than 1,500 incidents involving exotic animals and at least five percent of those have taken place in Ohio.

According to the Cleveland Plain Dealer, former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland banned people from bringing more exotic animals into Ohio in January but allowed owners to keep the animals they already had.

Current Gov. John Kasich let the emergency ban expire in April and opted to convene a group to study the issue.

"Around the country, you have a patchwork of state laws where about 21 states have some sort of prohibition on the keeping of exotic animals as pets," Roberts said. "Eight states have a partial ban, where certain species are prohibited, but not others. Thirteen states require permitting or a license scheme, and the other eight states have little or no regulations whatsoever. And Ohio is in the bottom category."

Despite the disparity in regulation, Favre said, the responsibility to control the animals lies with the states, not the federal government.

"It clearly is a primarily state issue," Favre said. "And it's so easily handled at the state level with the simple passage of a one-page law that says you're prohibited from having large mammals."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Justice Department Moves to Halt Alabama's Immigration Law

Comstock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The federal government has gone to court over Alabama's controversial new immigration law - widely considered the toughest in the nation.

The U.S. Justice Department is asking a federal appeals court to suspend enforcement of Alabama's new immigration law until the matter can be litigated.  The Justice Department argues that the state of Alabama has overstepped its bounds and is usurping the federal government's role to enforce immigration law.  The Justice Department also claims that the new law places undue burden on foreign-born Americans, here legally.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


New Jersey, New York Ranked Worst for 'Individual Freedoms'

Medioimages/Photodisc/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Live free or die? New Hampshire may be on to something, according to researchers at George Mason University's Mercatus Center who used a variety of statistics to rank the 50 states for their just-published report on which are the freest -- and least free -- from taxes and government regulation.

Their horserace has ranked New York as the "least free state in the Union" followed by neighboring New Jersey. New Hampshire and South Dakota were in a virtual tie for most "free" state.

The professors who authored the study believe that this freedom as they define it makes a lot of difference to the happiness and well-being of the governed.

Many people "don't want to have their lives dictated by people in their state capital," says William Ruger, political science professor at Texas State University-San Marcos, who co-authored the report with Jason Sorens, political science professor at the University at Buffalo, State University of New York.

"As academics, we were first interested in the scientific question of how states differ, why, and with what implications," said Ruger. "It was natural to then compare them in terms of their respect for individual freedom given how important this is to both of us."

Ruger, who is in the reserve component of the Navy, served in Afghanistan from 2008 to 2009. He said his project was not related to his time in Afghanistan, though "those who love freedom ought to take it upon themselves to defend and uphold our individual rights."

"Sometimes we do so with the pen, sometimes with the sword," he said.

New York was ranked dead last in part because it has the highest taxes in the country, including those on property, selective sales, individual income, and corporate-income, according to the report. They cited New York's spending on "other and unallocable" expenses, including public welfare, hospitals, electric power, transit, and employee retirement, as another reason for its ranking.

The report created four other lists ranking freedom based on fiscal policy, regulatory policy, economic freedom and personal freedom.

Maryland was ranked last based on personal freedom, though it was #43 in overall freedom. The report cited Maryland's gun laws, which are the second-strictest in the country, as well as "fairly harsh" marijuana laws, extensive auto regulations, harsh gambling laws, "burdensome" homeschooling laws, high drug arrest rates and lack of status for same-sex partnerships.

Beyond making policy recommendations for each state, such as proposing that Maryland legalize same-sex civil unions and strengthen medical-marijuana law while decriminalizing low-level possession, Ruger said there were two critical policy implications from the study.

First, freer states are attracting citizens from other states while less-free states are losing citizens -- and their tax dollars.

"This is true for both economic freedom and personal freedom," Ruger said. "People are voting with their feet and moving to open, tolerant, and economically free states and away from nanny-states."

Second, Ruger said that economic freedom is associated with income growth. The study results showed that a 0.25 unit increase in economic freedom increases the average annual growth rate in personal income by about 0.25 percentage points.

Statistically speaking, South Dakota should have a growing population and increasing incomes because the state ranked first in economic freedom and second in overall freedom. Census Bureau data shows more people at least moved to South Dakota from other states (29,631) than left for another state (25,950) in 2009.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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