Barely Legally

Confessions of a Moot Court Bailiff

The Number One Threat: Bear (Stearns)

One of the largest investment banks in the world was a company by the name of Bear Stearns (seen here with their stock prices in complete free-fall). I say “was” because they were throwing money into the sub-prime mortgage market. That was the cause of some very noteworthy short-term success: investors love to hear about bold new acquisitions and investments. But nothing that stupid can last.

I can aimlessly wander around a discussion of sub-prime mortgages and securities in general, and why it’s a really bad idea to overload your portfolio with sub-prime mortgages, and so on. But I’m fairly certain that the internet is about 70-80% “poorly informed ramble” by volume, and I can’t in good conscience add drops of water to that particular bucket.

The real story that I’m interested in discussing is called “Prosecutors build Bear Stearns case on e-mails.” This is noteworthy because it was newsworthy. Allow me to start from the beginning.

Discovery is the process by which one party can compel another party’s disclosure of information related to litigation. If I were to sue my doctor for not giving me a lollipop after my checkup, during discovery, I could force the doctor to show me how many lollipops he buys a month, and thereby prove that he must be giving them to all his other patients. And assuming there were some kind of egalitarian legal principle regarding lollipop distribution, I might even win.

(I don’t take Evidence until the fall, so that may well be horribly backwards. This is in addition to the really strange hypothetical that I came up with.)

Now, there’s this new thing called “E-Discovery.” It seems that at some point, compelling disclosure of electronic media became legally viable under the rules of discovery. The big thing that everyone wants to know about is your email. For certain specialized cases, this could include spreadsheets and text messages.

(The latter is actually a really bad example, because the mayor actually signed a directive stating that electronic communications sent on city equipment were not considered either personal or private.)

Anyway, getting back to the Bear Stearns bit, the International Herald Tribune writes:

Yet, despite the drama, there is no guarantee that cases that rely on e-mail exchanges and unclear states of mind result in jail time. In one prominent case involving e-mail exchanges, for example, charges were ultimately dropped against Frank Quattrone, the high-level Credit Suisse banker accused of interfering with a government investigation.

Despite the publicity surrounding the Enron scandal, some high-profile cases, which like this one were based on e-mail exchanges and complicated financial arrangements, were successfully challenged.

Essentially, the two guys who just got indicted lied to their investors, and then chronicled their misgivings about said lies in a series of emails. One of them allegedly took steps to hide their correspondence. I’m kind of excited to be a gigantic nerd heading into the practice of law at this point. I mean, who wouldn’t want to be the guy at the meeting that asks, “why don’t we subpoena their emails?” If you know how to sift through a computer, and where to look for potentially incriminating evidence, it seems like a great time to be a lawyer.

Personally, I’m surprised this is still newsworthy. People these days may be smart enough to not leave behind physical evidence (letters, credit card trails, et cetera) when they’re up to no good. But the world is full of people who leave red paint all over their mouse: there are so many ways to figure out what someone’s been up to. The value of e-discovery is immeasurable. At least until people take a more vested interest in computer privacy, to the extent that’s possible.

Published in Legal Theory on

Pro Tip

When you file a lawsuit, it’s probably a good idea to spell your client’s name the same way on each page. I mean, I’m not a judge or anything, but misspelling your client’s name probably doesn’t make a good impression.

Published in Legal Theory on

Cyber Bullies

I can think of no word of the digital age that captures both the wonderment and the decline into absurdism of the internet better than cyber. It was wildly popular in the dawn of the internet as we know it today: you know, back when we put “www.” in front of website addresses, and animated .gifs roamed the terrain like herds of ancient dinosaurs. I have nothing but the fondest memories of those sepia-toned days of yore. (Fun fact: everything downloaded through a 28.8k modem is tinted brown.) But today, “cyber-“ is primarily used when you intend to signal to everyone else in the room that you haven’t touched a mouse since the Dot Com Bubble burst. (see also: “information superhighway”)

Which is why I’m not terribly surprised to see “cyber-“ used by Senators (who, by and large, have better things to do with their time than keeping track of the latest internet-related slang). Yes, a proposed new cyber bullying act would make it a federal crime to (for example) leave a series of insulting comments on a blog. It sounds like a silly law, but it has the best of intentions; further, there is some discussion of some handy ideas. From the article:

…teens also said they want new and better tools to stop harassment on cell phones. That would include buddy lists that block anyone besides approved senders from reaching their text message in-box.

I’m not exactly in a high-risk cyber-bullying demographic, but everyone has a lapse in judgment now and again. You give your number out to the wrong guy/girl at a party, and suddenly every highway rest stop from here to Vermont has your number carved into a bathroom stall.

Of course, I can rarely agree with anything completely.

Both state and federal laws were prompted by the suicide of Missouri 13-year-old Megan Meier, who was the victim of repeated harassment on MySpace.com. An adult neighbor was indicted in the case last month by a grand jury in Los Angeles not on charges of cyberbullying, but on charges of unauthorized access of a computer system with intent to harm another person. (Missouri litigators said they didn’t have a law to prosecute the case at the time.)

This is the bit that I don’t get. On the one hand, we need a special new law for cyber bullying because we don’t have a law to prosecute otherwise; but on the other hand, this woman has been indicted for a law that seems to let prosecutors prosecute. It’s either a typo or a subtle jab at the DA who proffered such a delectable quote.

Additionally, I fail to see why if Cyber Bullying is a federal crime (punishable by up to two years in prison), Bullying is not necessarily a federal crime with the same penalty. Is the trauma of being insulted over the internet that much more severe than the traditional schoolyard variety? Does the digital age allow for so many more “yo mama” jokes per second than an unaided human?

In all honesty, given the name of the act (the Megan Meier Cyberbullying Prevention Act), bullying over the internet is probably perceived as more reprehensible because adults can get in on the act. While adults generally can’t go to a schoolyard and insult the kids, the former and the latter can mingle freely on various websites. In Megan’s case, it was on MySpace.com - though this is arguably no different from allowing your child to freely interact with complete strangers who may or may not be adults. The internet is full of weird people.

The internet is a tool that facilitates communication. While the same thing could have happened (and does, I’m certain) without the internet, the harsh penalty for bullying of one sort compared to the other seems either (a) completely unfounded, and a result of the “computers are reality-distorting devices with arbitrary laws” school of thought, or (b) indicative of our society’s strong belief that the internet is tremendously useful, and any attempt to abuse it by frightening children away from it will be severely rebuked. Although the second option would seem to veer closely into censorship territory: unpopular or even offensive speech is still speech. But that’s another essay entirely.

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Countdown to Exampocalypse

Repent, all ye slackers! Final exams are approaching, and they will be hard. I will be back when they are gone, with a concrete mission statement and perhaps a funny story about how one of my friends misspelled “jurisdiction” on a test.

Published in A Day in the Life on