Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Two Sides To Most Stories: NYT School-Bullying Story Under Fire

This story courtesy of A NYT school-bullying story comes under scrutiny. It concerns a story that recently ran in the New York Times featuring the plight of an Arkansas boy who claimed to have been bullied at school repeatedly, despite the pleas of his family to school officials, over a long period of time. The eventually resorted to legal action. The story, and the boy's subsequent appearance on the Today Show, evoked a great deal of sympathetic reaction.

According to Overlawyered:

The article generated a big reaction, especially after young Wolfe himself appeared on the Today show to discuss his plight. Most observers seemed to agree that the harrowing tale lent credence to the whole idea of using lawsuits as a way of responding to bullying in schoolyards, Facebook, etc. -- an idea that, coincidentally or otherwise, is the subject of an increasingly visible campaign these days. Even as level-headed an educational observer as Joanne Jacobs wrote on her blog, "Normally, I'm anti-lawsuit, but this may be the only way to bully the bullies and the principal to crack down." Huffington Post writer Jonathan Fast cited the article as evidence that schools should adopt "zero tolerance" policies on bullying. Some of the many other blog reactions are assembled here (e.g.: Marcotte, Greenfield, DadTalk, The Common Room).

Unfortunately, it turns out now that the picture painted by the NYT and Today only told one side of the story. Apparently the "poster child" for victims of school-bullying has a history of bullying himself. According to a story in the Northwest Arkansas Times, school and police records document Wolfe's history of bullying other students. One incident was severe enough that police investigated a report that Wolfe had plans to bring a gun to school; no charges were filed. The story also documents this example of Wolfe's alleged past actions:

Dylan Gray smiles as he sits on the couch on a cool spring night and tells a story of a boy at school who likes to call him names, like stupid or retarded. The couch is a nice change from the wheelchair to which his muscular dystrophy normally confines him.

This same boy sneaks up behind Gray and screams in his ear, which is sensitive to noise because of his medical condition. As Gray relates the experience, this next-door neighbor once pounded him in the back of the head several times with a medium-sized rubber ball despite Gray's protest.

The story sounds familiar, perhaps as familiar as the one the national media brought out last week about Billy Wolfe, the Fayetteville High School sophomore who recently filed a lawsuit against a number of students he claims has bullied him. The only difference is that in Gray's story, Wolfe is the bully and Gray is the victim.

Certainly this does not mean that Wolfe himself was not bullied. This does not mean that his allegations and lawsuit are baseless. This does not mean that the school and other defendants in the lawsuit failed to take proper measures to respond to complaints. What it does mean is that the initial story, as reported by the NYT and Today, painted a picture of a victim with no idea why he was singled out by "bullies" and failed to present the other side of the story. It's a sad and unfortunate story all the way around.

Hat-Tip: (April 9, 2008)

Monday, April 07, 2008

"Pole Tax" Struck Down in Texas.

The LA Times is reporting that a Texas court has struck down legislation that imposed a $5-per-patron fee on strip clubs. The "pole tax" was purportedly instituted in an effort to raise more than $40 million annually for anti-sexual-assault programs and healthcare for the uninsured.

According to the Times:

The fee, which took effect Jan. 1, infuriated the owners of Texas' 162 strip clubs, who said politicians were cynically taxing a population they knew would not fight back. After all, critics reasoned, men who make a habit of drinking and stuffing currency in the attire of scantily clad women are usually not eager to tell the world about it at legislative hearings.

"It's not like Al Sharpton is going to show up and protest that we're being discriminated against," said a man who identified himself only as Dave, as he exited the Penthouse Club in Houston.

In striking down the tax, the court held that the pole tax was unconstitutional, finding that it infringed on 1st Amendment rights to free expression. The court held that the pole tax did not pass constitutional muster because, among other things, indigent healthcare had no connection to strip joints. Legislation which infringes on 1st Amendment liberties must pass a heigh scrutiny review. "There is no evidence that combining alcohol with nude erotic dancing causes dancers to be uninsured," the court wrote.

On one side of the issue, state Rep. Ellen Cohen of Houston, the former head of a women's shelter, who authored the law and garnered bipartisan support for it, commented that "We need more funding for sexual assault victims, to get the word out and to educate people. That's what this is all about, and there is general agreement that it is a good thing."

On the other side of the issue, Stewart Whitehead, an attorney for the Texas Entertainment Association, commented that adult businesses in Texas support rape crisis centers and other similar programs, but opposes strip clubs being singled out for taxation. "We hope this sends a message nationally that these establishments are protected by the 1st Amendment and you can't impose an unfair tax on them just because they are an easy political target," Whitehead said.

According to the Times, "Texas lawmakers tried to pass a fee on strip clubs in 2004 to finance education, but the levy, derogatorily dubbed 'tassels for tots,' failed."

How Appealing (April 7, 2008)

Google Sued for Displaying "Boring" House on Google Maps Street View

The Smoking Gun is reporting that Aaron and Christine Boring of Pittsburgh are suing Google for “intentional and/or grossly reckless invasion” of privacy because their luxurious Pittsburgh home is viewable on the internet through Google Maps' Street View feature.

In the suit, the Borings allege that they bought their house -- which has two garages and a swimming pool -- in 2006 “for a considerable sum of money” and that a significant factor in their purchase decision was "a desire for privacy.” Unfortunately for the Borings, when Pittsburgh was added to the cities covered by Google Maps’ Street View feature, the Borings' home became viewable to the whole world. The Borings allege that this has caused them mental suffering and has diminished the value of their home, and they have requested $25,000 in damages.

According to WSJ Law Blog:

A Google spokeswoman issued the following statement:

There is no merit to this action. It is unfortunate litigation was chosen to address the concern because we have visible tools, such as a YouTube video, to help people learn about imagery removal and an easy-to-use process to facilitate image removal.

As a matter of policy, imagery for Street View is taken in public streets and what any person can readily capture or see in the public domain. Street View is a popular, engaging feature that allows people to easily find, discover, and plan activities relevant to a location.

According to, "While Google is believed to be reviewing the suit, the pictures now stand removed from their Web site."

WSJ Law Blog (April 4, 2008) (April 7, 2008) (April 7, 2008)

Friday, April 04, 2008

Kansas Governor Signs Anti-Funeral-Protesting Law

JURIST reported yesterday:

Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius [official website] Thursday signed legislation [press release] that bans protests within 150 feet of a funeral one hour before, during and two hours after the end of a service. The Kansas Funeral Privacy Act [PDF text; supplemental note, PDF] also prohibits impeding a procession by obstructing a public street or sidewalk. A similar law was struck down [JURIST report] by the Kansas Supreme Court in March. The court ruled that the previous law's judicial trigger provision [JURIST report], which said the law could not be enforced until it was declared constitutional by a state or federal court, invalidated the entire law as it would make the courts an "advisory panel" to the legislature. The new law does not contain the provision.

The law was passed in response to picketing at military funerals by members of the Westboro Baptist Church [. . . JURIST news archive], who claim that US soldiers have been killed because America tolerates homosexuals. At least 37 other states have passed similar laws in response to the group, and a federal law [JURIST report] restricting protests at Arlington National Cemetery and other federal cemeteries has also been passed. AP has more.

Prior Kierkegaard Lives Posts on Related Subjects:
"Update: Legislation on Military Funeral Protests, Fred Phelps, and the Patriot Guard Riders" (June 2, 2006)
"Update: Military Funeral Protests, Fred Phelps, and the Patriot Guard Riders" (May 10, 2006)
"Patriot Guard Riders Vs. Fred Phelps" (February 22, 2006)

Bryan Garner's Interviews with SCOTUS on Advocacy and Writing

Over at Bryan Garner's LawProse website, you can access videos of Garner's 2006-2007 interviews with eight of the nine SCOTUS Justices concerning their thoughts about legal writing and advocacy.

According to the site:

In 2006-2007, Bryan Garner interviewed eight of the nine Justices about legal writing and advocacy. These are the complete interviews. . . .

LawProse is making these interviews available as a public service. Anyone may freely use these videos for educational purposes, with appropriate attribution to Bryan Garner or LawProse.

The Legal Reader (March 11, 2008)
How Appealing (March 11, 2008)
How Appealing (March 10, 2008)

Wednesday, April 02, 2008


So, it's been slightly less than 1 year since I've had time and access to post and update. But I'm really hoping that's going to change. If you happen to check out any of the links listed at the right and find any of them to be broken, "on hiatus," or otherwise invalid, please post a comment. I'm working on trying to get through them and do some "cleaning," but I'd appreciate any help.

... and hopefully I'm back.