16 December 2016

Nothing Obscene About Giving the Finger

At least according to a Pennsylvania Appeals Court there isn't. As Prof. Noah Feldman writing over at Bloomberg News, the case before the court:
involves facts that would be funny if they weren’t tragic in the everyday sense of the term. Jason Waugaman was dropping off his children, 6 and 7, at the apartment building of his ex-wife, Kacie Boeshore. She came down to meet them in the parking lot; Waugaman was kissing the kids goodbye.
According to Boeshore’s testimony, as she walked away with the kids, Waugaman said something she couldn’t hear. She turned around, walked back and stood several feet in front of his car demanding to know what he’d said. Instead, Waugaman drove off, giving his ex the finger and (Boeshore testified) narrowly missing her.
Police in Hampton Township, Pennsylvania, near Pittsburgh, charged Waugaman with reckless endangerment for the driving and disorderly conduct for the gesture. A judge acquitted Waugaman of the first, more serious charge, but found him guilty of disorderly conduct under a state statute that makes it a crime to intentionally “cause public inconvenience, annoyance or alarm” by using “obscene language” or an “obscene gesture.”
Students are encourage to read the rest of the article as it clearly explains why courts are so reluctant to categorize something as non-speech. Students in my constitutional law class will know what I am talking about here (at least I hope they do).

07 December 2016

England Considering Raising Small Claims Court Limits

Students in my introduction to common law courses learn that England has a multi-tiered system of civil procedure. At the one extreme are the complex cases where the parties have the ability to undertake all kinds of pre-trial preparation. At the other end is are the small claims cases where the amount is so small that it makes no sense to hire a solicitor. In between is a tier where the process is probably too complex for a claimant or defendant to appear without representation.

At the moment, personal injury claims with potential damages of more than £1,000 are barred from the small claims process and must be heard using the more expensive and complex middle tier process. Recently, the Ministry of Justice announced that it would like to raise the limit to £5,000. This would result in more cases being heard using the small claims process, a process that normally does not require parties to hire legal representatives. As the Law Society Gazette points out, The Law Society is none too pleased about this development, claiming that it will result in courts becoming clogged and parties obtaining less for their injury than they otherwise would. Of course, solicitors also will lose some business.

Follow the link to the Law Society Gazette to obtain a better understanding of how this system works and what these changes might mean for parties.