Wednesday, October 06, 2004

It's 12 am. Do you know where your parents are?

A new law has been proposed in NYC to institute a curfew and enforce it on kids and their parents. The law, if passed, would require that all kids under the age of eighteen (18) be home or with a parent or guardian, between the hours of Midnight and 6 am. One of the bill’s sponsors NYC Councilman Dennis Gallagher of Queens County said “There is no valid reason why children should be hanging out on the streets of New York in the middle of the night” he continued, “When a child is out in the middle of the night only bad things can occur.”

The bill would cause a juvenile found out after dark to be escorted home by the police, or held at the local police precinct until collected by a parent. A first offense would cost the kid Twenty Five (25) hours of community service and Fifty (50) hours if caught again. Parents who let their kids out are fined Seventy Five ($75.00) dollars for the first offense and Two Hundred Fifty($250.00) for every time after that. Kids coming home from work, school, or religious business are exempt. A business that lets a kid “hang out” on its’ property is also liable under the law.

Now, That Lawyer Dude is of two minds on this issue. First, parents should be concerned when their youngsters are out after 11pm much less 12 am. A growing person requires Eight (8) or more hours of sleep and it is a health benefit for him to be home and hopefully sleeping between the hours of Midnight and 6 am. However…

That does not mean That Lawyer Dude approves of a blanket law that legislates how parents bring up their kids. For example, if a parent chooses to home school their child and that is done at night, then that may suggest the child involved may need to be out late. Is there a substantive difference (note I did not say a legal one) between a Seventeen year old the night before her Eighteenth birthday and the night after?? If a sixteen year old is out at 2 am with a nineteen year old, is the nineteen year old the guardian for the purpose of the statute?

The truth is, that while That Lawyer Dude would suggest to parents that their young children and pre-high schoolers be home before 9pm and that on any school night all students under 16 be in no later than 10pm, I am not so pompous as to believe there are not other schools of thought on this curfew matter. I am also not willing to endorse a law that puts a person at risk of arrest (or detainment) or at loss of their finances for exercising their First Amendment right to freedom of movement.

There is a qualitative difference between this type of law and the type that the criminal law usually addresses. Unlike the “everyone included you may not take something not yours”kind of law, this type of law punishes everyone in a certain class. It is unfair to those that do not act out and have earned their right to move about whenever they want. This smacks of unfairness. It is also what bothers me about most things that should really be handled at home by loving parents. There are children who can be trusted and those who have shown that they cannot. Deciding this distinction should not be the job of the NY City Council. It is the job of the parent. True, I have no problem with a curfew for someone previously adjudicated a youthful offender or juvenile delinquent. These children have already caused public concern and cost taxpayers money. But let a court and a District Attorney address those issues at a bail hearing where evidence can be provided.

I have a problem with a child, innocently walking home at 2 am after being at a cast party of the school play (held at a friends home) being stopped, frisked (after all the police officer is entitled to know his young charge is not going to harm him), and detained, maybe for hours, at a police station all because he stayed out too late on a date. What of the child who wants to catch the waves at dawn? Is she to be arrested because the best time to surf or fish or walk and run on a boardwalk is before 6am? What is it about these honor students and hard working children strikes dread in the heart of the Councilmatic adult??

There are dangers exposed in all things. You go on a school trip, you chance an accident or now even terrorist action. A visit to a synagogue or a church now a days is just as problematic. Homes can be robbed by 18 and 19 year olds as easily as by a 15 or 16 year old. Does the age make the difference? And if we really want to make the streets safe for New Yorkers shouldn’t we keep all kids off the streets? After all we make people wait till their 21st birthdays before we let them drink alcoholic beverages, why not make them wait until then to go out. We make people wait until they are thirty five (35) before they can be President of the United States of America. As it has been shown that criminal behavior wanes after one becomes 35 maybe all people under 35 should be kept indoors after midnight! ( a that Lawyer Dude can rant!!)

Remember what Benjamin Franklin said, “A nation that is willing to sacrifice Freedom for Security… Deserves not the former nor receive the latter.” Smart guy that old Ben.

Keeping Our Land Of The Free: Participate!

Hello gang! That Lawyer Dude is in Washington DC today to watch the United States Supreme Court in its’ opening day ceremonies. It is not as ornate as the first pitch at Yankee (or Shea) Stadiums and the crowds are not quite as big, but it is just as exciting.

The Supreme Court will decide about Two Hundred (200) of the most important cases this year. It will hear arguments every Monday through Wednesday from now until April and deliver all these decisions before the end of June. The atmosphere here is a lot like the first day of school. Everybody wants to know the subjects (the cases) and how things will turn out.

That Lawyer Dude is here because he is listening to the arguments in US v. Booker and Fanfan. These two cases are being argued together to determine how federal judges should punish people who are convicted of crimes. In my other life I am a criminal lawyer and these cases mean a lot to my clients. (You can visit our law firm web site at

It should be noted the court will not hear testimony and there are no witnesses called. The Supreme Court will not decide if the accused people are guilty or innocent. The Court is an Appellate Court and as the highest court in the land what they say goes unless the Congress and the President get together to change the law. In the cases that I am interested in today, there might have to be a change in the constitution if the Supremes (as we Lawyers sometimes call them {in jest of course}) rule the present sentencing rules to be unconstitutional.

“Okay so what does this mean to me,” you may be asking. Well, the thing about being here today, is it is more to me than just the one case I am here to hear. It is about the fact that the weightiest issues in American Law are being heard, out in the open and right in front of me. Anybody, me, you, anyone for the price of a ticket to Washington DC can hear these cases and see these people.

I can still hear some of you asking “ Ok Dude so still what is it to me.” I can only help explain by relaying a story. I have a friend who is not from the ole’ US of A. She is from a former Communist country that is a brand new democracy. In fact even before the communists, the country was a Monarchy. She and her family (and her countrymen) have no sense of what it means to participate in their government.

One day we were talking about a new rule that would deeply affect her life here in her new homeland. She was upset because she felt that the issue was one that was completely in the hands of people she did not know and who did not care about her. I was trying to explain why that was not the case, but she didn’t get it. She actually scoffed at That Lawyer Dude when he told her he would rally support for her cause among the decision makers in Washington DC. ! Silly girl was it possible she did not know the power of That Lawyer Dude! No, that was not it. She did not know the power of being an American. So we picked her up and put her on a train to Washington DC. Then unannounced we visited every congressman who was on the committee dealing with her legislation. Of the fifteen (15) Congressmen, everyone of them either visited with us or had an aide do so. We spent about Ten (10) to Twenty (20) minutes with each of them. They all had questions for her and they all wanted to know more about her situation and how the law could help or hurt people like her. We then left the offices and visited the House Chamber (where the Congressmen vote on the laws) to watch a debate. I explained how what she told these folks just might wind up as part of the debate. She had no idea how she, a lonely immigrant, not yet 23 years old could so deeply affect the system.. Going to Washington was the greatest gift I could have given her because now the system didn’t seem so impersonal. Now she could see how she could participate and have a say in the government.

When my friend becomes a citizen later this month she will get to vote in a presidential election as her first vote. I bet she will be the first on line!! The power to participate in our fate is what makes a democracy. The power to watch it happen, to see the faces of the decision makers, to be able to talk with them and to be able to hold them accountable on election day, to know that so much is being done right in front of us, that is what makes this a great country. I know a lot of you already know this, but being here in Washington D.C. just makes me want to tell you again. IT’S YOUR COUNTRY. KEEP IT FREE. PARTICIPATE. And while your at it, bring along a friend… it’s her country too!

If you have any ideas for how you and your family and/or classmates can get involved leave us a message here. You (or your family member if you are under 14 years of age) can also visit our website at Leave us a message there and I will get back to you.

Monday, October 04, 2004

Protecting the mediocre

A few notes I thought our readers may be interested in:
Down in Washington DC :
The House of Representatives has passed a law that will make it illegal to go to a movie theater and video tape a movie. The act is meant to reduce the pirating of theatrical performances. The videotaping of first run movies costs the the movie industry millions of dollars each year and hurts their ability to fund films with newer filmmakers or lesser known casts. The House bill, still requires Senate passage and Presidential approval before it can become law. It calls for those that are convicted of illegally videotaping movies in theaters to face up to Six (6) years in federal prison (which seems rather severe given that some violent crimes including assault on a federal employee carry a much lesser sentence). The bill also loosens restrictions on the Justice Department that will allow greater prosecution of firms on the internet that illegally distribute this material (and other copyrighted works) to the public. The legislation is entitled "The Piracy Deterrence and Education Act. "

The music and entertainment industry has pointed out that when people go to the Internet to see movies it hurts theaters and it hurts people who make the movies and it hurts the actors and stagehands who work in them. The same for downloaded music. However maybe the industry needs to look at the sky-rocketing prices and the quality of its’ product to understand the reticence someone feels before plunking down hard earned salary for an often less than mediocre product. It is another challenge from an industry that will not change to keep up with the times. Big Entertainment seeks protection from change through government regulation and further criminalization as a deterrent to slow down the progress of the net.

It appears to me that the bill is really just another attempt to regulate the Internet. An unregulated market place seems to very often inordinately worry people in Government. It shouldn't. Pols just do not always understand that not everything needs to be watched over. Progress, like free trade and free markets, help drive down prices and make it easy for all people to be able to enjoy the things that in the past only wealthy people could enjoy. It also helps regulate prices that are artificially kept high by laws other than those of supply and demand. Yes progress causes change, sometimes for the good and sometimes for the worse, but the truth is that it is going to come one way or the other.

The argument that the entertainment business is making to regulate the trading of movies on the internet is really akin to the argument that a buggy manufacturer would have made to Congress to keep the automobile industry from out-dating the Horse and Wagon. Times change and so does technology. If the industry is going to survive the computer -age it is going to have to acknowledge the computer and digital age and make first run movie (or music) affordable, and the theater experience enjoyable.

Local theater productions of Broadway shows has not hurt The Great White Way. Cable TV, (which was also fought by the entertainment industry and Theater owners) has not destroyed theaters and neither will the computer age. Many of us will continue to go to first run movies if they are of high quality and if they are affordable. That may mean that Hollywood people will earn a little less money. Is that so bad? Will the world come to an end if Tom Cruise or Brad Pitt only make four (4) or five (5) million for their next picture instead of Twenty (20) Million? That Lawyer Dude’s father built houses for a living. Did he have a right to be paid every time someone new lived in the house? Of course not, but isn’t that what a royalty is? Attorneys used to make a lot of money when there were very few of them, but now doesn’t it seem that everyone knows someone who is a lawyer? Well that glut of attorneys drives down the prices of the average lawyer. The best still get paid a lot and the others have lost a little. It hasn’t stopped people from going to law school however.

If the cost of a first run movie were to fall to say Five ($5.00) dollars a ticket. Most people would still chose to go to the movies. If a person can legally buy a downloadable DVD for Ten ($10.00) Dollars most people would rather download the better download than go to pirate sights on the web. If there were DVD’s available with extras hidden in them… many of us might want to buy those at the video store too.

That Lawyer Dude thinks that the answer is not in further prosecutions and regulation but rather in the entertainment industry getting real and finding ways to live and survive in a digital age.