Friday: A little of this, a little of that
Friday's usually the day I scan the globe for news of the legally weird, and since this is Friday, that's what we're going to do. Possibly fitting into that category is the 9th District's decision the other day in State v. Rohr-George, reversing for insufficiency of the evidence the conviction of the wife of a prominent local restaurateur for complicity in the murder of one of her paramours by another one. As is almost always the case with appeals concerning weight and sufficiency of the evidence, the decision is very fact-centric (yes, that's a word), so there aren't any broad standards of law to be gleaned from reading the decision. The verdict was somewhat puzzling to begin with; the trial court acquitted Rohr-George of conspiracy to commit murder while at the same time convicting her of complicity to commit murder. Finding evidence of the latter -- proof that she solicited or procured another to commit the murder -- is difficult to reconcile with an acquittal of the former.
The newspaper reported that George's husband, despite his cuckolding, had stood by her during her ordeal and funded her defense. In that light, given that reversals for insuffiency of the evidence generally occur with the frequency of Cleveland sports championships, the significance of the George decision may only be to give emphasis to the observation that the man who said money can't buy happiness never sat in a courtroom.
As regular readers of this blog might have gleaned, I have fairly strong political opinions, but I generally try to stay away from political issues here. Those issues sometimes take on legal overtones, though, and that's happening again with the Justice Department's dismissal of eight US District Attorneys, for reasons which have varied from "they weren't doing a good job" to "they weren't 'team' players" to "they wouldn't name their children after Karl Rove." Needless to say, the blogosphere is filled with the arguments pro and con, and if you want to get a fairly non-partisan analysis of the situation, you might want to check out Marty Lederman's post in Balkinization. Lederman does a particularly good job of disposing of the argument that the whole thing is no big deal because the president can hire or fire whoever he wants, quoting Stuart Taylor in his appearance on Newshour:
You fire the U.S. attorney because you want him to do more death penalty cases, that's fine. You fire him because you want a Republican, that's fine. You fire him because you want to put a patronage appointee in the job, that's fine. You fire him because he's not prosecuting Democrats or because he is prosecuting Republicans, that's not fine.
Finally, last week I had a post about the recent decision by the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, holding that the 2nd Amendment protected an individual, rather than collective, right to bear arms. Of course, any NRA life member -- like Mitt Romney, who became one last year, although it had absolutely nothing to do with cleaning up his spotty gun rights record in preparation for his run for the GOP presidential nomination -- can recite the wording of the Amendment: "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed." But courts have traditionally held that the stuff about the "well-regulated Militia" qualified the second part of the Amendment.
The DC Circuit focused on the second comma in that sentence, deciding that it meant that the part up to that point was a prefatory phrase, and the remaining portion was the operative clause of the Amendment, and all that really had to be considered. Along comes Prof. Dennis Barron of the University of Illinois -- a professor English, not law -- and argues that strict construction demands that the phrase be interpreted according to "what the framers actually thought about commas in the 18th century." According to Dr. Barron, at least, the prevailing usage of commas at the time indicates that the first clause was intended to qualify the second.
Well, that's one way, of looking at it, I suppose.