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Case Update

Despite the fact I write a blog, I'm pretty much an idiot savant when it comes to technology; I've never even sent a text message.  Jeff Quon, a member of the SWAT team of Ontario, California, can't make that claim:  during a single month, he sent 456 of them over his department-issued pager.  And that was just during work hours.  Unfortunately, about 400 of them were non-work related, and some were sexually explicit.  He was disciplined for this, and he in turn filed suit against the city for violating his privacy rights by looking at the messages.

The extent of an employees' privacy rights, in the age where everybody at work has a computer and an email account, is one of the hot new legal topics:  exactly what reasonable expectation of privacy does an employee have?  This is of much greater import in government-employee situations, because there the 4th Amendment applies.  Unfortunately, in Quon v. City of Ontario, the US Supreme Court last week dodged that issue entirely, stating that regardless of what Quon's expectations should have been, the fact that the search was "motivated by a legitimate work-related purpose" saved it.

Stop the Beach v. Florida involved another big issue.  Over the past several decades, conservatives have argued for a more expansive reading of the Constitution's "takings" clause:  that it does not require compensation just for property seized under eminent domain, but for any government action that substantially reduces the value of the property (e.g., the government's declaring that a portion of your property is wetlands, and off-limits to development).  The obvious result this would have in environmental law had many concerned about the outcome here, which involved a suit by condo owners against a Florida action which would have created a new beach and thereby effectively converted the properties from oceanfront to oceanview.  Again, the Court dodges that issue, instead engaging in a lengthy discussion of littoral rights.  Well, I assume it was lengthy; I stopped reading it the second time "littoral rights" was mentioned.  If you're still looking to quench your thirst for knowledge, this article and this one discuss the issue in more detail than I can muster.

As for the output from Columbus, I covered the major decision on Friday, so let's get to the courts of appeals...

Criminal.  Mandatory three-year sentence for repeat nonreporting sex offender does not apply to defendant who pleads guilty to attempted failure to register, says 1st District... 6th District finds evidence insufficient to support conviction for drug possession where visitor found on stairway, drugs in living room... 1st District holds that Defendant's statement that "I would prefer a lawyer but I want to talk to you now" did not invoke right to counsel before questioning... While 8½ month delay between incident and indictment did not violate defendant's speedy trial rights, 14-year delay in serving indictment did, especially where state took no steps to find defendant, says 5th District; case has excellent summation of law on pre- and post-indictment speedy trial rights... In case where defendant convicted of beating his ex-girlfriend, trial court didn't err in allowing testimony by police officer that he'd warned defendant not to come back on victim's property, says 7th District; testimony of "other act" permissible to show defendant's intent and refute his claim that he didn't know he wasn't allowed on property...

Civil.  Trial court has authority to impose joint and several liability on party and attorney for discovery violations, 10th District holds... Fact that magistrate found that child was living with maternal grandparents was not justification for terminating father's child support obligation, 9th Circuit rules... While open and obvious doctrine applies only to landowner, not independent contractor, obvious nature of hazard "can be sufficiently discernible to constitute an adequate warning of danger," precluding finding of breach of duty, says 10th District; if you can figure out difference between this and open and obvious, you're a better man than I, Gunga Din...

Bizzarro case of the week.  In Hutton v. Estes, the court rejects the plaintiff's claim that defendant was an employee of Ottawa County by virtue of the fact that she was the Ottawa County Fair Queen.  The accident occurred when Estes, on her way to the Seneca County Fair where she was to represent Ottawa County, collided with Hutton's vehicle.  If you're wondering exactly what the benefits of being the Ottawa County Queen are, the testimony was that "the queen may receive gift certificates at the time she is elected, and may receive free admission to neighboring county fairs during her reign."

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