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Friday Roundup

Our tax dollars at work.  More accurately, Florida taxpayer's dollars.  And they're up in arms over the First District Court of Appeals new courthouse in Tallahassee, which was originally budgeted for $22 million and came in at $48.8 million.  (The tab will be around $70 million when interest on the bond issue is figured in.)  How did they get a $26 million overrun?  As this article recounts, it might have something to do with the 27 flat screen TV's.  Or separate bathrooms and kitchens for all 15 judges.   Or the granite counter and desk-tops.  Or the "miles of African mahogany."  (What, Florida mahogany wasn't good enough for them?  Note to self:  Google to find out if there is such a thing as Florida mahogany.)  The legislature is up in arms over the matter -- Florida, like just about every other state, is in the midst of a budget crisis -- and the two judges primarily responsible for the fiasco were recently grilled by the state senate budget committee, with its chairman promising to prevent "an irresponsible rogue state judge from spending tax dollars" in the future.

I can happily report that our 8th District judges have foregone similar luxury.  The court of appeals shares its building with two other divisions of the common pleas court, probate and domestic, as well as with various other county departments, thus posing the possibility of some rummy wandering into the middle of an oral argument to ask where you get marriage licenses.  I don't even know whether they have separate bathrooms.  I've got an oral argument coming up in a couple of weeks; I'll ask.

Meanwhile, if you want to see real opulence, check out the Federal District courthouse they built here in Cleveland about five years ago.  I had a pretrial right after it first opened, and I'm not saying that the judges' chambers are spacious, but when I walked into one I could see the judge just over the horizon.

Cyberbullying update.  Remember when bullying meant a wedgie?  Technology marches on, and last week Matthew Riskin Bean was sentenced to 45 days in jail for his involvement with a group of other web users who tried to induce a teen to commit suicide.  (Details here.) 

What jumped out at me about the article was that this was a conviction in U.S. district court.   There have been numerous criticisms of the expansion of Federal criminal law into areas traditionally reserved to the states, and I'm at somewhat of a loss to understand why "cyberstalking" can't be handled on a more localized level.

It could be worse.  After 13-year-old Megan Meier committed suicide in 2006, which was attributed to bullying messages posted to her MySpace account, Congresswomean Linda T. Sanchez (D-CA) sponsored the Megan Meier Cyberbullying Prevention Act of 2008, which would have made it a Federal crime, punishable by up to two years in prison, to use the Internet to "intimidate, harass, or cause substantial emotional distress to another person."  Fortunately, the bill never made it out of committee, as just about everybody except Sanchez recognized the obvious First Amendment problems with the proposed law.

On a related topic, could we please stop naming laws after people, especially kids?  Adam Walsh Act, Megan's law, Megan Meier Cyberbullying Protection Act...  If I were five years old, my goal would be to make it to eighteen without having a law named after me, because if it was, it probably meant something very bad had happened to me. 

My kind of prosecutor.  David Escamilla is a cool guy.  He's the prosecutor of Travis County, Texas, where Austin is located.  Recently, police there arrested Jose Rios and Samuel Olivo for driving while intoxicated.  It wasn't your ordinary DUI; Rios and Olivo were arrested for being intoxicated while riding  mule and a horse, respectively, through Austin's entertainment district.

Escamilla decided not to pursue charges.  "The law doesn't support DWI on an animal," he explained.  "It has to be a motor vehicle or device. And our research shows a mule is not a motorized vehicle. To be absolutely sure, I watched a few episodes of 'The Lone Ranger,' and not once did I hear the masked man refer to Silver as a device."

An even bigger problem with the case was that the arrest affidavit said Rios claimed he'd had two vodka-and-cranberries.  "That doesn't seem like the right drink," said Escamilla. "This story begs for tequila."

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