Law News Digest – Week of May 17, 2015


License plates and free speech: The New York DMV has a policy of excluding controversial messages from its license plates, and in keeping with the policy, denied an application by an advocacy group to include the words “choose life” on custom plates. A court ruled today that the DMV is allowed to block the message, and that doing so does not violate the 1st amendment.

Small win for tobacco industry: A court ruled today that a court cannot force tobacco companies to place advertisements explaining that they deliberately deceived the public over the health risks of cigarettes.


Policing the police: All 6 Baltimore police officers involved in Freddie Gray’s death have been formally charged with crimes by the “Grand Jury.” The Grand Jury is like a regular jury except it only decides on the preliminary question of whether there is enough evidence even to charge defendants with a crime.


Wall Street taken down: It’s a story that could make a great movie, with members of four of the largest banks communicating with each other in a secret online chat room to illegally manipulate the foreign exchange rate of dollar and euros. The four banks, Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, Barclays, and the Royal Bank of Scotland, along with a fifth bank, UBS, agreed to plead guilty to multiple crimes associated with the rate manipulation, and will pay a total of about $5.6 billion in fines.

Big agriculture tooConAgra pleaded guilty today and will pay $11.2 million in fines for a salmonella outbreak in its peanut butter in 2007, which sickened more than 700 people. The company claims it did not know that the product was unsafe.


Minimum wage increase sweeping nation: L.A. City Council voted today to increase minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2020. Currently, national minimum wage is $7.25/hr, and in California minimum wage is $9/hr, but once the L.A. wage increase goes into effect, employers will be required to pay even more to employees based in the city. Seattle, San Francisco, and Chicago have also adopted minimum wage hikes.

Actors’ rights & free speech: Does an actor in a film (who doesn’t sign away her rights) have copyrights such that she can prevent the film from being shown? No, said a court yesterday, in a case involving the provocative anti-Muslim film “Innocence of Muslims.” An actress who appears in the film for 5 seconds was tricked into the job, thinking she was playing a role in an action/adventure movie. When she saw the film, she sued to force Google to take it off YouTube. A court originally granted her takedown order, but the order was appealed and is now overturned, meaning she does not have the right to block the film.

Consumer Deception: Shoppers are suing JC Penney, alleging that the retailer falsely claimed clothes and accessories as discounted when they were not. For example, one shopper bought three blouses for $17.99 each at a “40% discount” from the “original price” of $30, but the blouses had not been above $17.99 in at least the previous 3 months. The suit is going forward as a “class action,” meaning it will be undertaken on behalf of all shoppers who were similarly duped (maybe including you?).


De-militarizing the police: President Obama issued an executive order banning local police departments from purchasing certain military equipment from the federal government, including tracked armored vehicles, weaponized aircraft and high-caliber weapons and ammunition. However, police forces could still buy these directly from manufacturers, just not with federal money.

Child neglect conviction in high profile caseA fascinating child neglect/abuse case came to a close today. A woman in Arizona left her 2 young children (2 yrs and 6 months) alone in a car for an hour while she went on a job interview.

Temperatures were in the 70s that day, and she had cracked the windows. Still, she was charged with child abuse, and spent 10 days in jail. But many members of the public had plenty of sympathy for her, donating $115,000 for her expenses. The prosecutor made a deal with her to drop the charges if she put the money in a trust fund for her kids. She ended up spending the money on clothes, entertainment, cell phones, and cable TV. So Friday the judge sentenced her to 18 years of supervised probation, intended to cover the kids until they become adults.

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