Bloggers Entitled to First Amendment Protection

Benq laptop
Benq laptop (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Last week, a California federal appeals court, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, ruled that bloggers have constitutional First Amendment rights similar to journalists. Obsidian Financial Group sued blogger Cheryl Cox when she made claims of fraud, conspiracy and money laundering among other claims. They contended defamation and they won at the trial level with the blogger being slammed with a $2,500,000 damage award. Cox appealed and the federal appeals court determined that Cox, a blogger, was entitled to the same protections in her virtual arena that a paper media journalist is entitled to under the First Amendment.

According to the appellate court, statements of public concern on a blog such as those made by Cox are entitled to the protections of the First Amendment, the same as traditional print journalists enjoy.

 The protections of the
First Amendment do not turn on whether the defendant was
a trained journalist, formally affiliated with traditional news
entities, engaged in conflict-of-interest disclosure, went beyond
just assembling others’ writings, or tried to get both
sides of a story. As the Supreme Court has accurately
warned, a First Amendment distinction between the
institutional press and other speakers is unworkable: “With
the advent of the Internet and the decline of print and
broadcast media . . . the line between the media and others
who wish to comment on political and social issues becomes
far more blurred.” (Citation omitted). In
defamation cases, the public-figure status of a plaintiff and
the public importance of the statement at issue—not the
identity of the speaker—provide the First Amendment
We therefore hold that the Gertz negligence requirement
for private defamation actions is not limited to cases with
institutional media defendants.

The court went on to reverse the trial court’s findings and remand the matter for a new trial.

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Some New Legal Terms

Dictionary (Photo credit: greeblie)

Here are some new legal terms that are being used that you may or may not have heard of out there.


1. Benchslap – According to Urban dictionary

benchslap is when a judge humiliates an attorney, insults another judge, or reverses a lower court in a particularly demeaning manner. A judicial bitch slap, if you will. This term was popularized by David Lat of 

2. Litigatrix – Again, coined by David Lat of and defined by Urban dictionary as a hot female litigator – a combination of female litigator and dominatrix. 

David, you seem to be on a roll. Although I didn’t see a definition for the last neologism “judicial diva” I’m sure we can all just use our imagination.



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Being A Lawyer Isn’t All It’s Cracked Up To Be

U.S. News and World Report
U.S. News and World Report (Photo credit: afagen)
U.S. News and World Report (Photo credit: afagen)

According to the 2014 U.S. News and World Report, being a lawyer isn’t the most desirable job. In fact, it’s not in the top 10 — or the top 20 or dare I say, even the top 50. Out of the 100 jobs listed in the findings, lawyer holds the position of 51. We, as a profession, are on the bottom half of the list, not too far behind jobs such as middle school teacher and nail technician and only slightly ahead of bill collectors. Not very encouraging, is it?

But, don’t be discouraged if you are a lawyer or in law school right now since there is an upside. Paralegals are listed in the 87th spot so I guess in the legal field, it could always be worse.

To answer your burning question — the lowest on the totem pole of best jobs is painter and the job holding the #1 best job spot is software developer.

The majority of the top 25 is filled with technology, health care and engineering positions.

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Is an autistic child worth $85?

Is an autistic child worth approximately $85? That is the question that New York senator Chuck Schumer is proposing to the federal government. Schumer is proposing a federal law, entitled Avonte’s Law, where the federal government would pay the approximately $85 per child  plus a small monthly fee which would voluntarily allow parents of autistic children the ability to track the child if the child became separated. While this might seem unnecessary to some, a fair number of autistic children are completely non-verbal or speak very little. If they wander away from parents, siblings or sitters either at home, school or in a public setting it can be difficult for the child to get assistance or for adults to find the child.

English: Charles Schumer, United States Senato...
English: Charles Schumer, United States Senator from New York Español: Charles Schumer, Senador de los Estados Unidos de Nueva York (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This was the case of the missing New York child, Avonte Oquendo, the 14-year-old non-verbal autistic boy that left his school in October. Despite a large three-month search fueled by social media and the press, the child was not located and his remains were found last week in the East River. Had the young man had one of the proposed tracking devices either on his wrist or his clothing his family would have been able to locate him when he left the school in the middle of the school day.

The program that Schumer is proposing is similar to a voluntary tracking program for senior citizen who suffer from Alzheimer’s and have a tendency to wander. Under Schumer’s bill the federal funds would go to police departments who would purchase the tracking devices and have them available to give to parents who request them.

Schumer stated during a press conference to announce the bill that while we are unable to go back in time, the bill would help to ensure that the tragedy suffered by the Oquendo family does not happen to anyone else.

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Caramel Color – Think Twice Before Grabbing that Soda?

Cola is usually colored dark brown using caram...
Cola is usually colored dark brown using caramel color (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I don’t think that we need to worry about being struck by an asteroid or aliens invading our planet or becoming zombie food. No, it is quite apparent that humans will be the end of humans. I don’t mean by means of war, although that could be a possibility, no I literally mean we are going to kill ourselves.

In the news you can read about what’s going to kill you today. Everyday (or so it seems) there is something new and different that we are warned to avoid. Most of them are things of our own making – processed, chemically created and/or enhanced items (usually food products) that will surely knock us dead. Today’s product – caramel color. Yes, it’s true, today you can potentially be killed by the color of your soda.

Personally, I am not a soda drinker. When I had issues with allergies and rashes years ago, high fructose corn syrup was among the things that I desperately try to avoid. Trust me, it’s not easy because it seems as if it’s in everything…. and I mean everything. I can make a damn loaf of bread or rolls without either sugar or high fructose corn syrup but evidently commercial bakers cannot. It makes you wonder if it’s some plot to get us all addicted. But….I digress. 4-methyliminazole, or 4-Mel, which can be contained in caramel color – the stuff that gives your cola its brown color. Chances are you won’t find 4-Mel listed on the ingredient label of your favorite soda because it’s usually just referred to as “caramel coloring”.

Consumer Reports stated that the amount of 4-Mel in various cola drinks can exceed acceptable levels (this is a whole other rant, trust me as a law student I took Food and Drug Law just before lunch — a very, very bad idea, we skipped lunch a whole lot that semester). The WHO and State of California both believe that high levels of 4-Mel are dangerous so much so that they have issued warnings and California instituted a warning label on products containing the compound.

The Food and Drug Administration is currently looking into the issue.  For those of you interested in learning more about 4-Mel and its possible dangers you can look here. I’ve included some of the highlights from that page below.

1. 4-methylimidazole (4-MEI) is a chemical compound that is not directly added to food; rather it is formed as a byproduct in some foods and beverages during the normal cooking process. For example, 4-MEI may form when coffee beans are roasted and when meats are roasted or grilled. 4-MEI also forms as a trace impurity during the manufacturing of certain types of caramel coloring (known as Class III and Class IV caramel coloring) that are used to color cola-type beverages and other foods.

2. Foods containing added colors must list them either by name or as “artificial colors” in the ingredients statement on the food label. Because there are other artificial colors, the presence of “artificial colors” on a food label does not necessarily mean that caramel coloring is contained in the food. Also, the presence of “caramel coloring” on a food label does not necessarily mean that the food contains 4-MEI, because the term “caramel coloring” also may be used to describe Class I and Class II caramel coloring. Class I and Class II caramel coloring do not contain 4-MEI.  

3. Eliminating 4-MEI in food is virtually impossible. However, in the case of caramel coloring, companies can take steps to reduce its formation during the manufacturing process. In fact, several companies have already reduced the amount.

4. To ensure that the use of caramel coloring in food continues to be safe, FDA is currently reviewing all available data on the safety of 4-MEI and is reassessing potential consumer exposure to 4-MEI from the use of Class III and Class IV caramel coloring in food products. This safety analysis will help FDA determine what, if any, regulatory action needs to be taken. Such actions could include setting a limit on the amount of 4-MEI that can be present in caramel coloring. However, in the interim, FDA is not recommending that consumers change their diets because of concerns about 4-MEI.

So, that’s what may kill you today.  Perhaps we might want to think before we grab that can of soda.

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The new year seemed like the perfect time to start a new legal themed blog for my law practice.