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Tweet Suits: Social Media And The Law

Apr 24, 2014

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Linton Weeks

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In the past several years, as more and more people are connected through more and more social media, the idea of turning personal grievances into class actions is popping up, well, more and more.

In Virginia, a group that is against affirmative action in education went fishing for plaintiffs on websites recently, according to NPR. The group seeks college applicants who feel they were discriminated against.

In Utah, the American Civil Liberties Union posted a tweet on Twitter earlier this year seeking plaintiffs in a suit to protect the rights of same sex couples married there.

In Kentucky, Sen. Rand Paul took to email last year looking for plaintiffs — and donations — for a class action against the National Security Agency.

And in California, Tea Party organizations have come together in a class action alleging that the Internal Revenue Service treated them unfairly. They have created a website, Sue the IRS, that focuses on aspects of the suit.

According to a recent post on Law360, the action - which comprises tax and privacy issues - could be a test case for social media and the law. Citizens for Self-Governance, the group behind the case, is led by Tea Party Patriots co-founder Mark Meckler. Such public activity could have repercussions for the case, reports Law360. "As the overlap of social media and class actions continues to escalate, this could be a great case to watch."

Hashtag Justice

Now that folks are posting and tweeting — and retweeting — complaints and grievances around the clock, is every negative experience a possible class action? If someone has a bad experience with a bank or someone gets food poisoning at a restaurant or someone has a problem with a prescribed medicine, they can immediately find others with similar outrages. Is social media making it easier for plaintiffs to band together?

"It is true that with social media, it may be easier for plaintiffs who want to pursue a case to find others who are similarly aggrieved, and who may want to join them as plaintiffs," says Shannon Liss-Riordan, a class action litigation lawyer in Boston. "But I don't think the mere fact that people are airing their grievances in a public format is in itself leading to more class action cases."

In order to get a case certified as a class action, Shannon says, "the courts require so much more than that a plaintiff can merely identify that others have a complaint about the same thing. There are very particular and stringent requirements that must be met, and the cases most likely to be certified are those that challenge a policy that, on its face, affects a large number of people."

Let's Tweet All The Lawyers

But one thing is for sure: Attorneys are turning to social media. In the same ways they have been using TV ads to find people who have been been done wrong by a certain medical circumstance or corporate practice, the legal profession is clamming for clients in the ocean of social media.

In Georgia, a lawyer sought plaintiffs — on a chiropractic message board — for a suit against for-profit education companies. In Missouri, a firm recently relied on Reddit to find investors who feel misled by a certain bitcoin mining hardware company.

In New York, attorney Rob Corbett posted on a Facebook page a while back: "I am helping investigate a new case about text message 'spammers.' I am looking for plaintiffs who have received unsolicited text message advertisements."

And on Twitter he tweeted in December 2012: "Did you ride on a doubledecker sightseeing bus in NYC between March 2009 and now? I am looking for plaintiffs for a class action suit."

When asked if his hunting has been successful, Rob says he can't really comment "because the litigation is pending."

His use of social media "really is just another way to get a message out to people I already know, from friends to clients, etcetera. I do not have a broad public looking at my sites. So really, it is just an easier way to shoot out a message."

Rob will say, however, that in the doubledecker bus case "I put it out over social media. In the end though, the plaintiff I found was a neighbor."

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Mineral. (Courtesy of the artist)

StartSerenading... Again: Mineral To Reunite

by Lars Gotrich
Apr 24, 2014

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New songs by The Jazz June and Sunny Day Real Estate, tours from American Football and Texas Is the Reason — it's a helluva time to be a '90s emo kid. Teased with a new Twitter account and rehearsal studio shots on Instagram, Mineral has caught reunion fever and will be touring select cities in September, including a stop at the mighty emo/pop-punk festival simply named Fest in Gainsville, Fla. These will be the band's first shows in 17 years.

In its short existence from 1994-1998, Mineral produced two albums near and dear to the endlessly earnest. The Power of Failing sealed the deal on the quiet-loud-quiet dynamic that'd permeate emo years following. "Gloria" and "If I Could" were raucous and joyous pop songs, guitars squealing over Chris Simpson's wistful vocals. The appropriately-titled swansong, EndSerenading, was a somber, slower record that took its cues from Codeine.

After Mineral broke up, members went onto form other bands like The Gloria Record and Pop Unknown, both with equally short discographies worth diving back into.

Chris Simpson offers a statement on the reunion:

Reconnecting with each other and this material for the first time in 17 years has been a real joy and pleasure. The shows will be the icing on the cake. We are grateful for the opportunity and looking forward to getting to play for all the people who have loved us all along as well as the many who have discovered us posthumously along the way.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'll be in my room yelling, "Cause I just want to be / Something more than the mud in your eyes / I want to be the clay in your hands." You know, for practice.

Tour Dates

Sept. 5: New York, NY - Bowery Ballroom
Sept. 6: New York, NY - Bowery Ballroom
Sept. 9: Washington, DC - Black Cat
Sept. 10: Boston, MA - Brighton Music Hall
Sept. 11: Philadelphia, PA - Union Transfer
Sept. 12: Cleveland, OH - Grog Shop
Nov. 2: Gainesville, FL - The Fest 13

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Mineral. (Courtesy of the artist)

Lawyers Use High Court Petition To Highlight Prosecutorial Misconduct

Apr 24, 2014

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Lawyers for a computer support technician convicted of possessing ricin to use as a weapon are asking the Supreme Court on Thursday to hear his appeal, as a way to send a message about widespread prosecutorial misconduct.

The technician, Kenneth R. Olsen, says the Justice Department's failure to disclose an investigation that uncovered persistent misdeeds by a forensic expert who testified at his 2003 trial robbed him of a strong defense and violated his Fifth Amendment due-process rights. The forensic scientist was later fired "for incompetence and gross misconduct," the petition states. But in January 2013, a three-judge panel on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit ruled that prosecutors had presented so much evidence against Olsen at trial that the failure to turn over a report critical of the scientist wasn't material to the case.

Late last year, 9th Circuit Chief Judge Alex Kozinski (joined by four others on the bench) unsuccessfully urged the whole court to reconsider. In a blistering dissent, Kozinski outlined nearly three dozen cases describing the government's failure to share information that would help defendants. The judge decreed there was an "epidemic" of such violations and that only courts could put an end to them.

Lawyers for Olsen — at two private law firms in Seattle, a Northwestern University legal clinic and the Williams & Connollly firm in Washington, D.C. — pepper their Supreme Court petition with pungent quotes from Kozinski, such as this one: "When a public official behaves with such casual disregard for his constitutional obligations and the rights of the accused, it erodes the public's trust in our justice system and chips away at the foundational premises of the rule of law."

The involvement of Williams & Connolly hearkens back to the failed corruption prosecution of the late Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder walked away from that case early in the Obama administration after an FBI agent blew the whistle and a series of evidence-sharing lapses came to light under prodding from Stevens' defense team at Williams & Connolly.

Since then, the Justice Department has played down incidents of misconduct by its prosecutors and agents. But a report last month by the Project on Government Oversight found that hundreds of DOJ lawyers had violated rules, laws or ethical standards. Lawmakers and some defense attorneys worry the department isn't doing enough to police its own ranks, and they've introduced legislation to empower the independent inspector general to investigate.

The Justice Department had no immediate comment on Thursday's filing, but the Solicitor General will have an opportunity to lay out the government's arguments in the coming weeks.

Olsen, who's been sentenced to more than 10 years in prison, may not be the most sympathetic figure. He never denied possessing ricin, arguing rather that he never intended to use it as a weapon against anyone else.

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President Obama speaks as he attends a joint news conference with Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at the Akasaka State Guest House in Tokyo, on Thursday. Obama reinforced the U.S.-Japan security commitment. (AP)

Obama: Japan's Administration Of Disputed Islands Shouldn't Change

Apr 24, 2014

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President Obama on Thursday said the U.S. believes that Japan's administration of the Senkaku islands, which China also claims, should not change "unilaterally," as he assured Tokyo that U.S. security guarantees "covers all territories administered by Japan."

Obama, on the first stop in a week-long swing through the Asia-Pacific region, spoke alongside Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. As The New York Times notes, the president issued a "carefully calibrated statement" that "stopped short of siding with Japan in the dispute over who has sovereignty over the islands," which Beijing calls Diaoyu.

"Historically, [the islands] have been administered by Japan, and we do not believe that they should be subject to change unilaterally," Obama said, according to the Times. "What is a consistent part of the alliance is that the treaty covers all territories administered by Japan."

"[The] U.S.-Japan alliance is the foundation for not only our security in the Asia Pacific region but also for the region as a whole," the president said after a meeting between the two leaders.

"And we have continued to strengthen it. We are looking at a whole range of issues that are challenging at this time, including the threats posed by North Korea and the nuclearization that's been taking place in that country," Obama said.

Abe, who spoke first, said the U.S.-Japan alliance "is indispensable and irreplaceable as the foundation for a peaceful and prosperous Asia-Pacific region.

"[Together] with the United States, Japan would like to realize our leading role of the alliance in ensuring a peaceful and prosperous Asia Pacific," Abe said.

However, the Times says Obama's message "was partly vitiated by the failure to conclude a trade deal with Japan. Despite frantic, round-the-clock talks, negotiators failed to close the gaps on issues like access to Japan's beef and pork markets — further bogging down the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a regional trade pact that is a central pillar of Mr. Obama's Asian strategy.

"With little to announce on the trade front, Mr. Obama and Mr. Abe kept the focus on managing rising tensions in the East China Sea, where China last year imposed an air defense identification zone as a way of asserting its sovereignty over those waters."

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Can these cartoon pals help reduce the stigma of cancer treatment for children? (Courtesy of Ogilvy Brazil)

Snoopy, Garfield And Friends Go Bald For Kids With Cancer

by Linda Poon
Apr 24, 2014

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Olive Oil Snoopy Monica from Monica's Gang, one of Brazil's most popular cartoons, got a makeover as part of the Bald Cartoons campaign.

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It's not easy having cancer, especially when you're a kid. And it's even harder when that bald chemo head tells the whole world that you're sick.

So Garfield, Hello Kitty and the fine-feathered cast of the movie Rio 2 are going bald, too. Cartoonists around the world are de-fuzzing their creations as part of a Brazilian project that aims to reduce the stigma of cancer treatment.

Children "have to fight the prejudice from friends, from colleagues at school and from people they see on the street," says Roberto Fernandez, executive creative officer at the ad agency Ogilvy Brazil, which launched the campaign with GRAACC, a childhood cancer nonprofit in Sao Paulo. "They start to be treated as somebody special, in a bad sense. People avoid them; friends at school bully them for being bald."

The Bald Cartoons concept started in Brazil back in November, when characters in cartoons and comic books popular there, such as Monica's Gang, started taking a bit off the top. This month it's going international, with about 40 characters from across the globe including Garfield, Snoopy, Hello Kitty and Finn from the TV show Adventure Time.

The story lines stay the same, Fernandez tells Shots, but the characters have no hair - or fur - on their heads.

"They're bald with no explanation, just like if a kid with cancer is bald ... you don't have to bother them about the fact the he or she is bald," he says. "That's how we want to see kids. I want to see kids playing happily, no matter if they have or don't have hair."

In Brazil, the Bald Cartoons campaign became so popular it even got a Twitter shoutout from Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff.

But Fernandez is most excited about children's reactions. One patient said in a video, "I thought that if I took my hat off at school people would laugh, but now I don't feel that anymore."

"And he took off the cap," Fernandez says. "And all these friends clapped for him immediately. And that was a huge emotional moment for us."

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