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Once again, we need to read between the lines and maybe, just maybe, read the lines themselves, rather than let the media do the reading and interpreting for us. The new law passed in North Carolina is more than just a law regulating the use of public bathrooms in the state.

At the time of the Boston marathon bombing, we had a very interesting discussion at our dining room table to explain to the boys why, as horrible as it might seem at that time, that the suspected bomber needed to have his rights protected. The basic reason, is because they are your rights and my rights too. It is a very slippery slope that we go down when we think it’s okay to take away one person’s rights or deny one his or her rights. While it might seem perfectly fine under one circumstance (think the marathon bomber), what happens when it’s your turn and your rights that are up for grabs? Not so okay now is it? Like it or not, the rights we have apply to all of us, not just the ones that we pick and choose under the circumstances. When folks were opening up their doors to allow police to search their homes, how many invoked that wonderful little right called the 4th Amendment and said, no. No, you cannot just come into my home police, without a warrant and search it. Not now, not ever, because my constitutional rights say so.

If you actually read the new law in North Carolina, it has two parts. One part regulates the use of public restroom facilities and limits their use to a single sex based upon a person’s biological sex. The second part, entitled the Wage and Hour Act prevents any local government (read: city or town) from passing any law, ordinance or regulation that regulates the minimum wage in the state. That means that any person in North Carolina, not just transgender folks are subject to North Carolina’s whim on whether or not to raise the minimum wage. The minimum wage in North Carolina is presently $7.25 per hour. Unlike other places in the country where cities have chosen to raise the minimum wage because they recognize that living in a city may be more expensive, cities are now prohibited from any such actions.

The law addresses the minimum wage, and does not allow any local government to set a minimum wage.“The legislature took that power expressly away, so forbade any local government from raising the minimum wage beyond what federal and state law require,” Charlotte Law School Professor Brian Clarke said.

To give you an idea of why folks, all folks not just the transgender and LBGQ folks should be jumping up and down in protest, many places in the country have enacted $15 minimum wages. Realize this means that minimum wage workers in North Carolina are getting paid just about 1/2 of what other people working minimum wage jobs can get paid. Here in little tiny Vermont our minimum wage is $9.60 per hour and while that’s not great, it’s still way better than North Carolina. Do you see something wrong with what North Carolina did with this law? You should.

The law also prevents any person (read: ANY PERSON) from pursuing a state action under the law for the public policies expressed in the act which also governs employment discrimination. Guess what folks? Under the law and its line “This Article does not create, and shall not be construed to create or support, a statutory or common law private right of action, and no person may bring any civil action based upon the public policy expressed herein” seems that all persons in the state are affected. Got that? Everyone.

Have a discrimination claim based upon religion, race, color  that does not fall into one of the state’s already established laws, guess what, you have no civil right to file suit in the state  court according to this law. According to  Charlotte School of Law professor, Brian Clark (who knows way more than little ‘ol lawyer me does) “In a very hidden way, it eliminated the ability for employees in North Carolina to file claims under state law for employment discrimination on the basis of race, sex, national origin, color and age,” Clarke said, “And that’s a right that North Carolina employees have had since 1982… and it’s gone.” Poof. Gone. Folks should be rioting in the streets.

So, people, especially those who are peppering Facebook with their very prejudiced views of the rights of the transgender community under the North Carolina law and those that are speaking out against it, perhaps you should realize that when a particular group’s rights are affected, maybe, just maybe your rights are too. Under this law, rights were affected, not just for a particular segment of the North Carolina population but for all of the North Carolina population.

See, it’s really not an us v. them mentality. People are people and under the laws of this country we are all entitled to our rights, whether or not each of us personally stands for or against the person behind the right.  My kids understand this and have for some time. It’s about time that the adult population in this country realizes it too. One day, it could be your right that at stake. Remember that. Always.


English: International Criminal Court (ICC) logo

English: International Criminal Court (ICC) logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A long time ago, someone that I hold very dear to my heart, who was like a second father to me, told me that dressing up together with a respectful attitude can definitely put you in a place where you might not get otherwise. Those two things he would often say, would take you far in life.  We are, for better or worse, humans who judge on first impressions. Dressing up doesn’t mean donning a $1,500 designer suit, but rather dressing appropriately and more importantly, respectfully for the situation that you find yourself in and acting accordingly.

Today, my oldest son got a glimpse into the legal world that forms the basis of his mother’s world. We drove down to Massachusetts together to appear for a traffic ticket that he got driving home from a concert during the summer. Entering the courthouse, what I had been trying to explain to him quickly became apparent. Looking around it was easy to understand why it was so important for him to don a suit and dress appropriately for this appearance. There were folks there in sleeveless t shirts, sweatpants, some looking like they had just rolled out of bed, most very clearly not showing any respect for the court or those in it that would decide their fate, for better or worse. When addressed by court personnel, some were out and out rude, others swore and attacked the police officer who had given them their ticket, who incidentally was seated a dozen feet or so and well within earshot of their conversation. My son got to see another side of life, which I think opened his eyes to how important some of the little things are that the adults in his life have been telling him all these years. Personally, while I wouldn’t advocate running out and committing a traffic offense or criminal act, just spending a few hours in municipal or traffic court and seeing what other people go through and how good you’ve got it in a lot of respects, can give a person a great deal of perspective. It is definitely most often a long line of examples of how not to act.

Besides the attorneys and the court personnel, he was clearly the most respectfully dressed. Since I am not licensed in Massachusetts, I was only there as moral support with some legal advice thrown in for good measure. I am very proud to say that when called, he appeared alone before the magistrate and presented his side of the story. He walked out of the courtroom, with a very, very good result– a big part of which I am certain was directly attributed to his appearance, his respectful and apologetic tone and his manners. TJ referred to it as “the power of the suit”. So, bringing the story full circle, my dear mentor had he been there today, would have been very proud of my son, his demeanor and the “power of the suit”.

I don’t often (or hardly ever) put on my lawyer hat when I post to this blog. That is not the purpose of this blog and honestly I don’t want to bore those of you who do real my posts with the usually dry aspects of the legal world. I was however reading the Supreme Court’s opinion in the case entitled Federal Communications Commission, et al. v. AT&T and well, I just had to share. You really have to read this in order to understand exactly how bad AT&T got slapped in the face by the biggest court in our country. Judges, and especially United States Supreme Court Justices, usually don’t come across this way.

AT&T attempted to claim “personal privacy” in order to not have to release Freedom of Information Act records released which might be “embarrassing”. The Court (not very nicely) ruled that even though a recent case deemed corporations “persons” with rights under the law, they are not entitled to claim “personal privacy”. The humorous and rather sarcastic comments are excerpted here, but if you truly want the entire opinion can be read here.

Like the Court of Appeals below, AT&T relies on the argument that the word “personal” in Exemption 7(C) incorporates the statutory definition of the word “person.”… The Administrative Procedure Act defines “person” to include “an individual, partnership, corporation, association, or public or private organization other than an agency.” 5 U. S. C. §551(2). Because that definition applies here, the argument goes, “personal” must mean relating to those “person[s]”: namely, corporations and other entities as well as individuals. This reading, we are told, is dictated by a “basic principle of grammar and usage.” …According to AT&T, “[b]y expressly defining the noun ‘person’ to include corpora- tions, Congress necessarily defined the adjective form of that noun—‘personal’—also to include corporations.” AT&T Brief 14 (emphasis added).
We disagree. Adjectives typically reflect the meaning of corresponding nouns, but not always. Sometimes they acquire distinct meanings of their own. The noun “crab” refers variously to a crustacean and a type of apple, while the related adjective “crabbed” can refer to handwriting that is “difficult to read,” Webster’s Third New Interna- tional Dictionary 527 (2002); “corny” can mean “using familiar and stereotyped formulas believed to appeal to the unsophisticated,” id., at 509, which has little to do with “corn,” id., at 507 (“the seeds of any of the cereal grasses used for food”); and while “crank” is “a part of an axis bent at right angles,” “cranky” can mean “given to fretful fussiness,” id., at 530.
Even in cases such as these there may well be a link between the noun and the adjective. “Cranky” describes a person with a “wayward” or “capricious” temper, see 3 Oxford English Dictionary 1117 (2d ed. 1989) (OED), which might bear some relation to the distorted or crooked angular shape from which a “crank” takes its name. That is not the point. What is significant is that, in ordinary usage, a noun and its adjective form may have meanings as disparate as any two unrelated words. The FCC’s argument that “personal” does not, in fact, derive from the English word “person,” but instead developed along its own etymological path, Reply Brief for Petitioners 6, sim- ply highlights the shortcomings of AT&T’s proposed rule.
“Person” is a defined term in the statute; “personal” is not. When a statute does not define a term, we typically “give the phrase its ordinary meaning.” Johnson v. United States, 559 U. S. ___, ___ (2010) (slip op., at 4). “Personal” ordinarily refers to individuals. We do not usually speak of personal characteristics, personal effects, personal correspondence, personal influence, or personal tragedy as referring to corporations or other artificial entities. This is not to say that corporations do not have correspondence, influence, or tragedies of their own, only that we do not use the word “personal” to describe them.
Certainly, if the chief executive officer of a corporation approached the chief financial officer and said, “I have something personal to tell you,” we would not assume the CEO was about to discuss company business. Responding to a request for information, an individual might say, “that’s personal.” A company spokesman, when asked for information about the company, would not. In fact, we often use the word “personal” to mean precisely the oppo- site of business-related: We speak of personal expenses and business expenses, personal life and work life, personal opinion and a company’s view.
AT&T’s argument treats the term “personal privacy” as simply the sum of its two words: the privacy of a person. Under that view, the defined meaning of the noun “per- son,” or the asserted specialized legal meaning, takes on8 FCC v. AT&T INC. Opinion of the Court
greater significance. But two words together may assume a more particular meaning than those words in isolation. We understand a golden cup to be a cup made of or resembling gold. A golden boy, on the other hand, is one who is charming, lucky, and talented. A golden opportunity is one not to be missed. “Personal” in the phrase “personal privacy” conveys more than just “of a person.” It suggests a type of privacy evocative of human concerns—not the sort usually associated with an entity like, say, AT&T.

And to add insult to injury… the Supreme Court wraps its up with the following conclusion.

We reject the argument that because “person” is defined for purposes of FOIA to include a corporation, the phrase “personal privacy” in Exemption 7(C) reaches corporations as well. The protection in FOIA against disclosure of law enforcement information on the ground that it would constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy does not extend to corporations. We trust that AT&T will not take it personally.

Slam dunk there with the last line. Gotta love those justices.

Note in order to not cause you to become disinterested before you could get to the interesting stuff, I omitted the Court’s lengthly citation references — the stuff us lawyers live for….. just kidding, folks.

I really don’t post about legal stuff, since it’s kind of like bringing your work home with you. I do however find it interesting how the legal community is having a really hard time wrapping its head around blogging and twitter (and other 21st century technology). Tom likes to joke that us lawyers still think that the earth is flat since technology is, for the most part, extremely absent from the legal world. Two recent cases though (one civil and one criminal) have had to deal with issues of jurors sending tweets through Twitter while they were serving on the jury. Now, this is pretty interesting stuff. As a lawyer, we die to know what goes on in the jury room. Juries are so wrapped in mystery and the average litigation lawyer would just love to be a fly on the wall in deliberations. However, jurors are instructed not to discuss the case with anyone other than fellow jurors. So… the legal conundrum — does sending out tweets count as discussing the case? Does it violate the sanctity of the jury room? Here is a link to an interesting article on the subject.

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