2015.69: The Montgomery County Online-Solicitation Litigation

Yesterday Kelly Case, Judge of the 9th District Court in Montgomery County, Texas, found the remainder of Section 33.021 of the Texas Penal Code unconstitutional, and dismissed the case against a defendant charged with that crime.1

Scared White Republican Voters are up in arms. Phil Grant is up in arms.2

Judge Kelly Case and prosecutor Phil Grant both took the same oath: to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States and of this State. In holding the remainder of Section 33.021 unconstitutional, Case kept his oath. In his criticism of the decision, Grant calls into question his ability to keep his own oath.

Section 33.021 is a content-based restriction on speech. A content-based restriction on speech is presumptively invalid. Unless the State shows that the statute meets strict scrutiny — that it is, that it is narrowly tailored to further a compelling governmental interest, a judge is bound by his oath to find it unconstitutional. Absent any authority binding him to hold the statute constitutional, Judge Case was bound by oath to do what he did yesterday.

There should be nothing special about a district court judge holding a statute unconstitutional. It should happen regularly. Constitutions trump statutes, and appellate courts have found three Texas statutes unconstitutional under the First Amendment in the last two years alone.3 Yet when Judge Case follows his oath to defend the Constitution, people are surprised. Phil Grant gnashes his teeth, and the defense bar cheers.

There is a word for a judge who violates his oath to defend the Constitution. That word is corrupt. A judge who fails to defend the Constitution, for fear of losing his job or for hope of pecuniary gain or for any other reason, is a corrupt judge.

A judge who takes into account the wishes of the voters or of prosecutors in deciding not to hold a statute unconstitutional is as corrupt as a judge who takes money to rule a certain way. It avails the corrupt judge nothing to say that he would have ruled the same way regardless of the corrupt influence.

I can count on one hand the Harris County judges who are willing always to do the right thing despite how it will look to the voters. To most of my judicial readers: what’s it like, being corrupt? How does it feel to know that I know that you’re corrupt?

Judge Case is not corrupt. Phil Grant wishes Judge Case were corrupt, and rants against Judge Case because Judge Case is not corrupt and does not subordinate his oath to reelection. Phil Grant would incite corruption in the judiciary. Phil Grant wants to be a judge himself. Because of his visceral reaction to Judge Case following his oath, we can safely assume that when Phil Grant is judge he will relegate his own oath.

The Montgomery County Criminal Lawyers Association responded to Phil Grant’s statements in the Conroe paper. Here’s my favorite bit:

if Mr. Grant is incapable of protecting the children of Montgomery County without the help of unconstitutional statutes, then he is incapable of keeping his own oath, and is unfit to be either a prosecutor or judge.

Can you not see the problem here, Phil?


  1. You can stop calling and emailing to tell me about it. I was there. 

  2. To hear Phil Grant tell it, you would think that Montgomery County is a hotbed of pedophilia. Why is that? Are the SWRVs who flee the scary diversity of the city for the scared whiteness of MoCo especially prone to kiddy diddling? 

  3. District judges have held another two statutes unconstitutional; three including 33.021(c). 

Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

2015.68: A Texas Online-Solicitation Law Roadmap

Here’s a quick summary (more than a soundbite, less than a brief) of the status of the remains of Texas’s online-solicitation-of-a-minor statute.

The statute forbids adults soliciting people whom they believe are minors to have sex, but it also forbids their soliciting other adults whom they believe to be adults to have sex, as well as soliciting people to not have sex (that is, fantasy communications or communications with no intent to meet).

Soliciting a child to have sex, with the intent that a crime be committed, is unprotected speech.

Soliciting someone you believe to be a child to have sex, with the intent that a crime be committed, is probably unprotected speech.

But soliciting an adult to have sex is generally protected speech. And making solicitive noises to a child, with no intent to actually carry through, is protected speech. It’s the intent to commit a (non-speech) crime that makes the speech unprotected.

So section 33.021, as it currently stands, forbids protected speech as well as unprotected speech.

The law will change as of September first, to correct this problem.1

Here’s what Joan Huffman, the sponsor of Senate Bill 344, wrote in her Statement of Intent:

The current statute is overbroad. Though the statute was enacted to impose sanctions upon those who engage in Internet conversations with minors with an intent for physical contact to take place, the statute’s sexually explicit communication provision contains no requirement that an actor ever possess the intent to meet the child.

Like Section 33.021(b), the current Section 33.021(c) contains no requirement that an actor ever possess the intent to meet the child. It appears to, but the requirement that subsection (c) gives, subsection (d) takes away:

(c) A person commits an offense if the person, over the Internet, by electronic mail or text message or other electronic message service or system, or through a commercial online service, knowingly solicits a minor to meet another person, including the actor, with the intent that the minor will engage in sexual contact, sexual intercourse, or deviate sexual intercourse with the actor or another person.

(d) It is not a defense to prosecution under Subsection (c) that: …

(2) the actor did not intend for the meeting to occur; or

(3) the actor was engaged in a fantasy at the time of commission of the offense.

“The actor did not intend for the meeting to occur” would, if not for (d)(2), be an inferential-rebuttal defense: it negates the “intent that the minor will engage…” element of the offense. If “the actor did not intend for the meeting to occur” is not a defense, then “intent that the minor will engage…” is not an element (because inferential rebuttal of an element is always a defense).

Likewise, “The actor was engaged in a fantasy at the time of commission of the offense” would inferentially rebut intent; if “fantasy” is not a defense then “intent” is not an element.

So what have the courts said about this argument? There are four cases:

In Ex Parte Lo, the Court of Criminal Appeals addressed 33.021(c) in dicta:

Section 33.021 of the Texas Penal Code is titled “Online Solicitation of a Minor.” It includes subsection (c) — a provision that prohibits and punishes an actor who uses electronic communications to “solicit” a minor, “to meet another person, including the actor, with the intent that the minor will engage in” certain sexual behavior.[20] Such solicitation statutes exist in virtually all states and have been routinely upheld as constitutional because “offers to engage in illegal transactions [such as sexual assault of a minor] are categorically excluded from First Amendment protection.”[21] Thus, it is the conduct of requesting a minor to engage in illegal sexual acts that is the gravamen of the offense. The First Court of Appeals previously upheld the constitutionality of the Texas online-solicitation-of-minors statute.[22] That specific provision is not at issue in this case, but it provides an excellent contrast to the provision that is at issue.

Subsection (c) was not at issue in Lo; to my eternal embarrassment I hadn’t yet looked closely at the interplay of (c) with (d) and (a), so I held out (c) as an example to the Court of Criminal Appeals of a constitutional statute, which resulted in this bit of dicta. Fortunately, though, dicta are not binding.

Footnote 22 of Lo links to Maloney v. State, the First Court of Appeals’ 2009 case upholding 33.021(c) in the face of overbreadth and vagueness challenges. Maloney, a published opinion, is the major obstacle to relief. Justice Higley wrote the opinion in Maloney, and made the same mistake that that intermediate court later made in Lo: “applying an incorrect standard of review.” That is, a content-based restriction on speech is presumptively invalid, and the First Court in Maloney treated 33.021(c) as presumptively valid. When the burden shifts to the State, everything changes.

At the end of April I had oral argument in Ex Parte Wheeler, in the First Court of Appeals. The panel to which I argued included Justice Jennings (who wrote the erroneous opinion in Ex Parte Lo) and Justice Higley (whose opinion in Maloney v. State the First Court will have to overrule to invalidate the statute). We’re waiting for an opinion on that case, which will — thanks to the court hearing oral argument — at least apply the correct standard of review. If the court reaches the correct result, the Court of Criminal Appeals will most likely grant discretionary review; if the court applies the correct standard but reaches the wrong result, I will petition for discretionary review, and hope the Court of Criminal Appeals is interested.

So Lo‘s 33.021(c) language is dicta and is not binding. Maloney‘s 33.021(c) language is published and binding on courts within the First Court of Appeals’ geographic jurisdiction, but Maloney applied the wrong standard of review and will be revisiting 33.021(c) in light of Lo.

There are two other cases that the State relies on in support of the remnants of Section 33.021. First, there is the published San Antonio opinion in Ex Parte Zavala. In Zavala the defendant argued that the statute was vague, but not that it was overbroad. In finding that the statute, with conflicting subsections (c) and (d), was not vague, the San Antonio court made this baffling statement:

The crime of soliciting a minor under section 33.021(c) is committed, and is completed, at the time of the request, i.e., the solicitation. … Indeed, it is the requirement that the defendant must solicit “with the intent that the minor will engage in sexual contact” that operates to make otherwise innocent conduct, i.e., soliciting a minor to meet, into criminal conduct. It follows then, that for purposes of a subsection (c) solicitation offense, … it does not matter … that the defendant did not intend for the meeting to actually occur, or that the defendant was engaged in a fantasy at the time of the solicitation.

Zavala didn’t answer the overbreadth question; it’s a published opinion, but it is binding only on courts within the geographic jurisdiction of the San Antonio Court of Appeals.

The case that did answer the overbreadth question is Victorick, out of the Beaumont Court of Appeals. In Victorick the Court of Appeals, like the First Court in Lo and Maloney, applied the wrong test:

Victorick makes a facial challenge to the statute and he must therefore prove the statute is unconstitutional in every application, and that it could never be constitutionally applied to any defendant under any set of facts or circumstances.

This is not the law. When the statute is a content-based restriction on speech, the burden is on the State to show that the statute is constitutional, and the State must prove that the statute meets the very high standard of strict scrutiny.

The Beaumont court ignored this standard, writing:

On the other hand, if the statute punishes conduct rather than speech, the courts apply a “rational basis” level of review to determine if the statue has a rational relationship to a legitimate state purpose.

For this proposition the Beaumont court cited Broadrick v. Oklahoma. Neither on the cited page nor on any other does Broadrick say anything about a “rational basis” test. The Beaumont court seems to have pulled its proposition from thin air.

The Beaumont court and others (including the State in every brief they’ve filed anywhere in Texas) reads far too much into this line from Broadrick:

where conduct and not merely speech is involved, we believe that the overbreadth of a statute must not only be real, but substantial as well, judged in relation to the statute’s plainly legitimate sweep

They read too much into it because recent Supreme Court cases2 make clear that whether speech or expressive conduct is involved the overbreadth of a statute must be real and substantial.

The Supreme Court does not treat expressive conduct differently than speech, and speech does not become unprotected merely because you call it conduct. But the State’s defense of Section 33.021(c) hinges on this:

A conduct based restriction is presumed constitutional and requires a rational basis standard of review.

For this proposition the State cites Victorick, which in turn cites Broadrick, which doesn’t say that.

In any case, Victorick is an unpublished opinion, and is not binding authority anywhere.

To sum up: Lodicta, not binding; Zavala — vagueness only, binding only in San Antonio area; Maloney — under attack in Wheeler, binding only in Houston appellate district; Victorick — goofy, unpublished, not binding.

Next I’ll talk, in light of this roadmap, about the litigation this week in Conroe that has brought Judge Kelly Case unfair and unethical criticism from Phil Grant and the Montgomery County District Attorney’s Office.

Then I’ll talk about why Phil Grant’s criticism was unethical, and what it shows about his fitness for office.


  1. The new law comes close to being right; it may be close enough to survive an as-written challenge, but I can envision as-applied challenges. 

  2. Such as Ferber, in 1982, but there’s no reason the State should know about that. 

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

2015.67: Texas Legislature Outlaws Sex

From Texas Penal Code Section 43.02, effective September 1:

(a) A person commits an offense if, in return for receipt of a fee, the person knowingly:
(1) offers to engage, agrees to engage, or engages in sexual conduct; or
(2) solicits another in a public place to engage with the actor in sexual conduct for hire.
(b) A person commits an offense if, based on the payment of a fee by the actor or another person on behalf of the actor, the person knowingly:
(1) offers to engage, agrees to engage, or engages in sexual conduct; or
(2) solicits another in a public place to engage with the actor in sexual conduct for hire.
(b-1) An offense is established under Subsection (a) regardless of whether the actor is offered or actually receives the fee. An offense is established under Subsection (b) regardless of whether the actor or another person on behalf of the actor offers or actually pays the fee.

So if you engage in sexual conduct in return for receipt of a fee, you commit a crime regardless of whether you received or even were offered a fee.

We might guess what the Texas Legislature meant to do here:

An offense is established under Subsection (a) whether the actor is offered or actually receives the fee. An offense is established under Subsection (b) whether the actor or another person on behalf of the actor offers or actually pays the fee.

Unfortunately, elections select for neither writing ability nor intelligence, so we wind up with grammatical abominations such as this (thanks again, Joan Huffman!).

(H/T @TDCAA.)

Posted in Uncategorized | 6 Comments

2015.66: The Unlawful Sweetcakes Order

You’ve probably heard about the bakers in Oregon penalized $135k for refusing to bake a wedding cake for a lesbian couple. You probably haven’t read the order. I have so that you won’t have to.

(It’s long—3,000-plus words—so tl;dr: The facts are fascinating, but if you must, jump over the facts to the conclusion.)

You may have heard that the bakers were also ordered not to talk about the case (true) or that they were fined for doxxing the couple (false).1

The Kleins violated Oregon Revised Statute 659A.406; this is pretty clear: acting “on behalf of a place of public accommodation” they “denied full and equal accomodations” because of the Bowman-Cryers’ sexual orientation when they refused to bake a wedding cake for them. The Kleins do not appear to have disputed that they (actually, he, but she was held jointly and severally liable) violated 403; the issue is whether their right to exercise their religion trumps the statute.2

The Kleins were also found liable for violating Oregon Revised Statute 659A.409: publishing a communication to the effect that services would be withheld on account of sexual orientation. This finding is on shakier ground: their strongest indication that they would continue withholding services on account of sexual orientation was this note on their door:

This fight is not over. We will continue to stand strong. Your religious freedom is becoming not free anymore. This is ridiculous that we cannot practice our faith. The LORD is good and we will continue to serve HIM with all our heart. [heart symbol]

If 409 is not facially unconstitutional, it is unconstitutional as applied; by finding that statements like that violate 409 and enjoining further violations of 409 the Commissioner of the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries, Brad Avakian, enjoined the Kleins from making statements like “the fight is not over.” (See also Popehat on the subject.)

But I want to talk about the damages in this case. The Commissioner could not order a fine or penalty. In fact, he gertrudes:

In [this] order, the forum considers the extent of Complainants’ emotional suffering and the cause of that suffering; and the appropriate amount of damages. Any damages awarded do not constitute a fine or civil penalty, which the Commissioner has no authority to impose in a case such as this. Instead, any damages fairly compensate RBC and LBC for the harm they suffered and which was proven at hearing. This is an important distinction as this order does not punish respondents for their illegal conduct but, rather makes whole those subjected to the harm their conduct caused.

So $135,000 is, in his opinion, fair compensation to RBC and LBC for the emotional suffering caused by Aaron Klein’s refusal to bake them a wedding cake.

Nonsense.

This is Commissioner Avakian sending a message—a message that, as he notes, he has no authority to send—to people who would politely decline to participate in gay marriages. To justify the huge sum, he goes at length into the Bowman-Cryers’ mental suffering, most of which has only a tenuous relationship to the Kleins’ conduct.

When RBC asked AK to bake her a cake, AK “stated that he was sorry, but that Sweetcakes did not make wedding cakes for same-sex ceremonies because of AK’s and MK’s religious convictions.” Not exactly the stuff of nightmares.

RBC began crying. She felt that she had humiliated her mother, CM (who was with her) and was anxious about whether CM was ashamed of her. (CM had come to terms with RBC’s homosexuality recently—she “had believed that being a homosexual was wrong until only a few years earlier” than the cake incident.) CM walked RBC out of the store; RBC “became hysterical and kept telling CM ‘I’m sorry’ because she felt that she had humiliated CM.”

“In the car, CM hugged RBC and assured her” that RBC had not humiliated her. Just kidding. CM assured RBC that “they would find someone to make a wedding cake.”3

CM drove a short distance, then returned to Sweetcakes to talk to AK alone, leaving RBC in the car “bawling.” CM told AK that she used to think like him, “but her ‘truth had changed’ as a result of having ‘two gay children.’ AK quoted Leviticus 18:22 to CM, saying ‘You shall not lie with a male as one lies with a female; it is an abomination.'” Which would be a pretty shitty thing to say to the mother of two gay children, unless said mother had subscribed to the same philosophy herself until recently.

So that’s the end of the matter, right? RBC, already bawling in the car, doesn’t need Leviticus quoted at her; she needs a mother’s love. It would have been a crappy cake anyway. I mean, how could a heterosexual pastry chef possibly be any good?

Oh, no. Because, apparently addicted to drama, CM returns to the car, where her child has been bawling while CM discusses theology with AK, and tells RBC “that AK had told her that ‘her children were an abomination unto God.'” Since she had raised RBC as a Southern Baptist, her telling RBC that AK thought she was an abomination (a message that RBC had surely gotten from church and family, including CM, for most of her life) “made her feel as if God made a mistake when he made her, that she wasn’t supposed to be, and that she wasn’t supposed to love or be loved, have a family, or go to heaven.” In other words, all of the feelings that had made her flee Texas (whence she and her brother had moved so that they “could be more accepted in the community”) for the Pacific Northwest.

CM drove RBC, still crying, home, where LBC asked what had happened, and Drama Mama CM related to LBC what AK had told RBC and what AK had told CM—”your children are an abomination.” Raised Catholic, LBC recognized the Leviticus quote, and was “shocked.”4 LBC took AK’s words to mean “‘this is a creature not created by God, not created with a soul; they are unworthy of holy love; they are not worthy of life.’ She immediately thought that this never would have happened if she had not asked RBC to marry her and felt shame because of it. She also worried that this might negatively impact CM’s acceptance of RBC’s sexual orientation.”

LBC tried to soothe RBC. RBC pushed her away. “LBC lost her temper and started yelling that she ‘could not believe this had happened’ and that she could ‘fix’ things if RBC would just let her.”5

One of LBC and RBC’s two foster daughters was “extremely agitated from events at school that day.” LBC could not calm her, and RBC was unavailable (presumably because she “continued crying and spend much of that evening in bed”). LBC did not know how to handle the situation. That night, she was “very upset, cried a lot, and was hurt and angry.”

CM called Lauren at the wedding venue and told her that Sweetcakes, whom Lauren had recommended, had refused them cake service. She also posted a review on Sweetcakes’s Facebook wedding page and on another wedding website recommending that gay couples avoid Sweetcakes’s “because they discriminate against gay people.”

Lauren emailed RBC and LBC wanting the details. That evening (same evening she was unavailable to console her young daughter) RBC emailed Lauren back: “This is twice in this wedding process that we have faced this kind of bigotry”; this is an interesting detail unexplained in Avakian’s order.

LBC, the partner who got the story from CM, filled out an online complaint form with the Oregon DOJ. She stretched the truth ((In his order, Avakian found that LBC “had a strong tendency to exaggerate and over-dramatize events…Her testimony was inconsistent in several respects with more credible evidence.” In short, she was not a truthful witness.)) a bit: “Today…we went for our cake tasting…. We were then informed that our money was not equal, my fiancé reduced to tears.”

RBC’s brother AC got home and had a 30-minute conversation with LBC and RBC about what happened.

All of that happened on the first day, January 17, 2013.

The next day, RBC “felt depressed and questioned whether there was something inherently wrong with the sexual orientation she was born with and if she and LBC deserved to be married like a heterosexual couple.”

The church she came up in would say that she and LBC did not deserve to be married; her mother would, until recently, have agreed; but these thoughts became Aaron Klein’s fault when he refused to sell her a cake.6 RBC spent most of the day in her room, trying to sleep.

The days following were rough. RBC had difficulty controlling her emotions and cried a lot; LBC and RBC argued because RBC couldn’t control her emotions. “They had not argued … since moving to Oregon.”

RBC became more distant in her family relationships. She and her brother AC were not as close “for a little bit.” She questioned whether she could be a good mother because of her difficulty controlling her emotions.7 She was still “very sad and stressed” a week later.

LBC felt “extreme anger, outrage embarrassment, exhaustion, frustration, intense sorrow, and shame as a reaction to AK’s refusal to provide a cake. She felt sorrow because she couldn’t console E, she could not protect RBC, and because RBC was no longer sure she wanted to be married.… she was not sure she could protect RBC if any similar incidents occurred.”8

Drama-queen CM took over responsibility for contacting the wedding vendors. She found a gay-friendly bakery (amazing!) and made an appointment. CM did most of the talking until they got to the design of the cake; the bakery charged $250 for the cake (which AK would have charged $600 for).

The Oregon DOJ sent a copy of the complaint to AK; AK posted a copy on his website. He had only seventeen friends (though the page was apparently public), and he took down the posting the same day. Meanwhile, one of LBC’s friends9 emailed her to tell her to look at the posting. LBC did, and called the couple’s lawyer.10

On February 1, LBC found out that AK’s refusal to make their wedding cake had made the news. She may have found out because RBC got a call from a talk radio host and called LBC.

The couple became afraid that their foster children would be taken away.11 LBC’s headaches increased; she felt intimidated and became fearful. Their lawyer sent out a press release requesting privacy.

There was a protest outside the bakery on February 9th; RBC and LBC both made comments on the Facebook page organizing the boycott “in which they indirectly identified themselves as the person who sought the wedding cake and thanked people for their support.”

On February 12, 2013, the Oregon Department of Justice emailed a copy of the complaint to the media. The findings of fact do not mention whether DOJ redacted the complainants’ names and addresses first—a fact that Avakian surely would have mentioned had it been true.

After the DOJ publicized their complaint, LBC had a confrontation with “an aunt who had physically and emotionally abused her as a child and also owned all of the family property”: “the aunt insisted through social media that LBC drop the complaint. She also called LBC and told her she was not welcome on family property and she would shoot LBC ‘in the face’ if LBC ever set foot on the family’s property in Ireland or the United States.” LBC was devastated “as it meant she could not visit her mother or grandmother, both of whom lived on family property.12

Meanwhile, “RBC’s sister, who believed that homosexuals should not be allowed to get married, wrote a Facebook message to teh Kleins to tell them that she supported them. This was a ‘crushing blow’ to RBC, and it hurt her and made her very angry at her sister.”

From February 1, 2013, “many people have made ‘hate-filled’ comments through social media and in the comments sections of various websites that were supportive of Respondents and critical of or threatening to Complainants. These comments and the media attention caused RBC stress, anger, pain, frustration, suffering, torture, shame, humiliation, degradation, fear that she would be harassed at home because the DOJ complaint with Complainants’ home address had been posted on Facebook, and the feeling that her reputation was being destroyed.”

“The publicity from the case and accompanying threats from third parties on social media made RBC ‘scared’ for the lives of A, E, LBC, and herself.”

I assume that Avakian included all the facts “necessary to provide context to Complainants’ claim for damages” and omitted all the facts irrelevant to that claim. For example, if he hadn’t considered, as part of their damages claim, the fact that people were shitty to them on the Internet,13 he would have omitted that fact. If someone had harassed the complainants at home he would have included that fact.

Consider how things might have been different had CM—who until recently might herself have quoted Leviticus to LBC and RBC—kept her mouth shut after talking to AK. While RBC was very upset by the denial of cake, it was CM’s words to her that had her doubting her worthiness. LBC’s reaction, too,  was not triggered only by AK’s refusal to bake the cake, nor by AK telling RBC that she was an abomination (he didn’t), but also and more significantly by CM telling LBC that AK had told her, CM, that “her children” were an abomination.

What’s really going on here? CM’s recent acceptance of RBC’s sexual orientation is so tenuous, in the view of RBC’s life partner, that the baker quoting scripture is a threat to it. I hunch that, consciously or not, CM wanted LBC and RBC to feel shitty about their sexual orientation.

If someone says something shitty to you about me, and you relay it to me, you are not doing me a favor; any emotional harm I suffer as a result is on you. The burden should have been on the BOLI to show that any emotional harm was caused by the Kleins. But Commissioner Avakian made no effort to distinguish between the effect of the denial of accommodation, and the effect of CM stirring up trouble.

AK never initiated contact with the media. He did not give the complainants’ names to the media. He never told the media anything but the truth. Even if he had  done more to spread the story than post the complaint for a few hours and respond to media inquiries, it would not be appropriate to hold him responsible for the Internet’s reaction to the story: if you sue someone and people find out and say mean things about you, the defendant is not liable for your hurt feelings. Yet Avakian did not try to distinguish between the effect on the complainants of the denial of accommodation and the effect on them of filing a complaint with the state.

We take our victims as we find them, and someone breaking the law by refusing accomodation based on a forbidden distinction assumes the risk that the potential customer is on the edge of breakdown already because of incompetent parenting and a repressive upbringing. But he doesn’t and shouldn’t assume the risk that the potential customer’s family will make things worse.

So the Kleins are not responsible for CM telling RBC and LBC that AK told CM that her gay children were an abomination. Nor are they responsible for any of the effects of that statement.

The Kleins are not responsible for LBC’s aunt threatening to shoot her in the face.

The Kleins are not responsible for RBC’s sister not supporting her against the Kleins.

The Kleins are not responsible for the community’s response to LBC and RBC’s complaint. They are especially not responsible for others’ hateful comments.

RBC and LBC were not harassed at home. The Kleins are not responsible for RBC’s fears that they would be.

The Kleins should no more have to pay for the harm that Rachel and Laurel Bowman-Cryer suffered because of the complaint they filed than they should get credit for the free cake the Bowman-Cryers got from Charm City Cakes.

By including in his assessment these myriad effects that the Kleins had nothing to do with, Avakian shows his true and unlawful intent: to punish the Kleins and make an example of them disproportionate to the damage that they caused.


  1. Posts to that effect are based on this language in the order:

    The Agency’s theory of liability is that since Respondents brought the case to the media’s attention and kept it there by repeatedly appearing in public to make statements deriding Complainants, it  was foreseeable that this attention would negatively impact Complainants, making  Respondents liable for any resultant emotional suffering experienced by Complainants. The Agency also argues that Respondents are liable for negative third party social media directed at Complainants because it was a foreseeable consequence of the media attention.

    That is the Agency’s theory of liability, that is, one party’s argument. What did the Commissioner think of that theory?

    The Commissioner concludes that … the facts related solely to emotional harm resulting from media attention do not adequately support an award of damages.

    So the wildly popular theory that the Kleins paid damages for doxxing the Bowman-Cryers is based on a reading-comprehension failure. (See also Eugene Volokh on this subject.)

    Should the Kleins have paid damages for doxxing the Bowman-Cryers? Well, no, if for no other reason than that they didn’t dox them. They published the first page of the Bowman-Cryers’ complaint, on which the Bowman-Cryers had put their address, on their Facebook page for less than a day at a time that they had 17 “friends.” The Oregon Department of Justice sent the same information to the media two weeks later.

    Even if the Kleins had researched and published the Bowman-Cryers’ identities, liability would not be appropriate: people seeking state to have the state punish other people risk community scorn, and ought to. 

  2. My view is that it does. The Kleins should be free not to do business with the Bowman-Cryers, just as I am free not to do business with the Kleins. 

  3. Protip: when your grown child becomes hysterical about a cake, it’s not about the cake.

    This is mostly true of non-grown kids too. 

  4. Gambling in Casablanca? 

  5. We are getting a clear picture of unstable people raised in dysfunctional families. 

  6. As though by compelling us to treat strangers nicely the state could erase all our self-doubt and emotional pain. 

  7. What parent hasn’t? 

  8. It’s interesting how people fall into stereotypical gender roles. 

  9. More drama! 

  10. The complainants had lawyered up. 

  11. The “Love Joy Feminism” blog post that started the “doxxing” rumor also said that “State officials told the Bowman-Cryers that if they couldn’t protect the foster children in their home from the harassment that resulted from the Klein’s public posting of their home address, etc., they would lose the children.” This is untrue: they had been instructed, before the cake incident, that it was their responsibility to make sure that the foster children’s “information was protected.” 

  12. See the note above about Commissioner Avakian’s comments on LBC’s testimony. 

  13. Gambling in Casablanca? 

Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

2015.65: Teach. For America.

I described in An Apostrophe too Far why, despite the undeniable truth that the criminal justice system would crash if every defendant refused to plead guilty, defense lawyers cannot crash the system. Tl;dr: “Prisoner’s dilemma writ large.

I hypothesized a criminal-justice system, ours in micro, processing 100 defendants a year, with capacity for four jury trials (for Harris County, multiply by about 300). Twenty defendants of the hundred don’t plead guilty, and eighteen of those twenty get their cases dismissed. Of the last two, one defendant is convicted and one is acquitted.

Each additional defendant who doesn’t plead guilty will force the State to try or dismiss a case—his or someone else’s. There is theoretically capacity for another two jury trials, but the system doesn’t love jury trials, so a dismissal is more likely than another jury trial. For every additional defendant who refuses to plead guilty, there will likely be another dismissal.

I observed that The cases that are tried or dismissed are those in which the defendant assesses a trial as more valuable than the government does (or the government assesses a trial as essentially valueless). If we can increase defendants’ assessment of the value of trial, more defendants will refuse to plead guilty. How do we do that?

Defendants get their cues for valuing trial from society (including their cellies), from the radio receivers in their heads, and from their lawyers. We can’t do anything about the receivers in their heads; we can do a little (like writing blog posts about how many cases get dismissed) about society’s messages about the value of not pleading guilty; we can do more about the lawyers.

Every lawyer communicates to her client her own assessment of the value of pleading not guilty. She might do it explicitly, or she might do it without knowing it. The client relies on the lawyer’s assessment because it is the best information the client has. At best, the lawyer’s assessment is objective and accurate. At the worst, the lawyer’s irrational fear of trial or her unwonted self-confidence poisons her assessment.

If the lawyer’s assessment is accurate, the client can rely on it. If the lawyer has an irrational fear of trial, she’s probably going to lose,1 so the client can rely on that assessment as well. The danger for the client lies in relying on the lawyer’s inappropriately optimistic prognosis.

For purposes of this post we are not worried about that last situation—for the sake of the system it’d be better if more lawyers had pathologically rosy outlooks, because then fewer defendants would plead guilty. In fact, one way that we might get more defendants to refuse to plead guilty is to get lawyers to believe more in their ability to win more cases. If our concern is the clients’—rather than the client’s—interest then we want to encourage criminal-defense lawyers to view trial more optimistically, whether or not that optimism is merited.2

How might we encourage criminal-defense lawyers to view trial more optimistically? One way would be to pretend to teach them to be better lawyers—to teach fake CLE, and pretend to give them more tools to use to win their trials.

There may be a downside to this brilliant idea: that some lawyers might, as a result of fake education, wind up trying cases that they shouldn’t have, losing them, and losing their optimism because losing sucks. Such lawyers may might discouraged and view trial even more pessimistically than they did before. So fake education may3 be detrimental to the system in the long run.

Besides, fake CLE seems like a lot of work. If we’re going to go to the effort of putting on a show, we might as well give teach them to be better trial lawyers.

There are a very few criminal-defense lawyers who are natural-born trial lawyers. I don’t know many of them. There are a few criminal-defense lawyers who are flat-out incompetent, beyond all hope of repair. The vast majority of us can learn to be better.

Training better trial lawyers will have an exponential effect because society’s view of trial will feed back the results of our tweak to the system: the more cases are dismissed, the more defendants will refuse to plead guilty, and the more cases will be dismissed.

When we see injustice, we can ignore or accept it (and, like Anita Hill, “get as much as you can out of it”), we can make a big show of our outrage, or we can take action to fix it. “An Apostrophe Too Far” was inspired by @NormDeGuerreEsq’s tweet. Reading Norm, the outrage is palpable, but the action is wanting.

I favor action over outrage. Outrage is easier, but it never fixed anything. Norm, you want a solution to the problems of overcriminalization, of overprosecution, of overimprisonment? You and I are not the first lawyers to discover that the system is broken, and that by setting everything for trial we could bring it to its knees. But we have wargamed this time after time, and we cannot ethically take general action at the client’s potential expense.

You’ll never go on strike because you know that if you’re the only one you’ll just get hammered down. So if doing a conscientious job for each client isn’t enough for you, get out there and start teaching.


  1. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. 

  2. So: Go you! You can win that trial! 

  3. It amuses me that whether fake education is harmful might be subject to discussion. 

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2015.64: Functional Mindfulness II

In medieval Europe litigants would arm themselves and beat the hell out of each other to resolve what might now be considered legal issues. The loser was obviously in the wrong. Some litigants could select champions to do their fighting for them. I doubt that this happened often1 but it would have been in both the litigant’s and his champion’s interest for the champion to be as good at his job as possible: shattered bones aren’t healed by “I spent all the time I possibly could to prepare for this. I did the best I can. And I am a good champion.

Anyway, “trial lawyer as swordsman” is not a huge metaphorical stretch.

In Keith Johnstone’s Impro for Storytellers 2 he relates:

A Japanese swordsman wrote that if you fight someone who has no plan, you’ll be thinking, I’ll do such and such! as your severed head bounces down the temple steps!3

Johnstone is, I suspect, paraphrasing this Munenori quote:

Once the fight has started, if you get involved in thinking about what to do, you will be cut down by your opponent with the very next sword blow.

Doing without thinking is functional mindfulness (or being “in the moment” on stage, “in the zone” on the sports field, or “in the flow” in the studio). When you’re mindful, you do everything that needs to be done at the right time but nothing that doesn’t need doing, all without thinking about it, and it all goes by effortlessly. You start trial, you notice everything, you respond appropriately, and suddenly it’s time to go home for the night and you’re not ready to stop telling your client’s story yet.

Does that sound like something you might like? Being the guy with no plan, aware of everything going on around you and dealing with it unhesitatingly, instead of the guy whose head is bouncing down the steps? Flowing through trial, and winning?

Would you like to learn the One Cool Trick for doing without thinking in trial? If someone who taught mindfulness for lawyers could teach you that, how much would it be worth to you?

Well, you’re out of luck. Life is pain, princess. Anyone who tells you otherwise is selling something.

Functional mindfulness is not a means but an end. The swordsman is not deadly because he is mindful; it is his deadliness that makes him mindful. He can do without thinking because he has practiced every parry and cut a thousand times learning and ten thousand more times polishing. The swordsman doesn’t think about what he is going to do because he doesn’t have to. In battle his training and experience will take over. Like his breathing, his technique will take care of itself. In the honing of his craft, he has found mindfulness.

Have you done your ten thousand reps? If not, get to it.

If the stresses of life interfere with your doing your job—helping your clients—you might try meditation to help you deal with those. An abstract mindfulness practice is good for making everything else less stressful so that you can focus on the thing of paramount importance. Defending people will be stressful. Defending people should be stressful. Your client’s future is at stake, and you will make mistakes. “I did the best I can. I am a good lawyer.” is not an appropriate response to the mistakes that you made that might have harmed your client.

If you want to be a better lawyer, do your ten thousand reps, and beat yourself up about every loss or almost-loss. Once you’ve done your ten thousand reps and have technique to burn, you’ve probably found functional mindfulness on your own.


  1. Most lawyers are exceedingly trial-averse; how much more trial-averse would litigants and their representatives be if losing meant disfigurement or death? 

  2. Swordsmanship, trial, improv: it’s all the same thing. 

  3. Then Johnstone adds, “Well, he didn’t put it exactly like that.”  

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2015.63: Functional Mindfulness for Trial Lawyers I

This is totally adorable:

Jim, a litigator with a busy practice, spends 20 minutes each morning practicing something called mindfulness meditation.

Meditation is great, but meditation is to mindfulness as “litigators” are to trial lawyers.

I’ve written about mindfulness before; the topic is getting some attention now. Scott Greenfield sees two threads of discussion: a) stress release for lawyers (which should be uncontroversial; and b) “put[ting] personal happiness ahead of … responsibilities, … claim[ing] under the guise of mindfulness that stress is an excuse to fail to do your job, to fail to fulfill your responsibility to your client.” Scott picks this quote as an exemplar:

Practice cognitive restructuring. Recognize that your thoughts are not facts. Let’s imagine you’re at a hearing and the judge says, “Well, what about the decision in Smith vs. Jones? Why shouldn’t that apply in this case?” Assuming you have no idea what the judge is talking about, your mind might think, “I didn’t prepare enough. I’m a bad lawyer.” You can use cognitive restructuring and challenge your thoughts by saying, “I spent all the time I possibly could to prepare for this hearing. I did the best I can. And I am a good lawyer.”

While you probably guessed, “Stuart Smalley,” it‘s by Jeena Cho, who “offers training programs on using mindfulness and meditation to reduce stress while increasing focus and productivity.” But it isn’t couched as mindfulness advice, so it might not be the best example for Scott to choose.

(If it is intended as mindfulness advice, it’s shitty mindfulness advice. The mindful lawyer in that situation isn’t going to be thinking about whether she’s a bad lawyer or a good lawyer. She’s going to be lawyering, and saving judgment for the postmortem, when she will, if she is worth her salt, accept that she screwed up and resolve not to do so again, even though the path to that acceptance and resolve is through regret and self-doubt. Our mistakes that hurt our clients should hurt us too.)

There is nothing mystical or magical about mindfulness. It’s just an altered mental state, “altered” not because it’s unnatural, but because mostly we spend our lives outside it, judging ourselves or thinking about what happened before or what happens next. Before we called in mindfulness we called it “the zone,” or “the moment,” or “the flow,” as in, “I was in….” It’s a focus on the job at hand, and only that.

Meditation is easy. When you meditate, there is no job at hand, except to breathe. You get into the zone, focusing only on your breathing and then—since your breathing will, left alone, take care of itself—on nothing. Meditation can teach you what mindfulness feels like.

The trick is getting into that focused state, and staying there, when there is a difficult, stressful, and frightening job to be done. Being mindful while you are sitting on a cushion in your living room focusing on your breathing is a whole nother thing than being mindful when your client is facing life in a cage, a cop is making shit up on the stand, the judge is threatening you with contempt, and your second chair just passed you a note saying that your key witness decided not to honor her subpoena.

Complete focus on the job at hand in that situation is functional mindfulness. It’s a third way, which Scott doesn’t acknowledge, probably because the hucksters of mindfulness for lawyers are not selling it.

Easy solutions sell. Stress relief sells. Affirmation sells. Functional mindfulness doesn’t sell, and I’m going to show you why.

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2015.62: An Apostrophe Too Far

Public defender “Norm DeGuerre” asks:

The answer is simple: because we do not serve our clients’ best interest. We serve our client’s best interest. And what is in the clients’ best interest has nothing to do with what is in the client’s best interest.

Put more concretely: say that there are 100 people charged with felonies, and the court system could, by keeping up a grueling pace, conduct four jury trials1. If everyone demanded a jury trial there is no way the criminal-justice system could convict everyone; 96 cases would have to be dismissed. But the system could convict four people.

We’ve got 100 people facing charges. Divide them roughly, for the purpose of illustration, into five tranches. 20 have a 90% chance of being convicted, 20 have a 70% chance of being convicted at trial, 20 have a 50% chance of being convicted at trial, 20 have a 30% chance of being convicted at trial, and 20 have a 10% chance of being convicted at trial.

The government offers each defendant a plea bargain with a sentence discounted according to the government’s view of the defendant’s chances of winning at trial: the guy who has an 90% chance of getting 20 years and a 10% chance of walking gets a eighteen-year offer. If a defendant’s assessment of the value of a trial to him2 is less than or equal to the government’s, he makes a deal. The cases that are tried or dismissed are those in which the defendant assesses a trial as more valuable than the government does (or the government assesses a trial as essentially valueless).

By controlling the dockets and the plea offers the government keeps rational defendants and ethical, competent lawyers from crashing the system.

The defense wins eighteen outright (mostly dismissals, with a not guilty), the parties try two (one of which is a not guilty), and the other 81 are resolved with guilty pleas (numbers? numbers!).

But the defense could do better, right? Because the most the government could convict, if everyone insisted on a trial, is four. Well, sure, and if the defense bar could act monolithically and disregard the client’s best interest in favor of the clients’, 96 cases would be dismissed and only four poor schmucks would go down hard. But we aren’t and we can’t.

It’s frustrating. I feel Norm’s pain. I wish there were something we could do about it. Something good for the cause, but not at the expense of the individual.

Ah, but there is! Stay tuned.

 


  1. In Harris County, multiply these numbers by about 300 

  2. Taking into account such ineffables as principle. 

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2015.61: Unlawful Disclosure or Promotion of Intimate Visual Material

Texas’s new revenge-porn statute, Texas Penal Code Section 21.16, is effective 9/1/2015. It’s unconstitutional (content-based restriction on speech, and no recognized exception applies), but it’s “only” a class A misdemeanor, so defendants will be less motivated to take the time and spend the money to hire me to fight it, and lawyers taking their cases will be less motivated to seek my help:

Sec. 21.16. UNLAWFUL DISCLOSURE OR PROMOTION OF INTIMATE VISUAL MATERIAL.
(a) In this section:
(1) “Intimate parts” means the naked genitals, pubic area, anus, buttocks, or female nipple of a person.
(2) “Promote” means to procure, manufacture, issue, sell, give, provide, lend, mail, deliver, transfer, transmit, publish, distribute, circulate, disseminate, present, exhibit, or advertise or to offer or agree to do any of the above.
(3) “Sexual conduct” means sexual contact, actual or simulated sexual intercourse, deviate sexual intercourse, sexual bestiality, masturbation, or sadomasochistic abuse.
(4) “Simulated” means the explicit depiction of sexual conduct that creates the appearance of actual sexual conduct and during which a person engaging in the conduct exhibits any uncovered portion of the breasts, genitals, or buttocks.
(5) “Visual material” means:
(A) any film, photograph, videotape, negative, or slide or any photographic reproduction that contains or incorporates in any manner any film, photograph, videotape, negative, or slide; or
(B) any disk, diskette, or other physical medium that allows an image to be displayed on a computer or other video screen and any image transmitted to a computer or other video screen by telephone line, cable, satellite transmission, or other method.
(b) A person commits an offense if:
(1) without the effective consent of the depicted person, the person intentionally discloses visual material depicting another person with the person’s intimate parts exposed or engaged in sexual conduct;
(2) the visual material was obtained by the person or created under circumstances in which the depicted person had a reasonable expectation that the visual material would remain private;
(3) the disclosure of the visual material causes harm to the depicted person; and
(4) the disclosure of the visual material reveals the identity of the depicted person in any manner, including through:
(A) any accompanying or subsequent information or material related to the visual material; or
(B) information or material provided by a third party in response to the disclosure of the visual material.
(c) A person commits an offense if the person intentionally threatens to disclose, without the consent of the depicted person, visual material depicting another person with the person’s intimate parts exposed or engaged in sexual conduct and the actor makes the threat to obtain a benefit:
(1) in return for not making the disclosure; or
(2) in connection with the threatened disclosure.
(d) A person commits an offense if, knowing the character and content of the visual material, the person promotes visual material described by Subsection (b) on an Internet website or other forum for publication that is owned or operated by the person.
(e) It is not a defense to prosecution under this section that the depicted person:
(1) created or consented to the creation of the visual material; or
(2) voluntarily transmitted the visual material to the actor.
(f) It is an affirmative defense to prosecution under Subsection (b) or (d) that:
(1) the disclosure or promotion is made in the course of:
(A) lawful and common practices of law enforcement or medical treatment;
(B) reporting unlawful activity; or
(C) a legal proceeding, if the disclosure or promotion is permitted or required by law;
(2) the disclosure or promotion consists of visual material depicting in a public or commercial setting only a person’s voluntary exposure of:
(A) the person’s intimate parts; or
(B) the person engaging in sexual conduct; or
(3) the actor is an interactive computer service, as defined by 47 U.S.C. Section 230, and the disclosure or promotion consists of visual material provided by another person.
(g) An offense under this section is a Class A misdemeanor.
(h) If conduct that constitutes an offense under this section also constitutes an offense under another law, the actor may be prosecuted under this section, the other law, or both.

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2015.60: Another Day, Another Lawyer Ego Scam

I’ll admit it: I sometimes envy guys like Steve Fairlie a bit.

Meet Steve Fairlie of North Wales, Pennsylvania. Steve is:

But it isn’t these meaningless “honors,” unrecognized by our peers and valuable only as far as they can be dishonestly sold to potential clients as meaningful, that make me envy Steve.

Rather, I envy Fairlie because, recognizing that other lawyers like him would pay to have their egos stroked, he created the National Association of Distinguished Counsel, handing out to ego-starved lawyers the honor of calling themselves “the Nations Top One Percent.” Oh, and selling merchandise: a plaque for $150, a personalized statute for $300, a personalized video for $400. I envy, just a bit, the chutzpah of taking insecure lawyers’ money for imaginary recognition so that the lawyers can deceive potential clients. Every time I see another of these scams, I think “I really ought to do that.”

Then I think, “that pond must be fished out by now.”

Then the next time another lawyer ego scam pops up I realize that I was wrong.

Is it possible that there is an unlimited market for stroking insecure lawyers’ egos?

There are organizations that recognize quality lawyering; they’ve been around for more than a few years; they don’t charge lawyers “membership dues” to advertise their meaningless honors; and they offer more benefits than just bragging rights. But they’re probably not going to honor you.

(Carl David Ceder is a “Top One Percent” lawyer, along with a bunch of Texas criminal-defense lawyers I’ve never heard of and a couple I have. Bring a First-Aid Kit!)

 

 

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