Columbus Day Weekend

It’s been a wet Saturday in the city. Some stuff of note below; pardon the long posting, as it has been a few days since I’ve blogged…

Quake in Pakistan. This may turn into quite a concern.

While the news wasn’t unexpected, it’s still weird to really admit: Ted Koppel’s stepping down from “Nightline,” with an official last date of Nov. 22, 2005.

BBC’s Sir David Frost, joining Al-Jazeera?

Justice Scalia will be the marshall of the Columbus Day Parade on Monday. Hmm.

Link to Findlaw about this weird article reported by Associated Press writer Beverley Wang:

A parking dispute between two well-to-do oceanfront neighbors that has gone on for over a year has led to a court fight that includes allegations of stalking, pounding of nails into tires, secret videotaping, and dousing of others with a sprinkler. Videotapes played in court show one side giving the finger toward the neighbors’ home.

One judge likened the battling [New Hampshire] neighbors to Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner. And you thought you had obnoxious neighbors.

The two principal antagonists, Beverly Hollingworth and Peter Hutchins, are used to playing for high stakes in the public eye – she as a legislator, he as a trial lawyer.

Hollingworth, 69, is a former New Hampshire Senate president who ran for governor three years ago. Hutchins, 47, won millions from the Roman Catholic Church on behalf of alleged victims of sexual abuse.

At issue is whether Hollingworth is entitled to park at the end of a narrow gravel road in front of a house the Hutchinses bought last year on Great Boar’s Head Point, a spit of land that juts into the Atlantic Ocean. [….]

Separately, Hutchins’ wife, Kathy, has accused Hollingworth’s husband, William Gilligan, of stalking her. She testified she felt threatened when Gilligan told her, “You have no class,” and “You have no shame,” after witnesses said they saw her douse her neighbors’ guests with a lawn sprinkler.

The Hollingworth side claims that Mrs. Hutchins was caught on videotape hammering a nail into a tire on Hollingworth’s car at night. Mrs. Hutchins claimed she was “banging” on the tire but did not puncture it. She has pleaded not guilty to attempted criminal mischief.

Videotapes played in court also showed the Hutchinses giving the finger toward the Hollingworth house and Mrs. Hutchins slapping her buttocks and bending over as Hollingworth and Gilligan passed in their car. Mrs. Hutchins said last week she was simply bending over.

Other neighbors have been drawn into the fray.

“Everyone up there is in fear of personal harm of some kind, and property harm,” said Robert Crowley, whose lives between the battling couples. “It is extremely tense.”[….]

Hollingworth and her husband have temporarily vacated the house, which she has owned since 1976. The Hutchinses do not live in their house; they plan to tear it down and rebuild.

Last month, District Judge Thomas Rappa urged the couples to try to resolve the dispute and appreciate their seaside homes, instead of trying to “outmaneuver the other party like Wile E. Coyote and Road Runner.”

“Reach deep within yourselves,” he counseled. “Grow as individuals, have some tolerance toward your neighbors, and show some respect.”

Hmm. It can’t be good when the judge compares you and your opposition as Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner. But, at least he isn’t comparing you to either Yosemite Sam or Elmer Fudd in their respective quests to be rid of Bugs Bunny…

And, here’s another Findlaw link: Associated Press Randall Chase reports on “Delaware Supreme Court rules in favor of anonymous blogger in defamation claim”:

The Delaware Supreme Court rejected a town councilman’s quest to find out who posted obscenity-laden tirades about him on the Internet, saying free speech concerns outweighed the politician’s argument that he was defamed.

The decision Wednesday reversed a lower court ruling ordering an Internet service provider to disclose the identity of four anonymous posters to a blog site operated by Independent Newspapers Inc., publisher of the Delaware State News.

The posted entries, among other things, accused Smyrna councilman Patrick Cahill of “obvious mental deterioration” and used the name “Gahill” to suggest that he is homosexual.

In June, the lower court ruled that Cahill had established a “good faith basis” for contending that he and his wife were victims of defamation, and it affirmed a previous order for Comcast Cable Communications to disclose the bloggers’ identities.

But Chief Justice Myron Steele likened anonymous Internet speech to anonymous political pamphleteering, a practice the U.S. Supreme Court characterized in 1995 as “an honorable tradition of advocacy and dissent.”

Accordingly, Steele wrote, a court should not order the unmasking of an anonymous Internet poster unless a plaintiff offers strong proof of defamation.

“We are concerned that setting the standard too low will chill potential posters from exercising their First Amendment right to speak anonymously,” Steele wrote. “The possibility of losing anonymity in a future lawsuit could intimidate anonymous posters into self-censoring their comments or simply not commenting at all.”

Steele also noted that plaintiffs in such cases can use the Internet to respond to character attacks and “generally set the record straight,” and that, as in Cahill’s case, blogs and chatrooms tend to be vehicles for people to express opinions, not facts.

“Given the context, no reasonable person could have interpreted these statements as being anything other than opinion. … The statements are, therefore, incapable of a defamatory meaning,” he wrote. [….]

So, free speech – to the extent that blogs exist for the purpose of not saying anything particularly substantive – even if it may be insulting – is protected? Hmm. Well, off the top of my head, I can’t remember the elements to state a claim of defamation, forget proving it. I just don’t think it makes much sense to go after a bunch of anonymous nitwits or force a newspaper to reveal who these nitwits were. So, why would you want to sue a bunch of anonymous nitwits for defamation? Just do what most would do – ignore ’em.

Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick posits the following:

Over the last week it has been said that Harriet Miers is an “inkblot.” That’s supposed to mean she has no visible horns, no discernible politics, and no paper trail; that she’s a huge national mystery. But what it should really mean is that she has become a huge national Rorschach test: We look at her and can see nothing beyond our own fears and anxieties. [….]

What’s the result of a system in which everyone scrutinizes the nominee, finds nothing, then projects their own paranoia and anxiety onto the entire confirmation process? Well, for one thing we have abandoned the responsibility to scrutinize the actual candidate. Each side lets the other side set the agenda. Everyone waits to see what the other team thinks, and when that can’t be ascertained for certain, we invent crazy scripts for what they likely think.

Members of the Senate have a duty to figure out who Harriet Miers really is. That duty ought to transcend the shallow current task of determining that we only like her if they don’t. Granted, it’s almost an impossible task to figure out who the nominee really is since confirmation hearings produce virtually no substantive information, and this nominee has no known views. The White House won’t let us see any of her work product from her stint as White House counsel. And the class of questions nominees choose to avoid expands with every nomination. But what we cannot continue to do is react reflexively to one another; respond to invisible secret files we imagine the other team is chuckling over late at night over a cigar and a brandy.

Rorschach tests work, to the extent they do, because they reveal that the viewer is crazy without ever confronting him with that fact directly. That unacknowledged craziness is exactly what both sides of the judicial confirmation wars are now betraying: Faced with the impossibility of really knowing someone, much less predicting their behavior into the far distant future, we gaze at a meaningless drawing and see only our worst selves.

Great article. Makes excellent points and raises very real concerns that I’ve been having ever since the John Roberts nomination.

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