Michael Eli was cited in November 2012 for having signaled an approaching vehicle with his head lights. He was trying to warn of an impending speed trap. Such a signal is prohibited by a Louisville, Missouri ordinance. The municipal judge overseeing the case, told Eli that the standard fine would be $1,000.00. When Eli announced he would be pleading not guilty to the charge, the judge became frustrated and claimed Eli was obstructing justice.
The case was then taken on by the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri who sued on behalf of Eli. The Federal Judge hearing the case was Judge Henry Autrey, who predicted that the plaintiff will succeed in his free speech claim against the City of Ellisville. Autrey wrote that Eli’s form of communication was in no way illegal and said his conduct, “was clearly inapplicable to the expressive conduct at issue.” With this Autrey issued a preliminary injunction to prevent Missouri towns from ticketing or further prosecuting drivers for flashing their head lights. Now, Ellisville City Attorney George Restovich has confirmed that the city changed it’s policy and no longer pulls over people for flashing headlights.
Eli’s charge was of course dropped as the case continued through court.The American Civil Liberties Union legal director representing Eli, states that this will be the first instance in which a federal judge will address the issue and he hopes other jurisdictions will take notice.
With this, Autrey has taken the first steps toward protecting yet another expression protected under the 1st Amendment, which had been unlawfully persecuted. Flashing headlights, even if it is to warn other drivers of a speed trap, is constitutionally protected speech.
Source Referenced: ABA Journal
A Superior Court decision in Massachusetts sets new grounds for companies endeavoring to keep their trade secrets safe. The key point in this case is that in order to keep trade secrets safe, companies must actually demonstrate an effort to do so. Such information must be appropriately kept safe from independent contractors. If not, companies risk legally losing their trade secrets.
In the case of C.R.T.R. v Lao, C.R.T.R was suing for misappropriation of trade secrets. C.R.T.R was an “e-waste” company that recycled non-working electronics. Jimmy Lao became one of C.R.T.R’s 20 buyers back in 2007 and sold his shares to buyers in Asia. Eventually, Lao began negotiations in the hopes of purchasing C.R.T.R. through his own company, Honour Crown Asia. During the negotiations, Jimmy Lao’s nephew, Kenneth Lao, began working as an independent contractor for C.R.T.R, as well as working for Honour Crown Asia, as known by C.R.T.R. When negotiations between Jimmy Lao and C.R.T.R. fell through, Kenneth resigned from his position and took C.R.T.R’s company lists, accounting information, and other confidential information with him.
As a result, Kenneth was sued for misappropriation of trade secrets, while Jimmy Lao and Honour Crown Asia were sued for “unfair and deceptive business practices.” Summary judgment, on both counts, was granted by the court after discovery, as requested by the defendants. The court explained that C.R.T.R. did not take the appropriate steps to protect its trade secrets, knowing that Kenneth Lao was simultaneously working for Honour Crown Asia while working for its company. C.R.T.R. never had Kenneth sign a confidentiality agreement. Nor did it maintain a confidentiality policy regarding its information, which employees are required to follow. As for Jimmy Lao and Honour Crown Asia, summary judgement was granted on the grounds that, “C.R.T.R. had not presented any evidence that the defendants’ conduct was immoral, unethical, oppressive or unscrupulous.”
This case serves as a great reminder to all employers that being lax on confidentiality policies and agreements can be quite costly. When working with our employer clients, we always advise they protect their trade secrets by keeping such policies on the matter up to date, as well as protecting their confidential information through agreements that last through and after a contract of an independent contractor. By demonstrating proactive efforts in protecting your trade secrets, you will more likely be able to uphold such efforts in a court of law.
Are internet blog posts afforded the same 1st amendment rights granted to those working with traditional news media? Yes, according to this recent 9th Circuit Court case which appears to be the the first federal case that specifically addresses and protects the rights of bloggers. Internet writers can now take a deep breath and write a little more freely.
In defamation suits, bloggers and citizen journalists are at par with the professional journalists. The legal standards for judging their actions should be the same in relation to the First Amendment.
Crystal Cox, the blogger in question, was taken to court by Obsidian Finance Group, for having allegedly defamed the company. In her blog, Cox accused the Finance group of fraud, corruption and other deeds of misconduct. While Cox posted various blogs about this company, the one post that went to trial contained allegations that one of the company’s principals had failed to pay taxes for a company that filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy.
During the initial trial, the court stated that this was not the first time Cox had made such allegations against a company in the hopes of gaining a payoff in exchange for a retraction. Subsequently, the jury awarded Obsidian Finance Group $2.5 million for damages allegedly caused by her posts. Cox then appealed. She never argued the validity of her posts or the fact that such posts did cause damage, but rather claimed that the trial court could not allow any damage award without proof of negligence on her part.
The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with Cox’s argument stating that the jury should have been instructed to determine whether Cox had acted negligently because the subject of her comments were of public interest. Furthermore, the harm the jury claimed was brought upon the plaintiffs could not be proved and thus the jury lacked the power to grant such awards. The court voted unanimously that the defamation award brought against Cox be overturned.
“The protections of the 1st Amendment do not turn on whether the defendant was a trained journalist, formally affiliated with traditional news entities,”
Case citation: Obsidian Finance Group v. Cox, Nos. 12-35238 & 35319 (9th Cir. Jan 17, 2014)
We consult with experts frequently in many civil controversies, before, during and after the conflict. Using an expert effectively and also protecting their independence and credibility is of paramount importance in developing a superior litigation strategy. A client’s understanding of the expert role and how it fits into the overall litigation process is also an important ingredient to success. Here is an excellent Primer on When to Use Expert Witnesses and How to Find Them – Bloomberg Law http://ow.ly/ihHUw
More legal wrangling over Obamacare at the high courts. While this is politically charged and newsworthy to the populous, from a professional and institutional perspective, this is exactly how our system is supposed to work. For over 200 years this process has served us well, albeit without TV or internet for much of that time. Supreme Court Orders 4th Circuit To Revisit Obamacare Case – Forbes http://ow.ly/fACXo