Is Flashing Your Head Lights Illegal?

Is Flashing Your Head Lights Illegal?

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

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Federal Court Officially Protects Blogger’s Freedom of Speech!

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)

The Art of Cross-Examination

As a trial lawyer, I was always taught that the three (3) main rules of cross-exaimination were: Don’t do it, Don’t do it, and Don’t’ do it. Too numerous to count are the times that I have violated the rules, or seen others violate the rules, and cringed at the resulting outcome. But alas, every rule has its exceptions. So on those occasions when the exception applies – here is a short primer on how to survive. Mastering the Art of Cross-Examination: Tips from a Judge | CEB Blog – Your Partner In Practice http://ow.ly/ihJdB

The Bad-Faith, Fee-Shifting Provision has Teeth!

“The bad-faith fee-shifting provision of the Uniform Trade Secrets Act has ‘teeth’.” This piece highlights the importance of bringing forth legitimate allegations regarding trade secrets. Baseless trade secret claims can cost plaintiffs large sums and are preferably avoidable. http://ow.ly/i7iCT

Civil Litigation: The Costly Battle.

In civil litigation, the time to trial is long and costly. And when that trial date finally gets set, there is an awful lot to do to get ready. Here is a preview into why it costs so much to wage these battles, especially in the final weeks and days. Timeline to Trial « CEB Blog – Your Partner In Practice http://ow.ly/hHkjx