Judge: no pajamas, no money from underwear in court

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Signage at York County, Pennsylvania District Judge Ronald J. Haskell's court. (York Daily Record, via Weird Universe)

Profile of a courtroom sketch artist

Gary Myrick has been a courtroom sketch artist for 40 years and his profession is dying; above, a New York Times video profile of Myrick.

Attorney fined for using shock pen on witness

NewImageA Utah judge fined an attorney $3,000 after he zapped a witness with a trick shock pen during a trial. The case is about about whether emissions from a power plant are harming nearby dairy cows.

From the Salt Lake Tribune:

In an order released this week, 4th District Judge James Brady wrote that electricity expert Athanasios Meliopoulos was testifying against dairy farmers who claim that "stray" currents from Intermountain Power Plant in Delta were harming cattle.

As part of his testimony, Meliopoulos claimed that 1.5 volts, the equivalent of a AAA battery, could not be felt by a person. Los Angeles-based attorney Don Howarth, who represented the dairy farmers, gave a child’s gag pen to Meliopoulos. According to the package label, the retractable pen zaps the user with "a harmless powerful shock," Brady wrote.

Howarth told Meliopoulos that the pen contained a 1.5-volt AAA battery and challenged Meliopoulos to "go ahead and push the back of the pen and tell the jury whether you feel it or not," Brady wrote.

Meliopoulos, a Georgia Tech professor, pushed the pen and "received a strong electric shock, which caused his body to jerk and to drop the pen," Brady wrote.

Attorney fined for zapping witness with trick pen at dairy cow trial

Big Data Kafka: US Government Watchlists and the secrecy whose justification is a secret


In the ACLU's new paper U.S. Government Watchlisting: Unfair Process and Devastating Consequences [PDF], the group describes strange world of terrorist watchlists, including no-fly lists, where it's nearly impossible to discover if you're on a list, and nearly impossible to find out why you're on a list, and nearly impossible to get removed from a list. As the ACLU points out, this is Orwell by way of Kafka, where we're not allowed to know what surveillance is taking place or why surveillance is taking place -- and we're not allowed to know why we're not allowed to know.

The ACLU says that the national terrorism watchlist has 1.1 million names on it, and an AP report from 2012 found 21,000 people on the no-fly list. Recently, Rahinah Ibrahim became the first person to be officially, publicly removed from a no-fly list, after the government was forced to admit that she'd been placed there due to a bureaucratic error. All through the Ibrahim case, the government argued that disclosing any facts about her no-fly status would endanger national security, but ultimately it was obvious that the only potential risk was that the government's sloppiness would be disclosed. The state was willing to spend millions of dollars and ruin an innocent person's life rather than admitting that an FBI agent literally ticked the wrong box.

In the 13 years since 9/11, one person has managed to successfully challenge the system of secret and unaccountable watchlists. It's clear that she wasn't the only person who deserved to be removed, though. This is Big Data Kafka: the algorithm says you're guilty, and you're not allowed to see the data or the algorithm because it was not designed to work if the people who it judged knew about its parameters.

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