Why Did Bill Cosby Lose in Civil Court but Was Released from Prison?

Bill Cosby's reputation is once again in shambles. A California jury found him liable for the 1975 sexual assault of a minor at the Playboy Mansion and awarded the victim $500,000 in compensatory damages. This undermines Cosby's claims of full exoneration after his aggravated indecent assault conviction was overturned by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. If you haven't been following the proceedings, you might wonder how it's possible for him to win one case and lose the other. Easy. Different Circumstances Each case involved entirely different people and different circumstances. In Pennsylvania, Cosby was accused of sexually assaulting Andrea Constand in 2004 at his residence in Cheltenham. T..

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Is Crashing Your Ex's Wedding Illegal?

We've all seen a movie where someone storms into a church during a wedding at the last minute in hopes of stopping the one they love from marrying the "wrong" person. The phrase "speak now or forever hold your peace" has long been a part of traditional wedding ceremonies and actually began as a legality to give interested parties the chance to object to the validity of a marriage during the Medieval Age. But what does this opportunity to state reasons a couple shouldn't join together in holy matrimony mean? If we learned anything from the recent exploits of Britney Spears' ex-husband/wedding crasher, it's that going beyond a simple "I object" can lead to an array of criminal charges. It's Br..

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So Bees Are Fish Now?

Throw out your dictionaries, folks. According to the Eleventh Edition of Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, a bee is an "insect" that differs from wasps "in the heavier hairier body and in having sucking as well as chewing mouthparts, that feed on pollen and nectar, and that store both and often also honey." Fish are not insects. They do not have hairy bodies. They do not have chewing mouthparts. They most certainly don't feed on pollen and nectar, nor do they store both, let alone honey. Yet, according to one California court, bees are fish. Almond Alliance v. Fish and Game Commission Fifty years ago, the California legislature passed the California Endangered Species Act (CESA). An e..

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How to Have a Gender Reveal Party and Not Get Arrested

Gender reveal parties have become explosive (excuse the pun) ever since they began in 2008. The credited creator, Jenna Karvunidis, thought it would be cute to surprise friends and family when she cut into a cake. The pink icing inside indicated she was expecting a daughter. However, the rise in popularity of these parties and using social media to display them have also caused injuries and deaths. Here are some tips on having a safe gender reveal party. Don't Use Explosive or Incendiary Devices This advice may seem obvious, but people have a flair for the dramatic. They want fireworks, pyrotechnics, and a spectacle! Unfortunately, however, it may lead to unintended and fatal results. In the..

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How Did the Doctor in Netflix's 'Our Father' Get Off Scot-Free?

The latest "true crime" documentary hit show on the streaming services is a true creep fest. Netflix's "Our Father" tells the tale of an Indianapolis fertility clinic doctor who impregnated nearly 100 of his patients with his own sperm after lying to them that the sources were anonymous donors or their husbands. That's disgusting. But the thing about "Our Father" that makes it special as a true-crime show is this: Even though Dr. Donald Cline admitted that he impregnated dozens of women without their consent, he managed to avoid paying much of a price for his actions. DNA Tests Provided Proof Cline's nefarious activity occurred during the 1970s and 1980s, long before consumer DNA tests, like..

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Reminder: Helping Inmates Escape Is Against the Law

Finding love isn't easy. Especially when the object of your affection is serving time. According to recent headlines, there may be a willingness to overlook a person's faults (including criminal record) for a love story that most likely won't end in "happily ever after." Forget emotionally unavailable. Dating websites should include a checkbox for "physically unavailable due to incarceration" to fully disclose that your fairy tale might be contingent on a jailbreak that will likely result in your own criminal charges. The Bonnie and Clyde Phenomenon For the last few weeks, news outlets have extensively covered the Alabama corrections officer who helped her inmate boyfriend escape from the de..

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Legalese Blonde — Is Legal Jargon Necessary?

Do you remember that scene from "Legally Blonde" (now more than 20 years old!) where Elle Woods throws a slew of legal jargon at her hair stylist's ex and convinces him to give up possession of their tiny dog? What was she talking about? Does interacting with legal concepts have to be that confusing? Elle Woods Uses Legal Jargon in Daily Life Let's take you back. After Elle and her stylist Paulette Bonifanté bond over a manicure, they stomp off to confront Paulette's ex, who kept the couple's dog and trailer when they split. When Paulette's ex begins to intimidate her, Elle intervenes: "Do you understand what subject matter jurisdiction is?" She asks Dewey Newcumbe, the ex. "No!" he scoffs...

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Marriage, American-Style: Strange Laws and Oddities

A few extremely odd marriage stories — make that "marriage" stories — popped up recently in the news. Thousands of people in Japan say they have married fictional characters. An Australian man announced that he intends to marry a robot. A Cambodian woman married a cow, believing it contains the soul of her late husband, and a woman in London married her cat to avoid a landlord's restrictions on pets. Each of these weird events occurred in other countries with different rules and traditions about the "sacred" institution of marriage. But maybe we Americans shouldn't be so smug in how we judge these outsiders. After all, we have some strange laws and customs of our own. We might not have s..

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'He Said, She Said,' Starring Johnny Depp and Amber Heard

On April 11, the highly publicized defamation trial between Johnny Depp and his ex-wife, Amber Heard, kicked off in Fairfax County, Virginia. Depp has already taken the stand for hours of soft-spoken testimony. Heard is scheduled to testify sometime later during the six-week proceedings. Also on the star-studded potential witness list are James Franco, Paul Bettany, Ellen Barkin, and Elon Musk (if he's not too busy buying Twitter). Jury duty or movie premiere? Between the celebrities, fans posted up outside the courtroom, and a set of facts with the makings of an "E True Hollywood Story," this high-profile defamation trial continues to make headlines. If you want to be a spectator, wristband..

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Is Steve Harvey a Judge?

The judges who host courtroom reality TV shows have usually been real judges. Judge Judy (Judy Sheindlin) was a Manhattan family court judge. Judge Joe Brown presided in Shelby County, Tennessee, Criminal Court. Judge Marilyn Milian ("The People's Court") was a Florida circuit court judge. The list of people who have presided over TV courts has grown long and includes a few former lawyers (like Jerry Springer and Faith Jenkins) who made the switch. And almost without exception, they are people with legitimate legal backgrounds. Last November, however, ABC stepped sideways when it announced that its new entry into the courtroom reality-TV field would be hosted by a funny and popular TV person..

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Does Twitter Have To Accept Musk's Hostile Takeover Offer?

In a surprising reversal, Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla and largest shareholder of Twitter, abandoned his plan to join the social media company's board of directors and instead offered to buy the company outright and take it private. Dare we say it, the internet is all a-twitter. Some people are joyous; others are livid and horrified. Musk's primary goal seems to be liberalizing Twitter's free speech policies. To do that, he would need to acquire substantial control of the company. We previously posted about the limited control Musk would have as a large shareholder and a director on Twitter's 12-member board. In stark contrast, he would have total control if he owned the company. We have no i..

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The Top 10 Music Plagiarism Cases of All Time

Popular English singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran, who prevailed in a music plagiarism lawsuit on April 6, says enough is enough. Musicians are facing too many lawsuits from other musicians and songwriters, he said in a YouTube video following his win in a London court. These actions, he said, have money-making settlement as their sole goal "even if there's no basis for the claim." Sami Chokri and Ross O'Donoghue sued Sheeran and co-writers of the 2017 hit "Shape of You," arguing that the "Oh I" refrain in Sheeran's tune plagiarized Chokri's 2015 song, "Oh Why." But High Court Justice Antony Zacaroli dismissed the lawsuit after concluding Sheeran "neither deliberately nor subconsciously" plagiari..

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What Is 'Shed Hunting,' and Is It Legal?

The first thing to know about shed hunting is that it has nothing to do with searching for small storage buildings. The term shed hunting refers to a different kind of shed: deer antlers. (And yes, "shed" is indeed a noun. The American Heritage Dictionary defines this kind of shed as "something, such as exoskeleton or outer skin, that has been shed or sloughed.") All male members of the deer family shed their antlers annually, usually in the late winter or early spring, and that is when shed hunters emerge in quest of quality antlers. For many, it's a great excuse to get some exercise, but others are driven by a profit motive. Purchasers (we'll shed more light on them below) pay by the pound..

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What Were You Thinking, Will Smith?

On March 27, the 94th Academy Awards made history in dramatic fashion. After Chris Rock joked about Jada Pinkett Smith’s hairstyle, Will Smith charged the stage and slapped Rock across the face in front of millions of viewers. While the incident didn’t prevent Smith from receiving the Best Actor nod for his role in “King Richard,” he theoretically could face other consequences under California law (the incident occurred in Los Angeles) and the American Academy of Motion Picture’s conduct code. Surreal as this all seems. Yes, Will Smith Likely Committed Criminal Battery In California, walking up to someone and slapping them in the face is the crime of battery. To establish battery, ..

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Name, Image, Likeness Laws Give Student-Athletes a Chance to Cash in

March Madness is a goldmine for the NCAA and its member conferences. Again this year, the organization expects to rake in nearly $1 billion from the popular tournament for college basketball supremacy. It's a cash cow as well for CBS Sports and Turner Sports, which also expect to make about $1 billion in ad revenue for their live game coverage. And let's not forget America's bettors and bookies, some of whom will profit handsomely from this year's estimated $3.1 billion handle. Curiously, though, one integral group has always been left out of the annual bonanza: the players. That exclusion, however, has come to an end. Thanks to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling last summer, at least some players ..

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Judge: Minor League Baseball Players Are Employees, not Apprentices

Major League Baseball is awash in money. The average team is worth $2.2 billion. The average player makes $4.17 million per year, and 45 of them make at least $20 million. And now that MLB and the MLB Players Association union settled their differences and inked a new collective bargaining agreement, the minimum player salary increases from $570,500 to $700,000. The lower levels of professional baseball are quite another matter, however. All MLB teams operate several minor-league teams to develop talent, and the players on those teams earn between $8,000 and $14,000 per year. Last year, members of the Baltimore Orioles' Double-A team, the Bowie Baysox, contemplated sleeping in their cars bec..

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Katy Perry's 'Dark Horse' Is Hers

3.2 billion views. That's how many views Katy Perry's 2014 Billboard hit, "Dark Horse," has received to date on YouTube. And now it's fair to say it is, in fact, her hit. On March 10, Perry won her appeal of a long-running copyright infringement lawsuit, which means that she and her record label won't have to pay a $2.8 million jury award relating to "Dark Horse." Gray v. Hudson (Perry) Christian rappers Marcus Gray ("Flame"), Emmanuel Lambert, and Chike Ojukwu filed their lawsuit in 2014, alleging that Perry stole an ostinato (a short, repeated musical phrase) from their 2008 song "Joyful Noise" and used it in "Dark Horse." A jury found in favor of the rappers, but the trial court overturne..

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Is It Legal to Join Ukraine's Military Defense?

Ukraine's courageous fight against an invading foe eight times its size has captured many hearts. It has prompted many of us to pray for peace or to contribute to refugee relief efforts. But for some of us, including many Americans, it's stirred a desire to join the fight. Following Russia's invasion in late February, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky created the "International Legion of Territorial Defense of Ukraine" and invited foreigners to join it. Within a few days, Zelensky claimed 16,000 foreigners were on the way. Realizing that not all volunteers are really cut out for combat, however, Ukrainian military officials also stressed that they do not want volunteers who lack militar..

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Is an Elephant a Person?

Is an elephant a "person" with rights belonging to human beings? The New York Court of Appeals, New York's highest court, has been asked to say "yes." The elephant's name is "Happy." She has lived for 40 years at the Bronx Zoo in New York. An animal rights organization, the Nonhuman Rights Project (NhRP), sued to have Happy transferred to an animal sanctuary where she would have much more living space. Under American law, animals are property. The NhRP doesn't own Happy; the zoo does. Writ of Habeas Corpus for Animals? To get around this, NhRP is pursuing a novel legal theory. They seek relief that has been available under the common law — to human beings, anyway — for hundreds and hundr..

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New Jersey Considers Court-Appointed Lawyers for Pets

New Jersey is considering a law that will give some animals the right to have their own legal representation. A bill that recently passed out of the General Assembly's Judiciary Committee would provide court-appointed legal advocates for animals when they experience "pain, stress, or fear at human hands." The New Jersey Senate passed a version of the bill last year, but because it never made it to the Assembly, the Senate would have to take it up again this session before the measure would become law. The Garden State Would Be No. 3 If it passes, New Jersey would be the third state to allow legal advocates for animals. Connecticut was the first state to do so, in 2017, and Maine followed sui..

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Honoring the Memory of the Underground Railroad

February is Black History Month, and many communities use this time to commemorate their roles in defying cruel federal laws in the 1800s. Those laws were the Fugitive Slave Acts of 1793 and 1850, which allowed for the capture and return of runaway slaves even if they were in a northern state that prohibited slavery, as all did by 1804. Even though the North had turned against slavery, Congress bowed to southern pressure and passed these laws. Northern opposition to slavery escalated, and the result was the creation of the Underground Railroad, a secret network that provided a pathway to freedom for many runaway slaves. A 1998 federal law created a "Network to Freedom" program devoted to kee..

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Pro Wrestling May Be Fake, But the Monopoly Is Real

In case you've been living under a rock, we're on the road to Wrestlemania 38. But for the WWE, the road just got a bit bumpier, or more Royal Rumblier, if you will. WWE Chairman and CEO Vince McMahon has time and again choke-slammed attempts by his independent contractors (also known as "wrestlers," "entertainers," or "fake athletes") to unionize and dropped the leg on multiple concussion-related lawsuits. But this time, the WWE is facing a federal lawsuit by MLW Media LLC, a smaller wrestling company known to wrestling geeks as Major League Wrestling. This pinning predicament could be harder to kick out from. WWE Flying in From the Top Rope The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court for the..

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Will You Have To Give Up Your Gas Stove?

Food is subjective, and everyone has their own ways of making the most common dishes. Every cook, from the humble home chef to a James Beard-winning master of haute cuisine, however, agrees on one immutable fact: there is no substitute for cooking with gas. Electricity doesn't come close. That is why banning natural gas in new construction is shaping up to be, strangely, one of the most divisive battles in the war on climate change. NYC the Latest To Extinguish the Pilot Light In December, the New York City Council banned natural gas hookups in all new buildings. New buildings under seven stories must comply by December 2023, and taller buildings face a 2027 deadline. The new law essentially..

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Are Supervised Drug-Use Sites Legal?

The early 2000's crime and politics drama "The Wire" arguably was the first to expose the public to the concept of what "legalizing" drugs would look like when put into practice. Desperate to contain a growing heroin problem and the gang violence that came with it, an enterprising police major in Baltimore created "Hamsterdam." In a few square blocks of the city, people could buy and sell heroin and shoot up without fear of arrest. Stray from Hamsterdam, though, and you'd face the full force of the law. The experiment did not end well. New York Effectively Legalizes Supervised Drug Use Now, real-life New York City is the first city in the U.S. to open a supervised drug-use site. Announced by..

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Don't Talk to the Feds Without a Lawyer. Ever.

The Justice Department announced a grand jury indictment yesterday against Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, R-Neb., on charges of lying to federal investigators and concealing the source of illegal campaign contributions. Ho-hum. Another corrupt politician getting caught. On to the next one. Except that the details of Fortenberry's case provide lessons for the rest of us. It shouldn't be such an obvious lesson, but here we are (and this is why we're sharing this post in Legally Weird instead of Courtside). Wait, the Nigerian Prince Is Real? According to the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Central District of California, Fortenberry was part of a scheme to accept campaign donations from a Lebanese-Niger..

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Can Congress Hold You in Contempt?

The U.S. House Select Committee is just starting to dive into its investigation of what happened on Jan. 6, when a mob of angry Donald Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol building. The committee is probing what Trump and others close to him knew about the rioters' plans that day. So far, people in Trump's orbit are mostly refusing to play ball by ignoring subpoenas issued by the committee to give depositions. Eager to send a message, committee members are promising to hold a vote this week to hold Steve Bannon, a former adviser to Trump, in contempt. Congress' Contempt Powers Many people's understanding of contempt resides solely in the realm of courtroom dramas, where judges threaten ..

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John Hinckley Jr. Will Be Free in 2022: Here's Why

The attempted assassination of then-President Ronald Reagan, only a few months into his first term in 1981, shocked the nation. Reagan's would-be assassin, John Hinckley Jr., was found not guilty by reason of insanity, which led to widespread criticism, dismay, and anger. Now 66 and the subject of decades of treatment, Hinckley is set to be completely free next summer, after a federal judge recently ordered his unconditional release. While the announcement is resurfacing the anger at Hinckley's deed, it also raises important questions about the "insanity defense" and his subsequent treatment. The Weirdest Assassination Attempt Ever Hinckley's shooting of Reagan — along with press secretary..

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Man Pictured as Baby on Cover of 'Nevermind' Suing Nirvana for Exploitation

Nearly 30 years ago, Nirvana released its groundbreaking album, "Nevermind." The grunge masterpiece knocked hair bands off the top of the rock mountain with a new, nihilistic message for the teens of Generation X. "Nevermind" also featured one of the most iconic album covers of all time. In the midst of the great moral panic over music poisoning the minds of our youths, there was 4-month-old Spencer Elden, as naked as the day he came into this world, swimming underwater after a dollar bill attached to a fishhook. Come As You Are Now 30 years old, Elden seems to have some regrets over his role in music history. In a lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of Californ..

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Strange Lawsuit: Two Women Claim to Be Dead Man's Wife

Demetra Street knew something was fishy after her husband's funeral. Her 67-year-old husband, Ivan Street, died of congestive heart failure on Jan. 9, and Demetra paid $2,500 to Wylie Funeral Homes in Baltimore for her husband's cremation and funeral. The Washington Post reports that his funeral seemed ordinary and pleasant. Demetra sat in the front row near a framed photograph of Ivan that rested next to an urn that supposedly contained his cremated ashes. We say “supposedly" because, after the service, when Demetra asked to receive her husband's ashes, the funeral home refused to produce them. That's when Demetra, 52, began an investigation that recently culminated in a strange federal l..

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Can an Edible Plant Be a Plaintiff?

We've written here before about "environmental personhood," the idea that the best way to protect bodies of water and other natural resources is to give them the same rights as humans. These efforts typically have sought to give a designated human group the power to act in the best interests of the natural resource much like a parent or legal guardian. While it might sound intriguing, the argument has not gained much legal traction in the U.S. That doesn't mean, however, that the theory isn't continuing to evolve. It's evolved so much, in fact, that the latest development in this area of law might have you doing a doubletake. A Minnesota Tribe and a Non-Human Plaintiff What we're talking abo..

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