November 15th, 2022

Dolan’s War Against Lawyers

The deeply unpopular James Dolan.

James Dolan, the CEO of the Knicks, Rangers, Madison Square Garden and other venues, hates lawyers. Or, more particularly, he hates lawyers that have the audacity to sue him or his companies.

So he banned them from his venues. Brought a routine trip and fall case against MSG due to a broken step? Banned. Brought a dram shop case because one of its bars over served a patron? Banned. Here’s a sample of those letters, courtesy of Richard Jaffe:

Had season tickets to the Knicks for almost 50 years? Banned. Wait. What? Almost 50 years of loyalty and you get banned?

Attorney Larry Hutcher had sued Dolan’s business, the Madison Square Garden Entertainment, Corp., representing resellers of tickets. Dolan, it seems, didn’t like it that others may make a buck off the resale of tickets and tried to stop the practice. If there were excess profits floating around, he wanted them.

But he didn’t just ban the lawyer, he also banned all 60 lawyers at his firm, most of whom likely have nothing whatsoever to do with the lawsuit. And they were banned from all venues, regardless of whether it was a sporting event or a concert at the Beacon Theatre or Radio City Music Hall.

What does Radio City have to do with a personal injury case at the Garden? Nothing, except one James Dolan, its infamously hypersensitive owner.

So Hutcher sued MSG over the ban, and gained a partial victory this week. While generally an owner can ban whoever the hell they want from their private property — except based on protected classes such as race, religion, sex, etc. But lawyers are not a protected class.

An additional exception to the common law rule that you stop people you don’t like from coming onto your land, however, is NY Civil Rights Law 40-B. An owner can’t prohibit people coming onto the land for public performances of “legitimate theatres, burlesque theatres, music halls, opera houses, concert halls and circuses.”

(And no, this post isn’t about the concept of what is a “legitimate” theatre, which is obviously a First Amendment issue.)

What was the rationale for stopping lawyers from coming in? And by the rationale, I mean the excuse that they gave, not the real reason. The excuse was that coming into the venue might somehow be deemed discovery “outside proper litigation discovery channels.” Please stop laughing.

New York State Supreme Court Justice Lyle E. Frank handed a partial victory this week to Hutcher. While MSG/Dolan can’t be forced to sell him a ticket, he can still attend if he has one. And this also doesn’t pertain to sporting events, because even though I would call much of that theater, it isn’t in the definition of excluded venues.

And as to the excuse offered by MSG? Justice Frank succinctly wrote:

“[T]here appears to be no rational basis for the policy instituted by the defendants except to dissuade attorneys from bringing suit against them. The concern that the defendants could be prejudiced by allowing attorneys who are representing those who have brought action against the defendant to attend events with thousands of other people is unavailing to this Court.”

So what will happen next? More litigation you can be sure! Because somehow, someway, the Dolan family will likely do whatever it can to keep the resale or gifting of tickets who have had the audacity to sue them, out of their hands.

The decision in Hutcher v. MSG Entertainment is here:


August 15th, 2014

Cops in Tanks vs. Cops on Bikes

Police Shooting MissouriThe juxtaposition of the pictures couldn’t be more stark.  Out in Ferguson, Missouri, in the wake of  an unarmed teen being shot dead by a cop, we see a militarized police force racing in to use all their toys of crowd control: Tear gas, rubber bullets, armored personnel carriers and, of course, the military-style uniforms with riot armor. Everything about it screams, “Stay the hell away from us.”

And the other picture is one I noted on the Gothamist a couple weeks back: A cop on a bike. The article is ostensibly about being caught riding on the sidewalk, but that isn’t what captured my eye. No, I looked and saw an extremely approachable human.

073014nypdbikeWhich cop do you want on your street? The one that says stay away, or the one that waves hello?

Which cop is more likely to be a calming effective?

Which cop is more likely to antagonize and make a situation worse?

Which one is more likely to infringe on the rights of others?

Which one will cost the taxpayers more money, both in hardware and lawsuits?

Which cop is the one that people would most likely to approach with important information?

Do we pay the cops to protect us, or protect themselves?

And now, the local cops are gone from Ferguson and the highway patrol cops have come in. And what did they do? They walked around in regular cop uniforms without all the toys and chatted with the protestors and worked to calm things down. Some protestors got hugs.

The Ferguson cops seem to have done everything they could to make the situation worse, though this is helped with the dumping of excess military hardware into our police departments. Hey, if you have toys, don’t those toys have to get used?  (See, Rise of the Warrior Cop, The Militarization of America’s Police Forces, by Radley Balko.)

One can only hope that police departments around the country are taking studious notes on crowd control, and leaning what not to do.  The use of military weapons in civilian areas is a horrible trend, and the fall-out from it can affect any one of us.


May 2nd, 2014

A Botched Execution (And A Good Lawsuit?)

lethalinjectionYou’d have to be living under a rock not to know about the botched Oklahoma execution of Clayton Lockett. Oklahoma, in its infinite wisdom, figured it would be just fine to give an experimental combination of drugs to its death row inmate.

It didn’t work out so well, as a vein apparently burst, he didn’t get the first drug that was supposed to knock him out, and he suffered mightily before having a heart attack and dying. Or at least that is what they are claiming.

But the part that really jumped off the pages of the stories was this: When it became evident that Lockett hadn’t been rendered unconscious by the first drug, and was in pain, prison officials lowered the shades between the witnesses and the condemned. They didn’t want anyone to see what The State was doing.

And anytime The State acts in secret, people should be alarmed. Especially when there is absolutely no reason for secrecy.

It is that very secrecy, in fact, that allows elected officials and their prison appointees to claim that the condemned don’t suffer when given various drug cocktails. Because if they suffered, then there would be an Eighth Amendment problem regarding cruel and unusual punishment.

The official timeline — or at least the first iteration of one, as none of the real witnesses in the execution chamber have actually testified — goes like this:

18:23  —  The drug midazolam was administered intravenously.

18:30 —  A doctor said Lockett was still conscious.

18:33  —  Lockett was unconscious, and vecuronium bromide and potassium chloride were administered.

18:42 — The shades for the witnesses were lowered. The official timeline does not say why, but there are accounts elsewhere that Lockett had appeared to be conscious in the previous few minutes.  From the New York Times: “Lockett, began to writhe and gasp after he had already been declared unconscious and called out “oh, man,” according to witnesses.”

18:44 – 18:56  “The doctor checked the IV and reported the blood vein had collapsed, and the drugs had either absorbed into tissue, leaked out or both,” according to the timeline.  The director of the corrections department then asked whether Lockett had been given enough of the drug combination to kill him, and the doctor said “no.”  “Is another vein available? And if so, are there enough drugs remaining?” the doctor was asked, according to the timeline. The doctor’s answer to both questions: “No.”

18:56 Execution called off

19:06 Lockett pronounced dead.

Missing from the timeline? Any acknowledgment that Lockett was in pain, contrary to the claimed protocol.

I know, you are shocked, just shocked, that the official timeline whitewashed what the condemned man was doing or trying to say.

Secrecy. It has surrounded the death penalty since we stopped public hangings. It now consists primarily of trying to make an inherently violent act — killing — antiseptic, and therefore palatable to the public. A firing squad would be quicker and more efficient, but then the killing becomes more real.

But the veil of secrecy, I think, can now be broken. Dropping the shades in front of the witnesses won’t work this time, despite wiping it from the official timeline.

Because he suffered in a way that was unintended, as others have  before him, the Estate of Clayton Lockett now has a simple claim for personal injury due to the negligence of prison officials, in addition to a civil rights claim for cruel and unusual punishment. This would be for the 24 minutes between 18:42 – 19:06.

Such a lawsuit, of course, really wouldn’t be about the money. It’s about lifting that veil of secrecy. Because of the suffering, the estate lawyers, if they brought such a suit, would be able to question each and every person in that execution room. And all of the people that ordered the drugs, devised the drug protocol, medically supervised the procedure and delve into all the ways it was tested (or that it wasn’t).

And so much more.

No, it really wouldn’t be about the money at all. It would be about ripping down the veil and using the disinfecting qualities of sunlight so that people can actually see how The State’s machinery of death works, to see what happened and why it happened.

And citizens can see exactly what they voted for and paid for.


November 19th, 2011

UC Davis Cop Assaults Peaceful Protesters (Looks Like 1963 Birmingham) (Updated)

Lt. John Pike pepper sprays peaceful protesters

When I saw the photo at right, my eyes almost popped out of my head. The scene is from one of the many Occupy protests that have sprung up out of Occupy Wall Street, this one at the campus of UC Davis. The cop pepper spraying the peaceful, sitting protestors yesterday is reported to be  Lt. John Pike of the UC Davis police. If he hasn’t been fired yet, the question to ask is “why?”

And, before I go any further, yes, there is video. You can see in the background all the cameras out there. This is one of the videos from YouTube, and you can be sure many more will come up. Much will be written on this.

It matters not one lick whether you agree or not with the Occupy protests. We have the First Amendment and people are allowed to protest to their heart’s content. And if they were tresspassing or peacefully violating some ordinance, well, the cops have had decades of practice with how to peacefully arrest people.

High school students get fire hosed in 1963 in Birmingham

The appalling conduct of Lt. John Pike reminds me of another iconic image from another era. And this is when the police turned the fire hoses on the peaceful civil rights protestors of Birmingham.

There must be accountability. The job of the police is to protect us from goons, not be the goons.

The United States has a long history of advocating for human rights around the globe. Had we seen  this image come out of Iran, we would have howled in protest.

Some of us have been accustomed to watching police videos of people getting beaten. It started with Rodney King, and has accelerated in recent years with the ubiquity of the cell phone camera as well as cop car cameras. You can see many such videos of police abusing people displayed and discussed by people such as Scott Greenfield or  Radley Balko.

But this one is so striking given its brazenness. This didn’t happen in a back alley, or at night, or someplace where the cop thought he could tell any story he wanted to justify his conduct. No. This happened because the cop actually thought he was entitled to assault peaceful protesters.

The unprovoked assault by Lt. Pike raises many questions, but the most immediate ones have to do with making sure he is stripped of his badge and gun and fired from the force. When the press release comes out, it should not say that he was “let go” or “dismissed” or any other kind of namby pamby euphemism. It should say he was fired.

And if he is not fired by his immediate supervisor right away, that person should be fired for not doing it. There are no excuses for allowing a thug to remain on a police force. Then he must be prosecuted. There are no excuses for a failure to prosecute. And when he is convicted, as surely me must be for such a naked assault, he should be jailed.

And yes, there should be an investigation. Because it is critical to know if Pike is a lone wolf goon or if he was directed by others to commit his assault. Accountability. All the way up the line. This is not about Occupy and it is not about student and it is not about California. It is about the rights of the citizenry.

Once upon a time, I had an office in the Woolworth Building downtown, overlooking Broadway and City Hall Park. And from my perch on the 8th floor, I would routinely hear protests down in the street and park below. Sometimes it made it hard to work, but it was nevertheless music to my ears. This was the mighty First Amendment in action, and I loved regardless of whether I agreed with the points of view being chanted toward the the mayor or not.

A couple other thoughts, since it is my understanding that some of the victims have been hospitalized. Every one of them should be getting an immediate visit from the Governor and an immediate apology, if that has not already happened.

Unless there is some immunity that I don’t know about, Lt. Pike will be sued as will his employers, which I assume is the state. As they should be. There needs to be accountability. Both criminal and civil.

One final visual for you. This one comes to me courtesy of Wisconsin Court of Appeals Judge Ralph Adam Fine who saw me tweet this subject earlier today (and a former guest blogger here). He sent me this image of a mural in the library of the Justice Department, where he used to work in the 60s.

The mural is by John Steuart Curry, portraying a terrified man on the courthouse steps. A judge stands between the man and a lynch mob; the man at the front of the mob holds a rope; a raging flame burns in the background (story on the murals here).

The job of the justice system is to protect society from the mobs. And when the mob turns out to be the police, the system of justice must not cower.


Open Letter to Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi

The Davis Enterprise (images)

Turning My Disgust into Action – Everyone in CA needs to know John Pike’s Name (Daily Kos)

Update, August 1, 2012: Nine months after this incident, Pike has finally been fired.