Author Archives: Harold O'Grady

Presidents Day

The Uniform Monday Holiday Act in 1971 declares that Washington’s Birthday falls on the third Monday in February in the United States. It is, of course, named for George Washington, the first president of the United States. The holiday originally started as a day to celebrate the birthday of George Washington whose birthday is February 22. As part of the Uniform Monday Holiday Act in 1971, the holiday was moved to the third Monday in February. Presidents’ Day is now thought of as a holiday saluting all Presidents, not just George Washington. Public Law 90-363 designated the third Monday in February as Washington’s Birthday. Many states choose to call this day Presidents’ Day instead of Washington’s Birthday. Some states also celebrate Abraham Lincoln’s birthday as well. Other Presidents born in February include William Henry Harrison and Ronald Reagan.

Some facts about Presidents’ Day are:

1. Washington’s birthday was how the holiday began, following his death in 1799, and was celebrated each year on February 22. It was then celebrated widely in 1832 on the centennial of his birth and in 1848 when construction first started on the Washington Monument. Other presidents with birthdays in February include Abraham Lincoln on February 12.  The holiday became recognized as a day to honor multiple past presidents. Alabama celebrates Washington’s birthday and Thomas Jefferson’s birthday on Presidents’ Day, even though Jefferson was born in April.

2. It has different names in certain states. In Virginia, which is Washington’s home state, they call it George Washington’s Day. In Alabama, it is called Washington and Jefferson Day. There is no official agreement on the placement of the apostrophe in “Presidents’ Day,” so you might see it written as “Presidents’ Day,” “President’s Day,” or just “Presidents Day.”

3. It was almost changed back to individual birthdays in the 2000s. Because the origins of Presidents’ Day started to become lost, honored more presidents than just Washington, disregarded Lincoln, and morphed into a commercialized cluster of chaos, an attempt to restore Washington’s and Lincoln’s individual birthdays as holidays was made in the 2000s. It failed. However, the federal government still recognizes Presidents’ Day as a celebration of Washington and is listed as such on official calendars.

4. Even though it is a federal holiday, each state is free to call it what they choose and how to celebrate.

5. Brooklyn Law School is closed on Presidents’ Day. The Library is open from 9am to 10pm. See the library e-book For Fear of an Elective King: George Washington and the Presidential Title Controversy of 1789 by Kathleen Bartoloni-Tuazon where the author argues that the resolution of the controversy in favor of the modest title of “President” established the importance of recognition of the people’s views by the president and led to leadership that demonstrated the presidency’s power by not flaunting it.

 

Millions Awarded to Graffiti Artists

5pointzA BLS Library Blog post titled VARA and a Whitewashed Graffiti Mecca discussed a federal law suit brought by a group of plaintiff artists, under the Visual Artist Rights Act of 1990, against a defendant real estate developer in the US District Court for the Eastern District of New York. The NY Times now reports Graffiti Artists Awarded $6.7 Million for Destroyed 5Pointz Murals. Judge Frederic Block made the award on Monday to 21 graffiti artists whose works were destroyed in 2013 at the 5Pointz complex in Long Island City, Queens. Eric Baum, a lawyer for the artists, hailed the judgment, calling it “a victory not only for the artists in this case, but for artists all around the country.” Although 5Pointz no longer physically exists, the jury trial determined that the 5Pointz artists were entitled to legal redress for the work’s destruction. Significantly, this lawsuit was the first of its kind; never had a court examined whether the work of an “exterior aerosol artist,” as the trial judge wrote in a November 20, 2013, opinion, “is worthy of any protection under the law.” Congress enacted VARA in 1990 to afford visual artists two so-called “moral rights” under then-existing copyright law: the rights of attribution and integrity.

Brooklyn Law School Library’s One Search gives access to Graffiti and the Visual Artists Rights Act by Amy Wang, 11 Washington Journal of Law Technology & Arts 141 (2015) which has in-depth discussion of claims under VARA, examining case law in Cohen v. G&M Realty L.P., 988 F. Supp. 2d 212 (E.D.N.Y. 2013).

No Paris Agreement, No EU Trade

Officials at the European Union (EU) have declared that, if the US does indeed withdraw from the Paris Agreement in 2020, there will be no future trade deals between the two blocs. In June 2017, the US President announced his intention to withdraw from the Paris Agreement. The move can only take effect in 2020, according to the rules of the agreement. He has also backed away from policies designed to deliver on US commitments to the accord. France’s Foreign Minister, Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne, told the French Parliament that “one of our main demands is that any country who signs a trade agreement with [the] EU should implement the Paris agreement on the ground. No Paris agreement, no trade agreement,” he added. “The US knows what to expect.” The use of the word “implementation” suggests that the trading partners need to have not just signed, but ratified the Paris agreement. That means that it would not only the US that is excluded, but 23 other countries including Russia. The US is clearly the target of this proposal.

ParisFor more on the Paris Climate Agreement, see Brooklyn Law School Library’s e-book The Paris Agreement on Climate Change: Analysis and Commentary edited by Daniel Klein et als. Signed in December 2015, the agreement came into force on November 4, 2016, a whole four years before the original intended date of 2020. The e-book combines a comprehensive legal appraisal and critique of the new Agreement with a practical and structured commentary to all its Articles. Part I discusses the general context for the Paris Agreement, detailing the scientific, political, and social drivers behind it, providing an overview of the preexisting regime, and tracking the history of the negotiations. It examines the evolution of key concepts such as common but differentiated responsibilities, and analyses the legal form of the Agreement and the nature of its provisions. Part II comprises individual chapters on each Article of the Agreement, with detailed commentary of the provisions which highlights central aspects from the negotiating history and the legal nature of the obligations. It describes the institutional arrangements and considerations for national implementation, providing practical advice and prospects for future development. Part III reflects on the Paris Agreement as a whole: its strengths and weaknesses, its potential for further development, and its relationship with other areas of public international law and governance. The book is an invaluable resource for academics and practitioners, policy makers, and actors in the private sector and civil society, as they negotiate the implementation of the Agreement in domestic law and policy.

Delaware’s Dominance in Corporate Law

DelawareAmong the February 1, 2017 New Books List at Brooklyn Law School Library, which has 76 print titles and 55 e-book titles, is Can Delaware be Dethroned? Evaluating Delaware’s Dominance of Corporate Law (edited by, among others, UCLA Law Professors Stephen Bainbridge and James Park, formerly of Brooklyn Law School). At 266 pages, this book is aimed at corporate lawyers, academics, regulators, and judges. The  practitioners and academics who have contributed essays to this volume provide sophisticated analyses of what makes Delaware the leading source of corporate law and describe the challenges that Delaware faces from other states and the federal government. Bainbridge states that Delaware law is neither pro-management nor pro-shareholder yet manages to retain its dominant position largely because of its Courts, particularly its Court of Chancery, devoted largely to corporate law cases. Businesses thrive best in an environment of predictability and certainty.

Delaware is the state of incorporation for almost two-thirds of the Fortune 500 companies, as well as more than half of all companies listed on the New York Stock Exchange, NASDAQ, and other major stock exchanges. In recent years, however, some observers have suggested that Delaware’s competitive position is eroding. Other states have long tried to chip away at Delaware’s position, and recent Delaware legal developments may have strengthened the case for incorporating outside Delaware. The federal government increasingly is preempting corporate governance law. The contributors to this volume are leading academics and practitioners with decades of experience in Delaware corporate law. They bring together perspectives that collectively provide the reader with a broad understanding of how Delaware achieved its dominant position and the threats it faces.

Interestingly, an article titled Should Your Company Incorporate in Delaware? Not So Fast by Alan M. Dershowitz, raises a huge question for Delaware’s supremacy as America’s capital of incorporation. The case involves a ruling in Shawe v. Elting where the Chancery Court ordered the forced sale of a privately-held, thriving corporation over the strenuous objections of shareholders who own half of the company. The court ruled that Shawe and Elting were “hopelessly deadlocked” despite the company’s impressive record of achieving 97 consecutive quarters of profitable growth. The facts of the case show unprecedented evidence of a lengthy and seriously dysfunctional relationship making for interesting reading and showing that corporate law can be far from dull.

Fight for Marriage Equality

awakeningThe right of same-sex couples to marry triggered decades of intense conflict before the U.S. Supreme Court upheld it in the 2015 decision Obergefell v. Hodges. Some of the most divisive contests shaping the quest for marriage equality occurred within the ranks of LGBTQ advocates. In the Brooklyn Law School Library copy of the encyclopedia-like 441-page book Awakening: How Gays and Lesbians Brought Marriage Equality to America (Harvard University Press, April 2017), author Nathaniel Frank, internationally recognized authority on LGBTQ equality and public policy, tells the dramatic story of how an idea that once seemed unfathomable became a legal and moral right in just half a century.

Awakening begins in the 1950s, when millions of gays and lesbians were afraid to come out, let alone fight for equality. Across the social upheavals of the next two decades, a gay rights movement emerged with the rising awareness of the equal dignity of same-sex love. A corps of  lawyers soon began to focus on legal recognition for same-sex couples, if not yet on marriage itself. It was only after being pushed by a small set of committed lawyers and grassroots activists that established movement groups created a successful strategy to win marriage in the courts. Marriage equality proponents then had to win over members of their own LGBTQ community who declined to make marriage a priority, while seeking to rein in others who charged ahead heedless of their carefully laid plans. All the while, they had to fight against virulent anti-gay opponents and capture the American center by spreading the simple message that love is love, ultimately propelling the LGBTQ community immeasurably closer to justice.

See the YouTube video about the book.

Government Shutdowns Past

According to a Congressional Research Service Report entitled Federal Funding Gaps: A Brief Overview by James V. Saturn, there have been 18 funding gaps since fiscal year 1971. Almost all of the funding gaps occurred between fiscal years 1977 and 1995. During this 19-fiscal-year period, 15 funding gaps occurred. Multiple funding gaps occurred during a single fiscal year in four instances: (1) three gaps covering a total of 28 days in fiscal year 1978, (2) two gaps covering a total of four days in fiscal year 1983, (3) two gaps covering a total of three days in fiscal year 1985, and (4) two gaps covering a total of 26 days in fiscal year 1996.

Brooklyn Law School Library has in its electronic collection The Government Shutdown of 2013: Perspective and Analysis by Rosanne C. Lundy. According to the description “When federal agencies and programs lack appropriated funding, they experience a funding gap. Under the Anti-Deficiency Act, they must cease operations, except in certain emergency situations or when law authorizes continued activity. Failure of the President and Congress to reach agreement on interim or full-year funding measures occasionally has caused government shutdowns. Government shutdowns have necessitated furloughs of several hundred thousand federal employees, required cessation or reduction of many government activities, and affected numerous sectors of the economy. This book discusses the causes, processes, and effects of federal government shutdowns; economic activity during the government shutdown and debt limit brinkmanship; impacts and costs of the October 2013 federal government shutdown; a brief overview of federal funding gaps; and operations of the Department of Defense during a lapse in appropriations.”

 

Chinatown Financial Way of Life on Trial

abacusIf you want a tale of a bank charged with falsifying loan-application documents by inflating borrower assets, incomes, and job titles, and “fraudulent mortgages” being sold to Fannie Mae, the federally backed mortgage company, see the documentary Abacus: Small Enough to Jail. It is a 2016 American documentary by Steve James that centers on Abacus Federal Savings Bank, a family-owned community bank situated in Manhattan’s Chinatown. It was deemed “small enough to jail” rather than “too big to fail” and became the only financial institution to face criminal charges following the subprime mortgage crisis when District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. announced a 184-count indictment against the bank and 19 of its current and former employees accusing them of conspiracy, grand larceny, falsifying business records, and residential mortgage fraud.  Ten Abacus employees accepted plea deals in exchange for testifying against the bank, and Ken Yu became the star witness. The film debuted at the 2016 Toronto International Film Festival winning first runner-up for the People’s Choice Award in the documentary category.

The principal behind Abacus is Thomas Sung (Brooklyn Law School, Class of 1964). Born in Shanghai, he emigrated at age 16 to New York in 1952. His family was processed through Ellis Island and detained for three months before they could settle in New York. That left Sung determined to learn the law and help other immigrants. After earning a bachelor’s and master’s degree from the University of Florida in agricultural economics, he worked as an analyst for several New York companies while attending Brooklyn Law School at night. He began practicing law in 1964 and worked pro bono for the Chinese community. Sung founded Abacus in 1984 to serve the immigrant population, which had grown in New York. “We take people from illegal immigrant status, to legal status, to prosperous business people and homeowners,” said Sung.

Whether the government was giving a pass to big banks and picking on a small one, perhaps with a tinge of racism in its motives, is a question. Vance called the accusations of cultural bias “entirely misplaced and entirely wrong” adding “I felt that our handling of the bank was consistent with how we would have handled the bank if we were investigating a bank that serviced a South American community or the Indian community.” The movie shows its affection for the Sung family, which was equipped professionally, if not financially, for an expensive legal battle. Three daughters were trained as lawyers, including Jill Sung, the bank’s chief executive, Vera Sung, a director of the bank, who worked for the Brooklyn DA’s office for two-and-a-half years, and Chantarelle Sung, who worked in the Manhattan DA’s office for seven years leaving when Vance took over and started prosecuting her family’s bank. The NY Times criticized the filing as a dubious mortgage fraud case against Abacus, which was tatally exonerated at trial. Local newspapers put the news of the bank’s acquittal on their front pages. There was criticism from Bennett L. Gershman, a former prosecutor at the Manhattan D.A.’s office now a professor at Pace Law School, who said “This case just involved a terrible example of poor judgment by the prosecutor.” He characterized it as a “David and Goliath situation,” echoing a widespread view that it was convenient to make an example of a small bank like Abacus.

Trump, Cicero and the Power of Rhetoric

The rhetoric which Donald Trump practices works partly because Trump is employing many of the same rhetorical strategies used by one of the greatest orators in history: Cicero. Marcus Tullius Cicero (106-43 BC) was born on January 3, 106 BC in the hill town of Arpinum, about 60 miles southeast of Rome. He won his share of elections and moved up the ranks of the Roman republic until he became consul, the highest office in the land, at a younger age than anyone ever had without coming from a politically connected family. He was the Kennedy or the Obama of first-century-B.C. Rome. He was a Roman philosopher, politician, lawyer, orator, political theorist, consul and constitutionalist. But he sounded a lot like Trump when it came to rhetoric. And he knew how to use it.

ciceroWhen Cicero was attacking the corrupt governor Gaius Verres (see Brooklyn Law School Library’s 2011 e-book Cicero, Against Verres, 2.1.53-86), he used the rhetorical device of preterition, an unfamiliar word whose concept has become familiar this year. Preterition is when a speaker says he will not mention something, usually something unsavory. By naming the thing he will not mention, of course he has already planted the idea in his listeners’ minds. “Nothing shall be said of his drunken nocturnal revels; no mention shall be made of his pimps and dicers,” Cicero said about Verres. The list went on. Cicero rounded it out by saying, “The rest of his life has been such that I can well afford to put up with the loss of not mentioning those enormities.” If listeners didn’t know before about Verres’ liking for alcohol and prostitutes, they did now.

Then there Cicero’s tactic of asking the audience a leading question – stirring up their enthusiasm as participants, and suggesting an answer that he cannot state himself. That sort of question is formally called anachinosis. Defending his friend Rabirius, who had a role in the death of a populist political figure, Cicero laid out the chaotic situation and asked, “What would you do in such a crisis? …. While the consuls were summoning you to uphold the safety and liberty of your country, which authority, which invitation, which party would you prefer to follow, whose command would you select to obey?” Cicero led his listeners to believe that, amid the tumult that led to the death, any one of them might well have acted just like Rabirius.

Then there is ecphonesis which we see in the exclamation at the end of Trump’s tweets. “O tempora! O mores!” (“The times! The customs!”) Cicero wrote in one of his most famous expressions, evocatively proclaiming his distress about society in just a few punctuated words. Trump deploys ecphonesis effectively and memorably when he ends his tweets, “Sad!”

ciceroFor more, see Brooklyn Law School Library’s 2002 e-book Brill’s Companion to Cicero: Oratory and Rhetoric intended as a companion to the study of Cicero’s oratory and rhetoric for both students and experts in the field: for the neophyte, it provides a starting point; for the veteran Ciceronian scholar, a place for renewing the dialogue about issues concerning Ciceronian oratory and rhetoric; for all, a site of engagement at various levels with Ciceronian scholarship and bibliography. The book is arranged chronologically and covers most aspects of Cicero’s oratory and rhetoric.

Kosher Christmas

kosherBrooklyn Law School Library’s e-book collection has a great title for this time of year:  A Kosher Christmas: ‘Tis the Season to Be Jewish by Joshua Eli Plaut. The book combines history, Jewish studies and sociology beginning with urban-bourgeois Jewish émigrés from German-speaking countries who decorated trees, exchanged presents and sang carols in “a family festival devoid of religious meaning.” The author describes how modern Jews elevated the once-minor holiday of Hanukkah, which this year ends tonight, to its big-time status as Christmas’s partner. With chapters on intermarriage, holiday cards designed for blended couples, and Jewish composers of Christmas songs, the author explains how German-American Jews “ate customary Christmas foods, particularly sweets like stollen, lebkuchen and pfefferkuc (although they prepared the treats with butter instead of lard).” He explains that “Jews flock to Chinese restaurants on Christmas not only because they are open while other restaurants are closed but also because Jews regard eating Chinese food as a special occasion.” Read why Jews, before or after their Chinese Christmas dinners, hit the movies. In the first decade of the 20th century, we learn, 42 nickelodeons were in the Lower East Side of New York with 10 more uptown in what was branded Jewish Harlem.

Plaut reports on the tradition of Jewish volunteering, the Christmas mitzvah — something to do when the rest of the world has the day off. Jews feed the hungry, fill in for Christians at work, donate toys, play Santa. These are activities that allow “Jews the opportunity to participate in Christmas, but in a way that does not detract from their Jewish identity; in fact, their volunteerism reinforces their Jewishness.”

The introduction to “A Kosher Christmas” says: “We encounter in the following chapters a multitude of distinctive strategies that portray how Jews survive and thrive in American society and how they transform Christmastime into a holiday season belonging to all Americans. The concluding chapter “Menorahs Next to Madonnas” tells the story from 1993 when Myrna Holzman, a retired public-school teacher in New York and an avid stamp collector, started a crusade to convince the U.S. Postal Service to produce a Hanukkah stamp. Her Hanukkah stamp campaign finally resulted in the U.S. Postal Service’s release of a Hanukkah stamp in 1996. The postal service invited her to the launching ceremony for the new Hanukkah stamp, the first stamp to be a joint-issue between the United States and Israel. To Myrna’s surprise, the symbol chosen to represent Hanukkah was a modern rendition of the menorah, consisting of playful, colorful shapes, The choice was ironic because the post office committee had previously rejected the menorah as a religious symbol. In 2004, the postal service released another Hanukkah stamp, this time featuring a dreidel, as Myrna had originally suggested. At 173 pages plus notes, this book is recommended for readers interested in an academic study of American Jewish cultural traditions and the “December Dilemma” of Christmas v. Chanukah as the inevitable duel that confronts many American Jews each December.

Net Neutrality Rules: Zero Hour

Network neutrality is in danger. Yet it is not what those of us who care about democracy and a free marketplace of ideas seek. We need to be fighting to wrest access to the internet out of the hands of large corporations who currently dominate it. The debate makes clear that it is time to start treating the internet like a utility. Most regions of the US are dominated by only one or two major internet service providers. A marketplace with so few choices is not a free market. The net neutrality debate makes clear that it is time to start treating internet like a utility rather than pretending that monopolistic internet service providers operate in a free market.

Current FCC chairman, Ajit Pai, voted against those rules when he was a commissioner. He has supported “light-touch” regulations that instead require Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to disclose any blocking or prioritization of their own content or from their partners. Now more than twenty Internet experts, including the “father of the internet” Vint Cerf and Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web, say in a letter that they are concerned that rules written to replace the current ones are based “on a flawed and factually inaccurate understanding of Internet technology”. They mentioned “major problems” the FCC had with its online comment system. The FCC received 23 million comments on the issue of net neutrality, but millions of them were fake submissions. Nearly a half-million comments came from Russian email addresses. Last week, the agency’s general counsel rejected an open letter by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s (D) request for information about comments filed in the agency’s net neutrality records and whether some were filed under stolen identities.

The FCC is expected to pass the new regulations, with the three Republicans on the commission saying they support the measure.  The FCC, the letter noted, has also not “held a single open public meeting to hear from citizens and experts about the proposed Order” ― a break from “established practice.” Congress should cancel the agency’s vote, the experts say, because the FCC’s “rushed and technically incorrect proposed Order to abolish net neutrality protections without any replacement is an imminent threat to the Internet we worked so hard to create.” Democratic lawmakers have consistently opposed the repeal and are continuing their quest to keep the net neutrality rules in place. A letter by thirty-nine senators urged Pai  to “abandon this radical and reckless plan to turn the FCC’s back on consumers and the future of the free and open Internet.” On December 7, Rep. Sean Maloney (D-N.Y.) introduced H.R. 4585 to prohibit the FCC from relying on the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking in the matter of restoring internet freedom to adopt, amend, revoke, or otherwise modify any rule of the Commission. Rep. Mike Doyle (D-Penn.) announced that he will introduce legislation to reverse the repeal if the FCC votes on it.

net

It is unlikely that the three Republican commissioners will switch sides. The FCC is an independent agency. The courts have generally allowed the FCC to classify services as it wishes. One issue is  whether the FCC has the authority to make a U-turn and reduce broadband ISPs to an information service. A court could challenge the FCC’s reversal ruling that the agency is behaving in an arbitrary or unreasonable manner. It will be hard to convince a court that broadband service is no longer a utility subject to regulation. Courts will serve as the real check on an FCC trying to create a closed off and more expensive web. See Brooklyn Law Library’s online version of Regulating the Web: Network Neutrality and the Fate of the Open Internet which brings together a diverse collection of scholars who examine the net neutrality policy and surrounding debates. The book contributes to discourse about net neutrality so we may continue toward preserving a truly open Internet structure in the US.