Sneaking Suspicions
Archives-- November 30-December 6, 2003

This page includes posts from Nov. 30-Dec. 6, 2003 in the usual reverse order. Each posting on the home page is perma-linked to these archive pages.

December 6, 2003
Losing a gamble on federal jurisdiction

Congress sometimes doesn’t seem to realize how far beyond its original intentions some folks will try to take the legislation it enacts.

The Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations law (18 U.S.C. Section 1961 et seq., usually called RICO) is a very good example. 

As originally enacted, Congress was trying to find a way to dislodge organized crime from its vast ill-gotten gains. As used by far too many lawyers, however, RICO has now come to be considered as a just another bludgeon in routine civil litigation, with the mere threat of the allegation striking fear in the more timid among us. 

This fact is not lost on the Federal judiciary, of course, and they are fighting back to the extent they can.  

A Seventh Circuit panel issued a unanimous opinion this week that shows how much they don’t like how this potentially beneficial law is being abused by some.

David M. Williams was a former auditor for the Indiana Department of Revenue, and a college graduate. Unfortunately, he also developed a severe gambling addiction.  

As recounted in the opinion, Williams managed to run through about $175,000 at an Indiana casino.  

His girlfriend and others tried to help him quit, and their efforts helped for a while. The casino itself sent him a letter: 

[W]e must insist that prior to gaming with us, at any time in the future, you must present us with medical/psychological information which demonstrates that your patronage of our facility poses no threat to your safety and/or well-being. . . . As we are sure you understand, Casino Aztar must reserve the right to cease doing business with any customer when to do so is in the best interest of not only Casino Aztar, but the customer as well. 

Unfortunately, this and other steps didn’t provide a final solution. Williams blew away even more money.  

The first step in recovering from addiction is to recognize one’s own responsibility.  

Apparently Williams is still having some trouble with taking that first step, because he sued the casino in Federal court, attaching a host of state-law tort claims to the RICO statute on which he based federal court jurisdiction.  

The District Court dismissed his case, ruling that the allegations of mail fraud relating to that “reserve to serve” letter and other correspondence utterly failed meet RICO’s strict standards for liability. 

Williams then appealed, where he found an even chillier reception: 

[I]t appears to us that his RICO theory “is so feeble, so transparent an attempt to move a state-law dispute to federal court . . . that it does not arise under federal law at all.” [citations omitted]. At oral argument, Williams’s counsel all but conceded that he lacked a good faith basis for bringing the RICO claim…. 

[W]e find this case to be exactly the type of bootstrapping use of RICO that federal courts abhor.

The panel remanded the case for dismissal due to the lack of any real federal jurisdiction for the case, and went even further: 

Because this court concludes that Williams’s RICO claim was frivolously filed solely to invoke the jurisdiction of the federal courts, we declare this appeal is also frivolous, and we direct plaintiff to show cause within 14 days why he should not be sanctioned under our Rule 38. 

When you gamble on federal jurisdiction, you stand a good chance of losing.  

It’s just not a smart bet.

December 5, 2003
We’re looking for a few bad films

Charles Kuffner’s recent post listing his top-ten bad movies list was contagious.

He’s now added a great set of links to the bloggers who joined in the fun.

I’m not often accused of being excessively kind, but I have some trouble coming up with a list of ten stinkers. On the other hand, I can recall a few more than Atrios did, although I hasten to add that my wife would heartily endorse his stirring, convincing nomination of The English Patient; she saw it, but I didn’t.

The mere mention of this movie title in her presence invariably causes an immediate break in the primary topic of conversation for a short sharp, pungent, extremely negative comment. (Is it any wonder why I love her so?)

Here are a few more nominees--

Not long after we were married, I saw a television commercial for a movie called Wacko. Based on the clips shown in the ad, it looked like it would be great.

This was my first introduction to the phenomenon repeated far too often in the next twenty years--the parts shown in the commercial were absolutely the only redeeming aspects of the entire movie. 

Avoid this stinker, even in the dead of night, during an awful bout of insomnia, while stuck in a hotel in a city far from home. 

I owed my wife the next five movie picks after this one. 

My brother-in-law once convinced us that we should go with him and my sister to see Fellini’s Satyricon.  

We’ve held this against him ever since. 

An American Werewolf in London has a certain distinction among the movies we’ve seen in the last twenty years. We left the theater long before the finish, and I think we’ve only done that one other time. High eeewww factor—way too high for us.

We remain completely mystified at the wildly popular reception given to Pretty Woman, about which the less said the better.

For sheer total suckitude, however, few movies have ever matched the standard set by The Piano. Painfully politically correct, which, sadly, may also explain the Oscars it received. On the other hand, the credits did include a dialog coach for Holly Hunter. Her character was mute, but hey.

December 4, 2003
A new trail

Sometimes my work can be a lot of fun.

I happily accepted an invitation to attend a ribbon-cutting ceremony today for the opening of the new Junction and Breakwater Trail at Cape Henlopen State Park:

From Left: Lt.Governor John Carney, DNREC Secretary John Hughes, Parks Director Charles Salkin

My clients at DelDOT helped with the project. The Delaware Bicycle Council, whom I also represent, were also strong supporters for the new amenity, and with good reason:

The crushed stone trail is 12 feet wide, narrowing to 8 feet at a restored railroad bridge at Holland Glade. It is suitable for wheelchairs; motorized vehicles and horses will not be permitted. There are restrooms and a parking lot with spaces for 52 cars and four buses at the trail head.

The Junction and Breakwater Trail gets its name from the rail line that ran between Lewes and Rehoboth in the mid-1800s. A portion of the trail follows the abandoned rail bed.

Dozens of avid bikers and hikers joined several local legislators and others in the celebration. After the speechifying, several of us walked nearly the entire 3.6 mile path, enjoying the scenery such as this view looking east toward the ocean from the newly rebuilt bridge over Holland Glade:

Holland Glade, Cape Henlopen State Park, December 4 2003

Just gorgeous.

December 4, 2003
Update on Rhode Island State Senate Voting Rights Act Case

Thanks to Rick Hasen and Howard Bashman for tipping the rest of us to the fact that the First Circuit vacated the panel decision about the Rhode Island State Senate redistricting case I wrote about in October. The order calls for additional briefing and argument, so stay tuned.

The panel decision appeared to create a conflict among the circuits about coalition voting.

December 3, 2003
Snow geese

When I hunted with my father 35 years ago, we hardly ever saw any snow geese around here.

Nowadays, however, farm fields in southern Delaware are frequently covered by huge flocks of these waterfowl.

This gang was searching for harvest leftovers about 12 miles north of Rehoboth Beach:

Snow geese, December 3, 2003, near Milton, Delaware.

This picture shows less than half the entire flock--and that's not snow on the ground, those are birds.

December 2, 2003
The Dover Effect

I work in Dover, Delaware, about three-quarters of a mile from the north entrance to Dover Air Force Base, shown here:

Dover AFB North Entrance, December 1, 2003

Among other missions, Dover AFB is particularly well-known for its mortuary.

It is the first stop in America for its war dead, where their remains are prepared for eventual transfer to cemeteries all over the country.

It is an honorable task.

One part of the process, however, is officially off-limits to the press. The media are not allowed to photograph the transfer of flag-draped coffins from the transport planes to the mortuary.

Some of those in the anti-war movement are not pleased with this restriction. They would like to use the images of coffins of those who sacrificed their lives in the nation's defense for their own purposes.

At this point, however, the Administration has apparently decided not to make it easy for the anti-war crowd to obtain these images.

It's a perfectly understandable use of discretion on their part, even though reasonable minds can differ over whether it's truly the right decision.

I think some of the anger about this policy is borne out of fundamental laziness.

After all, the bodies don't stay in Dover forever.

It's not impossible to wait outside Dover AFB's entrances, and follow the hearses to their destinations.

It's just not as convenient as being able to take photographs as the bodies are removed from the planes.

It's not impossible to determine when and where the dead are being flown to other locations, and to follow the hearses from those airports.

It's just not as convenient as being able to take photographs as the bodies are removed from the planes.

It's not impossible to obtain permission from the family members of the dead to attend the funeral and record the image of the flag-draped coffins.

It's just not as convenient as being able to take photographs as the bodies are removed from the planes.

Too bad.

November 30, 2003
One phrase can make all the difference 

Lede paragraphs of newspaper stories are supposed to be sufficiently intriguing to draw readers into sticking around to learn the rest of the story. 

Sometimes these first sentences are extremely compelling--but not for the reasons first assumed by either the reporter or the copy editor. 

Consider this one from an AP story today:

A Baptist minister whose fall from grace began with a fire his wife set at a home he had secretly bought with his mistress will walk out of prison on Sunday and head directly to the pulpit.

That one phrase, “fall from grace,” did it for me.

I can see using “fall from prominence” or “fall from power” or “fall from church leadership,” but “fall from grace”?

Maybe I’m just old-fashioned, but if a married minister buys a house with his embezzling mistress, it seems to me that his fall from grace occurred well before his wife discovered his cheating and applied her own little bit of righteous vengeance to the situation.

The story itself is fine. The Reverend Henry J. Lyons is now divorced. His mistress died in prison. A group of other ministers recently concluded he has reformed his ways sufficiently to support Lyons' return to church services, scheduled to begin today at the First Baptist Institutional Church in Lakeland, Florida. And as with all those who have served their time in prison, I hope he’s straightened out and flies right from here on out.

And in one sense, the lede worked. It was just bizarre enough to make me read the whole piece. On the other hand, I hope the writer didn’t really mean it.


Contact Information:

Fritz Schranck
P.O. Box 88
Nassau, DE  19969


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© Frederick H. Schranck 2002-2003