According to the New York Times, courts are having issues with slang, like changing-the-outcome-of-a-case issues. Language brings us all together, but can also cause a pretty big comprehension divide. Thumb through OED and you’ll find that word can have one meaning, but chat with Joe Sixpack on the streets, that word could mean something else entirely. (Or just be misinterpreted a la Phil Why-The-Face? Dunphy.) Not to be down on the dictionary industry—because it’s trying to keep up—but there is a definite lag (see, i.e., “defriend” making OED’s March 2013 “New Word List” when it’s been tossed around as a verb and/or threat since the dawn of Facebook).
So what’s a judge to do? Since it’s not possible to know all the meanings, many have been turning to Urban Dictionary, a crowd-sourced mecca for all that is slang and pop culture related. One positive aspect to using Urban Dictionary is that it’s a really cheap (compared to hiring a linguist or other expert) way to find out that when the GTL-ing kids are talking about a grenade, they’re not referring to something that was used to save Private Ryan. But on the negative side is that you could have an entry that has over a hundred definitions (the NYT uses “emo” as an example with its 1,000+), which lacks the authority granted by more established dictionaries. Pretty soon we’re going to have to consider how much authority to allow such sources, and whether or not justice can be properly served without them.
Interestingly enough, courts aren’t the only entities relying on Urban Dictionary. In 2009, Nevada’s DMV relied on it when denying a personalized license plate to a man who was looking to celebrate his beloved Chevy model and found out that TAHOE was already taken. Needless to say, the Nevada Supreme Court didn’t find enough evidence to support the assumption that, when presented in a stand-alone fashion, three letters from “TAHOE” make a word that many assume refers to a prostitute. Wonder if that would hold up in 2013.
[Upon competition, I noticed about ten instances of slang, pop culture, and/or insider abbreviation. Clearly I am a part of the problem. Apologies if any part of this post made you feel akin to those Peanuts students.]
Whenever I’m stuck in traffic and every radio station has conspired against me to play commercials at the same time as they have a tendency to do, I thank the boredom gods for whatever clever person thought up the idea for vanity plates. As you may know, vanity plates are personalized license plates that can be funny or controversial. Last week, a report came out about whether or not they could be judicial.
The New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct began looking into the propriety of judicial vanity plates after an incident involving a Justice of the East Greenbush Town Court, who had SMA license plates (denoting her as a member of the State Magistrates Association). She was issued a ticket by a state trooper who was unaware of what the SMA plates meant. Upon finding out the significance of those three letters when he returned to the police station, the trooper retrieved the ticket which then vanished from the face of the earth.The report notes a couple of interesting facts about the judiciary and vanity plates. The first is that of the four judges on the Commission, two have judicial license plates. The second is that NY makes a fair chunk of change from judicial vanities to the tune of $70,000.
So what was the verdict? “Displaying a judicial license plate on a personal vehicle does not per se create an appearance of impropriety.” Definitely not a ringing endorsement, especially when one considers that the report is accompanied by a scathing dissent—you can tell it’s scathing because it refers to the preceding document as the Commission’s “Report”—about how judicial vanity plates work towards the personal benefit of the judge using them. The Commission encourages judges to weigh the pros and cons of having vanity plates, because abuse of power can lead to discipline.
Planning to study for the bar this summer? Now is the time to start thinking about where you want to do that studying. You have options in addition to the Law Library. Did you know you can have a study carrel at Lockwood Memorial Library for the whole summer?
If you are interested in applying for a carrel at Lockwood, be sure to submit your application by May 26. The online application can be accessed here.
Want to a brush-up on your legal research skills before your summer job or your first year of law practice? The Law Library reference librarians will help you improve your research skills in our Legal Research Refreshers.
Dates: May 20 through May 23, 2013. The Clinics are for Law Students ONLY.
Topics for the May Legal Research Refreshers:
Federal basics (statutes, regulations, & cases)
Federal Legislative History
New York basics (statutes, regulations, & cases)
New York Legislative History
Lexis and Westlaw (segment and field searching)
Shepard’s Citations and KeyCite
Free Websites for Legal Research
Secondary sources (ALR, current awareness services, journal indexes, HeinOnline)
Questions? Unable to attend the scheduled sessions? Do you need help with another topic? Contact Marcia Zubrow at 645-2160 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Oh for the love of Maycomb, what’s going on here? Harper Lee, Pulitzer Prize-winning author and creator of the character who won this year’s Millie for Best Lawyer, brought a lawsuit against Samuel Pinkus, the son-in-law of her long-time literary agent, Eugene Winicik. In the suit, Lee claims that Pinkus, who took over as Lee’s agent when Winick became ill years ago, did not properly protect the copyright to her work, To Kill a Mockingbird; failed to respond to licensing requests; and took advantage of her failing health (her hearing and eyesight are on the decline) to transfer the copyright of the book to a company under his control.
The 87-year-old Lee has become a bit of a Boo Radley over the years, refusing interviews and leading a life on the DL. Now she is in the headlines and one hopes that justice—as it is embodied in her memorable character—will be served. Under normal circumstances, I’d end with some quip along the lines of how one shouldn’t mess with Atticus (or his creator) because I’ve heard tell that even Chuck Norris wears Atticus pajamas, but instead I’ll leave you with a quote from Ms. Lee’s novel:
“Mockingbirds don’t do one thing except make music for us to enjoy. They don’t eat up people’s gardens, don’t nest in corn cribs, they don’t do one thing but sing their hearts out for us. That’s why it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.”
It’s a scientifically proven fact—or it should be—that snacks make everything better. Especially studying. At the Law Library, we are well aware of this and will be providing snacks for law students this finals season. Did you hear that, law students? Free snacks!
Beginning tomorrow (Tuesday, May 7) and running through the end of finals (Friday, May 17), there will be snacks available on the 7th floor around 3pm. [Please note that snacks will only available on weekdays.]
So for the next week, take a beat mid-afternoon to grab some snacks and recharge.
Whether you’re studying hard or hardly studying, you may be under pressure. You’re in luck because today is the last day of UB Libraries’ Stress Relief Days. Head over to Lockwood (Health Sciences for those of you on South Campus) to get some instant relaxation. There’s a little something for everyone with certified therapy dogs, coffee and snacks, games, and soothing music. Today they’re even offering chair massages. For more information check out the UB Libraries page for the event.
Not to add to your stress burden, but these services are only going to be there until 3pm today. So if you want to take advantage, I suggest hustling.
A certain ye olde Englishman whose authorship credentials always seem to be causing drama once had an ill-fated young lover question, “What’s in a name?” As if a name didn’t matter. (Don’t worry—a McCarthy-era American playwright speaking through a distraught hero who had been both persecuted and prosecuted by the goody folk of Salem took the opposing side when he cried, “Because it is my name!”) Since that name of yours can be slapped on summit or stall (it’s a real thing, even Harvard’s doing it), there’s a pretty hefty responsibility on the people bestowing a it upon you. A responsibility that certain governments feel that some may have difficulty living up to. Are your ears burning, New Zealand? Because I’m talking ‘bout you.
You thought two parents picking a name was difficult? In New Zealand, there’s a third party involved in that decision: the Registrar of Births, Deaths, and Marriages. Before you go thinking that Orwell had a hand in this, it should be noted that the agency in question follows the guidelines that “acceptable names must not cause offense to a reasonable person, not be unreasonably long and should not resemble an official title or rank.” Not so bad right? Right…unless you were one of the six couples who wanted to name their kid Lucifer. Or King, Princess, Duke, Bishop, or Judge…
But let’s not dog pile on New Zealand for such rules. They are not alone. The Dominican Republic considered taking the plunge after a lot of parents went car baby-naming crazing in 2009. Sweden shot down attempts to name offspring Superman and Brfxxccxxmnpcccclllmmnprxvclmnckssqlbb11116 (no that’s not a typo). In the US, the issue has come up with adults wanting to rename themselves—sometimes the courts allow it and sometimes not. Of course, there’s a big difference in renaming yourself. You can always blame the parentals for whatever name is bestowed upon you at birth, but with a change, that blame is all on you.