Posts Tagged ‘L’

Legally Infernal: Mayo v. Satan and His Staff

April 13, 2018

Just about a full year ago, I wrote a post called Legally Haunted which combined my love for the law (which is my day job) and the supernatural. Now, I do not really believe in the supernatural but I have found it fun to pretend ever since I was a kid. One of my favorite things in fiction is when stuff from our real world intersects with the fantasy world. The idea that a court would have to seriously contemplate matters usually relegated to myths and folktales is absolutely hilarious to me. While there are moments where it probably causes stress headaches to those involved, there are probably a lot of fun moments too. Last year I discussed a case where somebody was sued for not disclosing that the house they sold was haunted. This year, I want to talk about a man who wanted to sue Satan.


Would you really want this guy intimidating your jury?

Yes, you read that right. Satan aka Lucifer aka The Morning Star aka the Lord of Lies aka a lot of other impressive epithets was temporarily in real danger of being summoned to a court of law in the United States. Did this happen a long time ago when people were more superstitious? No, the event in question actually happened in 1971 which was well before Satan made his brief reunion tour during the ridiculous Satanic Panic of the eighties. What caused it? The short answer is misery. If a person suffers enough, they can often start to lose their grip on sanity as they reach or go past their limit. Though, perhaps he knew exactly what he was doing and was just making a grand statement so everybody could hear and see it. Maybe he was just intentionally wasting everybody’s time.


Would a jury be able to vote against this guy?

Whatever the case was, I am getting a little ahead of myself. The story goes as follows: Gerald Mayo was a 22-year-old citizen of the United States of America who had had a bad time of it. At the time of the lawsuit, he was an inmate serving time at the recently closed Western Penitentiary in Pittsburgh. Unfortunately, I cannot find what alleged crimes caused Mayo’s imprisonment. Whatever his circumstances were, he was not only in prison but he was flat broke as well. It was for this reason that he decided to file a complaint against “Satan and His Staff” in the United States District Court in Western Pennsylvania. I assume since he was broke, that he wrote the complaint himself. I imagine him taking great pains in the prison library, researching and writing everything out.

The complaint, which was unfortunately never recorded, alleged that Satan (with the support of his staff) had violated Mr. Mayo’s constitutional rights. Under Title 18 Chapter 241 of the US Constitution, if two or more people injure, oppress, threaten, or intimidate any person while they are exercising their constitutional rights, they will be fined, imprisoned, or sentenced to death. Under Title 28 Chapter 1343, the US District Court has jurisdiction over civil cases having to do with a citizen being deprived of their constitutional rights. Title 42 Chapter 1983 makes anybody responsible for depriving somebody of their rights liable for any damages to the plaintiff. Legalese aside, if Mayo could prove that Satan was responsible for his troubles, he might actually have a case against Lucifer and all of his demons. In fact, in the response, the judge stated that there was nothing wrong with the above laws that Mayo cites in his complaint.

On a side note: I was very interested in another part of Mayo’s complaint that had very little to do with infernal forces. He filed the complaint “in forma pauperis” which is a Latin term. The legal system in the United States loves to Latin terms mostly because they come from a dead language which acts as a barrier against the terms being contaminated by the differences in English dialects. In this case, In Forma Pauperis means what you might imagine. It is a statement that the person filing the complaint (or the defendant in a criminal case) are poor and cannot afford court costs. It is a request asking for those costs to be waived. The purpose is obvious as it allows the poor to get justice too and the judge usually decides to grant or deny the request without a hearing. I was familiar with the concept previously but it was interesting to see it spelled out.

The Conclusion

Anyway, the law is clear. If *anybody* is found to have harassed somebody in a way that deprives them of their constitutional rights, the law has the power to remedy it. People file these sorts of complaints every day in an attempt to get money to heal the damage to their lives in an effort to move on. It is a totally legitimate thing to do. However, the problem is with the chosen defendant. The judge had a real problem with whether or not the United States Courts have jurisdiction over Satan. He is not a citizen of the United States of America or its territories. He is not a resident of the district of Western Pennsylvania. The judge then got a little sassy and made a sly reference to The Devil and Daniel Webster’s argument that the Devil is a foreign prince and therefore has no standing in an American court. The judge quickly dismisses this as an “unofficial account”, though.

Finally, the judge denied Mayo’s in forma pauperis request. While the judge acknowledged that Mayo was indeed poor, there was another technical issue involved. Normally, when you file a complaint against somebody, you have to “serve” that person. In legal terms, serving means that you have to provide a copy of the complaint to the courts and the defendant. In normal circumstances, you have to pay for service, either by doing it yourself or by hiring a third party company to do it. When an in forma pauperis request is granted, the court agrees to perform service through the US Marshals office. The judge denied the request because Mayo failed to provide instructions on how the US Marshals could serve Satan with the complaint. I mean, does Satan even get mail? Does he show up predictably on Earth so he could be handed the documents? The judge had a point there.

While the end result is kind of silly, this case is a decent primer on two different legal concepts. The first is jurisdiction. Establishing jurisdiction is crucial when filing a case against somebody. It helps you decide whether you are filing in the correct court and whether or not that court has authority over the person being charged or filed against. The other concept is in forma pauperis which I have already explained above. It is an important tool that affords justice to those who might otherwise be powerless. It is a rule that seeks to counter the usual way of things which is “Money Buys Justice”. Of course, it is not to be used for frivolous lawsuits against defendants that do not exist.

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Legally Haunted: Stambovsky v. Ackley

April 14, 2017


Our childhoods warp us all.

There are many things that I think I have made abundantly clear on this blog that I love on this blog. I am here today to talk about two of them. The first is the supernatural. I am a skeptic so I do not actually believe that much of the supernatural actually exists. Unexplained phenomena are just things waiting to be explained by science. However, I still love fantastic stories for the great fiction that they are. Ghost stories are particularly epic and can vary on a spectrum from touching to terrifying. Even the most benign stories used to chill me to the bone until it dawned on me that all of the stories were unproven. Still, it is still fun to suspend my disbelief and get a little scare now and again.


I mean, I learned more law from this guy than my folks.

The second thing that I have gotten into more recently is the law. I am currently very close to getting a paralegal certificate at the local community college. My parents are both lawyers and so I grew up just outside of the legal profession. You see, anyone in the legal profession really cannot talk about their cases too much due to confidentiality issue. Also, it is probably best not to talk about such things in front of children as a lot of cases are either boring or inappropriate for kids. Now, I am facing the same thing as I work on an internship. So, you will never see me tell stories on here about my work and that is probably for the best anyway. However, that does not count for famous cases that I was not involved in.


I mean how can you tell that it’s haunted. That’s profiling.

When Karen Ackley and her family moved into their house in the 1960s, they were warned by neighbors that the house was haunted. She was pretty sure, after her own observations, that there were three ghosts haunting the house. One was a Navy Lieutenant in the Revolutionary War and the other two were Lord George and Lady Margaret who lived in the 18th Century. She brought in two of the usual charlatans (who I will not publicize) who confirmed her suspicions that the place was haunted. The hauntings mostly centered around experience Ackley’s daughter and grandkids had but there were one or two reports from Ackley herself and the man who would marry Ackley’s daughter. Ackley specifically wrote a piece for Reader’s Digest detailing, among other things, that the ghosts gave gifts to the children. These gifts disappeared later.


Who you gonna call? A lawyer!

Later, her family sought to sell the house and they did so to a Jeffrey Stambovsky. To his horror, he found out that the house he had just signed a contract to purchase was haunted by poltergeists. In any fictional world, he would hire some Ghostbusters to just clean the place out and have the Ackleys pay for it. In the real world. you apparently go to court. He filed for an act of rescission which is, in this case, a request for the courts to revoke or cancel an agreement. He wanted to back out of buying the house because he felt that the Ackleys owed him a duty to inform him of the poltergeists before he moved in. The argument was that the law should not compel performance of a contract that is not fair and open. By concealing the information about the ghosts, Ackley tainted the contract by not acting good faith. The dissenting opinion talked about the doctrine of ‘caveat emptor’ which is ‘let the buyer beware’. They insisted that Stambovsky should have done his research but the majority opinion granted the cancellation of the contract.


It was the biggest case of its kind since State v. Stantz, et al.

Nevermind that this whole ‘haunting’ was mostly made up of stories from children or adults who were breathing in paint fumes or were half awake. The New York courts had ruled that ‘haunted’ was an actual condition for real property to have. However, thankfully, at no point do they speak as if ghosts are a known thing that actually exists. The ruling is based on the bad reputation that calling a house haunted causes. Once you get past the Ghostbusters and Shakespeare quote in the opinion, the actual opinion is more about whether a seller should be able to get away with concealing information. The court held that taking advantage of a buyer’s ignorance is distasteful and should not be able to be hidden behind a doctrine like caveat emptor. It was a decision that helped promote fair dealing in the real estate market in New York. So now you know!

Léon: The Professional

April 14, 2016

Alright, how about we talk about the elephant in the room before we get into the nitty gritty here? They say that holding things in is not healthy and besides, not talking about the big issue will distract from the rest of the review. You will be waiting for it and I will be holding it back and you will be skimming everything that comes before it. You are skimming right now, aren’t you? Of course, I am talking about the famous line delivery of “Everyone!” by Gary Oldman. I have seen it mocked over and over in various spotlights of bad or silly line deliveries. The clip is pretty funny but it is just one facet of this movie. You should not judge this movie based on that one fact as I tried my best not to. Wait, did you think I was talking about the controversial part that Natalie Portman played? We’ll talk about that in a bit.

The movie is directed by Luc Besson, a french director that I have come to appreciate greatly even though he earned me as a fan back in 1997. That is the year that The Fifth Element came out which was a movie I absolutely adored and I have seen it several times over. Besson also did Run Lola Run which is an action cult classic movie that I also enjoyed. I have not yet seen all of Besson’s stuff but it is actually one of my goals. His understanding of action scenes is right up there with Woo, Tarantino and may of the great stunt spectacular directors. There is also a lot of touching human emotion in what I have seen of his work.

A lot of the action parts of the movie are silly in all the best ways. Leon is a ruthless killer who is almost supernatural in skill. He is a very cool customer in high contrast to Jean Reno’s other appearances in movies widely released in the United States. I mean, it’s a far cry from what you may have seen in 1998’s Godzilla. He is a badass killer but he has an interesting sense of humor that you might not catch if you were in the wrong mood. And yet, there’s a side to him that still embraces humanity and yearns for a little happiness. He’s a secret goofball. This actually plays really well and the character is very balanced. The way his character works is crucial to the three-part formula of this movie.

Natalie Portman is an interesting little creature in this movie. She is playing an eleven-year-old who is full of deep-seated ennui before the movie starts. She is an abused girl who feels neglected by life but not the maudlin little Dickens character you might expect. There is an intense sadness in her that is often hidden behind anger and a slight sense of humor. When the movie starts she is starving for attention but, like the Roald Dahl character of the same name, she is largely ignored by her family. There is some critical response to her character’s relationship with the older Leon but I don’t see a problem. She forms a unique bond with Leon but it’s more like friendship and family than anything untoward. The bond is intimate and there are certainly some iffy moments but reading anything else into it is kind of insulting.

Gary Oldman is a national treasure in this movie. Of course, which nation is up for grabs since this is ostensibly a French film. His character is insanity. I thought that Heath Ledger had captured insanity with the Joker. As good as that performance was, Oldman is so much better. He is barely contained insanity that could lash out at anybody around him which includes the thugs who work for him. His character is a joy to watch but you end up worried about what he will do next. He is a great villain in that he absolutely believes the horrible things he does are the right thing to do. While the clip below may seem over the top (and it is) it does grow organically from the monster Norman Stansfield is.

The soundtrack is absolutely a delight to listen to while watching the movie but Besson always has well-composed soundtracks. It is listed as a crime thriller but I think that is a misnomer even though I see those elements in it too. The movie shifts genres as it rolls along which makes it a great watch. Still, it is a hard movie to classify. Go check it out for yourself, I definitely recommend it.

The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch

April 14, 2015

Book Cover

The original plan was to review Love’s Labour Lost on Netflix today but I came down with a case of the I don’t want want to do thats. I love Shakespeare but I don’t really feel like watching an adaptation of a play that I’ve never been super thrilled with. He’s written better. I could be shortchanging myself here but there’s no buzz and there’s been a lot of mediocre Shakespeare adaptions out there. Some of them are just awful movies. Instead, I’ll do something that I almost never do. I’ll write a brief book review. I rarely write book reviews because, unlike movies, I really don’t want to spoil a good book which is an intensely personal journey. Still, there’s so many books that I would recommend.

I first came in contact with this book because a friend of mine handed to me. There have been dozens of books that I heartily enjoyed after a friend or family member handed it to me. In fact, I might not have been as into fantasy if a relative hadn’t given me a bag full of every book in the Belgariad and the Malloreon when I was pretty young. This book was handed to me on a trip to Virginia in my late twenties. I could barely put it down once I gave it a try.

The Lies of Locke Lamora was pitched to me as “Oceans 11 in the Middle Ages” which is pretty accurate, at least for the first book in the series. The main character worships a secret 13th god in the pantheon that watches over liars and thieves. So the book’s heroes are con men who are involved in heists and elaborate long cons. If you’re a fan of shows like Leverage or movies like the Italian Job where the protagonists are crooks with a heart of gold then you will probably enjoy this book.

The beginning of the book kind of felt a little like Neil Gaiman’s Graveyard Book. I love the back story but I’m a fan of the hard luck kid who makes good because he’s just smarter and more skilled than the people putting him down. Locke is a great character because he makes the kind of choices you’d expect a real person to make. Beyond that, practically every single character feels pretty rich and rounded and people you can definitely picture in your head. Jean Tannen especially sounds like a guy I would love to hang out with.

What I was most impressed with is the author’s world building skills. There’s nothing I love better than a well-crafted world. Just look at the Belgariad, the Dresden Files and Lord of the Rings for some prime examples of this. I love where I can imagine the geography and the culture of a foreign world and I do mean foreign here. Almost nothing really operates like the politics of our world although it seems to take place on an Earth-like world (give or take a few moons and suns).

This was a story that I was invested in as early as a few pages in and I only became more and more interested. I actually wanted to go to bed earlier so that I could read this good book. I went on to read the second book Red Seas Under Red Skies which was just as good if not better. It’s hard to tell since I enjoy the world-building and meeting new characters so much. I have the same problem determining my favorite Dresden Files book since I’ve loved every single one so much. I am currently reading the third book in the series, The Republic of Thieves, and I tell you it’s awesome too so far. I especially like how it goes back into the character’s back story again and fleshes it out even more.

So go out and find this book or any of the other books I mentioned or get them in the digital format you prefer.

(PS. The title has three Ls in it. That’s extra points, right?  Oh right there’s no points.)


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