We have been following the ongoing controversy involving Sabrina Rubin Erdely, the investigative journalist who wrote a feature story for Rolling Stone on an alleged sexual assault on the campus in Charlottesville, Va. I previously wrote about the curious response of Rolling Stone in admitting a range of shocking journalistic failures but refusal to fire anyone, including Erdely, for a story that clearly defamed a host of people and damaged the reputation of both the University of Virginia as the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity house. I have commented in the past that Rolling Stone can clearly be sued in the case and probably should be sued. Now the first such lawsuit has been filed. University of Virginia associate dean of students Nicole Eramo has filed a multi-million dollar defamation lawsuit against Rolling Stone alleging that the magazine destroyed her reputation in her portrayal as callous and indifferent and that she was vilified by Erdely and the magazine. The magazine printed a photo illustration of Eramo that allegedly was edited from a mundane Cavalier Daily photo to a more menacing image that “demonstrates the lengths Erdely and Rolling Stone were willing to go to portray Dean Eramo as a villain.”
The Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) is infamous for stacking charges on defendants and arresting individuals for seemingly minor possessions. However, when it comes to its own agents, there appears to be an endless level of leniency. In 2012, DEA carried out a raid on a home and arrested a group of young people who were smoking marijuana. One was Daniel Chong. Despite the minor violation, Chong was arrested and interrogated. He was told that he would be released but DEA agents simply forgot about him and left him in a cell for five days without food or water. At one point, as the 23-year-old cried and begged for help, someone with the DEA came in and turned off the light in his cell to leave him in the dark. He was given no food or water. Someone was charged, right? Someone was fired, right? No, the DEA has decided that a few reprimands and short suspensions is fine for starving and almost killing Chong.
There is a truly bizarre case out of Tulsa where Shaynna Smith (also known as Shaynna Sim), 27, is accused of going to her “frenemy’s” funeral and smudging her makeup and messing with hair. She is also accused of cutting the face of the deceased. However, the charge may surprise you.
There is a troubling case out of Houston that shows the continuing immunity of the government from even lethal acts of negligence. In Patty v. United States, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 54871A, Plaintiff Steven Craig Patty sought damages in a bizarre case where the DEA paid one of his drivers, without his knowledge, to participate in a highly dangerous drug sting with one of the most violent Mexican drug cartels. Lawrence Chapa, 53, (right) the driver, (who had been arrested in 2010 for possession of a controlled substance) was shot eight times. The sting went badly and resulted in the killing of Patty’s driver and shooting up his tractor-trailer. He claimed conversion, abuse of process, and constitutional torts, but U.S. District Judge Lee Rosenthal ruled that the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration is not liable to him even for the repair of this tractor-trailer. It is all an example of the sweeping protection afforded to “discretionary” acts by federal officers.
We have previously discussed the trend of citizens being charged for rescue in federal and state parkland. I have always been a critic of the practice because rescues are part of the costs of maintaining these parks. Many volunteers participate in such rescues and largely oppose the charging of the victims, even when they made negligent decisions. The latest is Edward Bacon, 59 year old man from Michigan, who is appealing the imposition of a $9,300 bill for his rescue at the White Mountain National Forest.
Just when you thought this world could not get weirder. The story below describes a new fetish fad where New Yorkers is to cut veins to bleed over canvas or just bleed out among friends. Bloodletting parties involve what is called “arterial tapping,” whereby a dominant partner taps a submissive partner’s artery – the ultimate in bondage where the dominant partner controls actual blood flow. What I found most notable about the story from a legal perspective is the fact that it names the “Santos,” or organizer, of some of these parties as Dr. Edwin Perez, a licensed physician. That leads to an interesting question of whether Perez could be stripped of his license if the allegation is true.
I will have the honor of serving as the moderator on a panel at the American Bar Association’s conference in Washington, D.C. today. The panel is entitled “Stranger in a Strange Land: Cross Cultural Issues in the Courts.” This is part of an internationally successful program organized by Judge Hon. Delissa A. Ridgway of U.S. Court of International Trade. Judge Ridgway has brought together jurists and lawyers from around the world to discuss difficult cultural issues that are increasingly appearing in criminal and civil cases. These cases deal with arguments or defenses that turn on the cultural norms or practices of a given defendant or litigant. The cases have forced the question of when and how courts should recognize such defenses.