Deaths

Heath Ledger Heath A Ledger Heathcliff Andrew Ledger death overdose suicide Above the Law blog.jpgWe wish we knew how to quit… finding legal angles to every story under the sun. One such story is the recent, tragic death of Heath Ledger, the celebrated young actor.
We’ve noted the news in passing. Now we offer more substantive, law-related discussion (beyond fleeting references to NYU law students who went from their seminars about Jesus to join the crowd of gawkers assembled outside Ledger’s apartment).
1. Rights to remains. Sometimes this can become an issue, as it did in the case of Anna Nicole Smith. Earlier this week, the Ohio Supreme Court heard a case about a law providing that body parts removed during an autopsy are classified as medical waste (which usually results in the incineration, rather than burial with the body).
It fortunately appears this won’t be an issue in Ledger’s case. Although additional blood and tissue testing still needs to be done, his family will be taking custody of his body, according to the NYT’s City Room blog.
2. Pending projects. Heath Ledger’s sudden passing raises issues with respect to projects he was involved with. From the Hollywood Reporter:

Of particular importance to Hollywood will be the future of Terry Gilliam’s The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, which had very recently begun shooting. After dealing with the shock of losing Ledger to unfortunate circumstances, the film’s producers and lawyers will have to consult with their production lawyers and the insurance firm that indemnified the film to decide whether to recast, restage and/or rewrite the film to work around Ledger’s absence, or whether Ledger’s death presents an irresolvable barrier to completion of the film.

More analysis, including discussion of insurance recovery issues, over here.
3. Funeral protestors. Exact funeral plans for Heath Ledger are not yet known. But when it does happen, it could get ugly. A tipster raises a legal question:

Check out this story [about how members of the antigay Westboro Baptist Church plan to protest at Heath Ledger's funeral, because of his work in "Brokeback Mountain"].

Here’s my question. These [SOBs] are saying horrible, offensive, disgusting things. When does the fighting words doctrine come into play, and does the fighting words doctrine protect me if I punch out one of these bastards? Because I would really like to.

Feel free to opine in the comments.
Update: More about that Jesus seminar, from the WSJ Law Blog.
Heath Ledger’s Death Leaves Big Legal Question [THR, ESQ. / Hollywood Reporter]
Anti-Gay Church to Protest Ledger Funeral [ABC News]
What Are They Teaching at NYU Law These Days? [Traditional Notions]
Where Were You When? [Concurring Opinions]
The Passion of the Christ: The Trial of Jesus [NYU School of Law]

* Hot lawyers make more money. And we needed a study to tell us this? [Legal Blog Watch via ABA Journal; WSJ Law Blog]
* A truly insane murder case. And yes, Debra Opri — who has represented Michael Jackson and Larry Birkhead, among other boldface names — is on the scene. [DealBreaker; HedgeFund.net]
* Ann Althouse wonders: “We’ve already seen every possible permutation of Hillary, haven’t we?” (And this is why we adore HRC — she’s the Madonna of modern American politics, constantly reinventing herself.) [Althouse]
* When it comes to law firm partnership, breaking up is hard to do. Especially when criminal charges are involved. [National Law Journal via Blogonaut]

Benazir Bhutto Pakistan Above the Law blog.jpg* Rest in peace, Benazir Bhutto; God knows you weren’t able to live in it. [CNN]
* That seems like a pretty good starting point for liability against the zoo. [BBC]
* We don’t know if you know Tom Goldstein, but he’s a pretty big deal. [SCOTUSBlog]
* If he could only apply all of that genius to acquiring some money to actually make a mortgage payment… [WSJ Law Blog]

staph infection staphylococcus Above the Law blog.jpg* Family to sue NYC over staph death. [CNN]
* Nader sues DNC for trying to win 2004 Presidential election conspiring against him in 2004. [AP via Breitbart]
* Should law school be more like business school? [WSJ Law Blog]
* Georgia to $336,000 in child support! [Atlanta Journal-Constitution]
* Yep, de facto moratorium. [New York Times]

sadomasochism s&m s and m sadist masochist dungeon Above the Law blog.jpgSince we started off today on a somewhat sordid note, we might as well keep going down the same path. From the AP:

Adrian Exley was wrapped tightly in heavy plastic, then bound with duct tape. A leather hood was put over his head with a thin plastic straw inserted so that he could breathe, and he was shut up in a closet.

That, apparently, was the way Exley liked it. But the way it ended — with Exley suffocating — was not what he had in mind when he traveled from Britain for a bondage session with a man he had met through a sadomasochism Web site.

Exley’s body was discovered in the woods last year, two months after he was bound up in the bondage “playroom” Gary LeBlanc had built in the basement of his suburban Boston home.

LeBlanc, a 48-year-old Gulf Oil sales executive, detailed his responsibility in the fatal bondage session in a five-page suicide note, just before he put a gun to his head and killed himself.

Now the question is: Since Exley consented to the sex play, can LeBlanc be held responsible for his death?

LeBlanc committed suicide, but the issue still matters:

Exley’s family is suing LeBlanc’s estate for unspecified damages, claiming wrongful death. Many bondage enthusiasts are watching the case closely, seeing it as a lesson in where to draw the line of responsibility on consensual but dangerous sex.

Additional sensational and salacious details appear in the full article.
Moral of the story: If you’re into this sort of thing, before doing anything, make sure your partner signs a waiver, assumption of risk, and release of liability form. Then transmit an executed copy to a third party prior to the liaison, so there’s contemporaneous documentation. Good luck.
Deadly consent: Bondage death raises legal issues [AP via CNN]
S&M for Beginners [Tango]

Al Gore Albert Gore Above the Law blog.jpg* Al Gore, law school dropout, wins Nobel Peace Prize. [WSJ Law Blog; Washington Post; New York Times]
* Houston crime lab drops the ball, again. [CNN]
* Iraqi families sue Blackwater in U.S. court. [CNN]
* Lithwick’s take on the interesting SCOTUS case, Medellin v. Texas. [Slate]
* McCartney-Mills divorce settlement could break records. [MSNBC]
* After typo, infants in Arkansas can’t not be allowed to marry. [CNN]

A standoff between police and a gunman holed up in an Alexandria, Louisiana law office ended this morning with the police shooting and killing the man. During the standoff he shot five people, two of which died. From the New York Times:

Roy identified one of the dead as Joey Giordano, son of attorney Camille Giordano, who was shot but not killed. The other person killed was Marty Fields, a postal worker who was delivering mail to the law firm when he walked in on the shootings, Roy said.

The (Alexandria) Town Talk newspaper reported that Camille Giordano, bloodied and in boxer shorts, emerged from the building after police arrived and was taken to a hospital. A call to a hospital spokeswoman was not immediately returned.

The Rapides Regional Medical Center identified the other victims as Sam Giordano, an attorney, and Andrea Fletcher Price, the law firm’s secretary.

Sam Giordano, 49, was in serious condition, and Price, 27, was in fair condition, said Courtney Michiels, a hospital spokeswoman.

The law firm involved is The Law Offices of Giordano & Giordano. The motive is unclear, but if this is another case of a disgruntled client taking it out on his attorneys, it is the continuation of a disturbing trend. Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and the families of those killed.
Police Shoot Man at Louisiana Office [New York Times]
Camille Giordano [LSBA Member Directory]
Sam Giordano [LSBA Member Directory]

Fourth Circuit 4th Circuit US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.jpgThe Honorable H. Emory Widener, of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, passed away yesterday morning. From the Bristol Herald Courier:

Judge H. Emory Widener, 83, died at his Abingdon home around 11 a.m. Wednesday, according to court personnel in Bristol Virginia….

Widener began his law career in the Navy, then opened a private practice in Bristol in 1953. Ten years later, he was appointed to the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia.

President Richard Nixon appointed Widener to the 4th Circuit in 1972, and he reached senior status in July, Schrinel said.

A source notes:

I was sad to hear that Judge Widener passed away. They literally worked that man to death. I’ve heard that the other judges on the Fourth Circuit basically begged him to stay active until Bush could find a replacement… He complied — but a replacement was never confirmed.

The Fourth Circuit is now operating at two-thirds capacity. It has 15 judgeships and five vacancies. For more detailed discussion of the state of the court — long regarded as a conservative bastion, but now up for grabs — see this article, published when Judge Widener took senior status in July.
A 4th Circuit Court of Appeals judge from Abingdon, Va., died on Wednesday [Bristol Herald Courier]
Judge H. Emory Widener Jr. steps down as active member of 4th Circuit [The Daily Record]

Taser 2 lawyers taser client Abovethelaw Above the Law blog.jpgIt seems that the family of this woman may have a stronger cause of action than Andrew Meyer:

A Clay County woman’s family said it’s seeking justice after their loved one died shortly after being shocked 10 times with Taser guns during a confrontation with police.

The family of 56-year-old Emily Delafield said it would take the Green Cove Springs Police Department to court, according to a WJXT-TV report….

Family attorney Rick Alexander said Delafield’s death could have been prevented and that there are four things that jump out at him about the case.

“One, she’s in a wheelchair. Two, she’s schizophrenic. Three, they’re using a Taser on a person that’s in a wheelchair, and then four is that they tasered her 10 times for a period of like two minutes,” Alexander said.

That may have been a bit much.
Wheelchair-Bound Woman Dies After Being Shocked With Taser 10 Times [Local6.com via Drudge]
Earlier: Sadly, John Kerry Wasn’t Tasered (But He Could Have Used the Electricity)

yale law school.jpgAs promised, here’s an update on the recent, sudden passing of a first-year student at Yale Law School. From the Yale Daily News (which we alerted to the story):

A first-year Yale Law School student was found dead in his apartment Thursday night.

“From what we know at this point, we only have reason to believe he died of natural cases [sic],” Yale Law School Dean Harold Koh said in an address to the entire law school community Friday afternoon. “We need to draw on our sense of community.”

More details — although not many more, since right now so much is unknown — appear in Andrew Mangino’s article.
Our condolences go out to the family of this student and to the Yale Law School community.
Update (9/15, 2:30 PM): Additional information appears in this YDN article, as well as in this Facebook group.
Law student found dead in apartment [Yale Daily News]
Joseph Hanzich LAW ’10 found dead in apartment Thursday [Yale Daily News]
For Joey Hanzich, In Memory and Love [Facebook]
Earlier: Breaking: Yale Law School First-Year Found Dead
What’s Up At Yale Law School?

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