Suicide

Dads, please don't set yourselves on fire.

I’ve said before that the word “literally” is overused and misused in our culture. I’m guilty of it, and so are many others. It’s not a big deal, except for the fact that when you really need the word, its meaning has been diminished.

But guys, today we have a story about a man who literally and successfully set himself on fire on the courthouse steps and died. To quote a tipster: “If burning yourself alive to protest the court system isn’t sensational enough to merit a mention on ATL, I don’t know what is.”

No doubt.

But why self-immolation? Well, let’s take a look at the man’s 10,000 word suicide note….

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Dr. Jack Kevorkian (via Getty Images).

Jack Kevorkian was a Michigan pathologist — but the doctor spent more time in the courtroom than in the operating room. He was a frequent litigant, thanks to his central role in the national controversy over assisted suicide, whose legality he advocated.

Early this morning, “Dr. Death” died, at the age of 83. It’s telling that Kevorkian’s passing was confirmed to the media by his lawyer, Geoffrey Fieger (whose awesome website we’ve previously deconstructed). The exact cause of death was not immediately known, but Kevorkian reportedly suffered from kidney and respiratory problems.

UPDATE (10 AM): According to Mayer Morganroth, another attorney for Kevorkian, Kevorkian suffered a pulmonary thrombosis, when a blood clot in his leg broke free and moved up to his heart. Morganroth was with Kevorkian at the time of his death, according to the Detroit Free Press (via ABA Journal).

The legal system tried to stop Dr. Kevorkian from assisting in suicides for many years, without success….

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Molly Wei, the pretty ex-Rutgers student who was charged with two counts of invasion of privacy in the Tyler Clementi case, has reached a deal with the prosecution. Wei, 19, has been admitted to a pre-trial intervention program that could result in the charges against her being dismissed.

What does Wei have to do as part of the PTI program?

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Tyler Clementi (left) and Dharun Ravi (right)

They really threw the book at this kid.

Last September, Rutgers freshman Tyler Clementi jumped off of the George Washington Bridge after his roommate, Dharun Ravi, surreptitiously recorded and then broadcast footage of Clementi hooking up in his room with another man.

Clementi’s death touched off an important national conversation about the bullying of gay teens and the need to reach out to them so they don’t feel so isolated. If anything good can come from Clementi’s suicide, it will be to make people commit to helping gays and lesbians as they struggle through adolescence and young adulthood in sometimes hostile communities.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t appear Tyler Clementi will be the only martyr for this cause. No, there are some people hellbent on making sure that another young life is effectively ruined, and some of those people work for the state of New Jersey.

Charges flowed out of the grand jury today for Clementi’s roommate and “tormentor,” Ravi. Based on the allegations in the indictment, you’d think Ravi had been running for the Republican nomination for President instead of acting like an 18-year-old college freshman…

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John Taylor Skilling, the son of former Enron executive Jeff Skilling, was found dead in his apartment in California. The Associated Press says that a bottle of medication was found next to John Skilling, and they report that he had been distraught over a recent breakup with his girlfriend.

His father, Jeffrey Skilling, served as president of Enron. In 2006, Jeff Skilling was convicted after a jury trial of multiple charges arising out of Enron’s collapse, and was sentenced to 24 years in prison. He appealed to the Supreme Court, which vacated part of his conviction in a major ruling on the “honest services” fraud statute, and sent the case back for resentencing.

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* An interesting interview with Professor Benjamin H. Barton about his new book, The Lawyer-Judge Bias in the American Legal System, which demonstrates what many laypeople suspect: namely, that the legal system is rigged to benefit lawyers over the public. Professors Barton and Reynolds discuss why this might be the case and also compare the legal to the medical profession in this respect. [Instavision with Glenn Reynolds / PJTV]

* Eric Turkewitz channeling Mayor Michael Bloomberg: “Look, let’s be blunt here. Who is in a better position to pay the costs of an injury if a city bus injures people? Our strapped city budget, or the victims?” [New York Personal Injury Law Blog]

* Obama says drug legalization is worth a debate. For those scoring at home: we can talk about legalizing drugs, but we can’t talk about controlling guns. [Huffington Post]

* Meanwhile, Florida criminalizes… bath salts? Bonobo Bro has the winning blurb: “Check out this example of the brocist nanny state trying to get in the way of spring break, bath salts that have cocaine like effects and a few other of the principals this great nation was founded on.” [WJHG]

Fred Thompson

* Rep. Mike Pence of Indiana won’t seek the Republican presidential nomination in 2012. [Politico]

* Speaking of former Republican presidential hopefuls, Fred Thompson prepares to lobby on behalf of trial lawyers. Seriously. Cancel Law & Order and the universe starts breaking down. [WSJ Law Blog]

* The number eight proves lucky for one taker of the New Hampshire bar exam — and the number $140,000, not so lucky. After passing the NH bar exam on his eighth try, the debt-laden lad gets dinged on character and fitness — a familiar tale by now. [Legal Profession Blog via ABA Journal]

* Gotta love it when Jamie Dimon gets catty. [Dealbreaker]

* A corporate partner in the Moscow office of Baker Botts apparently took his own life. John Sheedy, R.I.P. [Am Law Daily]

Tyler Clementi

I’m pretty sure we all saw this coming. The parents of Tyler Clementi — the Rutgers freshman who killed himself after his roommate taped and broadcast Tyler’s gay hook-up — have declared their intent preserved their right to sue the university. The Clementis suggest that the university failed to protect their son, articulating various tort claims against the school and even a breach of contract claim (Rutgers broke its agreement with Clementi by not preventing what happened to him). Damages are unspecified, but Clementi’s family is claiming pain and suffering, as well as loss of companionship.

(UPDATE: As Kash noted over at Forbes, the Clementi family just issued a statement “clarifying that they have not yet decided whether they will sue, but filed notice with the university today to preserve their right to sue in the future.” Hence the edit in the preceding paragraph.)

A lawsuit by the Clementis should surprise no one. Rutgers has much deeper pockets than Dharun Ravi, the roommate who used a webcam to broadcast Clementi’s affair, or Molly Wei, the girl who was in the room while Ravi messed with his roommate. Ravi and Wei have already been charged with invasion of privacy, and prosecutors are still trying to figure out if they can bootstrap hate crime charges against Ravi and Wei. But when it came to the civil lawsuits, this was always going to come down to the parents versus Rutgers.

Because when your kid jumps off a bridge, there just has to be somebody to blame….

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Late last night, Congress passed a compromise tax bill that will, among other things, cap the estate tax at 35% (with a $5 million exemption). If not for this compromise, the estate tax would have returned in 2011, at rates as high as 55 percent (with a $1 million exemption).

Hallelujah. Anytime you can save wealthy dead people millions of dollars during a time of crushing federal deficits, that’s something you just have to do. Way to go, Obama. When I voted for you in 2008, really I was just trying to vote for four more years of Bush’s ruinous fiscal policies.

Obama isn’t just saving money for all the dauphins eager to get their hands on their inheritances; he could be saving lives. Duke Law professor Richard Schmalbeck apparently thinks that rich old people might have killed themselves in droves over the next two weeks. Schmalbeck suggests that after spending a lifetime working hard and earning money, hundreds “or even a few thousand” of the aging rich might have committed suicide in the waning days of 2010, in order to pass on as much of their money to their children as they can before the estate tax returns in 2011.

I shudder to think that somebody would commodify their own life in such a way. But then again, I’m not rich. Maybe you only get rich in this country by being the kind of person who would gladly kill yourself if the price is right…

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Mark Madoff, R.I.P.

Mark Madoff, the oldest of Bernard Madoff’s two sons, committed suicide on Saturday, by hanging himself in his Manhattan apartment. Saturday was a significant day: the second anniversary of Bernie Madoff’s arrest for running a multibillion-dollar Ponzi scheme.

Mark Madoff’s lawyer, prominent Paul Weiss partner Martin Flumenbaum, issued a statement yesterday: “Mark Madoff took his own life today. This is a terrible and unnecessary tragedy…. [Mark Madoff was] an innocent victim of his father’s monstrous crime who succumbed to two years of unrelenting pressure from false accusations and innuendo.”

Flumenbaum wasn’t the only powerful Paul Weiss personage named “Martin” with involvement in this case. Mark Madoff’s body was actually found by legendary litigator Martin London, a longtime partner at the firm who is now of counsel at PW.

As noted on his Paul Weiss website bio, “[t]he gamut of Mr. London’s successes is vast.” But his experience is primarily on the civil side, with occasional forays into white-collar criminal work. His docket generally doesn’t include violence and death; he’s not the kind of lawyer who sees dead people (e.g., a homicide prosecutor).

So how did Marty London come to find Mark Madoff’s body?

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Megyn Kelly of Fox News

I had the opportunity to take my surprisingly controversial argument that bullies shouldn’t be thrown in jail to a television audience. Megyn Kelly, the host of America Live on Fox News and a former litigator at Jones Day, invited me on her program and gave my argument a fair hearing.

Once again, I think my core principles here are sound: children shouldn’t kill themselves, children shouldn’t be incarcerated because other children kill themselves, and children should learn appropriate coping mechanisms when faced with embarrassment and humiliation.

As we all know, I have an insatiable appetite to offend and then devour fresh souls, but I become particularly strong when I can drink the tears of children. Kelly did everything she could to keep me from sounding like a raving lunatic who likes putting babies on spikes, but some people will come away convinced that I’m a heartless sociopath.

What do you think? Take a look at the clip, and let me know just how bad karma will eventually bite me on the backside…

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