Lawyer/Editor of Law and the Multiverse Takes on Bilbo’s Contract from The Hobbit


In the wave of The Hobbit excitement overwhelming Comic-Con fanboys and cosplayers everywhere, James Daily, one half of the team over at Law and the Multiverse (a blog that shows that lawyering can be fun), conducted a deep reading of Bilbo’s contract from J.R.R. Tolkien’s book of the same name. Leave it to a lawyer who gets his jollies by considering Clark Kent’s tax liabilities to make the greatest fantasy franchise even better. Take this excerpt from his 6-part analysis:

There are some other details to notice in these clauses. One is the use of defined terms (e.g. “referred to hereinafter as Burglar”). The parties to a contract may define terms however they wish, even in ways that contradict the definition used in statutes or regulations.

This is important in this case because of the use of the defined term “Burglar.”  Contracts to do something illegal are ordinarily unenforceable (e.g. collecting on an illegal gambling debt). But here what matters is not that the parties used the word ‘burglar’ but rather what sort of meaning they assigned to that defined term. As we shall see, the contract doesn’t require Bilbo to do anything illegal (or at least not obviously illegal), and so the contract will probably not fail for use of a questionable term.

Read the whole piece over at Wired.

Justice Thomas Speaks from the Bench for the First Time in Nearly 7 Years

Silent Justice

Justice Clarence Thomas spoke from the bench for the first time in nearly 7 years, though what he said is not quite clear. During oral arguments over the adequacy of lawyers provided by the state of Louisiana to a defendant later-convicted of second degree murder, Justice Thomas whispered something to Justice Antonin Scalia who pointed out that one member of the legal team graduated from Harvard while another from Yale.

The unofficial transcript is a bit vague on what Justice Thomas said next, recording only a few words, “Well, he did not…” with several other justices laughing in response.

Louisiana lawyer Carla Sigler replied: ‘‘I would refute that, Justice Thomas.’’

Known as the silent jurist, Justice Thomas has not asked a question during oral argument since February 22, 2006. Justice Thomas has given many reasons for his silence, including that he is self-consciousness about how he speaks, that he has a preference for listening to those arguing the case, and that it truly is difficult to get a word in edgewise in court.

Iowa Supreme Court Rules “Irresistible Attraction” Permissible for Employment Termination

The all-male Iowa Supreme Court ruled today that a dentist acted legally when he fired an assistant that he found attractive simply because he and his wife viewed the woman as a threat to their marriage. The unanimous court held that 53 year-old dentist James Knight did not discriminate against 32 year-old Melissa Nelson, his exemplary employee of  10 years, when he fired her because he viewed her as an  “irresistible attraction,” even though she did not engage in flirtatious behavior or had otherwise done anything wrong.

Though Knight admitted that he feared he would pursue a relationship with Nelson, despite the fact that both were married with children, if she continued working for him, the Court ruled that Knight’s infatuation with Nelson broke no part of the Iowa Civil Rights Act and did not constitute discrimination. This after Knight’s wife found that Mr. Knight had been carrying on conversations with Nelson via text messages.

Read the opinion here.

Via the Chicago Sun-Times.

Joe Jamail, Richest Practicing Lawyer in America

Self-made billionaire, 87 year old Joe Jamail.
Self-made billionaire, 87 year-old Joe Jamail.

When asked about his latest win on behalf of the Museum of Fine Arts in a will contest, Jamail told Forbes:

“The jurors came back in 37 minutes. A TV reporter asked me, ‘How come they took so long?’ I said they had to unwrap their goddamn sandwiches.”

Via the ABA Journal.

Unilateral Contracts with Teeth

Looks like I won't be going to work EVER!!!! Share this photo and I will give a random person 1 million dollars!
Looks like I won’t be going to work EVER!!!! Share this photo and I will give a random person 1 million dollars!

Nolan Daniels, pictured above, posted this photo and caption to Facebook last Thursday and earned himself the designation of most shared Facebook photo ever. While Daniels lottery win was later revealed to be a hoax, 2 million people shared the photo in the hopes of cashing in on his offer.

A little primer on the law of contracts: a contract is an agreement based on valuable consideration. Consideration is a promise to do something, such as pay a sum of money, or refrain from doing something, like not breaking the terms of an  agreement.

Contracts come in two flavors: bilateral and unilateral. Bilateral contracts are those which exchange a promise for a promise. Unilateral contracts are those where one party exchanges her promise for another’s performance. The lost dog poster is a classic unilateral contract. Pete puts up a poster that promises a reward for the return of his dog. Dave, with a keen eye for returning lost dogs and collecting rewards, does not need to go to Pete to accept the offer; rather he merely needs to return the dog in order to collect the reward. Pete’s promise to pay a reward for Dave’s performance of returning the lost dog.

Daniels’ Facebook photo posting operates as a unilateral contract: he promised to give away $1 million to one person, selected at random, who shares the picture of the winning ticket with his grinning mug beside it. Though Daniels revealed his offer to be a joke, under the common law he has likely made an enforceable agreement so long as a reasonable person believed that he made the offer in earnest. Whether Daniels made the offer in earnest is really a factual matter for a jury to consider. And you could only get to a jury if you had the chutzpah to bring a lawsuit to enforce that unilateral contract. And recently someone did something just like it!

Hip hop/R&B artist Ryan Leslie lost his laptop while on tour in Germany. He then posted a YouTube video offering $20,000 for the return of his laptop. He noted that the laptop contained music and videos that he wanted back. He later posted another video with a message that read: “In the interest of retrieving invaluable intellectual property contained on his laptop and hard drive, Mr. Leslie has increased the reward offer from $20,000 USD to $1,000,000 USD.” He also tweeted the same info directly, saying: “I raised the reward for my intellectual property to $1mm.”

Long story short, a man named Armin Augstein found the laptop, returned it to Leslie, and sought the reward. Leslie, unable to recover the media from his damaged computer, refused to turn over the promised reward. Augstein took Leslie to court for the reward where Leslie argued that his offer of a reward was not a unilateral contract but an advertisement: an invitation to negotiate. With that the judge opined:

A reasonable person viewing the video would understand that Leslie was seeking the return of his property and that by returning it, the bargain would be concluded.

After deliberating for a short while, the jury found for the good Samaritan,  leaving Augstein with $1 million and Leslie with a broken hard drive. It’s just a matter of time before Daniels gets hauled into court and, with the right jury, joins Leslie as another victim of unilateral contracts with teeth.

Read the opinion here.

Tatiana and Krista Hogan Turn in 6

The Edmunton Journal recently featured this infographic alongside an in depth update into the lives of Tatiana and Krista Hogan, craniopagus conjoined twins living in Vernon, British Columbia, Canada. From the article:

Each child has a fully structured brain, two cerebral hemispheres, a fully formed brain stem, cerebellum and spinal cord. They are conjoined not just by flesh and bone. Their brains are “zippered” together by a neural bridge between the thalami, the sensory processing hubs of their brains.

In a video to accompany the digital copy of the article, the twins’ mother, Felicia Hogan, demonstrates each twins’ ability to see what the other sees and feel what the other feels. Though their pediatric doctor, Dr. Juliette Hukin, remains skeptical that they can transmit thoughts to each other but does not dismiss the idea outright.

And yes, a reality show is in the works. Hollywood agent Chuck Harris has been pitching a program to television networks in the hopes of landing the girls a lucrative contract,  not unlike Abby & Brittany Hensel.

Read the article and see the short videos at the Edmunton Journal.

Download the infographic here.

Donate to their fund here.


Two-Headed Snake!

For the last three weeks, the Stewart family in Greenwood County, South Carolina have been caring for a harmless rough earth snake with two heads. An interesting find indeed. But this snake is unlike more common conjoined snakes in that the two heads bookend the body, rather than diverging from the same neck. Each head has two eyes and a fast moving tongue.

The children’s mother, Tina Stewart, told reporters, “One head’s is bigger and more dominant than the other, but they both seem to control the body.”

She added, ‘The main head will do one thing and then the other part’s trying to go in the opposite direction.”

The reporter contrasted this find with the yellow-lipped sea krait, see below, a snake whose tail resembles its head both in look and behavior.

Whether circus officials will ask the snakes to enter one contract or two is still up for debate.

Via Yahoo!.

See also ouroboros.