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October 29th, 2003:

Well, SLAPP me silly

Has it really come to this? Don Luskin threatening to sue Atrios for…well, what, exactly? Definition of character? Excessive snarkiness? Operating a blog without the express written consent of Major League Baseball? Hell if I know. Didn’t anyone learn from the O’Reilly-sues-Franken fiasco? I’m with Orcinus – if this is anything but unadulterated bluster, discovery ought to be a hoot. (Speaking of hoots, as always The Poor Man has the best response. Standard beverage warning applies. Oh, and I’m with Jesse.)

Let me be up front here: Luskin is a snivelling crybaby who deserves to be mocked mercilessly. Go ahead, big boy, sue me for that. Maybe you can have your mommy serve me the papers.

Atrios has a roundup of comments, some of Don Luskin’s more charming behaviors, and his original response to Luskin.

It will be interesting to see how the mainstream media plays this – and make no mistake, this will be in the mainstream media. I wonder if Luskin’s attorney will be as laughable and ungracious as O’Reilly’s were. Hard to imagine, but then so was this.

Meanwhile, in another corporate scandal

In case you’re bored with Enron’s shenanigans, there’s always Tyco, where former CEO Dennis Kozlowski sure knew how to throw a party.

Jurors saw a videotape Tuesday of dancing women, half-naked male models and “Margaritaville” singer Jimmy Buffett at a $2 million party that L. Dennis Kozlowski, former CEO of Tyco International, threw for his wife’s birthday on a Mediterranean island.

Prosecutors maintained the party, more than half of which was paid for with company money, was a “stark example” of how Kozlowski and former chief financial officer Mark Swartz looted hundreds of millions from Tyco for their personal benefit.

“It’s going to be a fun week,” the tape shows Kozlowski telling about 75 guests arriving to celebrate Karen Mayo’s 40th birthday on the Italian island of Sardinia on June 11, 2001. “Eating, drinking, whatever. All the things we’re best known for.”

The tape shows five young women in scanty, diaphanous frocks cavorting around a swimming pool, half-naked male models posing in snapshots with female guests and a performance from a pop star.

It goes on from there. Be sure to check out the photos here and here for the full effect. The pop star in question, by the way, is Jimmy Buffett, flown in at a cost of 250 grand.

It’s worth keeping in mind what Kozlowski and his minion Mark Swartz are on trial for:

Prosecutors say the two stole $170 million from Tyco by taking and hiding unauthorized pay and bonuses, raiding company loan programs and forgiving loans to themselves. They say the defendants made another $430 million on their Tyco stock by lying about the conglomerate’s financial condition from 1995 into 2002.

Defense lawyers say Kozlowski and Swartz earned all the compensation they got from Tyco and all the appropriate overseers knew about their compensation and loans.

A total of $600 million is in question here. Somehow, professional athletes don’t sound quite so overpaid when compared to that, no? In case you think they really could have “earned” all that money, take a look at this. Do you think shareholders would have put up with any other expense tripling over a five year period with no abatement in sight and no plan to do anything about it?

UPDATE: Damn. As Jim D notes in the comments, Kozlowski outspent P Diddy by a 2-1 margin. Of course, it was only P Diddy’s 33rd birthday, while Mrs. Kozlowski was celebrating the big 4-0. Pretty impressive, though, no matter how you slice it.

Will Lea Fastow’s trial be moved?

I guess I hadn’t been following the recent Enron goings-on all that closely, because I was unaware that Lea Fastow’s lawyers had petitioned for a change of venue, a request that the judge will rule on shortly. I knew they’d been working on delaying her trial until after her husband’s, a move that failed awhile back. The reason for the change-of-venue request: too many people in Houston, amazingly enough, have heard of Enron and have an opinion on it.

“We have no confidence in people who say they can set aside opinion. We want a jury that doesn’t have opinions,” said Mike DeGeurin, the lead attorney for Lea Fastow, who attended the hearing today. DeGeurin complained that the Houston community has been saturated with publicity, enormously effected and that even just the pictures of Lea Fastow in handcuffs the day of her May 1 arrest creates undue prejudice.

He asked the judge to allow individual questioning of potential jurors by the lawyers and in the judge’s chambers.

DeGeurin suggested Galveston, New Orleans or Austin as alternative settings if Hittner does not agree to extensive questioning of potential jurors.

DeGeurin said that a survey conducted in this federal district about Andrew Fastow showed that 84 percent of people in Houston had heard of his case, but only 54 percent had heard about it in Galveston.

I’ve said it before, and it looks like I’ll have to keep saying it forevermore, but if Andrea Yates can get a fair trial here, then anyone can.

Enron Task Force prosecutor Linda Lacewell agreed to questioning potential jurors but noted that the jury pool need not have ignored all the publicity about Enron.

Lacewell indicated the government does not think preset individual questioning would be necessary.

“A defendant, yes, is entitled to an impartial jury. But she is not entitled to an ignorant or uninformed jury,” Lacewell said.

Damn straight. Let’s get on with this.

What’s Special About This Number?

Here’s a cute site for people who like numbers and random odd facts about them. Clearly, the author missed an opportunity here – what’s special about the number 138 is that it’s the smallest number about which there is nothing special. One can iterate from there, but it’s probably not what he had in mind. Anyway, check it out. Thanks to Binkley for the tip.

Civic silliness

Here’s another example of how private entities can restrict your freedom more effectively than the big, evil guvmint can in some situations. A homeowner named Claire Gonzales in Timbergrove Manor (a neighborhood not far from my own – it’s where the Little League team that I coached played its games) has had “Bill White for Mayor” signs removed from her yard, with a note left behind saying that the signs violate Timbergrove deed restrictions.

Gonzales did what citizens do these days. She went online and found the Web site for Timbergrove Manor Civic Club, to which she voluntarily pays dues. There she found the deed restrictions.

“Section 10. No signs, advertisements, political placards, or billboards shall be erected on any Lot,” except for-sale or rent signs, small signs saying the house is protected by a security service, or plaques awarded by a governmental entity.

Gonzales put the sign back up and delivered a lengthy but respectful letter to Randy Klein, the civic club’s president, protesting the deed restriction and asking that the Civic Club inform all residents “that it is illegal to go on someone else’s property to ‘enforce’ a deed restriction.”

Later her sign was stolen. Some neighbors had Orlando Sanchez signs stolen, she said.

But a deed restriction prohibiting political signs is likely no more legal than the once-common deed restrictions prohibiting the sale of houses to persons other than those of the Caucasian persuasion.

In a 1994 decision, City of Ladue v. Gilleo, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously struck down an ordinance prohibiting political signs in a River Oaks-like suburb of St. Louis.

Stephen Schueler, attorney for the civic club, says this case was different because it dealt with an ordinance, not a deed restriction.

“These restrictions are agreed to before they purchase the property,” he said.

In reference to racist deed restrictions, Schueler says, “There are certain deed restrictions that the courts have held are so against public policy that they cannot be enforced.”

He believes the restriction of political signs is not in that category, but it’s not at all clear the Supreme Court would agree.

In a 1971 case, the court said, “Speech on public issues occupies the ‘highest rung of the hierarchy of First Amendment values’ and is entitled to special protection.” Can a person be forced to sign away something so valuable in order to buy a house?

Good question. The right answer is pretty clear to me.

I should note here that I’m not anti-deed restrictions. Our neighborhood has them, and I enthusiastically support them. Our restrictions are there to prevent developers from subdividing lots and building to the property line, which is the only option we have in our zoning-free city. I also don’t object to restricting yard signs to a reasonable degree, but this is a pretty clearcut case of taking a well-intentioned idea way too far. As such, we now need a state entity to come in and enforce the rights that a private entity wants to deny. Don’t you just love irony?

(For an earlier example of private entities restricting your rights, see here. At least Timbergrove appears to be an equal-opportunity sign-remover, unlike some other neighborhoods.)