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Interview with Penny Cooper, “Champion of the Marginalized”

Penny Cooper has a real and enduring legacy, as is reflected in the documentary about her life and work entitled Penny: A Documentary Film. Penny practiced for 36 years in San Francisco after graduating from UC Berkeley School of Law in 1964 and is now retired.  She was a “lawyer’s lawyer” and was one of the first women criminal defense lawyers to try a major white-collar crime case, but she would tell you she preferred defending people charged with general criminal offenses.  She argued before the United States Supreme Court, which is rare for any lawyer, let alone a female.  She was known for her cross-examination skills and a long list of wins and high-profile acquittals; yet in-spite of this she has a keen understanding of the most important aspect of what it means to be a criminal defense attorney, that is that “[i]t’s not just the drama of going to court and objecting and winning or losing, it’s really managing people’s lives when they get into difficulty or trouble.” The documentary aptly described her as a “champion of the marginalized.” Penny was inducted into the Trial Lawyer Hall of Fame by the California State Bar’s Litigation Section in 2010, with long-time law partner, Cris Arguedas.  It was such an honor to interview one of the true legends of the criminal defense bar. I feel so lucky to have had an opportunity to have met and listened to this true defender, who forged a path for many of us to follow. I hope you will be as inspired by Penny Cooper as I am.   How did you get interested in criminal defense and what kind of cases did you handle? I am a product of the 60’s. I graduated from law school in 1964 from Berkeley.  The fall of 1964 was the free speech movement. We were just getting the civil rights amendment passed.  It was an era where everybody felt strongly one way or another about civil rights and criminal defense.  It was the only thing I was really interested in. I practiced for 36 years and I handled every kind of case.  My greatest day of practice was when I was coming home after having handled a traffic case for some guy who owned a winery who had entered the freeway the wrong way and was ticketed. I was representing him and I got the case dismissed because the law had been repealed. That same day, as I was driving home, I learned that we had won our case in the United States Supreme Court – United States vs. Merchant, 480 U.S. 615 (1987). This is the best way to express the breadth of my practice. I did everything from handling a traffic case in a little municipal court to arguing and winning a case before the United States Supreme Court. Without question, you were a pioneer for women in the field. What was it like to be one of the few women in the field when you started and did you know at the time that you were opening doors for other women in criminal defense? I have a very close female friend whom I went to law school with, and we laugh about it all the time because we didn’t even know what feminism was and we didn’t realize we should have been treated differently. We were just treated the way we were and it was really bad, but we just kind of laughed at it and soldiered through.  The dean of the law school was William Prosser, who was one of my teachers and he didn’t believe that women should be in law school – period. In my section, there were 90 people and only 3 women – and he didn’t call on women because he just figured it was a waste of time. In that era that’s just what people believed. Nick Johnson, who was another professor and who later became Lyndon B. Johnson’s head of the Federal Trade Commission, believed that it was so ridiculous to have women in law school; he said he was going to treat women equally — so in our class he called on man – woman – man – woman. Then we had a professor who transferred from Harvard, named Raoul Berger, and he would say “now stand up like a man and recite.” And we just took it all.  And we kind of laughed about it and still laugh about it.  It was only years later that we realized we had a right to expect something else. In law school we even had a segregated conference room where we would take our breaks and the men were someplace else. I remember when JFK was assassinated, we had to get permission from the dean to be able to watch the television, which was located in the men’s conference room. Here we were at Berkeley, the bastion of liberalism, which wasn’t so liberal back then. So, when I entered the public defender’s office there was only one other woman at the time but she was on her way out. The guy who hired me, the public defender, told me he didn’t really think women belonged in that office because it was like sailing down a sewer in a glass bottom boat. ...
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Top 5 Travel Injury Legal Issues

It’s almost summertime, so time to hit the road, see the sights, and travel the high seas. But with travels come trouble sometimes, accidents and injuries, which could be costly. Here is some advice for travelers, whatever your mode of transport, be it trains, planes, automobiles, boats, or a combo. Find out how to handle travel accident recovery. Travel Accident Recovery 1. Injured on an Airplane: How Can You Recover? You probably don’t realize just how treacherous being on a plane is, and that is apart from the hazard of hurtling through the skies. Injuries on airplanes can happen due to fallen luggage from overhead compartments, turbulence, airline employee error and more. Airlines owe passengers a high duty of care and passengers do recover when they are proven negligent. 2. Injured in a Bus Crash: How Much Is My Case Worth? It is never a good idea to guess at what a case is worth without knowing all the details, and even then it’s probably best not to assume. But bus crash injuries can be severe and you can certainly sue if you are hurt while traveling on this type of common carrier. 3. Can I Sue for a Railroad Crossing Accident? If you’re on a train that crashes or are injured in some way while traveling Orient Express style, you can certainly sue to recover for your expenses and pain and suffering. As for drivers injured in a railroad crossing accident, that too is an unfortunately common occurrence and a basis for recovery. 4. Cruise Ship Injury: Can I Sue? Traveling on a cruise ship combines the fun of staying at a hotel with the thrill of being on the high seas and a dash of the old-fashioned. But cruise ships are also a prime place to get injured — not only are there activities of all kinds but there’s the risk of accidents in restaurants, on decks, and with the movement of the ship itself. If your vacation ends in a sea of sorrows due to the negligence of the cruise ship company, you can sue. 5. Road Trip Safety Tips: How to Not Get Injured The most American vacation of them all is the road trip, a journey great artists have paid tribute to in books, film, music, and more. But before you hit the road, know the score on staying safe. Traveling in a car for long hours can be dangerous. Talk to a Lawyer If you are injured during your travels or at any other time and you believe it is due to the negligence of another, speak to a lawyer. Tell your story. Many attorneys consult for free or a minimal fee and will be happy to assess your case. Related Resources: Have an injury claim? Get your claim reviewed for free. (Consumer Injury) Cruise Ship Sickness: Can Passengers Sue? (FindLaw’s Injured) Cruise Ship Injuries: What Are Your Rights? (FindLaw’s Injured) Top Ten Road Trip Legal Tips (FindLaw’s Law and Daily Life)
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Texas Law Puts Cameras in Special Needs Classrooms

A new Texas law will require cameras in classrooms with special education students and teachers after an investigation revealed questionable practices in some schools, according to a report from National Public Radio. Last year, a video of an 8-year-old autistic child held captive on the floor in a "calm room" resembling a closet -- over his protests -- was publicized. It prompted parents of special education students to demand cameras in classrooms across the state. The Texas law is the first of its kind in the country but it may be the beginning of a new trend in teaching, given the rise of cameras in policing. Child and Teacher Protection Some teachers resent the intrusion, although video could protect them from false accusations of mistreatment. But there are limits on filming in place in the law. Footage cannot be used in teacher evaluations, audio capability is required for context, and cameras are forbidden in bathrooms. The law's critics say Texas missed the opportunity to better train and compensate teachers, rather than spending on educator surveillance. There is concern that cameras will be a strain on school budgets. Not every school has to install them automatically or even at all. But districts must provide cameras upon request by a parent or school staff member. "Teachers are mixed, and the districts don't like the mandates," said Monty Exter, a lobbyist with the Austin-based Association of Texas Professional Educators. The law, which takes effect at the start of the next school year, applies to all of the state's public schools and charters, and to any self-contained classroom in which at least half the students receive special-ed services for at least half the day. A Major Expense The potential expense imposed by the new law is significant, as there are costs beyond camera equipment, such as added servers, microphones, archival capabilities, ceiling mounts, and labor fees. Plus, some rooms may need more than one camera. "We have to figure out how to store the video and audio, and that's a very expensive thing to do," said Robbie Stinnett, a director of special education for the Duncanville Independent School District. She says she has already received requests for cameras from three parents and expects more. "Schools are stretched," Stinnett said. "If [a bill] becomes law, it needs to be funded, because public education isn't funded well enough to add stuff on top of it." Consult With Counsel If you have a child with special needs, speak to a special education lawyer. Consult with counsel and get help even if you do not suspect mistreatment. A lawyer can help you secure the services your child needs at school. Related Resources: Find a Lawyer (FindLaw Directory) Disability Access to Education (FindLaw) Selecting a Special Education Lawyer (FindLaw)
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Teens Livestream Ice Cream Theft, Get Arrested

Hey everyone! Watch me break the law! If two boys commit a crime but no one is watching, did it really happen? Perhaps not, which is why two teenage boys had the bright idea to film and livestream their illegal ice cream stealing escapade. Unsurprisingly, the video landed them in juvenile court. The Robin Hood of Ice Cream Two 16-year-old boys, unidentified because of their age, used Periscope, a smartphone app, to livestream themselves breaking into a semi trailer filled with ice cream. A viewer of the livestream notified the police and gave them enough information to track the two boys down. Police quickly found the boys and arrested them after they admitted to stealing the ice cream and leaving them on neighbors' porches as gifts Periscope Solves the Crime Do you remember how the bad guys in the show Scooby-Do always say, "I would have gotten away with it, too, if it weren't for you meddling kids!"? Well, these boys probably would have gotten away with the ice-capade if it weren't for their phone and the Periscope app. Periscope allows users to record and upload videos online simultaneously. The videos are posted on the site's website for 24 hours after a livestream, then deleted from the company's servers. The app also allows users to geo-tag their location to share with followers on Twitter and Periscope. If only all criminals used Periscope. The police would have a field day. Juvenile Punishments As for the two boys, they'll be answering for their crimes in juvenile court. When minors are involved in crimes, they usually go to juvenile court, unless they committed particularly serious crimes and are charged as adults. In many ways, juvenile court procedures differ from normal criminal courts. In juvenile court, crimes are actually called delinquent acts, and the punishments are more creative. Rather than simply sentencing minors to jail, juvenile court judges can order fines, restitution, counseling, probation, community service, or a diversion program. Once minors have complied with the judges' orders, their records are almost always sealed and expunged when the minor turns 18. Hopefully, these two boys learn their lesson and don't livestream any more stupid acts of childhood mischief. Related Resources: Utah Teens Arrested After Livestreaming Ice Cream Theft on Periscope (NBC News) Minor Crime Is a Major Ordeal (FindLaw's Learn About The Law) Boy, 13, Charged as Adult Based on Size of Genitals: Report (FindLaw's Legally Weird) Do Juveniles Get Jury Trials? (FindLaw's Blotter)
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‘Ghostbusters’ Cameraman Busts Assault Suspect

Movie buffs can barely contain their excitement for the upcoming all-female "Ghostbusters" reboot. Turns out law enforcement officials in Boston might be thankful for the film as well. A woman who was shoved to the street in Boston on Wednesday passed away yesterday, and officers think they found the person responsible, thanks to a cameraman working on the movie. Who You Gonna Call? According to Suffolk County authorities, the unidentified victim bumped into Tajanetta Downing in Boston's Chinatown district. They believe Downing retaliated, shoving the victim to the ground. The woman struck her head on the pavement; she died from her injuries the next day. Downing allegedly walked away from the incident, although authorities believe she heard a witness nearby ask the victim if she was okay. Police say they were able to apprehend Downing in part due to the help of the "Ghostbusters" cameraman, also unidentified, who saw the incident. Perhaps his good eye behind the camera helped in identifying Downing, who has been arrested and jailed on criminal assault charges. Don't Cross the Streams While Downing faces criminal assault charges, she may also end up being sued in civil court as well. The victim's survivors may have a claim for battery. Battery is an intentional touching without consent, the elements of which are: Intent -- that the defendant intended to cause the touching, regardless of the resulting harm Contact -- that the defendant did make contact with the plaintiff Harm -- that the contact was harmful or offensive Damages -- that the plaintiff suffered some physical, emotional, or monetary harm. While all of the elements seem present in this case, at this point it is unknown whether the victim's family will file a civil injury lawsuit against Downing. Neither the victim's name nor her cause of death have been released. Related Resources: 'Ghostbusters' Cameraman Helps ID Shove Suspect; Woman Dies (Boston AP) Assault, Battery and Intentional Torts (FindLaw) How Do You Prove Assault in Civil Court? (FindLaw's Injured) If You're Injured in a Fight, Can You Sue? (FindLaw's Injured)
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Ariz. Gun Range Death: Who’s Liable?

Law enforcement authorities have stated that no one will be charged criminally in the fatal shooting of an Arizona gun range instructor killed when a nine-year-old girl lost control of the fully automatic Uzi submachine gun she was firing, reports ABC News. But accidents that cause death, even ones that don't involve criminal conduct, often result in wrongful death lawsuits or other civil litigation. Who, if anyone, might be liable for this tragic accident? Wrongful Death Actions Wrongful death actions are typically brought by family members of a deceased person when another person's intentional or negligent conduct caused their family member's death. Injured? Exercise your legal rights. Get in touch with a knowledgeable personal injury attorney in your area today. In this case, video footage filmed by the girl's parents shows that the girl did not intend to shoot the instructor, but rather lost control of the gun she was firing. But was the accident the result of negligence on the part of the girl or her parents? Was the Child Negligent? Negligence requires a person, who had a duty to act reasonably given the circumstances, failed to act reasonably and this failure caused another to be injured. It is possible to bring a lawsuit against a child for negligence; however, it may be more difficult than suing an adult. Children are generally not expected to act as a reasonable adult would act. In some jurisdictions, however, children can be held to an adult standard of reasonableness when they are engaged in what are known as "adult activities." In some states, parents may also be held vicariously liable for the negligence of their children, or be found liable for negligent supervision of their children. It may be difficult, however, even if held to the adult standard of reasonableness, to prove that the child, who was firing a fully automatic weapon for the first time acted negligently when she lost control of the gun. Negligence of Shooting Range? It may also be possible to bring suit against the shooting range itself for negligence. Although it appears that no laws were broken in allowing the girl to fire the weapon, many are questioning the safety of the range's policies allowing minor children to fire fully automatic weapons. The gun range's owner told The Associated Press that the range's policy of allowing children eight and older to fire guns under adult supervision is standard practice in the industry, adding that in 14 years of operation, the accident was the first injury or death that has occurred. Related Resources: A 9-Year-Old at a Shooting Range, a Spraying Uzi and Outrage (The New York Times) After a Tragic Shooting, Wrongful Death Suits Follow (FindLaw's Injured) Can A School Be Sued for a Shooting? (FindLaw's Injured) Burglary Suspect Sues Homeowner for Shooting Back (FindLaw's Legally Weird)
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Anita Hill Documentary Opens Today: Where Is She Now?

"Anita," a new documentary directed by Academy Award-winner Freida Mock, traverses the story of Anita Hill. As you may recall, Anita Hill was a little-known law professor who took the nation by storm in 1991 when she alleged that then-U.S. Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas sexually harassed her. In 2010, with the 20th anniversary of the hearings approaching, she agreed to the documentary, deciding it was time "to revisit this, and for people to understand who I am," according to The New York Times. What Did Anita Hill Do? Anita Hill testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee that Clarence Thomas had made graphic sexual statements and harassing advances as her supervisor at the U.S. Department of Education and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The images alone of Hill testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee are striking -- a young African American woman in a teal suit sitting before a row of 14 white men. The senators prodded Hill through awkward testimony about penis size, pubic hair and a pornographic film star known as Long Dong Silver. Ultimately, the committee determined a lack of evidence supported Hill's claims. Thomas was confirmed and he took a seat on the Court. But in Washington, Hill's testimony resonated. Shortly after, Congress passed a law allowing victims of sex discrimination to sue for damages. One year later, harassment complaints filed with the EEOC were up 50 percent and public opinion had shifted in Hill's favor. Private companies also started training programs to deter sexual harassment, Time reports. In addition, waves of women began seeking public office. In 1991, there were two female senators. Today there are 20, according to The New York Times. Though what truly transpired between Anita Hill and Clarence Thomas is still vigorously debated, her testimony played an important role in bringing national attention to the issue of sexual harassment in the workplace. Where Is Anita Hill Now? After returning to Oklahoma to her job as a faculty member at the Oklahoma School of Law, Hill endured a variety of threats: death, violence, sexual. Republican lawmakers in her home state tried to get her fired, but she was tenured, so then they went after her boss. They even tried to close the school, The Oakland Tribune reports. Eventually, Hill moved to Massachusetts, where she is still a professor of social policy, law and women's studies at Brandeis University. She has written two books, including one about the hearing and one in 2012 called "Reimagining Equality, Stories of Race, Gender and Finding Home." As Sheryl Gay Stolberg of The New York Times wrote, Anita Hill "has worked hard, she likes to say, to help women 'find their voices.' She has also found hers -- and she is not afraid to use it." The film opens in select theaters today. Related Resources: Snippets: Jersey Guns and Gambling, Anita Hill, Hurles Holdover (FindLaw's U.S. Supreme Court Blog) Clarence Thomas, Anita Hill and Sexual Harassment Decisions (FindLaw's U.S. Supreme Court Blog) How to Spot Sexual Harassment: 6 Facts (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life) 7 Tips to Prevent Sexual Harassment at Work (FindLaw's Free Enterprise)
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