The Legalcide Podcast – Mr. Smith Goes to Lincoln City

The Legalcide Podcast – Mr. Smith Goes to Lincoln City

by Jeff Jones

Most Americans go their entire lives without exercising any of their local rights.  Like the right to be given notice of City Council meetings; the right to attend and participate; and the right to request public records from the municipalities that tax us, regulate us, and police us. 

But local participation is the only way local governments can be held accountable.  This is the story of one man who tried to hold his local government accountable … and the price he paid.  Up next: Mr. Smith Goes to Lincoln City.

Show Notes

Request to Investigate

Amended Complaint

Fourth Amended Complaint

The Costs of Calling for Help

The Costs of Calling for Help

by Jeff Jones

Most cities across the United States have laws that directly or indirectly penalize people for calling for help. These laws, typically called “chronic nuisance” ordinances, label property as a nuisance when police or other social services have to visit the property too many times over a given period. For example, my hometown (Milwaukee, WI) defines property as a chronic nuisance if “three or more calls for service are made within 30 days, or for certain crimes, two in one year.” Under Milwaukee’s law, property owners are held accountable for their own violations but also, in the case of landlords, for violations by their tenants.

Measuring nuisance by the number of times police must respond to calls for help is bad legal and moral policy.

Measuring nuisance this way is bad legal policy because of the likely consequences of such regulation. The classic definition of nuisance is “a substantial, unreasonable interference with the use and enjoyment of land.” Thus, nuisance regulation is usually tied to misuses of land in ways that bother other people, usually neighbors. Milwaukee’s ordinance, however, doesn’t charge nuisance for proof of land misuse that causes anyone harm. Instead, the “nuisance” in these cases are the citizens using social services paid for with their tax dollars. There is something wrong with punishing people who call for help “too much” just because it annoys the police.

Measuring nuisance this way is bad moral policy both for its lack of discrimination in application and its discriminatory effects. The application of the policy draws no distinction between perpetrators and victims of nuisance. Perpetrators may be persons making or dealing drugs from a residence, or continually playing music too loud, or failing to maintain one’s home or yard so as to become hazardous or just an eyesore to neighbors, or beating a domestic partner. A landlord or homeowner is responsible for this kind of classic nuisance and the Milwaukee law is on its safest ground here. Yet, a concerned neighbor who feels the duty to call the police on such misconduct too many times may find themselves to be the source of the nuisance finding.

Worse, measuring nuisance this way-by the number of calls for help from a particular residence-overlooks that often it is the victims of nuisance who are calling for help: the domestic violence victim, the elder abuse victim, people with severe disabilities or other serious health issues. When the victims of nuisance or other frailties call for help, their calls count toward the tally of nuisance phone calls as if calling for help is a sin all by itself.

The failure of this approach is exposed by the perverse incentives it creates for landlords. A landlord pressed by the police to abate a nuisance, that is, to control the number of calls for public help coming from her property, might most efficiently evict the person making the calls. The law gives landlords reasons, as well a legal basis, to evict people calling for help. This will often be easier than controlling the behavior of residents who are misusing property. The former (eviction) already has the backing of the police.

In Milwaukee, there are at least two ways for a landlord to avoid fines for nuisance. Get rid of tenants who are misusing property. Or get rid of the whistleblowers who call on them. That’s one way too many.


The Legal Gaggle Podcast – Practice Ready Law Grads

The Legal Gaggle Podcast – Practice Ready Law Grads

by Jeff Jones

The expectation among firms that new law graduates be “practice-ready” is rather recent. Not coincidentally, it came along with downward economic pressure on law firms. Law firms no longer wish to carry the costs of training their own employees because clients refuse to subsidize the task. So automatically, and almost out of nowhere, the fault lies with law schools. Perhaps law firms, like law schools, need a new business model. Asking companies that choose to hire people to train them also doesn’t seem out of order.

To learn more about the idea of practice-ready law grads, I spoke to Robert J. Condlin, professor at University of Maryland Law School and the author of "Practice Ready Graduates": A Millenialist Fantasy (2015). Listen to our conversation below.

Ready, Set, Go!

Ready, Set, Go!

By Jeff Jones

Things could not have looked worse when the police shined their brights on my little corner of the projects on North Sherman and Douglas. It was 11 at night. Me and about twelve other guys were in the middle of the street lined up and talking cash.

It’s not what it looked like. My older brother and his crew were always mouthing off. About everything. On this Friday night we’d all been drinking and I’d had enough. Time to show these dudes that we’re grown. We challenged the old heads to a street race. Let’s shut them up once and for all. At least for the rest of tonight.

My sister was out on the porch to call the race. We needed her to make sure my brother didn’t cheat. Cheater that he was.

It was dark. So dark that we didn’t see the police car parked just off the corner against the creek. Po-Po. Collective muffled “damns” cut through the street. We all knew what time it was. In unison we turned and faced the police car. We couldn’t see in. All we could see were headlights.

After a minute the red and blue dome lights came on. “Awww dang,” my chorus sang. We all put up our hands. Then for a while, nothing. We were just standing there looking into headlights and flashings reds and blues. Cops were messing with us.

Soon we’ll be laid out in the street, frisked, maybe go for a ride. I’m pretty sure somebody here is getting took. A few more minutes passed. At some point I remember thinking to myself, “just get it over with so my sister can go back in the house.” (She was afraid to move, too.)

“Click-click.” “Click-click.” The cops’ loudspeaker went live. I looked left and right at my co-defendants. The moment of judgment was upon us. We were all praying for a warning. Maybe just tell us to get inside and call it a night. That’s not what happened.

The loudspeaker boomed: “ON YOUR MARKS.” Nobody moved. Again, only louder: “ON YOUR MARKS!!”

Something was starting to sink in when my sister yelled, “They ‘tryin’ to let ya’ll race you dummies.”

Fresh off fright we raced to the line and got down. “GET SET!!” The cops turned off the reds and blues. They turned a flood light down our street so everyone could see. “GO!!”

After the race the police just drove off. Who won the race doesn’t matter. (I did.) The police had a bucket full of legal options that night. Not all of them legal. Many of those options would have changed our lives forever, and for the worse. The option they took did change our lives. If only for a little while, for the better.


Photo by "click" at

"Soon we’ll be laid out in the street, frisked, maybe go for a ride. I’m pretty sure somebody here is getting took."

In Some Places, Even Rivers Get Lawyers

In Some Places, Even Rivers Get Lawyers

by Jeff Jones


Recently the Parliament of New Zealand recognized its ninety-mile Whanganui River as a true legal person. New Zealand’s Treaty Negotiations Minister Chris Finlayson proudly reported that the Whanganui River “will have its own legal identity with all the corresponding rights, duties and liabilities of a legal person.” The Whanganui River also won legal representation. New Zealand appointed to the River two legal guardians: one from the New Zealand government and one from the local Maori people, who view the Whanganui River as a part of themselves.

You may think it silly to give a river legal rights. But rights are just tools for recognizing and protecting stuff we care about.

New Zealand isn’t alone in giving nature legal rights. In 2010 Bolivia went big and passed the Law of Mother Earth. Bolivia defines Mother Earth as “a dynamic living system comprising an indivisible community of all living systems and living organisms, interrelated, interdependent and complementary, which share a common destiny.” Mother Earth won a bunch of rights, too: to life, to water, to clean air, to balance, etc. And under the law all levels of Bolivian government and the Bolivian people have a legal duty to protect Her rights.

Now, pretend for one minute that you want to be a natural resource. (Trust me. I’m going somewhere with this.) If you had to choose between becoming New Zealand’s Whanganui River or Bolivia’s Mother Earth, both legal people now, who would you choose to become?

If you’re a trustworthy “bigger is always better” American than you probably chose Mother Earth. But from a legal perspective your best bet is the Whanganui River. Why? Because in addition to its other rights the Whanganui River was given an express right to not just one, but two lawyers.

How many lawyers did Mother Earth get? Diddly-squat. Nada. El-Zilcho. A right to a lawyer wasn’t a part of Mother Earth’s deal. And if Mother Earth can’t get a lawyer, the next time legal troubles find Her She’s probably in for a “world” of hurt and disappointment. God forbid that Her opponents have lawyers when She does not.

That’s just like a lot of us, right? Right? Last year a report from the American Bar Association found that in the US “most people living in poverty, and the majority of moderate income individuals do not receive the legal help they need.” The report also noted that 80% of poor Americans poverty go unrepresented in serious, “make-or-break” civil legal matters. Matters such as evictions, mortgage foreclosures, child custody and support, bankruptcy and debt collection, domestic violence, immigration and education. The ABA report concluded that these problems “are experienced across the population, by rich and poor, young and old, men and women, all racial groups, all religions.”

So you see:

  1. Legal rights are only as good as the enforcement power behind them.
  2. Exercising legal rights is really hard without a lawyer.
  3. And getting a lawyer is often impossible without a legal right to one.

Or a heap of money. That’s true whether you’re a river, working schlubs like you and me, or the whole-danged Earth.

For more on the Whanganui River and its new legal status:

Photo by James Shook
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