Trump asks Justice Department to write regulations banning gun bump stocks

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Attorney General

President Donald Trump said Tuesday he has asked the U.S. Justice Department to draft regulations that would ban devices known as “bump stocks” that are used to accelerate gunfire on semi-automatic weapons.

Trump said at the White House that banning the devices could help prevent mass shootings, report the New York Times, ABC News, NPR and the Washington Post. “I expect that these critical regulations will be finalized … very soon,” Trump said.

Trump said in a memorandum that the Justice Department has already begun the process of promulgating a federal regulation interpreting the definition of “machine gun” to clarify whether bump stocks should be illegal. The advance notice of rulemaking has already concluded, and the Justice Department received more than 100,000 comments.

“Today, I am directing the Department of Justice to dedicate all available resources to complete the review of the comments received, and, as expeditiously as possible, to propose for notice and comment a rule banning all devices that turn legal weapons into machine guns,” Trump said in the statement.

The Las Vegas gunman had used a bump stock to kill 58 people at a country music festival last year. The 19-year-old suspect in the high school shooting last week in Parkland, Florida, had used an AR-15-style semi-automatic rifle that was purchased legally, USA Today has reported. There have been no reports that he used a bump stock, according to NPR.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives had concluded in 2010 that bump stocks weren’t regulated by existing law. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said in a statement that she does not believe the ATF has the authority to ban bump stocks and legislation is needed.

“If ATF tries to ban these devices after admitting repeatedly that it lacks the authority to do so, that process could be tied up in court for years,” Feinstein said, “and that would mean bump stocks would continue to be sold.”


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Blockchain For Dummies Non-Transactional Lawyers

blockchain-300x200.jpgIf you come from a litigation and/or humanities background, as I do, you probably share my confusion about this whole “blockchain” thing. Sure, you understand the theory behind blockchain — it’s “an open, distributed ledger that can record transactions between two parties efficiently and in a verifiable and permanent way” — but you’re unclear about how it works as a practical matter.

In the pages of Above the Law, we’ve published a number of posts about blockchain that do a nice job of explaining the technology. But if you still have questions even after reading all those stories, you’ve come to the right place.

During Legalweek, here in ATL’s home base of New York City, I headed uptown to the offices of Orrick for an event hosted by the Global Legal Blockchain Consortium (GLBC). As noted on its website, the GLBC’s mission is “to organize and align the stakeholders in the global legal industry with regard to the use of blockchain technology to enhance the security, privacy, productivity, and interoperability of the legal technology ecosystem.” The Consortium currently boasts more than 24 members, and it expects to have more than 40 within a few months.

This month is a big one for the GLBC. As noted during introductory remarks by David Fisher — interim chairman of the Consortius and CEO of Integra Ledger, a leading blockchain company in the legal space — the Consortium is organizing a Global Legal Hackathon, taking place in more than 45 cities on six continents from February 23 to 25. The GLBC hopes to have some 10,000 participants, which would make it the largest legal hackathon and one of the largest hackathons of any kind, period.

At the GLBC event I attended, three groups shared their “proofs of concept” for how blockchain could be used in different areas of the legal industry. First up: Trent Carlyle, CTO and co-founder of Lawgical, the company behind ServeManager, the most popular software for process-serving firms and their clients. (Lawgical also owns Legal Talk Network, producer of many great law-related podcasts, including Above the Law’s own Thinking Like A Lawyer.)

Showing that blockchain isn’t just for transactional attorneys, Carlyle demonstrated how blockchain can aid a task dreaded by many litigators: service of process. One of the biggest challenges associated with service is providing proof that process was served or attempted to be served. How would blockchain address this problem? As explained by Carlyle, after a process server in the field completed or attempted to complete service, she would open up the ServeManager app and enter the metadata related to that effort — information such as GPS coordinates, a timestamp, or device data. ServeManager would then, via API call, provide that metadata to Integra Ledger. Integra would in turn post this metadata to blockchain, generating a unique blockchain ID for that attempt.

This blockchain ID could then be added to the attempt information within ServeManager and to any physical affidavit relating to the service attempt. This ID could then be queried to display the untampered attempt data, allowing a client, law firm or court to confirm that the data on the affidavit or related service of process records has not been altered since entry. (For more, check out the demo on the ServeManager website.)

One question posed to Trent Carlyle: could GPS spoofing be used to generate incorrect location information (e.g., making it appear that a process server was at a particular location when actually she wasn’t)? Carlyle acknowledged that this is an issue, which is an issue related to blockchain technology in general: the blockchain is only as good as the information provided to it. For example, a blockchain ID can verify that certain service-of-process information has not been altered since entry, but it can’t verify the correctness of the information itself.

After Carlyle’s presentation, Laura Fetter, a partner at the Fasken law firm in Toronto, explained how blockchain could be used for the Continuing Legal Education (CLE). Fasken offers CLE sessions to its clients for free, and the firm would now like to use blockchain technology to help those clients record and report their CLE credits.

Recording and verifying CLE credits is an administrative task that lends itself to automation and blockchain verification. After a client attended a CLE session, she would simply “save” that attendance in the software used for tracking CLE. This software would then provide the relevant information about the CLE session to Integra, which would in turn generate an identity ID (just like the identifier used for service of process).

The CTO of Integra, David Berger, explained that right now Integra focuses primarily on this issue of digital identity — i.e., assigning an ID number to people, institutions (like law firms), documents, and transactions (like a CLE session). Once such a digital-identity regime is more widely used, it will become very powerful and practical. As described by IBM, a major player in the blockchain world:

Digital identity is critical to many business and social transactions. It enables ways to interact with billions of users in the digital world. However, traditional identity systems are costly, disjointed, fallible, and hindering innovation and greater customer experience.

The distributed trust model is a new way of managing identities. Blockchain technology empowers consumers to control their own identity and share between trusted entities with their consent. Also, no single institution can compromise a consumer’s identity.

Right now, Berger said, most blockchain products (including Integra) focus on recording and providing a unique identifier for digital matter that exists outside the blockchain. In other words, a given blockchain ID would refer to some external document or data — e.g., data about an attempt to serve process, or attendance of a CLE session — and confirm that the document or data hasn’t been tampered with or otherwise altered. But the blockchain doesn’t store the entire binary string representing the specific provisions of a given document. (There’s no theoretical impediment to doing so, but it would require an extremely vast amount of data and capacity.)

The final demo of the evening came from Peter Buck and Mike Sanders of NetDocuments, a leading cloud-based document and email management company. With some 7 billion documents under management, NetDocuments aims to host and deliver documents securely to its clients. To this end, it wants to move to digital-first agreements and increase trust in digital documents — which explains its keen interest in blockchain.

Buck and Sanders outlined a scenario familiar to pretty much all transactional lawyers. Imagine you have eight different versions of a document — they took a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) as their example — floating around. You have a bunch of drafts, as Word documents, and you have a final version, as a PDF file. How can the parties to the agreement make sure that they are working from the same, final document, and access that document easily in the future?

Using NetDocuments and Integra, it’s easy. First, the parties negotiate the NDA. Second, the parties submit the executed document to blockchain. Submitting the final document, the PDF file, generates a blockchain ID associated with that document.

If one of the parties ever wants to check that the document they have is the final version, they just access the NetDocuments platform, enter the blockchain ID for the final document, upload the document they’re wondering about, and click a button. NetDocuments, powered by Integra, will then tell the user whether the uploaded document is the same as the document connected with the blockchain ID. The NetDocuments platform also allows users to compare how documents held locally on a specific computer compare to documents previously sent to the blockchain, again using the blockchain IDs for verification purposes. (This is, roughly speaking, also what underlies so-called “smart contracts.”)

Still a little confused about blockchain? Don’t worry; the practical application of new technologies often takes a while for companies to implement and for consumers to understand. But as I learned from the Global Legal Blockchain Consortium’s event, the applications for blockchain in the law are myriad.

The best way to understand a technology is to use it — and if you’re a practicing lawyer, the chances are high that you’ll be using blockchain before you know it.

Global Legal Blockchain Consortium
Global Legal Blockchain Consortium Forms, Integra Ledger A Key Member


DBL-square-headshot-150x150.pngDavid Lat is editor at large and founding editor of Above the Law, as well as the author of Supreme Ambitions: A Novel. He previously worked as a federal prosecutor in Newark, New Jersey; a litigation associate at Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz; and a law clerk to Judge Diarmuid F. O’Scannlain of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. You can connect with David on Twitter (@DavidLat), LinkedIn, and Facebook, and you can reach him by email at dlat@abovethelaw.com.

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Let’s Try Treating Diverse Attorneys Like People, Not Collectibles — See Also

GettyImages-519548646-300x211.jpgMeet A Minority Attorney, Get BINGO! Maybe the firm was really trying to make sure diverse attorneys had meaningful networking opportunities, but this? This is not how you do that.

Bonus Season Is Still Going On: And associates at Cooley are very happy about that indeed.

Use Twitter To Get A Celeb Date To The Barrister’s Ball: The acceptance might be 3 years late, but what can you do?

Yale FedSoc Is Holding A Tasteless Gun Event: Because really, why would anyone else’s feelings ever matter.

“Common Sense”? “Willful Ignorance”? It’s all pretty much the same to Justice Clarence Thomas.

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FBI Admits To Not Following Protocols After Tip On Florida School Shooter

School-Shooting-300x200.jpgAs reports have leaked out about alleged Florida school shooter, Nikolas Cruz, a disturbing amount of people have basically said that they knew something was wrong with the individual.

How this clearly disturbed individual was able to get his hands on an AR-15 is an America crisis which we will refuse to address as we just patiently wait for the next mass shooting.

But, given that we live in a homicidal society that nobody has the political will to address, we really need law enforcement to be on the ball whenever one of these threats is made known to them. Here, it would appear that the FBI dropped the ball. From NPR:

The FBI says that someone called its tip line to report concerns about Nikolas Cruz, who has told police he killed 17 people in a Florida high school this week — but that the bureau failed to follow protocols to assess the threat.

The bureau says a person close to Cruz contacted the FBI’s Public Access Line on Jan. 8 to report concerns about him. Those concerns included information about Cruz’s gun ownership, a desire to kill people, erratic behavior and disturbing social media posts.

The caller specifically mentioned the potential for Cruz to carry out a school shooting.

Under FBI protocols, that information should have been assessed as a potential threat to life and forwarded to its Miami field office for further investigation.

But that never happened.

I can’t help feeling that if the shooter had been named “Muhammed Al-Scarypants” somebody would have followed up.

We might not have the political will to address our national addiction to guns. But hopefully we can at least hold the responsible officials accountable for this failure of law enforcement. “If you see something, say something” doesn’t work if law enforcement doesn’t see white kids as potential threats.

FBI Received A Tip Last Month About Florida Shooting Suspect — But Nothing Was Done


Elie Mystal is the Executive Editor of Above the Law and the Legal Editor for More Perfect. He can be reached @ElieNYC on Twitter, or at elie@abovethelaw.com. He will resist.

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Federal Judge Ruined The Internet Yesterday

internet-typewriter-e1377047163146.jpgJudge Katherine B. Forrest has put up with a lot of ridiculous and horrible bulls**t in her tenure on the bench. So let’s establish off the bat that she doesn’t deserve most of the guff she takes.

But her decision yesterday in Goldman v. Breitbart, et More Respectable Outlets, is just awful. And it’s not even that it’s necessarily wrong… just awful. Read the whole thing here.

In a nutshell, the Goldman case is about a photo of Tom Brady and Danny Ainge. Goldman took the picture and then uploaded it to Snapchat. The picture bounced around social media and ended up on Twitter. The defendants, a number of media organizations, “embedded” the Tweets, allowing their readers to see the original Tweets posted publicly on Twitter’s servers.

Defendants argued for the “Server Test,” a modestly developed doctrine that basically says it’s only a violation if someone hosts the infringing image on their server. It’s a sound and entirely necessary doctrine because otherwise Google would be bankrupt for showing previews of search results.

Judge Forrest went the other direction:

Having carefully considered the embedding issue, this Court concludes, for the reasons discussed below, that when defendants caused the embedded Tweets to appear on their websites, their actions violated plaintiff’s exclusive display right; the fact that the image was hosted on a server owned and operated by an unrelated third party (Twitter) does not shield them from this result.

That’s disturbing. Defendants had warned — without hyperbole — that walking away from the Server Test would “cause a tremendous chilling effect on the core functionality of the web” and amici argued that it could “radically change linking practices, and thereby transform the Internet as we know it.”

Why in the world would the Server Test not apply?

He and his amici caution that to adopt the Server Test broadly would have a “devastating” economic impact on photography and visual artwork licensing industries, noting that it would “eliminate” the incentives for websites to pay licensing fees, and thus “deprive content creators of the resources necessary to invest in further creation.”

Then don’t put it on f**king Snapchat.

Look I don’t know what to tell you, but if you wanted licensing fees for your work, go sign up with Getty or something. But if you’re going to post them on Instagram or Snapchat — the photography equivalent of scribbling “For a good image call…” on a bathroom wall — you shouldn’t get to walk in here and act like social media took food out of your kids’ mouths.

And this sentiment mirrors Judge Forrest’s parting words too:

In this case, there are genuine questions about whether plaintiff effectively released his image into the public domain when he posted it to his Snapchat account. Indeed, in many cases there are likely to be factual questions as to licensing and authorization. There is also a very serious and strong fair use defense, a defense under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, and limitations on damages from innocent infringement.

But this is the whole problem with this opinion that is Judge Forrest’s fault. Maybe she’s right and she’s just the messenger for a copyright regime in need of desperate overhaul in light of modern technology, years of lobbying mischief, and that nonsensical Aereo opinion. Or maybe she’s wrong and created an unnecessary and inefficient hurdle for media by creating a violation without realistic redress sparking frivolous lawsuits against media outlets for years to come.

But regardless of the substance, what really sucks about this opinion is her agreeing to the parties’ stipulation to sever the display right issues from the defenses and force the court to put out an opinion lacking critical context. Now all we know is that embedding social media posts created by users for the express purpose of free public viewing is a violation. We just have to stay tuned to find out if it’s one that gets an outlet in trouble or not.

That’s all well and good when you’re managing a busy docket, but every media outlet in the country woke up this morning trying to figure out if they can report on the President without violating the Copyright Act.

(The full opinion is unironically embedded on the next page.)


Headshot-300x200.jpgJoe Patrice is an editor at Above the Law and co-host of Thinking Like A Lawyer. Feel free to email any tips, questions, or comments. Follow him on Twitter if you’re interested in law, politics, and a healthy dose of college sports news.

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Volunteers wanted to transcribe justices’ notes from SCOTUS conferences

U.S. Supreme Court

The University of Minnesota and Michigan State University are crowdsourcing volunteers to help their academic research teams transcribe over 50,000 pages of handwritten notes from U.S. Supreme Court justices.

The National Law Journal had the story.

The project, named SCOTUS Notes, launched Feb. 13 and received 308 volunteers in its first six hours. It is the latest to be administered through University of Minnesota’s Zooniverse people-powered online research platform, the world’s largest of its kind. Zooniverse allows its 1.5 million users to act as “armchair scientists and archivists” who conduct their research from the comfort of their own homes.

The project’s initial focus is on more than 12,000 pages of notes taken by Justices Harry Blackmun and William Brennan Jr. in cases that were ruled on between 1959 and 1994, the National Law Journal reported.

“Help from the public is a crucial part of this project,” research team co-leader Ryan Black, an associate professor of political science at Michigan State University said in a press release. “It would have taken our small research team years to go through all of these data.”

These handwritten notes come from the private conferences in which the justices discuss and vote on the cases before them. Researchers place utmost importance on these notes because they are the only record of what has been said, and by whom, during these conferences.

“The end result of this project will enhance how lawyers, researchers, and the public understand both what went on behind the scene in these decisions and, more generally, how the most secretive of our three branches operates,” Black said in the release.

Those interested in volunteering for the SCOTUS Notes project can go to the website and scroll down to the middle of the homepage to the “Get Started” section.

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Screenshot of justices’ notes from SCOTUS Notes website.


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From The Career Files: How To Be A Legal Buddha (Or Finding Calm In Uncertain Times)

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Most lawyers would probably admit that not only are the times “a-changin”, but chaos is trying to take the upper hand. It seems that the deck is being reshuffled and everything we used to take for granted is undergoing complete and utter restructuring. Never in our history has society needed us more to bring sanity back into the world. Constitutional norms are being exploded, jurisprudence is getting a bat to the head, and trying to anticipate what may or may not happen in the coming year is truly difficult if not downright ugly.

I am only 65, so I say this with a bit of misgiving, but it seems to me that the division between states and the republic has never been so contentious with individual freedoms and rights at stake. The hidden underbelly of our traditional institutions has turned upside down and we are disgusted with what we see.

The nature of the practice of law is dramatically changing due to computers and the internet. We no longer sit in an ivory tower dispensing justice like a Pez dispenser. What to do, what to do?

We have to do it better. When we became lawyers, we implicitly agreed that we had to conduct our legal and business affairs with integrity and honesty. We took an oath to uphold the laws of the land. Ironically, in today’s legal environment there are a lot of conflicting laws that make that oath more complicated. We forget sometimes that we are human beings and prone to all of the vices and temptations that everyone else has in this society.

We have one of the highest addiction rates of all of the learned professions due to the stress and anxiety of being a lawyer. I attribute that primarily to the struggle between our altruism and the business of practicing law. We all wanted to make the world a better place when we went to law school, but the reality of making a living as a lawyer was more problematic.

I think of lawyers as “warrior monks” who dedicate their lives to the pursuit of spiritual justice and then find out that the lines between right and wrong are often dictated by money and power. No wonder we are so confused. The trick is to remember that we are here to serve our clients the best we can and be satisfied with that.

Remember to Be an Example. I was a general civil trial lawyer for decades and often had to tell myself that the only reason I was there was to help people through the worst time of their lives. That included hundreds of divorce cases which impressed upon me how wicked people could be. It took me many years to realize that I did not have to win every case, I just needed to stand tall and hold my client’s hand during what I am sure was a very traumatic experience for them.

I think I had a good reputation for honesty and integrity, at least my peers rated me AV in Martindale Hubbell. It is ironic that in some of the cases which I felt I had lost, and irrationally blamed myself for, the clients came back years later and thanked me for putting my heart and soul into their case. They did not blame me for the result, they actually felt that the result was generally fair. They were grateful for my compassion and commitment for their case. It was my ego that convinced me that we should have done better. It was very rewarding for those clients to tell me that they just wanted someone to stand up for them, regardless of how it turned out.

Be Kind to Yourself. I remember my father, who the Wall Street Journal once described as a “legendary trial attorney” (try living up to that), once told me that one of his biggest regrets was losing the defense of a criminal trial when he was an officer in the US Army in Germany just after WWII. The details of the case would lead one to believe that the charges were politically motivated, but my father had no legal training and was the only officer the defendant knew. The thing that struck me the most was he still blamed himself for the outcome, fifty years later. That is a lot of baggage to be carrying around.

As lawyers, we need to remember that the outcome is sometimes beyond our control and if we do the best we can, then we can rest easy. The biggest problem we all have with regret is we are judging the past by what we know now, not what we knew then. We all become better lawyers through our learning experiences, and our biggest learning experiences usually aren’t very pleasant. That is the nature of life. I carried every “loss” around with me in my baggage compartment. It is good to remember our learning experiences; however, it is not helpful to regret or blame ourselves for them. We become better lawyers with every case we handle, regardless of the outcome.

Get a Sense of Humor. Life is short enough without knowing some good jokes. My favorite lawyer joke goes something like this: “A lawyer gets a divorce from his wife and decides to start dating again. He joins a ‘speed dating’ club and goes out for a trial run. He meets a gorgeous woman who he is very interested in. As they only had a few minutes to talk, he says, ‘I am a successful lawyer but I need to make a confession. I love to play golf. I play on Saturdays and Sundays and practice a couple of times a week. I think you are incredibly beautiful and want to see you again, but if you have a problem with me playing golf let’s not waste each other’s time.’ The woman said, ‘I appreciate your honesty. I have a confession to make too. I am a hooker.’ The lawyer thought about it for a second and responded, “If you straighten your left arm, that should straighten that right out.” My point is lawyers often take themselves too seriously. When was the last time you had a good belly laugh? When was the last time you had a fun time at work or at home? Loosen up, get a grip, get a life and learn a few good jokes.

You Are Not a Lawyer. Who you are has nothing to do with what you do. What you do is practice law. Who you are is a human being doing the best you can. You may also be a spouse, a parent, a teacher, an athlete, a scholar, a friend, pet owner, gardener, singer, a son/daughter, volunteer and many other things. Do not limit yourself to being “a lawyer”. I suspect that if you were good enough to get into law school and pass the bar exam you are pretty intelligent, more than the average bear. Give yourself some credit. You are god’s gift to the world.

James Gray Robinson, Esq. was a third generation trial attorney, specializing in family law, for 27 years in his native North Carolina up until 2004. Since then he has become an individual and business consultant who works with a wide range of people, professional organizations, and leading corporations. Robinson’s mission is for all people to have fulfilling, peaceful career experiences and work environments. At the age of 64, Gray passed the Oregon bar exam and is again a licensed attorney. You can learn more about his work by visiting http://www.JamesGrayRobinson.com and to begin a dialogue about supporting you and/or your business, write him directly at James@JamesGrayRobinson.com.

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