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Author explores need for coherent legal boundaries

Author explores need for coherent legal boundaries

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Title: “Life Without Lawyers”

Author: Phillip K. Howard


Lindsay Lohan is suing the giant online brokerage E-Trade for unlawfully using her “likeness, name, characterization, and personality” in a television ad that aired during the 2010 Super Bowl.

Lohan claims that Lindsay, the little “milkaholic” in the ad, is a clear reference to her because she has attained the status of a star recognized by one name only, such as Madonna, Elvis and Prince.  For that “abuse” to her character she is seeking $100 million in damages.

Celebrity lawyer Daniel Horowitz says the ad's use of the word “milkaholic” is obviously a reference intended to poke fun at Lohan's personal struggles. “It's clearly meant to refer to Lindsay Lohan,” Horowitz says.

I'll venture a guess that most people think E-Trade's ad is nothing but cute and hilarious, especially the precocious little day trader and his girlfriends.  But Lindsay Lohan's litigation was most serendipitous for a review of this book. Horowitz could star in a reality show based upon Howard's book, “Life Without Lawyers.”

Howard, an attorney, has written two other books -- “The Death of Common Sense,” about detailed and misguided regulation functioning as central planning, and “The Collapse of the Common Good,” describing how America's lawsuit culture has put all of us, publicly and privately, on the defensive.

In eight chapters of “Life Without Lawyers,” Howard covers the need for coherent legal boundaries to restore our freedom to make sense of daily choices; a perspective on reasonable risk; restrictions on how one person's rights can affect the rights of others; drawing the limits of lawsuits; liberating teachers, doctors and others from bureaucracy; restoring personal accountability; reviving public responsibility in Washington; and making room for leadership at every level of society. 

Howard expands upon those subjects and provides some examples of things legal gone awry.

He describes the case of the administrative law judge in Washington, D. C., who sued his dry cleaner for $54 million because it had lost a pair of his pants. Being an attorney, who was quite adept at accounting for the costs of wrong-doing, he was able to justify the amount he sought.

First there was the District of Columbia $1,500 consumer fraud penalty, multiplied by 12 alleged violations, multiplied by the number of days he had been deprived of his pants. In his legally-trained thoroughness he multiplied the result of that calculation by three, the number of owners of the laundry.  He then added $15,000 for the cost of a rental car every weekend to take his cleaning to a more reliable establishment, $542,000 for the value of the time he spent righting the wrong; and $500,000 for his “mental suffering, inconvenience, and discomfort.”

At the end of two years the presiding judge in the case decided the claim was baseless.

“(He) expressed ‘significant concerns that the plaintiff is acting in bad faith’ but, like most American judges, thought that his duty was to shepherd the case toward ultimate verdict after a full trial.”

Meanwhile, the family that owned the business spent more than $100,000 in legal fees and ended up closing the store.

To quote Howard, “the assumptive right, these days, of the individual to demand that every human encounter be a thing of perfection,” caused a considerable amount of mental suffering, inconvenience and discomfort for a hardworking family simply making a living.

Describing this and other cases, Howard then provides a number of principles for recovering, what he calls, our daily freedom.

To name a few, restore the authority of judges to draw legal boundaries so that people have confidence that justice will be reliable; liberate teachers and principals from legal rules and processes (bureaucracy can't teach); and revive personal accountability.

For those who believe, as the Detroit Free Press cartoonist Richard Guindon opined, “Whatever their other contributions to our society, lawyers could be an important source of protein,” this book will be especially delicious.

 But more than that, it's a book for all of us because, as Howard suggests, we need to get involved and help to “liberate … ourselves from the quagmire of too much law.”

 The jury is out and “Life Without Lawyers” is guilty of being a must read. 

(Mike Fladeland is the husband of Diane, father of four, grandfather of 1½, committed bibliophile, amateur golfer, delighted state employee and believes he is fortunate to be living in Bismarck.)


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