Wednesday, July 28, 2004

Searching for files on your own computer

I am storing more and more reference material on my PC. Articles in my area of practice, regulations I refer to frequently, important case opinions, forms and a host of other documents.

Everyone can agree that Windows XP's ability to find files on your hard drive is abysmal. This article in the New York Times entitled "Apple Putting More Focus on Simplifying Searching" notes that both Steve Jobs and Bill Gates are working on incorporating better search capabilities into their later OS releases. The next version of Windows, code-named "Longhorn" (some say "Longwait") won't be out until 2006 or 2007. I don't know about you, but I can't wait that long, so I've been test driving a few pieces of software that enable users to search their own hard drives.

Probably the best program I have used is called X1. It indexes all of your e-mails, attachments and other files in various formats (.doc, .xls., .pdf, .txt, .rtf, etc.) and allows you to very quickly find information. A preview pane shows the hits, and allows you to cycle through all of the hits without actually opening the file. Watch out, though, it opens (under default settings) all of the spam sitting in your deleted items, so you will want to cleanse your system before installing it.  You can tell it which folders to scan and which to ignore.  The problem with X1 is that it costs $100.

If you are looking for something free, try out the HotBot toolbar. It integrates with your browser and searches e-mails, pdfs and other files. It does not, however, show you where all of the hits are located in a preview pane like X1, but it is very fast. The price is right, too.

I have also tried ScopeWare Vision, but found it to be an incredible resource hog. It has a snazzy interface that puts your info in a 3-D card catalog type of view, but it really is too much if all you want to do is find one file or e-mail right away. Searching PDFs also requires a free, but separate, download from Adobe, which was a pain.

Rumor has it, Google is going to get into the desktop search business soon.  Until the killer desktop search app shows up, X1 looks like the best solution, but man that price makes me cringe.

Monday, July 26, 2004

Are partisan judicial elections a bad idea?

Charlie Love, president of the W.Va. State Bar (and a partner in the law firm I work for) thinks so, and the State Bar is moving forward with a committee to study the state's method of partisan elections for magistrates, justices and circuit and family court judges, according to this article in today's Daily Mail.

Who would oppose such a study? Justices Albright, Starcher and McGraw. Albright and Starcher wrote Mr. Love urging the bar not to look into the matter. Obviously, the current system has served them well, so why would they want it to change?

Justice McGraw had a few choice words for Mr. Love last week, saying that Love has a "warped idea of what democracy is all about." But think about this. The framers of the U.S. Constitution designed a system of appointed judges for the federal bench. Lifetime appointments, at that. Does Justice McGraw consider them to be "undemocratic" too? Love is not advocating appointed judges--he just wants party politics out of judicial races.

I don't think Justice McGraw's comments are fair. He seems unable to see the world through anything but the prism of party politics. But the world needs less political wrangling, not more. West Virginians want fair and impartial judges to decide their cases, not partisan politicians wearing robes. The current system does not allow judicial candidates to be above politics. Why is it that we can elect our school board members in non-partisan elections but not our judges? Politics has no place in the courtroom, and it has no place in the election process.

And by the way, I am a Democrat.

Friday, July 23, 2004

Electronic brief blog

For those of you interested in the world of electronic briefs, check out TGL Media's blog.  "TGL" stands for "Two Geeks and a Lawyer," and the core business is hyperlinked briefs.  Although it is possible to create an electronic brief on your own, paying a professional to do it definitely has its appeal.

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Duke Gives IPods to Freshmen

College students are getting all the cool stuff these days. Free cell phone service at Marshall, and now free iPods at Duke. According to the article, "[s]tudents also will be able to use the devices to download course content, recorded lectures, foreign language lessons, audio books and music from a special Duke website modeled after iTunes. The school will supply voice recorders for some classes, enabling students to record notes while working in the field."

I never really thought of the iPod as the next big thing in education, but okay. I'm sure the idea will be so popular, students will be hard pressed to say it doesn't help in the learning process.

Thursday, July 15, 2004

Looking for a scanner?

This article in the New York Times technology section mentions several that might work well in a law office.

We have a high volume scanner/copier in our 17-lawyer office, but one of these would be great for a backup. Secretaries scanning massive stacks of discovery documents can tie up the scanner for hours.

While we're talking scanners, I'll put in a plug for the Travelscan Pro. It's great for scanning on the road. It has a USB interface and requires no external power source. It's about the size of a 3-hole punch! I keep it on my desk for scanning a few pages here or there when I want to e-mail a letter or something to a client, and don't want to get up. It's a little pricey at $120, but if you want to take your paperless show on the road, you really need something like this.

Keep your underwear under there

Keyser High School has instituted a new dress code: underwear as outerwear is out, as are tube tops, and muscle T-shirts.

The sales of belts are bound to boom because, as we all know, those baggy jeans, pulled up to the waist, will be several inches too big.

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Huntington attorney trapped in office elevator for 18 hours

The Huntington Herald-Dispatch offers yet another reason not to go in to the office on weekends.

Thursday, July 08, 2004

Gambling "loophole" targeted

This article in the Charleston Daily Mail exposes a scheme many video lottery retailers are using to add machines--forming a fraternal organization. Fraternal organizations like the Elks are allowed 10 machines while bars and private clubs are allowed only 5.

Senate Minority Leader Vic Sprouse, R-Kanawha, sent a letter Wednesday to the Governor urging him to sign an executive order preventing new chapters of fraternal organizations — like the recently chartered Order of the Owls in Kanawha City — from getting approval to run video lottery outlets and gambling sites.

Saturday, July 03, 2004

W.Va. Supreme Court gives depressed UPS driver reason to cheer

In Smith v. West Virginia Human Rights Commission, No. 31645 (July 2, 2004), the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals found that UPS discriminated against a package car driver with major depression by failing to accommodate her.

The Plaintiff, Patti Smith, worked as a package car driver until she became unable to work due to major depression. In May 1995, her doctor released her to work, but restricted her to positions which were "structured" and did not involve contact with the public. The package car position did not meet either requirement, and although UPS had a few indoor positions, Smith lacked the seniority to bump any of the employees working those positions. It terminated her employment in December 1995, and Smith filed a disability discrimination complaint with the West Virginia Human Rights Commission.

The case was heard by an ALJ who found in her favor. On appeal to the full Commission, the ruling was reversed and remanded. A second ALJ was assigned to the case, and again found in Smith's favor. It awarded her back pay and benefits in the amount of $115,549.23; attorney fees and costs of $75,288.14; and $3,277.45 for humiliation, embarrassment, emotional distress and loss of personal dignity. UPS appealed again to the full Commission, and the Commission reversed the award, finding that although Smith was a qualified person with a disability, UPS did not breach its duty of reasonable accommodation. Smith appealed to the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals, which reversed the latter part of the Commission's order.

The State Supreme Court held that

- "Depression is a disability cognizable under the Human Rights Act, so long as that depression impairs a major life activity. W.Va. Code, 5-11-3(m) [1998]." Syl. Pt. 4.

- Because Smith's inability to interface with the public precluded her from working 22.7% of jobs (according to expert testimony), her depression sufficiently limited her major life activity of working.

- Even though the case law in 1995 indicated that "an employer is not required to create a special job for an employee who cannot do the one for which she was hired," Coffman v. Board of Regents, 182 W.Va. 73, 386 S.E.2d 1 (1988), the controlling authority was the legislative rule in 77 W.Va.C.S.R. 4.5, which stated that "[r]easonable accommodations include ... reassignment to a vacant position for wich the person is able and competent ... to perform[.]" Coffman, of course, was overruled on the vacant position rule in 1996 by Skaggs v. Elk Run Coal Co., Inc., 198 W.Va. 51, 479 S.E.2d 561 (1996). The Court held in Syllabus Point 5 of Smith that "[a] regulation that is proposed by an agency and approved by the Legislature is a 'legislative rule' as defined by the State Administrative Procedures Act, W.Va. Code, 29A-1-2(d) [1982], and such a legislative rule has the force and effect of law."

- The case was remanded for further proceedings.

Maybe I am just nit-picking, but I am troubled by the deviation of Syllabus Point 4 from the statutory standard. To be consistent with the statute it cites, the syllabus point should read, "Depression is a disability cognizable under the Human Rights Act, so long as that depression substantially limits a major life activity. W.Va. Code, 5-11-3(m) [1998]." A mere impairment is not necessarily a "disability," nor is an impairment that only slightly limits a major life activity. The Court uses the term "substantially" elsewhere in the body of the opinion, but the syllabus point quotes a passage that is a bit sloppy in paraphrasing the law. The word "substantially" is an incredibly important part of the definition, and it should not have been left out of the syllabus point. For instance, reasonable people could disagree that an impairment that leaves a person qualified for 77.3% of all jobs does not "substantially limit" the major life activity of working. But that is water under the bridge.

Justices Maynard and Davis dissented from the opinion, in part, finding that the majority improperly "concluded that UPS never made any effort to reassign the appellant to a vacant position and failed to make any effort to give the appellant part-time or modified work schedules." They fault the majority for unfairly concluding that "since UPS is a large corporation which employs many people, it could have and should have reasonably accommodated the appellant's disability by providing her another job in its South Charleston facility."

Friday, July 02, 2004

W.Va. Supreme Court upholds worker's compensation reforms

As Rory Perry mentions here, the Court yesterday in Wampler Foods v. Workers' Compensation Division, No. 31599 (July 1, 2004) (per curiam) upheld the constitutionality of the "unique interpretation" given to the worker's compensation reforms of S.B. 2013 by the West Workers' Compensation Division. The division maintained that the stricter standards in the reform law should be applied to all cases filed after the standards took effect, on July 1, 2003. The majority of the high court agreed.

According to this article in the Charleston Gazette, "[t]he ruling will save the Workers’ Compensation Fund $1.1 billion and self-insured employers another $200,000[.]"