Saturday, December 31, 2005

WVU law student makes couches to burn

The young lawyers in this state certainly are an enterprising bunch.

First, there was the young lawyer who operates a Dairy Queen in Danville.

Then there was the law clerk who sold Funyuns shaped like the Virgin Mary on E-bay for $609.

Now we have this article in the State Journal about Mark Garrett, a recent WVU Law School graduate who is molding couch-shaped candles in his garage for WVU fans to burn. Get yours today!

Friday, December 30, 2005

Should local governments "profit" from digitizing public records?

This article in today's Journal raises some serious issues (at least in my mind) about who should benefit from the conversion of county land records into a digital format.

The article reports that a company called Image America, Inc. wants to digitally scan all of Morgan County's land records "for free." The idea sounds great until you hear the details. The article reveals that "[t]he high tech digital scanning of Morgan County's land records would be paid for by a title company client of [the imager] in exchange for a final computerized copy of the scanned images[.]" Essentially, then, we have a private title company that would gain a competitive advantage with the help and assistance of a government entity. That's bad enough.

The article goes on to say that Image America is proposing "a plan that will allow the Morgan County Commission to become a 'profit center' by charging an Internet subscription fee for its land records." This is the most unsettling part in my mind. Why should the government be permitted to profit from public records? Public records are not commodities. Our county governments are not business enterprises that should be attempting to profit from these records. Public records belong to everyone. It is the responsibility of government to maintain, protect and update our records and make them freely available. In the 21st century, that means available in a digital format.

Sure, the government should seek to recover its costs associated with digitizing the documents and making the records available, but they should not be seeking to profit from this undertaking. And they certainly should not allow a private company to gain a competitive advantage by financing the conversion effort.

Morgan County Commission President Glen Stotler opposes the project, but not for the reason you might think. He said, "I'm not prepared to support this if somebody else will profit off our information." His concern should not be about who might profit from public records. LEXIS and Westlaw have been profiting from public records for decades. He should oppose the project because the PEOPLE ultimately will not benefit from this deal if the digital records are not in the control of the government itself.

Should Morgan County move ahead with digitizing its land records? Yes. Can it use a private contractor to scan everything? Sure, if it has to. But in the end, Morgan County should be controlling the digital documents and making them available to the people AT COST. It should invest in scanners because, on a going forward basis, it should be scanning all paper records itself. That is its job. The county should not be looking for ways to become a "profit center" by turning over its responsibilities to private companies. We can only hope the county governments will keep the long term interests of the people in mind when making these decisions.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Almost heaven, still a "hellhole"

In case you haven't heard, the entire state of West Virginia is still on ATRA's list of judicial hellholes for 2005. This editorial in the Washington D.C. Examiner which explores our status is a painful read. It contrasts the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals' judicial activism in Bowers v. Westinghouse Electric Corporation with the judicial restraint exercised by the Michigan Supreme Court in a similar case last summer:
...unlike the West Virginia Court, the Michigan supremes respected the limits of their judicial powers: "It may be desirable that our tort law should expand to allow a cause of action for medical monitoring," the majority wrote. "But what we as individuals prefer is not necessarily what we as justices ought to impose upon the people."

Rather, "it is the legislative branch that ought to chart the state's course through such murky waters."

There, in a nutshell, is why ATRA lists this decision under "Points of Light" and why The Wall Street Journal calls the Michigan Supreme Court "the finest court in the nation."

The article really puts Bowers under the microscope and examines all of the warts of judicial activism created in reaching the result.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Mr. Meats' mystery meats

This article at consumeraffairs.com notes
The state of West Virginia is warning consumers to be wary of door-to-door salesman offering cuts of meat, as it takes one such vendor to court. Attorney General Darrell McGraw says his office has sued Mr. Meats and Bill Parsons in the Circuit Court of Kanawha County. Mr. Meats, located in Nitro, West Virginia, has been selling frozen meat and seafood door-to-door in neighborhoods throughout Kanawha County.

The lawsuit alleges that Mr. Meats sells poor quality meat, misrepresents the type of meat being sold, fails to give consumers their three-day right to cancel, fails to honor legitimate buyers' requests to cancel sales, does not have a food handling permit from the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department, and charges unlawful bad check fees.
Is it necessary for the AG to warn consumers against buying frozen meats from door-to-door salesmen? Where I used to live, our family bought food from Schwan's for years without any problems. I don't think its fair to paint all meat salesmen with the same basting brush. The AG may be entitled to his pound of flesh from this guy, but he shouldn't imply that the entire industry is rotten.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

The Blessed Virgin Funyun

Just in time for Christmas, this article in today's Charleston Gazette reports that "A West Virginia law clerk says he has been blessed by two Funyuns shaped like the Virgin Mary and baby Jesus he discovered under his car seat."

Here is a photo of one of the holy Funyuns.

Yes, that's right. $609 for Funyuns. I'm sure he'll be donating all of the proceeds to the church.