A brilliant new study on parachute use was recently published in the British Journal of Medicine. The researchers/authors presumably will go on to enjoy long careers as expert witnesses in lawsuits involving injuries related to sky-diving. The study is open access and online; it is titled: Parachute use to prevent death and major trauma when jumping from aircraft: randomized controlled trial
BMJ 2018; 363 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.k5094 (Published 13 December 2018)
Cite this as: BMJ 2018;363:k5094

The authors included the following notable disclosure:

“RWY had the original idea but was reluctant to say it out loud for years. In a moment of weakness, he shared it with MWY and BKN, both of whom immediately recognized this as the best idea RWY will ever have. RWY and LRV wrote the first draft. CS, DBK, JBS, EAS, and JLH provided critical review. RMD provided subject matter expertise. DSK took this work to another satirical level. All authors suffered substantial abdominal discomfort from laughter. RWY worried that BKN would not keep his mouth shut until the Christmas issue was published.”

Set out below is an image of a twitter post from one of the authors.





The October 3, 2018 post at Drug & Device blog is a must read. It’s a quick, humorous and pithy summary of a true story – a church-based scheme involving a “miracle water.” Amazing.

To tease you into reading, here’s the introduction:

“Take out your hymnal, and turn to Hawkins v. State, 2018 Tex. App. LEXIS 7863 (Texas Ct. App., 14th Dist. Sept. 27, 2018). Consider the case of Mr. Hawkins, hereinafter referred to as “the defendant,” but who self-identified as a bishop of the Genesis II Church of Health and Healing.  A primary teaching of said church was the amazing curative power of “MMS,” which variously stands for Miracle Mineral Solution, Master Mineral Solution, or  Miracle Mineral Supplement. (We think of MMS as an abbreviation either for the more prosaic Multimedia Messaging Service or the sillier Make Me Smile.  But who are we to depart from church doctrine?).  MMS is a sodium chloride product typically used as a disinfectant.  It is an industrial bleaching agent.  The defendant held monthly seminars and taught his flock how to mix and consumer MMS.  And what bounty shall this marvelous MMS elixir deliver?  Why, nothing less than a cure for cancer, HIV, heart disease, autism, and Ebola.  So sayeth the defendant.”

I’m an optimist about science and the future. But some people are not so optimist, or at least focus on negative possibilities. An open access article from Science provides a pretty good set of hypothetical future books/films that might be as groundbreaking as was Frankenstein. Gene editing plainly has plenty of people thinking about ill-intended purposes.


Science  12 Jan 2018:
Vol. 359, Issue 6372, pp. 170-171
DOI: 10.1126/science.aas9105

I remain too busy to write much, but can make time to pass on legal insight tinged with wry humor. It’s a December 8, 2017 post from Rachel Weil at the Drug & Device Law blog. Enjoy the article and wry humor, it is as great as the title:

Note to Experts: Do Not Cruelly Disparage Your Client’s Decedent, Curse Out Your Judge, and Flout the Court’s Orders, or You May Face Steep Personal SanctionsNote to Experts: Do Not Cruelly Disparage Your Client’s Decedent, Curse Out Your Judge, and Flout the Court’s Orders, or You May Face Steep Personal Sanctions.

Few scientists are bigger than Neil deGrasse Tyson – the American astrophysicist who has gone from studying the stars in the galaxy to hanging out with stars on earth by appearing on shows like ‘The Big Bang Theory‘ and ‘The Simpsons.’ But like any celebrity, he spent years scraping by, and the pressure to make ends meet made him consider moonlighting as an exotic dancer to supplement his earnings as a teaching assistant in grad school.

“I was in really good shape,” Tyson told Pitchfork recently. “I was a performing member of two different dance companies. And one of my fellow dancers, upon hearing of my financial woes, said, ‘Come on down?’ ‘Down to what?’ ‘Oh, we dance at night at this male strip club. And the women put money in your thing.’ I said, ‘Alright, I’ll have a look.'”

But what he saw at the club turned him off exotic dancing forever.

“I go down there, and they come out dancing with asbestos-lined jockstraps that had been ignited. And they come out shaking and dancing to Jerry Lee Lewis’ ‘Great Balls of Fire.’ In that instant, I said, ‘I think I’ll be a math tutor.'” 

Check out the full story, plus Tyson’s thoughts on the Miss Universe Pageant and GZA of Wu-Tang Clan.” 


A fun fact about lawyers and law firms.  Guinness World Records has declared a UK  law firm the world’s oldest. It dates back to 1570 (not a typo) when a person started up a business as a church-related “scrivener.” The rest, as they say, is history. A news article is here. The law firm is here, and a key quite follows:

“Thomson Snell & Passmore was launched in 1570 by Nicholas Hooper, a curate of the Tonbridge Parish Church, the honour will be recorded in the Guinness World Records 2017.

New research (published May 12, 2015 in Nature Communications – paywall) suggests that gene expression “varies not only during the day but also throughout the year.”

The research raises new questions. For example, is there a “Cubs gene,” and does it have a pattern of seasonal expression that may help to explain Cub fans who are euphoric in the spring and summer, but morose in the fall. :)

The science story also is told in The Scientist.

It’s great when lawyers mix humor into tight legal analysis. Therefore, I’ve taken the liberty of posting below an article that otherwise is caught behind a paywall that guards the November 20, 2014 issue of the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin.


Top court reels in Sarbanes-Oxley fish case

By Brian J. Murray

Brian J. Murray is a partner at Jones, Day, where he leads the Chicago office’s issues and appeals practice. He also teaches complex litigation at The University of Chicago Law School. He can be reached at bjmurray@jonesday.com.
On Nov. 5, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in Yates v. U.S., which asks the court to decide a momentous legal question of our times — whether a fish called a red grouper is a “tangible object” under an obstruction statute passed as part of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act in the wake of the Enron scandal in 2002.What does a red grouper have to do with Sarbanes-Oxley, you ask? Though it sounds fishy, the answer lies in the lower courts’ broad interpretation of the particular statute at issue.The facts of the case, as set out by the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, are straightforward. John L. Yates was the captain of the Miss Katie, a fishing vessel operating off the coast of Florida. On Aug. 23, 2007, Officer John Jones, a federally deputized Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission officer, boarded Yates’ boat and noticed red grouper that appeared to be less than the 20-inch minimum.Jones measured the fish and placed those that were clearly under the legal size limit into wooden crates. He issued Yates a civil citation for catching undersized red grouper in federal waters and instructed him not to disturb the undersized fish, which would be seized by federal officials when the Miss Katie returned to port.Though Jones told Yates to bring the undersized fish to the dock, Yates instead instructed his crew to throw them overboard.At trial, Yates was found guilty of knowingly disposing of undersized fish to prevent the government from taking lawful custody and control of them, in violation of 18 U.S.C. Section 2232(a), and destroying or concealing a “tangible object with the intent to impede, obstruct or influence” a federal investigation, in violation of 18 U.S.C. Section 1519. He was sentenced to, and served, 30 days in jail.Only the second count is at issue before the Supreme Court, where the parties disagree whether a fish should be considered a “tangible object” for purposes of 18 U.S.C. Section 1519.The entire statute states: “Whoever knowingly alters, destroys, mutilates, conceals, covers up, falsifies or makes a false entry in any record, document or tangible object with the intent to impede, obstruct or influence the investigation or proper administration of any matter within the jurisdiction of any department or agency of the United States or any case filed under Title 11, or in relation to or contemplation of any such matter or case, shall be fined under this title, imprisoned not more than 20 years, or both.”The 11th Circuit held that under the plain language of the statute, a fish qualifies as a tangible object, since the Black’s Law Dictionary definition of “tangible” is “[h]aving or possessing physical form.” Thus, the court refused to consider any contrary statutory purpose and declined to apply the rule of lenity.The key to the outcome of this case will be the method of statutory interpretation that the Supreme Court uses. Yates argues that “tangible object” should be read in light of its surrounding terms, “record” and “document” to mean “a thing used to preserve information, such as a computer, server or similar storage device.”In addition, Yates argues that Congress’ purpose in enacting Sarbanes-Oxley, to prevent any “systematic campaign” like that taken by “Enron and its auditor, Arthur Andersen, to purge records and documents in anticipation of a federal investigation” informs the meaning of “tangible object” to exclude fish.

The government, on the other hand, argues that “tangible object” is unambiguous and should be interpreted based on its plain meaning. The government also claims that this Sarbanes-Oxley provision was an attempt by Congress to “close loopholes in the existing destruction-of-evidence regime,” and its clear language reflects that purpose — to “prohibit the destruction of all physical evidence.”

While the government argues that Yates’ “illogical” reading “prohibits a murderer from destroying his victim’s diary, but not the murder weapon,” the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers, who filed a friend-of-the-court brief in support of Yates, argue that his conviction under a broad reading of what they call an “anti-shredding provision,” is “but one more example of the overcriminalization epidemic.”

This epidemic, they argue, is a result of imprecisely drafted legislation resulting in individuals being subject to “penalties far in excess of those penalties set by Congress for the underlying crime.”

Thus, Yates, like last term’s Bond v. U.S. (see my column “Vengeance, poison and the treaty power — all in one high court case,” July 3), poses an interesting statutory construction question about whether the plain meaning of statutory language should control when such an interpretation poses constitutional and other policy concerns.

Those interested in issues of statutory construction must wait with … eh … bated breath to see which school of statutory interpretation wins out in Yates — a broad construction, or one motivated by a search for the true porpoise.

Sincere thanks to Jones, Day associate Meghan E. Sweeney for her contributions to this column.