turkey: somebody call my lawyerDoes anyone (anyone?) read a law blog on that shorty-short day that blocks our glide-path to Thanksgiving?

I’m guessing not, so let me simply wish you all well. May your meal be hearty, your family and friends happy, and your Friday as shopping-filled or -free as you’d like it.

Because I will be engaged in festivities, this blog will go dark until next Monday, Nov. 26. But in the meantime, enjoy this essay from a favorite site, Bitter Lawyer. It’s called “5 Downsides to Thanksgiving Break.”

I also share this annual story of ridiculousness about the annual occasion of the U.S. President “pardoning” a turkey (or two) on the day before Thanksgiving. I understand President Obama is in Burma this week, but I’m confident that arrangements will be made to spare some poultry the chopping block.

turkey presidential pardon

As his daughters look on, President Obama spares a turkey’s life in 2011.

And, to demonstrate that I am exercising the legal muscle right up until giblet (or tofurky) day, here is a story that takes that “pardon” angle down a new path. In it, NPR’s Ari Shapiro tells us “Tough turkey: People have a harder time getting pardons under Obama.” (strikingly similar to an NPR story by Frank James from 2010 that covered the same subject; I guess the holidays aren’t the only things that recur).

There you go: Justice, of the courthouse and barnyard variety.

Happy Thanksgiving.

turkey and girl

A girl and her turkey (meal)

This morning, two fascinating news stories share some striking similarities. And for a number of reasons, they’d probably be of interest to lawyers.

Each involves the exercise of judgment and is related to law and rules—though they are even more closely tied to ethics, according to the stories. Each involves an out-of-the-way corner of a profession that is more commonly left hidden and unexamined. And each has been brought into the light of day, causing discomfort for the powerful institutions they represent.

Both stories are on the Arizona Republic’s front page this morning.

The first probes into the question of what caused three members of the state’s clemency board to be removed at the same time. As the story opens, “The ousted members say they were dismissed for recommending clemency when [Governor Jan] Brewer thought they shouldn’t have.”

Nationwide, clemency boards are understood to be places that set a pretty high bar for inmate-applicants to hit. But the story regarding the Arizona Board of Executive Clemency suggests the Governor’s office may have set its expectations higher still. In fact, a defense lawyer is expected to charge that the new board members are ruling on cases before they have the training mandated by law.

The story doesn’t make clear where such a charge would be filed. But it may be a stretch to believe that the judicial branch will want to impinge much into the board’s activity. After all, the board’s very title includes the work “Executive.” A court may tread pretty carefully in that realm.

Nonetheless, readers were given a rare view into the board’s functioning. (We’ll see where the story goes.)

Also in the sausage-being-made context, a story regarding possible plagiarism out of Arizona State University surprises us. Not that such a thing may exist in academe, but that a charge of it has become so contentious that it makes the front page of a general-circulation newspaper. These things typically are handled in-house and never reach readers.

The story is in regard to historian Matthew Whitaker. (I’ve had occasion to meet Professor Whitaker at a few events, including a brown-bag lunch at the State Bar of Arizona and at a panel discussion including Cornel West. At each event, I found him to be pleasant, prepared and well spoken.)

Lawyers reading this story, and the one on clemency, may agree with me on one thing. Articles like this could use a citation or two. For instance, wouldn’t you like to read the law cited in the first article, which mentions the requirement that clemency board members receive training? The defense lawyer says it makes sense that the law contemplates members will receive the training before they begin exercising their judgment. The prosecutor says the law doesn’t say that. What do you think?

And the plagiarism story resides in the comfortable notion that academic dishonesty is more about ethics than about rules. You get pretty late into the story before you hear mention of ASU’s written policies on the topic: “ASU’s investigation was guided by the university’s policy on ‘Misconduct in Research’ and the American Historical Association’s professional-conduct standards.”

You can find the ASU policy here. And the AFA’s policy is here.

Meanwhile, of course, ASU has a page explaining the area most commonly thought of in this area: student dishonesty.

Few of us, of course, are going to read the policies or even the law when examining a news story. But it would serve readers better to be reminded that professions have written rules, which educated and informed people took the time to write.

Ethics are great, but let’s start by looking at the rule.

As an unending election season fosters a pretty rigid “tough on crime” stance in all candidates, today’s annual ritual—a presidential pardon of a turkey—begins to look odder and odder.

This past hour, President Barack Obama stood before a gathering of reporters and, with his daughters at his side, issued a life-saving pardon for Apple and his “understudy,” Cider.

Here is the complete video:

Off-camera, a representative of the National Turkey Federation (you read that right) gripped the near-meal named Apple, which (who?) appeared blissfully unaware of the fate he had narrowly escaped.

One correspondent, Colby Hall, described the festivities with what I think is the appropriate level of incredulity. As the account opens:

“The official pardoning of a turkey in celebration of Thanksgiving is perhaps the most absurd ritual in a year’s worth of White House events. That’s sort of why it’s so awesome. Earlier today, President Obama pardoned his third turkey (THAT WE KNOW OF) and had some fun with the goofy tradition by gesticulating towards the big bird in a papal fashion — that is certain to anger someone somewhere — before officially declaring ‘you are hereby pardoned.’”

Read the complete account here.

As if there is not enough surrealism surrounding this holiday (I mean, there’s a National Turkey Federation!), take a look at this poll from the Washington Post. They took the time and resources to poll Americans on—their attitude toward Thanksgiving!

Tongue at least slightly in cheek, the reporter described the “findings,” which are broken down by gender and party.

“Consensus at last: almost all Americans—from coast to coast and across stiffening party lines— have favorable views of Thanksgiving dinner, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

“Overall, 93 percent say they have positive views of the traditional meal, including 77 percent who say so ‘strongly.’”

“Strongly.” That one made me laugh. For added yuks, here’s their “data” in tabular form.Are we being punked?

Well, in any case, enjoy your Thanksgiving. The blog and I are taking the long weekend off. We will relax, eat too much, and return at least slightly refreshed next week. Here’s hoping Monday’s post won’t be too bloated.

I wish the same to you and yours. Happy Thanksgiving.

My post yesterday about Jim Morrison’s pardon in Florida for 1969 charges got some feedback. In case you didn’t read a comment posted yesterday, I’m pasting it in here:

“The Doors obviously know nothing about the law because if they did, they would realize the pardon wipes out the two convictions that Morrison was found guilty of by a jury. Expunging the record would merely seal the case from the eyes of the public. How in the world is anyone going to expunge this case from the minds of millions of Doors fans all over the world? This statement from them is misguided. They already got the apology. Under Florida law, and the laws of most states, only the family can elect to pursue expunging. The Morrison family have had 41 years to do it and have elected not to. The pardon was appropriate in this case and the Doors should respect that this matter is now officially closed, in my opinion. Any credible lawyer would not have advised the Doors to put this statement out in this form. The timing of this statement is suspect, also, given the fact that the month prior to the pardon, the Doors were very much in favor of it. To me, this statement makes them seem like ingrates in the eyes of their fans. Further, Jim Morrison’s father voiced his full support for the pardon before he died in 2008. He told MSNBC from what I’ve read that he endorses the idea of a pardon because he was told a pardon would erase the charges, which it did. I’m troubled that the Doors would attempt to further a matter that has been legally resolved. As of 12-9-10, Jim Morrison is no longer guilty in the state of Florida. What is the problem?”

And then I got an e-mail from someone (I believe an Arizona lawyer) providing more background on the story. It was a link to a more complete history of the case and the pardon process. The online content also chided online commentators (gulp) for opining on the matter without sufficient knowledge.

Well, if THAT’s the new standard … !

Of course, some of you may have noted that I used the post merely as a vehicle to convey some great Doors song titles and lyrics. Some were obvious, others less so.

Did you get them all?

The Jim Morrison kerfuffle also taught me something else important: There is a “Doors Collectors Magazine.” Very cool.

Get reading.

Forget electing a President. Florida officials couldn’t even make a decision about what tie to wear anymore without igniting a national firestorm.

This week, Florida, with the whole Eastern seaboard, has been a rider on a snowstorm. And this month the storm grew fiercer, as the Florida Board of Clemency voted to pardon Doors frontman Jim Morrison. He had been arrested and charged with lewd and lascivious conduct in 1969, based on his actions at a Miami concert. (He subsequently died in 1971, while still challenging the charges.) There were claims that Morrison had exposed himself to the audience (which would take “Touch Me” to a different level).

The clemency board acted at the behest of outgoing Florida Governor Charlie Crist—and we couldn’t get much higher than that. Crist has admitted to being a big Doors fan, and he took up the idea at the request of a fellow fan.

You’d think state government has bigger worries than this, but you know what they say: People are strange.

The pardon was not welcome news to Morrison’s family and former bandmates, who are looking a gift pardon in the mouth. Florida officials really lit their fire.

The former Doors musicians believe that the original charges were political grandstanding in the first place, and that the pardon is more of the same. They want the matter expunged, not pardoned.

They have said the same thing since Morrison’s death. But they said the time to hesitate is through.

And while Florida is at it, they say, an apology is in order.

No word yet from the hell freezes over department.

Jim Morrison in 1969

Man o man: A guv can’t even exercise one of the best perks of his office anymore without getting in a tussle. He probably just wanted to break on through (to the Other Side)—Morrison may forgive him, but living fans? Not so much.

We’ll have to say how it all shakes out when the music’s over. Until then, read the band’s complete statement here.