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FROM THE DIRECTOR: DECEMBER 2023

Citing Slavery: The Long Tail of the “Peculiar Institution” in Case Citation

By Barbara Engstrom, Executive Director

A few months ago, I read an article about a Virginia case that made me do a double take – as in – wait, there’s no way this is an actual, real opinion.  The case centered around a dispute over frozen embryos of a divorced couple.  Generally, this type of issue is resolved during the division of marital property but because disposition of the embryos was not settled in the divorce, the judge evaluated whether the embryos could be considered “goods or chattel” and partitionable or subject to sale.  In a preliminary opinion, Judge Richard Gardiner of Fairfax County Circuit Court delved into the far reaches of Virginia’s property law of “goods and chattel” to determine that, while the current version of the statute presumes “goods or chattels found on real property,” an 1849 version of the code encompasses “division of slaves, goods, or chattels.” His analysis of the slavery statute led him to the following conclusion:

The two main differences between Code § 8.01-93 and § 6 of Title 34, Chapter 124 of the Code of 1849 are the following. First, the title of § 6 is “Partition of slaves or other chattels.” Second, the language includes “slaves” as partitionable in kind or subject to sale. As shown, infra, by 1849 slaves were partitionable in kind or subject to sale as they were considered personal property not annexed to the land. Thus, “goods or chattels” also would have been partitionable in kind as personal property not annexed to the land.[1]

One may assume that since slavery was abolished in 1865 with the passage of the 13th Amendment, modern era court opinions do not rely on reasoning and precedent from slave statutes and cases. Michigan State Law Professor Justin Simard’s research shows, however, that Judge Gardiner’s opinion from March of this year is not as much of an aberration as one might think.

Researching Slave Citations

Professor Simard did extensive research on the most recent 35 years of case law and found that slave cases, which he defines as cases involving human property, are still commonly cited.  He notes that there is no signifying flag or other symbol on Westlaw or Lexis to alert researchers that a case involves enslaved persons. He found slave cases cited by thirty state jurisdictions, most of the federal circuit courts, and the U.S. Supreme Court.

He notes that as recently as 2015, Justice Thomas cited an 1848 Kentucky slave case, Gaines v. Gaines, as precedent for the proposition that the judiciary’s role is the “ascertainment of private rights and the redress of private wrongs.” As such, this proposition is not controversial and has been stated in many cases, causing one to wonder why a US Supreme Court Justice would choose to pull language from a case whose subject matter had been abrogated by the 13th Amendment.   “Courts routinely cite these cases without acknowledging that they may no longer be, in a formal sense, good law. More importantly, courts rarely consider the ways in which a case’s slave context makes it less persuasive authority. For example, although most courts would agree that the judiciary is “the tribunal appointed by the Constitution and the law, for the ascertainment of private rights and the redress of private wrongs,” a case involving the judiciary’s regulation of the buying and selling of human beings is a poor reason to justify such legal authority.”[2]

Dangers of Citation Slave Cases Without Context

While citation to slave cases without acknowledging the context of the decision may not affect the proposition for which the case is being cited, in some instances historical context can undermine precedential authority.  Simard cites to several instances where courts pull legal support from slave cases for modern issues that, in fact, undermine or limit those suppositions when the full facts of the underlying slave cases are brought to bear.   For example, Simard discusses a 1999 Tennessee Court of Appeals case regarding liability for destruction of a tire shredding machine which cited an 1841 slave case for historical analysis of liability when negligent conduct results in damage to personal property.  The Court of Appeal’s cursory account of the 1841 case alluded to damage to plaintiff’s slave when attempting to elude defendants.  A full reading of the 1841 case reveals a horrific account of the terrorizing of the slave by the defendants and subsequent incompetent and inhumane treatment at the hands of a doctor.[3]  The full reading also demonstrates why using the concept of a slave as property is antithetical to applying a theory of damages for the destruction of a tire shredder.

Normalizing White Supremacy

Many of the slave cases were written by judges who benefitted from, and had an interest in, perpetuating slavery.  Citing to slave cases for modern precedent also carries the danger of normalizing white supremacy.

Judges who cite slave cases must pay more attention to the stories told by the judges on whom they rely. They must also recognize how their reliance on those stories affects the persuasiveness and legitimacy of the stories they tell in their own opinions. Slave cases provided crucial support for slave commerce. Every case that treated an enslaved person as property signaled legal approval of a slave society premised on white supremacy. Judges reinforced such approval through racist presumptions about the behavior of black people and demeaning descriptions of the enslaved. This language cannot be easily separated from a case’s holding because it helped justify the treatment of black people as property and their exclusion from the courtroom. White supremacy was a basic underlying presumption of every slave case. By citing such cases, contemporary judges treat the authors of slave cases as respected authorities, minimizing their support for white supremacy.[4]

The Long Tail of Slave Citation

In his research, Professor Simard found that about 80% of the slave cases he uncovered from the last 35 years did not mention the slave context of the case cited.  He found slave cases cited in string cites, parentheticals, footnotes, and block quotes. [5]  In addition to direct citation to slave cases, the nature of precedent means that one may be citing to slave cases without being aware. “I’ve done some analysis just with a sample of cases and concluded that 18% of all published American cases are within two steps of a slave case, so they either cite the slave case or cite a case that cites a slave case,” Simard tells NPR. “The influence is really, really extensive.”[6]

The Bluebook’s Response

One of the recommendations that Professor Simard makes in his article, Citing Slavery, is for the Bluebook to create a signal to indicate a case involves enslaved parties or slavery.  In response, the 2021 printing of the Bluebook now contains the following guidance:

Rule 10.7.1(d) now covers slave cases. For cases involving an enslaved person as a party, use the parenthetical “(enslaved party).” For cases involving an enslaved person as the subject of a property or other legal dispute but named as a party to the suit, use the parenthetical “(enslaved person at issue).” For other cases involving enslaved persons, use an adequately-descriptive parenthetical.

Dred Scott v. Sanford, 60 U.S. (19 How.) 393 (1857) (enslaved party), superseded by constitutional amendment, U.S. Const. amend. XIV.

Wall v. Wall, 30 Miss. 91 (1855) (enslaved person at issue).

Why Are Slave Cases Still Cited?

Because there is no clear flagging of slave cases in Westlaw and Lexis, some slave cases may be cited without understanding the underlying subject matter of the case.  In other cases, attorneys or judges may assume that they can distinguish the “good parts” from the “bad parts” and still use the underlying legal principles without the taint of slavery. [7]  While those are less intentional uses of slave cases, some judges, like the judge from the frozen embryo case at the beginning of the article are deliberately using slave cases for historical analysis of legal principles. As Professor Simard notes, “Using the citation of slave cases to teach a lesson in the history of legal doctrine illustrates the legal system’s interest in one kind of history, namely that of the development of legal rules, while neglecting another, the experience of the people who served as the stuff out of which these legal rules were constructed. Rather than drawing attention to the plight of the enslaved, in these cases courts obscure it.”[8]

Learn More: FREE CLE featuring  Professor Simard

I encourage all of you to read Professor Simard’s article “Citing Slavery” in the Stanford Law Review and to watch a free CLE hosted by the King County Law where  Professor Simard discusses his article and continuing research with the Citing Slavery Project.  To view the CLE go to KCLL’s CLE and Events calendar at https://kcll.org/events/

For questions or further information contact the law library at services@kcll.org.

 

[1] See Opinion Letter, Honelyhline Heidemann v. Jason Heidemann, CL- 2021-0015372, Nineteenth Judicial Circuit of Virginia (Feb 8, 2023) https://abovethelaw.com/uploads/2023/03/Slavery-Opinion.pdf ; See also https://www.pbs.org/newshour/nation/virginia-judge-rules-human-embryos-are-chattel-based-on-centuries-old-slave-laws; https://www.nytimes.com/2023/03/16/us/virginia-slave-laws-embryos.html

[2] See Justin Simard, Citing Slavery, 72 Stan. L. Rev. 79, 82 (2020)

[3] Id at 103-105

[4] Id at 112

[5] Id at 97-98

[6] Rachel Treisman, Slave Cases Are Still Cited as Good Law Across the U.S.  This Team Aims to Change That (NPR June 14, 2023) https://www.npr.org/2023/06/14/1181834798/slave-cases-precedent-us-legal-system

[7] See Justin Simard, Citing Slavery, 72 Stan. L. Rev. 79,109 (2020)

[8] Id at 110

FROM THE DIRECTOR: OCTOBER 2023

Hello, My Name is: TOD – Getting to Know Transfer on Death Deeds

By Barbara Engstrom, Executive Director

I often think of Transfer on Death (TOD) deeds as a new estate planning tool in Washington, but they’ve actually been around for almost a decade.  That said, it seems like TOD deeds are still flying under the radar for a lot of attorneys.  In this column, I chat with Stephen Seely, Director of the Pierce County Law Library, about all things TOD.  When Stephen was the KCLL Outreach Services Attorney, he created an excellent self-help Transfer on Death deed packet.  The packet is available for purchase in the law library or via our website.

Stephen, can you explain what the Transfer on Death deed (TOD) is?

In 2014, the Legislature passed the statute that created the transfer on death deed (RCW 64.80). The Transfer on Death Deed is a type of time-delay deed that is recorded but doesn’t take effect until the person who currently owns the property dies. At that point the beneficiary listed on the deed can claim ownership of the property.

What are the basic statutory requirements of TOD deeds?

The basic requirements are laid out in RCW 64.80.060. There are three major requirements:

  • the deed must have the same essential elements and formalities as the more traditional deeds that we’re familiar with (those requirements are in RCW 64.04)
  • the deed must say that the transfer occurs at the transferor’s death
  • the deed must be recorded in the Recorder’s Office/Auditor’s Office of the county where the property is located.

Can married couples or joint owners use a single TOD deed to transfer property?

The law allows a married couple or joint owners to use a single TOD deed to transfer the property all in one go. However, it may not be the wisest course of action because it makes revoking the TOD deed more complicated. Attempting to revoke the TOD deed will require all the living transferors listed on the deed to revoke it. In short: if they jointly giveth, they must jointly taketh away.

How do you revoke a TOD deed?

RCW 64.80.080 covers how to revoke a TOD deed. There are three separate methods. The transferor(s) will need to:

  • record an “instrument” (a.k.a, a document) that expressly revokes the TOD deed, or
  • record another TOD deed that expressly revokes or is inconsistent with the first TOD deed, or
  • record another type of deed that expressly revokes the TOD deed

Which takes priority if a will’s provisions conflict with a TOD deed?

If there is conflict between a will and the TOD deed, the TOD deed wins. RCW 11.02.005(13) identifies a TOD deed as a nonprobate asset. That status as a nonprobate asset allows the ownership of the property to transfer automatically to the beneficiary listed on the TOD deed, outside of probate, and independently of the will.

How do the beneficiaries claim property that was transferred using a TOD?

The beneficiary automatically gets ownership when the transferor dies but there are a few steps they will need to complete to “perfect” their ownership. This is done by recording a certified copy of the transferor’s death certificate and a Real Estate Excise Tax Affidavit in the Recorder’s Office/Auditor’s Office in the county where the property is located. This satisfies the requirements of WAC 458-61A-202(6)(d) and WAC 458-61A-303(2)(m).

What are the downsides of using a TOD deed to transfer property?  Are there situations where TOD deeds should be avoided?

One of the big downsides is that no notice is required to be given to the beneficiary, so it’s possible to leave the beneficiary a property with a lot of issues and the beneficiary ends up with that lemon of property unless they know to disclaim the property and do it fairly quickly (usually within 9 months after the death). The disclaiming process is covered in RCW 64.80.110.

Another issue is that the beneficiary will become liable for any probate estate claims or surviving spouse/surviving child allowance claims. This is covered in RCW 64.80.120.

If real property was transferred using a TOD deed and the rest of the estate is under $100,000 can a small estate affidavit be used to avoid probate to settle the remainder of the estate?

As with all things in the law, it depends. If there is no other real property in the estate, then I’m inclined to say yes. However, there is always the possibility that a beneficiary disclaims the property, and the property would remain part of the transferor’s estate; this would make the estate ineligible for the small estate affidavit process.

Now that TOD deeds have been in effect for almost a decade in Washington, what, if any, issues are coming up in case law?

It’s been quiet on the case law front. Because the wait between the recording of the TOD deed and the transfer of the property can be a literal lifetime, it may take another decade or two for litigation-worthy issues to crop up.

Want to Learn More?

If you would like to learn more about Transfer on Death deeds or find out how to purchase Stephen’s wonderful TOD packet, visit the law library at www.kcll.org or contact us via services@kcll.org.

Thanks for helping us get to know TOD, Stephen!

FROM THE DIRECTOR: AUGUST 2023

All the World’s A Stage

By Barbara Engstrom, Executive Director

The other day when I was searching the KCLL catalog for something totally unrelated, the title Acting Skill for Lawyers popped up.  I envisioned advice on how to chew the scenery with “Law and Order” level aplomb, did a big eyeroll, returned to my research, and moved on.   Later in the week while giving a presentation on resources available for remote access through our Lexis Digital eBook subscription, I remarked that resources ranged from the full run of gold standard treatises like Corbin on Contracts to lots of “fun” titles such as… (naming the first title that popped into my head) Acting Skills for Lawyers. Dang it.  That title had infiltrated my psyche.

Hmmmm…what’s the literary equivalent of a musical earworm?  A bookworm?  I think that word’s taken but wouldn’t you know, the New York Times featured a whole discourse on whether a word can be the equivalent of an earworm.  In that case, the word was amygdala.[1]

Beware of Acting Natural

My interest peaked, I had to at least take a look at Acting Skills for Lawyers. Much to my delight the book was a quick read full of practical advice specifically geared to how attorneys present themselves in the professional arena (not just court). For example, in discussing stage presence the author notes:

Stage presence is the quality that allows us to hold a very public position in a relaxed manner. …For attorneys, the scrutiny is much more intense. Actors will have a director and the cameraman right in their face, but you will have everyone—the jury, witnesses, opposing council, your client, and your colleagues—staring you down and watching your every move. Stage presence allows us to remain ourselves under intense scrutiny from others.

The goal of stage presence is to be yourself—just a more relaxed, interesting, and focused you. Once you are free to be yourself, you are more relaxed and will carry less tension in your voice and body. Once the tension is gone, you are free to respond naturally to what is actually happening, using integrity and finely tuned reflexes.[2]

People are often advised to “act natural” but in a high-pressure professional setting, acting natural might mean breaking out into a sweat, stammering, stiffening up, or staring at the floor – all natural responses to stressful situations.   Just as athletes train for big competitions to prepare for whatever comes their way, training for stage presence allows attorneys to navigate unexpected twists and turns in a variety of professional settings.

Be Like (the Other) Mike

In this case, I’m not talking about Michael Jordan but rather Michael Phelps – the guy with 23 Olympic gold medals in swimming. I remember the discussions during the Beijing Olympics about whether Michael had a freakishly portioned body that gave him physical advantage over other swimmers. A study by Scientific American concluded that while Phelps has slightly longer arms, he’s well within the standard range for persons of his size.[3]  His dominance was bred of his outsized work ethic and willingness to train not only for things going right but to prepare for when things would inevitably go wrong.  Phelps and his coach focused on conditioning himself to push through and maintain perfect form like a mechanical geartrain even when at the breaking point.

Early in the Games, one of those things that could happen did happen. In the 200-meter butterfly, Phelps’s goggles leaked. They flooded with water until he couldn’t see the wall. He stayed calm, relied on his rhythm, and won pulling away, though with bloodshot eyes. “I was ready for my goggles to fill up with water,” he said later, gratefully.[4]

Phelps’s Beijing Olympics, with seventeen races over nine days, culminated in him winning eight gold medals — breaking Mark Spitz’s 1972 record. In his last individual race, with a fatigue-wracked body Phelps won by one-one hundredth of a second which his coach attributed to a conditioned response based on years of preparation.  Interestingly both Acting Skills for Lawyers and the Washington Post article on Michael Phelps both referenced a Soviet area study on optimal athletic conditioning. A central tenet of the study is that an athlete’s optimal readiness requires “harmonious unity” of physical, psychic, technical, and tactical skills.[5] Athletic grace under pressure and professional stage presence are not innate gifts that only the lucky few have.  They are skills that seem effortless but have been cultivated with hard work over time.

Tools of the Trade

The central thesis of Acting Skills for Lawyers is that stage presence is a major benefit for attorneys in all practice areas.  It is achievable by anyone, including introverts, but requires work.  Each of the chapters presents actors’ tools of the trade within the framework of legal practice.  The author discusses tips and tricks for a variety of basic acting skills with practical exercises for each tactic. For example, in the section on speaking styles she discusses how to hold an audience’s attention with techniques such as rate of speech, inflection, pauses, and volume.  In the chapter on your physical presence, she outlines how what you do with your body when talking to colleagues, opposing counsel, or juries can either enhance or undercut what you are saying.  She also gives practical tips on conducting depositions, being an effective improvisor, using storytelling to craft compelling narratives, preparing witnesses, and delivering closing arguments.   She even tells you how to take a great head shot – hint – the “eyes are the secret weapon.”

Why Acting for Lawyers?

As I was looking at articles discussing acting skills for attorneys the following quote from Michael DeBlis, a trial lawyer who is a graduate from a prestigious acting conservatory, struck me as an apt argument for why attorneys should consider enhancing their professional toolbox with acting skills.

The ability to perform at a peak level night in and night out is a trait that great actors and great lawyers possess, and one that I deeply admire. To me, having a technique provides me with the artistic freedom to stand in front of the jury and build something that bears my imprint just like an artist stands in front of a blank canvass and creates an original painting. The only difference is that my tools are not a canvas, palette, paints, and brushes. Instead, they are my words. Nevertheless, my words are used to paint images in the minds of the jury in the same way that an artist breaks the whiteness of the canvas with a stroke of the brush not worrying so much if it is what he’s really after but instead discovering the painting in the act of painting itself.

While “Acting for Lawyers” might sound like a theater genre, in reality it is designed to loosen up attorneys and prepare them for the practical uses of confident and effective communication in the courtroom, something that is severely lacking in courtrooms around the country today.[6]

Learn More at KCLL

I encourage you to check out Acting for Lawyers in our Lexis Digital eBook database.  Along that same vein, you may also be interested in the following titles:

  • Jonathan Shapiro, Lawyers, Liars, and the Art of Storytelling: Using Stories to Advocate, Influence, and Persuade
  • John S. Worden, From the Trenches: Strategies and Tips From 21 of the Nation’s Top Trial Lawyers
  • Frederic Block, Crimes and Punishments: Entering the Mind of a Sentencing Judge

If you would like help accessing these titles or any other titles in our collection, please contact us at services@kcll.org.  Information on becoming a subscriber with remote access to the Lexis Digital eBook collection and many other benefits can be found here. https://kcll.org/subscribe/

[1] See James Gorman, Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da, Amygdala: Word as Earworm, (Jan 11, 2005) https://www.nytimes.com/2005/01/11/health/obladi-oblada-amygdala-word-as-earworm.html

[2] See Laura Mathis, Acting Skills for Lawyers, pg 29-30 (ABA Publishing 2012)

[3] See Adam Hadhazy, What Makes Michael Phelps So Good?, Scientific American (August 18, 2008) https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/what-makes-michael-phelps-so-good1/

[4] See Sally Jenkins, How Michael Phelps Learned to Make the Right Calls, Washington Post (May 28, 2023) https://www.washingtonpost.com/sports/2023/05/28/sally-jenkins-book-excerpt-michael-phelps/

[5] See Leo Pavlovic Matveyev, Fundamentals of Sports Training (Progress Publishers Moscow, 1981)

[6] Michael DeBlis, Why Acting for Lawyers?, Medium (Oct 22, 2017) https://mjdeblis.medium.com/why-acting-for-lawyers-1d668dbc7369

 

FROM THE DIRECTOR: JULY 2023

Mens Sana in Corpore Sano

By Barbara Engstrom, Executive Director

While getting on my bike to ride to work in the cold rain and dark during Seattle winters can seem like torture, it is usually the best part of my day.  I often have “Ah ha!” moments during my ride where I can resolve issues that seemed intractable day before.  The connection between the mind and body is an idea as old as the ancients. Roman poet Juvenal wrote orandum es tut sit mens sana in corpore sana – you should pray for a healthy mind in a healthy body.

The practice of law is already a time consuming and stressful profession.  Adding daily exercise may feel like another burden loaded on to an already too full plate.  With that in mind, here are some suggestions for adding wellness activities to your daily routine in a low impact way.

No Time to Exercise?  What About 7 Minutes?

When I’m travelling and my schedule is too full for my normal exercise routine, my go-to option is the original “Scientific 7-Minute Workout” popularized a decade ago by the New York Times.  “In 12 exercises deploying only body weight, a chair and a wall, it fulfills the latest mandates for high-intensity effort, which essentially combines a long run and a visit to the weight room into about seven minutes of steady discomfort — all of it based on science.”[1]  I’ll admit I was skeptical of the 7-minute workout before I tried it, but when done correctly, the intensity of the exercises leaves you feeling like you completed a much longer workout.

The term of art for these short duration workouts is High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT).  Researchers have found that HIIT workouts can improve overall cardiovascular fitness and muscle strength with less soreness than longer workouts.  In a study with obese participants insulin resistance was improved.[2]

Once you master the original 7-minute workout you can move on to the Standing 7-Minute Workout and even graduate to the Advanced 7-Minute Workout.  Don’t have 7 minutes to spare?  What about 4 minutes? The 4-Minute Workout is a very short, intense burst of activity such as running, biking, or swimming.  If you search for HIIT workouts you’ll find programs catering to any demographic including older adults, pregnant people, and overweight folks.

Computer Sloucher Pain Relief? Try Spinal Flossing

Many of us experience pain from slouching in front of a computer for hours on end.  Between bad office ergonomics and ignoring discomfort to forge on with work, this pain can become chronic especially for our spines.  Studies have shown that extensive sitting can be as bad for you as obesity or smoking.[3] Physical therapist Vinh Pham created a 15-minute daily routine to “future proof your body against chronic pain.”[4] Pham’s exercises target the most common pain points for computer slouchers — our necks, shoulders, spines, and lower backs and focus on preventative steps to avoid long term problems.

Pham equates good spinal health with good dental health.  Many people take a reactive approach to back pain.  Ignoring the pain until it becomes so acute that they feel the only option is surgery.  He wants people to think of spinal health like they would dental health. Just as we brush and floss daily to maintain good dental health, we need to take 15 minutes a day to maintain spinal health.    He even has an exercise called spinal flossing.   Check out Pham’s spinal flossing exercise and several others including one to prevent plantar fasciitis.

Take a Deep Breath to Lower Blood Pressure

You probably never give a thought to breathing, but respiratory muscles and how we breathe also have significant impacts on our physical and mental well-being.  Just like any other muscle group, our respiratory muscles can become less productive over time.  This is problematic because breath is essential not only to our ability to exercise effectively but also impacts weight, allergies, mood, stress levels, and cognitive performance.  As James Nestor, author of “Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art” says “You can’t be truly healthy unless you’re breathing correctly”[5] These nine exercises can help. 

What’s more, a five minute daily breathing routine can help lower blood pressure.  A study out of the University of Colorado, Boulder showed “Working out just five minutes daily via a practice described as “strength training for your breathing muscles” lowers blood pressure and improves some measures of vascular health as well as, or even more than, aerobic exercise or medication”[6]  The CU Boulder study had subjects do daily High-Resistance Inspiratory Muscle Strength Training (IMST) using a resistance-breathing training device called PowerBreathe.  The results were similar to what blood pressure medication would produce.  The study indicated that the breathing routine may also be a preventative measure for high blood pressure.[7]

In good news for post-menopausal women, the IMST routine improved cardiovascular health for women not taking supplemental estrogen. [8]

Sleep to Be a Better Lawyer

Pulling all-nighters and always being on-the-clock has traditionally been a badge of honor for the legal profession. But rather than leading to better outcomes, sleep deprivation can undermine a lawyer’s ability to function effectively.  According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, “not getting enough sleep can cause trouble with learning and focusing, making decisions, and solving problems, as well as accurately judging other people’s emotions and reactions. Sleep deficiency can take an emotional toll, resulting in irritability, frustration, difficulty controlling your emotions and behavior, and coping with change. It may take longer to complete tasks, or to complete them accurately.”[9] Chronic sleep deprivation increases anxiety, stress, and blood pressure levels and can contribute to serious health outcomes like diabetes, heart disease, and depression.

The Path to the Land of Nod

·         Set up a consistent sleep schedule even on weekends

·         Get regular exercise and eat meals on a regular schedule (Don’t exercise or eat too close to bedtime)

·         Avoid caffeine after 3pm and alcohol before bed

·         Turn off screens an hour before bedtime

·         Use deep breathing, meditation, or visualization to decompress and clear your mind before bed

Simply put, the secret to good sleep is to develop routines and stick with them. But don’t beat yourself up if you get off track.  Consider napping.  According to WebMD “A short nap in the mid-afternoon can boost memory, improve job performance, lift your mood, make you more alert, and ease stress.”

Let the Law Library Help 

Check out Yoga for Lawyers: Mind-Body Techniques to Feel Better All the Time or A Lawyer’s Guide to the Alexander Technique: Using Your Mind-Body Connection to Handle Stress, Alleviate Pain, and Improve Performance from our Lexis Digital eBook collection.   Let us help you take a load off your plate with our paid research services. Visit our website at www.kcll.org or email us at services@kcll.org to find out more about available resources to ease your work burden so you can focus on achieving a sound mind and sound body.



[1] See Gretchen Reynolds, The Scientific 7-Minute Workout, New York Times (May 9, 2013) https://archive.nytimes.com/well.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/05/09/the-scientific-7-minute-workout/

[2] See Christie Aschwanden, Super Short Workouts Can Be Surprisingly Effective, Washington Post (May 7, 2022) https://www.washingtonpost.com/health/2022/05/07/short-exercise-health/

[3] See Edward R. Laskowski, M.D., What Are the Risks of Sitting Too Much?, https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/adult-health/expert-answers/sitting/faq-20058005

[4] See Vinh Pham, Sit Up Straight: Futureproof Your Body Against Chronic Pain with 12 Simple Movements. (Headline Home 2022)

[5] See Kelly DiNardo, Breathe Better With These Nine Exercises, New York Times (July 18, 2020) https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/18/at-home/coronavirus-breathing-exercises.html

[6] See Lisa Marshall, 5-minute Breathing Workout Lowers Blood Pressure as Much as Exercise, Drugs, CU Boulder Today (June 29, 2021) https://www.colorado.edu/today/2021/06/29/5-minute-breathing-workout-lowers-blood-pressure-much-exercise-drugs

[7] See Allison Aubrey, Daily “Breath Training” Can Work as Well as Medicine to Reduce High Blood Pressure,  NPR.org (Sept  20 2022) https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2022/09/20/1123500781/daily-breath-training-can-work-as-well-as-medicine-to-reduce-high-blood-pressure 

[8] Id at 5

[9] See Allison C. Johs, Simple Steps: Want to Be a Better Lawyer? Get More Sleep, ABA Law Practice (July 18, 2022) https://www.americanbar.org/groups/law_practice/publications/law_practice_magazine/2022/july-august/simple-steps-be-a-better-lawyer-get-more-sleep/

FROM THE DIRECTOR: JUNE 2023

AI Generated Art: A Pixel is Worth a Thousand Lawsuits

By Barbara Engstrom, Executive Director

During the height of the pandemic and the insanity of the 2020 election I sought out things that were peaceful and calming.  One of usual my moments of Zen was looking at my friend Ward’s YouTube channel where he posts a short clip of himself doing a “fast and loose” painting each day.  It is very meditative to see the process of him turning a photograph into a painting.  The paintings soften the edges of the photographs, but at the same time make bring the subject matter to life.

Recently I read an article [1] about how AI art generators such as Stable Diffusion and MidJourney  are impacting artists’ ability to make a living.  For artists who are sought after, AI generators can simply use that person’s name and create an image “in the style of” that artist.  The article recounted the experience of Greg Rutkowski.  His art features detailed, moody medieval scenes with dragons and other magical elements and is popular with fantasy fiction authors for book covers.  AI art generators train on vast datasets of art from a wide variety of online places.  As AI learns artists’ styles, a person’s name such as Greg Rutkowski can be used as shorthand to create artwork that is eerily imitative of his style.

“These databases were built without any consent, any permission from artists,” Mr. Rutkowski said.

Since the generators came out, Mr. Rutkowski said he has received far fewer requests from first-time authors who need covers for their fantasy novels. Meanwhile, Stability AI, the company behind Stable Diffusion, recently raised $101 million from investors and is now valued at over $1 billion. [2]

Posting artwork online is now a double-edged sword for artists like Greg Rutkowski.  He needs to post his images in order to market his work but in doing so, he is providing more information for the A.I. art generator juggernaut to profit off his style and cut him out of the loop.

A University of Chicago computer science professor and his team of researchers are studying ways to help artists protect their work and business model.  Professor Ben Zhao spear-headed a project called Glaze which allows artists to use a cloaking system that adds “almost imperceptible “perturbations” to each artwork it’s applied to — changes that are designed to interfere with AI models’ ability to read data on artistic style — and make it harder for generative AI technology to mimic the style of the artwork and its artist. Instead, systems are tricked into outputting other public styles far removed from the original artwork.”[3]  Professor Zhao’s Glaze Project website allows users to download the free Glaze app to add cloaking to individual works of art.  https://glaze.cs.uchicago.edu/

Reading about this got me thinking about my friend Ward Spring and the calming presence of his online art displays. Selfishly, I hoped that he wasn’t considering taking down his videos.  I reached out to Ward to hear his take on theft of style by AI art generators and projects like Glaze which are trying to help protect artists.  Ward’s view is interesting because he has a foot in both worlds.  He does his daily painting posts, but his day job is in computer coding.  Here’s a bit of what he had to say:

Image preview

BE: When did you start painting?

WS: As a young kid I always had this image of myself painting as an old man, but I hadn’t really tried. My father had painted his whole life as a hobbyist. In 2020, when he was 88 years old, he was diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis, a terminal disease. I live in Seattle and he was in Idaho. With the pandemic shutdown we decided to paint together using video calls. Dad sent me his painting supplies and we started painting through video calls every morning at 7AM. My home studio has several web-cams so we could see each other and he could see what I was doing. I would paint and he would coach. As his illness progressed, he grew weaker but insisted on doing our daily video calls. We painted nearly every day from August 2020 through September 2021 when he grew too weak to go on. He passed October 13, 2021. I have kept painting “almost daily” in his memory and because it’s so much fun.

BE: Why did you decide to post your work online? 

WS: I decided to upload my art to Twitter to have a record of my progress in an easy to share system. I started uploading the videos to YouTube since I had them from the video calls. If you watch some of the early ones you’ll see my dad. It’s now such a habit I’ll keep doing it. I do go back and watch videos of paintings that turned out better, or in a direction I want to develop. So, these online efforts are really cheap ways for me to store my stuff for myself. I have also ended up making friends with people from other countries because of these social networks.

Image preview     Image preview

BE: As you note, your paintings are available on both YouTube and Twitter.  Do either of those platforms have any system to help you protect your copyright in your artwork?  

WS: LOL, not that I know of. I accept my work isn’t worth stealing, so I am not worried. I’d find someone stealing my work as evidence I’m getting better.

BE: Ah, you sell yourself short.  I find your videos/ paintings joyful to see/watch. I noticed that there are no still image files on either YouTube account.  Was this a deliberate choice?  Does having only video images of your work make it more difficult for other people or bots to capture your work?

WS: I have medium resolution stills on Twitter. Seriously, I haven’t thought of anyone stealing my art. If something I created ended up getting famous because someone used it, I’d consider that a win.

BE: What are your thoughts on AI generated art?  As an artist, does knowing that there may be other people monetizing your creative work make you reconsider posting your work on-line? 

WS: I have only looked at a few AI art pieces and AI generated art videos online. At first, I was jealous at how bizarre AI art was, wishing I could do stuff like that myself. But now I have come full circle and think I’ll stick to using my eyes and hands, and Dad’s art supplies, to see what I can create myself. I can’t imagine ever making much money from my art, which is very liberating. I can do whatever I want without the pressure of “being good”. I paint for myself.

Image preview     Image preview

BE: Do you just assume that your work has been uploaded into AI art generator data sets?  Is there any way that you can know for sure?

WS: I haven’t thought about my art being sampled or used by anyone else. If someone does, I would love to see the result.

BE: Have you heard of the Glaze Project https://glaze.cs.uchicago.edu/?  It’s a research project out of the University of Chicago that is meant to help prevent AI from mimicking an artist’s style.  Would you ever consider using a tool like that? 

WS: I haven’t heard of the Glaze Project. I’m so new to painting (I’ve done about 800 pieces so far) I haven’t developed a style that I am aware of. To be honest, I would be interested in seeing AI art done in my style.

BE: What questions do you have about the legal implications of AI generated art?

WS: Modern musicians sample other people’s songs all the time. We all can pick out these sound samples as we hear them. Visual art is also “sampled”. Whenever someone creates a new visual piece, even without actually digitally sampling, folks inevitably say they see Picasso, Wyeth, Watterson, Groening, etc. Will there be court cases now with jurors looking at AI art pieces and deciding if this piece is too much like that piece? The brush strokes are too “Van Gogh”? It seems farfetched now but if millions of dollars are at stake it may happen.

BE: Any final thoughts?

WS: I, for one, welcome our new AI overlords.

Image preview     Image preview

BE: You’re always funny Ward, thanks for giving your thoughts!

As with many issues involving rapidly changing technology, the law has not caught up with the real-world implications of AI generated art.  There are already a raft of lawsuits on these issues and surely many more to come on questions such as: Are A.I. art generators violating the artists copyrights?  Is the “style” of an artist something that can be copyrighted?  Are works that are generated by A.I. eligible for copyright protection?

Want to Learn More About Our How the Law Treats Our New AI Overlords? 

If you’d like to research the intersections of artificial intelligence and intellectual property visit our website at www.kcll.org or email us at services@kcll.org to find out more about available resources at the King County Law Library.

And please visit www.wardspring.com to find your own moment of Zen.

[1] See Kashmir Hill, This Tool Could Protect Artist from A.I. Generated Art That Steals Their Style, New York Times (Feb 13, 2023)

[2] Id

[3] See, Natasha Lomas, Glaze Protects Art from Prying AIs, Tech Crunch (March 17, 2023)

FROM THE DIRECTOR: MAY 2023

Packets for the People (Including Attorneys)

By Barbara Engstrom, Executive Director

Prior to the pandemic, the law library hosted three in-person legal clinics per week.  While there were sometimes long lines for the walk-in clinics and perhaps a wait time of a week or two for the clinics that required appointments, generally pro-ses could get timely assistance at one of our clinics or at another clinics hosted elsewhere in King County.   As with most things, the pandemic curtailed in-person clinics and getting assistance via telephone clinics has become significantly harder.

For county law libraries and legal aid providers, one of the best workarounds for the lack of in-person legal clinics are the form packets available from the King County Law Library, Washington Law Help, and various legal aid organizations.  Although packet formats tend to vary by the organization producing them, they generally contain easy to follow instructions written with non-attorneys in mind, and include the required forms for whatever action the person is pursuing.  In this article we’ll take a quick tour of the self-help packets available at KCLL and Washington Law Help.  While most of the packets are geared to pro ses, the King County Law Library has several packets that attorneys regularly pick up and find quite useful.

King County Law Library

For Self-Represented Litigants (SRLs)

The law library has a very robust collection of civil litigation packets that spun off from our award winning Self-Represented Litigant Workshop series.  In the SRL series we cover the basics of civil litigation presented in the framework of the associated court rules.  There is a basic civil lawsuit class followed by more advanced classes on filing motions, the process of civil discovery, basic issues of evidence, and pre-trial preparation.   For those undaunted by the prospect of representing themselves, the law library has a self-help packet for each of these areas.  The packets go into further detail with step-by-step instructions  and a discussion of the process in King County. As an added bonus, the law library has fantastic companion videos to help further illustrate some of the common problem areas that SRLs run into.  https://kcll.org/videos/  (Use the drop down to filter for civil litigation.)

Civil Litigation Packets

  • Starting a Civil Lawsuit in Superior Court
  • Responding to a Civil Lawsuit in Superior Court
  • Making a Civil Motion in Superior Court (Case With Assigned Judge)
  • Ask for a Default Judgment in Superior Court (Civil Case)
  • Starting an Appeal from Superior Court to Court of Appeals

In addition to the civil litigation packets, the law library has compiled form kits for family law issues using the King County Family Law Instructions and the associated forms.  These packets provide an easy and convenient way for SRLs to have all the instructions and forms in one place without having to bounce back and forth between the Family Law Instructions page, the Washington Courts forms page, and the King County Superior Courts forms page.   As with the civil litigation packets, KCLL has developed short, easy to understand videos to help family law SRLs navigate various issues. https://kcll.org/videos/  (Use the drop down to filter for family law.)

Family Law Packets

  • Divorce
  • Parenting Plans
  • Family Law Motions
    • Default
    • Contempt
  • Temporary Orders
  • Service of Process
  • Guardianship
    • Adult
    • Minor

Probate and Other Packets of Interest to Attorneys

We also have several probate and estate packets that both SRLs and attorneys find useful.  Our Transfer on Death Deed and Replevin packets are frequently requested by attorneys.

Probate Packets

  • Opening & Closing Probate WITH a Will
  • Opening & Closing Probate WITHOUT a Will

Estate Packets

  • Filing a Will without Opening Probate
  • Will in a Safe Deposit Box
  • Transfer on Death Deed (TODD)
  • Small Estate Affidavit

Other Packets of Interest

  • Replevin (How to Get Your Stuff Back by Court Order)
  • Appeal a Driver’s License Suspension
  • Claim Against a Contractor’s Bond

Washington Law Help

The form packets available via the law library are specifically tailored to King County rules and procedures.  For packets with general Washington application, Washington Law Help is a great resource.  For almost any topic a self-represented party is pursuing, it is worth running a search on Washington Law Help to see if they have it covered.  A fantastic new resource on Washington Law Help that I encourage you to look at and point self-represented parties to, is their “Do It Yourself” forms depot.  The DIY Forms resource takes users through a Turbo Tax-like interview process which then auto-populates forms sets based on those answers.  For computer savvy SRLs, it takes away a lot of the frustration and uncertainty of drafting legal forms.

WA Law Help DIY-Forms Topic Areas:

  • Filing Fee Waivers
  • Answering a Debt Collection Lawsuit
  • Filing for or Responding to Divorce
  • Parenting Plans
  • Healthcare Directives
  • Vacating Drug Possession Conviction Post-Blake

Questions?

This is not an exhaustive list of the forms available on either the King County Law Library’s website or Washington Law Help.  If you have questions about locating form packets on either site, please reach out to the law library.  If there is a form packet you think would be of use to SRLs, (or attorneys) let us know.  If you need other non-SRL oriented forms, we can also cover you there.  We have an extensive array of forms sets available in both print and electronic resources. Contact the law library: services@kcll.org

Finally, a big thanks to Stephen Seely, our former Outreach Services Attorney and now Director of the Pierce County Law Library, for doing such an incredible job of creating KCLL form packets that are thorough, yet easy for lay person to understand.

FROM THE DIRECTOR: APRIL 2023

Come Gather Young Lawyers: A Response to the Curmudgeon

By Barbara Engstrom, Executive Director

In the February edition of the Bar Bulletin, Mike Goldenkranz (self-described “full-time curmudgeon”) made a compelling appeal to our community to create pathways for young attorneys to pursue low bono law practice.[1]  Renting office space in the Puget Sound region is almost out of reach for young attorneys establishing a market-rate practice and virtually impossible for those starting a low bono practice.  Add to that the cost of subscribing to Westlaw or Lexis and the other expenses of running a law office and suddenly you realize that maybe the only newbie attorney who will be able to afford to go low bono upon becoming barred is Kim Kardashian.

Mike made several suggestions to help overcome these barriers.  As we read through his suggestions, my staff and I thought, wait – the King County Law Library already provides a lot of the services Mike mentions.  Below are the law library’s responses to several of Mike’s suggestions.

Office Space

“You may ask, what can more established lawyers do to help? Plenty, as it turns out. Young low bono lawyers need tools, support, and office space that is truly affordable and accessible.”

One of Mike’s main suggestions was for law firms to offer excess or unused office space to low bono attorneys for reasonable rates.  I invite low bono attorney to consider the King County Law Library as a coworking office space.  What types of amenities might a new attorney need in office space? A wish list might look something like this:

    • A desirable location close to the courthouse
    • Wi-Fi access
    • A variety of seating arrangements for solo and collaborative work
    • Printing, copying, and scanning.
    • Access to secure conference rooms for trial preparation
    • Private space for meeting with clients
    • Westlaw and research databases availability
    • CLE/ professional development opportunities
    • Ready access to legal research expertise

As it happens, the King County Law Library provides all these things and more.  We have prime space in the heart of the courthouse in both our Seattle and the Kent locations.  The building-wide Wi-Fi network provides very fast and reliable internet access.  Our workspaces are configured to provide a variety of seating arrangements that can accommodate solo or collaborative work, including quiet tables tucked into the stacks with fantastic views of the Sound and the Olympics.  We also offer on-demand printing, copying, and scanning. If you need to use a computer while you’re here, we’ve got that covered too.

Market rates for this type of coworking space in Seattle would be $300-$500 a month.  Not to worry, all are welcome to use the law library space for free.

Westlaw and Legal Research Database Access

I’ve been told (and granted, it’s hearsay) that Westlaw and Lexis are still too expensive for these altruistic newbies embarking on low bono practices. I’ve not investigated pricing, but perhaps firms, law schools and Bar Associations can make those services available to those still idealistic enough to follow their passion and try to bridge the access divide while hoping they’ll be able to make a living.”

The Law Library’s in-house patrons have access to a very robust Westlaw subscription that includes all state and federal primary law and trial documents, jury verdicts, the full treatise and law review collection, and practitioner sets from every state including Washington Practice. In addition to Westlaw, in-house patrons can access the WSBA Deskbooks and KCBA Lawyer’s Practice Manual online and in print, Support Calc, Hein Online, and a very large eBook collection from Lexis Digital which includes the complete ABA treatise collection.  Patrons also have access to the legal research expertise of the law library staff.

Conference Rooms

“For lawyers working from their homes, meeting clients at the local coffee shop gets old (and compromises confidentiality). Conference rooms in law firms often go unused. They could be made available to low bono lawyers at very modest hourly rates.”

The law library has ample conference room space for short term reservations for private client meetings, Zoom hearings, or telephone conferences.  For longer term uses such as multi-day depositions or extended trials, we offer full day conference room rentals and multi-day availability to set up a war room with secure equipment storage and access for the duration of a trial.  Rooms can be reserved for a very reasonable fee of $20 per hour for subscribers and $35 per hour for non-subscribers.  Conference rooms that are not reserved are offered on a first come, first serve basis at no cost. See our Conference Room webpage for more information. https://kcll.org/reserve-a-conference-room/

And More…

In addition to Mike’s suggestions, the law library also offers other services and opportunities for new attorneys to establish low bono practices and help with developing their reputation and client base.  Members of our subscriber program have remote access to our Lexis Digital eBook collection.  Subscribers can access the WSBA Deskbooks, the King County Lawyer’s Practice Manual, Annotated  Statutes and Court Rules along with hundreds of other treatises from the convenience of home. While remote access to the Lexis Digital eBook is only available to subscribers, the law library also offers a wealth of remote access to eBooks and legal research databases to non-subscribers as well.  These include the National Consumer Law Center, Nolo Press, and Wolter’s Kluwer’s Vital Law databases.  See our Remote Databases page for more information. https://kcll.org/remote-databases/

We often team up with attorneys working in fields that have a strong pro se/ access to justice component to present workshops or create video content to assist pro se patrons.  This is a great way for newer attorneys to market themselves and their low bono practice. We’ve teamed with attorneys for workshops and videos on family law, civil litigation, probate, wills, power of attorney, and protection orders just to name a few subject areas.  We are happy to work newer attorneys on these types of projects and love when they suggest workshops.  For more information see our videos webpage. https://kcll.org/videos/

How You Can Help!

What can start immediately, though, is for firms, law libraries, law schools and bar associations, to post notices in the local bar bulletins, state bar magazine, and other media and venues where our young access-to-justice legal eagles look, listing office space, conference rooms, legal research applications and law practice desk book help on easily-afforded terms.”

As noted in this article, the King County Law Library is a fantastic resource for newbie attorneys interested in embarking on a low bono practice and we check all the boxes Mike mentions.  For most of the issues, we already have a service in place.  What we really need is help getting the word out.

    • If you work with newer public interest-minded attorneys, please show them a copy of this article.
    • If you are part of a professional organization or special interest section that connects with newer attorneys, please consider saying a word or two about the King County Law Library’s services at your next meeting.
    • If you are a newer attorney and would like more information on any of our services, opportunities for speaking or creating video content, or becoming a subscriber please visit our website at kcll.org or email us at services@kcll.org.

Finally, a big thanks the Mike Goldenkranz for bringing up the issues facing new attorneys trying to make a dent in access to justice and low bono services and for making a compelling case for ways we all can help.

 

[1] Michael Goldenkranz, Access to Justice: Representation for Modest Means Clients, King County Bar Bulletin (Feb 2023) [MBG is retired but remains a full-time curmudgeon, who volunteers at KCBA Neighborhood Legal Clinics and has been a friend of both the NLC and Pro Bono Committees.]

FROM THE DIRECTOR: MARCH 2023

Guest Column: What is Happening in Iran? An Iranian American Attorney Explains

By: Hazel Engstrom, Reporter for the Ballard High School Talisman

On September 16, 2022, Mahsa Zhina Amini, a 22-year-old Iranian woman was killed at the hands of Iran’s morality police for not wearing her Hijab to the standard of the Islamic republic’s dress code. Since then, across Iran, thousands have taken to the streets calling for justice for Amini. According to the United Nations, over 14,000 members of civil society have been arrested by the government for their involvement in these protests. An estimated 450 protester have been killed since September 17 when the demonstrations first began.

I have followed the news of the protests in the media but wanted to get a deeper understanding from someone who has experienced life in Iran first-hand.  I reached out to Tanya Fekri, an Iranian immigration lawyer from Edmonds, Washington, who was born in Tehran and maintains a strong connection to the culture and people of Iran.  Tanya helped me to understand the protests taking place in Iran and their political and historical connotations.

How would you introduce your work? What is your connection to Iran?

I am a licensed attorney in the state of Washington and my area of expertise is in Immigration Law. I was born in Tehran, Iran and emigrated to the United States with my family towards the end of the Iran-Iraq war. My family and I personally experienced the immigration process first-hand and that is why I became interested in immigration law. More importantly, my immigration law practice has helped me to work directly with the Iranian community in the U.S. and those in Iran to seek lawful pathways to live and work in the United States. My source of inspiration and hope stems from my grandmother who will always remain my guardian angel. She was a pious woman who chose to wear the headscarf but was vehemently against government actors regulating women’s bodies and mandating the wearing of the hijab. Her spirit and strength instilled in me and the rest of the women in our family the importance of choice when it comes to making decisions about our bodies and how we choose to express our freedoms. I have family members who have risked their lives to free Iran and have faced beatings and imprisonment by the Islamic regime for their courageous actions. I come from that line of blood and I feel an obligation and strong desire to keep the political legacy alive. To that end, it has truly been such an honor to protest alongside my parents and my family members in hopes that our country will one day attain the freedom that our people so rightfully deserve and have been waiting for far too long.

How do you think the protests occurring in Iran today are similar to those that have occurred in the country historically? How is what’s happening now different?

Historically, the Iranian people have always protested for the same reasons–human rights for all, democracy for Iran, and freedom. We have now unified as a collective force to fight for the same causes as we have done previously, but what makes these protests even more special is that we are shouting chants such as “zan, zendigi, azadi” (woman, life, freedom) and by doing so we are linking the protest to the broader issues of women’s rights–specifically, a woman’s right to make choices without fear of violence-and targeting the very foundations of the Islamic regime and its ideological taboos.

How would you define the role of morality police to someone unfamiliar with their presence in Iran?

The ideological taboos of this regime are rooted in how women’s bodies should be viewed and controlled under strict religious interpretations. Therefore, the female body has always been at the forefront of the regime’s political agenda. Much of the role of the morality police is to enforce the mandatory dress codes and the state’s gender and sexual proscriptions. Members of the morality police often harass, attack and imprison women in public for not wearing the hijab correctly. In this particular case, Ms. Amini died as a result of not wearing her veil correctly which puts the morality police under spotlight. 

What does the reaction of Iran’s government, specifically Ali Khamenei tell you about the effect these protests are having nationally? Internationally?

Despite the branding of these protests as “riots” and a U.S. backed conspiracy, Iran’s supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, is recognizing that these current uprisings are threatening the regime’s legitimacy. Many of the religious regulations that are supposedly rooted in Islamic theology are being questioned by all sectors of society, including those who have more religious leanings. The misusing of religion to promote a political agenda that is rooted in abuse, corruption, and lies can no longer be tolerated by Iranian citizens and those living abroad. The outpouring of support, protests, and activism all around the world are getting us closer to our fight for human rights and an end to the Islamic regime—a dictatorship that has censored and committed heinous crimes against humanity for the last 4 decades. 

What changes social and political, do you think may come as a result of these protests?

Weakening of the regime; abolishment of the obligatory headscarf; and a change in political power and makeup that will get us a step (or a few steps) closer to a democratic Iran.

How would you define Iran’s government? How has it changed since 1935?

The most drastic change that has taken place since 1935 was the shift from monarch (Shah) rule to the formation of the Islamic Republic. This revolutionary shift replaced the previous criminal code with the now codified Islamic Penal Code which criminalizes many basic human rights and liberties including the right to freedom of speech and assembly. Before the 1979 revolution, politics and religion remained separated, however, there were some religious scholars and clergymen who held political seats and exerted some political power. After the 1979 revolution, the religious political groups drew out the Shah and implemented a regime change that fought to intertwine religion and politics and control the way society would function and behave. Throughout these last forty plus years, there have been far too many political prisoners and innocent civilians that have been beaten, tortured, and killed by the hands of the Islamic regime. 

How is this issue larger than simply wearing a Hijab or not?

Yes, absolutely. It is about the freedom of choice—right to choose to wear the headscarf or not to wear the headscarf. It is about living in a country where you have the freedom and liberty to exercise your basic human rights without the fear of violence, torture and/or death. 

 

When looking at the protests from the outside, it can be easy to assume that they are solely about the hijab, but as Tanya explains, the cry “zan, zendigi, azadi” (woman, life, freedom) connects it with the broader issues of women’s rights more generally, and the right to live without fear of violence and intimidation.  More than that, she helps us understand that there is a long history of protest in Iran for basic human rights, political freedom, and freedom from religious oppression.

 

FROM THE DIRECTOR: FEBRUARY 2023

A Fond Farewell to a Friend: Many Thanks to Stephen Seely

By Barbara Engstrom, Executive Director King County Law Library

When Stephen Seely started as Outreach Services Attorney at the King County Law Library, he was not long out of law school. He’d practiced for a bit and decided he’d like to try something different. Having worked in libraries throughout his undergrad and law school years he thought that perhaps working in a law library might suit his style. Was he ever right! Stephen shot the lights out here at KCLL putting the full extent of his diligence, smarts, and good humor to any task at hand. When our good friend Laurie Miller decided to retire as Director of the Pierce County Law Library in December, against my own better judgment I had to encourage Stephen to apply. To no one’s surprise, Stephen was a shoo-in for the position. I’m so proud of all that Stephen accomplished in the four years that he worked at KCLL and I know he’ll do a fabulous job with the Pierce County Law Library. That said, Stephen leaves some very big shoes to fill. He’s such an integral part of the KCLL fabric that it’s hard to imagine work without him. We like to joke that he’s breaking up the band. In many ways we’re not kidding.

He Had Us at Hello

Even when Stephen was interviewing for his job here at KCLL there were several signs that he was a perfect fit. Instead of just using a generic background for his slide deck during his teaching presentation, Stephen took the time to find a KCLL branded slide deck from our website and created a class that looked exactly as it would if he were actually teaching as a KCLL instructor. It was a small thing, but it caught all of our attention because it displayed forethought, attention to detail, and marketing savvy. Qualities that can often be hard to demonstrate in an interview, but which Stephen managed to do in a subtle and creative way. The other thing that I’ll always remember from Stephen’s interview was his response to a question about finding and working with unfamiliar resources. Stephen related a story about shearing the side view mirror off his car. Being an undergrad student without a lot of disposable income, he decided to try to fix it himself instead of taking it to a shop. He told a story of going to his college library, finding the database with the Chilton’s manuals and successfully replacing the mirror using the Chilton’s instructions. Again, a very savvy move on Stephen’s part — not only showing that he knows his way around a library database but also letting us know that he is mechanically inclined and able to fix things. I’m sure he took a look around our century old workspace and thought — I have just the anecdote for this place.

No Stone Unturned

When Stephen approaches a work project, he goes all in. Part of his work as Outreach Services Attorney involves creating self-help packets for our pro se patrons. The amount of research, consultation with experts, and time spent thinking about end-user experience that went into each of the packets he created was a marvel to behold. He would do a deep dive into all the ins and outs and possible twists and turns of the issue when constructing the packets. But his true gift was his ability to synthesize very complex concepts and procedures into a concise, plain language set of instructions and forms that are easy for people with very little experience with the legal process to get their heads around. I’m still in awe of his replevin packet.

He did the same thing with his work on our Let Us Do Your Research service. Stephen would leave no stone unturned when slicing and dicing a research problem but would present his research findings in a clear and cogent manner. During these research project deep dives, Stephen’s curiosity was often piqued. One project led him to discover a method for “guerrilla disbarment” [1] by presenting opposing counsel with an honorary sheriff’s deputy award. Did I mention that Stephen has a great sense of humor?

Other Duties as Assigned

Stephen has great attention to detail. We’re talking Sherlock Holmes level attention to detail. Stephen took it upon himself to make the rounds of the library several times a day. Nothing would escape his notice. Anything out of place or purposefully “stashed” in the library would be quickly found. I recall him discovering that someone had tried to tamper with an electrical box because the tiniest strip of tape was out of place.

In addition to his keen eye for detail, cleanliness, and order, Stephen was also an enthusiast of safety and emergency procedures. He was our floor warden for fire drills and made sure that all of our emergency policies and manuals were up-to-date and that we had clear lines of contact with the county. During our COVID lockdown, he kept us all apprised of the latest information on vaccines, procedures for staying safe, and let us know about any COVID related court or executive orders as soon as they were released. Yet, as a colleague mentioned, he never seemed to get down or flummoxed. He was focused on best practices for the library and for staff, but his focus was always accompanied by a smile and a “que sera, sera” shrug.

An Analogy for Every Occasion

When the KCLL staff and I talk about Stephen, the thing that always comes up right away is his amazing repertoire of analogies that he can pull up out of thin air. Stephen was excellent at assisting patrons at the reference desk because he could always come up with the perfect analogy to make something very complex easily understood. I can’t count the number of times I’ve overheard people that he’s working with tell him that what other people were trying to explain to them finally makes sense. Often the analogies were silly or arcane but they were always spot on. Did I mention that Stephen has the rare gift in an extremely talented and capable person of not taking himself too seriously?

À Bientôt Stephen!

Since Stephen is just going down the road to Tacoma, we won’t actually say farewell. Instead, as the French say, we’ll see you soon. Congratulations on your new position from all your friends at the King County Law Library. You will be missed.

Have Questions or Need Help?

If you would have questions about the Let Us Do Your Research Program or any of the other services that the King County Law Library provides, please contact us at services@kcll.org.

1 Stephen Seely, Guerilla Disbarment: An Unusual Tactic for the Removal of Opposing Counsel, King County Bar Bulletin Nov 2022

FROM THE DIRECTOR: JANUARY 2023

Doxxing, Swatting, and Paper Terrorism? Tips to Protect Your Personal Information

By Barbara Engstrom and Stephen Seely

We all know that apps and trackers collect information from our phones, doorbell cameras, digital speakers, and pretty much any “smart” appliance.  It safe to assume that much of our personal information is no longer private.  No sooner do I type some innocuous term in an email, than I start to see targeted ads for it across my devices.  While it may seem easiest to throw our hands up in surrender, in this very polarized world malicious posting of person information, or doxxing, can have tragic consequences. Rather than surrender, to be forewarned is to be forearmed.  In this column our intrepid Outreach Services Attorney, Stephen Seely and I will chat about what bad actors do with personal information, how to discover what of your personal information is floating around on the internet, and what you can do to protect it.

BE: Stephen, I know that doxxing really came to a head during the pandemic when many health care officials were threatened at their homes and via phone and email.  What are the consequences for doxxers? Do you know of any legislation that would address the harm that doxxing causes?

SS: There isn’t a state law that directly addresses doxxing. An attempt was made to pass a law in the last legislative session that would punish people who intentionally posted personally identifiable information if they knew it would be reasonably likely to cause serious harm for the person being doxxed.[1] As you can imagine, it’s a tricky issue to legislate. You’re balancing freedom of speech against personal safety and privacy; exactly the sort of constitutional law question that leaves law students frazzled and sends judges to put on a second pot of coffee.

The law that best addresses the issue right now is the cyber harassment statute;[2] but it isn’t well suited for that purpose. The trouble is it doesn’t punish and deter people from doxxing others, it merely punishes people who’ve taken the doxxed information and used it to cause serious problems for the victim. It doesn’t treat the disease; it only helps manage the symptoms. You end up in situations where Person A posts a home address to a web forum and Person B uses that information for a harmful purpose. It’s like Person A walking into an elementary school and leaving a bunch of matches behind.

BE: Could you explain some of the other things that bad actors do with personal information such as swatting or paper terrorism? Is your sense that judges, politicians, and attorneys are at greater risk? 

SS: “Swatting” is a trending fad in the world of harassment. It’s when someone will make a “prank” phone call to 9-1-1, claiming there’s a very serious emergency that needs a large police response (like a hostage situation), and tells the dispatcher that it’s happening at your address. This leaves you very confused and scared when the S.W.A.T. team is running around on your front lawn at 2:00 a.m.

“Paper terrorism” is essentially using the bureaucratic process as a means of harassment. It’s when someone uses government institutions or the legal system to cause you problems. This can be done in bad faith, simply to be malicious. It can also be done in good faith by a delusional person who thinks they’re acting righteously or righting some wrong. I don’t want to go into specifics and give anyone any ideas, but this type of harassment can use your personal information to negatively impact your claims of property ownership, ability to sell a property, and credit report. These things can be sorted out in court, but that process is tedious and expensive, especially if your harasser is judgment proof and you’re left holding the bag.

Regrettably, personal information can also be used for some truly horrific purposes. This point was recently driven home last month when a man found the home address of the Speaker of the House and attacked her husband with a hammer in the middle of the night.[3] In 2020, an attorney in a federal case in New Jersey became angry at the judge, found the judge’s home address, and shot the judge’s son as he answered the front door, killing him.[4] In 1985 a man became convinced that a local Seattle lawyer and political figure was part of a communist conspiracy. The man tracked down the lawyer’s home address. On Christmas Eve, the man posed as a delivery man and killed the lawyer and his family with an iron and a kitchen knife.[5]

Because of the public and often controversial nature of their work judges, lawyers, and politicians do tend to be more at risk. Sometimes this is because the judge or lawyer happens to be linked to a very emotional case. Other times it’s because someone believes the judge or lawyer is responsible for their current misfortune or is the person who can fix it.

BE: So I guess the first step in the “to be forewarned is to be forearmed” mantra is to figure out what of your personal information is out there.  I know that your Skip Tracing CLE goes into quite a bit of detail, but what are the most common types of personal information on the web?

SS: Common types of information people will be able to find about you easily and freely are:

  • Home address
  • Relations (spouse, children, parents, siblings, roommates)
  • Real property you may own
  • Phone number
  • Email
  • Social media accounts

And that information can be used as a good jumping off point to find more detailed information.

BE: When you find your personal information on the web, are there any self-help measures you can take to have it removed?  I recently read that Google has a form that allows one to request the removal of personal information from Google search results.  Do you have any experience using that?

SS: I haven’t used that resource specifically, but most websites that gather and provide personal information about people have a procedure you can follow to request that the information be removed. But be prepared, this procedure is often convoluted and tedious, which discourages people from successfully requesting a removal. It’s also worth noting that an information removal process won’t always be available, it depends on the nature of the website and the country it’s based in.

BE: I understand that there are commercial services that assist with removing personal information.  How do they work?  What do they cost?  How effective are they?

SS: There are several private companies who specialize in taking down personal information that is already available on the web. The big three are DeleteMe, Optery, and Incogni. The company will routinely review websites that provide searchable personal information, check to see if your information is listed, complete the removal request process for you, and send you a quarterly summary of what information was found and how far along they are in the removal process.  They usually charge a monthly fee per person in the $10-$25 range. They also offer corporate account options. I’ve found them to be very effective in reducing the amount of personal information that’s easily available online. However, there are some websites with your personal information that are beyond the reach of the removal services. These websites might be on the dark web, based in a jurisdiction that doesn’t require an information removal process, or public records.

BE: What are other measures that judges or attorneys can take to protect themselves?

SS: If a person has been the victim of actual or threatened domestic violence, sexual assault, trafficking, or stalking; or if they qualify as a “criminal justice participant”[6] who is a target for statutorily prohibited threats or harassment,[7] they can look into applying to Washington’s Address Confidentiality Program.[8] The program helps to provide additional protections to people who need to keep their home address private.

BE: Any last bits of sage wisdom for protecting personal information?

SS: I’d recommend that everyone do a routine “security check-up” every six months. Search for yourself online to see what information is available on the web generally. Then search for your property records on your county Recorder’s Office website and search for your name on the Department of Licensing’s UCC filings website. Make sure any information filed with those offices is correct and not fraudulent.

BE: Well, I think you have us all sufficiently scared to get proactive about protecting our personal information, Stephen.  Thanks for all  the great tips!

If you have questions on doxxing, swatting, or paper terrorism and the means to combat it or any other legal research issues be sure to contact the King County Law Library. You can email us at services@kcll.org.  To find out when the next Skip Tracing CLE is scheduled at  visit our website https://kcll.org/classes-at-the-law-library/classes/cles/ .

 

Stephen Seely is the Outreach Services Attorney at the King County Law Library. He is licensed to practice law in Washington and before the U.S. Supreme Court.

[1] See https://crosscut.com/politics/2022/01/how-punishing-people-doxxing-could-prove-tricky-wa-lawmakers

[2] RCW 9A.90.123.

[3] See https://www.nytimes.com/2022/10/28/us/politics/nancy-pelosi-husband-assaulted.html

[4] See https://www.npr.org/2020/11/20/936717194/a-judge-watched-her-son-die-now-she-wants-to-protect-other-judicial-families

[5] See https://crosscut.com/mossback/2022/11/disturbing-pelosi-attack-recalls-seattles-goldmark-murders

[6] Two definitions available, see RCW 9A.90.120 and RCW 9A.46.020.

[7] See RCW 40.24.030.

[8] https://www.sos.wa.gov/acp/.