The 411 on 419’s:  Scamming the scammers.

“If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”

Like many cliches, this one has truth and wisdom (although if you follow it too rigidly, you’ll miss out on some great all-you-can-eat buffets).

Who among us hasn’t received an email like this one:


That leads to something like this:

scam email

To my knowledge, no American has ever made a nickel by lending his identity to a total stranger who claims to be an heir to a multi-million dollar fortune.  Yet the scams persist.  They often emanate from West Africa; they’re commonly known as 419 scams, after a section of the Nigerian penal code.

The typical 419 scam involves a request for some sort of modest fee(s) needed to access that big pot o’ gold. Once the sucker — which could be you, were you not too smart for this sort of thing — remits the fee, the scammers either disappear or ask for more money.

These scams have given rise to SCAMBAITERS who, for their own amusement and that of interet viewers, try to waste scammers’ time in various ways, including having them pose for absurd pictures:

fun yet

Here’s a top ten list of scams-on-the-scammers:
Authorities who try to find and prosecute scammers take a dim view of scambaiters.  If you’re tempted to goof with someone who has approached you with a preposterous inheritance scheme, be sure not to furnish any real info. Create a email address used only for this purpose. And keep this in mind: when you devise ways to waste the scammers’ time, you’re likely wasting some of your own.


Didn’t Abe Lincoln warn us about believing everything we find on the Internet?

Just yesterday, I stumbled across a site called and found this insight into Indiana divorce law:

“Indiana is a mixed state, which means that you can use either fault or no-fault grounds as the basis for seeking a divorce.”

Wrong.  Indiana is a no fault divorce state, period.  Try to inject fault- oriented evidence and see how quickly the judge will blow the whistle on it — unless evidence of, say, adultery, is incidental to a relevant issue.  If, for example, a cheating spouse is cheating with a child molester, and has that person around the kids, the evidence can come in.  The evidence in this example is not about cheating, but about fitness for custody.



“Arrogant, pompous, obnoxious, vain, cruel, verbose, a showoff. There’s no question that I’m all of those things.”   — Howard Cosell.

HOWARD COSELL for a time juggled two careers — practicing law and broadcasting sports commentary.  Before he devoted his full time to broadcasting (and to a long, symbiotic relationship with Mohammed Ali).  Baseball great Willie Mays was among his legal clients.


His much-parodied, nasal delivery came from beneath a rug that might as well have sported a sticker labeled “rug”.  He died in 1995.  Sports coverage, particularly of football and boxing, has never been the same.






You’re texting while driving, you’ve drifted out of your lane, and —



Your liability is a no brainer for the person (or estate) who files suit against you.   But what about the person on the other end — the person with whom you’re texting?

Fresh out of New Jersey:  A very recent appellate court decision indicates that a person texting with someone known to be behind the wheel could face liability.  The New Jersey case involves a 17 year old defendant accused of texting with the driver who allegedly caused a collision.  The New Jersey defendant got off the hook, based on inadequate evidence of actual knowledge that the other texter was driving, but the court’s opinion leaves the door wide open to a claim against a person who knowingly texts with someone known to be driving:

“We conclude that a person sending text messages has a duty not to text someone who is driving if the texter knows, or has special reason to know, the recipient will view the text while driving,” said the court.  “But we also conclude that plaintiffs have not presented sufficient evidence to prove that Colonna had such knowledge when she texted Best immediately before the accident.”

The lesson:  Don’t text with someone you know is driving.  Especially if one of you is in New Jersey.






Read further about the New Jersey case HERE:

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Sure, there are bigger law offices. Probably there are better law offices. But can you name a law office that has a better selection of waiting room reading material?


 I didn’t think so.


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Before he became a frequent presence on Comedy Central roasts, Jeff Giraldo was an attorney with the prominent firm of Skadden, Arps and Whoever-else-they-are.   He once represented co-roaster Jeff Ross on a charge of inciting a riot.

Comedy Central's "Roast of Joan Rivers" - Show

Here he is roasting Joan Rivers:

Giraldo died in 2010, apparently from an accidental overdose of prescription meds.

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 I promise I won’t wait another two weeks for a blog update.  My fingers are crossed.




An Indianapolis lawyer indicates that he is facing a disciplinary proceeding for, among other things, something he said about a judge in a private email.  If he’s right, the implications may be of concern to everyone.

gaggedPaul Ogden is the attorney in question. His blog can be found here at

He spares few if any details. I don’t believe I’ve met Mr. Ogden, and I have no opinion to offer about the merits of his claims.  I share his concerns about disciplinary overkill in matters involving expressions of opinion by attorneys.

Just over a decade ago, Indiana’s Supreme Court whacked a lawyer with a 30 day suspension for, in essence, criticizing of court of appeals decision too harshly.  This should scare anyone who believes the legal system should be a guardian of freedom.

The case I’m referring to, should anyone want to have a look, is In the Matter of Wilkins, 777 N.E.2d 714 (Ind. 2002).  It was reassuring to see two of the five then-sitting justices of the Court dissent, finding the attorney’s comments “within the broad range of protected fair commentary on a matter of public interest” (quoting from Justice Boehm’s dissenting opinon).

Back in the 90’s, a friend of mine ran for judge in a nearby county, and pledged to hold night court to reduce “the backlog of cases.”  She ended up with a public reprimand despite the fact that her “brochure may have been technically correct.”  In Re Bybee, 716 N.E.2d 957 (Ind. 1999),  Hmmm.  An attorney slapped for disseminating correct information.  Quick GPS check:  We’re still in America, right?

How close has this issue hit to my own home?  Somewhat.  Nearly a decade and a half ago, DelawareCounty’s prosecutor, Rick Reed, faced a disciplinary action after criticizing a local judge (whom I won’t name here, given that she later lost an election and started a new life elsewhere).  Among his offenses: telling a reporter that the judge’s “arrogance is exceeded only by her ignorance.” I my effort to be helpful to the cause of free expression, I submitted an affidavit to the Disciplinary Commission in which I, as then president of the local bar association, opined that “many of my colleagues would agree with the statement that ‘her arrogance is exceeded only by her ignorance’, although some might argue that it’s the other way around.”  I amused at least myself with that affidavit – but was nearly sanctioned for it, according to a source I trust.

THE BOTTOM LINE:  Who is best positioned to comment on courts and judges?  Those who practice before them.  Judges who can’t stand the heat should stay out of the robes.

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Let’s ignore the question of whether Muncie, Indiana is urban enough to have an urban legend.  I heard this from a source I consider quite reliable, so I’m going to pass it along as fact.

A woman was testifying in a court proceeding involving the placement of children. She was asked, “what’s your connection to the children?”  She said, “I’m the aunt.”  She was asked, “are you the aunt on their dad’s side or on their mother’s side?”  She replied – feel free to blurt it out if you see it coming – “both”.


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Samyr Laine is a triple jumper who competed for Haiti at the 2012 Summer Olympics.  He is a Georgetown graduate who has worked for a couple of New York law firms.

Samyr Laine

Sex and Attorney Disbarment

Well, maybe the disciplinary commission…

An Indiana lawyer became a former lawyer by writing a tell-all book about a former client. Joseph Stork Smith was disbarred last week for, among other things, violating attorney-client privilege. In disbarring him, did the Supremes furnish him with a valuable promotional blurb: “The book that got its author disbarred”?

You can find and read the court’s opinion HERE:

But you won’t find the title of the book or the name of the client in the Court’s opinion. The Court is big on client confidentiality — even if the client is a public figure, and she was. So I’ll tell you who it was, and I’ll tell you all about the book.

Mr. Smith’s ex client was “Republican strategist” DEE DEE BENKIE. The book is called “ROVE-ING HER WAY TO THE WHITE HOUSE : Machievelli’s Sexy Twin Sister”.


Smith’s verbal portrait of Benkie is unflattering — if unflattering is the right word for a description of someone alleged to have once moonlighted as a “lot lizard”, a phrase that I hadn’t previously heard as a synonym for “truck stop prostitute”.

As told by Smith, the tale involves Ms. Benkie’s need for legal help with some pesky criminal matters in Indiana (where, as Denessa Purvis, she was Miss Ripley County in 1985). The residue from these matter reportedly could have been troublesome for the security clearance Ms. Benkie needed to work in the White House during the George W. Bush administration. The right stuff apparently happened, Ms. Benkie got her clearance and her job, and a close personal relationship reportedly developed between Ms. Benkie and strategist Karl Rove.

Smith describes developing his own close personal relationship with Ms. Benkie. He recounts a serious of incidence in which he loans her money under the threat that not loaning it will make her default on debt she already owes him (could she have learned this approach — if indeed this was an approach she took — from U.S. foreign aid policy?) Ultimately, Smith tells us, his financial dealings with Dee Dee cost him a family farm.

The Indiana Supreme Court found that Smith violated a number of rules of professional conduct in the book, including “representing a client when there is a concurrent conflict of interest due to the lawyer’s personal interests without obtaining the client’s informed, written consent” and ” information relating to the representation of a former client except as permitted or require.” Smith is disbarred, effective August 28, 2013 (disbarments usually allow some time for the attorney to wrap up pending matters).

I am acquainted with Ms. Benkie, though not well enough to enable me to write a tell-all (or tell anything) book, and not well enough to pass judgment on Smith’s allegations, which involve “sex, criminality, not following the Golden Rule”, and “jeopardizing the security of the United States”. I have never met, but have spoken on the telephone with, Smith, who, sincere though he sounded, is contradicted as to at least one anecdote by one of the figures in the book that I know pretty well. When I asked my source about a particular event, and his role in it as described in the book, he replied succinctly: “Never happened.”

As I read Smith’s telling of episode after episode in which he threw good money after bad at Dee Dee Benkie in response to her cajoling, wheedling and threatening, I recalled — and added to — an old adage: first time, shame on you; second time, shame on me; seventh time, I need therapy.

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I don’t want to get in disciplinary trouble with my Tales from the Trenches, so I’ll not name names, but an unbalanced client — now demonstrably deceased — once saw the obit of a person with whom he shared both first and last names. He called in and left this message: “I need Bruce to call me. I’m thinkin’ I might be dead.”

phone grave

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Broadcast journalist and recent self-portrait artist GERALDO RIVERA practiced law before embarking on a broadcasting career that took him to Al Capone’s vault and beyond.


Don’t Slap the Lawyer in the Courtroom

I have joined the ranks of Americans who blog, reducing our nation’s number of nonbloggers to double digits.

[slogan align=]”The law is a ass”
— Mr. Bumble in Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist[/slogan]microphone

Whether or not the law is an ass, its unwise to slap one in a Florida courtroom. Former New England Patriots wide receiver Chad “Ochocinco” Johnson learned that lesson this week.

He was in court in the hope of resolving a probation violation arising from a day-afterwedding- day head-butting of the lucky bride last fall. When Broward County Circuit Court Judge Kathleen McHugh indicated she would accept a plea agreement, Ochocinco did what comes naturally in the NFL: he gave his lawyer a congratulatory smack on the buttocks. The courtroom reacted — and so did the judge:

Too harsh? I thought so… until I saw the clip. Judge McHugh doesn’t strike me as particularly tyrannical. Like almost any judge, she is concerned with courtroom decorum. I predict that Mr. Johnson won’t spend thirty days in the slammer; I think the judge will release him, perhaps after receiving a written apology. This episode was about sending a message, both to Ochocinco and to anyone who might mistake her courtroom for an entertainment venue.
The Ypsilanti, Mich., City Council voted on a resolution that would have required the members always to vote either “yes” or “no” (to thus reduce the recent, annoying number of “abstain” votes). The resolution to ban abstaining failed because three of the seven members… wait for it… abstained.
— Thanks:

Why Was A Convicted Throat-Slasher On The Loose?

KirschOn September 26, 2005 Travis Marlett, then a student at Muncie Central High School, attacked a fellow student with a knife, slashing her throat. Fourteen months later, he was sentenced to 20 years in prison. That sentence should have kept him behind bars until some date in 2015. So why was he walking the streets — and into an adult novelty store, where he reportedly sexually assaulted and robbed a pregnant clerk — on July 4th of this year? Because of a decision by the Indiana Court of Appeals that led to Marlett’s release in March of this year.

Bradford“We conclude, after reviewing Marlett’s character and the nature of the offense, that he and his offense do not fall within the “worst” class and that a maximum sentence is inappropriate.” Factors supporting sentence-lightening, according to Judge Kirsch and the other member of the panel’s majority, Judge Michael P. Barnes, included the facts that “the period of confinement in this case appears to have been exceedingly brief, making it somewhat difficult to distinguish this case from what would have been Class C felony battery by means of a deadly weapon if there had been no confinement” and that the student “was able to stop the attack and take the knife from Marlett by herself.” The appellate court reduced the 20 year sentence to 15 years plus two years of probation.

The third reviewing panel member, Judge Cale J. Bradford, sensibly dissented, calling Marlett’s offense “a senseless and brutal attack that could very well have resulted in [the student]’s death had circumstances been slightly different.”

Had the Court of Appeals not tinkered with Marlett’s sentence, he would not have been able to assault and rob anyone earlier this month. The court had ample notice of Marlett’s likelihood to re-offend. Judge Bradford’s dissenting opinion cited this tidbit from the record: “While in jail, Marlett had a magazine with pictures of knives and mutilated bodies and would say, ‘That is how I will do it next time’.”

Read the entire Court of Appeals opinion here:

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“Why, the media shouldn’t even mention their names.” We hear it about suspects in the wake of killing sprees; does it apply to judges who preside over sensational trials?


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Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi wasn’t known for his career as a lawyer, but he had one. The loincloth-clad pacifist, elevated to near-sainthood by history, had a dark side.


Does This T-Shirt Make My Odds of Frying Look Big?

George Burns“And God said: ‘Let there be Satan, so people don’t blame everything on me. And let there be lawyers, so people don’t blame everything on Satan.’” — George Burns


In Ohio this past spring some hellbound school shooter appeared in court for sentencing wearing a more or less presentable button-up shirt. Underneath was a t-shirt bearing the hand-scrawled word “killer”. During the hearing the defendant unbuttoned his shirt, revealing the killer t shirt to everyone involved (except the judge, who later said he didn’t see it), then made a scornful gesture to victims’ families before being sentenced th three life terms without parole.

It’s been my experience that defendants in criminal cases very seldom seek sartorial advice from their lawyers. In fact, it has occasionally in my experience that defendants in criminal cases regard to their attorneys as stage hands whose job it is merely to set up the props for there are carefully-crafted defense strategies.


Why…a Trench Tale is coming to mind…

I did some part-time public defender work in the early years. I had a client charged with dearestlinge in cocaine. We went to trial. A confidential informant testified to a buy, and said the seller had a scar on his arm. My client is suddenly tugging at my sleeve, whispering, “hey, man, lemme show the jury my arm!” Sounded like a good idea at the time…

“Sir, do you have a scar on your arm?”
“Would you show your arm to the ladies and gentlemen of the jury?”
SILENCE as my client proudly rolls up his sleeve.
My client breaks the silence: “See? I ain’t got no scar.” But before I can pass the witness, he has to add: “cept for this little one, right here…”
A juror later told me they’d never have noticed — and would have acquitted him — if he’d only kept his mouth shut.


Before he wrote “Star Dust” and numerous other timeless songs, Hoagy Carmichael practiced law in both Indianapolis and West Palm Beach, Florida.