Legal Research Blog


Flat Stanley Enters a Whole New Realm

A world-renowned jet-setter, pen-pal to school children, friend of foreign dignitaries and celebrities, a well-trodden fellow; all appropriate descriptions for the infamous character Flat Stanley created by…well, that seems to be the problem. Flat Stanley’s likeness was introduced in a series of books written by Jeff Brown about Stanley Lambchop, a young boy who gets flattened by the fallen bulletin board. The character inspired third grade teacher Dan Hubert of London to start a grade school craze. Dan Hubert brought Flat Stanley to the classroom in 1995 thinking it would be an educational experience for the kids to reach out to pen pals across the globe and see where the paper doll could end up. With Flat Stanley touching down on just about every place known to man, the popularity of the books began to rise, but the story of Stanley Lambchop started changing to reflect Hubert’s more well-known interpretation.

With Broadway and movie deals, not to mention all the Flat Stanley swag in the works, one would think Hubert would demand some of the profits that the late Brown’s estate is raking in. Think again. Instead, members of Brown’s family are insisting that Hubert surrender his website,, to the estate without the slightest compensation. The Brown estate believes that those wishing to buy the books, movies and memorabilia are accidentally ending up on Hubert’s site which carries the logical domain name for the project. Hubert’s site offers advice on how to start the project at your school and gives examples of past Flat Stanleys who have already completed their journeys around the globe.

In spite of Hubert’s good-natured intentions, the Brown estate plans to take him to court if he will not give up the site. Hubert is hoping the court will show some mercy considering he is a teacher and makes no profit from the site. Still, he tells supporters that the biggest loss of all in this case would be the inability to continue passing the project on.

Source: CNEWS

Persistent Paralegal Fights to Shed Light on Kennedy Assassination

Angela Clemente, a New Jersey paralegal who has dedicated much of her career to investigating government corruption, filed suit against the FBI this week for failing to comply with her FIA request for the classified file of Gregory Scarpa Sr., a man who may be tied to the assassination of President Kennedy. Clemente officially requested Scarpa’s file in April, the FBI confirmed in June that the documents would be located and sent to her. Clemente never heard back. Federal law states that one can file suit if the information requested under the Freedom of Information Act is still unavailable 20 days after receipt of the confirmation letter. And thats just what she did.

The withheld file of Gregory Scarpa, a mobster who worked as an informant for the FBI and had ties to the Kennedy assassination suspect Carlos Marcello, the “Godfather” of New Orleans, has been requested in the past. A Congressional investigation led by G. Robert Blakey, now a law professor at Notre Dame, had also indicated that the FBI was less than forthcoming with information about both Marcello and Scarpa. Today, Blakey lauds the efforts of Ms. Clemente, questioning why the FBI documents used in his investigation in the 1970s were so heavily redacted and expressing frustration with the FBI’s secrecy.

For several years, Angela Clemente worked on a case tackling corruption and informants for the Brooklyn D.A., which required her to conduct an in depth investigation of Scarpa’s relationship with a former FBI agent accused of murder. When the case fell apart, Clemente reviewed her research on Scarpa, and became suspicious when she recalled the difficulty of obtaining information on him for her former trial. Her curiousity about the FBI’s hesitance to divulge his file ultimately drove her to pursue the Scarpa-Marcello-Kennedy link, and to file her lawsuit this week.

Source: The New York Times

MIT OpenCourseWare: Law and Society

MIT’s OpenCourseWare
Want to take a course that MIT students have taken? Through the OpenCourseWare initiative you have the ability to develop a program of self study based upon previously held classes. The first course in the series is Law and Society. This anthropology course was held at MIT during the spring of 2003. Our series will focus on law classes but the OpenCourseWare initiative has many classes in numerous disciplines and is well worth checking out on its own.

Happy learning!

Course Materials:

Course Syllabus (PDF)
Additional Materials:

    Course Description:

    Law is a common and yet distinct aspect of everyday life in modern societies. This course examines the central features of law as a social institution and as a feature of popular culture. We will explore the nature of law as a set of social systems, central actors in the systems, legal reasoning, and the relationship of the legal form and reasoning to social change. The course emphasizes the relationship between the internal logic of legal devices and economic, political and social processes. Emphasis is placed upon developing a perspective which views law as a practical resource, a mechanism for handling the widest range of unspecified social issues, problems, and conflicts, and at the same time, as a set of shared representations and aspirations.

    We will explore the range of experiences of law for its ministers (lawyers, judges, law enforcement agents and administrators) as well as for its supplicants (citizens, plaintiffs, defendants). We will examine how law is mobilized and deployed by professionals and ordinary citizens. We cannot cover all aspects of the legal system, nor focus on all the different actors. A set of topics has been selected to develop understanding of the situational and systemic demands within which actors in the legal system operate and perform their roles; at the same time, we will try to discover systematic patterns in the uses and consequences of law. Throughout the course there is concern for understanding what we mean by legality and the rule of law.

    Update from Wikimania 2008

    Every year, the Wikimedia Foundation hosts a conference for Wiki contributors and enthusiasts worldwide, and this week, it is being held in Alexandria, Egypt. Wikimania, as the annual get together is now dubbed, is a forum for innovation and brainstorming, and a soap box from which Wikipedia can promote freedom of expression and information. Alexandria, home of an ancient classical library that had once attempted to assemble all of the world’s knowledge under its roof, is an apt location for Wikimania. Today, the new Alexandria library is trying to live up to the city’s reputation as a center of learning, amassing Arabic texts in digital format to establish itself as a library of the future.

    Wikipedia junkies from throughout the Middle East were invited to partake in Wikimania 2008, which has dedicated a good deal of time to issues specifically related to Arabic Wikipedia. Some controversy was stirred up by several reporters, who questioned Wikipedia’s commitment to the Arabic version (which is tiny in comparison to the English, which has over 25 million posts), and who took an interest in the presence of Israeli contributors at the conference. The administrators of the Arabic Wikipedia site maintained that it was the responsibility of the users and public to make greater contributions, and that the collaborative process can take time. As for the two Israelis in attendance, while they did run into some skepticism from their Arab counterparts, their Arabic language fluency and desire to work and learn from the meeting’s cultural

    dialogue eased the tension.

    Most importantly, the conference addressed the urgent need for the dissemination of knowledge and freedom of speech in the region. The presence of the Israeli wikipedians was evidence enough of the site’s commitment to incorporating the valid content of any contributor, regardless of perspective or philosophy. Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales also graced the conference with an analysis of the current threat to the project in Egypt itself, where President Mubarak has been known to imprison bloggers and restrict the press.

    But despite Wikimania’s message of free expression, the traditional liberty accorded Wikipedia posting may be tightening. Wiki has recently begun to tackle the plague of vandalism that has hit several of the Wiki sites. German articles have been especially prone to bogus posts, and so German Wikipedia has chosen to implement a system of “checks” which must take place before any article is viewed by the public. Administrators hope that the process will only be a temporary measure to discourage bad posts, rather than a permanent method of censorship. Jimmy Wales hopes this will allow Wikipedia to eventually feature “stable” versions of articles as well.

    We here at Fastcase are all in favor of the democratization of information, and look forward to Wikipedia’s future on the world stage.

    Source: The New York Times

    Flint Saggy Pants Law Stays the Course

    On June 26th, the green police chief of Flint, Michigan announced that the city now has the authority to arrest young men for their sagging pants, labeling the fashion trend indecent exposure and disorderly conduct. A violation can lead to jail time and a hefty fine, although since its inception, the Flint police have only issued warnings. The officers assert that they are committed to spreading word of the new law to make sure that potential offenders are informed.

    The move by Chief David Dicks has been a controversial one, sparking both criticism and skepticism from the community and civil rights activists. Some worry that the law will disproportionately target young African American males, while many teenagers argue that it is a valid style choice. One 16 year old states to the Detroit Free Press:

    “If I pay for my pants, I should be able to wear them how I want to.”

    The ACLU also opposes the ordinance, and issued a letter to the city threatening legal action should it stay on the books. The ACLU deadline has now passed, and Dicks has not relented; it may only be a matter of time until a suit is filed. Gregg Gibbs, an ACLU lawyer in Flint, states that the code is a violation of the 1st Amendment, criminalizing a “style of dress” based on Dicks’ personal preference. But many also oppose the law from a practical standpoint, arguing that it diverts valuable resources and police manpower from tackling the city’s crippling crime rate.

    “Some people call it a fad. But I believe it’s a national nuisance. It is indecent and thus it is indecent exposure, which has been on the books for years.”

    How do you feel about the sagging pants phenomenon? Let us know in the comments.