August 19, 2019

Archives for March 12, 2015

The Future of Law (Part Nine): Hacking the Law

rhodesHackers used to be known by the color of their hats: black, white, and gray. There were good guys, bad guys, and in-between guys. Nowadays, hacking is the new caché in the self-improvement culture. Self-hacking is the ultimate DIY — it’s how you step up, take responsibility, get it done.

Remember DU Law professor Debra Austin from the Killing Them Softly series? Here’s her advice on neural self-hacking for stressed-out lawyers. Or check out this video on neural self hacking, Google style. And how about this conference in London last summer on The Future of Self-Hacking that asked:

What are the best methods for “hacking” improvements on ourselves? What do recent insights from science and technology have to say about self-development? What methods are likely to become more widespread in the not-too-distant future?

At that conference, an all-star group of presenters talked about:

  • Smart methods to improve our consciousness, memory, and creativity;
  • Meditation as self-engineering;
  • Diet, drugs, and supplements — impacts on fitness and performance;
  • Actions based on self-measurement (QS = quantified self);
  • Best insights into goal-setting, affirmations, etc.; and
  • Risks and opportunities in the frontier lands of DIY brain-hacking and mind-hacking.

Hacking may be enjoying a surprising new respectability in its social status, but not all quarters of the hacking culture are so benign. Hacking still has an edge where the radicals hang out, playing a sort of X Games version of the democratization of knowledge. That’s where you find WikiLeaks, open source social entrepreneurship, corporate open source and its anti-intellectual property orientation, and the rest of the voices denouncing the keeping of ANY kinds of secrets or protecting proprietary interests in them.

  • In the realm of law, these radical players will increasingly bypass conventional modes of entry into the legal profession and law practice, and will offer their own alternative solutions to perceived injustice and inequities.
  • These radical players are already changing the law, hacker-style.
  • And they will continue to do so.

Consider, for example, the swift race towards justice we see daily in online news, as surveillance footage and ubiquitous smart-phone videos capture people in the act. Or consider the kind of visceral responses we make to images captured on police body cameras. As lawyers debate about them, these technologies are already changing evidentiary standards and criminal investigative methods. It’s not hard to imagine other applications — if you need to prime the pump, Google “whistle-blowing as cultural ethos” and check out what comes up.

Hacker law is the law of outcry and outrage, fueled by an insistent impatience that flies in the face of the law’s historical emphasis on rational, language-based deliberation. Are those who practice it vigilantes? Anarchists? Underground heroes? Tomorrow’s Gandhis and MLKs? It depends on where your sympathies lie, but like it or not, the hacker ethos has invaded the law. And, as is true of all the trends we’re looking at in this series, we’ve only seen the start of it.

Kevin Rhodes’ Legal Connection blog posts for the past three years have been collected into an ebook which is currently available as a promotional free download from Smashwords, Barnes & Noble, iTunes, and Scribd, and for a nominal price from Amazon. For those who prefer to do their reading in hard copy, the collection will soon be available in that format (details to follow).

Tenth Circuit: Protected Communications Did Not Cause Employee’s Termination

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Meyers v. Eastern Oklahoma County Technology Center on Wednesday, January 28, 2015.

Donna Meyers was the adult education coordinator for the EMT program at Eastern Oklahoma County Technology Center. The school lost the records of tuberculosis tests for six students, and a teacher, Ms. Gonzales-Palmer, an Air Evac medic, offered to retest the six instead of asking them to absorb the cost of testing. Ms. Meyers believed the medic had stolen testing materials from Air Evac and instructed her not to test the students. Later, Ms. Meyers discovered the medic had disobeyed her orders. Ms. Meyers contacted Air Evac and agreed to cooperate in their investigation, then met with Ms. Gonzales-Palmer about the incident. Ms. Meyers terminated Ms. Gonzales-Palmer at the meeting.

Ms. Gonzales-Palmer contacted the school superintendent about her termination. The superintendent reinstated Ms. Gonzales-Palmer and warned Ms. Meyers that she lacked authority to terminate employees. The superintendent also admonished Ms. Meyers not to retaliate against Ms. Gonzales-Palmer or discuss the testing with anyone. Shortly thereafter, Ms. Meyers met with the Air Evac supervisor regarding the testing. The superintendent learned of the communication and warned Ms. Meyers that if she continued to discuss the testing or if she retaliated against Ms. Gonzales-Palmer she could be terminated.

Four days later, Ms. Meyers removed Ms. Gonzales-Palmer as a c0-instructor of two classes without consulting her supervisor. When the superintendent learned of this action, he met with Ms. Meyers and informed her she was suspended. The next day, the supervisor learned Ms. Meyers had failed to renew the school’s certification as an EMT training site, and recommended her termination. Ms. Meyers made a written complaint with the Oklahoma Department of Health the same day about the tuberculosis testing. The superintendent wrote a letter advising Ms. Meyers he was recommending her termination and she could appeal his decision, even though she had no right to appeal. Ms. Meyers appeared at the appeal hearing before the school’s board with counsel, but the board voted to terminate her at the end of the hearing.

Ms. Meyers sued under § 1983, alleging denial of the right to free speech regarding her report about the tuberculosis testing and deprivation of due process based on the board’s alleged bias during the hearing. The district court granted summary judgment to the school and superintendent on these claims. Ms. Meyers appealed.

Ms. Meyers claimed that her discussions with the Oklahoma State Board of Health and Air Evac regarding the testing were protected speech and she was wrongfully terminated for engaging in the speech. The district court, and the Tenth Circuit, agreed that the speech was protected but found that Ms. Meyers was not terminated for engaging in the protected speech. The Tenth Circuit applied the five-pronged Garcetti-Pickering test and found that, regarding the Oklahoma State Board of Health, Ms. Meyers’ claim of retaliation failed at the fourth prong because the superintendent did not know about the communication at the time he recommended Ms. Meyers’ termination.

As for the communication with Air Evac, the district court and Tenth Circuit found the retaliation claim failed at the fifth prong, because the superintendent would have recommended Ms. Meyers’ termination regardless of the communication with Air Evac based on  her retaliation against Ms. Gonzales-Palmer. The superintendent had specifically advised her to consult her supervisor before taking any action against Ms. Gonzales-Palmer, so removing her as an instructor was a direct disregard of orders.

The Tenth Circuit next addressed Ms. Meyers’ claim of deprivation of due process and found the claim failed as a matter of law. Ms. Meyers had no protected interest in the meeting with the board.

The district court’s grant of summary judgment to the superintendent and school was affirmed.

Tenth Circuit: Unpublished Opinions, 3/11/2015

On Wednesday, March 11, 2015, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued no published opinion and three unpublished opinions.

Serrato-Navarrette v. Holder

United States v. Henderson

Ervin v. Carbon County Sheriff’s Department

Case summaries are not provided for unpublished opinions. However, published opinions are summarized and provided by Legal Connection.