Thursday, December 10, 2015

Technology Changing Our World

I saw an article recently that made me think about authority and humility (or lack of it). According to the Journal of the American Bar Association, two Louisiana State Troopers parked their unmarked vehicle illegally while taking a meal break. They returned to find their vehicle had been "booted."

I have received a few parking tickets over the years, but I have never had a car immobilized. I am sure that it is frustrating. Certainly it is frustrating to get a ticket, but you can put that in the glove box and cool off for a few days before mailing them a check. With the boot, you have to deal with it before you can move the car. 

So the Troopers reacted. They demanded the removal of the boot. That demand was declined. Apparently, the parking attendant believed that the laws and regulations apply to everyone, including the police who were taking a meal break. The attendant insisted that the Troopers pay the $90 parking fine just like anyone else would have to do. 

Having asserted their apparent "the law does not apply to us," position without success, the Troopers did the next logical thing. They arrested the parking lot attendant who had booted their unmarked, illegally parked, truck. While the attendant was thus in their custody, they took his keys, removed the boot from their truck, and for good measure searched the attendant's vehicle. 

This is all "according to a civil rights suit" that the attendant has filed. The lawsuit notes that the Troopers claimed the attendant was "interfering with their official duties," thus leading to his arrest. Curiously, he was held for several hours but never charged with a crime. An interesting element of this lawsuit, in our contemporary police relations, is that the attendant was wearing a "body camera" and thus possesses video of much of the interactions.

Apparently, requests for comment from the Troopers and the State of Louisiana have not been successful. 

This raises a couple of points worth discussion. First, no one is above the law. There may be times when a police car has to be parked in a way that we would not normally expect the rest of us to park. There are urgencies and emergencies. In most of these, it would seem some clue would be available, such as flashing emergency lights. It is seemingly unlikely that getting a sandwich is such a situation, though?

Second, actions can lead to consequences. We see this with a variety of people. Recently in Judicial Behavior and The Judge, a Bookstore I outlined some instances in which judges have been held to account for poor behavior. See point one, no one is above the law. When there is behavior that is inappropriate, there need to be consequences. 

Finally, the story reminds me about making a record. I make it a practice to hold proceedings "on the record." I believe that "off the record" proceedings raise serious chances of misunderstandings and problems. People can have different recollections of events and conversations. There is a comfort afforded by being able to return to the recording and listen again to exactly what was said. We see America's police departments adopting this "on the record" theory in recent months, with the use of body cameras becoming more popular. 

Can we expect that any officer we interact with is recording us with her/his body camera? Can we expect that of any interaction with a parking lot attendant as illustrated in this story? Even if there is no body camera, might there be other cameras memorializing our interactions, as Britt McHenry recently discovered? Must we always assume we are being watched?

The digital age is changing us all, as it effects the world in which we live. We would do well to remember it. The OJCC has signs in each office reminding people that our hearing proceedings are recorded. I encourage everyone involved in litigation to assure that hearings are recorded. Off the record discussions at best will lead to "he said, she said" disputes that are just too easy to avoid. 

Of course, we do not record mediations or any art of them. With the advent of this portable and personal recording technology, however, there may come a time when the unscrupulous or uninformed use such devices to record privileged and protected communications in the mediation setting. It is a point worth raising at the outset of such meetings. Careful practitioners will perhaps make a habit of mentioning to their mediator and opponents "this is a privileged meeting and no recording would be appropriate." This could prevent misunderstandings and mistakes. 

In the end, it is likely that technology will continue to invade our world. The drones are coming, specifically designed to carry cameras and to hover over our homes and businesses. Yes, technology is changing our world and recording equipment will become increasingly a part of our lives. 

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