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Legal News Roundup: April 15, 2016

by Missie Frandsen

on 15 April, 2016

Let’s take a look at this week in legal news.


‘Walking Dead’ Creator Sues to Kill Unlicensed Themed Restaurant

In Onion-esque news, Walking Dead comic book creator Robert Kirkman has asked a federal court in New Jersey to halt the building of a Walking Dead themed restaurant.

Serial trademark infringers and entrepreneurs Philip, Steven, and Anna Theodorou filed eleven trademark applications with the US Patent and Trademark Office to register “THE WALKING DEAD” in order to promote and finance the restaurant. Kirkman seeks to protect merchandising rights and licensing revenue, of which he has thus far amassed $12 million in comics, and $5.8 million in merchandising, which does not include licensing to AMC for the TV series.

Legalities aside, I’m dying to know what a Walking Dead themed restaurant looks like. Maybe fighting through hoards of zombies to scavenge for dinner? Perhaps BBQ dressed up like zombie meat? Or maybe it will just be cannibalism, a la season three? (Fun fact: Did you know that cannibalism isn’t technically illegal in the United States? Idaho is sort of into it, actually.) The possibilities are endless.

Microsoft Sues U.S. Justice Department Over Gag Orders

Microsoft has launched its fourth lawsuit against the United States Department of Justice, challenging the government’s use of secrecy orders which deny companies, like Microsoft and Apple, from telling users that their personal information has been accessed.

Microsoft chief legal officer and president Brad Smith argues that gag orders, as laid out in Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986, are unconstitutional, violate the Fourth Amendment right against search and seizure, and denies the company’s First Amendment right to speak to their customers.

Smith states that is has received over 2500 secrecy orders over the last 18 months alone, and that two-thirds of those have no time limit, meaning that Microsoft is essentially prohibited from ever telling their customers that the government has accessed their personal information.

Lawyers Flock to Flint

Governor Rick Snyder has been heavily criticized for hiring two outside attorneys to represent him in the Flint water crisis, with contracts paid for by state funds adding up to $1.2 million.

But Flint residents are getting their own high-powered legal assistance. Outside lawyers have flocked to Flint as the demand for action – specifically, class-action – rises. Pop-up firms have settled in, advertising for legal services has skyrocketed, lawyers are routinely holding public meetings and even offering free blood testing for adults and children. Thousands of residents have signed onto half dozen class-action lawsuits, while hundreds are filing individually. Big names like like Erin Brockovich and Marc Bern are seeking damages from the governor, state and local officials, former officials, and consulting companies that brought about the crisis. While action is underway, NPR reports that these lawsuits will take years, even a decade, to resolve.

Judges Say Ted Cruz is Natural Born Citizen

On Wednesday, a Houston, Texas, federal judge ruled that Ted Cruz is eligible to run for presidency. Similar to President Obama’s 2008 troubles, Cruz has faced ‘birther’ lawsuits in New York, New Hampshire, Utah, New Jersey and Arkansas, which state that he is not a natural-born citizen and thus cannot be president under constitutional law. Cruz’s lawyer Layne Kruse argued that the case lacked standing, as candidate eligibility should only be challenged by the electoral college and legislative branch. Kruse is expected to make this same argument in at least four more lawsuits.

More importantly and far more interestingly, no statement has been made by Kruse concerning allegations that Cruz is the infamous Zodiac Killer. Memes abound, 38% of Florida voters believe it, and the jokes keep coming.

Utah Restores Polygamy Ban

In a crushing blow to the Brown family, stars of TLC’s Sister Wives, 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals brought back the ban on polygamy in Utah. This overrules a 2013 decision by Judge Clark Waddoups, who ruled that Utah’s laws criminalizing polygamy violated rights to privacy and religious freedom. While Utah doesn’t generally enforce its anti-polygamy laws, the Brown family came under investigation when they started Sister Wives, leading them to flee their Lehi home and file a civil case in Utah. Following the Court’s ruling, the Brown family is considering asking for a review of their lawsuit, or heading to the Supreme Court.

Man Hides From the Law in Alligator Infested Lake

Alligators are a recurring theme here at our Legal Roundup, and when I came across this story, I assumed it was Florida. I love Florida’s unique brand of weird, and this sounded very on brand for them, but how many alligator-related law stories can there really be? (So many, actually.) Surprisingly, this story comes from Texas, where a man fled his vehicle after a car chase with police. Instead of fleeing to the densely wooded area nearby, the man headed straight for the closest lake. After discovering that it was “alligator-filled” (Lake Placid, anyone?), the suspect took shelter on a small island until he was rescued by police.