Lis on Law: Questions Answered!

Lis answers your questions!

My inbox has been FLOODED with questions from viewers! I'm going to try to answer as many as I can, so keep them coming! Remember to check my column archive to find my latest blog!

— Lis Wiehl
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I just saw the segment on animal fur protesters. Good for them! You clearly do not like animals and FOX is also not "animal-friendly." I have seen many segments that convey this, including one this morning, where the "friends" thought it was OK that an 11-year-old killed a large boar in Alabama. No comment on the various forms of cruelty in this act — it took nine shots from a revolver to kill the animal — and an 11-year-old had a gun! — May

Lis: Dear May, Now, you're hitting below the belt — I love animals! I just don't like protesters who threaten people with violence and protest in the nude on a public street.

I hope you can help me. Our dog died of kidney failure. Our family is devastated. She was only 5-years-old. I told our vet to try everything he could to make her well, but the poison was too much for her little body. She only weighed three pounds. I have asked friends and family and also looked online, but I don't know who to trust. I do trust FOX News.

I checked the Menu Foods Web site, but they said they can’t talk to anyone right now. We would like to be reimbursed for her medical bills. I think that's the least that company can do since they are responsible for their product. Do you know an attorney in New York I can trust to handle my case or an attorney that is handling a suit concerning the recall? I would trust your opinion. I don't like giving personal information on those Web sites. I would be forever grateful. Thank you. — Victoria

Lis: Dear Victoria, First let me say that I'm so sorry to hear about your loss. This situation is a horrific tragedy for so many families like yours. Regrettably, most state laws deem animals, even much-loved pets such as yours, to be personal property. This means that even though your pet was a member of your family, even if you won a lawsuit it would not likely produce much reward for your emotional damages. While this is certainly less than ideal, Menu Foods has offered to pay veterinary bills if a pet's illness or death can be directly linked to the food. As far as attorneys go, I'm not sure what part of New York you live in, but here is a list of attorneys that you might find helpful. For this type of case you want to find a lawyer who specializes in products liability.

Discussion at work led to the following question: Is a temporary insanity defense plea viable in the state of Louisiana? — Larry

Lis: Dear Larry, The notion of temporary insanity argues that a defendant was insane at the time he committed the crime, but is now sane. A defendant found to have been temporarily insane will often be released without any obligation of psychiatric treatment. This has been used in the past, but is difficult to prove. Defendants must prove their temporary insanity defense beyond a reasonable doubt. (State v. DeRance, 34 La.Ann. 186). The considerable media coverage gives the impression that the insanity defense is used a lot, but this is not the case. According to a PBS report "A Crime of Insanity: Insanity on Trial," the insanity defense is used in less than 1 percent of felony cases. Only a small fraction of those cases that make the claim succeed.

As a citizen of the U.S.A. for 56 years now, I am fed up with losing my rights on a daily basis. So far the U.S. government has not been the least bit helpful in my request. I'm really sick of being a second-class citizen whose first-class rights are being given to illegals. I have been in contact with the White House, Homeland Security and the U.S. Immigration Office. Following is my letter to President Bush today 05/29/2007:

President Bush,

This government web site is useless.

This is not a joke. I cannot find information on how to proceed with the following. You do not offer any forms that relate to my request!

I would like to give up my U.S. citizenship. I was born in Stratton, Colo., U.S.A. in 1951 and have worked legally, paid all my taxes, provided my own health care and have never been arrested.

This would improve my lifestyle greatly. I would be able to buy false papers, work and not pay taxes, get my health care for free, go on welfare, and would not have to worry about obeying any laws.

What's the worst that could happen to me? Be let go on loopholes in our judicial system or at the very worst be deported back to my hometown in the Sanctuary State of Colorado?

Sincerely, Walt

Now, the follow-up

I finally received an answer to my question on giving up my citizenship! To do this I would need to be accepted by another country before the U.S. Consulate renounces my U.S. citizenship.

Then I would be forced to re-enter "The Home of The Free" and "The Land of the Brave Illegally." This is the only way I would have the same benefits we currently give illegals. Don't you just love our judicial system, "protect the guilty and punish the innocent?"

Here is what our government e-mailed back to me about my citizenship rights: "For information on renouncing U.S. citizenship, please see the State Department website."Walt (Shady Valley, TN)

Lis: Dear Walt, You gotta love it!

Saw you this morning about the real estate disclosure. In Reno, Nev., they actually have a law which requires sellers to disclose if their house is haunted!— Phil (Reno, NV)

Lis: Dear Phil, Of course — you should be able to charge Casper rent after all.

I worked for 10 years at National City Bank and we were all displaced on May 15 and told there would be no severance. We were offered other jobs and had until May 18 to make a decision. When I chose not to take the position because it was not in my job description, I was terminated and told they would pay me for the next two months. I feel that I was let go because I went to Human Resources about a comment an executive V.P. made to me.

The V.P. came to visit us from Michigan and I said to her, "You've been here a week and you're just getting back here to see us." She responded, "If you were being hung you would cry about the rope not being new."

I was floored by her comment and so were my coworkers. Should I file a complaint with the Civil Rights Commission? Or what else do I need to do? Please help. — Marchalle

Lis: Dear Marchalle, Wow, what a strange situation. If you are faced with what you believe to be discrimination, you generally file a short (around two-page) complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Ideally, the EEOC helps the two parties resolve the issue while avoiding the time and expense of courtroom litigation. EEOC's National Contact Center customer service is available to assist you at 1-800-669-4000.

As FOX's resident feminist, I might give some credence to what you have to say about women's issues when they become subject to the military draft and when men are charged the same insurance rates as women.— Jim (Aberdeen, SD)

Lis: Dear Jim, Although none of our forces in Iraq have been drafted, 482 women have been wounded serving our country in Iraq, and 72 have died there to date. And a recent study from Harvard Medical School found that high deductible health insurance plans favored by many employers often wind up being an unfair burden to women because women need many routine medical exams that quickly add up. The Harvard study was based on the 2003 federal Medical Expenditure Panel Survey of nearly 33,000 people. The research is being published in the April issue of the Journal on General Internal Medicine.

I was at the bookstore this afternoon and saw your new book. It looks great! Congrats on publishing another book that is sure to be a best-seller! I hope that all is well with you and that life on the East Coast is treating you well. — Peter

Lis: Dear Peter, Great to hear from you — and I send many greetings back to you at the "U dub."

I watched your segment about passing laws to stop people from smoking in cars with kids. Both of your guests agreed that there should be a law that would limit the authority and take away freedoms, liberties and responsibility of parents, for themselves and their kids. They even have the misguided idea that the government will only go so far when it comes to invading our privacy, liberties and freedoms, because of the Constitution. Let me refresh your memory.

In the mid 60s seatbelts became a big issue. The government wanted to require seatbelts in all cars. Most people were mad and upset about this because, they, the government would force people to use them. Congress and the Supreme Court both said, this would not happen because," IT WOULD BE UNCONSTITUTIONAL FOR SUCH A LAW THAT WOULD FORCE PEOPLE TO USE SEATBELTS." I remember this well.

I am not against people using seatbelts or not smoking around kids. I think it is a good idea. I just believe the law and such a law is unconstitutional (as Congress and Supreme Court said), morally wrong. In reality the government does not have that kind of authority by way of the Constitution. Your guest and I think you as well, should understand that, "WE THE PEOPLE" no longer insists that the government obey the Constitution.

I truly believe the government should do the job that the Constitution demands, like maybe protect the borders, not inflict itself in my personal life and invade my freedoms and liberties. What Ben Franklin said is the truth: "Those who will give up freedom for safety and security deserve and will have neither." Thank you so much for your time. — Carey

Lis: Dear Carey, Your seatbelt analogy is a good one — although the government can impose restrictions on your actions when you are in a public place, like driving on a road. Think of helmet laws for motorcyclists as well. Generally, your rights stop at my nose — meaning you can do what you want to yourself so long as you don't hurt me. The proposed law is meant to protect those minors in the car who can't protect themselves and it's a good discussion!

I caught a glimpse of your story today regarding bullying in the workplace and filing civil suits against those individuals who have inflicted inequities upon subordinate personnel. It was a great report and keep up the awesome work. I'm a 44-year-old Asian Pacific American male of Hawaiian descent, three-time honorable discharged veteran, and former IBM employee, currently an under employed civil service fork-lift operator at the Marine Corps Logistics Base in Albany, Ga. I have personally experienced discrimination, reprisal, criminal acts, adverse actions, hostile work environment, nepotism, and threats of termination.

I have explored all entities aboard MCLB, including EEO, EEOC, AJ, PMO, Local Union, but unfortunately to no avail. I am part of a growing support group of individuals who empathize with me and who are more than ready to escalate to the next level. We are up against a big giant with endless resources and personnel who suffer from temporary memory loss or can't find it in their hearts to tell the truth! I recall recent and past incidents like "Walter Reed Hospital" and "Tail Hook" respectively, which probably would have gone unnoticed if the national media hadn't got involved.

I believe the aforementioned information warrants national media attention to expose the multitude of calamities aboard military bases like MCLB Albany, Ga. I know of approximately 15 or more MCLB, employees willing to come forward and tell their stories in hopes of some much needed help and resolution. If you or someone you know would like to take on this story, please feel free to contact me at the following numbers. Thank you very much for your time and cooperation pertaining to this serious matter. — Gene

Lis: Gene, This sounds interesting. If you can, gather up the names and stories of the 15 MCLB employees and e-mail back to me — I'll look into it.

I believe that every inmate in the county jail system that Paris Hilton was in should file a Discrimination Law Suit against the county. Can that be done?— Don (Harrison, MI)

Lis: Unfortunately for Paris Hilton’s fellow inmates, their chances of winning a lawsuit for discrimination are slim. They would have to make an equal protection challenge based on the 14th amendment which prohibits states from abridging citizens' privileges or immunities and rights to due process and the equal protection of the law.

To make an equal protection argument, the inmates would need to show disparate impact and intent to win. To demonstrate disparate impact the plaintiff must prove that the law disproportionately burdens a particular group. Intent means that the government intended to discriminate against a class because of a specific trait. Under this analysis, how suspect the class is determines the level of scrutiny used by the court. There are three different levels of review depending on how suspect the class is. For example, strict scrutiny is used for suspect classes such as race or ethnicity. Under this the government must prove they had a compelling interest to make the choices they did and that their means of doing so were narrowly tailored. In other words if they discriminate against a protected group they must have a very good reason for doing so.

Unfortunately for Paris’ inmates they most likely are not a suspect class. Non-suspect classes such as those with lesser wealth (as we can presume they are in comparison to Hilton) will be found to have been discriminated against only if the government had no legitimate interest and their means were not rationally related. The reason the court has different levels of scrutiny is because they historically tried to protect minority groups which at one time were politically powerless. So in sum, because this class would not likely be suspect it would be very difficult for them to successfully win a discrimination claim based on the jail’s treatment of Ms. Hilton.

I have a question concerning family court judges and the federal judicial system. Unfortunately I am divorced. However, my ex-wife constantly takes me (she filed for the divorce) to court over silly matters. I have paid attorneys that do not know me to review the outcomes to get an objective view; my natural response is that I was wronged but since I'm involved I'm clearly biased. The result is that I've been told that the judge doesn't like you or knows your ex-wife's family. That there isn't any legal foundation for the decisions. Yes, I appealed a decision, the appellate court ruled, and the next time the judge ignored the ruling. Is it possible to file a case in federal court? I know the Justice Department filed a case in the Anna Nicole Smith probate situation and the supreme court ruled that the Federal Courts can get involved with local matters. Would I be able to do so under this ruling? — Eugene

Lis: A court can only hear a case if that court has jurisdiction over that type of case or that person. There are several components of jurisdiction for divorce cases. The first component is subject matter jurisdiction. State courts have exclusive subject matter jurisdiction over divorce actions. The federal courts have disclaimed any jurisdiction to grant divorce or award alimony. That is because there is a domestic relations exception to diversity jurisdiction. This means that federal courts recognize a limitation on their jurisdiction. State courts and special family or divorce courts typically will be the final word about divorce. Federal courts are authorized to hear cases between states, between citizens of different states, between citizens and aliens, cases involving foreign ministers and consuls, admiralty cases and cases arising under federal Constitution and federal law. Unfortunately, divorce is governed by state laws so this makes it unlikely to be able to be appealed to a federal court.

In a time when some judge can file suit against a Mom & Pop cleaners in reference to his pants for almost $60 million, but your everyday hard working person has what I feel is a valid complaint for wrong done to them, has to just "bite the bullet" and move on? This to me is totally wrong. Thanks for hearing me out and I would welcome any thought or suggestion you may have for me. — Bonnie (Kill Devil Hills, NC)

Lis: I regret to admit that you’re right. There is not always equal access to the legal system, especially in civil matters. In order to maintain a society based on democracy everyone needs to be given identical access. This should be the case for fairness reasons as well as to maintain a stable society. If too many people cannot seek justice there will be eventual rebellion from the system. Unfortunately, because there is not equal access, the best suggestion I can give is do your research and exercise every right you can!

I wonder, has anyone ever done a study as to whether there is any difference in the divorce rate in marriages where the woman takes the man's last name versus where she does not? Might make for interesting reading.— James (Basehor, KS)

Lis: James, What a great observation, I hadn't really thought of it. A quick search doesn't reveal any studies, but if you come across one, I'd love to take a look at it.

I enjoyed your column on women's decision to take, or not to take, their husband's name.

Both my children are married; the girls kept their unmarried names, and now have daughters with hyphenated names — the "Mom-Dad" last name I'm seeing a lot of these days. My question is this — what happens when these girls marry? What are their choices? — Judy (Walnut Creek, CA)

Lis: Judy, Your grandchildren have the same choice as anyone else — to take their spouse's name or not. I see where this might be confusing for them. Let's say one of your daughter's names is Mary Smith-Jones and she gets married, keeps her name and decides to hyphenate her daughter's last name, does that turn out to be Joy Smith-Jones-Wilson? It's something they'll have to decide for themselves.

I have a question about a possible discrimination suit. This new, supposedly comprehensive immigration bill, in addition to other laws, entitle illegal immigrants who broke our laws benefits, resources and privileges that U.S. law abiding taxpayers are not entitled to. Here are just a few examples:

1) U.S. taxpayers would pay legal fees for people who are here illegally. Why should my tax dollars pay for someone who entered our country illegally?

2) Illegal aliens don't have to pay back taxes. If an American fails to pay taxes our property is seized, we're fined and face possible jail time.

3) The DREAM Act gives in-state tuition to illegal aliens while Americans have to pay full costs.

Who's writing this bill? I feel this bill discriminates against Americans and possibly violates our civil rights. Do you think we can file a class action discrimination suit against the government or any company who treats illegal immigrants better than U.S. citizens? — Rich

Lis: Rich, Discrimination suits are based on active discrimination against a particular person or group. The comprehensive immigration bill doesn't seem to be excluding a specific group of people. The Z visa, which is renewable in three year increments indefinitely, would cost the holder about $3,500 every three years and the holders would not be eligible for public benefits except emergency care. So, if a 30-year-old renews his Z visa until the age of 80, it would cost $58,333, no small sum. Perhaps this is designed to induce a Z visa holder to apply for permanent residency. The DREAM Act covers children who were brought illegally into the country by their parents when they were under the age of 16 and would eventually allow them to apply for legal permanent residence. For more information on the bill, check out this web site.

I heard of a case where someone shopping and paying with a "debit" card went over his or her limit. The transaction was "approved" so, more running around, more purchases. The debit card being approved each time. Each time a transaction had been approved and completed the person would be charged a (not particularly small) fine after having gone over their limit. Now, I can see perhaps the first transaction that took the person over the limit being accepted and a penalty imposed. However, to allow someone to continually use their card and approving these subsequent transactions doesn't seem right. Shouldn't, at some point, the transaction be "disapproved" or not accepted? After all it's a debit card. If no funds are available it should not be able to be used. Is this a widely accepted practice for banks or is it just some way for the bank to earn a little extra money? Thanks for you consideration on this matter. — David (Falls Church, VA)

Lis: David, I see where you might be confused; I am too. But there are many ways to ensure this doesn't happen. Most banks have overdraft insurance or e-mail alerts to let you know when your accounts are getting low. There are also debit cards that don't allow overdrafts. Also, some banks might not have real time transactions. Furthermore, banks may feel that it is our responsibility to keep track of our own finances.

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E-mail Lis With Your Legal Questions!

Lis Wiehl joined FOX News Channel as a legal analyst in October 2001. She is currently a professor of law at the New York Law School. Wiehl received her undergraduate degree from Barnard College in 1983 and received her Master of Arts in Literature from the University of Queensland in 1985. In addition, she earned her Juris Doctor from Harvard Law School in 1987. Lis is also the author of The 51% Minority — How Women Still Are Not Equal and What You Can Do About It .