Thursday, November 29, 2007

Spanking and the Law

Much has been written recently about a proposed law which would outlaw spanking in Massachusetts. That got us interested in what the current status of the law was. For an excellent discussion of the legal limits on physical discipline, see Comm. v. Rubeck, 64 Mass. App. Ct. 396 (2005). This case says, in part, "The Legislature has not chosen to recognize or approve a parental right to use force in disciplining a child, and we know of no case in Massachusetts that specifically recognizes such a right, although there are allusions to this parental right in our cases." It continues, "in Commonwealth v. O'Connor, 407 Mass. 663, 667 (1990), the court discussed such a right, noting, however, that, as of that time, "[n]o Massachusetts decision or statute grants parents or others a right to use reasonable force in disciplining a child."

However, it also says, "Instruction 3.15 of the Massachusetts Superior Court Criminal Practice Jury Instructions (1st Supp. 2003) proposes a jury instruction stating that "[a] parent, or one acting in the position of a parent and who has assumed the responsibilities of a parent, may use reasonable force to discipline (his/her) minor child."

Laws and regulations specifically prohibiting corporal punishment in Massachusetts include:

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Federal Cases on the Web

A very exciting announcement from Public.Resource.Org and Fastcase, Inc.! In yesterday's press release, they announced that "they will release a large and free archive of federal case law, including all Courts of Appeals decisions from 1950 to the present and all Supreme Court decisions since 1754. The archive will be public domain and usable by anyone for any purpose." Public access to public documents--wow! For everyone who ever wondered exactly what was covered by West's copyright in their reporters, you may be interested in Public Resource's letter to West, and West's reply.

Electrical Code changes

The Board of Fire Prevention Regulations has released the 2008 Massachusetts Electrical Code. The code is actually the 2008 National Electrical Code, modified with certain provisions. These new provisions are found in 527 CMR 12, and are linked from our CMR page.

Abortion Clinic Buffer Zone

Gov. Patrick this week signed SB1353, An Act Relative to Public Safety, which expands the buffer zone around abortion clinics to 35 feet. The new law, which amends MGL c.266, s.120E1/2, says in part, "No person shall knowingly enter or remain on a public way or sidewalk adjacent to a reproductive health care facility within a radius of thirty-five feet of any portion of an entrance to, exit from, or driveway of a reproductive health care facility, or within the area within a rectangle created by extending the outside boundaries of any entrance to, exit from, or driveway of, a reproductive health care facility in straight lines to the point where such lines intersect the sideline of the street in front of such entrance, exit or driveway."

According to the Boston Globe, Operation Rescue plans to challenge the law, but the Supreme Judicial Court, in response to a question from the Senate in 2000 (Opinion of the Justices to the Senate, 430 Mass. 1205 (2000)), indicated that a proposed 25-foot buffer zone would be constitutional. That opinion stated that floating buffer zones, as Massachusetts law previously provided are "problematic" and make compliance difficult. With a clearly defined boundary, "demonstrators may still engage in all forms of protest as they previously have done, but are simply constrained to do so outside the buffer zone."

More information on abortion in Massachusetts is available at Mass. Law About Abortion.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Child Support After Parent's Death

A recent Boston Globe article, Clash over estate spurs mother's challenge to law, highlights a legal battle in Rhode Island over whether a parent can disinherit minor children when the estate has sufficient funds to provide support for them, ending support, or whether, instead, child support should be treated like an outstanding obligation of the estate like other debts. In Massachusetts, the issue was resolved in L.W.K. v. E.R.C., 432 Mass. 438 (2000). In LWK, the court held that a child support obligation survives death. In part, the majority held:

  1. "A legally enforceable obligation to pay child support, like other financial obligations of the testator, takes precedence over testamentary dispositions and must be satisfied prior to any distribution of assets under the will."
  2. "A parent charged with an obligation to support his child cannot nullify that legal obligation by disinheriting his child pursuant to G. L. c. 191, Sect. 20. Beyond satisfaction of his support obligation, however, a parent is free to exercise his testamentary discretion with respect to a minor child, as all others, and may disinherit her."
  3. "A judge in the Probate and Family Court does not have the authority to enter an order after the death of the obligor to secure postminority educational support for a child who does not presently qualify for such support pursuant to G. L. c. 209C, Sect. 9."

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

On Shushing

I'd like to think I would never shush someone in a library. The stereotypical image of glasses, a bun, sensible shoes, and an attitude of condescension sends me reeling, and makes me want to crank up the music and order food and drink for everyone. So it is so frustrating to have to do the electronic version of a "shush" here and turn off comments on the blog. We have become so innundated with spam comments that no real comments can be heard, and as a government agency we really can't allow people to scream "cheap Viagra" in person or online, I guess.

A library, real or virtual, should be a place for freedom of expression. We want your input, and we want you to be comfortable, online and in our libraries. The bottom of every page of this site links to our reference librarians as well as to the webperson. So please, keep your comments and concerns coming through email, and my sincerest apologies for cutting off the dialog that comments create.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Sentence Deferred 16 Years Not To Be Resumed

In the case of Commonwealth v. Ly, the Supreme Judicial Court ruled today that a convicted rapist may not be compelled to complete his sentence after a delay of 16 years by the state. Vith Ly was granted a stay of execution pending appeal in 1990. In 1991, one of his convictions was affirmed, but he was never ordered to serve his sentence. The court says "a defendant who unsuccessfully appeals from a criminal conviction bears no burden to come forward voluntarily to be taken into custody and incarcerated." The Commonwealth failed to report to the court "the immediate necessity to revoke the stay of execution of the defendant's sentences, " and failed to notice the error in subsequent years despite the arrests of Ly in 1999 and 2001.

According to the court, "it is a basic principle that a defendant sentenced to incarceration has a due process right to serve the sentence promptly and continuously, rather than 'in installments.'"

"We conclude that execution of the defendant's sentences, after an unexplained delay of sixteen years on the part of the Commonwealth to have the sentences executed, would violate due process and principles of fundamental fairness. "

Friday, November 02, 2007

Physician Apologies

At least three bills currently pending in the Massachusetts legislature would provide legal protection to doctors who apologize for errors. S1284 would set up a pilot program through which the apologies of participating physicians "shall not be subject to subpoena or discovery, or introduced into evidence, in any judicial or administrative proceeding." This bill would require "participating hospitals and physicians [to] promptly acknowledge and apologize for mistakes in patient care and promptly offer fair settlements."

Two other bills, S987 and H1370, apply to all health care providers, and provide that "any and all statements, affirmations, gestures, activities or conduct expressing benevolence, regret, apology, sympathy, commiseration, condolence, compassion, mistake, error, or a general sense of concern which are made by a a health care provider, facility or an employee or agent of a health care provider or facility, to the patient, a relative of the patient, or a representative of the patient and which relate to the unanticipated outcome shall be inadmissible as evidence in any judicial or administrative proceeding and shall not constitute an admission of liability or an admission against interest." These bills do not require the offer of a settlement.

The Mass. Medical Society supports the passage of S987/H1370. According to the Boston Globe, "the state's trial lawyers oppose giving any doctor a special exemption." A study done at Washington University reports that "Patients said they wanted to know if there had been an error, how the error happened, and particularly what the doctor and institution would be doing to prevent the error from happening again. And they would like an apology." It is unclear, though, what patients' views might be of legal protection for that apology.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Do Not Call? Do Not Worry

The FTC had intended for phone numbers listed on the national Do Not Call List to be renewed every five years or dropped from the list. Since the Federal Do Not Call Act, 15 USC 6101 note, was enacted in 2003, this would mean that phone numbers would start falling off the registry next year. Legislators have stepped up to make the registration permanent, though, and the FTC has promised that they will not drop any phone numbers from the Do Not Call Registry while bills are pending to make the registry permanent. Read the full text and check the status of the Senate Bill and House Bill. So no need to renew your registration. If your number is on the list, it will remain there. If not, register at the Do Not Call site.

More information on Do Not Call and other telemarketing issues is available at Mass. Law About Telemarketing.