Dr. Ronald B. Standler
Attorney in Massachusetts

Essays on Law

c.v.     Biography     Fees     Technology Law     Education Law     Copyright Law     Contact

This webpage lists my essays on:
  1. General law (e.g., contracts and torts)
  2. U.S. Constitutional law
    1. freedom of speech
    2. information torts
    3. unconstitutional conditions, freedom from majority, stare decisis, due process, state action
    4. freedom to travel
  3. Privacy Law
    1. torts and constitutional
    2. medical privacy (e.g., right-to-die, physician-assisted suicide, nonconsensual experiments)
    3. surveillance by government
  4. Employment law for professionals
  5. Family law

About Dr. Standler

I earned a Ph.D. in physics in 1977, then worked in electrical engineering research and consulting until 1995.   I am licensed to practice law in Massachusetts since Dec 1998 and I am admitted to practice in all state and federal courts in Massachusetts, as well as the U.S. Supreme Court.   I can easily travel to towns in northeastern Massachusetts, or to the Boston area, including Cambridge, MA.

My homepage at www.rbs2.com/ contains links to documents with my credentials, my fees, how to contact me, and links to my essays on other topics in law.

Essays on Law

Essays on this website are provided only to provide general information and to communicate my personal comments on interesting topics in law, technology, and society.   Essays on this website are neither legal advice nor legal opinion.   Accessing this website or reading documents on this website does not create an attorney-client relationship.   See my disclaimer for details.

Each essay at this website is protected by copyright.   I have posted my Terms Of Service for printing, copying, and distributing my essays at this website.

I am an attorney only in Massachusetts, so I can not provide legal advice to people in other states of the USA, unless they have been injured or sued in Massachusetts, or unless your local attorney hires me as a consultant.   However, I have posted the following hints for how to find an attorney.

1. General Law

An attempt to define and concisely explain torts, including products liability, res ipsa loquitur, and fraud.

People often confuse criminal law with civil law (e.g., torts and contracts), which leads to misunderstandings about legal rights. I have prepared a brief essay that compares and contrasts criminal and civil law.

My essay on the role of amicus curiae briefs in trial and appellate litigation.

My essay on the effect of inflation on fixed amounts of dollars specified in statutes and long-term contracts, and how to automatically adjust such amounts.

My essay on statutes requiring silver nitrate prophylaxis in eyes of newborns, as an example of how not to write a statute.

In tort law, a judge can find a new duty and then retroactively apply the new duty to a defendant in a case. This means that a defendant can behave reasonably according to the standard at the time of his/her act or failure to act, but later be found liable for a tort. I briefly sketch the rules in criminal law, and contrast those criminal rules with the rules in tort cases. I emphasize that this is a very obscure detail in law, which few judges want to consider.

2. U.S. Constitutional Law

A. freedom of speech

As an attorney interested in First Amendment law, I am concerned about the possible poisoning of the jury pool by legal commentary programs on television, which could interfere with a fair trial. My essay, Pretrial Publicity Prevents a Fair Trial in the USA, examines the conflict between a free press and the right of accused to a fair trial by impartial jurors, and how trial judges should avoid biased jurors. This essay also explains why admonitions to the jury are ineffective, and discusses gag orders, professional responsibility rules for attorneys, and Bar-Press guidelines. I have posted a separate document that contains long quotations from opinions of the U.S. Supreme Court and the U.S. Courts of Appeals about pretrial publicity.   As a resource for journalism students and law students, I have posted examples of prejudicial pretrial publicity in newspapers for both (1) the 1954 trial of Sam Sheppard and (2) the arrest in 2004 of Joseph Smith, who kidnapped, raped, and murdered a girl in Florida. These two cases illustrate the problem of pre-trial publicity.

My essay on freedom of speech for government employees in the USA discusses the opinions of the U.S. Supreme Court in the landmark cases of Pickering and Connick v. Myers, and other Supreme Court cases in this area.   My essay on freedom of speech for employees of corporations discusses essentially nonexistent legal rights in the USA.

My essay, U.S. Government Restrictions on Scientific Publications, discusses restrictions on publishing information about weapons of mass destruction, restrictions on encryption technology, and trade restrictions on providing services or technology to rogue nations.

My essay on heckler's veto, a detail in the interpretation of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution that prevents the government from silencing speakers because of the threat of violent reaction. This essay ends with a discussion of the metaphor "marketplace of ideas", a justification for freedom of speech.

B. information torts

My essay on infotorts cites cases nationwide in the emerging family of torts in which information caused harm, usually either as (1) errors in nonfiction books/magazines/newspapers, or (2) violent crimes that were inspired by movies or videogames.   Information torts conflict with freedom of speech in the First Amendment.   I have also posted an essay on proximate cause in information torts.

C. other constitutional issues

My essay, Doctrine of Unconstitutional Conditions, explains when a government in the USA can demand the waiver of a constitutional right as a condition of receiving some benefit (e.g., employment, contract, right, privilege, etc.) from the government.

My essay, Freedom from the Majority in the USA, explains constitutional limits on the power of governments in the USA to impose orthodoxy on everyone.

My essay, Overruled: Stare Decisis in the U.S. Supreme Court, discusses respect for precedent.

I have posted a discussion of the Christian burial speech in Brewer v. Williams, 430 U.S. 387 (1977). I quote the relevant facts given in four different judicial opinions, and pose a list of questions, as an exercise for students in legal reasoning. As explained in my little essay, the courts overlooked some important facts.

I have posted a technical essay that discusses due process rights of students at state colleges who are accused of some disciplinary offense. A companion essay discusses finding state action at private colleges.

In April 2012, I wrote a terse essay that explains why Promises by Political Candidates Are Not Legally Enforceable in the USA. As a result, you can reasonably rely on the list of ingredients in a can of dog food, but not rely on promises by candidates for election!

D. freedom to travel

My essay, Legal Aspects of Searches of Airline Passengers in the USA, cites and discusses federal cases on searches of passengers at airports, legal justification for border searches, importance of the Fourth Amendment, the legal right to travel inside the USA, and, finally, argues that choosing to travel by air does not automatically give the traveler's consent to a search.

History of Nomination/Confirmation of Justices

I have posted essays on the history of the nomination and confirmation of Justices Alito, Sotomayor, and Kagan to the U.S. Supreme Court.   I posted a brief essay, How to Select a Justice for the U.S. Supreme Court, that reviews some history and gives my opinion.   All of the essays in this paragraph are at my personal website, because they contain some of my personal political opinions.

3. Privacy Law

Privacy law in the USA has two branches:
  1. protection in tort law for private facts about a person, and
  2. constitutional privacy law, which limits government intrusion into personal life.
While there are landmark cases in federal and state courts that establish some rights of privacy, damages awarded by courts for breaches of privacy tend to be small, and thus violations of privacy are not deterred by possible litigation.   I suspect that most people believe that they have more rights to privacy than the law in the USA actually recognizes, which means that we should be more active in requesting legislatures to enact statutes in this area.

I am an advocate for increased privacy rights for individuals, less paternalism, and less government interference with private choices.

A. Constitutional Privacy Law
and Privacy Torts

My main essay on privacy law in the USA includes a terse review of federal statutes, constitutional law, and the common law of torts, and also discusses searches of people's garbage and invasions of privacy by journalists.

My annotated list of U.S. Supreme Court cases on fundamental rights under privacy shows the thin scope of constitutional privacy rights in the USA.

The U.S. Supreme Court has held that the confidentiality or privacy of information is destroyed by disclosure to a third party.   In practice, this rule of law means that there is no privacy interest in bank account records (e.g., checks, deposit slips, monthly statements), no privacy interest in a list of telephone numbers dialed from a home telephone, and no privacy for letters or e-mail after they have been read by the recipient.   I explain the origin of this rule of law about third-party disclosure and criticize this rule of law.   This topic has implications for anonymity of screen names and privacy of search queries on the Internet, freedom from electronic surveillance, and privacy of library or bookshop records.

In 1998, I posted an essay on privacy of e-mail in the USA.

Privacy Violations During Divorce in the USA discusses privacy torts for wiretapping a spouse, videotaping a spouse in the bedroom or bathroom, reading a spouse's e-mail or computer files, or installing a keystroke logger on a computer used by a spouse.   I also discuss the concept of reasonable expectation of privacy during a marriage and during divorce.

B. Medical Privacy

The law in the USA recognizes a legal right for all mentally competent adults to refuse medical treatment, even if that refusal would hasten their death. My essay traces the history in the USA of the right to refuse medical treatment and cites many cases. This right was mostly ignored by lawyers until the 1960s, when lawyers for hospitals began seeking judicial orders to compel Jehovah's Witnesses to have a blood transfusion, against their sincere religious belief. Beginning in the 1970s, the right to refuse medical treatment was applied in right-to-die cases.

My long essay Annotated Legal Cases Involving Right-to-Die in the USA, quotes from the major cases involving disconnection of life-support machinery (e.g., ventilator, feeding tube) from patients in a hospital.   This essay include long quotations from major judicial opinions, so readers can see how the law evolved.   I wrote this essay in April 2005 during the legal debacle about Terri Schiavo in Florida.

My long essay, Annotated Legal Cases on Physician-Assisted Suicide in the USA.   This essay include long quotations from major judicial opinions, so readers can see how the law evolved.   After discussing cases, I conclude that the conventional name "physician-assisted suicide" was poorly chosen, because assisting a suicide is a crime in the USA.

The annotated list of all of my health-law essays has links to my other webpages on law and medicine.   My essay on legal rights of medical patients in Massachusetts — including mental patients — contains quotations from Massachusetts statutes, citations to Massachusetts cases, and some commentary.

C. Surveillance by U.S. Government

A history of National Security Letters (NSLs) in the USA, a type of administrative subpoena, including quotations and links.   I explain why some NSLs are unconstitutional.

My essay on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), which allows the U.S. government to conduct electronic surveillance on U.S. citizens inside the USA without a warrant from a regular court.   I discuss in detail the legal issues: My essay on FISA concludes with my personal criticisms of this statute.

I have posted some related essays at my personal website because they contain my personal political opinions and because these essays are more about history than law.   For example:

Seeking Financial Sponsor for My Research

Of the seven most-popular essays at this website in May 2011, four were on privacy law.   Despite the popularity of my privacy law essays and despite many requests for free advice since 1998, I have never had a paying client in privacy law and I have never had a financial sponsor for my scholarly work in privacy law.   As a self-employed attorney and consultant, I can not subsidize people's need for free legal research and analysis.   For that reason, my existing essays on privacy law will rarely be updated, and I am discouraged from beginning any new essays on privacy law.

4. Employment Law for Professionals

My essay on academic freedom for professors argues that this "freedom" is not a fundamental right recognized by law in the USA, but is a contract right granted by colleges and universities.

My essay on professional ethics & wrongful discharge discusses cases in the USA in which a learned professional (e.g., attorney, physician, nurse, engineer, or scientist) upheld principles of professional ethics, despite his/her manager's desires, and the professional's employment was terminated.

With the conventional doctrine of at-will employment in the USA, the employer has the absolute right to dismiss an employee for any reason, including a "morally repugnant" reason.   I have a separate essay on the history of at-will employment that includes criticism of the doctrine of at-will employment and a brief sketch of the history of attempts to modify this doctrine.

5. Family Law

I have written ten essays on topics in family law in the USA, especially including prenuptial and postnuptial contracts, parents' financial support of adult children in college, distribution of marital assets at divorce, and alimony.   I do not personally practice family law, but I do accept legal research projects from licensed attorneys who represent clients undergoing divorce or other areas of family law.

Copyright 2009-2012 by Ronald B. Standler
This document at   http://www.rbs2.com/imisc.htm
first posted 14 Jan 2009,   revised 18 Aug 2012

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