Monthly Archives: November 2013

Got Any [Bit]Coins to Spare?



By now, if you’re still one of those folks asking, “what the hell is a Bitcoin?” Don’t worry, you’re not alone. Introduced in 2008 by a group of programmers under the name Satoshi Nakamoto, Bitcoin is defined as peer-to-peer technology that operates outside of central authority or banks. Bitcoins, which exists solely in software, uses cryptography to control transactions and prevent the re-use of spent currency. When a payment has been validated, it becomes public record once recorded in a public ledger known as the blockchain. Payments are then processed by a network of private servers owned and operated by “miners” who benefit from transaction fees and newly minted Bitcoins. Currently, there are roughly 12 million Bitcoins in circulation trading at about $965 each as of today.

In early 2012, when Bitcoins popularity began to catch the eye of mainstream financial insiders such as The Economist, it was initially charecterised as currency for online black market traders like the infamous Silk Road.  Internet black markets, such as Silk Road were described as havens for all things illegal including; drugs, guns, pirated software, and pornography due to the untraceable nature of Bitcoins. However, that was so 1-year ago, and a lot has changed since the relatively unknown currency emerged on the scene. As of today, Bitcoins are increasingly being used as payments for legally legitimate services and products. Both online and brick & mortar merchants have begun accepting the digital currency due to its attractive low transaction fees. Typically, a credit card processing company charges up to 3% per transaction whereas Bitcoin transactions can be below 1%.


Laws Governing the Use of Bitcoins

In a recent federal case surrounding a Bitcoin Ponzi scheme, SEC prosecutors contended that Bitcoins were considered “security,” defined as; “any note, stock, treasury stock, security future, security-based swap, bond…[or]investment contract” according to U.S statute 15 U.S.C. § 77b. Federal Judge Amos L. Mazzant agreed, ruling that it was clear that Bitcoins can be used as currency and the “only limitation of Bitcoin is that it is limited to those places that accept it as currency.”

Currently, like many other forms of technology, there is no specific law governing its use. Initially, deemed “experimental currency” in a high-risk environment, U.S. government officials sought clarification of its legal use. After extensive testimony before the U.S Senate’s Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, the U.S. Justice Department described Bitcoin currency as a “legal means of exchange.”  Bloomberg Business reported that “government agencies from the U.S. Secret Service to the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network have weighed in to say that the virtual currency that’s designed to be difficult to trace has potential benefits, as well as risks.”


Future of Bitcoins

So what does that all mean?

Essentially, Bitcoins, as of now, are considered a legal form of currency capable of being exchanged in the U.S. and worldwide markets. So long as retailers, service providers, and online merchants who accept Bitcoins continues to grow, expect Bitcoins to remain legal. On average, there are currently about 30 Bitcoin transactions per minute, however that number is expected to grow exponentially, estimated a report published earlier this month. Bitcoin trading has increased nearly 500 times over the past year, and steadily increasing at rates predicted by industry economist. Moreover, since Bitcoins are created by miners operationg powerful servers capable of completing robust software algorithms embedded within the currency itself, expect Bitcoins volume to increase, both as miners and computing power increases.

How Can You Benefit from Bitcoins?

Bloomberg business news reports that savvy U.S investors have begun allocating more and more of their investments to Bitcoin currency in order to diversify their portfolios. Further, many Wall Street investment firms have begun offering investors options to buy Bitcoins for individual retirement accounts (IRA’s).  Bitcoin Investment trusts have also cropped up creating more than $15 million in funds. Simply put, if you’re interested in spreading your profits and losses out, Bitcoin investments may be a viable option.


While Bitcoins have been given the green light by U.S. treasury officials, it’s still a relatively new trading platform and should be approached with caution. Consequently, according to Bitstamp, in the time it took to compose this post, Bitcoins value increased by nearly a dollar!  However, Bitcoin trading volatility has been influx due to recent Senate inquires and the subsequent validation by U.S officials as an authentic currency. Therefore, once all the dust settles, and you get all the facts, maybe you’ll have a few (Bit)Coins to spare!


Increasing Access to Legal Services begins with Lowering Law School Tuition

legal aid


I recently ran across a post on a fairly well circulated legal blog where the author advocated for allowing Unlicensed Practice of Law commonly known as UPL, to reduce the cost of legal services. In other words, allowing individuals who have not been licensed by any state bar association such as; document preparers, paralegals, and law students to administer legal advice.

Unfortunately, while the author’s heart is in the right place – addressing inadequate access to legal services – the solution he proposes is fatally flawed. To suggest, allowing those without law licenses, such as paralegals, to practice law is unsound and suggests  one’s life, liberty and well-being wouldn’t be outcome dependent. Using the authors logic, those who cannot afford health care would be diagnosed and treated to by unlicensed doctors and practitioners. Can’t afford the high cost of surgery? Maybe a surgeon who isn’t licensed by the medical board can help out.

The author, however, makes some legitimate points. For example, requiring a law license for simple matters such as document preparation is indeed overkill, as evidenced by the emergence of self-service legal services. (Think LegalZoom) However, the author also regrettably adds that by allowing non-lawyer investors to purchase and run law firms, it would result in more efficient legal services and lower costs. Unfortunately, the last I checked, deregulation has done little to improve quality and provide long-term sustainable lower costs to consumers in any market.

The author’s overall analysis was incomplete. Although he briefly touched on the pink elephant in the room – acknowledging that “free legal services are limited to certain legal issues,”-  he leaves out an entire segment of the U.S. legal system in need of adequate legal services, Criminal Defendants. According to the Administrative office of the U.S. Courts , in Federal courts alone, there has been “a 70% jump in the number of pending federal criminal cases in the past decade.” At the same rate, civil federal litigation has been held up at an alarming rate due to the influx of criminal cases.

But criminals are entitled to an attorney if they cannot afford one, right? Yes, federally through the Sixth Amendment and later applied to the states via the Fourteenth Amendment in Gideon v. Wainwright.  However, that does not always amount to adequate representation. Justice Anthony Kennedy recently opined on how 97 percent of all federal cases and 94 percent of all state cases end in plea bargains, leaving serious questions as to the efficiency of criminal legal representation.


I don’t think allowing UPL by non-lawyers is the key to increasing access to and improving the limited legal representation that exists. In my opinion, lowering the overall cost of a legal education would be a good start to increasing access to affordable legal representation.  The ABA Journal reports that the average cost of a legal education with living expenses is around $216,406 for the year 2013! Simply put, on a ten year repayment plan, the monthly cost to repay that amount is over $2500 month, or nearly $16 per hour, per forty-hour work week for the next ten years. On top of that, factor in that attorneys generally earn between $40-65,000 a year before taxes, which amounts to $20-32 per hour in salary. With half, or nearly a third of your salary accounted for in student loan debt, how could anyone afford to provide affordable legal services?

Lowering the cost of legal education

Programs do currently exist that promise to vastly reduce, or even eliminate a young lawyers student loan debt if they work in the public sector for at least ten (10) consecutive years. However, the long term effect of these programs remains to be seen. Mark Kantrowitz, a higher education expert, suggests that law students loan “costs are so out of sync with their employment rates and their incomes that whatever comes later on with other [graduate] programs will probably happen first with law schools.” Simply put, law school tuition is the most grossly over-adjusted post-graduate tuition rates that exist, and if they can fix our problem, they can fix any graduate program with similar issues.

None of this helps us reduce the cost of attending law school; it only reduces the amount students have to pay back. However, schools do exist with reasonable debt to income ratios. Take for instance, Brigham Young University Law School, where the average student debt load was $56,000 and the median starting salary was a healthier $86,000.  reported the ten best law schools where debt to income for the cost of education were the most modest in the nation. What possibly could these schools be doing that other schools aren’t? For starters, they aren’t privately ran institutions charging whatever they wish for tuition. Though unranked schools weren’t included, the emergence of private schools has arguably increased the overall cost of attendance for many newly minted JD’s.

debt-income law schools

Private law school tuition, on average, is $40,585 per year compared to just $23,590 for public law schools. However, all cannot be blamed on greedy private law school investors. A recent U.S. News & World Reports study show that while private law school tuition increased four (4) percent year over year, public law school has increased six (6) percent. Either way, the cost of law school tuition has outpaced the rise of inflation by 3 to 1. Nowhere on earth would this business model make sense and it’s all being financed on the backs of aspiring attorney’s, many of which, myself included, went to law school to help people. With the crushing debt loads students are taking on, it’s increasingly difficult to help anyone who cannot afford to pay the cost of being a lawyer.

High Stakes at High Noon, Patent Litigation Showdown


     One gentleman in particular can arguably be credited for the way most of us use the Internet today! Michael Jones, a patent holder, and also the source of numerous legal battles which have resulted in hundreds of lawsuits and millions of dollars in settlements.  The patent Jones holds is based on an encryption algorithm invented in 1987 well before the Internet became available.

Essentially, many commerce and communication sites use what’s called Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) protocol to communicate securely over the Internet. Specifically, a SSL session encrypts data flowing between two parties, usually the end-user (yourself), and the content provider (think Amazon, GoDaddy, etc.) Internet content providers that utilize SSL protocol encryption includes everything from email providers, Internet faxing, IM’ing, to voice over IP (VoIP) vendors.

However, Mr. Jones patent, US Patent No. 5,412,730, which was originally granted in 1989, predates the internet all together. One may ask, how can a patent before the internet, control internet content providers today? Apparently his original patent application was written broadly enough to justify “suing hundreds of websites yet narrow enough that the case shouldn’t be dismissed as irrelevant over the encryption that existed at the time,” Joe Mullin reported for To date, Mr. Jones has received confidential settlements from over 120 web content providers for SSL protocol use.

One particular company however, decided it would not pay Mr. Jones licensing fees for a patent that was issued before the technology being used was created. Newegg, an online digital retailer, decided to forgo any talks of settlement and take its patent claim defense to the court of law. Specifically, New Egg’s top attorney, Lee Chang, has determinately decided not to pay any settlements to Mr. Jones or his holding company associated with the patent. Mr. Lee basically summarized Mr. Jones and his subsequent holding company as a “Patent Troll,” as he and his legal team prepares for court.


A Patent Troll is defined as “a person or company who enforces patent rights against accused infringers in an attempt to collect licensing fees, but does not manufacture products or supply services based upon the patents in question.” Simply put, it’s loosely analogous to cyber-squatters, those who pre-purchase popular website domains in hopes of cashing in from anyone wishing to purchase that domain later. The White House conducted a study and discovered that patent-troll related lawsuits were up 400% since 2005, and victims of patent trolls paid nearly $29 billion in 2011 alone.


The reason this court battle is so significant is because most corporations who are hit with a patent challenge simply weigh the cost of patent litigation against paying licensing fee’s then usually opt for the less expensive latter. The result of this cost benefit analysis usually leaves patent holders like Mr. Jones with a nice portfolio of royalty paying clients. Mr. Lee’s decision to fight back is being held as courageous among many industry insiders.  Principally, a court victory for Newegg, an any subsequent precedent that is set by the court’s outcome would affect all potential SSL protocol users both past and present.  Corporations currently paying licensing fees for Mr. Jone’s preexisting technology include heavyweights like; Verizon, Lowe’s, CVS, Sprint, Amway, State Farm and Aflac.

Newegg and Mr. Jones’ holding company, TQP Development, will face off in federal court in Marshall, Texas. This particular venue has long been held as a favorite among patent litigators because of its seemingly speedy litigation processing. Although TQP’s patent expired in May 2013, the law provides patent holders to seek retro-active claims up to six years prior. We’ll continue to monitor this one and report on the outcome!


Texas Prosecutor Finally Convicted for Wrongful Conviction

Texas Prosecutor Finally Convicted for Wrongful Conviction
Texas Prosecutor Finally Convicted for Wrongful Conviction


     For the first time in American history, a Texas Prosecutor Finally Convicted for Wrongful Conviction.Ken Anderson, former prosecutor, was criminally charged, convicted, and sentenced for his role in intentionally withholding exculpatory evidence from then Defendant, Michael Morton, who was charged with murder in 1986. Mr. Morton was subsequently sentenced to life in prison in 1987 and served over twenty-years before being released. Mr. Morton was eventually exonerated of all charges in 2011 after DNA evidence cleared him from the possibility of beating and killing his wife in 1986. Michael Morton was present at Mr. Anderson’s sentencing but refrained to comment.

Ken Anderson, 61, served as district attorney when he withheld evidence from Mr. Morton’s defense team. He eventually went on to serve as Judge in Williamson County Texas for over eleven (11) years before resigning this September in light of allegations.  Perhaps what’s most ironic is that Mr. Anderson’s plea agreement precludes Mr. Morton from pursuing any further civil actions against the former district attorney. As a result of Mr. Anderson’s conviction, he will be disbarred and must serve five-hundred (500) hours of community service. Additionally, Mr. Anderson will serve ten (10) days in the Williamson County Jail.

Mr. Anderson initially responded in 2011, while proclaiming his own innocence, offered a flagrantly hypocritical apology, stating that “it’s inconceivable that this happened.” For his role, Mr. Anderson plead No-Contest to the 1987 criminal contempt of court charge and voluntarily agreed to surrender his law license.

Mr. Anderson, though now a convicted criminal, got off extremely light! Ten-days in the County Jail hardly compares to the twenty-four years Mr. Morton served in prison. Moreover, 500 hours of community service pales in comparison to the lost memories, productivity, and opportunities that Mr. Morton missed out on. Mr. Anderson’s sentence isn’t even analogous to a slap on the wrist compared to what Mr. Morton endured. Though Mr. Anderson also lost his license to practice law, at 61 years old, it will hardly have as significant of an impact as portrayed. Yes, while a law license equates to a lawyers livelihood, and without it, our professional skills would be insignificant, at 61 years of age, Mr. Anderson was nearing retirement anyway.


     While I’m grateful, for the first time in history, a prosecutor has been prosecuted and convicted for his criminally negligent conduct, I certainly hope it won’t’ be the last. The Innocence Project  reports that since DNA evidence has been used, there have been over three-hundred elven (311) post-conviction DNA exoneration’s in the United States. Of those exonerated, eighteen (18) of which were sentenced to death, an additional sixteen (16) were sentenced for capital murder. The average prison stay for a wrongly convicted innocent person is nearly fourteen (14) years before exoneration. In Arizona alone, the AZ Justice Project reports there have been eleven (11) wrongful convictions overturned, and over forty-five (45) cases in court or under the supervision of a review team.

Though, Mr. Morton was white, race undoubtedly plays a factor in wrongful convictions. Of the 311 post-conviction DNA exoneration in the United States since 1989, 193 were Black. Simply put, 62% of all exonerated convictions were Black men, though Black men roughly comprise 40% of the US prison population and only 6% of the American population, according to the US Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS).  That said, more needs to be done! Hopefully, more will be the literal translation of an Independent Review being established in Williamson County to audit every case Mr. Anderson has ever prosecuted.

Given the grave statistics, absent any state statutory recourse, there should be federal legislation requiring prosecutorial audits wherever wrongful convictions are overturned. We cannot continue to rely on individual municipalities to simply “do the right thing.” There needs to be systematic checks and balances that are mechanically triggered wherever prosecutorial misconduct is found. Here, lies a perfect example and opportunity to do so! That said, at a minimum, I hope this serves as a shot across the bow to all over-zealous prosecutors blinded by the tunnel-vision their professional aspirations create.  I sincerely hope those who cut seemingly insignificant corners in pursuit of justice are put on notice by Mr. Anderson’s conviction.

Texas Prosecutor Finally Convicted for Wrongful Conviction

Arizona Supreme Court v. Arizona State Legislature


This week the Arizona Supreme Court heard oral arguments from a Maricopa County deputy attorney Susan Luder, arguing for the right to charge Arizona drivers who have ingested marijuana – in some cases months prior to driving – with a DUI.

It all stems from a December 2010 traffic stop for speeding and an unsafe lane change by Mr. Shilgevorkyan, the Appellant, who was subsequently taken to a County Sheriff’s command post where he consented to a blood test. It should be noted Arizona utilizes a very strict implied consent law which essentially penalizes refusing a blood alcohol test with an automatic twelve (12) month driver’s license suspension. That said, Appellant’s blood test eventually revealed approximately eight (8) Nano grams of Carboxy-Tetrahydrocannabinol (Carboxy-THC) State ex rel. Montgomery v. Harris ex rel. Cnty. of Maricopa, 301 P.3d 580, 581 (Ariz. Ct. App. 2013).

The Appellant was subsequently charged with violating Arizona law, A.R.S §28-1381(A)(3), which essentially makes it ”unlawful for a person to drive or be in actual physical control of a vehicle in this state … [w]hile there is any drug defined in section 13–3401 or its metabolite in the person’s body.” Id.  Mr. Shilgevorkyan’s charges were later dismissed in Justice Court during an evidentiary hearing where the prosecution failed to convince the court the presence of marijuana metabolites could impair ones driving.

Later, the Maricopa County Superior court affirmed the Justice court’s ruling, where it determined the statute was ambiguous as to whether the term “metabolite” was meant to be plural or singular. In doing so, the court ruled that the “[s]tate had not shown “the legislature necessarily intended to include all possible derivatives of drugs—particularly inactive end products that no longer affect an individual.” Id.

The State could not let sleeping dogs lie where they lay and appealed the ruling to the Arizona Court of Appeals. The Court of Appeals stuck to the strict language of State v. Hammonds, citing Stave v. Phillips ,determining that  AZ’s strict DUI “statute created a flat ban on driving with any proscribed substance in the body, whether capable of causing impairment or not.” Id. at 582. The court even followed up with case-law allowing courts to construe statutory language plurally where it would “enable the court to carry out legislative intent.” Id at 583.

According to Capital Media Services Reporter, Howard Fischer, the deputy County Attorney was unable to dispute the County’s own expert witness who agreed with Appellant that the presence of marijuana metabolite would not indicate if someone is impaired or not.  The attorney for the Appellant, Michael Alarid, said that the ruling would essentially ban driving by anyone with trace amounts of Carboxy-THC in their blood, and noted it would be an “absurd result.”  The Supreme Court Justices gave no clear indication on which way they were leaning.

Arizona already, argubly, has some of the toughest DUI laws in the United States. There is no public policy need or conern to make them even tougher.  Arizona is known for its libertarian spirit, the notion that government should remain as least intrusive as possible. However, here, the law as applied, would make what you do in the privacy of your home weeks before entering the public doman, a concern of the State. This logic flies in the face of free spirit in Arizona.

This case involves two sides, the Arizona Legislature and the Arizona Supreme Court. The AZ legislature, in their infinite wisdom, left the language overly inclusive.  It is now up to the Supreme Court to narrow the broad net cast by Arizona Legislature’s oversight. We can only hope our states Supreme Justices can reign in some of the hypocrisy that has come out of Arizona the past few years which undoubtedly winds its way up to the United States Supreme Court docket. Think SB1070! Let’s all do our part in keeping Arizona out of the national news for more silliness. All eyes are on the Supreme Court!