Parks and Recreation producer/writer and Phish superfan Harris Wittels tragically passed away earlier this year at the age of 30. The cause of death, revealed yesterday, confirmed suspicions of an accidental heroin overdose (“acute heroin intoxication” is the technical term). Wittels was thoroughly beloved by many in the music community, in his Parks and Rec family and beyond. A memorable tribute from his co-star Aziz Ansari clearly showed what a special and funny person Harris was.Yesterday, Phish’s Mike Gordon posted a photo to his Instagram account of himself wearing a shirt that read “Harris” inside of the Phish logo. A fitting tribute for a devoted phan. RIP, Harris! [Via E! News / Relix]
If you can bear to tear yourself away from contemplation of justice cuts in the UK, here is a story of justice cuts in the richest country on earth. We are becoming poorer in the West, loaded with debts from living beyond our means, while countries in the East are growing richer. Even the US has justice troubles. The current president of the American Bar Association has set up a Task Force on the Preservation of the Justice System as one of the four core initiatives of his presidential year. He has asked two legendary US litigators to chair it, David Boies (Democrat, who represented Gore in Bush v Gore) and Theodore B. Olson (Republican, who represented Bush in the same case). The US courts system has been under-funded for some time, but matters are now critical. I shall start with two pieces of constitutional background, which may be well-known to you. First, the courts are one of the three branches of government in the US, along with the executive and the legislature. There is a feeling that the other two branches are starving the third branch of funds – which in any case takes up a tiny percentage of the budget, usually between 1% and 2% – to increase their own power. Second, the courts which are really suffering are the state (not federal) courts, which are funded by the state governments. Just for information, in 2001, there were 37 million filings in state courts, while the number of filings in federal courts totalled only 1.49 million bankruptcy cases, and 317,996 civil and criminal cases. Federal courts are suffering, too – from judicial vacancies and the politicisation of the confirmation process – but nowhere near as much as state courts. There is a very interesting table and map showing the effects of the budget squeeze. Here are some of the consequences, with the number of states affected in brackets after each activity: reduced hours of operation (15 – for instance, the courts were closed one day per month in California in 2009-2010); increased filing fees and costs (22); judicial vacancies not filled (26); furlough – what we would call reduced days of working with consequent pay reductions – for judges (9) and support staff (16); salary freezes (29). The list of measures goes on and on: resources diverted from civil adjudication (jury trials suspended); increased number of self‐represented litigants; lengthier time for cases to be heard (prioritising criminal and child welfare); and consolidation of courts. There is an interesting by-product to the gloom, which is an increased use of technology, for obvious cost-saving reasons. Nearly every state reports a steep increase in the use of technology, from e-filing, e-payment of fees and fines, videoconferencing for court hearings, and (maybe not so justifiably) remote court interpreting by video or phone. What are the consequences? Here are some of them taken from an interview with the two chairs: ‘They are closing whole courthouses in Los Angeles so now a juror has to drive an hour and a half to get to jury duty… ‘Judges are saying, “We are being asked to do more, we want to do the right thing and we are not able to do the right thing because we don’t have the resources to do the right thing. ‘”We are being asked to work more cases, longer hours under more difficult circumstances, we don’t have interpreters in our court, we don’t have court reporters in our court, we don’t have bailiffs to preserve security in our court and we’re not being paid enough. So what are we going to do? We’re going to quit. We’re not going to be there any more.” … ‘This is not a conservative or liberal issue, this is not whether you like a particular court decision or dislike it. It’s not a Republican or Democratic issue. ‘This is an issue for everybody who believes in our constitutional system. It’s for everybody who cares about justice. It’s for every individual who cares about having a predictable, safe place to go to get disputes resolved when other aspects of our society fail them.’ From a distance, it does look like a Republican or Democrat issue: why don’t they raise taxes? But that is to begin a debate which has echoes here in the UK, and will bring down an avalanche on my head.
Partners at City firms Linklaters, Nabarro and Olswang are set to face questions from MPs next week over their role in the collapse of the department store BHS.Former Arcadia group chair Lord Grabiner QC (pictured) is also among those invited to give evidence.The Business, Innovation and Skills Committee and the Work and Pensions Committee are undertaking a joint inquiry into the sale of BHS for £1 by Arcadia boss Sir Philip Green to City investors Retail Acquisition Limited in March last year.On Monday the committee will focus on the role of advisers and their advice on the BHS pension arrangement and the sale and purchase of BHS. Owen Clay, a corporate partner at Linklaters, will face questions in connection to his advice to Arcadia on the disposal of BHS. Ian Greenstreet, a pensions partner at Nabarro and Anne-Marie Winton, a former partner at Nabarro, now at ARC Pensions Law, will face questions on Monday over their advice on pensions.David Roberts, a corporate partner at Olswang, has been invited to appear before MPs on Wednesday in connection to his role advising on the acquisition of BHS by Retail Acquisition. Source: Dinendra Haria/REX/ShutterstockSolicitors Mark Tasker and Eddie Parladorio, who were directors at Retail Acquisition, will also have to face questions on Wednesday. Tasker is currently head of corporate and commercial at Bates Wells Braithwaite, while Parladorio is a partner at Manleys.Ian Wright MP, chair of the BIS committee, said the session will explore how Retail Acquisitions was considered a suitable buyer.He said: ‘We will want to untangle the nature of the advice, both formal and informal, which was provided to Arcadia and [Retail Acquisition] as part of the sale process.’