Midweek Recess: The Rolling Stones, Haunted Houses and the Best Firms for Women

Welcome to Law.com’s Midweek Recess, in which we round up some tasty tidbits from the week’s legal news cycle. We’ll be here every Wednesday, so grab a cup of coffee and take a little break. It’s all downhill to the weekend from here.

No Satisfaction - U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia may be no fan of rock music (when it’s disturbing his peace in public, at least), but D.C. Circuit Judge Janice Rogers Brown seems to have an appreciation for classic tunes – and for the enduring wisdom of The Rolling Stones. Brown cited Mick Jagger & Co. in the opening of her opinion in a campaign finance case involving Stop This Insanity Inc., a Tea Party-affiliated nonprofit group. “The iconic musician Mick Jagger famously mused, “You can’t always get what you want. But if you try sometimes, well, you just might find, you get what you need,” Brown wrote, with a citation to the unconventional source material: “The Rolling Stones, You Can’t Always Get What You Want, on Let It Bleed (Decca Records 1969).”

The opinion states that what Stop This Insanity wants is the loosening of restrictions on solicitation by separate segregated funds, a type of political action committee connected to a parent corporation. But, the court says, the group already has what it needs: “an unrestrained vehicle, in the form of that parent corporation, which can engage in unlimited political spending.” Stop This Insanity “is already capable of sweeping solicitation,” Brown wrote. “And yet, it wants a vehicle capable of soliciting without transparency.” And in this, the court ruled, STII is out of luck. For good measure, Brown concludes the opinion with with a reference to another classic Rolling Stones refrain: “Try as it might, STII will get no satisfaction.”

The musical/legal stylings in Brown’s ruling – which are earning her major cool points in coverage of the case — are part of a time-honored tradition of song lyrics in judicial opinions. Past studies have found that Bob Dylan is the most popular lyricist among judges looking to make their point through song. Dylan’s lyrics have even made their way into the high court’s rulings, cited by Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. and referenced by (gasp) Justice Scalia.

Moving On Up… Slowly – Working Mother and Flex-Time Lawyers recently put out their list of the 50 Best Law Firms for Women. According to the report, “the winning firms lead the profession in supporting flexible work arrangements and offering generous paid parental leave.” They’ve also got higher-than-average numbers of women in leadership positions.

So, who did well?  Baker & McKenzie, Cooley, Davis Wright Tremaine, Farella Braun + Martel, Goodwin Procter, Jenner & Block, Latham & Watkins, Morrison & Foerster, Reed Smith, Sidley Austin and Wilmer Hale were among the honorees (the full list is available here).

And what did they do to make the list? Nineteen percent of their equity partners are female. Women occupy 24% of their executive committee seats. Ninety-six percent allow lawyers working reduced hours to be considered for promotion to equity partnership (although in the last year, a grand total of zero made it). Women of color comprise on average 12% of their associates and 2% of their equity partners. Forty percent say a woman is one of their top ten rainmakers.

There is news to celebrate here: Close to one-fourth of executive committee seats is not bad, and more women making it rain is always something we’ll cheer for.

Overall, though, the study confirms what we suspected when we saw this headline and clicked on it, hoping for good news: These firms (and others) are working hard to make the law a better field for women, and there are some gains, but we’re not “there” yet. There’s a long way to go to get “there.”

“There,” by the by, means the future, when glass ceilings will be repurposed as windows for (numerous) female partners’ big, huge offices.

Haunted House Hubbub – Would you live in a house where a murder had taken place? The Pennsylvania Supreme Court says that while your answer to that question might well be no, a seller is under no obligation to let you know about violence that took place in a home you might be purchasing.

How did this come up? Well, a couple, Kathleen and Joseph Jacono, bought a house in which a murder/suicide took place (we’ll spare you the details). They fixed the house up and sold it to Janet S. Milliken — without telling her about the home’s history. When she moved in, she was told by a neighbor about horrible event, and was pretty freaked out.

But rather than performing an exorcism, she went for the legal equivalent — a lawsuit, which makes all the bad things go away! Well, not quite: Milliken sued the Jaconos for fraud and violation of consumer protection laws. According to the court, while the couple was obligated to disclose any material defects the house had (which, in this instance, they did), “purely psychological stigmas are not material defects of property,” since they are not “defects in the structure itself.”

The court added that while it understood that the idea of violence taking place in a home might dissuade people from purchasing the home, “one cannot quantify the psychological impact of murder” or other violent crimes (such as “a bloodless death” or “satanic rituals”) on a home. Since they’re not quantifiable, the court believes that it is “a slippery slope” to impose the obligation to disclose them on sellers.

Of course, this multi-year kerfluffle could have been avoided had the sellers followed their real estate agent’s advice “just to get it out there” and be honest about the home’s past. But, hey, no big deal, it’s not like they got sued or anything, right? Oh. Right.

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