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On Oct. 5 of last year, I spoke to the American Bar Association’s International Law Section in London. On Oct. 19, I spoke to the Nebraska State Bar Convention in Lincoln. In between, I spent a week in a decompression chamber to keep from getting the bends. I had a great time in both venues. I officiated two National Hockey League games in London and took in the Nebraska-Texas A&M football game in Lincoln. I was a pig in slop. In many ways, the experiences were much the same. In London, I had great food (I could live for a long time on steak and ale pie, and they do nice things with venison) and went to the British Museum, where I saw some of the Chinese terra cotta soldiers on exhibit. In Lincoln, I had great food (you are not allowed to leave Memorial Stadium without eating at least one runza (1)) and went to the National Museum of Roller Skating, where I saw “the colorful history and the promising future of one of America’s favorite sports.” (2) In both places, I met really nice people. So, as you can see, there is not much to distinguish these two places except that London has part of an ocean protecting it from the maniacal French, while Nebraska is chockablock next to the maniacal Kansans and you pretty much live in constant fear that they might pour across the border at any moment and take your science textbooks away from you. Other than that, I think you could have a great weekend in either place. But I must admit, I’m starting to think Nebraska, even given its terrifying juxtaposition with the newest state in the union (3), might be a safer bet than England. In fact, I’m starting to distrust any place that requires me to fly over a larger body of water than the Great Salt Lake. So help me, folks, at the risk of sounding chauvinistic, (4) I’m starting to think governments in the rest of the world are smoking even more weed than ours is. NOT IN FRANCE Let’s start with the Brits. According to Reuters, a panel made up of “three of Britain’s most senior judges” has discovered an inalienable human right not to live in France. Imagine. Eight hundred years since the Magna Carta and nobody in Britain had previously noticed that there was this innate human right just lying there. Remarkable. This will be an interesting precedent — especially for people like my wife, who tends to develop strong feelings about places we visit. (5) Employment lawyers will be especially interested in this case when the head office orders their client transferred from Newport Beach to Burundi. (6) The Brits detected this inalienable right during a family law case. You knew it would be family law, didn’t you? Family law makes everybody crazy. Seems British dad and French mom split up. Mom took their two sons, ages 11 and 16, with her to France. But after a visit with Dad in England, the boys refused to return to France, on the basis that in England they could “walk to school, could have their own key and would not have to do as much homework.” (7) The court, citing the boys’ “Britishness,” (8) said they had “an inherent right to refuse to live in France.” It’s not exactly “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” or even “ libert�, egalit�, fraternit�,” but it is the first inherent human right discovered since Justice William Douglas wandered into a penumbra while on a camping trip in 1965 and wrote about it in Griswold v. Connecticut, so it’s nothing to be sneezed at. I mean, inalienable human rights don’t pop up every day. I really think it should have gotten a lot more attention from the legal press than it did. NO JAIL FOR HIM Probably, though, it was overshadowed by the decision of the South Korean Court of Appeals to suspend a prison sentence on the basis that the defendant was too important to the national economy to be locked up for three years. That’s right. Go back and read the sentence again. It says exactly what you think it says: He was too important to do the time. Chung Mong-koo, the 69-year-old chairman of Hyundai Motor Co., was convicted of embezzling $100 million from his company. For this he was sentenced to three years in prison. (9) But the appellate court suspended his sentence ON THE BASIS HE WAS TOO IMPORTANT TO GO TO JAIL. (10) Honest. According to the Los Angeles Times, quoting the Associated Press, two organizations not on the list of the world’s largest importers of hallucinogenic drugs, “In reversing Chung’s sentence, presiding Judge Lee Jae-hong told a packed courtroom in Seoul, �I was unwilling to engage in a gamble that would put the nation’s economy at risk.’” And they’re clearly right. I mean, I saw a picture of him, and he had a tie on and everything. He sure looked important to me. And there were a bunch of people shoving microphones in his face like he was announcing the discovery of a cure for psoriasis — or a newly discovered inherent human right. Which, come to think of it, he was. He was announcing the right to do whatever you damn well please if you’re really rich and live in Korea. It’s a lot like Britishness only it comes with a get-out-of-jail-free card instead of a get-out-of-France-free card. Nor is this some kind of bizarre fluke. According to the Times, “Chey Tae-won, the chairman of another conglomerate, energy giant SK Corp., had his three-year prison sentence suspended by an appeals court last year after he was convicted of fraud.” In fact, the Times says 83 percent of suspects in cases of embezzlement and breach of fiduciary duty have been set free by South Korean courts since 2001. Keep that in mind next time you feel like griping about American courts being soft on crime. SICILIAN TOASTERS But as bad as these two are, the one that really worries me is the Italian decision that space aliens are testing secret weapons in Sicily. According to The Week, Sicilian villagers in Canneto di Caronia had reported that refrigerators and toasters and things have been spontaneously bursting into flames in their town. The Italian government investigated and concluded that “aliens testing secret weapons” are probably responsible. I just don’t know what to add to that. How can you read that and not think that maybe you want to postpone your trip to Venice for a year or two? (11) Here is what the Malaysia Sun (12) had to say about it: “Dozens of experts, including a scientist from the U.S. space agency NASA, were sent to investigate the bizarre blazes, in a two-year probe which cost the exchequer a whopping 1 million pounds. Now a leaked Italian report has said that aliens were a likely cause of the fires in the remote village of Canneto de Caronia in Sicily.” Makes Lincoln, Neb., look pretty good, doesn’t it? Just be sure to approach Lincoln from the north or west. You don’t want to come in through Kansas. They’ll arrest you on suspicion of being a biologist, and you’ll have to invoke your inalienable human right to rip off Koreans in France. (13)
1. This is a beef and cabbage pie, not all that unlike Cornish pasties, only surrounded by screaming people wearing red.2. Not to mention a gasoline-powered roller skate — you gotta go to the Web site and see this bad boy, although, as you can imagine, it’s much more impressive in person. 3. This would be Kansas. True, they were admitted to the Union in 1861, but according to their school system, they were created only 6,000 years ago, which makes them much newer than any of the other states.4. In the original sense of the term. Nicolas Chauvin. “My country right or wrong.” That kinda thing. 5. Kelly cannot understand, for example, how Houston, Texas, can be anything but a penal colony.6. Or Houston. 7. Considerations that have inexplicably not made their way into any reported California custody cases.8. I’m guessing this was established either by sophisticated DNA analysis or the fact the boys found Benny Hill funny, which is not possible for anyone who is not British.9. As I understand the South Korean sentencing system, embezzlement of less than the gross national product of Gambia, the maximum punishment is three years. Chung just made it under the wire.10. I don’t resort to all caps too often. This seemed to be a clause that merited them. In the first place, they gave him only three years for embezzling $100 million. Let me go on the record right here: For $100 million, I would go to prison for three years tomorrow. That isn’t a sentence, it’s a power forward’s contract demand.11. Don’t do it. Don’t EVER postpone a trip to Venice.12. Yeah, I know, not exactly The New York Times, but probably a lot more reliable than Fox News. What can I tell you? Except for The Week, very few mainstream news organizations covered this. Nobody wants to report on a major world government going absolutely loonytunes. It’s too disturbing.13. No, it doesn’t make sense, but if you say it with real conviction, it may confuse them long enough for you to hightail it across the border into Nebraska. Nice people in Nebraska. Wear red.


William W. Bedsworth is an associate justice at the 4th District Court of Appeal in Santa Ana, Calif. This article previously appeared in The Recorder , an ALM publication in San Francisco.

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