Pope Prediction

South Texas College of Law professor Josh Blackman thinks he can predict who will be the next pope. Or rather, he thinks the wisdom of the masses can do so using fantasypope.com, a website he launched Feb. 28 that lets users choose the top five contenders for the papacy. After logging on with a social-media account, people can browse descriptions of 15 candidates and choose their picks. People can vote multiple times, as the site explains, "[W]e encourage you to vote again if the Vatican chimney bellows black smoke, signaling another round of voting will be needed." The crowd’s choices are more accurate than an expert, says Blackman. He should know. Since 2009, he has operated fantasySCOTUS.net, a site with 15,000 members who try to predict the outcome of U.S. Supreme Court cases. Users of the site accurately predicted that President Barack Obama would nominate Elena Kagan to the highest court in the land, says Blackman. He expects fantasypope.com to spread across the Internet and grow quickly. He’s excited to see the final result, he says: "Did the guy we pick become the pope?"

Cruise Catastrophe

Just more than a month has passed since Houston solo Scott Douglass and his wife boarded the Carnival Triumph, not knowing that an engine fire would strand the cruise ship and uncomfortably extend their 26th wedding anniversary celebration. Despite the ruined vacation — and although he may have missed four or five real-estate assignments at work — Douglass says he won’t file suit or join any of the class actions that others have filed. He thinks the suits are "premature," noting that federal courts impose disclosure requirements and strict deadlines. Before filing, lawyers should know the facts, like: "What are my damages, what are my damages worth, who is responsible and is it recoverable," explains Douglass. He adds that the incident happened in international waters, and he thinks, "There was no clear indication there was anything defective with that ship." Boarding the ship on Feb. 7, Douglass and his wife spent a couple of "restful" days enjoying the abundant food and spending time in the onboard casino, says Douglass. It was the first vacation the couple had taken independent of their three sons, who range in age from 19 to 22. The trip turned sour on Feb. 10 when the fire erupted. Stranded onboard with no electricity until Feb. 14, the couple experienced many discomforts: Boredom, long lines for cold meals and waterlogged hallways. "The biggest problem was the fact the toilets didn’t flush," Douglass says. "In the first day, they handed out red bags. . . . You were supposed to do business in the red bag." The ship’s crew told passengers to urinate into shower drains, which Douglass says was a "mistake," because some cabins on the ship’s exterior flooded interior cabins. Those unlucky passengers then slept outdoors, he adds. The Douglass’ room had a balcony, which meant fresh air and light, he says. Also, on the bright side, something interesting happened without electricity. "There was probably more interaction amongst the people on the cruise than you’d ever see on a normal cruise," explains Douglass. People became friends and shared things. "If you have nothing to do, people revert back to — you take away their communication devices — guess what they have to do? They have to talk to each other."

In Memoriam

Austin lawyer Ross Ehlinger died on March 3 while competing in a California triathlon. A lawyer with Austin’s Grove, Ehlinger & Deaderick, he graduated from St. Mary’s University School of Law in San Antonio in 1992, according to information on the State Bar of Texas website. Ehlinger passed away during the swim portion of the Escape from Alcatraz Triathlon, a 1.5-mile swim from Alcatraz Island to San Francisco, according to a message from the event’s organizers on the event’s website. For 20 years, Ehlinger practiced before County Court-at-Law Judge David Phillips in Austin, Phillips says. "I looked it up yesterday; he tried 12 jury trials in my court to a verdict," he notes. "He did a lot of insurance defense, but he also did some plaintiffs’ work," Phillips says. "He always won," the judge adds, recalling that the lawyer’s approach with juries was sincere and earnest. "He was Mr. Humble. It wasn’t an act at all. It was the way he was." The judge says Ehlinger would tell the jury, " ‘I don’t know if what he’s saying is true. If it is, you ought to rule against us. But do you really think it’s true? I just don’t know.’ " Phillips didn’t know Ehlinger was a triathlete because the lawyer preferred to talk about his kids and family. "He would come to court with sunburn, because he had been out coaching on the weekend, and we talked about his kids and his coaching and what the family did," Phillips says. Ehlinger was respected and liked by his peers, Phillips says. "You won’t find a lawyer on the other side of any case he tried who had anything to say about him that was bad," Phillips says. "He never had a disagreement with anybody in a courtroom that I can remember." County court operations officer Nellie Celedon says she was in shock Monday after learning, from one of Ehlinger’s colleagues, that Ehlinger had died during a triathlon. "I was just speaking to him last week, and he looked great," she says. "He was wonderful with the staff here," Celedon says. "He always made you laugh and came in with a great smile." Ehlinger was at the courthouse regularly to check on trial assignments, she says. "Instead of having his staff call, he would come by and visit us. We’re going to miss that. He was a personable, lovely, happy lawyer who enjoyed what he did."

Senior Status

Longtime U.S. District Judge Kenneth Hoyt of Houston celebrated his 65th birthday on March 2 by officially taking senior status. While senior judges have the option of taking as many or as few cases as they want, Hoyt says he’s opting for the former. "It’s going to be about 80 percent of a full load. And I’m still available to work," Hoyt says. Hoyt’s last major task on the bench was assuming the docket of former U.S. District Judge Sam Kent of Galveston after Kent was sent to prison for 33 months and was later impeached by Congress. "When I first went to Galveston, we had two problems. We had no judge, and we had a hurricane," Hoyt says, noting that Hurricane Ike filled the basement of the Galveston federal courthouse with water in 2008. Workers rebuilt the damage in the courthouse, while Hoyt rebuilt its docket, which had shriveled. "We had a docket of 150 cases," when Hoyt arrived in 2009, he says. "That lasted about six months. The lawyers found out there was a nonresident judge in the courthouse. And it was 450 cases when I left" in 2011. President Barack Obama appointed Gregg Costa to the Galveston U.S. District Court in 2011. "And Judge Costa has about 600 cases now," Hoyt says.