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California Marriage, MySpace Hoax & Auction Sites at War

One big story and a couple of notes:

Biggest legal news is the California Supreme Court’s 4-3 decision allowing gay marriage on equal protection grounds (172 pg. opinion). Called “revolutionary,” this was a double “first” – the first time a court used “strict scrutiny” to examine a law aimed at gays (an earlier Massachusetts decision had used only a “rational basis” test, but ruled for gay marriage anyway) AND the first time sexual orientation has been deemed a “suspect classification” like race and gender. Much was made of the fact that six of the seven judges were Republican appointees, three of whom voted in the majority. Conservative groups promised a November referendum for a constitutional amendment to overthrow the decision (raising the fun legal thicket of a potentially unconstitutional constitutional amendment) but Gov. Schwarzenegger said he’d oppose the referendum. Lots of analysis here.

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In a story I discussed here, the feds have stepped in to prosecute Lori Drew in the MySpace Hoax Suicide. Missouri authorities had determined that Drew had broken no Missouri laws and declined to prosecute, but the feds will try to use a law primarily directed toward computer hacking. From the AP story:

The indictment alleges one count of conspiracy and three counts of accessing protected computers without authorization to get information used to inflict emotional distress on the girl [Megan Meier], who hanged herself.

U.S. Attorney Thomas P. O’Brien said this was the first time the federal statute on accessing protected computers has been used in a social-networking case. It has been used in the past to address hacking.

“This was a tragedy that did not have to happen,” O’Brien said at a Los Angeles press conference.

Both the girl and MySpace are named as victims in the case, he said.

Rebecca Lonergan, a former federal prosecutor who now teaches law at the University of Southern California, said use of the federal cyber crime statute may be open to challenge.

Lonergan, who used the statute in the past to file charges in computer hacking and trademark theft cases, said the crimes covered by the law involve obtaining information from a computer, not sending messages out to harass someone.

“Here it is the flow of information away from the computer,” she said. “It’s a very creative, aggressive use of the statute. But they may have a legally tough time meeting the elements.”

Will try to follow this and report.

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Finally, eBay vs. craigslist is underway in California state court. With facts and personal animosity reminiscent of the Papa Johns vs. Pizza Hut classic, this should be fun to watch.