Thursday, August 11, 2005

Legal contemplations

First, I want to note for the record that I am a complete sap for Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. I always make sure I know where my Kleenex are when it comes on, as I'm almost guaranteed to lose it before it's over. I've been known to need one during the introductory segment. And Ty Pennington is second only to Queer Eye for the Straight Guy's Thom Filicia in my mental list of interior designers I would hire if price were no object.

This lawsuit that has been brought against ABC TV and EM:HE has got me thinking on a few levels, not all of which have to do with whether or not I should worry about EM:HE's integrity. I'm handing them a large chunk of benefit of the doubt right now. They get told a story, they check it out, and move forward on the belief it's legitimate. If they were lied to, which is essential to the argument the Higginses are making in their suit against the Leomitis, they're victims as much as anyone else. They're the ones who paid to turn a three-bed one-bath into a nine-bed six-bath. I wouldn't be surprised to see a parallel suit for fraud.

Now let's assume that the Higginses aren't lying. Under American law, they'll get a cash settlement that they may never see, as the Leomitis could turn around and file for bankruptcy even with the changes Bush signed into law. If ABC is held liable, they may use it as a PR opportunity or lock it up in appeals for years. The losers might sell the house to pay it off instead, leaving neither with the fruits of the makeover crew's labors. I am left wondering how a brehon would have judged the case.

Irish law before the imposition of Anglo-Norman jurisprudence was based on compensation for injustices rendered. There was a complex system based on the gender and social standing of the offender, the offended, and the nature of the crime. And you had to pony up. This is why the penalties were based on your rank. It's hardly fair to force an apprentice blacksmith to pay a landowner's penalty.

In this case, a lower-class person offered the hospitality of a middle-class landowner was used by the latter to obtain a false elevation in rank, then ejected when the cameras went away. Under hospitality law, the landowner went above and beyond the minimums required. But at the same time, they presented themselves publicly as a united household, not merely making the other family honored guests. This could be seen as linking their ranks and elevating the poorer family accordingly.

I should note that under brehon law, all of the orphans are legal adults (age of majority in pre-Anglo Ireland was 14 for women, 17 for men, and the youngest of the five is 14). This turns the suit into adult vs. adult, making each of the orphans eligible for compensation according to their genders.

Returning to the presumption of liability (the case isn't settled, so I'm not saying the Leomitis did anything wrong), there's also the matter of ABC being defrauded. There were no corporations in brehon times, so the closest parallel I can see is they yanked the chain of the local nobility. Who would be within their rights to press for compensatory justice.

So, you have a landowner who, assuming guilt, is indebted to five lower-class adults and an upper-class individual. I think you'd call it theft under that code. With a return of the stolen property plus additional compensation for the time and trouble, the Leomitis would probably lose the house.The neighbors who pitched in (parallel to the crew ABC hired) would probably enact some amateur justice of their own, and they'd never let that family come back to that section of Ireland again. And I think that if the nobleman had studied Cormac's philosophy on rulership, he'd give the now-abandoned house to the Higginses.

You know, there are times when I like the idea of a system based on compensation with no way to file paperwork to get out of it.

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