Obiter Dicta

A Slippery Slope

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And now we know the cost of redecorating a room with petroleum jelly, at least in Broome County, N.Y.

For Robert F. Chamberlain, 45, of McLean, Va., the cost, as determined by Broome County Judge Patrick H. Mathews, was $3,886 in damages to a room at a Motel 6 near Binghamton and three years of probation.

And that doesn’t include whatever Chamberlain paid for the 14 jars of petroleum jelly that he used to coat the room and all its contents.

Chamberlain was sentenced after pleading guilty in December to a misdemeanor charge of criminal mischief.

He was arrested in May by Broome County sheriff’s deputies after a cleaning crew at the Motel 6 in Chenango found that everything in his room–even the television–had been slathered down with petroleum jelly. Sheriff’s deputies arrested him at another motel. He was covered in evidence himself at the time of his arrest, according to police reports.

Chamberlain’s motive remains a puzzle. He offered no explanation for his actions during his court appearances, and Judge Mathews did not inquire. All Chamberlain’s attorney, Mark Kachadourian, would say is, “I can’t comment on that at this time.” That air of mystery has made Chamberlain a bit of a celebrity.

“I’m amazed at the interest and the way it caught the people’s fancy,” says Kachadourian. “Newspeople called from all over the country. Females wanted to meet him.”

No Kidding

Legal Reformers Stage Stand-Up Routineat Courthouse, Win Second Show

Here’s the setup: Two guys walk up to a courthouse and loudly tell a derogatory lawyer joke. A lawyer in line admonishes them, then reports them to court personnel, who arrest them for disorderly conduct. Guess who gets the last laugh.

Harvey Kash and Carl Lanzisera–the two would-be comedians–are co-founders of Americans for Legal Reform. The group came into being after Lanzisera went through a lengthy, expensive divorce in 1980.

“Bills were $500,000,” says Lanzisera, who owned a stock brokerage in Huntington Station, N.Y. “I found out what they did to me, they did to people all over the country.” He eventually sued his own two lawyers and ended up pro se.

“We’re helping educate people about the legal system,” Lanzisera says, and the way he and Kash do that is to “court watch. We go with pencil and paper. We write down what judges did wrong. We keep a list of what lawyers do wrong.”

Getting back to the brouhaha, Daniel Bagnuola, director of community relations for the Nassau County courts, said in a statement that the charges alleged that the duo “engaged in threatening behavior against a lieutenant, including repeated loud, abusive and profane public outbursts, and conduct which interfered with the administration of justice and the public’s lawful assembly in the courthouse.”

Lanzisera explains, “We were telling jokes to the police outside. … We’ve been doing this for 15 years.”

On Feb. 8, a grand jury did not return an indictment against Kash, who testified he was exercising his First Amendment rights. The charges against Lanzisera had been dismissed earlier because of insufficient evidence.

Stories by James Podgers, Binghamton (Va.) Press & Sun-Bulletin, N.Y. Times, The Associated Press; Research by Wendell LaGrand.

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