Samuel Goldberg has been a Massachusetts criminal defense attorney for 20 years. Prior to that, he was a New York state prosecutor. He has published various articles regarding the practice of criminal law and frequently provides legal analysis on radio and television, appearing on outlets such as the Fox News Channel, Court TV, MSNBC and The BBC Network. To speak to Sam about a criminal matter call (617) 492 3000.

A Boston Criminal Defense Attorney Must Ask…Is The Antibullying Bill, Now Leaping Over Legislative Hurdles, the Solution? (Part One)

Oboy! It’s so exciting to solve age-old presumably unsolvable problems! Here in the Boston area, we seem to be doing just that. Can it be that our government is going to come up with really well-thought-out solutions and reduce the need for lawyers running around in civil and criminal courtrooms dealing with the fallout?

Sure. We’ve also finally outlawed the Ozone Layer.

Sweeping ant bullying legislation is poised for passage after lawmakers have struck agreement on a measure that proposes to require school employees to report all bullying incidents and require principals to investigate them. And that’s just for starters!

The bill now moves to the House of Representatives and Senate, where it is expected to win overwhelming approval any minute now.

Governor Devil Patrick has also voiced strong support for the bill, which gained momentum after the highly publicized deaths of 15-year-old Phoebe Prince and 11-year-old Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover, who took their own lives after being bullied.

Representative Martha Walz, the bill’s primary author, said the mandatory reporting requirements will help deter bullying and prevent it from reaching dangerous proportions.

Gee, and I thought the indictments against 9 kids brought by certain very public super-heroic district attorney was supposed to have done that…!

The bill requires principals to notify parents of both the aggressor and the victim, legislators say. It also prohibits bullying on school grounds, on school buses, at school-sponsored activities, and through electronic communications.

Apparently, bullying at said events was acceptable prior to this point. If you are one of those seasonal bullys, summer camp bullying is apparently still on the table.

“Cyber-bullying is, unfortunately, a part of our culture, even if it doesn’t happen within the four walls of a school building,” admitted Representative John Scibak, from South Hadley, where Prince attended high school.

Brilliant point. And will this bill prevent that?

Well, Ms. Walz tells us that, “When this passes, it will the strongest antibullying legislation in the country”.

Okay, well,again, before we all scream “We’re Number One!”, is the bill likely to solve the problem?

Attorney Sam’s Take

The proposed bill’s text can be found here, courtesy of Boston.Com.

The bill defines “bullying” as follows:

28. the repeated use by one or more students of a written, verbal or electronic expression 29 or a physical act or gesture or any combination thereof, directed at a victim that: (i) causes 30 physical or emotional harm to the victim or damage to the victim’s property; (ii) places the 31 victim in reasonable fear of harm to himself or of damage to his property; (iii) creates a hostile 32 environment at school for the victim; (iv) infringes on the rights of the victim at school; or (v)
33 materially and substantially disrupts the education process or the orderly operation of a school.
34 For the purposes of this section, bullying shall include cyber-bullying..

The bill goes on to suggest changes in the present criminal statues, provides commandments for school officials, etc
Well, I am very happy that I have graduated school…because, otherwise, I could be looking at criminal charges by blogging on this subject alone. I note that there are one or more individuals connected with the topic to whom I may have cause “emotional harm”. But, I am out of school. But, gee, I do hope thatelected student school positions are campaigned for online. After all, I hear that sometimes political adversaries claim that they, themselves, are the better candidate. Sometimes, I think I read once, a candidate actually said something insulting about the other candidates. Sounds pretty hostile to me.

Let’s assume for the heck of it that we live in a world in which kids do not always think before they speak. Let’s twist our brains into a pretzel and even imagine that kids are sometimes mean to each other. What happens in such circumstances after a bill such as this is accepted into law?

Little Billy Bigmouth, aged 10, walks into school one day and sees ex-pal Tommy Takesthings. Billy tells Tommy he cannot play with him anymore because his mom said she heard that Tommy was accused of stealing from somebody. Tommy does not take this lying down and tells Billy he should “grow up” and not listen to his mom.
In response, Billy says, “I don’t like you anymore. You are a bad boy.”
Tommy’s mom is just as vocal as Billy’s and she calls the school to take action because her little angel does not want to go to school anymore.

Seems to me that it fits the bill. Now, the principal can decide that I am wrong…but she will do so at great risk. If she is seen as ignoring the bill, she is opening herself and the school up to liability.

Which way do you think she is liable to go?

You see, as I have claimed many times in this blog, covering one’s behind from bad publicity and legal action have become very powerful motivators in the criminal justice system. This bill, in all it’s typical generalities, will do the same with schools. It is also likely to bring the academic and criminal justice systems quite closely intwined.

“Well, Sam…isn’t that better than kids committing suicide?”

Is that really the choice?

We will examine such questions tomorrow in Part Two of this subject .
Yes, this time there will actually be a part two.

In the meantime, if you have a matter you would like to discuss with me, please feel free to call me at 617-492-3000.

For the original story upon which today’s posting is based, please turn to : http://www.boston.com/news/local/breaking_news/2010/04/anti-bullying_b_1.html and http://www.boston.com/news/local/breaking_news/Bullying%20conference%20report.pdf

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