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RIAA Sues Homeless Man 245

Posted by kdawson
from the just-leave-the-summons-on-the-heating-grate dept.
NewYorkCountryLawyer writes "In a Manhattan case, Warner v. Berry, the RIAA sued a man who lives in a homeless shelter, leaving a copy of the summons and complaint not at the homeless shelter, but at an apartment the man had occupied in better times, and had long since vacated. The RIAA's lawyers were threatened with sanctions by the Magistrate Judge in the case, for making misleading representations to the Court which the Magistrate felt were intentional. The District Judge, however, disagreed with imposing sanctions, giving the RIAA's lawyers 'as officers of the Court the benefit of the doubt,' and instead concluded — in his 6-page opinion (PDF) — that the RIAA's lawyers were just being 'sloppy' and had not made the misstatements for an improper purpose.'"
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RIAA Sues Homeless Man

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  • by LWATCDR (28044) on Friday April 18, 2008 @09:04AM (#23116116) Homepage Journal
    'as officers of the Court the benefit of the doubt,'
    Wrong!
    As officers of the Court they should be held to a higher standard. Sloppy isn't an excuse.
    • by TheMeuge (645043) on Friday April 18, 2008 @09:18AM (#23116248)
      Please mod parent up.

      "Sloppy" should not be in a lawyer's vocabulary. In court, "sloppy" can land somebody in jail, backrupt them, cause divorce, take away their children, and destroy their life altogether in a myriad of ways.

      "Sloppy" is what a McDonalds' burger maker does. When lawyers serve a subpoena that's about as accurate as addressing McCain as "Mrs Clinton", there should certainly be repercussions.

      Otherwise, what prevents them from being "sloppy" and just file papers against every single college student in the United States?
      • by zappepcs (820751) on Friday April 18, 2008 @09:38AM (#23116444) Journal
        Exactly what he said AND think about it, if you or I go into a court representing ourselves and are sloppy.... well, the court normally does not look favorably upon people who waste the court's time with 'sloppy' actions.

        Having said that, court systems 'seem' to be the daytime hangout of a rather large boy's club in many places around the country. The lawyer defending you probably plays golf with either the judge or your opponents lawyer, or both!

        IANAL, but I've had happy hour beers with a few. Sloppy is what you do when you think the court will be benevolent toward your actions. If the court has a reputation for seriousness and crossing-tees-dotting-eyes behavior, sloppy is NOT what you do.

        Personally, you and I know that the judge in this case has heard about the stories of the **AA's actions around the country. It would be professionally negligent to not have been following those stories. So, to give them any slack when they are sloppy and wasting court time and resources is tantamount to saying "plaintiff wins, next case!"

        I seriously don't think this homeless guy has a snowball's chance in hell.
        • I'm amazed (Score:5, Insightful)

          by Moryath (553296) on Friday April 18, 2008 @10:12AM (#23116880)
          I'm amazed nobody has asked the real question yet.

          Namely: how much money did the MafiAA pay the district judge for this ruling?
          • Re:I'm amazed (Score:5, Insightful)

            by remmelt (837671) on Friday April 18, 2008 @10:44AM (#23117246) Homepage
            Oh, I thought the real question was: did the allegedly homeless man share any files illegally? Allegedly?
            • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

              by Z00L00K (682162)
              And that brings up the question of what the RIAA was expecting to gain? Maybe they wanted him to have free housing for a few years on the governments purse.
            • by KeHobbs (912448) on Friday April 18, 2008 @01:27PM (#23119876)
              Of course, he made it available by singing loudly while looking for change/food, thereby causing it to be classified as a public performance for profit...
            • Re:I'm amazed (Score:4, Interesting)

              by gad_zuki! (70830) on Friday April 18, 2008 @04:02PM (#23121850)
              Considering the notice was sent to his apartment, Im assuming what happened is that he did download movies, later lost his home, and is now getting legal action.

              As much as I dont like the RIAA and the rest, the real problem is tort legislation in America, not the lawyers who abuse it or make an honest mistake. Change torts, change everything. These guys shouldnt be allowed to sue like this without some kind of real damages threshold, and in case of IP law they should pay the court if they lose.
          • by zappepcs (820751) on Friday April 18, 2008 @10:48AM (#23117308) Journal
            The REAL question is where did the RIAA's lawyers get the heart from? They are showing it off in court now! They are going to sue this homeless guy, guy won't show for court, will be found in contempt, thrown in jail where he will now have free food and a safe place to sleep!!

            What are these RIAA lawyers thinking? WTF!
        • Hold the Phone! (Score:3, Insightful)

          by mpapet (761907)
          Personally, you and I know that the judge in this case has heard about the stories of the **AA's actions around the country

          That's not likely. First and foremost he's vested in keeping his job so that means he's up to his eyeballs in the political machinations of his region and processing cases as quickly as possible. Unless it's some sort of hobby for him like it is for NewYorkCountryLawyer.

          Which takes less time, giving prosecutors a free-pass or generating MORE work calling the RIAA lawyers out on their
        • I disagree with all this outrage about the judge not imposing sanctions. I think the judge did the right thing

          1) A judge can only really decide the case in front of him. At most, he/she can take under consideration the actions that the lawyers in the case has done in other cases. He cannot consider what other lawyers hired by the same client has done. Those other lawyers in other states should have no bearing on the case.

          2) A judge is accountable to higher courts. Every decision that this judge

          • I disagree with you, UnknowingFool..... A pattern of misconduct in other cases is quite relevant. Also there is no way this was mere sloppiness. They clearly made a misrepresentation to the Court. The Magistrate Judge had it right. I personally think Judge Baer knew the Magistrate Judge had it right, but felt a little squeamish about imposing sanctions, so he gave them "the benefit of the doubt" as "officers of the Court". I don't think he'll be giving them the "benefit of the doubt" next time.... and knowing these lawyers, there will be a next time.
      • by Lumpy (12016) on Friday April 18, 2008 @09:59AM (#23116690) Homepage
        Exactly, and what everyone witnessed there was the "Good ol' Boy" network in operation.

        Justice in the american legal system has always been only for those with he largest bank accounts.
      • by Uebergeek (549636) <warren@stra[ ]llo.net ['mie' in gap]> on Friday April 18, 2008 @10:32AM (#23117070)
        Three things counterbalance against a lawyer being 'sloppy':

        (1) Malpractice: if a lawyer is 'sloppy' in his representation of a client, the client can sue the lawyer ofr malpractice, as well as make a complaint to the applicable state bar association. This can result in the lawyer paying large amounts of money to the client, reprimands being placed in the lawyer's file from the state bar, and even the lawyer having his license to practice law revoked.

        (2) FRCP Rule 11 Sanctions Unbeknownst to many oustide the legal profession, the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (and most state rules) allow for the court to impose sanctions/award costs for frivolous filings. Extreme sloppiness sometimes falls into this category.

        (3) Court's discretion In its own discretion, the Court can sanction an attorney for sloppiness or other misconduct that wastes the court's time. This can result in a case being dismissed with prejudice (meaning the attorney cannot refile the case, and will likely get pegged by the client for malpractice).

      • by Touvan (868256)
        Lawyers operate in a self regulated industry - which really means not regulated at all. This is what you get in that situation, a group of knuckle heads all covering each other butts to make sure the party doesn't end.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by gruvmeister (1259380) *
      Officers of the court? Bullshit, we're talking about some sleazebag millionaire lawyers who would drag their own mothers into court if there was a percentage in it for them. These guys don't represent the court - on the contrary, these are the guys the court needs to be on the lookout for, as they're the ones who will manipulate it to serve their (clients') purposes.
    • by vimh42 (981236)
      Perhaps that is the point. The RIAA lawyers are sloppy and there is no excuse for them.
  • by morgan_greywolf (835522) * on Friday April 18, 2008 @09:05AM (#23116128) Homepage Journal

    The District Judge, however, disagreed with imposing sanctions, giving the RIAA's lawyers 'as officers of the Court the benefit of the doubt,' and instead concluded â" in his 6-page opinion (PDF) â" that the RIAA's lawyers were just being 'sloppy' and had not made the misstatements for an improper purpose.'"
    In related news, District Court Judge Harold Baer, Jr., the same judge in the Warner V. Berry case has recently acquired a huge estate in the Hamptons valued at between $20 and $25 million dollars. When a reporter asked Judge Baer how he could afford such a state on a his public servants' salary, Baer simply said that "he had recently come into some money."

  • Fine... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by imstanny (722685) on Friday April 18, 2008 @09:06AM (#23116136)
    So make some sanctions against 'sloppy' work. I dissent with the judge's ruling. This is clearly grossly negligent conduct by the lawyers. Any minimal due diligince in this case would have eliminated the error immediately.
  • by Opportunist (166417) on Friday April 18, 2008 @09:08AM (#23116148)
    I hope some judges (especially those that sign those search warrants) light up in the light of this. Could you imagine something like this in the future?

    (cue judge, asked for a warrant)

    A search? Why? The RIAA thinks someone's downloading their stuff? The organisation that randomly sues people, from grannies to bums? Get outta my courtroom before I have you thrown out the window!
  • by elrous0 (869638) * on Friday April 18, 2008 @09:10AM (#23116170)
    Every day these guys sink to new lows. It's a shame that Lou Dobbs or some other "crusader" type TV pundit hasn't jumped on this saga yet. The RIAA would give a lot of ammo to any pundit looking to rant about something outrageous every day.

    The sad thing is, there are real legal issues here. The RIAA is using the American court system as an vehicle of intimidation, and to give a mask of legality very illegal activities (like investigating people with unlicensed private investigators, shotgun lawsuits that target innocent people, organized extortion, etc.). Meanwhile, the courts seem all too willing to just sit back and let them do it, with no acknowledgement that this is part of an organized campaign. I guess the Supreme Court has more important things [nytimes.com] to deal with.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by FrozenFOXX (1048276)
      I have to admit, I'm genuinely curious as to how in the hell this got not even a slap on the wrist. Seriously, a HOMELESS guy? If that's not proof of them ramrodding random people for cash I have no idea what is.

      I always thought judges were supposed to be called, "your honor." Guess we can scratch one.
      • by tompaulco (629533) on Friday April 18, 2008 @09:42AM (#23116482) Homepage Journal
        Seriously, a HOMELESS guy? If that's not proof of them ramrodding random people for cash I have no idea what is.
        How much cash do homeless people have? Maybe I should be panhandling from them.
        While it is deplorable that the RIAA seems to be so fixated on suing those with the least means to defend themselves, being poor doesn't make one above the law. Both sides of this issue pretty much top my list of people that the world can do without.
        • by BSAtHome (455370)
          So he is made to clean the dishes for the lawyers for the next 150 years to pay off the debt. That is also a way to create a new job for him...
        • How much cash do homeless people have? Maybe I should be panhandling from them.

          Many of them make more after taxes than I do. If you need a smoke, go ahead and ask one. Quite often they are well stocked and willing to share.
    • by hellfire (86129) <deviladv.gmail@com> on Friday April 18, 2008 @09:50AM (#23116576) Homepage
      It's a shame that Lou Dobbs or some other "crusader" type TV pundit hasn't jumped on this saga yet.

      You realize there are only 4 major media companies in the world right now. Lou's bosses reports to a producer who works for a company that is owned by one of these media conglomerates, who also owns several major recording labels. The moment Lou reports that the RIAA is doing something evil, Lou and his producer immediately get fired for casting the company in a bad light and Lou gets blacklisted.

      Now... I am surprised that the BBC and NPR haven't picked up on this yet. Maybe they have, but can't devote a 2 minute segment to it each and every day so I may have missed one of their special reports, but considering there are, seriously, more important stories to run such as olympic protests, government upheavals, elections here and abroad, etc, I'm not entirely surprised. It sucks, but put into perspective of US National and world news, is it as important?
      • by Stevecrox (962208) on Friday April 18, 2008 @12:12PM (#23118696) Journal
        The BBC has and hasn't picked up on the story, on TV most of the RIAA, BPI, etc... actions don't get a mention, its not that they don't care its just the media, health, politics and business tend to make up the evening and morning news. On the BBC website in the technology section a guy called Bill Thompson http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/technology/7324556.stm [bbc.co.uk] does seem to share many of the views Slashdot has. The technology section also has a strong net neutrality and right to privacy viewpoint (phorm stories always concentrate on the negitive, RIAA and BPI mention lawsuits as back reference.)

        The Problem is until these sorts of things become significantly political they never get air time. Even the current battle between the iPlayer and ISP's hasn't made the current news.
      • The moment Lou reports that the RIAA is doing something evil, Lou and his producer immediately get fired for casting the company in a bad light and Lou gets blacklisted.

        In fact something like this has already occurred. In the documentary film The Corporation [wikipedia.org] there was a segment about the suppression of an investigative news story about Bovine Growth Hormone on a Fox News Channel affiliate television station. The program was called "The Investigators" and it was supposed to be a hard-hitting expose type news magazine program. The only problem was that their first target, Monsanto, happened to be a major advertiser on Fox News and other media properties owned by Rupert Murd [wikipedia.org]

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 18, 2008 @09:12AM (#23116186)
    [sarcasm:enabled]

    The damn homeless, always thinking about themselves! This guy clearly can afford to buy this music, as opposed to pirating it. We need to criminalize his actions, so we can keep his kind off of the street!

    [sarcasm:disabled]

    I mean seriously, this has to be an article from The Onion. I can't believe that TFA is news about what is happening in the real world. I just can't. Someone tell me that it's just a bad joke, two weeks late of "April fools".
  • I don't know... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by sm62704 (957197) on Friday April 18, 2008 @09:12AM (#23116190) Journal
    I don't know what outrages me more, the RIAA suing a homeless man or the judge for not imposing sanctions.

    I can only hope that the judge is elected rather than appointed and that the voters fire him next election. To not lay down sanctions against this agregious behavior is itself sloppy. A lawyer has no more right to be sloppy than a surgeon does.
    • Re:I don't know... (Score:4, Informative)

      by ari_j (90255) on Friday April 18, 2008 @09:25AM (#23116320)
      This is in federal court. Federal judges are appointed for life, although they can be impeached if it gets bad enough. The magistrate judge who got it right in the first place is not appointed, though, to my knowledge.
    • by RobBebop (947356)

      A lawyer has no more right to be sloppy than a surgeon does.

      For most surgery, I would agree. But there are certain types of surgery [thisislondon.co.uk] where I believe sloppy work can be instrumental towards helping society to correct an unnecessary infatuation with vanity.

      Of course, the "victims" in these cases tend to perpetuate the sue-and-get-rich methodology that has led the RIAA business plan for the last 5 or 6 years.

  • WTF!?!?!? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Black-Six (989784) on Friday April 18, 2008 @09:13AM (#23116200)
    How in the world can you sue someone who is homeless and has no internet access, take them to court, get shot down, and then have a district judge say "We think you, the RIAA, had the right intentions but the wrong paper work."? They let murders off for clerical errors, but get caught downloading tunes and its a trip to the financial electric chair.

    If this isn't proof positive that our court system is completely wanked, I don't know what is. And people wonder why our society is going to hell in a hand basket.... Kill someone and get off scott free vs. download tunes and go bankrupt paying the fines.
    • Re:WTF!?!?!? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by ari_j (90255) on Friday April 18, 2008 @09:27AM (#23116338)
      I'm fairly certain that you have over-simplified and caricatured the situation a bit. The court system isn't, as a whole, broken. It's part of our checks and balances. What is broken is that federal judges are too hesitant to impose sanctions on those who deserve them.
      • Well, not based on the GP, I would still say that the court system is broken. The problem is that small procedural issues are more important than evidence and facts. I've been involved in a couple cases where a tape recorded conversation that clearly showed the guilt in one case, and innocence in another, of the defendant wasn't allowed despite being a legal recording because it was decided that it would bias the jury
        • by jamstar7 (694492)

          he problem is that small procedural issues are more important than evidence and facts. I've been involved in a couple cases where a tape recorded conversation that clearly showed the guilt in one case, and innocence in another, of the defendant wasn't allowed despite being a legal recording because it was decided that it would bias the jury

          Isn't that the point of evidence, to bias a jury toward guilt or innocence?

    • Re:WTF!?!?!? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by njfuzzy (734116) <.moc.x-nai. .ta. .nai.> on Friday April 18, 2008 @09:28AM (#23116356) Homepage
      People seem to be overlooking the possibility that they are suing him for something he did when his means were more significant. He lived in an apartment at some point, where he presumably could have had internet access.
    • Re:WTF!?!?!? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by ClickOnThis (137803) on Friday April 18, 2008 @09:41AM (#23116462) Journal
      Let me be clear from the start that I have a ton of sympathy for the homeless, and absolutely none for the RIAA and its lawyers.

      How in the world can you sue someone who is homeless and has no internet access, take them to court, get shot down, and then have a district judge say "We think you, the RIAA, had the right intentions but the wrong paper work."?
      As I read the article, the judge said RIAA was sloppy about how they delivered the summons and not about the merits (if any) of the case. And as heartless as it may sound, there is nothing improper (in a legal sense) about suing a homeless man. He may not have been homeless and/or may have had internet access when he allegedly committed the "crime" the RIAA claims.

      To take an extreme example, imagine that one of the Enron executives drove themselves to destitution and was living in a homeless shelter. Just because they're down and out does not excuse them from being prosecuted for any crimes they committed.
      • by jamesh (87723)

        He may not have been homeless and/or may have had internet access when he allegedly committed the "crime" the RIAA claims.

        Just because they're down and out does not excuse them from being prosecuted for any crimes they committed.

        I think you make have your civil and criminal courts confused. I'm not sure exactly how the legal system works where all this is taking place, but in Australia the civil and criminal courts are fairly separate animals. I don't think any of the RIAA action is anything to do with a c

        • I think you make have your civil and criminal courts confused. [...] I don't think any of the RIAA action is anything to do with a crime, or even a "crime" (unless you count the actions of the RIAA itself :).

          Yes, I think you are correct. In this case, I was the one being sloppy -- with the use of the word "crime". I meant it in a sense that included any action that could be litigated or prosecuted.

          Taking a homeless person to court to try and get some money out of them may not be wrong, but it's probably pretty stupid.

          Agreed. It's "stupid" unless the litigant has a reason to believe the homeless person could come into some money in the future to pay any judgement that might be awarded.

          • by jamesh (87723)

            Agreed. It's "stupid" unless the litigant has a reason to believe the homeless person could come into some money in the future to pay any judgement that might be awarded.

            I've always wondered... does it work that way? If I sue someone for some amount (say... $1m) and I win, but they don't actually have any money, what happens? Does the debt get written off or if they win the lottery at some point in the future do I get my $1m then?
      • To take an extreme example, imagine that one of the Enron executives drove themselves to destitution and was living in a homeless shelter.

        I see it's time to update Godwin's law...

    • by amplt1337 (707922)
      They delivered the subpoena to the house he lived at a while back. It's entirely possible that they're suing him for activities he conducted when he lived there and (may've) had internet access.
    • by MulluskO (305219)

      but get caught downloading tunes and its a trip to the financial electric chair.
      I guess that's another form of capital punishment.
  • by wobedraggled (549225) on Friday April 18, 2008 @09:16AM (#23116224) Homepage
    RIAA sues a rock, infringing on the musical style.
  • Translation (Score:4, Insightful)

    by MarkGriz (520778) on Friday April 18, 2008 @09:17AM (#23116238)

    The RIAA's lawyers were threatened with sanctions by the Magistrate Judge in the case, for making misleading representations to the Court which the Magistrate felt were intentional. The District Judge, however, disagreed with imposing sanctions, giving the RIAA's lawyers 'as officers of the Court the benefit of the doubt,' and instead concluded ... that the RIAA's lawyers were just being 'sloppy' and had not made the misstatements for an improper purpose.'
    Or, to quote Hanlon [wikipedia.org]....

    "Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity"
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by deniable (76198)
      Or Clarke's Second Law of Management: Any sufficiently advanced incompetence is indistinguishable from malice.

      This could also be a judge being subtle. In six pages he says "You're not evil, just stupid."
    • by kalirion (728907)
      That's usually true, unless the subject of the quote has a distinguished history of malice.
    • when an organization whose entire raison d'etre is malice does something stupid, its still malice
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by ookabooka (731013)
      Say it with me: "I misinterpreted the rules. Good! Again...I misinterpreted the rules. I mis..."
  • by Skeet112 (1088203) on Friday April 18, 2008 @09:18AM (#23116250)
    ...You don't even have to own a computer for them to sue you for downloading music! Hell, you don't even need an address!
  • by Loconut1389 (455297) on Friday April 18, 2008 @09:43AM (#23116496)
    The linked blog does not make it clear whether or not the man was sued for filesharing that occurred after the date he lost his place of residence/computer. Without reading the 6 page order, what's the real deal? The kneejerk from everyone is to think this man could not possibly have done P2P since he's now homeless. What's the real answer? How did they come to accuse him in the first place? Blog and summary seem short on details.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Loconut1389 (455297)
      i have now skimmed the 6 page summary too- all I gleaned was the guy supposedly used Kazaa over AOL about a year before the court case. So, how long ago was the guy homeless?
  • by BUL2294 (1081735) on Friday April 18, 2008 @09:53AM (#23116604)
    Seriously, when it became obvious that this guy was homeless (what, he totes around a laptop, getting mobile Internet access using Sprint or AT&T???), the RIAA should have dropped the case as this is an amazing case of "getting blood from a turnip." The RIAA seems dumber by the day. Let's see...
    1) RIAA physically finds homeless man to sue. Serves with papers.
    2) RIAA extorts (er, "offers settlement") to homeless man.
    3) Homeless man appears in court for trial, maybe even with pro-bono attorney. (Free heat, maybe even free food. Could judge offer temporary housing--like sequestering a jury???)
    4) Homeless man loses case big time, owing hundreds of thousands of $$$.
    5) Homeless man declares bankrupcy.
    6) Homeless man sues RIAA for mental stress.

    Seriously, under what circumstance could the RIAA win? Bragging rights?
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by jimicus (737525)

      Seriously, under what circumstance could the RIAA win? Bragging rights?
      Please tell me that no group of people think it's perfectly OK to brag about suing a homeless man.
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by BUL2294 (1081735)

        Please tell me that no group of people think it's perfectly OK to brag about suing a homeless man.
        Oh, I dunno... RIAA lawyers.
  • by Garabito (720521) on Friday April 18, 2008 @09:58AM (#23116672)
    You know the lawyers at RIAA are insane when actual headlines like these read like if they were from The Onion
    • by jc42 (318812) on Friday April 18, 2008 @10:38AM (#23117150) Homepage Journal
      Actually, the writers at the Onion have been known to make the same complaint that other satirists in the past have made: Their job is constantly made difficult by the way that real people keep doing things far more bizarre and funny than anything they'd dare to publish.

      The Onion may have some of the best satirists around right now, but that doesn't make their job any easier. Not with our current crop of politicians and corporate managers that are competing to outdo the Onion's writers with stories like this.

      And it seems that even some judges are taking part in the competition ...

    • Next week: RIAA sues little girl, offers to blend pet kitten in part settlement.
  • They may not get a fine, but how would you like your incompetence becoming a part of the public record...

    Legally rendered for all who care to look...
  • God... (Score:4, Funny)

    by amplt1337 (707922) on Friday April 18, 2008 @10:25AM (#23117002) Journal
    Here I thought *I* was a dick.
  • The judge's order to deny sanctions noted that the entire case against the guy had already been withdrawn, hence with no case proceeding, no sanctions were relevant. But you can bet he'll be looking at the firm and their wayward process servers the next time they show up...
  • The fault here is in the way they attempted to serve him, not that they were suing someone that was now homeless. They were after him before. From the comments below TFA:

    "This is the second time this defendant has had his case dismissed without prejudice. The first time was as a joined set of Does after his identity information was revealed to the RIAA goons. The second time was just now here after a failure to serve him properly."

    I think we can safely assume they were working with data generated when the g
  • ...you can only be sanctioned for being improper, but not being stupid.
  • If you believe that, then you got to come over here and look at this piece of the Brooklyn Bridge that has this wonder full overlook of the river and I can let you have it for a song...

The biggest mistake you can make is to believe that you are working for someone else.

Working...