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Lawyer Offers $1M For Proof His Client Could Have Done It; Oops 362

Posted by samzenpus
from the choose-your-words-carefully dept.
A Florida attorney, Cheney Mason, made the mistake of offering a million dollars on a TV show to anyone who could prove that his client, Nelson Ivan Serrano, was able to travel across two states and kill four people in the time that prosecutors had alleged. Having a lot of free time, South Texas College of Law graduate Dustin Kolodziej decided to take Mason up on his dare. Dustin traveled the route prosecutors say Serrano took, completed the trip under the time allowed, and videotaped the whole process. He is now suing Mason in the federal district court — because the attorney doesn't want to pay, saying that his statement was just a joke.

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Lawyer Offers $1M For Proof His Client Could Have Done It; Oops

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  • Technically.. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by bsDaemon (87307) on Thursday July 16, 2009 @01:19AM (#28712813)
    Technically, all that was proven was that this Kolodziej kid was able to traverse a distance in a given period of time, not that anyone else, least of all the defendant, was able to do the same. Plus, as far as we know, Kolodzeij did not need to take time out in order to kill anyone.

    I may not be a fancy big New York Country Lawyer or anything, but it seems to me that this guy doesn't really have a case. Plus, everyone knows you're not supposed to believe anything until its been posted on at least two different blogs. TV just isn't a reliable source of information anymore.
    • Re:Technically.. (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Weedhopper (168515) on Thursday July 16, 2009 @02:12AM (#28713153)

      Huh? Who gives a flying flip about the trial?

      I want the LAWYER to get a lesson in unilateral contracts from the law student. That's what makes this interesting. I couldn't give two hoots about the guilt of the lawyer's client.

    • by bmo (77928) on Thursday July 16, 2009 @02:17AM (#28713173)

      "I may not be a fancy big New York Country Lawyer or anything,"

      The lawyer wasn't a big New York Country Lawyer either.

      There's a /reason/ why Fark has a Florida tag.

      --
      BMO

    • by fractoid (1076465) on Thursday July 16, 2009 @02:50AM (#28713357) Homepage

      Plus, everyone knows you're not supposed to believe anything until its been posted on at least two different blogs. TV just isn't a reliable source of information anymore.

      Internets killed the video star, I see. :P

    • Re:Technically.. (Score:5, Informative)

      by fredmosby (545378) on Thursday July 16, 2009 @02:58AM (#28713409)
      According to this article [abovethelaw.com] the actual statement made by the lawyer was:

      Mason: I challenge anybody to show me, I'll pay them a million dollars if they can do it.
      Murphy: If they can do it in the time alloted?
      Mason: 28 minutes. Can't happen. Didn't happen.

      He wasn't going to pay a million dollars for proof that his client was guilty. He was going to pay a million dollars for proof that someone can go from the the Atlanta airport to the hotel where his client was seen on video in 28 minutes. Which this law student apparently did.
      • by Andy_R (114137)

        That wording doesn't say there is only 1 prize. If the court decides to award this guy his million, it could concievably award other millions to subsequent proofs. It's a long shot, but if I lived locally I'd consider gambling an hour of time, gas and videotape against the chance of a million dollar payout.

      • Re:Technically.. (Score:5, Informative)

        by crrkrieger (160555) on Thursday July 16, 2009 @07:04AM (#28714611)

        Mason: I challenge anybody to show me, I'll pay them a million dollars if they can do it.

        Murphy: If they can do it in the time alloted?

        Mason: 28 minutes. Can't happen. Didn't happen.

        This is a classic unilateral contract offer, and I'm guessing it will be on all the first year contract exams next year. In a unilateral contract, you offer something to someone (someone specific or anyone in general) and they can only accept the contract by performing the terms in their entirety. It is not enough to say "I accept your offer" and it is not enough to try and fail; you must complete the terms offered. Contrast this with a bilateral contract where you form a binding contract by saying "I accept" or words to that effect.

        The traditional example is a reward. Rewards are almost never paid, at least not the large ones for catching a vial criminal because the person trying to collect usually cannot show that they did the required conduct because of the offer. Heck, they usually catch the guy breaking into their home and either did not know of the reward, or suffer from catching him because they were defending themselves, not because of the reward. In this case, however, the student appears to have heard the offer and done the experiment on that basis. Note that if he had taken 29 minutes to complete the trip, he would be entitled to NOTHING, not even expenses.

        Yes, IAAL, but I am not your L.

        • by PincushionMan (1312913) on Thursday July 16, 2009 @07:54AM (#28714833)
          Is a vial criminal one that steals test tubes?
    • So did the Kolodzeij kid actually kill four people? If he didn't, he hasn't proven anything. He needs to go back and do it again if he wants the million bucks.

      • Re:Technically.. (Score:5, Interesting)

        by thej1nx (763573) on Thursday July 16, 2009 @04:59AM (#28714039)
        Unfortunately, the lawyer cannot use that excuse either.

        He will make the situation worse for himself, since he will be guilty of incitement of crime. Offering to pay people to commit murder is also illegal the last time I checked. If he actually uses that excuse, he will then simply avoiding paying the one million, only to be arrested and sent to jail for conspiracy to murder. Especially if some nutcase actually did go and commit the murders, just to take him up on his dare. Which in America, seems a bit more likely than other places, in my opinion.

        Any particular reason why you are so keen on finding excuses for the lawyer to weasel out of his promise?

        There are a number of such public challenges made. Ansari X comes to mind. There are various individuals who invest significant effort, time and money based on the promise of the award. The person/organizations making the promise are not allowed to weasel out later and renege on their promise, causing severe damage to those who invested significant money completing the challenge, based on the promise. He didn't state it was a joke. He was not on a comedy show. He had not been asked to make a joke. Until the challenge had actually been completed, he had full rights to even publicly withdraw it. He did not do so. So he is legally obliged to pay.

        The lawyer is being just a weasel, based on his obvious advantage of not requiring to hire a lawyer to defend himself. His legal expenses in defending himself will be significantly less than the other guy.

        There is a reason why L-A-W-Y-E-R sounds like L-I-A-R.

        • by somersault (912633) on Thursday July 16, 2009 @05:54AM (#28714291) Homepage Journal

          There is a reason why L-A-W-Y-E-R sounds like L-I-A-R.

          Is it because they both start in L, end in R and contain an I or a Y, both of which have similar phonetic properties?

          This is fun! I'll try some:

          There's a reason why PDF file sounds like pedophile.

          There's a reason why cheese sounds like she's.

          There's a reason why icicles sounds like bicycles.

          Obviously anyone who uses Adobe products should be sent to jail, women are a basic ingredient for pizza, and you should always wear thermal underwear when you go cycling.

  • sanctions? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Lehk228 (705449) on Thursday July 16, 2009 @01:20AM (#28712815) Journal
    He should be disbarred for offering a reward to anyone who helps strengthen the case AGAINST his client.
    • by gnick (1211984)

      OK, on the surface that seems like the right sentiment.

      But the lawyer's job isn't to convince the public that his client is right, it's to persuade the jury to release him. If making some irresponsible public statement to garner press, no matter how immoral, inappropriate, unethical, or just seemingly stupid it might be, if it helps his client he's doing his job. Even if he's pulling a publicity stunt that no juror should know about (but may affect the outcome) he's doing his job.

      Maybe I'm just jaded, but

      • by dynamo (6127)

        BUT - It didn't help his client. If I were his client in this situation, I'd probably be pretty pissed off. Especially about having my lawyer "joking" about the case and the chances that I might have killed four people.

        I'm not sure he should be disbarred for the dare, that might theoretically have been helpful to the client, if no one responded. Calling it a joke though, um, is not funny.

      • by JWSmythe (446288)

        Welcome to the modern legal system, and widespread tainting of the jury pool. If your case is big enough, everyone will know about it and have an opinion before it ever makes it to jury selection.

        Look at the O.J. Simpson cases. He didn't have a prayer for an impartial jury. I'm not arguing the merits of the case, or innocence or guilt. It was splattered all over the news, so by the time it made it to court, it was virtually impossible to find someone who hadn't heard of the

        • by jamesh (87723) on Thursday July 16, 2009 @05:59AM (#28714311)

          Look at the O.J. Simpson cases. He didn't have a prayer for an impartial jury.

          Knock Knock
          Who's there?
          OJ
          OJ Who?
          Okay, you're on the jury.

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by dogmatixpsych (786818)
            Many criminal psychologists believe that O.J. was not convicted because the prosecuting team did not want to go through the process of picking jurors correctly. If they had been systematic about it instead of haphazard, the case would have been different.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        But the lawyer's job isn't to convince the public that his client is right, it's to persuade the jury to release him.

        But this did the exact opposite, as it turns out; if the Defense is based on the impossibility of the timing provided by the Prosecution, the Defense Attorney has essentially provided a reward to give the Prosecution evidence against his own defensive theory, therefore harming his client and possibly condemning him to a jail sentence (guilt or innocence aside, depending on the basis of the Defense). So far as I've seen, it is a violation of various ethics standards for a lawyer on either side to, more or l

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by ebonum (830686)

      Good point. I would love to hear what the Florida State Bar Association has to say. He did offer to pay for research that could help the prosecution.

      I don't see any positive comments here on Slashdot. We should all look on the bright side. The more time lawyers spend fighting each other, the better the odds for a peaceful and harmonious society. :)

    • by jonbryce (703250)

      He thought he was going to be able to say that he offered $1m for evidence and nobody took him up on it because it was impossible.

    • Re:sanctions? (Score:5, Informative)

      by adamchou (993073) on Thursday July 16, 2009 @05:14AM (#28714113)
      At the time, that might have been valid. After reading through the transcript [msn.com] of the show, Serrano already received a sentence so I don't think it really matters anymore.
  • Pepsi points (Score:5, Informative)

    by canadian_right (410687) <alexander.russell@telus.net> on Thursday July 16, 2009 @01:22AM (#28712831) Homepage

    Reminds me of the Pepsi Points Case [wikipedia.org] where someone tried to get Pepsi to hand over a Harrier Jet in return for Pepsi points during a contest. Pepsi won that case.

    • by eosp (885380)
      What the reasonable person would think here depends on the income that this attorney pulls in.
      • Yeah, but this might fail outright on count three from that case--if the amount is large enough a verbal agreement doesn't cut it (IANAL, I don't know the relevant dividing amount)

        • Re:Pepsi points (Score:5, Interesting)

          by aitikin (909209) on Thursday July 16, 2009 @02:11AM (#28713145)
          Yes, but a legal entity, such as a lawyer, making a statement such as this one on public TV is much different than an advertisement, which can hardly (especially in this country), if ever, be taken seriously.

          My law professor gave the example that if I said, "I'll give anyone who climbs the flagpole naked 1000 bucks," and they don't do it, I'm in the clear. IF they do, I'm screwed out of 1000 bucks because I made a public statement that a number of people witnessed. Even if they start up and I tell everyone, the person climbing included, that I won't follow through, they can sue me and win for the verbal contracted initiated.

          IANAL and not studying to be one, just taking a couple law classes cause they're interesting.
      • by swillden (191260)
        He was a bigshot lawyer on tee vee. 'Course he's got millions.
      • Re:Pepsi points (Score:4, Informative)

        by JWSmythe (446288) <jwsmytheNO@SPAMjwsmythe.com> on Thursday July 16, 2009 @04:13AM (#28713825) Homepage Journal

            That really was the justification of not needing to give away a Harrier. It was an unreasonable belief that Pepsi would give away a military aircraft, which made it a parody.

            On the other hand, a lawyer requesting an expert witness prove something, and making an open offer is not. If a lawyer said "I'll give a million dollars to the first person who can do X" is requesting that someone do that. The actual quote was "I challenge anybody to show me, I'll pay them a million dollars if they can do it,". It is reasonable to believe cash can be given by a lawyer. A million dollars is a lot, but still not an unreasonable sum. A military aircraft on the other hand doesn't usually fall into civilian hands, which made it an unreasonable assertion. :) Likewise, if someone says they'd part with a body part for something, more than likely that is an unreasonable assertion. I've heard people say it, but I have yet to see someone pay with a body part. :)

            What the lawyer did is right along the lines of an open monetary reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of particular criminals, or finding someone's lost [something], regardless if the something could be a dog, cat, watch, or child. I don't know too many people who would, on the safe return of a kidnapping victim, would really push for the reward money, but it's likely some people would. Personally, if I had information on a crime, and a reward was being given, I'd tell them to keep their money. A "thank you" and even a handshake would be nice, but that's all the reward I'd ever expect.

            That's what the article was reinforcing anyways. It was a reasonable assertion. Now he just knows he's really on the losing side of the battle.

            In doing more reading on it, the 10 hour window is really possible. As it seems to have played out, he flew from ATL to ORL, took the rental car, killed the victims, drove to TPA, and flew from TPA to ATL, so he could be in his hotel. Two false names, and the car was rented by a 3rd party to cover things up. He obviously wouldn't have driven the entire route (ATL to ORL and back), as that would be over 16 hours on the road, or only possibly 12 if he drove fast. That would run him into other problems, as a single traffic ticket would be his doom. He could have picked other airports, or even chartered a plane, but those would have been more suspicious. The three airports used are well traveled, so a couple odd tickets wouldn't really be noticed. Well, he hoped. The lawyer was just being stupid, and trying to reaffirm in the public's mind that his client couldn't possibly be guilty. He just really screwed up by doing it in such a way.

    • Re:Pepsi points (Score:4, Informative)

      by Opportunist (166417) on Thursday July 16, 2009 @05:00AM (#28714045)

      The main point in that case was that it cannot be assumed by any reasonable person that they would give away a jet worth multiple million dollars for an amount of redeemable points that would not generate them even a percent of that cost. You might assume it if it is some lottery or game system where you additionally either have to have a lot of luck or have to accomplish some other feat... And all that provided that civilians may own military hardware where you live.

      It's not so unreasonable to assume a lawyer would offer a prize to someone who can prove something (or, in this case, would incite people to try and fail to prove the opposite). The ethics is questionable (he might have been required to go a wee bit over the speed limit or drive recklessly, thus endangering people while trying to prove the point), but I wouldn't rule it out to be believable.

  • by fictionpuss (1136565) on Thursday July 16, 2009 @01:23AM (#28712837)

    Should make politics more interesting. Who is in with me for a few class-action suits? $1 a share, excellent ROI.

  • He can sue for false advertising. If the guy had made this offer in court, or as part of a contractual obligation, it would be a different story.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by julesh (229690)

      He can sue for false advertising. If the guy had made this offer in court, or as part of a contractual obligation, it would be a different story.

      Bullshit. See 'unilateral contract' and the Carlil v. Carbolic Smoke Ball Co Ltd case, which has been accepted as precedent by US courts despite being a UK case. This isn't advertising, it's an offer to form a contract which was accepted when somebody performed the task he was asking for.

  • Contracat ? (Score:3, Informative)

    by Tiger4 (840741) on Thursday July 16, 2009 @01:28AM (#28712863)

    Offer and clear terms, acceptance and proof of performance. Seems like payment is next in order.

    • by icebike (68054) on Thursday July 16, 2009 @01:50AM (#28712999)

      Nope.

      Dustin Kolodziej did not kill four people.

      Contract not fulfilled.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by gnick (1211984)

      Proof of performance? From my intimate knowledge of this case based on the headline, the necessary performance was to prove guilt - Not to accomplish a road race. Making stops to kill people takes much longer than stopping for potty breaks or tossing Gatorade bottles out of the car.

      Of course, I could be putting too much faith into the headline...

      • Re:Contracat ? (Score:5, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward on Thursday July 16, 2009 @02:25AM (#28713231)

        Here's a link with more details...

        Times Online - Weird Cases: deal or no deal? [typepad.com]

        It seems that Cheney Mason (the mouthy lawyer) claimed it wasn't possible for his client to kill people in Atlanta at 5:20 pm and then appear on closed circuit TV at a hotel in Atlanta at 10 PM.

        FTA:

        Mason also declared it was impossible for anyone to disembark from an aircraft in Atlanta airport and get to the hotel five miles away in less than 28 minutes. He then said "I challenge anybody to show me, I'll pay them a million dollars if they can do it."

        Apparently the earnest young law student managed to do just that. He flew from Orlando to Atlanta, and then (in under 28 minutes) made the final leg of the trip from the airplane at the gate to the hotel.

        I'd love to see the court make Mister Mouthy Lawyer put his money where his mouth is.

      • Making stops to kill people takes much longer than stopping for potty breaks or tossing Gatorade bottles out of the car.

        Not really. People are rather fragile. It doesn't take a lot to kill someone in all honesty.

        What takes time is hiding the evidence. If you just want someone dead and don't care who finds the body, you can do it in a couple of minutes (and that's for opening an artery or two and letting them bleed out. Certain other ways can be even faster).

        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by zsau (266209)

          And given your sig, I would trust you on this one...

    • by jim_v2000 (818799)
      No, that's not how it works. He was obviously not being serious in his offer, and this case will get tossed out of court. Just because someone says something like that doesn't mean it's an enforceable contract. It's obvious that he was stating his opinion as to the ability of one to make the trip in the allotted time, not offering anyone a million dollars.
    • It might have been a "contra-cat" but it wasn't a contract except under the terms of Slashdot law.

      Take it from me- I've been making money this way for years, and I always have my attorney review televised dares before I go bolting across state lines.
  • Laywers. Ugh! (Score:2, Insightful)

    by longbot (789962)
    As a lawyer, shouldn't this douchebag know better than to grandstand and make promises like that?
    • by MaskedSlacker (911878) on Thursday July 16, 2009 @01:39AM (#28712933)

      No.

    • by jim_v2000 (818799)
      Grandstanding does not an enforceable contract make. No reasonable person would have thought he would actually pay someone a million dollars, and the reasonable person standard is what will be used in this case.
  • by GaryPatterson (852699) on Thursday July 16, 2009 @01:30AM (#28712881)

    The lawyer is a complete twit for basing a defense of his client on something that can (and has) been easily disproved.

    The lawyer compounds his own stupidity by making a large cash offer for someone to prove him wrong.

    Someone does that and asks for the money, and the lawyer puts the final nail is his coffin of bozo-ness by claiming it was just a joke all along. Ha ha, who wouldn't laugh at a trial of a man accused of four murders! Oh, those long nights must fly by with such hilarity!

    • by julesh (229690)

      Ha ha, who wouldn't laugh at a trial of a man accused of four murders! Oh, those long nights must fly by with such hilarity!

      Everyone jokes about their work. Lawyers on murder cases are no different. Example: a few years ago I worked with a guy whose brother was a barrister, doing defence work on high profile cases. What he used to do, practically all the time, was he and the other barristers who worked at his chambers had a notice board, and every day somebody would post a 'word of the day' on it. They

  • by unfunk (804468) on Thursday July 16, 2009 @01:40AM (#28712943) Journal
    ...combining the worst points of Dick Cheney and Perry Mason...
  • by Anarchduke (1551707) on Thursday July 16, 2009 @01:46AM (#28712969)
    Harvard Law School is thinking on teaching a class in shutting the hell up.
  • Florida Lawyers (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anti_Climax (447121) on Thursday July 16, 2009 @01:51AM (#28713003)

    What is it with Florida attorneys publicly offering money on clear terms and then backing out?

    The last one that did it was disbarred for life, you'd think others wouldn't be in a hurry to follow his lead...

  • Nobody ever pays out these prove "impossible" thing and I give you $1 million dollars offers, and no one ever will.

    I will give $1 million dollars to anyone that can prove otherwise.

  • Really, now (Score:4, Funny)

    by krygny (473134) on Thursday July 16, 2009 @06:50AM (#28714551)

    Does anybody really care which one of these lawyer scumbags prevails?

  • by Drakkenmensch (1255800) on Thursday July 16, 2009 @08:12AM (#28714965)
    You should never believe a lawyer who says on television that he will give you (or someone else) money if you can perform some task to which he defines the terms. Some years ago, Jack Thompson challenged gamers to create a violent videogame where a grizzled game designer goes on a bloody rampage across the office of "Take One" studios, an obvious rip on the name of Take Two who designed Thompson's nemesis, Grand Theft Auto. He stated he would give 10,000$ to charity if someone did... and when the challenge was taken and completed, he quickly backpedaled that he did not mean it and did not have to pay. Penny Arcade eventually donated the money, in his name, to a children's charity... and Thompson went to the police, claiming that Mike Krahulik and Jerry Holkins were criminally harassing him as a result of this donation. I swear I am not making this up.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by bigbigbison (104532)
      Jacko was my first thought when I read this. Thompson is from Florida too. Must be something in the water down there...

Fools ignore complexity. Pragmatists suffer it. Some can avoid it. Geniuses remove it. -- Perlis's Programming Proverb #58, SIGPLAN Notices, Sept. 1982

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