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Sex Offender Gets New Hearing After Hearing Officer Rants Against Arial Font 312

Posted by Soulskill
from the at-least-it-wasn't-comic-sans dept.
ericgoldman writes "People often feel passionately about fonts, but government decisions shouldn't depend on what font people choose for their written submissions. In Massachusetts, a sex offender overturned the decision of a hearing officer after it was determined that (among other possible biases) the hearing officer posted to Facebook that he 'can't trust someone who drafts a letter in arial font!' and 'I might be biased. I think arial is inappropriate for most things.' This is just the latest example of how social media rants by government workers are causing problems for the workers — and the people they deal with."
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Sex Offender Gets New Hearing After Hearing Officer Rants Against Arial Font

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  • by Shakrai (717556) * on Tuesday November 26, 2013 @03:22PM (#45529817) Journal

    .... most American legal jurisdictions have Rules of Civil and Criminal Procedure, that specify the format legal pleadings are supposed to take. They're usually quite specific on the allowable fonts, font sizes, line spacing, the format they expect for the numbering of paragraphs, and so on. Lawyers and pro-say litigants ignore these rules at their own peril, as doing so is liable to get your case dismissed outright and at the very least will seriously annoy the Judge. Of course, most Judges don't take this annoyance, combine it with a bunch of other rants, then post it on Facebook....

    It does amuse me that so-called higher educated professionals just as liable to open mouth and insert foot on Facebook as the immature uneducated brats (I was, like, at work, and like, you know that patient, like, from the other day? He's, like, a total asshole.) I have the misfortune of calling co-workers.

    • by hawguy (1600213) on Tuesday November 26, 2013 @03:43PM (#45530095)

      .... most American legal jurisdictions have Rules of Civil and Criminal Procedure, that specify the format legal pleadings are supposed to take. They're usually quite specific on the allowable fonts, font sizes, line spacing, the format they expect for the numbering of paragraphs, and so on. Lawyers and pro-say litigants ignore these rules at their own peril, as doing so is liable to get your case dismissed outright and at the very least will seriously annoy the Judge. Of course, most Judges don't take this annoyance, combine it with a bunch of other rants, then post it on Facebook....

      It does amuse me that so-called higher educated professionals just as liable to open mouth and insert foot on Facebook as the immature uneducated brats (I was, like, at work, and like, you know that patient, like, from the other day? He's, like, a total asshole.) I have the misfortune of calling co-workers.

      It's not clear that the hearing officer was ranting about a formal legal document. He called it a "letter", so it could just be some letter that the defendant was required to write without any specific formatting requirements.

      • "It's not clear that the hearing officer was ranting about a formal legal document. He called it a "letter", so it could just be some letter that the defendant was required to write without any specific formatting requirements."

        More than that: the wording was that he "can't trust anyone who..." This would seem to indicate that it's a personal bias, and not some kind of technical requirement.

        • by Deep Esophagus (686515) on Tuesday November 26, 2013 @04:40PM (#45530839)

          This would seem to indicate that it's a personal bias, and not some kind of technical requirement.

          We were defending pro se in a civil suit -- couldn't afford a lawyer -- and got the decision against us overturned because the judge made remarks like "Since you can't be bothered getting a real lawyer..." Even better, the judge was a golfing buddy with the plaintiff's attorney, and they made no attempt to disguise their familiarity and friendship during the pretrial hearing. No surprise he ruled against us on the spot with a summary judgement, never bothered to look at our defense brief.

          Still had to go through it all again with a new judge, but at least the jerkass decision didn't stick.

        • by Just Some Guy (3352) <kirk+slashdot@strauser.com> on Tuesday November 26, 2013 @05:35PM (#45531527) Homepage Journal

          This would seem to indicate that it's a personal bias, and not some kind of technical requirement.

          Maybe, maybe not. It was certainly unprofessional; I won't argue that. But it's also the kind of thing I might say as a joke to a friend afterward without attaching any real meaning to it at all.

          Suppose I interview an engineer and it goes badly. We have an up-or-down vote after his series of interviews and decide not to hire him. At that point, I could see telling jokes like "...and I'd never hire someone with Perl on their resume, anyway." We'd all laugh and move on to the next person. In fact, though, if the candidate was good then it would never come up again. It absolutely would *not* prevent us from hiring someone and wouldn't even remotely be a weighted factor.

          I suspect it was a similar throwaway comment that didn't actually reflect the judge's true feeling, but was meant as something his coworkers would find amusing (even as they understood it was utterly lighthearted). It was obviously a bad idea to joke about it somewhere as public as Facebook, but doubt that it truly reflected any personal biases.

          • "But it's also the kind of thing I might say as a joke to a friend afterward without attaching any real meaning to it at all."

            I'd go further than "unprofessional". If you're making jokes about your hiring practices -- particularly after you just did not hire somebody -- you're setting yourself up for a lawsuit.

            This topic is a good example. How do we know he was joking? Maybe he was, maybe he wasn't. But somebody could claim he wasn't joking, and maybe even convince a judge or jury.

            • If you're making jokes about your hiring practices -- particularly after you just did not hire somebody -- you're setting yourself up for a lawsuit.

              By the books: of course you're right.

              By reality: I'm walking to coffee with my coworker and saying outside the earshot of anyone else. People tell inappropriate jokes under these circumstances. And often times those jokes are self-deprecating, like "ewww, she went to a state school" (just like I did) or "what kind of nerd wears [same kind of glasses he and I both have]?" They're jokes, they're intended as jokes, and everyone does this.

              This topic is a good example. How do we know he was joking? Maybe he was, maybe he wasn't. But somebody could claim he wasn't joking, and maybe even convince a judge or jury.

              There's a time and place for everything. Laughing with a close coworker a

              • by dalias (1978986) on Tuesday November 26, 2013 @07:23PM (#45532737)
                There's a simple principle I go by for jokes: something is a legitimate joke when you're making fun of yourself or of [someone in] power. When you're making fun of someone you hold power over, that's not called a joke. It's called being an asshole.
              • by hawguy (1600213)

                If you're making jokes about your hiring practices -- particularly after you just did not hire somebody -- you're setting yourself up for a lawsuit.

                By the books: of course you're right.

                By reality: I'm walking to coffee with my coworker and saying outside the earshot of anyone else. People tell inappropriate jokes under these circumstances. And often times those jokes are self-deprecating, like "ewww, she went to a state school" (just like I did) or "what kind of nerd wears [same kind of glasses he and I both have]?" They're jokes, they're intended as jokes, and everyone does this.

                These days, unless you're using the cones of silence [wikipedia.org], you're *never* out of earshot or someone that may post your "private" comment to the world:

                http://www.forbes.com/sites/quora/2013/03/22/was-it-appropriate-for-adria-richards-to-tweet-a-photo-of-two-men-at-pycon-and-accuse-them-of-being-sexist/ [forbes.com]

                And be careful even around coworkers, one of them may notice that you made the same "perl" joke about the last 3 female candidates, but you didn't make the same observation about the male candidates. Whether you mea

    • by JWSmythe (446288) <jwsmytheNO@SPAMjwsmythe.com> on Tuesday November 26, 2013 @03:50PM (#45530201) Homepage Journal

      Yes, I've seen some of the specifications. IANAL, but I've worked with a few, and they've described some of the rules, and then shown me the spec to explain it to them. :)

      To the best of my knowledge, the courts never had to deal with it. The Clerk of Court office would simply refuse them, and instruct the person filing of why they were refused. Like "Really, you can't use Comic Sans. Use Arial, Helvetica, or Times New Roman.

      I'm guessing since he did receive filed papers with the Arial font, that it is accepted in that jurisdiction, and the guy bitching about it was just a dick. Admitting bias based on anything is absolutely stupid for an officer of the court.

      This one (IMHO) is worse, âoelikes taking motions under advisement, but gets greater satisfaction denying themâ. Ok, so you just like refusing motions. It doesn't matter if there's justification for them? That's not how the judicial system is suppose to work. I guess it's good that he outed himself. He's just removed himself from the judicial system entirely. So much for those great career plans.

    • by catfood (40112) on Tuesday November 26, 2013 @03:51PM (#45530215) Homepage
      Yes and no. When I had a case in the Ohio Court of Appeals, I looked all over the rules for information on font sizes and such. Couldn't find any. Called the Clerk's office. The person who answered the phone there said, "Look, most of our filings are from inmates and they're handwritten. We're happy that your brief is typed at all."
    • Some judges need to get over themselves. They're ultimately there to serve the public, and for what we're paying them they can deal with the public not knowing their favorite font selections.

    • Century Schoolbook 12pt font is good enough for The Supreme Court of the United States, it should be good enough for any of them. Lazy attorneys use Times New Roman.

      I am not a lawyer, and more importantly I am not your lawyer. This is not legal advise; if you require such advise, contact a licensed attorney in your jurisdiction.
    • by Will.Woodhull (1038600) <wwoodhull@gmail.com> on Tuesday November 26, 2013 @04:01PM (#45530333) Homepage Journal

      It does amuse me that so-called higher educated professionals just as liable to open mouth and insert foot on Facebook as the immature uneducated brats

      Some persons are educated beyond the level of their intelligence. In the USA, that seems to be increasingly common in the last decade or so.

    • So, uh... WHY are there rules on fonts? Seems about as important as powdered wigs. I find some of those font restrictions are just an excuse to lazily reduce workloads. "You used form TP-27, not TP-27.1, so we threw it out. No they're not the same, TP-27.1 has a dot and then a number after it!"
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Shakrai (717556) *

        So, uh... WHY are there rules on fonts?

        Readability. The same reason they usually mandate double spacing, the numbering of paragraphs, and so on.

        You'd appreciate the same if your job primarily consisted of reading documents on paper. Didn't your professors/instructors at school have similar requirements?

        • Didn't your professors/instructors at school have similar requirements?

          Final thesis & each year's "mini-dissertation" had to be typed. Everything else just had to be legible; if your handwriting was neat enough that was acceptable.

          • by Tanktalus (794810) on Tuesday November 26, 2013 @04:38PM (#45530799) Journal

            "Legible" may be sufficient at Podunk University/College/Pub, but in the Ivy League, you better have everything perfectly pristine using ink made of virgin's blood on 30lb paper stock with a brightness rating of no less than 110.

            Personally, my professors were fine with chicken scratch, and bonus points for chicken blood, too.

        • No. And Arial, the font in question, seems readable.
    • by jythie (914043)
      Though it sounded like in this case there was no specific format or procedure, just one person's personal opinion.
  • Priorities much? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Tuesday November 26, 2013 @03:25PM (#45529845) Journal
    If you spend your time dealing with sex offenders, and your rants are about Arial, is it possible that you might have your priorities in poor order?
    • Re:Priorities much? (Score:5, Informative)

      by KingSkippus (799657) on Tuesday November 26, 2013 @03:35PM (#45529987) Homepage Journal

      Not surprisingly, the submitter grossly misrepresented what was said. In TFA, the Arial font thing was just a couple of lines in a much more troubling string of rants, stuff like:

      - "it’s always awkward when I see one of my pervs in the parking lot after a hearing"
      - he (the hearing examiner) “likes taking motions under advisement, but gets greater satisfaction denying them”
      - On November 20, 2008, the day of the plaintiff’s hearing, the following comment was posted during working hours: “it’s always a mistake when people testify, because they get destroyed in cross examination”
      - On that same day, the day of the plaintiff’s hearing, the hearing examiner also posted the following (apparently with reference to a different sex offender): he (the examiner) “hopes this guy doesn’t show up!!” which was followed up with “Tyson Lynch says yay!! He didn’t show up!”

      ...And so on. This is someone who is supposed to be fair and impartial, and the guy clearly has issues with the people he has a duty to work with.

      So yeah, if I had a hearing before the guy that went south, I'd be trying to have it overturned also. I hope that the guy is fired and the people who did have hearings before him get new hearings.

      • by Altus (1034) on Tuesday November 26, 2013 @03:43PM (#45530087) Homepage

        What is more disturbing is the thought that there have been and always will be people like this in power and most of them are not stupid enough to post this shit publicly... they just quietly sit there and do a really half assed job and determine the course of peoples lives.

      • Maybe all the newly freed pervs can go to his house for Thanksgiving.

    • If you spend your time dealing with sex offenders, and your rants are about Arial, is it possible that you might have your priorities in poor order?

      I always thought the only people who used the Arial font were sex offenders. :)

    • I've never met someone who picked Myriad over Arial that I couldn't trust. Clearly he's discovered this secret.

      In all seriousness, dealing with criminals as a profession doesn't mean you can't have a personal life. Maybe he's into typography and felt like ranting on his personal time. I've said similar things jokingly, though perhaps court workers need higher standards.

  • All government documents should be in a fixed-width font. Anything else is just crazy.
    • And they should be printed on 8 x 10.5 government size paper.
      • by rwa2 (4391) *

        ... that wouldn't be legal. 8 1/2" x 14" is.

    • I know, variable width fonts let the proles guess what the redacted blocks actually say.
  • Huh (Score:5, Funny)

    by Ultra64 (318705) on Tuesday November 26, 2013 @03:26PM (#45529859)

    "a sex offender overturned the decision of a hearing officer"

    I'm not sure it's a good idea to let the defendant be in charge of the judicial process.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by erroneus (253617)

      You would prefer that defendants be defenseless? In the US legal system, everything is on trial. The law, the defense, the prosecution, the evidence and witnesses are all open to scrutiny and testing. If something in the prosecution's case is not right, then the prosecution is potentially not right. I wouldn't have the system any other way.

      • Re:Huh (Score:4, Informative)

        by Ultra64 (318705) on Tuesday November 26, 2013 @03:36PM (#45530005)

        >You would prefer that defendants be defenseless?

        What are you talking about? There is no legal system that would allow the defendant to overturn anything. That is the judge's job.

        I was just making fun of the typo in the summary.

    • by gstoddart (321705)

      I'm not sure it's a good idea to let the defendant be in charge of the judicial process.

      They aren't.

      But when the judicial process is demonstrated to be biased against one group of people, things get tossed out.

      In this case, the people that determine what threat people pose as sex offenders were clearly acting in a way that was biased against the people in there. (You can become a 'sex offender' for the damnedest things, like peeing in public.)

      And, quite frankly, if you're posting the details (even in the b

  • by hduff (570443)

    People can have opinions, but those who feel the need to rant about such things are simply being asshats when they hold a position of public trust. They can reign it in or find a private sector job.

    • by Altus (1034)

      The rant doesn't bother me... its the decision based on factors that have no legal bearing that bothers me

  • by QilessQi (2044624) on Tuesday November 26, 2013 @03:26PM (#45529865)

    ...now if it were Comic Sans, I would TOTALLY agree.

  •     He sounds like he must write everything in Comic Sans, or Canterbury.

        {sigh}

  • by CB-in-Tokyo (692617) on Tuesday November 26, 2013 @03:31PM (#45529917) Homepage

    Back in the 90s, I had a job teaching MS Office to people. One class I was hired for was to teach a bunch of local judges how to use Word.

    While discussing how to change fonts, one of the judges says, "Huh! Anal font, what the hell is an ANAL font!"

    Maybe it is the same judge!

  • by erroneus (253617) on Tuesday November 26, 2013 @03:31PM (#45529919) Homepage

    I recall when I was first confronted with the reason Word Perfect was still (at the time) preferred for legal documents and especially court documents. That formatting absolutely needed to look a certain way even if it was ugly and primitive looking. Word Perfect could do it, MS Word not so much. I thought it was ridiculous, but perhaps not as ridiculous as this story.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      I recall when I was first confronted with the reason Word Perfect was still (at the time) preferred for legal documents and especially court documents. That formatting absolutely needed to look a certain way even if it was ugly and primitive looking. Word Perfect could do it, MS Word not so much. I thought it was ridiculous, but perhaps not as ridiculous as this story.

      Honestly this is still an issue to some degree, although not so many people care anymore. It's not ugly formatting vs pretty formatting, though. It's WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get). With WP, what you see onscreen is absolutely, definitely what you'll get when printed out on paper. With Word, there is a very small chance that the printed form will be ever-so-slightly different in a way that's legally significant (e.g. a word gets wrapped from the end of one line to the beginning of the next line)

  • That should be a shooting offence. I recall working for a company who had a new director of marketing. She did everything -- everything -- in PPT, even memos. Her preferred font was Comic Sans and the concept of a colour space for documents was basically science fiction to her.

    Yeah, the company went under. How did you guess?

    • by hawguy (1600213) on Tuesday November 26, 2013 @03:45PM (#45530135)

      That should be a shooting offence. I recall working for a company who had a new director of marketing. She did everything -- everything -- in PPT, even memos. Her preferred font was Comic Sans and the concept of a colour space for documents was basically science fiction to her.

      Yeah, the company went under. How did you guess?

      I guessed it went under because if the company went on to be wildly successful, then this anecdote wouldn't confirm your belief that the marketing director's memo style was a sign that the company was doomed to fail so you wouldn't have told it.

  • You'll never get hired for what you say on Twitter, but you may get fired for what you say on Twitter.
  • by denzacar (181829) on Tuesday November 26, 2013 @03:36PM (#45530009) Journal

    social media rants by government workers are causing problems for the workers

    Seems to me more like "social media helps to uncover insane asshats among government workers".
    Seriously, this guy apparently prejudiced against someone in a sexual assault case based on a font - he just gave everyone with whose cases he was involved a cause to ask for a retrial.
    What are the chances an innocent person went to jail cause he didn't like their font or their hair style?

    Once again this just proves that if you give asshats enough rope, they will eventually hang themselves with it.
    I say "thumbs up" for the social media.

    • You can at least be more likely to know what you are getting when a public official rants stupidly in public. The people who never ever rant publicly likely harbor as bad if not worse sentiments privately, and the populace is none the wiser.

  • Most people write with the default font of whatever word processor they use.
    • by jandrese (485)
      Seriously, maybe the guy is totally hung up on serifs? Ariel is basically a clone of Helvetica, one of the most common fonts in use today. It's hard to imagine someone with a burning passionate hatred of Helvetica. When I look at Ariel, the one thing I don't think is "unprofessional". Boring, and overused, sure, but definitely not unprofessional.
  • by TheCarp (96830) <`ten.tenaprac' `ta' `cjs'> on Tuesday November 26, 2013 @03:37PM (#45530019) Homepage

    I just this past week had the opportunity to read some legal filings in the case between a friend of mine and his former wife over custody. Since he can't afford a lawyer, he fills out forms the court gives him and does it.... BY HAND.

    Give me some arial any day of the week.

    • There is this archaic bit of technology, called a typewriter. They can commonly be found in a thrift store for just a few bucks. The best thing about a typewriter is that you can use it to fill in an existing form, neatly.
      You might want to suggest it to your friend. Or just pick one up, and give it to him.
      • The best thing about a typewriter is that you can use it to fill in an existing form, neatly

        Unless the existing form requires you to enter letters in boxes, then the typewriter must be aligned for every key stroke.

      • Some people would have difficulty carrying some typewriters. The IBM Selectric is something grand, but damn if it isn't a heavy bastard.
  • by Junta (36770) on Tuesday November 26, 2013 @03:37PM (#45530021)

    There were several comments which seemed not to really be supporting claims of bias (Arial font, hating the word lascivious), together with some things that are as likely to be just being inconvenienced (e.g. a police report in spanish I suspect is included to imply racism, but is just as likely to be complaining much in the same way I might complain if someone gave me something in German).

    But the vast majority of comments were more cut and dry 'I hate the people who I'm called upon to conduct hearings for', which would be the more relevant serious half of this.

    • But the vast majority of comments were more cut and dry 'I hate the people who I'm called upon to conduct hearings for', which would be the more relevant serious half of this.

      This guy deals with convicted criminals. He's not a judge.
      Do you like convicted sex offenders?
      The guy he was dealing with was trying to get away with not being listed as a sex offender, despite being one.

  • Raving on Facebook about a font means you're irrational and unstable. But you're irrational and unstable whether you rave about fonts on social media or not. Social media is just a handy and free barometer of already existing conditions. If anything, it should be considered a useful tool - people self-identify.

    • by tinkerton (199273)

      Sure there will be such cases, but mostly the conflict is between old style prejudices that date from a time when things weren't as public and there weren't as many opportunities for moral outrage , with a modern time that offers a flood of information that makes your private thoughts suddenly a lot more public.

      A more realist reaction would be to be a lot more tolerant towards inappropriate thoughts.

  • This from a State where the data sharing laws are so ancient they cannot provide electronic files but only paper printouts, at 50 cents a page. And where our State Stormtroopers speed around illegally in unmarked cruisers, writing tickets for the same laws they are violating. Why am I not surprised that in Massachusetts' halls of justice, the only justice is in the halls?

  • Don't know that I'd fault social media for an asshat on a power trip.

  • i'm going to write a strong letter using Helvetica Narrow

  • I can't take Arial seriously because I can't read it.

    rn (RN) looks like m (M)
    Il (IL) look like LL or II, L still don't know which.

  • I could be wrong, but shouldn't the Windows default font be considered a reasonable choice? Not everybody is inclined to change the font. And even if they were, what is wrong with Arial?

  • Someone blurts out they are biased and the problem is the rant was heard?
    Isn't the real problem the fact the hearing officer admitted he was biased?

    On another note, I'm currently at a government office and I just checked the default font in MS Word, its "Arial Maori".

  • "This is just the latest example of how social media rants by government workers are causing problems for the workers — and the people they deal with.""

    No, this is just the latest example of how people posting stupid shit online come back to bite them in the ass.

    I'm still amazed that 20 years in, most people still have no idea how to act like rational, civil human beings online.
  • This is interesting because web sites like Facebook ban sex offenders from using it in its terms of service (or so I'm told as I've never read them) and some jurisdictions ban paroled or probationed sex offenders from using social networking sites. And there have been some jurisdictions (California for one) that have tried to force all registered sex offenders to register with the government their e-mail addresses and their social media logins, thereby making them public record and allowing the Facebooks a

  • Unfortunately, people still don't understand the concept of the totally public nature of social media. Even if this person didn't understand the privacy settings, sharing with "friends" doesn't necessarily mean those friends won't tell their friends who have their entire lives posted on Facebook.

    I have no idea about the facts of the case, but I know I wouldn't want someone who was willing to post things like that on a public forum making a determination that meant I would never get a job, never be able to r

  • by Opportunist (166417) on Tuesday November 26, 2013 @04:18PM (#45530547)

    The problem WAS earlier, before people were stupid enough to post such things online, that such bias STILL existed, STILL influenced decisions, but could not be identified and rectified.

  • But fonts are important. Michigan secretary of state invalidated signatures collected for a ballot measure because it did not have the right font or right point size. http://www.eclectablog.com/2012/07/michigan-sec-of-state-johnson-if-pa-4-repeal-petition-font-is-wrong-all-other-ballot-initiatives-are-disqualified-too.html [eclectablog.com]
  • Or Klingon opinion, anyway:

    "Captain's log, stardate 9522.6. I've never trusted Klingons, and I never will. I can never forgive them for the death of my boy. It seems to me our mission to escort the Chancellor of the Klingon High Council to a peace summit is problematic at best. Spock says this could be an historic occasion and I'd like to believe him. But how on Earth can history get past people like me?"

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