Episode 27: The ICE Madoff with my Laptop!


No, it's not Thanksgiving. We just covered a little bit of everything this week on the Legally Easy Podcast. It's a legal cornucopia, if you will.

Welcome to another edition of the Legally Easy podcast. We covered a vast cornucopia of issues this week, ranging from Bernie Madoff’s impact on divorce settlements to $36,000 cats to the continued restructuring of immigration law and enforcement. The issues this week, though quite diverse, have the potential to change law for business owners, married couples, and anyone who’s ever signed a contract.

We’d also like to use this space to bid a fond farewell and best wishes to our colleague Juli Olsson, the now-erstwhile host of the Legally Easy Podcast. She’s heading off to grad school and will be sorely missed.


00:00- Introductions. Charley and Juli say hi. We dive right in to another case involving investment banker and Ponzi schemer, Bernie Madoff.

00:40- The Madoff matter is a peculiar case of contract law. When Steven Simkin and Laura Blank divorced in 2006, they divided their assets amicably. While Blank took her share of their money is cash, Simkin kept his in the infamously worthless Madoff fund. Now that his half of their assets has disappeared, Simkin is suing, claiming that he and his wife didn’t equitably split their property. His suit relies on the “mutual mistake” doctrine and Juli explains by way of analogy.

Say one person believes he owns a Stradivarius and sells it to another who believes she’s purchasing a Stradivarius yet it turns out the instrument is but a cheap knock-off. Under the mutual mistake doctrine, the contract can be voided as the mistake was honest, no fraud was perpetrated, and the contract was for an item which was not what it was purported to be. Simkin’s argument will hinge on this idea as well as the fact that the Madoff account, being part of a Ponzi scheme, never truly existed. While it’s currently in the court of appeals and while both Charley and Juli empathise with Simkin, neither thinks he’ll win.

08:10- Circling back to immigration, the gang discusses a recent Supreme Court case in which a 5-3 majority sided with Arizona, allowing them to enforce a law which requires employers to verify the citizenship status of their employees. The Arizona law puts the onus on business to understand who in fact they’ve hired. This ruling finds that federal law does not preempt Arizona’s state law in this case and could have far reaching effects on other, more controversial immigration statutes.

14:05- If you’ve ever lost a laptop, our third segment should be especially interesting. It centers on the case of an Oakland, California man and the computer application Hidden. Hidden works by taking screenshots and actual pictures (via the little camera above the monitor on many newer laptop models) and sending them to a server. When this man’s computer was stolen, Hidden came online and captured several images of the perpetrator. Of course, since Hidden can’t prove who stole a computer — only who actually has it– the police can only use to this evidence to charge thieves with possession of stolen property. Noting computers and mobile devices are increasingly single units, incapable of being sold for parts in the way a stolen car in a chop shop is, Juli hopes that programs like this will further discourage laptop theft. Charley isn’t so sure that’s going to happen anytime soon.

22:02- The gang touches on two other stories we wrote last week, first regarding the legislative legacy of Dr. Jack Kevorkian and, on the lighter side, a tale of Pumkin, the $36,000 cat. The latter, in particular, could have far reaching consequences in how the law views pets.

21:32- And with that, it’s Rocket Docket time. This week, we’re asking about the Madoff-influenced divorce settlement, namely, should Simkin win his case? Juli says definitely not. After all, this isn’t a simple case of a mutual mistake; this was an investment. Investments, by their nature, are risks and Simkin’s settlement wouldn’t have been restructured had he doubled his money. Charley can see him winning based on certain preconditions. If, for example, the decision to purchase and value the fund was mutual, both parties believed the value of the Madoff fund to be the same. So long as Simkin and his ex valued the fund similarly, the mutual mistake doctrine could be used here.

What do you think? Let us know on Twitter, Facebook, or below in the comments. Have a great week.

Posted in: International Law, Podcast