LSC Updates: Lead Paint and Video Ipods

BY KAREN TENENBAUM

Harper T. Jamison was evicted from his residence on February 12 after a 9-month tenancy.
Kevin “See you in Court” Hartzell (3L, Housing) refuses to back down.

Beth Tossell, Jeff Stephens and Jeff Jamison (2L, 2L, 3L, Housing, respectively) are in the middle of a discovery process that has led them to the farthest reaches of the eastern seaboard, specifically, New Hampshire and Florida. The case is a class action suit that began when a tenant in a Charlestown public housing development built by the federal government and administered by the Boston Housing Authority (BHA) came to the LSC with a complaint of mold. The LSC sent out an inspector to the apartment, who discovered lead paint in the common stairwells. Clinical instructor Rafael Mares suspected that (as the old adage goes) where there’s lead, there’s more lead, and called for a larger-scale inspection. Indeed it turned out that 25% of the apartments and all of the common areas had lead paint in them.

Lead poisoning has been a nationwide problem since at least the 1940s, when manufacturers began adding lead to latex paint. Kids – the main victims of lead poisoning – ingest lead by inhaling it as dust, or more tastily by eating paint chips. Lead exposure is linked to learning disabilities, hearing loss, behavioral problems, and, at high levels, comas, convulsions and death. In 1971 Massachusetts passed a law requiring that all homes with children under six undergo lead abatement, which entails things like removing lead from all mouthable surfaces below five feet. But because lead laws are rarely enforced, many homes in the Boston area – quite possibly yours – still contain lead paint. And that is the main reason why I have refrained from having children during law school.

Stephens, Tossell and Jamison will depose nine of the agency’s current and former employees to gain information about the violations. In depositions, parties question people under oath about issues related to the case. Depositions supplement the written requests of discovery. Most of the depositions have taken place at the LSC. One, however, was conducted by Stephens at the Center For Seacoast Health in Portsmouth, NH, “a center dedicated to the health of the people on the seacoast, rather than the seacoast’s health,” Tossell clarified. Jamison will conduct another via videoconference at the Division of Management Services in Orlando, which, apparently, is not in Disney World.

Tossell’s team doesn’t yet know the precise size of the class (between 250 and 350 plaintiffs had children exposed to lead paint) or the identity of the plaintiffs (a BHA privacy regulation prevents it from disclosing names at this point). Damages will be calculated from a formula that takes into account the amount of lead in the apartment, the length of exposure and the number of children, or as three months’ rent, whichever is greater.

A student in the Community Enterprise Project who asked not to be identified advised a client that started a business helping non-tech-savvy people get videos onto their video Ipods. A customer would purchase an Ipod and DVDs through the client, and the client would upload the videos onto the Ipod and send both to the customer. “Several people hinted to [the client] that this might not be legal under the Digital Millenium Copyright Act [(DMCA)] and so they came to us wanting to know what the deal was,” said the student. The DMCA is the federal law that makes it illegal to, inter alia, use file-sharing software like Napster and Grokster, or to circumvent encryption on DVDs to gain access to a work. Encryption technology will let you watch a DVD, but not rip it onto your portable device – you need circumvention software to do the latter. In addition, according to the DMCA, if you circumvent willfully – meaning that you actually know it’s illegal to rip DVDs onto your video Ipod – that knowledge can change your liability under the act. As the student explained, “The DMCA has only civil remedies for regular violations, but once you [know] that what you’re doing is illegal, then criminal remedies [could] attach.” In other words, aren’t you glad you read The Record?

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