In January, the U.S. Court of Appeals finally pulled the plug on Orange County, Calif., social workers who had been arguing in court for 16 years that they were not guilty of lying under oath because, after all, they did not understand that lying under oath in court is wrong. The social workers had been sued for improperly removing children from homes and defended their actions by inventing "witnesses" to submit made-up testimony. Their lawyers had been arguing that the social workers' "due process" rights were violated in the lawsuit because in no previous case on record did a judge ever have occasion to explicitly spell out that creating fictional witness statements is not permitted.
The Way the World Works
Former elementary school teacher Maria Caya, who was allowed to resign quietly in 2013 from her Janesville, Wis., school after arriving drunk on a student field trip, actually made money on the incident. In November 2016, the city agreed to pay a $75,000 settlement—because the police had revealed her blood-alcohol level to the press in 2013 (allegedly "private" medical information). The lawsuit against the police made no mention of Caya's having been drunk or passed out, but only that she had "become ill."
The Redneck Chronicles
John Bubar, 50, was arrested in Parsonsfield, Maine, in November after repeatedly lifting his son's mobile home with his front-end loader and dropping it. The father and son had been quarreling over rent payments and debris in the yard, and the father only eased up after realizing that his grandson was still inside the home.
• Update: The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission reversed itself in December and allowed Mary Thorn of Lakeland to keep her 6-foot-long pet alligator ("Rambo") at home with her despite a regulation requiring that a gator that size needs a more spacious roaming area. Thorn and Rambo have been together for over a decade.
Unclear on the Concept
"I'm (as) tired of hearing the word 'creep' as any black person or gay person is of hearing certain words," wrote Lucas Werner, 37, on his Facebook page in December after he was banned from a Starbucks in Spokane, Wash., for writing a polite dating request to a teenaged barista. Managers thought Werner was harassing the female, who is at least the age of consent, but Werner charged illegal "age discrimination" and made a "science" claim that "age gap love" makes healthier babies.
Taylor Trupiano grudgingly paid his $128 "traffic" fine in December, issued by a Roseville, Mich., officer who caught his car warming up unattended—in his own driveway. Police routinely issue such tickets (5-10 each winter, based on a town ordinance) to send drivers like Trupiano a message that unattended cars are ripe for theft, which burdens Roseville's police department. (A police spokesman said the driverless warmups are illegal even for locked cars.)
Jasper Fiorenza, 24, was arrested in St. Petersburg, Fla., in November and charged with breaking into a home in the middle of the night. The female resident said she awoke to see Fiorenza and screamed, but that the man nonetheless delayed his getaway in order to pet the woman's cat lounging on her bed.
• In December, Durham, Ontario, police officer Beth Richardson was set for a disciplinary hearing ("discreditable conduct") because, earlier in 2016, after being called to intervene at a drug user's home, she had noticed the resident's cat "cowering" in a corner and had taken her to a veterinarian, but without asking the owner's permission.
David Martinez, 25, was shot in the stomach during a brawl in New York City in December. He had inadvertently initiated the chaos when, trying to park in Manhattan's East Village just after Saturday midnight, he moved an orange traffic cone that had obviously been placed to reserve the parking space. He apparently failed to realize that the parking spot was in front of the clubhouse of Hells Angels, whose members happened to take notice.
The Entrepreneurial Spirit
An unnamed pregnant woman convinced a reporter from Jacksonville, Florida, station WFOX-TV in December that the "positive" urine tests she was advertising on Craigslist were accurate and that she was putting herself through school by supplying them (making about $200 a day). The seller claimed that "many" pregnant women market their urine for tests—even though the main use of the test seems to be "negotiation" with boyfriends or husbands.
While poor, often uneducated murder defendants in some states receive marginal, part-time legal representation by lawyers at the bottom of their profession (usually unable to keep their murder clients off of death row), Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, convicted of three murders in the 2013 attack and facing a possible death sentence, once again will be represented for free by a team at the top of the profession—headed by the chief of the New York federal public defender's office. Tsarnaev was previously represented by a team topped by the chief of the Boston federal public defender's office.
Least Competent Criminals
Matthew Bergstedt, 27, was charged with breaking into a house in Raleigh, N.C., in December, though he failed to anticipate that the resident was inside, stacking firewood (which he used to bloody Bergstedt's face for his mugshot).
• On Dec. 5 in New York City, a so-far-unidentified man made five separate attempts to rob banks in midtown Manhattan over a three-hour span, but all tellers refused his demands, and he slinked away each time. (Police said a man matching his description had successfully robbed a bank four days earlier.)
Recurring Themes: The Return of Anger Relief
What was billed as the United Kingdom's first "Rage Cage" opened in Nottingham, England, in December, allowing patrons to vent with crowbars, baseball bats and hammers to smash crockery, electronics and glassware—at prices around $15-$40.
• In October, a bookstore in Cairo, Egypt, set aside a small, soundproof room where patrons could go scream at the top of their lungs for 10 minutes about whatever stresses them. The store owner pointed to an academic study demonstrating screaming's "positive effect" on the brain. (The prototype store is still Donna Alexander's Anger Room in downtown Dallas, thriving since 2011, offering a variety of bludgeoning weapons, and especially active this election season, with target mannequins gussied up to be "Trump" and "Clinton.")
The Passing Parade
Two weeks after a Pakistani International Airlines crash killed all 47 on board, some employees of the company figured they needed to dispel the bad karma (for their own safety) and thus sacrificed a black goat on the tarmac at Islamabad airport next to an ATR-42 aircraft (the same model that crashed).
• Badminton player Mads Pieler Kolding, in a January match in India's Premier Badminton League, returned a volley at a world's record for a shuttlecock—265 mph.