Tag Archive: Law & Order: Los Angeles

Jurisdiction Issues on Law and Order: Los Angeles

The Law and Order: Los Angeles episode entitled “Hondo Field” aired on Wednesday, November 10, 2010. This episode centers on the suspicious death of an oil rig worker named Freddy Ramirez, whose body is discovered floating in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of California. Los Angeles Police Department Detectives “Tomas ‘T.J.’ Jaruszalski” and “Rex Winters”, played by actors Corey Stoll and Skeet Ulrich, begin a full investigation into the murder of Ramirez. In the victim’s wallet the detectives find his workers’ union card, identifying him as an employee of Gulf Shore Oil Company. Gulf Shore owns and operates an off-shore oil rig named “Hondo Field,” located 5 miles off the California coast. Since “Hondo” is located only miles from where Ramirez’ body was found, the detectives suspect the death may have occurred on the rig. This possibility raises a problem for the Los Angeles detectives, since the Judiciary Act of 1789 grants the United States exclusive jurisdiction over all admiralty and maritime matters. The detectives go to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management to ensure they have proper jurisdiction to investigate the murder. The BOEMRE is the federal agency responsible for overseeing the development of energy and mineral resources on waters lying between the seaward extent of the States’ jurisdiction and the seaward extent of Federal jurisdiction. The detectives take this step because officers of the state are prohibited from infringing upon matters of exclusive federal jurisdiction.

The “Hondo Field” episode raises the legal issues of jurisdiction and maritime law. “Platform Hondo” is an actual oil rig owned by Exxon Mobil that is located in the Pacific Ocean, 5.1 miles off the coast of Santa Barbara, CA. Hondo was installed in 1976 and began operating in 1981. Maritime cases are governed by federal laws and agencies. Maritime or admiralty law applies to boats, ships, seamen, offshore oil rigs and platforms, and any incident that occurs on the navigable waters lying seaward of state coastal waters which are under U.S. jurisdiction. Since Platform Hondo is further than 3 miles from land, it is designated as part of the “Outer Continental Shelf” (OCS). The Outer Continental Shelf Land Act (OCSLA) assigns responsibility to the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE) to oversee energy and mineral resource-related activities on Federal waters. Major incidents involving fatalities, serious injuries, or substantial damage that occur on offshore rigs must be reported to the Minerals Management Service. The MMS conducts an investigation to determine the cause of the incident and develops a prevention plan for any possible future incidents. The Death on the High Seas Act (DOHSA) was enacted in 1920 to limit the liability of an operating vessel, ship, jet, or oil rig in navigable Federal waters in cases due to negligence. The DOHSA allows families of fatally injured oil rig workers to file wrongful death claims under 46 U.S.C. §688, known as The Jones Act. However, this Act limits the amount of damages recoverable to burial costs and loss of financial support the family member would have provided over his lifetime in the same job. The DOHSA also prevents the victim’s family members  from suing owners of oil rigs for the negligence that caused the accident.

Congress is currently in the process of amending the DOHSA in order for the families of the oil workers killed in the BP Deep Water Horizon explosion to recover nonpecuniary damages. On July 1, 2010 the House of Representatives passed H.R. 5503, a bill created “to revise laws regarding liability in certain civil actions arising from maritime incidents, and for other purposes.” H.R. 5503 is known as the “SPILL” Act, which stands for the “Securing Protections for the Injured from Limitations on Liability Act.” If its partner bill is later passed into the Senate, it will amend DOHSA to allow families to recover non-economic damages for loss of care, comfort, and companionship from the people responsible for the victim’s death. The SPILL Act will also repeal the limitations of liability for oil companies in order to hold them fully accountable for negligent operations that cause accidents and tragedies.

The jurisdictional problems raised by this episode of Law and Order: Los Angeles can be solved by finding out whether Ramirez’ death is a matter of admiralty law. This can be discovered by finding the cause and location of Ramirez’ death. The detectives need to first investigate whether the victim died on the offshore rig or in California. If Ramirez died on the Hondo rig on the OCS, admiralty laws will apply and the federal court would have exclusive jurisdiction. If he died on land, the State of California would have jurisdiction. During the episode, the detectives find the hat Ramirez was wearing the night he died. In the brim of the hat, they discover gravel mixed with the victim’s blood that came from the parking lot of his residence motel. The detectives also need to determine whether Ramirez’ death occurred as a result of negligence or if he was killed intentionally. This factor is relevant because the victim’s family will only have a wrongful death claim against the company under The Jones Act if his death was a result of the oil carrier’s negligent operation. In the episode, the medical examiner discovers that the victim was killed by blunt force trauma to the head, which rules out the possibility of an accidental death or responsibility on behalf of Ramirez’ employer. This evidence proves that the victim’s death was not accidental and was committed in the parking lot of his California motel. Since the death did not occur on the oil rig, the Federal agencies do not have jurisdiction. Ramirez’ death is ultimately ruled as a murder that took place within the state, which gives detectives Jaruszalski and Winters proper jurisdiction to investigate and solve his murder under the laws of California.

Law and Order: Los Angeles: Hit or Miss?

Small screen powerhouse Dick Wolf may have struck gold again with the September 29, 2010 premiere of Law and Order: Los Angeles if he is looking for a teenybopper audience. Wolf, with successful shows like Law and Order,  Law and Order: Special Victims Unit, and Law and Order: Criminal Intent under his belt, takes the tried and true formula to the West Coast. However, don’t tune in expecting the same dim-lit interrogation rooms and grungy New York City streets. Instead, Law and Order: Los Angeles’ first episode, “Hollywood” is exactly that: a glimpse into Hollywood and its drama-filled mansions.

The show’s first episode does not promise an accurate, or even interesting depiction of the legal profession in Los Angeles.  Its focus is on a mother-daughter duo with an uncanny resemblance to dream team Dina and Lindsay Lohan. The Hollywood commentary continues with various references to  celebrity gossip website TMZ and even highlights the “Bling Ring” phenomenon- where young Los Angeles well-to dos stole pricey merchandise from celebrity homes (among them Orlando Bloom and Lindsay Lohan). The show packs on the tabloid references, but does not really explore the legal consequences attached to them with any intellectual depth. To be honest, its social commentary lacks any intellectual depth as well. It does not provide a different perspective from the lifestyle Los Angeles is known for. The lackluster storyline coupled with the sunny days and palm tree boulevards gives it an E! Entertainment sort of vibe, instead of the somber and suspenseful commentary that Law and Order fans seek.

Verdict: for those of us over the age of fourteen: total miss.

Law and Order: Los Angeles or Hollywood?

The latest addition to the Law and Order franchise, Law and Order: Los Angeles, premiered on September 29th.   Unlike the other Law and Order installments, the creators used the backdrop of Los Angeles to make this show more glamorous and trendy.   Judging by the premiere episode, Hollywood, the show seems to target a younger audience than any other Law and Order show.  The plot was even based off of the “Bling Ring” that made headline news in 2009 when teenagers were burglarizing homes of young celebrities in Hollywood.

Law and Order: Los Angeles features well-known movie actors such as Terrence Howard and Regina Hall as Deputy District Attorneys, as well as Skeet Ulrich as a Detective.  The familiar cast is sure to play a positive role in the success of this show.

Will Los Angeles appeal to the avid followers of the other Law and Order installments?  The first episode suggests that Los Angeles will not be as dark and intense as the other Law and Order shows like Law and Order Special Victims Unit.  This glamorous, trendy Los Angeles version of Law and Order may not appeal to veterans of the franchise, but it is sure to pick up new, younger viewers.

Law and Order: Los Angeles

 If one thing is certain about Dick Wolf, it’s that he likes to deal in the business of “Now.” The man has made a living with his “ripped from the headlines” approach to television through Law and Order, Law and Order: Special Victims Unit, Law and Order: Criminal Intent, and even the short-lived Law and Order: Trial by Jury. This time around, however, he has taken that approach a step further with Law and Order: Los Angeles. Not only was the storyline of the series premiere inspired heavily by the modern day young celeb-centric culture of Hollywood, but the show also centered on the detectives’ reliance on social networking and TMZ to further their investigation.

 If the first episode is any indication of the direction the show will follow, it is pretty clear that Dick Wolf and NBC are targeting a much younger audience. And with the original Law and Order airing its final episode on May 24, 2010 after 20 seasons, can anyone blame them? Los Angeles is certainly a “sexier” alternative to its predecessors thanks to its cutting-edge camera angles and editing coupled with its less than inconspicuous name-dropping (see Perez Hilton). But it also takes a slightly different approach to the traditional half-episode split between detectives and attorneys. The format of the show is much freer form, with seemingly more focus given to the “Order” aspect over the “Law.” It also seems to follow Detective Rex Winters (Skeet Ulrich) in a way similar to that of Criminal Intent’s treatment of Detective Robert Goren (Vincent D’Onofrio) – that they are the main protagonists of their respective shows, rather than members of a detective team.

It is too early to judge the show’s treatment of the Los Angeles attorneys that prosecute the offenders (Terrence Howard, Alfred Molina, Regina Hall, Megan Boone), but early indications point to them taking a similar line to other Law and Order programs. The first episode of Los Angeles had a less than favorable portrayal of defense attorneys by making them fit the mold of the stereotypical, unscrupulous Hollywood lawyer. The first episode also attempted to forego nearly all discussion of actual law in lieu of fancy criminal hypotheses.

All things considered, Law and Order: Los Angeles is a solid new addition to Dick Wolf’s family of shows. It is not the best replacement for the original, but then again, it doesn’t necessarily try to be. The show has breathed new life into a once stagnant genre, and has the potential to capture viewers and critics alike. Just don’t hope to be able to pass the California bar after watching it.

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