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Fireworks lawyers help clients with flying colors

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Muncie attorney John H. Brooke has a flair for providing hands-on help to his clients in the fireworks business. Say someone’s unavailable at the last minute to fire off a town’s Fourth of July display. Brooke can handle that.

“That’s a unique service we have,” Brooke said with a laugh.

And if Brooke is not in the office, Brooke Law attorney John M. Stevens can help.
 

fireworks-bp-1col.jpg Richmond attorney David Lynch will light up the night sky for an Ohio town’s July 4 celebration. (Photo Courtesy of Stephen Lynch)

“I still shoot a few shows a year,” he said. Stevens worked his way through school putting on professional displays, and now he works at Brooke’s firm where more than 70 percent of the business is fireworks related.

“I did not really see these two merging,” Stevens said of his summers lighting up the skies and his subsequent pursuit of the law degree he attained in 2008. First admitted to practice in Iowa and Illinois, when he had the opportunity to team up with Brooke, Stevens said, “It occurred to me I had these two skills that weren’t mutually exclusive.”

Brooke will be at the controls for the Independence Day fireworks show in his hometown of Albany, Ind., as he has been for 10 years.

But he plans no holiday. “The Fourth of July is a work day for my office,” he said.

Attorney David P. Lynch also will work on July 4. He’ll be launching fireworks for the celebration in Mariemont, Ohio, a Cincinnati suburb. “It’s at a really beautiful park there,” he said, and the fireworks are synchronized with bells. “It’s one of my favorite shows. It’s a small show, but the community is really excited about it.”

An attorney with Amy Noe Law in Richmond, Lynch grew up with uncles who got into the business in the 1980s with a retail fireworks stand. Now, Cincinnati-based Lynch Imports supplies wholesale fireworks for about 2,500 professional shows a year, including displays arranged and produced through the family business.

Lynch sees direct parallels between how his family got into the business and how many of his clients do. “It’s almost always very family centered, typically a couple of guys or a couple of girls sometimes, who are really excited about it, and some other family members who are just going along for the ride.”

Leave it to the pros

Brooke has worked with some of the first families of fireworks such as the Zambellis and the Gruccis, not to mention the Lynches. He also serves as corporate attorney for Pyrotechnics Guild International, an organization of amateur and professional fireworks enthusiasts. Brooke said his firm has clients in 48 states and 22 countries.

But his leadership in a legal niche began as so many things do, with a chance meeting at a watering hole. After a July 4 holiday in the mid-1980s, an acquaintance who owned a Muncie fireworks stand complained to Brooke about all the bad checks he received. Brooke said he was just out of law school with bills to pay.

“It was, ‘I’ll do anything for food’ – that sort of thing,” Brooke said, recalling he took 50 of those checks and collected on 48. The client later invited him to a fireworks convention in Chicago, and as Brooke spoke with people in the industry, he saw opportunity.

“They said, ‘We use lawyers … our biggest gripe about lawyers is we spend half our time teaching them about the business,’” Brooke said. He committed to learn from the ground up, eventually shooting his own shows, making his own shells and helping Indiana lawmakers and policymakers craft rules and regulations that have created what he said is the most robust fireworks industry in the region.

The work is rife with opportunities for travel to destinations such as China and Brazil, and Brooke reckons he sees 40 to 50 fireworks shows a year, including demonstrations.

But he also has learned lessons that he says are too frequently repeated. “I’ve been on enough accident sites and seen enough real carnage where people take fireworks for granted,” Brooke said. “In 2009, I was sitting in my office on the Fourth of July when one of my clients had an explosion and people were killed.

“They say familiarity breeds contempt and that happens a lot in the fireworks business,” he said. “Every time I shoot a shot, every time I mix my own powder, I’ve got to have that level of concentration.”

Don’t try this at home

Lynch has helped or advised hundreds of people who’ve considered making the transition from backyard hobbyist to pro. Without some expert guidance, “They end up violating lots of things they certainly didn’t intend to violate,” he said.

Attorneys say compliance begins with a permit for display fireworks from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. The bureau will conduct an interview and, if approved, you’ll receive a display permit that allows purchase of what ATF classifies as 1.3G explosives. Then you’ll need an ATF-approved site for storage.

Transporting shells requires a commercial driver’s license with a hazmat endorsement, a visible placard and liability insurance of at least $5 million. Safety plans are required for all shows. Occupational Safety and Health Administration and other federal regulations also may apply, as will multiple and varying state laws, local ordinances and fire department regulations.

“The minute that you get paid, or are considered in commerce by the Department of Transportation, then you’ve graduated to the big leagues,” said Phil Ramsey, owner of Ramsey Pyrotechnics in Frankfort and a client of Brooke’s. Ramsey puts on displays for the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, Conner Prairie, the Indianapolis Indians and others. “You open yourself up to massive amounts, millions of dollars of lawsuits, if you don’t adhere to these safety regulations.”

Ramsey said ATF also monitors displays and checks against permits to ensure the display fireworks are used in the shows for which the permit was issued.

“Folks who think they can do it on the side with a minimum of effort frequently run into trouble,” Lynch said. “The display of fireworks is an inherently hazardous thing to do, and everybody who gets involved with it does well to keep that in mind.

“I like the regulators, and I’m glad they’re there,” he said. “Ultimately, I think if folks can’t navigate this regulatory sea, maybe they shouldn’t be doing fireworks displays in commerce.”

 

brooke Brooke

Even among hobbyists, Indiana has become something of a leader in the regulation of retail fireworks even as it made explosive varieties below 1.3G widely available. The state imposes a 5 percent fire safety fee on retail fireworks sales, and the few million dollars collected annually fund firefighter training, Brooke explained. Neighboring states such as Kentucky and Michigan adopted that model as they followed Indiana’s lead in easing retail fireworks restrictions.

Brooke said there’s already evidence that sales in those states will dent Indiana’s retail sales. Before last summer’s drought, Indiana retail fireworks sales were about $100 million to $150 million a year, Brooke estimated.

More bang for the buck

Stevens, the attorney who works at Brooke’s firm, estimated he’s been part of 150 to 200 shows, from backyard shoots to the $150,000 riverfront extravaganza for the sesquicentennial of Omaha, Neb. That show involved choreographed fireworks digitally fired from three sites.

That background pays off for clients, he said, noting Brooke’s firm also does a fair amount of consulting work for other lawyers. Few lawyers are devoted to the niche full time, he explained, but some larger companies and retail chains do have in-house counsel.


stevens Stevens

“It’s a lot of fun, but it can be frustrating, too,” Stevens said, because the firm works with clients in so many states. “When you bounce between cases, the law can change dramatically. That’s also what’s really fun about the job, it’s always changing, and there’s always a new wrinkle or a new aspect to explore.”

Stevens is taking a break from launching fireworks this Fourth of July, and it appears deserved. In his short time with Brooke’s firm, he’s already subbed as a pyrotechnician, stepping in at the last minute to save the fireworks show at last season’s opening Ball State University football game. After all, the show must go on.

“Fireworks,” Lynch said, “almost all the time it’s so much work, it’s not really any fun until you start the show. While it’s going on and as soon as you’ve finished the show, you’re waiting to hear the crowd response, and when you do … it’s all worth it.”•

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  1. OK so I'll make this as short as I can. I got a call that my daughter was smoking in the bathroom only her and one other girl was questioned mind you four others left before them anyways they proceeded to interrogate my daughter about smoking and all this time I nor my parents got a phone call,they proceeded to go through her belongings and also pretty much striped searched my daughter including from what my mother said they looked at her Brest without my consent. I am furious also a couple months ago my son hurt his foot and I was never called and it got worse during the day but the way some of the teachers have been treating my kids they are not comfortable going to them because they feel like they are mean or don't care. This is unacceptable in my mind i should be able to send my kids to school without worry but now I worry how the adults there are treating them. I have a lot more but I wanted to know do I have any attempt at a lawsuit because like I said there is more that's just some of what my kids are going through. Please respond. Sincerely concerned single parent

  2. California Sex Offender Management Board (CASOMB) End of Year Report 2014. (page 13) Under the current system many local registering agencies are challenged just keeping up with registration paperwork. It takes an hour or more to process each registrant, the majority of whom are low risk offenders. As a result law enforcement cannot monitor higher risk offenders more intensively in the community due to the sheer numbers on the registry. Some of the consequences of lengthy and unnecessary registration requirements actually destabilize the life’s of registrants and those -such as families- whose lives are often substantially impacted. Such consequences are thought to raise levels of known risk factors while providing no discernible benefit in terms of community safety. The full report is available online at. http://www.casomb.org/index.cfm?pid=231 National Institute of Justice (NIJ) US Department of Justice Office of Justice Programs United States of America. The overall conclusion is that Megan’s law has had no demonstrated effect on sexual offenses in New Jersey, calling into question the justification for start-up and operational costs. Megan’s Law has had no effect on time to first rearrest for known sex offenders and has not reduced sexual reoffending. Neither has it had an impact on the type of sexual reoffense or first-time sexual offense. The study also found that the law had not reduced the number of victims of sexual offenses. The full report is available online at. https://www.ncjrs.gov/app/publications/abstract.aspx? ID=247350 The University of Chicago Press for The Booth School of Business of the University of Chicago and The University of Chicago Law School Article DOI: 10.1086/658483 Conclusion. The data in these three data sets do not strongly support the effectiveness of sex offender registries. The national panel data do not show a significant decrease in the rate of rape or the arrest rate for sexual abuse after implementation of a registry via the Internet. The BJS data that tracked individual sex offenders after their release in 1994 did not show that registration had a significantly negative effect on recidivism. And the D.C. crime data do not show that knowing the location of sex offenders by census block can help protect the locations of sexual abuse. This pattern of noneffectiveness across the data sets does not support the conclusion that sex offender registries are successful in meeting their objectives of increasing public safety and lowering recidivism rates. The full report is available online at. http://www.jstor.org/stable/full/10.1086/658483 These are not isolated conclusions but are the same outcomes in the majority of conclusions and reports on this subject from multiple government agencies and throughout the academic community. People, including the media and other organizations should not rely on and reiterate the statements and opinions of the legislators or other people as to the need for these laws because of the high recidivism rates and the high risk offenders pose to the public which simply is not true and is pure hyperbole and fiction. They should rely on facts and data collected and submitted in reports from the leading authorities and credible experts in the fields such as the following. California Sex Offender Management Board (CASOMB) Sex offender recidivism rate for a new sex offense is 0.8% (page 30) The full report is available online at http://www.cdcr.ca.gov/Adult_Research_Branch/Research_Documents/2014_Outcome_Evaluation_Report_7-6-2015.pdf California Sex Offender Management Board (CASOMB) (page 38) Sex offender recidivism rate for a new sex offense is 1.8% The full report is available online at. http://www.google.com/url?sa= t&source=web&cd=1&ved= 0CCEQFjAA&url=http%3A%2F% 2Fwww.cdcr.ca.gov%2FAdult_ Research_Branch%2FResearch_ documents%2FOutcome_ evaluation_Report_2013.pdf&ei= C9dSVePNF8HfoATX-IBo&usg=AFQjCNE9I6ueHz-o2mZUnuxLPTyiRdjDsQ Bureau of Justice Statistics 5 PERCENT OF SEX OFFENDERS REARRESTED FOR ANOTHER SEX CRIME WITHIN 3 YEARS OF PRISON RELEASE WASHINGTON, D.C. Within 3 years following their 1994 state prison release, 5.3 percent of sex offenders (men who had committed rape or sexual assault) were rearrested for another sex crime, the Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) announced today. The full report is available online at. http://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/press/rsorp94pr.cfm Document title; A Model of Static and Dynamic Sex Offender Risk Assessment Author: Robert J. McGrath, Michael P. Lasher, Georgia F. Cumming Document No.: 236217 Date Received: October 2011 Award Number: 2008-DD-BX-0013 Findings: Study of 759 adult male offenders under community supervision Re-arrest rate: 4.6% after 3-year follow-up The sexual re-offense rates for the 746 released in 2005 are much lower than what many in the public have been led to expect or believe. These low re-offense rates appear to contradict a conventional wisdom that sex offenders have very high sexual re-offense rates. The full report is available online at. https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/nij/grants/236217.pdf Document Title: SEX OFFENDER SENTENCING IN WASHINGTON STATE: RECIDIVISM RATES BY: Washington State Institute For Public Policy. A study of 4,091 sex offenders either released from prison or community supervision form 1994 to 1998 and examined for 5 years Findings: Sex Crime Recidivism Rate: 2.7% Link to Report: http://www.oncefallen.com/files/Washington_SO_Recid_2005.pdf Document Title: Indiana’s Recidivism Rates Decline for Third Consecutive Year BY: Indiana Department of Correction 2009. The recidivism rate for sex offenders returning on a new sex offense was 1.05%, one of the lowest in the nation. In a time when sex offenders continue to face additional post-release requirements that often result in their return to prison for violating technical rules such as registration and residency restrictions, the instances of sex offenders returning to prison due to the commitment of a new sex crime is extremely low. Findings: sex offenders returning on a new sex offense was 1.05% Link to Report: http://www.in.gov/idoc/files/RecidivismRelease.pdf Once again, These are not isolated conclusions but are the same outcomes in the majority of reports on this subject from multiple government agencies and throughout the academic community. No one can doubt that child sexual abuse is traumatic and devastating. The question is not whether the state has an interest in preventing such harm, but whether current laws are effective in doing so. Megan’s law is a failure and is destroying families and their children’s lives and is costing tax payers millions upon millions of dollars. The following is just one example of the estimated cost just to implement SORNA which many states refused to do. From Justice Policy Institute. Estimated cost to implement SORNA Here are some of the estimates made in 2009 expressed in 2014 current dollars: California, $66M; Florida, $34M; Illinois, $24M; New York, $35M; Pennsylvania, $22M; Texas, $44M. In 2014 dollars, Virginia’s estimate for implementation was $14M, and the annual operating cost after that would be $10M. For the US, the total is $547M. That’s over half a billion dollars – every year – for something that doesn’t work. http://www.justicepolicy.org/images/upload/08-08_FAC_SORNACosts_JJ.pdf. Attempting to use under-reporting to justify the existence of the registry is another myth, or a lie. This is another form of misinformation perpetrated by those who either have a fiduciary interest in continuing the unconstitutional treatment of a disfavored group or are seeking to justify their need for punishment for people who have already paid for their crime by loss of their freedom through incarceration and are now attempting to reenter society as honest citizens. When this information is placed into the public’s attention by naive media then you have to wonder if the media also falls into one of these two groups that are not truly interested in reporting the truth. Both of these groups of people that have that type of mentality can be classified as vigilantes, bullies, or sociopaths, and are responsible for the destruction of our constitutional values and the erosion of personal freedoms in this country. I think the media or other organizations need to do a in depth investigation into the false assumptions and false data that has been used to further these laws and to research all the collateral damages being caused by these laws and the unconstitutional injustices that are occurring across the country. They should include these injustices in their report so the public can be better informed on what is truly happening in this country on this subject. Thank you for your time.

  3. Freedom as granted in the Constitution cannot be summarily disallowed without Due Process. Unable to to to the gym, church, bowling alley? What is this 1984 level nonsense? Congrats to Brian for having the courage to say that this was enough! and Congrats to the ACLU on the win!

  4. America's hyper-phobia about convicted sex offenders must end! Politicians must stop pandering to knee-jerk public hysteria. And the public needs to learn the facts. Research by the California Sex Offender Management Board as shown a recidivism rate for convicted sex offenders of less than 1%. Less than 1%! Furthermore, research shows that by year 17 after their conviction, a convicted sex offender is no more likely to commit a new sex offense than any other member of the public. Put away your torches and pitchforks. Get the facts. Stop hysteria.

  5. He was convicted 23 years ago. How old was he then? He probably was a juvenile. People do stupid things, especially before their brain is fully developed. Why are we continuing to punish him in 2016? If he hasn't re-offended by now, it's very, very unlikely he ever will. He paid for his mistake sufficiently. Let him live his life in peace.

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