Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Healthy pay scale makes district attorney's office a lawyer magnet

Melanie Griswold took a substantial pay cut when she moved to Santa Clara County, Calif., and started prosecuting crimes. A former King & Spalding litigation associate and Harvard Law grad, Griswold says she earns half as much as a deputy district attorney.

But she isn't complaining.

"I would've come to the DA's office and worked as a volunteer for free if I had to do that to get a job," she says. "I knew it was what I wanted to do."

Griswold is in good company: The Santa Clara DA's office is in the midst of a hiring boom. And its top-of-the-scale pay -- and the still relatively weak legal economy - means it can be highly selective in its hiring. In the past year, the office has hired 14 lawyers but still has 12 slots to fill - and 700 people have applied. Jay Boyarsky, the chief assistant district attorney charged with running the selection process, credits the county Board of Supervisors for understanding that "if you want to be able to hire the finest attorneys, to a certain extent, you're going to have to compete with jobs in the private sector."

The hiring boom has given DA Jeffrey Rosen an early chance to reshape the office. "I think hiring is really one of the most important things that I'll do as DA," he says. "If I hire the right people, there's not a lot I'll need to do in the office. If I don't hire the right people, there's not a lot I can do to make the office great."


Rosen has so many vacancies to fill in part because this year the county funded seven new positions. Meanwhile, Boyarsky says, an "aging workforce" has brought a flurry of retirements. Rosen said he set aside the "hire list" he inherited, despite pressure to hire quickly (lest the county close an open slot, or overworked attorneys revolt), and set out to find new talent. Boyarsky and two other assistants spend approximately 100 hours screening applicants in each hiring round.

"Jeff has put an increased emphasis on ethics in terms of Brady evidence," Boyarsky says, referring to exculpatory material in criminal cases, which "makes screening applicants really labor intensive."

It's a problem other DAs can only wish they had.

Contra Costa County, Calif., DA Mark Peterson says his budget has been slashed and the county has frozen hiring of permanent employees.

With an annual staffing budget of $78 million, Santa Clara pays its entry-level deputy DAs a starting salary of $92,000. The top line prosecutor earns $195,000. In Contra Costa County, starting pay is around $81,000, says Deputy DA Thomas Kensok. The highest nonmanagers pull in around $159,000, but Kensok adds that all the attorneys are facing possible salary rollbacks in the future. In Alameda County, Calif., the range is $74,000 to $159,000. Orange County, Calif., prosecutor salaries start at $70,000 and top out at $162,000.

Santa Clara has 20 percent more people than Alameda County, but its DA's office has a 33 percent larger budget.

It helps to have the financial support of the Board of Supervisors, says Rosen. Earlier this year the board voted to spend $2.3 million in the 2012 fiscal year (and $4.2 million each fiscal year thereafter) to add 38 positions in the public defender and DA's offices to staff misdemeanor arraignment calendars, something Public Defender Mary Greenwood says she first suggested two years ago. Staffing misdemeanor arraignments is regular practice in large, urban counties, she says, and in 2009 she became concerned about the "much more serious collateral consequences" of misdemeanor charges, such as immigration repercussions.

"Part of what I also argued was that doing the right thing for the client is really consistent with what's right for everybody in a fiscal way, too," since having a lawyer at the outset gives a defendant more information about how to proceed with his or her case efficiently, she says.

The board voted unanimously to approve the expenditure.

Like the DA's office, the public defender's office is hiring to staff the arraignments. Greenwood says she received 400 applications for seven new attorney positions in her office.

The DA's office also receives a considerable amount of financial support from the state in the form of grants, particularly for the economic crimes unit, which prosecutes consumer fraud and environmental cases. Rosen says his team is "very aggressive" in prosecuting those crimes.

Scott Tsui, a supervising deputy DA who runs the economic crimes program, said the office received more than $4 million in grants from the state Department of Insurance last year to prosecute insurance fraud crimes, including mortgage fraud. The office also received a $1.9 million high-tech crime grant, which went to a task force made up of personnel from agencies across the San Francisco Bay Area.

For Deputy District Attorney Christopher Boscia, who was hired earlier in the year from the Contra Costa County DA's office, Santa Clara "had a great reputation in terms of integrity and, frankly, significantly more pay and job security." Boyarsky is quick to counter any suggestion that the office is overfunded: Its budget has taken a hit, he says, in each of the past 11 years. And he points out that the office has actually shrunk from a high of 224 lawyers to a low of 166 today even while the crime rate in the area has remained stable. But the relatively high pay, he acknowledges, means the office can land Big Law litigators like Griswold. Boyarsky himself is a former Manatt, Phelps & Phillips associate.

"That job made me happy twice a month, on payday," he says. "We get a lot of people who have been working at firms for a few years and decide that they want to go into public service. And I think that's why it's important that we're able to pay well."

He's a "proud papa" of these accomplished public service converts and says veterans of the office joke that they don't have the credentials to get hired today.

Settling in

Although the preference is to hire deputies who have minimal prosecutorial experience (rather than laterals from other DA offices), Boyarsky says the office has gotten a large number of applicants for deputy district attorney IV, which requires six years of experience and has a starting pay rate of $142,000.

"We hire a mix" of prosecutors, litigators and first-timers who have just passed the bar, says Boyarsky.

It's a different approach than the one taken in Contra Costa and Alameda counties, which don't hire many laterals at all.

Alameda County DA Nancy O'Malley says her office has hired just five in the past six years, and, according to Kensok, Contra Costa hasn't been recruiting - it hires lawyers off of a civil service list, and they all, regardless of experience, start out at the minimum pay rate on a temporary basis. Then, if the budget allows, they're offered a three-year contract at a fixed salary. At the end of the three years, attorneys take an exam and "based on the available funds they may hire 1, 10 or none of the people in your class," says Boscia, who worked in the office for one year.

"That makes it very difficult to plan a life, to settle in, because you don't have any job security," says Boscia, who left to get that security at the Santa Clara DA's office. "Every year, [Contra Costa] loses some of their best people because of this issue." Boscia adds that he's earning 40 percent more in his current job.

"I don't know that it is that much different than in a lot of counties now that bring people on as temps," says Kensok of Contra Costa's temporary hiring. "This has been going on since Prop 13," which limited the property taxes counties can collect.

Kensok acknowledges that some people have left because of the temporary structure in previous years, but adds that "Santa Clara is really in a unique situation" to be able to offer such high pay and security.

Alameda County relies on its law clerkship program to recruit talent, and promotes from within. This year, O'Malley says they're swearing in four prosecutors out of a class of eight, after interviewing around 400 law students on campuses all over the state (and at Harvard).

"We're really creating promotional positions for people already in the office" rather than hiring laterally, O'Malley says. But she does note greater interest by would-be prosecutors. "The ability to be in a courtroom to do trials is something that's becoming more attractive" to students, she says. "Some kids who might not otherwise think about becoming a DA or a public defender or work in government service, they may be casting a wider net. People want jobs."

The new influx of young talent means Rosen has been tasked with mentoring and guiding the new prosecutors - something this year's class says he's accomplished by giving them a great supervising deputy DA, James Gibbons-Shapiro. Earlier in the year, Griswold was working on her first or second case and was preparing for a misdemeanor trial. She says one morning Gibbons-Shapiro came by her office with a handwritten list of notes he said he'd thought of in the middle of the night.

The ideas were great, she said. But more than that, "It showed me that somebody cares" about her professional development.

For Boscia, the opportunity to interface with high-level people outside of the office has been a boon. Boscia worked on a DUI case earlier this year where the defendant challenged the blood-alcohol content tests. Boscia said he was able to delve deep into the science for what turned into a three-week trial. "I don't think in a lot of other offices you get a chance to interact with scientists like I did on this case," he says.

By Cynthia Foster

Source: The American Lawyer

NJ Supreme Court tosses ethics charge over seal on firm website

The New Jersey State Supreme Court on Tuesday dismissed the ethics complaint against an employment lawyer whose website bore the seal of the New Jersey Board on Attorney Certification, despite the lawyer's not having received the credential.

Ty Hyderally, who owns Hyderally & Associates in Montclair, was accused of violating the state Supreme Court's rules prohibiting "conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation," for displaying the seal for two years. The seal, which appeared on 16 different pages of Hyderally's website, includes the language "New Jersey Supreme Court Certified Attorney."

In dismissing the complaint the top court concluded that there was "no clear and convincing evidence" that Hyderally had either intentionally included the seal or approved its presence on the site, the decision said.

But the court also warned members of the New Jersey bar that attorneys are responsible for monitoring the content of all communications with the public, including their websites, to make sure that those communications conform "at all times" with the Rules of Professional Conduct. Going forward, attorneys who are not authorized to use the seal "will be subject to appropriate discipline," the court ruled. The court did not specify what discipline it would consider appropriate.

The seal "represents a significant professional achievement by the lawyers who earn it," the decision said.

According to the certification board's website, to receive the designation an attorney must demonstrate "sufficient levels of experience, education, knowledge and skill in a specific area of law or practice; have passed a rigorous examination; and have been recognized by their peers as having sufficient skills and reputation in the designated specialty."

As of Dec. 2010, the most recent date for which figures are available, 87,639 attorneys were admitted to practice in New Jersey, according to Tammy Kendig, a spokeswoman for the Administrative Office of the Courts. Kendig said that as of Tuesday, 1,550 attorneys have been certified by the attorney-certification board.

'Unintentional and inadvertent'

Hyderally was admitted to the bar in 1994. Neither he nor any of his associates or staff had been certified when Hyderally asked his cousin, Yusuf Asgerally, a website designer based in California, to design his firm's website in 2005.

Hyderally said he never reviewed the site's content in detail and didn't know the seal had been included until 2007, when he learned the Supreme Court Committee on Attorney Advertising had received a grievance about the false designation, according to the decision.

In 2010, the Office of Attorney Ethics filed a complaint against Hyderally. During a hearing on the complaint, Asgerally testified that he had seen images of the seal and assumed that a lawyer practicing in New Jersey is certified.

Hyderally testified that he didn't tell his cousin to include the seal, and that after learning of its presence, he told Asgerally to take it down. He testified that the seal's presence "had been unintentional and inadvertent."

The hearing panel concluded that Hyderally had a duty to monitor his website and ensure that it contained no improper content, and that his conduct warranted a reprimand.

But when the Disciplinary Review Board reviewed the panel's recommendation, it concluded the complaint should be dismissed, citing Hyderally's immediate removal of the seal and the fact that he had not derived any benefit from displaying the emblem.

The Office of Attorney Ethics challenged the board's decision, arguing that the seal's improper use could not be cured simply by discontinuing its use, and that evidence of a benefit is not required to prove a violation.

In a phone interview, Hyderally said, "I'm very happy with the decision and relieved, quite frankly, that this ordeal ... concluded in a positive manner."

The Office of Attorney Ethics did not respond to a call for comment.

The case is In the Matter of Ty Hyderally, an attorney at law, Supreme Court of New Jersey, No. 068701.

For Hyderally: Frederick Dennehy of Wilentz, Goldman & Spitzer

For the Office of Attorney Ethics: Walton Kingsbery III, Assistant Ethics Counsel.

By Jennifer Golson

Source: Thomson Reuters News & Insight

Monday, December 19, 2011

Judge rejects lawsuit over DOJ politicized hiring

A federal judge has tossed out a lawsuit alleging conservative political ideology drove a prestigious, selective Justice Department hiring program during the administration of President George W. Bush.

The ruling Thursday was a setback for three lawyers rejected for the Honors Program that funneled promising young lawyers into government jobs. They had sued alleging misconduct by Bush political appointees who did the hiring, and violations of the Privacy Act.

U.S. District Court Judge John Bates called the behavior a "dark chapter" for the Justice Department, but he concluded that while the actions of some officials were inappropriate, the lawsuit could not go forward.

"This case reflects extremely disturbing behavior from high-ranking Department of Justice officials. This court, and others, have often condemned that conduct. Even so, plaintiffs have not met their burden to prevail on the Privacy Act claims presented in this case," Bates said.

Adding that he agreed with the plaintiffs "that misconduct from senior government officials should not be condoned," Bates said "nonetheless, as much as the court might disapprove of certain conduct, the evidence before the court must be objectively analyzed under the law."

The lawsuit followed the department's own internal investigation that slammed two of three members of the screening committee, finding they blocked liberals and people with Democratic Party ties from being accepted into the Honors Program and Summer Intern Law Program.

Law clerks and law students typically apply for such highly competitive positions.

Esther Slater McDonald, a Bush political appointee at the Justice Department, "wrote disparaging statements about the candidates' liberal and Democratic Party affiliations on the applications she reviewed and ... she voted to deselect candidates on that basis," said the report by Inspector General Glenn Fine, who has since left the department.

Fine's report, the first official investigation to document politicization of the Justice Department during the Bush administration, was an offshoot of the larger investigation of Justice Department politics triggered by the furor over the firing of nine U.S. attorneys.

McDonald and Michael Elston, the chief of staff to former Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty, were cited for engaging in misconduct, an administrative violation. The third member of the screening committee, career lawyer Dan Fridman, was cleared of any involvement in the politicization of the process.

As a result of the controversy, the hiring process was changed in 2007 to insulate hiring decisions from political considerations. Both Justice Department policy and federal law prohibit discrimination in hiring for career positions on the basis of political affiliations.

The subsequent lawsuit alleged department lawyers searched the Internet for information about applicants' personal and political backgrounds, and using that to make hiring decisions, including to reject one applicant who had run as a Green Party candidate.

Many of the related documents from the hiring program have since been destroyed, which lawyers for three of the rejected appointees say violates federal law.

Former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said in a deposition last year he was "disappointed I didn't do things differently" to end the politicization of hiring practices.

The case is Gerlich v. U.S. Department of Justice (cv-08-1134)

By Bill Mears, CNN Supreme Court Producer

Source: CNN

Texas lawyers hope to tap into Western Pennsylvania's oil and gas boom

The longest Marcellus Shale pipeline may be the one that extends from the heart of Texas to Western Pennsylvania.

On Dec. 1, Houston-based The Sadler Law Firm became the latest Texas energy firm to set up shop on the front line of the Marcellus Shale play, opening an office in the Southpointe business park in Washington County, the hub of the natural gas industry in Pennsylvania.

The office, which is the firm's second, currently includes a staff of 10 lawyers, four law clerks and one office manager. It had considered an office in Downtown Pittsburgh, but decided against that after realizing most of its clients would be in suburban counties.

Partner Jacob Lenington, who manages the firm's Appalachian area, will head up the new office, and is the only existing Sadler Law attorney to make the move from Houston to Western Pennsylvania.

The rest of the attorneys, according to the firm's managing partner, Randall K. Sadler, are new to the firm and include a mix of laterals and recent law school graduates from Western Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia.

Mr. Sadler said the firm anticipates expanding the office to about 30 or 40 lawyers by the end of 2012; the process of establishing a true presence in Western Pennsylvania, though, is "long-term development" that could take "10 years or more."

Mr. Sadler said the firm decided to put down roots in Western Pennsylvania because it has 30 years of experience servicing the upstream oil and gas market, which focuses on the exploration and extraction of natural resources.

Specifically, the firm focuses on real property law and the preparation of oil and gas title opinions, areas of law that, according to Mr. Sadler, require unique experience.

In addition to real property and title opinion work, according to Mr. Sadler, the firm, which currently has 91 lawyers, also handles acquisitions and divestitures, transactional work and some land-related litigation.

He said the firm already has a number of existing clients who are involved in the Marcellus Shale play, having previously done work for them in other shale plays, such as the Bakken play, which underlies Montana and North Dakota, as well as in the Rocky Mountains and Texas.

Sadler Law is the third Houston firm in the past year either to open a new office or expand an existing office in Western Pennsylvania in response to the rapid growth of the oil and gas industry spurred by the Marcellus Shale play.

In April, for example, Houston-based Fulbright & Jaworski opened a Southpointe office with six energy lawyers from K&L Gates, including partner Kenneth S. Komoroski.

By Zack Needles, The Legal Intelligencer,, 215-557-2493

Source: Pittsburgh Post Gazette

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Archdiocese lawyers could be stifling witnesses

A prosecutor said Friday that new criminal lawyers hired by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia could be stifling priests and other church employees from cooperating in the looming child sex-abuse trial of current and former priests.

Assistant District Attorney Patrick Blessington cited a memo sent this month to archdiocesan employees reminding them to notify church lawyers before responding to requests from law enforcement or others about the case.

"The archdiocese is committed to cooperating with law enforcement authorities, the judicial system, and lawful requests from appropriate parties," the memo said. "At the same time, we are also committed to keeping disruptions to a minimum and within appropriate boundaries."

Blessington told Common Pleas Court Judge M. Teresa Sarmina that the request posed a conflict because the lawyers, Robert Welsh and Catherine Recker, were being paid by the archdiocese while advising potential witnesses whose testimony could hurt the church and its leaders.

He said the lawyers want to sit in on all meetings between the employees and law enforcement. "You don't have to stretch your imagination to see the chilling effect that will have," Blessington said.

Welsh acknowledged that his firm represents four or five potential witnesses in the case, including two priests, but disputed the suggestion that he or the archdiocese wanted to muzzle them.

He said the memo was a standard reminder by an institutional employer, and necessary because some priests and archdiocesan employees had been besieged by the media, civil lawyers, and others with interests in the case.

In no way, Welsh said, was it a directive to stay silent.

"We have not instructed them not to talk to law enforcement - and in fact we hope and expect they will talk to law enforcement," Welsh said.

The disclosure came during a status conference in the case of two priests, a defrocked priest and a former schoolteacher on charges that they sexually abused young boys in the 1990s.

A fifth defendant, Msgr. William J. Lynn, is accused of child endangerment and conspiracy for allegedly placing two of the priests in positions to abuse children despite previous accusations or suspicions of inappropriate behavior involving minors.

As secretary for clergy until 2004, Lynn's job included investigating sex-abuse allegations against priests and recommending treatment or assignments for them.

All have pleaded not guilty and denied any wrongdoing.

A former federal prosecutor, Welsh was hired in an administrative housecleaning this fall by new Philadelphia Archbishop Charles J. Chaput. At the same time, the archdiocese ended its longtime affiliation with Stradley Ronon Stevens & Young, the Philadelphia law firm that advised it during three grand-jury investigations into clergy sex abuse.

Blessington noted that the archdiocese is paying for Lynn's defense and has a vested interest in his acquittal. He asked the judge to order the archdiocese to rescind or clarify the memo to its employees about notifying the lawyers.

Welsh denied what he said was an implication "that somehow we're aiding" Lynn or his legal team. "I'm not cooperating with them," he said.

One of Lynn's attorneys agreed. "I can attest that he's not cooperating with us, Judge," said lawyer Jeffrey Lindy. "Not at all."

Sarmina asked prosecutors to formally outline their request in a motion and return Wednesday for a hearing.

She also said she would rule Monday on a request by one defendant, former Catholic schoolteacher Bernard Shero, for a separate trial.

Shero is accused of raping the same Northeast Philadelphia altar boy that two other defendants, the Rev. Charles Engelhardt and Edward Avery, allegedly abused in the late 1990s.

Shero's lawyer, Burton A. Rose, has argued that the former teacher should be tried separately because, unlike the others, he is not accused of participating in a broader conspiracy involving priests and church leaders.

A trial for all the defendants is scheduled to begin in late March.

By John P. Martin, The Philadelphia Inquirer

Source: Kansas City Star

PG&E, victims' lawyers spar in court

Attorneys for victims of the PG&E pipeline explosion in San Bruno argued Friday that the utility's recent acceptance of legal responsibility for the deadly explosion is meaningless.

The attorneys, during a San Mateo County Superior Court hearing, said the admission is a narrow legalistic one that doesn't prohibit Pacific Gas & Electric from also blaming someone else for the explosion that killed eight people.

"Merely saying 'I accept responsibility' is vague," Frank Pitre, who represents some of the 360 victims to file suit, told Judge Steven Dylina. He went on to say that the utility could blame the still undetermined maker of the 30-inch diameter pipe that exploded or the fire department

for not immediately extinguishing the fire that destroyed 38 homes.

In legal papers filed ahead of Friday's hearing before Dylina, the utility's lawyers wrote: "PG&E agrees that its use of transmission pipe on Line 132 beginning in 1956 with a defective weld was negligent and this negligence was a proximate cause of the rupture of the pipe on September 9, 2010."

Utility attorney Gale Gough reiterated that position Friday when challenged by Pitre.

"We admit that we are negligent, that we are liable, that we will compensate (the victims)," she said. "We will pay the damage of these plaintiffs."

PG&E's effort to rehabilitate its image - and make its system safer - was also apparent during a tour of pipeline improvements given to reporters Friday.

New vice president of gas operations Nick Stavropolous showed off the nearly completed work to install the 19th and 20th valve on the Peninsula that can stop the flow of gas automatically or remotely. It took utility crews 90 minutes to arrive at valve stations and manually close them during the rupture in San Bruno.

"These can be shut down immediately," he said of the new valves on lines 109 and 132 at Larkspur Drive and Interstate 280 in Millbrae.

Back in court, PG&E's admission was lauded by Dylina, who congratulated the company on making a "major step forward."

"It may not have been climbing Mount Everest, but it was K2," he said.

But while speaking to reporters after the hearing, Pitre said his view differed from the judge's.

"It wasn't K2, it wasn't a small little molehill," he said. "It was nothing."

Despite the fireworks, the hearing did produce a framework for how to deal with the sprawling number and diversity of lawsuits. Because of the number of complaints - 92 individual lawsuits involving 140 households - it would take years to send them to trial one by one. So the victims will be divided into groups and a representative will go to trial for them.

Dylina said the cases will be split into four categories: Death, injury with more than $50,000 in medical bills, emotional distress and lesser injuries and finally people who lost their homes, but weren't present for the blast.

By Joshua Melvin,

Source: San Jose Mercury News

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Man says military jet crash destroyed his life

Lawyers for an extended family that lost four members when a military jet crashed into their San Diego home in 2008 said Monday they will be seeking millions of dollars for the accident that the Marine Corps acknowledged was caused by a string of errors.

Attorney Kevin Boyle told The Associated Press outside the federal courthouse that the Yoon and Lee families turned to the court system after the Justice Department in private negotiations offered "insulting" amounts to compensate for the deaths of two children, their mother and grandmother.

U.S. District Judge Jeffery Miller will have the final say on the issue at the end of the two-day trial, which began Monday.

"The government has offered pennies on the dollar compared to what a jury would give," Boyle said.

Boyle would not specify yet how much the families want nor state the amount offered so far by the federal government.

Don Yoon lost his 36-year-old wife, Youngmi Lee Yoon; his 15-month-old daughter, Grace; his 2-month-old daughter, Rachel; and his 59-year-old mother-in-law, Seokim Kim Lee, who was visiting from Korea to help her eldest daughter take care of their children.

Yoon and his father-in-law are plaintiffs in the case. Their lawyers have filed court documents pointing out other cases in which families have received tens of millions of dollars from the government for the wrongful deaths of loved ones.

Sanghyun Lee took the stand Monday, testifying that his life was destroyed the day he got the call from Yoon's mother, who told him "the whole family died."

"I lost everything," said Lee, a cattle rancher who has been unable to work in the three years since the crash. "I cannot do anything now."

Asked if he and his wife of 37 years had plans, the soft-spoken man raised his voice and stared straight at the government attorneys and a Marine Corps counsel: "I did but you as a Navy took all my dreams away."

Department of Justice attorney Bruce Ross told the federal judge the government is not seeking a "discount" on the tragedy as alleged by the family's attorneys but rather wants the amount to be fair.

"There's no question here that the eligible heirs are entitled to a just and reasonable compensation," Ross said after offering his condolences to the family, many of whom flew in from Korea to testify at the trial.

The Marine Corps has said the plane suffered a mechanical failure but a series of bad decisions led the pilot - a student - to bypass a potentially safe landing at a coastal Navy base after his engine failed on Dec. 8, 2008.

The pilot ejected and told investigators he screamed in horror as he watched the jet plow into the San Diego neighborhood, incinerating two homes.

Government attorneys are questioning how close Lee was to his daughter, pointing out that he had not visited her in four years in the United States and did not go to her wedding. They also doubt the plaintiffs' calculations on the economic loss.

The government has put the economic loss at $955,348 and has not revealed its amount for the non-economic damage. Lawyers for the family say Youngmi Lee's future income and her work at home would have been worth more than $2 million. She worked at a San Diego convalescent home but was trained as a nurse and planned to get a job in her field after the legal U.S. resident mastered English.

Justice Department attorneys raised doubts her salary would have doubled in two years as claimed by the family.

The government also is asking for receipts or other proof of property lost when the home burned to the ground.

The family's attorneys said Mr. Yoon was left with only a cardboard box of old photos rescued by firefighters. Yoon is expected to take the stand Tuesday.

The military disciplined 13 members of the Marines and the Navy for the errors. Low oil pressure killed the jet's first engine, and the second died when fuel stopped flowing from the tank.

By The Associated Press

Source: ABC News

Lawyers for Philadelphia cleric in sex-abuse scandal claim unfair smears by prosecutors

The monsignor awaiting trial for allegedly protecting pedophile priests has been wrongly smeared by prosecutors and in fact exercised "good judgment" when recommending what to do about clergy sex abuse in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, his lawyers say.

As proof, the lawyers point to the same cases that prosecutors say show Msgr. William J. Lynn was a key player in shuffling priests or enabling sexual assaults.

In all but one instance, they say, the priests accused of abuse whose cases Lynn reviewed were never again accused of hurting a child.

"Surely some mistakes have occurred," attorneys Thomas Bergstrom and Jeffrey Lindy wrote. "(But) the fact that no new children or young adults were harmed ... is a clear testament to his diligent and competent efforts to treat problematic priests and isolate them from interacting with children."

The argument is part of the attorneys' most expansive attempt yet to refute or derail the case against Lynn before his March trial. In a court filing, they claim that prosecutors have egregiously misapplied the law, wildly misstated facts and unfairly portrayed their client.

The document sets the stage next month for a hearing and ruling that both prosecutors and defense lawyers have acknowledged could shape the outcome of the case.

Lynn, 60, is charged with of conspiracy and endangerment stemming from his role as the secretary for clergy under Cardinal Anthony J. Bevilacqua. At the time of his arrest in February, he was the highest-ranking church administrator nationwide to be charged with covering up child sex abuse by priests.

Prosecutors say Lynn endangered children when he recommended the Rev. Edward V. Avery and the Rev. James J. Brennan for parish assignments in the 1990s that gave them access to children, despite previous complaints or signs of abusive behavior.

Both men are accused of molesting boys in those posts. Facing trial with them on similar charges are the Rev. Charles Engelhardt and Bernard Shero, a former teacher at a Catholic elementary school in Philadelphia.

Common Pleas Court Judge M. Teresa Sarmina has barred the lawyers and defendants from publicly discussing the case. So the case has largely been left to unfold in brief pretrial hearings and court filings.

In one motion, prosecutors asked the judge to let them introduce evidence at trial about how Lynn handled abuse sex-abuse allegations against 27 other priests between 1992 and 2004, when he was secretary for clergy.

They contend that only by understanding the church's response over years will the jurors be able to recognize a conspiracy and conclude that Lynn's recommendations for Avery and Brennan were part of a "well-established, deliberate orchestrated plan" by archdiocesan leaders.

"What might look like an innocuous transfer, an accidental omission, or a mistake in judgment in a single case can only be understood as intentional when it is repeated over and over in the handling of other abusers," Assistant District Attorney Mariana Sorensen wrote.

In their response Monday, Lynn's lawyers said Sorensen's motion was "replete with misstatements, mischaracterizations and inaccuracies."

They noted that the monsignor's job included overseeing personnel issues for 800 archdiocesan priests, and that responding to sex-abuse allegations was a small part of his job, and not a task in which he was trained.

"Overall," their reply said, "Monsignor Lynn has exercised good judgment in handling the priests in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia that have been accused of inappropriate or abusive conduct."

Repeating an assertion they have made since Lynn was charged, his lawyers accused prosecutors of overstating Lynn's authority. Never, they said, did he have the power to place or assign priests.

"Only the archbishop could do so, and Monsignor Lynn gave a vow to obey the directives of the archbishop on his ordination day," the lawyers wrote. states. "Sometimes Cardinal Bevilacqua agreed with Monsignor Lynn's suggestions. At other times, he did not, sending Monsignor Lynn's memos back to him with handwritten comments suggesting alternative courses of action."

(Bevilacqua has not been charged in the case. After questioning the 88-year-old cardinal in private deposition last month, Lynn's lawyers asked the judge to ban his testimony from the trial because they say his memory is too flawed for them to properly cross-examine him.)

Even if one were to accept that Lynn had unilateral power, his lawyers say he didn't use it in many of the 27 cases cited by Sorensen as examples of his "prior bad acts." Many, they contend, involved complaints against priests that were filed before Lynn became the secretary for clergy or resolved after he left.

Others were allegations - like possession of child pornography - that they assert can't fairly be used to show how he or the archdiocese handled child-abuse claims. They predicted that introducing evidence about 27 other priests - "none of them who had anything to do with" the priests in the criminal case - was not only unfair but would also bog down a trial already predicted to last four months.

Lynn's lawyers say Avery's case is the only one in which Lynn recommended a parish placement for a priest who had been previously accused of abuse. In the early 1990s, a former altar boy accused Avery, then a parish pastor in Mount Airy, of molesting him in the 1970s.

After six months of inpatient treatment, Avery was assigned as a chaplain at Nazareth Hospital in Northeast Philadelphia and allowed to live and celebrate Mass at St. Jerome's church. It was there, prosecutors say, that he, Engelhardt and Shero molested the same altar boy.

Prosecutors say Lynn's conduct effectively enabled the assaults.

But Bergstrom and Lindy also questioned the legal basis for the charges. They say Lynn can't be tried for child endangerment because he never had direct supervision over a child during his tenure as secretary for clergy.

The lawyers say Sorensen and other prosecutors have openly acknowledged this loophole, and used it to press for 2007 changes to the statute. Those changes broadened the law to include persons "that employ or supervise" a parent, guardian or other person with direct supervision over a minor.

By John P. Martin, The Philadelphia Inquirer

Source: Kansas City Star

Monday, December 12, 2011

Wis. gov signs bill capping attorney fees

Gov. Scott Walker signed a bill Wednesday designed to limit attorneys' fees after a well-known lemon law lawyer collected more than $150,000 in an auto-repair dispute.

The measure, part of Walker's special legislative session on jobs, requires judges to presume attorney fees should be no greater than three times the damages awarded. Judges can award more if they feel it's warranted, however.

Republicans who control the Legislature introduced the bill in response to a case involving Milwaukee attorney Vince Megna, who has built a national reputation representing clients who sue under Wisconsin's lemon law, which is designed to protect consumers who buy faulty vehicles.

Megna, a 67-year-old Democrat, brought a lawsuit in 2007 against Burlington car dealer John Lynch Chevrolet-Pontiac, alleging the dealership performed $5,000 in unauthorized repairs on his client's truck. Days before the case was set to go to trial in Racine County, the two sides reached a settlement calling for the dealer to pay $12,500 for damages, $151,250 in legal fees and $5,284 in costs.

The dealership's owner, David Lynch, is a Republican donor.

GOP legislators said the case illustrated the need to put a lid on excessive attorneys' fees. If the measure had been in place when Megna reached his settlement with the dealership, a judge would have had to presume that the most that could have been awarded in the case was $15,000 because $5,000 in damages was sought.

Attorneys have argued the measure will make lawyers hesitant to take smaller cases, knowing the cap presumption could limit what they could collect. Megna, in particular, has been doing a slow burn, saying the bill creates another hurdle for consumers.

He has vowed to never take on another Republican as a client. The state Office of Lawyer Regulation has said nothing in the state's professional conduct rules prohibit Megna from refusing to represent people based on their party affiliations.

He issued a statement Monday calling himself the "Lemon Law King" and likening Wisconsin to North Korea.

"Fifty years of case law, a history of caring for the little guy ... all destroyed," he said in the statement. "Make no mistake about it, the Republicans, Gov. Scott Walker - they have gutted consumer protection law in this state."

The governor said in his own statement the measure will protect job creators and improve the state's business climate.

Walker also signed a Republican bill Wednesday that allows homeowners to legally kill intruders.

Nicknamed the "castle doctrine," the measure creates a presumption of legal immunity for someone who kills or injures a person breaking into his or her home, vehicle or workplace. A judge must presume that the use of deadly force was necessary.

The immunity presumption wouldn't apply to a shooter who attacked someone he or she should have known was a public safety officer.

The bill passed the Legislature with bipartisan support. Walker said he signed it because it will discourage criminal intruders and provide more legal protection for people who protect their home or property.

By Todd Richmond

Source: BusinessWeek

Sirhan lawyers: Bullet was switched and he was hypnotized before Robert Kennedy assassination

Lawyers representing convicted assassin Sirhan Sirhan argue in newly filed court documents that a bullet was switched in evidence at his trial and new forensic details show he is innocent of the 1968 killing of Sen. Robert F. Kennedy.

In the latest of many appeals filed on behalf of Sirhan, the attorneys are seeking to overturn his conviction. They repeated a previous assertion and presented reports from experts who said Sirhan was programmed through hypnosis to fire shots as a diversion for the real killer.

Prosecutors had no comment, said Lynda Gledhill, a spokeswoman for the California attorney general’s office, which is handling the appeal.

The lawyers, William F. Pepper and Laurie Dusek, also said sophisticated audio tests recently conducted on recordings from the assassination night show 13 shots from multiple guns were fired - five more than Sirhan could have fired from his small pistol.

Authorities have claimed eight bullets were fired, with three hitting Kennedy and the rest flying wildly around the kitchen and striking five other victims who survived.

Paul Schrade, who was struck by gunfire, refused to comment on the new filing, saying he is working on his own new analysis of the assassination.

Pepper and Dusek argue that before Sirhan's trial, someone switched a bullet before it was placed in evidence because the bullet taken from Kennedy's neck did not match Sirhan's gun. The lawyers suggest a second gun was involved in the assassination, but they do not know who fired it.

Pepper said the new evidence outlined in a 62-page federal court brief filed in Los Angeles is sufficient to prove Sirhan is innocent under the law.

"They put fabricated evidence into court before the judge and jury” Pepper told The Associated Press. "We are satisfied that for the first time in 43 years of this case we think we have the evidence to set this conviction aside,”

The motion was filed last week in federal court in Los Angeles

Whether it has any chance of success is questionable, said leading appellate lawyer Dennis Fischer of Santa Monica.

"It's a longshot in the longest way,” he said, "but they certainly are raising intriguing questions.”

He said the passage of time weighs against defense appeals, with courts tending to ask what took so long to raise the issues. However, he said federal courts frequently are willing to take a closer look at cases in which governmental misconduct is alleged, even if it is long after the fact.

"The current thinking by the U.S. Supreme Court is these things need to end," said Fischer. But he added in case with such historical importance, "No one will ever be satisfied."

Sirhan, now 67, a Palestinian immigrant, was denied parole after a hearing last March where he denied any memory of shooting Kennedy on June 5, 1968, moments after he claimed victory in the California presidential primary.

Parole officials said he doesn't understand the enormity of his crime that changed U.S. history.

Pepper and Dusek are the latest attorneys to take up Sirhan's case after his conviction and argue on his behalf before parole boards and courts.. All of his appeals have been turned down. Pepper, who has taken on other unpopular cases including that of Martin Luther King assassin James Earl Ray, stepped in after Sirhan's previous lawyer died.

At trial, Sirhan took the witness stand and said he had killed Kennedy "with 20 years of malice aforethought." He later recanted the confession. Prosecutors introduced in evidence handwritten diaries in which he wrote: "RFK must die."

The latest filing by Pepper and Dusek relies heavily on a report by audio analyst Philip Van Praag who did tests on an audio recording made by a news reporter during the shooting. The expert concluded that 13 shots were fired and that none of the sounds on the recording were echoes or other anomalies.

The report also claims that the sounds of gunfire were not isolated to one spot in the room but came from different directions.

The lawyers also contend that Sirhan did not have adequate assistance of counsel at trial, noting that his chief attorney, Grant Cooper, decided Sirhan was guilty at the outset and never pursued available defenses.

The Sirhan defense team settled on a claim of diminished capacity and never denied that Sirhan was the shooter of Kennedy, the brief noted.

"Defense counsel did not pursue the issue of a possible substitution of another bullet," the brief said.

Acknowledging "the difficulty of retrying a case of this vintage," the lawyers asked that the sentence be set aside and Sirhan set free.

"Petitioner fully understands that he is likely to be deported to Jordan where he would hope to quietly live out the rest of his life with family and friends, but at long last he would, at least, have received long delayed justice," the filing states.

As an alternative, they asked that the judge set an evidentiary hearing to reexamine the case.

By The Associated Press

Source: The Washington Post

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Decision split on Portland law firm

In a divided opinion, the state's highest court decided Thursday that six lawyers at one of Maine's largest firms had violated one of the ethics rules governing the conduct of lawyers.

The Maine Supreme Judicial Court ruled in a 3-1 decision that lawyers at Verrill Dana in Portland had violated a Maine Bar rule by failing to have sufficient policies and procedures in place to prevent and respond to the conduct of one of the firm's partners, who was eventually charged and later convicted of theft of clients' money. He served two years in federal prison and was disbarred.

The Maine Board of Overseers of the Bar filed a complaint against Verrill Dana lawyers David Warren, James Kilbreth III, Eric Altholz, Mark Googins, Roger Clement Jr. and Juliet Browne. Warren was the firm's managing partner in 2007, the year the misdeeds of John Duncan came to light. Kilbreth was chairman of the firm's Executive Committee. The remaining four respondents comprised the committee.

When Warren learned in June 2007 that Duncan had funneled money from a client's account to his own instead of the firm's account, Warren told Kilbreth. Warren confronted Duncan with the evidence. Duncan said the money was owed to the firm for attorney's fees. He said he should have directed the money — totaling $77,500 — to the firm. Warren asked Duncan to repay the money. Duncan offered to resign, but Warren told him to wait. Duncan assured Warren that no other clients had been affected.

Warren briefed the Executive Committee of Duncan's actions on July 9, 2007. The committee and Warren agreed not to accept Duncan's resignation, but accepted his apology and his reimbursement to the firm. The committee agreed that Warren should notify Kurt Klebe, the firm's head of the private clients group, to put into place practices that would prevent the firm's attorneys from being able to do what Duncan had done.

Warren waited to contact Klebe that summer, saying later he feared Duncan was fragile and might be pushed "over the edge" if Klebe began his probe. Executive Committee members checked with Warren about their directive, but "acquiesced" in his decision to wait, the court's decision said.

It wasn't until October 2, 2007, that Warren met with Klebe to tell him about Duncan's misconduct. Klebe's immediate investigation turned up more instances of Duncan's illicit practices with other client accounts. At the end of October, the Executive Committee voted to fire Duncan, effective Dec. 31, 2007.

When an independent audit showed that Duncan had billed clients for work he hadn't performed and took money from their accounts to pay himself, the committee voted to fire Duncan immediately and notified the Maine Board of Overseers of the Bar, as well as the U.S. Attorney's Office and the Cumberland County District Attorney's Office.

That audit revealed that Duncan had stolen roughly $300,000 from clients and the firm over the previous decade.

The Board of Overseers filed a complaint against the firm's six lawyers, saying they violated Bar rules by not immediately reporting Duncan's conduct to the board and by failing to have sufficient policies and procedures in place to prevent and respond to such conduct.

A single Maine Supreme Judicial Court justice presided over a three-day hearing on the matter at 8th District Court in Lewiston last year. Justice Donald Alexander ruled in December 2010 that the six lawyers acted reasonably and in good faith, given the information they had at the time.

The Board of Overseers appealed his decision to the full court, which affirmed Alexander's decision that the firm's lawyers had not violated the Maine Bar rule that says lawyers should immediately report misconduct to the board.

Three of four justices voted that the firm's lawyers failed to have sufficient policies and procedures in place to prevent and respond to the sort of conduct in which Duncan engaged.

Justice Joseph Jabar dissented on that point, writing that there was "substantial evidence" in the case records to support Justice Alexander's conclusion that the attorney representing the Board of Overseers failed to prove the six lawyers at the firm didn't have "measures in place to reasonably assure that the firm's attorneys would conform to the code in conducting their professional affairs."

Jabar wrote that Auburn lawyer Bryan Dench, who testified during the hearing last year as an expert witness, found that Verrill Dana's practices and policies were no different from what was in place at his law firm and at other law firms around the state.

A statement issued by Verrill Dana's managing partner, Keith Jones, said, "Our colleagues were faced with the difficult task of dealing with what turned out to be an extraordinary breach of trust by a longtime colleague with an impeccable reputation within the firm and the community."

Regarding the portion of the earlier decision that the full court upheld on Thursday, Jones said: "We are pleased that the decision confirmed Justice Alexander’s finding that each individual did not violate his or her obligation to report Mr. Duncan’s conduct more quickly than they did."

He said of the court's finding of a violation, "We continually review our internal policies and procedures to ensure that they meet appropriate ethical standards. We are reviewing the decision to ensure that our current policies and procedures comply with the court’s new ruling. As the procedures we had in place in 2007 were common among law firms across the state, we believe that all law firms will need to review their policies in light of this new guidance."

Board of Overseers' lead counsel, J. Scott Davis, could not be reached for comment.

By Christopher Williams, Staff Writer

Source: Lewiston Sun Journal

Dallas Attorney Deborah Hankinson named to American Academy of Appellate Lawyers

Noted appellate lawyer Deborah Hankinson, founder of Dallas-based Hankinson LLP, has been elected to the American Academy of Appellate Lawyers, an honor reserved for attorneys with a reputation for excellence in appellate work.

The American Academy of Appellate Lawyers was established in 1990 to advance the standards and practices of appellate advocacy and to acknowledge outstanding appellate lawyers. Membership is based on nominations by existing fellows as well as recommendations from judges and practitioners. The academy limits membership to no more than 500 people in the United States, and requires that nominees have spent at least 15 years in practice devoted substantially to appeals.

"I'm humbled by this honor and believe strongly in the academy's mission," says Ms. Hankinson.

In addition to appellate law, Ms. Hankinson's practice includes substantial work in the area of alternative dispute resolution, including regular work as a mediator and arbitrator in cases involving a variety of complex legal issues.

Ms. Hankinson is a former Justice of the Supreme Court of Texas and the Fifth District Court of Appeals in Dallas.

In addition to this latest honor, Ms. Hankinson has earned multiple selections to the Texas Super Lawyers list published by Thomson Reuters legal division and Texas Monthly. In 2011, she was named one of the state's Top 10 attorneys in the Texas Super Lawyers listing. Additionally, her work has been repeatedly recognized by The Best Lawyers in America and Chambers USA. This fall, she also was named to the "Winning Women" list published by Texas Lawyer.

"We're very proud that Deborah has earned this recognition," says Hankinson LLP Managing Partner Rick Thompson. "The academy has formally stated what we've known all along: Deborah is a rare and talented appellate lawyer."

Hankinson LLP, the preeminent civil appellate firm in the Southwest, provides clients with innovative legal insights and judicial perspective in all phases of litigation. The firm's attorneys work with trial teams to develop strategies designed to put a case in the best position before, during, and after trial. Hankinson LLP represents national clients, regional companies, governmental bodies, and individuals with trial and appellate matters, and offers mediation and arbitration services as well.

By Hankinson LLP

Source: The Sacramento Bee

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Will the real personal injury attorneys in Los Angeles please step forward?

How to find personal injury lawyers in Los Angeles who have a solid track record to stand on

In a perfect world, you could trust someone's claims about their record. Unfortunately, we live in a world where there are unscrupulous people who may inflate their successes, or even make them up out of whole cloth. When it comes to identifying the top choices for personal injury attorneys in Los Angeles, a little research goes a long way. Consider just a few of the questions you should expect answers to:

* How long has this personal injury lawyer been practicing?

* How many cases has this personal injury lawyer handled?

* How much experience does this personal injury lawyer possess?

* How much success (in real statistics) has this personal injury lawyer achieved on behalf of clients?

* How much does this personal injury lawyer charge for his services?

If you are looking for high-caliber personal injury lawyers in Los Angeles who meet these criteria, look no further than the stellar legal team at the Law Offices of Burg and Brock, Inc. Founded by renowned personal injury attorney Cameron Brock, this law firm offers over 90 years of combined experience. Mr. Brock has personally been practicing personal injury law for over 15 years, and has amassed a considerable record of success. With over 5,000 cases won and over $100 million recovered on behalf of his clients, Mr. Brock has earned his reputation as a top personal injury lawyer. He has handled cases involved dog bites, car accidents, product liability, road defects, brain injuries, and much, much more.

And yet while Burg and Brock brings to the table a vast wealth of expertise and experience, they endeavor to make their services available to the general public by working on NO RECOVERY, NO FEE basis. This means that this team, unlike many personal injury attorneys in Los Angeles who will easily charge as much as $300 per hour, will not ask you for a dime until they have secured a satisfactory verdict or settlement for you first.

To learn more about the team at Burg and Brock, Inc., as well as personal injury lawyer services and contact info, please visit

By Law Offices of Burg and Brock, Inc

Source: The Sacramento Bee

Wisconsin governor signs bill capping attorney fees

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker has signed a bill designed to limit attorneys' fees after a well-known lemon law lawyer collected more than $150,000 in an auto-repair dispute.

The measure, part of Walker's special legislative session on jobs, requires judges to presume attorney fees should be no greater than three times the damages awarded. Judges can award more if they feel it's warranted, however.

Catlin is a specialty insurer and reinsurer working in partnership with businesses to provide creative risk management solutions and excellent financial security. With offices worldwide, Catlin is known for its disciplined underwriting, superior client service, diversified product offering and effective risk management solutions. Learn more at

Republicans who control the Legislature introduced the bill in response to a case involving Milwaukee attorney Vince Megna, who has built a national reputation representing clients who sue under Wisconsin's lemon law, which is designed to protect consumers who buy faulty vehicles.

Megna, a 67-year-old Democrat, brought a lawsuit in 2007 against Burlington car dealer John Lynch Chevrolet-Pontiac, alleging the dealership performed $5,000 in unauthorized repairs on his client's truck. Days before the case was set to go to trial in Racine County, the two sides reached a settlement calling for the dealer to pay $12,500 for damages, $151,250 in legal fees and $5,284 in costs.

The dealership's owner, David Lynch, is a Republican donor.

GOP legislators said the case illustrated the need to put a lid on excessive attorneys' fees. If the measure had been in place when Megna reached his settlement with the dealership, a judge would have had to presume that the most that could have been awarded in the case was $15,000 because $5,000 in damages was sought.

Attorneys have argued the measure will make lawyers hesitant to take smaller cases, knowing the cap presumption could limit what they could collect. Megna, in particular, has been doing a slow burn, saying the bill creates another hurdle for consumers.

He has vowed to never take on another Republican as a client. The state Office of Lawyer Regulation has said nothing in the state's professional conduct rules prohibit Megna from refusing to represent people based on their party affiliations.

He issued a statement calling himself the "Lemon Law King” and likening Wisconsin to North Korea.

In a telephone interview, he questioned why consumers' attorneys should be capped when powerful corporations such as car manufacturers can spend as much as they wish to prolong lawsuits.

"No one stops them from spending anything they want," he said. "Even when you beat them they can still appeal and still keep fighting. They have the purse-strings to do that. That's what the public doesn't understand."

The governor said in his own statement the measure will protect job creators, improve the state's business climate.

Walker also signed a Republican bill that allows homeowners to legally kill intruders.

Nicknamed the "castle doctrine," the measure creates a presumption of legal immunity for someone who kills or injures a person breaking into his or her home, vehicle or workplace. A judge must presume that the use of deadly force was necessary.

The immunity presumption wouldn't apply to a shooter who attacked someone he or she should have known was a public safety officer.

The bill passed the Legislature with bipartisan support. Walker said he signed it because it will discourage criminal intruders and provide more legal protection for people who protect their home or property.

By Todd Richmond

Source: Insurance Journal

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Men charged in murder-for-hire after attorney's alleged disclosure

U.S. attorney says case highlights attorneys disclosing sensitive information

At Tavon Davis' direction, federal prosecutors say, Isiah Callaway for two years helped orchestrate a scheme to steal hundreds of thousands of dollars from banks.

So when the 19-year-old got busted, Davis found Callaway a lawyer, who prosecutors allege in court papers alerted Davis when federal prosecutors came calling to see if Callaway would cooperate. Within a week, Callaway was shot to death.

Prosecutors announced Tuesday that they have charged Davis, 24, and Bruce Eric Byrd, 26, with Callaway's murder in April, in a case that could bring the death penalty.

And though the attorney, Larry Feldman, has not been charged in the case, U.S. Attorney Rod Rosenstein said the case is the second time that prosecutors believe private attorneys have disclosed sensitive information that, unwittingly, led to a man's murder.

"When we follow the rules and disclose to private lawyers that someone may be cooperating with law enforcement, we rely on them as officers of the court to keep the information from getting into the wrong hands," U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein said in a statement.

Reached by phone, Feldman, whose practice is based in Pikesville, said he was stunned that prosecutors criticized him and said he did not do anything wrong.

"In a million years, I never thought anything would lead to Isiah's death," said Feldman, who is only identified in the indictment by his initials. "These guys [Tavon and Isiah] were like brothers, and [the original case] was a very minor case in District Court."

For law enforcement, the issue of protecting confidential information has been getting renewed attention. At a witness intimidation summit last week hosted by Baltimore State's Attorney Gregg Bernstein at the University of Baltimore, Baltimore County State's Attorney Scott Shellenberger said prosecutors need to continue to "push the envelope" with judges to keep crucial information out of the hands of defendants and their attorneys.

"As state's attorneys, we're the first strong level of protection," he said. "Judges are asking for specifics, and it's not enough to say, 'You don't know what it's like out here.'"

Last month, Antonio Hall was sentenced to life in federal prison for fatally shooting federal witness Kareem Kelly Guest, 29. In that case, authorities said, Hall had learned about Guest's cooperation after a defense attorney, Michael R. Carithers Jr., passed along copies of an FBI report that detailed his role and made it to the streets. Carithers has been disbarred for unrelated reasons and said he was under investigation for allegedly giving false statements in the Guest investigation.

In that case and in the killing of Callaway, there is no allegation that the attorneys intended for the victim to be harmed.

The indictment alleges that from May 2009 to November 2011, Davis, Byrd, an unidentified third conspirator and others were involved in a scheme to deposit stolen money orders into fraudulent accounts. Prosecutors say they stole more than $500,000.

In December 2010, Callaway was arrested by Baltimore County police while directing two people to open fraudulent accounts, records show. Prosecutors say Callaway admitted to his participation in a debriefing with county detectives. He was met by Davis as he walked out of jail, records show.

Feldman says he first met Davis after helping him work out a minor settlement after he was hurt in an auto accident. Later, he represented Davis in a drunken-driving case in the city.

"He's a client — a friendly client. I'd almost consider him a friend," Feldman said.

Davis referred Callaway to Feldman for representation. But prosecutors allege that Feldman called Davis directly and told him that federal authorities wanted to interview Callaway and obtain the identity of the other participants in their scheme. Over the series of the next six days, prosecutors say, Davis called Byrd more than 60 times orchestrating Callaway's killing.

At 1:29 a.m. on April 11, prosecutors say, Byrd lured Callaway to the 1700 block of Crystal Ave. under the pretenses of a meeting and fatally shot him with a 10 mm semiautomatic handgun as he sat in a parked car. Later in the day, Davis paid Byrd $2,000 for completing the task, prosecutors say.

Feldman said he does not recall contacting Davis directly about Callaway's proposed cooperation. He said Callaway could have beat the charges he faced, referring to it as a "nothing case."

"I know I spoke to Callaway about the government wanting to speak with him, and I'm sure they [the co-conspirators] were all aware of that," he said. "I cannot imagine that he would not have spoken to Davis about that."

Callaway, who turned 19 two months before his death, had no prior adult criminal record — Feldman said he worked at a clothing store at Arundel Mills, and a memorial Facebook page shows that he had a young child. Davis, who court records show lived in Baltimore County, didn't have any charges other than traffic tickets.

Byrd, however, was indicted earlier this year in a wiretap drug investigation that gained notoriety because it ensnared Felicia "Snoop" Pearson, of "The Wire." He was slated to go to trial on Dec. 16 in that case.

By Justin Fenton, The Baltimore Sun,

Source: The Baltimore Sun

Arnold & Porter, Bryan Cave to Merge with Smaller Firms

Arnold & Porter LLP and Bryan Cave LLP said today they will merge with smaller law firms, continuing a trend toward scaled-down deals in legal services.

Arnold & Porter announced it will combine with 82-lawyer Howard Rice Nemerovski Canady Falk & Rabkin PC by Jan. 1 to create a firm with more than 800 lawyers. Bryan Cave and Holme Roberts & Owen LLP, a 113-year-old firm with about 150 attorneys, will merge effective Jan. 1, the firms said in a statement.

The number of law-firm mergers jumped 79 percent in the first three quarters of the year, industry consultant Altman Weil Inc. reported. Fourteen law firm mergers and acquisitions were announced in the third quarter. In the fourth quarter, 12 deals have been unveiled.

Arnold & Porter, based in Washington, is expanding its West Coast presence with the merger, which will offer San Francisco- based Howard Rice's clients national and international capabilities, the firms said today in a statement. The combined firm will have more than 160 attorneys in San Francisco, Silicon Valley and Los Angeles, according to the statement.

Stronger presence

"We are not only strengthening our presence in California, but we are doing it with individuals who complement the skill sets we offer elsewhere in the firm," Arnold & Porter Chairman Tom Milch said in the statement.

Arnold & Porter has 700 lawyers working in nine offices across the U.S. and Europe. All the attorneys at Howard Rice, founded in 1954, are in one office, said John Buchanan, a firm spokesman. About 26 staff members will be cut as a result of the merger, Buchanan said.

Bryan Cave's deal with Denver-based Holme allows it to gain traction in the Rocky Mountain area including access to energy and natural resource clients. The combined law firm will operate under the Bryan Cave name and will have more than 1,100 lawyers in more than 30 offices globally. The merger will make Bryan Cave one of the 25 largest firms globally, according to the statement.

"Extending our geographic reach while expanding the range of our services in California are important steps in our firm's long-term growth," Bryan Cave Chairman Don G. Lents said in the statement.

By Sophia Pearson

Source: Businessweek

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Supreme Court disciplines 20 attorneys

The Florida Bar, the state's guardian for the integrity of the legal profession, announces that the Florida Supreme Court in recent court orders disciplined 20 attorneys, disbarring six and suspending 10. Some attorneys received more than one form of discipline.

Four attorneys were publicly reprimanded and one attorney was ordered to pay restitution.

Gregg Adam Steinberg of St. Johns County was disbarred.

As an official arm of the Florida Supreme Court, The Florida Bar and its Department of Lawyer Regulation are charged with administering a statewide disciplinary system to enforce Supreme Court rules of professional conduct for the 90,000-plus lawyers admitted to practice law in Florida.

Since Aug. 1, 2007, case files have been posted to attorneys' individual Florida Bar profiles and may be reviewed at and/or downloaded from The Florida Bar's website,

Court orders are not final until time expires to file a rehearing motion and, if filed, determined. The filing of such a motion does not alter the effective date of the discipline.

Disbarred lawyers may not re-apply for admission for five years. They are required to go through an extensive process that rejects many who apply. It includes a rigorous background check and retaking the bar exam. Historically, fewer than 5 percent of disbarred lawyers seek readmission.

• Gary Michael Appelblatt, 3610 American River Drive, No. 112, Sacramento, Calif., permanently disbarred effective immediately, following an Oct. 20 court order. (Admitted to practice: 1991) Appelblatt was found in contempt for failing to comply with the conditions of a June 23 disbarment order. Specifically, he failed to submit a sworn affidavit listing the persons and entities he notified of his disbarment. (Case No. SC11-1603)

• Keith Douglas Baron, 10200 Reflections Blvd., Apt. 104, Sunrise, permanently disbarred effective immediately, following an Oct. 24 court order. (Admitted to practice: 1992) Baron, who was disbarred in 2005, was found in contempt for continuing to practice law. Baron knowingly and intentionally stated falsely to the court that he was an attorney in Florida while representing a client, only to recant the statement shortly after. (Case No. SC11-600)

• Michael Darren Bon, 2600 S. Douglas Road, Ph. 10, Coral Gables, suspended until further order, following an Oct. 19 court order. (Admitted to practice: 1997) According to a petition for emergency suspension, Bon appeared to be causing great public harm by engaging in a pattern of fraud, misrepresentation and theft. Bon submitted fraudulent bills to his law firm and clients in excess of $50,000 over a two-year period. In 86 separate instances, he submitted reimbursement requests for travel or expenses for events that did not occur and billed for hours he did not work. (Case No. SC11-2000)

• Kenneth Milton Brown, 4607 W. Fig St., Tampa, suspended until further order, effective 30 days from an Oct. 11 court order. (Admitted to practice: 2004) Brown was found in contempt for failure to comply with the terms of an October 2010 suspension order. The 10-day suspension order required Brown upon reinstatement to be placed on probation for one year, undergo an office procedures and record-keeping analysis by The Florida Bar's Law Office Management Assistance Services and pay all fees associated with that review. (Case No. SC11-1529)

• Charles Patrick Clemens, 21 Clover Field Drive, Loudonville, N.Y., suspended until further order, following an Oct. 10 court order. (Admitted to practice: 2004) According to a petition for emergency suspension, Clemens appeared to be causing great public harm by refusing to pay alimony and child support arrearages totaling more than $28,000. In another matter, Clemens was arrested in New York for possession of a forged prescription and he failed to appear in court on the criminal charges. Additionally, Clemens neglected several client matters; he failed to appear in court and did not communicate. He also failed to respond to official Bar inquiries. (Case No. SC11-1879)

• Richard Mark Creel, 15275 Collier Blvd., Suite 201-218, Naples, permanently disbarred following an Oct. 7 court order. (Admitted to practice: 1987) Creel was found in contempt for failing to comply with the conditions of a Jan. 11 disbarment order. Specifically, he failed to submit a sworn affidavit listing the persons and entities he notified of his disbarment. (Case No. SC11-930)

• John H. Faro, 1581 Brickell Ave., Apt. 2004, Miami, to be publicly reprimanded by the Board of Governors following a July 13 court order. (Admitted to practice: 1986) Faro failed to adequately communicate with a client and engaged in conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice. (Case Nos. SC10-872 and SC11-431)

• Ryan Scott Hobby, 836 W. Montrose St., Suite 1, Clermont, suspended until further order, following an Oct. 6 court order. (Admitted to practice: 2005) According to a petition for emergency suspension, Hobby appeared to be causing great public harm by misappropriating client trust funds. Hobby admitted through counsel to making 13 improper transfers from his trust bank account to another bank account totaling $14,250. (Case No. SC11-1886)

• John D. Hooker, 13610 E. U.S. Highway 92, Dover, suspended until further order, following an Oct. 10 court order. (Admitted to practice: 1974) According to a petition for emergency suspension, Hooker appeared to be causing great public harm by misappropriating trust funds. Hooker improperly commingled funds. He also failed to maintain certain trust accounting records and follow mandatory trust accounting procedures. (Case No. SC11-1766)

• James Lewis Hunter, 150 Second Ave. N., Suite 1170, St. Petersburg, suspended until further order, following an Oct. 10 court order. (Admitted to practice: 2004) According to a petition for emergency suspension, Hunter appeared to be causing great public harm by misappropriating client trust funds. He also abandoned his law practice. (Case No. SC11-1919)

• Glen John Ioffredo, 2699 Lee Road, Suite 101, Winter Park, publicly reprimanded following an Oct. 11 court order. Further, Ioffredo shall pay restitution of $5,000 to one client. (Admitted to practice: 1996) Ioffredo accepted a complex case as an inexperienced lawyer and did not provide the client with adequate representation. He failed to clearly communicate regarding the status of the case and he failed to appear at a court hearing. (SC11-685)

• James Crenshaw Kelley, 12651 S. Dixie Highway, Suite 201, Pinecrest, suspended until further order, following an Oct. 31 court order. (Admitted to practice: 1977) According to a petition for emergency suspension, Kelley appeared to be causing great public harm by misappropriating and/or diverting funds entrusted to him. Kelley disbursed more than $124,000 that was deposited into his trust account for a client's benefit to himself for personal use. Kelley subsequently wrote the client, begging her not to report his actions to The Florida Bar. (Case No. SC11-2035)

• Alan Kelman, 6439 N.W. 43rd Terrace, Boca Raton, suspended until further order, effective immediately, following a Nov. 1 court order. (Admitted to practice: 2005) Kelman was found in contempt for non-compliance with the conditions of a Feb. 16 suspension order. Specifically, Kelman failed to submit a sworn affidavit listing the persons and entities he notified of his suspension. (Case No. SC11-1720)

• Curt G. Levine, 5036 Dr. Phillips Blvd., Suite 358, Orlando, publicly reprimanded following an Oct. 6 court order. (Admitted to practice: 1973) Levine associated himself with a loan modification group and shared fees with non-lawyers. (Case No. SC10-536)

• Paul B. Luskin, 4150 N. 28th Terrace, Hollywood, permanently disbarred effective immediately, following an Oct. 31 court order. (Admitted to practice: 1975) Luskin was found in contempt for engaging in the unlicensed practice of law. Luskin was disbarred in 1991 for five years and was never readmitted. (Case No. SC11-319)

• Kelly Kathryn McGraw, 216 Palafox Place, Pensacola, suspended for one year, effective retroactive to Aug. 31, following an Oct. 24 court order. (Admitted to practice: 1990) McGraw was found in contempt for violating the terms of a December 2007 suspension and probation order, which required her to enter into a three-year rehabilitation contract with Florida Lawyers Assistance. (SC10-200)

• Octavio Enrique Mestre, 9031 S.W. 162nd Court, Miami, disbarred following an Oct. 11 court order. (Admitted to practice: 1992) In 2005, while acting as a settlement agent in a real estate transaction, Mestre failed to satisfy an underlying mortgage and in so doing, failed to preserve and apply the funds in accordance with Bar rules regulating trust accounts. (SC11-1867)

• Benjamin David Rust, 359 N. Monroe St., Tallahassee, suspended until further order, effective 30 days from an Oct. 25 court order. (Admitted to practice: 1974) Rust was found in contempt for violating the terms of an October 2009 public reprimand and probation order. Rust repeatedly failed to attend ethics school as ordered. (Case No. SC11-1814)

• Gregg Adam Steinberg, 4441 Comanche Trail Blvd., Saint Johns, disbarred effective retroactive to Aug. 30, 2010, following an Oct. 7 court order. (Admitted to practice: 1993) Steinberg knowingly made false statements in court under oath; he failed to disclose that he was the subject of a pending criminal investigation; he misappropriated funds; and he engaged in a pattern of blaming others in an attempt to deflect attention from himself. (Case No. SC10-161)

• John Parquette White, 1575 Pine Ridge Road, Suite 10, Naples, publicly reprimanded following an Oct. 7 court order. (Admitted to practice: 1973) White was found in contempt for violating a November 2009 suspension order. He engaged in prohibited conduct, including accepting new business. (Case No. SC10-1504)

By The Florida Bar News

Source: Jacksonville Daily Record

Citizens change lawyers in recall

Republicans in lawsuit make switch following criticism

Republican citizens suing state election officials over how to conduct recalls dropped their attorneys Monday after taking criticism over the first set of lawyers they retained.

Nine state residents sued the state Government Accountability Board on Nov. 21 using Eric McLeod and other attorneys at Michael Best & Friedrich. McLeod and his colleagues advised the Legislature on writing the very law they were suing over, prompting criticism from Democrats.

Taxpayers have paid $400,000 for the work by Michael Best and another firm, the Troupis Law Office.

In a letter Monday to the Supreme Court, Brookfield attorney Michael Dean said he was taking over the work for McLeod in the suit. In a brief interview, he said he anticipated doing the same thing in a second suit the group filed over the same issue Nov. 28 in Waukesha County. He declined to discuss the reasons.

In its initial filing with the Supreme Court, the group asked the high court to appoint a panel of three circuit court judges to hear its arguments that any recalls of state lawmakers be held in newly drawn districts that favor Republicans. If the court declined to form the panel, the group asked for the high court to take the case itself.

But on Friday, the group said it wanted to withdraw its case before the Supreme Court and instead pursue the one it filed in Waukesha County. Four Democratic groups that are now parties to the Supreme Court case have said the high court should hang onto it long enough to dismiss the matter entirely.

On Monday, one of the Democratic groups filed a motion with the Supreme Court to dismiss the case with prejudice, meaning that it could not be refiled. The Democrats said the high court should not allow the Republicans to drop the case and pursue their Waukesha County case because that one will inevitably be appealed to the Supreme Court.

Other Democratic groups involved in the litigation filed motions Monday to intervene in the Waukesha County case so that they can argue that that matter should be dismissed.

The legal fight goes back to the requirement that all states redraw the boundaries of legislative districts every decade to account for changes in population recorded by the U.S. census. How those lines are drawn can favor one party or the other, and in August Republicans who control state government approved maps that will benefit them in the fall 2012 elections.

A group of Democrats sued over the maps in federal court even before they were announced. A trial over whether the new maps are constitutional is to be held in February.

Last month, Democrats launched efforts to recall six Republicans - Gov. Scott Walker, Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch and four state senators. The accountability board ruled any recalls of legislators should be conducted using maps drawn in 2002 because the Legislature said the new maps were not to take effect for elections until the fall of 2012.

A week later, the Republicans filed suit before the Supreme Court challenging which maps should be used. A week after that, they filed in Waukesha County and on Friday they asked to withdraw their case before the Supreme Court.

Justice David Prosser, a former Republican speaker of the Assembly, has not participated in technical orders that have been issued by the Supreme Court, leaving six justices to hear the case and raising the possibility of a 3-3 split on the often divided court.

Prosser disclosed Monday he's recovering from the colon ailment diverticulitis and won't take up any new cases this month. Prosser said he spent six days in the hospital and lost 10 pounds. He said he feels much better now but must stick to a high-fiber diet.

Republican Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen is defending the accountability board in the federal and state cases, but Gov. Scott Walker recently hired special counsel to assist Van Hollen's Department of Justice. State taxpayers will pay $300 an hour to lawyers at the Reinhart Boerner Van Deuren law firm for that work. Their expenses are capped at $500,000.

The high court has ordered all parties to file memos on the case by noon Tuesday. Dean, the new attorney for the Republicans, asked Monday for an extension of at least two weeks.

By Patrick Marley and Jason Stein, Journal Sentinel

Source: Journal Sentinel

Monday, December 5, 2011

Man back in court after allegedly using pencils, pen to stab three of his attorneys

Joshua Monson will be in a Washington state courtroom Monday, but he may not have a lawyer with him.

Monson, who was recently convicted on a felony drug charge, stabbed three court-appointed attorneys during his trial, according to authorities.

The alleged serial stabbings of defense attorneys transformed what would usually be a run-of-the-mill local criminal trial into a national news story.

"I've heard of a defendant going after an attorney from time to time," said Craig Matheson, senior deputy at the Snohomish County prosecutor's office in Everett.

"But I have never seen a serial case like this." Matheson's office recently prosecuted the 27-year-old Monson on a methamphetamine charge.

The trouble started for Monson's defense attorneys - none of whom were seriously injured in the stabbing spree - even before opening statements.

On May 9, when Monson and his court-appointed attorney, Tom Cox, were still picking a jury, the defendant snatched a pencil and stabbed Cox in the neck, authorities said.

Attorney Gurjit Pandher was then appointed to defend Monson. Authorities alleged that on May 13, Monson hid a pencil in his pants before a meeting with the attorney. During that meeting, Monson stabbed Pandher in the neck, authorities said.

The trial was delayed as authorities tried to find another replacement attorney. The judge in the case also ordered that Monson be restrained in court once the trial resumes.

Local attorney Jesse Cantor was recruited to defend Monson. Cantor argued that his new client should not be restrained in court because he would not get a fair trial.

"There were extensive arguments as to the level of confinement for Mr. Monson; his lawyer argued to lessen the restraint," Matheson said.

In November during opening statements, the unrestrained Monson grabbed Cantor's pen and stabbed him in the head with it, authorities said.

The three attorneys suffered only superficial wounds, according to authorities.

A judge ruled that Monson had forfeited his right to an attorney, and the trial went on with Monson representing himself from a restraint chair.

He was convicted on the drug charge and is scheduled to be in court on Monday for a sentencing hearing. At least one new charge is pending in the wake of the stabbings.

Another replacement attorney has been appointed to advise Monson but legal experts say defense attorneys do not have many duties at a sentencing hearing.

Meanwhile, there are other future legal proceedings for Monson.

He has a pending unrelated murder trial scheduled for the near future, according to Snohomish County prosecutors.

By Lateef Mungin, CNN

Source: CNN

Grand jury delayed in bomb plot case

Former Schenectady resident faces terrorism charges

Prosecutors and a defense lawyer have agreed to delay having a grand jury weigh in on a terrorism case against a man accused of assembling a homemade bomb to try to blow up targets including police cars and post offices, his lawyer said.

Jose Pimentel, a former Schenectady resident, had been scheduled to learn Monday whether he had been indicted, but defense lawyer Lori Cohen said a legal deadline would be waived for about a month.

"Both parties agree that this is not the case to rush into the grand jury on," she said in an email. The Manhattan district attorney's office declined to comment.

In the meantime, Pimentel will remain behind bars without bail on charges including weapons possession and conspiracy as terror crimes. The Dominican-born al-Qaida sympathizer maintained a website detailing his belief in jihad, or holy war; told an informant he wanted to build small bombs and use them against targets that also included soldiers returning home from abroad; and was arrested in the midst of making a pipe bomb, authorities said. It's unclear whether Pimentel will have to appear for a court date Monday.

State law limits how long someone charged with a felony can be held without an indictment or hearing, but it's not uncommon for defense lawyers to agree to extend the time frame, up to 144 hours, if they think more investigation, a fuller presentation to the grand jury or discussions with prosecutors could benefit their clients.

Cohen said she was continuing to gather information about the case, which is one of few brought under a state terrorism law instead of federal laws. She already had agreed to extend the deadline last month.

Pimentel's previous lawyer had said the 27-year-old wasn't a true threat, noting that he made his extremist views public, rather than allegedly operating a secret terrorist cell.

But police and prosecutors say Pimentel was clearly dangerous. Pimentel, also known as Muhammad Yusuf, told police he was about an hour from finishing his bomb, work that was secretly recorded on audio and videotape in the informant's apartment, authorities said.

Two law enforcement officials have said the FBI, which is usually involved in terrorism cases, passed on this one because agents felt Pimentel didn't have the inclination or ability to act without the informant's involvement. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity.

Pimentel spent five years in Schenectady until he and his wife separated and he moved back to New York City around 2009.

By Jennifer Peltz, The Associated Press

Source: Times Union

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Blagojevich Sentencing Hearing: Lawyers Request Special Hearing, Airing Of Silenced Tapes

While gearing up for the former governor's Dec. 6 sentencing, Rod Blagojevich's attorneys have requested that previously unaired recordings obtained during federal surveillance to be made public, and for a special hearing to review questions that arose during Tony Rezko's sentencing about lobbyist John Wyma, who testified in the former governor's trial.

Blagojevich's attorneys filed the request on Thanksgiving Day, arguing that unaired audio recordings illustrate his "state of mind and lack of ill intent," WBEZ reports, which they believe could lead to a reduced prison sentence.

The former governor was found guilty on 17 of 20 counts of corruption charges June 27, including trying to sell President Barack Obama's former Senate seat. Audio recordings obtained by federal investigators using wiretaps were a key component to the prosecution's case.

Blagojevich's lawyers listed 180 recordings they may want to cite in his sentencing memorandum due Nov. 30 and at his sentencing hearing, including two conversations with Rahm Emanuel, one call with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, and others with various consultants and attorneys, the Chicago Sun-Times reports.

The ex-governor is also requesting an evidentiary hearing to consider new information revealed about lobbyist and former Blagojevich friend John Wyma that arose in filings related to Tony Rezko's Nov. 22 sentencing.

While Wyma was representing Provena Health as a lobbyist, Provena was granted a previously-contested certificate of need from an Illinois hospital board, which Rezko reportedly told prosecutors had been secured by paying off a hospital board member, according to the Sun-Times. Wyma was issued a subpoena based on that allegation, which prompted him to serve as an informant for the government and assist in wiretapping Blagojevich's phones.

The attorneys allege that, once the taps had been secured, prosecutors dismissed Rezko's allegations against Wyma, calling Rezko's information "not substantiated."

"If the incriminating evidence against Wyma was not substantiated because it was not investigated, the government's statement is misleading," defense lawyers wrote in their filing, according to another Sun-Times report. On this basis, they claim they weren't able to properly cross-examine Wyma in Blagojevich's corruption trial.

Last week, Rezko was sentenced to 10 1/2 years in prison. Many are expecting Blagojevich's sentence to be even harsher.

"This sentence and what is likely to be a similarly harsh sentence for ex-Gov. Blagojevich should represent the strongest one-two punch we've ever seen to would-be corrupters of our government," Andy Shaw, president and CEO of the Better Government Association, told the Associated Press last week.

Brian Gladstein, executive director of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform, told the AP, "we have a court system that is now holding these people accountable that no matter how much power you have or what position you are, you are not untouchable."

By Huffington Post

Source: Huffington Post

NY lawyer gets paid $1.50 for civil rights victory

Attorney Harrison Williams should have made $75,000 for work he did on behalf of a prisoner who filed a lawsuit. Instead, an appeals court ruled, he earned $1.50.

The prisoner, who claimed he had his religious rights violated when his dreadlocks were touched, was awarded one dollar.

Williams said the Nov. 15 ruling by the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan may discourage lawyers from representing the civil rights claims of prisoners. The appeals court said Congress limited attorney fees to 150 percent of a jury award when it passed the Prison Litigation Reform Act in 1997, though it conceded the description in the law was "not a model of clarity."

"A lot of attorneys were probably unhappy when they saw that decision," Williams said. "You have to consider there aren't many of these cases economically you can afford to take on."

Richard J. Cardinale, a Brooklyn lawyer who sometimes represents prisoners, said he was not surprised by the ruling.

"The rationale is that a lot of these cases are dubious and that prisoners need to be discouraged from bringing these cases and lawyers need to be discouraged too," he said. "It discourages me from taking small cases."

It's unlikely the law will change, Cardinale said.

"There's no constituency for prisoners or for people who represent prisoners. I have no hope," he said.

This ruling will absolutely discourage lawyers from taking on such cases and "clients as unpopular as prisoners," said John Boston, director of the Prisoner's Rights Project of the Legal Aid Society of New York.

"The Prison Litigation Reform Act was supposedly enacted to help curb frivolous litigation by prisoners. However, some of its major provisions are not restricted to frivolous cases, but apply equally, or worse, to meritorious cases," he said.

Boston noted that the Shepherd decision cited a 2006 case from an appeals court in Chicago. That ruling limited payment to a lawyer to $1.50 after his prisoner client was awarded $1 in a case.

Williams, a 77-year-old partner at Green & Seifter, estimates the firm spent about $75,000 in billable hours working on the claim by prisoner Eon Shepherd. The jury was only required to determine if Shepherd's rights were violated and the amount of the award. It did not elaborate on its finding.

The jury's minuscule financial award was not unusual. Juries in other cases, often unrelated to prisoners, have made a token payment in a case where vindication of the plaintiff's assertion of a right seemed more important than a cash award.

Williams said Shepherd seemed pleased afterward. "He said, 'You know what, I'm really satisfied because I feel like I've been vindicated.'"

Shepherd said his civil rights were violated on July 4, 2001, while he was incarcerated in New York's maximum-security Elmira Correctional Facility. He claimed that two guards had touched his "sacred" dreadlocks and "slightly tore" them. As the appeals court explained it, one guard held a metal detector over Shepherd's head while the other manually searched his hair as Shepherd complained that touching his dreadlocks without his permission violated his Rastafarian beliefs.

Shepherd was serving a life sentence for robbery and possession of stolen property and has since been moved to another facility.

Williams said the case required several hour-long rides to the prison to meet with Shepherd and the daily drive to federal court in Utica for the weeklong trial that ended with the jury agreeing that guards violated Williams' right to the free exercise of his religion.

"To be sure, capping attorney's fees for a $1 monetary award at $1.50 is the practical equivalent of no fee award at all," the appeals court wrote. "But that is not a sufficient reason to deny the statutory language its plain meaning, which permits no exception for minimal or nominal monetary judgments."

Williams had actually requested nearly $100,000 in attorney fees but the appeals court said he would have qualified for less than half that amount if the law did not restrict his award to $1.50, which actually was reduced to $1.40 because 10 percent of the dollar paid to Shepherd was required to come from attorney fees.

The fee will provide enough quarters to pay his parking at a meter outside his office for a few hours, Williams said.

"We actually haven't been paid $1.50 yet but I'm not looking for it," he said. Williams noted that the fee has become a source of humor in his office, such as the accusation that he wasn't meeting his billable hours quota.

As for his client, Williams had nothing but praise, saying that Shepherd reacted well from the moment the verdict came in.

"He thanked me and said, 'You did a great job and I'm satisfied.' I was really disappointed. I thought he probably should have been given some amount of money and maybe there would be a message to the correction officers not to do this again," he said.

By The Associated Press

Source: Wall Street Journal