Sunday, January 22, 2012

Hurd changes lawyers, will plead not guilty

San Antonio's Sam Hurd, who played for the Dallas Cowboys and Chicago Bears, has changed lawyers and plans to plead not guilty in his federal drug-trafficking case this week, his new lead attorney said.

On Friday, Hurd, 26, replaced David Elliott Kenner and Brett Allen Greenfield of California with Michael McCrum of San Antonio and Jay Ethington of Dallas.

Both are former assistant U.S. attorneys - McCrum in the San Antonio-based Western District of Texas and Ethington in the Dallas-headquartered Northern District of Texas.

"We filed a motion entering the case, and we'll be waiving (Hurd's) arraignment," McCrum said.

A waiver of arraignment allows a defendant to forgo attending the federal court proceeding - Hurd is charged in Dallas - and a not-guilty plea is entered.

Hurd was arrested in a Dec. 14 sting at a Chicago steakhouse, accused of possessing a kilogram of cocaine and making a deal with an undercover agent.

Authorities allege he and Toby Lujan, 26, of Dallas were trying to set up a large-scale distribution network.

Hurd, who starred at Brackenridge High School in San Antonio, and Lujan were indicted Jan. 4 on charges of conspiracy to possess cocaine and attempt to possess cocaine. The conspiracy charge is punishable by 10 years to life, while the other count carries five years to 40 years in prison.

Lujan already has pleaded not guilty.

The government also wants to keep $88,000 and Hurd's 2010 Cadillac Escalade, both seized during the investigation, which began when Hurd was a backup wide receiver and special-teams standout for the Cowboys.

He signed with the Bears last summer in free agency. The Bears cut Hurd two days after his arrest. He's out of jail on $100,000 bond.

"Anybody that really knows him, knows this is not Sam Hurd the way the government's portraying him," McCrum said. "There's much more to the story. Sam has given the community his heart and soul. He's helped kids and volunteered his time.

Now Sam and his family ask the community to be there for them, and to not pass judgment so quickly."

McCrum is a former Dallas cop and had the support of Texas' Congressional delegation and the state's two Republican senators to be U.S. attorney for the Western District. But he withdrew his name in October 2010 after the White House failed to nominate him after several months.

McCrum, who was head of the drug unit and major crimes section at the U.S. attorney's office, has had his share of high-profile cases as a defense lawyer, including some noteworthy wins.

He helped win acquittal - in less than 45 minutes - for San Antonio defense lawyer Alan Brown, whose former office manager fell for a cocaine smuggler and, in an effort to win her lover leniency, told federal agents that Brown routinely cheated on his taxes.

Besides an acquittal, Brown and his lawyers won a rare settlement from the IRS of $1.34 million.

McCrum also won a not-guilty verdict for Mark Gudanowski, the former driver for Bexar County District Attorney Susan Reed.

Gudanowski was charged in a federal case involving thousands of Southwest Airlines tickets stolen by a bailiff's wife, who worked for the airline. The tickets were sold by the bailiff and his wife at the Bexar courthouse and beyond, and some were resold.

By Guillermo Contreras,

Source: San Antonio Express

Judge pares down fees for attorneys in BP case

A federal judge has ruled that people pursuing their Gulf of Mexico oil spill claims against BP outside of federal court do not have to pay fees to hundreds of lawyers working on behalf of about 120,000 claimants fighting the oil giant in court.

U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier issued the ruling Wednesday to clarify a previous ruling that left everyone still seeking damage payments from BP having pay 6 percent of their claims to lawyers suing BP and other companies involved in the nation's largest offshore oil spill. Now, people attempting to settle out of court won't have to pay the trial lawyers.

Also, Barbier approved this week an agreement between plaintiffs' attorneys and the states of Louisiana and Alabama to set aside 4 percent of damage payments to pay for attorneys' fees. The states are seeking damages for lost tax revenues, overtime and other costs to their treasuries that resulted from the spill.

Louisiana's attorney general, James "Buddy" Caldwell, had contested the fee structure but reversed course after reaching an agreement with plaintiffs' attorneys that excludes payments for environmental damages to be subjected to the 4 percent fee for attorneys. Caldwell also dropped an appeal on that issue to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Separately, federal lawyers on Thursday asked Barbier to find BP, Anadarko Exploration & Production LP and Transcoean Ltd. all liable for the April 20, 2010, spill before a Feb. 27 trial starts. BP and Anadarko jointly owned the well and Transocean owned the drilling rig that exploded, killing 11 workers.

Lawyers for BP and Anadarko took the position that under federal environmental laws Transocean was liable because oil escaped the blowout preventer and riser, both of which were part of Transocean's operations. Transocean, though, argued that the well owners should be the only companies held liable for the spill.

The arguments centered on interpretations of federal laws governing oil spills — the Clean Water Act and the Oil Pollution Act. Transocean said the spill started inside the well and far under the surface of the sea, which exempts it from being liable for paying for the spill. BP and Anadarko disagreed and said Transocean was liable.

The Justice Department wants Barbier to find the companies liable before the trial starts and said all three companies should each pay their share of penalties.

Barbier took the matter under advisement and did not say when he might rule. Barbier is overseeing the bulk of the lawsuits filed over the oil spill, which will be handled in three phases. The first phase that starts in February is slated to determine liability.

Each of the companies faces hefty fines. Under the Clean Water Act, fines are based on how much oil was spilled. The government's estimates of more than 200 million gallons of oil spilled would result in fines between $1,100 per barrel and $4,300 per barrel. The upper limit can be assessed if a company is found to have acted with gross negligence in causing an oil spill.

At a hearing Thursday to update Barbier on progress in the case, lawyers said they had finished 333 depositions and prepared 7,700 exhibits for the upcoming trial.

But the hearing did not touch on the subject of a settlement in the massive case before it reaches trial. BP has said in the past that it would like to see the case settled before then. On Thursday, lawyers for BP declined to discuss whether settlement talks were taking place.

Earlier this week, Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange, who is coordinating litigation on behalf of other states, said settlement talks were taking place between various parties. He said it was possible a settlement could be reached before the start of the trial.

By The Associated Press

Source: CBS News

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

3 lawyers chosen as finalists for Vegas DA to make presentations to Clark County Commission

The three finalists to become top prosecutor in Las Vegas are due to make presentations on Tuesday to Clark County commissioners who will decide on a three-year replacement for District Attorney David Roger.

The commission is scheduled to take five-minute presentations from county indigent defense office chief Drew Christensen, former Clark County Democratic Party chairman John Hunt, and Las Vegas City Councilman and defense attorney Steve Wolfson.

The Las Vegas Review-Journal reports ( ) that all three are experienced prosecutors and defense attorneys, and each has said he would run for election to the office in 2015.

Public input is expected before a final decision is made. Commission chairwoman Susan Brager wants to name a new DA at a special commission meeting next week.

Roger retired Jan. 3 after 25 years as a Clark County prosecutor, including nine years as district attorney. He has become general counsel to the Las Vegas Police Protective Association.

He left an office with a $65 million budget and more than 700 employees, including 150 deputy prosecutors handling about 65,000 cases annually.

The incoming district attorney will face challenges as prosecutor in the embattled coroner's inquest process following police slayings as well as questions about whether too many defendants are facing the death penalty.

The job pays $182,100 a year. Commissioners tell the Review-Journal the district attorney will need to improve communication with county administrators and boost DA office morale.

Wolfson, 57, served as a county prosecutor and in the U.S. attorney's office before opening a private practice in 1987. He is married to Jackie Glass, the former Clark County district judge who sentenced O.J. Simpson to prison and has since replaced Nancy Grace on the syndicated television show "Swift Justice."

"We all want the same thing, for the system to be fair and efficient," he said.

Wolfson's budget management skills were tested as a Las Vegas city councilman, where he helped cut $115 million over the past three fiscal years.

Christensen, 50, was a prosecutor and a public defender before helping create and open the county office of appointed counsel in 2008. The office selects private attorneys to represent indigent defendants. Christensen's wife, Nell Keenan, is a prosecutor in the district attorney's office.

As a young public defender, Christensen represented Robert Hays, who served 14 years in prison for a crime he did not commit. Christensen blames the conviction on "systematic error" and concedes that he made mistakes.

John Hunt, 57, has spent nearly three decades in private law practice in criminal, civil and family law. He has an accounting degree from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas and worked for the Nevada Gaming Control Board before law school.

He said that would help him deal with budgetary issues in the district attorney's office.

By The Associated Press

Source: The Republic

Military lawyers blast Guantánamo mail search as violating rights, ethics

Military lawyers for Guantanamo detainees who could someday be put to death are accusing the new prison commander of censoring protected attorney-client documents, raising a new legal controversy that spotlights ongoing concern about the fairness of possible military trials.

The Obama administration reformed the military commissions in consultation with Congress to give accused terrorists greater rights. But an order by the new prison commander that all attorney-client mail be reviewed for contraband, including information that the commander argues the detainees shouldn't be allowed to have has attorneys crying foul.

The Pentagon's chief defense counsel for military commissions, Marine Col. Jeffrey Colwell, has instructed war court defense lawyers to no longer send their clients privileged mail, saying the prison camps policy of inspecting attorney-client mail violates the lawyers' ethical obligations. For a week now, defense lawyers have honored his instruction.

Meanwhile, a Navy defense lawyer, Cmdr. Walter Ruiz, has filed suit before the U.S. Court of Appeals here, accusing the prison of violating the 6th Amendment rights to a fair trial of a Saudi detainee accused of helping to move money that financed the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

At Guantanamo, the chief military commission judge, Army Col. James Pohl, is being asked to referee the ethical question at a hearing that opens Tuesday for accused al Qaida bomber Abd al Rahim al Nashiri. Nashiri';s lawyers argue that the prison camp policy is at odds with Congress' mandate to give accused war criminals the assistance of counsel.

At issue is what information a lawyer may exchange with his captive client.

Defense lawyers argue that their material should be scanned only for physical contraband — anything that might be used to harm someone or something. Or as Pohl put it at a hearing in November, they should be looking for "staples, pins, baseball bats" versus "content."

But the prison commander, Rear Adm. David B. Woods, wrote lawyers last year that his staff would study and sort materials for "escape plots" or subjects of a "sexual nature."

Then the prison camps went further, the defense lawyers allege. At one point, prison camp lawyers refused to allow an official document from a senior Pentagon official, retired Vice Adm. Bruce MacDonald, to go to alleged 9/11financier Mustafa al Hawsawi as a privileged communication. In it, MacDonald approved Hawsawi's choice of a "mitigation expert" for his future capital murder trial.

In another instance, prison camp lawyers blocked a pleading by James Connell, a Pentagon-approved lawyer for accused 9/11 plotter Ammar al Baluchi, saying "Baluchi wasn't entitled to get his lawyer's draft brief as legal mail," Ruiz said.

Navy Cmdr Tamsen Reese, the prison camps spokeswoman, wouldn't comment on either of those episode or discuss the detention center's latest legal mail inspection policy, but said in an email that the issue could come up at this week's Nashiri hearing. Pohl ruled in November that Guantanamo personnel could not look at mail between Nashiri and his attorneys as long as it was properly marked.

"The problem is they are reading privileged communications and he is censoring what he believes the client should get," Ruiz said of Woods. "Our ethical rules are very clear: Attorneys cannot disclose privileged matters unless it is to avoid imminent harm or danger to a person or persons or in response to a lawful order, such as a judge's."

He's asked the federal courts to intervene, setting up yet another Guantanamo conflict that could reach the U.S. Supreme Court. The prison camps commander, he said, is "chilling the attorney-client relationship and the accused's ability to have access to the courts."

Woods, a one-star admiral, became the 11th commander of the detention center in August, two months before the Pentagon formally charged Nashiri with killing 17 American sailors as a behind-the-scenes planner of al Qaida's October 2000 bombing of the USS Cole off Yemen.

Woods, not a lawyer, has made his career in information jamming. He ran a sea based air wing that flew missions to jam enemy air defenses in Afghanistan. Then he worked on a program that tried to interfere with the signals of remote-control detonators in Iraq, and thwart deadly roadside bombs. His most recent post was at Navy headquarters where he was director of the strategy and policy division.

Nashiri's case is already complicated by the way interrogators treated him when he was held in a clandestine CIA prison. A congressional inquiry found that Nashiri, a former millionaire from Mecca in Saudi Arabia, was waterboarded and interrogated as a loaded gun and a revving drill were held near his head.

Nashiri, who has been imprisoned at Guantanamo for five years, is being held in a secret part of the camp where, according to war court testimony, Woods had his staff do a surprise search of the captives' legal materials in October to see what earlier prison staff had allowed in.

In a hearing in November, Nashiri's attorneys objected to the search, and Pohl sided with them. But the policy that the prison camps drafted in response to Pohl's ruling is too broad, the defense attorneys argue, allowing Guantanamo personnel to read documents and then decide whether they agree with the lawyer that the documents should be considered privilege.

The defense lawyers' refusal to send mail to their clients applies to about 30 detainees who could some day face a war-crimes tribunal. The remainder of the 171 Guantanamo captives have either been cleared for release or will be held indefinitely with no prospect of trial because of problems with the evidence against them.

By Carol Rosenberg,

Source: The Miami Herald

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Attorneys general discuss mortgage probes as bank talks drag on

About a dozen state attorneys general met this week to discuss their mortgage investigations and how they might work together as settlement talks with banks over foreclosures drag on, three people familiar with the matter said.

The group, which met in Washington, included New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, California's Kamala Harris and Martha Coakley of Massachusetts, according to two of the people, who declined to be named because they weren't authorized to speak about the meeting. Schneiderman, Harris and Coakley are each conducting separate investigations of bank practices.

The meeting occurred as state and federal officials are negotiating a settlement with the five largest mortgage servicers, including Bank of America Corp. and JPMorgan Chase & Co., that would set requirements for conducting foreclosures and provide relief to homeowners.

Schneiderman, Harris and Coakley, along with Nevada Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto and Delaware's Beau Biden, have raised concerns about any deal that protects banks from future investigations. Masto and Biden also attended the Jan. 10 meeting, according to one of the people. The five states aren't among those negotiating directly with the banks.

"A number of likeminded AGs met together to discuss current and ongoing investigations into the mortgage finance and foreclosure industries in addition to prospective or future investigations that may be fruitful," Delaware Deputy Attorney General Ian McConnel said in a phone interview. He declined to comment further.

Massachusetts lawsuit

Harris and Masto announced in December they were collaborating in their mortgage and foreclosure investigations. Schneiderman and Biden are also cooperating. In December, Coakley sued Charlotte, North Carolina-based Bank of America, New York-based JPMorgan, Citigroup Inc., Wells Fargo & Co. and Ally Financial Inc., accusing them of conducting unlawful foreclosures and deceiving homeowners.

At the meeting in Washington, the attorneys general talked about their own investigations and litigation as well as different enforcement strategies and options, one of the people said. They talked about the Massachusetts case, Delaware's lawsuit against Mortgage Electronic Registrations Systems Inc. and Nevada's lawsuit against Bank of America, according to the person.

The officials also discussed their concerns about the terms of the possible foreclosure settlement with the banks and their frustrations about the lack of information they're getting about the negotiations, said one of the other people.

'Inadequate' proposal

Harris in September called a proposed settlement with the banks "inadequate" and said California was being asked "to excuse conduct that has not been adequately investigated."

One person familiar with the matter said more such meetings among attorneys general will probably be held.

Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller is leading talks for the states. Geoff Greenwood, his spokesman, said in an e-mailed statement that Miller and other representatives of the negotiating team "encourage input from their colleagues."

"Through frequent conference calls, they have kept state attorneys general apprised of developments and have received helpful feedback and constructive input," Greenwood said. "They look forward to continuing to working with their colleagues as they work hard toward reaching a solid settlement agreement."

Smaller servicers

Over the weekend, the Justice Department contacted four smaller mortgage servicers, including U.S. Bancorp, PNC Financial Services Group Inc. and HSBC Finance Corp., with the goal of including them in any future settlement agreement. The overture was a first step meant to get reaction from the smaller banks.

Bank lawyers and regulators with knowledge of that effort said the smaller institutions remain reluctant to sign on to any one-size-fits-all deal in part because they don't have the same legal exposure as their bigger competitors. The lawyers and regulators didn't want to be identified because the talks are private.

The lawyers also said the smaller servicers have no incentive to endorse any agreement that hasn't been completed.

By David McLaughlin and Margaret Cronin Fisk

Source: BusinessWeek

Chicago lawyers call on Obama to close Guantanamo

Shawalie Khan doesn’t know when - or if - he'll ever go home again.

He is one of the 171 men still detained in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, out of the 779 prisoners who have been held at the U.S. military prison over the last decade.

And like other detainees, Khan remains locked up even though he was cleared of wrongdoing by a U.S. military tribunal.

"He's there because a single paid informant said he was al-Qaida, and that was enough back then, in 2002, to send you to Guantanamo," said Len Goodman, a Chicago-based attorney who represents Khan.

Goodman, along with two other Chicago attorneys who have represented detainees on a pro-bono basis, spoke Saturday at a forum at the Corboy Law Center at Loyola University's Water Tower Campus on the 10th anniversary of the prison's opening in early 2002. The attorneys called on President Barack Obama to close the facility, as he pledged to do three years ago.

Andrew Moss, a Chicago-based attorney who has represented three detainees, said the public has a skewed view of who is held there.

"The biggest misconception is that it's filled with al-Qaida terrorists," he said.

Khan is a poor farmer from near Kandahar, Afghanistan, and, like many other rural Afghans, doesn't know his actual birthdate. But he is in his 40s and has a family, who are desperate for him to return, Goodman said.

Though Khan is largely illiterate, the case against him centers on him supposedly once having an incriminating note containing information about explosive devices - but the note wasn't preserved by the government, Goodman said.

Goodman, who has been to Guantanamo four times, said the prisoners have none of the fundamental rights afforded to even those charged with murder in the U.S.

"Our [domestic] prisons are filled with people who have done all kinds of horrible things," said Moss, who has been to Washington 20 times to work on Guantanamo cases. "But the reality is we let most of those guys out, and we don't keep them under these kinds of conditions. They can be visited by their families. They can make phone calls. They're not tortured. . . . Most of these guys [in Guantanamo] are not accused of anything like that."

The panelists Saturday also called for a more transparent and fair justice system for the detainees there.

By Leeann Shelton, Staff Reporter,

Source: Chicago Sun-Times

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

City hires high-profile lawyer for voting rights case

Escondido has hired a high-profile Orange County attorney to defend the city against a lawsuit alleging that its at-large elections discriminate against Latinos and must be replaced by a system electing City Council members by smaller geographic districts.

City Attorney Jeff Epp said he recently hired John Ramirez of Costa Mesa's Rutan & Tucker law firm because Ramirez has litigated cases involving the California Voting Rights Act and has successfully defended cities across the state against a variety of lawsuits.

Ramirez's hiring follows vows from Mayor Sam Abed and other council members that Escondido would fight the lawsuit despite the potential cost to taxpayers.

Modesto, a city in Central California, spent nearly $3 million fighting a similar lawsuit and was still forced to adopt districts.

Ramirez said Tuesday that it could take 12 to 18 months for a resolution to the lawsuit, which was filed Jan. 20 on behalf of five Escondido Latinos and the state's Building and Construction Trades Council.

"I certainly don't think this case will be settled in a matter of weeks," said Ramirez, whose contract with the city pays him $350 an hour.

Ramirez, 41, is a prominent attorney who was named a "rising star" by Law & Politics magazine in 2006. In 2002, the Los Angeles Daily Journal declared Ramirez among the top 20 lawyers in the state under age 40.

Mayor Abed said Ramirez would help the city respond to the lawsuit by a deadline at the end of January.

"He understands voting rights law and he will put the city in the best position to defend ourselves," Abed said.

Ramirez declined Tuesday to discuss any of his previous cases involving voting rights. But a review of his bio on the Rutan & Tucker website shows that he relied on voting rights law to help plaintiffs in Monterey get an initiative pulled off the ballot because the petitions used for signature gathering weren't bilingual.

James Finberg, a San Francisco attorney who filed the lawsuit against the city, said Tuesday that he has never litigated against Ramirez.

Finberg said Ramirez's experience with voting rights appeared limited to initiatives but hasn't included other elements of the state's Voting Rights Act, such as racially polarized voting.

Finberg is part of the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights, a coalition of attorneys that has successfully forced several cities and school districts to adopt geographic districts in recent years.

The coalition is not formally involved in the Escondido case.

Latinos lack power

The lawsuit says at-large districts deny Latinos political power in Escondido by making it difficult for them to win. It demands that Escondido help Latinos get elected by creating one or two districts in the city's center, the area with the largest concentration of Latinos.

The suit also says the lack of Latinos on Escondido's City Council, where only two Latinos have served since 1888, is a key reason the council has pursued anti-Latino policies in recent years.

Those include a failed attempt in 2006 to prohibit landlords from renting to illegal immigrants, a day-labor ordinance proposed in 2008 but never adopted, and an abandoned effort to restrict parking in inner-city neighborhoods, where many Latino families share houses and apartments.

The city also hired Ramirez in 2006 to defend the rental ban, but his contract was nullified a few days later when Rutan & Tucker determined the firm would have a conflict of interest if he took the case. The city eventually abandoned the legislation after it was struck down by a judge.

Finberg said Tuesday that the voting rights lawsuit was strong enough that he would probably ask for a summary judgment, which would eliminate any trial and force a judge to rule based on opinions from experts.

He said his confidence was based on Latinos being a protected class and that voting in Escondido has been polarized by race.

But Mayor Abed said Tuesday that districts would hurt Latinos instead of helping them by isolating Latinos geographically and economically.

"Districts would pit neighborhood versus neighborhood and whites versus Hispanics," Abed said. "It makes no sense to divide a relatively small community like Escondido up."

However, Councilwoman Olga Diaz, a Latino, said Tuesday that districts would give Latinos a consistent voice on the council and make each council member an expert on a smaller geographic area.

She said districts would also reduce the cost of elections, opening the process to more residents.

Diaz has urged her colleagues to settle the lawsuit by adopting districts. She said that approach would save the city millions of dollars and allow the community to draw the districts instead of outsiders.

"Do we really want a judge to tell us how it's going to be?" she asked.

Escondido would be the first city in North County to adopt geographic voting districts. San Diego is the only city of the 18 in this county with such districts, and only about 30 of California's 482 cities elect council members by district, according to the League of California Cities.

In 2003, the Justice Department investigated whether Vista's at-large system violated the federal voting rights act, but found no evidence that it had.

By David Garrick,, 760-740-5468

Source: North County Times

Texas suit against J&J over drug goes to trial

A clash between Texas and Johnson & Johnson that could end up costing the drug maker $1 billion opened Tuesday with prosecutors accusing the company of plundering the state Medicaid program by overstating the safety of an expensive anti-psychotic drug and improperly influencing officials and doctors to push the medication.

In their opening statements, lawyers for Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott and whistleblower Allen Jones accused Johnson & Johnson and some of its subsidiaries of committing fraud against Medicaid, the joint state-federal health care program for the poor, by making false or misleading statements about Risperdal and its safety, cost and effectiveness compared to other drugs in the 1990s.

Risperdal is used to treat schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

The lawsuit, one of several filed by states against the company, was originally filed in 2004 by Jones, a former employee of the Office of Inspector General in Pennsylvania, who said he learned of Johnson & Johnson's actions in Texas while investigating similar claims in his home state. Texas joined the case in 2006.

Texas is asking the jury to force Johnson & Johnson to pay back $579 million paid to fill prescriptions for Risperdal and levy as much as $500 million more in penalties. The federal government would get about half of any money awarded by the jury and Jones, the whistleblower, could collect about 20 percent.

Tom Melsheimer, an attorney for Jones, told jurors to "send a message ... to refuse to let corporate greed feast on taxpayer money."

Johnson & Johnson insists the company did nothing improper in marketing its drug, and Steve McConnico, one of its attorneys, said doctor testimony will support the drug's use as an improvement over the previous generation of anti-psychotic drugs.

"The reason Risperdal did well was that it worked. The market proved it," McConnico said. "The idea that we're some kind of puppet master (over doctors) simply is not common sense."

The Texas lawsuit is among dozens of pending state and federal cases alleging illegal marketing practices and kickbacks in an effort to boost Risperdal over competing drugs. And a verdict against the New Brunswick, N.J.-based company wouldn't be the first.

Last year, a South Carolina judge ruled Johnson & Johnson must pay a $327 million civil penalty after a jury found it guilty of overstating the safety and effectiveness of Risperdal. In 2010, a Louisiana jury found the company violated that state's Medicaid fraud act and awarded it $258 million in damages.

The company is appealing the Louisiana verdict and has said it will appeal the South Carolina verdict as well.

Risperdal was among several "second generation" anti-psychotic drugs developed in 1990s to alleviate some of the most significant side effects of earlier medications that dated to the 1960s. Those earlier drugs cost pennies on the dollar to produce compared to Risperdal, which earned the company billions of dollars in sales before generic versions became available a few years ago.

Initially approved for adults with schizophrenia, doctors soon began prescribing it for wider use in Texas mental hospitals and prisons for "off-label" uses, including the treatment of children. The lawsuit alleges the drug maker falsely told doctors Risperdal was safe to use with children when federal regulators had not approved its use.

Risperdal and similar anti-psychotic drugs have been linked to increased risk of strokes and death in elderly dementia patients, seizures, major weight gain, onset of diabetes and potentially fatal high blood sugar.

In a statement issued before the Texas trial, Johnson & Johnson and its subsidiaries said, "We are committed to ethical business practices and have policies in place to ensure that our products are only promoted for their FDA-approved indication."

Texas was a key market for Johnson & Johnson and subsidiary drug maker Janssen Pharmaceutical LLC because schizophrenic patients often rely on Medicaid to pay for medications and Texas has one of the country's largest populations of Medicaid patients, prosecutors said.

The lawsuit accuses the drug makers of promoting misleading interpretations of research studies and paying millions of dollars to influence the creation of state mental health medication guidelines favoring Risperdal.

"Once the defendants executed their plan in Texas, they exported it all over the country by pointing to Texas as a model to follow," Assistant Attorney General Cynthia O'Keeffe told jurors.

By The Associated Press

Source: ABC News

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Judge says lawyers should narrow down issues to keep ND death penalty case from bogging down

A federal judge called lawyers together from both sides of a North Dakota death penalty case and urged them on Monday to work together to avoid unnecessary delays.

Alfonso Rodriguez Jr., of Crookston, Minn., is facing execution for the 2003 kidnapping and killing of University of North Dakota student Dru Sjodin, of Pequot Lakes, Minn. Defense attorneys have filed a federal habeas corpus motion, considered the last step in the appeals process.

U.S. District Judge Ralph Erickson on Monday set a July 2 date for prosecutors to file their response to the 298-page defense document that claims, among other things, that Rodriguez was mentally disabled and his trial team was ineffective.

The judge told lawyers to narrow the scope of their arguments and group issues together in cases where there's overlapping evidence. Otherwise, Erickson said, the families "have to suffer through this endless parade" of motions and hearings.

"I would like to see as few surprises as possible," Erickson said.

Sjodin was abducted from the parking lot of a Grand Forks shopping mall in November 2003. Authorities said she was raped, beaten and stabbed. A jury sentenced Rodriguez to death on Sept. 22, 2006.

It was the state's first federal death penalty case and resulted in tougher laws for sex offenders.

Linda Walker, Sjodin's mother, says she expects Rodriguez to exhaust all his options, but it's disheartening to "hear the excuses."

Rodriguez, 58, is being held on death row at a federal prison in Terre Haute, Ind. His habeas corpus appeal was filed by attorney Joseph Margulies, a Northwestern University law professor who has represented several death row inmates.

Margulies told Erickson it's a difficult case that will become more complex as lawyers tackle the issues. He said he wants to sit down with Assistant U.S. Attorney Keith Reisenauer to hammer out a schedule to argue evidence in the case.

"I don't even want to put a date on what that might be," Marguiles said.

Reisenauer said the July 2 deadline to finish the government's response might be ambitious, but told Erickson it's important to "get the ball rolling" so the case doesn't get bogged down with hearings.

Linda Walker, Sjodin's mother, attended Monday's hearing. She said in an interview afterward that Rodriguez's appeal contains "excuses on his behalf which are disturbing in so many ways," but said she expects him to exhaust all options.

"It all seems so surreal," Walker said outside the courtroom where Rodriquez was convicted and sentenced to death. "There's not a day that goes by when I don't think of Dru."

Rodriguez lost an appeal with a three-judge panel of the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, in a 2-1 vote. He asked for a hearing in front of the full court, which was denied. The U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the case.

Erickson met behind closed doors with lawyers after the hearing to discuss issues that have been sealed from public view. The judge scheduled the next status hearing for Aug. 20.

By Dave Kolpack, The Associated Press

Source: The Republic

Nationally influential trial lawyer Jock Smith, law partner of late Johnnie Cochran dies at 63

Tuskegee lawyer Jock Smith, who was law partners with the late Johnnie Cochran, is being remembered as someone who won big verdicts for poor clients. He died Sunday at 63.

Law partner Sam Cherry said Smith had an apparent heart attack at his Montgomery home. He said Smith had complained about feeling bad after returning home from a trip and died quietly while watching TV.

Smith won what the National Law Journal called America's largest civil verdict in 2004, a $1.6 billion judgment against Southwestern Life Insurance and one of its agents. The suit was later settled out of court for an undisclosed amount for a mother of three who claimed she paid the agent thousands of dollars for an insurance policy that didn't exist.

Smith also was one of the attorneys who got a $700 million settlement with Monsanto, Pharmacia and Solutia in 2003 for Anniston residents affected by pollution from a plant manufacturing polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, adjacent to a low-income neighborhood.

"Jock was a lawyer who had a passion for representing people he called 'the least of these,'" Cherry said Monday.

District Attorney Michael Jackson of Selma says Smith was one of the best lawyers he's seen in court and he had a way with juries.

District Attorney Michael Jackson of Selma said Smith's eloquent style made him a force in the courtroom. "He had a way with juries," Jackson said.

Smith grew up in New York, where his late father, Jacob Smith, was a lawyer. He came to Alabama to attend Tuskegee University. After graduating in 1970, he earned his law degree from the University of Notre Dame. He spent a year in New York and then returned to Alabama in 1974 to work in the state attorney general's office for three years. He left in 1977 to open his law practice in Tuskegee, 30 miles east of Montgomery.

He did both civil and criminal work, but built his reputation as a plaintiff lawyer. He gained a national reputation in 2000 when he won an $80 million against Orkin for an elderly woman who claimed her home was destroyed by termites. He soon began appearing on national lists of the top plaintiff lawyers. He became friends with Cochran when he visited Montgomery in 1996 and later became a partner and eventually president of Cochran Firm, the national law practice that Cochran built after helping gain the acquittal of O.J. Simpson on murder charges.

More recently, Smith represented two of the children of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in a dispute over their mother's papers, and he served as a trustee of Tuskegee University. At the time of his death, he was planning a trip to Miami to be honored by The Trial Lawyer magazine as one of its 100 Most Influential Trial Lawyers in America.

Tuskegee President Gilbert Rochon said Smith "was a strong advocate for the oppressed, the abused and the impoverished locally, nationally and globally. His legacy will continue to inspire future generations of students."

Survivors include his wife, Yvette Smiley-Smith, and a daughter, Janay Smith.

Funeral arrangements will be announced by Ross-Clayton Funeral Home in Montgomery.

By Phillip Rawls, The Associated Press

Source: The Republic

Monday, January 9, 2012

Discipline of TN lawyers for theft seen increasing

Downturn in economy cited as reason behind trend

A harsh economic environment is being cited as the reason for a rise in the number of Tennessee lawyers disciplined for stealing or misusing client funds.

And some attorneys are taking money from clients and then closing shop without performing the legal services they were paid to do.

"Some lawyers are just abandoning their practices because they can't make their business model work, and they're not telling their clients and they're not telling the judges," said Nancy S. Jones, chief disciplinary counsel for the Tennessee Board of Professional Responsibility. The TBPR disciplines lawyers for ethical violations.

"Clients have been calling our office saying, ‘I can't find my lawyer,'" Jones said. "It's been a nightmare for everyone involved."


Some don't even bother to show up for disciplinary hearings, she said. "They're just nowhere to be found. They just walked out one day and never came back."

That's what 75-year-old Aaron Lehman said happened to him after he paid $1,500 to an Atoka, Tenn., lawyer to help him get his alimony payments reduced.

Lehman, who lives in Atoka, hired Jewel Guy Boozer thinking he was getting first-rate legal assistance. Instead, he said, the lawyer kept dodging his phone calls until one day he discovered that Boozer had just closed his office, leaving him and several other clients in the lurch.

Boozer has since been disbarred after Lehman and numerous other people filed complaints against him with the TBPR. Boozer could not be reached for comment.

Lehman says he never got his $1,500 back.

Hard times

Jones said some lawyers, many of them sole practitioners who work on criminal or divorce cases, are having a hard time staying afloat because they aren't getting enough business.

"I think that lawyers are not making enough money to pay their personal expenses, and they think, ‘I'll get the money, I'll put the money back, nobody will know about it and it will be fine,' and they just keep on doing it until they get in an overdraft situation and then we find out about it," Jones said.

The board met in December to discuss how to address the rising number of lawyers being disciplined for having overdrafts in their trust accounts. Figures show that within the last five years, the board has nearly doubled the amount of disciplinary actions it has taken against lawyers for having overdrafts in trust accounts, up from 64 in fiscal year 2007-08 to 127 violations last fiscal year.

Disbarments have also risen.

The Tennessee Supreme Court disbarred 13 lawyers last year, up from nine the previous year.

The TBPR also has 73 petitions for discipline pending. And there were approximately 565 open investigative files in December, according to the TBPR.

It's not clear whether this is a problem with lawyers outside the boundaries of Tennessee.

"We just don't track that kind of data on a national level," said Sara Rittman, president of the National Organization of Bar Counsel. The public can go to the TBPR website to see if an attorney has been disciplined in the past or if there are any pending disciplinary actions against a lawyer.

Clients who have lost money due to an unscrupulous lawyer can apply for assistance through the Tennessee Lawyer's Fund for Client Protection.

Kimberly Carter of Jonesborough was out $2,325 after giving Bristol attorney Kristen Morrell the money to represent her in a divorce.

No contact

"I cannot afford another attorney," Carter said in a letter she wrote to the TBPR.

The TBPR suspended Morrell in April for four years and ordered her to pay restitution to four clients.

Tina Osteen said she hasn't recovered the $500 she paid to former Wilson County attorney Samuel Mingledorff to get an uncontested divorce.

Mingledorff, who has since been disbarred, declined to be interviewed.

Worse than losing the $500, Osteen said Mingledorff's long delay gave her husband time to change his mind about wanting an uncontested divorce. After nearly four years, she says she is still fighting to get a divorce.

By The Associated Press

Source: The Tennessean

Investigation clears attorney general's office in lawyers' firing

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi's office has been cleared of wrongdoing in the May ouster of two employees widely lauded for their foreclosure fraud investigations.

The state inspector general released an 84-page report Friday detailing its findings during a five-month review of the forced resignations of former Assistant Attorneys General Theresa Edwards and June Clarkson.

The report concludes that no laws or policies were violated in terminating Edwards and Clarkson, and that they were dismissed because of their "poor judgment and lack of independent investigation on high-profile foreclosure mill cases."

The duo was responsible for a $2 million settlement reached last year with the foreclosure law firm of Marshall C. Watson in Fort Lauderdale and received high marks in evaluations from their direct supervisor.

But others in the attorney general's office, including Deputy Attorney General and Chief of Staff Carlos Muniz, and Director of Economic Crimes Richard Lawson felt differently. Both were hired last year when Bondi took office and said Edwards and Clarkson were given the option to resign or be fired because of a "failure to improve after multiple warnings."

The uproar that followed the dismissals, which included concerns that they were politically motivated, pushed Bondi in August to request the independent query by the inspector general of the Florida Department of Financial Services.

At least 10 people were interviewed and dozens of others named in the report, including Palm Beach County homeowner advocates Lisa Epstein and Lynn Szymoniak. Szymoniak was featured last year in a 60 Minutes report on foreclosure fraud.

In a Friday press release, Bondi emphasized other areas of the report that raised concerns about "disorganization," "non-responsiveness" to public records requests, "factual errors" in public presentations, "incorrect legal theories" and "sloppy" work.

"The report confirms the terminations had nothing to do with politics or outside influence," Bondi said. "Rather, it was about doing the right thing in defense of the people of Florida."

Edwards said Friday she was not surprised by the report's conclusion and questioned how impartial it could be when conducted by the inspector general of the Republican-led Department of Financial Services. The department is headed by Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater.

"I hardly thought they were going to come out and say, 'Wow, they were really great guys, what the hell were we thinking in firing them,'" Edwards said. "I can only hope that my evaluations and letters of certificates of appreciation I received prior to the new administration coming into office are a better measure of my performance than the report just generated."

Foreclosure defense attorneys and some lawmakers jumped to defend Edwards and Clarkson following the report's release. Sen. Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood, and Rep. Darren Soto, D-Orlando, had asked for a federal probe of the firings and said Friday they were disappointed with the state's findings.

"I kept an open mind on whether they would get a fair hearing," Soto said. "But the inspector general focused on the minutia in order to avoid a call on the big picture."

Sobel said the report "brings us no closer to answers" on why they were fired.

The report goes into great detail about concerns Lawson said he had with the performance of Edwards and Clarkson, including a widely circulated PowerPoint presentation they created that outlined alleged evidence of unlawful foreclosure practices.

"Clarkson and Edwards put forth an incorrect legal theory in the presentation," the report says. "They wrongly stated the mortgage is what determines who has standing to file a foreclosure action when it was actually the holder of the note who has standing."

Edwards, who was praised in an evaluation for being "instrumental in triggering a nationwide review" of foreclosure practices, said the presentation was reviewed and approved by supervisors.

Clarkson said she is proud of what she and Edwards accomplished.

"We did so much for not only the consumers of the state of Florida, but everywhere," she said. "We don't feel bad about anything we did."

They now have their own law firm in Hollywood.

Friday's report comes a week after Bondi filed a request for the Florida Supreme Court to weigh in on her authority to subpoena foreclosure law firms.

Subpoenas against the Law Offices of David J. Stern and the Boca Raton-based Shapiro and Fishman were quashed in the 4th District Court of Appeal, with judges ruling Bondi has no power to pursue firms under the Florida Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act.

By Kimberly Miller, Palm Beach Post Staff Writer

Source: Palm Beach Post

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Judicial panel irks Republicans

Democratic Gov. Bev Perdue has named a panel to help screen judicial candidates, but Republicans immediately criticized it as being too laden with partisan Democrats.

The governor named an 18-member commission, including Troy Smith, a lawyer from New Bern, and two people who have served as her lawyers, to advise her on whom to appoint to the bench. The commission will forward three names for the governor to choose from for each vacancy on the N.C. Supreme Court, the N.C. Court of Appeals and Superior Court.

In announcing the creation of the commission last April, Perdue said the Judicial Nominating Commission was an effort to provide well-qualified and fair judges. "There is no place for politics when it comes to choosing the state's most honored and influential legal servants," Perdue said at the time.

But Republicans said the makeup of the panel belies Perdue's words.

"Perdue has chosen to stack the commission with political cronies, Democratic operatives and liberal partisan politicians," said Scott Laster, executive director of the state GOP. "This type of 'bipartisan, for-the-people facade' would make a tyrant blush."

Perdue spokesman Ben Niolet said "party affiliation was not a factor" in the appointments. "The members were chosen because they were the most qualified," he added.

The commission chairman is Edwin Speas, a Raleigh attorney who was the governor's general counsel for two years. Also on the panel is Joe Cheshire, a prominent Raleigh defense attorney, who represented Perdue during a criminal investigation into possible campaign spending violations.

A number of the appointees have strong Democratic ties, including Cumberland County Sheriff Earl "Moose" Butler; former U.S. Attorney Janice Cole of Hertford; former Charlotte Mayor Harvey Gantt; former state Rep. Judy Hunt of Blowing Rock; Tom Lambeth, former executive director of the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation; former Chief Justice Burley Mitchell; and Raleigh lawyer Robert Zaytoun.

Mitchell said one reason for any imbalance is that eight of the 10 posts are reserved for representatives from constituency groups: the State Bar, the Bar Association, the Advocates for Justice, the Association of Defense Attorneys, the Association of Black Lawyers, the Association of Women Attorneys, the Board of Indigent Services Commission, and the Conference of District Attorneys. Each of those groups recommended members to serve on the commission.

The commission was the idea of the N.C. Bar Association, which has been looking for ways to improve the selection of judges. Last year, the association backed a constitutional amendment, which did not advance in the Legislature, that would have moved the state toward retention elections.

In the past, governors could simply choose whomever they wanted on the bench. The new screening commission had the backing of all five living former state chief justices, who will serve the panel in an advisory capacity.

Beverly Lake, a former justice who is a Republican, said of the list of commission members, "I don't think I can say it's nonpartisan. All the people on there I'm sure are good folks. Some are excellent people, like Burley Mitchell."

Other members appointed to the commission are Anthony di Santi, a lawyer from Blowing Rock; Eugene Ellison, a lawyer from Asheville; Robert Evans, a district attorney from Nash County; Anne-Marie Knighton, town manger of Edenton; Clark Smith, a lawyer from Greensboro; Jane Whilden, a former lawmaker from Whilden; Elliott Williamson, owner of a real estate company in Lumberton; and James Woodward, former chancellor of UNC Charlotte.

By Rob Christensen

Source: New Bern Sun Journal

Kansas doctor, wife claim defense attorneys had conflict

New attorneys for a Kansas doctor and his wife convicted in a moneymaking conspiracy linked to 68 overdose deaths asked an appeals court to throw out their convictions, arguing their trial lawyers served as little more than "mouthpieces" for a patient advocate who used the case to promote her own agenda.

Documents filed Friday with the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals argued trial lawyers for Dr. Stephen Schneider and his wife, Linda, had a conflict of interest that allowed Siobhan Reynolds, president the Pain Relief Network, to essentially direct the defense strategy. The couple's new lawyers also contended in filings that Reynolds had a sexual relationship with an attorney on the defense team.

Along with conspiracy, the Schneiders were convicted in 2010 of unlawfully prescribing drugs, health care fraud and money laundering at their Haysville clinic. The doctor was sentenced to 30 years in prison, and his wife got 33 years. The government also won a forfeiture judgment of $1.27 million, and the Schneiders were ordered to pay $114.7 million in restitution to victims.

The briefs filed this week offered the first public look at the arguments the couple are raising on appeal.

In them, the appeals attorneys paint Reynolds as a zealot who believed the war on drugs has transformed America into a police state in which the federal government let patients live and die in unnecessary pain. Her goal, they say, was fighting government prosecution of physicians for prescribing painkillers.

The appeals attorneys contend Reynolds persuaded the Schneiders to dismiss their court-appointed attorneys and assemble a so-called Dream Team of lawyers willing to take a stand. But they say those attorneys had a conflict of interest because they were actively representing Reynolds in other cases, and appeals attorneys say the trial attorneys wrongly shared confidential information about the Schneiders with Reynolds.

Their brief also contends the doctor and his wife could have had stronger defenses had their cases been tried separately.

In bolstering their conflict-of-interest argument, the appeals attorneys claimed Reynolds was involved during the Schneider case in a sexual relationship with Kevin Byers, the lead attorney representing Linda Schneider.

Reynolds, Byers and his mother were killed last month when a small plane he was piloting crashed in Ohio.

In pleading for a lenient sentence, Byers had argued that the Schneiders were "collateral damage" to the persecution of pain doctors and that punishing the couple would deter other doctors from offering medicine their patients need. The judge overseeing sentencing retorted that such an argument "sounds like the irresponsible propaganda" of the Pain Relief Network.

"It highlights a more troubling observation: From the beginning of the case to its very end, the lawyers, Byers no more than the others, served as little more than mouthpieces for Siobhan Reynolds and the Pain Relief Network," the appeals brief said.

Attorney Lawrence Williamson, who represented the doctor at his trial, said Friday in a phone interview that there was no conflict with their legal representation whatsoever. He said the Schneiders deserve a new trial but not for that reason.

"I dedicated over two years being a mouthpiece, but it was as a mouthpiece for Dr. Schneider," Williamson said. "Anybody who was at the trial knows I sweated blood and cried for a person who I thought was innocent - and that was Dr. Schneider and not PRN."

Williamson disputed allegations in the brief that the Schneiders' trial attorneys never pursued plea negotiations. He said they did and their clients rejected the government's offer.

Williamson said the issue of whether the trial attorneys had a conflict has already been heard and decided.

"There would have to be some evidence she was actually dictating strategy that would be adverse to the clients," Williamson said. "The PRN's actual mission is for doctors not to be found guilty of prescribing medicine to people who were sick."

By Kansas City Star

Source: Kansas City Star

Saturday, January 7, 2012

TN lawyers being disciplined more often for theft

A harsh economic environment is being cited as the reason for a rise in the number of Tennessee lawyers disciplined for stealing or misusing client funds.

And some attorneys are taking money from clients and then closing shop without performing the legal services they were paid to do.

"Some lawyers are just abandoning their practices because they can't make their business model work, and they're not telling their clients and they're not telling the judges," said Nancy S. Jones, chief disciplinary counsel for the Tennessee Board of Professional Responsibility. The TBPR disciplines lawyers for ethical violations.

"Clients have been calling our office saying, 'I can't find my lawyer,'" Jones said. "It's been a nightmare for everyone involved."

Some don't even bother to show up for disciplinary hearings, she said. "They're just nowhere to be found. They just walked out one day and never came back."

That's what 75-year-old Aaron Lehman said happened to him after he paid $1,500 to an Atoka, Tenn., lawyer to help him get his alimony payments reduced.

Lehman, who lives in Atoka, hired Jewel Guy Boozer thinking he was getting first-rate legal assistance. Instead, he said, the lawyer kept dodging his phone calls until one day he discovered that Boozer had just closed his office, leaving him and several other clients in the lurch.

Lehman said he thought lawyers were supposed to treat people better.

"I never would have believed that he would have begun to do something like this," said Lehman, who works three days a week for J.C. Penny's.

Boozer has since been disbarred after Lehman and numerous other people filed complaints against him with the TBPR. Boozer could not be reached for comment.

Lehman says he never got his $1,500 back.

"I'm 75 years old," Lehman said. "I should be sitting on a recliner or sitting on a bank fishing and I'm still working, and that little bit of money would sure help."

Jones said some lawyers, many of them sole practitioners who work on criminal or divorce cases, are having a hard time staying afloat because they aren't getting enough business. Many of them are dipping into their trust accounts — which contain monies such as court costs, expert witness fees and settlement disbursements — just to pay toward their business expenses and they are getting into trouble.

"I think that lawyers are not making enough money to pay their personal expenses, and they think 'I'll get the money, I'll put the money back, nobody will know about it and it will be fine,' and they just keep on doing it until they get in an overdraft situation and then we find out about it," Jones said. She compared it to a Ponzi scheme that eventually comes crashing down.

The board met in December to discuss how to address the rising number of lawyers being disciplined for having overdrafts in their trust accounts. Figures show that within the last five years, the board has nearly doubled the amount of disciplinary actions it has taken against lawyers for having overdrafts in trust accounts, up from 64 in fiscal year 2007-2008 to 127 violations last fiscal year.

Disbarments have also risen. The Tennessee Supreme Court disbarred 13 lawyers last year, up from nine the previous year. The TBPR also has 73 petitions for discipline pending. And there were approximately 565 open investigative files in December, according to the TBPR.

It's not clear whether this is a problem with lawyers outside the boundaries of Tennessee.

"We just don't track that kind of data on a national level," said Sara Rittman, president of the National Organization of Bar Counsel.

The public can go to the TBPR web site to see if an attorney has been disciplined in the past or if there are any pending disciplinary actions against a lawyer.

Clients who have lost money due to an unscrupulous lawyer can apply for assistance through the Tennessee Lawyer's Fund for Client Protection. But there's only so much money in the fund, and not all clients can recover their lost legal fees.

Kimberly Carter of Jonesborough was out $2,325 after giving Bristol attorney Kristen Morrell the money to represent her in a divorce.

"I cannot afford another attorney," Carter said in a letter she wrote to the TBPR. "She took my money, provided no service, and I have no way to contact her."

The TBPR suspended Morrell in April for four years from the practice of law and ordered her to pay restitution to four clients.

Attempts to reach Morrell were unsuccessful.

Tina Osteen said she hasn't recovered the $500 she paid to former Wilson County attorney Samuel Mingledorff to get an uncontested divorce. The Nashville woman said she reported Mingledorff to the board because he hadn't filed the divorce paperwork eight months after she gave him the money in 2008 and he wouldn't return her calls or answer his door.

"I realized that he pretty much took my money and did not do what he was supposed to do," Osteen said.

Mingledorff, who has since been disbarred, declined to be interviewed.

Worse than losing the $500, Osteen said Mingledorff's long delay gave her husband time to change his mind about wanting an uncontested divorce. After nearly four years, she says she is still fighting to get a divorce.

"If it would have been done correctly by Mr. Mingledorff, I would have been divorced by that time, but he didn't do anything," she said.

Osteen said she at least has the satisfaction of knowing Mingledorff has been disbarred and can't harm anyone else. But she said the experience caused her a lot of heartache and it changed the way she views attorneys.

"It made me really leery of lawyers."

By The Associated Press

Source: The Tennessean

Obama lawyers defend healthcare law in Supreme Court

The Obama administration defended its healthcare overhaul law before the U.S. Supreme Court on Friday, rejecting arguments by critics who warned that if the government can require people to have health insurance, it might next make them eat broccoli

Administration attorneys, in court filings and at a briefing, said Congress was within its constitutional powers in requiring Americans to buy insurance by 2014 or pay a penalty, a centerpiece of the law known as the individual mandate.

The law's opponents have argued that Congress overstepped its authority and have raised the hypothetical question of whether Congress next could require that all Americans eat broccoli because of the nation's obesity crisis.

The Supreme Court has scheduled three days of oral arguments in the legal battle for March 26-28, with an election-year ruling expected by the end of June.

The law, Obama's signature domestic policy achievement, seeks to provide health insurance to more than 30 million previously uninsured Americans. His prospective Republican presidential opponents all have strongly opposed the law.

A Supreme Court ruling striking down the law would be a major political and legal setback for Obama ahead of the election, while a decision upholding it would be vindication. Polls show Americans deeply divided over the law.

A senior administration official, who declined to be identified, told reporters that Congress, in adopting the law, responded appropriately to a national crisis after years of debate.

The broccoli hypothetical has "no relevance to the case at hand," the official said, maintaining that the insurance purchase requirement was "not the same" as mandating that people eat or buy broccoli.

The healthcare law has been challenged by 26 of the 50 states and by an independent business group as an unprecedented move by Congress that exceeds its constitutional powers.

The states involved in the challenge, in a Supreme Court brief, on Friday said the entire law, which President Barack Obama signed in March 2010, should be struck down.

"The individual mandate is the centerpiece of the entire federal health care act," said Attorney General Pam Bondi of Florida, a state that has led the legal challenge.

"If the court removes the individual mandate, the main hub of the act, the entire health care law must be invalidated."

The administration's arguments in its brief backing the law largely mirrored those previously made in its initial appeal to the Supreme Court filed at the end of September.

The attorneys said the law was an attempt by Congress to address a crisis in the national health care market, capping nearly a century-long effort to expand access to health care by making affordable health insurance more widely available.

They cited statistics showing that healthcare accounts for 17 percent of the nation's economy and argued that the law was a valid exercise of Congress's power under the Constitution to regulate economic activity affecting interstate commerce.

The brief also cited a law that Massachusetts adopted in 2006 when Mitt Romney was governor. Romney is the frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination to face Obama in the November elections.

The brief said Congress cited the Massachusetts law as a model for key provisions, including the provision requiring that individuals purchase insurance or pay a tax penalty.

Opponents of the law also filed briefs with the Supreme Court on Friday.

The conservative American Center for Law and Justice filed a brief on behalf of 117 Republican members of the U.S. House of Representatives and 100,000 of the center's supporters urging the justices to declare the entire law unconstitutional.

Thirty-six Republican U.S. senators said in a separate brief the entire law must fall if the individual mandate is struck down.

The Supreme Court cases are National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius, No. 11-393; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services v. Florida, No. 11-398; and Florida v. Department of Health and Human Services, No. 11-400.

For National Federation of Independent Business: Michael Carvin of Jones Day.

For Sebelius and the Department of Health and Human Services: Donald Verrilli Jr, Solicitor General of the United States.

By James Vicini

Source: Reuters

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Chicago lawyers enter appearance as attorneys for Wal-Mart in work comp lawsuit

Norma W. Zeitler and Jennifer Cervin of the Chicago law firm Barnes & Thornburg have entered their appearance as attorneys for defendant Wal-Mart on Dec. 27.

Wal-Mart is being sued in Madison County after a Glen Carbon woman claims she was fired from in retaliation for filing a workers' compensation claim.

Rachel Madden also named as defendants her former supervisors Tom Archer, Judy McDonald and Shawn Davidson, in the suit filed Nov. 15.

Defendants Archer, McDonald and Davidson filed for an extension of time to answer the complaint on Dec. 19.

Madden was working at the Glen Carbon Wal-Mart in May 2008 when she was allegedly injured in two separate incidents, according to the complaint. Madden says she attempted to file a workers' compensation claim.

Madden, who says she was fired from her job in November 2009, claims her supervisors, Archer, McDonald and Davidson, falsely accused her of poor customer service and used that as the basis for her firing.

She alleges those were false complaints made to keep the company from having to pay her work comp claim.

Madden accuses Wal-Mart and her supervisors of wrongful termination and asks for more than $50,000 in damages for lost wages and benefits plus court costs.

Michael Brunton represents Madden.

Madison County Circuit Judge Andreas Matoesian is assigned to the case.

By Christina Stueve

Source: Madison County Record

Barbier grants lawyers 6 percent charge on future settlements; Sides with Jindal over Caldwell

U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier exiled Louisiana Attorney General Buddy Caldwell from Deepwater Horizon litigation and granted plaintiff lawyers a six percent charge on $14 billion in future settlements at BP's Gulf Coast Claims Facility.

On Dec. 28, Barbier established a reserve fund at the request of a plaintiff steering committee preparing for a fault allocation trial starting next month.

The reserve fund will hold six percent of settlements between private parties, whether in his court or at the claims facility.

That would equal about $850 million on the amount remaining from BP's $20 billion commitment to the claims facility.

As of Dec. 31, the facility had paid $2.3 billion to about 160,000 individuals, and $3.5 billion to about 60,000 businesses.

Although the plaintiff steering committee holds no official role in the facility, Barbier gave its members much of the credit for the facility's accomplishments.

"The PSC has strongly advocated on behalf of persons submitting claims to the GCCF, continuing to apply public and private pressure to improve the GCCF claims handling operations," he wrote.

The reserve fund will draw a reduced rate of four percent on settlements between private parties and states or local governments.

Barbier awarded no fees, writing that his order would "rather simply establish a fund from which common benefit fees, if any, might later be disbursed."

The committee's proposal upset plaintiff lawyers who don't belong to the committee.

They expressed satisfaction with claims facility administrator Kenneth Feinberg, and argued they derived no benefit from the committee's work.

Defendants protested too, complaining that the committee's plan for direct deductions against them would force them to finance their opposition.

Committee lawyers retreated, writing that they wouldn't compel defendants to hold back a reserve fund over and above a plaintiff's recovery.

They wrote that the order would afford parties the flexibility to negotiate a resolution.

They wrote that defendants could fund the reserve over and above a settlement amount or hold the reserve out of the settlement amount.

"Nothing in the order, as proposed, would require a defendant to pay attorneys' fees," they wrote.

Caldwell, who had favored a reserve fund, turned against it.

He wrote that the order did not contemplate a deduction from state recoveries.

He wrote that the committee set forth "a rather novel interpretation" of the order.

"The state should not be required to respond to an interpretation of a submitted order, especially where the interpretation proposes alternative deposits: first by the defendants and, failing that, deposits out of state recoveries," Caldwell wrote.

Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange, the only steering committee member representing state and local governments, continued to support the proposal.

Suddenly, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal seized the situation to isolate Caldwell.

Jindal endorsed the proposal, after persuading the steering committee to exempt certain categories of recovery from the four percent charge.

In the collision between Caldwell and Jindal, Barbier found fault with Caldwell.

"The court has on multiple occasions encouraged the state of Louisiana to cooperate with the PSC and the state of Alabama insofar as their interests are aligned versus the defendants in this complex MDL," he wrote.

"Rather than cooperate or attempt to work collaboratively, the state of Louisiana, through its retained private counsel, has instead often obstructed and frustrated the progress of the litigation," he wrote.

Caldwell's briefs identify Allan Kanner, Elizabeth Petersen, David Pote, Douglas Kraus, and Allen Usry, all of New Orleans, as special counsel, along with Henry Dart and Grady Flattmann of Covington.

Barbier wrote that when it became clear that the state couldn't meet production obligations, the committee offered to help.

"Notably, it apparently required the intervention of the governor of Louisiana for this to occur," he wrote.

"In fact, the governor's office and the PSC have reached an agreement to work collaboratively to pursue their common interests."

His approval of charges on BP's claims facility marked the second time he exercised jurisdiction over administrator Kenneth Feinberg.

Last February, Barbier adopted rules for Feinberg's communications with claimants.

This time, he found unique circumstances in favor of the plaintiff committee.

He wrote that they arranged to make translators available to Vietnamese claimants.

He wrote that they advocated a full audit of the facility now in progress.

He wrote that they advocated for the facility to employ a more liberal causation standard.

"Considering the unique circumstances of this case, it would be unfair to allow parties to benefit from these activities of the PSC, but avoid contributing to the common benefit fund simply because they are able to settle directly with the GCCF and avoid filing a claim in the MDL," he wrote.

He made the charges retroactive to Nov. 7, the date of the committee's proposal.

By Steve Korris

Source: The Louisiana Record

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

No Holiday Respite for Lawyers Working on Howrey Bankruptcy

Lawyers working on the Howrey bankruptcy stayed busy over the holidays, filing multiple motions in late December aimed at moving along what is now a trustee-supervised Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

Among the latest court filings: a motion (PDF) by the Howrey estate's unsecured creditors' committee seeking bankruptcy court approval to cut ties to a pair of federal putative class actions in which firm lawyers had been representing Hispanic farmers who say the federal government discriminated against them.

The cases - Garcia v. Vilsack and Cantu v. United States, both of which are pending in Washington, D.C., federal district court - involve claims that the U.S. Department of Agriculture routinely discriminated against non–white farmers when granting federal loans. Similar class actions have yielded settlements worth a combined total of more than $2 billion for Indian and black farmers, but the Hispanic plaintiffs' cases have stalled without producing a settlement.

Creditors' committee counsel Bradford Englander of Whiteford Taylor Preston argues in the motion that the Howrey estate simply can't afford to continue to play a role in litigation that has already cost the firm more than $32 million in fees and expenses over the past decade.

Englander points specifically to the December 31 expiration of the defunct firm's malpractice insurance and the recent departure of the last three lawyers working on matters under the Howrey name as reasons why the estate should abandon the litigation. Continuing to pay the $2.7 million malpractice insurance premium alone would be too much of a burden, the motion states, never mind the costs required to hire experts and perform the other tasks required to keep the cases moving along. At the same time, the motion states, dumping the cases should not affect the estate's ability to recover attorneys' fees in the event that a settlement is reached.

The motion says that until December 22, three Howrey lawyers were working exclusively on the litigation, but that trustee Allan Diamond informed the trio shortly after being appointed to oversee the bankruptcy that their services would no longer be needed come the new year. (Englander and Diamond did not return calls for comment Monday afternoon.)

The Am Law Daily reported in August that as of July, former Howrey partner Stephen Hill and ex-firm attorney Collette Harrell were still being paid by the estate in connection with their work on the class actions (Hill received $1,357 that month; Harrell, $5,570). It was not immediately clear Monday where either attorney works now or if they will continue to represent the Hispanic plaintiffs if the court approves Howrey's withdrawal from the litigation.

Meanwhile, less than ten months after Howrey closed its doors, the bankrupt firm's financial state is as precarious as ever. While the estate lists $39.9 million in total assets, according to a November operating report (PDF) filed December 29, it has just $2.8 million in cash.

The lack of cash is one reason Diamond, of Texas firm Diamond McCarthy, cites in a December 28 filing (PDF) in arguing that administrative rent requests submitted by landlords in Chicago and D.C. should not be paid just yet.

The Chicago landlord, Hines Properties, has requested $28,912 that it says it is owed after the court approved Howrey's rejection of its Hines lease in June.

"While the Trustee is sympathetic to Hines' position, the reality is that this estate has very limited financial resources at this time," Diamond says in his motion. He adds that if Hines receives its modest request, the estate could be required to give similar treatment to the firm's former D.C. landlord, Warner Investments, which seeks more than $10 million - an amount the estate is vehemently disputing.

As for his own work on the matter, Diamond is seeking $278,008 for his firm's handling of the Howrey bankruptcy from the time he came on board on October 21 through the end of November. The Diamond McCarthy fee request (PDF), which totals more than 100 pages, shows firm partners Howard Ressler and Jason Rudd racking up more than $70,000 in fees apiece, with Diamond himself billing nearly $21,000.

(The fee request shows that the Hispanic farmers litigation is clearly on Diamond's radar: Getting up to speed on the matter - including meetings with former Howrey chairman Robert Ruyak to discuss "Winston [& Strawn]'s role in the case" - consumed 123 hours of Diamond McCarthy's time at a cost of $55,752).

Other professional services firms also continue to seek payment from the estates. Kornfield, Nyberg, Bendes & Kuhner, an Oakland, California, firm advising Diamond, filed a motion requesting $6,233 for work done between November 7 and November 30. Financial adviser Development Specialists requested $45,254 for the period from October 21 to the end of November, with its consultants billing at hourly rates between $225 and $625.

All of the recent fee requests account for a 20 percent holdback that won't be paid until the conclusion of the case. Such a holdback was at issue last month in the final bill submitted by Wiley Rein, Howrey's counsel until Diamond took over as trustee. Last month, U.S. bankruptcy court judge Dennis Montali approved Wiley Rein's full $1.03 million fee request over the objections of Diamond, who thought the firm should agree to the same holdbacks as other professional services providers. That Montali approved the fee requests doesn't mean Diamond can't raise more serious objections to those fees, recoup them once the bankruptcy concludes, or even bring malpractice claims against Wiley or the other advisers in the future.

Upcoming hearings in the bankruptcy case are scheduled for January 11 (on Hines's motion to be paid) and February 9 (on the motion related to the Hispanic farmers litigation).

By Sara Randazzo

Source: The Am Law Daily

For big Pa. firms, a year of poaching groups

Go big or go home. That seemed to be the motto of large law firms in Pennsylvania when it came to growth opportunities in 2011.

One-off laterals had slowed to a crawl since the recession hit and have picked up only slightly in the last year or so. That tactic seems to have been replaced with the desire to pick off whole practice groups or smaller firms.

Blank Rome grabbed seven consumer financial services lawyers from Dilworth Paxson in early February, led by partner Wayne Streibich. His group has grown substantially over the year, with a total of 20 laterals coming in to assist the practice. That figure includes the initial group Streibich led to Blank Rome.

In May, Reed Smith started an e-discovery practice (another hot trend in 2011) with the addition of Pittsburgh-based K&L Gates partner David R. Cohen. Cohen was joined at his new firm just two weeks later by a 14-member e-discovery team from K&L Gates that included 11 lawyers and three staffers.

In November, Babst Calland capitalized on yet another hot area for Pennsylvania firms: energy. The firm grabbed 16 lawyers from Tucker Arensberg to focus on mergers and acquisitions and title work in the natural resources sector.

Morgan Lewis & Bockius picked up 11 lawyers across a few offices in February from the disbanding Howrey law firm.

Cozen O'Connor grabbed 19 lawyers this summer in New York from intellectual property boutique Cohen Pontani Lieberman & Pavane. That move came about a month after the firm added 14 lawyers in Houston who made up the bulk of Epstein Becker & Green's office in the city.

Blank Rome officially opened an office in Houston in June with the acquisition of 10-lawyer litigation boutique Abrams Scott & Bickley.

Saul Ewing opened a Boston office with the July acquisition of seven of the nine lawyers from real estate boutique Dionne & Gass. Dechert opened a Los Angeles office in April with four partners from Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe.

In January 2011, Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney added five of the six lawyers at Wyomissing, Pa.-based energy boutique Ryan Russell Ogden & Seltzer.

In August, Fox Rothschild acquired the three lawyers from Los Angeles-based intellectual property boutique Chan Law Group. The following month, the firm added eight lawyers from Washington-based government contracts firm Smith Currie & Hancock.

Jonathan Petrakis of Deeb Petrakis Blum & Murphy left the firm in September to join Duane Morris along with partner J. Colin Knisely and associates Ashley A. Federer and Louise Melchor. The move caused Deeb Petrakis to change its name to Deeb Blum Murphy Frishberg & Markovich.

In early December, Ballard Spahr picked up a four-lawyer mortgage banking team from the Washington office of Patton Boggs. Later in the month, K&L Gates opened an office in Charleston, S.C., with the addition of seven resort and hospitality partners from Parker Poe Adams & Bernstein.

Though the firm didn't add any attorneys through the deal, Duane Morris announced in June that it entered an alliance with Mexico City firm Miranda & Estavillo. And Reed Smith decided not to undertake what would have been the biggest acquisition of the year when it announced in January 2011 that merger talks between it and Texas-based Thompson & Knight had ended.

Office openings and closings

Aside from large acquisitions, there were a number of office openings in 2011 through simply acquiring licenses to practice in certain jurisdictions or through the addition of one or two attorneys in that location.

Aside from its recent Charleston launch, K&L Gates opened an office in Brussels in February and then Sao Paulo in November.

Reed Smith opened an office in Shanghai in July, following Blank Rome's launch in the city in May.

Thorp Reed & Armstrong opened up a Delaware location in August and Duane Morris announced in the spring the planned closing of its Princeton, N.J., location.

Baltimore-based boutique Goodell DeVries Leech & Dann opened an office in Philadelphia with the addition of Dechert attorneys Robert Limbacher and Eben Flaster.

Leadership moves

Two longtime heads of some of Philadelphia's largest law firms stepped down in July after announcing more than a year earlier their succession plans. Arthur Makadon turned over leadership of Ballard Spahr to Mark Stewart. Earlier in the year, the firm welcomed back former Pennsylvania Gov. Edward G. Rendell as a partner.

Barton J. Winokur handed over control of Dechert to Chairman Andrew J. Levander and CEO Dan O'Donnell.

Six months after being re-elected to another three-year term as Blank Rome's managing partner, Carl M. Buchholz announced in the spring that he was stepping down to focus on his practice.

Former Saul Ewing Chairman Stephen Aichele left the firm to take over as Pennsylvania's general counsel after Gov. Tom Corbett nominated him to the post. Similarly, Ballard Spahr partner Kenya Mann Faulkner took the position of inspector general of Pennsylvania.

Michael Zanic stepped down in August as head of K&L Gates' Pittsburgh office to take over leadership of the firm's newly created energy, infrastructure and resources group. Partner Carolyn Branthoover took over as administrative partner of the office.

There were a number of hires in the chief marketing officer and chief diversity officer positions at Pennsylvania's largest firms.

In January 2011, Dechert hired Wendy W. Taylor from a financial management firm to serve as its new CMO.

Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis hired Julie P. Meyers as its new CMO. She was previously with Pittsburgh-based Burns White.

Cozen O'Connor CMO Jim Staples moved into a newly created global strategy function at the firm, making way for Lisa Calvo Haas to take over as CMO this fall.

K&L Gates hired Valerie Jackson as its new chief diversity officer and Schnader Harrison named longtime partner Albert Dandridge III as its first CDO.

Other notable events

There were a number of other notable events that happened throughout the year.

Perhaps one of the most interesting was an increase in first-year associate salaries at a few of the state's largest law firms. Schnader Harrison, Stradley Ronon Stevens & Young, Blank Rome, Buchanan Ingersoll and Reed Smith all raised starting salaries, though none of them did so with the fanfare that has traditionally accompanied such announcements.

Similarly, the phenomenon of spring bonuses arose in 2011. The relatively new concept of a second round of bonuses started in New York and was adopted in a few instances in Pennsylvania.

Villanova University School of Law got into hot water after it admitted it knowingly misreported LSAT and GPA admissions data to the American Bar Association. The school was later censured by the ABA and has fully investigated the situation, fired certain staff members and vowed the incident will never happen again.

The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia fired General Counsel Roosevelt Hairston Jr. in February for embezzlement. He was sentenced later in the year to four years in prison.

The Archdiocese of Philadelphia shook up its legal team, removing longtime outside counsel Stradley Ronon from its litigation work and replacing it with two firms, Conrad O'Brien and Welsh & Recker.

A number of firms created new practice areas in 2011.

Aside from Reed Smith, both Ballard Spahr and Obermayer Rebmann Maxwell & Hippel created new e-discovery practices. Obermayer drew from attorneys within the firm while Ballard Spahr hired Dechert partner Philip Yannella to launch the practice.

Dechert created an outsourcing and offshoring practice with the hire of Vivian Maese from Morgan Stanley. The practice is housed in the firm's intellectual property department.

The legal industry lost some prominent members in 2011. Former ABA President and Schnader Harrison partner Jerome Shestack died in August at 88. Margolis Edelstein founder Ed Edelstein died in January 2011 at 79. Former Ballard Spahr partner Steven A. Arbittier died in May at the age of 72.

By Gina Passarella, The Legal Intelligencer

Source: The American Lawyer

Monday, January 2, 2012

How lawyers rate judges

About one fifth of Clark County's active lawyers rated Nevada Supreme Court justices and valley judges in the 2011 Judicial Performance Evaluation.

The attorneys rated 90 justices and judges, and stories about the most interesting or important ratings will be published in the Review-Journal beginning today. Complete results will be accessible online at

The terms of some judges expire this year, and Nevada's 10-day filing period for judicial candidates begins Tuesday.

Since 1992 the Review-Journal has sponsored the survey before judicial elections, with the intention of inspiring good candidates to challenge poorly performing judges, to provide a guideline for voters for which judges deserve re-election, and to give frank feedback to judges who profess interest in self-improvement.

Southern Nevada lawyers constitute the evaluating body because they have the knowledge of law and experience in the judges' courts, and can share informed opinions on how well the judges carry out their responsibilities.

The 4,624 lawyers in Clark County who had active licenses with the State Bar of Nevada were invited to rate the jurists. Survey participation is voluntary, and the 872 who participated represent 19 percent of those attorneys.

Participating lawyers rated judges as "More than adequate," "Adequate," or "Less than adequate" on up to 12 traits believed to characterize good judges. Attorneys were asked to determine, for example, if the judge properly "applies the law, rules of procedure, and rules of evidence."

In addition, the lawyers were asked whether they would recommend that voters retain each judge. These rating criteria were selected, worded and refined in the 1990s by a joint committee of attorneys, judges and journalists.

Some judges who receive low scores have tried to characterize the survey as "a popularity contest," but the work lawyers put into the ratings would suggest they view it more seriously. Most who rate a judge at all invest sufficient time to rate that judge on all 12 traits, rather than simply responding to the re-election question. Many attorneys write anonymous comments, which are passed along to the judges unedited, explaining why they rated a judge well on some trait or badly on another.

The number who rate particular judges varies greatly, affected by factors including the number of years a judge has presided and the number of lawyers who appeared in their courtroom during that time.

In the busy Clark County District Court, well over 100 attorneys rated every judge, and 376 rated Judge Elissa F. Cadish. There is no apparent connection between high scores and a large number of lawyers rating a judge. Cadish generally had good scores and a higher-than-average retention recommendation of 88 percent. But nearly as many lawyers, 339, gave Judge Michelle Leavitt poor overall scores, with only 41 percent recommending that she stay on the bench.

Each lawyer was mailed instructions to access a survey website, along with a personal identification number and password to protect against fraud. They were allowed access to the site from Oct. 18 through Nov. 7.

The data was collected by the Cannon Survey Center at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and forwarded to Downey Research Associates for analysis.

One issue analyzed was whether the survey scores indicate bias toward particular judges, according to the gender of the judges and the gender of the lawyers rating them. Statistically significant differences were found in the ratings male and female attorneys gave to only four of the 90 judges.

Men were harder than women on District Judges Nancy L. Allf and Diana L. Sullivan and on Family Court Judge Cheryl B. Moss, while women were harder on Las Vegas Municipal Court Judge Cedric A. Kerns.

But in all those cases except Moss, a substantial majority of each gender recommended that the judge be retained.

According to a 2004 study, at least 23 states either had established or were establishing their own systems to evaluate judicial performance. And in many cities, private organizations such as the Review-Journal also conduct surveys.

Nevada initiated a pilot evaluation project to test whether persons other than lawyers - such as jurors and parties to civil suits - could also be asked to evaluate judges.

The project was related to a proposed constitutional amendment, which would have replaced Nevada's system of electing judges with a merit system of appointment and retention.

When voters rejected that amendment, the plan for a state-sponsored evaluation went into limbo in 2010.

By A.D. Hopkins, Las Vegas Review-journal

Source: Las Vegas Review-Journal

Supreme Court disciplines 17 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 17 attorneys, disbarring six and suspending 10. Some attorneys received more than one form of discipline.

One attorney was publicly reprimanded, three attorneys were placed on probation and two attorneys were ordered to pay restitution.

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.

• Raymond R. Beitra, 900 W. 49th St., Suite 424, Hialeah, suspended for six months, effective Jan. 17, 2012, following a Nov. 18 court order. (Admitted to practice: 1992) Beitra improperly shared fees and legal services with a nonlawyer entity. He also exhibited a lack of diligence and competence, failed to adequately communicate with clients and sometimes charged retainer fees for work he initially labeled as pro bono. (Case No. SC11-1018)

• Michelle Erin Berthiaume, 2551 Fourth St., Fort Myers, suspended for 91 days, following a Nov. 3 court order. (Admitted to practice: 2000) Berthiaume knowingly served a fraudulent subpoena on a bank. She deceptively designed the document to obtain a client's bank records and threatened the bank with contempt of court, fine and incarceration if the records weren't produced. (Case No. SC08-1786)

• Elizabeth Blanco, 13318 S.W. 128th St., Miami, publicly reprimanded and further, placed on probation following a Nov. 18 court order. (Admitted to practice: 2003) A relative of Blanco created an irrevocable trust, whereby Blanco's husband was appointed as trustee, and her relative was the sole beneficiary. Blanco's relative subsequently withdrew a portion of the funds and asked Blanco to hold the remaining funds in trust. Blanco placed the additional funds into her law firm's trust account, rather than a separate account. She admitted that she failed to reconcile her trust account monthly and that she had unintentionally made disbursements from the beneficiary's trust funds that exceeded the available amounts on multiple occasions. (Case No. SC11-2111)

• David Allen Buck, 8064 Spring Hill Drive, Spring Hill, suspended for 30 days, effective 30 days from a Nov. 16 court order. Further, upon reinstatement, Buck is placed on probation for two years. (Admitted to practice: 1996) He is further directed to complete ethics school. Buck failed to properly supervise and define roles for an employee, assigning the non-lawyer to tasks of a lawyer without supervision. He also improperly borrowed money from a client, failed to adequately communicate with a trustee successor, and failed to maintain trust accounting records and procedures. (Case No. SC11-696)

• Henry B. J. Carpenter, P.O. Box 691898, Orlando, suspended for 10 days, effective 30 days from a Nov. 18 court order. (Admitted to practice: 1982) Carpenter is further directed to complete ethics school. Carpenter repeatedly failed to respond to official Bar inquiries and failed to show good cause for non-compliance. He was found guilty of professional misconduct toward clients involving competence, diligence, communication, and commingling of trust accounts. (Case Nos. SC11-175 & SC11-1441)

• David Mark Couillard, 1713 54th St. S.W., Naples, suspended for 30 days, retroactive to Nov. 8, following a Nov. 22 court order. (Admitted to practice: 2001) Couillard is further directed to complete ethics school and a professionalism workshop. The court disqualified Couillard from continuing the representation of a company. After disqualification, he continued to provide legal advice and counsel to the company, including assisting with the drafting and editing of documents to be filed with the court. (Case No. SC10-871)

• Katherine Denise Crase, 2804 W. Aquilla St., Tampa, disbarred effective immediately, following a Nov. 18 court order. (Admitted to practice: 1991) Crase was found guilty in U.S. district court of seven felony counts of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and mail fraud. She was sentenced to 30 months in prison. (Case NO. SC09-339)

• William N. DeVane Jr., P.O. Box 500177, Marathon, disbarred effective immediately, following a Nov. 18 court order. (Admitted to practice: 1975) DeVane drafted a last will and testament for a client and as per her instructions, he was designated as a personal representative of her estate. Before her death, she delivered her dog to DeVane's wife and DeVane negotiated a one-time payment to his wife of more than $63,000 for the dog's expenses. DeVane also received some personal items and property from the decedent's residence. After the client's death, DeVane accepted a $200,000 bequest. (Case No. SC11-2105)

• Rosalyn Dunlap, P.O. Box 616705, Orlando, suspended until further order, following a Nov. 29 court order. (Admitted to practice: 2006) According to a petition for emergency suspension, Dunlap appeared to be causing great public harm by intentionally misappropriating $49,000 from her trust account. Dunlap used the money to pay personal expenses. (Case No. SC11-2184)

• George Michael Evans, 770 Ponce de Leon Blvd., Suite 301, Coral Gables, permanently disbarred following a Dec. 2 court order. (Admitted to practice: 1977) Evans was the subject of several Florida Bar disciplinary matters involving client trust funds. (Case Nos. SC11-91 & SC11-485)

• William Lance Gerlin, 2709 Killarney Way, Suite 4, Tallahassee, disbarred effective immediately, following a Nov. 14 court order. (Admitted to practice: 1973) Further, Gerlin shall pay restitution totaling more than $17,500 to two clients. (Admitted to practice: 1973) In at least three separate instances, Gerlin was retained to represent clients and he failed to communicate and failed to provide adequate representation. (Case Nos. SC09-2172, SC10-869 & SC10-1058)

• John Kevin Griffin, 1020 S. 15th St., Fort Pierce, suspended for 90 days, effective 30 days from a Nov. 16 court order. (Admitted to practice: 1990) After being retained to represent a client in a pending civil suit, Griffin filed to provide competent representation. The client subsequently terminated Griffin and hired new counsel. (Case No. SC11-1264)

• Bruce M. Harlan, 326 N. Belcher Road, Clearwater, suspended for 90 days, effective 30 days from a Nov. 16 court order. (Admitted to practice: 1972) During the course of representing a client in a real estate deal, Harlan knowingly revealed information that should not have been disclosed and he represented conflicting interests. (Case No. SC11-1002)

• Daniel Nathan Hoskins, 1154 Adair Park Place, Orlando, suspended for 18 months, effective 30 days from a Nov. 15 court order. (Admitted to practice: 1996) Further, Hoskins shall pay restitution of more than $11,000 to five separate clients. After being retained by clients, Hoskins failed to adequately handle foreclosure and bankruptcy matters. He often failed to communicate with clients or timely respond to inquiries from the Bar and the court. (Case No. SC11-1266)

• Frank J. Ingrassia, 8931 Wiles Road, Coral Springs, permanently disbarred effective immediately, following an Oct. 20 court order. (Admitted to practice: 1997) Ingrassia failed to respond to a petition for contempt alleging he continued to practice law despite his disbarment in October 2010. (Case No. SC11-1479)

• Cecilia Carolina Maluje, 7850 N.W. 146th St., Suite 416, Miami Lakes, suspended for 90 days, effective 30 days from a Nov. 18 court order. (Admitted to practice: 2003) Upon reinstatement, Maluje is placed on probation for one year and directed to attend ethics school. In two separate cases, Maluje failed to adequately represent clients. In one instance, she testified falsely before the grievance committee. (Case No. SC11-2091)

• Stanley E. Marable, 677 N. Washington Blvd., Suite 2, Sarasota, permanently disbarred effective immediately, following an Oct. 21 court order. (Admitted to practice: 1973) Marable was found in contempt for failing to comply with the terms of his May disbarment order. He was required to notify clients, opposing counsel and tribunals of his disbarment and provide the Bar with a sworn affidavit listing the names of all persons and entities that received the notice. (Case No. SC11-1541)

By The Florida Bar News

Source: Jacksonville Daily Record