Sunday, May 27, 2012

Only 8% of Florida foster kids have lawyer

While more than half of Palm Beach County foster children have attorneys looking out for their legal rights in court, those in the rest of the state are not as lucky.

Only 8 percent of Florida's more than 32,000 foster children had an attorney by their side in court in fiscal year 2010 - 11, according to a new report on kids in state custody.

That's largely because Florida has no law requiring that foster children have an attorney provided during court proceedings. That prompted First Star, a children's rights advocacy organization, to give Florida a grade of F in a separate national report issued in early May.

"Florida is pretty good, it gives children a lot of rights, but it doesn't give them an attorney. What good is it for a kid to go to a court hearing without an attorney?" said John Walsh, co-supervising attorney of the Legal Aid Society of Palm Beach County's Foster Children's Project.

Palm Beach County's numbers are significantly higher that the rest of the state's because it is the only county where an administrative order issued by the court system requires that children ages 12 and younger and their siblings have legal representation, said Christina Spudeas, executive director of Florida's Children First.

Additionally, the Legal Aid Society's three programs tailored to foster children - the Foster Children's Project, the Juvenile Advocacy Project and Minor Mothers - get tax money from the Children's Services Council of Palm Beach County to help pay for lawyers, Spudeas said.

The CSC is a special taxing district that supports dozens of social service agencies that help needy children and families across the county.

This year, for example, the Foster Children's Project, which provides attorneys for nearly 400 kids, received $1.8 million from the CSC. The Juvenile Advocacy Project received about $349,000, according to council records.

Palm Beach County is "the only place where we have that system in place and the funding to legal aid," Spudeas said, adding that in most other regions statewide, foster children are usually represented by a volunteer from the state's guardian ad litem program or pro bono attorneys.

Palm Beach County fared best of the Department of Children and Families' 20 districts - with 53 percent of its foster children paired up with attorneys - according to "Fighting for Children's Rights: Legal Representation of Dependent Children," a report by the nonprofit Florida's Children First and a University of Florida law student.

Miami-Dade and Broward counties, by comparison, had about 15 percent of children under state care with access to an attorney.

"Children 'fortunate' enough to come into state care in South Florida, especially in Palm Beach County, have a decent chance of being provided lawyers. But for children in the rest of the state, the prospect of obtaining counsel ranges from slim to none," the report said.

At court hearings, DCF officials and case management agencies often discuss a child's needs and such details as how he or she is doing in school and make decisions about when or whether the child will be reunited with relatives.

Data show that districts with strong legal systems for foster children move them through foster care more quickly and offer kids a sense of stability while they are away from their families, Spudeas said.

But in a typical case in family court in Florida, all parties involved - DCF, the child's parents and the case management agencies - have attorneys, except for the child, Spudeas said.

Having a lawyer makes foster children "feel like somebody was fighting for them, somebody was on their side that they knew was looking out for them 100 percent of the time," Spudeas said. "That gives them a voice, it gives them a real feeling that this system is working for me, something is working for me."

Walsh said the guardian ad litem program fulfills its mission of pairing a foster child with a volunteer who gives family court judges information about the child's needs. But these volunteers should never replace an attorney, he said. He said Florida legislators need to make it illegal for a child to walk into a courtroom without an attorney. Under Florida law, the only foster children required to have legal counsel in custody hearings are those who object to being sent to locked mental health facilities.

"We keep trying to fix the Department of Children and Families and nobody wants to look at our system of representation and say, 'Maybe that would be part of this fix,' " Walsh said.

Ten years ago while visiting China, Walsh said, he read about the disappearance of Miami-Dade foster child Rilya Wilson and wondered when things were going to improve for foster children in Florida. Then last year, there was the case of Nubia Barahona, a 10-year-old Miami-Dade girl under Florida supervision who was found dead in West Palm Beach.

"We keep trying to do the same things over and over, and we keep getting the same results," Walsh said. "Nobody looks at the fact that maybe we should give these kids attorneys and get them out of foster care before something happens."

But Alan Abramowitz, who heads the state's guardian ad litem program, points out that state legislators have said they want courts to focus on the best interests of foster children, not just their legal interests.

While he agreed all children should have an attorney in court, he said it is the volunteer guardians who often tell the judge what a child's needs and wants are and what is needed to ensure the child is safe.

Abramowitz added that the guardian ad litem program tries to recruit volunteer guardians who are lawyers by trade and provides attorneys when a judge requests it.

"My whole mission is to make sure every child has a voice through our program," he said.

By Ana M. Valdes, Palm Beach Post Staff Writer,

Source: The Palm Beach Post

Police and protesters will have attorneys on hand for RNC demonstrations

 It won't just be police and protesters engaging each other outside the Republican National Convention.

Each side also will be lawyered up. The Tampa police union and National Lawyers Guild plan to bring in attorneys so that officers and protesters have counsel no more than a phone call away, if not closer.

"I want to be able to have a legal presence there for them right at the scene," said Greg Stout, president of the Tampa Police Benevolent Association, the union for nearly 1,000 Tampa officers.

During the Aug. 27-30 convention, 3,000 to 4,000 officers from around Tampa Bay and beyond are expected to be working any given day. An estimated 15,000 demonstrators could converge on Tampa.

Top police and city officials consistently say they will work to guarantee the free speech rights of demonstrators. Protesters and civil libertarians, remembering violent clashes, mass arrests and the resulting lawsuits from other cities, are skeptical.

"It would be nice to think that Tampa has learned from these prior experiences," said Anne O'Berry, southern regional vice president of the National Lawyers Guild, a nonprofit legal federation founded in 1937 to support progressive social movements. "I guess that remains to be seen."

Whatever happens, Stout expects that the Tampa PBA could have up to a half-dozen attorneys on hand between its own in-house counsel and attorneys from other PBAs in Florida.

"I would much rather have them and not use them than need them and not have them," Stout said.

Owen Kohler, a former prosecutor who is the Tampa PBA's attorney, said union attorneys will be on hand to provide advice for officers involved in critical incidents such as a vehicle crash, shooting, in-custody death, use of a Taser where there is a death, or if a protester files a complaint with internal affairs.

"I think we're just being overly cautious," Kohler said. "I'm hoping that I'm just going to be able to sit in my office."

On the other side, the guild so far has lined up 10 to 15 lawyers and is looking for more volunteers to work the convention pro bono.

It also could have up to 100 trained legal observers on the street, documenting and, if necessary, preparing to testify about clashes between protesters and police. The guild's observers will wear lime-green ball caps.

Guild attorneys will keep track of who gets arrested, who is released on bail or their own recognizance, who's in jail and who needs representation.

O'Berry said the guild also will watch for aggressive police tactics, such as "kettling," in which officers form cordons that funnel protesters into tight spaces.

"If the patterns of police overreaching occur like we've seen before, we will likely file civil litigation," she said.

In February, the city of Chicago agreed to pay $6.2 million to settle a lawsuit filed after a 2003 demonstration against the war in Iraq. About 800 people were detained and 500 were arrested. Those arrests occurred, the guild said, after police surrounded and trapped a large section of the crowd without ordering them to disperse. Last year, a federal appellate court ruled the police response was unjustified.

Given that kind of history, O'Berry said the guild is concerned about Tampa's recently passed "Event Zone" ordinance that will make it illegal to carry weapons, but also some commonplace objects such as glass bottles, in downtown Tampa and a few neighboring areas during the convention.

"There's a lot of room for people's First Amendment rights to be infringed upon with these kinds of ordinances," she said.

In response to such criticisms, Tampa police have said they will use discretion, and just because the letter of law is broken, that doesn't mean there will be an arrest. The city says it welcomes peaceful protests but will respond quickly to anyone who breaks the law.

"We're going to do it surgically," Mayor Bob Buckhorn says. "We're not going to do it by engaging a crowd. We're going to go in and extract those who are causing problems and remove them from the scene."

By Richard Danielson, Times Staff Writer

Source: The Tampa Bay Times

Monday, May 21, 2012

OJ lawyer seeks to disqualify Vegas DA from appeal

The longtime marriage between O.J. Simpson's former trial judge and the current Las Vegas district attorney emerged Friday as a conflict-of-interest question in a new appeal seeking the former football star's release from prison.

Simpson lawyer Patricia Palm filed documents seeking to disqualify Clark County District Attorney Steve Wolfson and his office from handling the lengthy appeal Palm filed Tuesday on Simpson's behalf.

Palm noted that Wolfson, a former defense lawyer who became district attorney in February, is married to former Clark County District Judge Jackie Glass. Glass resigned from the state court bench following the Simpson trial to star in a syndicated TV show called "Swift Justice with Jackie Glass."

Glass and Wolfson have an "obvious financial and emotional relationship" and have benefited financially from Glass’ notoriety as "the judge who presided over Mr. Simpson's trial and sent him to prison," Palm said in her seven-page court filing. Other documents related to the disqualification were submitted under seal, according to the court record.

Glass and Wolfson's relationship poses a conflict for him and the state, Palm said, in opposing allegations of bias and improper rulings by Glass.

Wolfson didn't immediately respond to messages seeking comment Friday.

Clark County District Judge Kathleen Delaney plans hearings May 24 and 29 on various appeal matters, including the disqualification question.

Glass sentenced Simpson in December 2008 to between nine and 33 years in prison for kidnapping, armed robbery and other felonies. A jury had found Simpson guilty of leading five men in a September 2007 confrontation with two sports memorabilia dealers in a cramped room at a Las Vegas casino hotel.

The National Football League Hall of Famer and former television and movie actor never testified. His lawyers said he wanted to take back from two sports memorabilia dealers family photos and personal mementoes stolen from him after his 1995 acquittal in the Los Angeles slayings of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend, Ronald Goldman.

Simpson, now 64, is being held at the medium-security Lovelock Correctional Center in northern Nevada.

The appeal filed Tuesday faults the defense strategy and trial performance of attorneys Yale Galanter and Gabriel Grasso, and seeks a new trial for Simpson. Delaney has scheduled arguments July 3.

The filing, called a writ of habeas corpus, is a common appellate strategy to blame trial and initial appeals attorneys for a defendant's conviction. If it is denied, it can be appealed to federal courts.

Galanter lost an appeal for Simpson's freedom that included oral arguments in June 2010 before a trio of Nevada Supreme Court justices. Attorney Malcolm LaVergne failed in a follow-up bid for a hearing before the entire seven-member court.

By Waterloo Cedar Falls Courier

Source: The Waterloo Cedar Falls Courier

Lawyers prey on foreclosure-facing homeowners in San Fernando Valley and beyond

Paulette Breen sensed something was wrong when her home loan modification made her mortgage payments more expensive.

Suspecting fraud, the Van Nuys resident hired a lawyer to sort things out.

That only made things worse.

The attorney told her there was indeed fraud, and promised to sue the bank and get her a new loan. She paid him $8,000 upfront and he advised her to stop making her mortgage payments while the matter was being pursued in court.

That turned out to be very bad advice. Now, the attorney has been disbarred for a host of complaints from multiple clients, and Breen, a cancer survivor, is about to lose her home of 20 years.

"I'm scared," Breen said. "I've done everything the way I've been brought up - I pay my bills, I don't bother you. I don't even have a parking ticket. And I'm losing everything."

Breen is among more than 1,000 potential victims of attorneys across the state who are targeting homeowners facing foreclosure as part of the fallout of the mortgage crisis that began in 2007.

These attorneys charge fees with the promise of stopping the foreclosure, but then don't follow through with the case and disappear with the money, according to Laura Ernde, spokeswoman for the California State Bar, which has reported a spike in these types of cases.

Since 2009, the State Bar - which created a task force in 2009 solely to focus on the issue - has investigated 1,186 loan modification cases involving 153 lawyers, according to Ernde. So far, 69 attorneys in 581 cases have been disciplined and 18 cases have resulted in disbarment. About 720 cases are still pending and another 291 are under investigation.

"People were faced with losing their homes, so some attorneys were sort of preying on distressed homeowners," Ernde said. "They work with clients to pay upfront fees, promising them that paying would get them help with the mortgage so you can keep your house."

More than 2.1 million homeowners in California are underwater on their homes, according to the Campaign for a Fair Settlement, a national coalition advocating on behalf of distressed homeowners.

Glendale, Santa Clarita, Palmdale and Lancaster are among the cities in L.A. County that have the highest number of foreclosures, according to ForeclosureRadar, which tracks county recorder filings.

But there are no hard numbers on just how many homeowners have been victimized. Oftentimes, victims are immigrants or from low-income families, and may not know where to turn for help after they've been scammed.

"Is it happening very frequently? Absolutely," said Charles Evans, an attorney with the Los Angeles-based Legal Aid Foundation, which provides legal help for the poor. "We have seen dozens of these folks each just over the last year and for every one of those, there are dozens more that don't end up coming our way."

Sometimes, it's ignorance. Some of the consultants are real estate brokers who switched over to law or attorneys who may not be familiar with foreclosure laws, according to Evans.

But often, it's more sinister. Evans has handled cases where attorneys will place liens on the home to secure money they think they're owed, taking advantage of immigrants' lack of English skills and getting them to sign over deeds.

"They're just playing the odds," Evans said. "The folks that they target are desperate, they're scrambling from place to place to try and save their home. They rarely take the time to file a lawsuit or file a complaint."

Breen, an Emmy-winning TV producer, is neither an immigrant or poor - proof, she says, that anyone can fall victim to the scams.

"It's not just average middle-class people," Breen said. "It's people who do business, run a business, and get scammed."

Her former attorney, Ghassan "Gus" Bridi, who headed an Encino law firm, was disbarred in February after a State Bar investigation of his clients' cases, which also included those unrelated to foreclosures.

The Bar found that he had failed to perform with competence in Breen's case by failing to serve complaints or appear in court for hearings, allowing the bank's attorney to get the lawsuit dismissed.

His complaints involving other clients included failure to obey court orders, perform with competence and inform clients of developments in their cases.

Bridi could not be reached for comment.

In a statement to the State Bar, however, Bridi wrote that he had been struggling to cope with stress, anxiety and depression from his caseload.

"I managed to hang on and keep the practice afloat and deal with the challenges associated with a small practice," he wrote. "Though the daily mental stress associated with this and the lack of assistance quickly became overwhelming again, and again I began falling behind on a few files."

Another local attorney, Philip A. Kramer, of Calabasas, was being disbarred this month after the State Bar found that he was involved in a home loan modification scam that targeted financially strapped homeowners through mass mailers that looked like official documents from mortgage lenders.

This led the homeowners to think they were potential plaintiffs in a national litigation settlement, and they often paid $3,500 to $10,000 for retainer fees. But they were never contacted by an attorney or included in a lawsuit, according to the State Bar.

Kramer and his attorney did not return calls for comment.

But according to the State Bar, he admitted to numerous counts of misconduct including collection of illegal fees, failure to return advanced fees and accepting employment in states where he was not licensed to practice.

He has agreed to pay $122,000 in restitution to 27 former clients, according to the State Bar.

The homeowners often have few venues for recourse. One option is the State Bar's Client Security Fund, which pays capped amounts for victims of dishonest lawyers.

"The fact that they were taken advantage of by these guys doesn't help them at all on these mortgage issues," Evans said. "They may have spent their last money, and have nothing to deal with the banks. They've usually used up whatever time or whatever money they had to work out something."

Financially strapped homeowners are urged to check on potential lawyers through the State Bar's website for any disciplinary issues, or contact federal Housing and Urban Development-certified loan counselors for free assessments.

And never agree to upfront fees, as it's illegal, Evans said.

"If they're breaking one law, what makes you think they won't do anything else?" Evans said.

As for Breen, she's hoping the bank will give her more time to pay off her loan.

If not, her house may be up for a short sale or be auctioned off on June 6 - in both cases, forcing her out of the French country-style home she's lived in for 20 years.

"There's nothing worse than at 4 in the morning, you wake up, and you don't cry, because you can't," Breen said. "What you do feel is your stomach hit your back, and you can't breathe.

"I have beat cancer, I have beat chemo, radiation. They were easy," Breen said. "But losing your identity, that's what a home is. I don't know what I'm going to do."

By C.J. Lin, staff writer

Source: The Los Angeles Daily News

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Activists arrested in Chicago, accused of plotting attacks

Police say the trio manufactured Molotov cocktails for use during the NATO summit. Defense lawyers say the charges are scare tactics to deter protesters

Three activists who traveled to Chicago for a NATO summit were accused Saturday of manufacturing Molotov cocktails in a plot to attack President Obama's campaign headquarters, Mayor Rahm Emanuel's home and other targets.

But defense lawyers shot back that Chicago police had trumped up the charges to frighten peaceful protesters away, telling a judge it was undercover officers known to the activists as Mo and Gloves who brought the firebombs to an apartment where the men were arrested.

"This is just propaganda to create a climate of fear," Michael Deutsch said. "My clients came to peacefully protest."

Coming on the eve of the summit, the allegations were reminiscent of previous police actions ahead of major political events, when authorities moved quickly to prevent suspected plots but sometimes quietly dropped the charges later.

Prosecutors said the men were self-described anarchists who boasted weeks earlier about the damage they would do in Chicago, including one who declared, "After NATO, the city will never be the same."

At one point, one of the suspects allegedly asked the others if they had ever seen a "cop on fire."

Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy dismissed the idea that the arrests were anything more than an effort to stop "an imminent threat."

The men are accused of buying fuel at a gas station for the makeshift bombs, pouring it into beer bottles and cutting up bandannas to serve as fuses.

The suspects are Brian Church, 20, of Fort Lauderdale, Fla.; Jared Chase, 24, of Keene, N.H.; and Brent Vincent Betterly, 24, of Oakland Park, Fla.

If convicted on all counts - conspiracy to commit terrorism, material support for terrorism and possession of explosives - the men could get up to 85 years in prison.

Outside the courtroom, Deutsch said the two undercover police officers or informants were also arrested during the Wednesday raid, and defense attorneys later lost track of the two.

"We believe this is all a setup and entrapment to the highest degree," Deutsch said.

The suspects were each being held on $1.5 million bond.

Six others arrested Wednesday in the raid were released Friday without being charged.

By The Associated Press

Source: The Los Angeles Times

TD Bank lawyers deny wrongdoing, shift blame to Greenberg Traurig in Miami court hearing

New lawyers for TD Bank, accused of violations in a recent trial, said at a contempt hearing that the bank made all evidence available to its former law firm, Greenberg Traurig. The hearing continues Friday

Lawyers for Toronto-Dominion Bank, defending the institution against accusations that it withheld and doctored financial documents in a recent high-profile trial, argued in Miami federal court Thursday that the bank did not hold back evidence.

"TD Bank did not have some long-range strategy to hide documents," said Washington, D.C. lawyer Robert Plotkin of McGuireWood, the law firm that replaced the bank’s former attorneys in the case, Miami-based Greenberg Traurig.

Plotkin said the bank, which along with Greenberg faces possible sanctions and contempt orders, made all documents available to its former lawyers. The paperwork had been sought by attorneys for investors known as the Coquina Group, whose funds were stolen by Ponzi schemer Scott Rothstein.

The investors won a $67 million jury judgment against TD Bank in January, but ugly fallout from alleged discovery violations at trial led to the hearing before U.S. District Judge Marcia Cooke on Thursday.

Cooke, who plans to continue the hearing Friday, told the parties she must determine whether TD Bank or Greenberg acted in "bad faith" before deciding whether to issue sanctions, fines or contempt orders. Thursday's hearing drew roughly 75 attorneys, including Greenberg's manager partner Cesar Alvarez, whose firm could have big dollars and professional reputations at stake.

"This is obviously very serious," Cooke said during Thursday's hearing. "I have to determine factually what happened here. Was it inadvertence, negligence, absentmindedness or a deliberate effort to deceive the court?"

Coquina's attorney, David Mandel, said he wants the judge to strike every pleading and objection made by Greenberg's lawyers at trial to stop TD Bank's appeal of the $67 million verdict.

"To do nothing would be to reward their misconduct," Mandel told the judge. "They have, for lack of a better word, unclean hands."

The landmark Coquina case ended with the nation's first civil verdict against a bank for "aiding and abetting fraud," by assisting Rothstein as he laundered millions of dollars in his law firm's trust accounts kept at TD Bank, to pay for what he has described as his "rock-star lifestyle."

The disbarred Fort Lauderdale lawyer is serving a 50-year sentence for orchestrating a $1.2 billion investment scam involving the sale of fabricated legal settlements.

On Thursday, TD Bank's counteroffensive pointed blame at Greenberg, which was fired amid allegations by Coquina's legal team that the bank "engaged in a calculated course of conduct designed to impede and obstruct the discovery process," or exchange of evidence at trial.

On Friday, lawyers for Greenberg will have an opportunity to defend the prominent law firm.

The turning point in the case came in late April: Greenberg lawyers Mark Schnapp and Holly Skolnick admitted to the judge that TD Bank possessed a key financial document on its anti-money laundering policy that the bank and its lawyers had said did not exist during the trial.

The document, called a "Standard Investigative Protocol," spelled out the steps TD Bank must take under federal law to know its customers and prevent money-laundering activities.

Mandel also convinced Judge Cooke to consider another sanctions issue: He has accused TD Bank of "doctoring" a document used at the Coquina trial that represented Rothstein and his law firm as "low-risk'' customers.

The bank's new lawyers said there was no doctoring of the document, attributing the mistake to a "copying error."

By Jay Weaver,

Source: The Miami Herald

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Dimon's "stupid" admission: catnip for lawyers?

Jamie Dimon sounded more like a plaintiff's attorney than a chief executive when he described JPMorgan Chase & Co over the weekend as "stupid" and "sloppy" for its $2 billion trading loss.

But for any shareholder seeking to seize on those comments as grist for a securities lawsuit against the bank and its executives, it likely will be tough to use Dimon's words against him, according to lawyers and legal experts.

"I guarantee someone will put in their complaint that he said 'we screwed up,'" said Steven Toll, a plaintiff's attorney with Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll PLLC in Washington w h o specializes in bringing shareholder lawsuits. "It's good color, but is it an admission of fraud? No. For a fraud case, it won't carry the day."

Investors may have potential federal securities fraud claims against the bank if they can prove that JPMorgan and its managers knew of the potential for such a large loss and recklessly hid that from investors or misled them about it. The loss has tarnished the bank's reputation for risk management and turned embarrassing attention on Dimon, a critic of heightened financial regulation.

Plaintiff's attorneys said they were discussing with unspecified institutional investor clients possible legal action, including lawsuits or dialogue with the bank on ways to improve governance.

JPMorgan on Monday did not immediately respond to a request for comment on possible litigation. A search of public court records in New York and Delaware, where the company is incorporated, did not reveal any investor lawsuits against the bank over the trading loss as of Monday afternoon.

Dimon said in a television interview broadcast on Sunday that "we know we were sloppy. We know we were stupid. We know there was bad judgment."

Dimon's admissions may reflect a well-thought out defense that does not admit misleading anyone, said Adam Pritchard, a professor at the University of Michigan Law School.

"He's not giving away anything his lawyers don't want him to give away," he said.

Gerry Silk, a plaintiff's attorney with Bernstein Litowitz Berger & Grossmann LLP in New York, said any statements by the bank that suggested the hedge was of little risk could expose JPMorgan to allegations it misled investors. Investors could have a claim for the 11 percent drop in the bank's stock price since the trading loss was revealed.

But to make that claim bear fruit, investors would have to prove the bank acted recklessly or intentionally misled investors.

In April, Dimon's called concerns about the bank's hedging strategy "a tempest in a teacup."

Larry Hamermesh, a professor at Widener University School of Law in Delaware, said if the size and potential risks of the bank's hedging position were public, then Dimon's "teacup" description becomes a matter of opinion, not fact.

"Saying 'You screwed up' is not going to get you a seat at the litigation table," he said. "Dimon's characterization is not something you want to make a securities lawsuit about."

Investors could have claims under Delaware corporate law if they can prove that Dimon and other managers at the bank either did not have a proper system in place to monitor the risk or knew of the risk and ignored it.

These so-called "derivative" claims would allow investors to sue Dimon and other managers for damage they caused to the company. Any money recovered would be paid by the defendants to the bank, so shareholders would only benefit indirectly.

Such lawsuits face higher procedural hurdles than do securities fraud class-action cases. And even if investors clear those hurdles, the so-called "business judgment rule" often can come into play, protecting boards and executives from being second-guessed by judges and investors.

The question becomes "How wrong are you allowed to be?" said plaintiff's attorney Christine Azar, of law firm Labaton Sucharow LLP in Wilmington.

By Tom Hals

Source: The Chicago Tribune

No retrial in Lake County rape case

Chicago man served 20 years until DNA got him out on bond, was facing retrial in '86 case

Lake County prosecutors say they do not plan to retry Bennie Starks on rape charges from 1986, apparently scuttling yet another in a string of cases undermined by DNA evidence, according to defense lawyers who received the news Monday.

At a hearing in Elgin appeals court, a lawyer from the state appellate prosecutor's office told judges that Lake County authorities have said they plan to drop the sexual assault charges, said four of Starks' attorneys who were present.

Starks, 52, spent 20 years in prison for the rape of a 69-year-old woman in Waukegan, but he was released on bond after the appeals court ordered in 2006 that he be retried. As with three other recent Lake County cases, prosecutors insisted on his guilt even after DNA pointed toward someone else as the attacker.

"They went out of their way to try to circumvent science and circumvent justice," said Lauren Kaeseberg, one of Starks' lawyers.

Starks' case is scheduled for a hearing in Lake County court Tuesday morning. Prosecutors from State's Attorney Michael Waller's office could not be reached to explain their plans for that hearing or comment on what was said in appeals court.

Starks, of Chicago, was an early client of the New York-based Innocence Project, and he has watched patiently as other inmates celebrated their exoneration by DNA, said Vanessa Potkin, an Innocence Project staff lawyer.

"I think Bennie's just looking for his day," she said.

The possibility of a retrial had been thrown into doubt by court rulings barring prosecutors from using key evidence that jurors might have weighed against the DNA - the testimony of the victim, who identified Starks as the rapist.

She died a few years ago, and a Lake County judge ruled in January 2011 that prosecutors could not use her past testimony at the retrial. The state appeals court affirmed that decision in February, noting Starks' lawyers would not have an opportunity to cross-examine her and holding that the original cross-examination was inadequate.

After the conflicting DNA evidence became public in the early 2000s, prosecutors responded much as they did to other cases whose consequences continue to roil Lake County's justice system and political environment.

Prosecutors argued that the DNA did not clear Starks because the woman could have had consensual sex with someone else, although she said at trial she had not had sex in the weeks before the attack.

Starks' attorneys voiced hope that the apparent end of his case - which would follow the implosion of murder cases against former Zion resident Jerry Hobbs and onetime Waukegan man Juan Rivera - might foretell changes in the way the prosecutor's office views forensic evidence.

"Over the last decade, never have we encountered a jurisdiction … so hostile to science," Potkin said.

Waller is not running for re-election in November.

Starks was convicted in 1986 after the woman identified him as the man who pulled her into a ravine and beat, bit and raped her. A dentist said bite marks on the victim matched Starks, and his jacket was found at the scene.

Starks said the jacket and money were stolen from him after he passed the evening in a local tavern, and the defense attorneys have called the scientific rigor of the bite-mark evidence into question.

Several years into Starks' 60-year prison term, testing turned up a genetic profile from another man on the victim's underwear. Later, testing on a vaginal swab found DNA that didn't come from Starks.

Starks was also convicted of battery in the 1986 attack, and his attorneys hope to have that conviction vacated. It was at a hearing related to the battery conviction that a lawyer from the state's attorneys appellate prosecutor's office spoke about the sexual assault charges, Starks' lawyers said.

It would be "preposterous" for the battery conviction to stand while the rape charges are dropped, Kaeseberg said.

By Dan Hinkel, Chicago Tribune reporter,

Source: The Chicago Tribune

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Chicago lawyer wears Muslim garb while defending Gitmo 5 client

'I never thought in my wildest dreams that this would become an issue,' says attorney of decision to respect defendant's religious wishes

Attorney Cheryl Bormann is no stranger to defending unpopular clients. She spent several years with the Cook County public defender's office supervising lawyers handling death penalty trials. Then she joined a state office that provided assistance to attorneys in death penalty cases across Illinois.

Now Bormann is defending Walid bin Attash, one of five top al-Qaidaoperatives on trial in Guantanamo Bay for allegedly conspiring in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The five men, who have come to be known collectively as the Gitmo 5, were arraigned there Saturday.

It was then that Bormann gained national notice, and a measure of criticism, for appearing in court in traditional Muslim clothing that left only her face showing and for asking one woman on the government team to consider dressing more modestly so her client could focus on the proceedings.

Bormann would not discuss reports of threats against her.

For her, the issue is a simple one of respecting the religious and cultural beliefs of a client. She said that since she was appointed to bin Attash's case last year, she has always dressed conservatively out of deference to a client who believes he will violate a religious tenet if he looks at a woman who is immodestly dressed.

"My client has never seen my hair, has never seen my arms, has never seen my legs," Bormann said in an interview Monday. "All of the defense counsel, all of the guards and everybody who works in Guantanamo Bay camp has seen me dressed like this. ... I never thought in my wildest dreams that this would become an issue."

Bormann's actions at Guantanamo Bay are especially interesting because the crimes bin Attash and his co-defendants are accused of have stoked hatred of their religion among some Americans. Expecting others to show the same respect she displayed seems bold to some. But for the 52-year-old attorney from Chicago, buying the abayas in preparation for meetings with her client and then donning them in court over a suit was the right thing to do.

"There is nothing provocative about what I did. This is a religious issue and a cultural issue for [some of these defendants]," Bormann said in the interview. "I want him to be able to fully concentrate on the proceedings at hand without any kind of interference or loss of focus."

Joseph Margulies, an attorney at the MacArthur Justice Center at the Northwestern University law school who has represented prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, said some female attorneys dress conservatively out of respect for their clients, donning a shawl and a long skirt, for instance. Others, he said, do not, in part because some of the men being held at Guantanamo Bay do not find typical Western dress offensive.

"For some of these guys, it really doesn't matter. But it would facilitate a relationship that's fragile to begin with," said Margulies, who has argued detentions at theU.S. Supreme Courtand is currently the lawyer for Abu Zubaydah, whose interrogation prompted the Bush administration to draft the so-called torture memos.

Amina Saeed, president of the Muslim Bar Association of Chicago, said she could appreciate Bormann's decision if it were part of an effort to respect the wishes of a client or to connect with him, calling it "thinking out of the box" and reflecting a large measure of understanding and religious tolerance.

Saeed said she would never expect an attorney to do that in response to a demand from any client, however.

"He should respect her for who she is and the services she provides. It has absolutely nothing to do with what she wears on her head and on her body," Saeed said. "I would never expect anyone to conform themselves like that in public to my beliefs."

Bormann, citing national security rules that make what bin Attash says classified, would not say if he had requested she dress modestly. But she said her co-counsel, Capt. Mike Schwartz, a military attorney from the Air Force, had suggested she wear the abaya in court.

Bormann's career has been spent representing clients who do not engender sympathy. Those who know her say that she believes fervently in protecting everyone's civil liberties no matter what they are accused of doing.

She graduated from Loyola University Chicago and its law school, then went to work in 1989 at the public defender's office. She was there for a decade before she left to start her own practice. But she returned in 2003 as a supervisor, directing attorneys in death penalty and other cases and trying capital cases herself. She directed the state appellate defender's office's capital trial assistance unit in 2008. She is a staunch opponent of capital punishment and spent much of her career fighting it. She cheered its end in Illinois, even though its abolition ended up costing Bormann her job.

She now is a civilian defense counsel in the Office of Chief Defense Counsel at the Department of Defense.

"She's a first-rate lawyer, highly committed to her clients. She's a fierce advocate," said Jeffrey Urdangen, director of the Center for Criminal Defense at the Northwestern law school. "She's not afraid to take on a tough case with a difficult client or a difficult situation."

Michael Pelletier, the state appellate defender, said he hired Bormann for her administrative experience and her trial skills. He said she was adept at getting along with both prosecutors and judges, keeping her passion in check so that she would not burn any legal bridges.

"She had a good reputation for being a zealous advocate, but a reasonable advocate. She was assertive and aggressive in representing her clients," Pelletier said.

Attorney Allan Sincox, who worked with Bormann, said she always had ideas for lawyers going to trial and itched to try cases herself.

"She knew what she was doing and could easily understand the issues around a trial and help with planning a trial," Sincox said.

Bormann has taught at Loyola's law school and at Chicago-Kent law school. She lectures frequently on issues in criminal law. She also had been active in the Constitutional Rights Foundation of Chicago, teaching public school students.

She said the dust-up over her request has been blown out of proportion. She plans to dress in the same fashion when she returns to court June 12.

"I will be wearing abaya every time I meet with my client and every time I appear in court if my client or others of the accused are present in the room."

By Steve Mills, Chicago Tribune reporter,

Source: The Chicago Tribune

Mirkarimi's lawyers call ouster action political

Mayor Ed Lee's effort to oust suspended Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi for official misconduct is "transparently political" and relies on an illegally vague law while ignoring more than 100 years of precedent, Mirkarimi's attorneys wrote in briefs filed Tuesday.

Only twice before since the city's Charter was established in 1900 has a mayor tried to remove an elected official for misconduct; one involved murder, the other felony extortion and perjury.

Lee is seeking to oust Mirkarimi after he pleaded guilty to misdemeanor false imprisonment arising from a Dec. 31 argument with his wife where he grabbed her arm hard enough to bruise it.

"Mayor Lee's suspension of Sheriff Mirkarimi is absurd when considered in the light of historical precedent," one of the sheriff's attorneys, David Waggoner said in an e-mail after the brief was filed with the city's Ethic Commission, which must hold a fact-finding hearing before voting on whether the misconduct charges have merit.

The commission's recommendation will be forwarded to the Board of Supervisors, where nine of 11 votes would be needed to strip Mirkarimi of his job.

Lee maintains that Mirkarimi's guilty plea, which will keep him on probation for three-fourths of his term in office, makes him unsuitable to serve as sheriff, a job that includes overseeing the city's jail system.

The mayor has also accused Mirkarimi of trying to dissuade at least one witness from cooperating with the police investigation, an accusation Mirkarimi's attorneys say is "provably false."

"He did what he did. He committed a crime," countered Deputy City Attorney Sherri Kaiser, who is representing Lee. "The fact that (Mirkarimi) committed a crime is not a political conspiracy. These are just the consequences that follow on his own misconduct."

Kaiser also dismissed the argument that Mirkarimi's criminal actions don't rise to the level of removal from office.

"The definition of official misconduct is not whether or not the official committed a felony," Kaiser said.

Voters in 1995, in a broad overhaul of the City Charter, approved adding a definition of official misconduct that includes "conduct that falls below the standard of decency, good faith and right action impliedly required of all public officers."

Mirkarimi's attorneys contend that definition is "unconstitutionally vague."

The sheriff's filing came as San Francisco Superior Court Judge Garrett Wong delayed for a week a hearing on releasing to the mayor a video of Mirkarimi's wife, Eliana Lopez, tearfully recounting the New Year's Eve incident to a neighbor the next day, showing her bruised arm and saying "this is the second time this is happening."

Lopez, who has supported her husband and denies abuse occurred, opposes allowing the video, which police obtained with a search warrant, from being used in the removal proceedings.

The mayor on Tuesday called it an "important piece of evidence."

"It does allow people to view what had happened at that time," Lee said, "and it sets the tone."

By John Cote, San Francisco Chronicle staff writer,

Source: The San Francisco Chronicle

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

South Texas DA charged with extortion, fraud

 A South Texas prosecutor running for U.S. Congress was charged Monday with taking more than $100,000 in bribes to settle and minimize criminal cases, including one deal that allegedly netted $80,000 while a convicted murderer fled a prison sentence.

Armando Villalobos, the district attorney in Cameron County, was charged with racketeering, extortion and honest services fraud, prosecutors said. His former law partner, private attorney Eduardo Lucio, faces similar charges.

The two men were the latest to be roped into in a multi-year federal investigation of corruption in the county's criminal justice system, which has ensnared a judge, a bailiff, lawyers and a former state legislator. Former state District Judge Abel Limas and other local attorneys have pleaded guilty to charges.

After being released on bond, Villalobos stood outside the courthouse Monday afternoon in front of two dozen supporters in matching red T-shirts and denied all of the charges.

"Have faith in the system and have faith in me," Villalobos said. "I have served this community for 14 years and I believe I've earned the people's trust and I've earned the legal community's trust, and I don't think that's going to be erased in one day."

In its most explosive allegation, the indictment claims Villalobos agreed to a deal that gave a man who pleaded guilty to first-degree murder 60 days of freedom before reporting to prison. Amit Livingston was convicted in 2007 of killing 32-year-old substitute teacher Hermila Hernandez, whose body was found on South Padre Island two years earlier.

Livingston was sentenced to 23 years in prison, but given time to get his "affairs in order" by presiding judge Limas, the Brownsville Herald reported. Instead, Livingston fled, and remains at large.

Meanwhile, Villalobos allegedly had Lucio file a wrongful death lawsuit against Livingston on behalf of Hernandez's family. The $500,000 bond Livingston posted was used to settle the lawsuit, the indictment said. Hernandez's family collected $300,000, while Lucio took $200,000 and paid Villalobos $80,000, the indictment said.

Lucio and Villalobos paid Limas about $10,000 to stay quiet and allow the arrangement, the indictment alleges.

Livingston's attorney, Greg Gladden, said Monday that Villalobos insisted that his client plead guilty and be sentenced at the same time, instead of waiting 60 days. Entering the sentence freed up Livingston's bond money for the wrongful death settlement, Gladden said.

Had authorities delayed sentencing, the $500,000 bond would not have been available when Livingston fled. If caught, Livingston would face a new charge and possibly a tougher sentence, Gladden said.

"By doing it this way, they got the money, and they didn't care if he came back," Gladden. "It settled the case."

The 34-page indictment also accuses Villalobos of taking multiple $5,000 bribes for "favorable prosecution decisions" for criminal defendants, including clients of two South Texas attorneys identified only as "Person G" and "Person E." At least one payment to Villalobos came in the form of a campaign contribution, the indictment said.

Villalobos and Lucio were released Monday on $50,000 bond. U.S. Magistrate Judge Ronald Morgan ordered both to surrender their passports and not travel to Mexico. They will also need the court's permission to dispose of any significant assets.

Villalobos said he would not resign his office or halt his campaign for a U.S. House seat in the heavily Democratic region's new 34th Congressional District. Villalobos was second in fundraising among eight primary candidates with more than $150,000 before rumors spread earlier this year about a possible indictment.

Asked how the indictment could affect his office, including the possibility of revisiting cases, he said, "I don't think it affects that at all."

Villalobos entered office in January 2005 and had previously worked as an assistant district attorney. According to his campaign website, Villalobos' office handles about 16,000 cases per year.

John Blaylock, attorney for Lucio, said the indictment is "going to fall apart when the real facts come out." Lucio is not related to a state senator and state representative with the same name.

Limas pleaded guilty to racketeering last year after being accused of a scheme to turn his office into a moneymaking venture. He was on the bench from 2001 to 2008 and is scheduled to be sentenced in August.

Several attorneys, including a former state lawmaker, also have been indicted in connection with Limas' scheme, paying bribes to win appointments or push the judge's discretion in favor of their clients.

By Chris Tomlinson, The Associated Press

Source: The Fox News

NY to require pro-bono work from new attorneys

Starting next year, aspiring lawyers in New York will have to complete 50 hours of pro-bono law work before being admitted into the state's Bar Association.

Jonathan Lippman, chief judge of the New York Court of Appeals, announced this new requirement last Tuesday. Lippman said the requirement will help provide those in need with necessary legal services because they will be represented by aspiring lawyers who are not taking pay for their work.

According to a report in The New York Times, the need for free legal aid for lower-income and middle-income families has increased throughout the course of the economic downturn as people try to get by with less. Legal issues with foreclosures, evictions, credit and employment problems have compounded the problem.

Lippman said he believes the requirement will instill volunteerism in lawyers throughout the length of their career.

"Not only will they get a tremendous lift in terms of hours directed toward pro-bono, it is my hope that that will carry over into their careers as lawyers," he said in an interview with USA Today.

John Appelbaum, Harpur academic adviser for pre-law students and a law school graduate, said he is optimistic about the new requirement.

"I personally view it as a generally good idea and I think we have to wait and see how the courts of New York and the Bar Association … actually put it into practice," Appelbaum said.

Appelbaum also said that the practice pro-bono work gives to lawyers-in-training is important and helpful, although he does foresee a potential flaw in the requirement.

"It's certainly a good idea for lawyers to have practical experience or new lawyers to have practical experience in the law before they're actually admitted," Appelbaum said. "However, obviously you cannot represent clients as an attorney until you have been actually admitted into the bar."

Shanise Kent, associate director of Binghamton University's McNair Scholars Program and also a law school graduate, said that while the program is positive, it also imposes a burden on students.

"Candidates should be required to do pro-bono work, should have that hands-on legal experience," Kent said. "And this is a great way to get more pro-bono and more legal services out there for people, but I also think it could be a burden too."

Julia Mielczarek, a junior double-majoring in English and philosophy, politics and law, is planning to attend to law school, and said she does not see the requirement as being overly burdensome.

"The only thing that I feel may be a problem would be the time commitment itself, because law school is so rigorous," she said. "But I feel that if it's something you do over the summer when you're not in class, I don't see that being a problem."

However, she said it is doubtful that the new rule will inspire lawyers to continue pro-bono service throughout their career.

"I think it's just something that they're going to see as a requirement," Mielczarek said. "But it depends on the person also … I don't know, I don't see myself doing pro-bono after but then again I can't say because I haven't done it yet."

By Phillip Yuen

Source: The Binghamton University Pipe Dream

Monday, May 7, 2012

In-house lawyers take on pro bono work

Eighteen months ago, Capital One invested $25,000 to have dozens in-house lawyers and IT staff develop a product to digitize thousands of legal files at 40-plus legal aid groups in Virginia - giving lawyers looking for pro bono clients a way to review cases from their homes or offices.

The product, called Justice Server, is now in final beta testing and slated to go live by the end of the year, thanks in part to a $170,000 boost from area law firms that will go toward buying computer equipment for legal aid groups. McLean-based Capital One is now formalizing a pro bono program for its 70 attorneys, for the first time applying metrics and goals to what used to be an informal process.

Capital One is part of a growing number of corporate legal departments that are funneling resources to address an ever-increasing need for legal services as funding to legal aid groups dwindles.

In-house attorneys have historically gotten their hands on pro bono cases through legal aid groups or law firms on an individual basis, often without systematic backing from their employers. Now that model is changing, with several major corporations such as DuPont pushing to create more structured programs for attorneys and legal staff to do pro bono work by allocating company resources and personnel to handle client calls and paperwork, and setting benchmarks for how much time should be spent doing pro bono projects. (Capital One suggests 20 hours a year; at DuPont, it’s 2 percent of total work time).

"It adds a little bit of structure and helps facilitate people's instincts to help," said Sheila Cheston, vice president and general counsel of Northrop Grumman, which started its pro bono program last year and is now finalizing guidelines for employees. "A lot more people would like to be involved but didn't know how to go about doing it, and didn't know what the rules were."

More employee engagement 

Company-sanctioned programs not only help lawyers make an impact in their communities, but also drive employee engagement, professional development, recruitment and retention, said Freddie Mac Managing Associate General Counsel Luise Welby. Many in-house attorneys deal primarily with transactional law, and pro bono work gives them a chance to broaden their practice.

"It's a good way for attorneys to keep fresh and make connections in a broader way," Capital One General Counsel John Finneran said. "Our associates feel better about the company and are more engaged if they also have a way to express their personal desire to give back."

The phenomenon in some ways mirrors the rise in prominence of the in-house legal department.

"It used to be legal departments were viewed as a place for people who couldn't cut it a stressful law firm," said Esther Lardent of the Pro Bono Institute, the Washington nonprofit that works with corporate legal departments and law firms to coordinate pro bono efforts."That has changed. Now you have lawyers in legal departments who are enormously respected and powerful, particularly given changes in the legal marketplace. They are very much in the driver's seat there ... You see in-house legal communities beginning to focus on being thought leaders and action leaders in diversity [and other corporate initiatives], and now you see it happening in pro bono, too."

In 2002, the institute began what it called the Corporate Pro Bono project, which brought together corporate counsel to increase pro bono efforts. At the time, only a handful of companies had formal programs. Last month, at the institute's annual conference, lawyers from more than 80 companies packed a training session meant to teach legal departments how to partner with legal aid groups and law firms to best match pro bono work with their attorneys' skills and interests.

"The need for pro bono help is only going to grow, and we've just begun to see what legal departments can bring to the table," Lardent said.

By Catherine Ho

Source: The Washington Post

Attorney in hijab defends call for other women at 9/11 hearing to wear 'appropriate' clothing

The defense attorney who wore a traditional Islamic outfit during the rowdy arraignment of the accused Sept. 11 terrorists is defending her courtroom appeal that other women in the room wear more "appropriate" clothing to the proceedings - out of respect for her client's Muslim beliefs.

Cheryl Bormann, counsel for defendant Walid bin Attash, attended the arraignment Saturday dressed in a hijab, apparently because her client insisted on it. She further requested that the court order other women to follow that example so that the defendants do not have to avert their eyes "for fear of committing a sin under their faith."

At a press conference Sunday at Guantanamo Bay, Bormann said she dresses in a hijab at "all times" when she meets with her client "out of respect" for his beliefs. Asked why she requested other women do the same, Bormann said, "When you're on trial for your life, you need to be focused."

Bormann, who is not Muslim, claimed the issue came up several years ago, when a paralegal wore "very short skirts" and it became a distraction for the defendants. She said that on Saturday, "somebody" was also dressed "in a way that was not in keeping with my client's religious beliefs."

"If because of someone's religious beliefs, they can't focus when somebody in the courtroom is dressed in a particular way, I feel it is incumbent upon myself as a counsel to point that out and ask for some consideration from the prosecution," she said. "Suffice to say it was distracting to members of the accused."

The clothing request was just one of several unusual moments during Saturday's lengthy and chaotic hearing.

The court hearing for Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and his four co-defendants should have taken a couple of hours at most. Instead it lasted almost 13 hours, including meal and prayer breaks, as the men appeared to make a concerted effort to stall Saturday's hearing.

They knelt in prayer, ignored the judge, wouldn't listen to Arabic translations over their head sets and one even insisted on having the more than 20 pages detailing the charges against them read aloud, rather than deferred for later in their case as the judge wanted, which added more than two hours to the proceedings.

Defense lawyer James Connell said Sunday that a tentative trial date of May 2013 is a "placeholder" until a true date can be set for the trial.

"It's going to take time," said the chief prosecutor, Army Brig. Gen. Mark Martins, who said he expects to battle a barrage of defense motions before the case goes to trial. "I am getting ready for hundreds of motions because we want them to shoot everything they can shoot at us."

The defendants' behavior outraged 9/11 family members watching on closed-circuit video feeds around the United States at East Coast military bases. One viewer shouted, "C'mon, are you kidding me?" at the Fort Hamilton base in Brooklyn.

A handful of people who lost family members in the attacks and were selected by a lottery to attend the proceedings watched in the courtroom.

"They're engaging in jihad in a courtroom," said Debra Burlingame, whose brother, Charles, was the pilot of the plane that flew into the Pentagon. She watched the proceeding from Brooklyn.

The defense attorneys in the case have complained repeatedly about the proceedings and about the military tribunal system itself. Human rights groups and defense lawyers say the secrecy of Guantanamo and the military tribunals will make it impossible for the defense. They argued the U.S. kept the case out of civilian court to prevent disclosure of the treatment of prisoners like Mohammed, who was waterboarded 183 times.

A family member of one 9/11 victim spoke to reporters Sunday and said he has respect for the defense attorneys.

"They're doing their job," said Eddie Bracken of Staten Island, New York, whose sister Lucy Fishman died at the World Trade Center in 2001.

Bracken also read from a prepared statement which was directed at Mohammed. "You never killed the American spirit. Let freedom ring, let freedom ring, let freedom ring - and that's what I have to say," he said.

Mohammed, the admitted 9/11 architect, and the four men accused of aiding the 9/11 conspiracy put off their pleas until a later date. They face 2,976 counts of murder and terrorism in the 2001 attacks that sent hijacked jetliners into New York's World Trade Center and the Pentagon. The charges carry the death penalty.

Earlier Saturday, Mohammed cast off his earphones providing Arabic translations of the proceeding and refused to answer Army Col. James Pohl's questions or acknowledge he understood them. All five men refused to participate in the hearing; two passed around a copy of The Economist magazine and leafed through the articles.

Bin Attash was confined to a restraint chair when he came into court on Saturday, released only after he promised to behave.

Ramzi Binalshibh began praying alongside his defense table, followed by Ali Abd al-Aziz Ali, in the middle of the hearing; Binalshibh then launched into a tirade in which he compared a prison official to the late Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi and declared that he was in danger.

"Maybe they will kill me and say I committed suicide," he said in a mix of Arabic and broken English.

By The Associated Press

Source: The Fox News

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Attorneys talk turning 18 with EVHS students

Less than a month from graduation, many seniors at Eastern View High School are already 18. It's an age that's glorified in the nation, when independence is celebrated. But local lawyers warned students that turning 18 can also have other consequences.

Friday, attorneys spoke to students at Eastern View about turning 18 and the differences they may encounter in the legal system during the annual Law Day presentation.

Commonwealth's Attorney Paul Walther and deputy Commonwealth's Attorney Dale Durrer spoke a little about the law process before taking questions from students in Brad Miller's government class.

A decades-old nationwide program, the idea behind Law Day is to give students a first-hand opportunity to meet with legal professionals from the community.

"The biggest thing, a lot of these kids have questions on what their rights are," Miller said. "The government teachers can only cover so much, and this is an awesome opportunity to get the community lawyers, who know it to a T, to answer those questions."

Durrer spoke to the students about several different topics, including defining what possession is. It's a question, he said, that is often asked by youth, especially when it comes to searches done on cars.

"(It's important) To explain their rights and responsibilities when they turn 18, because their world vastly changes once they turn 18," Durrer said. "It's important to the bar to come out and explain that difference to them."

Durrer explained actual possession, holding a "You're 18" flyer in his hands.

"I'm actually possessing this," he explained, "you can testify you saw Dale Durrer holding this in his left hand."

That is more concrete than constructive possession, where two people may be in a car and the flyer would be in the center consol. No one is actually holding the flyer to possess it, but it is in the car. It's more of a gray area.

Durrer and Walther also answered questions from students about alcohol, with one of them wondering if it was legal for them to drink if their friend's parents let them.

"I'm not going to comment on parenting skills," Durrer said, but pointed out the parents could be charged with aiding the delinquency of a minor.

Walther said he's always surprised by the questions the students ask as they keep changing.

"The years that I've done it, I've enjoyed it," Walther said. "It's a chance to explain to them what becoming an adult is. It's a good chance for them to ask questions and give honest answers to them."

One female student asked what gave the town police officer "the right to shoot the lady in town," referring to the Feb. 9 shooting death of Pat Cook at the hands of a town police officer.

"We can't comment on that," Walther said. "It's being handled by a special prosecutor and a special grand jury and that is private at the moment."

Other questions were more light-hearted, including a young lady who wanted to know if driving barefoot was illegal in Virginia.

"I'm not aware that it is," Durrer said with a laugh.

Durrer, Walther and other attorneys will present Law Day to Culpeper County High School students May 11.

By Jeff Say, Culpeper Star-Exponent

Source: The Culpeper Star Exponent

A living lawyer joke

How many lawyer jokes are there? Only three. The rest are true stories

I used to think this was just another lawyer joke. But now we are watching the classics of this genre come to life in the spectacular meltdown of New York law firm Dewey & Leboeuf.

"Size, in and of itself, gives you greater flexibility in key markets," Dewey & LeBoeuf's former chairman Steve Davis boasted in 2008. "You're taken more seriously when you have 500, 600 attorneys in New York." Yes, and what do lawyers and bullfrogs have in common? Both have a big head that consists mainly of mouth.

Mr. Davis had just completed a merger, creating a financial mess of 1,300 overpaid attorneys in a dozen countries. He did this just before one of the worst financial downturns in history. What can you say about 1,300 lawyers buried up to their necks in cement? Not enough cement.

The deal made Mr. Davis a jet-setter with regular flights between the firm's far-flung offices. He even opened offices in Abu Dhabi and Doha. What's the difference between a vulture and a lawyer? The vulture doesn't get frequent-flier miles.

Adding to his global folly, Mr. Davis started attracting star lawyers with promises of huge cash payouts. How does an attorney sleep? First he lies on one side. Then he lies on the other.

To support these payouts, everyone was supposed to charge ungodly hourly rates. How do you get a group of lawyers to smile for a picture? Just say "Fees!"

To make sure its star players got paid, the firm began pinching payouts to its other lawyers. Once its stars began to realize the firm couldn't make good on its promises, they began defecting in droves to competing law firms, taking clients with them, and leaving the firm in even worse shape. What do you throw to a drowning lawyer? His partners.

The firm had promised interns $3,000 a week under the Wall Street myth that the more you pay someone, the more they must be worth. Now, the firm is telling interns it won't need them this summer, sending them scrambling to cover law-school expenses. What's the difference between a lawyer and a liar? Pronunciation.

That's why this whole debacle has been so fun to watch: It's lawyers putting the screws to lawyers. What does a lawyer get when you give him Viagra? Taller.

To fund its growth-at-any-cost strategy, Dewey & Leboeuf took on massive debts. It borrowed tens of millions from its $100 million bank line of credit. And in 2010 it took the unusual step of issuing bonds. It now owes about $150 million to bondholders. What's the difference between a lawyer and a catfish? One is a bottom-feeding scum-sucker. The other is a fish.

Very few law firms in history have offered bonds. It's not like lawyers produce much besides misery. So who would be dumb enough to buy law-firm bonds? Insurance companies. Hey, insurance companies: Did you hear about the new sushi bar that caters exclusively to lawyers? It's called Sosumi.

Mr. Davis, who is reportedly under a criminal investigation as his firm collapses, has hired a criminal defense attorney. He'll probably walk if he's charged. What is the difference between baseball and law? In baseball, if you're caught stealing, you're out.

Too bad there aren't any new lawyer jokes emerging from this fiasco. The old ones pretty much have it covered.

By Al Lewis,

Source: The Wall Street Journal

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Miss. legislators OK limits on attorney general

A measure to limit Democratic Attorney General Jim Hood's ability to control state legal business is on the way to Republican Gov. Phil Bryant.

The Mississippi Senate voted 34-18 Wednesday to pass House Bill 211, after the House voted 64-55 for final passage Tuesday. Both chambers are controlled by Republicans.

Hood opposes the bill, saying it's unconstitutional and would cost the state money.

The bill would limit the share of a verdict that would go to private lawyers hired on contingency, normally capping payments at $50 million. It would require the attorney general to appoint outside lawyers if he declines to represent an agency or if there is a "significant disagreement" with an agency head or elected official.

The measure would create a commission of the governor, lieutenant governor and secretary of state to referee disputes. All three of those current officials are Republicans. Commission decisions could be appealed to court.

Republicans have long criticized the practice of hiring outside lawyers, saying attorneys general give lucrative cases to their political allies, who in turn give campaign contributions back to the official. However, the measure would not restrict that practice as tightly as some have wanted in the past.

Hood claims any efforts to limit his power are unconstitutional, pointing to a decades-old court case that supports the view. He has threatened to sue over limits to his power.

Senate Judiciary A Committee Chairman Briggs Hopson, R-Vicksburg, again denied Wednesday that anything in the bill is unconstitutional.

The issue has surfaced in other states, in part because conservatives and business interests want to limit the power of attorneys general to bring blockbuster lawsuits against corporations. The biggest suit of that kind was the one where Mississippi Attorney General Mike Moore hired Richard "Dickie" Scruggs to sue the tobacco industry. Mississippi settled its litigation in 1997 for an estimated $4.1 billion over time. Scruggs and affiliated lawyers were supposed to rake in a billion dollars in fees over time from the whole $248 billion national settlement. Scruggs later went to prison.

The Mississippi attorney general could still hire outside lawyers and could still pay them on contingency, under the bill. However, the attorney general would be bound by law to publish outside legal contracts, and those lawyers would have to keep time and expense records, down to how they spend as little as six minutes.

The attorney general wouldn't be able to file suit until giving an elected official or agency seven working days to object. Those agencies would be able to seek other lawyers from the commission.

Hood said in a written statement that the bill is a "short-sighted attempt to strip the people of a constitutionally empowered attorney general and instead hire a barrel full of hand-picked lawyers doing the bidding of a few politically minded individuals. Not only is it a recipe for disaster legally and ethically, it will cost taxpayers millions of extra dollars each year."

Hopson said the commission could turn down agencies or elected officials that made bad requests.

"This is going to prevent an agency from going out and hiring counsel willy-nilly," Hopson said.

If the commission approves an outside lawyer, the bill says the attorney general would have to withdraw from representing the agency. However, Hopson said the attorney general could be barred from representing an agency or elected official, but would still be able to represent the state as a whole.

Rep. Cecil Brown, D-Jackson, said the bill would require an expensive legal fight if it becomes law, and that he ultimately believes Hood will prevail because it would be unconstitutional. Brown noted that Hood has won large sums for the state when agencies might have settled for less.

"He has a terrific track record," Brown said of Hood. "It's clearly about partisan politics. We do not object to sunshine, we've done a lot to create transparency. This is not a transparency bill, this is an attack on Jim Hood and it's totally unnecessary."

Hood said the law could lead to agencies settling piecemeal with BP PLC or similar companies that have wronged the state "thereby fracturing Mississippi's united defense against corporate wrongdoing."

By Jeff Amy, The Associated Press

Source: The Dispatch

Liturgy of the Law includes call to link faith, justice

Kevin Fleming offers a blessing to judges, lawyers, law enforcement officers, elected and appointed officials at the conclusion of the Liturgy of the Law Celebration conducted Friday at Evansville's First Presbyterian Church

The Rev. Kevin Fleming, pastor of Evansville's First Presbyterian Church, challenged local attorneys, government officials and others Friday to find a connection between faith and justice.

"Whenever we're about the work of bringing people together, lifting people out of oppression and making the world what God created it to be, we are in one way or another about the business, the God-given business, of doing justice," Fleming said.

Approximately 50 people attended the midday service, a Liturgy of the Law Celebration that continued a tradition of judges, lawyers, law enforcement officers, elected and appointed officials and students of all faiths gathering and request God's blessing and guidance in the administration of justice.

A spring tradition organized by the St. Thomas More Society of Southwestern Indiana, an association of Catholic lawyers, and normally celebrated as a Red Mass at a Catholic church, the observance was moved the Presbyterian church this year. The move made after the Most Rev. Charles C. Thompson, bishop of the Diocese of Evansville, objected to non-Catholic attorneys presenting readings in the mass.

Thompson had offered to conduct two services, an ecumenical one and a Red Mass on the same day. In a statement in March, the bishop said his desire was "to be ecumenically sensitive to non-Catholics while preserving the integrity of the Eucharist as a sign of Catholic unity."

Sue Ann Hartig, staff attorney with the Legal Aid Society, explained since this year's service wasn't in a Catholic church, the name needed to be changed.

"It's the first time at this church; it's the first time with this title, but we just didn't want to let that tradition die," Hartig said.

The St. Thomas More Society held a luncheon in the church Fellowship Hall after the service.

In his sermon, Fleming noted Friday's service that the First Presbyterian congregation was the oldest established in Evansville. He expressed hope that participants would find the service to be a time of empowerment, reflection and hopefully a work they do.

In his "Faith and Justice" sermon, Fleming questioned the connection between faith and justice.

According to Fleming, examples of justice can include — a faith community that opens its heart in scores to those without a place to be, a faith community that feeds those who are hungry, and a faith community that provides clothing to those in need.

However useful, Fleming said that's treating symptoms and not the disease of injustice.

Fleming said justice and power must be brought together so that whatever is just will be powerful and whatever is powerful may be just.

"What will doing justice look like for you," he asked. "It's hard to tell. For each of us it is different."

The service opened with Piper Chad Buttry, of the Evansville Fire Department, leading the procession into the church. West Terrace second graders Samuel Wolf and Logan Tillotson, from Wolf Scout Troop No. 371, led the group in the Pledge of Allegiance as they saluted the American flag.

Other participants included Evansville Police Sgt. Darren Sroufe; Evansville Mayor Lloyd Winnecke; Father Attila Frohlich; Vanderburgh County Sheriff's Office Lt. Ken Tenbarge; Attorney Todd Glass, president of the Evansville Bar Association; Superior Court Judge Robert J. Tornatta; and soloist Mark Fox.

Sandra Mants, 66, from Dayton, Ohio, said she believes the annual service is vital because previous work in politics opened her eyes to the hard work people put into their career.

"And they don't get a lot of support sometimes," Mants said. "So I think a service like this, ecumenical, that talks about the real work that they do, which is justice, is very important. And so it needs to be done every year."

"Whether it's in the line of work that you do as a police officer, a judge or a magistrate in a court, it's all a part of what makes our civilization important," she said.

By Megan Erbacher

Source: The Evansville Courier & Press

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

GPC responds to lawsuit: In a court filing, company claims plaintiffs' lawyers are violating ethics codes and exploiting emotions

Lawyers representing Grain Processing Corp. fired back Tuesday at the lawyers gathering plaintiffs to join a lawsuit against the company for its emissions.

In a nutshell, the company says opposing counsel isn't playing fair.

According to a court filing by attorneys Mark McCormick of Belin McCormick P.C. of Des Moines and Steven J. Havercamp of Stanley, Lande and Hunter of Davenport, the plaintiffs' attorneys, including Tony Buzbee of Houston, should not be granted permission to appear on behalf of their clients.

The reason, according to the filing? "Because Plaintiffs' counsel already has committed multiple, serious ethical violations that prejudice the administration of justice in our state and demonstrate Plaintiffs' counsel's unwillingness to adhere to our state's ethical standards."

Though Buzbee, along with Claire M. Diallo and Sean O'Rourke, were given "pro hac vice" status from the court to work on behalf of the plaintiffs, GPC's lawyer are asking that that status be revoked.

Pro hac vice is Latin for "for this occasion" or "for this event."

So far more than 100 plaintiffs have joined the case.

According to Tuesday's filing from GPC's attorneys, plaintiffs' attorneys have "engaged in a very serious pattern of ethical violations," including "improper attempts to litigate the case in the press, prejudicial direct mail solicitations of clients, and, apparently, even door-to-door solicitations."

The filing cites a quote Buzbee gave to The Associated Press on April 23, the day the suit was filed, which "appeared in local newspapers as well as in national news." Buzbee told an AP reporter that "there is real, verified damage being done to people's real and personal property."

The brief also describes a postcard-type mailer sent to some Muscatine residents designed, according to the filing, "not only to create an emotional appeal but to tout Plaintiffs' counsels' purported skills."

The direct mailing also violates the state's Rules of Professional Conduct, according to the filing, because the mailing relies on an emotional appeal and makes claims relating to the quality of Buzbee's firm's legal services, "precisely what our ethics rules forbid."

One side of the card shows a playground in the front and GPC smokestacks in the back.

The flipside touts Buzbee's law firm by saying "winning is the only option."

The filing also quotes Jill Schnell, a GPC employee, who reported that a man knocked on her door and told her that he represented the attorney's office filing the class action lawsuit.

When she told him she worked for GPC and had nothing further to say, "he politely stated that he would move on," she said in a declaration included in the filing. "He gave me the distinct impression that he was trying to sign me up for the lawsuit," she said.

According to the filing, the plaintiffs' attorneys' "barrage of improper solicitations and media offensives plainly violate Iowa's ethical standards and are prejudicial to the administration of justice."

In the filing, GPC attorneys claim lawyers on the other side "intentionally violated Iowa's Rules of Professional Conduct" by making statements to the media that could prejudice how the lawsuit is decided. For example, the filing alleges, Buzbee's statement to the AP about "real, verifiable damage" could "taint the jury pool and damage GPC's right to a fair trial."

"Myriad competent counsel who will abide by Iowa's ethical rules are available to represent Plaintiffs," the filing concludes. "The damage already done by Plaintiffs' counsel's conduct likely cannot be undone. The Court, however, can prevent further damage."

By Mike Ferguson

Source: The Muscatine Journal

New lawyers to give needy free legal help

Chief judge uses Law Day to reveal rule, first in the nation for bar admission

You'll have to donate 50 hours of pro bono, or free, legal work to the needy before getting admitted to the New York State Bar, according to a new requirement Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman laid down Tuesday during his annual Law Day address.

The idea is to give more legal aid for those who need it but can't pay, and to help imbue newly-minted lawyers with the ideal of working toward the greater good, said Lippman. New York is the first state to mandate such a requirement.

"What better way to send the strongest message to those about to enter our profession? Assisting in meeting the urgent need for legal services is a necessary and essential qualification to becoming a lawyer," Lippman told an audience of lawyers, judges, politicians and others present for the Law Day talk.

With 10,000 prospective lawyers taking the state bar exam each year, the 50-hour requirement adds up to 500,000 hours of free, supervised legal advice, Lippman said.

Since the mandate is coming too late for this year's class of law school graduates, the requirement will likely begin next year.

And because the mandate is a licensing requirement, it won't apply to lawyers already admitted to the bar. Forcing licensed attorneys to work for free would likely run headlong into a raft of legal issues.

The mandate was welcomed by some in the legal aid field. Steven Banks, attorney in chief for The Legal Aid Society in New York City, said the group helps people in 44,000 civil cases a year, but they turn away many. Overall, the group is able to help only one of nine people who apply.

Lippman has pressed for years for an expansion of public access to legal assistance in civil courts. The need has grown since the 2008 housing crash, with increased numbers of New Yorkers in danger of foreclosure by lenders.

"I really think this is an idea whose time has come," Lippman said after his speech.

Law school faculty members generally welcomed the idea, but noted it will take some logistical planning.

"The initiative really dovetails with what we are doing," said Alicia Ouellette, associate dean for student affairs and a law professor at Albany Law School, where about 200 of the school's 725 students currently volunteer pro bono services. "Mandating it takes it a step further," she added. "We're going to have to think about how to expand the program."

Albany Law offers a range of pro bono services for low- and moderate-income groups such as veterans, seniors, inmates being released from prison and Iraqi refugees.

The students work under the supervision of lawyers already admitted to the bar.

Many of the students put in more than 50 hours during their school careers, added Danshera Cords, a law professor who helps oversee a program where students help low-income filers prepare their income tax returns.

"It teaches students that as they go out into the world, it's important that they give back," said Cords.

Law Day is a national recognition of the importance that the law plays in the nation's civic life. It dates to the 1950s when leaders wanted to counter what at the time was viewed as the communist-inspired May Day celebrations.

By Rick Karlin,, 518-454-5758

Source: The Albany Times Union

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Trio in court, deny scheme to snare clients‎

A chiropractor, an investigator and state Rep. Ron Reynolds, D-Missouri City, appeared in court Monday accused of plotting together to illegally solicit clients for Reynolds and patients for the chiropractor.

After they were arraigned, lawyers for the three said their clients are innocent.

"I stand in front of you wrongfully accused, personally and professionally embarrassed by the unfortunate allegations against me," Reynolds, 38, told reporters. "I have not committed barratry."

Barratry, a third-degree felony, is the criminal charge levied for the unlicensed practice of law or directly soliciting prospective clients for lawyers, doctors, chiropractors and other licensed professionals.

The law, designed to prohibit "ambulance chasing," means attorneys may advertise, but cannot target individuals to solicit. If convicted, Reynolds faces two to 10 years in prison.

Reynolds, Bellaire chiropractor Tony Ha and a marketer named Adriene Kae Anderson are accused of soliciting personal injury clients and patients.

Prosecutor Wendy Baker said a Houston lawyer who was in a car wreck received a call from a woman, allegedly either Anderson or one of her associates, about the wreck. Because the lawyer knew direct solicitation was illegal, she played along then contacted authorities, Baker said.

The lawyer was scheduled for an appointment at Ha's office, although she said she was not hurt.

When she arrived at the medical office, Baker said, she was asked to fill out an attorney-client form for Reynolds to represent her.

When she was seen by the chiropractor, she said she was not hurt, Baker said. She said Ha pressed on her until she said she was in pain, then scheduled her for repeated sessions.

Baker said the phone solicitation, the legal document at the office and pressure to return to the chiropractor were part of one scheme to snare clients and patients.

Attorneys for Ha and Anderson said the telephone solicitation and the legal document were legal types of marketing.

"That's what we were doing: marketing," said Ha's attorney, Bob Bennett. "There's nothing illegal, immoral or unethical about that."

He said the group was following rules set up by the State Bar of Texas and the Texas Chiropractic Association.

"We think the charges against Dr. Ha are ludicrous because no barratry was performed," Bennett said. "No money was taken, no checks were written and Dr. Ha was trying to practice medicine as he knows it."

David Lee, who represents Anderson, said he also expects his client to be cleared.

By Brian Rogers,

Source: The Houston Chronicle

Lawyers spar over jailing of Ohio Amish suspects

Prosecutors and defense attorneys are sparring over whether father-and-son suspects in beard- and hair-cutting attacks against fellow Amish are a threat to the community and should remain in jail pending trial.

A lawyer for Lester Mullet says his detention has become a hardship for his family and that his client should be released to help his pregnant wife and their three children.

The lawyer representing Mullet's father, Sam Mullet Sr., the alleged ringleader of the attacks, says his client has a strong financial incentive to honor any conditions of a release on bond, since he is responsible for property that is at the heart of his eastern Ohio Amish community's life.

Detention has been a burden for Sam Mullet, "but it also a great burden on his family, perhaps even more than the average federal defendant," his attorney, federal public defender Edward Bryan, said in a court filing last week.

"The Amish depend nearly entirely on their own land for sustenance, and all hands are needed at this crucial time to ensure an adequate growing season," Bryan wrote, asking U.S. District Court Judge Dan Polster to reconsider an earlier decision denying Mullet's release.

The Mullets and 14 other members of their family or community are accused of orchestrating a series of attacks last fall on other Amish in Ohio in which men's beards and men's and women hair were cut. The acts are considered highly offensive to the Amish, who believe the Bible instructs women to let their hair grow long and men to grow beards and stop shaving once they marry.

Sam Mullet Sr. was allegedly upset that other Amish bishops were not heeding his orders excommunicating members of his community in Bergholz in eastern Ohio.

The government said in a court filing last week that Sam Mullet, who recently received more than $2 million from gas and oil leases on his property, was able to obtain a public defender by being less than forthcoming about his financial situation.

Prosecutors also say Mullet should not be released on bond because of the possibility he could hole up on his 800-acre property and try to avoid attending his trial.

"The evidence has demonstrated that this defendant and his followers have not embraced the traditional Amish principles on nonviolence and forgiveness," prosecutors said Wednesday. "The possibility of a violent encounter, this time with law enforcement, should not be readily dismissed."

There's no evidence Sam Mullet won't show up for trial, his attorney said Monday.

"They're trying to create this perception he's something he's not," said federal public defender Edward Bryan. "He's not a wacky cult leader. He's a decent, hardworking, caring man."

Sam Mullet will now pay legal fees at $125 an hour, with the money going into a federal fund used to pay fees for those who can't afford a lawyer, Bryan added.

Prosecutors also say Lester Mullet's request to go free before trial should be rejected since he "joyfully" participated in the attacks last fall and said he would do it again, according to a filing on Thursday.

The filing included portions of a transcript of a jailhouse call Lester Mullet made to his father, sister, wife and others, in which the participants laugh about getting half a victim's beard.

"Given what we know about Lester Mullet's role in these attacks and his willingness to obstruct the government's investigation, there is simply no condition or set of conditions that will reasonably assure his attendance at court proceedings or the safety of a community that has been terrorized by this violence," prosecutors said.

Lester Mullet's lawyer said his client has no criminal record and is the sole provider for his family.

Due to his wife's pregnancy, "the difficulties related to Mr. Mullet's incarceration have increased," Damon Billak said in a court filing April 18. "Mr. Mullet is willing to abide by any terms and conditions found to be necessary to support his release from custody."

By The Associated Press

Source: Google News