Sunday, August 26, 2012

Obama Justice Department recruits lawyers with "severe intellectual disabilities," but excludes conservatives

Reality is often stranger than fiction.  A former Justice Department lawyer, who publishes at PJ Tatler, has obtained documents from the Justice Department detailing efforts to recruit attorneys and staff . . . who have "psychiatric disabilities" or "severe intellectual disabilities." On May 31, 2012, Assistant Attorney General Tom Perez issued a directive to affirmatively recruit people with these "targeted disabilities."

This DOJ policy does not merely involve prohibitions against discrimination, but rather the documents reveal deliberate recruitment efforts to hire as attorneys and staff for the Department of Justice people suffering from psychiatric disorders and intellectual disabilities. Moreover, applicants can "self-identify" their disability by means of the "Standard Form 256, Self Identification Disability."

Those with "targeted disabilities" may be hired through a "non-competitive" appointment. That means they don't have to endure the regular civil service competition among applicants, but can be plucked from the stack of resumes and hired immediately instead.

According to the documents, those with these "targeted disabilities" may be hired "before the position is advertised" and even "before the position's closing date." Moreover, lawyers with psychiatric disabilities and "severe intellectual" disabilities receive a waiver from the requirement that a new DOJ employee have practiced law for one year before being hired.

As "Hube," a schoolteacher, notes at Colossus of Rhodey, "Considering some of the [bizarre] decisions to come out of the DOJ these past few years, I'd say they have quite of few of these folks already."  (Maybe he was thinking about how the Justice Department has foolishly attacked banks for using traditional, prudent lending criteria, and how it has threatened schools with lawsuits for discouraging use of bad English, or for seeking to discipline minority students who repeatedly disrupt class and thus contribute to the minority achievement gap.

Then again, many Justice Department actions seem to be the product of dishonesty and moral turpitude rather than mere "intellectual disabilities."  For example, Judge Reggie Walton recently ruled that political appointees in the Justice Department lied about a high-profile voting rights case.  As Judge Walton noted in his ruling, "The documents reveal that political appointees within DOJ were conferring about the status and resolution of the New Black Panther Party case in the days preceding the DOJ's dismissal of claims in that case," facts that  "contradict Assistant Attorney General Perez's testimony that political leadership was not involved in that decision.").

Since the Justice Department's hiring policy is so bizarre, you may be tempted not to believe it.  But, as PJ Tatler notes, "you can read the detailed Civil Rights Division "Hiring of Persons With Targeted Disabilities Policy' memo here."

While the Obama Justice Department seeks to hire lawyers with intellectual disabilities so severe that they were unable to practice law for even a year, it has systematically refused to hire moderate, conservative, or libertarian attorneys, even though there are branches of the Justice Department, such as the one that enforces the religious-liberties RLUIPA law, that involve areas of expertise where plenty of qualified conservative lawyers could easily be found.  The right-wing radio host Michael Savage once claimed that liberalism is a mental disorder (he would no doubt view the Justice Department's hiring of lawyers with "severe intellectual disabilities" as confirmation of that). The staunchly left-wing political appointees in the Justice Department plainly view conservatism as being far worse than a mental disability, since they give preference to attorneys with mental disabilities, but don't hire conservatives at all.

Nor does the Justice Department hire apolitical or non-partisan attorneys.  In 2011, a former Justice Department lawyer examined the Justice Department ‘s hires, and determined that it had hired 113 overtly liberal lawyers and absolutely zero apolitical or non-liberal lawyers for 113 positions, including positions involved in litigating the RLUIPA statute and other religious-liberty laws that are often handled by non-liberal lawyers in private practice - illustrating that the applicant pool for the positions no doubt included qualified applicants whose applications were rejected by the Obama Justice Department on ideological grounds. (You can read PJ Media's full report on attorneys hired in the Justice Department Civil Rights Division from 2009-2010 here in the Every Single One series.)

(One final note: the Justice Department's hiring memo suggests that only otherwise-qualified employees would be hired under the streamlined "targeted disability" hiring process.  This suggests it classifies such applicants as qualified even if they can't handle a job in the outside world - for example, if they could work behind a desk at DOJ, even though their mental disabilities prevent them from interacting with clients or appearing in court. But such desk jobs abound in the outside world for junior lawyers, in areas such as document review.  For example, I never met a client while practicing international trade law as a junior attorney; only senior lawyers did that.)

By Hans Bader


Lawyer seeks to ease conditions for '93 WTC bomber

A lawyer for the mastermind of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing asked a federal appeals court Wednesday to let him investigate why the government insists his imprisoned client is still a danger to America.

Attorney Bernard Kleinman wants the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan to let him gather facts from prosecutors about why Ramzi Yousef remains held under the strictest security measures 15 years after they were first imposed. The three-judge panel did not immediately rule.

"I think it's just plain unfair," Kleinman said outside court. "Most of the terrorists he knew are either dead or in jail."

Assistant U.S. Attorney Nicholas Lewin argued for the government that the case belongs in Colorado rather than Manhattan because Yousef is challenging his prison conditions. Yousef, 44, is in solitary confinement at the so-called Supermax prison in Florence, Colo.

Yousef was sentenced to life in prison after he was convicted in the February 1993 attack that killed six people and injured hundreds of others and in a plot to bomb 12 American airliners over the Far East. He fled to the Middle East the night of the bombing and was captured two years later in Pakistan, where he was turned over to the FBI. He now lives in a 7-foot by 11-foot cell with a radio, a television, a desk, a toilet and a shower, Kleinman said.

Since 1997, he has been subjected to special administrative measures reserved for prisoners who are believed to be a continuing threat to the country. Kleinman said he is challenging the grounds under which the government continues to impose the severe restrictions on Yousef.

The restrictions prevent Yousef from communicating with other prisoners and only allow him to meet with his lawyer, Kleinman said. For those visits, the last of which occurred in October 2010, Yousef is shackled and forced to communicate through Plexiglass.

Yousef is a nephew of Khalid Sheik Mohammed, who has conceded in a written statement that he directed the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.

Kleinman said Yousef's prison conditions were tightened even more after the Sept. 11 attacks so that he was no longer housed near notorious criminals including Unabomber Ted Kaczynski and Oklahoma City bombing conspirators Terry Nichols and Timothy McVeigh. McVeigh was executed while Nichols is serving life in prison.

At his 1998 sentencing, Yousef defiantly proclaimed: "Yes, I am a terrorist and am proud of it."

Kleinman said he knows his client is "not a sympathetic character" and that there are "legitimate hard feelings against him."

But he added that he hopes to eventually get the severe prison conditions loosened so that Yousef can have fewer restrictions on his communications with family, including his wife and two daughters.

"The human interaction is really a big issue for him," Kleinman said. "He recognizes he'll be in jail the rest of his life."

By Larry Neumeister, The Associated Press

Source: The Miami Herald

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Lawyer who reaped benefits now faces charges

This summer, Hilda Valadez, an attorney who has made a lot of money representing poor defendants, sued 12 local judges, every Bexar County commissioner, the county judge, the county auditor and a district court administrator.

Valadez accused them of defamation, breach of contract and other abuses. Her request for damages: $10 million.

But the lawsuit is likely a last gasp.

Last month, the accusations against the judges and the court administrator were dismissed. This week, Valadez was indicted on 46 felony counts, including a scheme stretching back years in which she allegedly forged the signatures of judges to obtain payments for legal services.

A year before the sheriff's office started investigating the forgeries, Valadez appeared on my radar.

In collaboration with WOAI-TV, some data-driven journalism revealed that local courts in 2010 were ignoring the Fair Defense Act, a state law requiring judges to appoint lawyers for poor defendants using a rotating list of attorneys, known as "the wheel."

Valadez loomed large in our investigation because she was earning much more in taxpayer money than any other attorney, raking in more than $403,000 on indigent defense in three years.

In the same time, the average attorney earned just $32,500.

Other lawyers were reaping an outsized share of taxpayer cash, a consequence of local courts' failure to use the wheel. But Valadez's uncanny command of county funds now seems rooted in something else: theft.

And this is not the first time she's been accused of stealing.

About five years ago, she was arrested at North Star Mall over a $325 pair of sunglasses.

According to a police report, an employee at Saks Fifth Avenue saw Valadez walk into the store, remove the price tag and sensor from a pair of sunglasses and walk out without paying.

She was charged with theft and later received deferred adjudication.

"I was exchanging a pair of sunglasses," she told me Friday.

Valadez also denied the new charges, which include theft by deception between $20,000 and $100,000 and forgery, both third-degree felonies; execution of a document by deception between $100,000 and $200,000, a second-degree felony; and tampering with a government record, a state jail felony.

If convicted, Valadez could face up to 20 years in prison.

The attorney, however, says she has conducted her own investigation of herself, and all signs point reassuringly to her innocence.

"I spent $500 on my own polygraph, and I passed it," she said. "I hired a forensic auditor myself. We went through many, many vouchers, and they all are fine."

Bexar County District Attorney Susan Reed disagrees. After announcing the indictment this week, Reed assigned a few unflattering adjectives to Valadez, including "nonsterling" and "smarmy."

"I don't even know what those words mean," says Valadez, who claims Reed harbors a personal vendetta.

Valadez says the same thing in court filings about the court administrator she sued this summer, who removed her from the list to receive court appointments, she claims, "without good cause."

But casting Valadez from the wheel appears integral to fixing it.

If the allegations against her are true, then the courts' failure to use the appointment process properly allowed her to exploit it.

And Bexar County's systems are improving.

Last month, a follow-up review of the county by the Texas Indigent Defense Commission showed appointments at all levels of courts appear "fair, neutral and nondiscriminatory."

"Bexar County has made significant process," said Jim Bethke, executive director of the commission.

By Brian Chasnoff, Express-News columnist,

Source: The San Antonio Express-News

Legal profession braces for turnover as half the state's lawyers say they want out

Washington state's legal community may be on the verge of a broad-based succession crisis, as thousands of older attorneys leave the profession faster than they are replaced

The turnover, largely driven by demographics and economics, poses challenges for firms large and small, although small firms and solo practices seem especially vulnerable.

In response, some large firms are going out of their way to recruit prospective senior leaders, and the bar association is trying to match older attorneys with young lawyers, among other things.

A recent Washington State Bar Association survey discovered that 7,200 of its members - almost a quarter of the state's practicing attorneys - are considering retirement within five years.

Another 32 percent of the bar association's members are weighing whether to leave the profession or cut back on their practices during the same time period.

Seventy-one percent of the WSBA membership is age 50 or older, with 21 percent being 61 or above.

Admissions to the state bar are not keeping pace with retirements. Between 2007 and 2011, the annual number of attorneys admitted to the state bar dropped 13 percent to 1,148, according to state bar data.

In the last five years, 5,997 applicants passed the state bar exam, for an average of just under 1,200 a year, a number that could easily be overtaken by retirements.

"The membership survey was a bit of a wake-up call," said Michael Badger, associate director of lawyer services for the WSBA.

Declining law school enrollments are only adding to the concern, because fewer law school graduates means fewer candidates for the bar. The New York Times reported in March that the number of students taking the Law School Admission Test dropped 25 percent over the past two years, the steepest decrease in more than a decade.

The problem is not limited to Washington state.

"There's a succession-planning crisis going on right now, within law firms and other professional service firms," said Allan Koltin, president and CEO of the Chicago consulting firm Koltin Consulting Group Inc.

Koltin attributes the crisis to a pair of trends that emerged in the 1990s.

First, dot-com companies lured away many potential lawyers and other professional workers. Second, an emphasis on work-life balance soured Generation Xers on following traditional career paths.

"If you worked for a law firm, there was a feeling you were signing your life away," Koltin said. "Students didn't want to be a slave to billable hours."

Today, those students could have been the attorneys preparing to take the reins from senior partners or the keys to a small law office. Instead, older attorneys have fewer younger colleagues who can take over their practices and firms.

To be sure, not all industry observers see a crisis brewing. Tammy Gibson, the Seattle division director for staffing firm Robert Half Legal, said the pool of attorney candidates remains deep.

"I've not noticed any less count of potential recruits," Gibson said. "What I am seeing is that there's becoming more competition within firms."

In sharp contrast to last year, larger firms are asking specifically for candidates they can train to become senior partners. Smaller firms, meanwhile, are expanding searches nationwide.

The result for job seekers has been multiple offers, quick placements, and increased incentives such as signing bonuses and reimbursement for moving expenses. Firms trying to retain lawyers, on the other hand, are raising salaries and offering other compensation, such as flextime and telecommuting.

Seventy percent of lawyers polled in a 2011 Robert Half Legal survey said their law firms or corporate legal departments plan to award their associates pay raises and bonuses.

Smaller firms might not be able to match these enticements, but they have other perks to offer, according to the WSBA's Badger. Among them: the chance to head their own practice.

The WSBA is trying to help by creating a clearinghouse that matches older attorneys with law school graduates and young professionals looking for entry-level positions.

By creating opportunities to link generations, the organization hopes to provide a chance for older attorneys to "exit gracefully," said WSBA President Stephen Crossland, who has a solo practice in Cashmere.

Ideally, older attorneys would mentor proteges for a few years, grooming them to take over when the boomers are ready to step down.

"We're looking at a wide range of programming focused on the over-50 cohort," Badger said of the bar's membership. "The baby boomer generation is between ages 48 and 65, so the graying of the bar is something that's going to be going on at least two more decades."

Crossland, the state bar president, admits he does not have a ready successor for his own practice, which specializes in estate planning and real estate. Nonetheless, he is optimistic.

When he was a young lawyer, he connected with an attorney in his mid-70s, J. Harold Anderson, who mentored Crossland for about seven years.

"The future of the profession is bright," Crossland said. "It's just a matter of making connections."

By Adam Worcester, Puget Sound Business Journal,, 206.876.5436

Source: The KOMO News

Monday, August 20, 2012

Lawyers across country urged to give more free services

An American Bar Association survey last year said 75 percent of lawyers believe that people who represent themselves are more likely to lose their cases

Jennifer Garcia stood alone before a judge with a stack of legal papers in her hands, answering questions about her personal life.

She has acted as her own lawyer in state Family Court in a paternity, child support and visitation case on and off for three years, but representing herself in a courtroom full of strangers still makes her nervous.

“Sometimes I get this gut feeling because you never know what the judge is going to say,” said the 23-year-old single mother of two from Hartford.

Garcia is part of a crush of people who are representing themselves in the nation’s civil courts because they can’t afford lawyers, who typically charge $200 to $500 an hour. The boom has overwhelmed courts and sparked new efforts to get attorneys to meet what the American Bar Association says is its professional responsibility to offer free legal services to people in need.

The increase in self-represented parties stems from a recession that has left fewer people able to afford lawyers and created new waves of foreclosure, debt collection and bankruptcy cases, judges and lawyers say. Judges say self-represented people are slowing down court dockets because they typically don’t know what legal points to argue or what motions to file.

“There’s a crisis in this country,” said John Levi, board chairman of Washington, D.C.-based Legal Services Corp., the nation’s largest funder of civil legal aid for the poor. “Courthouses are being filled with people just showing up, trying to figure out what their rights are. If you’re a low-income person and you have a legal need, it is not easy to get it addressed.”

Legal Services has a 58-member pro bono task force comprising judges, attorneys, law school deans and other legal experts working on recommendations due out next month on how to get more lawyers to provide free services.

At a time of rising demand, LSC has been dealing with funding cuts. Federal government funding for LSC dropped 17 percent to $348 million this year, compared with $420 million in 2010. LSC funds 135 legal aid groups across the country and serves about 900,000 clients a year, but it has to turn away about the same number of people seeking help because of a lack of staff.

Less than 20 percent of the legal needs of low-income people are addressed with the help of a private or legal aid lawyer, LSC says.

And the number of Americans with incomes at or below 125 percent of the federal poverty level — the income limit for qualifying for legal aid — is expected to reach an all-time high of 66 million this year. A family of four earning 125 percent of the federal poverty level makes about $28,800 a year, government figures show.

Several states report high percentages of civil and family cases with at least one self-represented person. In Connecticut, 85 percent of the more than 45,000 family law cases in the 2011 fiscal year had at least one self-represented party.

Pro bono work by large law firms has declined in the past few years amid downsizing because of the economy, according to the July and August issue of ALM’s The American Lawyer magazine. Average pro bono hours per lawyer in large firms dropped to about 54 last year, a 12 percent decrease from a 2009 peak, the magazine reported.

Laurel Bellows, a Chicago attorney and president of the American Bar Association, said the magazine’s findings conflict with an increasing pro bono trend that she sees. The ABA has several pro bono programs including one that helps military families.

“The need is extraordinary,” Bellows said about pro bono services. “You not only have the poverty level community, but also the middle class community. We’re really very proud of our lawyers because they’re stepping up to the plate and helping more people who need assistance.”

An ABA survey last year said 75 percent of lawyers believe that people who represent themselves are more likely to lose their cases.

Court officials say the recession from 2007 to 2009 and its aftermath sparked new waves of foreclosure, debt collection and bankruptcy cases and left fewer people able to afford a lawyer.

Garcia, the Hartford mother, said she can’t afford an attorney. After several court appearances, she said she is beginning to feel more comfortable representing herself.

State judicial systems have taken steps to deal with self-represented parties, including offering legal forms and help online and setting up court service centers to answer questions. Some states, including Illinois, Georgia and Arkansas, even have pro bono cellphone apps to help lawyers find volunteer opportunities.

But state officials are trying to increase pro bono work to help meet demand.

New York will become the first state in the country to require lawyers to do pro bono work — 50 hours — as a prerequisite for obtaining a law license starting next year. The state of Washington’s Supreme Court in June approved a landmark rule allowing non-lawyers to offer pro bono help in some cases after they receive training.

In June, Connecticut Chief Justice Chase T. Rogers urged members of the Connecticut Bar Association to help address what she called her No. 1 concern: the increase in self-represented parties. Judicial officials also held a pro bono summit for lawyers and judges last fall.

“Our feeling was that we needed the lawyers, the legal community, to understand the problem. It was getting worse and worse,” said Judge William H. Bright Jr., chairman of the Connecticut Judicial Branch’s Pro Bono Committee, referring to people representing themselves.

Sharonne Martin believes Connecticut should provide public defenders for civil cases like it does for criminal ones. She’s been representing herself for two years in Family Court in Hartford and is now fighting an attempt by the father of two of her three children to gain full custody of them.

“The pressure is overwhelming,” Martin, 28, of New Britain, said about representing herself. “Just keeping up with the paperwork and being organized, it’s nerve-racking. It’s been hard because ... you’re on your own.”

By Dave Collins

Source: The Lubbock Avalanche-Journal

In break from tradition, government lawyers looking to join small, specialized law firms

Veteran Justice Department lawyer Rob Park is joining mid-size law firm Murphy & McGonigle today, a move legal industry analysts say is part of an emerging trend of high-level government attorneys foregoing Big Law for smaller, specialized firms.

The revolving door between federal agencies and large corporate law firms has long provided a career path for attorneys in Washington, which has the highest concentration of lawyers in the nation. But the global recession hit the legal industry hard, forcing many large firms to lay off staff and lower billing rates to hang on to corporate clients. Now, boutique firms such as the 30-lawyer Murphy & McGonigle, founded in 2010 by 15 attorneys from Richmond-based LeClairRyan, are poised to grow - becoming increasingly attractive to lawyers looking to leave both government posts and large law firms.

"I think people are willing to explore a boutique more now than in the past," said Jeffrey Lowe, managing partner of the D.C. office of legal consulting firm Major Lindsey & Africa. "For a lot of people, it makes sense."

Park, former assistant chief in the criminal division's fraud section, said the small firm environment at Murphy & McGonigle, which represents banks and other financial services clients in government investigations, is a better fit for the practice he wants to develop advising companies on compliance programs to combat fraud. Park also predicts the pressure to generate business quickly will be less intense than at large corporate firms, many of which are facing slimmer profit margins than ever before.

"Large law firms have such a voracious need for new business that it makes the pressure all the more intense," Park said. "I looked at several [larger firms] and I had some interest, but I didn't get the sense it was going to be as supportive an environment during the period I was developing business. I thought I'd be on an island by myself."

Smaller boutiques typically have less overhead than large global firms. Unlike large firms that staff client matters with junior associates who bill hourly - and then pass those costs onto clients - boutique firms usually hire partner-level attorneys who specialize in one area. This makes boutiques "leaner and meaner," said Justin Shur, former deputy chief of the Justice Department's public integrity section. Shur left the agency earlier this year for D.C. litigation boutique MoloLamken, a 16-lawyer firm co-founded in 2009 by Jeff Lamken, himself a former assistant to the solicitor general.

"More and more in-house lawyers are interested in hiring boutique firms for certain of matters that they previously looked to big law firms to handle" Shur said "The value proposition is greater. I think experienced lawyers, including lawyers coming out of the government, are realizing that."

By Catherine Ho

Source: The Washington Post

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Spanier's lawyers to rebut report

Attorneys for Penn State's ousted president are planning a news conference to rebut what they view as inaccuracies in a report that concluded he concealed child sex-abuse allegations against a former assistant football coach more than a decade ago.

One of Graham Spanier's lawyers, Peter Vaira, told The Associated Press on Tuesday there are ''many, many errors'' in the report by former FBI Director Louis Freeh, and the legal team will meet with reporters in Philadelphia early next week to point them out.

Freeh was hired by Penn State's board of trustees to investigate the Jerry Sandusky scandal. His July 12 report asserted that Spanier, football coach Joe Paterno and two other university officials buried a 2001 allegation against Sandusky to protect Penn State from bad publicity.

The NCAA used the report as the basis for leveling severe penalties against Penn State, including a $60 million fine, a multi-year bowl ban and a reduction in athletic scholarships.

Spanier was ousted as school president soon after Sandusky's arrest. He has not been charged with a crime and remains a tenured faculty member at Penn State. He is on sabbatical until December.

He has repeatedly said that Freeh mischaracterized his knowledge and handling of abuse allegations against Sandusky, who awaits sentencing following his conviction on 45 counts for sexually abusing 10 boys.

Freeh's spokesman declined to comment Tuesday.

By The AP

Source: The FOX Sports on MSN

Lawyers fight Reciprocity Rule in Arizona

Lawyers have taken aim in Federal Court at the "tit-for-tat retaliation admission paradigm" that makes it difficult for them to practice law in Arizona.

The National Association for the Advancement of Multijurisdiction Practice and two lawyers admitted outside of Arizona claim that the Arizona Supreme Court unconstitutionally requires "that experienced attorneys should have to take and pass another state's bar exam."

The association is an advocacy group that seeks to improve the "legal profession by petitioning for admission on motion in those minority of jurisdictions that have not yet adopted the [American Bar Association's] recommendations for reciprocity."

Allison Girvin, a lawyer who worked in California from 2005 to February 2012 before moving to Arizona, says she "has been denied the privilege of admission on motion, based solely on her residence and bar admission in California, a non-reciprocity state."

Girvin has been forced to take work as a legal assistant while she prepares to take Arizona's bar exam, the lawsuit claims.

Mark Anderson, who practiced law in Montana for 15 years, says Arizona also will not let him practice without taking the state bar exam, "despite his impeccable track record and extensive legal experience."

"The Arizona Supreme Court's disparate licensing protocol severely handicaps experienced attorneys as the purpose of a bar exam is to measure a minimum level of competence in order to protect the public," the lawsuit states. "An experienced attorney has already proven his or her competence, and that he or she is not a threat to the public by their prior licensing and track record. In other words, requiring experienced attorneys to re-invent the wheel in order to get an Arizona law license rejects the best evidence of competence, and instead it relies on a testing protocol that is known to lack content validity, criterion or predictive validity."

Though Arizona is one of nine states to have adopted the Uniform Bar Examination, which was created "to facilitate lawyer mobility across jurisdictional lines," the state predicates admission to its bar on state reciprocity, according to the complaint.

"Arizona provides full admission to favored states," the group claims. "The tit-for-tat criterion for disfavored state status has nothing to do with empirical evidence linked to competence. It is a standard that is based merely on state relations that has nothing to do with protecting the public and everything to do with retaliation under color of state law and providing local lawyer monopoly protection."

Experienced lawyers "are particularly injured by Arizona's disparate treatment and preference for youth because it is well known by testing experts, and the learned members of the UBE that pen and paper bar exams are superficial and lack content validity," according to the complaint.

In addition to various points of law, the 39-page complaint makes sweeping references to certain principles of physics, the Golden Rule and Apple's mission statement.

"Many people oppose change because of a deep-seated emotional need for control over events in their lives, i.e. a fear of the unknown," according to the complaint. "Adopting admission on motion for all attorneys, however, will not diminish the state's control over its admission process because the attorney will still have to file an application for moral character clearance before obtaining bar admission."

The complaint names as defendants: the Arizona Supreme Court, Hon. Chief Justice Rebecca White Berch, Hon. Vice Chief Justice W. Scott Bales, Hon. John Pelander and Hon. Robert M. Brutinel.

As for relief, the group wants a finding that the reciprocity law, Arizona Supreme Court Rule 34(f), is unconstitutional. The individual lawyers also demand admission to the state bar.

They are represented by Grant Savoy of Solouki, Krol & Savoy in Los Angeles.

By Jamie Ross

Source: The Courthouse News Service

Monday, August 13, 2012

Disability appeals a $1.4 billion business for lawyers

Winning a Social Security disability appeal can mean a guaranteed payday for lawyers.

The Social Security Administration may withhold as much as 25 percent from a disabled worker’s back pay to cover legal fees. Lawyers can receive the money - up to a $6,000 maximum - straight from the agency, eliminating the need to dog clients for payment, legal scholars said.

A "lawyer has incentive to do anything he can to get a 'yes' " in disability cases, said Richard J. Pierce, a George Washington University law professor who testified before Congress this year. "They’re even trying to intercept people as they go into unemployment offices."

Pierce said about 85 percent of disability claimants who appeal denials to administrative law judges have legal representation, up from the 20 percent range in the 1970s.

"An attorney is better able to make sure medical evidence is complete, make sure the judge has a chance to review evidence," said Cindy Berger, a former staff attorney for Social Security who is principal at Washington’s Landing-based Berger and Green.

Lawyers began advertising more aggressively for Social Security disability clients in the 1980s and into the e_SSRq90s, said Michael Gianantonio, an adjunct professor of trial advocacy at Duquesne University.

Their work is now a business worth $1.4 billion, the annual amount set aside by the SSA for attorney fees. They face no direct opposition in the courtroom, where federal rules keep government attorneys from intervening.

The union representing administrative law judges, the National Organization of Social Security Claimants’ Representatives, asked Congress to reverse that policy.

Adding government attorneys to appeal hearings would cost hundreds of millions of dollars, said Jim Borland, assistant deputy commissioner at the administration.

Berger said more disability claimants have sought outside counsel as "it’s become increasingly difficult to prove disability."

Private representation has grown because "Social Security has gotten a lot more complicated in its regulations," said Dennis Liotta, a partner at Edgar Snyder and Associates.

"It's gotten a lot more involved in regulation and what's required to prove disability," said Liotta, who oversees Social Security disability cases at his firm. "It's a very complex and ever-changing area of the law."

By Adam Smeltz, staff writer for Trib Total Media, 412-380-5676,

Source: The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Idaho county to hire lawyer to help 'pro se' cases

A county in southwestern Idaho plans to hire an attorney to help those helping themselves in civil court.

The Idaho Press-Tribune ( reports Canyon County commissioners approved a preliminary budget Thursday that includes $60,000 from the Idaho Supreme Court to hire an attorney to help people who are serving as their own lawyer in civil cases.

In criminal cases, the courts provide an attorney for people who can't afford to represent themselves. But that doesn't happen in most civil cases like small-claims lawsuits and divorces. Often, people who can't afford attorneys in those types of cases end up representing themselves, and that can get complicated for all the parties involved.

Third District Court administrator Dan Kessler says the new position will benefit the entire court system. Canyon County has had a recent spike in the number of residents representing themselves, tallying 800 such cases in July.

The 3rd District Court already has a court assistance officer to help people who are serving as their own attorney, but that person isn't an attorney and they serve the entire 3rd District, which includes Adams, Gem Canyon, Owyhee, Payette and Washington counties.

"In this economy we have some people who just can't afford an attorney," said Canyon County Clerk Chris Yamamoto. "They need some assistance. Having an attorney will enhance what we offer."

The Idaho Supreme Court, which oversees all of Idaho's state courts, has long had a focus on improving options for legal representation for people with limited means. In 1998, the state began an experiment in do-it-yourself legal representation in an effort to ease the burden on underfunded legal aid programs, opening a few offices across Idaho to help walk people through undisputed divorces and other relatively uncomplicated legal matters. Now dozens of such offices operate statewide, offering free court-approved forms for civil matters, instructional videos and brochures, and review of court documents before they are filed.


Source: The Idaho Press-Tribune

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Lawsuit filed vs. rental car companies tax

Arizona is facing yet another challenge over a 2005 law imposing a tax on car rental companies to help pay for the Cardinals football stadium.

Attorneys for Enterprise Leasing Co. of Phoenix and Vanguard Car Rental claim the levy is structured in a way that discriminates against residents of other states visiting Arizona who have to rent a car here. They said that runs afoul of federal constitutional provisions on interstate commerce.

They also charge that using the proceeds of a tax on rental cars runs afoul of a provision of the Arizona Constitution that says levies on the operation of motor vehicles can be used only for roads and highways.

Amy Rezzonico, spokeswoman for the state Attorney General's Office, said her lawyers have not yet seen the lawsuit.

But she noted the state is fighting a similar claim filed by another car rental company in 2010. And Rezzonico said her office believes the levy is legal.

At the heart of the fight are actually two separate levies.

One is a 3.5 percent tax on car rentals; the other is a 1 percent tax on hotel rooms.

Both are a direct result of demands by Cardinals owner Bill Bidwill for a place for the football team other than Sun Devil Stadium at Arizona State University in Tempe. Bidwill threatened to move unless taxpayers financed a stadium - one where he would control more revenue.

In 1999, Mesa voters rejected a sales tax increase to finance a stadium. Then-Gov. Jane Hull created a task force to find a way to build a stadium.

Hull specifically told task force members to develop a mechanism to "minimize impact on the average citizen."

The plan they adopted requires the Cardinals to invest $85 million - about a quarter of the construction costs - with another $10 million from the Fiesta Bowl organization. The $274 million balance, according to the authority documents, comes "not from ordinary Arizona citizens but from out-of-state visitors who rent hotel rooms and cars."

But it wasn't even that simple.

The levy on those who rent a car in Maricopa County was set at 3.5 percent, or $2.50, whichever is greater. But there was an exception: Anyone who got a car as a "temporary replacement vehicle” would be subject solely to the $2.50 levy. And repair shops that provided a rental vehicle would owe nothing.

A 2005 challenge to the levy filed by a couple of visitors from Michigan was thrown out of court.

The Arizona Court of Appeals acknowledged the two men did have to pay more on their car rental and hotel bills.

But the judges pointed out that Arizona lawmakers crafted this levy - like others already on the books - not as a "sales tax" but instead as a "transaction privilege tax." And that, technically, is a tax paid by the businesses.

What that means, they concluded, is that only the businesses affected have legal standing to challenge the legality of the levy, something they have not done. And Judge Maurice Portley, writing for the court, said the fact that businesses routinely pass on the cost to customers is legally irrelevant.

That resulted first in the 2010 lawsuit by Saban Rent-A-Car and now the new one by Enterprise and Vanguard.

But it also resulted in a curious side effect.

"The rental car companies, our clients, will keep the refund because the Court of Appeals held that the taxpayer was the rental company, not the customer," said attorney Shawn Aiken, who represents Saban. The question of whether the tax was passed along to customers then become irrelevant.

Both lawsuits are based on a provision in the U.S. Constitution that says only Congress can regulate interstate commerce.

"This power implies a ‘negative' converse, known as the dormant Commerce Clause, which prevents the states from impeding the free flow of goods and commerce from one state to another," they wrote. And that, they argue, prohibits "protectionist" state regulations that benefit in-state interests by burdening out-of-state competitors.

"Here the taxes violate the dormant Commerce Clause, discriminating against interstate commerce by favoring Arizona residents over out-of-state residents," the lawsuit claims.

The lawyers point out that preference is clear in the law because it contains an exemption available only to Arizona residents. And they cited the motivation of those who crafted the levy, which was to shift the financial burden of the stadium from Arizonans to those from elsewhere.

In defending the levy, attorneys for the state have argued it is simply a levy based on each car rental firm's business of leasing or renting motor vehicles designed to operate on Arizona streets. "As such, the Arizona Sports and Tourism Authority tax does not apply to any interstate transaction."

They also cite that earlier appellate court ruling that says the tax is on the rental car companies and not on the customers, whether from Arizona or elsewhere. That, they argued, means that, at least from the perspective of the rental firms, there is no discrimination.

Funds from the levy, which runs through March 2031, pay not only for the stadium but also provide cash for tourism promotion, spring training facilities in Maricopa County as well as youth and amateur sports leagues.

By Howard Fischer, Capitol Media Services

Source: The Yuma Sun

Montgomery, Horne simply hate this law

State Attorney General Tom Horne and Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery must think of Ryan Hurley as the boogeyman.

He's actually worse than that. He's a lawyer.

Which still puts him ahead of Horne and Montgomery, who are lawyers and politicians, as well as two men doing everything they can to keep the state from fully implementing the medical-marijuana law that - for a third time - was approved by voters.

Apparently the top law-enforcement officials in the state have solved Arizona's crime problem and now have time to frighten sick people and threaten those who want to help them.

Most recently, Horne issued a non-binding opinion saying that federal law supersedes Arizona's medical-marijuana law and that allowing marijuana dispensaries to move forward could get people arrested. Not by federal authorities, who have expressed no interest in prosecuting medical-marijuana cases, but by Montgomery, who publicly proclaimed that he is prepared to consider prosecuting cases the feds aren't interested in.

Hurley represents some of the folks who plan to open medical-marijuana dispensaries in Arizona.

He told me, "His (Montgomery's) press conference amounted to fear and intimidation rather than anything new. The county attorney enforces and prosecutes state law, not federal law. ... So this sort of notion that he's going to be out there arresting people under state law is just silly."

Silly, yes.

But also predictable.

The state's elected officials have been attacking the voter-approved law from the beginning. It began when Gov. Jan Brewer and Horne filed a federal lawsuit, which went nowhere.

Since then, there has been hand-wringing and foot-dragging and doom-saying until finally, last week, the state health department issued 97 dispensary-registration certificates. These were selected by a lottery from among 433 applicants. Each of those potential dispensary owners apparently was unimpressed by the dire predictions of arrest and financial ruin by Horne and Montgomery.

I asked Hurley if he was surprised by the vehemence with which the politicians are fighting implementation.

"It was a little surprising," he said. "Their stated intention from day one was to try to resolve this in a civil fashion in the courts, and that seems to have gone the other way. It's unfortunate because what they're going to end up doing is forcing cancer patients into the black market, into back alleys to pick up their medicine."

Montgomery and Horne want the issue back into the courts.

"If he (Montgomery) is successful in delaying or impeding the dispensary program, all he is going to be doing is allowing this unregulated gray market to pop up," Hurley said. "And patients aren't protected and growers aren't protected. The dispensaries offer a safe, legal, compliant way for people to get their medicine, and that is what people voted for."

Horne and Montgomery point to problems with medical marijuana in California and Colorado.

"Arizona is more like Colorado than California," Hurley said. "California has no specific state law that authorizes dispensaries. ... But unlike any state in the nation, we strictly limited the number of dispensaries we have. And the regulations people had to go through here to get a license were much steeper than other places. Our model, our law, is better than anyone else's so far and should be allowed to work the way it was designed."

He added, "Besides, even in California, where there is a lot of uncertainty, these notions that the sky is going to fall just don't hold up. You talk to LAPD, you talk to Denver PD, you look at the studies by the Rand Corporation, and there is absolutely no statistical increase in crime associated with medical marijuana. Period."

Trying to keep Arizona's medical-marijuana law from taking effect isn't about crime, however. It's about politicians who hate the idea of medical marijuana so much they are trying to override the will of voters. Or are they?

After all, the same voters who approved the marijuana initiative elected Brewer, Horne and Montgomery.

A fact that lends itself to a question I've heard from many out-of-state colleagues: "What are you people smoking?"

By E. J. Montini,, 602-444-8978

Source: The Arizona Republic

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Calif. attorney general sues Help Hospitalized Veterans charity for alleged state code violations

Help Hospitalized Veterans is no stranger to controversy.

The California-based charity came under scrutiny four years ago, when its founder and then-president was hauled before Congress to answer tough questions about his management of millions of dollars in private donations. Roger Chapin vehemently defended his actions, and his group went on to raise millions more to support its mission of providing arts and craft kits to homebound and hospitalized veterans.

Now the organization is in trouble again in a case that watchdog groups say highlights the lack of oversight for the growing number of charities that have cropped up in recent years to help troops returning from war.

California's Attorney General Kamala Harris told The Associated Press on Thursday that her office is suing the charity based in Winchester, over alleged violations of state codes.

Chapin and his successor, Michael Lynch, grossly overpaid themselves with the consent of several board members, prosecutors say. The organization's directors spent lavishly on perks, such as $80,000 in golf memberships for board members, according to the complaint filed in Riverside County Superior Court.

Help Hospitalized Veterans reported annual revenue in 2011 was $41 million, including $30 million in cash donations.

"What makes this case so egregious is our military servicemen and women are willing to sacrifice their lives for our country and for us as Americans, and when they are in need of help and support we should give it to them and not manipulate charitable people and then personally profit from them," Harris said.

Chapin and others named in the complaint could not be reached for comment Thursday. The law firm representing Help Hospitalized Veterans did not immediately respond to a request by the AP for comment.

Help Hospitalized Veterans ranks among the top 1 percent of charities in the nation for the amount of funds it reports raising annually. Prosecutors say the group has reported more than $436 million in revenue since 2001. The group once was endorsed by retired Gen. Tommy Franks, who later distanced himself from the charity.

At the same time, it has ranked for more than a decade at the bottom of lists by watchdog groups that rate nonprofit organizations based on their financial management and abilities to use most of their donations toward their causes. CharityWatch says about 35 percent of Help Hospitalized Veterans' funds go toward programs to aid veterans. The recommended standard is about 65 percent.

During the 2008 congressional hearing, Chapin called himself the "the most honest person in this room." A year later, he retired with a nearly $2 million pension plan after the group's board members retroactively spiked his earnings to justify the inflated amount for his retirement, according to the complaint filed by California's Attorney General's office.

"It's surprising it's taken this long for something to happen with all the serious problems that were brought up in the (2008) hearing," said Daniel Borochoff of CharityWatch, which monitors the financial records of nonprofit groups. "What's more, this information did not filter down to donors."

But he added: "Mr. Chapin spun a complex web to confuse well-intentioned donors and make it difficult for regulators to untangle."

Harris said she made going after those who exploit veterans a top priority when she took office in 2011. Her investigators spent the past year building what she called a complicated case.

Help Hospitalized Veterans is one of more than two dozen organizations started by Chapin. Prosecutors said the group's board authorized loans and grants to Chapin's other organizations.

State officials are seeking the ouster of the current president and several board members. They also want at least $4.3 million that prosecutors say was squandered to be returned to a trust for the charity.

Harris said the action will allow the organization to do the work it was intended to do and help more veterans.

According to its website, the mission of Help Hospitalized Veterans is to support recreational and occupational therapies for homebound and hospitalized veterans, mostly by donating arts and crafts kits to help them with their recovery by stimulating their minds and using their motor skills. It also employs "Craft Care Specialists" who help veterans select and complete their craft kits.

Borochoff said the complaint sends a strong message to unscrupulous charities.

"It's about $2 billion that is raised on behalf of veterans charity, and unfortunately a lot of that's being wasted and not being used to help our veterans," Borochoff said. "It's really ludicrous what's going on. It's out of control, there's such great waste. It's a national disgrace that people are allowed to exploit veterans for their own personal financial benefit, or benefit of their company."

According to Charity Navigator, a third of the 50 military veterans charities it evaluates rate poorly and 20 percent either got a zero for their financial management or a "donor advisory" tag, which indicates the organizations are being investigated by authorities.

That compares to 2 percent for other kinds of charities, said Ken Berger, the president of the Washington-based group that evaluates 5,500 charities.

By The Associated Press

Source: The CBS News

Samsung attorney argued in court without proper license to practice

It was discovered Thursday that Samsung lawyer Susan Estrich represented the company in Apple v. Samsung despite not having the proper license to practice law in the suit's jurisdiction of the Northern District of California, a mistake seen as yet another gaffe in the South Korean company's case management

According to the case's official minutes, Estrich, a law professor at the University of Southern California and Fox News commentator, was part of Tuesday's hearing regarding evidence spoliation despite lacking a notice of appearance and more importantly not being admitted to the Northern District of California bar.

Presiding Judge Lucy Koh, in a previous order, said "ALL TRIAL LAWYERS must make appearances in this case and must be admitted in this District" (emphasis in order). While Estrich said she presented the so-called "me too" motion in good faith, the Court may still decide to sanction Samsung for the oversight.

Judge Paul Grewal first questioned the attorney on the matter, with Estrich subsequently confessing the court records were correct and takes full blame, saying that she thought she had already been admitted to the district since 1986. In actuality, Estrich is only licensed to practice in the Central District of California, notes Florian Mueller of FOSS Patents, which generally comprises the greater Los Angeles area. To remedy the situation, the attorney "immediately applied for and [has] been admitted to practice before the District Court of the Northern District of California."

In her statement, Estrich wants "the Court not [to] hold these inadvertent omissions on [her] part against the merits of [her] client's case."

As far as her appearance on Tuesday is concerned, Estrich said her current law firm Quinn Emanuel asked her to argue the evidence spoliation claims on Saturday due to increased pressure on the team's other members. The adverse inference jury instruction claims Samsung is being held to evidence spoliation standards over the company's automatic e-mail deletion protocols, a system it argues is similar to e-mail deletion steps taken by Apple.

Samsung has been criticized for certain missteps including a recent "leak" of excluded trial documents to the press. John Quinn, the party's lead counsel, claimed the dissemination of the sensitive material was both legal and ethical.

By The Apple Insider

Source: The Apple Insider

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Family of Lake County man shot by deputy to sue

Mark NeJame says family of Andrew Lee Scott will seek maximum damages

The lawyers for the family of the Lake County man who was shot and killed by Lake County sheriff's deputies announced they are planning to sue the department in a news conference Monday.

Andrew Lee Scott, 26, was shot and killed after opening his Leesburg apartment door at 1:30 a.m. while pointing a gun at deputies, who did not identify themselves as law enforcement officers and came unannounced.

It was later found that Scott wasn't the suspect they were seeking. Deputies were searching for Jonathon Brown, who parked his motorcycle outside of Scott's apartment.

The news conference was held outside of Scott's apartment on Ryan Drive in Leesburg at by attorneys Mark NeJame and Jason Recksiedler. NeJame says he's filing the paperwork to prepare a major lawsuit against Lake County and the sheriff's office.

"Any person in Lake County who gets a 1:30 a.m. knock at the door and comes armed to find out who it is, it's legitimate to kill them in their home-is that right in anybody's eyes?" NeJame said.

NeJame said he is seeking maximum damages for the family and fiancee of Scott. He said the deputies didn't follow a state and federal law that says law enforcement officers must knock and announce their presence, according to a 20120 Florida Supreme Court ruling and a state statue.

Lake County Sheriff Gary Borders declined a request for an interview, but released a statement saying the sheriff's office isn't commenting on "pending or open litigation."

According to a release, the news conference will discuss the "practices and procedures of the Lake County Sheriff's Office under Lake County Sheriff, Gary S. Borders," and the "future course of action."

By Austin News

Source: The Austin News

Former Edwards aide won't face contempt charge

A special prosecutor has decided not to pursue contempt charges against ex-John Edwards aide Andrew Young, his wife, and two of their lawyers.

In June, North Carolina Superior Court Judge Michael R. Morgan appointed Orange County District Attorney Jim Woodall to look into the matter related to a court fight over a video purported to show the ex-presidential candidate having sex with his then-mistress Rielle Hunter.

A judge previously found probable cause for contempt charges arising from a lawsuit filed against the Youngs by Hunter, who was Edwards' mistress as he sought the White House in 2008. The state court ordered sensitive documents in the lawsuit to be kept under seal, including a lengthy deposition given by Edwards.

Young and his lawyers have acknowledged providing those documents to federal prosecutors investigating Edwards prior to his 2011 indictment, but said they did so only after receiving a subpoena signed by a federal judge. Attorneys for the Youngs said they were asked by prosecutors to keep the subpoena a secret from Hunter and her lawyers.

Young was the government's star witness at Edwards' campaign corruption trial, spending more than a week on the witness stand. Edwards was acquitted on one count and the jury deadlocked on five others.

An aide once so loyal he falsely claimed paternity of Edwards' baby with Hunter and helped hide her from the media for nearly a year, Young turned against his former boss and testified for the prosecution under an immunity agreement.

The civil case between Hunter and the Youngs was settled earlier this year with a state court order that required copies of the sex tape to be destroyed, but a hearing on the contempt of court issue was delayed until after Edwards' federal trial.

Woodall is the lead prosecutor for a two-county district that includes Chapel Hill, where both the Youngs and Edwards live.

He told ABC11 Monday that while he determined that there was probable cause that criminal contempt had occurred for failure of parties and attorneys to follow orders in the case, he doesn't believe there's sufficient evidence to sustain a prosecution beyond a reasonable doubt.

Woodall will dismiss this contempt issue.

Probable cause was restricted to one thing: did Young and his attorneys give notice that federal authorities were seeking information from them.

Although Young's attorneys didn't give notice to the other side, the attorneys did consult with the judge overseeing the civil case because federal officials had directed attorneys to keep it confidential.

The attorneys had conflicting directives and there was no willful violation of the law, according to Woodall.

Woodall did look beyond Judge Morgan's probable cause concern.

But, Woodall said there's no solid evidence to establish that before US Attorneys' Office issued subpoenas, that the Youngs may have provided federal investigators with information.

Late Monday afternoon, Andrew Young released the following statement: "Cheri and I are happy that District Attorney Jim Woodall has decided to dismiss these charges. It is our belief that our lawyers did their best to understand and comply with the conflicting orders of a federal and a state judge. Cheri and I had no involvement in this whatsoever. Once again, we are glad to put this behind us."

By Michael Biesecker

Source: The ABC

Monday, August 6, 2012

Causing 2,500 deaths, umpteen million lawyer ads each year

Somewhere, somebody owes me damages for pain and suffering for having to know what a pelvic mesh is.

Once upon a time, used car dealers had the absolute worst local television ads, hands-down. Goofy gimmicks, fake patriotism, cheesy graphics, shameless exploitation of children - car lots had a near monopoly when it came to low production values and bad taste. Now attorneys are rapidly taking over the niche occupied by TV car lot ads, as some personal injury ads make the car dealer ads look like they were directed by Stephen Spielberg.

Currently, there are three basic types of attorney commercials on the air, including:

The Book Commercial – In this commercial, the attorney makes his or her pitch while standing in front of a bookshelf full of shiny, hardcover books. I suppose this is supposed to make the viewer think, "Holy crap, look at all those books! There's a Funk & Wagnalls Encyclopedia up in there. Did he read all of those? Verily, this attorney has a mastery of toxic mold litigation to rival Katherine Heigl's mastery of the unlikeable female lead character."

The Bad Graphic Class Action Fishing Commercial – Using a series of images that make 1990s era clip art look high tech and fonts that look like they belong in the end credits of an episode of "Good Times," the commercial informs sufferers of the various misdeeds and perfidies of the drug industry of their opportunity to make the attorney a lot of money and themselves some pocket change by joining a class action. Nothing inspires confidence like retina burning colors and that TV trick where the commercial is 10 times louder than the show you were watching, I guess.

The Get Tough Commerical – The attorney crosses his arms (nothing implies steadfast resolve like a pair of crossed arms) and swears before the Mother of Mountains as the stars look down and witness to take his team of experienced attorneys and paralegals and ride wooden horses across the poison sea to kill the men in iron suits, tear down their stone houses, take their broken gods back to Vaes Dothrak… and get you the settlement you deserve if you've been injured in an accident. Or something like that.

While these commercials are pretty bad already, it's just a matter of time before we see lawyers professing their love for God, country, little babies and bad faith insurance litigation. Or commercials offering package deals, "That dope and that baby aren't yours – and we'll prove it with our two-for-one deal!"

My point, if I have one, is this: Attorneys make plenty of money. Higher insurance premiums and warning labels advising against putting your junk in a wood chipper are proof of that. Would it kill them to spring for some better advertising?

By Jim Cook,

Source: The Dothan Eagle

Lamar for state attorney

The race for Orange-Osceola state attorney — whose job it is, along with appointed assistants, to decide what cases to prosecute - has been a slugfest.

Casey Anthony prosecutor Jeff Ashton is running to unseat his former boss, State Attorney Lawson Lamar. Despite the rhetorical haymakers, both insist the heated prelude to the open, winner-take-all primary isn't personal.

That aside, the contest shapes up as a philosophical fight for the soul of the office that Lamar has manned for 24 years.

If Ashton wins, he'll lead by trying cases - something Lamar last did in 1989. Regularly setting foot in the courtroom, he says, keeps the state attorney current on what prosecutors face in court and inspires the troops. Lamar insists that juggling cases detracts from his managerial duties. He argues that leading every grand jury proceeding keeps him fresh.

Ashton contends office morale has cratered because prosecutors feel bullied to bring weak cases to trial. Mediocrity rules the office where he worked for 22 years, he says. And Ashton decries office technology as Jurassic - for instance, there's no Wi-Fi. However, he says Lamar's worst offense is not getting the job done, pointing to conviction rates slightly above 50 percent.

Of course, Ashton knows conviction rates can be misleading. Trying tough cases, as Lamar insists he does, sinks percentages. And while occasionally trying cases could be beneficial for the top prosecutor, it sometimes smacks of a politician wanting to take center stage for a big case.

What's more crucial is having the administrative chops to run an office with 145 attorneys, a $25 million budget and a caseload of nearly 89,000, and that's a primary reason we recommend returning Lamar to office.

That, and our concerns that Ashton favors limiting the public's access to information prior to trials. Florida already has too many public officials who want to weaken the state's open government laws. As messy as the Casey Anthony trial might have been, in the end a jury rendered a verdict that we don't believe was tainted by the publicity. Ashton may not see it that way, but he was on the losing end.

Ashton also would dismantle the team of lawyers tasked with investigating public corruption. While we're not convinced Lamar's unit has done enough over the years, we're certain that dismantling it as Ashton proposes would mean even less focus on official corruption.

Not that we recommend Lamar without reservation.

Last year, we scolded Lamar not only for the wrongful prosecution of Marlenne Joseph - a Haitian-born mother of two, who was the victim of shoddy police work and mistaken IDs - but also for ducking the Innocence Commission, a panel charged with preventing such egregious errors.

And we agree with Ashton that Lamar needs to more aggressively pursue technology upgrades to help prosecutors be more efficient and stay ahead of the crime curve.

By The Orlando Sentinel

Source: The Orlando Sentinel

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Racial-profiling trial: Plaintiffs' lawyers rest case

Lawyers representing the plaintiffs in a racial-profiling lawsuit involving the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office rested their case early Tuesday afternoon after calling a final sheriff's deputy to the witness stand and forgoing their plan to have a police-practices expert assess the sheriff's operation.

An attorney for the Sheriff's Office immediately made a motion to dismiss the case, arguing that the plaintiffs had not presented enough evidence for Judge Murray Snow to find in their favor, but after a brief 15-minute discussion between Snow and the attorneys, the motion was denied.

The Sheriff's Office began presenting its case after more than four days of watching lawyers argue that Sheriff Joe Arpaio's deputies intentionally discriminate against Latino residents, using a combination of statistical data, Arpaio's internal-and-external communications and anecdotal evidence to prove their case.

Attorneys for the Sheriff's Office started their defense with testimony from the director of research at the Center for Immigration Studies who is expected to refute data the plaintiffs presented.

In brief testimony before the hearing took a break for lunch, Steven Camarota said nearly 30 percent of the sheriff's traffic stops he inspected did not include the names of drivers, making an assessment of the allegation that the Sheriff's Office discriminates against Latino drivers difficult.

Camarota said his problems with satisfying the county's request to assess the data were compounded by the inadequate records the Sheriff's Office keeps regarding the race and ethnicity of drivers deputies contact.

"This was one of the big challenges, they didn't have much data on the specific area they talked about," Camarota said about the traffic stops. "You want to have that so you can look for evidence of bias, but they don't collect it"

The trial is scheduled to end within the next two days, but could be extended into the middle of next month depending on how U.S. District Judge Murray Snow wants attorneys to present their closing arguments.

As the trial moves into its third week, the plaintiffs repeatedly called sheriff's deputies to the stand to explain the planning that goes into saturation patrols. Those witnesses have been interspersed with victims who have testified about the impact of the patrols.

The case alleges that the sheriff's illegal-immigration enforcement priorities have resulted in discrimination against Latino residents. Over the past six years, Arpaio has made immigration enforcement his trademark. But those efforts have also been met by accusations -- by citizens, activists and the U.S. Justice Department -- that his agency has engaged in racial profiling and discrimination.

Lydia Guzman, a local immigration advocate, told the court Tuesday that the sheriff's immigration sweeps and saturation patrols had negatively affected her group, made up of individual volunteers and a variety of community organizations.

The sheriff's operations forced Guzman's group, Somos America, to devote more time to community outreach to ease the anxiety Latino residents felt when Arpaio began conducting the sweeps in 2007, Guzman said. The operations also led to more allegations of profiling, including one from Guzman herself, though she was not stopped or detained.

Guzman said she saw a sheriff's deputy during a 2009 saturation patrol in the West Valley, and the deputy followed her as she pulled out of a gas station, causing Guzman to get nervous.

"I thought to myself, 'He's going to stop me'," she said. "It was at that moment, I knew I'm racially profiled. This is happening."

The deputy pulled away from Guzman's car after a news van from a Hispanic television station passed Guzman and acknowledged her, she said.

Guzman later agreed with Tom Liddy, an attorney representing the Sheriff's Office, that she had never been stopped by a sheriff's deputy.

The most pressing concern in Tuesday morning's hearings concerned how the long-standing racial-profiling trial will end.

Snow gave each side 20 hours in which to present their cases during the hearings, and attorneys figured there were about 17 hours remaining when the session ended last week.

An attorney for Arpaio's office said last week that he planned to call five witnesses during his case, including a former police chief to serve as an expert on "best practices."

Snow has not yet decided whether he wants the attorneys to submit their closing arguments in writing or in a hearing. Snow said he would rule later Tuesday. He could ask the arguments to be submitted in writing on a schedule with two-week intervals or, as the plaintiffs' attorneys proposed, hold a separate hearing on Aug. 13 for closing arguments.

With no jury in the case, it is snow who Snow will decide whether the Sheriff's Office participated in racial profiling. The case is unrelated to a U.S. Justice Department civil-rights lawsuit filed earlier this year, though its outcome could affect the Justice Department case.

The plaintiffs want the kind of injunctive relief that the Sheriff's Office has resisted in the past: A declaration that spells out what deputies may or may not do when stopping potential suspects and a court-appointed monitor to make sure the agency lives by those rules.

By JJ Hensley, The Republic

Source: AZ

Apple lawyers contend Samsung copied iPhone, iPad designs

An attorney for Apple told a jury Tuesday that rival Samsung faced two options to compete in the booming cellphone market after Steve Jobs introduced the iPhone to critical acclaim in 2007: innovate or copy.

Samsung chose to copy, making its smartphones and computer tablets illegal knockoffs of Apple's popular products, attorney Harold McElhinny asserted.

Samsung "has copied the entire design and user experience" of Apple's iPhone and iPad, McElhinny told a jury during his opening statement at the patent trial involving the world's two largest makers of cellphones.

In his opening statement, Samsung attorney Charles Verhoeven countered that the South Korean company employs thousands of designers and spends billions of dollars on research and development to create new products.

"Samsung is not some copyist, some Johnny-come-lately doing knockoffs," he said.

Verhoeven asserted that Apple is like many other companies that use similar technology and designs to satisfy consumer demands for phones and other devices.

For example, he said several companies and inventors have filed patent applications for the rounded, rectangular shape associated with Apple products.

"Everyone is out there with that basic form factor," Verhoeven said. "There is nothing wrong with looking at what your competitors do and being inspired by them."

A verdict in Apple's favor could lead to banishment of Samsung's Galaxy products from the US market, said Mark A. Lemley, a professor and director of the Stanford Program in Law, Science, and Technology.

A verdict in Samsung's favor, especially if it prevails on its demands that Apple pay its asking price for certain transmission technology, could lead to higher-priced Apple products.

The witness lists of both sides are long on experts, engineers, and designers and short on familiar names. For example, Apple chief executive Tim Cook is not scheduled to testify.

Apple Inc. sued Samsung Electronics Co. last year and is demanding $2.5 billion in damages, an award that would dwarf the largest patent-related verdict to date.

The case marks the latest skirmish between the two companies over product designs. A similar trial began last week, and the companies have been fighting in other courts in the United Kingdom and Germany.

In the patent case, US District Judge Lucy Koh last month ordered Samsung to pull its Galaxy 10.1 computer tablet from the US market pending the outcome of the patent trial. However, she barred Apple attorneys from telling jurors about the ban.

Apple lawyers contend there is almost no difference between Samsung products and its own, and that the South Korean company's internal documents show it copied Apple's iconic designs and its interface.

Samsung counterclaims that Apple copied its iPhone from Sony. In addition, Samsung alleges Apple is using some of Samsung's inventions without payment, such as a computer chip at the heart of the iPhone.

Samsung lawyers also stressed that the company has been developing mobile phones since 1991, before Apple jumped into the market in 2007.

By Paul Elias

Source: The Boston Globe