Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Group aims to help attorneys conquer addictions

Recovering alcoholic leads state version of Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers

Attorney Coe Swobe has been more than a successful lawyer. He spent a dozen years in the Nevada Legislature as both an assemblyman and state senator and negotiated a deal to save Lake Tahoe.

But saving himself proved a little harder.

Swobe is a recovering alcoholic whose drinking nearly destroyed his life and career. Swobe remembers feeling as if had nowhere to turn. So, now, a quarter of a century later, he has made sure other lawyers suffering from addictions can get confidential help.

Swobe, who is now 81, has been a force behind Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers, the state's version of the national group that provides help to attorneys who suffer from addictions. The organization counsels attorneys with alcohol, drug and gambling addictions and recently expanded into dealing with depressed lawyers.

Swobe recounted how a few drinks here and there evolved into a devastating problem.

"It started out in college drinking beer. I went to wine, then I went to hard liquor. I found out I drank more and more as time went on," Swobe recalled. "The other progression of the disease is denial."

When Swobe was 55, his family forced an intervention. After about a dozen years of sobriety, he discovered Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers, a group founded in 1985 by attorney and recovering alcoholic Ben Graham.

Graham found support for his new group from Michael Cherry, another lawyer recovering from alcoholism. Cherry is now a Nevada Supreme Court justice.

"Mainly the (State) Bar supported us with money," Cherry recalled. "They supported us from the beginning and we patterned this after what was going on (with a similar program) in Oregon."

The State Bar supports Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers financially, but does not receive any confidential information on those being counseled, Swobe said.

"We are an independent organization, because we are effective being independent of the Bar," Swobe said.

Cam Ferenbach talked about Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers shortly after he was named State Bar of Nevada president over the summer. He emphasized the need to keep the support system going and in the public eye.

"It's a place lawyers can go to get help without worrying about disciplinary action. Everything is kept confidential," Ferenbach said. "We want to see this program continue."

The idea of the State Bar learning of attorneys' problems terrifies lawyers with addictions. So, Swobe is quick to distance his group from the State Bar, which administers discipline.

"Lawyers are paranoid about the (State) Bar finding out," he said. "We had a phone line that went to the (State) Bar and attorneys hung up when they heard, 'State Bar.' So now we have a different number."

Swobe gained the support of Nevada's lawyers, judges and Supreme Court in 1994 as he worked to ensure that they were educated about substance abuse and other addictions in the legal profession. A few years ago, The Nevada Supreme Court adopted a rule allowing Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers to keep all client information confidential.

The support group has become important from both humanistic and business reasons, State Bar of Nevada officials said.

Addiction ramifications in the legal profession go beyond attorneys' suffering. Costly addictions such as compulsive gambling and drugs often factor in client complaints filed with the State Bar of Nevada, said Dave Clark, the bar's deputy council.

"When it comes to serious misconduct, (addictions) are a serious factor," Clark said. "Alcohol is the traditional favorite, but Nevada offers a variety of addictions. We see a few cases (of attorney misconduct) a month."

That misconduct often involves clients' money.

"They accept retainers from clients and never do the work because they are just funding their addictions," Clark added.

Cherry credits his 24 years of sobriety for allowing him to achieve career success and, more importantly, for saving his life.

"Had I not stopped drinking, there's no way I would have become a Supreme Court justice," he said. "It was killing me. I probably would have died."

By Valerie Miller, vmiller@lvbusinesspress.com, 702-387-5286

Source: Las Vegas Business Press

U.S. must provide incapacitated immigrants with lawyers, judge rules

Two mentally disabled immigrants must be given lawyers as they fight deportation, a U.S. district court judge has ruled.

Jose Franco-Gonzalez, 29, of Costa Mesa, and Guillermo Gomez-Sanchez, 48, of San Bernardino, are at the center of a case that marks one of the first instances in which a judge ordered representation for an individual in immigration proceedings, according to a coalition of advocacy lawyers arguing the men's cases.

The decision by U.S. District Court Judge Dolly Gee came last week just before Christmas. Both men have been free pending a bail hearing also ordered by Gee.

In a March lawsuit, the ACLU of Southern California and other advocates argued that the men's diminished mental capacities made them unable to voice their own interests.

Franco, who is moderately retarded, was convicted and served a year in jail on an assault with a deadly weapon charge for throwing a rock during a fight between rival gangs, his attorneys have said. He doesn't know his birth date or how to tell time, and has an IQ no higher than 55, according to his attorney.

Gomez is a paranoid schizophrenic who served one year of a two-year sentence for a 2004 assault conviction stemming from a scuffle over tomatoes he picked without permission. He has previous convictions, including for battery against a police officer, which his attorneys have attributed to his mental illness.

The lawsuit initially was filed only on behalf of Gomez and Franco. But the plaintiff's lawyers successfully petitioned the court to transform it into a class-action case on behalf of all detainees with mental disabilities, attorneys said

"Judge Gee's thorough opinion is a first step in ensuring that the rights of those who are rendered helpless by their mental illnesses are not ignored,'' said Michael Steinberg, a partner with Sullivan & Cromwell who is assisting in the litigation.

Both men are still facing possible deportation. Gomez is a legal resident and Franco has petitioned for a green card. Until they were freed in April, both had languished in detention centers and psychiatric hospitals for years because authorities considered them mentally incompetent, the plaintiffs' attorneys say.

By Catherine Saillant

Source: Los Angeles Times

Sunday, December 26, 2010

AG says access to juvenile court records limited

Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen says lawyers representing the public's interest in certain cases involving children may not have access to restricted information about juveniles.

Van Hollen says in the formal opinion released Wednesday that attorneys can't access the information in the online court database because technical limitations could result in them accessing private case information.

Van Hollen issued the opinion after being asked about the issue by the director of the state court system. The question pertains to cases involving a child in need of protective services or the termination of parental rights.

Van Hollen says the online system currently isn't set up to allow a subset of juvenile case information to be viewed without making all juvenile records available.

By Associated Press

Source: Chicagotribune.com

Lawyers say Hard Rock 'Rehab' canceled

Court documents filed in a Las Vegas trademark case indicate the truTV reality series "Rehab: Party at the Hard Rock Hotel" has been canceled.

Attorneys for the Las Vegas hotel and casino said in documents that the series was not coming back despite being a hit.

"Defendants believe the show was an enormous net benefit to the Hard Rock brand," the documents filed last week said.

The Las Vegas Sun Saturday the cancellation announcement contained in the documents came amid a court battle between the hotel and Hard Rock Cafe International, which controls the worldwide Hard Rock brand.

Hard Rock Cafe International went to court in September claiming that the raucous partying displayed in the series was tarnishing the company's good name. The hotel countered the series had actually improved business.

Source: UPI.com

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation awarded damages

A federal judge ordered the government Tuesday to pay $40,800 in damages and $2.5 million in legal fees for wiretapping an Islamic organization without a warrant as part of President George W. Bush's secret surveillance program.

Although the government has classified Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation as a terrorist organization, the group's lawyers accomplished "a vindication of constitutional rights that serves the greater public interest" in challenging the wiretapping, said Chief U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker.

Walker ruled in March that federal agents had illegally eavesdropped on Al-Haramain and two of its lawyers during a terrorism investigation in 2004. It was the only ruling in the nation against the surveillance program, which has been challenged in numerous cases.

Tuesday's order completes Walker's work on the case and allows the Obama administration to appeal the wiretap ruling.

The administration has argued that the suit endangers state secrets and national security. But the Justice Department has not said whether it will ask higher courts to uphold the surveillance, which was part of a program that President Obama criticized as a candidate.

Jon Eisenberg, Al-Haramain's lead attorney, said the Obama administration "has embraced the power grab and abusive litigation tactics of the Bush administration" in the court case.

Bush acknowledged in 2005 that he had authorized federal agents after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks to intercept phone calls and e-mails between Americans and suspected foreign terrorists without the warrants that Congress had required in a 1978 law.

He claimed inherent power to override the law, an argument Walker rejected.

Unlike all others who had challenged the surveillance program, Al-Haramain, a now-defunct charity, had evidence that it had been wiretapped - a secret document that the government inadvertently sent to the organization.

Although Al-Haramain was barred from using the document in its lawsuit, Walker ruled in March that the organization had presented enough public evidence to show that it had been the target of illegal surveillance.

On Tuesday, the judge awarded damages of $100 a day, the maximum allowed by the 1978 law, to two Al-Haramain attorneys whose phone calls he found were intercepted for nearly seven months in 2004.

Walker refused to award punitive damages, saying the government had believed it was acting legally. But he granted the lawyers' request for $2.5 million in fees.

The attorneys prevailed against a government that "has fiercely litigated this case from the beginning," Walker said.

By Bob Egelko, begelko@sfchronicle.com, Chronicle Staff Writer

Source: Chronicle Staff

Federal judge chastises Kilpatrick lawyers over secrecy attempts

A federal judge today censured former Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick's attorneys for trying to file motions under seal in the lawsuit involving slain exotic dancer Tamara Greene.

Today's order by U.S. Eastern District Judge Gerald E. Rosen is his latest admonishment of Kilpatrick's attorneys for trying to keep court motions hidden. Rosen ordered Kilpatrick's motion, which was filed Monday, stricken from the court record.

Norman Yatooma, attorney for Greene's family, said the attorneys were "trying to seal documents related to Kilpatrick's computer."

Rosen pointed out that anyone wishing to file motions under seal must receive prior authorization from the court, and show why the information needs to be kept under wraps.

"This court has repeatedly emphasized in this case that this . . . rule would be strictly enforced, and it has removed from the docket sealed submissions that were filed in violation of this . . . rule." Rosen wrote in today's order.

In September, Rosen made public a motion filed by Kilpatrick attorney James Thomas seeking to dismiss a federal lawsuit filed by Greene's family, which claims the ex-mayor and Detroit Police officials quashed an investigation into Greene's drive-by shooting death in April 2003.

Greene allegedly danced at a rumored but never proven Manoogian Mansion party.

Thomas was not available for comment this afternoon.

In today's order, Rosen wrote that Kilpatrick's attorneys likely won't be able to show just cause to file the motion in question under seal, because the motion "discusses procedural matters that seemingly need not be shielded from public disclosure."

By George Hunter, The Detroit News

Source: The Detroit News

Monday, December 20, 2010

Judge rules Speight competent to stand trial in Appomattox slayings

A judge on Friday declared a man accused of killing eight people mentally fit to stand trial and appointed a public defender to represent him.

Appomattox Circuit Judge Richard Blanton accepted a state mental-health hospital's report stating that Christopher Speight, 41, is capable of understanding court proceedings and assisting his lawyers.

C.J. Covati of Roanoke, one of two attorneys hired by Speight shortly after his arrest Jan. 20, did not oppose the competency finding. He said Speight "still hears voices and has hallucinations, but they are not as intrusive" as they were before he was sent to Central State Hospital in June for mental-health treatment.

Speight was charged with three counts of capital murder after the shootings at the Appomattox house he shared with his sister and her family. He surrendered Jan. 20 after an 18-hour manhunt.

In court papers last spring, Speight's attorneys said he displayed "an overall agitated and fearful demeanor" in jail and that he talked about "being tortured by other entities that were battling over him, and he demanded the torture stop."

The former security guard was sent to a state mental hospital in June after a psychologist found him too mentally ill to assist his lawyers or stand trial.

Speight, handcuffed and shackled and dressed in a jail-issued orange jumpsuit, sat quietly through the 10-minute hearing, speaking only to confirm his identity and acknowledge that by requesting court-appointed counsel he was waiving his right to a speedy trial.

The capital public defender, David P. Baugh of Richmond, will be allowed to choose another lawyer or lawyers to help with the case. Covati and Neil Horn of Roanoke have been representing Speight and are the likely choices, but Blanton said he never has allowed the capital defender to bring in more than one other attorney. The defense attorneys all declined to comment after the hearing.

The case was continued to Jan. 4, when a trial date is expected to be set. Appomattox Commonwealth's Attorney Darrel W. Puckett said the appointment of the public defender won't slow the process but the trial still won't be anytime soon.

"There's lots of stuff that has to happen on both sides," he said after the hearing.

Speight was arrested Jan. 20 after an overnight standoff with authorities at the home he shared with his sister, her husband and their two children. Those family members were among the victims. Two neighbors, their teenage daughter and a teenage boy also were killed.

Speight also is accused of firing at a state police helicopter, resulting in a charge of attempted capital murder of a police officer.


Source: Richmond Times-Dispatch

4 state AGs urge spill victims to get lawyers

Attorneys general in four Gulf states are urging oil spill victims to consult lawyers before accepting final payments from a $20 billion compensation fund and agreeing not to sue BP.

They issued notices to claimants Thursday in Florida, Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi. They warned residents that if they sign away their rights they can't come back and get more money, even if they suffer new damage from oil from the BP rig explosion.

Claimants can now accept interim, final and quick final payments. Those opting for final or quick final must agree not to sue BP or any other responsible party.

Fund administrator Ken Feinberg says he appreciates the attorneys general looking out for their citizens and says he is doing that, too.

By The Associated Press

Source: The Washington Post

Thursday, December 16, 2010

20 States Sue Government Over Federal Health Care Act

Lawyers representing 20 states were in a Florida courtroom Thursday arguing to overturn the federal Health Care Act

Their lawsuit is just one significant force in the overall legal opposition to the law across the country.

The Attorneys General from 20 states have a message for the president

"Obamacare should be stricken down as a violation of the constitution," says Texas AG Greg Abbott.

Attorneys General from Texas, Florida and Alabama argued in a federal court that congress does not have the constitutional authority to force all Americans to buy health insurance --or penalize them if they don't.

"The judge actually said if Congress can get away with making us purchase health care, it could also get away with making us buy broccoli," says Abbott.

They also told the judge, if states are forced to expand medicaid programs under the new law, they'll go broke.

"Where are you going to get the money? Are we going to raise taxes in the states enormously?" asks Bill McCollum, the Florida Attorney General.

Earlier this week a federal judge in Virginia ruled that citizens cannot be forced to buy health insurance. Supporters of this lawsuit want the Florida judge to go even further; to actually stop the federal government from enacting health care reform.

But two other federal judges have upheld the law and dozens of groups are weighing in from the sidelines.

"There is a lot at stake because there are tens of millions of people who are going to gain coverage as a result of this legislation.," says Ron Pollack, the Executive Director for Families USA.

Outside the courthouse some showed their distrust of more government intervention, but others who've fought their own health care battles want to see this reform law stick.

"In my situation, I would have suffered less not only financially, but medically had I been eligible for medicaid," explains Laurie Scop, a Florida resident.

Lawyers for the federal government say ultimately states don't have the authority to interfere. Legal analysts say the issue will undoubtedly end up before the Supreme Court.

The other states involved in the lawsuit are Alabama, Alaska,
Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Indiana, Idaho, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah and Washington.

By CBS News

Source: Kbtx.com

Home invasion lawyers want to bar words and glares

Lawyers for the second man charged with murder in a deadly machete attack and home invasion in New Hampshire want prosecutors barred from glaring at him during his upcoming insanity trial.

Attorneys for 21-year-old Christopher Gribble of Brookline also want to stop prosecutors from using family photographs of the victims or describing them as a "loving and caring family."

Gribble has admitted he helped kill Kimberly Cates and maimed her daughter in their Mont Vernon home, but he says he was insane at the time. His trial is scheduled to begin in February.

Steven Spader was convicted in November of murder and other felonies for killing Cates, 42, and maiming her 11-year-old daughter, Jaimie. Prosecutors say Spader wielded a machete and Gribble hacked at the victims with a knife.

Defense attorneys Matthew Hill and Donna Brown base their motions in large part on their observations during Spader's trial. During arguments to the jury and occasionally while questioning witnesses, prosecutors Jeffery Strelzin and Peter Hinckley would stand in front of the defense table and glare at Spader. Such conduct is an effort to convey to the jury how the state feels about the defendant and "only serves to exacerbate the shocking and emotional nature of the evidence in this case," the defense attorneys said.

They want Superior Court Judge Gillian Abramson to order prosecutors to "not glare at/or stare down" their client during trial.

During Spader's trial, prosecutors projected onto a screen photographs of the victims that Hill and Brown say "have no relevance in this case. The only purpose of this evidence is to evoke sympathy."

Gribble's lawyers also want prosecutors barred from using terms like "slaughter, horror or ambush" during the trial, saying those words are inflammatory. Hill and Brown also want to exclude testimony from victims' relatives about gifts they gave Kimberly Cates that were stolen during the home invasion. The lawyers called that testimony emotional and not relevant.

Prosecutors have yet to file a response to the motions. Abramson will hear arguments on them Jan. 10.

Gribble and his lawyers return to court next week to argue a motion to move the trial to another judicial district. The judge denied a similar motion in Spader's case.

By Lynne Tuohy, The Associated Press

Source: The Boston Globe

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Truth in Lending Act changes opposed by consumer attorneys

Two local attorneys representing homeowners fighting foreclosure have joined more than 200 lawyers, more than 30 legal services organizations and a dozen consumer advocacy groups asking the Federal Reserve governors to preserve the right of borrowers to cancel a loan if they do not receive proper disclosures.

Soquel attorney Pamela Simmons and Henry Martin of the nonprofit Watsonville Law Center signed a Nov. 16 letter to the Federal Reserve governors, asking them to withdraw changes to the Truth in Lending Act proposed in FRB Docket R-1390.

The Fed announced the proposed changes, which run 250 pages in the Federal Register, Sept. 24 and is accepting comments until Dec. 23.

Existing law, enacted in 1968, allows consumers up to three years to cancel a loan through a process known as rescission if they did not receive proper disclosures when the loan was closed.

The proposed change would require the borrower to repay the loan before the loan could be canceled instead of afterward, which is the current procedure.

"This proposal would make it completely useless to all but the wealthiest borrowers," according to letter signed by the Center for Responsible Lending, Consumer Action and the National Coalition of Reinvestment Coalition.

"A homeowner can't borrow the money to pay off the lender unless the lender is willing to accept the lower payoff and agrees to release their security interest," Simmons said.

In the September announcement, the Fed said the proposal was designed to "simplify and improve the notice of the right to rescind to consumers at closing" and to "reduce undue compliance burden and litigation risk for creditors."

The Mortgage Bankers Association, which represents the real estate finance industry, has not yet finalized its comments to the Federal Reserve, "but we are inclined to support the proposed rule as it relates to rescissions, " spokesman John Mechem said.

Several years ago, Aptos insurance agent Sean Rovai worked with Simmons' partner, attorney William Purdy, to use the right of rescission to cancel a loan.

"One of the documents was not signed so it was not valid," said Rovai. "I went to another lender and got a new loan."

He attributed the problem to sloppy paperwork.

"The whole crisis is basically greed on everyone's part," he said. "You've got to live within your means. If you're working at Walmart, you don't live in a $900,000 house. Lenders need to be held accountable for the shady things they did."

It's very uncommon for someone to rescind a mortgage loan, according to Simmons.

"Our firm has been specializing in this issue for years," she said. "We've done hundreds."

When problems are found, a notice of rescission is sent to the lender, which must decide within 20 days whether to accept it. The lender cancels the lien on the property, and the borrower pays the loan balance, minus payments already made.

Simmons said clients generally refinance or sell the property to do that, though sometimes the lender may rewrite the loan at the new balance.

By JONDI GUMZ, Santa Cruz Sentinel

Source: San Jose Mercury News

Brunei prince's NY court fight with attys near end

Brunei's flamboyant Prince Jefri Bolkiah tried to play by his own "royal rules" in dealing with two British lawyers he has accused of stealing from him, one of their attorneys said Monday as a trial in the globe-trotting, multimillion-dollar dispute neared its end.

Lawyers for attorneys Faith Zaman Derbyshire and Thomas Derbyshire made closing arguments Monday in the five-week-long trial. The case has become a tabloid staple by opening a window on the prince's outlandish lifestyle -- including some sexually explicit, life-sized, custom-made statues he once kept at an estate on New York's Long Island.

The prince's lawyers were due to give their summations Tuesday.

Jefri is the so-called "playboy prince" of one of the world's richest royal families. He's the youngest brother of the sultan of oil-rich Brunei.

Jefri says the Derbyshires, a husband-and-wife legal team, exploited their access to his business affairs to steal about $7 million from him. The prince's camp says they embezzled by doing everything from using his money to buy themselves a home in Manhattan Beach, Calif., to charging beauty treatments and other personal luxuries to his corporate credit cards.

The Derbyshires say he owes them $12 million or more in promised fees and authorized everything they did. They say the disputed transactions were made on Jefri's behalf, were his way of paying them or were reimbursements for money they'd advanced to his businesses -- and they say they ultimately ended up millions of dollars short.

The prince's side is "throwing up smoke ... so that they can take the compensation duly owed to Mr. and Mrs. Derbyshire. Those are Jefri's rules," Faith Derbyshire's lawyer, Peder Garske, told jurors Monday.

They would, he said, "have to decide whether it's going to be Jefri's rules, royal rules or the rules that require you to tell the truth and comply with your agreements."

Jefri has long been notorious for his free-spending ways: He once owned more than 2,000 cars and 600 properties, according to a Delaware court ruling.

He's spent much of the past decade locked in court fights with his brother's government, which accused Jefri of embezzling nearly $16 billion from Brunei's state coffers while he was its finance minister, nearly bankrupting the tiny country on the island of Borneo.

Jefri denied any wrongdoing but agreed in 2000 to repay money to Brunei's investment arm. The dispute endured for years as the Brunei government pressed him to turn over promised assets, and he hired the Derbyshires in 2004.

"I was impressed" on meeting them, he testified last month.

After their business relationship soured, he fired them in 2006 and later sued them.

Word of the erotic statues emerged as the case headed for trial, but the judge has barred any mention of them to jurors.


Source: BusinessWeek

Monday, December 13, 2010

Lawyers Try to Revive Texas Death-Penalty Hearing

The defense attorneys for an accused killer are trying to restart a controversial hearing on the legality of the death penalty in Texas after the state's highest criminal court stopped it Tuesday at the request of prosecutors.

The controversial hearing, which started Monday at a state district court in Houston, was expected to last a couple of weeks. The defense lawyers had asked the judge to rule that the way Texas applies capital punishment is unconstitutional because it carries high risks of executing innocent people.

Their goal was to prevent their client, John E. Green Jr., from being prosecuted for capital murder, which is punishable by death. Mr. Green is accused of killing a Houston woman in front of her children.

But the Harris County district attorney's office, which brought the case against Mr. Green, asked the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals to halt the hearing, arguing that the district court has no authority to decide on the issue. The appeals court ordered the involved parties to file legal briefs within 15 days, outlining their arguments before it can decide whether the hearing should move forward.

"We are focused on what they want us to do and believe that there is a pretty decent chance that they will agree with us," said Richard Burr, one of Mr. Green's lawyers, of the appeals court.

A spokeswoman for the district attorney declined to comment.

Critics of the Texas criminal justice system had seen the hearing as an opportunity to air in court what they say are well-documented problems that have led to wrongful convictions and executions.

By Ana Campoy, ana.campoy@dowjones.com

Source: WSJ.com

APS should not let lawyers interview witnesses at school, Hall told

Atlanta Public Schools administrators are giving their personal criminal defense attorneys access to school grounds so they can interview potential witnesses, raising "serious witness intimidation concerns," the governor's special investigators have told Superintendent Beverly Hall.

In a letter sent Thursday, the investigators told Hall to tell her administrators to stop allowing their defense attorneys to interview teachers and instructors on school property, on school time and at the direction of school principals. This appears to put the school district's stamp of approval on the practice and can let administrators and principals use the power of their office to compel witnesses to cooperate, the investigators said.

The letter was sent to Hall by Gov. Sonny Perdue's special investigators, Mike Bowers, Bob Wilson and Richard Hyde, and was written under the governor's office masthead. In August, Perdue appointed the investigators to determine whether Atlanta school officials falsified scores on the Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests.

"It's very serious business and we want what could be construed as interference with the investigation to be stopped," Bowers said Friday. "It's not that the defense attorneys don't have a right to talk to anyone they please, but it shouldn't be under those conditions. We're not going to put up with it."

APS spokesman Keith Bromery said the school system is reviewing the letter. It will respond "at the appropriate time to the issues it raises," he said.

The APS test-tampering scandal already has resulted in dozens of GBI agents being dispatched to Atlanta public schools to interview teachers and administrators.

During the ongoing investigation, numerous APS employees have confessed to changing students' test papers, providing answers to students or watching others manipulate tests, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has reported. The investigators have granted immunity to teachers, so long as they tell the truth, and are using their cooperation to investigate superiors.

On Nov. 30, Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard designated Bowers, a former state attorney general, and Wilson, a former DeKalb DA, as special assistant district attorneys. Howard said he may convene a special grand jury and decide whether criminal charges should be brought against APS officials.

In their letter, the investigators singled out Lucious Brown, the principal at Kennedy Middle School, saying Brown allowed his defense lawyer to interview witnesses on school property and during school hours. "We view Mr. Brown's conduct as an abuse of power over the employees he supervises," the letter said.

Brown did not return phone calls seeking comment.

The school district's probe of the CRCT results -- conducted by a "blue ribbon commission" composed of civic and business leaders -- found high numbers of erasures on 2009 test answer sheets at Kennedy Middle School.

The state investigators asked Hall to tell all APS employees that her directive requiring school employees to cooperate with the governor's investigation does not apply to cooperating with defense lawyers who represent school officials. Hall should tell her employees they are free to talk to defense attorneys but are under no obligation to do so, the letter said.

If APS employees choose to speak with a defense lawyer, they should not admit they have received immunity from criminal prosecution in connection with the governor's investigation, the investigators told Hall. "Doing so at this early stage of the investigation could jeopardize the governor's investigation and their safety."

Atlanta criminal defense attorney Steve Sadow said Friday he understands why the investigators do not want potential witnesses to be put in a position at their school where they feel they are required to talk to defense attorneys representing school principals and administrators. But asking Hall to instruct school employees that they should not admit they have received immunity borders on misconduct, he said.

"If you're encouraging prospective prosecution witnesses to potentially lie to defense counsel, that's a problem," Sadow said. "If they've received immunity and are being told to say they don't have it, that's a whole different situation. It's just flat-out wrong."

The special investigators should have asked Hall to tell her employees it is her preference that they not discuss any immunity agreement because it could potentially jeopardize the investigation or their safety, Sadow said. "But she also should be able to say it's their decision to make."

By Bill Rankin, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Source: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Lawyers say video shows two shooters at City Grill

Citing video from transit authority cameras, defense attorneys today said Riccardo M. McCray was not one of the two gunmen exchanging shots that left four dead and four wounded outside the City Grill restaurant last August.

Following a delay in a pre-trial hearing, attorney E. Earl Key stressed outside the courtroom that "Mr. McCray was not firing a weapon" during the incident.

Key and co-counsel Samuel P. Davis said they will prove through prosecution evidence, including Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority video of the shooting scene, that there were two shooters exchanging gunfire as the downtown restaurant was vacated early last Aug. 14.

Key, whose comments were disputed by prosecutors, said crime scene video will prove "there's no question there were two shooters," neither of whom was McCray.

A pre-trial hearing on the admissibility of statements McCray made to police after his Aug. 25 arrest was adjourned this morning by Erie County Judge Sheila A. DiTullio to Dec. 23 after prosecutors obtained three new video discs from WIVB-TV.

Prosecutors James F. Bargnesi and Mary Beth DePasquale told the judge the district attorney's office did not learn until Ch. 4 broadcast additional footage of the crime scene Monday night that more tapes existed.

Key and Davis, complaining about alleged prosecution footdragging, accepted a copy of the new tapes without acknowledging their value to the pending case now set for the start of a jury trial March 14. The tapes reportedly pertain to both the shooting scene and McCray's surrender after being taken to the TV station by community activist Darnell Jackson.

After today's court session, Bargnesi, when pressed on the two-shooter claims, stressed that this is only the defense's contention. Bargnesi, chief of the Erie County DA's Homicide Bureau, noted that McCray is "the one accused of the deaths and injuries."

McCray, 23, a former street gang member, faces a possible life term with no chance of parole if convicted.

He is charged with fatally shooting Danyell Mackin, 30; Willie McCaa, 26; Tiffany Wilhite, 32; and Shawntia McNeil, 27. He's also charged with wounding James Robb, 27; DeMario Vass, 30; Shamar Davis, 30; and Tillman Ward, 27.

By Matt Gryta, mgryta@buffnews.com, NEWS STAFF REPORTER

Source: The Buffalo News

Gabe Watson's lawyers talk about his return

Gabe Watson is back in Birmingham and his attorneys say they hope to have him out of jail in a matter of days. The man accused of killing his wife on their Australian honeymoon back in 2003 is spending his 2nd night in the Jefferson County Jail.

Watson touched down in Birmingham overnight and was booked. Just a few hours later, he was speaking to his attorneys in person for the first time in months.

"I was very pleased that Gabe was upbeat. He was positive and optimistic. And I think that was because he was touching ground at home," said Brett Bloomton, one of Watson's attorneys. "He is in Birmingham, his treatment at the Jefferson County Jail I could commend."

"Understand that Gabe's been away from home for a year and a half now," said Joe Basgier, another of Watson's lawyers. "He's really excited to be back with his family and friends. This is not a place he wanted to run away from, he desperately wanted to come back."

Watson's attorneys say they will ask for a bond hearing within days, as soon as the case is assigned to a judge. In the meantime, they're taking shots at Attorney General Troy King's case, calling the charge that Watson plotted his wife Tina's Australian honeymoon drowning while he was still in Jefferson County, "ludicrous."

Prosecutors claim Watson thought he would benefit financially from Tina's death even though he was not named as the beneficiary of her insurance policy. "It truly is a ludicrous theory," Bloomton said. "We believe there are pursuing this because they have been put under such tremendous pressure by Gabe's former in-laws, they've succumbed to that pressure."

Assistant Alabama Attorney General Don Valeska says this was a grand jury decision. "They're not pressured by Tina's family, Troy King, or Don Valeska," Valeska said. "They made their decision, and we'll be presenting our case."

Watson's team says it's turning the tables on the outgoing attorney general and ready to go after King for his public comments about the case.

"The AG's office and the prosecution team has been poisoning the airwaves with their lies and their theories of this case for years, really," Basgier said. "It is a concern. We think that by doing that they may have violated some of Gabe's constitutional rights and we're going to attack that in court."

"We have evidence that we're going to offer to show that, and that's how you prove a case, with evidence," Velaska said. "Not with some criminal defense lawyer yapping in the breeze, but we'll present our evidence in court."

It could be days or even a week or more before Watson makes his first appearance in court because this case hasn't been assigned to a judge.

Under Alabama code, Watson could get a bond as low as $50,000 or could remain without a bond until the trial.

By Jonathan Hardison

Source: Myfoxal.com

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Attorneys For Bakers To Stay After State Pulls Payments For Lawyers

Lawyers for the father and stepmother of a 10-year-old girl who authorities believe was killed and dismembered are sticking by their clients even though North Carolina will no longer pay the tab because no charges have been filed in the girl's death.

The state Office of the Capital Defender said this week it will cease paying the lawyers it appointed for Elisa and Adam Baker — a move that comes after the local prosecutor objected to their work. But the attorneys for both Elisa Baker and Adam said they will continue helping their clients.

"I'll probably stay on to assist him in this matter if he needs me to," attorney Mark Killian told The Associated Press on Friday. Killian said Adam Baker, an Australian citizen, was in unfamiliar territory and he was "just trying to help him out the best I can."

Killian also represents Baker on unrelated charges.

Lisa Dubs, Elisa Baker's lawyer, told the Hickory Daily Record that she planned to remain with her client as well. Like Killian, Dubs said she was not concerned if she were not paid by a client or the state.

"As a practical matter, it doesn't effect my or Mark Killian's ability to represent Elisa Baker or Adam Baker," Lisa Dubs told the newspaper.

The lawyers were appointed for the Bakers after Zahra Baker was reported missing Oct. 9 and authorities later characterized the case as a homicide. Court documents said the Capital Defender Office appointed Dubs because it believed Elisa Baker was about to be accused of murder.

Nobody has been charged in the girl's death. Elisa Baker has been charged with obstruction, accused of faking a ransom note to mislead investigators. She also has told authorities that Zahra Baker was dismembered after she died, but no cause of death has been publicly revealed.

Prosecutor Jay Gaither has said he objected to the lawyers' appointments because the capital defender's office should not be providing attorneys for people who have not been accused in capital crimes.

Bob Hurley, the state capital defender, told the newspaper the Bakers needed provisional counsel because they were implicated in the child's death.

"All you have to do is read the paper and listen to comments of law enforcement and follow their investigation," Hurley said. "Everyone in the state knows that Elisa Baker and Adam Baker are the leading suspects of the investigation."

His letter to Dubs said her work was needed during a critical time in the ongoing investigation.

Word of the state ending the appointments came as some members of the community gathered for a two-day memorial service for Zahra at a funeral home. Several dozen people signed a memorial book during the Thursday gathering, which was to resume Friday afternoon.

The funeral home displayed photos and a video of the girl.

"Please make sure justice is served," said Melissa Simpson, a Hickory resident. "This is a sad, sad thing — I'm a mother myself."

By The Associated Press

Source: NBC17.com

Lawyers say video shows two shooters

Attorneys for Riccardo M. McCray, who has been charged with murder in the August shooting deaths at City Grill, claimed they have video of two people exchanging gunfire during the incident.

The statement in court Monday marks the first public statement that more than one gunman may have been outside the bar when four people were killed and four others wounded while leaving a party.

Attorney E. Earl Key said the video shows "there were two shooters" during the Aug. 14 incident but did not elaborate during the opening day of a pretrial hearing to determine whether defense attorneys will be allowed to challenge the legality of statements McCray made to police after his arrest Aug. 25.

McCray, 23, who faces a possible life term without parole, reportedly will be one of the first defense witnesses to take the stand when the evidence hearing continues today before Erie County Judge Sheila A. DiTullio.

He is charged with fatally shooting Danyell Mackin, 30; Willie McCaa, 26; Tiffany Wilhite, 32; and Shawntia McNeil, 27. He's also charged with wounding James Robb, 27; DeMario Vass, 30; Shamar Davis, 30; and Tillman Ward, 27.

Key disclosed the alleged shooting scene video Monday without further explanation as he was cross-examining Buffalo police Detective Sgt. James Lonergan, who took McCray into custody Aug. 25 at the WIVB-TV studio on Elmwood Avenue.

While challenging Lonergan's claim that he never heard McCray ask to speak to an attorney before he was rushed to Police Headquarters that day, Key told the judge the alleged shooting scene video shows "one person shooting at another one."

After prosecutors James F. Bargnesi and Mary Beth DePasquale objected to the Key statement, the judge cut off further talk about a "video," ruling that it was a likely "trial issue."

Neither Key nor co-counsel Samuel P. Davis could be reached to comment on the existence of the video. Prosecutors declined to comment.

WIVB-TV Senior Correspondent Rich Newberg interviewed McCray at the Channel 4 studio after community activist Darnel Jackson got McCray to surrender Aug. 25. Newberg and Channel 4 General Manager Chris Musial arrived at court Monday under defense subpoenas, but neither took the stand.

McCray was in court for Monday's proceedings but did not speak.

By Matt Gryta, mgryta@buffnews.com, News Staff Reporter

Source: The Buffalo News