Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Letter From The President Of The New York County Lawyers Association

NYCLA's Innovative Pro Bono Programs

This month, I'd like to focus on NYCLA's Pro Bono Department, which has offered diverse programs for more than 20 years to individuals who have nowhere else to turn. Funding from the IOLA (Interest on Lawyer Account) Fund has helped NYCLA fulfill its mission of providing free legal services to low-income individuals. Moreover, in response to the economic downturn, which has resulted in consumer debt cases overwhelming court dockets, I'm proud to say that NYCLA has launched new programs to meet the needs of pro se defendants.

As I mentioned in last month's column, these programs are by no means a substitute for publicly funded indigent defense in either criminal or civil cases involving fundamental rights and interests. The ABA endorsed "civil Gideon " just a few weeks ago in a resolution sponsored by NYCLA and a number of other bar associations. Nevertheless, given the state of the economy, volunteer efforts by lawyers are currently, and will for the foreseeable future continue to be, more necessary than ever. Those of us who have done this work find it interesting, challenging and satisfying. So I urge readers to sign up, take the necessary training and get involved.

Two Pro Bono Programs Assist Unrepresented Litigants in Civil Court

Advocates estimate that over 95 percent of consumers have to defend themselves in Civil Court debt-collection cases. To assist these unrepresented litigants, NYCLA, in partnership with the Civil Court of New York County, launched the Consumer Debt Volunteer Lawyer for the Day Project , which has provided free consultations to 245 self-represented debtor-defendants in Civil Court since it began in January 2010. In addition, since 2008, NYCLA's Manhattan CLARO (Civil Legal Advice and Resource Office) Project has also responded to the overwhelming needs of unrepresented debtors sued by their creditors in New York County Civil Court. Since its inception, Manhattan CLARO volunteers have seen more than 700 individuals, with 179 volunteer lawyers and law students having given over 1,162 hours of their time to the program. Sixty-six of those volunteers were NYCLA members and the rest were Fordham Law School students and volunteers from legal services providers. CLARO operates in Brooklyn, Queens, Manhattan and the Bronx.

Other Pro Bono Programs

Volunteers for Project Restore, which began in 2008, represent previously incarcerated individuals denied employment licenses because they have a criminal record. Thus far, attorneys have assisted 53 clients and in July, 11 attorneys were trained to work on an ever increasing caseload. This is another program that makes a real difference in peoples' lives and fills a previously unmet need.

The Legal Counseling Project , NYCLA's oldest and most popular volunteer opportunity, provides free weekly counseling to individuals in the areas of family, employment, consumer bankruptcy and landlord/tenant law. In the past nine months, volunteer attorneys met with more than 650 individuals. There is a two-part training for members interested in participating in the program on September 14 and 21.

Finally, NYCLA's newest initiative, launching in October, is the Tax Court Bar-Related Pro Bono Program, which will provide assistance to unrepresented persons appearing before the United States Tax Court. NYCLA is the first bar association in New York to offer a Tax Court Pro Bono Program. The program will provide advice and assistance to low-income, otherwise unrepresented, taxpayers who have disputes with the Internal Revenue Service. The volunteer tax practitioners previously admitted to the Tax Court will consult with pro se petitioners, provide procedural advice and act as communicators or mediators between the parties. A training session will be held on September 16 and the project will be up and running for the October calendar call.

As with all of NYCLA's pro bono programs, volunteer lawyers, who are covered under NYCLA's malpractice insurance policy, must be NYCLA members in good standing and meet additional requirements specific to each project. NYCLA provides thorough training and supervision and offers MCLE credits to participants who complete the project requirements. To register or for further information about any of these programs, call Lois Davis, director of Pro Bono Programs, at 212-267-6646, ext. 217 or email ldavis@nycla.org.

NYCLA remains faithful to its commitment to assuring access to justice for the poor and disadvantaged, and encourages its members to consider volunteering on one or more of these worthwhile programs. We invite you to join NYCLA and volunteer your time, talent and tenacity.

By James B. Kobak, Jr.

Source: The Metropolitan Corporate Counsel

Eugene R. Anderson, Founder Of Anderson Kill & Olick, Dies At 82

Eugene R. Anderson, founder of the law firm Anderson Kill & Olick and a pioneer in insurance coverage litigation on behalf of policyholders, died on Friday, July 30 of complications from pneumonia. He was 82.

A child of the Great Depression who lived in foster homes, worked his way through college and hitchhiked across the country to attend Harvard Law School on scholarship, Mr. Anderson began his legal career at the white-shoe New York law firm Chadbourne & Parke, where he worked his way to partnership but chafed at the firm's hierarchical structure. Eventually he would create a far more egalitarian culture at Anderson Kill, which for many years was well known for according partner status to all working attorneys.

Mr. Anderson's next boss, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York Robert M. Morgenthau (later longtime Manhattan District Attorney), also became his father-in-law years later.

In 1969 Mr. Anderson founded his own law firm, where he was joined by several alumni of Mr. Morganthau's office, including eventual name partners Lawrence Kill and Arthur Olick, who retired early this year. In the late 1970s, as American businesses grappled with mammoth new liabilities for asbestos contamination and environmental cleanup in the wake of Superfund legislation, Mr. Anderson pursued insurance coverage litigation on behalf of Keene Corporation, which faced millions of dollars in personal injury claims. His landmark victory in that case, which established a key principle regarding the kinds of events that trigger insurance coverage, brought a flood of new business from corporations facing major liabilities stemming from asbestos and environmental claims.

In the wake of Keene, Mr. Anderson made it his life's mission to help policyholders of all kinds, individual as well as corporate, obtain the coverage promised to them in insurance contracts. Mr. Anderson's zeal on behalf of policyholders also drove him to take on a long succession of pro bono clients, many of them cancer patients who had been denied treatments deemed experimental. One pro bono matter, on behalf of the Fresh Air Fund, brought him into close contact with the Fund's executive director, Jenny Morgenthau, whom he married. "She's the best thing that ever happened to me," Mr. Anderson told Best's Review in 1998. "She really civilized me."

In addition to his pro bono work, Mr. Anderson formed a close union in the early 1990s with United Policyholders, a nonprofit advocacy group. Working closely with the group's executive director, Amy Bach, Mr. Anderson became the prime mover of United Policyholder's amicus program, which filed briefs on behalf of policyholders in insurance coverage disputes across the nation.

Mr. Anderson himself co-authored. The firm's amici are frequently cited in judges' decisions, including the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Humana v. Forsyth (1999), which limited the insurance industry's McCarran-Ferguson defense, subjecting the insurance industry to liability under the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO).

Mr. Anderson was also a tireless author, writing and co-writing over 800 articles on insurance-related matters, as well as a two-volume bible for insurance recovery attorneys, Insurance Coverage Litigation (Aspen Publishers; Second edition, 1999) .

He was mentor and inspiration to two generations of policyholder's attorneys, including many of the nation's leading practitioners in insurance coverage litigation. These include the current co-chairs of the firm's Insurance Recovery Group, Robert M. Horkovich and William G. Passannante.

Mr. Anderson is survived by his wife, Jenny Morgenthau; by his son, Matthew R. Anderson, and by grandsons Javier, Andres and Miguel Anderson.

Source: Metrocorpcounsel.com

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Deadline extended for ground zero responders

Thousands of ground zero responders are being given more time to decide whether to settle lawsuits over their exposure to potentially toxic dust from the ruins of the World Trade Center, lawyers in the case said Wednesday.

The lawyers said they have scrapped a deadline that gave rescue and response workers until Sept. 8 to join or reject a settlement worth as much as $713 million.

The nearly 10,000 police officers, firefighters, and construction and utility workers involved in the suits will now get until Nov. 8 to make a decision.

The special insurance entity representing New York City in the litigation said the extension was needed because of "unexpected logistical delays" in implementing the settlement, which was tentatively reached in June.

Workers who join the settlement will agree to drop their legal claims against New York City and the demolition companies that handled the ground zero cleanup. In exchange, they would get payments ranging from a few thousand dollars to more than $1 million as compensation for illnesses caused by the dust.

More money would go to people who can show that exposure to trade center toxins made them gravely ill. People who aren't sick now, but worry that they might fall ill later, will get smaller amounts of money.

For the deal to take effect, 95 percent of plaintiffs in the case must vote to join the settlement.

So far, their response has been running favorable, but was largely incomplete.

More than 5,000 people have already said yes to the deal, according to the WTC Captive Insurance Co., the insurance entity created by Congress to defend the city against 9/11-related litigation. That accounts for about half of all eligible workers.

"Less than one-half of one percent" have rejected the settlement, the company said. That would amount to about 50 people.

The rest of the workers involved in the case have yet to respond.

"We are encouraged by the thousands of plaintiffs who have already opted in, but we decided to extend the deadline to make sure every plaintiff has ample time and information to make an informed decision," WTC Captive President and CEO Christine LaSala said in a statement.

She said more time was needed for plaintiffs to speak with their attorneys. Some did not get letters outlining how much money they stood to receive under the deal until a few weeks ago, and many have yet to meet with their lawyers.

Other factors in the delay included new squabbles over how much the legal team handling the bulk of the workers' suits will be able to charge in fees and expenses.

By The Associated Press

Source: Google News

Blagojevich hearing today could answer question over lawyers

The retrial of Rod Blagojevich could look decidedly different from the first go-around if the bombastic father-and-son team of Sam Adam and Sam Adam Jr. drop off the case, as the former governor's lead lawyers have hinted since last week.

Both Adams have suggested they want out of a repeat performance, with the younger one telling attorneys in the case that it's time for him and his father to move on, according to sources.

Sheldon Sorosky, another Blagojevich lawyer who could remain on a reduced two-member defense team, said Wednesday he believes the younger Adam, whom he described as a "legal Michelangelo," may struggle to find the energy to tackle the mammoth task again. Adam's closing argument was marked by loud and passionate pleas, a flurry of government objections and even an apology for sweating on a juror.

Some answers could become apparent Thursday as U.S. District Judge James Zagel holds the first public status hearing since the trial ended last week, with the jury convicting Blagojevich of lying to the FBI about his knowledge of political fundraising but deadlocking on all the other 23 counts.

"I believe that (Adam) believes he gave it his all and he did his very best, and he doesn't know if he could help the governor in the same way the next time around," Sorosky said.

"But you never know if he came back in a more casual way, and then he gets a fire in the belly and then he's ready to go again," said Sorosky, explaining that Adam may just need time to recharge. "Time is a factor here too. We might be able to give it a few months and see."

Adam has been quiet about his status in recent days and was not available Wednesday for comment. There were doubts that he would even show up Thursday for the court status.

Blagojevich, who has been on yet another media blitz in the wake of the trial's largely inconclusive end, is not expected to attend the hearing either. But prosecutors, other lawyers for the former governor and Blagojevich's brother, Robert, are scheduled to be there to discuss the logistics of Round Two.

"The primary purpose (for the hearing) is to set a new trial date," Sorosky said. "Then, as in any retrial situation, the second purpose -- which this time may eclipse the first -- is the lawyer situation."

In a private conference last week with attorneys in the case, Zagel said he expects the former governor to be allowed just two lawyers for the retrial.

Blagojevich, who had seven attorneys for the first trial, has tapped out his $2.7 million campaign fund, which under Zagel's supervision was used to pay his legal fees. Rules under the Criminal Justice Act allow a defendant whose defense is paid for with taxpayer funds to have no more than two lawyers.

None of the members of Blagojevich's current defense team has yet to formally seek to withdraw as counsel in the case. If the Adams indeed leave, Sorosky said it's unclear to him who will lead the defense at the retrial. Zagel has told the attorneys he might favor the next trial starting in January.

By Jeff Coen

Source: Chicago Breaking News

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Newburgh 4 trial focuses on informant

The FBI's man on the inside of a homegrown terrorist plot will find himself under as much scrutiny as four Newburgh men he secretly recorded for months, attorneys promised Wednesday.

Lawyers spent much of their opening statements in the trial of the Newburgh Four trying to seize hold of and identity informant Shahed Hussain and define him in the minds of jurors.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Adam Hickey laid out the case:

Hussain and the defendants — James Cromitie, David Williams, Laguerre Payen and Onta Williams — drove on May 20, 2009, to the Bronx. There, they planted explosives in cars outside a synagogue and Jewish community center. The explosives were fakes supplied by the FBI, but the four men believed they were rigged to remote controls the men would use to detonate them after they drove to New Windsor to shoot down military planes at Stewart Air National Guard Base.

Hickey said the men were willing to execute the "destructive and murderous plot" and Hussain was a facilitator. Hickey said Hussain had come to a Newburgh mosque to listen for any threats of violence, and Cromitie eventually approached him. Recorded conversations will show Cromitie spewed hatred for Jews and America and was eager to attack both, Hickey said.

But Hussain, defense attorneys said, is little more than a criminal. His past includes prison in his home country of Pakistan and a conviction in the United States for running a drivers' license scam. Defense attorneys painted him as desperate to keep a $100,000 salary as an informant and to avoid deportation.

So he created a crime with the help of the FBI and manipulated unsophisticated men to execute it, defense attorneys said. In a sense, he was making a movie, which he produced, directed and cast, Defense attorney Vincent Briccetti said.

"This movie is not a documentary," Briccetti said. "It's actually a work of fiction."

Defense attorneys said he cast each defendant in a planned role.

Payen's attorney, Samuel Braverman said Hussain expertly exploited their clients' individual weakness: Cromitie's empty pockets and need to feel important, David Williams and Onta Williams' need for money to care for relatives and Payen's simple mind and empty stomach.

In doing so, Braverman said, Hussain and the FBI induced four weak men to take part in a crime they would never have even conceived if they'd been left alone.

"They know when they're offering food and money to starving people, they might take it," Braverman said.

By Doyle Murphy, dmurphy@th-record.com

Source: Recordonline.com

Hovey Williams Attorney Named One of The Best Lawyers in America

Williams LLP is pleased to announce that Best Lawyers® has named John M. Collins, Of Counsel attorney at Hovey Williams, in its 2011 edition of The Best Lawyers in America. Collins is listed in the Intellectual Property Law practice area.

Collins is part of a distinguished group of attorneys who have been listed in The Best Lawyers in America for 20 years or longer. The current, 17th edition of The Best Lawyers in America (2011), is based on more than 3.1 million detailed evaluations of lawyers by other lawyers.

“It is an honor to be included in the list of The Best Lawyers in America again, and I greatly appreciate those who nominated me,” said Collins.

Collins joined Hovey Williams in 1972 after receiving his Juris Doctor degree from the University of Chicago. His specialties include patent prosecution, trade secrets, and licensing, and he has extensive experience in IP litigation. In addition, Collins’ current work primarily focuses on extrusion technology, pharmaceutical chemistry, magnetic induction heating technology, and the full spectrum of mechanical and chemical arts. His professional memberships include the Missouri Bar Association (MoBar) and the Patent Group of the Arizona Bar Association.

For over 25 years, The Best Lawyers in America has been regarded, by both the profession and the public, as the definitive guide to legal excellence in the United States. Selection to the list is based on an exhaustive and rigorous peer-review survey, and each honored attorney is included in Best Lawyers’ annual publication, The Best Lawyers in America. For more information, visit www.bestlawyers.com.

Hovey Williams LLP is an intellectual property law firm specializing in patents, trademarks, copyright, trade secret, and IP litigation. The firm’s practice before the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office includes patent and trademark prosecution, appeals, oppositions, cancellations, and interferences. In addition, Hovey Williams has appeared before the United States Supreme Court, regional Courts of Appeal including the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, and state courts. The firm comprises more than 25 attorneys and patent agents, including 11 partners. For more information about Hovey Williams, visit www.hoveywilliams.com.

Source: KansasCity.com

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Lawyers may move to recover Prop. 8 court costs

The lawyers who successfully sued to overturn California's gay marriage ban are indicating they plan to recover attorney's fees if the verdict is upheld on appeal.

In papers filed Tuesday, attorneys for two same-sex couples and the city of San Francisco asked the court to extend a deadline for seeking reimbursement from the losing side. In this case, that would be the groups that put the ban on the 2008 ballot.

Sponsors of Proposition 8 defended the ban in court after California's governor and attorney general refused to.

Lawyers familiar with scope of the case suggest the dollar amount would be in the millions.

Plaintiffs lawyer Theodore Boutrous Jr. says it makes sense to wait until the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decides on the Aug. 4 ruling that overturned the ban.

By The Associated Press

Source: San Jose Mercury News

Green leaving county attorney job

Cheryl A. Green, the Erie County attorney whose hard line against the U.S. Justice Department's jail investigation turned heads around the region, will leave her job Sept. 3 to work for a law firm and run for State Supreme Court judge.

Green, a Republican, will jump into an already crowded field in Western New York's 8th Judicial District. Meanwhile, she will be "of counsel" to the law firm where former State Attorney General Dennis C. Vacco is a partner -- Lippes, Mathias, Wexler and Friedman.

Vacco was among those who in 2008 urged that the new county executive move Green from a small firm where she specialized in insurance-related cases into one of the county's most pressurized jobs, even though she had no municipal experience.

She was always willing to run through walls for Chris Collins, but even employees within Collins-controlled departments would grumble that Green, 40, was too combative.

"It has been a lifelong dream of mine to run for Supreme Court, and the time is right," Green said recently. "I will be able to bring the same energy and commitment that I brought to the county attorney's office to continue to serve the public in the larger community of the eight counties in this judicial district."

With 28 months as county attorney, Green has been one of Collins' longest-serving advisers. He is on his second budget director, his third deputy county executive, his second Social Services commissioner and his second Environment and Planning commissioner. But so far, he has named only one county attorney.

Before Green spent one day in the job, Collins fought with the County Legislature to bump up her salary by some $30,000 a year to put it around $124,000 -- in line with the salaries of past county attorneys after years on the job. He accused male and female lawmakers alike of bias against women when they balked at his request.

Aside from her role as a Collins legal adviser, Green ran a 29-employee Law Department that hires numerous outside firms for help in defending Erie County from dozens of legal complaints each year. The Law Department represents the government in Family Court cases. It is given $3 million a year to settle claims and hire outside lawyers.

Green also served as Collins' gladiator in assorted legal tests with his intra-government rivals -- Legislature Democrats, Comptroller Mark C. Poloncarz, and the state-appointed control board when Collins was at odds with the Fiscal Stability Authority.

In a case that will become part of her legacy, she concluded after some research that Erie County would be better off resisting the U.S. Justice Department's investigation of conditions inside the county Holding Center downtown and the Correctional Facility in Alden. Communities that had forced the agency to sue had emerged with less costly outcomes, she said.

She and Collins and his public relations team then attempted to convince taxpayers that the Justice Department was out to create jails with hotel amenities at taxpayer expense.

Yet Collins eventually decided to mediate rather than litigate the Justice Department lawsuit, and the first settlement called for an array of inexpensive new methods to prevent inmate suicides. The Collins team placed Vacco at the negotiating table to provide new weight and strike a settlement in which Erie County admitted no constitutional violations.

While assorted county lawmakers and lawyers outside the government saw it as foolhardy to fight the Justice Department rather than negotiate, Green last week said the decisions and strategy are "legally sound and always put taxpayers first." She counted it among her best moments as county attorney.

She also mentioned the move by Collins to file the legal papers that served as a catalyst to help Kaleida Health and Erie County Medical Center secure a joint operating agreement as called for by the state's Berger Commission.

On Collins' behalf, Green negotiated the terms by which the control board stepped in as the county's borrowing agent, ending a stalemate that had slowed road repairs and county-financed public works projects.

She also negotiated a complex accord that lays out the county's future support for ECMC and will move the Erie County Home from Alden to ECMC's campus on Grider Street in Buffalo.

"She was professional and hard-working throughout a long and sometimes complicated process," said lawyer Anthony J. Colucci III, who represents ECMC. "Lesser known publicly, she also moved and modernized the county attorney's office. She was, in other words, competent both as counsel and as administrator."

Collins aides said Green's departure will not change their strategy with the Justice Department lawsuits or the other legal fronts the county executive has opened.

"The county executive sets the course for the county attorney to follow. The role of the county attorney is to figure out the legal way to achieve the policy ends," said Christopher M. Grant, the Collins' chief of staff who knew Green from the small firm of Lustig and Brown and put up her name as county attorney.

Grant said that Green's first assistant county attorney, Kristin Klein Wheaton, will run the Law Department in the interim after Green departs. An outside panel headed by Buffalo Niagara Partnership Chairman Jonathan A. Dandes will search for Green's permanent replacement, Grant said.

By Matthew Spina

Source: The Buffalo News

Friday, August 20, 2010

U.S. ready to sue Arizona sheriff on alleged civil rights abuses

Justice Department attorneys investigating Maricopa County, Arizona, Sheriff Joe Arpaio for civil rights violations, are giving his lawyers until next Tuesday to turn over requested documents and to cooperate with a federal inquiry.

If Arpaio's attorneys don't comply when they meet next week the U.S. government is expected to sue the sheriff, who is under investigation for complaints against his controversial immigration policies that target and discriminates against Latinos.

Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Thomas Perez has promised the government will take action against Arpaio "to compel access to requested documents, facilities and personnel," if his office does not respond by the time they meet.

The Civil Rights Division is focusing on whether Arpaio's department engaged in "discriminatory police practices and unconstitutional searches and seizures."

A complaint to the Justice Department said that even bilingual jail guards are required to speak only English and that the rule could endanger prisoner's medical care. The jail was also accused of forcing Latino visitors to fill out a "citizenship check" form.

"We will not hesitate to commence litigation after August 17 if the Maricopa County Sheriff Office continues to take the position that it need not cooperate with the Division's investigation," the Justice Department warned Arpaio in an August 3 letter.

Federal officials opened the investigation in March 2009 following complaints that Arpaio discriminates against Latinos using police sweeps in the streets, at factories and outside restaurants.

Arpaio, 78, is a Republican that calls himself "America's toughest sheriff" and is known for his hard-nosed opposition to undocumented immigrants living and working in the U.S.

Immigrant and civil rights groups accuse Arpaio of racial profiling and abusing his authority to arrest and detain innocent people, mostly from Latino neighborhoods.

The federal investigation is one of two against the controversial sheriff. A federal grand jury in Phoenix is examining whether Arpaio has used his power to investigate and intimidate political opponents and whether his office misappropriated government money.

Maricopa County officials say they have been targeted for speaking out against the sheriff's draconian policies. Arpaio is known for leading disputes with the county board over budget and other issues. He and his deputies have retaliated by carrying out at least seven criminal investigations of county officials alleging corruption, fraud and other crimes.

The Washington Post notes in one case, Arpaio leveled 40 corruption-related charges against a county supervisor who had spoken out against his policies, all of which a judge dismissed.

In another, the sheriff's allies in the county attorney's office filed more than 100 criminal counts against another supervisor for improperly filling out required financial disclosure forms. Several days after a judge dismissed most of those, Arpaio's deputies arrested the supervisor in a parking garage and walked him before TV cameras to jail, announcing more than 100 new charges, which a judge dismissed.

Arpaio's attorneys, who worked as Justice Department civil rights lawyers under the George W. Bush administration, reject claims that he's been uncooperative. They argue top Democrats in Washington and Phoenix are out to get him.

However Democrats say the investigations are based solely on facts and the law.

The recent standoff comes weeks after the Justice Department sued Arizona and Republican Gov. Jan Brewer after she signed the state's new immigration law. The law, SB 1070, gives police officers authority to question the immigration status of people based on reasonable suspicion they are in the country unlawfully. A federal judge stopped SB 1070s most controversial provisions from going into effect last month.

If the expected meeting between Justice Department officials and Arpaio's attorneys goes sour next week, the civil rights division could file a broader civil lawsuit, which could result in the department terminating the several million dollars in grants to the sheriff's office each year or in a judge's order forcing him to change his policies.

Either way immigrant rights activists say the threat of a federal lawsuit against Arpaio sends a strong message that residents of Maricopa County will not stand for racial profiling or policies that discriminates against the Latino community.

Arpaio and his zealous pursuit to unfairly treat undocumented immigrants and their families like criminals, is unconstitutional and unjust, they add.

They note it's even more important that the Obama administration set an important precedent - that civil rights abuses anywhere in the U.S. will not be tolerated and fully challenged under the law.

Activists say it's time to mobilize a mass voter registration campaign in Maricopa County, so come Election Day voters for civil rights can make a difference at the polls and elect a new sheriff in town.

By: Pepe Lozano

Source: Peoplesworld.org

Young Lawyers Turn to Public Service

n August 2008, Nathan Richardson committed to following in the footsteps of so many young lawyers before him: a summer position with a big law firm, followed by a job offer before he ever cracked open a third-year textbook. And then everything changed.

With offers of employment made in August 2008 and the full force of the recession hitting in October, many big law firms — like Latham & Watkins, where Mr. Richardson was a summer associate — had to re-evaluate the job offers made to members of the class of 2009. As a way to keep their costs down while holding on to promising associates, many offered the graduates the chance to take up to a year off before starting as associates, complete with a stipend of $60,000 to $75,000. They could travel, do research, or choose — as many did — to work in the public sector.

With the deferral year ending, some of these newly minted lawyers are surprised to find themselves reconsidering their career goals and thinking about staying with public interest law. When Latham & Watkins asked Mr. Richardson to defer his start date until at least October 2010, he took his interest in environmental issues to Resources for the Future, a nonprofit policy group based in Washington, where he did legal research on the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and climate change.

Now, despite heavy student-loan debt and a family to support, he has decided to say no to Latham and stay with public interest law, even though it pays far less.

“This is an amazing work environment,” said Mr. Richardson, who graduated from the University of Chicago Law School. “I’m working with a lot of really smart people and getting published. I’m not sure if there’s anywhere else I could do this, at least at this point in my career.”

Mr. Richardson claims that everyone he knows has at least considered staying in public interest — and law school faculty members confirm that they are seeing a growing interest in that field.

Other deferred associates like Avi Singh see public interest law as a “sustaining motivation” that keeps him coming to work every day. Mr. Singh is a 2009 Harvard Law School graduate who decided to stay on with the Santa Clara County public defender’s office in San Jose, Calif., instead of returning to the firm Quinn Emmanuel after a four-month deferral. “Here, I’m helping clients on a very basic level,” he said.

“What’s interesting about the deferral process is that, even though I thought it wasn’t right, it got me to pursue what I wanted to do in the first place,” Mr. Singh said.

Educators say more students are holding on to their attraction to public interest law throughout law school.

“For the first time, there is now a public interest lawyer in the Oval Office,” said Diane T. Chin, the director of the John and Terry Levin Center for Public Service and Public Interest Law at Stanford Law School, as one explanation for why more young lawyers are considering service careers.

In 2009, 25 students entering their third year at Stanford Law indicated a commitment to public service. In 2010, that number was 36, according to Ms. Chin. The average class size is 180.

Alexa Shabecoff, the assistant dean for public service at Harvard Law School, said: “There is an uptick in global interest in public service that has trickled down to the high school level, and students go on to college and law school with a public service ethos.”

For some, an interest in public service is why they go to law school, but a load of debt and a traditional pipeline move them toward the private sector.

David Stern, executive director of Equal Justice Works, an organization devoted to getting new legal talent in the nonprofit and public sectors, notes that the pay gap between public interest and private firm work is steep. “The gap is multiples of the public interest salary, with a public interest attorney starting at, on average, $35,000 to $39,000 a year,” he said. “In a big law firm, these attorneys are starting at $140,000 to $150,000.”

Someone who took a stipend from a law firm and then opted for public service law could also find themselves negotiating a payback plan for the stipend; policies differ from firm to firm on whether or how much of a stipend must be repaid.

Jennifer Romig, another 2009 University of Chicago graduate, decided to return to the Washington office of Ropes & Gray after her deferral year, but said her experience at Southeast Louisiana Legal Services in New Orleans would color the rest of her career.

“Like most law students, I had intentions of doing pro bono work,” Ms. Romig said. “Now, after having spent an entire year seeing what a difference you can make, the theoretical has become real. And I cannot imagine forgetting that.”

Some in the legal community perceive a sense of competition among recent graduates who were once on different career paths. “I think it is hard for those wholly committed to public interest to see their deferred friends getting jobs at great public interest organizations while they struggle to land their dream jobs,” said Ms. Shabecoff, the assistant dean at Harvard.

But it could be that nonprofits would have few, if any jobs, for entry-level lawyers because of the economic climate, and deferred associates are picking up the work for public interest groups that would otherwise be slashing services because of budget cuts.

Tiela Chalmers, the executive director of the Volunteer Legal Services Program of the San Francisco Bar Association, said the seven deferred associates who worked there for a year were invaluable in providing legal services for the indigent. After three full-time employees left in 2009, Ms. Chalmers was prepared to freeze hiring and make do with a depleted staff. Then she heard about this wave of graduates being offered stipends from law firms to work in the public interest sector, often with salaries higher than those of an entry-level legal aid attorney.

Her group, like other nonprofits, was able to offer training and substantive work without the burden of paying a salary.

“It’s a win-win, even if public interest firms have to take on the training,” Ms. Chalmers said. “Given the realities of the economic climate, a year is a long time to have these very bright folks. We get eight or nine months of really strong work out of them” before they return to their firms. Without the deferral program, she believes her group would have handled only half of the landlord-tenant disputes and domestic violence cases from the past year.

For Mr. Stern and Equal Justice Works, the short-term benefit is evident: “In the relay race for justice you always need fresh legs, because it’s really hard work.”


Source: NYTimes.com

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Candidates for Ala. gov. don't criticize BP suit

The candidates seeking to be Alabama's next governor are not joining the current governor in criticizing Attorney General Troy King for suing BP PLC over the Gulf oil spill.

Democratic nominee Ron Sparks said people were tired of waiting for someone to hold BP accountable and the Republican attorney general should be commended for filing federal court suits last week against BP and other companies involved in the spill.

"These companies must pay Alabama what they owe, and they will do everything they can to escape liability," he said.

Republican nominee Robert Bentley said BP and the federal government failed Alabama citizens. "It is the right of the Alabama attorney general to file this lawsuit against BP," he said.

King went to court Thursday against the wishes of Republican Gov. Bob Riley, who originally appointed King in 2004. The two have been sharply at odds during the past year, particularly over Riley's task force raids and threats against electronic bingo casinos. King was defeated for re-election in the Republican primary and leaves office in January. Riley finishes his second term and also leaves office in January.

Riley called the suits premature because Alabama has not yet presented BP with a bill for the spill's impact on the state and has not yet tried to negotiate a settlement. He announced earlier that he will seek full compensation for all lost tax revenue due to the spill.

King said swift action was needed because BP repeatedly broke promises and was working to gain an advantage in court by hiring the best expert witnesses to keep them from testifying against the company.

King has been talking to private attorneys about helping his office with the suits. They would work on a contingency fee that would pay them 14 percent of the money the state receives from the suits.

In response to King's plans, Riley signed an executive order saying the governor will approve a contract for hiring attorneys on a contingency fee only in extraordinary circumstances when it is the only reasonable form of payment.

"This executive order does not bar the attorney general from doing anything or from pursuing this lawsuit, but it does protect the taxpayers from getting ripped off by lawyers who expect to make millions of dollars, even when they play no actual role in getting Alabamians the payments they deserve from BP," Riley said.

The contingency fee proposed by King is the same as Riley's administration and Gov. Don Siegelman's administration used for lawsuits against oil companies accused of underpaying royalties to the state for natural gas wells drilled in coastal waters.

One of the state's lead attorneys in those suits, Robert Cunningham of Mobile, said Monday there was no rush for the state to go to court and it would have been better for the attorney general to work in cooperation with the governor.

"It seems to me that having the governor's full support would be in the best interest of the state. Without that, I would not want to pursue litigation on behalf of the state," Cunningham said.

BP spokesman Justin Saia said the oil company has already paid $83 million in claims in Alabama.

"The voluntary claims process that BP has established may be the surest and quickest way to get all legitimate claims paid, and is the best way to ensure that the full amount goes to the claimants, and not to pay attorneys' fees," said Saia, who worked as Sparks' campaign manager until early January.


Source: BusinessWeek

State attorneys, public defenders win first Bar dues-paying round

Florida's state attorneys and public defenders have won the first round in their fight to block a state budget proviso that would prevent them from paying their lawyers' annual Florida Bar dues.

But a spokeswoman for the Florida Secretary of State's Office said Tuesday the agency will appeal a Tallahassee judge's ruling against the proviso.

At issue is whether lawyers who work for state agencies should pay their own $265 annual dues, a job requirement that their agency heads have had the discretion to pay.

"At least we can tell our lawyers that there is hope at this point," Leon County Public Defender Nancy Daniels said in an e-mail to her fellow public defenders.

The Florida Prosecuting Attorneys Association petitioned in June to keep the proviso, passed in the last legislative session as part of the appropriations bill, from taking effect. It says "no state agency may expend funds provided in this act for bar dues."

The prosecutors eventually were joined in the court battle by the Florida Public Defender Association.

They argued the law's language contradicts existing state law, which says state agency heads such as elected state attorneys can expend public funds for dues that are essential to their employees' jobs.

State Rep. Mike Weinstein, an attorney who works in the Jacksonville State Attorney's Office, said the judge agreed that the proviso conflicted with existing state law and said since money to pay the dues came from the agencies' individual budgets, not the general fund, it didn't belong in the appropriations bill.

Florida lawyers, including assistant state attorneys and assistant public defenders, are required to be state Bar members to practice law.

"The individual assistant state attorneys will receive an immediate pay cut in that this fee, which has been paid ... through the State Attorney's Office, must be paid by the individual attorneys if they are to function as prosecutors," argued attorney Buddy Jacobs of Fernandina Beach, general counsel to the prosecutors association.

With 110 lawyers in Duval, Clay and Nassau counties, the Jacksonville State Attorney's Office would pay about $29,000 annually for Florida Bar dues. The Public Defender's Office, which employs about 75 employees in the three counties, would pay about $20,000.

Weinstein said because the dues were due this month, lawyers working for State Attorney Angela Corey were told to go ahead and pay with the idea they would be reimbursed if the prosecutors association wins in court.

He said the state's other 19 state attorneys probably did something similar.

Public Defender Matt Shirk said his lawyers also were told they would have to pay their own dues, but he doubts they can be reimbursed no matter what happens in court. He said the court system is headed into a fiscal year where more budget cuts are probable.

By Paul Pinkham

Source: StAugustine.com

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Allen Matkins Attorneys Named in 2011 Edition of The Best Lawyers in America

Allen Matkins Leck Gamble Mallory & Natsis LLP, a leading California business and real estate law firm, announced today that several of its attorneys will be included in the 2011 edition of The Best Lawyers in America. The firm was also top listed in California in real estate law.

The firm congratulates these attorneys on this achievement:

Los Angeles:
Frederick Allen (Real Estate Law)
Robert Cathcart (Construction Law)
Thomas Henning (Tax Law)
Bryan Jackson (Construction Law)
Michael Matkins (Real Estate Law)
Anton Natsis (Real Estate Law)
Michael Ryan (Labor and Employment Law)
John Tipton (Real Estate Law)

Orange County:
Michael Alvarado (Real Estate Law)
Pamela Andes (Environmental Law)
Dwight Armstrong (Labor and Employment Law)
Keith Bishop (Corporate Governance and Compliance Law; Corporate Law; Leveraged Buyouts and Private Equity Law; Securities Law)
Gary McKitterick (Real Estate Law)

San Diego:
Jeffrey Chine (Real Estate Law)
Valentine Hoy (Bet-the-Company Litigation; Commercial Litigation; Real Estate Law)
David Osias (Bankruptcy and Creditor-Debtor Rights Law)
Dana Schiffman (Real Estate Law)
Amy Wintersheimer Findley (Labor and Employment Law)

San Francisco:
John Gamble (Real Estate Law)
Bruce Hyman (Real Estate Law)
Richard Mallory (Real Estate Law)
Sandi Nichols (Environmental Law)
Stephen Walters (Bet-the-Company Litigation; Commercial Litigation)
Robert Wyatt (Environmental Law)

Bruce Hyman has been listed in Best Lawyers for more than 25 years; Fred Allen, Richard Mallory and Michael Matkins have been listed in Best Lawyers for more than 20 years; and John Gamble, Thomas Henning, Anton Natsis, David Osias, Stephen Walters and Robert Wyatt have been listed in Best Lawyers for more than 10 years. Michael Alvarado, Dwight Armstrong, Dana Schiffman and Amy Wintersheimer Findley were listed for the first time in Best Lawyers.

Since its inception in 1983, Best Lawyers has become universally regarded as the definitive guide to legal excellence. Because Best Lawyers is based on an exhaustive peer-review survey in which more than 39,000 leading attorneys cast almost 3.1 million votes on the legal abilities of other lawyers in their practice areas, and because lawyers are not required or allowed to pay a fee to be listed, inclusion in Best Lawyers is considered a singular honor. Corporate Counsel magazine has called Best Lawyers "the most respected referral list of attorneys in practice."


Allen Matkins Leck Gamble Mallory & Natsis LLP, founded in 1977, is a California-based law firm with approximately 220 attorneys practicing out of seven offices in Los Angeles, Orange County, San Francisco, San Diego, Century City, Del Mar Heights and Walnut Creek. The firm's broad areas of practice include real estate, land use, construction, real estate finance, business litigation, corporate and securities, intellectual property, environmental, taxation, bankruptcy and creditors' rights, and employment and labor law. For more than 30 years, Allen Matkins has helped clients turn opportunity and challenge into success by providing practical advice, innovative solutions and valuable business opportunities.

By Allen Matkins Leck Gamble Mallory & Natsis LLP, www.allenmatkins.com

Source: Marketwire.com

Baltimore attorneys savor listing in peer-review directory

Call it the who's who of legal eagles.

It's the Best Lawyers in America, an annual directory that bills itself as a list of top-flight attorneys across 90 fields of practice. And it's no beauty contest, say those who compile and are featured in the directory. The 41,000 names inside are culled from peer reviews of millions of practicing attorneys across the nation.

Those listed represent 3 percent of all licensed practicing attorneys in the nation, said Kristen Greer, director of research for Best Lawyers.

"It's the acid test for what people think" of lawyers, said Zuckerman Spaeder LLP attorney Cy Smith, who made it into the directory's 17th edition, released this month. "These rankings are by other lawyers."

Some 575 Maryland attorneys from 186 firms are listed, including 361 from Baltimore — up from 322 in the city listed in the 2010 edition. Some of the larger firms represented include Jackson Lewis, DLA Piper, Miles & Stockbridge PC, Ballard Spahr LLP, Venable LLP and Ober, Kaler, Grimes & Shriver.

Best Lawyers compiles its list after conducting surveys in which thousands of lawyers evaluate their peers on a confidential basis. The publication said the 2011 edition was based on more than 3.1 million evaluations of lawyers by other attorneys. Lawyers are not allowed to pay a fee to be included.

The directory is often used by corporate counsel or in-house counsel for companies when they are seeking special expertise with a matter they can't handle on their own. Law firms, sometimes those from other countries in need of U.S. expertise, also use it to find attorneys to partner with on cases.

"It is difficult to get listed, and just because you're listed doesn't mean you stay listed," Greer said. "You could have a banner year, but if you have a really big gaffe two years later, you might roll off the list. When people lobby their peers, it usually backfires."

Zuckerman Spaeder, which has a seven-lawyer office in Baltimore, recently announced that four of its Baltimore attorneys made the list. The firm said it has the most attorneys listed in the white-collar criminal defense category in Baltimore.

Being listed is significant for the firm, which specializes in litigation, because most of the firm's cases are referred by other lawyers. While Zuckerman Spaeder has some institutional clients who bring in white-collar cases, it's more typical for clients to come to the firm through referrals, said firm attorney Martin S. Himeles Jr., who also made the list.

In addition to the business that the list can generate, he said, there is also the intangible satisfaction of knowing that fellow attorneys regard you as being one of the best at what you do.

"And there's no more valuable recognition than what our peers think of us," Himeles said.


By Lorraine Mirabella, lorraine.mirabella@baltsun.com, The Baltimore Sun

Source: The Baltimore Sun

Friday, August 13, 2010

Alabama AG sues BP, others over Gulf oil spill

Alabama's attorney general is suing BP and others over the Gulf oil spill because he says the oil company has broken too many promises about accepting responsibility for the disaster.

Attorney General Troy King filed two lawsuits in federal court in Montgomery late Thursday afternoon on behalf of the state. The lawsuits — one against BP and the other against Transocean, Haliburton and other companies associated with the spill — seek economic and punitive damages. No specific amount was listed.

The lawsuit accuses them of damaging Alabama's coast and economy through "negligent or wanton failure to adhere to recognized industry standards."

BP spokesman Justin Saia said the company had not seen the lawsuit and had no comment. At least 300 federal lawsuits have been filed in 12 states against BP and the other three main companies involved in the April 20 explosion aboard the Deepwater Horizon drill rig, which triggered the disaster.

King sued against the wishes of fellow Republican, Gov. Bob Riley, who hopes to reach an out-of-court settlement with the companies.

BP was leasing the rig Deepwater Horizon from owner-operator Transocean Ltd. when it exploded and sank, killing 11 workers. Halliburton Energy Services Inc., had been working to cap the well that ended up leaking with cement prior to the explosion. The broken well spewed some 200 million gallons of oil into the Gulf for three months before it was plugged.

Riley spokesman Todd Stacy said the governor had not seen the lawsuits. He said the state is still compiling a list of economic damages that it will submit to BP soon. If the company doesn't provide fair and fast compensation, then the state would have a dispute.

"When there is a dispute, then a lawsuit is appropriate," he said.

King said his move is not premature.

"As Alabama's lawyer, I say that, if anything, based on BP's broken promises, their history of saying one thing and doing another, and now, new information that they have been secretly working to gain a legal advance, further delay can only further damage our people," King said.

He said BP is retaining the best expert witnesses to keep the other side from using them to testify against BP and is selling assets perhaps to keep an American court from reaching them to satisfy a judgment.

Riley appointed King as attorney general in 2004. But since then, they have become adversaries. Riley created the task force on gambling because King wouldn't take action against electronic bingo games at casinos. They've been battling it out in the courts over whether the task force has the authority to raid the casinos and seize the games.

As for the spill, a team of economic experts is still trying to put a figure on the state's economic losses.

King will be out of office before the lawsuit makes much progress in court. He lost the Republican primary June 1 to Birmingham lawyer Luther Strange. Strange said King should have consulted with the governor and Gulf coast mayors to make sure the litigation doesn't hurt ongoing negotiations with BP.

The Democratic nominee for attorney general, Montgomery lawyer James Anderson, said King may have had a stronger case if he brought in Alabama cities and counties affected by the spill and possibly even other Gulf states.

He said BP has already lined up some of the top lawyers in the state, and the attorney general's office will have to bring in outside lawyers with experience in this type of litigation if it hopes to win.

"We've got plenty of time to add on attorneys," said Chris Bence, the attorney general's chief of staff.

By The Associated Press

Source: Google News

Langley mayor tried to clean house as city called in lawyers on pay dispute

Langley Mayor Paul Samuelson tried to clean house in the city’s finance department after employees there raised concerns about his vacation pay, according to records released Friday by the city.

In response to public records requests made by the Record in the days following the swirl of controversy over the mayor’s pay in early July — prompted by City Treasurer Debbie Mahler’s request for the county prosecutor to investigate alleged “improper actions” by Samuelson — Langley’s lawyers released more than 300 pages of records on Aug. 6.

While relatively few of the documents are related to the controversy over the mayor’s pay, however, attorney bills included in the now-public records show the mayor had an extended meeting with the city’s attorneys on the same day that Mahler sent a confidential whistleblower memo to attorneys that called into question the mayor’s attempts to be paid for city work while on vacation out of state.

Records also show that in the days that followed, the city’s lawyers contacted a Bellevue-based headhunting company that finds permanent and interim employees for local governments, repeatedly called a manager in the risk-management section of the agency that handles the city’s insurance, and also contacted people who had previously served as interim financial officers for cities.

The city paid its legal team thousands of dollars to examine “personnel issues” in the days and weeks that followed Mahler’s memo about the mayor’s pay, and budget records show that Langley has already spent more than its entire budget for legal work in 2010 during the first six months of this year.

Councilman Robert Gilman said Monday he couldn’t say if the city council knew that the city’s lawyers were talking to others outside city hall about personnel changes.

He also declined to say exactly what he knew about the work the city’s lawyers were doing on behalf of the administration, and would not address the timing of the intensive ramp-up of attorney work and the dispute over the mayor’s pay that began just before.

Likewise, he deferred on questions about the city’s contacts with headhunters and any search for interim or replacement employees.

“You’re going to have to talk to Paul; that was an administrative action,” Gilman said.

When reminded that the city council approved the bills for all the legal work, Gilman said he did not examine the invoices before authorizing pay.

“What I’m saying is, we are, in many ways, we depend upon the staff and groups like the finance committee to alert us to these issues,” he added. “So we are now alerted.”

Samuelson did not return calls to the Record on Monday.

Legal bills pile up on city’s ‘personnel issues’

The internal turmoil at city hall over the mayor’s pay became public in early July, after city officials learned that Mahler had sent a letter to Island County Prosecutor Greg Banks, asking him to investigate possible “improper actions” by Samuelson.

In the letter, Mahler said the mayor had been paid for vacation time, and noted Samuelson’s claims to be always on the city’s clock, even while on frequent vacation trips outside the state. Mahler asked Banks to investigate; Banks later declined, but tipped off Samuelson about the letter after the county was set to release it to the Record as part of a public records request.

The problem over the mayor’s pay, however, was rooted in a series of ordinances approved by the council that made the mayor a full-time city employee and gave him a benefits package equal to the city’s department heads.

As Langley’s first mayor to be paid a full-time salary, Samuelson receives $53,532 a year, plus benefits.

One ordinance approved by the council set a 40-hour work week for the mayor, and Mahler raised concerns that the mayor was getting paid for vacation time he didn’t earn.

When she confronted him on Dec. 11, Mahler said the mayor became angry and said city staff had no business determining if he was on vacation or not, and said he was always working on behalf of the city, even when he wasn’t in town.

On Dec. 22, Mahler sent a confidential memo to the city’s legal team, repeating her concerns. She had also contacted the state auditor’s office, and the state had told her that paying for vacation time that had not been earned would be an illegal “gift of public funds,” and that the issue would be investigated during the city’s next audit.

Records released last week show the mayor met with two of the city’s lawyers on the same day; subsequent invoices show the attorneys working on e-mails to city staff, including Mahler, about the vacation-pay issue.

The amount of lawyer time spent on personnel issues quickly added up in the weeks that followed. Records show the time spent on personnel issues far outpaced the time the city’s lawyers spent on other things, such as reviewing ordinances, handling lawsuits or other city business.

The city spent more than $7,300 on legal fees for personnel issues during the five-month span of December 2009 through April 2010, according to legal bills paid by Langley during that time.

By comparison, those charges were higher than the costs the city tallied in a five-month period through June on the quasi-judicial hearings and review of Langley Passage. The city spent approximately $6,500 on legal work for the controversial housing project in the Edgecliff neighborhood.

The amount spent on legal review of personnel issues also greatly eclipses work by the city’s attorneys on other high-profile issues. Langley has spent just $200 this year on the legal review of its new zoning rules — which Gilman has called the “biggest policy initiative” faced by the council in years — and the legal work on the city’s recent moratorium also totaled just $200 through June.

During some weeks, in March and February, starting days after the council approved the last ordinance on the mayor’s pay — the one prompted by Mahler’s concerns that the mayor was collecting vacation pay — found the city lawyers working nearly every day of the week on personnel issues.

The city budgeted a total of $12,108 for legal work in 2010. Through June 30, the city has already spent $13,526 in attorney fees.

City council tries to put controversy behind

Langley’s elected leaders have tried to move quickly past the brouhaha over the mayor’s pay in recent weeks.

In a memo to city staff on July 2, the day after the mayor was told about Mahler’s letter to the county prosecutor, Samuelson warned city staff about an impending story in the Record about the controversy.

Samuelson said he was surprised that his pay was still a concern, given an ordinance on his compensation that was adopted in February, which he said resolved the issue.

“According to the city attorney and the prosecuting attorney, I have done nothing wrong and no laws have been violated,” Samuelson said in the memo.

The mayor noted he worked “many more hours on behalf of the city” than a typical workday or 40-hour work week.

“I take my position as mayor seriously, which is why one year into my term I left my barber business to devote full time to serving as mayor,” he concluded. “I want to acknowledge that this employee action and subsequent media coverage may effect the environment at city hall.”

Roughly two weeks later, the council repealed two ordinances that detailed the mayor’s pay, including one that was approved in mid-February that attempted to fix problems with the November 2008 pay ordinance that deemed Samuelson a city employee with the pay and benefits to match a department head. Council members admitted they made a mistake in labeling Samuelson an employee of the city, and the council and Samuelson said they never intended for the mayor to collect vacation pay.

The council is expected to give its final approval to a new ordinance that details the mayor’s benefit package at the council’s next meeting on Aug. 16.

Langley’s release of records related to the controversy came after two delays, with officials saying they needed more time to collect and review the documents. The lawyers did not release any e-mails between city employees or officials related to the pay controversy, and — citing attorney-client privilege — refused to release the memo Mahler wrote to the city’s legal staff that lies at the heart of the pay-dispute controversy.

The public also apparently does not have the right to review how the city spends its money on legal fees, as lawyers also blacked out information on attorney billing records in more than 30 instances in the documents released late Friday. The city’s legal staff said it could keep that information secret because it represented the “work product” of attorneys, or was covered by attorney-client privilege.

Langley’s lawyers also said, due to the impending vacations of staff members, further records would not be released until Sept. 10.

Concerns were raised earlier by city staff

It was the worry about the mayor’s accrual of vacation time — which could potentially leave the city on the hook for a financial payout at the end of his service with the city — that prompted unease in the city’s finance department.

Mahler wasn’t the only one worried.

Former city employee Mary Jo McArdle said she raised the issue with the mayor himself.

McArdle said she doubted the mayor was devoting 40 hours to city business — as the ordinance approved by the council dictated — while he was out of state.

“What could he possibly be doing as a mayor in Southern California? A mayor can’t do very much work from across state lines other than make a few phone calls or maybe write a few e-mails,” McArdle said. “For him to say he was working 24/7 …”

“I just said, that’s just not right. You’re in Southern California with your grandkids,” she recalled.

McArdle also said she took her concerns to Councilman Russell Sparkman, but said the councilman gave her “the brush-off.”

Sparkman said he had already heard from others about the issue. He also promised to look into it, she said.

But when she talked to him again later — the day Samuelson left for a trip to Utah with family in June — Sparkman defended the mayor and said he was working a lot of hours. McArdle just didn’t understand, the councilman said.

“He said you have no idea what were dealing with now, and he turned around and walked away,” she said.

Sparkman did not return a reporter’s call for comment Monday.

Growing troubles for Langley’s bottom line

McArdle, who was hired as the city’s public records coordinator in April 2008, said Langley’s tenuous financial situation in late 2009 made employees keenly aware of city expenditures that would push the town deeper into the red.

Things started to go downhill in November, and the relationship between the mayor and his chief financial officer worsened to the point where Samuelson wanted Mahler fired, McArdle said.

She said Mahler had been telling the mayor for months that she had concerns with the budget.

But trouble arose after a council member asked the treasurer about the budget and Mahler gave an unvarnished answer. It was an embarrassing moment for the mayor, McArdle said, because the council hadn’t already been told.

“That was the first time it had gone beyond the folks at city hall,” McArdle recalled. “So Paul was kind of caught being exposed, as the budget had been in a downward spin and it had always been kept under city wraps.”

“That began Paul’s attempts to find cause to have Debbie fired,” McArdle said. “From then on, he began to take steps to undermine the workings of her department.”

Soon after, she said, the mayor told employees in the finance department he was going to be making cuts under the guise of “restructuring” the department. Every job would be looked at, and it didn’t matter how long the employee had been with the city.

McArdle also said Mahler confronted Samuelson about singling out the finance department for cutbacks that reduced employee hours by 20 percent, while other city workers in other departments would get only 5-percent cuts. She said people at city hall could hear the mayor shouting at Mahler in his office.

“All of a sudden the city attorney bills started coming in,” said McArdle, who had the job at city hall of opening the mail and date-stamping it.

She also said she noticed something: Her name and Mahler’s name were showing up on the invoices, next to words that said “personnel issue.”

“Little things started happening around the office,” she added, noting that Mahler was being excluded from team meetings she normally attended.

McArdle said she thought her job was at risk, too, after she filed two whistleblower complaints about expenditures in the city’s building department, complaints she said the mayor took months to address.

McArdle said spending decisions were being made without the treasurer’s knowledge, including the hiring of an AmeriCorps worker and improvements the mayor authorized at the city’s surplus fire hall on Second Street, which was being rented out to private businesses.

Noting the shape of the budget, McArdle said the city was spending money it didn’t have.

“Things were being done that weren’t being run by Debbie. Budget decisions, which were just exacerbating the budget situation,” she said.

Spending decisions get greater scrutiny

Newly released public records from the state auditor’s office show Mahler also raised concerns about unbudgeted expenditures made by the city while it has been sinking in red ink.

Mahler alerted the state auditor’s office about the mayor’s approval of unbudgeted utility work at the city’s old fire hall on Second Street, now a rental property for a glassblower and a beer maker.

The work totaled nearly $4,500, and one contractor is still awaiting payment.

Some critics have said the bill should have been paid by the tenants. But Gilman, the mayor pro tem of the council, downplayed the expenditures at the fire hall.

“The administration is supposed to have some flexibility in the way that they deal with the budget,” Gilman said.

When reminded that the work was not actually in the budget — a central point of concern, especially given the city’s financial state — Gilman said it still fell “within the standard operating procedure that I’m familiar with.”

When asked if it was a wise use of city money at a time when Langley had been struggling financially, Gilman told the Record in an earlier interview that he had too little information to comment.

“These are all fine questions,” he said.

He recalled the controversy of Shirley Sherrod, a case that made national news when a government employee was falsely accused of racism, and said he needed to get more information before talking at length about the expenditures.

“Informed by that experience, I want to make sure I find out a little more before I offer any opinions,” Gilman said.

Budget records show the improvements at the fire hall were not budgeted in any capital improvement account, but were instead later assessed to a “city facilities maintenance” account that is now overspent at 268 percent

of the amount set in the city’s 2010 budget.

Mayor blames city treasurer

Samuelson, in an earlier interview with the Record, blamed the treasurer for authorizing the payments, a claim she later denied.

“Debbie authorized those,” Samuelson said.

“They should have been in the budget, and I don’t know why they weren’t in the budget,” he added.

The mayor also said that as part of the lease, the city was obligated to provide utility service to the property.

“It’s the landlord’s responsibility to provide service to the tenants. Any internal tenant improvements are the leasee’s responsibility,” he said.

“That was all talked about,” he said, in the finance committee and through the lease process.

If the treasurer had concerns about the payments, she shouldn’t have paid the bills, he added.

“She must have felt the funds were available in some form,” he said.

Mahler said she paid most of the bills for the fire station after the state auditor’s office told her she should.

“I felt the contractor did it in good faith and needed to be paid,” she said.

Mahler said she knew about the lawyer bills filled with costs on personnel issues because they crossed her desk for processing. She knew she might be replaced, though she said the mayor never spoke to her directly about it.

“All I know is I got bills every month that showed he had been talking to a municipal headhunting agency, and that the city attorney had been making calls to interim finance directors and interim city clerks,” Mahler said. “He certainly didn’t discuss it with me.”

Mahler, who has been city treasurer and clerk for nearly 18 years, said the situation made her feel “pretty darn bad.”

“It makes it very difficult to go to work every day,” she said.

By Brian Kelly, editor@southwhidbeyrecord.com

Source: Seattlepi.com

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Lawyers Win Right to Aid U.S. Target

The Treasury Department on Wednesday granted permission to a group of human rights lawyers who want to file a lawsuit on behalf of a radical Muslim cleric thought to be hiding in Yemen. The Obama administration has authorized killing the cleric as a terrorist despite his American citizenship.

The department approved a license to the American Civil Liberties Union and the Center for Constitutional Rights to challenge the targeting of the man, Anwar al-Awlaki, who was born in New Mexico and is accused of having ties to Al Qaeda.

Last month, Mr. Awlaki’s father retained the two groups to bring a lawsuit seeking to stop the government from trying to kill his son without a trial. But on July 16, the Treasury Department labeled Mr. Awlaki a “specially designated global terrorist.” That made it illegal for lawyers to work on his behalf without a license.

The groups applied for a license on July 23, and on Tuesday they filed a lawsuit arguing that the licensing regulation was unconstitutional. In a statement, the groups said they appreciated the “quick response to our lawsuit” but would press forward with seeking to have the licensing requirement system struck down.

Source: The New York Times

Jonathan Storm: Arresting twists on lawyer-cop TV

The networks have applied a dash of originality, and have the money to make prettier pictures.

Inquirer television critic Jonathan Storm has been reporting for the last two weeks from the television critics' press tour in Beverly Hills.

From one angle, the new fall network dramas appear about as numb as they come: Four cop shows, three lawyer shows, one cop-and-lawyer show, and a medical examiner all muscle for space amid the 16 new series.

But a deeper look reveals quite a bit more originality, as fall 2010 takes an escapist feel on TV. Many of the standard genres are turned in a catchy direction.

ABC's Detroit 1-8-7 is filmed entirely on location. CBS is remaking Hawaii Five-O. And among the seven shows outside the TV-drama mainstream, two are about glamorous spies, one (The CW's Nikita) with an Asian lead, the other (NBC's Undercovers) with black leads.

One features a family with super powers, another focuses on a bigamist con man, and in the fifth, an unsuspecting schlub winds up probing a conspiracy that, says NBC, "could ultimately change the fate of mankind."

"Some of them are emulating cable networks like USA," says Jeff Zucker, president and CEO of NBC Universal, making sure to plug his most successful cable channel. "They're going for blue-sky escapist fare that provides an adrenaline rush."

Ahh, but there's a big difference.

"Bigger networks can afford to do more movielike shows," says Jeffrey Reiner, executive producer of the NBC conspiracy show The Event, which will air Mondays at 9 p.m. "The niche networks can't provide as much spectacle, as many locations."

You might call it the big bang theory. The broadcast networks can't just entertain anymore. They have to impress.

"In the last four or five years, the visual effects on television have gotten to a place in post-production where you can achieve things that may be not be quite filmlike, but . . . much closer than before," says Greg Berlanti, known as a producer of series, like Everwood and Brothers and Sisters, about families. His new show this fall stars Michael Chiklis as patriarch of a family that discovers it has super powers. No Ordinary Family airs Tuesdays at 8 p.m. on ABC.

"Character dramas on cable get better and better and richer and richer," Berlanti says, "because they can be specific in slightly different ways. . . . You look for different elements on a network show." Families may come because they hear about all this "superhero stuff," Berlanti said. "But when they get there, they stay for the characters."

Network shows don't always have to use spectacle to attract and impress viewers. NBC publicity calls The Event a "high-octane conspiracy thriller." Fox Entertainment President Kevin Reilly talks about his network's only new drama, Lone Star, mentioning that the level of octane is in the concept itself. Lone Star - wouldn't you know? - also airs Mondays at 9 p.m., opposite NBC's The Event.

It tells the story of an almost adorable young man brought up since birth to follow in his con-man father's footsteps. Trouble is, he falls in love not with just one of the women he's conning, but with two of them - and marries them both. It's nothing but a prime-time soap, but it's big and broad, and what a foundation.

"There is a level of octane in this concept because it's provocative," says Reilly. "And it's going to be provocative both in its central conceit and in terms of the character relationships that you see unfold."

Fox is pairing the show Mondays with House. NBC has scheduled The Event as the meat of a sandwich with Chuck, a returning show about an unsuspecting guy who winds up in the spy biz, and the new Chase at 10 p.m. At its core, Chase is just a cop show, but its lead character is a female U.S. marshal who wears cowboy boots, gets in more predicaments than anyone's ever seen, and is played by an actress, Kelli Giddish, who does her own stunts. In the pilot, she spent three hours in a river as part of a key chase scene.

"Different shows work better on different nights," says Chase executive producer Jonathan Littman, explaining why NBC peopled its entire Monday night with action series. "When people come home from work on Monday, they're looking for a good ride."

Turns out, he's only half right. "The Monday shows are there because NBC can promote them to its Sunday football audience," NBC Primetime Entertainment President Angela Bromstad explains. Sunday night football gets NBC's highest ratings, and the network figures its rough-and-tumble sports audience can be easily led to the havoc of its Monday nights, and then, the network hopes, on and on throughout the week.

CBS goes in the opposite direction on Fridays, a night when has been losing overall ratings for years because young people aren't home, but which CBS has won handily in recent seasons with a combination of relatively quiet shows with strong appeal to older women. Last season, it was Ghost Whisperer, Medium, and Numb3rs.

Despite overall lower ratings, says Kelly Kahl, CBS executive vice president for program planning and scheduling, "There's plenty of money on the table Friday night, and we're not about to just give it up."

To that end, the network has moved CSI: New York, with brooding Gary Sinise, to the 9 p.m. slot and come up with a new cop show with a twist, featuring a couple of handsome leads from two generations. Tom Selleck and Donnie Wahlberg star in Blue Bloods at 10 p.m., about a family of policemen, and, because it is TV after all, one lawyer.

Not to be outdone, NBC is stationing hunky Jimmy Smits on Fridays, in Outlaw. It's a lawyer show, but it's about a playboy Supreme Court justice who resigns to take on cases defending the little people, and we've never seen that before.

ABC has a different idea. Taking a page from the success of cable TV's most popular drama, TNT's The Closer, it's trying to snag the same somewhat older female audience with a show headed by a strong female actor.

Dana Delany plays a medical examiner in Body of Proof, Fridays at 9 on ABC. In 2010, she's not just a pathologist. She's also struggling to regain the trust of her young daughter, whom she lost in a custody battle years before.

Ratings expectations are lower on Friday nights. Nonetheless, producers would always like to see their new shows safely ensconced on a hot night behind a big hit.

"The networks kind of tell you where it's going to go. That's just how it is," says Jerry Bruckheimer, who's the most prolific producer on TV these days. One of his new series, The Whole Truth, occupies ABC's slot in the all-new, all-attorney network bloc Wednesdays at 10 p.m. NBC has the new Law & Order: Los Angeles, with cops and lawyers, and CBS has The Defenders, about not just any lawyers but a couple of Las Vegas attorneys with plenty of personal problems working on the entertaining fringe of Sin City.

Bruckheimer's Truth looks at each case from the point of view of both the prosecution and defense, and nobody ever knows who's going to win.

Producers have only a touch more certainty, even if they do come with big effects and eventlike series. "You do try to cast your networks," says Bruckheimer, "give a show to a network where you know they can handle that type of show, and that's something in their schedule that would really work."

Sadly, despite everybody's efforts, nobody ever knows what's going to work. But you've got to give the networks props for really trying this season, even when you know that with their quirks and big effects, most of the new shows will simply fail more spectacularly than less ambitious attempts.

By Jonathan Storm, Inquirer Television Critic

Source: Philadelphia Inquirer

Friday, August 6, 2010

City Person

Pamela Duffy loves San Francisco, which makes sense—she’s behind some of its most successful developments

Walking through the streets of San Francisco with land use and real estate attorney Pamela Duffy is like getting a backstage tour of the city’s past two decades of development. Yerba Buena Gardens, AT&T Park, Levi’s Plaza, Cal Pacific Medical Center, Westfield San Francisco Centre—she’s the power broker behind them all.

Duffy represents clients in all stages of development, and much of her energy is spent dealing with government agencies on everything from roads and sewers to big public-policy issues. When she served as lead counsel to Farallon Capital Management in connection with the $2 billion Mission Bay project, an urban infill that she lists as one of her favorites, Duffy needed to get 82 agency approvals. “I think every organization with a letterhead had something to do with it,” she says, rolling her eyes.

Sitting in her office at Coblentz, Patch, Duffy & Bass, just one floor above the Ferry Building’s lively commercial hub, Duffy contemplates the nature of a city. “Cities are organic—they crack and they sway. They’re exciting and alive,” she says. And for those city-dwellers who might be wary of a new restaurant opening in their neighborhood and increasing the sound quotient, Duffy shrugs. “Cities make noise on Friday nights.”

Now a happily settled Russian Hill resident, Duffy grew up shuttling between Los Angeles and northern Wisconsin in what she describes as a “chaotic” childhood. Her father died when she was an infant, and when her mother remarried and started a new family, Duffy was raised largely by an aunt who had nine children of her own. “I’m the oldest of four in one grouping and the middle of 10 in another,” she says.

She spent her childhood navigating between the worlds of the two states, where, she recalls, “Even the fashion ensembles were radically different. It was a very big deal to have penny loafers and socks in Wisconsin, but in Los Angeles that was completely uncool.”

For Duffy, the early chaos of her life contributed to her interest in law. “I was pretty fond of rules, and I liked to know the parameters of things, and why things happened.”

Growing up, Duffy says, “I saw that the law, at its best, could be a fair and dispassionate place where people of all economic, social, and intellectual backgrounds and capabilities could meet on a level playing field.”

Before pursuing law school, Duffy earned her undergraduate degree in political science from California State University-Los Angeles. She arrived on campus during the late ’60s, the height of the hippie era. “I had a very authentic experience,” she says with an impish look. After graduating, Duffy moved east to work on Sen. Ed Muskie’s presidential campaign, and then to Washington, D.C., where she was a legislative assistant to Sen. Alan Cranston.

During her stint with Cranston, the young political operative was introduced to the Legal Services Coporation legislation, designed and co-sponsored by the senator in an effort to provide legal assistance to the poor. Inspired, Duffy decided to go to law school at Loyola Law School.

During school, the budding attorney worked full time campaigning for the California Democratic Party. “All I did was work, study, and maybe sleep a little bit here and there,” she says, shaking her head. She received some scholarship money in her third year, but still continued to work part time. And she still found time to get elected to the St. Thomas More Law Honor Society and serve as a lead articles editor of the Loyola of Los Angeles Law Review.

She assumed she would pursue legal services work, but she took a corporate tax and securities course and enjoyed it. “I had never been exposed to that kind of stuff before,” she says.

After graduating in 1978, she took a job in corporate securities at the Los Angeles firm Manatt Phelps. Soon after, she got married and moved to San Francisco.

She knew about the Coblentz firm and its reputation for hiring lawyers with social policy backgrounds. “I came to the firm and was surrounded by a group of extremely smart people who were dong admirable things,” she says. “The lawyers at Coblentz introduced me to how real estate and land use are huge social policy issues.”

To this day, Duffy finds fulfillment in figuring out how to navigate all the elements that go into a development project, from social policy goals and economic goals to environmental issues. Whether she’s ushering through the development of a 43,000-seat park for the San Francisco Giants or helping to create an $18.2 million Presidio headquarters for the Family Violence Prevention Fund, Duffy says, “I love finding a pathway to a shared conclusion. Then we can build something great.”

By Rose Nisker

Source: Super Lawyers

Team Player

Gordon Greenwood is a firm believer in the saying, “To whom much is given, much is required,” so, along with representing clients with mesothelioma—a deadly cancer caused by asbestos exposure—he devotes enormous energy to volunteering with children and the elderly.

“Elderly people and children are the most vulnerable and need the most protection, and you’ve got to do something for the people who need it most,” he says.

In addition to taking on about a dozen pro bono cases for seniors, Greenwood also spent a decade directing the youth department at the Third Baptist Church in San Francisco. Greenwood also serves on the board of, among others, Oakland’s Babe Ruth baseball league, Destined 2 Dance Studio and North Coast Express, an organization that provides academic and athletic enrichment. He chairs the board of the West Bay Community Center and is deeply involved in his firm’s foundation.

Greenwood began his career in corporate law but two years later went looking for new challenges and became a public defender. Greenwood spent eight years representing adults and juveniles in misdemeanor and felony courts. Eventually he followed a former co-worker to Kazan, McClain, Lyons, Greenwood & Harley.

Since 1998, Greenwood has fought fiercely for his clients, gaining a sense of purpose from assisting people who suffer from catastrophic illness. “We can’t heal or cure our clients, but as their lawyer we can get them compensation from the companies that are responsible for their illness,” he says. “Then their families don’t have to worry about paying their bills on top of everything else they need to worry about.

“Representing people is what gives the practice of law some meaning,” he says. “To have an impact on people’s lives is what makes law fun.”

By Suzy Frisch

Source: Super Lawyers

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

N.J. attorneys, lawfirms pull client trust accounts held by Chase

About 1,500 New Jersey law firms and attorneys are scrambling to pull their client trust accounts out of J.P. Morgan Chase, under a state Supreme Court order issued last month declaring one of the biggest banks in the state an "unauthorized" trust account depository.

The state Office of Attorney Ethics began mailing letters last week, advising attorneys with Chase accounts that they have 60 days to certify their accounts have been moved to other, authorized banks.

The problem involves Chase declining to meet certain interest rate requirements mandated by the state for what are known as "Income on Non-Interest Bearing Lawyers Trust Accounts," or IOLTA.

Under state Supreme Court rules, interest paid on those accounts is used to finance legal representation for the poor in civil court matters and public education programs.

"We could not agree to some requirements of the IOLTA fund. So we are no longer an approved trust account depository in New Jersey," said Michael Fusco, a spokesman for Chase, noting the banks sent its own notices to lawyers.

Ellen Ferrise, executive director of the Bar of New Jersey’s IOLTA Fund, said the only time a bank was de-authorized for attorney trust accounts was in 2006, involving a smaller bank that was later re-instated.

"This is certainly something that is not typical," she said.

IOLTA was set up in 1988, permitting lawyers and law-firms to pool what are often small and temporary client deposits into common, interest-bearing accounts.

It frees attorneys from the costly practice of setting up individual accounts for each client deposit. In turn, interest from the pooled accounts gives the state money to help the needy, although the flow of dollars tends to dry up in poor economic times.

New Jersey lawyers are mandated to participate in the IOLTA program, and they must have all their trust accounts in state-authorized banks.

Those banks are required by the state to pay interest rates on the IOLTA accounts that are comparable to those offered on higher yielding accounts.

IOLTA officials set a range of rates, in part, through a complex comparison of quarterly rates among the 150 banks authorized by the state to hold trust accounts, and banks are given several options on how the rate is calculated.

"The rate paid by the bank on IOLTA accounts should be comparable to the best rate they offer to other customers and non-IOLTA accounts," Ferrise added.

"They (Chase) didn’t like their rate being compared to other banks."

Lawyers moving their trust accounts from Chase must go to other authorized banks, but only those paying the higher end on the IOLTA interest scale.

By Brian T. Murray, (973) 392-4153, bmurray@starledger.com

Source: NJ.com

Ten Podhurst Orseck Attorneys Named Florida Super Lawyers and Rising Stars 2010

Miami-based trial and appellate law firm Podhurst Orseck, P.A., is pleased to announce that eight of its partners have been named by Florida Super Lawyers magazine as top attorneys in Florida for 2010 and two of its attorneys have been named as “Rising Stars” by Florida Super Lawyers magazine.

The selections for Super Lawyers are made by Law & Politics, a division of Professional Media, Inc. of Minneapolis, Minn. After a statewide nomination process, independent research, review of resumes and peer evaluation by practice area, only five percent of Florida attorneys are named by Super Lawyers.

The Podhurst Orseck attorneys selected for inclusion are as follows:

• Aaron S. Podhurst / Aviation (Super Lawyer)
• Robert C. Josefsberg / Business Litigation (Super Lawyer)
• Joel D. Eaton / Appellate (Super Lawyer)
• Steven C. Marks / Aviation (Super Lawyer)
• Victor M. Diaz, Jr. / Business Litigation (Super Lawyer)
• Peter Prieto / Business Litigation (Super Lawyer)
• Katherine W. Ezell / Business Litigation (Super Lawyer)
• Stephen F. Rosenthal / Appellate (Super Lawyer)
• Ricardo M. Martinez-Cid / Aviation (Rising Star)
• John Gravante, III / Class Action & Mass Torts (Rising Star)

Super Lawyers recognizes outstanding attorneys in more than 70 areas of practice using a rigorous, multiphase selection process that considers 15 separate indicators of peer recognition, professional achievement and high ethical standards.

About Podhurst Orseck, P.A.
Miami-based Podhurst Orseck, P.A., established over four decades ago, is a top flight boutique trial and appellate firm focusing its practice on tort litigation matters including aviation, products liability, serious personal injury, and wrongful death claims, as well as complex commercial litigation and white collar defense. Additionally, the firm has a strong appellate practice, handling appeals for its own attorneys and attorneys throughout the nation, in various state and federal appellate courts, including the United States Supreme Court. The firm has consistently received an AV-Rating from Martindale-Hubbell Law Directory, the highest possible rating, based on legal ability and general ethical standards. For more information, please visit www.podhurst.com.

Source: Prlog.org

Monday, August 2, 2010

Lawyers Make Their Pitch for Venue of Oil-Claims Suits

Louisiana plaintiffs' attorneys appealed to a federal judicial panel on Thursday to send the sprawling oil-spill litigation to a judge in New Orleans, while defense attorneys said the setting was too tainted by the slick and argued instead for Houston.

They were among the roughly 250 attorneys who showed up at the federal courthouse here to make their pitch for a venue for the more than 300 civil cases filed against BP PLC and others. Mississippi and South Carolina were among others also suggested as sites to hear the suits, which include federal economic, environmental, racketeering and personal-injury claims.

BP, rig owner Transocean Ltd. and other defendants want the cases to go to Houston, where they have corporate offices and an environment more sympathetic to the oil industry.

Arguing for New Orleans was Stephen Flynn, an attorney for the U.S. Justice Department, who said the agency believed it would at some point have claims against defendants.

He was joined by New Orleans plaintiffs' lawyers who laid out appeals for keeping the litigation in the city, which has long been considered plaintiff-friendly. With so many potential jurors whose livelihoods have been hurt by the spill, lawyers think their cases would fare better there than in Houston, where the oil industry is a major employer.

"If after the Sept. 11 attacks this panel had sent all those cases to Houston or brought in a judge [from elsewhere] to sit in New York, the public would be outraged," said New Orleans plaintiffs' attorney Allan Kanner.

The panel will decide in coming weeks whether to consolidate the cases, as well as other related securities cases, and then where they will be heard and before which judge or judges.

Attorneys have suggested importing a judge from outside the Gulf region to hear the suits in a New Orleans courtroom, splitting the cases and sending them to various judges, or picking one judge to handle all suits, at least initially.

For the New Orleans attorneys, who are representing fishermen, waterfront resorts and others hurt by the spill, one kink in their plans could be whether the panel can find a judge in their city without ties to oil. In the Eastern District of Louisiana in New Orleans, all but four judges have recused themselves from the case, and attorneys Thursday said there may be questions of conflicts swirling about three of them.

The panel showed keen interest in New Orleans Judge Carl J. Barbier, asking lawyers for thoughts on his status. Some defendants have tried so far unsuccessfully to have him recused because he sold off Transocean and Halliburton Co. bonds about a month after oil suits came before him. Judge Barbier, who decided not to recuse himself, declined to comment.

Defendants cited judicial conflicts in New Orleans as among the reasons to move the case to Houston. David Beck, representing blowout preventer-maker Cameron International Corp., said Houston offered at least nine judges without oil conflicts.

Andrew Langan, an attorney for BP, said Houston's dockets were less crowded than those in New Orleans. And Donald Godwin, representing Halliburton, said Houston judges know how to keep cases moving along.

Kerry Miller, an attorney for Transocean, said Houston "has the machinery and the infrastructure set up to begin the just and efficient handling of these cases."

Judge John G. Heyburn, the chief judge on the panel, said the judge who ultimately oversees the case would be fair, regardless of venue. "What federal judges do and have done in case after case and time after time is consider cases in a fair way that not only involves the interest of their community but of other communities," he said.

Of the mass of lawyers assembled Thursday, only 23 were permitted to offer arguments before the panel, meeting in Boise for a long-scheduled series of hearings. Most had only two minutes to do so, barely enough time to utter a haiku before a red light flashed to inform them their time was up. Judge Heyburn joked that one attorney was walking so slowly that his time would be over before he arrived at the lectern.

Yet some managed to cram in complex arguments, and a touch of poetry. Russ Herman, a New Orleans plaintiffs' lawyer, quoted from Shakespeare's "Measure for Measure" and lyrics from a 1927 song, "Louisiana, they're trying to wash us away."

"We rise out of our myth, our metaphor, our mystery, our seafood and our music, which now is threatened, and the threat of our culture threatens our hope and our faith," he told the panel. "You have an opportunity to focus the world on this country, on this disaster, so it won't happen again. Assist us in our resiliency."

By Dionne Searcey, dionne.searcey@wsj.com

Source: WSJ.com