Sunday, May 29, 2011

The trouble in Umatilla County: Oregon Department of Justice goes after a disgraced district attorney

As mano-a-mano matchups go, John Kroger vs. Dean Gushwa seemed a mismatch.
Kroger is Oregon's ambitious attorney general, a former assistant U.S. attorney and mob prosecutor, with 300 lawyers at his disposal.

Gushwa was district attorney in Umatilla County, whose train wreck of a personal life was thrown into public view last August after one of his girlfriends accused him of rape.

Kroger's people rolled into Pendleton, swiftly labeling Gushwa a drunken menace to society. The core of the Justice Department's case was that Gushwa used his position to intimidate female employees into having sex with him.

"The allegations were very serious," Kroger said. "I would characterize it as an extreme form of sexual harassment as well as intoxication in the workplace."

But after nine months, the case ended in May with a whimper. Gushwa agreed to resign and was found guilty of one misdemeanor -- official misconduct for an unauthorized $6 government discount on a hotel room.

The real losers in the case may be the citizens of Umatilla County.

They were burdened not only with an embarrassing sex scandal of a top public official, but also with a protracted Department of Justice presence in their prosecutor's office that cost taxpayers more than $437,000.

Senior county officials worry that the local DA's office suffered a lack of oversight due to the Justice Department's decision to install a rotating cast of supervisors rather than a single, full-time manager.

The Justice Department's stint in Pendleton reached a low point in January when Kroger's lieutenants mishandled a high-profile murder appeal so badly that a confessed killer serving life in prison walked free.

Dennis Doherty, a Umatilla County commissioner, feels the case continues a pattern in which the Justice Department launches an investigation with hardball tactics and lots of press releases only for the case to fizzle.

"They came in guns-a-blazing," said Doherty, a former county DA himself. "And then, jeez, the only thing they could get him on was getting a cut-rate motel room. Did they ever really have any evidence? The whole thing is pretty pitiful."

The rape charge

A 47-year-old clerk in the DA's office lit the match that sparked the Gushwa inferno. The woman, identified in court documents only as DW, reported that Gushwa, her boss and on-again off-again boyfriend, raped her.

He handcuffed her and brutally forced himself on her, she said.

But it wasn't until eight months later -- after another episode of rough sex in August -- that she finally reported the rape. DW had grown afraid of Gushwa, she told police, and had only continued to see him "because I was lonely." She was also incensed, she added, after learning that Gushwa was involved with Jennifer Roe, another employee of the DA's office.

After seeing Roe's car in front of his house, DW texted Gushwa: "We'll see what the governor has to say about this."

It's not clear whether she ever contacted then-Gov. Ted Kulongoski. But she did call an Oregon State Police trooper, who arranged her interview with Pendleton police.

Some people who knew them both questioned DW's motives. But police took the charge seriously, said Chief Stuart Roberts. They called in the Justice Department, common in cases where a local law enforcement official is accused.

Gushwa agreed to go on paid leave for the duration of the investigation.

Poor decisions

There are few secrets in a small town. And among Pendleton's small legal community, Gushwa's hard-living, hard-partying ways were common knowledge.

Newly divorced after years of marriage, Gushwa was enthusiastically single again. He was involved with three employees of his office, some at the same time.

Gushwa was appointed DA of the county in 2006 after eight years as a deputy and was elected to the post in 2008.

"He was a very engaged, very methodical, very skilled DA," said Roberts, police chief.

Doherty, the county commissioner, never heard a single complaint. "No judge, no employee, nobody else ever came to me -- and I was liaison to the DA's office," he said.

Gushwa admits to some poor decisions in his personal life. "My conduct as far as having relations with employees was stupid," he said. "I've apologized for that."

But all of those "relations" were consensual, he insists.

The Justice Department disagreed.

It didn't charge him with rape, sexual abuse, unlawful penetration, sodomy or any other felonies associated with forcible sex. "Those are very difficult cases to win when there's a prior consensual sexual relationship," Kroger said.

Rather, the state charged Gushwa with five counts of official misconduct, specifically that he used his office to intimidate female employees into giving him "sexual gratification."

"Defendant cultivated a culture wherein he made it very clear to his employees that he was the ultimate authority," Justice Department attorneys wrote in court documents. Gushwa targeted "women who needed their jobs, relied on their paychecks and were either dealing with personal problems or generally vulnerable in their life's position."

State lawyers also cited Gushwa's "drinking problem," stating numerous examples of other people smelling alcohol on his breath or hearing him slur his words at evening crime scenes.

Gushwa denies a drinking problem and says having a few cocktails after work is not a crime.

In early November, Sean Riddell, the Justice Department's top criminal prosecutor, traveled to Pendleton and confronted Gushwa. The two men have much in common -- both career prosecutors, ex-military. With their matching bald pates, they even somewhat looked alike. But this was no collegial meeting.

Riddell demanded Gushwa resign and plead guilty to at least one count. Gushwa had offered to step aside earlier, but now, in the face of Riddell's hard-nosed approach, he refused, maintaining that he never forced anyone to do anything.

It was a highly unorthodox meeting. Riddell was not the prosecutor of Gushwa’s case. Riddell contacted Gushwa directly, rather than going through his attorney, according to Gushwa and his lawyer, David Gallagher. Gushwa recalls a meeting took place Nov. 5, four days before the state filed charges against him.

When Gushwa declined to resign, Riddell vowed that a Justice Department “freight train” would crush him, Gushwa and Gallaher recall.

The Justice Department later upped the ante with 11 counts of contempt of court. It accused Gushwa of violating a court order prohibiting contact with any employee of the DA's office by calling, texting and getting together with Roe. Their relationship had grown more serious and they are now engaged.

On Nov. 15, two Pendleton cops showed up at Gushwa's doorstep, arrested and hauled him to the county jail where he was released after a couple hours. Justice Department lawyers, who heard Gushwa intended to return to the office, also a violation of the court order, requested the arrest.

"It was just a cheap little tactic, pure intimidation," Gushwa said.

Murder retrial bungled

When the Justice Department took over the DA's office, it inherited one of Umatilla County's most notorious murder cases.

On April 6, 2001, Kathleen Blankenship shot her husband, Walt Blankenship, first as he lay in bed and twice more as he attempted to call 9-1-1. She confessed, and a Umatilla County jury found her guilty of murder in 2003. Gushwa, then a deputy DA, worked on the case in a supporting role and still considers it one of his biggest wins. She was sentenced to life in prison.

In 2009, Blankenship won a retrial after convincing a judge she received inadequate legal representation in the first trial.

Blankenship's new attorney, Jack Morris of Hood River, was highly competent and had two doctor's opinions that Blankenship suffered from extreme emotional disturbance at the time she shot her husband. If the jury believed his experts, they could reduce the charge against her from murder to manslaughter.

Gushwa needed to rebut that evaluation and persuaded a psychologist in Buffalo, N.Y., to assess Blankenship. Then Gushwa was sidelined by the sex charges.

Kroger's Justice Department took over prosecution.

Inexplicably, the state failed to get the New York psychologist or any other on board. With the new trial set for February, Justice Department attorney Rachel Bridges asked for more time, arguing that she was swamped with other big cases. She also accused staffers of the Umatilla County DA's office of failing to support her.

Garry Reynolds, a long-time Circuit Court judge who had heard the first Blankenship trial, had already granted the state one continuance. By January, he was out of patience and rejected the request for another.

To the shock of Pendleton's legal community, the Justice Department then agreed to let Blankenship plead guilty to manslaughter.

Reynolds was livid.

"I am completely dismayed by the way this case has gone forward," the judge said from the bench. "It may have come to this place eventually anyway. ... I do not feel that the state of Oregon's interests were protected. ... That it was resolved in the matter that it was resolved is not a service to this county."

Blankenship, originally sentenced to life, got out of prison April 7.

In a letter in the East Oregonian, Umatilla County Senior Circuit Judge Richard Courson said: "It is evident that the "plea deal" was an excuse to try and conclude a "botched prosecution."

Kroger conceded that his department made a "mistake" when it did not get its own psychiatric evaluation of Blankenship. "I'm unhappy with our handling of that case," he said.

Mary Kligel, the victim's sister, watched with her parents in disbelief. "They dropped the ball," Kligel said. "My parents can't move on. I can't move on."

Kligel has little sympathy for Gushwa's own legal predicament. But she says Kathleen Blankenship would still be in prison if he had remained in charge of the case.

"Deep in our hearts, we know that it would have been different if Dean would have handled it."

Slap on the wrist

The more William Perkinson looked at the details of his client Gushwa's case, the more surprised he was that his former Lewis & Clark Law School professor John Kroger would push a case so full of holes.

He saw no evidence of Gushwa threatening his female colleagues to have sex or to remain silent after the fact. Likewise, no evidence of Gushwa returning preferential treatment. "The Justice Department did not hesitate to announce to the press that they were investigating my client for sex crimes," Perkinson said. "They went public long before they had concluded their investigation into the credibility of their star witness. They found themselves in the untenable position of having made the accusations without any good evidence against my client."

Weeks before the case was to come to trial, however, the state stunned Gushwa and Perkinson when it suggested a settlement: drop all the sex-related charges and deal solely with the hotel discount.

And Gushwa must resign.

He accepted. "I felt like they'd already destroyed my effectiveness as DA anyway," he said.

Gushwa was found guilty of the one misdemeanor count. He agreed to quit and the judge put him on probation for three years, during which he can't hold public office.

Kroger denied that settling and dropping the sex-related charges reflected a weak case. It was pragmatic to save money and time and spare the victims a potentially traumatic trial.

"If we had proceeded to trial, we would have reached the same result -- no jail and three years probation," Kroger said.

Gushwa's resignation becomes effective May 31. The Justice Department will remain in control of the Umatilla County DA's office until Gov. John Kitzhaber appoints a new DA.

Roberts, the Pendleton police chief, says the county is better off with Gushwa out. The former DA's personal issues had divided his staff and were beginning to affect his effectiveness, he said.

Kara Davis, a Pendleton public defender, said the Justice Department's case against Gushwa was a classic example of prosecutor over-reach.

"There wasn't anyone who thought (Gushwa) was a choirboy," she said. "It might be unseemly for a prosecutor to act that way. But my feeling is, whether he stays or goes is a decision for us, the people of Umatilla County, to make."

County Commissioner Doherty said he's concerned about the money the state spent and what it got in return. The Justice Department says it spent $148,978 prosecuting Gushwa and $221,957 running the Umatilla County DA's office. Taxpayers also paid Gushwa's salary while he was on leave for nine months, pushing the total tab beyond $430,000.

"It's important to remember that Dean offered to resign last fall, which would have saved us all a lot of money and stress," Doherty said. "But the state had to have its pound of flesh."

By Jeff Manning, The Oregonian


Birmingham lawyer, client sue three lawyers over solicitations after crash

A Birmingham lawyer and his client, who was injured in an April vehicle crash, have filed a civil lawsuit claiming that within days of the wreck people representing three other lawyers tried to illegally solicit him for his personal injury case.

Alabama law and state bar rules prohibit lawyers from approaching someone to solicit a case or hiring someone to solicit cases on their behalf.

The lawsuit was filed May 13 by the law firm of Wettermark, Holland & Keith on behalf of Robert Barber, a lawyer, and Barber's client David Wayne Wright.

The lawsuit names as defendants lawyers Robert J. Hayes, Christopher S. Linton, J. Danny Hackney, their three law firms, and four other people -- named and unnamed -- who the lawsuit claims approached Wright on behalf of the firms.

Hackney, in an email, declined comment. Hayes in an email said they have not had an adequate amount of time to study the allegations made against them and would respond through their counsel in due time. Linton referred questions to his attorney, Joe Stott, who declined comment.

Efforts to reach a couple of the others named in the lawsuit, who allegedly solicited on behalf of the attorneys, were unsuccessful.

An official with the Alabama Bar declined to comment on the lawsuit.

Wright was injured in a crash April 25, according to the lawsuit. After the crash Wright contacted Barber to seek his advice and counsel about the wreck, the lawsuit claims.

On April 27 and April 28 Wright got unsolicited calls, followed up by visits, from people claiming to represent three law firms and trying to solicit his case, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit claims that the three lawyers violated state law by giving or offering to give a valuable consideration to another person as an inducement to placing in his hands, or in the hands of their law firms, a personal injury case or that they employed, or offered to employ, individuals to search for or procure clients for themselves and firms.

Among the things the lawsuit seeks is an order to prohibit the defendants from similar activities, refund all fees or monetary benefits they accrued as a result of their illegal activities, and punitive or exemplary damages "to deter the defendants and other similarly minded attorneys and individuals from engaging in the unethical and unlawful conduct which is the subject of this action."

"Mr. Barber is a young lawyer trying to build a law practice. .¤.¤. But I think he shares our view that we as lawyers have an obligation to try to stamp out this illegal and unethical conduct," James Wettermark, attorney representing Barber and Wright, said Thursday.

Wettermark said that a police incident report was filed on the first contact, but police were not present at the two other meetings. Wright did not sign the contracts at the meetings, he said.

No charges have been filed against anyone regarding the incidents.

John Carroll, dean of the Samford University School of Law, said allegations of unethical solicitation happens with some frequency across the country. But one lawyer filing a lawsuit against others over the issue is "very unusual," he said.

By Kent Faulk, The Birmingham News,


Man spends 27 years wrongly imprisoned writing songs

Prison-issued toilet paper is what musician William Michael Dillon used to write down most of his songs, including "Black Robes and Lawyers," which has just been released on iTunes.

"I was arrested for murder on August 26, 1981, for a crime I didn't commit," Dillon tells his audience as he starts strumming his guitar. "I was released on November 18, 2008. Thank you to the keepers of justice."

According to Dillon, justice prevailed when he was released from prison after 27 years. He is now on the Innocence Project of Florida's list of 13 prisoners exonerated by DNA evidence.

It was Dillon's life story and not his music that moved Grammy Award winning music producer Jim Tullio to invite Dillon to his Chicago studio to record the songs he wrote in prison.

"I was just blown away by this story," says Tullio, who learned about Dillon's wrongful incarceration and his dream to record an album.

"I just thought it was an injustice and I thought this guy deserves a break," recalls Tullio, adding that he did something he never does and reached out to Dillon.

"I said whatever you bring me I am sure I can help you make it better," Tullio remembers telling Dillon during their first conversation. Not caring if he had any real talent, Tullio arranged for Dillon to spend a couple of weeks in the studio.

Tullio expected to make a CD for Dillon to play while he was riding around in his truck. "I did this because I was compelled," says Tullio, "but when he came and I heard him sing I was just knocked out." Tullio says he quickly realized that Dillon's life story might attract an audience, but his voice would turn them into fans.

During those recording sessions, the talk often turned to Dillon's fight, not only for his freedom but also his continuing battle for compensation.

It was August 17, 1981, when James Dvorak was found murdered on a Florida beach. The beach was in an area Dillon frequented. The police questioned Dillon about the murder and eventually investigators charged him for Dvorak's death.

The 27 years Dillon spent behind bars tested his will to survive. "I contemplated suicide many, many times." He says that 12 years into his life sentence, he decided to let go of the anger. It was difficult for a man who eventually learned he would be paroled in 2043, when he would be in his 80s.

While in prison at Avon Park Correctional facility, Dillon helped develop a music program. He learned to play the guitar and sang with fellow inmates in a band.

Music was a main focus of Dillon's when in 2006 a law clerk asked him if he had ever had his DNA tested. That test would be the key to his freedom.

"In Bill Dillon's case, there was much evidence that pointed away from him having committed this crime," says Seth Miller of the Innocence Project of Florida, the group that helped secure Dillon's release.

At the time of his release, Dillon's time behind bars was longer than any other person exonerated in the United States, according to the Innocence Project. Dillon assumed that when he gained his freedom he would be compensated for the time he spent in prison.

"If you are releasing me from prison on DNA, for a crime I didn't commit, you should be handing me the money so I could get on with my life," says Dillon. That didn't happen and Dillon has been relying on the kindness of others.

Florida has a compensation law that pays $50,000 per year to those who are classified as wrongfully incarcerated. Dillon, like almost all the Innocence Project of Florida's 13 DNA cases, doesn't qualify for the money.

In order to receive compensation in Florida, an exonerated person must have "clean hands." This means the person cannot have a felony on record from before they were wrongfully imprisoned.

"When I was 19 years old I got caught with a Quaalude and a joint in my pocket with nine college kids coming from a bottle club at 4 o'clock in the morning," says Dillon. Dillon believes that arrest cost him more than $1.3 million from the state.

Dillon's efforts to get a claims bill passed through the Florida Legislature have been unsuccessful.

Earlier this year, Bram D.E. Canter, Florida Senate Special Master, released his final report to the Senate president. Canter noted that State Attorney Norman Wolfinger wrote a letter stating he did not think DNA testing exonerated Dillon.

Canter's final report also makes a reference to Brevard County Sheriff Deputy Thom Fair. Fair worked on the Dillon case. Now retired, the report notes that Fair continues to believe Dillon murdered Dvorak.

In his conclusion, Canter notes that his burden of proof is a "preponderance of the evidence" and recommends that Dillon be compensated for his years in prison. The report says, "There is no physical evidence linking Dillon to the victim or the crime scene and Dillon would probably not have been found guilty with the credible evidence available to the prosecutors."

As his attorneys continue to try to get his compensation bill passed by both the Florida House and Senate, Dillon continues to make music.

He dreams of having the ability to make money with his music. But Dillon says he is realistic about the odds of being able to support himself in the entertainment industry. "I am hoping," says Dillon. "I would love it but I just don't know."

What Dillon does know is that his first album is slated for release this summer and he is already thinking about what he is going to write about in his next musical endeavor.

"I want to put the soul and feeling I have into songs of everyday life," says Dillon. "I see the world with baby eyes. I don't see the world like you see the world because I just started living in it."

By Kim Segal, CNN Supervising Producer


Crime and Courts: Attorney Michael Hupy goes down swinging

Call it a tale of two attorneys, one a felon, the other in hot water for overzealously pointing out the crime to potential clients for whom they were both vying.

If you've ever been injured in an automobile accident, you'll recognize the name of Michael Hupy. Indeed, in all likelihood you've gotten a packet of advertising material in the mail. When I got smacked by a car, the envelope from Hupy & Abraham was the first to arrive.

When it comes to advertising, Hupy plays hardball. And according to a state Supreme Court decision issued on Friday, he went too far.

The allegations against Hupy stem from a relentless competitive spirit combined with deep animosity toward his former law partner, Charles Hausmann.

Hupy had worked for Hausmann's law firm, Hausmann-McNally, for 13 years before the two had a bitter falling-out in 1989. In 2002 Hausmann pleaded guilty to a federal charge of interstate and mail fraud in connection with a kickback scheme in which Hausmann referred clients to Milwaukee chiropractor Scott Rise, who then paid off Hausmann with a portion of the clients' negotiated settlement fees, essentially taking money out of the clients' pockets.

Hupy and Hausmann were locked in an advertising battle, competing through the U.S. mail for the business of car accident victims, and Hausmann's conviction was an obvious disadvantage. Hupy had taken to including scathing details of Hausmann's misdeeds in his brochures.

One of those was titled: "Read Mail from Lawyers Cautiously," which Hupy sent to thousands of prospective clients in 2003, warning that another personal injury attorney, whom he didn't name, was convicted for defrauding his clients, but was still practicing while his case was being appealed. That was all true -- in 2003. But Hupy sent out a brochure with the same article in 2006, well after the appeal had been settled, after Hausmann had served a federal prison term and after his license was suspended.

Hence, the statement was untrue, and a referee with the Office of Lawyer Regulation charged Hupy with violating the rules that govern attorney conduct.

Hupy, being a trial attorney, argued the matter in the shameless but effective manner lawyers often do.

And he argued that since he didn't name Hausmann, he can't be held responsible if people made that connection -- even though he admitted to the court that, yes, he was referring to Hausmann.

He argued that despite all evidence to the contrary, Hausmann was still practicing law in 2006, even while his license was suspended. That is, he was still a stockholder and a company officer in a company that practiced law, his name was connected to the firm on an Internet site, and he appeared on the company's annual report, so what's the difference?

Hupy also made the argument -- and many would say he has a point -- that the article was essentially a criticism of a lawyer regulation system that allowed Hausmann to practice law after he was convicted of a felony, and that fact was as true in 2006 as it was in 2003.

Hupy also held that the failure to update the information was merely an oversight, and anyway, the mailings were merely part of his campaign to educate the public about unscrupulous attorneys, so the speech was protected by the First Amendment.

The court didn't buy it. It noted the referee's contention that it was an advertisement, motivated by profit, and First Amendment protections do not protect commercial speech that is false. Moreover, it was sent out with other literature designed to win clients. At the very least, in the words of the referee, it was "a reckless disregard of the truth."

The court agreed, and on Friday issued Hupy a public reprimand. The justices also ordered him to pay $35,000 to cover the cost of the investigation and proceedings against him. They had originally charged him $45,916, but Hupy nickel-and-dimed them down.

Then there were the two ethics charges that Hupy beat.

One stemmed from a brochure entitled: "Beware: You will probably get a letter from a law firm whose senior partner went to prison on November 28, 2003."

The brochure warned prospective clients about Hausmann's conviction, and in the same paragraph included the statement: "Lawyers can mail letters and advertise on television without ever having tried a personal injury case."

A referee with the Office of Lawyer Regulation determined that the mailing conveyed the false impression that the Hausmann-McNally firm had never tried a personal injury case. The referee called the ad "dishonest, deceitful and misleading," and determined that it violated attorney conduct rules.

Not so, Hupy said. He was just making a general warning to the public. It wasn't about anyone specifically.

And he convinced three of the six justices hearing the case -- conservative Justice Michael Gableman didn't participate -- that he committed no ethical violation, a split right down the infamous liberal-conservative divide, with the conservatives on his side.

A third count against Hupy involved his use of a sticker on his firm's letterhead in 2004 celebrating the firm's 35th anniversary, which would mean he established the business in 1969. But that was the year the firm Hupy eventually bought out was founded, and it had gone through several permutations and name changes both before and after Hupy went to work there. So Hupy was essentially dating the law firm, which didn't become Hupy & Associates until 2004 (it became Hupy & Abraham in 2006), to 28 years before he actually bought it, and three years before he even graduated from law school.

The court, after determining that the law firm was operated continuously since its incorporation, even if under various names, eventually settled on 1974 as a founding date. And rather than quibble over five years, the justices dropped the matter.

Just for the record, I'm a bit torn. I find it heartening that the justices chose to discipline Hupy -- one conservative, Annette Ziegler, wanted to let him off scot free -- for engaging in egregious misconduct that, in the words of the court, "not only harmed the other lawyer, but more importantly harmed the public, indeed, it harmed a portion of the public that may very well have been looking for legal representation at the time it received the brochure article."

But you have to wonder, would I want an attorney who admitted his wrongs, took his punishment and atoned for his sins? Or would I want someone who, like Huby, disputes all allegations, no matter how damning, and cuts the best possible deal?

You might not like what he did, but you have to admit, he's got cojones.

By Steven Elbow, The Capital Times,


Friday, May 27, 2011

Defense lawyers cross examine prosecution’s star witness in Mumbai terror case

No matter how hard he tried, David Coleman Headley could never get Tahawwur Rana to follow an extremist version of Islam that Headley had embraced after joining the militant Pakistani-based Lashkar-e-Taiba.

The best friends often got into heated religious and ideological debates and when Headley gave the Chicago businessman a book that proclaimed Muslims should have “enmity” for non-believers, Rana rejected it, Headley testified Thursday.

The men had such divergent views that Headley would have never divulged to Rana that he was using Rana’s overseas immigration office to conduct surveillance work for Lashkar prior to the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks, Rana’s attorneys insinuated.

Prosecutors spent more than two days dissecting e-mails and conversations with Headley in an attempt to show that Rana was well aware of Headley’s activities and zealously supported other murderous plots Headley was cooking up with his international cohorts.

But on Thursday, defense lawyers Charles Swift and Patrick Blegen tried to unravel the prosecution’s star witness’ story, pressing Headley during a full day of cross examination.

Headley, 50, has already pleaded guilty for his roles in the Mumbai attacks and a thwarted plot targeting the Danish newspaper that printed controversial Prophet Muhammad cartoons.

“I’m not saying he was jumping for joy. ... He didn’t object,” Headley said of Rana’s reaction when he told him of plans to behead Jyllands-Posten newspaper staff.

However, Headley did say he and a key Lashkar leader laughed in a recorded conversation because Rana suggested Headley take an elderly immigration lawyer to his next Copenhagen trip — a fact defense attorneys suggested that Rana thought Headley would be doing legitimate work in Europe.

The lawyers questioned why Headley, who claims to have been trained in espionage by Lashkar and Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency, would break the spy rules by telling his best friend crucial secrets.

They also pointed out that Rana went to India days before the Mumbai attacks and failed to send Headley a coded “congratulatory letter” like Headley’s other friends did. Rana also didn’t get a Copenhagen hat Headley said he gifted to the other attack masterminds as an inside joke.

Headley also said it was possible that when Rana said the nine dead Lashkar terrorists who descended on Mumbai should be given Pakistan’s highest military honor, he may have been repeating how Headley felt.

And although Headley told prosecutors Rana was just as anti-Indian as he was, Rana did seem to have a soft spot for the country’s popular film industry: Rana wanted to make a movie with the son of a Bollywood producer Headley befriended, Headley said Thursday.

By Rummana Hussain, Staff Reporter,

Source: Chicago Sun-Times

Polsinelli law firm adds Dallas office

Polsinelli Shughart PC has added a Dallas office.

Initially three attorneys will practice in the law firm’s Dallas office, said Polsinelli Shughart Chairman Russ Welsh. The firm expects to add lawyers to the Dallas office in the next few years, he said.

“As our health care and corporate practices have grown, and as the economy continues to improve, Dallas is a natural next step in providing transactional services to clients,” Welsh said.

The addition of Dallas expands the Kansas City, Mo.-based firm to eight states and 16 cities stretching from Phoenix to Washington, D.C. Welsh said. The firm has recently opened offices in Chicago, Phoenix and Denver. It has more than more than 530 attorneys nationwide.

“Dallas is part of our strategic growth plan," Welsh said. "We wanted to begin our Dallas office with a group of very talented and experienced attorneys who share our commitment to service and value."

The new attorneys in Dallas include:

-- Shareholder Jonathan K. Henderson, whose practice focuses on representing physician groups, hospitals, ambulatory surgery centers, home health agencies, hospice agencies, retail clinics, dialysis companies and other health care industry providers, suppliers and investors on transactional and regulatory matters, with an emphasis on health care business mergers and acquisitions.

-- Shareholder William E. Swart concentrates his practice on private equity transactions, including acquisitions and divestitures, mergers and acquisitions, corporate governance, finance, commercial lending and board of director representations.

By Bill Hethcock, Staff Writer

Source: Dallas Business Journal

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Attorneys claim cookbook author 'never forced' au pairs into sex

He's a Sexagenarian Love God.

A 67-year-old Westchester cookbook author charged with fondling au pairs worked his mojo to seduce the young twentysomethings into joining him for consensual sexual encounters, his lawyers said.

Defense attorneys for Joseph Yannai admitted to the jury on the first day of trial that the author was unabashedly on the make when the young women arrived from overseas with promises of a good job in America.

"He hit on every young woman who came into his house," defense attorney Heidi Cesare told the panel today in Brooklyn federal court. "He only hired attractive young women."

But Yannai never coerced the women into having sex, the defense attorney insisted.

"Sometimes he insulted them when they refused him, but he never forced anyone to do anything," she said.

Federal prosecutors disagreed, painting a less than attractive portrait of the bald free love swinger - who hired young women who were often recent high school graduates from countries such as Hungary, Mexico, and Denmark.

"He preyed on their hopefulness - he preyed on their naivete," Audrey Stone, Second Deputy Westchester County District Attorney told the jury. "He used fear - psychological coercion" and "he continually sexually abused those who stayed with him."

The young women - mostly between the ages of 18-22 - were hired to serve as editorial assistants for Yannai's cookbook writing activities and to assist with household chores between 2003-2009.

During their employment at the $800,000 Pound Ridge home Yannai shares with his wife, he required the young women to wear scanty clothing, fore-go wearing bras, pressured them to have sex, and groped their breasts and buttocks, prosecutors say.

Yannai faces charges of luring the women from abroad to sexually abuse them and forced labor violations - as well as immigration charges - for allegedly instructing the women to lie about the reasons for their visit to the US.

His defense attorneys conceded that Yannai's lifestyle as a "dirty old man" who relished engaging in "adulterous...and three-way sexual encounters" with the young women - behind his wife's back - would disgust many jurors and the general public.

But Cesare argued that such repugnance should not sway the jury's task of assessing whether Yannai committed federal crimes.

"This is a court of law - this is not a court of moral opinion," Cesare argued to the panel. "It is not against the law to be immoral in your sexual relations."

By Mitchel Maddux


Legislative lawyers, AG before court

Attorney General Michael Delaney and lawyers for the New Hampshire Legislature jousted before the Supreme Court over whether lawmakers can force the state’s top prosecutor to join the lawsuit against federal health care law.

The House of Representatives voted by a 70 percent majority (HB 89) in March to compel Delaney to sign on with Florida and 25 other states that contend the individual mandate violates the U.S. Constitution.

The state Senate adopted more moderate legislation (SB 148), that says the AG “should,” but does not have to join the suit.

Delaney contends a mandate violates the separation of powers clause and other parts of the state constitution.

If signed into law, Delaney said he would challenge the action in court.

Gov. John Lynch has threatened to veto the lawsuit mandate if it reaches his desk.

Earlier this month, the state Senate also adopted a resolution asking the Supreme Court if making Delaney join the suit would violate Part 1, Article 37 of the state constitution.

In a lengthy brief, Delaney said making him join the suit would render inoperative the independence of the attorney general.

“House Bill 89 violates the separation of powers because it does not allow for the attorney general to exercise his independent, professional judgment as an attorney,” Delaney wrote.

In an unusual move, six former attorneys general, including four Republicans, and two dozen former prosecutors signed a memorandum supporting Delaney’s view.

Former Associate Attorney General Wilbur Glahn wrote that brief.

“The Legislature has the power to set policy for the state by legislative action but, without amending the constitution, it may not do so by invading the essential powers of other branches by exercising the constitutional discretion of a member of the executive branch,” Glahn wrote.

House legal counsel Ed Mosca said the federal health care law is not a legal dispute but one for elected officials to fight.

“Finally, it cannot be overemphasized that the decision whether to join the states’ lawsuit against Obamacare is a political decision, not a legal decision,” Mosca countered.

“Joining as a plaintiff in the states’ lawsuit would send a loud and clear message to the other states, to Congress and to the federal courts that New Hampshire opposes Obamacare.”

Senate legal counsel Rick Lehmann in his own brief for the Senate agreed with the House.

“House Bill 89 does not usurp an essential function of the attorney general,” Lehmann wrote. “To the contrary, a claim by the attorney general that he should not have to follow the law usurps the policy-making role of the Legislature and the governor.”

An appointee and close friend of Lynch, Delaney took on House Speaker William O’Brien, R-Mont Vernon, who made opposition to Obama’s health care law a major, partisan rallying cry.

“New Hampshire’s Constitution unequivocally gives the Legislature the role of setting policy and we firmly expect that the Supreme Court will reinforce that long-standing provision,” O’Brien said.

“All New Hampshire citizens should hope that the court decides their elected representatives and not an unelected, appointed official sets the policies of our state.”

House Majority Leader D.J. Bettencourt said the will of the state’s public is to oppose the health care law.

“A significant majority of Americans and states have rejected the failed policy of the Democrats and Obamacare,” Bettencourt said.

“The people spoke clearly that they want this monstrosity to end now.”

Among NH adults, 51 percent said Congress should repeal the law while 41 percent wanted it to remain, according to a February Granite State poll done for WMUR. The rest were undecided. But Delaney added that losing this lawsuit would change forever what the AG stands for.

“The independence of the attorney general is not just a historical fact, it is good government,” Delaney concluded.

“Reposing responsibility for the legal affairs of this state in a single constitutional officer and giving this officer the discretion to appear in legal proceedings and to control the course of litigation promotes uniformity, consistency and efficiency.”

By Kevin Landrigan, 321-7040 or


Monday, May 23, 2011

Harris Personal Injury Lawyers Announces New Law Office In Newport Beach

Ryan Harris and his team of trial attorneys open new office in Newport Beach

Harris Personal Injury Lawyers announced today they are opening a new law office in Newport Beach. With other offices in San Diego and Oceanside, the launch of the Newport Beach location will provide Orange County residents with easier access to quality legal representation.

Trial attorney Ryan Harris and the team of lawyers at Harris Personal Injury Lawyers are known for their experience in handling auto accidents and other serious personal injury cases. The firm intends to provide Orange County residents with the same quality legal representation it currently provides to its San Diego clients. The new office is located at 4000 MacArthur Blvd. Suite 900 in Newport Beach.

“Simply put, our attorneys know what it takes to get results,” said Harris. “Our law firm does not have a one-size-fits-all approach – we offer a fresh perspective and personalized legal solutions.”

The team at Harris Personal Injury Lawyers has a proven track record for recovering damages for their clients. To date, they have successfully handled more than 2,000 cases across California, which have resulted in settlements and jury verdicts ranging from $5,000 to $13.3 million.

Not only do their case results speak for themselves, the attorneys at Harris Personal Injury Lawyers have also been recognized by their peers. Ryan Harris was recently selected as one of the semi-finalists for the San Diego Daily Transcript’s Top Attorneys 2011 award. He was also awarded the 2010 “Trial Star Award” by the Consumer Attorneys of San Diego for his trial work on the case of Rogers v. Storms, Tulare County Superior Court – Visalia, Case# 08 230432 which resulted in a $13.3 million dollar jury verdict.

“I founded Harris Personal Injury Lawyers on the belief that injured persons and their families should receive the same quality legal representation that large insurance companies receive from their staff and attorneys,” said Harris. “This goes beyond business, we are personally committed to protecting the rights of injured persons and their families.”

Unlike many other personal injury firms, the attorney team at Harris Personal Injury Lawyers is able to handle cases successfully without ignoring the individual needs of each client. Through their distinctive process of gathering information, aggressive negotiation and litigation, Harris Personal Injury Lawyers aims to bring a superior standard of legal representation to Orange County residents, just like it has done throughout San Diego County.

About Harris Personal Injury Lawyers:
With offices located in downtown San Diego, Oceanside, and Newport Beach, Harris Personal Injury Lawyers is a premiere firm handling personal injury law. The attorneys at Harris Personal Injury Lawyers represent people who have been injured or have lost a family member due to a vehicle accident, defective product, or accidents caused by various other forms of negligence. The attorneys at the law firm have successfully represented thousands of clients and recovered millions of dollars in compensation for medical expenses, property damage, lost wages, pain and suffering.

True to their assurance of providing the highest quality legal solutions, Harris Personal Injury Lawyers operates on a contingency fee basis. In addition, Harris Personal Injury Lawyers serves Spanish-speaking clients.

For more information visit


Arizona inmate set to die this week wants stay

Lawyers for an inmate set to be executed this week want the Arizona Supreme Court to withdraw his death warrant because the justices toured death row and met with prison officials.

Court papers filed Sunday also ask the entire five-member high court to step away from the case and appoint a panel of judges to hear Donald Beaty's appeals.

Beaty's lawyers wrote in their court filing that Chief Justice Rebecca White Berch and Justice Andrew Hurwitz met with Arizona Department of Corrections Director Charles Ryan last month to discuss execution scheduling and protocols. Four justices toured two prisons and the death chamber May 10.

Defense lawyers say they were not invited and found out about the visits from Beaty. They argue the visits and discussions were improper because the justices were considering their client's case at the time, and defense attorneys were not allowed to participate. Lawyers for the state were notified of the meetings.

The court filings call the meetings "ex parte communications" that are barred under court rules because judges are expected to rule only on information in the formal record. Defense attorneys argue the justices should recuse themselves from the case to avoid an appearance of impropriety.

Supreme Court spokeswoman Jennifer Liewer declined to comment, saying the high court does not discuss pending matters.

The state's top death penalty prosecutor, Kent Cattani, said in an email Sunday that there was no improper communication between the judges and Ryan because Ryan is not a party to the case. He said the discussions between Ryan and Berch were to go over scheduling and were not improper communications. Cattani said Ryan requested that executions be scheduled for midweek to minimize overtime.

"Accordingly, Beaty's allegations of ex-parte contacts are baseless," he wrote.

Beaty, now 56, was convicted in the 1984 rape and murder of 13-year-old Christy Ann Fornoff, a case that riveted the Phoenix area.

The girl was killed while she was collecting on her newspaper route at an apartment complex where Beaty lived and worked.

Late last week, federal public defenders filed a lawsuit accusing the Arizona Corrections Department of violating the state public records law by withholding requested records on the acquisition of execution drugs.

They argued in a court filing Thursday that they need the records "to pursue appropriate remedies" to the department's "potentially unlawful behavior. The public defenders asked for quick consideration of the lawsuit but a judge denied that motion Friday without comment.

Beaty's attorneys then filed a new appeal Friday, asking the U.S. Supreme Court to block his execution.

Daniel Barr, a lawyer representing the public defenders office, said it wasn't immediately clear what would happen next in the records lawsuit.

The office's suit asked that the department be ordered to produce the requested records, which include communications with federal agencies and a customs broker. The defender's office, which represents death row inmates, contends Arizona may have illegally imported at least one execution drug.

State officials previously said they've acted legally in obtaining and using execution drugs.

Courts have permitted two Arizona executions since October despite defense lawyers' arguments that the state's supply of execution drugs may not work properly.

The state Supreme Court on Thursday refused to block Beaty's scheduled execution as it denied his appeal over claims of ineffective representation in his sentencing and in later proceedings.

Beaty's attorneys renewed that argument Friday in the appeal filed with the U.S. Supreme Court. It claimed that Beaty was denied effective representation at key points in his case. Beaty already has an appeal pending with the federal high court that challenges the death penalty on religious grounds.

The appeal argued Beaty had the constitutional right to effective representation in post-conviction proceedings in trial court. They argued Beaty's attorneys did not present evidence during his sentencing hearing that he suffers from a brain impairment and was abused as a child.

A Corrections Department spokesman did not immediately return a call seeking comment Sunday evening.

By Bob Christie, Associated Press

Source: Connecticut Post

Saturday, May 21, 2011

School Board attorneys respond in special education case

UPDATE: An attorney representing Hampton City Schools filed a response Friday to a hearing officer's description of unethical behavior by School Board legal counsel.

The state-appointed officer, in a written case summary, said three attorneys representing the School Board implied they would cause problems with his payment if he didn't rule in their favor. He also described them as seeming unsympathetic to the request of the parent, who is fighting the School Board to receive a special interpreter for her disabled son.

In the response filed Friday, attorney Jason Ballum of Reed Smith writes that there are many aspects of the hearing officer's order with which the School Board disagrees. To see the response, click on the PDF to the left.

Yining Luo wants her disabled son to have a quality education. A dispute with Hampton City Schools puts that in jeopardy, she says.

An additional controversy between school lawyers and the state-appointed hearing officer assigned to the case is further complicating the issue, according to documents obtained by the Daily Press.

The district is using three lawyers to fight Luo's request for a special interpreter in 2011-2012 to help her legally deaf-blind 9-year-old son, Anbao Chen. He also has Down syndrome, mental retardation, autism and a developmental coordination disorder.

The School Board's legal counsel implied it will cause problems with billing and compensation for the hearing officer if he doesn't rule in the school system's favor, according to a case summary sent to all parties last week by Robin Gnatowsky.

Gnatowsky is the state-appointed hearing officer who will issue a ruling after a private hearing Monday at Hampton City Schools' central office. State-appointed hearing officers are paid equally by the state education department and the school system involved in each case, according to Virginia state code.

The School Board is represented by in-house attorney Nanci Reaves and two lawyers from the Richmond firm Reed Smith who are experienced in special education issues.

"(The threat of causing billing issues) has been done before in other cases by this law firm," Gnatowsky wrote. "If there is any indication whatsoever that hearing officer billing will be used in this way, it will be dealt with firmly and directly."

A complaint will be filed with the Virginia State Bar against each attorney who attempts any "improper influence over the hearing officer system," he wrote.

By Samieh Shalash,, 247-4537

Source: Daily Press

Fort Lauderdale attorney pleads guilty in fraud that bilked $800 million from thousands of investors

Michael J. McNerney, a once-prominent Fort Lauderdale lawyer, let his love of money get the best of him, and played a central role in a Ponzi scheme that defrauded thousands of investors of more than $800 million, authorities said Thursday.

Federal prosecutors said they secured McNerney's cooperation in investigating the Mutual Benefits swindle, a significant development in an extraordinarily complex fraud case dating to 2008. With millions of documents involved in the case, the alleged ringleaders are not set to go to trial for another two years.

McNerney, 63, faces up to five years in prison at his Aug. 26 sentencing, after pleading guilty Wednesday to a single charge of conspiring to commit mail and wire fraud. Neither McNerney — a founding partner of the former law firm Brinkley, McNerney, Morgan, Solomon & Tatum — nor his defense attorneys could be reached Thursday for comment.

Mutual Benefits Corp. sold so-called viaticals to investors around the world, promising guaranteed returns on life insurance policies bought from the terminally ill and elderly, often patients suffering from HIV or AIDS, according to prosecutors.

In theory, when a person died within a set period of time, the investors would collect. But prosecutors allege that Mutual Benefits was a Ponzi scheme, and that it raised more than $1.25 billion from investors from 1994 to 2004 using fraudulent marketing claims.

U.S. Attorney Wifredo Ferrer said in a statement Thursday that McNerney, who acted as legal counsel for Mutual Benefits, betrayed his ethical responsibilities as a lawyer by not dealing honestly with investors.

"This attorney breached that duty and defrauded investors by providing 'legal cover' to what was essentially nothing more than a Ponzi scheme. McNerney abused his position of trust and used his law license to help commit this massive fraud," Ferrer said.

"This is another case about an attorney who instead of doing the right thing was motivated by his personal greed and defrauded thousands of investors out of hundreds of millions of dollars," John Gillies, the top FBI agent in South Florida, said in a statement.

After lawsuits and consumer complaints, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission shut down Mutual Benefits in 2004, and prosecutors unsealed a sweeping indictment of the firm's operators in December 2008.

Mutual Benefits, which had offices on Oakland Park Boulevard and then on Broward Boulevard, cheated its nearly 30,000 investors by manipulating projections of how long the insured people would live, according to the charges. In reality, the majority of the life insurance policies acquired by the company never matured and most investors made no profit, according to the indictment.

Nine other individuals have pleaded guilty in the fraud, including Peter Lombardi, the firm's nominal president, and Dr. Clark Mitchell, a physician who signed off on patients' life expectancies without examining them.

Still set to go trial are the firm's alleged top manager, Joel Steinger, his brother, Steven Steiner, and co-defendant Anthony Livoti Jr., another attorney who prosecutors say worked for the company. They have pleaded not guilty and are not scheduled for trial until early 2013, but prosecutors are seeking to move up that date.

Attorneys for Steinger could not be reached for comment Thursday. One of Steiner's attorneys, Richard Lubin, declined comment.

Livoti's attorney, Joel Hirschhorn, said McNerney's guilty plea will help his client.

"We are relieved that Michael McNerney, one of the most prominent lawyers in Broward County, has come forward and admitted he withheld material facts from his own lawyers. It affirms and validates Tony Livoti's belief that he was manipulated and used," Hirschhorn said. "We believe this will help us prove Tony Livoti's innocence."

However, Andrew Levi, who was lead federal prosecutor on the case until he joined international corporate investigations firm Nardello & Co. several months ago, said McNerney's agreement to aid the prosecution could undercut the defense, which has asserted that Steinger and others relied in good faith on McNerney's legal advice in operating Mutual Benefits.

"That defense is difficult if not impossible now that Michael McNerney has pleaded guilty and admitted he was a participant in the scheme," Levi said. "I think this case has significant implications for any attorney representing a client participating in criminal activity. I think it sends a message that attorneys have to be vigilant that they do not cross the line by assisting a client engaged in wrongdoing."

By Peter Franceschina, Sun Sentinel


Friday, May 20, 2011

Democrats Want to Copy GOP Fund-Raising Group — If It’s Legal

James Bopp Jr., one of the attorneys behind the Citizens United case, caused some campaign finance lawyers to do a double take Monday when he said he plans to use his new campaign group to help campaigns get around fund-raising limits.

Now, some Democrats are asking the Federal Election Commission to decide if the plan is legal – as Mr. Bopp insists. If it is, they’d like to copy the idea, attorneys for two Democratic campaign groups wrote Thursday in a letter to the Federal Election Commission.

Mr. Bopp’s Republican Super PAC plans to accept and spend unlimited funds, as allowed under the landmark 2010 Citizens United Supreme Court ruling. But unlike earlier groups that were set up to take advantage of the ruling, the group will let donors earmark their checks for certain candidates. In Mr. Bopp’s plan, the Republican Party and its candidates would ask donors to give them the maximum amount allowed under current law, then tell donors to give any additional money to Mr. Bopp’s group.

Republican Super PAC could then spend the money on races across the country, though it could not coordinate with candidates. It’s unclear if donors and the Republican National Committee would give that much power to Mr. Bopp’s venture.

Good government organizations and some campaign finance lawyers have also said that the coordination could violate campaign finance law.

Lawyers for House Majority PAC and Majority PAC, two Democratic groups, want the FEC to rule on the matter within 30 days, according to the letter. If the strategy is legal, and the letter suggests it isn’t, the Democratic groups plan to mimic Mr. Bopp’s strategy. A copy of the letter was obtained by Politico.

A spokeswoman for Majority PAC did not immediately return a request for comment.

In a Monday interview with Washington Wire, Mr. Bopp said he had little doubt his plan is supported by a string of court cases.

“Who cares,” Mr. Bopp said of his opponents. “The Supreme Court doesn’t care, and I don’t care, and the [Federal Election Commission] doesn’t care. No one that matters cares.”

By Danny Yadron

Source: WSJ

Once-prominent Fort Lauderdale attorney pleads guilty in Mutual Benefits Ponzi fraud

Michael J. McNerney, a once-prominent Fort Lauderdale lawyer, let his love of money get the best of him, and played a central role in a Ponzi scheme that defrauded thousands of investors of more than $800 million, authorities said Thursday.

Federal prosecutors said they secured McNerney's cooperation in investigating the Mutual Benefits swindle, a significant development in an extraordinarily complex fraud case dating to 2008. With millions of documents involved in the case, the alleged ringleaders are not set to go to trial for another two years.

McNerney, 63, faces up to five years in prison at his Aug. 26 sentencing, after pleading guilty Wednesday to a single charge of conspiring to commit mail and wire fraud. Neither McNerney — a founding partner of the former law firm Brinkley, McNerney, Morgan, Solomon & Tatum — nor his defense attorneys could be reached Thursday for comment.

Mutual Benefits Corp. sold so-called viaticals to investors around the world, promising guaranteed returns on life insurance policies bought from the terminally ill and elderly, often patients suffering from HIV or AIDS, according to prosecutors.

In theory, when a person died within a set period of time, the investors would collect. But prosecutors allege that Mutual Benefits was a Ponzi scheme, and that it raised more than $1.25 billion from investors from 1994 to 2004 using fraudulent marketing claims.

U.S. Attorney Wifredo Ferrer said in a statement Thursday that McNerney, who acted as legal counsel for Mutual Benefits, betrayed his ethical responsibilities as a lawyer by not dealing honestly with investors.

"This attorney breached that duty and defrauded investors by providing 'legal cover' to what was essentially nothing more than a Ponzi scheme. McNerney abused his position of trust and used his law license to help commit this massive fraud," Ferrer said.

"This is another case about an attorney who instead of doing the right thing was motivated by his personal greed and defrauded thousands of investors out of hundreds of millions of dollars," John Gillies, the top FBI agent in South Florida, said in a statement.

After lawsuits and consumer complaints, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission shut down Mutual Benefits in 2004, and prosecutors unsealed a sweeping indictment of the firm's operators in December 2008.

Mutual Benefits, which had offices on Oakland Park Boulevard and then on Broward Boulevard, cheated its nearly 30,000 investors by manipulating projections of how long the insured people would live, according to the charges. In reality, the majority of the life insurance policies acquired by the company never matured and most investors made no profit, according to the indictment.

Nine other individuals have pleaded guilty in the fraud, including Peter Lombardi, the firm's nominal president, and Dr. Clark Mitchell, a physician who signed off on patients' life expectancies without examining them.

Still set to go trial are the firm's alleged top manager, Joel Steinger, his brother, Steven Steiner, and co-defendant Anthony Livoti Jr., another attorney who prosecutors say worked for the company. They have pleaded not guilty and are not scheduled for trial until early 2013, but prosecutors are seeking to move up that date.

Attorneys for Steinger could not be reached for comment Thursday. One of Steiner's attorneys, Richard Lubin, declined comment.

Livoti's attorney, Joel Hirschhorn, said McNerney's guilty plea will help his client.

"We are relieved that Michael McNerney, one of the most prominent lawyers in Broward County, has come forward and admitted he withheld material facts from his own lawyers. It affirms and validates Tony Livoti's belief that he was manipulated and used," Hirschhorn said. "We believe this will help us prove Tony Livoti's innocence."

However, Andrew Levi, who was lead federal prosecutor on the case until he joined international corporate investigations firm Nardello & Co. several months ago, said McNerney's agreement to aid the prosecution could undercut the defense, which has asserted that Steinger and others relied in good faith on McNerney's legal advice in operating Mutual Benefits.

"That defense is difficult if not impossible now that Michael McNerney has pleaded guilty and admitted he was a participant in the scheme," Levi said. "I think this case has significant implications for any attorney representing a client participating in criminal activity. I think it sends a message that attorneys have to be vigilant that they do not cross the line by assisting a client engaged in wrongdoing."

By Peter Franceschina, Sun Sentinel, or 954-459-2255


Monday, May 16, 2011

Cheshire Defense Lawyers File Motion For 3-Month Delay, Citing Senator's Remarks

Defense attorneys for Joshua Komisarjevsky accused a state senator Monday of making a "clarion call for lynching" for the second man charged in the deadly Cheshire home invasion.

In a harshly worded four-page motion, they asked that jury selection be suspended for three months.

Komisarjevsky's lawyers called Sen. Edith Prague's comments "inflammatory" and suggested that "some period during which the senator's remarks may be forgotten should be allowed … so that the senator's call for lynching may slip" from potential jurors' minds.

It was unclear whether Superior Court Judge Jon C. Blue would hear the motion Tuesday.

"Unfortunately, our history is blackened by instances of mob violence inflicted upon the unconvicted, almost always by hanging," the motion states. "The senator's choice of lynching as punishment (rather than, say, burning at the stake or facing a firing squad) is a conscious reference to that sad history, giving the views of the would-be Komisarjevsky-lynchers a historical as well as a legislative legitimacy."

Prague, a Democrat from Columbia, said last Wednesday that, after speaking with Dr. William Petit Jr., she had changed her mind and decided to oppose a bill seeking to repeal the death penalty. Petit's wife, Jennifer Hawke-Petit, and two daughters, Michaela and Hayley, were killed during a home invasion at their Cheshire home on July 23, 2007.

Hawke-Petit was raped and strangled during the attack. Hayley, 17, and Michaela, 11, were bound to their beds before their deaths. Michaela was also sexually assaulted, according to police and court testimony. Petit, the lone survivor of the attack, was badly beaten but escaped before the house went up in flames.

"I don't care what anybody says,'' Prague said last week. "I want to give this man [Petit] a little ounce of consideration here and that's my reason at this point in time to not support repeal. I have to live with myself. ... I could not for one second cause this family any more stress.''

Prague told CTNewsJunkie, an online political website, that Komisarjevsky should be hung "by his penis from a tree out in the middle of Main Street.''

Komisarjevsky's lawyers called Prague's remarks "reckless" and "undignified," saying last week and in Monday's motion that Prague "could have simply announced her reversal in a more responsible manner without need for an anatomical reference. It is outrageous that an elected official of the senator's stature would publicly advocate for public torture and attempt to subvert the judicial process with such sensational remarks."

When asked about the defense team's criticism of her last week and the request for the three-month trial delay, Prague called the idea of a delay "outrageous."

Komisarjevsky's trial is expected to begin in September. He could face the death penalty if convicted. The first defendant in the case, Steven Hayes, was convicted last year and sentenced to death.

The legislature had passed a bill eliminating the death penalty in 2009, but it was vetoed by then-Gov. M. Jodi Rell. Her replacement, Dannel P. Malloy, has pledged to sign a repeal bill.

On Monday, lawyers selected the first alternate juror for the trial. The Hamden man is married and teaches biology for the Stratford school system. Twelve regular jurors have already been selected. Five more alternates and three backup alternates still need to be seated for the trial.

By Alaine Griffin,, The Hartford Courant

Source: The Hartford Courant

Fees, 'personhood' before Miss. court

On June 6, the Supreme Court will hear from attorneys for plaintiffs hoping to get the "personhood" amendment off the November ballot.

A Hinds County judge ruled last fall that the proposed "personhood" constitutional amendment seeking to define life as beginning at conception could be placed before voters in 2011.

While abortion has been the central issue in debate about the initiative, opposing sides in the lawsuit have clashed over whether the "personhood" amendment oversteps the boundaries for proposed state constitutional amendments.

Opponents have argued that the initiative process can't be used to change the state constitution's bill of rights. They said the amendment would change the bill of rights by reshaping the definition of the term "person," which is not specifically defined now.

The judge said the initiative received more than the required number of signatures to be placed on the ballot and "the constitution recognizes the right of citizens to amend their constitution"

Mississippians are expected to handily approve the "personhood" amendment. Mississippi's laws on abortion are among the most stringent in the country and have passed muster in a variety of court challenges.

Groups that support abortion rights — Planned Parenthood Federation of America and the state and national chapters of the American Civil Liberties Union — helped file the original lawsuit.

The issue would be on the Nov. 8 ballot — the same election in which voters will choose a governor, legislators and other state and county officials.

The lawyers' fees issue is before the Supreme Court on June 8.

State Auditor Stacey Pickering is attacking a state law that allows the attorney general to hire lawyers from outside his office to handle legal cases.

A judge last year upheld $14 million in fees paid to two attorneys for handling a state lawsuit against telecommunications giant MCI.

Pickering contends the money should have gone to the state with the Legislature then appropriating money to pay the lawyers.

Joey Langston and Timothy Balducci in 2005 negotiated the legal fees separate from a settlement with MCI in a lawsuit they filed on behalf of the state. They were later disbarred after pleading guilty in an unrelated judicial bribery investigation.

The judge said state law allows the attorney general to hire outside lawyers. He said the lawyers received no funds from the state and the legal fees are "separate and apart" from what the state received in the MCI settlement.

The political feud over using private attorneys to represent the state in high-profile cases is nothing new. During the 1990s, then-Attorney General Mike Moore used several private attorneys, including his law school friend Richard "Dickie" Scruggs, to sue tobacco companies to recover the costs of treating sick smokers.

Attorney General Jim Hood, a Democrat, hired Langston and Balducci to try to recoup unpaid taxes and interest stemming from the collapse of Clinton-based WorldCom, which emerged from bankruptcy as MCI in 2004 after a massive accounting fraud. In 2005, MCI agreed to pay the state $100 million and hand over real estate valued at several million.

The lawsuit over the legal fees was originally filed by Phil Bryant, a Republican now lieutenant governor and a candidate for governor. Pickering, also a Republican, picked up the fight after succeeding Bryant as state auditor in 2008.


Sunday, May 15, 2011

Seeking Serenity: When lawyers go zen

“Does scratching my eyes out count as a stress reliever?” asks Pamela, an attorney with whom I am discussing ways in which lawyers attempt to alleviate anxiety.

“Well, no,” I say. “It’s quite the opposite, really.”

“That’s all I know,” shrugs Pamela, done with the topic. “And don’t use my last name cause of, you know, the law firm mafia.”

I had been searching for meditating lawyers - yes, I mean meditation, not mediation - since a few days earlier when I happened to meet one in a parking lot. The woman - Barbara, a managing partner at a hedge fund - was in the throes of a merger when I met her. And yet she was like no attorney I have ever known.

She seemed centered and eerily calm, with undertones of joy. When I made that observation, she talked about her longtime yoga regimen, begun in college and continued while she was a law student at the University of Chicago, and the meditation practice it evolved into over the years. She also had attended continuing legal education courses that incorporated elements of meditation and mindfulness. Meditation, she said, helped her practice law in a way that “shuts out a lot of the static, the noise, the irrelevant.”

As a recovering ex-attorney, I found myself listening with a degree of skepticism. In all my years in and around the legal profession, I have met scores of attorneys who feel as Pamela does and almost none like Barbara.

After all, misery is implicit in lawyering, isn’t it? They virtually said so in law school. And the statistics certainly bear that out: A well-known Johns Hopkins study found that lawyers are more prone to depression than members of any other profession.

According to the American Bar Association, as many as 20 percent of American lawyers abuse alcohol or other substances. And an often-cited study undertaken by the National Institute for Safety and Health two decades ago found that male lawyers between the ages of 20 and 64 are more than twice as likely to die from suicide than their counterparts in other occupations. In a recent article called "The Depressed Lawyer," a clinical psychologist asked: Why are so many lawyers so unhappy?

Dig a bit further, though, and a different picture emerges. Ms. Ethereal from the parking lot is not such an anomaly, but part of a growing nationwide trend that may indeed transform the landscape of the law.

The earliest organized meditation retreat for lawyers was held in October 1998 for Yale law students and faculty. Since then, mindfulness practices have popped up with increasing frequency - from national conferences on mindful lawyering to courses in law schools (CUNY and the University of Miami, among them) to retreats for trial lawyers, workshops for judges, and continuing legal education for practicing attorneys at Zen and Buddhist centers.

Growing numbers of attorneys are embracing some form of practice to achieve mindfulness. Their reasons for doing so are varied, but chief among them are stress management and improved mental and physical health - benefits backed by research findings from scientists at Harvard and University of Pennsylvania, among others.

In the most recent study, Harvard researchers found that practicing a form of mindful meditation for as little as 30 minutes a day for eight weeks resulted in measurable changes in the brain regions involved in learning, memory, emotion regulation and stress.

Charles Halpern, a trailblazing public interest lawyer and law professor described as the “granddaddy of the movement,” notes that while a growing openness to the practice of mindfulness arose out of high levels of stress associated with the legal profession and the overwhelming cost it can take on the lives of many, it also benefits lawyers in other ways.

“It is making us more skilled and effective as lawyers, more focused, more active listeners, better at helping our clients and serving justice, and doing it in a way that is sustainable.”

Environmental lawyer and director of the law program at the Center for Contemplative Mind in Society, Doug Chermak, agrees. He adds that the mindfulness movement may serve as an important foundation for innovations in the law, including “collaborative law,” a less acrimonious, downright enlightened alternative to a typical divorce (trouble-shoot and problem-solve, rather than fight to win); and “restorative justice,” a criminal law approach that emphasizes reconciliation, restoration, healing and rehabilitation.

The growing inclination among attorneys to rethink some of the more traditional aspects of law practice has the potential to make way for the emergence of “law as a healing profession and lawyers as peacemakers” - associations that, frankly, would seem near-blasphemous to most.

I had it on good authority (Google) that one of the country’s lawyers-in-chief, Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, is a “big meditator” and so a few days later I found myself channeling my best Oprah on the other end of a telephone line with Justice Breyer, asking in what may have been a slightly over-dramatic tone: “How, sir, did you first arrive at your meditation practice?”

“To say that I am a meditator is overstating it,” he replied in his elegant baritone, instantly dashing any hopes I may have had of anointing him the Patron Saint of Meditating Lawyers. “I don’t know that what I do is meditation, or even whether it has a name. For 10 or 15 minutes twice a day I sit peacefully. I relax and think about nothing or as little as possible. And that is what I’ve done for a couple of years.”

But wait! I thought. Isn’t that the definition of meditation?

He continued: “And really I started because it’s good for my health. My wife said this would be good for your blood pressure and she was right. It really works. I read once that the practice of law is like attempting to drink water from a fire hose. And if you are under stress, meditation - or whatever you choose to call it - helps. Very often I find myself in circumstances that may be considered stressful, say in oral arguments where I have to concentrate very hard for extended periods. If I come back at lunchtime, I sit for 15 minutes and perhaps another 15 minutes later. Doing this makes me feel more peaceful, focused and better able to do my work.”

I thanked the justice and hung up in a slight huff. It was not until later that I grasped the full wisdom of what he had told me: It doesn’t matter what your meditation or mindfulness practice looks like, where and how you do it, what you choose to call it, or whether you choose to call it anything at all. Research shows that you will reap the benefits regardless.

The most important thing is undertaking some form of reflective silence, active and open attention on the present, and freedom from judgment on a regular basis.

Are mindful lawyers - present, peaceful and peppy - the way of the future? There is no way to know for sure, but in the meantime there may be a small wave of happier, less stressed-out and adversarial, and more effective attorneys coming our way. And they are most welcome.

By Amanda Enayati’s


Strauss-Kahn lawyer famed for Michael Jackson, rapper

Few criminal lawyers know their way around the New York legal system better than Benjamin Brafman, famed for helping celebrities in serious trouble and chosen by Dominique Strauss-Kahn to defend him on charges he attempted to rape a New York hotel maid

Brafman is known for either winning cases at trial or negotiating deals.

He represented pop king Michael Jackson in a child molestation case in 2004 before stepping aside, and New York Giants football star Plaxico Burress for carrying a gun into a nightclub that went off when it slipped down his pants. And he won a not guilty verdict for rapper "P.Diddy" Sean Combs, on illegal weapons and bribery charges in a nightclub brawl and shooting that was witnessed by over 100 people.

"Most people who come to me are in really, really desperate situations," Brafman, 62, said in a recent interview with a legal education group.

His latest high-profile client, the International Monetary Fund managing director, was hauled off a plane at John F. Kennedy airport on Saturday and charged with sexually assaulting a hotel maid at a luxury hotel in New York City. Brafman, who is representing Strauss-Kahn along with Washington criminal defense lawyer William Taylor, told Reuters that his client "will plead not guilty."

Brafman was an assistant Manhattan district attorney for four years before entering private practice in New York City, where he earned a reputation for his strong representation of celebrities.

For Burress, who faced at least 3 1/2 years in prison, Brafman negotiated a plea bargain that limited the sentence to two years.

For Combs, he won an acquittal, and burnished his own credentials as a trial lawyer.

"Ladies and gentlemen, this is Sean 'Puff Daddy" Combs," he said during the trial, according to a book about Combs called "Bad Boy." "You can call him Sean. You can call him Mr. Combs. You can call him Puff Daddy. You can him just plain Puffy."

But, Brafman told the jury, you cannot call him guilty.

Many cases that Brafman works on don't make their way to the courtroom. For several years he represented international fugitive Viktor Kozeny. In 2005, federal prosecutors charged Kozeny with bribing government officials in Azerbaijan over a deal to privatize a state-owned oil company. But prosecutors have been unable to extradite Kozeny from the Bahamas. It's unclear whether Brafman still represents Kozeny.

Brafman said he was brought in to represent Strauss-Kahn by Taylor, a partner at white-collar defense specialist Zuckerman Spaeder in Washington. Taylor and Brafman both played roles in the indictments of class-action attorneys from the firm once known as Milberg Weiss, who were charged with paying kickbacks to plaintiffs. Taylor represented the firm, which avoided conviction, while Brafman represented one of its founders, Mel Weiss, who pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 30 months in prison in June 2008.

In a recent interview with, a legal education website, Brafman said he has become good at keeping his clients "alive and functioning" when their world is collapsing around them.

"I think I've talked more people out of committing suicide than any psychiatrist in the world," he said.

By Andrew Longstreth

Source: Reuters

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Stevens Judge: Jury Could Have Convicted "Only with a Jaundiced Eye"

A FEDERAL JUDGE on Tuesday acquitted Lauren Stevens, the indicted former in-house lawyer for GlaxoSmithKline, of six criminal charges that she obstructed a federal investigation and made false statements to investigators.

“I believe that it would be a miscarriage of justice to permit this case to go to the jury,” U.S. District Court Judge Roger Titus of Maryland wrote in his ruling. “I conclude that the defendant in this case should never have been prosecuted, and she should be permitted to resume her career.”

It was a rare ruling. In seven and a half years as a jurist, Titus had never granted a directed verdict of acquittal before the defense even put on its case. Until Tuesday.

“Even if some of [Stevens’] statements were not literally true, it is clear that they were made in good faith which would negate the requisite element [of intent to commit a crime] required for all six of the crimes charged in this case,” the opinion said.

Stevens could not be reached for comment after the acquittal.

The case was especially noteworthy because Stevens, Glaxo’s ex-associate general counsel, was not accused of actually taking part in the underlying wrongdoing—the off-label marketing of the anti-depression drug Wellbutrin.

Rather she was charged with obstructing a federal investigation into the alleged wrongdoing, as well as with concealing records and making false statements to investigators.

In most off-label drug cases, the government charges senior business executives, said John Wood, a partner at Hughes Hubbard & Reed in Washington. Wood is a former U.S. attorney in Missouri, an ex-chief of staff for the Department of Homeland Security, and a former deputy associate attorney general in the U.S. Justice Department.

But in this case, the government gave a Glaxo vice president immunity from prosecution to testify against Stevens. The case “serves to highlight the pitfalls and risks to in-house counsel any time a major corporation responds to a sensitive government investigation,” said Wood, who was not involved in the case. The government’s focus on Stevens also was “reflective of the growing and enhanced role that inhouse counsel play now,” he added.

During the trial the Stevens defense team, led by Reid Weingarten, argued that she never intended to obstruct or mislead anyone. “This was a non-trial. Lauren Stevens never should have been indicted, and the judge got it,” said Weingarten, a partner at Steptoe & Johnson in Washington, D.C.

Weingarten said the case was “a big deal” to all lawyers because it involved a federal statute called the safe harbor provision that normally protects attorneys, along with the Stevens’s reliance on advice of outside counsel from King & Spalding. In his ruling, Titus said Congress designed the provision to protect an attorney who is zealously representing her client. Two of the counts on which he acquitted Stevens were based on that statute.

His opinion explains, “GlaxoSmithKline did not come to Ms. Stevens and say, assist us in committing a crime or fraud. It came to her for assistance in responding to a letter from the FDA.”

To drive the point home, the judge noted that a bar subcommittee on criminal justice has “received complaints of prosecutors harassing members of the defense bar, and that vigorously and zealously representing a client is no a basis for charging an offense [of] obstruction of justice.”

As to other counts, Titus wrote, “The evidence in this case can only support one conclusion, and that is that the defendant sought and obtained the advice and counsel of numerous lawyers... Every decision that she made and every letter she wrote was done by a consensus.”

He noted that Stevens’ responses to the FDA “may not have been perfect… [but] were in the course of her bona fide legal representation of a client and in good faith reliance of both external and internal lawyers for GlaxoSmithKline.” He concluded, “Only with a jaundiced eye and with an inference of guilt that’s inconsistent with the presumption of innocence could a reasonable jury ever convict this defendant.”

The judge also used his opinion to support attorney-client privilege. During trial, the government used evidence it had obtained from privileged attorney-client documents that were produced under an order of a magistrate judge in Massachusetts. That judge cited the crime-fraud exception to the privilege.

Titus was blunt in criticizing the magistrate's order: “Access should not have been granted to [the records] in the first place.”

Even so, he wrote, the documents actually worked in Stevens’ favor. They showed a “studied, thoughtful analysis of an extremely broad request from the Food and Drug Administration and an enormous effort to assemble information and respond on behalf of the client,” he said.

Titus added a warning: “There are profound implications for the free flow of communications between a lawyer and client when the privilege is abrogated, as it was in this case.”

By Sue Reisinger


Tax-Shelter Lawyers Acted in Bad Faith, Prosecutor Argues

The former head of the Chicago office of the defunct law firm Jenkens & Gilchrist and others accused of marketing phony tax shelters acted in “bad faith” by providing letters saying the investments would probably survive tax authorities’ challenges, a prosecutor told jurors.

Paul Daugerdas and four co-defendants “cannot possibly claim that they were acting in good faith” with the letters, which were a “total farce,” Nanette Davis, a Justice Department attorney, told jurors today in closing arguments at their trial in federal court in Manhattan.

“These were not lawyers acting in good faith,” Davis said. “These were lawyers with a product they were selling which could get them huge fees. These were lawyers acting in bad faith.”

Charles Sklarsky, a lawyer for Daugerdas, attacked the credibility of the government’s cooperating witnesses during his closing argument by saying they have a “motive to fabricate.” Sklarsky said his client is a “good man” who is being punished for using aggressive strategies.

“He’s a lawyer who pushed the law, who took aggressive positions that the IRS didn’t like,” Sklarsky said, referring to the U.S. Internal Revenue Service. “There’s no question about that. But just because the IRS doesn’t like the positions you take doesn’t make you a criminal.”

Daugerdas is one of seven people indicted in June 2009 on charges of conspiracy and tax evasion for selling phony tax shelters from 1994 to 2004. Prosecutors said the defendants used the shelters to generate more than $7.32 billion in fraudulent tax losses for at least 931 wealthy individuals.

Possible Sentences

The five defendants face as much as five years in prison if convicted of conspiracy. Closing arguments in the trial, which began in March, are scheduled to continue tomorrow.

Two of the seven people indicted in June 2009, Erwin Mayer and Robert Greisman, pleaded guilty and are cooperating with the government. Three others connected to the case are cooperating, including two who pleaded guilty.

Jenkens & Gilchrist avoided prosecution in March 2007 by admitting it developed and marketed tax shelters that generated more than $1 billion in phony losses, and agreed to pay $81.6 million to clients who sued over its tax-shelter advice.

Jenkens shut down after reaching the agreement, which didn’t apply to lawyers at the Dallas-based firm, and blamed its demise on attorneys in its office in Chicago, which was run by Daugerdas.

By Chris Dolmetsch

Source: Businessweek

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Officers charged in Katrina shootings cite publicity, seek to move trial out of New Orleans

Widespread media coverage has tainted the pool of potential jurors for the trial of six current or former New Orleans police officers charged in deadly shootings of unarmed residents on a bridge after Hurricane Katrina, defense attorneys argued Friday in a bid to have the proceedings moved out of greater New Orleans.

In a court filing, the officers' defense attorneys argue that coverage of the Danziger Bridge case — and other Justice Department probes of alleged police misconduct in New Orleans — has demonized police officers and fostered a "general bias" against the city's police force.

"That bias will necessarily infect this jury pool and preclude the ability to gain a fair trial," the lawyers wrote.

U.S. District Judge Kurt Engelhardt is scheduled to hear their request for a venue change on June 1. A trial for five of the six officers is scheduled to start June 13 in the Eastern District of Louisiana, which is based in New Orleans but is composed of 13 parishes.

The officers' lawyers didn't specify a preference for where they would like to move the trial.

A spokeswoman for U.S. Attorney Jim Letten wouldn't comment on the court filing but said the office will respond to it in writing.

The defense lawyers counted thousands of local newspaper and television reports on the Danziger Bridge shootings, in which police killed two people and wounded four others less than a week after the 2005 storm.

They also note the case appears to be a plotline for the new season of the HBO television series "Treme." A character played by actress Melissa Leo is based in part on New Orleans civil rights attorney Mary Howell. She represents relatives of a mentally disabled man, Ronald Madison, who was shot and killed by police on the bridge. Leo's character mentioned the Danziger case on last Sunday's episode.

"It is expected that additional coverage of the Danziger events will occur on Treme and this may lead up to the time of trial," defense lawyers wrote. "It would be obscene to pick a jury in this region literally the day after some or all have watched the dramatization of the Danziger events on a locally-popular television show."

Police shot and killed Madison and 19-year-old James Brissette on different sides of the bridge. Officers also allegedly engaged in a cover-up to make the shootings appear to be justified.

A series of probes by the Justice Department's civil rights division resulted in charges against 20 current or former New Orleans police officers.

In December, a jury convicted three former officers in the death of 31-year-old Henry Glover, who was shot by an officer outside a strip mall before another officer burned his body. Last month, two officers were convicted in the fatal beating of a 48-year-old handyman, Raymond Robair.

By Michael Kunzelman, Associated Press

Source: The Republic

Complaints drop against Illinois lawyers

The number of investigations into lawyer misconduct is declining at the same time the number of attorneys in Illinois is climbing, a recent report indicates.

“There may be no specific reason for it, but a lessening number of investigations is healthy,” said James Grogan, deputy administrator and chief counsel for the state Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission.

The ARDC regulates licensed Illinois lawyers

The ARDC docketed 5,617 investigations into alleged ethics violations in 2010, a 3.7 percent decrease from the year before and the fewest number of docketed investigations in 18 years.

The Supreme Court entered 148 sanctions against 148 lawyers last year, and another 7 lawyers were reprimanded by an ARDC hearing board.

Grogan offered some possible reasons behind the drop in grievances.

“Perhaps lawyers are being more protective in terms of their practices,” he said. Included in that would be more readily available lawyer education through the Illinois Institute for Continuing Legal Education, he said.

“Part of it may be the economy,” Grogan said. “Maybe fewer people are hiring lawyers.”

The top three areas of grievance involve the client-attorney relationship, including allegations of neglect, failing to communicate and conduct involving fraud or deceit.

Also consistent with prior years, areas of practice most likely to lead to grievances were criminal law, domestic relations, tort, and real estate.

More lawyers were disciplined for engaging in fraudulent or deceptive conduct than any other offense.

The report also noted that 86,657 lawyers were licensed to practice in Illinois as of Oct. 31. That doesn’t include the 2,117 attorneys who took the oath of office in late 2010 or more than 600 lawyers sworn in last week.

The statewide lawyer population saw an increase of 2.2 percent over 2009, continuing a trend of increases since 2001, and the largest one-year jump in lawyer population since 2005.

Despite the economy, lawyers continue to increase their pro bono services and their contributions to legal aid and legal service causes.

“We’ve been tracking this since 2007, and the profession has given back a lot just in terms of service hours,” he said.


Source: The State Journal-Register

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Ramona "birther" appears before appellate court

Southern California lawyers skeptical about the birthplace of President Barack Obama argued their position before a panel of federal judges Monday, urging the court to reinstate their lawsuit challenging the commander in chief’s citizenship.

Attorneys Gary Kreep, of Ramona, and Orly Taitz, of Rancho Santa Margarita, have pressed on with their case even after the release of an official copy of Obama’s Hawaiian birth certificate last week.

Both lawyers have lost legal efforts to disqualify the president from holding the office, and have faced sanctions for abusing the federal court system. In 2009, U.S. District Judge David Carter dismissed their case, saying the court wasn’t the proper venue to challenge a president’s election.

The crux of the argument made by several prominent “birthers” was that the president was not a natural-born U.S. citizen and therefore wasn’t qualified to seek office in 2008.

“The only recourse for the people is the courts,’’ Kreep said, according to The Associated Press. “Nobody has been willing to take on Mr. Obama.”

According to various news reports, the pair told a three-judge panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals that the federal judiciary needed to intervene and enforce a requirement of the Constitution stating that a sitting president be born in the U.S.

Assistant U.S. Attorney David DeJute, speaking to the appellate judges, said political questions, including impeachment, were assigned to Congress, according to the Los Angeles Times.

The original lawsuit sought release of the president’s birth certificate. The pair said they now want a forensic expert to examine long-form copy released last week. Last week, Obama said he released his long-form birth certificate so the country could move on in a bipartisan way and solve its problems.

A 9th Circuit ruling on the appeal is not likely to be issued for weeks or months.

By Christopher Cadelago, Union-Tribune


Ferguson case lawyers accused of conflict of interest

Indicted city contractor Bobby Ferguson, a close friend of former Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, could wait much longer to stand trial in a $12 million bid-rigging case if a judge finds two lawyers involved have conflicts of interest.

A federal prosecutor is expected to file a motion today to resolve possible conflict of interest issues involving Ferguson lawyer Gerald Evelyn and Anthony Chambers, who represents an executive at one of Ferguson's companies.

The pending motion was disclosed during a routine hearing in U.S. District Court today. Assistant U.S. Attorney Bruce Judge had not filed the motion yet and the nature of the potential conflicts was unclear today.

Chambers said a potential conflict involves his prior representation of a Ferguson company named in the indictment, Xcel Construction. Chambers currently represents Michael Woodhouse, the company's president.

Evelyn said replacing two lawyers involved in a complex bid-rigging case could significantly delay the Aug. 23 trial date.

"It would be like starting all over again," Evelyn told The Detroit News.

Also today, a notice was filed in federal court indicating a former Xcel employee charged in the case is expected to plead guilty Thursday. The employee, Tabitha Goodner, is set to enter a plea at 11 a.m. Thursday before U.S. District Judge David Lawson.

She was charged last week with misprision of a felony when she gave misleading and incomplete statements to federal investigators in July 2009. She gave the statements despite knowing others had committed mail fraud and conspiracy to commit mail fraud, according to federal court record made public Friday. The Ferguson case already was facing a possible delay.

Evelyn and other attorneys involved have asked for more time to prepare and review evidence turned over by federal prosecutors.

The defense lawyers asked to delay the Aug. 23 trial date, plea deadline and other key dates by 84 days.

Federal prosecutors do not need more time, according to the filing. Lawson today said he would not commit to rescheduling the trial date until he sees motions filed in the case.

Ferguson is accused of falsifying bids, illegally laundering proceeds and dumping demolition debris in connection with the $12 million Garden View Estates public housing development.

The government has provided about 100,000 pages of documents so far, including 5,482 pages of grand jury exhibits and about 1,200 pages of search warrant affidavits and other documents.

Also named in the indictment are three executives at companies owned by Ferguson: Shakib Deria of Troy, an employee of Ferguson Enterprises and vice president of A&F Environmental/Johnson Construction Services; Woodhouse of West Bloomfield Township; and Calvin L. Hall of Detroit, vice president of Xcel Construction.

Separately, Ferguson was indicted in December along with Kilpatrick and three others in a racketeering scheme involving a series of deals to extort millions of dollars through Detroit Water and Sewerage Department contracts funded with taxpayer dollars.

That case is set for trial in fall 2012.

By Robert Snell, The Detroit News,, (313) 222-2028

Source: The Detroit News