Sunday, February 26, 2012

Even Obama’s poster is fake

Is there anything or anyone associated with President Obama who is on the level? From a political career that began in the living room of Bill Ayers and was built on a book inspired by the Reverend Jeremiah Wright that led to an improbable presidential campaign funded by such people as Good Will, Derty West and Jgtj Jfggjjfgj, comes the latest revelation: The fellow who came up with those HOPE and CHANGE posters lied in court about using an Associated Press photograph.

That's right, Shepard Fairey, 42, pleaded guilty in federal court to criminal contempt of court, a misdemeanor that carries up to 6 months in prison - although it is unlikely that he will spend any time behind bars. He was released on his own recognizance after appearing in federal court in New York City.

Shepard Fairey based his hope and change posters on an Associated Press photograph. It was not the appropriation of this material that caused his woes. It was the cover-up. He faked some documents and destroyed others.

From the New York Times: "Mr. Fairey, 42, sued The Associated Press in 2009 after it contended he had infringed on the copyright of one of its photographs in creating the poster. Mr. Fairey had claimed in his suit that he had used a different photograph of Mr. Obama, but later admitted that he had been mistaken and had tried to conceal his mistake, by destroying documents and fabricating others."

Suing the AP was a dumb idea. He wound up having to pay the AP. Had he waited for them to sue him, he likely would have made a good fair-use case out of it. If his lawyers advised him to sue, he receive pretty lousy advice.

From the Associated Press:

NEW YORK (AP) - The creator of the Barack Obama "HOPE" poster pleaded guilty Friday to criminal contempt, saying he made a "terrible decision" in 2009 to destroy some documents and fabricate others in a civil lawsuit pertaining to The Associated Press photograph he relied upon to make the poster.

Shepard Fairey entered the plea in federal court to the misdemeanor charge, which carries a maximum potential penalty of up to six months in prison. Sentencing was set for July 16.

"Violating the court's trust was the worst thing I have ever done in my life," said Fairey, 42, of Los Angeles. "I was ashamed as I did all these things, and I remain ashamed."

The criminal case originated after the artist acknowledged he had fabricated information in a lawsuit he brought against the AP in February 2009. The lawsuit sought a court declaration that he did not violate AP's copyrights when he made the Obama image. The AP countersued, saying the uncredited, uncompensated use of its picture both violated copyright laws and was a threat to journalism.

That case was settled last year.

U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said in a statement Friday that Fairey "went to extreme lengths to obtain an unfair and illegal advantage in his civil litigation, creating fake documents and destroying others in an effort to subvert the civil discovery process."

"The justice system - civil and criminal - depends on the integrity of lawyers and non-lawyers alike to follow the rules," Bharara said. "Those who break the rules risk sanctions, including, in certain cases, criminal prosecution."

Fairey told Magistrate Judge Frank Maas that when he created the Obama poster in January 2008, he believed he was basing it on a cropped version of a photograph he had seen of the then-Illinois senator with actor George Clooney in front of an American flag at a public event. He said it was only a few days after his lawsuit was filed, when he saw a blog comparing the Clooney picture with another AP photograph, that he realized the image he had used was a different AP picture of Obama taken at the same event.

He said that before meeting with his lawyers six weeks later, he deleted the files showing he had used the Obama photo that did not include Clooney and printed documents to make it appear that he had used the picture with Clooney in it.

"I showed my lawyers the fake documents as I described my artistic process and told them that I had used the Clooney photo as a reference for the Obama ‘HOPE' poster," Fairey said.

"I was and am ashamed that I had done these things, and I knew I should have corrected my actions, but as time passed I found it more and more difficult to admit my actions," he said.

He said he continued to hide the truth for months, even arranging for a witness to support his false claim in a deposition with lawyers, before one of his employees searching for documents for his attorneys came across the files he thought he had deleted.

"I immediately confessed what I had done to my lawyers, and then to my wife, employees and friends," he said. "Days later, I authorized my lawyers to write a letter to the court and the AP explaining what I had done."

Assistant U.S. Attorney Daniel W. Levy told the judge that the government plans to ask for "some term of imprisonment" at sentencing.

Maas rejected the government's request that bail be set at $100,000 for Fairey, saying he could be released on his own recognizance because the risk that he would flee was "extraordinarily low."

The AP and Fairey announced last year that they had settled their copyright infringement claims against each other and would work together in projects using the news agency's pictures. Fairey agreed not to use another AP photograph in his work without obtaining a license, and the two sides agreed to share the profits of posters and merchandise bearing the "HOPE" image.

A financial settlement also was reached, the terms of which were not disclosed, though Fairey said Friday during his plea that he "paid the AP an amount that I believe made it whole for the harm associated with my spoliation and fabrication of evidence."

AP President and CEO Tom Curley said in a statement: "Mr. Fairey started this case by suing the AP over copyright fair use issues. The AP never expected the case to take the turn that it did. The AP hopes that some good may come of this, by alerting judges and parties to the possibility that fake evidence may exist."

By Don Surber

Source: The Daily Mail

U.S. attorney helps volunteer lawyers learn prosecutor's role

It would be tough to beat the responsibility that the federal government invested in Ryan Hershberger at his previous job.

For three years, the Air Force paid Hershberger to be prepared to launch Minuteman III missiles.

Today, the feds merely ask him to put drug dealers in prison. Only they're not paying him to do it.

Why would a profoundly stable and confident young lawyer like Hershberger take that deal?

Because young lawyers, like everyone, are facing tough times.

"It's an abysmal economy," said Hershberger, who attended law school at the University of Kansas.

Hershberger, 29, and two other recent law school grads are nearing the end of a yearlong program at the U.S. attorney's office in Kansas City in which they have worked as special assistant U.S. attorneys, but for no salary.

With unemployment among lawyers hanging around 5 percent in Missouri, and underemployment among young lawyers at nearly 30 percent, U.S. Attorney Beth Phillips saw an opportunity to offer experience and training to recent graduates while maintaining her office's hiring freeze.

"It's turned out to be a positive experience," Phillips said. "We've gotten excellent work, and they're getting excellent experience and training."

When Phillips advertised the three uncompensated positions in December 2010, more than 30 lawyers applied.

"We knew the economy was difficult and there was a pool of attorneys who were having trouble finding work," Phillips said. "But we weren't going to hire someone just because they were available."

Phillips and the lawyers in the program cautioned that their work goes far beyond that given to summer interns. The lawyers receive the same supervision and training that any new hire would receive.

Sara Holzschuh, a 26-year-old University of Missouri law school graduate, noted that both she and Hershberger are carrying full criminal caseloads and working just like any other assistant U.S. attorney.

"I'm in the courtroom every day," Holzschuh said. "I've been able to hone my skills and feel like a real lawyer."

Though Hershberger and Holzschuh paid some dues doing less visible courtroom tasks for the office, such as representing the government in probation violation hearings, both quickly picked up substantial cases on their own.

Hershberger, who works in the narcotics unit, saw an eight-person drug conspiracy case land on his desk his first week in May 2011. And since starting, Holzschuh has indicted more than two dozen gun defendants in her work for the violent-crimes strike force.

But it's the little things that teach you, Holzschuh said.

One defendant in a probation case reported that he tested positive for drugs because his stripper girlfriend had handled some drug-contaminated currency. Another defendant, facing a charge of being a felon in possession of a firearm, contended not only that the gun found in his pants weren't his, but that the pants weren't either.

The pants belonged to his brother, the defendant explained, and he didn't notice the gun when he put them on.

"You get some interesting theories that you have to end up disproving," Holzschuh said.

To prepare for the courtroom, both have attended training courses at the Justice Department's National Advocacy Center in Columbia, S.C. And experiences like that can make walking into a federal courtroom without a paycheck worthwhile, Hershberger said.

"A lot of my classmates are sitting in their parents' basements or working as forklift operators," Hershberger said. "Hopefully, this will set me up for success in the future."

The unpaid sojourns in the U.S. attorney's office are unlikely to segue into full-time jobs for any of the current participants. The Justice Department usually asks for about five years of courtroom experience for its new hires.

To make ends meet during the year, Holzschuh has lived at home with her mom and stepfather and pays for gas and car insurance with a part-time job on weekends and evenings. Hershberger said he does odd jobs and lives simply.

But with a good recommendation from Phillips, both are optimistic that their time in the federal courthouse, however uncompensated, will be worthwhile. And both said standing before a judge to speak for the people has been exciting.

"It feels great to do this job and say you represent the United States of America," Holzschuh said. "It's a real honor."

By Mark Morris, 816-234-4310,

Source: The Kansas City Star

Monday, February 20, 2012

Lawyers add to evidence supporting innocence of convicted killer George Allen Jr.

this document and take appropriate action on behalf of the State of Missouri on this matter."

The Attorney General's Office declined to comment.

Police picked up Allen in the neighborhood more than a month after the crime because he resembled a suspect, and questioned him even after determining he wasn't the man they sought. Allen confessed but later said the confession was coached.

Jurors at Allen's first trial voted 10-2 for acquittal. He was found guilty by a different jury three months later and might have been sentenced to death had a juror not needed to leave during the trial's penalty phase.

Allen has already exhausted his appeals.

But his lawyers argue that as more evidence surfaces, the case for his innocence becomes even more convincing. Included is lab material indicating that semen found on a robe the victim wore when she was attacked did not match Allen or any of her known sex partners.

The attorneys say lab evidence proving that Allen could not have been the source of semen found at the scene should have been provided to his original lawyers.

A recent interview with former St. Louis police Detective Ronald Scaggs casts Allen's interrogation into doubt, they say, raising a series of questions about the interview techniques and the reliability of the purported confession.

Scaggs is quoted as saying that police were "iffy" about Allen's conviction. He said Allen was asked leading questions and shown crime scene photos that could have affected detectives' ability to test Allen's knowledge of the crime.

Scaggs, they say, also said that Allen drew a diagram of the crime scene that was inaccurate - and that was never turned over to defense lawyers.

"Hopefully the new evidence submitted today will persuade the Attorney General's Office to move quickly to release Mr. Allen," said Barry Scheck, co-director of the Innocence Project, in a prepared statement.

Daniel Harvath, a lawyer with the Bryan Cave firm in St. Louis, who is working for Allen's release, wrote in a statement, "This case was built on a faulty foundation that has completely crumbled."

By Robert Patrick,, 314-621-5154


Pleasanton Attorney Named California Lawyer of the Year

Todd A. Goluba of the firm Atkinson, Andelson, Loya, Ruund & Romo practices education law and serves as general counsel to more than 25 school districts

California Lawyer magazine has selected Todd A. Goluba as one of the recipients of the 16th annual California Lawyer "Attorneys of the Year" (CLAY) Awards.

Goluba is a Partner in the Pleasanton office of Atkinson, Andelson, Loya, Ruud & Romo (AALRR) who practices education law and serves as general counsel to more than 25 school districts, community college districts, and county offices of education, according to a statement issued by the magazine.

His CLAY award designation for outstanding achievement in education law was determined as a result of Goluba's innovative negotiations on the issue of including student test outcomes as part of teacher evaluations and linking that to performance-based bonuses.

The Obama administration is committing significant federal funding to school districts that implement this model of educational reform.

In serving as chief labor negotiator to the Lucia Mar Unified School District in San Luis Obispo County, Goluba led the school district's bargaining team to an historic labor agreement with its teachers' association which has statewide significance in the education profession.

In the first agreement of its kind in California, the district and the teachers' association agreed to implement a comprehensive new evaluation system in which student achievement based on test scores is one element used to determine year-end compensation bonuses for high performing teachers.

Goluba also recently achieved a professional milestone when his firm named him an equity partner.

"As leader of the firm's personnel and education law practice team for Northern California, Todd's contributions have been exceptional," says AALRR Managing Partner James C. Romo.

The CLAY Awards are given to attorneys whose achievements had a significant impact in 2011 and whose work is expected to have an effect in the coming years.

The awards recognize accomplishments in a wide variety of legal practice areas.

The honored attorneys include government lawyers, law professors, attorneys from international law firms, and public interest lawyers.

By Pleasanton Patch

Source: Pleasanton Patch

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Lawyers file claim, saying TransAmerica Author: Grand Island Independent

Two Ohio attorneys representing more than a dozen people who have filed an arbitration claim against a Florida-based investment broker in hopes of recovering money from the now-defunct First Americans Insurance Services were in Nebraska this week preparing their case.

John S. Chapman and his associate, Alin L. Rosca, represent 18 residents of Grand Island and Omaha in an arbitration case against Transamerica Financial Advisors of St. Petersburg, Fla. The claim was filed with the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority.

Chapman and Rosca contend Transamerica sold fraudulent and illegal First Americans Insurance Service securities to the public. The three principals of First Americans - Stella Levea, James Masat and Kenneth Mottin - are set for trial in federal court in June on charges they defrauded more than 250 investors.

They are each charged in 25-count indictments that allege they raised funds for First Americans, in part, by borrowing money from private lenders. They provided lenders with promissory notes and told the lenders the loans would be secured by collateral. The defendants also told lenders the annuity would be sufficient as to avoid loss of the loaned amount, even if First Americans failed, according to the indictment.

The defendants, who had their broker's licenses revoked shortly after First Americans filed for bankruptcy in January 2009, failed to purchase the insurance annuities and failed to advise lenders that such annuities wouldn't be purchased, according to the indictment.

"Our folks lost money because Transamerica was asleep at the switch," Chapman said. "Transamerica has the responsibility of overseeing First Americans and they failed."

Chapman said there were "plenty of red flags" that First Americans was involved in a Ponzi scheme and Transamerica could have shut it down.

"They could have done something to stop this," he said. "They are supposed to investigate and dig and dig and dig until they get answers. They fell short and I think the arbitration board will be outraged."

He said Transamerica had an agent in Grand Island but that person didn't adequately supervise First Americans' dealings.

"The supervision was uncommonly bad," he said.

Chapman and Rosca were in Omaha and Grand Island this week to talk to their clients, contact other victims, meet with the bankruptcy trustee, examine documents and pick up paperwork.

Victims can still join the arbitration case. Chapman and Rosca can be reached at 877-410-8172.

Rosca said some of the people who lost money in the scheme have only thought of the brokers and First Americans but not Transamerica, perhaps because they don't know a larger entity was involved.

"We have to actively ask questions so they can make the connection," he said.

Chapman said the scheme goes beyond Levea, Masat and Mottin but because Ponzi schemes are an unusual area of the law not many attorneys have experience looking into such cases.

"We've tried a lot of these cases around the country," he said. "We know where to look. The human toll is huge. You become aware of it when you talk to people and find they've lost their nest egg. They've spent a lifetime building up to retirement and along comes a con man and it's gone up in flames. The victims have to keep reliving that moment and have to ask their kids for help. It's just awful."

The arbitration case is set to be heard before the three-person board in Omaha in November. Chapman believes the hearing could take a week. They are asking for full compensation plus interest for their clients as well as damages and attorneys fees.

"We hope to put real money back in their pockets," he said. "We are putting together a strong case. We're excited."

Transamerica is a "substantial entity" with more money than the local brokers and First Americans so there's a better chance for recovery, he said.

Chapman wants people to know that if an investment sounds too good to be true, it is and should probably be avoided. When making investments, he suggests asking questions, getting second opinions and doing background checks. Promises, guarantees and high rates of return are words that should make investors "run the other way," he said.

Both Chapman and Rosca said investments should have security backings and should be registered with the federal government. People can check on such things through the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, which is online at

By Grand Island Independent

Source: The Kearney Hub

Lawyer too broke to pay $500 suspended

The Iowa Supreme Court Friday showed mercy on an attorney who failed to refund $500 to clients who had overpaid him.

The attorney, Roscoe Ries Jr. of Des Moines, had claimed he couldn’t afford to repay the money.

In the first case of its kind in Iowa, the court ordered Ries to serve a 30-day suspension and warned he would not be reinstated unless he refunded the money plus interest. Justices rejected a six-month suspension proposed by its grievance commission, ruling Ries did not deserve tougher sanctions even though he ignored a court order to repay the money and falsely assured regulators he would.

A husband and wife who got divorced - Michael and Shelly Weigel - accidentally overpaid Ries by $500 in January 2010 for his work handling the proceeding. He explained in an email they would be credited for a $500 retainer paid at the beginning of the case, but they overpaid because the invoice he attached didn’t include the credit.

After learning of the mistake, they tried to contact Ries to get their money back. Ries did not respond to a letter they sent in February 2011 threatening legal action, and he did not contest a small claims lawsuit filed the next month in which he was eventually ordered to pay the refund. After the Weigels filed a complaint with the Attorney Disciplinary Board, Ries promised regulators he would repay the money but again failed to do so.

The board in August filed a complaint alleging Reis' conduct violated a rule requiring lawyers to "promptly deliver" any funds to which clients are entitled. Ries did not answer. He did show up at an October hearing where the grievance commission considered his punishment to explain he simply did not have "the wherewithal" to issue the refund.

He said the money had already been spent to pay bills and he was so broke he had considered filing for bankruptcy and was being supported by his girlfriend and friends. He said he didn't have $100 extra, let alone $500.

"To be honest with you, you know, it's an embarrassment. I mean, for a 42-year-old attorney not to have $500 to make that refund, it's just embarrassing," Ries said, according to the opinion. He did not return a message left at his law office.

Justice Edward Mansfield wrote that the case marked the first time the court had to decide whether attorneys commit an ethical violation by failing to refund mistaken overpayments brought to their attention.

He said Ries did not commit "any misrepresentation or dishonesty" and was not aware he'd been overpaid until the Weigels told him. "Also, while it seems difficult to believe that a practicing attorney could not come up with $500 to repay a client obligation, we share the commission's view that we are ‘forced to take Mr. Ries at his word' concerning his indigence," Mansfield wrote.

Mansfield noted that Ries had recently been reprimanded for allowing two clients' appeals to be dismissed and ignoring repeated inquiries about the status of another case.

Nonetheless, the court ultimately showed leniency to Ries, who has practiced law in Iowa since 1994.

"Although some aggravating factors are present, including a recent reprimand for neglect, a failure to initially respond to the Board, and the absence of any attempt to make even a partial refund, this matter nonetheless involves a single violation without proven dishonesty or fraudulent conduct," Mansfield wrote.

By Ryan J. Foley, The Associated Press


Monday, February 13, 2012

Attorneys want pigeon case dismissed

Man cited in the past for feeding birds near airport is being overcharged, lawyers say

Attorneys for the man accused of creating a public safety nuisance at Bob Hope Airport by feeding a large flock of pigeons argued Friday in court that there was insufficient evidence in the case, and that the charges should be dropped.

Charles Douglas pleaded not guilty to the misdemeanor charges of creating a public nuisance and disobeying a court order in September.

Donald Ingalls, who with Bruce Kaufman represents the Burbank business owner, said Friday that their client should be facing only an infraction for violating the Burbank municipal code for feeding pigeons and should not face the repercussions of a state nuisance charge, a misdemeanor.

Defense attorneys also said Douglas already faces an alleged probation violation in a related case and a new charge of being in contempt of court should not apply.

Burbank Assistant City Atty. Denny Wei said a judge had already ordered Douglas not to feed pigeons.

"That's why we're prosecuting him, because he is in contempt of court," Wei said.

In his comments to the judge, Wei said a local statute does not preclude a state statute and said the defense's argument lacked merit.

Ingalls said that authorities were trying to intimidate his client, and that they "wanted to teach him a lesson."

Airport authorities allege Douglas, 59, has been feeding pigeons since September 2010, a violation of municipal code.

Of greater concern to airport officials is the threat posed to aircraft when large numbers of birds come near the airfield.

In July, a Southwest Airlines flight was diverted to Ontario after it flew into 20 to 30 pigeons during takeoff, airport authorities have said.

Court records show Douglas has been cited several times for creating a nuisance by feeding pigeons. In August 2011, Burbank police arrested Douglas at his business on suspicion of disobeying a court order and creating a public nuisance by feeding pigeons.

The Glendale resident posted $5,000 bail the same day, according to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.

In an interview in August, airport police Cmdr. Allen Schmitt said an officer saw Douglas put feed on the ground on Sept. 29, 2010.

In December 2010 and in February 2011, Douglas was found guilty of feeding pigeons to the point of creating a nuisance, court documents show.

On July 31, Douglas was again cited for feeding pigeons, Schmitt said.

Ingalls said at an October court appearance that Douglas lacked an attorney at prior proceedings and called his client’s arrest a "media frenzy."

Wei said the maximum penalty on one of the misdemeanors is six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.

Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Margaret Oldendorf is expected to issue a written decision next week.

By Maria Hsin,

Source: The Burbank Leader

Lawyer for Gitmo Detainee Challenges Mail-reading Rule

An attorney for an American accused of conspiring to carry out the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 has filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia challenging a new rule at the Guantanamo Bay Detention Facility instructing agents of the military and the government to read all correspondence between lawyers and those prisoners suspected of being 9/11 conspirators.

James Connell, defense counsel for Ali Abdul Aziz Ali, in his pleading asks the federal court to block enforcement of the rule, citing a violation of his client's constitutional right of access to counsel, as well as the privilege afforded communication between attorneys and clients. Connell, a lawyer based in Washington, D.C., also charges that the correspondence guidelines infringe upon the privacy legally afforded all mail exchanged between private citizens.

As reported by the Washington Post, Connell explained, "The Supreme Court has said there is a reasonable expectation of privacy in a letter when you mail it from one person to another and there have to be certain requirements before the government can violate that."

As reported last December in The New American, the commander of the Guantanamo Bay detention facility, Rear Admiral David Woods, issued a fundamental rule change regarding the military's right to access and review written communication exchanged between Gitmo prisoners suspected of being co-conspirators in the attacks of September 11, 2001 and the attorneys representing them.

According to details of the rules published by the Associated Press, all the covered correspondence sent back and forth between any of the five detainees categorized as 9/11 co-conspirators and their legal counsel would be thoroughly reviewed by law enforcement and Department of Defense personnel.

In response to a request for input from Admiral Woods, the attorneys for the five prisoners have written a memo opposing the new rule based on their averment that such a scheme would violate the privilege afforded communication between attorneys and clients. Furthermore, were the rule to be enforced, their clients would be deprived of the right to counsel guaranteed to individuals by the U.S. Constitution.

Specifically, as set forth in the Supreme Court's decision in the case of Brewer v. Williams 430 U.S. 387 (1977), the applicable rights granted by the Sixth and 14th Amendments "mean at least that a person is entitled to the help of a lawyer at or after the time that judicial proceedings have been initiated against him, whether by formal charge, preliminary hearing, indictment, information, or arraignment." After the initiation of legal proceedings, a defendant has a right to confer with counsel whenever he is questioned by an agent of the government.

The Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution reads:

In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defense

Given the gravity of the situation and the substantial effect on one of the Bill of Rights' most fundamental guarantees, the lawyers for the five detainees have requested an extension in the time originally afforded them to review the letter and the order sent them by Admiral Woods.

The lawyers also insisted that they needed more time in order to account both for delays in obtaining the necessary security clearances and for the new restrictions on the exchange of correspondence with their clients.

On February 4, that request was denied by Department of Defense officials. Bruce MacDonald — the senior Pentagon official overseeing all aspects of the war crimes tribunal process underway at Guantanamo - refused to allow the attorneys representing the suspected 9/11 co-conspirators any additional time for preparing for the impending military tribunals. This could prove to be a significant obstacle to the zealous defense of the five men represented by the attorneys who filed the motion as Attorney General Eric Holder announced in April that the five would be arraigned before military tribunals sometime in 2012. All five face the death penalty if convicted of the charges against them.

In defiance of the new rule, in January, the head of the Office of the Chief Defense Counsel for Guantanamo Bay military tribunals, Colonel J.P. Colwell, sent an e-mail ordering all lawyers under his command to ignore rules authorizing and requiring officials at the naval facility's detention center to open and read all correspondence between lawyers and the five detainees.

The other four detainees have also been in custody at the Guantanamo facility since 2006 after having been detained - and allegedly tortured - by the Central Intelligence Agency at secret "black site" prisons located throughout the world.

Attorneys representing these high-profile detainees have repeatedly complained about policies in place at the prison. In November of 2011, for example, lawyers sent an open letter to the Deputy Secretary of Defense for Detainee Affairs decrying the regular revocation of the attorney-client privilege. The letter accused the Joint Task Force Guantanamo of opening, reading, confiscating, and analyzing letters sent between the detainees and their legal counsel. The lawyers insist that such actions are illegal.

Per the Associated Press account: "What they keep wanting to do is to have their intelligence employees promise not to tell anybody about our communications and say that's good enough," said Bryan Broyles, deputy chief defense counsel for the military commissions. "And as a matter of law it's not," he stressed.

For his part, Rear Admiral David Woods testified that the new rules serve to balance his responsibility to accommodate the free exchange of correspondence between lawyers and clients and his obligation to maintain order and safety at the Detention Facility based in Cuba.

Furthermore, Woods stated that those tasked with monitoring the mail do not read the letters so much as verify that the pages are properly marked as privileged communication.

Connell disagrees, however, and in his suit he avers that the rule, in force since late December, must conform to applicable U.S. law regardless of the crimes with which his client is charged.

According to the Washington Post: "A Pentagon spokesman, Army Lt. Col. Todd Breasseale, said the military would not comment on the suit. But officials have defended the rule as a necessary security step, denying it violates attorney-client privilege and makes it impossible to ethically represent the defendants."

Connell's client, Ali Abdul Aziz Ali (also known as Ammar al-Baluchi), allegedly transferred most of the money that came to the hijackers of the planes used in the attacks of September 11, 2001. The 9/11 Commission reported that Ali "helped them [the hijackers] with plane tickets, traveler's checks, and hotel reservations," and "taught them about everyday aspects of life in the West, such as purchasing clothes and ordering food." Aziz responded that he often provided this service to travelers from Dubai as a means of supplementing his income. He claims that there was no way he could have known of the ultimate aims of those to whom he provided such assistance.

By Joe Wolverton

Source: The New American

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Twitter subpoena challenged by N.Y. 'Occupy' protester

District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr.'s subpoena of Twitter Inc. for information about the account of an Occupy Wall Street protester and Brooklyn-based writer is improper, the National Lawyers Guild said in a motion to block the request.

Martin Stolar, an attorney with the National Lawyers Guild, filed the request to invalidate the subpoena on Feb. 6, according to court papers posted on the guild's website. Vance is seeking information about the "@destructuremal" account of Malcolm Harris, 22, who was arrested with about 700 protesters on the Brooklyn Bridge on Oct. 1, according to the filing.

"It's like swatting a gnat with a sledgehammer," Stolar said today in a phone interview. "This is one count of disorderly conduct for being one of 700 people arrested,."

There was no indication Harris had a conspiratorial role or did anything out of the ordinary, Stolar said.

Joan Vollero, a spokeswoman for Vance, said prosecutors previously subpoenaed Twitter and declined to comment further.

Harris' Twitter account is described in its tag line as "TNI, callous revolutionary fervor, trickery ALL TWEETS PROPERTY OF TWITTER, INC." Harris, a contributing writer to The New Inquiry website, focuses on "generational politics," according to his biography on the site. His articles include one on "The Feminization of Abstract Labor" in the film "Sleeping Beauty."

2,200 Protesters

The National Lawyers Guild is providing free defense for arrested Occupy Wall Street protesters including Harris. The group has provided attorneys for almost 2,200 people since the protests began Sept. 17, according to a statement.

Harris told Stolar Jan. 30 that Twitter's San Francisco office had gotten a notice from Vance seeking all information, including his e-mail address, and all Twitter postings from Sept. 15 to Dec. 31 from an account called "@destructuremal." Stolar advised Twitter that he would make a motion to quash the subpoena and Twitter's legal department told him it would delay processing the request based on his intention, according to the motion to quash.

Jenna Sampson, a Twitter spokeswoman, didn't immediately return a call and e-mail seeking comment on the filing. According to Twitter's privacy policy, it may preserve or disclose information believed necessary to comply with a law or legal request.

In the U.K., Prime Minister David Cameron said in August that the government was considering blocking social networks and messaging services including Twitter as police investigated the use of such networks to encourage rioting.

In court papers, Stolar said the subpoena "is overbroad, issued for an improper purpose, and constitutes an abuse of court process." At a hearing before Judge Neil Ross in state Supreme Court today, the issue of whether Harris has standing in court to challenge a subpoena came up, Stolar said. The issue will be discussed at a future hearing, he said.

The case is People of the State of New York v. Harris, 11-80152, Supreme Court of the State of New York (Manhattan).

By John Pickering,

Source: Bloomberg

Student debt is looming economic bomb

Student debt is looming as a national problem that could have repercussions reminiscent of the mortgage crisis, says a report by the National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys

Student debt is looming as a national problem that could have repercussions reminiscent of the mortgage crisis, says a report by the National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys.

Total debt from student loans is about $1 trillion, about 14 times more than 15 years ago, and well above the estimated total credit card debt of $798 billion.

The study, released Tuesday and based on a nationwide survey of 860 bankruptcy lawyers, said bankruptcy attorneys nationwide are seeing "what feels too much like what they saw before the foreclosure crisis crashed onto the national scene."

The report calls for a change in bankruptcy laws.

In the survey, 81% of respondents said potential clients with student loan debt have increased "significantly" or "somewhat" in the past four years.

And 95% of respondents reported that few student loan debtors have any chance of discharging what they owe through a bankruptcy proceeding because they have to prove "undue hardship" - a standard that is difficult to meet.

The bankruptcy attorneys association's report urges a change in bankruptcy laws so those burdened with student debt would be on the same footing as others facing bankruptcy.

"It's not fair and needs to be corrected," said U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., sponsor of legislation that would make changes suggested in the report.

Cohen outlined the revisions in a conference call with reporters Tuesday, along with officials from the bankruptcy lawyers association. Douglas Lustig, a trustee for federal bankruptcy court in western New York, agreed that something should be done.

"The problem is that you have former students who filed for bankruptcy and are not able to get a fresh start," said Lustig, who also represents clients in bankruptcy court.

Those with student debt should be able to discharge all or part of the money owed in a bankruptcy proceeding and the law should be changed so the debt can be paid over a longer period of time, Lustig said.

The high cost of college tuition and room-and-board, plus high interest rates charged by some private lenders, are all adding to the problem, experts say.

"The rising cost of education definitely needs to be in the forefront of people's minds," said Cassandra Robinson, 23, who graduated from the University of Rochester in 2010 and owes about $100,000 in student debt.

William Brewer Jr., president of the National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys, offered a warning.

"Take it from those of us on the frontline of economic distress in America," he said. "This could very well be the next debt bomb for the U.S. economy."

By James Goodman, Rochester (N.Y.) Democrat and Chronicle

Source: USA Today

Saturday, February 11, 2012

New Orleans judge turns to private lawyers as defender's office struggles

The fallout from severe layoffs at the Orleans Parish public defender's office came to an early head Friday inside a criminal courtroom. After a hearing in which Chief Public Defender Derwyn Bunton faced a litany of questions about his budget woes, Judge Arthur Hunter said he would farm out dozens of indigent cases to private lawyers.

Whether there are enough of them willing to handle those cases for free is unclear.

The layoffs, which take effect next week, include 21 lawyers and six other employees of the public defender's office. Bunton axed his entire division of attorneys representing poor clients with some kind of conflict - usually because the office already represents a co-defendant.

Bunton testified Friday that 543 defendants now find themselves without attorneys on cases ranging from state misdemeanors to murders. Just how many are sitting in jail is unclear.

"This is not a constitutional crisis. This is a constitutional emergency," Hunter said.

Hunter said he would seek private lawyers to represent the 33 indigent defendants left without attorneys in his court section. He could end up ordering them to take the cases.

Hunter rejected a bid by private contract lawyers who asked to withdraw from a half-dozen cases because the public defender's office is refusing to pay them. Bunton, who stopped the contract payments as of Jan. 16, said it's not clear those lawyers will ever get paid for the work beyond that date. At last check, he said, his office owed about $200,000 in back pay for contract lawyers.

Contract lawyers handle more than 300 indigent cases, including capital defendants, Bunton said. One of the them, Miles Swanson, said he and others planned to appeal Hunter's ruling.

Along with the layoffs, Bunton ordered pay cuts of 5 percent to 10 percent for top managers and supervisors and two days of furlough each month for all employees.

The cuts are expected to save just more than $1 million, as the office seeks to shrink its budget from $9.5 million to about $7 million.

Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro's push to accept far more cases and bring more to trial is partly to blame for the budget crunch, Bunton said.

Public defenders represent about 80 percent of criminal defendants in Orleans Parish, where the court system saw 6,700 new felony cases last year, up 31 percent from 2008.

"Trial rate, high acceptance, all that's a part of the cost of litigation," Bunton said. "It's not hard to figure out they can generate a whole lot more work than we can handle."

The public defender's office gets most of its money from the state under a formula based largely on caseloads and from fees levied on criminal, municipal and traffic convictions - money that has fallen far short of projections.

On Monday, the Louisiana Public Defender Board plans to launch an audit of Traffic Court to search for hundreds of thousands of dollars in fees slated for indigent defense that the court allegedly withheld.

The city also allotted $1.25 million this year to the office from traffic camera fees, but it's not enough, Bunton said.

Critics, meanwhile, argue that Bunton's office could help itself, but has been lax in collecting a $40 statutory fee from poor defendants.

By John Simerman,, 504-826-333006


Foreclosure and 'Home Retention': a new firm by Ex-Baum Lawyers

Two attorneys from one of New York's largest - and most notorious -foreclosure firms have set up their own shop in suburban Buffalo with 18 attorneys and counting, and they have plans for a downstate satellite office on Long Island.

Steven J. Baum PC shut its doors in November, following a rocky half year that included probes of how the firm handled foreclosures by New York State Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman and the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York.

The likely death knell: a New York Times column that mentioned a Halloween party where some firm employees came dressed as foreclosed-upon homeowners. (See our handy timeline here)

Now two former Baum lawyers, Adam Gross and Amy Polowy, have teamed up with another attorney, Linda Orlans, of Michigan, to form Gross, Polowy & Orlans LLC. The Buffalo News has the full report from upstate here.

So what exactly will the new firm do?

Here's one clue, from the outgoing message on the main office number: "Please be advised this office is a debt collector, and is attempting to collect a debt. Any information obtained may be used for that purpose."

Gross was emphatic that the new entity - while retaining some of his clients from the Baum days - is in no way a Baum spinoff.

"The response has been very positive by the lender community, the courts and our public advocates as well," Gross told Law Blog on Friday.

The firm represents residential mortgage lenders and servicers, he said. "We will be in the foreclosure business, because that's one of the needs," Gross said. But he said the firm also plans to focus on "home retention" - representing those same lenders and servicers when arranging plans to prevent homes from being foreclosed on.

"I can take what I learned on my career up to this date, and expand upon it, better it and present the best service to my clients and the best legal work to the courts, and the best service to the communities and the homeowners of New York state," said Gross, who is still scouting for office space in Western Long Island.

Take note, young attorneys - they're still hiring.

By Jennifer Smith

Source: Wall Street Journal

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

AG says several local lawyers under scrutiny on alleged tax evasion

In the wake of the Emerald Cay judgment, authorities have widened their investigations, bringing under scrutiny several local lawyers, according to Attorney General Huw Shepheard.

The AG, in an invited comment on Thursday, said the two lawyers involved in the Emerald Cay Claim, where the judgment was made on Thursday in favour of the government, are still under investigation.

"I expect to have a report soon," he said.

The AG added that the investigation has widened beyond the Emerald Cay Claim and several other local lawyers have come under scrutiny for alleged tax evasion.

"A number of allegations are being investigated in the evasion of stamp duty…at present I am not at liberty to disclose the particulars, but investigations are underway," he said.

Following a ruling in June by Chief Justice Martin, a visiting Judge at the time, an investigation into the actions of the two local lawyers involved in the Emerald Cay deal was recommended.

Justice Martin, at the time said, "On any assessment of the facts this was a carefully crafted scheme of tax evasion. It would not have been possible without the assistance of attorneys."

Martin noted that he found that papers relating to the deal were "fraudulent devices to hide the true consideration being paid".

On August 31, the AG announced he had paid heed to Justice Martin’s words and had asked Helen Garlick's Special Investigative Prosecution Team (SIPT) team to probe the profession.

Shepheard came under fire last year by the local Bar Association who accused him of tarnishing the image of the TCI legal profession.

They have reacted furiously to a statement Shepheard announcing a probe to determine whether attorneys habitually assist in stamp duty fraud; a statement the Bar Council called "reckless".

At the time, Bar Council president, George Missick, said, "Although it does not say so, it has led many to believe that the entire profession is to be investigated with the effect that it has diminished the reputation of attorneys and the practice of law in these islands."

By Vaness Narine

Source: Turks and Caicos Weekly News

ITC lawyers argue that Barnes & Noble didn't infringe Microsoft's patents

Barnes & Noble received a boost in its patent infringement case against Microsoft after staff attorneys at the US International Trade Commission recommended that ITC Judge Theodore Essex find that the book company had not infringed on three Microsoft patents, reports Bloomberg.

Microsoft brought the case against Barnes & Noble in March of last year, claiming that the NOOK and NOOK Color tablets infringed on five patents. In the run up to the eventual hearings, Redmond dropped two of the patents from the case, with three remaining.

Essex discarded Barnes & Noble's affirmative defense in which the company alleged that Microsoft's attempt to assert patents against Android was a breach of antitrust law, leaving subsequent discussion to revolve around the validity and applicability of Microsoft's patents. The ITC lawyers, acting as an independent third party and giving their own assessment of the evidence presented, argue that there is no infringement case to answer.

After Essex has reviewed the relevant evidence presented by Microsoft, Barnes & Noble, and the ITC's own lawyers, he is expected to release his findings on April 27th. This initial determination will then be reviewed by an ITC panel, which will make the final decision on the case's outcome.

The software giant is downplaying the significance of the ITC lawyers' position. In a statement, a company representative said, "This was a preliminary argument by the Office of Unfair Import Investigations ('OUII') staff attorney, which was filed before the presentation of the evidence at the hearing has occurred. The OUII staff may change its position after the hearing. Additionally, the administrative law judge will hear the evidence and arguments at the hearing and will come to his own conclusion."

By Peter Bright

Source: Ars Technica

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Prosecutors rebut jailed RFK assassin's claims in freedom quest

A controversial assertion by convicted Robert F. Kennedy assassin Sirhan Sirhan to win his freedom was challenged this week by the California attorney general who said "overwhelming evidence" exists against Sirhan's claims.

Sirhan's attorneys have said that a second gunman actually assassinated Kennedy in 1968 and that Sirhan was hypno-programmed to fire a gun as a diversion.

"In sum, (Sirhan) cannot possibly show that no reasonable juror would have convicted him if a jury had considered his 'new' evidence and allegations, in light of the overwhelming evidence supporting the convictions and the available evidence thoroughly debunking (Sirhan's) second-shooter and automaton theories," Attorney General Kamala Harris said in federal court papers filed this week.

Sirhan, the sole person convicted of killing Kennedy, is seeking a new trial or freedom from his life sentence based on "formidable evidence" asserting his innocence and "horrendous violations" of his rights, defense attorneys said in federal court papers filed last year.

Harris, who is asking a federal court in Los Angeles to dismiss Sirhan's request, conceded in court papers filed Wednesday that his lawyers may be able to show two guns were involved in Kennedy's assassination. Kennedy was seeking the Democratic presidential nomination when he was killed.

But even if Sirhan's lawyers can show 13 shots were fired in the Kennedy shooting, Sirhan shouldn't be released from prison, Harris said.

"The mere possibility that more than one firearm was discharged during the assassination does not dismantle the prosecution's case" against Sirhan, the attorney general said in the latest court documents.

Harris said Sirhan is relying on acoustic expert Philip Van Praag's analysis of a tape recording of the Kennedy shooting that concludes 13 shots were fired during the murder and "demonstrates the existence of a second shooter because (Sirhan) only fired eight shots."

The attorney general argues that even if there were a second gunman involved in the Kennedy shooting, Sirhan hasn't proven his innocence.

Sirhan "at most has shown that, according to Van Praag, two guns could be heard firing 13 shots in an audiotape of the shooting," Harris said.

Authorities have said eight bullets were fired in the kitchen pantry of the former Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, with three bullets hitting Kennedy's body, a fourth passing harmlessly through his suit coat and the rest striking five other victims, who survived. Kennedy, younger brother of the assassinated U.S. President John F. Kennedy, was shot shortly after midnight on June 5, 1968, only moments after the presidential candidate had claimed victory in California's Democratic primary election. He died the next day.

Defense lawyers William F. Pepper and Laurie D. Dusek say Van Praag's analysis of the tape recording shows two guns fired 13 shots -- five more gunshots than Sirhan could have fired from his eight-shot revolver. Sirhan had no opportunity to reload his gun in the pantry.

Harris calls Van Praag's analysis "pure speculation."

The recording of the Kennedy shooting was made by freelance reporter Stanislaw Pruszynski. ABC News television videotape of the hotel ballroom, where the senator had just claimed victory in the California primary, shows Pruszynski holding his recording equipment in his left hand while descending a small set of ballroom steps, approximately 40 feet away from the kitchen pantry shooting, and moving towards the pantry during the period when the shots were being fired there, off-camera.

Harris said that even if it could be proven "that a second gunman successfully shot Senator Kennedy, (Sirhan) would still be guilty of the charged crimes." She said that under California's vicarious liability law, "an aider and abettor 'is guilty not only of the offense he intended to facilitate or encourage, but also of any reasonably foreseeable offense committed by the person he aids and abets'."

The defense argues Sirhan did not knowingly fire at Kennedy but thought he was shooting at circular targets on a firing range. They contend Sirhan was a victim of hypno-programming by conspirators who programmed him to fire shots as a diversion for the senator's real killer.

For his hypo-programming defense, Sirhan is relying on Daniel Brown, an associate clinical professor in psychology at Harvard Medical School who has interviewed Sirhan for 60 hours over a three-year period, according to defense attorneys.

But the attorney general rejected the hypno-programming claim.

"The theory that a person could be hypnotized into planning and committing a murder against his will is a controversial (if not fantastic) one and has not been adopted by most of Brown's peers, including the American Psychological Association," Harris wrote.

"Thus, even if (Sirhan) could show that some psychologists believe in mind control or hypno-programming, his showing of actual innocence is nevertheless based on a debatable theory that is not universally accepted in the psychology community," Harris said.

Sirhan, who turns 68 next month, was denied parole at a hearing last year where he once again claimed to have no memory of the Kennedy shooting, an assertion Sirhan has maintained since 1968.

By Michael Martinez and Brad Johnson, CNN

Source: CNN

Lawyers in NY Facebook lawsuit spar over amount Facebook attorneys entitled to after sanctions

Lawyers for Facebook are looking for $84,000 in legal fees from a New York man after a judge ruled he caused delays in his lawsuit seeking part ownership in the social networking site.

They also want a judge to freeze Paul Ceglia's legal case until the fees are paid.

Ceglia's attorney called the lawyers' rates "stratospheric" and asked the judge this week to reject them in favor of an amount more in line with what lawyers are paid in Buffalo, where the case is being heard.

The judge didn't immediately rule on the issue.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Leslie Foschio last month ordered Ceglia to pay Facebook's court costs for efforts to force the Wellsville man to comply with an order to provide access to his email accounts. He also fined Ceglia $5,000 for contempt.

New York City attorney Orin Snyder said he and four other attorneys for Menlo Park, Calif.-based Facebook and founder Mark Zuckerberg spent 177 hours preparing court filings seeking the email access. The attorneys normally bill at rates ranging from $450 to $995 an hour, Snyder said, but cut them by 25 percent "to avoid any dispute as to the reasonableness" of the request. That brought the amount sought from Ceglia to $84,196.33.

In a response filed Monday, Ceglia attorney Dean Boland said that the Facebook lawyers hadn't properly kept track of their time and that the three court filings they submitted during the email dispute required them to draft a total of 22 pages. He argued that New York City rates should not apply in Buffalo, a more affordable, upstate city.

"Defendants' discounted rates are still nearly three times the highest rate that this court has awarded to out-of-district attorneys," Boland wrote. He did not specify an amount Ceglia would be willing to pay.

He said his client has already paid the $5,000 sanction and should not be prohibited from moving forward with his case until the lawyer fees are paid, as Facebook requested.

Ceglia's lawsuit claims that when he hired Zuckerberg to help him develop a street-mapping database in 2003, he gave the then-Harvard University freshman $1,000 in start-up money for his fledgling Facebook idea in exchange for half ownership of the company if it grew.

Facebook was expected to file as early as Wednesday to sell stock on the open market. The initial public offering was expected to raise as much as $10 billion, which would value the company at $75 billion to $100 billion. The current value has been estimated at more than $50 billion.

The Buffalo court case so far has focused exclusively on the authenticity of a two-page work-for-hire contract that Ceglia says proves his claims, along with a series of follow-up emails he says he and Zuckerberg exchanged.

Facebook's attorneys have said they will soon move to have the case dismissed based on their experts' findings that the documents are fake. Ceglia, who is believed to be living in Ireland, has stood by the contract's origin.

By The Associated Press

Source: The Washington Post

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Lawyers in NY Facebook suit spar over fee amount

Lawyers for Facebook are looking for $84,000 in legal fees from a New York man after a judge ruled he caused delays in his lawsuit seeking part ownership in the social networking site.

They also want a judge to freeze Paul Ceglia's legal case until the fees are paid.

Ceglia's attorney called the lawyers' rates "stratospheric" and asked the judge this week to reject them in favor of an amount more in line with what lawyers are paid in Buffalo, where the case is being heard.

The judge didn't immediately rule on the issue.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Leslie Foschio last month ordered Ceglia to pay Facebook's court costs for efforts to force the Wellsville man to comply with an order to provide access to his email accounts. He also fined Ceglia $5,000 for contempt.

New York City attorney Orin Snyder said he and four other attorneys for Menlo Park, Calif.-based Facebook and founder Mark Zuckerberg spent 177 hours preparing court filings seeking the email access. The attorneys normally bill at rates ranging from $450 to $995 an hour, Snyder said, but cut them by 25 percent "to avoid any dispute as to the reasonableness" of the request. That brought the amount sought from Ceglia to $84,196.33.

In a response filed Monday, Ceglia attorney Dean Boland said that the Facebook lawyers hadn't properly kept track of their time and that the three court filings they submitted during the email dispute required them to draft a total of 22 pages. He argued that New York City rates should not apply in Buffalo, a more affordable, upstate city.

"Defendants' discounted rates are still nearly three times the highest rate that this court has awarded to out-of-district attorneys," Boland wrote. He did not specify an amount Ceglia would be willing to pay.

He said his client has already paid the $5,000 sanction and should not be prohibited from moving forward with his case until the lawyer fees are paid, as Facebook requested.

Ceglia's lawsuit claims that when he hired Zuckerberg to help him develop a street-mapping database in 2003, he gave the then-Harvard University freshman $1,000 in start-up money for his fledgling Facebook idea in exchange for half ownership of the company if it grew.

Facebook was expected to file as early as Wednesday to sell stock on the open market. The initial public offering was expected to raise as much as $10 billion, which would value the company at $75 billion to $100 billion. The current value has been estimated at more than $50 billion.

The Buffalo court case so far has focused exclusively on the authenticity of a two-page work-for-hire contract that Ceglia says proves his claims, along with a series of follow-up emails he says he and Zuckerberg exchanged.

Facebook's attorneys have said they will soon move to have the case dismissed based on their experts' findings that the documents are fake. Ceglia, who is believed to be living in Ireland, has stood by the contract's origin.

By The Associated Press

Source: Wall Street Journal

Foreclosure lawyer probes left up to Florida Bar

The Florida Bar's investigations into foreclosure fraud by its members jumped 63 percent in the past year, but no disciplinary actions against attorneys have been levied since complaints began to mount in the fall of 2010.

The responsibility to hold lawyers accountable for foreclosure misconduct now rests solely with the Florida Bar after the state attorney general's investigation into high-volume foreclosure law firms collapsed this week.

Since March of last year, the number of foreclosure fraud investigations of attorneys by the Bar grew from 222 cases to 362. During the same time period, about 130 cases were closed with no findings of fault. There are 229 pending cases.

Despite the lack of punitive action, Arne Vanstrum, associate director of lawyer regulation for the Florida Bar, said the regulatory group is taking the investigations seriously. And while the attorney general's probe focused on illegal activity, the Bar's review also includes scrutiny of ethical violations, he said.

"We're putting a lot of resources into this," Vanstrum said Friday, a day after Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi announced an unfavorable court ruling that effectively shut down her foreclosure mill investigations. "These cases are unique in that it's very widespread, not just in Florida but nationwide."

All of the leading partners in the seven firms targeted for state investigation remain members in good standing with the Bar.

Specifics of the Bar investigations are not public, but complaints generally include forged signatures on court documents, bad notarizations and backdated paperwork.

Scores of attorneys - sometimes just out of law school - have worked at Florida's big foreclosure firms since home repossessions went full throttle in 2008.

Sanctions for attorneys guilty of misconduct range from public reprimand to disbarment.

Tampa-based foreclosure defense attorney Mark Stopa said he's concerned that David J. Stern, once dubbed the foreclosure king of Florida, hasn't faced reprimand.

Stern's Broward-based firm collapsed in the fall of 2010 after the start of the state investigation and subsequent loss of clients. By early 2011, he announced he was closing shop, leaving as many as 100,000 cases statewide in limbo.

"That caused an incredible burden on innocent parties and the courts, and why he hasn't been punished for that and that alone is something I'm not sure I will ever understand," Stopa said.

Stern's attorney, Jeff Tew, has said that Stern's clients immediately removed their files when they fired the firm, giving the company no time to do a proper transfer to new lawyers.

Foreclosure defense attorneys are also under Bar scrutiny, with 97 cases having been opened. Of those, seven resulted in discipline and 51 were closed with no discipline.

"There are bad seeds on the defense side, too," said Boca Raton-based defense attorney Ron Kaniuk of Ricardo, Wasylik & Kaniuk.

Vanstrum said he can understand if homeowners are frustrated by what may seem like a lack of action on the foreclosure fraud queries.

"But we have to do a very thorough investigation," he said. "We have to look at it in a much broader fashion."

By Kimberly Miller, Palm Beach Post Staff Writer

Source: Palm Beach Post

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Judge leery of election map

Panel hears final arguments; decision pending

A federal judge Tuesday said she found it hard to believe the Texas Legislature's map designers adjusting lines to favor Republicans unknowingly sliced out a lawmaker's home, important business areas or other key chunks in some minority lawmakers' districts.

"I am very troubled by it," U.S. District Judge Rosemary Collyer said.

She is a member of a three-judge federal panel convened Tuesday in Washington to hear closing arguments before deciding whether the Legislature's map for congressional, state House and state Senate districts violate the Voting Rights Act.

The judges didn't indicate Tuesday when they would make a decision on whether to clear the map for use. A history of voting discrimination in Texas means a new political map must have federal approval under the Voting Rights Act.

Collyer encouraged Adam Mortara, an attorney representing state officials who want to keep the Legislature's map in place, to make a stronger case on paper for the claim map drawers' innocently split voting precincts and carved off key areas of some districts.

Mortara said it's impossible to draw lines for the numerous districts without splitting precincts.

Lawyers representing the state of Texas said the maps were simply drawn to benefit Republicans — legal gerrymandering — and not to have any other effect such as infringing on the voting rights of Hispanics and blacks.

"Map drawers and the legislators had compliance with the Voting Rights Act at the forefront. It was one of their goals," said John Hughes, another attorney representing the state.

There's no evidence of a motive to racially discriminate, Hughes said.

But Department of Justice lawyers, as well as attorneys representing minority groups, contend the drawers of maps adopted by the Legislature intentionally set out to create districts that robbed minorities of the ability to elect the candidates of their choice.

"This is not a partisan issue. It's about keeping minorities in their place," Alison Riggs, an attorney representing NAACP interests in the case, said before the panel.

Filing to run in the Texas Primary is supposed to begin Friday, but it's still unclear whether elections will go forward April 3 as planned.

"Until you actually get a map that works, any filing deadline is effectively meaningless," said Texas Tech political science professor Craig Goodman. "The problem is it's hard to file if you don't know what districts you're going to run in."

Tuesday's closing arguments are the culmination of about two weeks of testimony. Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott sought approval for the Legislature's map from the three-judge panel.

The GOP-dominated Legislature drew a new voting map after the 2010 Census showed population gains in Texas, mostly from Hispanics. The state gained four congressional seats, pushing the number of congressional districts to 36.

Minorities and Democrats took claims of racial discrimination in the Legislature's map to a federal court in San Antonio, which issued its own interim map.

The Supreme Court threw out the map from the San Antonio court, ruling it didn't give enough deference to the Texas Legislature's map.

With the clock ticking, the San Antonio court is urging the state and attorneys representing minorities and Democrats to come to an agreement by Feb. 6 on a map at least for 2012 elections.

Otherwise, Texas primaries, already pushed back from March 6, might have to be held even later.

By Trish Choate, Texas regional reporter Trish Choate, 202-408-2709,

Source: Times Record News

Abortion dr.'s lawyers seek dismissal of charges

Lawyers for an abortion doctor charged with murder in Maryland for the deaths of five fetuses have asked a judge to dismiss the charges, arguing that prosecutors lack jurisdiction because the deaths occurred in New Jersey.

Dr. Steven Brigham, 55, of Voorhees, N.J., lost his New Jersey medical license in 2010 after regulators discovered an arrangement under which he would begin second- and third-trimester abortions in New Jersey, and then have the patients drive themselves to Maryland the next day to complete the procedures.

His attorneys argued in a motion filed last week that the arrangement protects him from criminal prosecution in Maryland because Brigham administered drugs that killed the fetuses while the patients were in New Jersey. He then extracted the fetuses at his clinic in Elkton, Md., a small town in the northeast corner of the state.

Brigham's lawyers also argue that he is immune from prosecution under Maryland's fetal homicide law, which was intended to apply to people who kill or do physical harm to pregnant women, causing fetal death. The law includes exemptions for physicians administering lawful medical care, and Brigham's attorneys say using it against an abortion doctor interferes with a woman's constitutional right to terminate a pregnancy.

"By bringing these charges, the state has placed a chilling effect on doctors who perform abortions and thus will inhibit women from finding doctors who perform abortions even if the procedure is necessary to protect the life or health of the woman," attorneys Nancy Forster and C. Thomas Brown argue in their motion.

Cecil County State's Attorney Ellis Rollins declined to comment Monday.

Prosecutors have made few public statements about their rationale for the charges, although Rollins has acknowledged they are in uncharted territory. Experts on both sides of the abortion debate say it is highly unusual, if not unprecedented, to charge an abortion doctor with murder under a fetal homicide law. Thirty-eight states have such statutes.

At a bail review hearing earlier this month in Cecil County Circuit Court for Brigham's co-defendant, Dr. Nicola Riley, Deputy State's Attorney Kerwin Miller suggested that prosecutors believe any death of a viable fetus to be homicide, regardless of the circumstances.

"The law is clear that it is unlawful, as a matter of fact it is homicide, when you kill a viable fetus," Miller said, according to a transcript of the proceeding. "So an abortion on a viable fetus is not a lawful procedure, is not lawful medical care."

In their motion, Brigham's attorneys also take issue with prosecutors' characterization of the fetuses as viable, arguing that the state has no right to interfere with a doctor's judgment about the need for an abortion.

Maryland's fetal homicide law, the attorneys argue, "leaves the determination of viability to the `best medical judgment of the attending physician.' If a doctor determines that the fetus is not viable, for whatever reason, and the state disagrees with that determination, under their theory, the doctor can be charged with fetal homicide."

Doctors generally consider fetuses to be viable outside the womb starting around 23 weeks. Prosecutors have not detailed how they determined the viability of the five fetuses Brigham is accused of killing. One of them was known to have been aborted at 21 weeks.

Riley, Brigham's former colleague, also has been charged with murder in the death of that 21-week-old fetus. Her attorneys also have argued that she is immune from prosecution under the fetal homicide law. Both Brigham and Riley, of Salt Lake City, Utah, are free on bond.

In the case that led to charges against both Brigham and Riley, the patient suffered serious injuries, and Riley drove her to a nearby hospital rather than call 911. That case alerted medical regulators to Brigham's unusual arrangement, which authorities described as an effort to take advantage of Maryland's more permissive abortion laws. Brigham was not licensed to perform abortions after the first trimester in New Jersey.

In Maryland, licensed physicians can perform abortions before the fetus is deemed capable of surviving outside the womb, and abortions of viable fetuses are permitted to protect the life or health of the mother or if the fetus has serious genetic abnormalities.

By Ben Nuckols, The Associated Press

Source: Philadelphia Inquirer